Trump Hands Out ‘Fake News Awards,’ Sans the Red Carpet

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Trump Hands Out ‘Fake News Awards,’ Sans the Red Carpet
The New York Times

By MATT FLEGENHEIMER and MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM
JAN. 17, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Trump — who gleefully questioned President Barack Obama’s birthplace for years without evidence, long insisted on the guilt of the Central Park Five despite exonerating proof and claimed that millions of illegal ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016 — wanted to have a word with the American public about accuracy in reporting.

On Wednesday, after weeks of shifting deadlines, and cryptic clues, Mr. Trump released his long-promised “Fake News Awards,” an anti-media project that had alarmed advocates of press freedom and heartened his political base.

“And the FAKE NEWS winners are …,” he wrote on Twitter at 8 p.m.

The message linked, at first, to a malfunctioning page on GOP.com, the Republican National Committee website. An error screen read: “The site is temporarily offline, we are working to bring it back up. Please try back later.”

When the page came back online less than an hour later, it resembled a Republican Party news release. Headlined “The Highly Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards” and attributed to “Team GOP,” it included a list of Trump administration accomplishments and jabs at news organizations presented in the form of an 11-point list.

The “winners” were CNN, mentioned four times; The New York Times, with two mentions; and ABC, The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek, with one mention apiece.

Taken as a whole, Mr. Trump’s examples of grievances came as no surprise to anyone who has read his complaints about the media on Twitter.

The various reports singled out by Mr. Trump touched on serious issues, like the media’s handling of the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia, and frivolous matters, like the manner in which journalists conveyed how the president fed fish during a stop at a koi pond on his visit to Japan.

The first item on the list referred not to a news article but to a short opinion piece posted on The Times’s website at 12:42 on the night Mr. Trump became president: “The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy will ‘never’ recover,” the entry read.

What Mr. Krugman actually wrote was this: “If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.” Mr. Krugman concluded his election night take by predicting that a global recession was likely, while adding the caveat, “I suppose we could get lucky somehow.”

Three days later, Mr. Krugman retracted his prediction of an economic collapse, saying he overreacted.

The next target was Brian Ross of ABC News, who was suspended by the network last month because of an erroneous report.

ABC apologized for and corrected Mr. Ross’s report that Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, planned to testify that Mr. Trump had directed him to make contact with Russian officials when Mr. Trump was still a candidate.

In fact, Mr. Trump had directed Mr. Flynn to make contact after the election, when he was president-elect.

At the time of Mr. Ross’s suspension, Kathleen Culver, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that the president was likely to use the mistake as ammunition against his political opponents — an observation that seemed borne out by the “Fake News Awards.”

The third entry on the GOP.com list went after CNN, a favorite target of the president, for reporting incorrectly last month that the president’s eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., had received advance notice from WikiLeaks about a trove of hacked documents that it planned to release during last year’s presidential campaign.

In fact, the email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent a day after the documents, stolen from the Democratic National Committee, were made available to the general public. The correction undercut the main thrust of CNN’s story, which had been seized on by critics of the president as evidence of coordination between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign.

Another entry on the list took on The Washington Post, claiming that it had “FALSELY reported the President’s massive sold-out rally in Pensacola, Florida was empty. Dishonest reporter showed picture of empty arena HOURS before crowd started pouring in.”

The reporter in question was David Weigel, who had posted the photo in question on his Twitter account before quickly deleting it. The Post itself did not publish the photo or a report on the size of the crowd at the Trump event. The “Fake News Awards” entry, however, conflated a reporter’s tweet with the publication itself. It also omitted the fact that Mr. Weigel deleted his tweet and apologized for it when it was pointed out to him that it was misleading. Further, it did not mention that Mr. Trump had called for Mr. Weigel to be fired over the tweet. (He was not.)

The content of the 11-point list was perhaps less notable than its premise: a sitting president using his bully pulpit for a semi-formalized attack on the free press.

In two subsequent tweets on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump added that there were “many great reporters I respect” and defended his administration’s record in the face of “a very biased media.”

