Select Page

Meet the Press

The hustlers, hucksters, hacks, and cowards who helped elect Donald Trump
by Rick Perlstein

Dec 6, 2016 | Election 2016, Rickipedia

Scott Swigart

I was curious, so I did a bit of research on theories about why great civilizations fall. Some scholars point to the danger of overextended militaries, others on overwhelmed bureaucracies. Sometimes the key factor is declines in public health, often caused by agricultural crises. Political corruption is another contender, as are inflated currencies, technological inferiority, court intrigue, rivals taking control of key transportation routes, or an overreliance on slave labor. Others point to changes in climate, geographic advantages won and lost, or the ever-popular invasion by barbarian hordes.

None I could find, however, mentioned what may become future historians’ most convincing explanation for America’s fall, should Donald Trump end up her author and finisher: bad journalism.

America’s media establishment endlessly repeated Republican claims that Hillary Clinton was a threat to the security and good order of the republic, because she stored official emails on her own server, and erased about 33,000 of them she said were private. The New York Times ran three front-page stories about FBI director James Comey’s surprise review of another set of emails found on the computer of Anthony Weiner’s wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin. This second review, however, like the first, ended up showing no wrongdoing.

The elite gatekeepers of our public discourse never bothered with context: that every Secretary of State since the invention of the internet had done the same thing, because the State Department’s computer systems have always been awful; that at the end of the administration of the nation’s 41st president a corrupt national archivist appointed by Ronald Reagan upon the recommendation of Dick Cheney signed a secret document giving George H.W. Bush personal, physical custody of the White House’s email backup tapes so they would never enter the public record. (A federal judge voided the document as “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.”) The White House of his son George W. Bush erased 22 million of its official emails, including those under subpoena from Congress. Newspapers archived by the Lexis-Nexis database mentioned Hillary R. Clinton’s 33,000 erased private emails 785 times in 2016. I found six references to George W. Bush’s 22 million erased public ones: four in letters to the editor, one in a London Independent op-ed, another in a guide to the U.S. election for Australians, and one a quotation from a citizen in the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun.

And now we have Donald Trump, elected in part because of his alleged tender concern for the secure handling of intelligence, making calls to world leaders from Trump Tower’s unsecured telephones.

Trump boogied his way to Pennsylvania Avenue to the tune of the extraordinary finding by a Washington Post-ABC News poll that “corruption in government” was listed by 17 percent of voters as the most important issue in the presidential election, second only to the economy, and ahead of terrorism and health care—and that voters trusted Trump over Clinton to be better on the issue by a margin of 48 to 39 percent, her worst deficit on any issue. This is the part of my article where rhetorical conventions demand I provide a thumbnail sketch of all the reasons why it’s factually absurd that anyone would believe that Donald Trump is less corrupt than Hillary Clinton. I have better things to do with my time than belabor the obvious.

Yet somehow, the great mass of Americans believed Clinton was the crook. Might it have something to do with the myriad articles like, say, “Smoke Surrounds the Clinton Foundation,” by The Los Angeles Times’s top pundit Doyle McManus? This piece, all too typically, despite endeavoring to debunk Trump claims of Clinton corruption, repeated charges like “Doug Band, who helped create the Clinton Global Initiative, sought access to State Department officials for Clinton Foundation donors”—even though donors did not get that access). And that donors harbored the “assumption” that they would “move to the head of the line”—even though they never did.

And what were pundits like McManus smoking? The vapors from a cunning long-term disinformation campaign run by the man Donald Trump appointed as his chief White House political strategist. Steve Bannon chartered a nonprofit “Government Accountability Institute,” whose president, Peter Schweizer, hacked out an insinuation-laden tome, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, then offered its “findings” on an exclusive pre-publication basis to the Times, which shamefully accepted the deal—with, predictably, the public’s perceptions of Clinton’s trustworthiness cratering in tandem with our national Newspaper of Record’s serial laundering of Steve Bannon’s filth.

So where are we now? At the razor’s edge.

Now we have a president-elect who boasts of his immunity from prosecution for leveraging his office for personal gain (“The President can’t have a conflict of interest”). This after having telegraphed, in 2000, his intent to use a presidential run to “make money on it,” for all America’s journalists to see—and ignore. At the Republican convention, Michael Mukasey, the former United States attorney general under George W. Bush, drew appreciative applause for the line that Hillary Clinton would be the “first president in history to take the oath of office after violating it.” No reporter I’m aware of had the initiative to track down Mr. Mukasey to follow up: what do you make of accusations that Donald Trump is laying the groundwork for a day-one violation of Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution (the “Emoluments Clause”), which proscribes any elected official of the United States government from accepting any present, emolument, title, etc. from any foreign state or foreign leader? Trump has already done so several times that we are aware of. These include reports that the government of Georgia has since the election green-lighted a new Trump property there, a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which Trump promoted his Turkish business partners, and all the foreign dignitaries renting rooms at Trump’s new hotel in Washington at $850 a night.

