Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Trump's Broken Promises

As President Donald Trump closes in on his first 100 days in office he is scrambling to defend his inept performance so far in office.  Perhaps this is best illustrated by his announcement last week that he was sending an armada toward North Korea, only to  find out Monday that it was on its way to Australia.  

Candidate Trump made big promises on the campaign trail.  His promises were targeted at key voting blocks in order to mobilize them to vote last November.  A crackdown on illegal immigration, a border wall with Mexico, tax reform, repeal and replacement of Obamacare, better trade deals, a ban on Muslims, extreme vetting, and a stronger military are among the issues Trump ran on.  The strategy gave the GOP control of the White House and both houses of Congress in a bitterly fought election, which included an assist from Russia.

On Tuesday President Trump told a rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, "No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days."  Never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, it appeared that the president was trying out his talking points in advance of the 100-day mark.  But the truth is President Trump has failed to truly deliver on most of his promises.   And a  recent Gallup Poll shows that just 45% of Americans believe Trump keeps his promises, a sharp decline in two months.   

For seven years Republicans demonized President Barack Obama and this eponymous health care bill.  Candidate Trump promised to repeal and replace Obamacare on his first day in office.   But Republicans could not bridge the deep divisions within their own party, especially with the conservative House Freedom Caucus.  In February, a frustrated President Trump told a meeting of governors, "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated."  

House Speaker Paul Ryan had to withdraw his healthcare bill, even following heavy lobbying from the president, in large part because polls showed it had the support of about 17% of Americans. The GOP alternative would have kicked 24 million people off of heath insurance.  This is in sharp contrast to what Trump told 60 Minutes in 2015.  "I am going to take care of everybody.  I don't care if it costs me votes or not," he said, adding, "Everybody is going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now." 

The GOP healthcare bill is linked by party leadership to tax reform.  A repeal of Obamacare would mean a $1 trillion cut in taxes for the wealthy.  Republicans would then have an easier task of finding savings in the budget to secure further tax cuts.   The fate of tax reform is now uncertain.

The wall along the U.S. border with Mexico became a battle cry for Trump supporters during the campaign.  And candidate Trump insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall, which he estimated would cost $8 to $12 billion.  Mexican officials have been consistently adamant that they will not pay for the wall, which Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who sits on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, now estimates could "soar" to $70 billion in construction costs.   And to what end, since a majority of immigrants in the U.S. illegally either overstayed their visas or came on a ship?

With much fanfare the president signed a controversial executive order in late January which suspended the U.S. Refugee Program and denied entry to citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.  The EO led to chaos at airports around the world, and international denunciations.  A federal judge blocked the order because it unfairly targeted Muslims, as thousands of protestors jammed airports around the country to oppose the order.   The EO was poorly conceived and executed, and led to internal finger pointing.  A new updated EO was issued in March, but it is subject to an indefinite preliminary injunction.   So much for Trump's Muslim ban.  

The president campaigned passionately against the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which he has promised to renegotiate.  He said it was taking away American jobs.  But Trump will have great difficulty redoing this complex trade deal, and he knows it.  And now the president has reversed himself on his campaign charge that China is a currency manipulator.  Given the need to enlist China's support in dealing with North Korea, and following a meeting with the Chinese leader, Trump has flip-flopped.   Perhaps not so coincidentally, China approved three trademarks for Ivanka Trump's company on the same day she dined with her father and the Chinese president at Mar-a-Lago.  

The president has signed executive orders undoing some of President Obama's regulation, including related to the environment.  He was also able successfully appoint Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court with an assist from the Senate Republicans.  But Trump has had the worst first 100-days of any modern era president.  To exacerbate his problems, the probes continue into whether the Russians had any ties to members of the Trump campaign.  Infighting between chief strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jerod Kushner has broken into the open and spawned unprecedented leaks to the media.  Trump continues his attacks on the "fake" media while tweeting reckless and untrue comments, like President Obama wiretapped him.  And Trump has decided to keep the White House visitor logs secret, which now raises questions about transparency.  

With Trump's popularity low and a rocky start of his presidency, Republicans are beginning to speak out.  Senator Joni Ernst distanced herself in comments at a town hall in Iowa yesterday.   "I think we have a president that has a number of flaws," she stated with unusual candor.  "I support a majority of his policies, versus the actual person, but I decry any time a person is ugly towards another person, I don't think that's appropriate."  She also said Trump should release his taxes.

Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, so President Trump should have had an easy time achieving much of his agenda.  But governing takes a different set of skills than campaigning.  Trump's lying, personal attacks, distortion and distraction have worn thin on the very people he needs to support him.  So too, thankfully, has the list of unfulfilled promises, many of which would severely impact the very people who voted for Donald Trump because they mistakenly believed he alone could fix it. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Killing "The O'Reilly Factor"

"Killing O'Reilly" could be the name of the next book Fox News commentator and host Bill O'Reilly writes.  O'Reilly announced on his broadcast Tuesday evening that he is immediately leaving on vacation, "I like to take time off around Easter, it's calming."  However, O'Reilly's announcement was anything but calming when it comes to the growing sexual harassment scandal involving him, as speculation increases that he will be leaving the network.   Fox News has said he will return April 24.

The New York Times published an article April 1 disclosing that O'Reilly and his network had paid $13 million to five women as settlements for sexual harassment complaints.   Since then dozens of advertisers have pulled their ads from "The O'Reilly Factor", which has been the network's highest rated program, regularly pulling in more than 3 million viewers.  Kantar Media reported that the program is now airing about seven national ads, which is significantly down from the usual 33 national ads.  

Last week Los Angeles radio personality Wendy Walsh, accompanied by attorney Lisa Bloom, said that O'Reilly had sexually harassed her.  The company says it is investigating this claim.   Meanwhile, Bloom told MSNBC Tuesday night that it is likely more women will come forward with additional allegations against O'Reilly.   O'Reilly has said that he is a target because he is famous, so he settled to "spare his children the pain of messy ordeals."  No other Fox News host has been similarly accused.  Perhaps the only other "famous" person to face such allegations is former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who resigned last year amid scandal, but received a $40 million exit package from the company.  

While few noteworthy people have come to the defense of the temperamental O'Reilly, he did receive support from the president.  Speaking in the Oval Office last week, Trump described O'Reilly as a good person adding, "I don't think Bill did anything wrong."  He told the New York Times, "Personally, I think he shouldn't have settled."  Of course, the president has also been the target of sexual harassment charges, especially following the disclosure of audio from a video recording of him bragging about sexual assault. Trump later apologized for his remarks.

Fox News makes well over a billion dollars a year in gross profits.  The top rated "O'Reilly Factor" earns tens of millions of dollars in profit annually, and serves as a tent pole for those broadcasts adjacent to it.  O'Reilly's viewers are extremely loyal and his ratings have increased since the latest scandal broke.  But are the viewers loyal to the talent or to the Fox News brand?  Fox News executives will be monitoring the ratings during O'Reilly's vacation to see if his absence impacts the numbers.  They also know that ratings increased when controversial Fox News host Megyn Kelly was replaced by Tucker Carlson in the 9PM ET hour.

The sexual harassment charges are roiling the waters in Great Britain where 21st Century Fox is trying to take full control of Sky News.  The British regulator, Ofcom, is expected to announce by mid May whether it will let the deal go forward.  Ofcom could kill the deal if Rupert Murdoch and the company does not meet the standard of "fit and proper" owners, which can include any relevant misconduct.   Murdoch is still damaged by a hacking scandal in England which led a parliamentary committee to find in 2012 that he is "not a fit person to exercise stewardship of a major international company." 

Murdoch is also seeking to ease regulatory restrictions in Washington, where politicians are especially susceptible to public opinion.  Already New York City Public Advocate Letitia, who has led protests at Fox News headquarters, has sent letters the the city's Commission of Human Rights and the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting they investigate sexual harassment at the network.   Meanwhile, Fox News is being investigated by federal prosecutors to determine whether it broke any securities laws with its harassment settlements.

For the most part, Fox News has supported President Donald Trump.  Rupert Murdoch sees opportunity for his business interests because of a Trump presidency, and both men like nothing more than winning.  But, like Trump, some of Murdoch's children have a more moderate approach.   New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman reports that a senior Fox News staffer said, "It's up to the family."  Sherman reports two Fox News sources say 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch wants O'Reilly out, while his brother, Lachlan, and father Rupert "are more inclined to keep him."

Donald Trump once famously said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."   But the invincible Bill O'Reilly has lost advertisers and his program will take a huge financial hit.  At this point, advertisers clearly have a greater sense of social responsibility than does Fox News.  What do the O'Reilly settlements and the Ailes termination say about the corporate culture at Fox News?   

Fox News must rid itself of the stigma associated with this well established pattern and all of its bad actors. As the leading cable news channel, which serves millions of viewers every day, Fox News must act responsibly by making a powerful statement that sexual harassment is unacceptable.  

Killing "The O'Reilly Factor" and terminating Bill O'Reilly would be an important first step for 21st Century Fox.