Susan Jones' Year of Trump Stenography
The CNSNews.com reporter is so dedicated to making President Trump look good that she's penning pro-Trump opinion pieces that are presented as "news."
By Terry Krepel
Here's a number to back that up. ConWebWatch examined all 281 articles Jones wrote during the first three months of Trump's presidency, from Jan. 20 through April 20. We counted the number of her articles that quoted only President Trump, a member of his administration or the military, versus the number of articles that quoted only a Democratic member of Congress.
By our count, Jones wrote a whopping 64 articles in which Trump or a member of the administration was the sole source, versus just 20 in which a Democratic member of Congress was the sole source (since Democrats do not control the executive branch or the military).
(Methodology: Count included articles based on interviews that paraphrased statements from the questioner or quoted the questioner without naming him or her, but excluded articles that quote the questioner by name.)
Further, while Jones focused her Trump articles on a wide variety of figures in the administration, a majority of the Democratic articles quoted just two people, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. That appears to be because Pelosi and Schumer are CNS' designated Democratic punching bags; for example, one of these articles serves as a way to mock Pelosi for tripping Jones' obsession with people who want Trump to release his tax returns like every other modern-era presidential candidate.
One of the laziest things a reporter can do is write a single-source story that simply repeats what someone said. If all you're doing is writing down what one person said and making that the entirety of your story, it's stenography, not reporting. It's also laziness for a reporter to tell only one side of a story and ignore any other side.
Jones did a lot of that this year. Let's look at some of the lowlights in Jones' year of Trump stenography.
Trump's tax returns
For some reason, Jones had a weird obsession with people who called on Trump to release his income taxes like all other recent presidents. On March 2 and March 6, Jones made a point of bringing up how Democratic Sen. Al Franken said that Trump should release his tax returns, even though the subject at hand was some other Trump-related controversy.
In another March 6 article, Jones quoted Republican Sen. Susan Collins noting that any investigation of claims that members of the Trump campaign collaborated with Russia before the election or Trump's unsubstantiated claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump campaign headquarters might require a look at Trump's tax returns.
On March 9, Jones devoted yet another article to the story, this time based on comments by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and framed as Pelosi wanting to rummage through them for something that caused "personal embarrassment to the president." Jones huffed: "Democrats, including Pelosi, say Trump is the only president since Gerald Ford not to release his tax returns. There is no law saying he must do so."
Another March 9 article by Jones touched on it as well, which noted a proposed Democratic amendment to the Republican health care bill "that would allow the [House Ways and Means] committee to review Trump's tax returns in closed session." Again, Jones grumbled that "there is no law requiring Trump to release his tax returns."
Jones still wasn't done. She began a March 13 article this way: "As more and more Democrats angle to see Donald Trump’s tax returns, believing they may contain information that could be used against him, the ranking member of the House intelligence committee took a more measured approach on Sunday."
Jones didn't mention that Trump's abject refusal to release his tax returns like every other major presidential candidate in modern history invites this kind of speculation. As the saying goes, if you have nothing to hide, you hide nothing.
That six articles in 11 days on Democrats wanting to see Trump's taxes. A little obsessive, perhaps?
Here's the capper, though: When MSNBC's Rachel Maddow obtained and released a two-page summary of Trump's 2005 tax return on March 14 -- information that was confirmed by the White House -- Jones didn't see that as news, for she did no story on it.
Nevertheless, Jones persisted. In a March 29 article under the spin-heavy headline "GOP Protects Trump’s Tax-Return Privacy: ‘No Single Individual Has Ever Been Targeted in Such a Manner’," Jones simply blockquoted one Trump defender while his critics got the normal "news" treatment, and she once again makes sure to point out that "there is no law requiring" Trump to release his taxes.
