At 8:01 this morning (8/20/16), the Associated Press tweeted a puff piece on Donald Trump and his family saying: “Tweet: bulldozers and hardhats brought together three generations of Trumps.” The tweet included an excerpt from Trump on raising his children: “I didn’t give them too much money.”
Everything in this brief AP tweet was false. The Trump family built its fortune on generations of inherited wealth, with Trump and his children removed from manual labor, educated at elite schools, and living their entire lives in luxury.
So it was not a surprise that AP deleted the tweet and the link to the article within minutes. But it soon reappeared in another section, AP Politics, with the article intact.
Puff pieces are a common feature of media coverage, especially during a political campaign, but wire services generally refrain from publishing them. AP’s article on Trump, written by Nancy Benac, is a stupefying and egregious piece of political propaganda, notable for its deceptive content, conspicuous timing, and the author’s direct connection to the Trump campaign.
First, Benac’s piece is full of lies and omissions, leaving out not only the history of the Trump family’s business practices, but ignoring nearly everything that has happened during the year-old campaign, with the exception of flattering details like a plug for the dress Ivanka wore at the RNC. (The article, in fact, essentially repeats the illusion of the Trump family – wholesome businesspeople with a respect for manual labor vs. multigenerational scandal-ridden billionaires – that was promulgated in speeches and video at the RNC.)
The omissions are obvious to even the most casual Trump observer. When discussing Trump’s businesses, the article omits Trump’s many lawsuits and bankruptcies. When discussing his divorce from Ivana, it omits her serious accusations against him. When discussing the Trump children, it omits their own controversies. And Melania, who famously plagiarized a Michele Obama speech on national TV, is described as “staying off the campaign trail.”
Most of all, almost nothing from the past year of the Trump campaign is discussed in the article: not Trump’s racist and xenophobic comments, not his feud with the Khans, not his call for Hillary’s assassination, not his encouragement for Russia to obtain Hillary’s emails, not the investigation into Trump University and Trump’s disparaging comments about a Mexican-American judge, not his retweeting of white supremacists or his endorsement by David Duke, not his violent rallies, not the shake-ups in his campaign staff.
The article is frozen in time. With the exception of a few stray lines, Benac’s article could have been published in August 2015. This personal, humanized portrayal of the Trump family – divorced of both damning facts and a year’s worth of controversy — is exactly what Trump’s new PR team, led by Breitbart veteran Steve Bannon, wants.
And here is where it gets interesting. We know this is what they want because the Trump staff said so to Benac days before.
On August 18, Benac wrote an article detailing Trump’s new PR strategy based on interviews with his team. An excerpt:
“Keith Appell, a political consultant whom Bannon hired to promote a movie he’d made about Sarah Palin, describes Bannon as a hard-driving perfectionist with both strong organizational skills and a film-maker’s gift for storytelling. “He gets the need to personalize and humanize what Trump wants to do,” Appell said.
That is exactly what Benac did in the AP story, run days later. Another excerpt:
“It’s almost a throwback to an era when media outlets and political organizations were closely aligned,” Rosenstiel said.
He said it’s an open question whether Trump, in turning to Bannon, can use the Internet “as an animating structure” for his campaign without embracing more traditional methods involving party structure, get-out-the-vote efforts and a political ground game.
“There’s a larger question here,” Rosenstiel said. “Can you use the Internet to win a general election?”
Why yes, it does resemble an era where media outlets and political organizations were closely aligned! That era is right now, with the AP running a fact-deprived Trump piece, egregious in its sins of omission, days after the author of it met with the staff of the Trump campaign.
For an author to meet with a campaign PR team and then follow its directives in her own news outlet – in a way that omits so many infamous details that its intent is obvious to any reader even vaguely following Trump for the past year – is remarkable, but it seems to be in line with AP’s general strategy. As Peter Daou has observed, AP has covered Hillary’s campaign harshly, mentioning her emails nearly every day for the past year.
While investigative reporting into all campaigns should be encouraged, it is notable that none of Trump’s scandals or legal violations – past or present – were mentioned in a story by a reporter who recently met with Trump’s new PR team. It is also unclear why AP initially deleted the article and tweet, only to republish them.
Under Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign spent months banning the press or sequestering it away from the campaign. Under Bannon, the strategy appears to bring the press immediately into the fold, with the result being an irresponsible puff piece like AP’s. Expect more to come.