The technical anticlimax seemed a fitting end to a peculiar saga that began in November when Mr. Trump floated the bestowing of a “FAKE NEWS TROPHY.”

The idea matured into the “Fake News Awards,” which the president initially said in a Jan. 2 Twitter post he would give out on Jan. 8 to honor “the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media.”

With the date approaching, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that the event would be moved to Wednesday because “the interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!”

From the beginning, the awards were the sort of Trumpian production that seemed easy to mock but difficult to ignore. Members of the news media joked about the speeches they would prepare, the tuxedos and gowns they would fetch. It would be an honor, they said, just to be nominated.

Here, it seemed, was the opéra bouffe climax of Mr. Trump’s campaign against the media, a bizarro-world spectacle that both encapsulated and parodied the president’s animus toward a major democratic institution.

Late-night comedy shows created satirical Emmys-style advertising campaigns to snag what some referred to as a coveted “Fakey.”

“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” bought a billboard in Times Square, nominating itself in categories like “Least Breitbarty” and “Corruptest Fakeness.” Jimmy Kimmel, who has emerged as a Trump bête noire, called it “the Stupid People’s Choice Awards.”

Politico reported that the awards could even pose an ethical issue for White House aides, with some experts arguing that the event would breach a ban on government officials using their office to explicitly promote or deride private organizations.

And press advocates cringed at the prospect of a gala dedicated to the phrase “fake news,” which has already helped corrode trust in journalism in the United States and around the world. In response to Mr. Trump’s endeavor, the Committee to Protect Journalists this month recognized the president among the “world leaders who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media.”

Two Republicans from Arizona, Senator John McCain and Senator Jeff Flake, denounced Mr. Trump’s anti-press attacks, with Mr. Flake noting in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday that the president had borrowed a term from Stalin to describe the media: “enemy of the people.”

The buzz around the president’s latest anti-press stunt has contributed to a larger shift in American attitudes toward the press.

In a study released this week by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, 66 percent of Americans who were surveyed said most news organizations blurred opinion and fact, up from 42 percent in 1984. “Fake news” was deemed a threat to democracy by a majority of respondents.

Mr. Trump’s list did not mention BuzzFeed, a media outlet that drew his ire last year when it published a salacious and largely unsubstantiated intelligence dossier that purported to lay out how Russia had aided the Trump campaign. On Jan. 8, President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, filed a defamation lawsuit in federal court against Fusion GPS, the firm behind the report, as well as a separate lawsuit against BuzzFeed in state court.

Mr. Trump also did not mention Michael Wolff, the author of the slashing, if error-specked, best seller, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” although a lawyer working on his behalf had sent a letter demanding that the publisher Henry Holt and Company halt publication of the book.

“Fire and Fury” did not come out until Jan. 5, so perhaps the author will receive a prominent mention next January, if the president sees fit to give out the 2018 Fake News Awards.

Matt Flegenheimer reported from Washington, and Michael M. Grynbaum from New York.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/business/media/fake-news-awards.html

Trump seeks to downplay past skepticism of Russian election meddling

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By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer

Updated 0624 GMT (1424 HKT) November 12, 2017

Hanoi, Vietnam (CNN) President Donald Trumpdownplayed on Sunday his past skepticism of Russia’s involvement in US election meddling, saying he sides with American intelligence agencies over Vladimir Putin when it comes to assigning culpability for the hack.

But he again stopped short of stating explicitly that Russia was behind the interference in the 2016 presidential election,which US intelligence has determined was conducted to help Trump.

Speaking at a news conference in the Vietnamese capital, Trump was clarifying remarks he made a day earlier which suggested Putin was being sincere in his denials that Moscow engaged in election meddling.

The President stressed he was not accepting Putin’s denials at face value, instead saying he merely believed Putin was being genuine.

“I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said. “As to whether I believe it or not, I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with the leadership.”

Trump has long declined to say definitively whether he believes Russia was behind the attempts to sway last year’s election. And he did not say conclusively on Sunday when asked directly whether Russia was responsible. But his nod toward American intelligence agencies, which he said were led by “very fine people,” put him closer to accepting what his own government has determined happened months ago.

