Live at Truthdig: Has the Media Been Biased in Its Coverage of Donald Trump?
(via Gage Skidmore / CC 2.0)
Friday at noon PST, we were live on our Facebook discussing journalism and 2016 election coverage.
Do you think the mainstream media is being fair in its coverage of Donald Trump? Or has it abandoned objectivity? Editor in Chief Robert Scheer, who participated in Friday’s discussion, has this to say:
The mainstream media, led by the New York Times, has dropped any pretense of objectivity in covering the Trump phenomena. The man is constantly depicted as nothing but pure evil in thought and deed while the considerable ethical complications of his leading Democratic opponent are rationalized when they are not simply ignored.
But demonization is a poor substitute for reporting and what is lost is that Trump’s extraordinary success in sweeping aside the entire Republican establishment is a consequence rather than the root cause of what ails us. It is the reactionary counterpoint to the rejection of the Democratic Party establishment by the surprisingly large vote across the nation for Bernie Sanders’ progressive alternative. Both campaigns, so profoundly opposite in their regard for basic human values, nonetheless bear common witness that the establishment consensus which the leading media attempts to resuscitate may be beyond recovery.
Watch the video and read the transcript below.
Emma Niles: Hello. Welcome to another edition of “Live at Truthdig.” Sarah Wesley, who normally hosts, is currently out of the office, so I’m Emma Niles and I’m an editorial assistant, so I’ll be hosting.
Robert Scheer: I thought you had a better title.
EN: [Laughs] Well, we can talk about that. And this is our editor in chief, Robert Scheer. As many of you hopefully know, we are here today to talk about media objectivity in the coverage of Donald Trump. And we have already gotten a lot of great comments and thoughts from you guys, and hopefully we will get more as this video continues. But I wanted to start, Bob, by asking you if you could go into further detail about what your exact argument is. Because we got a lot of comments from people who did think that the media had lost their objectivity, but I think that they were kind of confused about what your argument was. So I was wondering if you could explain further.
RS: Well, I said that demonization is the opposite of reporting. And I don’t care if you’re writing about Richard Nixon, as I did, and interviewed him, or Ronald Reagan; I got along quite well with Reagan as an interviewer, even though I disagreed with him very seriously before he was governor, when he was governor, before he was president; I spent a lot of time. Barry Goldwater would be another example. And it’s not just the Republicans who demonize their opponents; the Democrats are very good at it. So, for example, Lyndon Johnson was able to picture Barry Goldwater as the mad bomber who would blow up the world and everything else; well, in fact, it was Lyndon Johnson who did the terrible carpet bombing of Vietnam and expanded the war, and then it ended up being Richard Nixon who actually ended the Vietnam War. And so you know, the demonization is a way of trivializing our politics. And there are real issues in this campaign; unfortunately, if Bernie Sanders would have been the Democratic nominee, they would be raised. Because the question really is, does the system serve the people or the elite? And it’s a question that’s being debated worldwide, and we’re doing this interview on a morning on which, what, 52 percent of the voting public in England rejected the European Union connection. And they’re doing it for the same reason that so many people voted for Trump and Sanders, rejecting trade agreements that have really basically made the world economy a playing field for very wealthy people, for the Goldman Sachs types that are as cozy with the Democrats as they are with the Republicans, and that ignore the interests of ordinary people. Ordinary people in England, yesterday, said, “No; we don’t like these arrangements, we don’t want to be dictated to by Belgium or anywhere else.”
So that’s the real issue. And for the mass media to trivialize it as just the black image of Trump, who can do no—everything he’s done in his life, now they suddenly discover is awful; all of it, his business deals, everything. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton, the anointed candidate from the very beginning by the mass media, somehow is not at fault for anything. And so I’m going to get to your questions, but there was one—I reread the speeches that both Trump and Hillary Clinton gave about the economy, and there’s one thing that I just want to read that drives me nuts … She’s talking about the economy; she says: “Twice now in the past 30 years, a Republican president has caused an economic mess and a Democratic president has to come in and clean it up.” Now, that is simply the big lie. She has to know it’s a lie; anyone who’s looked at—if you want, you can read my book, “The Great American Stickup”; you can see “Inside Job,” a terrific documentary; there’s a vast literature now. And you know this statement, “Twice” —this is Hillary Clinton—“Twice now in the past 30 years, a Republican president has caused an economic mess and a Democratic president has to come in and clean it up.”
Now, why is that a lie? Because her husband, as president, teamed up with the Republicans in the Senate to do something that Ronald Reagan as president, and the first President Bush, were not able to do, which was the radical deregulation of Wall Street. And two specific pieces of legislation, the reversal of Glass-Steagall and the newfangled commodity derivatives and credit default swaps, would not be regulated by any government agency or any existing regulation. That came from Bill Clinton. That was the legacy he left to George W. Bush. I am not kind to George W. Bush; I think he was a god-awful president, but my goodness, to say that he did this to the economy when it was Clinton’s modernization plan. Robert Rubin, who had come in from Goldman Sachs to be his treasury secretary; [Lawrence] Summers, who came in and did this; Timothy Geithner was in that administration, the same person that Obama appoints to be his Treasury secretary. And to say that it was Republican presidents, and then Obama comes in and he takes over the save-the-banks-first, you know, children-and-women-overboard, save-the-big-bankers plan that Geithner was pushing at the New York Fed. And makes Geithner his Treasury secretary, brings in Lawrence Summers from the Clinton administration, and they do the same thing, save the banks. So this whole idea that somehow the Republicans are evil and the Democrats—it’s absolute garbage.
