ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

Another Member of CNS' Trump Stenography Brigade

Melanie Arter is too busy dutifully transcribing what comes out of the White House press office to be concerned about things like fact-checking.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/30/2018

Melanie Arter

With very rare exceptions, reporter Melanie Arter (actual title: senior editor and White House correspondent) is content to serve as an uncritical stenographer for President Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other Trump White House media representatives -- thus making her, along with colleague Susan Jones, another member of CNS' pro-Trump stenography brigade.

ConWebWatch has documented that Arter published 52 articles in the first four months of 2018 focusing solely or mostly on what the Trump White House had to say about a particular issue -- and that's on top of the 36 articles in the final four months of 2017 doing the same thing.

That means Arter is on occasion reporting false or misleading information -- and, thus, misleading her readers.

Arter's Feb. 28 article about departure of Hope Hicks as the Trump White House's communications director is chock-full of press release-ese and nothing but congratulatory statements:

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is resigning to explore opportunities outside of the White House, having served in that role since September, the White House announced Wednesday.

The exact date of Hicks’ departure is yet to be determined, but it’s expected to be sometime in the next few weeks.


“There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump. I wish the President and his administration the very best as he continues to lead our country," Hicks said in a statement.

"Hope is outstanding and has done great work for the last three years. She is as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person. I will miss having her by my side but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood. I am sure we will work together again in the future,” Trump said in a statement.

“When I became Chief of Staff, I quickly realized what so many have learned about Hope – she is strategic, poised and wise beyond her years. She became a trusted adviser and counselor and did a tremendous job overseeing the communications for the President’s agenda including the passage of historic tax reform. She has served her country with great distinction. To say that she will be missed, is an understatement," White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said in a statement.

Hicks “approached the president and told him she wanted to leave so she could start exploring opportunities outside of the WH,” the White House said.

Arter completely failed to mention the actual events that may have precipitated Hick's resignation, regardless of the cheery fluff being peddled.

As an actual news outlet reported, Hicks' resignation comes a day after she testified before the House Intelligence Committee and admitted that she sometimes tells "white lies" as part of her job.

Hicks was also involved in another very recent high-profile controversy. She is the (apparently now ex-) girlfriend of White House staffer Rob Porter, who was forced to resign after his history of spousal abuse was made public. And as a different actual news outlet reported, Hicks may have helped draft a White House statement defending Porter before the scandal fully exploded.

For instance, a March 1 article features a prime bit of regurgitation from Arter:

In an effort to illustrate the “historic obstruction of Senate Democrats,” the White House pointed to acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who is awaiting confirmation by the Senate, as an example of how it affects the safety and security of the American people.

“Earlier this week, I mentioned that we were going to begin regularly highlighting the historic obstruction of Senate Democrats, an issue that threatens the safety and security of the American people,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

“As a reminder, compared to the four previous administrations, this Senate has confirmed the fewest nominees. Half of the president's highly qualified nominees are still waiting on confirmation,” she said.

“Today, we have another example. Two-hundred and seventy-six days ago, Kevin McAleenan was nominated to be commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Kevin's primary responsibility would be to help safeguard American borders, keeping both terrorists and their weapons out of our nation, all while facilitating lawful international trade,” Sanders said.

“Kevin should be preventing terrorists and contraband from entering the nation, yet he is still awaiting Senate confirmation. Senator Schumer should stop putting the safety and security of the American people at risk and immediately confirm him,” she said.

But Sanders -- and, thus, Arter -- omits a critical piece of information. A real news outlet reported that McAleenan had been scheduled for a confirmation hearing last July, but it was "mysteriously postponed" the night before. Why? McAleenan had been accused of having an affair with a subordinate and misappropriating funding. McAleenan was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing, and his confirmation process resumed in October. That's at least three months of the total Sanders (and Arter) cited that cannot possibly be blamed on alleged Democratic obstruction.