It was a steely Fox News correspondent who earned a reputation as Donald Trump’s most fearless media adversary: “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” Megyn Kelly said to him in an August 2015 debate. “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president . . . ? Camp Trump savaged her in response, but she continued, apparently undaunted—so much so that by January, Bill Maher said she was doing such a good job keeping Trump on his toes that she should be one of the Republican candidates. In October, she brought Newt Gingrich to the verge of apoplexy by pointing out that Donald Trump was by his own admission a sexual predator. “You’re fascinated with sex and you don’t care about public policy,” Gingrich shrieked in return. Kelly, with astonishing sangfroid, responded that she was in fact “fascinated by the protection of women, and understanding what we’re getting in the Oval Office,” and coolly suggested Gingrich should work on his “anger issues.”

And there, finally, it was: hiding in plain sight, a media superstar who actually understood her vocation. That the job of the Fourth Estate in the run-up to an election is to inform the citizenry about what they need to know about the choices before them, without fear or favor, even at risk of their own careers. Which appeared a serious risk indeed, given that this brave truth-teller was an employee of the Trump-fluffing Fox News.

Except, no. Next came what to my mind was the most bone-chilling revelations of the entire campaign season: that Kelly’s personal safety had grown so precarious that a Fox news executive had to caution Donald Trump’s personal lawyer about emitting further who-will-rid-me-of-this-meddlesome-priest–style messages—before the Fox anchor got capped by some fevered Trump fanatic. (“Let me put it to you in terms you can understand: If Megyn Kelly gets killed, it’s not going to help your candidate.”) Kelly also reported that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski “specifically threatened me if I showed up at the second debate hosted by Fox News.” She also pointed out that Trump’s social-media manager had tweeted, “Watch what happens to her after this election is over.” Problem being, Kelly revealed all this after the election was over. In coordination with the PR campaign for her brand new book. Until those interests aligned, apparently, America did not need to know that the minions of one of the candidates for president were flirting with loosing vigilante assassins upon a journalist.

For the likes of Megyn Kelly, it’s just a business opportunity. Same with CBS chairman Les Moonves, who observed, back in February: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Or, yet worse, a game. Moonves again: “Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? . . . The money’s rolling in and this is fun.”

For CNN, Trumpland’s been an entire off-the-shelf business model. Their president, Jeff Zucker, was the executive who green-lighted “The Apprentice” while head of NBC Entertainment. He’s a cocktail-party pal with Donald, and has been accused by Huffington Post and BuzzFeed founder Ken Lerer, who knows the media business inside and out, of turning the Trump campaign into the very backbone of their 2016 brand as “a strategy, a programming strategy.”

It’s certainly not, for the Cable News Network, a news story in any recognizable sense, which would imply some sort of responsibility to inform. How could CNN possibly do that after hiring Corey Lewandowski to comment upon a man, Donald Trump, whose emoluments he still received, and who was under a binding legal agreement never to inform the public of anything disparaging about him?

So where are we now? At the razor’s edge. The Trump transition has put in stark relief the very foundations of the profession of journalism in modern America—whose fundamental canon is that there are two legitimate sides to every story, occasionally more, but never less. In a political campaign, they are structured on an iron axis. The Democratic side. The Republican side. Any critical attempt to weigh the utterances of one as more dangerous than the other is, by definition, the worst conceivable professional sin.

Then, the picture that results is presumed to map social reality on a one-to-one basis.

Thus, the crisis. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” as Upton Sinclair once observed. But by now, the conventional operation has been yielding distortions so palpable that even some mainstream professional journalists and editors are starting to understand it.

But sometimes, they have not.

It’s been a 50-50 sort of thing—and this is the hinge moment I suspect historians will bore down upon with particular intensity some decades hence.

They will study, from the evening of November 17 on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” a searingly courageous and astringent interview with white supremacist Richard Spencer, no punches pulled. He wanted to talk about how school kids naturally sort themselves into races in the cafeteria, and how New Yorkers eye each other warily on the subway: nothing more. Then, for any listener who might find temptation to locate this within the warm bounds of civic reason, reporter Kelly McEvers very effectively and patiently relocated him to the chilliest corners of a civic Antarctica. The edit of the interview led with him pronouncing, “What I would ultimately want is this ideal of a space effectively for Europeans.” Her probing then revealed his affection for the swastika—“an ancient symbol”—and his approval of “people who want to get in touch with their identity as a European”—just not via “physical threats or anything like that.”