EN: Well, to play devil’s advocate momentarily, kind of speaking through our commenters, we got a lot of commenters, like I was saying, who did feel that the media hasn’t been objective in covering Trump. But I think they differ from you, because they thought that the overwhelming media coverage of Donald Trump was giving him more legitimacy. So on our website, for example, we got [a commenter] who stated that “the media has been biased in Trump’s favor by humanizing him, just like they humanize every other billionaire parasite. The mainstream media exists to humanize the capitalist class and bring legitimacy to its agenda.” And [there is] another person on our website [who] said that “this mindless drive for money has produced an atmosphere where a man like Trump is not only taken seriously, but he has a legitimate shot at the White House. The question should be, how did it ever come to this? How awful is the Democratic nominee that Trump would even pose a serious threat?” And it seems like you’re arguing much more that the media have been not objective in kind of bringing out all of his horrible qualities. So what would you say to people who think that that’s not the case, that they’re actually making it too easy for him to seem like a viable candidate?
RS: Look, first of all, if Trump is such an awful person, why did Hillary and Bill Clinton go to his wedding? You know, they’ve fraternized, socialized with these people, and he’s certainly not the only ruthless billionaire in their circle. Come on. You know, she, in this speech talked about her great—she has a grandchild; she’s over the moon about her second grandchild, her wonderful son-in-law. Her wonderful son-in-law runs one of these hedge funds, you know, and was set up in that business by Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs. And if you want to talk about people hurting the economy, you want to compare Donald Trump and Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs—my goodness, worldwide disruption. And then when Timothy Geithner, who was head of the New York Federal Reserve, makes a sweetheart deal so that he can pass on taxpayer dollars to help Goldman Sachs, you know. And Goldman Sachs was allowed to become a bank—not an investment bank, but a commercial bank, to get these funds—come on! She fraternizes with these people, she gives speeches to them, and never been accountable; we don’t know what those speeches are. So, I mean, it’s just silly. Yes, they’re a ruthless gang of thugs [laughs], these people from Wall Street; they support Democrats and Republicans both. And you know, to single out Donald Trump as somehow the most heinous—he had nothing to do with the credit default swaps, the collateralized debt obligations, the shenanigans of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. You know, this was all stuff done on a grand level involving running the Federal Reserve, running the Treasury Department, and Democrats were up to their eyeballs in it.
What bothers me about Hillary Clinton—and I don’t believe in original sin; you know, I think Richard Nixon did some good things, like the Environmental Protection Agency. I think Bill Clinton did some good things, particularly avoiding some of the wars that I think Hillary Clinton might get us into; I think she’s more hawkish than Bill Clinton. But I don’t want to demonize anyone. What scares me about Hillary Clinton is that she has no capacity for admitting error or for growth. I mean, if you look at the speech she gave last week on the economy, again, it’s saints and sinners: the Democrats are all saints, the Republicans are all sinners. That’s not how we got into this mess! This is a bipartisan mess; Wall Street controls both parties. Bernie Sanders called them out. And let me say something in terms of financing … the Democrats used to talk about Citizens United … here we had a campaign in which Bernie Sanders did this miraculous thing with ordinary people, with $20, what was it, $35 average contribution, mounting a truly credible campaign, right? And The New York Times’ Paul Krugman would still deride his activity and what he did, and his seriousness. Well, he was serious enough to be able to educate a large number of Americans that the game is rigged, that there is elitism in the economy. Hillary Clinton gets the same money she did, and Barack Obama did, four years ago, from Wall Street; the major contribution from the financial community and the big corporations, and no one’s talking about, you know, oh, wait a minute! Citizens United and money and PACs—Hillary Clinton is the queen of PACs.
So when I talk about biased reporting, I’m all for criticizing Trump; I think Trump has—you want serious criticism of Trump—I think he’s embraced a neofascist view of scapegoating immigrants, vulnerable people, Muslims for our problems. I think he’s extremely dangerous; I’ve written that and said that, OK? But to then use that as an excuse to abandon all critical reasoning and give the Democrats and Hillary Clinton a blank check is, I think, quite dangerous, and particularly for someone who’s a reporter.
EN: Definitely. I think a lot of our readers did understand your position on that. We had a great comment from [someone] on our website, saying, “The real story on Trump is not his evilness, but his lack of specifics, consistency or content. His frequent flip-flops are news. Trump has almost no firm positions on anything; that is what is news.” And I thought that was fair. And also, going off of your [comment about] Hillary Clinton, the lack of coverage on her; I think that a lot of our readers, you guys brought that up as being, you know, a big part of the biased coverage of Trump. Regardless of whether they’re demonizing him or not, is that there isn’t equal coverage or criticism of Hillary Clinton in the same way. [A reader] said on our Facebook page that “a fair media would pay more attention to war crimes and what’s going on behind the scenes rather than bashing Trump’s superficial sexism and blowing up controversies based on Trump’s statements taken out of context.” And I just thought that that was—
RS: Well, I think that’s an interesting comment. Look, let me say, I think one of Trump’s more heinous statements was his endorsing torture. You know, that certainly meets the definition of evil. And so, yes, that’s a reason to be very concerned about Trump. But where were the Democrats on torture? You know, Hillary Clinton was a senator; the people who have told us about torture, John Kiriakou, for instance, who was a CIA agent and person who actually was involved in arresting one of the major al-Qaida terrorists, ended up serving two and a half years in prison because he told us about torture, he’s a whistleblower. Hillary Clinton is in favor of punishing whistleblowers. Her friend, Dianne Feinstein, was head of the Senate intelligence committee that was supposed to monitor these things. [Leon] Panetta, the head of the CIA, is the person who she speaks very highly of, and a friend. Well, the CIA was the one that told these producers, the director and the producer in Hollywood when they made “Zero Dark Thirty,” gave them absolutely false information that torture was needed to capture bin Laden, OK? They defended torture. The Democrats were silent about torture; they got the secret briefings, they knew what was going on. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state certainly had access to all of this information, right? And yet, when someone like John Kiriakou tells us that terrible things were going on, she criticizes Kiriakou—where was Hillary Clinton to tell us? Why wasn’t she doing due diligence as a senator to expose this? Where were the other Democrats? They controlled the Senate, and yet did not reveal—there’s a few brave ones did, but certainly not the leadership.
