The Stenography Factory
CNSNews.com gives up journalism to serve as servile stenographers (and a damage-control squad) for the Trump White House, as well as for friendly opinion-mongers and pro-Trump legal groups.
By Terry Krepel
The numbers are pretty staggering.
Having jettisoned most of its reporters over the past year -- only Patrick Goodenough remains -- CNSNews.com is currently relying largely on editors doing light rewrites and straight-up stenography, on both the "news" and opinion ends of the operation.
As such, CNS has certain content wells to which it loves to return. ConWebWatch counted those articles, and the numbers are astonishing. Here are the 2017 article counts regarding CNS' favorite subjects:
The pace for Graham is a little slower in the past -- Chapman previously devoted 46 articles to Graham's rantings in one previous six-month period -- but it's still a lot for someone who's known mostly for hating gays and loving President Trump.
CNS' promotion for Levin, meanwhile, didn't stop with serving as a transcription service. It promoted Levin's "new best-seller" book in a July interview with CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey, and a November post by Michael Morris was basically a lightly rewritten press release on Levin's new show on Fox News -- so lightly rewritten, in fact, that Morris simply copied-and-pasted the last three paragraphs of the press release to fill out his article.
But CNS' allegiance -- and its stenographic skills -- are to the Trump administration these days. ConWebWatch has already documented Susan Jones' dedication to relaying the party line from the Trump administration, and she's not the only one. A ConWebWatch analysis showed that from the beginning of August through Dec. 15 (when she went on vacation for the rest of the year), CNS' Melanie Arter wrote 36 articles dedicated almost exclusively to repeating whatever White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her office had to say on various issues.
This is combined with CNS' growing Trump sycophancy; for instance, it somehow managed to squeeze three entire articles out of Trump's five-minute speech following the Las Vegas massacre, and a whopping four articles on Trump's September speech at the United Nations (plus another previewing the speech).
Here are some examples of how CNS is doing the Trump administration's bidding through both stenography and damage control.
When news was breaking in May that Trump reportedly asked then-FBI director James Comey to end the agency's investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the pro-Trump stenographers knew they couldn't devote space to a story that makes their hero look bad.
So what did CNS report instead? A months-old story about Osama bin Laden.
CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey did the honors himself with a May 17 article, highlighting that "Among the materials that U.S. forces retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was a document (labeled “Letter providing direction”) in which the author, who speaks as if he is bin Laden himself, advised those he was directing to seek a deal with “any American TV station” to run a videotape he planned to produce in the fall of 2004. But he specifically nominated CBS as his own candidate for broadcasting the tape."
Jeffrey went on to note that the letter was released Jan. 19 -- which means Jeffrey is a good four months late to writing about it.
On the other hand, it gave Jeffrey plenty of time to crank out a 34-paragraph article on the subject. Though one would think Jeffrey had more important news to cover that day than this one.
After Comey released a copy of the opening statement of his testimony before Congress, chief Trump fangirl Susan Jones served up a hilariously creative interpretation of it -- presented as "news" -- that portrays Trump as a victim, claming that Comey's statement "shows that President Donald Trump became increasingly frustrated by the ongoing Russia investigation, not because he had anything to hide, but because the leaks and media speculation were interfering with his ability to get things done for the country."
Jones counterfactually insisted that "Comey's statement does not back up the liberal media speculation that Trump may have obstructed justice by asking Comey to drop or back-off the Russia investigation or the investigation of Michael Flynn." Jones also referenced the notorious Trump dossier claiming that "Trump had engaged in perverted sexual acts with prostitutes during a trip to Russia"; Jones called the dossier "unsubstantiated and frankly ridiculous." We'll agree with the former; the latter is opinion not backed up by reality that has no business in a "news" article.
Jones followed that with a pre-hearing screed -- also falsely presented as "news" -- under the headline "Liberal Media That Are Out to Get Trump Run Eager Headlines on Thursday":
With the Comey circus in town on Thursday, Washington is a-quiver with anticipation that the former FBI director might/could, will-he/won't-he (please-oh-please) hand investigators evidence of criminality on the part of President Trump.
Jones used yet another purported "news" article to whine: "As Congress and the liberal media chase Russia-Trump conspiracy theories, the people’s business languishes."
CNS was on post-hearing spin patrol as well, focusing heavily on doing stories that claim to clear Trump and/or make Comey look bad:
Jones then passed the ridiculously-biased-commentary talking stick to blogger Craig Bannister. First, he parroted a Republican congressman's silly parsing of Trump's reported statement that he hoped Comey would drop the FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, cheering that the congressman "got Comey to admit that 'hoping' is not a crime - yet." But as observers less slavishly devoted to protecting Trump have noted, a threat does not have to be explicit to be clear, and people have been convicted of obstruction charges for making an "I hope" statement.
Bannister followed that up with a crude smear job relying on out-of-context words to portray Comey as an incompetent FBI director:
In Senate testimony Thursday, James Comey portrayed himself as someone who was “confused,” “stunned,” lacking “presence of mind” and not “strong” enough during his tenure as FBI director.