This was journalism. This told the truth.

Then came NPR’s “Morning Edition” on November 18—where Steve Inskeep interviewed reporter Scott Horsley on three major Trump appointments, Jeff Sessions for attorney general, and Mike Pompeo for head of the CIA, and Michael Flynn as national security advisor, a series of lies of omission.

Inskeep blandly introduced them as “Trump loyalists,” who “mirror some of the positions that the president-elect himself took during the campaign.” Flynn sharing Trump’s “concerns about radical Islam,” Sessions “a real hard-liner when it comes to illegal immigration.” Flynn—“a Democrat”—“took some flak for taking payments from Russian state television,” and believes “we must be able to deal with Russia.” But, we were reassured, “still describes Russia as a grave threat.” Pompeo, Inskeep observed, “is going to be wading into quite a challenge,” because “Trump has said that he wants the United States to get back into the torture business.”

But Senator Mark Warner was brought in to reassure us: “Hopefully, that hypothetical will—we won’t have to address.” Added Horsley, “the CIA director is a post that is subject to Senate confirmation, as is the attorney general’s post.”

This is the hinge moment I suspect historians will bore down upon with particular intensity some decades hence.

The National Security Advisor, however, is not.

NPR’s producers brought in a former colleague of General Flynn’s, named Sarah Chayes.[*] 

Inskeep: “How closely did you work with General Flynn?”

Chayes: “We shared an office. Our desks faced each other.”

“Well, what is he like as an office mate?”

“Fun, for starters . . .”

You see, she explained, he reminded her of the character in “Peanuts,” Pig Pen.

Inskeep almost giggled: “O.K., the kid who was a little dirty, O.K. So you’re saying that things were a little chaotic around General Flynn. But you found this guy to be extraordinarily enthusiastic . . . .”

They kibbitzed like that for a little while longer. Inskeep seemed pleased to learn she had never heard anything prejudiced from him. He asked how she felt when she heard about his selection. She answered, “My heart sank.”

Inskeep sounded surprised: “Really? Why?”

“Everything I just said”—meaning, she hadn’t been joking. Inskeep had plainly thought it all was a jape. She put it bluntly: “The NSA is an institution that, first of all, has to keep the trains running. That’s the first job of the National Security Advisor—is to make the National Security Advisor run.”

Inskeep, impatiently: “O.K.”

Chayes, starkly: “Flynn can’t make anything run.”

Which, considering that she was saying he was objectively unsuited for the job he was to fill—the NSA’s job is to organize, and Flynn is staggeringly disorganized—sounded like something they could have dwelt upon at greater length than what “Peanuts” character he most resembled. But no: “O.K., Sarah, got to stop you there because of the clock.”

Hard break. The show was over. No time to squeeze a word in about Flynn leading the cheers to “Lock Her Up” at the Republican convention, concerning Hillary Clinton’s dodgy email server, though Flynn himself routinely broke security rules he considered “stupid,” including having a forbidden internet connection installed in his Pentagon offices. Nor what security reporter Dana Priest described as his reposts of “the vitriol of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim commentators.” And in another instance a tweet concerning Clintonite “Sex Crimes w/Children, etc.” Nothing mentioned about the book Flynn co-authored with conspiracy theorist Michael Ledeen, which spread the insane far-right conviction that Islam is not a religion but a conspiracy aimed at destroying Judeo-Christian civilization. (Priest: “I’ve asked Flynn directly about this claim; he has told me that he doesn’t have proof—it’s just something he feels as true.”) Nor his business ties to Turkey, on whose behalf, without disclosure, he has written op-eds advising extradition of an enemy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime. Nor that he not merely “appeared” on Russia’s state-sponsored English-language station RT but was a paid speaker at their anniversary gala in Moscow. Nor that he has stated, “I’ve been at war with Islam”—he corrected himself, for political correctness’s sake: “or a component of Islam”—“for the last decade.”

He’s General Jack D. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove. Yet listening to NPR, you’d think he was a disheveled version of Lawrence Eagleburger.

Media on the razor’s edge between truth and acquiescence. Consider two more case studies: The Washington Post and Time magazine.

