Trump Tweets About Firing ‘Enemy of the People’ Jeff Zucker and Andy Lack

President Donald Trump has started his day on social media by attacking two cable news outlets known for their consistent critical coverage of the White House.  Trump tweets talking trash on negative coverage has become standard operating procedure under this administration, but tweets discussing (even suggesting!) the firing of presidents of CNN and MSNBC is a new bar that Trump had to surpass.

Trump opened with another attack on cable news outlet CNN, but his latest salvo takes a personal attack at CNN President Jeff Zucker. Seemingly upset with what he sees as the  “hatred and extreme bias” shown by CNN’s coverage, President Trump suggested that parent company AT&T (which recently acquired Time Warner) fire Zucker to save “credibility.”

Trump tweeted:

Not finished, Trump trained his focus on NBC News and its president Andy Lack:

And in case his Twitter followers didn’t get the gist of what he had just tweeted, he stuck the landing with:

There is no denying that much of MSNBC and CNN’s primetime programming has taken a critical look at the White House, but a long-standing journalistic tradition is speaking truth to power. There have been rumors surrounding Lack’s dismissal, however, it’s worth noting that MSNBC is enjoying terrific ratings under the Trump administration. In fact, just last week MSNBC was the highest rated cable news network in primetime, and Morning Joe enjoyed its greatest ratings week ever.

Trump’s animus towards CNN has existed for some time, but his recent pique is almost certainly focused on recent reports in which Michael Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis admitted that he has not been truthful as an anonymous source in a CNN report about Trump knowing about the Trump Tower meeting. CNN has stood by their report citing other sources that have confirmed.

The President of the United States is arguably the most powerful position in the world, and for the commander-in-chief to use his power to suggest the firing of Zucker and Lack because of negative coverage is a stunning turn of events that should not be dismissed nor accepted as a “new normal.”

Are the powers-that-be at AT&T and Comcast (parent companies at CNN and NBC News respectively) likely to take President Trump’s negative rhetoric seriously? Most certainly not, and nor should anyone. But therein lies a much bigger problem than the negative coverage of the Trump administration: we have a sitting president that no one takes seriously.

[Mediaite]

Trump Blasts ‘Fake News Media’ for Not Reporting on AT&T’s Planned Merger With Time Warner

On Friday, President Donald Trump blasted the “fake news media” for not reporting on litigation revolving around AT&T’s planned merger with Time Warner in a tweet that seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Why doesn’t the Fake News Media state that the Trump Administration’s Anti-Trust Division has been, and is, opposed to the AT&T purchase of Time Warner in a currently ongoing Trial,” Trump wrote. “Such a disgrace in reporting!”

While his exact intent was not clear, Trump was likely reacting to reports that his lawyer Michael Cohen was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by AT&T for a consulting gig that actually amounted to Cohen peddling his access to Trump.

The AT&T payment was also significant because Essential Consulting, the shell consulting firm Cohen set up to receive payments, also happens to be the firm that paid Stormy Daniels the $130,000 in hush money.

AT&T has since said it regretted hiring Cohenand claimed the damage to their reputation will not hurt their planned merger.

So far, Trump, not known for clarification,  has not issued a follow-up tweet.

[Mediaite]

AT&T confirms it paid Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for ‘insights’ on administration

Telecommunications giant AT&T said Tuesday night that it had paid President Donald Trump‘s lawyer Michael Cohen for “insights” about the Trump administration.

AT&T’s admission came after a lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels claimed the company, drug giant Novartis and a company controlled by a Russian oligarch had all made payments to Cohen’s shell company.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said AT&T had made four separate payments of $50,000 apiece to Cohen’s company, for a total of $200,000 in late 2017 and into early 2018.

That company, Essential Consultants, was created by Cohen in October 2016 and soon after was used to make a $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels.

In a prepared statement to CNBC, AT&T said Cohen’s company “was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration.”

“They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017,” AT&T said.

The company did not say how much it had paid Cohen, who was the president’s personal lawyer at the time.

AT&T is in the midst of pursuing an $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. The U.S. Justice Department has sued to block that deal.

In a report on Cohen’s company, Avenatti’s law firm said that Novartis in late 2017 and early 2018 made four separate payments to Essential Consultants totaling nearly $400,000.

“Following these payments, reports surfaced that Mr. Trump took a dinner with the incoming CEO of Novartis before Mr. Trump’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in late January 2018,” Avenatti’s report said.

That CEO, Vas Narasimhan, was joined with a group of other companies’ executives at that dinner.

A Novartis spokesperson said in a statement that “any agreements with Essential Consultants were entered before our current CEO taking office in February of this year and have expired.”

The White House declined to comment on whether Trump knew about payments to Cohen from AT&T, Novartis or Columbus Nova, the company linked to the Russian oligarch, and instead referred questions to the president’s outside legal team.

Avenatti’s report says another company, Korea Aerospace Industries LTD, paid Essential Consultants $150,000 in November 2017.

Avenatti’s client Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Essential Consultants on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.

Daniels says the money was in exchange for her signing a deal that required her to remain silent about an affair she claims to have had with Trump in 2006, shortly after the birth of his youngest son.

The White House has denied that Trump had sex with the adult film actress.

Cohen did not have an immediate comment on Avenatti’s new allegations about payments to Cohen’s company.

[CNBC]

White House Warns CNN That Critical Coverage Could Cost Time Warner Its Merger

It’s quite possible that Donald Trump would never have become president were it not for CNN. The network nurtured the reality star’s campaign in its infancy, broadcasting entire stump speeches, uninterrupted by correction or commentary. And it is likely that the president would be little more than a cultural artifact — a walking reminder of 1980s nihilism — were it not for the network’s president Jeffrey Zucker, who reintroduced Trump to the American public as a no-nonsense businessman in NBC’s The Apprentice.

