The following analysis deals with the question of how to explain the hitherto conspicuously negative coverage of the Trump presidency by traditional Western media. It is shown that none of the usual explanations – the alleged incompetence of Trump, an alleged “left-wing bias” of the media, audience ratings or the particular interests of influential lobbies – is valid.
Rather, the negative reporting appears to be due to geostrategic aspects and the (threatened) role of the Council on Foreign Relations as the most influential geopolitical body in the United States. Western media coverage also shows clear parallels to the coordinated media activity in the context of previous regime change operations in other countries.
Recommended for introductory reading: The American Empire and its Media
Background and attempts at explanation
According to a Harvard study, traditional Western media have so far reported predominantly in a negative tone on the Trump presidency: in total, 80% of all non-neutral media reports were negative (87% in the New York Times, 93% on CNN, and 98% on German ARD).
In order to explain this uniquely negative reporting, four possible variants are generally discussed, none of which, however, is conclusive, as the following analysis shows:
- Trump is an unsympathetic and incompetent politician on whom the media must report critically: This thesis fails because about 50% of US voters obviously did not see it that way. But even if the assessment is correct: the US had previous Presidents with questionable qualifications, which were just as benevolently reported on as some dubious foreign politicians allied to the US. In addition, the same media have reported on the same Trump mostly positively in the past.
- The media in the US and in Europe are “left-wing” and therefore reject the conservative Trump: This statement contradicts the positive coverage of former Republican presidents and Republican competitors of Trumps. Moreover, according to the Harvard study, even conservative media such as Fox News tended to report critically (52%) on Trump, contrary to widespread belief.
- Influential lobbies, such as the arms, oil or finance industries or the “Israel lobby”: This explanation is not convincing either, because none of these quite influential groups has reason to complain about Trump: Trump has always advocated rearmament of the U.S. military and NATO and concluded historic arms deals with allies such as Saudi Arabia. In addition, he made the CEO of oil giant Exxon Mobil his foreign minister and committed himself to the promotion of fossil fuels. Moreover, he brought numerous Wall Street bankers and billionaires into his cabinet and promised more support for Israel and a possible recognition of Jerusalem as capital.
- Viewer and reader ratings that may be achieved through scandals: The polarizing Trump has always ensured high ratings. However, this applies to any kind of reporting on him, by no means only a negative one. In addition, the observed reporting undoubtedly pursues political and not only media-economic goals.
Obviously none of these variants can conclusively explain the predominantly negative reporting. The real reason may well lie deeper – and be of a geopolitical nature: Trump’s nationally oriented, “isolationist” policy got in the way of the global ambitions of the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
As pointed out in an earlier article, the bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations and its now nearly 5,000 members in top positions in politics, business, academia and the media have shaped US foreign policy for decades. Yet the Council’s strategists have never made a secret of the fact that the goal is to establish a global, geoeconomic empire under American leadership (the Grand Area Strategy).
CFR members in key positions of the American Empire from 1945 to 2017. Enlarge 🔎
The “Trauma of 1920”
In fact, the CFR was founded in the first place because of the so-called “trauma of 1920”: After the First World War, the USA could have taken over the global leadership role for the first time – but the Senate decided against joining the League of Nations and the war-weary population elected President Warren Harding, who promised a “return to normalcy” and wanted to take care of the affairs and problems of America and the Americans first.
With his “America First” policy – which has so far resulted in the cancellation of the transatlantic and transpacific trade agreements and the Paris Climate Agreement, the blockade on migration issues, the policy of understanding with regard to challenger Russia and a change of course in the Middle East, among other things – Trump reactivated this century-old geostrategic trauma and at the same time questioned the geopolitical leadership role of the Council and its members.
In fact, Trump may well be the first U.S. president since World War II who is not a CFR member or at least CFR-compliant (Kennedy left the geopolitical CFR consensus only during his presidency). This was made possible by the unexpected defeat of Hillary Clinton, whose husband and daughter are Council members and who, as Secretary of State, herself delivered various speeches to the Council (“progress reports” according to a Wikileaks email).
It is understandable that the Council had to react to this debacle. It should be recalled that owners, executives and top journalists of almost all major US media are also CFR members. For historical and security policy reasons, the key figures of the major European media are also embedded into the Council’s international network via the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the “Atlantic Bridge” and other CFR offshoots, ensuring that reporting and commentary are CFR compliant (see charts).
It is not surprising that this historically unique transatlantic media network – which already supported countless regime changes and military interventions in other countries – was once again activated to ward off the “usurper” Trump or – after his election victory – to convert him – or else to overthrow him.
