investigative journalist at The Intercept covering the intersection of money and politics.
political writer for The Nation.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker.
director of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPower Change, and co-founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York.
Earlier this year, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves openly bragged that the network is getting rich off Donald Trump’s run for the White House. "It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … [T]he money’s rolling in … [T]his is going to be a very good year for us." Moonves went on to say, "It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Go ahead. Keep going." We look at the media’s role in propping up Donald Trump over the past 18 months with three journalists: Lee Fang, John Nichols and Jose Antonio Vargas.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk more about the media’s role in helping Donald Trump win this stunning upset victory. I want to turn to CBS CEO Les Moonves in a comment that has since gotten a lot of attention. He was speaking at a Morgan Stanley-hosted conference in San Francisco earlier this year.
LESLIE MOONVES: Who would have thought that this circus would come to town? But, you know, it may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. That’s all I’ve got to say. So, what can I say? It’s—you know, the money’s rolling in, and this is—
UNIDENTIFIED: Polls are open.
LESLIE MOONVES: This is—this is something. I’ve never seen anything like this. And, you know, this is going to be a very good year for us. But—sorry, it’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Go ahead. Keep going.
AMY GOODMAN: "It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. ... [B]ring it on, Donald." Those are the words of Les Moonves, CEO of CBS. Lee Fang, you first published this audio of Les Moonves on The Intercept in February. Also, last month, CNN President Jeff Zucker said, quote, "If we made a mistake, [it was] we shouldn’t have put on as many [Trump] rallies as we did." Your comment, Lee?
LEE FANG: Well, look, you know, we’ve been looking at these investor reports from media companies for the last two years, and, you know, it’s not just Les Moonves. The owners of local broadcast stations have been bragging that they’re excited for this election year, because all the sleaze, all the super PAC ads, they benefit a very small clique of media owners.
And if you look at just the larger role of broadcast media, I think there was a study done that if you look at the large media networks—ABC, CBS, NBC—they provided 350 minutes of airtime to Donald Trump in 2015 and less than one minute on ABC News on coverage to Bernie Sanders. Just across the board, whether it’s local TV or cable news, they treated this entire election season as a carnival, as a chance for tabloid politics. Rather than talking about the vital issues or the political biographies and the policy issues, they take whatever Donald Trump has tweeted, whatever insult he hurled, and treat it as a serious news story. And then—and rather than paying for reporters to go out and report the truth and talk to voters or to do investigative reporting, they have pundits, many of them compromised—many of the pundits that we’ve seen go on on television were quietly or secretly working for one of the campaigns—but then they have pundits go on TV and yell at each other and turn this into a food fight, rather than a substantive, thoughtful discussion of the issues.
AMY GOODMAN: I—
LEE FANG: So, you know, I—go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to bring John Nichols into this discussion around the media, and Jose Antonio Vargas. But, I mean, the Koch brothers, who didn’t support Donald Trump, said they ended up pouring their millions, more than a billion dollars, into down-ballot races, whether we’re talking governor, Senate, House, and that just filled the coffers of the local medias.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, I mean, about five years ago, Bob McChesney and I wrote a book called Dollarocracy, and what we argued there—and in the book we wrote more recently, People Get Ready, same basic concept—that major media in this country has hit its biggest crisis in history. Its crisis is that advertising revenue now moves toward the phone. It doesn’t have to go through. They still get advertising revenue, but they are now dramatically more reliant on political advertising, on campaign ads, which are targeted toward older people, who tend to still watch television. As this has happened, they have cut their reporting staffs. They have reduced—we actually documented there are television stations that have cut into the local newscast, which is the most watched news, cut into it to fit more campaign ads around it.
And so, understand the circumstance that we have created. It’s not a complicated thing. We have created a circumstance in America where news, where actual reporting, as flawed as it may be, on our politics is diminished—there’s less of it, it’s not done well. And at the same time, we have a massive inflow of money in these campaign ads. We have dialed down journalism; we have dialed up campaign cash. Now, in this year—and this is the critical element of it—we saw cable news, which was sort of—it was out there hopefully to kind of provide more depth, to go deeper into these issue—we saw cable news cede any responsibility. They did hour-long infomercials, running the speeches for a whole hour. And then you came on with, instead of Lee or Antonio, anybody on this panel coming in, they had—they had surrogates for the campaigns do mini debates in which those surrogates had a responsibility not to acknowledge the truth. Their responsibility was to say, "My candidate just did a great job," even if your candidate fell off the stage.
AMY GOODMAN: They spent more time showing the empty podium, waiting for Donald Trump, than they played anything to do with Bernie Sanders.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, and if I—if I can just finish the one thing that—coming off what Lee said. And, you know, Lee, actually, he said it was 340 to one. It was actually only 240 to one on ABC. But the fact of the matter is, at the end of 2015, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were polling at roughly the same place, and yet Donald Trump was getting, on one major television network, a 240-to-one ratio more coverage. This defines reality.
