Accuracy in Media

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The Huffington Post’s editorial director, Danny Shea, took some heat on Friday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe for his decision to classify Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as entertainment and not politics.

Shea said the decision is based on their opinion that Trump isn’t a serious candidate, and that it’s his celebrity that is responsible for the non-stop wall-to-wall coverage he is receiving. He compared it to CNN’s coverage of the Malaysian airliner crash, while discounting Trump’s commanding lead in the polls.

Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski called out Shea on HuffPo’s hypocrisy, citing the Senate campaigns of comedian Al Franken and actress Ashley Judd, who both were covered in the politics section even though they were clearly entertainers with no previous political experience. Even though Trump has no political experience, he is a successful businessman. By that measure alone he is a more qualified candidate for office than Franken and Judd ever were.

Shea tried to defend his decision by bringing up an incident in 2007 when Brzezinski refused to talk about Paris Hilton, calling it comparable to what HuffPo is doing today:

You were the heroine of a media moment. You said enough already and we’re saying the exact same thing. We’re saying that we will not participate in this sort of legitimacy of a fringe candidate who doesn’t even believe that Obama was born in the United States. To give him the coverage, to legitimize him time and time again only perpetuates the legitimacy of a sideshow.

Trump’s commanding lead in the polls and the increasingly large audiences that he is attracting across the country make him a legitimate candidate and not someone to be ignored. It’s time for Shea and HuffPo to put away their anti-Trump bias and give him the coverage he deserves—in the politics section—as the GOP front-runner.

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    Thanks to Morning Joe, Mika and their team for attempting (alas unsuccessfully) to talk sense into Mr. Shea. This is not a partisan issue. I am as left-of-center as Mr. Scarborough (and Mr. Irvine) are right-of-center. Not only is HuffPost way off base, they were (as of 2 days ago when they censored my substantively similar comment on their website) unwilling to brook criticism of their sanctimonious decision.

    There is actually a little more to the issue than could be covered in Morning Joe’s “light” segment:

    First, the content of HuffPost’s coverage is not as dismissive as Mr. Shea’s repetitive put-downs of Mr. Trump would suggest. HuffPost’s journalists understand he is raising serious issues and has “hit a gusher” of public support (and not just from Republicans). Otherwise Frank Luntz, for example, would not be in full retreat from his anti-Trump propaganda mode following the first debate, as Luntz obviously is.

    As one of Morning Joe’s panelists suggested, it is HuffPost’s implied revocation of Mr. Trump’s right to seek the presidency, and public’s right to favor his candidacy, that exposes HuffPost to fair charge of blurring their editorial and news coverage. What I liked about the old Wall Street journal is that they never did that (their editorials were far right but their news coverage was generally honest and therefore left-liberal as it has to be to reflect reality in our perennially Not-Great Society).

    Second, most of Trump’s rhetoric on jobs and (anti-) free trade issues is spot-on substantively, from a progressive perspective. These issues are INTEGRAL to the inequality debate so Mr. Shea was incorrect when asserting that Trump coverage has displaced the “inequality debate”. On the contrary, Trump (ironically given his ultra-elite status), second only to Bernie Sanders, is driving that discussion during this electoral cycle.

    Trump’s credibility about prioritizing American sovereignty and greatly curbing “corporate globalony” (AKA the “one world economy” that American elite pols of both parties foisted on the public without a single vote ever being taken on the momentous issue, and but one public debate — a highly unsatisfying makeshift hour between Al Gore and Ross Perot on Larry King Live circa 1996), is a separate issue.

    Whereas HuffPost’s senior officials hear Senator Sanders loud and clear and treat him highly respectfully, they will not even entertain the idea (so to speak) that Trump might be emerging as a genuine “class traitor” to his own .01% kind, of the sort American history has produced before in times of crisis. I’m not persuaded he is, but I would not dismiss it as an impossibility as HuffPost is doing by disparagingly classifying his campaign as “Entertainment”.