EN: Absolutely. And this kind of brings me to my next question, is what can be done about this, and also if you think we’re doing a good enough job at this. Because we did get several different comments of people saying it’s hypocritical for us to be discussing this because Truthdig is not the best at being objective.
RS: Why are we not, let me ask you, why are we not the best at being objective?
EN: Well, here’s a comment on Facebook from [someone] saying, “Truthdig itself is guilty of the same bias that Scheer accuses The New York Times of. Has Scheer not been reading his own blog?”
RS: [Laughs] It’s not a blog, it’s a magazine.
EN: He says some of our authors “have been bashing Trump without benefit of analysis or facts while Hillary has gotten a free pass; in fact, the media has never had any objectivity when reporting on Trump. If it had, it would have been more honest in explaining Trump’s positions on foreign policy,” and then he goes on. But do you think that Truthdig is doing a good enough job, or are there ways we can improve our objectivity?
RS: I think we can always improve. I think it is a struggle. You know, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the great Beat poet, gave what I thought was the essential advice for any thinking person, and certainly any reporter. He said, “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.” OK? So it is difficult to keep an open mind about Donald Trump for the very reason you just mentioned. He says absurd, dangerous, mean-spirited things. To blame Mexican-Americans, undocumented or documented, for any of our problems is nuts. It’s evil, OK? In fact, we don’t have a single example of a Mexican-American committing an act of terror, and yet he keeps yakking about this border. And if you’re concerned about the impact of—and here Hillary was right in her speech, I want to give her credit—if you’re concerned about the impact of undocumented workers on the wage rate, the best thing to do is provide documentation. If people are documented, they’re not afraid that immigration, ICE, is going to pick them up, they can complain about not being paid minimum wage … a Republican governor in California, Pete Wilson, embraced that approach when he was still a moderate and when Republicans were moderates, and said, “Yes, enforce the labor laws, enforce the occupation and safety laws, give people working here, whatever their status, the legal basis for complaining about violations of the labor law. And then raise the minimum wage to a living wage, and enforce it.” Enforce it; OK. That’s a constructive approach: yes, undocumented workers can lower the wage rate; the way to [deal with] that is to provide documentation, OK?
So I think you can be quite critical of Trump for scapegoating undocumented—yes, as I said, I use even the language “neofascist”; On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you suspend all thinking about his opponent, or deny any of his strengths. I mean, the fact is, if you compare the two speeches given last week, Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s, you would have to, I think, give Trump as good a grade, certainly, as Hillary on the economy. He dealt with crony capitalism, he dealt with where the unfair—Hillary Clinton’s speech fails in two really profound, very disturbing ways. She does not seriously address the need for regulation on Wall Street; she said we have Dodd-Frank, we’ll make it a little better, and so forth. But any idea of separating the investment and commercial banking—restoring Glass-Steagall—any idea of seriously changing the whole derivatives market and holding them accountable, any–look, let me give you an example. She says Obama was great and—Obama appointed a guy, Jeffrey Immelt, the head of [General Electric], to be head of his jobs council, OK? Hillary Clinton gives a speech saying we can’t let these jobs go overseas—GE is a company, Ronald Reagan used to work for them, that actually used to make good products here in the United States. Now GE has two out of three of its jobs overseas. Two out of three. It has most of its profits stored overseas, so in most years doesn’t even pay any taxes. Yet Obama, and Hillary Clinton was part of that administration, appointed Jeffrey Immelt, the head of GE, to be head of his jobs council—the guy who has been an expert in exploiting jobs. That’s a Democratic administration. So when Donald Trump calls out the crony capitalism of the Democrats, he’s absolutely right; he should also call out the crony capitalism of the Republicans. Another point where he’s very strong on is the Clintons becoming rich after their—that’s really shocking, after being president. It’s one thing if you’re retired, maybe take some of these jobs, but here is this—Bill Clinton’s wife was still a senator, and then secretary of state, and you’re collecting money from sovereign regimes like Saudi Arabia? And your wife is making policy connected with Saudi Arabia? That is a major scandal. And so all I’m trying to say here in my little two paragraphs is that we can’t give the Democrats a blank check because we’re frightened of Donald Trump. There’s got to be a certain place for logic and fact, and I do think The New York Times has become—actually, you know, a paper that I grew up respecting—has certainly become hysterical on the subject. And even people that I once thought were really quite good, like Paul Krugman, in this election, I mean, his attacks on Bernie Sanders were unprincipled; he denied that Sanders was making an essential economic critique, he trivialized it. And there’s no discussion of—by the way, it’s not just Hillary Clinton; The New York Times editorialized, both in its news stories and its editorial page, in favor of the reversal of Glass-Steagall when Bill Clinton was doing that. And it didn’t report critically on the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that made all these derivatives legal, thanks to Bill Clinton. No! The New York Times also failed in that regard. So did The Wall Street Journal.
So the mainstream media is an odd animal here. They don’t have clean hands when it comes to radical deregulation; they basically support it; they wanted radical deregulation of the telecommunications industry, the Telecommunications Modernization Act. Bill Clinton signed that; it allowed the merger of all these different platforms and allowed the Chicago Tribune to end up owning television stations and the Los Angeles Times here in Los Angeles, and so forth. So they liked radical deregulation because it benefited monopoly control of communications.
EN: Yeah. I think—I mean, as someone who writes for the site, and just kind of—
RS: I was going to mention that, by the way. That’s what I meant by teasing about your title. [Laughter] Let’s put our dirty laundry out there. You are one of our most productive and effective writers.
EN: Thank you.
RS: And maybe it’s annoying to some of us older people that you can do this and only be 22, right? But you’ve had your own experience; you worked for the [Feminist Majority Foundation]. So who are you, and how did you get into this, and what is your view of this?