The Washington Post: it had some great investigations on Trump, for instance the stunning, meticulous reporting of David Fahrenthold demonstrating how the Trump Foundation operates as an elaborate self-enriching scam. The editors loved it. But when columnist Richard Cohen reported that Trump said to someone Cohen knew, about then-13-year-old Ivanka, “Is it wrong to be more sexually attracted to your own daughter than your wife?”, the words, which appeared in an advance draft circulated for publication, were excised in the published version.

It’s almost like they keep score in editorial offices. Only a certain number of horrifying—which is to say, truthful—things can be allowed in a major publication about our president-elect every day, which then must be balanced by something reassuring. Which is to say, something not true. Like the headline the Post circulated for its daily promotional email on November 24: “Trump Looks to Diversify His Cabinet With Latest Picks.” Which, remarkably, was precisely the same angle The New York Times played: “Trump Diversifies Cabinet.” Both were referring to the same individuals, Nikki Haley, and Betsy DeVos. You’d think the lead about Trump’s appointment of Haley would instead be the extraordinary irresponsibility of picking someone without a day’s foreign policy experience in her life as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. Or, concerning Education Secretary-designate DeVos, the fact that she married into a family that built an empire on industrial-scale fraud (the family business, Amway, paid $150 million in 2011 to settle one class action suit), that the company founded by her brother Erik Prince was responsible for the most lawless American massacre of the Iraq war (and then, when contracting with a country with a functioning rule of law got to be too much, turned to building a mercenary air force for rent to Third World nations, in cahoots with China’s largest state-owned investment firm).

Or, you know, that she has no education experience, except if you count writing checks to advocate its privatization.

Time magazine: they just ran a very illuminating piece by historian David Kaiser exposing Steve Bannon’s alarming interpretation of a theory advanced by amateur historians Neil Howe and William Strauss in books like The Fourth Turning: An American Prophesy, that every 80 years or so the United States endures a nation-transforming crisis: “More than once during our interview,” Kaiser wrote of an earlier interview with Bannon, where “he pointed out that each of the three preceding crises had involved a great war, and those conflicts had increased in scope from the American Revolution through the Civil War to the Second World War. He expected a new and even bigger war as part of the current crisis, and he did not seem at all fazed by the prospect.”

That the president elect’s closest adviser both welcomes apocalyptic conflagrations, and will soon be well-positioned to bring one about, is the kind of news you’d think a more responsible national press would be pursuing. I haven’t seen much mention of the fact, beyond my Bolshevik friends on Facebook, however. From the warm and fuzzy confines of Time’s editorial offices, however, I received the following reassuring missive by way of balance:

“5 Potential Quick Victories for President Donald Trump: Few have high expectations for the President-elect’s foreign policy. But he could make some big improvements.”

Click the link. Print it out. Seal between two six-inch thick plates of Lexan glass and bury it 50 feet deep in a lead-lined bunker. Future archaeologists are going to need it. It will help them explain how a once-great civilization fell.


Rick Perlstein is The Washington Spectator’s national correspondent.

[*]  Correction: This article has been revised to reflect the correct spelling of Sarah Chayes.

Read On:

Share This Story:


  1. If you exclude exogenous factors like catastrophic natural disasters and bad luck, I would bet every single civilizations collapsed because information became hard to get, for whatever reason. That’s what’s going on here as well. The “news” business isn’t paid to provide information; their incentives are obvious, but that generally means that information is a byproduct.

    In the big picture sense this argues against making media and fact-collection subject to market forces. But that implication doesn’t tell us much that’s useful for today or the near term.

  2. If one man can destroy our system of checks and balances our days here are numbered anyway. And it seems possible to blame anyone, everyone for Clinton’s defeat – BernieBros, Putin, Comey, Wikileaks, third-party candidates… pick one, anyone. Except for the Clinton Campaign.

    Clinton’s swing state campaign was frankly delusional. as if they thought they had-it-in-the-bag all along. Hubris is what lost her the presidency.

  3. Bravo … best recap of our political press’s shortcomings that Trump so well exposed in 2016.

  4. This is so depressing. And there is zero evidence that anything will change. I don’t know how we survive the next 8 years. Yes, I think it will be 8 years (with Trump or Pence). Truly terrifying.

    • 8 years? I doubt it. Once Herr Drumpenfuhrer realizes how difficult a job POTUS really is, and how utterly impossible it is to save himself from the disgrace of being unable to rise above his sociopathy and how incompetent he is to reconcile his lack of character with the demands of the job, his carrot-colored head will explode. I give him a year, tops.