On April 6, Jones complained that Pelosi said that Trump, as president, doesn't have a right to privacy regarding his tax returns. Jones huffed: Democrats believe they’ll find information damaging or embarrassing to the president in his tax returns. They have sought to delegitimize him, at the very least, since he was elected. Some Democrats have even raised the prospect of impeachment."
In response to Rep. Richard Neal pointing out that presidents releasing their tax returns is "custom and practice" and "settled tradition," Jones parenthetically huffed: "For the record, it is also 'custom and practice' to confirm qualified candidates for the Supreme Court, but Democrats in the Senate are now bucking that 'settled tradition.'"Funny, we don't recall Jones making that point last year when undeniably qualified candidate Merrick Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court.
The next day, Jones did another article about how Sen. Ron Wyden asked IRS commissioner John Koskinen about Trump's tax returns, grumbling, "Every year around this time, the Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the tax filing season. But this is the first time a committee member has asked the IRS commissioner about a president’s tax returns."
On April 18, Jones tried to play gotcha with a Democratic congressman:
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I) has co-sponsored a bill that would require U.S. presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns, and now Whitehouse has agreed to do what he’s demanding of others -- for the very first time.
That's some seriously dogged coverage there. Too bad it's motivated by a desire to protect Trump than to report the truth.
Ignoring inconvenient facts
Jones served up another steaming slice of stenography in a June 19 article:
Making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump’s legal team, tried to set the record straight:
Jones curiously omitted mention Sekulow's appearance that same morning on "Fox News Sunday," where host Chris Wallace called out his convoluted explanations and pointing that Sekulow was still insisting that Trump was not under investigation even after admitting that doesn't know for sure whether that's actually true.
For Trump's press availability during a visit to Poland, Jones cranked out two stories. In the first, Jones huffs that Trump was asked about the Russia controversy, seemingly blaming the reporter for asking it at all; she highlighted that the reporter -- whom she made sure to identify as NBC's Hallie Jackson -- "kept trying to ask a follow-up question, but Polish moderators cut her off, reminding her that she’d already asked her two questions."
Jones' second story, however, was on a question more to Trump's liking, and an answer that conformed much more closely to CNS' right-wing anti-media agenda:
Trump was also asked about CNN threatening to expose the identity of the man who created a parody of Trump beating up a CNN logo -- a parody famously retweeted by Trump.
Unlike with the Russia question, Jones declined to identify the reporter who asked about the CNN parody. Perhaps that's because the reporter was the Daily Mail's David Martosko -- who, as it so happens, had recently been under consideration for a job in the White House press office. That's how reliably pro-Trump Martosko is. Either Jones was trying to hide the pro-president bent of certain members of the White House press corps -- something CNS and its Media Research Center owner was not shy about under a Democratic president -- or Jones was maybe a little jealous that Martosko, and not her, got to ask softball questions of Trump directly.
Jones buried the lead to protect Trump in a July 25 article:
"The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad....." President Trump tweeted Monday night.
But it wasn't until the very last paragraph of her article that Jones made a surprising admission: "And for the record, Amazon.com states on its website that it does collect sales tax on items sold by it or its subsidiaries nationwide, except in the five states that do not levy sales taxes."
That's right -- Trump's attacks on Amazon and taxes are false. Shouldn't that have been the lead of Jones' article? "Trump falsely attacks Amazon over taxes" is far more newsworthy than "Trump tweets again," according to any standard of journalistic news judgment -- except according to Jones, apparently.
Siding with Alex Jones
Jones wrote in a Nov. 2 CNS article in an apparent attempt to justify Trump's attacks on "fake news":
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) made himself the arbiter of "fake news" on Wednesday, pointing to an InfoWars article on the New York City terrorist attack and asking a Twitter executive, "what's your responsibility to set the record straight so that the people who saw this know that it's fake news?"
That's right -- CNS' Jones is effectively defending the honor of Infowars, run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Instead of reflexively taking the side of a website with a long history of false and outrageous claims -- the most outrageous being his insistence that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax -- just because a Democratic congressman justifiably impugned its credibility, Jones could have, you know, looked into the article in question to evaluate its veracity.
