The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one of the largest newspapers in the Midwest, has dropped George Will's syndicated column, calling the conservative pundit's recent commentary on sexual assault "offensive and inaccurate" and apologizing for its publication.
In a June 7 column, Will disputed evidence that 1 in 5 women on U.S college campuses experience sexual assault, and claimed that efforts to fight what he called "the supposed campus epidemic of rape" have made victimhood a "coveted status." The Post-Dispatch called Will's comments "offensive and inaccurate," and in a June 18 editorial, it announced it would no longer publish Will's syndicated column:
The change has been under consideration for several months, but a column published June 5, in which Mr. Will suggested that sexual assault victims on college campuses enjoy a privileged status, made the decision easier. The column was offensive and inaccurate; we apologize for publishing it.
As Media Matters has reported, Will's column has drawn significant criticism from women's rights activists, writers, and several U.S. senators. Women's rights group UltraViolet launched a petition drive calling for Will's ouster from the Washington Post. National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill agreed, saying "The Washington Post needs to take a break from his column, they need to dump him," adding that columns like Will's are "actively harmful for the victims of sexual assault."
As the backlash against Will's claims began to heat up, the Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt defended Will in a statement to Media Matters, saying his comments were "well within the bounds of legitimate debate":
George Will's column was well within the bounds of legitimate debate. I welcomed his contribution, as I welcome the discussion it sparked and the responses, some of which we will be publishing on our pages and website. This is what a good opinion site should do. Rather than urge me to silence a viewpoint they disagree with, I would urge others also to join the debate, and to do so without mischaracterizing the original column.
The Post-Dispatch noted that the move to drop Will's column had "been under consideration for several months," but Will's column on sexual assault "made the decision easier." This isn't surprising, given that Will's contributions to public debate have a problematic history of denying facts. According to Discover Magazine, Will has helped to "muddle our collective scientific literacy" by grossly distorting climate data -- a trend that the Los Angeles Times has similarly dubbed "mystifying." Will has also misrepresented the effects of the Voting Rights Act to claim that it has given "a few government-approved minorities ... an entitlement to public offices" and has come under fire for claiming that President Obama owed his success in the 2012 presidential election to his race.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge claims that a classified 2012 Department of Defense (DOD) memo would demonstrate that the Obama administration had deliberately concealed the fact that the Benghazi attack was perpetrated by terrorists. But news reports and subsequent investigations show that administration officials were quick to acknowledge the attackers' apparent links to terror groups.
Right-wing media's latest "Benghazi bombshell," scandalizing claims about the attackers' cell phone usage during the assault, follows a now-familiar pattern: recasting history to accuse the Obama administration of inappropriately referencing an anti-Islam YouTube video in connection with the Benghazi terror attacks.
The New York Times failed to disclose Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz's financial ties to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an op-ed it published on Cantor's loss.
On June 11, the Times offered Luntz a platform to analyze the surprise primary defeat of Cantor by challenger Dave Brat and discuss the failings of polls, which had predicted a Cantor victory. At the end of the op-ed, the Times noted that Luntz works as "a communications adviser and Republican pollster" and "is president of Luntz Global Partners, a consulting firm," but did not disclose Luntz's direct ties to the Cantor camp.
What the Times didn't mention is that Luntz Global has received more than $15,000 in consulting fees from Cantor's campaign since 2012. According to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Cantor paid Luntz Global $2,354 for "seminar expenses" on February 27, $5,000 for "speech consulting" on December 12, and $8,000 for "speech writing" on April 9, 2012.
CBS News has already come under fire for a similar failure to disclose Luntz's connections to the Cantor campaign after it turned to Luntz for political analysis of Cantor's loss. As Media Matters reported, veteran media critics and reporters slammed the omission: former New York Times media writer and director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University Alex S. Jones said that the lack of disclosure was either "bad" or "corrupt" journalism, and former Washington Post ombudsman Andy Alexander said:
It's Journalism 101. Anything that could impact the credibility of the person being interviewed should be disclosed. It's a matter of being honest and transparent with your audience.
Other media experts made similar points.
New York Times reporter Derek Willis responded to the Luntz piece by tweeting, "Did we really publish an oped from Frank Luntz without telling readers he *worked* for Cantor's campaign?"
Did we really publish an oped from Frank Luntz without telling readers he *worked* for Cantor's campaign? http://t.co/XMIFHoELUI-- Derek Willis (@derekwillis) June 12, 2014
Fox News host Steve Doocy attacked Hillary Clinton's statement that Ambassador Chris Stevens was in Benghazi in September 2012 of his own volition -- a fact supported by independent investigations and Congressional testimony -- as a "flat-out ... lie."
A growing number of mainstream media outlets are holding Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accountable for flip-flopping on his support of a deal to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban capitivity.
McCain joined in the right-wing outcry that followed the White House's May 31 announcement that it had secured the release of Bergdahl, the only U.S. service member remaining in enemy hands from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling Politico that he "would not have made this deal" if he was the president and denying that he was ever told of the potential prisoner exchange in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.