EN: Well, my view of this is really, I kind of agree with one of those comments I read earlier, that the real story is trying to actually analyze Trump’s policy proposals, or what his position is. Because I think just demonizing—you know, obviously I am, like you were saying, worried about his xenophobic and sexist and all of those comments. But I think the scarier thing is the lack of serious coverage on Hillary Clinton and the criticism of that, and also not taking Donald Trump seriously. Because he, you know, we have a huge portion of the population that’s very angry and upset who is wanting to support Trump, and I think we need to analyze if he’s actually putting out any—like you said, you know, he does have a couple of stances that actually make more sense than Clinton’s do, but at the same time he does flip-flop on issues a lot, and I think that deserves to be criticized more so than just him spouting whatever rhetoric he wants, and MSNBC showing anything that he does without criticizing it. So I wouldn’t say that we need to completely stop critical analysis of Donald Trump, but we’re certainly lacking in critical analysis of Hillary Clinton. And that harkens back to when Sanders was running still, like he was, with the exception of some of the hit pieces that you were describing, he was virtually absent from any media coverage, and that’s for the same reasons, is that they were trying to not shine a light on anything that could damage Hillary’s campaign.
RS: Yeah, I mean, I take your point. And let me just say, I don’t mean that being objective, trying to be, means being uncritical. I think calling, saying that Trump has embraced a neofascist view, a scapegoating view of immigrants and Muslims—first of all, I think it’s an accurate statement. I think we have a historical precedent that instead of focusing on the real problems you have in a society, you scapegoat different groups; that’s how we got fascism. That’s the main card in fascism is to find a group, whether it’s Jews, Muslims, immigrants or what have you, make them “the other”; Jesus warned about that in his tale of the Good Samaritan. “The other” has to be understood and respected. And so I’m not for having a bloodless, mild-mannered evaluation of Donald Trump; I think he’s a raging menace. But I think you have to do so respecting logic and fact and so forth. So let me take that up. Where did Trump come from? OK? Let’s analyze the Trump phenomenon. One thing is he swept aside the whole Republican establishment. And he didn’t do it because he has a great hairdo, which everybody focuses on, or he’s charismatic, or he was a reality star. These people all were professional politicians. Jeb Bush has been around a long time, senator for Florida; [Marco] Rubio was supposed to be very handsome and appealing. These people were supposed to be very good at what they did. I think Trump swept them aside because he was able to say quite accurately, “You people have a part of the inside Washington crowd” —I think he was wrong about Rand Paul, by the way; I think Rand Paul was the Republican that I felt most kindly about, and I have my own libertarian tendencies. But I think that the success of Donald Trump is not a success of, you know, that he’s got some magic potion.
And let’s look at the base of the Republican—this is not a guy who came in and said, “OK, I can win in Arizona,” or something, or “I can win in Iowa, I go to all the caucuses” —no. He just won from where, from Maine down, I forget all the states. But this guy has won everywhere. And you look at where he’s won, these are solid human beings. They care about their families, these Republicans; the Republican Party that votes did not suddenly become a band of nuts, OK? These people don’t want nuclear war, they don’t want the planet destroyed, they want jobs to come back, they don’t want riots in the streets. They are actually temperamentally conservative, the Republican base, as well as even the Republicans. And so if you think Trump is a madman, you then have a journalistic responsibility to try to explain why this madman has such appeal.
EN: Absolutely. I think it says—I mean, and we’ve, I think, posted a fair amount on Truthdig trying to critically analyze in the same way that Sanders had such a following. But, like, this has been, these parties falling apart, this has been a long time coming, of people getting upset, and it’s a huge portion of the American population, and that, you know, like we are saying, most of the mainstream media focuses on these, like, sound bites and stuff without addressing that these are mostly rational human beings who are putting their support behind someone like Trump, and that is a very serious threat, I guess, or serious issue.
RS: Well, it shows there’s a great pain out there, just as the Sanders campaign [does]. And the establishment, which includes Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush and all these folks, wants to deny that there’s great pain. I mean, Hillary Clinton has the arrogance to say, “I want for every child what I have for my grandchildren, what my grandchildren will have.” Are you kidding—have you forgotten what life is like for most people? I mean, they can’t go out and get, what, $100,000 for a speech. What are you talking about? Your son-in-law got a job because Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs created a hedge fund for him. OK? How many children in America are going to have that break? And by the way, Hillary Clinton keeps talking about her concern about poor people, and a frightening thing again, the Republicans are going to mess up the safety net, the Republicans are going to tear everything apart—well, who ended the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in America that was the main federal program to help mostly women, poor women and children? Seventy percent of the recipients of AFDC were children; 70 percent, OK? Bill Clinton did something called welfare reform, with Hillary Clinton’s blessing. I interviewed both of them; I interviewed Bill Clinton when he was governor, I wrote about that story; it wasn’t a success when he was governor in Arkansas, even though he called it Project Success. It comes into the federal government, and the next thing you know, we don’t have a federal poverty program, the main federal poverty program is destroyed, is left to the tender mercy of the states, welfare. We were going to reform it, change it; we didn’t. Peter Edelman, Marian Wright Edelman’s husband—she’s always talking about the Children’s Defense Fund—you know, he left the government over this; he wrote a devastating critique in his book of what happened to that program. So I think it is great cynicism.
But let me turn to the concern about Trump. OK, there’s a few things about Trump that scare me all through the night, OK? And certainly the main one, which commentators talk about, is having your finger on the nuclear button. You know, everything else is kind of negotiable. Because after all, Trump should—and it doesn’t—I think the whole establishment is going to get together and—you know, Brent Scowcroft now supports Hillary; you know, Bush’s—both Bushes’ big adviser, particularly the father. But you know, the media will kill Trump, and the establishment will kill Trump, and that’s what they do very effectively, and marginalize him and so forth, and he’ll probably be abandoned by much of the leadership of the Republican Party. But let’s say he should, somehow, get to be president. On most things, I think checks and balances will finally work. I think Congress may rediscover that it’s supposed to authorize war and prevent a president from going off on wars based on lies, like George W. Bush did. I think Congress, after all, has the power of the purse; and the courts; maybe we’ll find their spirit to be critical and independent. And so I think we do have a system—separation of powers, checks and balances—and were Trump to get in, I think that they’d operate in force, and we might have actually moderate Republicans emerge united with moderate Democrats to hold us in check. That’s how democracy is supposed to run. The joker in the deck is nuclear war, and the finger on the button; no question, OK? I’m wondering, why is that only coming up now? I mean, Nixon, we knew, would be drunk some nights, and on pills, and deranged with anger. We know Ronald Reagan was, to be kind, out to lunch during some of the last years, and with serious lapses in judgment. We know any human being could have a breakdown, anyone.
