News that Fox News reportedly paid a former PR executive at the company "approximately $8 million in hush money" after firing him this summer raises questions about why Fox News chairman Roger Ailes apparently feels the need to approve seven and eight-figure payoffs to keep former employees quiet.
After Brian Lewis was escorted out of the Fox News building in July, and Fox made public allegations against him, Lewis' attorney warned that "any confidentiality obligation" he had with the company no longer applied. "Lewis knows many of Ailes' secrets," noted New York magazine. But the $8 million "hush money" settlement seems to guarantee that Lewis won't discuss his time at Fox.
Lewis however, isn't the only senior Fox News employee who's reportedly been paid handsomely to keep quiet about his or her time working under Ailes.
Lewis' settlement recalls the $10.75 million payoff Judith Regan secured after the former host was fired by then-Fox News parent company, News Corp.* Like Lewis, who at the time of his firing this summer was publicly accused of "financial irregularities," Regan was also the target of a smear campaign, accused of making anti-Semitic comments. But like longtime Fox News veteran Lewis, Regan appeared to cash in by threatening to release damaging information about Ailes and turned her firing into a big payday.
Specifically, Regan claimed to have a tape recording of Ailes instructing her to lie to federal investigators in order to protect Ailes' longtime friend and political ally, Rudy Giuliani. The tape reportedly may have played a role in the settlement Regan secured in her wrongful termination suit against News Corp. (Company officials did not deny Ailes was heard on the tape.)
Question: What other news organization spends nearly $20 million in order to keep two fired employees from talking publicly about their time of employment?
From New York [emphasis added]
Back in 2007, Judith Regan alleged in a lawsuit against News Corp. that a senior executive there urged her to lie to federal investigators about her affair with Bernard Kerik. Kerik had been nominated for the position of Homeland Security Chief under Bush, but was then dismissed after his personal foibles came to light. The executive hoped to keep Regan quiet because Kerik's mentor Rudy Giuliani was running for the Republican nomination, and further embarrassment might injure the campaign. It was a double-punch scandal: News Corp. was revealed simultaneously to have pressured an employee to lie to the government and also to have thrown its weight around on behalf of a presidential candidate. But at the time, the executive in question remained nameless. Now, he's been identified in court documents that have surfaced due to a filing error in a related case. It was Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes.
If Regan received more than $10 million in part because she had a taped recording of Ailes urging her to lie to investigators, what information does Brian Lewis have that warranted an $8 million payoff?
* This piece has been updated to clarify that Regan was fired by then-Fox News parent company News Corp. We regret the error.
As the calendar races towards 2014, and Congressional members log their final few days in session while facing daunting deadlines for a long list of pressing and unfinished initiatives, the press has been busy chronicling the futility, assigning collective blame, and giving the president permanent failing marks.
According to historians, 2013 is on track to become the least productive single legislative year in modern American history. And it's not even close. In 1995, 88 laws were passed, setting the previous low-water mark. This year, it's doubtful 70 will make it to the president's desk. (And lots of the bills that have passed are ceremonial or rather trivial in nature.) The press is not happy about the trend.
"The paltry number of bills Congress has passed into law this year paints a vivid picture of just how bad the gridlock has been for lawmakers," announced NBC. The Wall Street Journal noted this year's session has been "long on partisanship, indecision and brinkmanship." USA Today bemoaned the inability "to find common ground." And the Los Angeles Times pointed to "partisan dysfunction" as the main Congressional culprit.
See? "Congress" remains in the grips of "gridlock" and "brinkmanship." Congress just can't find "common ground" and suffers from serious "dysfunction."
So that's why immigration reform, the farm bill, a budget deal, unemployment benefit extensions, workplace discrimination legislation, and the defense spending bill haven't been passed or dealt with yet? And that's why the government was shutdown for 16 days in October?
Wrong. The current Congress obliterated all previous records for diminished output because the Republican Party, and especially those in the Republican-run House, purposefully bottled up as many initiatives as possible and unleashed "procedural sabotage." (They even obstructed disaster relief aid for victim of Hurricane Sandy.)
Yet eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are equally responsible for so little getting accomplished, the press gives Republicans a pass for their purposeful dysfunction.
By the way, are you also experiencing media flashbacks to the government shutdown, which the Republican Party proudly engineered by reneging on a budget deal they had agreed to with the last-minute demand that Obama essentially repeal his signature legislative accomplishment of his first term, the Affordable Care Act? Back then, the one-sided shutdown maneuver was nearly universally portrayed as bipartisan "Washington dysfunction at its absolute worst" (ABC News), a "partisan logjam" (Wall Street Journal), and a "fiscal stalemate" (The Hill).
Yet today, even as some Republican members brag about how little they've allowed Congress to accomplish, even as a plurality of voters says the GOP's top priority is to cause trouble for the president, while a majority blame Republicans for the lack of productivity in Washington, the press still prefers to portray the Capitol Hill standstill as bipartisan "gridlock."
Because, of course, both sides are always to blame.
On a seemingly never-ending hunt for bad news about Hillary Clinton and her political prospects, the New York Times recently published a front-page article about how the former first lady is busy trying to mend fences between herself and African-Americans, "the constituency that was most scarred during her first bid for the presidency."
Under the headline, "Eye on 2016, Clintons Rebuild Bond With Blacks," the Times claimed the turbulent Democratic primary from 2008 left deep wounds and assumed Hillary Clinton's appearances before black audience this year represented a pointed effort to fix that.