The remarks came after Trump ignited further controversy over the Russia interference issue when he told reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday that he believed Putin was being sincere when he denied involvement in the cyber-intrusion.

“I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said.

The remark prompted backlash in Washington, where intelligence officials are unanimous in their assessment that Russia sought to influence last year’s contest.

The CIA released an unusual statement saying the current director Mike Pompeo believes the agency’s determination that Russia was behind the election meddling.

Trump, however, insisted during his news conference on Sunday that his remarks were clear.

“I’m surprised there’s conflict on this,” he said. “I think it was very obvious to everybody.”

Trump said he didn’t want to engage in a public spat with his Russian counterpart over the issue of election meddling during talks this week in Vietnam.

“I’m not looking to stand and start arguing with somebody when there are reporters all around and cameras recording and seeing our conversation,” Trump said.

His meetings with Putin in Da Nang were held in private, however, and reporters did not see the two men engage in discussions.

Trump said it was imperative the US and Russia work together to solve problems like Syria and North Korea.

“What I believe is we have to get to work,” Trump said. “People don’t realize, Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned. They were sanctioned at a very high level. And that took place very recently. It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken.”

Earlier Sunday, Trump unleashed a series of tweets as he nears the end of his epic 13-day diplomatic tour of Asia, going after “haters and fools” who question his ties to Russia and mocking the shape of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

The stream of invective came after days of relatively restrained tweeting as Trump darted between Asian capitals on his first presidential trip to the continent.

“When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump wrote at 7:18 a.m. local time in Hanoi.

He spent the night here after a state dinner, and held talks and a joint news conference with Vietnamese President President Tran Dai Quang on Sunday morning.

“There (sic) always playing politics – bad for our country,” he added. “I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!

9:18 AM – Nov 12, 2017 · Vietnam

In a second posting at 7:43 a.m., Trump wrote: “Does the Fake News Media remember when Crooked Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was begging Russia to be our friend with the misspelled reset button? Obama tried also, but he had zero chemistry with Putin.”

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Does the Fake News Media remember when Crooked Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was begging Russia to be our friend with the misspelled reset button? Obama tried also, but he had zero chemistry with Putin.

9:43 AM – Nov 12, 2017 · Vietnam

He was referencing a 2009 episode in which Clinton, then secretary of state, presented her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, a small red button with the Russian word “peregruzka” printed on it.

“We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” she asked Lavrov, laughing.

“You got it wrong,” said Lavrov. The correct word for “reset” was “perezagruzka,” he explained. “Peregruzka” means “overcharged.”

Trump has long insisted that a better relationship with Russia could help solve vexing global problems, including ending the civil war in Syria and containing North Korea.

Trump has worked while in Asia to consolidate support behind his efforts to choke off support for Pyongyang, and delivered stern warnings to Kim during stops in Tokyo and Seoul.

But his message on Twitter Sunday delved further into the types of personal insults that colored his rhetoric about the dictator before arriving in Asia.

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!

9:48 AM – Nov 12, 2017 · Vietnam

“Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?'” Trump wrote at 7:48 a.m. “Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!”

He appeared to be responding to North Korea’s statement last week that Trump is a “dotard,” implying senility.

Asked at his news conference about the prospects of befriending Kim, Trump offered a coy response.

“Strange things happen in life,” he said. “That might be a strange thing that happens. But it is certainly a possibility.”

The flurry of tweets on Sunday came as Trump approaches the end of his Asia trip. He will depart midday for Manila, the Philippine capital, for a summit meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.

“Will be doing a joint press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam then heading for final destination of trip, the Phillipines,” Trump wrote, misspelling the name of his next stop.

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Will be doing a joint press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam then heading for final destination of trip, the Phillipines.

8:35 AM – Nov 12, 2017

Trump had remained dutifully on script during his visits to Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam, including on Twitter, where his postings have stuck to the talking points he’s delivered during his stops.

But after a formal meeting with Putin was stymied during his visit to an economic summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, Trump held forth with reporters about the damage the Russia investigations unfolding in Washington are having on Washington-Moscow ties.