And so why are we allowing a situation in which a president of the United States—which is the situation—a president of the United States can destroy much of life on this planet because they flip out at three in the morning? Why do we have that? Well, it all goes back to something called mutually assured destruction, and our hair-trigger alert with the Soviets and so forth—which didn’t make sense then, OK? But we’ve tolerated it. But how come we still have it? The Soviet Union is gone. We’ve had a lot of time to work on more stable systems of communication. And instead of working on those, we’re actually at a point now where both Democrats and Republicans want to stick their finger in the Russian bear and attack Putin and the Russians on [everything], and forget about controlling nuclear weapons, forget about not being on hair-trigger alert—forgetting about all this.
So I’m going to ask the question: Maybe, if you’re concerned about any president, certainly Donald Trump, having their finger on the nuclear button, maybe the first thing Congress should address is not giving that power to a president.
EN: Yeah. But that’s not really—
RS: Well, why not? It could be done quite quickly. There could be—first of all, Congress is supposed to declare war; that certainly should involve an all-out nuclear attack. We don’t have an enemy of that kind anymore, the old Soviet Union, so you don’t have to worry about preemptive attack. And I just wonder, all these people, including Hillary Clinton, who talk about a president having—why should any president be trusted with all life on this planet by having that power? And so, hey, maybe this is a time to revisit that. And I assure you, if Trump gets to be president, the U.S. Congress, Democrats and Republicans, will affirm that very quickly, you know.
Eric Ortiz: Well, to that point, there is a two-man rule. So the president can’t just annihilate the world. There is checks and balances, where if he launches the code, that somebody has to authorize that. You know, so—to that point, but—
RS: Right, but let’s—Eric—
EN: Our managing editor.
RS: Our managing editor, who’s unfortunately behind the camera, but that’s OK; I think it’s a good interviewing technique. I think that’s a valid point. There are very limited checks on the ability of the president—they’re very limited, though; they are. And I think people who are concerned about any president, but certainly Donald Trump, doing something impulsive—you know, it’s a very real concern. And it doesn’t have to be all-out nuclear war, which would be the end of life, really, as we know it; but you know, even drone strikes, as we’re doing now. There are no checks on Obama’s drone strikes. So you could just imagine a Donald Trump or anyone else in there saying, “Ah, let’s take that one out. Let’s wipe that out. Let’s do that.” It’s like a video game, right? And we now approach war as a video game, and there are no checks on it, so we don’t know what Barack Obama’s doing with his drone targets. Yeah, he consults and does that, but at the end of the evening, he decides. OK? And that is, unfortunately, true of the nuclear option. And he can easily force through. But what was your point, Eric?
EO: Well, I think it would be great if we could build peace. But speaking of Russia, the Kremlin’s chief propagandist, or who runs one of their state television programs, Dmitry Kiselyov, he did an interview with the BBC, and he accused—they accused him of propaganda, and he came back and accused Western media of doing the same thing, propaganda. You know, bias in this election cycle has been—a lot of reports and allegations of it. Do you think that this is intentional, the way that Hillary Clinton has been getting a pass on some of, you know, the email issues, the Clinton Foundation? You know, these questions that people that are out there—but they’re not really being investigated thoroughly by mainstream media, while every aspect of Donald Trump’s life gets torn apart. Do you think this is intentional, or what is happening here?
RS: Well, there’s no question—and it’s not unique to Hillary Clinton—there’s no question that our whole national security apparatus goes unchecked. We know that because even with Dianne Feinstein—who claims to have great power within the Senate, certainly when the Democrats were in charge, and had friends over at the CIA—they were tapping her staff’s computers, going into them, and so forth. And the CIA is not supposed to do anything domestically, and they’re supposed to be under the surveillance of—this was set up after previous CIA accesses. And so the fact of the matter is that—Hillary Clinton knows this from having been secretary of state—that most of the information the public needs to make sound foreign policy decisions is not readily available to the media or to the public. It just isn’t. Well over 90 percent of the information that is reported by the media, and has been for the last half century, is deliberately leaked by the government when it’s top secret; it supports the case for intervention, and so forth. The whistleblowers who go against the government narrative—Daniel Ellsberg, who gave us the Pentagon Papers, or Chelsea Manning, or any of the others; Edward Snowden, who Hillary Clinton has treated as a traitor. These people are so rare, you have to ask, where is the decency of the American bureaucracy? I mean, there’s millions of people who knew what Edward Snowden revealed; why didn’t they step forward? Why did it take one 29-year-old kid to change his whole life, risk everything, his freedom and everything, to tell us what we had a right to know? We had a right to know—I mean, if the government wants to spy on us, they have to tell us. We live in a society in which you can do that in our interest—you have at least the obligation to tell us and get the approval of Congress, get the approval of our courts, of our elected representatives, of our judicial system. They side-stepped all that; there was no accountability. “We’re going to spy on every single person in the country. And all their emails, everything, all their phone things—we have the right to do it, grab them off this huge haystack.”
And interestingly enough, there is still not a case, a documented case, where gathering all the information on the American people has made us safer. On the contrary—as my last book, “They Know Everything About You,” states, but it’s true; right through Orlando, the tragedy in Orlando; it was true of the Boston marathon; it was true of Charlie Hebdo in France—true of every single terrorist attack—the perpetrators were known. They were known, and they didn’t do old-fashioned police work, what are they up to now? You know? They’ve been involved with Chechnya, but what are they now doing in Boston? They didn’t do the old, gumshoe police work; and they didn’t look at your data. The guy in Orlando, right—he was known, his father was known, his father was pretending to be a leader of Afghanistan, was on television with an Afghan uniform. Was he one of our freedom fighters? Was he on our side? But his son was well known; his travels were well known. You didn’t have to spy on every person in the country to find that guy. And what happened is, the security agencies didn’t do their homework. They weren’t serious, they didn’t do old-fashioned, gumshoe police work. And so instead, they rely on this incredibly intrusive, massive technology to read everything everyone in the country says, and follow everything they do.