McCain's rejection of the deal stood in stark contrast to his position on the issue just months ago, when he told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he "would be inclined to support" "an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man," depending on the details -- an inconsistency the media initially missed.
He went on to day the exchange was "something I think we should seriously consider."
McCain's February position was already a change from the position he held in January 2012, when Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings reported that McCain "reluctantly came around" on the idea of exchanging the five Guantanamo detainees in question for Bergdahl.
After Media Matters raised the issue of McCain's inconsistency on Bergdahl's release, CNN's Jake Tapper noted McCain's conflicting stances on the prisoner exchange on the June 5 edition of The Lead. The New York Times wrote that McCain "switched positions for maximum political advantage." And MSNBC's Rachel Maddow criticized McCain for standing "against his own idea."
Days later, Tapper went on to press McCain on the inconsistency. McCain disputed the "flip-flop charge" by noting that he'd made his support contingent on "the details." McCain said the details of the deal that secured Bergdahl's release "are outrageous" and "unacceptable."
This attempt to rewrite history was short-lived. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler weighed in the following morning, pointing out that "the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners -- was known at the time he indicated his support" and stamping McCain's statements with the upside-down Pinnochio that denotes "flip flop":
McCain may have thought he left himself an out when he said his support was dependent on the details. But then he can't object to the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners-that was known at the time he indicated his support. McCain earns an upside-down Pinocchio, constituting a flip-flop.
The New York Times called McCain on "switch[ing] positions for maximum political advantage" and Politico included the flip-flop in a list of times McCain has complained of misrepresentation this week.
Fox News has consistently denied that voter ID laws discriminate against minority groups and disenfranchise legal voters, yet after just one day of implementation, Alabama's voter ID restriction has already discredited these claims.
In 2011, Alabama passed a state law requiring voters to present a photo ID in order to be allowed to cast a ballot, but implementation of the law was delayed due to a Voting Rights Act's (VRA) formula that required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to "preclear" their election rule changes with the Department of Justice. The preclearance rule was gutted in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision, and Alabama's June 4 primary election was the first opportunity for the state's voter ID law to take effect.
Fox News has claimed that DOJ protections are no longer necessary to ensure that voter rights are protected against discriminatory state laws, attacking claims that voter ID laws are discriminatory as a "liberal ruse" to gain minority votes, and panning the idea that such requirements would suppress votes. In June 2013, Fox host and attorney Megyn Kelly hosted National Review Online's Andrew McCarthy to argue that race-based voter suppression "has long ago passed to the dustbin of history," calling anyone who thinks otherwise demagogues and "race hucksters." On May 21, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed that no Republican "wants to take away the right to vote."
These claims were put to the test this week, as Alabama's voter ID law went into effect.
According to a report by MSNBC's Zachary Roth, 93-year-old Willie Mims was turned away from the polls because he lacked photo ID and was denied the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot:
Willie Mims, 93, showed up to vote at his polling place in Escambia County Tuesday morning for Alabama's primary elections. Mims, who is Africa-American, no longer drives, doesn't have a license, and has no other form of ID. As a result, he was turned away without voting. Mims wasn't even offered the chance to cast a provisional ballot, as the law requires in that situation.
Jenny McCarren of Empower Alabama, a progressive group that gave Mims a ride to the polls, recounted the story for msnbc. McCarren said Mims's voter file showed he has voted in every election since 2000, as far back as the records go.
How many Alabamans lack ID isn't known - in part because the state made no effort to find out before the ID law. But nationwide, most studies put the figure at around 11%, and as high as 25% for African Americans.
Days earlier, The Washington Post reported that new evidence from a University of Southern California study found that "discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws," which the Post said raises "questions about the constitutionality of voter ID laws." The study examined the reactions of real lawmakers in order to reach its conclusions:
Is bias in responsiveness to constituents conditional on the policy preferences of elected officials? The scholarly conventional wisdom is that constituency groups who do not receive policy representation still obtain some level of responsiveness by legislators outside of the policy realm. In contrast, we present a theory of preference-induced responsiveness bias where constituency responsiveness by legislators is associated with legislator policy preferences. Elected officials who favor laws harming minority groups are also less likely to engage in non-policy responsiveness to minority groups. To test this proposition, we conducted a field experiment in 28 U.S. legislative chambers. Legislators were randomly assigned to receive messages from Latino, Anglo, English-speaking, and Spanish-speaking constituents asking if a driver's license is required for voting. If legislators supported voter identification, Latino constituents were less likely than Anglo constituents to receive communications from legislators. The implication is that discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws.
Both of these findings reinforce facts that Fox has been denying for years. Voter ID laws can disenfranchise voters -- particularly minorities, students, and the elderly.
As the Brennan Center pointed out, "free IDs are not equally accessible to all voters," and laws requiring voters to show ID put a burden on low-income individuals, disproportionately affecting the ability of traditionally Democratic-voting demographics to cast a ballot. According to Brennan Center data, 11 percent of Americans say they do not possess government-issued photo identification, and this number includes "25 percent of African Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of persons aged 65 and older."