Arter served up more dutiful (and redundant) stenography in a March 16 article:

White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short complained Friday of Senate Democrats’ obstruction of President Donald Trump’s nominees, saying at this rate, it will take 11 and a half years for his nominees to be given an up-or-down vote.

In the last four administrations combined, the Senate held 17 cloture votes of presidential nominees compared to the 79 cloture vote in the first 14 months of the Trump administration, Short noted.

“At this point, in the past four administrations combined -- the last four administrations -- the Senate had conducted 17 cloture votes combined - cloture vote, in essence, being a filibuster on a nominee. Seventeen cloture votes in the last four administrations combined, at this point,” Short said.

“Today, the Senate has had 79 cloture votes in the first 14 months of our administration. Seventeen, over the last four administrations, versus 79 in the first 14 months of our administration. That is roughly five times the number of the last four administrations combined,” Short said.

But Arter wasn't moved to research Short's claims beyond repeating them, so she ignored what another real news outlet reported -- that a 2013 change in the confirmation process, in which a simple majority is now needed to confirm a nominee instead of 60 votes before, is likely responsible for the growing number of cloture votes:

Cloture motions on nominations aren’t what they used to be, however. Before the use of the “nuclear option” that changed the filibuster thresholds, the moves to limit debate required bipartisan support except during the brief periods where at least 60 senators were members of the majority caucus.

Legislative issues like infrastructure and immigration would require bipartisan deals to be struck before those bills could reach the floor for consideration (especially since the Senate has no appetite for going nuclear on legislative filibusters).

Arter used her stenography skills yet again in a May 9 article to help Sanders out of another Trump-instigated mess -- this time, his tweet that perhaps the government should "take away credentials" of journalists that write things he doesn't like. Arter regurgitated Sander's insistence that the White House believes in a free press, and then pretty much stay in stenography mode later in the article:

The press secretary said it’s the media’s responsibility to report accurate information and pointed to a New York Times report accusing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of being AWOL when he was really securing the release of the three Americans from North Korea. She also pointed to a Washington Post report, which accused first lady Melania Trump of not living in the White House.

“At the same time, the press has a responsibility to put out accurate information. Just yesterday, the New York Times accused the Secretary of State for being AWOL -- AWOL -- when he was flying across the globe to bring three Americans home. That is an outrageous claim,” Sanders said.

“Just earlier this week, The Washington Post accused the first lady of not living in the White House. That outrageous claim was then repeated again in this room,” she added.

If Arter had bothered to fact-check Sanders -- something she's loath to do -- she would have found that Sanders' claims were, shall we say, less than truthful.

The term "AWOL" appears nowhere in the New York Times article Sanders is bashing. The article accurately points out that former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was "thousands of miles away" when Trump announced his intention to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and that current secretary of state Mike Pompeo, was "again thousands of miles away, this time on an unannounced visit to Pyongyang" when Trump announced "what could be the most significant diplomatic announcement of his presidency — that he would exit the Iran nuclear agreement." The Times also reported that such absences "left perplexed European diplomats privately complaining that they were having trouble getting answers from Washington, and created an uncertainty about what was next that spanned the Atlantic Ocean." While it was later revealed that Pompeo was trying to secure the release of three Americans imprisoned in North Korea, that was not a done deal at the time the article first appeared.

Meanwhile, Sanders got the Post article she attacked completely wrong. It never claimed that Melania Trump doesn't live in the White House; toward the end of the lengthy article -- which focuses on her daily routine and her unusual distance from her husband as a presidential spouse -- it notes that Melania not living in the White House has been a "persistent rumor," then immediately quotes Melania's spokeswoman and the White House social secretary denying it.

Not questioning anything Sanders says, even when it's misleading or even false, is a big part of Arter helping her do cleanup.

Stenography for Trump

Since Arter is a loyal White House stenographer, it makes sense that she would also give Trump's words a pass, no matter how false and disingenuous they are.