EN: Um, I guess I, getting close to wrapping up here—
RS: No, I want you to take me on, because I—OK—
EN: I can play devil’s advocate.
RS: No, you don’t have to be devil’s advocate. Just common sense. Because I’m really curious about this. And you’ve read all the comments. So let’s say you were supporting Hillary Clinton. I don’t know if you do; we don’t have a political loyalty test here at Truthdig. For instance, our leading political writer in the traditional sense in politics, Bill Boyarsky, was the political editor of the L.A. Times and wrote very important books on the presidency; I think he’s probably the leading political reporter in the country—
EN: And [Chris] Hedges is for Jill Stein.
RS: Yeah. But Hedges, we know, is much more independent. But I’m thinking in terms of traditional American journalism; we are mostly populated by people who were at the L.A. Times. We’re an L.A.-based publication; our copy desk, which has great power here, are mostly former L.A. Times or Hearst Corporation employees. And no one has been given a litmus test; no one has been asked, you know, who they vote for. And we now see in this election, by the way, The Nation magazine, which has traditionally been a left magazine—and The Nation Institute—there are very strong Hillary Clinton supporters there. And their top, some of their top writers, and everything, have close ties to the Clintons. So there are plenty of people on the left who feel it’s time for Hillary and so forth. But I really still don’t know—nor have I asked you—no, I mean, it’s not my job to vet you politically. And I know you worked for the—I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but I know you worked for the Feminist Majority Foundation, and I went to their dinner a few weeks ago, and I like these people very much, I respect them very much. But they were—and even though they’re a nonprofit—everybody was clearly for Hillary! And Mavis Leno, and Peg Yorkin, and all these people. So without putting you on the spot, let’s say you’re trying to make the pro-Hillary argument here. Why don’t you give it to me?
EN: The pro-Hillary argument in the sense of media bias, or just voting for Hillary?
RS: No, that the press—no, on the Trump bias, or say, the pro New York Times—I mean, you know—?
EN: I guess, gosh—this is difficult, because I’m totally comfortable with it; I mean, I contributed to Bernie Sanders’ campaign and stuff, so—
RS: Do what the politicians always do: Don’t answer my question, answer the question you wish was asked.
EN: Well, I guess—I can put this in terms of—I was trying to comprehend what The New York Times or what people I think would make an argument about with their coverage is. And I think—I don’t know, I’ve seen comments floating around about this, but this is not the time to be objective if there’s something as terrifying as Trump out there; shouldn’t we be focusing all our resources on taking that down? I mean, you know, kind of the lesser-of-two-evils argument that we see popping up all the time. But you know, I could see publications justifying their demonization of Trump, as he is someone who really deserves it, and in comparison, in that race with Hillary—she —you need to kind of brush aside her flaws and take him down. I don’t personally agree with that, but I think that that could be said. Also, obviously, as much as most places, I don’t think, will want to admit it, but there is huge money to be made from running Trump all the time. And I think Hillary has better control of the media coverage—even though she hasn’t given a press conference in, like, forever, it seems like. So there’s not even as much, even if they’re trying to objectively cover her, like, wild statements or any statements that she makes in the way that Trump does; she’s not giving them the same thing. I think Trump is very much enjoying and also manipulating the media coverage that he’s getting. But I can’t fully say what their defense would be of not probing into Hillary Clinton. Maybe it’s that they don’t think it’s what their audience wants to hear. But I can’t agree with that, so I don’t know.
RS: But I think you’ve given the core of the defense, which is, you know, that Trump is such a menacing force in American life now, and he would be so destructive of decency and security and the economy. And in Hillary Clinton’s speech, she said the world—it’s interesting, because we’re doing this interview at a moment where most of the world economy is in really bad shape, and the people in England that voted [for Brexit], you know, the majority, said, “Hey, your agreements, your trade, your deals with the European Union are not working for us.” It’s kind of an extension of the anti-NAFTA trade agreement argument. And yet, that’s being treated by a lot of people as, my God, you know, the stock market went down 500 points; this is awful. And the argument always is, “Trust us.” And that the—the lesser-evil argument, which will dominate this election, which is basically what you’re saying. And I have a very short and firm answer to that. Because that argument will not only be used about Trump; it was used as justification for going along with the Iraq War when Hillary Clinton did, right? We’re at war; we’ve been attacked; we have enemies; this is time to rally around the flag; it’s what George Washington warned, the farewell address that I always quote: “Beware the impostures of pretended patriotism.” But these calls of “my enemy is so offensive, at [at] the very least, I’m the lesser evil, the barbarians are at the gate, national security is in question, the economy will crumble”—one can always make those arguments in any country in any situation in the world. And sometimes they’re more valid than others—sometimes, you know; maybe Donald Trump is truly menacing, and you have to focus on what is menacing about him. Or maybe Richard Nixon was, and so forth—or maybe Hillary Clinton is, for that matter, because I’m sure there are Republicans making that argument, right? That Hillary Clinton is awful. So the lesser-evil argument is probably the main argument that’s being made on both sides in this election, OK? And I can understand that it’s a very human response; it’s something politicians would use. But as journalists—whether we’re a progressive publication, as we are, or a conservative one, over at Reason magazine, which is a libertarian publication I happen to respect, and so forth—journalists, whatever label they have, have got to abandon that notion.