“A great moment”
This also explains why during the first one hundred days of Trump’s presidency, despite all the negative headlines, there were two events that received almost unanimous positive coverage in CFR-compliant media on both sides of the Atlantic: the appointment of H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor on February 20, 2017, and the (illegal) cruise missile attack on Syria on April 7, 2017. Some of the headlines at that time were as follows:
- On the appointment of McMaster: “Trump’s brilliant choice of McMaster”(CNN); “a leading intellectual within the military”(New York Times); “the US and the world are safer because of this decision”(The Atlantic); “an excellent choice”(John McCain); “a decorated and highly respected graduate of the military academy West Point”(ARD); “Trump earns praise”(Der Spiegel); “moderate and of moral integrity” (Sueddeutsche); “a general who suits everyone”(Die Zeit);
- On the attack on Syria: “The European press praises Donald Trump, some even celebrate him” (DPA); “Trump did the right thing for once” (Press); “A necessary punishment for Asad” (NZZ); “The professionals take command” (Handelsblatt); “The surprising transformation of the US President” (Die Welt); “Syrian air strike crowns successful week for Trump”(New York Post); “A Syrian thanks Trump”(CNN)
Why these two notable exceptions? With the appointment of McMaster, Trump – after his predecessor Michael Flynn was dismissed due to pressure from the media – brought a CFR member into a key position in his cabinet for the first time. The Council – which since the Second World War has provided almost all foreign, defense and finance ministers, national security advisers and CIA directors (see chart above) – thus achieved a first important victory.
And the missile attack on Syria – based on a dubious “poison gas attack” – was a decidedly imperial move, with which Trump followed the long-standing CFR strategy towards Syria and Russia for the first time. CNN top journalist and Trump critic Fareed Zakaria even said at the time that Trump (only) “became President of the United States that night”:
“I think that was a great moment. Trump realized that the U.S. president must act and enforce international norms. For the first time he spoke about international norms and rules and about America’s role in enforcing justice in the world. It’s the kind of rhetoric we expect from American presidents since Truman, but Trump deliberately never used it, either in his campaign or in his inauguration speech. So this was an interesting transformation and a kind of education for Donald Trump.”
Zakaria had to know, because he is not only a CNN journalist – but also a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations as well as a member of the Trilateral Commission and a regular participant of the Bilderberg Conference. However, this “transformation and education” of Trump only lasted for a short time, which is why the CFR-compliant media soon returned to their criticism of Trump.
“Murder in the White House, for example”
Finally, the role of the CFR also explains the unusually aggressive reporting of European media, which otherwise tends to be US compliant. European governments and media do not follow the respective US president – who is only in office for a few years anyway – but rather the CFR that has directed the worldwide American Empire for decades. This decisive difference, however, only became significant and visible to the public with Trump, as the President and the Council were no longer in line for the first time.
Had Trump been a CFR-compliant candidate from the outset, the very same journalists who now criticized him would probably have praised him as a “visionary entrepreneur,” a “pragmatic negotiator,” and a “steadfast leader of the free world,” regardless of his character weaknesses. However, in this case Trump would probably not have been elected US President in the first place.
Now, however, the Council, with its concentrated media power, must try to bring President Trump on the CFR course. If this does not succeed, the only remaining option would be to remove him from office by means of a real or staged scandal. Otherwise, the scenario that Josef Joffe, editor of German DIE ZEIT and former member of the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission, already anticipated in the ARD Press Club, could occur: “Murder in the White House, for example”.
Trump, for his part, tries to circumvent and undermine the Council’s media empire via new and social media – with both sides accusing each other of spreading “fake news”. The Council reacted to this with various campaigns to ward off (allegedly Russian, i.e. geopolitical) “disinformation” as well as with restrictions on social media and even search engines – which by no means only affects Trump supporters. None of this is astonishing, of course, since the leaders of Google, YouTube, Facebook & Co. are CFR members themselves.
In the coming years it will become clear whether this geostrategic power struggle will ultimately herald the end of the unified opinion in the media, or rather the end of freedom of opinion.
Postscript 1: On August 18, 2017, Trump’s strategy chief, Stephen Bannon, left the U.S. government. The New York Times wrote about Bannon the day before in an article:
“From Afghanistan and North Korea to Syria and Venezuela, Mr. Bannon argued against military threats or the deployment of American troops in foreign conflicts. () Bannon’s archenemy in the White House was [National Security Advisor and CFR representative] General McMaster, the leader of what Bannon called the “globalist empire project”– a cross-party foreign policy consensus that emphasizes active American involvement around the world. Mr. Bannon flatly rejects this philosophy.”
Mr. Bannon’s resignation was unanimously welcomed by CFR-compliant media on both sides of the Atlantic and of all political orientations. Three days later, Trump and McMaster announced the expansion of the war in Afghanistan.
Postscript 2: On April 9, 2018, H.R. McMaster was replaced as National Security Advisor by John Bolton. Bolton is also a member of the CFR and has a much more aggressive policy towards Iran, in particular.
- Council on Foreign Relations:
- News Coverage of Donald Trump’s First 100 Days; Harvard Kennedy School, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy; May 2017
- Laurence H. Shoup (2015): Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014, Monthly Review Press (PDF)