  5. It defies rational analysis because it was emotional. People were not manipulated by bad journalism to dislike Hillary. the emails just reinforced a perception that she was arrogant not that she was crooked. People are not drawn to intellectual elites, e.g., Adlai Stevenson. She had thousands of pages of policies. She did not connect. And on top of that she had Clinton baggage. She was not a candidate for change. She was the wrong person to run in 2016 but she had captured the Party and she had waited 8 years and damn it it was her time. And she was a woman and we owe it to women to give them a chance to lead. If there had been a national primary Bernie would have one just as she claims the popular vote over Trump. If Dems had to run on stay the course Biden was the man, but she wasn’t going to let that happen. The problem is the primary process that locks it up too early and gives too much weight to victories in states that Dems don’t win in November. Don’t blame journalists. It was obvious who Trump was. But the press couldn’t create something that Hillary never had, an openness that allowed people to feel they knew her and could trust her. She came across as calculating. That was her not journalism.

    • By “capture the party” you mean most voters wanted her over Bernie. Who would have lost a national primary just as he lost the individual primaries. And the idea that Bernie would have waltzed to victory over Trump is a joke based on nothing but meaningless polling. But never mind: faced with an excellent article on the institutional failure of the American press, you have nothing to offer but the usual BernieBro bile against Hillary. If the nation is to be saved, it certainly won’t be by clowns like you.

    • Dan Thompson: So, let’s see. As of my typing this, Hillary Clinton has won the popular vote with a margin of 2.7 million votes and counting, with a distinct possibility that the gap may reach 3 million. And yet Hillary, not Trump, is the one who “did not connect”? He didn’t “connect” to as many voters as Hillary did. Yeah, yeah. She lost the Electoral College and so lost the election. That’s how you do things down there. But then it would surely be more accurate to say that she “did not connect” to the right people: the ones living in smaller states with a hugely disproportionate (and undeserved) amount of electoral power. The Electoral College’s anti-democratic structure was a huge factor in her loss. And the rest of your argument is no better: reviving the email controversy ELEVEN DAYS before the election did reinforce a certain perception, but it wouldn’t have done so without the intense, widespread coverage of what turned out to be a big nothing. Bad journalism most certainly was a factor in what happened. Nothing you wrote shows otherwise. And your assertion that the perception reinforced by this coverage was that Hillary was arrogant, not crooked, is an out-of-nowhere claim without an ounce of support and plenty of evidence against it. (Read the article again for some of that.) How well does your claim fit with the whole “Lock ‘er up!” thing? Not very, I should think.

    • “People were not manipulated by bad journalism to dislike Hillary.”

      Please, go back to the top and read the article again.

  6. I just posted this to facebook. Thank you Rick Perlstein. No comfort for what has happened to the country but at least … finally, some truth.

  7. Eat, Laugh, Resist.

  8. Perceptive analysis, but the story is indeed complicated.

    Trump got a lot of negative coverage, but in the end there was so much of it that it was hard to distinguish the signal from the noise. So for him bad news ended up being good news.

    Clinton rose in the polls when she got exposure: after the convention and after the debates. She then regressed to a mean that was determined by fundamentals: a sluggish economy and a weak approval ratings. Voters came home to their party—and party affiliation matters, still. She was already on her way back to the mean when Comey put the thumbs on the scale.

    What was different this year and what will be interesting to watch unfold is the difficulty of even the media to cut through the confirmation bias. This was not a CNN or NPR or CBS election alone. Fox news and talk radio and Breitbart have been drumming up support for years. They are now the equivalent of the brown shirts of the 1930. That’s the real problem. Hitler hired Goebbels who was a genius not just at manipulating the masses (foremost through radio and through speeches), but also by catering to and winning over skeptical moderates.
    By 1938 those moderates were setting synagogues on fire.

    To prevent comparable developments is where the real challenge of the media lies for the coming years.

  9. Bravo as well for an excellent piece. I am sickened by how the media normalized a bigoted coward, his cronies, and their lies. The question is what now? Our democracy is at risk. Do we just sit back and let this happen?


    Hail Trump-Elect! inept and crude.
    Thank goodness, Donald, you’re no prude,
    Who—wink,wink—activates the lewd
    Women conceal,
    Though itching, mostly, to be screwed,
    Such your appeal.

    Great Carrot-Head, accept our praise!
    The Democrats sent out to graze,
    Or wander a Daedalian maze
    Of their own making,
    Must crown your efforts with the bays
    When they stop shaking.

    Books the pedants will have written
    In after whiles will show you smitten
    By pussy (though some say kitten)
    To soothe your joint,
    Considering the vast beshitten
    Beside the point.