EN: Yeah, we can’t make that call. We’ve got to give—I think we just have to give people the facts, and it’s up—unless, you know, you’re doing a straight-up opinion piece, you need to give people the facts, and they should hopefully be smart enough to interpret them and think for themselves and make that decision. And I think here, even if you are criticizing Hillary—not criticizing, but objectively showing the things that a lot of the mainstream media is ignoring—if you as a journalist feel one way about something, don’t just, you know, make your reporting biased in that favor. Show all the bare facts as to why you feel that way, and people should be able to understand that, I should think. But it’s not your call to decide for your millions or thousands or however many readers that you’re just going to focus on demonizing Trump because you think that Hillary is the lesser evil or the better choice. That’s not fair. And I think that’s a serious thing—you know, you mentioned this—for the future of journalism. Like, if we start doing this now, when we have these types of campaigns, who knows what it’s going to look like when—you know, what if we have an actual—what if it was flipped? What if we were, like, not covering Trump at all and demonizing Hillary just because of the way we felt, and then we got Trump in the White House? Like, I don’t think we can start these types of practices in good conscience.
EO: So today—real quick—Bernie Sanders said he would vote for Hillary Clinton this November. He hasn’t conceded yet, but he said to stop Donald Trump he would vote for Clinton. You know, regarding Bernie Sanders, do you think he got a fair shake in terms of the coverage that was given to him? And why do you think that was?
EN: I think a big part of it was the same reasons, is that you know, he was—for different reasons, but also some overlapping reasons—as Trump, a threat to the Clinton campaign. And I think places, different media, mainstream media organizations, were kind of scared to challenge the status quo, and by giving Bernie Sanders too much coverage, I think a lot of people were scared of a split in the Democratic Party that would give Trump an automatic win. And so they just didn’t think that that was worth—you know, because they knew how many people were passionate and vocal about it. Like, there was no question that he had a huge outpouring of support. But I think that they were just trying to focus on—you know, and entrenched in—the two-party thing. And it’s this Republican Donald Trump versus the Democrat Hillary Clinton.
RS: Why were they passionate? You’re, as I said before, 22, and I think it was Madeleine Albright—quite hawkish, I must say; I don’t know how she got away with a pass—but anyway, she said, I think she’s the one who said, that they want to go where the boys are. And then I think other people, I think Barbara Boxer, said something like that. So why would you, a strong—I assume you’re a strong—for women’s rights; you left college and you went to work for the Feminist Majority. Why, as I gather from your blogs, why were you sympathetic to Bernie Sanders?
EN: Oh, yeah, I mean, I’ve been very open about this. Like, I am a feminist, and I think I’m biased because I’m surrounded by lots of critical thinkers; I’m in a community of people who consider themselves feminist thinkers. And I’ve said this before, but there is ample evidence out there that Bernie Sanders’ platform was better for feminism, or better for women, or however you want to consider your definition of the feminist movement, than Hillary Clinton’s platform was. I mean, you’re talking about welfare reform; you’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s—you know, it’s beyond just how you treat gender issues; it’s about how your economic policy would more strongly affect minority women, or how going to war cripples these countries where women are already at a disadvantage. And you know, many, many points of Hillary Clinton’s policy, you can read easily, would not have been good for women and minorities; I think intersexual interests are important to consider. And so that’s, yeah, I thought, despite the fact that he is a man, which I think got too much play in the way that Hillary’s woman card gets too much play, Bernie Sanders’ platform—and Jill Stein’s platform, too; we had a great conversation with her about how, you know, Hillary Clinton’s platform is not a very feminist platform, and yet she’s reaping a lot of advantages from kind of a millennial feminist movement, I think.
RS: You know, I know we’re going to have to wrap this up. But let me—I don’t know why we have to, but I think there’s something about a limit—
EN: I think we’re running a little low on time, but yeah.
RS: For Facebook, I think. But let me ask you a question. I think your answer before about the requirements of journalism—as opposed to a citizen, as opposed to a voter—you know, yes, when you get in that voting booth, you have to make a decision, you buy into the lesser evil, whatever it is. And if you’re Bernie Sanders, yes, you’re going to make a decision; you have to live with it. If he backs Hillary Clinton now, then you have to ask, OK, how did that—how did Trump’s failings trump all of those other concerns? Will we be really better off four years or eight years, you really expect her to control the banks, and what about your critical voice? But sticking with journalism—and I don’t know, did you study journalism?
EN: No—I studied politics, actually—not specifically; disclaimer. [Laughs]
RS: Oh. I didn’t hire you, just for the record, right, I wasn’t the person who hired you; our publisher did, and I’m very pleased that it’s worked out so well. And I teach at a school of communications and journalism, and I’m not denying the value of education. But you seem to have learned quite a bit about journalism out of other experience. But what you were saying was really interesting: the hat of the journalist. And maybe we should end—dwell on that a little bit. Because I think that, after all, is what separates us from, in our other roles, you know? Our job is—you know, one of the slogans I like to find in journalism, and it’s not clear who said it originally, is, “The job of the journalist is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Another slogan you hear is A.J. Lieberman, and he said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Well, you know, we are an independent, small, little publication here, where I think we have a high level of freedom. It’s a struggle, and we hope people will support us, but still we do. So let me ask you—despite your youthful age, you’re a key member of this team. And I think we do have a lot of free discussion and openness here. So why don’t we just stretch this discussion about, what are the obligations of a journalist? Because I’m sure when you go out to dinner the next few nights or something, people will—they’ll probably hold you accountable for what Truthdig says or does. So why don’t we just open that discussion?