But CNN is a journalistic enterprise. Or, at least, it plays one on TV. And so when a politician spews vicious, obvious lies on a near-daily basis — and directs a good portion of that venom at the free press itself — CNN’s anchors and reporters feel compelled to correct and condemn such mendacity. And that makes the president feel “betrayed.”

So, now, his administration is openly threatening to punish the network by sending the Justice Department after its parent company. As the New York Times reports:

Mr. Trump’s allies argue that it is CNN’s conduct that is unbecoming. Starting on last year’s campaign trail, the president and his aides have accused the network of bias and arrogance, an offensive that heated up again in January after CNN reported on the existence of a secret dossier detailing a series of lurid accusations against Mr. Trump. The network’s reporters now routinely joust with Mr. Trump’s press aides, and Jim Acosta, a White House correspondent, recently denounced the administration’s use of off-camera briefings as an affront to American values.

White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary, a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department will decide whether to approve the merger, and while analysts say there is little to stop the deal from moving forward, the president’s animus toward CNN remains a wild card. [my emphasis]

This detail is buried 12 paragraphs into a feature on CNN’s combative relationship with Trump. Which is bizarre, given that it’s an open confession of corruption by a senior White House official. It hardly matters whether the administration follows through on its threat: The White House is extorting a news network in the pages of the New York Times. The fact that this didn’t strike the paper as headline material is a testament to how thoroughly Trump has already succeeded in eroding our expectations for good governance.

Shortly after the mogul’s election, Vox’s Matt Yglesias posited politically motivated interference in the Time Warner–AT&T merger as a frightening hypothetical — a development that would signal America’s descent into kleptocracy.

Trump is not going to crush the free media in one fell swoop. But big corporate media does face enough regulatory matters that even a single exemplary case would suffice to induce large-scale self-censorship. AT&T, for example, is currently seeking permission from antitrust authorities to buy Time Warner — permission that Time Warner executives might plausibly fear is contingent on Trump believing that CNN has covered him “fairly.”

It’s worth noting that CNN has already allowed the desire to appease Trump (and his voters) to undermine its journalistic integrity. The network literally pays Trump associates Corey Lewandowski and Jeffrey Lord to lie to its audience on the president’s behalf — even as it cut ties with Reza Aslan for profanely criticizing the president on social media.

While this is the first time the administration has publicly declared its interest in using the Justice Department as a tool for stifling dissent, Trump has been encouraging Time Warner to discipline its news network for months now. In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that senior White House adviser (and Trump son-in-law) Jared Kushner “complained to Gary Ginsberg, executive vice-president of corporate marketing and communications at CNN’s parent Time Warner, about what Mr. Kushner feels is unfair coverage slanted against the president.”

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to block Time Warner’s desired merger “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

If that sentiment were genuine, it would be worth applauding. There’s considerable evidence that corporate consolidation in general — and media concentration, in particular — has been bad for our economy and our democracy. But the Trump administration has signaled an appreciation for the virtues of monopolies, appointing a former lobbyist with an affinity for big business as the Justice Department’s head of antitrust enforcement.

And the White House is perfectly comfortable with media consolidation — when such mergers increase the bandwidth of pro-Trump outlets. Earlier this year, the FCC relaxed rules on how many local stations a single owner can control. Shortly thereafter, Sinclair Broadcast Group purchased Tribune Media — thereby gaining ownership of enough local television stations to reach 70 percent of American households. Sinclair is run by a big-dollar GOP donor, and forced its local affiliates to skew their coverage in Trump’s favor throughout the 2016 campaign.

If the White House blocks the Time Warner–AT&T deal, it will not be out of a desire to enhance competition, but to limit free speech.

To be sure, there’s reason to doubt that Trump will make good on that threat — this White House’s bark tends to be louder than its bite. In an interview with the Times, Zucker claims that the merger is not something he thinks about and that Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes has never brought that subject to his attention.

But when a president with an ardent, white-nationalist following barks, it’s reasonable to fear that someone else might use their teeth. While Zucker isn’t worried about antitrust enforcement, he told the Times that he is worried for his staff’s personal safety:

The level of threats against CNN employees, he said, has spiked this year. Mr. Trump, he said, “has caused us to have to take steps that you wouldn’t think would be necessary because of the actions of the president of the United States.”

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted a GIF that portrayed him battering a wrestling figure with the CNN logo for a head. The creator of that clip turned out to be a neo-Nazi Reddit user who had posted a list of all the Jews that work at CNN. The network’s Andrew Kaczynski tracked down that user and extracted an apology. Kaczynski declined to reveal the figure’s identity, but suggested that he retained the right to do so, if the shit-poster resumed his “ugly behavior on social media.”

That threat did not sit well with the alt-right, who saw it as an attempt to restrict free speech through intimidation. Thus, some Trumpists decided to express their principled opposition to such intimidation, by threatening to kill Kaczynski and his family. As BuzzFeed reports:

For now, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Kaczynski and his family are the subject of an ongoing harassment campaign that includes the publication of personal information and death threats. And earlier today, the pro-Trump social media personality Michael Cernovich announced a protest outside Kaczynski’s New York home.

The White House is openly threatening to punish a (barely) adversarial outlet through selective regulatory enforcement. White nationalist Trump supporters are threatening to kill investigative reporters and assembling outside their homes.

Donald Trump has been president for less than six months.

[New York Magazine]