    And what your cabinet will be,
    And who’ll be paid the largest fee,
    And where you’ll dump democracy
    In times to come
    Are things the gods will laugh to see—
    Fee! Fie! Foh Fum!

    The platform, Donald, that you ran on,
    Entailed the racist thug Steve Bannon
    Disavowed of Cork and Shannon
    And so removed,
    Alt Right’s dedicate loose cannon,
    Whom you approved.

    The party that you left behind,
    Except for just the bitter rind,
    Wanders about, now, deaf and blind,
    And the dull hordes
    Wait for what they were designed,
    Food for their lords.

    Great Burns, who made this stanza yours,
    Forgive what here disgusts or bores,
    The subject neither love, nor wars,
    But Donald Trump,
    Who lies and panders, sniffs and roars,
    And takes a dump.

    Four years, if he can last that long,
    To suck the presidential bong
    And play with power like King Kong,
    Then, after that,
    Fate impale him on your prong,
    Juicy and fat.

    Robby Burns’ made this stanza famous, though he did not devise it.

  11. she lost for the same 2008 electoral reasons — people don’t like or trust her …. with piles of wrong doing and cover ups, Benghazi for instance, and emails deletion after being subpoena, etc — bias jornalism and the media, all contributed for the Trump’s phenomenon — 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 hello ? we have not learned or got a clue about what the “people” want .. I can see the consequences of bad government beyond 2024 .. we better get a grip and stop looking back to find excuses of a brutal historical loss …

  12. “It was obvious who Trump was.” “…..something that Hillary never had, an openness that allowed people to feel they knew her and could trust her. She came across as calculating.” Dan Thompson

    And that, for you, explains the election results? A low life troll is elected President because his many short comings are well known, and his opponent is rejected because there wasn’t enough media attention to her many assets as displayed over a thirty year career in public service. Dan is validating Rick’s entire article with a few brief phrases that under score his total lack of awareness of political consequences. Dan, you sound like one of those “surrogates” that CNN gave so much air time and payment to as representatives of Trump’s point of view.

  13. Fantastic piece. I think (fwiw) more attention to the new York times would have been appropriate, given their history from whitewater to the Iraq war to the emails… And they are the liberal paper of record, no matter what they think they can become, that’s the Brand. So be the liberal version of the WSJ.
    Rant over.

  14. Many thanks for taking remarkable initiative and sharing the crude facts and figures that help to unmask the person who by mistake won the election battle in America. Here in India press did the same and is ruled by a person who is has achieved a dubious distinction of being ultra rightist. In the USA there was remarkable protest movements several times when the Premier visited. The person who masterminded of killing thousands of innocent common people in the name of religion. The violence and carnage that condemned by all good thinking people in India and the world along with world leaders few years back. Few dominant press bring the person in power at the helm of Indian politics through glorifying his past history and building up a holy public image of the person. Now Indian politics is just an one man army, decision making power is virtually rested on in one man and each and every decision in the government is taken by a single person, without any meeting, consultation, advice. All media houses are under full control, small and independent media either they perished or merged with major houses. All social media are virtually under control and rigorously being monitored. Hate speech, derogatory remarks, abusive language and concoction of facts and figures have been dominating public life. Situation is extremely volatile and grave.
    However, I do appreciate your efforts in bringing about the truth of Towering Trump and tragic stories of the watch dog of national democracy – the public media !!

  15. Bravo, really. And yet the institutions you name (like with the Iraq War propaganda) continue to refuse any self-reflection of their own failings. Much like Trump (& the GOP in general) they have adopted the ‘never admit you’re wrong and just wait them out’ posture. In the beginning, I was not a big Clinton fan, but truly came to admire her in ways I never expected after realizing the 30 year character assassination she had survived from the GOP and its’ press enablers. Add Russian, wikileaks, and the freaking FBI – jeez, the woman was made of steel.

  16. Difficult to read but this is a start. Can you stay on this topic? Restate all the free publicity that TV stations gave Trump. They drove this race to the finish, and got rich in the process. Tell that story. How much money did the TV stations makes on ads designed to undo the damage? Trump won this election with help from Russia, Wikileaks, all your named culprits and every major TV newscast. It took all of that to defeat our first woman candidate for President. It is a small miracle that despite it all, she received 2.5 million + votes than he received. Those voters, who apparently have the ability to think for themselves, must now save the republic. Tell that story, please. The world deserves to know.

  17. As far as I’m concerned, Pres Elect Strangelove is the perfect man for getting on with this fall of American civilization stuff. He’s going to do a bang up job on that. At least until he gets bored and quits or is impeached.