EN: Yeah. Well, I think that’s interesting that you say, like, for what Truthdig did, because I think there is a difference between being a journalist, and then you have to look at the overall scheme of being a publication, too. I think as Truthdig as a publication, we try to represent—you know, we’ve had people who are pro-Hillary writers. And we try to get a variety of different viewpoints if it’s opinionated pieces; I’m looking to Eric here. But I think as a journalist, you know, it really comes down to transparency. And if you’re—whether you’re at Truthdig or at The New York Times, and you have this audience of people who is coming to you for what they think is the truth, and that’s in our name—and you’re not advertising as an opinion column, like, this is me, Emma, where I stand on this, but you’re just bringing people the news—you just have to be straightforward with the facts. And even if you hate Donald Trump and his position, if he has a kind of interesting—has expressed an interesting sentiment on becoming friendly with Russia or something, you can’t let your feelings inform the article in terms of, like, the sources that you use and leave out. Or, you know, if you love Hillary Clinton but she has these problematic instances, you can’t just decide not to write an article about it, if it’s something that’s affecting the election or the race. So I think it’s the job as a publication overall to try to be collecting and expressing different viewpoints of the readers, but also it should just come down to what the facts are, and I think each publication assumes that their readers will take from the facts and feel progressive or feel conservative; like, that kind of baffles me that certain conservative news outlets, they think that they’re just presenting the facts and that’s how they feel about things, so I guess something gets lost in interpretation with different audiences. But I don’t know if that—
EO: I think it’s important to look at everything that happens today with a skeptical eye. You know, you can’t—even this news that Bernie Sanders is going to vote for Hillary Clinton, how did that come about? You know, there’s 55 percent of people who supported Bernie Sanders saying they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, so is that going to help? But I think our job is to dig for the truth and to help people discover that truth. And that’s what we do on a daily basis, and from now until November we’re going to continue to do that.
EN: Yeah, and I think it holds politicians accountable, because we’ve definitely had comments on the site, and I’ve seen comments in lots of places, of people wondering why Bernie Sanders is still getting coverage if he’s not going to be a nominee, or why would you cover someone like Jill Stein if she’s not going to be a viable candidate in the general election, or something like that. And including these other perspectives is the way to hold someone like Hillary Clinton accountable for the types of things that she’s missing out on, by saying there’s a lot of people out there who are angry about this issue, and it’s worth noting that, and hopefully politicians realize that they can’t get away with ignoring certain facets of how American society feels right now, because no one’s talking about it.
EO: Before we go, I’d just like to ask Bob, you’ve seen a lot of elections in your career as a journalist. Have you ever seen coverage like this election from a journalistic perspective?
RS: In the sense of bias?
RS: Yeah, you know, it’s too early to tell; I mean, you know, certainly [George] McGovern was not treated with respect by the so-called liberal media, let alone the conservative media. It was interesting, I mean, McGovern was treated as if he was just some sort of hopeless peacenik who wouldn’t understand national security, because he was so strong about ending the Vietnam War that the media almost never pointed out that McGovern was a war hero. Had won the Distinguished Flying Cross, had flown, I don’t know what, 50 dangerous missions over Germany, had enlisted in the military in World War II; and his opponent, Richard Nixon, had been a parade guard in the Navy and never saw combat. And here was a guy who risked everything to defend his country, and now was saying, “No, this war in Vietnam does not make us secure.” No, the media never—they marginalized him. He was a Protestant, son of a minister, had been to divinity school, and yet they made him sound like some hopeless hippie; he was the straightest, squarest— [laughs] I love George McGovern, but my God, he was, you know, as proper in the conventional sense as they come. But the media somehow made him— you would think he was wearing tie-dyed T-shirts or something. So yeah, I think the media generally, the mainstream media marginalized McGovern. I think they did the same thing to Barry Goldwater. I recently reread a book that John Dean did with Goldwater, and John Dean was, I think, one of the heroes of American politics when he blew the whistle on Watergate, had been the White House counsel. And he wrote a book; he knew Goldwater, Goldwater was his, actually, mentor; he was a roommate of Goldwater’s son in college. And I reread the book, you know, and Goldwater was a very complex, interesting, thoughtful guy who really had a sense of the limits of government, of power and everything, and the media made him into some bad, crazy character, you know. So this is not the first time that the mainstream has tried to destroy anyone that’s beyond the pale. They did it, with, I think to a considerable degree, with Sanders; they’re certainly doing it with Trump. That doesn’t mean that the person being destroyed doesn’t deserve criticism. I think Trump deserves criticism; I think Hillary Clinton deserves criticism. I just think—and I’m taking my leadership now from Emma—but I think you stated it as clearly as one could state, we do have to be driven by fact and logic. I would throw in logic as well as fact. But we have to be driven by some sense of history. We have to be accountable for what we write. You know? I’m sitting here talking about the causes of the banking meltdown; if my book, ”The Great American Stickup,” had actually been attacked and people had said, “Hey, there are factual errors—no, Robert Rubin didn’t do this, Lawrence Summers didn’t do this, Bill Clinton didn’t—” … I would at least think I would shut up, you know? But I’m sitting here telling you about Clinton’s responsibility for the Great Recession, because I wrote a book on it, and I think the book holds up very well. I’m giving you this account of the whistleblowers, because I wrote a book on that, and I think it holds up quite well. So there has to be accountability, and for Paul Krugman in The New York Times to say that Sanders got it wrong about the cause of the economic crisis, and that it didn’t have to do with the big banks, and so forth, is simply a distortion of reality. It’s unconscionable.
EN: And on that note, thank you, everyone who commented and who interacted when we’ve been promoting this topic. Please continue to comment and interact and discuss amongst each other; I really love going through all of these comments, and I’m sure it’s something that we’ll continue discussing. And please go to Truthdig.com/support if you want to help keep Truthdig doing the journalism that we do. And you can also subscribe to our newsletter on Truthdig.com. Thank you guys for tuning in.
Give us your thoughts in the comments below, or chime in on Facebook.
You can also check out past live discussions on our YouTube channel.
Be sure to tune in next week on Thursday, June 30, at 3 p.m. PST. Veteran and antiwar activist Ron Kovic, the author of “Born on the Fourth of July” and a new book, “Hurricane Street,” will be our guest on “Live at Truthdig.” You can participate in real time and ask him questions. Read an excerpt from “Hurricane Street” here.Your support matters…
Independent journalism is under threat and overshadowed by heavily funded mainstream media.
You can help level the playing field. Become a member.
Your tax-deductible contribution keeps us digging beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that unearths what's really happening- without compromise.
Give today to support our courageous, independent journalists.