    You would think the examples of Ronald Reagan (who I reviled) and “song and dance man” George Murphy (who defeated President Kennedy’s press secretary Pierre Salinger in the 1964 U.S. Senate race here in California — I remember being stunned by the latter as an impressionable 10 year from a liberal family) would give Mr. Shea pause.

    Here is the comment that HuffPost censored that I attempted to make 2 days ago in response to a serious-enough article about Trump that had been incongruously placed in their Entertainment section:
    Someone has to say it (and it might as well be an original HuffPost commenter): HuffPost will have to soon drop its classification of Trump as “Entertainment”. His candidacy for the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination is quite real and newsworthy. It is also partially salutary and reflects a “method to his madness”:

    Trump is (ingeniously) calling the elites of both parties on their prioritization of the creation of middle classes in China, India, Vietnam etc. at the expense of the millions of Americans in the US middle class. Trump is CORRECTY saying (or strongly implying) that elites of both parties do not care about (much less love) Americans more than foreigners. Both Trump and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (seeking the Democratic nomination) are prioritizing the well-being of Americans FIRST, as they SHOULD.

    I’ve said for a long time that the 2016 election will come down to a choice between regressive or enlightened versions of populism, protectionism and isolationism and so far my prognostication has been borne out. Right now Trump (the regressive version) has the momentum, but it’s far too early to count out Bernie (the enlightened version), although without independent financial benefactors from liberal billionaires or hundred millionaires I don’t think he stands much of a chance. That’s why I have registered an (as yet unfunded) wholly unaffiliated superPAC in support of Bernie’s candidacy. See

    When the American public becomes incensed at the disloyalty of elected leaders towards them, “hedgehog” leaders such as Trump and Sanders, who know a few big things (and Sanders is obviously far better educated than Trump about public policy and probably the world, although Bernie is choosing not to speak about foreign policy at all other than the jobs issue) the kind of breezily dismissive treatment HuffPost and other progressive online outlets are engaged-in towards Trump won’t work.

    Plus, if the last several weeks of “the Trump phenomenon” prove anything, it is that tv beats social media for influence. Hands down. If and when the mainstream broadcast media turns on him (again), Trump can “go big” on paid media (and the mainstream media knows it, so has already “backed off” trying to vilify Trump). Poor Bernie currently has no ability to use paid media to fight back when the mainstream media gets around to lowering the boom on him. Nor will his supporters unless my or another superPAC gets off the ground very soon.

    Trump’s medium and long run problem will be his credibility. Anyone can promise or hint at anything. Look at Obama in 2007-2008 (hinting strongly that he would curtail the headlong corporate offshoring of facilities and jobs to China and India, etc., police Wall Street, and otherwise protect the middle class via foreclosure relief, etc.). If Sanders were politically shrewd he would already be aggressively questioning Trump’s real intentions once in office.

    What evidence is there that Trump will become a traitor to his own .01% kind? What has he EVER said or done in his LIFE that would lead one to believe that he would if elected president become a class traitor and loyal to the 79%? (The folks between 99% and 79% are doing fine — the 79% and below folks are slowly being impoverished and lower echelon lives in America are ones of constant quiet desperation.)

    In sum, where’s the proof that Donald Trump has ANY real sense of noblesse oblige? For all we know, he asked an aide to tell him what positions would become popular if he ran for prez and he spent a few weeks practicing talking about them, and went out and did so, and “hit a gusher”. That might only mean that he has smart aides. Where’s his lifetime RECORD of civic concern? If he has one it hasn’t been publicized yet.

    Illustrating the doubts about and promise of Trump is a recent news item that a few years ago he tried to start a boycott of a certain brand of whiskey because a business competitor received an award from the Scottish liquor industry (or some such nonsense). If that’s Kennedy-esque it’s more Joe Kennedyesque than anything Joe’s sons would ever have done. But now Trump’s applying the boycott tactic to Nabisco, who richly deserves it for moving their cookie factories to Mexico. He says he’ll never eat Oreos again. I hope he means it. We should all do likewise.

    Eric C. Jacobson
    Public Interest Lawyer