The ministry of propaganda

Welcome to Popular Information, a political newsletter for people who give a damn — written by me, Judd Legum. Send your feedback to judd@popular.info or tweet your thoughts using #popularinfo.

If you’ve been forwarded this newsletter, sign up at popular.info.


The ministry of propaganda

Fox News has always been a partisan network seeking, above all, to advance the prospects of the Republican Party. But during the Trump administration, it has become something much different. It has effectively transformed into a state-run propaganda network.

There is no distinction between the White House’s communication strategy and Fox News’ editorial strategy.

The latest evidence came Monday when The Daily Beast reported that White House counsel Don McGahn waived federal ethics laws so that Communications Director Bill Shine can speak freely with Fox News executives. Shine came to the White House last month after being forced out of his top role at Fox News for covering up allegations of sexual harassment.

Federal law prohibits most professional communications by federal employees with their former employer for at least a year. The provision is designed to prevent a revolving door where company employees are installed in government and then perform favors for their former employers.

“The Administration has an interest in you interacting with Covered Organizations such as Fox News,” McGahn wrote, “[T]he need for your services outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the White House Office’s programs and operations.”

McGahn’s memo neatly summarizes the Trump administration’s posture toward Fox News. Its relationship with the network “outweighs” integrity.

Chief propagandist Sean Hannity

Shine was given the role of White House Communications Director on the recommendation of Sean Hannity, who hosts America’s most popular TV news broadcast. The New York Times reported that Shine is expected “to serve as an extension of Mr. Hannity” in the White House.

Hannity no longer pretends to be a journalist or even a commentator. His program is devoted to glorifying Trump and demonizing his enemies by whatever means necessary.

David Bossie, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, says that Trump views Hannity as an “incredibly smart and articulate spokesman.”

Shadow chief of staff

Hannity also functions as one of Trump’s closest advisers. New York Magazine reports that Hannity and Trump speak almost every night before bed. They sometimes talk multiple times a day. Advisers refer to Hannity as Trump’s “‘shadow’ chief of staff, rivaling White House chief of staff John F. Kelly in terms of influence.”

During their calls, Trump and Hannity “discuss ideas for Hannity’s show, Trump’s frustration with the ongoing special counsel probe and even, at times, what the president should tweet,” according to a report in the Washington Post.

Once Trump and Hannity settle on their version of reality, Hannity packages it up and broadcasts it to an audience of millions -- an audience that includes Trump. This, according to one former White House staffer, creates “a fucked-up feedback loop.”

Executive time

Trump leaves his mornings unscheduled, preferring to be alone and watch Fox & Friends. Trump typically tweets as he’s watching. Trump has tagged @foxandfriends on Twitter 75 times since his inauguration. (He has only tagged his wife, @FLOTUS, 31 times over the same period.)

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Wow, the highest rated (by far) morning show, @foxandfriends, is on the Front Lawn of the White House. Maybe I’ll have to take an unannounced trip down to see them?

June 15, 2018
Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Thank you to @foxandfriends for exposing the truth. Perhaps that’s why your ratings are soooo much better than your untruthful competition!

February 5, 2018
Trump doesn’t just watch the show, according to White House aides; he uses it to set the rest of the day’s agenda.

“He comes down for the day, and whatever he saw on 'Fox and Friends,' he schedules meetings based on that. If it’s Iran, it’s ‘Get John Bolton down here!’” a former White House official told Politico.

On-air propaganda goes online

Fox News is a propaganda network for the Trump administration and dominates the TV ratings, but the playing field is leveled online, right?

Wrong.

Fox News gets the most distribution on Facebook of any publisher, according to data from Newswhip.

Facebook is also paying Fox News to produce 12 shows a week for its new platform Facebook Watch.

State TV, brought to you by corporate America

Fox News represents an unprecedented development in American politics.

An entire television station, with an established audience of millions, has devoted itself to the glorification of one man: Donald Trump.

Ordinarily, state-run propaganda needs to be subsidized by the government. Fox News has found corporations willing support this content with advertising dollars.

Occasionally, corporations flee Fox News when one of their hosts mocks a mass shooting survivor, dabbles in an unhinged murder conspiracy or is accused of serial sexual harassment.

But no one seems to mind subsidizing government propaganda.

The network plays an indispensable role in creating an alternate reality for Trump supporters. It appears to be working. No matter what Trump says or does, his support from about 40% of voters, including nearly all Republicans, never waivers.

If you watch Hannity, it makes sense. In the world he and Trump have created, everything is going great.


A (nearly) all-white White House

Omarosa Manigault, the former Trump aide with a new tell-all book, was fired in December 2017. In an interview Monday, Manigault alleged that Trump had “some serious mental impairment,” which she blamed on his Diet Coke habit. At the time of her firing, she was Trump’s most prominent black adviser.

Which raises the question: who is the highest-ranking African American left in the West Wing?

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway was asked this question on Sunday. She eventually named “Ja’Ron,” apparently unable to remember his last name. She was likely referring to Ja’Ron Smith who is a mid-level aide working on urban affairs. He does not have an office in the West Wing.

The White House staff, by the numbers

CNN looked at all 48 assistants and deputy assistants to the president and found that none of them are black. Only a handful are “of Latino, Asian or Arab descent.”

A White House spokesman described West Wing staff as “diverse” and “focused on getting results.” The White House declined “to provide a list of White House officials who are black or members of other minority groups.”


Trump declares war on fact checkers

Daniel Dale, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star, has cataloged every false claim that Trump has made as president. So far, Dale had documented 2291 false claims by Trump since he was sworn in on January 20, 2017. That works out to more than four false claims every day of his presidency. (Dale says Trump is a “serial liar” but describes them as “false statements” because he’s not sure if they are all intentional.)

The Washington Post, using slightly different criteria, identified 4,229 “false or misleading” statements during Trump’s first 557 days. That works out to 7.6 questionable claims for each day Trump has been in office. According to the Post’s analysis, Trump is getting less accurate over time. During his first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 “false or misleading” statements every 24 hours. In June and July, Trump averaged 16 “false or misleading” statements each day. On July 5 alone, Trump made 79 “false or misleading” claims -- about one every 9 minutes.

On Monday night, Trump lashed out at fact checkers at a fundraising dinner, calling them “bad people.”


Thanks for reading! Please send your feedback and hate mail to judd@popular.info. Or tweet your thoughts using the hashtag #popularinfo.

If you like Popular Information, tell someone about it! Here are a few nice things readers posted yesterday:

Angus McMahan@AngusMcMahan

I am enjoying the daily newsletter "Popular Information" - each day a well-written article about some aspect of Politics or Society. Concise, well-written and blessedly fact-based. Check it out! https://t.co/1Q7HfGBvYK

August 13, 2018
ssoɯpuosɐɾ@@jasondmoss

Yet another well-informed and written #PopularInfo newsletter by @JuddLegum. If you have not yet subscribed to this #newsletter, I highly recommend you do.#News #Accuracy #Informed #NoFluff #NoAlgorithm #NoBullshithttps://t.co/qS2APXVUqI

August 13, 2018
Delia M Turner@howrawhowrue

Looking for thorough clear political analysis? I can recommend @JuddLegum Popular Information newsletter https://t.co/5an4I740KM

August 13, 2018