Surprisingly, CNS did not play this as "news" but as a blog post. But as we've seen, that's a distinction without a difference at CNS.
A July 25 CNS article by Susan Jones transcribed how Trump went on a Twitter rant against the Washington Post and the "Amazon no-tax monopoly." She added:
This is not the first time Trump has bashed the "Amazon Washington Post," the newspaper purchased by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2013.
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.
On Sept. 19, Politico reported that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price had spent tens of thousands of dollars on private charter flights instead of traveling on regular commercial flights like his predecessors. But CNS failed to cover the story at the time, or in the following days.
In fact, the first story on Price that CNS ran was a Sept. 29 article by Melanie Arter -- dated at 4:40 p.m. Eastern time -- that was another Trump stenography piece, quoting him saying that he didn't like the "optics" of Price's use of private charter planes and that he would be "announcing something in the very near future" regarding Price.
Arter followed up 51 minutes later with an article announcing Price's resignation. Buried in the article is CNS' first admission of a related scandal regarding other Trump cabinet members "using private planes on the taxpayer's dime."
How convenient that CNS couldn't find anything newsworthy about a Republican cabinet secretary wasting taxpayers' money on private flights until just before he was forced to resign over it. That's what's called bias by omission -- something CNS' mission statement purports to be opposed to.
Trump's State Department and diplomacy efforts hit a bit of a rough patch in early October -- which means it was up to the Trump stenographers at CNS to put its best spin on things.
After the U.S. voted against a United Nations resolution opposing the death penalty for crimes, including alleged offenses of homosexuality, CNS Patrick Goodenough rushed into action with an Oct. 4 article serving up State Department spin that the U.S. voted against it "not because it condemned capital punishment for homosexuality, but because the text included calls for the abolition of the death penalty altogether." Goodenough then added that "Countries where the death penalty for homosexuality is applied or codified in law are all Islamic."
Then, after a story broke that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly clashed with the White House and disparaged Trump, CNS' Arter went into damage-control mode with an article uncritically detailing how Tillerson "disputed a news report that claimed he considered resigning from his post over the summer and refused to address what he called 'petty nonsense,' when questioned on whether it was true that he called President Donald Trump 'a moron.'"
The next day, Goodenough returned for more stenography, this time from State Department spokesperson (and former Fox News anchor) Heather Nauert:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cares more about promoting America’s foreign policy goals than about the television cameras, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Wednesday.
Through its pro-Trump stenography, CNS is proving to be as loyal to the Trump administration as Nauert is.
CNS' Melanie Arter served up her latest bit of stenography on behalf of the Trump White House in an Oct. 20 article:
The White House said Friday that the media’s focus on President Donald Trump’s phone call to the widow of a soldier who died in Niger should have ended yesterday after White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly spoke on the issue, but instead, it’s the main topic of news coverage a day later.
It seems Arter took Sanders' complaint as marching orders, because CNS has indeed stopped talking about what Kelly said. That's too bad, because Kelly got some key facts wrong in attacking Wilson.
Kelly claimed that Wilson "talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money -- the $20 million -- to build the building." But according to PolitiFact, while Wilson was "speaking animatedly and indulging in some braggadocio," she "didn’t mention funding for the building, much less claim credit for it or tell the audience how she leveraged influence with Obama to secure it."
Since CNS acceded to the Trump White House's demand to not report this story anymore, its readers are being deprived of the truth.
CNS prepared for the Oct. 30 indictment of Trump campaign officials by parroting the Trump line that no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia took place and that even if it did, Trump was never involved. That resulted in stories by Susan Jones carrying the headlines "Collins: 'I Have Not Yet Seen Any Definitive Evidence of Collusion'" and "Gov. Christie Reminds Americans, 'The President Is Not Under Investigation'."
Later in the afternoon, Melanie Arter did her usual stenography from the daily press briefing by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dutifully regurgitating her talking point that the indictments of Manafort and Gates "have nothing to do with President Donald Trump."
When former national security adviser Michael Flynn entered his guilty plea for lying to the FBI, CNS was there to do the pro-Trump spin. In her Dec. 1 article on Flynn's plea, Susan Jones framed it as narrowly as possible to reflect the way the Trump administration wanted it reported -- that Flynn's plea had nothing to do with any other controversy the Trump White House is facing:
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was fired last February for giving “incomplete information” to Vice President Mike Pence about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, and on Friday, he pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of lying to the FBI about those same phone calls.
Lest there was any doubt about whether CNS was doing Trump's bidding in playing up that angle, a story by Melanie Arter later that day quoted a Trump attorney saying basically the same thing, albeit with more words:
President Donald Trump’s attorney Ty Cobb issued a statement Friday in response to news that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia probe.
It seems that Jones didn't really need to do her story, since Arter's stenography of Trump's lawyer was all the pro-Trump spin CNS was really obligated to do.