  18. I feel like our country is sinking and the rescue boat, filled with highly educated, savvy Washington elected officials, is standing by waiting for it to right itself and set sail again. Why is GOP (and the Dems as well) not stepping in and reading the riot act to Trump?

  19. Thus it always is – say someone is corrupt enough times and everyone begins to believe it because – how could everybody be wrong?

    The republicans have this sort of nonsense down pat. Obamacare is bad – no evidence – plenty of reasons that it certainly helped contain costs, got healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions , removed life time caps for coverage but does anyone know this? Certainly not those rural relatively poor idiots who will have none now.

    Republicans have also somehow convinced the the red states and now swaths of the rust belt that democrats are somehow the party of the elites. When it is republicans who always give INCOME tax cuts instead of tax cuts that benefit the middle class, when republicans are the ones that want to break the unions- the only mechanism we have to maintain good paying jobs, when republicans want to eliminate good paying government jobs that serve as model for corporations because they supply a living wage, healthcare and real retirement plans (look no further than the idiots in Wisconsin who broke those just because they didn’t have the same).

    And where is the equivalent of the Koch brothers machine for dems? It better get off its ass because we have only 2 years to really make a change in this country – by ripping the House of representatives out of the cold dead hands of the republicans in 2018.

  20. The fourth estate, enshrined in the Constitution, was intended to be unfettered by the government and allowed to pursue truth without interference. What is not in the Constitution is that the fourth estate must use judgement. In the seventeen hundreds, the media consisted of printed word and word of mouth. Information was a rare commodity. Ironic that today, although the quantity of media outlets has increased to staggering proportions, actual truth is harder to find than ever. The only defense against fake news and distracting fluff is a public with the education and ability to think rationally. Yet it appears that our national course is heading toward less rationality, and a reliance on braggarts and snake-oil salesmen. I worry that public education is being decimated as the nation stands by and allows it. The nomination of Betsy DeVos exposes how little concern the new administration has for the broader electorate to become educated.

  21. “They will study, from the evening of November 17 on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” a searingly courageous and astringent interview with white supremacist Richard Spencer, no punches pulled.”

    Yeah, so courageous to go after white supremacists-they’re so powerful in places like Wall Street, Harvard and Hollywood. I think it would be a bit more courageous to confront the Jewish supremacists (coalitions of secular racial nationalists and religious bigots) who’ve run Israel for the past several decades.

  22. The article was interesting but missed a critical point. There were lots of criticism of of Trump but almost all of it was over MSNBC. That’s a channel that liberals watch meaning that most of the anti-Trump material was aimed at the wrong audience. The debates offered the opportunity for everyone to compare the candidates. Unfortunately, the questions asked were far too easy and there was little or no follow-up.

  23. I really like Rick Pearstein, but really now. There’s nothing here I haven’t known (and he hasn’t known) for some time now. Politics are utter fraud, for the most part? The Clintons have been savaged by the sycophantic media? Trump is a stooge who’s gonna hire on a bunch of imbeciles? No shit?! You want to blame somebody? Try the DNC. They exalted the wrong candidate. Too bad for them. I seem to recall that Mr. Pearlstein was/is a Clinton supporter. This shocked me, actually, he being an historian of some note. Is there no taking stock of Mrs. Clinton’s actual beliefs and actions? I’m not talking about her and the DNC’s “policies,” or their “platform,” or the obvious hatred for her by the irrtional, imbecile right, I’m talking about what they actually do, and have done. And I take note of the fact that during the Presidential contest, we were endlessly warned of how awful Trump is. Yeah, I got it. I’ve hated Trump for over 25 years; that he’s a world class crook and liar is not news to many of us. But, guess what? We are now being told by these self-same revilers of Trump that we must try to help Trumper be the best President he can be. I was sickened but not surprised to see Obama absolutely thrilled, smiling broadly, his feet nailed to the floor to prevent his skying upward out of sheer joy, in the presence of the Trump, sitting to his right, in the White House. Trump, smiling stupidly, appeared to have just farted, or cracked a schoolboy joke.
    Yes sir: As long as the Process moved along, all was well. And now Trump. I’ve got ten bucks and a Daniel Webster cigar that says the Democrats will weasel out when Trump blatantly violates the Emoluments clause. That will be on the day the old fat fraud is sworn in, and every day thereafter. We’ll see how much the Democrats have learned.

  24. Good article summarizing the 4th estate’s failings! The fundamental principle upon which freedom and democracy hinge and depend was broken over and over , again and again in Campaign 2016, “THE TRUTH”! This is the precious responsibility given the 4th Estate to protect and they failed miserably because they valued profiting from entertainment rather that offering the Electorate substance , verifiable fact, and bottom line , theTRUTH! May they take stock of this profound responsibility before campaign 2020!