But she didn't. Yes, a self-proclaimed imam named Mohammad Tawhidi did make the claim that Infowars reported, Infowars reporter Paul Joseph Watson -- a major generator of fake news -- doesn't appear to have attempted to verify any of Tawhidi's claims.
It turns out that Tawhidi is kind of a shady character. Based in Australia, he has claimed to be both an imam and shiekh; actual Muslim religious authorities in Australia don't recognize him, calling him a "fake sheikh." He's earned the approbation of right-wingers by pushing fears of an Islamic caliphate and demanding that certain Islamic texts be banned, thus making him the equivalent of a Fox News Democrat. In reality, he's a Shia extremist who's battling majority Sunnis in Australia.
In other words, he's a fraud. It wasn't that hard to figure out using just a few minutes of online searching.
Yet Jones wanted us to treat this Infowars report as credible, for the sole apparent purpose of trying to counter a Democratic congressman trying to expose fake news from a website responsible for so much of it. This is clear from the headline on Jones' article, which makes the point that Quigley is a "Democrat [sic] Lawmaker." Still, Jones has to know what Infowars is, and defending it damages her own credibility. That's the price of being a pro-Trump shill, apparently.
Presenting pro-Trump opinion as "news"
Jones doesn't just do stenography for Trump -- she runs to his defense and presents it as "news." A Nov. 28 "news" article by Susan Jones began with this lament:
President Trump's many tweets criticizing "fake news" and the "dishonest" media are an exercise of his own free speech, but that's not the way his liberal critics see it.
After Clapper raised the specter of repressive regimes that suppress the media, Jones leaped into full defense mode: "Trump has never advocated suppressing access to the Internet. In fact, since he began his presidential campaign, Trump has used Twitter, an Internet platform, to get his message past liberal media filters."
Unmentioned by Jones: Trump has, in fact, advocated changing libel laws to make it easier to sue media organizations.
Jones uniroinically concluded her article by whining: "The nation's media outlets remain free, but objectivity has flown out the window in the Trump era." It's also flown away from CNS as a whole, and from Jones in particular, who uses a so-called "news" article -- traditionally the epitome of objectivity -- to attack the media and defend a politician she adores.
Jones did the same thing in a Dec. 15 "news" article that is also more political rant than news. Jones huffed:
Impatient to get President Trump out of the office to which the American people elected him a year ago, media liberals on Monday re-introduced some of the women who have accused Trump of harassing them sexually years ago.
We don't recall anyone at CNS or its Media Research Center parent similarly portraying the emergence of the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment and worse as stunts to drive the Republican political agenda. Indeed, MRC chief Brent Bozell and Tim Graham used Clinton's accusers to deflect from Trump's offenses when they first surfaced before the 2016 election.
So, apparently, it's OK for only one side to exploit sexual harassment charges for political purposes as far as Jones and Bozell are concerned.
Still, Jones continued to whine, grumbling on the Trump White House's behalf that "Trump's female accusers were among the topics at the White House press briefing on Friday, as spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders fielded questions she's answered before." She concludes that the story is being pushed by reporters "biased against trump" for the sole purpose of trying to get Trump on something since the Russia scandal purportedly isn't panning out:
One biased-against-Trump reporter insisted that Sanders answer her question about Trump's accusers, "because this is spinning and it's focused on him now and--"
Again, the complete opposite of the way CNS and the MRC has portrayed Clinton's accusers, which it has never accused of being political pawns though they were certainly no less so than CNS and the MRC accuse Trump's accusers of being.
Being a CNS reporter, it seems, means never having to be held to journalistic standards.
Jones has long been a biased reporter, but putting a number to it demonstrates the extent of her bias. It also demonstrates that CNS can no longer be taken seriously as a news outlet, if anyone ever had before.