A Dec. 4 article by Arter touted how "President Donald Trump commemorated International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Sunday with a statement saying that 'too many people around the world' believe that having a disability justifies 'destroying precious human lives,'" adding Trump's quote that "Too many people around the world hold the misguided view that disabilities justify degrading or destroying precious human lives or that people with disabilities should not be entitled to full participation in civic life" and "As Americans, we must set the global standard for ensuring those with disabilities are treated with the dignity and respect that all people deserve."

Arter failed to mention that time when Trump did, in fact, degrade a precious human life by mocking a disabled reporter. During the 2016 campaign speech, Trump mocked the movements of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski -- who has arthrogryposis, which visibly limits the functioning of his joints -- over claims that Kovaleski purportedly altered a story claiming that Muslims in New Jersey allegedly celebrated the fall of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

That would seem to undercut the sincerity of Trump's words, but Arter didn't think that was an important fact to relate to her readers.

Arter wrote in a March 29 article:

President Donald Trump on Thursday lashed out at online retail giant Amazon, complaining that they are putting thousands of retailers out of business and pay “little or no” state and local taxes.

“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” Trump tweeted.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked Wednesday whether the president was looking for ways to go after Amazon.

“Look, we have no announcements and no specific policies or actions that we're currently pushing forward or considering taking,” she said.

Arter didn't tell her readers that Trump's tweet is factually wrong. the U.S. Postal Service does lose money -- but not because of Amazon, since the USPS is required by law to at least break even on its parcel delivery operations. Amazon also collects sales taxes in all 46 states that have one, even though it's not legally required to do so.

Arter was in stenography mode again for another March 29 article:

During a speech in Richfield, Ohio, President Donald Trump said his administration has delivered on its promises, created 3 million jobs and eliminated job-killing regulations.

“We’re keeping our promises, and the results are in: 3 million new jobs since Election Day - 3 million. And if I would have said that to you during the campaign, where we had tremendous support in this great state, state of Ohio, if I would have said, 3 million jobs, they would have said-- the fake news -- he’s exaggerating,” he said.

“Unemployment claims are their lowest level in 45 years - 45 years. African-American unemployment has reached the lowest level ever recorded. Remember? Remember I said, ‘what do you have to lose?’ What do you have to lose? And I’m so happy about that,” Trump said.

Arter doesn't mention that since Trump is counting from Election Day in November 2016, he's taking credit for jobs he didn't have any role in creating, given that Trump didn't assume the presidency until January 2017. Arter also doesn't mention that fewer jobs were created in 2017 than in 2016, the last full year of President Obama's term.

Arter further declined to note that the lower black unemployment rate is simply the continuation of a trend begun under Obama.

Shocker: an actual fact-check

Arter is capable of doing fact-checking -- when she feels like it anyway. One rare instance came regarding the Trump administration's decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. At CNS' parent, the Media Research Center, Nicholas Fondacaro ranted about "false information" being reported on the addition: "In reality, the last time a question about citizenship was asked on the census was back in 2000. According to the long-form questionnaire from that year, question 13 asked: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” The question is repeated six times, once for each possible person in the household. The question was also asked in 1990 and 1980. All of this information was easily researchable on the Census Bureau’s website."

Fondacaro's take was so untrue that even Arter felt the need to set the record straight:

To be accurate, between 1970 and 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau used two questionnaires. Most households received a short-form questionnaire asking a minimum number of questions that did not include citizenship. But a sample of households received a long-form questionnaire in 1970, '80, '90, and 2000 that did include questions about "naturalization" or citizenship. The 2010 Census used just one short-form questionnaire consisting of ten questions -- none about citizenship. But since 2000, the Census Bureau has conducted an annual, national, ongoing "American Community Survey," which does ask about citizenship.

The truth didn't move Fondacaro to update or correct his false post, however. Maybe that's why Arter isn't inspired to do much fact-checking -- it's not rewarded at the MRC offices when the target is the Trump administration.

Still, that's an outlier. If Arter can't be bothered to fact-check anything that comes out of the Trump White House and merely acts as a servile stenographer, what good is she as a reporter?

Send this page to:

Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-2018 Terry Krepel