A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
The “wall” funding fight that has forced a partial government shutdown is also a fight over facts. President Donald Trump has repeatedly distorted the situation at the southern border and stoked fear about immigration. Government agencies have shared misleading statistics. And Trump’s media allies have created an echo chamber for the falsehoods.
Journalists keep having to step in to state the facts. Case in point, “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace anticipated this trickery by Sarah Sanders: “We know that roughly nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is southern border.”
Wallace interrupted: “I know the statistic. I didn’t know if you were going to use it, but I studied up on this. Do you know what those 4,000 people come where they are captured? Airports.”
Sanders said “not always,” purposefully trying to confuse and scare people. “Airports,” Wallace emphasized. “The State Department says there hasn’t been any terrorists found coming across the southern border.”
Thank you, Chris Wallace…
Facts v. “emotional appeal”
The Wallace interview especially stood out because other Fox shows have been promoting faulty stats to stir up fear. But it’s definitely not just about stats. I was reminded of this while watching “Fox & Friends” this weekend, with its numerous segments about violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. Emotions trump reason.
As Security analyst Adam Isacson was quoted saying in Sunday’s WaPo: “They are stuck on this wall thing because of its emotional appeal.”
Fear-mongering in action
Trump and his aides are “knowingly lying in the service of their political goal,” Frank Bruni said on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” when I highlighted the Sanders/Wallace exchange.
It reminded me of this Post story from a few days ago. Ellen Nakashima reported that the DOJ “has acknowledged errors and deficiencies in a controversial report issued a year ago that implied a link between terrorism in the United States and immigration, but — for the second and final time — officials have declined to retract or correct the document.”
New Trump campaign ad warns about drugs and gangs
The fear-mongering is evident in this new Trump 2020 ad. The ad began airing on CNN on Saturday, so I brought it up on Sunday’s show. “Drugs, terrorists, violent criminals and child traffickers trying to enter our country – but Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer care more about the radical left than keeping us safe,” the ad claims. “The consequences? Drug deaths. Violent murder. Gang violence. We must not allow it…”
Pelosi to Nielsen: “I don’t believe your facts”
That brings us back to the fight over facts. The other day the WSJ described a “tense exchange” between Pelosi and DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, with Pelosi interrupting Nielsen’s presentation to dispute DHS data. CNN’s Boris Sanchez had details in this story on Saturday — he said “Pelosi twice cut into Nielsen’s presentations to dismiss DHS statistics on border security as inaccurate.”
Per a W.H. official, Pelosi told Nielsen “I don’t believe your facts.” A Pelosi aide told CNN: “In presentations made, they have repeatedly used statistics not supported by fact. They’re trying to cast every single migrant as a terrorist or someone with a violent criminal history. The secretary has proven herself to not be credible on these issues.”
– Important CNN piece: “Fact-checking the DHS border presentation”
Where does Trump get his facts?
On “State of the Union,” Jake Tapper raised a related issue – the president’s sketchy sources of information — in a very newsy interview with new acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Tapper pointed out that managing the flow of info to Trump has been an issue for the past two years. Mulvaney responded: “The president gets the best information that’s available. He just does.”
Tapper brought up the concern in the context of Trump’s recent expression of support for the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan… I also brought up Trump’s revisionist history on “Reliable,” with David Frum, who has said that POTUS straight-up spouted Russian propaganda. Frum’s question: “How did this particular piece of disinformation get into the president’s head? That’s something you can’t report, we can only surmise.”
Will news coverage move the needle?
News coverage is showing the impacts of the partial government shutdown – will it make a difference? Will the personal stories and the pictures of long airport security lines influence the negotiations?
→ Headline on CNN.com right now: “This family thought their troubles were over. Then the government shutdown left them in limbo.”
Frum says Trump coverage should be even tougher
With Jill Abramson causing controversy for saying her former paper, the NYT, is “anti-Trump,” we had a very interesting conversation on Sunday’s show about what it means to be “anti-Trump.” (Abramson declined our interview requests because her book comes out in a month.)
“I don’t think we’ve been anti-Trump. I think we have been negative. And I think that’s the only honest way to cover this presidency,” NYT op-ed columnist Frank Bruni said.
David Frum went even further: “Relative to the truth, the prestige press in this country has a pro-Trump bias. Relative to the truth, Trump gets easier coverage than he deserves.” Watch him make the case here…
How Fox talks about impeachment
We know how POTUS feels – “you can’t impeach somebody that’s doing a great job.” But how do his Fox fans talk about it? Here are three examples…
– On Sunday’s “F&F,” Pete Hegseth called NYT’s David Leonhardt a “fraud” for writing a column that said “The US has never had a president as demonstrably unfit for the office as Trump. And it’s becoming clear that 2019 is likely to be dominated by a single question: What are we going to do about it?” Hegseth didn’t bother engaging with the core points of the column…
– Jeanine Pirro to Rep. Rashida Tlaib: “Show me where in the Constitution, Rashida, it says you can impeach a president because you hate him?”
– Jesse Watters: “If you impeach Trump, you get President Pence. Now imagine what kind of judges HE’LL name to the Supreme Court. They’ll make Kavanaugh look like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
NOW, FROM RIGHT TO LEFT…
We led Sunday’s show with the Democratic power shift and how Dems are covered by the press in the Trump age. This Bill Kristol tweet caught my eye: “As a non-Democrat, I’m struck by how much the media seem obsessed by possible rifts among Democrats, narrow lines they’ll have to walk, stray utterances of their backbenchers, etc, than by the rather more massive fact that we have a president and administration in total meltdown.” Is that true? Three CNN political commentators, all Democrats, joined me in the “A block…”
– Symone Sanders talked about the disconnect between pundits and the public. “It’s really important that folks go on the ground, and that we’re talking to real people…”
– Karen Finney (in her first appearance as a CNNer!) emphasized the importance of language. “We can’t be afraid to call out things that are racist or sexist…”
– Dan Pfeiffer said “Trump drives clicks” for media outlets so Democrats will have to rely on “alternatives,” from podcasts like his own (“Pod Save America”) to Instagram live chats…
Inside Sherrod and Schultz’s 2020 discussions
Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and the better half of Democratic senator Sherrod Brown, told me they will decide in the next two months about whether he’ll run for president. I appreciated how candid she was about the decision-making process… We also talked about the framing of the 2020 primary, how female candidates like Elizabeth Warren are described differently, and more… Video of our TV interview is up now, and CNN’s Devan Cole has a recap…
FOR THE RECORD
By Katie Pellico:
– Anne Helen Petersen diagnoses Millennials as “the burnout generation…” (BuzzFeed)
– “A Grindr harassment suit could change the legal landscape for tech — and free speech.” (NBC News)
– ICYMI: “Keeping up with Netflix originals is basically a part-time job now,” Ashley Rodriguez writes: “By Quartz’s measure, the streaming-video giant put out nearly 90,000 minutes—close to 1,500 hours—of original series, movies, and other productions” in 2018… (Quartz)