The Trump campaign’s email blast war against what it considers biased reporting is about to resume, according to its commander, senior communications adviser Jason Miller.
The emails, labeled “MEDIA BIAS OFFENDER” in screaming capital letters, began showing up in reporters’ inboxes on Aug. 3 and continued for five days. Miller said they will return, perhaps as soon as Tuesday night.
In a conversation with Yahoo News last week, Miller said it amuses him to see reporters react to these messages on Twitter and to imagine their reaction when they receive them. The emails are sent in the evening specifically because the campaign believes reporters are largely done with work and reading on their phones at that time.
“I get a little bit of a smile when I see at night … when journalists take a look and essentially acknowledge that they’re reading these and that they’re paying attention,” Miller said. “Our goal in this is to call attention to what we see as the most extreme examples of media bias with an effort of making folks think twice about everything from story placement to fairness.”
These messages are not sent out to Trump supporters; they only go the campaign’s press list. Miller said the campaign’s unique strategy of critiquing reporters for an audience of their peers is necessary because this election is taking place in a climate of “historic media bias” against Trump. He also described it as fitting with Trump’s “unconventional” style.
“Everything about this race is unconventional, and there are a number of political norms such as addressing media bias — maybe Washington insiders might be too timid to take that on, but we have made the decision that we are going to push back and call out media bias and not be shy about it,” said Miller.
Up through Aug. 8, Miller’s team sent out six “media bias offender” emails, many directed at what the campaign considered negative coverage of Trump — and a lack of criticism toward Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — on the New York Times front page and the Washington Post website. Illustrations in the messages showed examples of the offending coverage emblazoned with a bright red “MEDIA BIAS OFFENDER” stamp. This period coincided with a spate of controversies involving Trump, including his repeated attacks on the family of a slain Muslim soldier, his false claim that he saw footage of an American jet bringing cash to Iran and his initial reluctance to endorse two prominent Republicans, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Miller contends that American payments to Iran, Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct official business and revelations about foreign donations to her family’s charitable foundation should have earned similarly prominent placement at these outlets. He said the emails are designed to make reporters “think twice” about their coverage.
“It’s not just keeping them on their toes for keeping on their toes’ sake,” Miller said of the emails. “We’re talking about promoting Mr. Trump’s message and standing up and calling out or pushing back on clear cases of media bias when we see them.”
The media has long been a ripe target for politicians, particularly conservatives. A Gallup poll released last year showed Americans’ trust in the media has hit a historic low, especially among Republicans. The poll found that less than one-third of Republican voters trust the press. This wariness has led many GOP candidates, including several of this year’s presidential hopefuls, to take shots at the media.
However, as with so much of his campaign, Trump has put his own unique spin on the practice. Longtime Trump associate Roger Stone suggested to Yahoo News that Trump’s status as a political outsider makes taking on the media a particularly potent strategy for him.
“Voters have kind of reached their saturation point with both political parties, with all political institutions, with career politicians as a class,” Stone said. “These same people have figured out that the establishment is in bed with the media establishment, that the mainstream media is merely a megaphone for the insiders and, therefore, the stuff they tell you isn’t true.”
Stone cut his political teeth working for President Richard Nixon, who mounted his own crusade against the media. And Stone says launching an anti-media offensive is more effective now than it was in the past.
“Attacking the media wins you votes. The voters have become skeptical of the media,” Stone explained. “You know, it’s not like the days when everyone believed Walter Cronkite. Nobody believes these bastards now because the news is indeed biased.”
But Stone thinks the media “bias” isn’t entirely ideological, or even partisan. Instead, he suggests that a spate of stories about GOP officials preparing for the possibility of Trump dropping out of the race “came from the Republican National Committee” and its chairman, Reince Priebus. According to Stone, who blasted the stories as a “false meme,” Priebus was furious about Trump’s reluctance to endorse Ryan in his reelection bid. Both Priebus and Ryan are from Wisconsin and have deep personal ties.
“That sent Reince off the cliff,” Stone said. “That whole false meme Trump is considering dropping out, which has no basis in facts but still leads ABC News and gets on the front page of the New York Times, that is, my guess, is Republican spun, Republican originated.”
Stone underlined Trump’s status as an outsider in explaining his unique relationship to the party leadership.
“In the end, he’s going to get what he needs among Republicans,” Stone said of Trump’s prospects with GOP voters. “This is not Republicans versus Democrats. It’s insiders versus outsiders. Trump’s the outsider. The endorsement of Romney and the Bushes would be detrimental to his candidacy. He’s the insurgent. His nomination is a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.”
Before Trump’s team began sending the “MEDIA BIAS OFFENDER” emails, the candidate regularly blasted the press and even singled out individual reporters for criticism at his rallies and on Twitter. The campaign has also closed Trump’s events to media outlets it deems biased. On Aug. 10, Marie Claire magazine published an essay by NBC News reporter Katy Tur that detailed her experiences covering Trump for the past year, including multiple instances where she was singled out for his criticism. At one South Carolina rally last December, Tur said, the Secret Service took “the extraordinary step” of escorting her to her car after Trump blasted her as a liar from the stage. The agency, which protects presidents and presidential candidates, has never before had to protect someone else from a candidate.
Asked about the situation with Tur and whether the campaign’s antagonistic stance towards the press might betray an authoritarian bent, Miller pointed out that the “OFFENDER” emails thus far are not “personal” and have not singled out individual reporters. Miller also said the emails are not meant as an indictment of the entire media industry.
“We’re always careful in the write-ups to never take on all journalists. We’re always very careful to make sure that we’re calling out the media bias offenders and not casting a net to everyone,” Miller said.
However, Trump himself has been willing to attack individual journalists, and Miller leaves the door open to the campaign doing so in the future. The closest the campaign has come so far was highlighting a USA Today column that referenced the factually incorrect claim that Trump kicked a baby out of one his rallies earlier this month. In the future, Miller said, a similar situation where the campaign has “gone to a reporter to try to get something changed and they’re just not listening” could result in a reporter being personally called out in one of the campaign’s daily emails.
“If we’re at a point … say you have the baby story where, you know, we went to the reporter, we went to the editor, things still didn’t get changed, they still ran with this blatant falsehood,” Miller said. “We’re going to call them out. We’re going to make sure that everyone knows.”
There have been no new “MEDIA BIAS OFFENDER” emails from the Trump campaign since Aug. 8. However, Trump and his team clearly have not halted their offensive. Over the weekend, the campaign launched a sustained attack against a New York Times article that reported Trump was in a “sullen and erratic” mood with aides urging him to change course and “get on track” following his recent controversies and slump in the polls.
Trump lambasted the article multiple times on Twitter and at a rally on Saturday evening where he threatened to revoke the Times’ press credentials for his events. On Sunday morning, Miller appeared on CNN’s weekly media discussion show “Reliable Sources” where he dismissed the story as a “liberal hatchet job.” The show’s host, Brian Stelter, repeatedly pressed Miller on whether there were specific things about the story that should be corrected. Miller simply said he “would take the entire article and throw it in the trash.”
In a text message exchange with Yahoo on Tuesday, Miller described his appearance on the show as “one big media bias offender segment.” He also suggested the campaign’s focus on the story was one reason the campaign didn’t send any new “BIAS OFFENDER” emails in recent days. He promised the next one will come this evening.
“There was so much attention to the issue between myself and Mr. Trump that I found a press release to be anticlimactic,” Miller wrote. “I would expect to see a new one today. Believe me.”
Miller ended his message with a smiley face emoji.