Republicans have previously admitted that the impetus behind GOP efforts to pass discriminatory voter ID laws and other voting restrictions is a desire to win elections. Listing accomplishments of the GOP-led state legislature in 2012, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) proclaimed:
TURZAI: Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done. First pro-life legislation - abortion facility regulations - in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.
Fox News pitched the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as "Benghazi 2.0" after an Obama administration spokesperson declined to take a stand on whether Bergdahl is guilty of desertion before all the facts are in because, "like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty"
Since the White House's May 31 announcement that it had secured the release of Bergdahl, the only prisoner of war left in the Afghan conflict, in a prisoner swap, Republican strategists have led a coordinated campaign to hype claims that Bergdahl was a deserter. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf pointed out that the allegations have not yet been fully investigated and the government is "still establishing a fact pattern," but Fox has already began to aggressively hype the argument and accuse the Obama administration of lying about the facts.
On the June 3 edition of The Kelly File, Fox News' strategic analyst Col. Ralph Peters attacked the "arrogance" of Harf's statement, framing it as an insult to the troops and "Benghazi 2.0":
PETERS: Megyn, what you just saw and heard was Benghazi 2.0. A political flunkie in the State Department insisting that she knows better what happened on the ground than the soldiers on the front line or the people in a firefight. The arrogance is boundless. You know, I wish -- the Obama administration, if it can't have the grace to be decent about anything else, at least stop insulting our troops. She called those soldiers from the front lines liars. And by the way, she's the liar!
Fox & Friends had a similar take. Also responding to Harf's statement, co-host Steve Doocy called State's refusal to issue an immediate verdict on allegations of Bergdahl's desertion "unbelievable," putting the claims in the context of Fox's favorite Benghazi myth:
DOOCY: And how familiar does that sound: 'Don't listen to the guys on the ground.' Wait a minute, that's what we did in Benghazi, remember?
Doocy was attempting to jump off of a portion of the right-wing media's Benghazi mythology that has been so consistently repeated by Fox that, to many conservatives, it has become impervious to facts.
For more than a year, the network has been fixated on a set of administration talking points that then U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used on September 16, 2012 and that linked the Benghazi attacks to an anti-Muslim video. Previous investigations have found that the talking points reflected the intelligence community's best assessment at the time and that further information only became available 2 days later, after the FBI disseminated its interviews with eyewitnesses -- which quickly led the administration to update its assessment. Yet Fox has continued to ignore reality and imagine the delay was part of an elaborate plot to conceal the truth about the attacks.
Fox has seen first hand how ignoring reality and doubling down on misinformation can get results. The network's revisionist history of how information about the Benghazi attack was disseminated; it succeeded in convincing House Republicans to establish a select committee on Benghazi based on a false attack.
But like Fox's Benghazi scandal-mongering, this supposed "Benghazi 2.0" falls flat in context.
Far from calling "soldiers on the front lines liars" or suggesting the administration won't "listen to the guys on the ground," Harf was simply echoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to note that Bergdahl remains "innocent until proven guilty" but that the appropriate investigation will take place:
QUESTION: (Inaudible) according to those around him, his platoon mates, his squad mates, company mates, they said he walked off the base.
MS. HARF: Lucas, some of them - other - there are conflicting reports out there about this. Look --
QUESTION: Are there?
MS. HARF: There are. Go Google it on the web and you'll find a ton of conflicting reports. The fact is we're still establishing a fact pattern about what happened, how he ended up in Taliban captivity. So when he is able to share those, as Chairman Dempsey said today, he will. He also said, like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our army's leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.
So I think people need to be really careful about believing every second or third-hand report out there, and also what the President, what the Secretary, what Chairman Dempsey have said: Regardless of how he went missing, it is our responsibility to him to bring him home, period.
Fox News personalities attacked the father of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for looking "like a Muslim" and addressing his son in Pashto, going so far as to say his appearance is "insulting" and suggesting he might be an "Islamist sympathizer."
The network has a long and well-documented history of pushing Islamophobic rhetoric and propagating the belief that Islam is a violent religion, and its pundits didn't hold back in tapping into anti-Islamic sentiment to identify "something wrong" with Bergdahl's release. Fox host Bill O'Reilly said he was "insulted" by the"conduct" of the soldier's father, Bob Bergdahl, during his May 31 Rose Garden appearance with President Obama, because "[h]e has learned to speak the language of the Taliban and looks like a Muslim, actually thanking Allah right in front of the president." Fox contributor Laura Ingraham later hyped and escalated O'Reilly's "revelations," saying on her radio show, "If he wasn't so light-skinned, he actually looks like the terrorists."
Other Fox hosts have suggested that Bergdahl's beard, reportedly grown out of solidarity with his son, is something to be "skeptical" of and something that he grew out of "sympathy with the Taliban." The current suspicion of Bergdahl's facial hair comes in stark contrast to the network's previous support of the famously bearded stars of A&E's Duck Dynasty.
Media responded to the news that the Obama administration secured the release of prisoner of war (POW) Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban by parsing whether or not the administration violated longstanding policy by negotiating Bergdahl's release. In reality, experts say the U.S. has a long history of such negotiations, and Bergdahl's release was conducted using an intermediary nation.