  25. This article is a good start, but I think it only identifies the most obvious, most egregious examples of media obtuseness and irresponsibility. Just last week on Meet the Press, Dec. 4, Andrea Mitchell is still beating a dead horse.
    “Look, the media, we all missed it, we missed a lot of the signals, but in terms of coverage, DT was live and unedited in all these rallies on cable for months and months and months. He got his message through. Hillary Clinton did not get her message through and arguably that is a fair complaint but that’s because of e-mails that’s because of private servers, there was a lot of blame that has not been acknowledged by them for her original decisions and her lack of transparency and they didn’t have an economic message. I think there’s a lot of blame but I think he coverage can be faulted from both sides, for not being substantive, for not forcing both sides to talk about the issues.”

    This was nearly four weeks after the election and Andrea Mitchell was still blaming Hillary’s problems on the e-mail and private server and claiming this exposed Hillary’s “lack of transparency.” When I heard her say this, I wanted to reach into the TV and grab her and choke her.

    This statement essentially demonstrates that journalists have crossed over a line that they will never be able to retreat and recover from, that they cannot be trusted to be objective about the issues or accept culpability.

    This is what all the supposedly respected media people did throughout the campaign. When Charlie Rose interviewed David Brooks, they both took a potshot at Hillary and the e-mail issue. It was the drip, drip, drip of this issue by the media that did the most damage because every time there was a story about Hillary, the e-mail issue was brought up, no matter who was doing the story. All the NPR reporters, everyone. It always felt like a kick in the stomach every time I heard it because it was so so so unnecessary. It was nauseating to hear. All it did was to disempower and depress people like me and remind Trump supporters that they had every right to “distrust” and “dislike” Hillary.

    That’s the danger of what the media did. It was the accumulative drip, drip, drip, not the stories you mention above that not everyone read before hand. It was the fact that every damn time Hillary’s name was mentioned on every television and radio station, the words e-mail was also mentioned.

    It’s called priming. Now the new message the media will beat with a dead horse is that Trump is reasonable.

    The era of objective media is dead and so is democracy.

  26. Agreed. The press is the true enemy here. Virtually everyone in the country thinks of the Trump and Clinton Foundations as essentially equal, despite the fact that they represent the most polar extremes of private charities. Facts don’t matter anymore.

    I can’t figure out if it they did it because they are racists, fascists in league with Putin, or just bored. They steered the Titanic into the iceberg, just so they would have something to put on TV; and never mind that they they are broadcasting from the main deck.

  27. I am highly curious about why Mr. Perlstein failed to include in his analysis the medias’ collusion with the Clinton campaign. This is a true crime of omission. Bernie Sanders campaign was virtually laughed out and ignored by the media. Since the revocation of the fairness doctrine during the Reagan administration, we have had a media that has not only field to cover elections adequately, but they have inserted themselves into the process in an increasingly profound manner.

    We have a media that acts willfully as a propaganda machine, and so the irony of this article is breathtaking. If you write that you are to analyze the role of the media in the election, it is disingenuous to overlook the media’s abominable treatment of Senator Sanders.


  1. A Disastrous Failure of the Press - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money - […] Perlstein puts all of the pieces of the puzzle in place: […]
  2. The decay of political reporting – Humanizing The Vacuum - […] election cycle that a newspaper didn’t mitigate with a story about Clinton’s emails. Rick Perlstein gasps. “The Trump transition…
  3. Can Anybody Cover Trump? : Democracy Journal - […] and liberal causes, and maybe not even citizens themselves,” it’s difficult not to think about Rick Perlstein’s disturbing overview…
  4. Now the U.S. News Media Failed the U.S. citizens. | Retired and Lovin' it. - […] This post originally appeared at The Washington Spectator. […]
  5. The Facts of Life: “Meet the Press” | Sidebar for Plaintiffs - […] It’s a long essay and it’s worth every minute you spend reading it. Meet the Press | Washington Spectator…
  6. Telling Our Truth in the Age of Trump | journal-isms.com - […] Rick Perlstein, Washington Spectator: Meet the Press: The hustlers, hucksters, hacks, and cowards who helped elect Donald Trump […]

We collect email addresses for the sole purpose of communicating more efficiently with our Washington Spectator readers and Public Concern Foundation supporters.  We will never sell or give your email address to any 3rd party.  We will always give you a chance to opt out of receiving future emails, but if you’d like to control what emails you get, just click here.