Huffington Post’s Coverage of Donald Trump

Eric Zuesse

After NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum” on September 7th, Huffington Post’s top of homepage the next day was: 

LIAR-IN-CHIEF: TRUMP REPEATS WHOPPER ABOUT IRAQ WAR — AGAIN!

Don Previews His Nightmare PresidencySuggests He’d Fire GeneralsGushes Over PutinDiscusses Classified Intelligence BriefingsBlames Victims Of Military Sexual AssaultBoasts About Disrupting An Ally Government

Most of those headlines linked to the report “Donald Trump Keeps Saying Things That Would Destroy Any Other Presidential Candidate”, where Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel listed and discussed 6 “outlandish” things that Trump had said the prior evening at that Forum. The first of these six criticisms was the one given the main focus:

1. Threatening To Fire Generals

Trump called for firing most, if not all, of the current military brass, and actively ridiculed their experience and judgement.

“I think under the leadership Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing for our country,” he said, adding that when he’s in office, “they’ll probably be different generals, to be honest with you. I mean, I’m looking at the generals.”

Generals are not political appointees. They have defined terms and typically are not removed simply because an official wants to clean house. But beyond the factual issues with what Trump said, there is the political context. Imagine, for a second, John Kerry making a similar comment during the 2004 presidential campaign and consider the filleting that he would have endured from President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. 

MY COMMENT: How can it be that the U.S. President, who is elected every four years, doesn’t possess the power to select his generals? Then it cannot be a democracy, if the nation’s leader cannot choose his most important team, his military leaders. The President’s first power is that of Commander-in-Chief. To say that he cannot appoint a new team in his most important capacity (Commander-in-Chief), but only a new team in his Cabinet, would be ridiculous. How could he then execute his international strategy and his national defense, if he is forced to retain generals who might have very different military priorities than the new President does — priorities from the previous President, which priorities might not be quite the same as the new President’s (such as eradicating jihadists)? Is this the type of country America actually is — a country which blocks its new President from having generals whose military priorities are consistent with those of the new President, not necessarily of the old President? A country which places all its military responsibility upon the President’s desk but which denies him (or her) the power to choose whom to appoint to carry out that responsibility? Really?

No, of course, it’s not. The President does have the power to ‘fire’ (remove from his existing function) any general, but not to place that person on unemployment. Stein and Terkel are either uninformed, or else intentionally deceiving readers, here. Moreover, see this: http://www.slate.com/…/explainer/2010/06/fire_at_will.html. In other words: the U.S. President doesn’t outright fire generals, but re-assigns them, and generals who get reassigned to lower positions, typically choose to retire, instead of to endure the embarrassment in decreased rank.

ALSO: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_A._McChrystal. That’s just one recent example of a general who got reassigned and who then quickly retired.

Stein and Terkel were here criticizing Trump on fallacious grounds. However, they were not alone in doing so: Politico headlined on September 7th, “’Embarrassing to our country’: Trump suggests he’ll fire top generals”, and reporter Jeremy Herb opened: “Donald Trump trod into uncharted territory Wednesday night when he suggested that if elected he might fire some of the top generals now running the military.” It’s anything but “uncharted territory”; and, furthermore, a replacement of some of Obama’s generals would be essential if the new President is going to be pursuing a different military strategy — and not merely different military tactics — going forward. Trump says that he wants to do this. He criticizes Obama’s foreign policy (the invasions of Libya, Syria, etc.) and proposes very different foreign policy priorities, more focused on reducing or ending Islamic terrorism — jihadism.

Furthermore: Seymour Hersh — one of the giants of investigative journalism regarding foreign affairs — headlined in the London Review of Books, on 7 January 2016, “Military to Military”, and he opened:

Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office — and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him — has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on [defeating] Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries [U.S. and Russia] share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they [Russia] believe that Islamic State must be stopped. The military’s resistance [to a joint U.S.-Russian effort to end jihadism] dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. 

Hersh indicated that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dempsey, actually quit over the matter, and that “Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition [to Assad].” Flynn was outright fired. (He’s now a top military advisor to Trump. This is how fundamental the strategic gulf is between the existing U.S. strategy and the one that Trump wants.)

Stein’s and Terkel’s criticisms #s 2-6 were equally deceptive and distorting, though in different ways. For example, Trump didn’t actually “blame victims of military sexual assault,” nor imply that women who are raped are to blame for anything at all. And his statement that he opposed the invasion of Iraq is supported by an early statement that he had made suggesting that the U.N. inspections of Iraq should be completed before there should be an invasion, but he didn’t want to be publicly opposing Bush’s policy at the time (January 2003: “because perhaps shouldn’t be doing it yet and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations [WMD inspections to be completed first — which Hillary at the time strenuously opposed as being any sort of precondition for invading], you know”). But our article here is already long enough; so, we’ll just leave it at that.

(Personal disclosure: I have always voted for only candidates of the two major political Parties, and it has always been only Democratic candidates, because only a fool thinks that a third-Party’s nominee stands any significant chance to win even a single state, which neither Perot nor Nader ever did — much less a majority of the Electoral College. I supported and voted for Bernie Sanders for President. Hillary Clinton is the only Democratic Party Presidential nominee that I have ever considered horrific. That’s on account of her actions in public office, and not at all on account of her deceptively liberal-sounding public statements, which no intelligent and well-informed person any longer trusts, at all. There is no way to compare that horrific actual policy-record with the public statements by Donald Trump, since Trump has no public record at all, and his public statements also are not trustworthy. This article is, however, not about either candidate; it’s instead about the deceptive, stunningly propagandistic, ’news’ coverage of Donald Trump. That’s the subject here; the candidates are not.)

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Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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