AMY GOODMAN: Jose Antonio Vargas?
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: And, to me, the elitism—right?—and the kind of the insularity of this Politico set, of this Acela Express from D.C. and New York, must absolutely be broken. It’s useless, utterly, utterly, utterly useless. I actually think today I’m probably going to—I’m going to unsubscribe from Politico. They said today that we know nothing. Well, thank you for admitting that. And I’m the kind of guy that used to like to get my stuff on Politico. So now I’m unsubscribing myself and saying I don’t need to be a part of this.
Your point, by the way, about the inability of journalists to cover about race—I mean, I’ve been a journalist since the late '90s. There are less people of color working in American newsrooms now than there was when I started in journalism in the late 1990s. Right? For a lot of—I mean, a lot—journalists are human beings, too. And guess what. We don't like talking about race. White journalists, who are mostly in charge of newsrooms across this country, do not like talking about race. And so, they throw little things like the working class and not contextualize that more. Right?
To me, I have to say, as an undocumented immigrant who happens to be a journalist, you know, reporting is like my religion. It’s been infuriating seeing the media talk about immigration in such factless, lacked of context, just irresponsible way. The moment Donald Trump talked about Mexicans as rapists—right?—why didn’t anybody just say the fact that there are actually less people going to Mexico and more Americans going—less people from Mexico going to the United States than Americans going to Mexico? Why hasn’t anybody said that the fastest-growing undocumented population in this country are actually Asian people, not Latinos? Why don’t we ever talk about undocumented white people and undocumented black people? Why haven’t we talked about the fact that undocumented workers, according to the Social Security Administration, have paid $100 billion into the Social Security fund?
LINDA SARSOUR: And Donald Trump has paid no tax.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: That they cannot draw back now.
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: No, we cannot get back.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: That they will never see, that’s right.
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Why isn’t any of this part of the report when this issue comes up? They are not at all parts of the report. You know where you’re going to go to find it? DefineAmerican.com/factsmatter. That’s where you go. And it’s irresponsible that this has happened.
LINDA SARSOUR: Amy, can I just add something really quickly?
AMY GOODMAN: Linda Sarsour?
LINDA SARSOUR: Yeah, to the point, and Nikole brought up this point. Yeah, of course, race is not the only factor in this, but let’s remember that during this race it was not just about economic security, it was about national security. And we played on the fears of the American people about being protected from terrorism. We had over two-thirds of Americans who supported a ban on Muslims, which is unconstitutional, proposals about registering the Muslims. Let’s be real here. We were playing on people’s fears of Muslims in this country. And until everyone got outraged, it was when a white woman—we saw a video or heard a recording of Donald Trump speaking in inappropriate fashion or promoting sexual assault to a white woman, and everybody went up in arms. Even the Republican Party was like, "Not our daughters, not our mothers." But no one said anything when Mexicans were rapists, when we called black people thugs. Black people were getting beat up in rallies. And we want to ban the Muslims, register the Muslims, surveil the mosques, patrol the mosques. Like, this national security was a big factor in this race, and they played on the fear of the American people when it comes to the U.S. national security.
JOHN NICHOLS: And why weren’t we saying, I mean, this simple thing?
AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols?
JOHN NICHOLS: Why weren’t we saying that the first mosque in America was in North Dakota, in a small town, in a rural area. The fact of the matter—
AMY GOODMAN: You come from rural Wisconsin.
JOHN NICHOLS: I come from very rural—
LINDA SARSOUR: But the first—
JOHN NICHOLS: No, but what—we didn’t speak—we didn’t—as a media and a media system in this country, we didn’t even try to clarify basic history, not of the moment, but the basic history of this country. And what happened to Muslim Americans is a big, big deal in this campaign—not a massive population, but yet a population so demonized and—
AMY GOODMAN: It is actually a massive population.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, it’s millions, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: How large is the Arab-American Muslim population?
LINDA SARSOUR: We’re at least 5 million. But the thing that wasn’t clarified—
AMY GOODMAN: Here?
LINDA SARSOUR: Yeah, of course. It’s one-third of Muslims are African-American.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: I was going to say.
JOHN NICHOLS: Absolutely, yeah.
LINDA SARSOUR: That’s number—that’s number one. And, yes, there may have been a first infrastructure in North Dakota, but there were Muslims who came, enslaved people, on slave ships before—
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Yes.
JOHN NICHOLS: Without a doubt, yeah.
LINDA SARSOUR: —before this country was even called the United States, though the media has played a role in making Islam a foreign entity.
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Yeah.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes.
LINDA SARSOUR: We keep talking about Islam in the context of terrorism only. And I can only be a Muslim that—I’m only—you know this, Amy. "What do you think about this terrorist attack? What’s the Muslim community feeling?" No one ever brought me on here to talk about anything else that’s not me defending my faith on national television. And the media played a role in that. They made Donald Trump. They gave him free ad space. He didn’t even need to raise a penny to be the next president of the United States. And now here we are in the situation that we’re in.