January 16, 2017 Last Updated 9:06 am

‘Fake News’ agents target upcoming European elections, while new admin considers moving White House press room

Morning Brief: Scottish paper trolls this week’s inauguration programming as the WaPo’s media critic offers journalists advice on covering the new president

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is like all other holidays in the US, only a holiday if your employer designates it as such. As a result, while the Post Office and government offices are closed, most other businesses are open. It is entirely up to the employer whether the MLK holiday will be observed.

This is the reason why this Monday is like any other for many Americans working today, though if it feels a tad slow, it is because there are more offices closed today than on any other regular work day. This is too bad, as it is probably the only US public holiday created that celebrates the work of somehow who was alive when many of us were alive, and fought for something important. It is a holiday that celebrates nonviolences, civil disobedience in the face of government oppression, and a vision of peace, prosperity and justice. It is, in other words, the one holiday with the most relevance to our own time.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.



An interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper and the UK Times (preferred to in the states as the Times of London), has Europeans abuzz, though it has scarcely made much of a ripple here due to the president-elect’s other activities (mostly on Twitter).

The Washington Post, Michael Birnbaum:

Europe leaders shocked as Trump slams NATO, E.U. raising fears of transatlantic split

Trump said in a weekend interview with the Times of London and Germany’s Bild newspaper that the 28-nation European Union was a vehicle for German interests and said that he was indifferent to its fate. He also said he was committed to European defense even as he expressed skepticism about NATO’s current configuration.

Trump’s attitudes have raised alarm bells across Europe, which is facing a wave of elections this year in which anti-immigrant, euro-skeptic leaders could gain in power…

…The incoming U.S. president is the first American leader since World War II not to support European integration. The European Union has long considered to be in the U.S. interest, since it created a unified market for American businesses, provided a bulwark against Communism during the Cold War and helped quell the bloody slaughter that cost U.S. lives, among others, in the first half of the 20th century

Bloomberg, Rainer Buergin and Toluse Olorunnipa:

Trump Slams NATO, Floats Russia Nuke Deal in European Interview

The Times quoted Trump as saying he was interested in making “good deals with Russia,” floating the idea of lifting sanctions that were imposed as the U.S. has sought to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government.

“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,’’ Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.’’

…Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.”

“It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share.



You’ll notice that the goal of the incoming administration appears to be to break-up the European Union in order to weaken it, then swing trade deals with the UK and Russia. Two national elections may speed up the process if the results go a certain way.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right political party the National Front, has already visited Trump Tower. But France has an election system that may continue to work to her disadvantage where there must be a run-off election should no candidate receive more than 50 percent of the vote. This happened to her father, who looked on his way to victory after the first round of voting, but where both the conservatives and socialists rallied behind his opponent in the final round of voting.

In Germany, however, the race will be between the incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel and a candidate and electorate unhappy with her open borders policies in regards to migrants. Donald Trump and Russian propagandists have targeted her campaign, as a result.

CBS News, Rebecca Shabad:

Angela Merkel replaces Hillary Clinton as prime target of fake news, analysis finds

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become a target of websites spreading fake news, misleading stories and conspiracy theories ahead of her country’s election, according to an analysis compiled by BuzzFeed News.

A website called Your Newswire, which was responsible for spreading the “Pizzagate” conspiracy about Hillary Clinton and a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., claimed Merkel took a selfie with one of the terrorists in the Brussels attack, the report said, when it was actually a refugee.

Another website, Anonymousnews.ru, published recent fake stories about German NATO officers arrested in Aleppo for collaborating with members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), reported BuzzFeed, which also said the website contained pro-Kremlin propaganda and has also made claims about the CIA being behind 9/11.

The Verge, Amar Toor:

Facebook rolls out fake news filter in Germany

Facebook will begin rolling out its fake news filter in Germany, The Financial Times reports, where lawmakers have expressed growing concern over the spread of fabricated news stories and Russian interference ahead of national elections later this year. The social network will begin fact-checking and flagging fake news for users in Germany over the coming weeks, according to the FT…

…German politicians have warned of the effect that fake news could have on federal elections slated for this fall, following a spate of fabricated articles and hoaxes during the US presidential election. Lawmakers have considered imposing fines on Facebook and other social media companies that allow fake news to spread, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned of Russian interference through propaganda or cyberattacks. It was reported last week that the German government has opened an investigation into the spread of fake news, after Breitbart published a false story claiming that a mob set fire to a church on New Year’s Eve.



The White House press corps is a tad upset with rumors that the incoming administration may be looking to move the White House press briefing room from the West Wing, moving it to the White House Conference Center or the Old Executive Office Building next door. This is a distraction, and ultimately not important. Rather, what is important is whether the president-elect and his administration communicates regularly and honestly with the press.

Margaret Sullivan, who used to be the public editor at The New York Times, but last year, when her contract was up, move to the Post, tries to give advice as to what journalists can expect from the new president. She makes some good points here, and warns that “(j)ournalists are in for the fight of their lives.”

But there is one piece of advice I feel was left out. Far too often journalists want to get into the weeds of strategy and explanations. Why is the president doing what he is doing, what is the long term strategy, how will he pull it off? It is the same mistake made during election campaigns: too much process, too little detail. Instead, White House reporters should concentrate on what is being proposed (often very little) and who it benefits?

I’ve heard very little talk in the press about who actually benefits from repealing the ACA and privatizing medicare. With this incoming administration, being less sophisticated may have its value, simply reporting the actions and their consequences may reveal all that is necessary to understanding the story. Confusing things with discussions of morality and political strategy may obscure the fact that one party of having their pockets picked while another is enriching themselves and their allies.

The Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan:

A hellscape of lies and distorted reality awaits journalists covering President Trump

That Trump will be what columnist Frida Ghitis of the Miami Herald calls “the gaslighter in chief” — that he will pull out all the stops to make people think that they should believe him, not their own eyes…

“The techniques,” Ghitis wrote, “include saying and doing things and then denying it, blaming others for misunderstanding, disparaging their concerns as oversensitivity, claiming outrageous statements were jokes or misunderstandings, and other forms of twilighting the truth.”

But that’s just part of what experience teaches us to expect from Trump.

Here’s another: Trump will punish journalists for doing their jobs. Famously touchy and unable to endure serious scrutiny, he has always been litigious — although, as journalist Tim O’Brien has pointed out based on Trump’s failed suit against him, sometimes unsuccessfully so.

BuzzFeed News, Matthew Champion:

A Daily Mail US Editor Suggested Trump Should Drug Test White House Reporters, Source Says

David Martosko, the US political editor of Mail Online, was the reporter who suggested to Donald Trump’s incoming administration that members of the White House press corps be subject to random drug tests, a source familiar with the suggestion told BuzzFeed News…

…“Journalists who are at the White House more than one day per week should be subject to drug screenings to occur no more than twice a year at random times,” the proposal stated, according to the Post. “Refusal to comply should exclude them from credentialing entirely.”

CNBC, David Reid:

Scottish newspaper trolls Trump inauguration as ‘Twilight Zone’ revival

A Scottish newspaper has teased the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump by publishing a spoof TV listing.

The event scheduled for Friday 20 January will confirm Trump as the 45th president of the United States but is instead described by Scotland’s Sunday Herald as a return of ”The Twilight Zone”.

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