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Distract and dismiss: how rightwing media saw the Russia indictments


Distract and dismiss: how rightwing media saw the Russia indictments
US news | The Guardian  /  Jason Wilson

Some outlets, most with a long history of criticizing Trump, treated Manafort's charges more soberly.

Some outlets, most with a long history of criticizing Trump, treated Manafort's charges more soberly. Photograph: Brooks Kraft/Getty Images

Conservative pundits attempted to distance Trump from Paul Manafort, and barely mentioned the guilty plea of former adviser George Papadopoulos at all

As news of the FBI indictment of Paul Manafort broke, Donald Trump tweeted: "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"

In the symbiosis between Trump and conservative media, it's hard to tell who is leading and who is following. If these weren't marching orders, they were good a summary as any of how most rightwing media and pundits were treating the news.

Like Trump himself, conservative media figures attempted to distance the administration from Trump's former campaign manager, and barely mentioned the guilty plea of former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, at all. They then tried to refocus their audience on the (so far) more nebulous allegations surrounding the Hillary Clinton campaign, which they have been dutifully amplifying in recent weeks.

On Fox News, as much as they tried, they couldn't altogether avoid Manafort's self-surrender to the FBI. But mentions were minimized and soft-soaped, and the focus was on the revelations that the Clinton campaign had paid for research that resulted in the infamous "Steele dossier" about Trump, Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta's woes, and the Clintons' supposed involvement in the "Uranium One" deal.

Hosts of morning show Fox & Friends and early afternoon show Outnumbered tried to cast doubt on the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller, citing media leaks on the investigation's progress, and running hostile comments on Mueller by Peter King and other pro-Trump voices.

Also, they developed a sudden interest in due process. On Fox & Friends, Brian Kilmeade reminded viewers: "Just because they indict you, it doesn't mean you are guilty."

Breitbart News was also uncharacteristically reticent on Monday. There were initially only two stories on the Manafort indictment. One was extremely terse, the other attempted to put a brave face on things by disassociating Manafort from the campaign he once managed.

That story, headlined 'Paul Manafort Indicted on 12 Counts Unrelated to 2016 Campaign', offered the big hedge: "The charges, first teased Friday, bear no immediate connection to the Trump campaign or the 2016 presidential race more broadly."

At least the big daddy of conservative talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, had a fresh approach to reframing the story. After a flurry of nitpicking on early mainstream coverage, Rush hinted that Mueller had only charged Manafort in order to tighten the screws on Tony Podesta, who stepped down from his lobbying firm the Podesta Group on Monday after it came under increasing scrutiny for its lobbying activities on behalf of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine who Manafort had also been associated with.

Trump's most loyal media tribune, Alex Jones, used a customary scattergun approach on Infowars. Washington correspondent Jerome Corsi offered some convoluted legal reasoning in arguing that reliance on the Steele dossier would cripple Mueller's prosecution, and threw in some very thin claims about Clinton money laundering.

The Wall Street Journal devoted considerable coverage to the indictments, despite their editorial on the weekend, which called on Mueller to resign on the grounds that the FBI reportedly at one time considered paying Christopher Steele to continue compiling his dossier on Trump, a potential conflict of interest.

The editorial, later gleefully circulated to journalists by the RNC, called for a broadening of the investigation to include the entirety of the American political system. It argued: "Strip out the middlemen, and it appears that Democrats paid for Russians to compile wild allegations about a US presidential candidate. Did someone say 'collusion'?"

Some outlets, most with a long history of criticizing Trump, treated Manafort's charges more soberly. RedState writer Joe Cunningham was aghast at the White House's weak defense about Trump's association with Manafort, writing: "Whatever happens to Manafort is a reflection of Trump's poor taste in people".

At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher was one of the few to take the Papadopoulos dimension seriously, remarking that his guilty plea establishes "attempts from within the Trump campaign to meet with the Russians to gain compromising material on Hillary Clinton".

But most conservative writers and broadcasters acted in the spirit of a story at Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller website, which pointed out a minor mistake of fact in the indictment, in the hope that this might discredit it.

"An indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller Monday incorrectly identifies Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko as a former Ukrainian president when she is in fact a former prime minister," the story began.

For now, the mission is distract, reframe, and try to refocus on Democrats.



Original Article: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/31/trump-russia-inquiry-rightwing-media

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