Usually when trying to assess a voting community's perception of a politician or public figure, reporters consult polling data. In this case the Times did not. Certain that Hillary needed to "rebuild" a "bond" with black voters, the Times chose to ignore all the polling data that indicates she currently enjoys extraordinary support among black voters. Indeed, including polling results in the article would have completely undercut the premise. (Why would you "rebuild" a bond that's amazingly strong?)
Instead, the Times omitted any reference to a Quinnipiac poll from this summer that found 88 percent of black voters view her favorably. The Times also ignored the recent NBC/WSJ poll that found in a hypothetical match-up against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Clinton would receive 83 percent of the black vote, versus Christie's four percent. As Political scientist John Sides noted, "Among black voters, any negative feelings about Hillary Clinton were erased long ago."
As for Bill Clinton, a Fox News poll from this year revealed that 90 percent of "non-whites" view the former president favorably.
The Times piece seemed to be little more than an attempt to pick at a five-year old political wound, while glossing over the fact that the abrasion's been healed for years. It was the Times trolling around in search of a conflict and justifying the creation of a dedicated beat devoted to the former secretary of state when, in this case, no conflict exists. (What's next for the daily, a look at how Clinton has to "rebuild" her bond with middle aged women?)
The baffling Times article was just the latest, and perhaps the most egregious, example of a new school of commentary that's cropped up around the Clintons, and specifically around speculation regarding Hillary's presidential plans in 2016. Not content with what-if columns, articles and panel discussions, the press increasingly spends significant time and energy conjuring up what could go wrong if Clinton ran.
Despite Clinton's enviable position with regards to her sky-high name recognition, a proven ability to fundraise, and her strong favorable ratings, the starting point for much of the Clinton coverage lately is She Might Be Doomed. (The New Yorker's Amy Davidson has already declared Clinton's 2016 campaign to be a "predestined" "train wreck.") Does anyone remember two years worth of He Might Be Doomed coverage for George W. Bush when he emerged as the clear Republican front runner well before the 2000 campaign?
That's not to suggest that Clinton is off limits from tough, skeptical coverage and commentary. She's not. But pretending she has to rebuild a relationship that's not broken? That's not skepticism, that's just spin.
Fox News hosts and guests have been especially disciplined in pushing the Republican Party talking point that the vote yesterday in the U.S. Senate to reform filibusters on judicial nominees was nothing more than a Democratic "distraction" to shift attention away from President Obama's troubled health care roll-out.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell first introduced the talking point Thursday afternoon and Fox News has been loyally parroting it ever since.
"It does appear it is a distraction from the Affordable Care Act debacle," Steve Doocy announced this morning on Fox & Friends. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck later agreed, insisting the American people are "wise to the fact" that filibuster reform is a mere "distraction."
According to Obama's opponents, the vote taken yesterday to change the Senate rules in the wake of blanket Republican obstructionism, was actually part of an elaborate White House political strategy. That explanation leaves out the fact that simmering fight over nominations has been a decade in the making, not something the White House invented for political cover.
It also omits the fact that Democratic leaders had threatened to amend the filibuster rules for most of 2013, and that they were prompted to finally take action by yet another round of Republican filibusters blocking Obama judicial nominees over the past few weeks. While nominees have in the past been blocked due to lack of qualifications or ideological extremism, Republicans have largely eschewed these criticisms, instead stating flat out that for political reasons they don't want to allow President Obama to fill seats on a critical bench with anyone at all.
But what's especially ironic is that the "distraction" charge is being peddling by Fox News during the same week it played host to its latest gold-plated distraction, the mean-spirited claim that President Obama failed to attend the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's Gettysburg address out of some sort resentment of America. (The right-wing media accompanied that distraction with the hollow allegation that Obama purposefully omitted the phrase "under God" when reciting the Gettysburg Address for a YouTube video posting.)
Fox hosts questioned Obama's sense of honor by refusing to attend the Civil War anniversary ceremony. ("Maybe he thought he'd be shown up," said Greta Van Susteren,) They claimed Obama's "snubbing" was deliberate and offensive, yet carefully omitted the fact that only one U.S. president in the last 150 years had traveled to Gettysburg on the date of the Lincoln anniversary. (Nonetheless it was "a big deal" Obama didn't attend.)
Not once but twice in recent days Meet The Press host David Gregory announced that the troubled launch of President Obama's new health care law is roughly the equivalent to President Bush's badly bungled war with Iraq. The NBC anchor was quick to point out that he didn't mean the two events were the same with regards to a death toll. (Nobody has died from health care reform.) But Gregory was sure that in terms of how the former president and the current president are viewed, in terms of damage done to their credibility, the men will be forever linked to a costly, bloody war and a poorly functioning website, respectively.
"Everybody looked at Bush through the prism of Iraq," Gregory explained. "Here, I think people are going to look at Obama through the implementation of Obamacare." It's Obama's defining event of their two-term presidency. It's a catastrophic failure that's tarnished Obama's second term, and will perhaps "wreck" his entire presidency, according to the media's "doom-mongering bubble," as Kevin Drum at Mother Jones described it.
But like the painfully inappropriate comparisons to Hurricane Katrina that have populated the press, Gregory's attempt to draw a Bush/Obama parallel is equally senseless. Bush's war morass stretched over five years, so of course it defined his presidency. Obama's health care woes are in week number six and could be fixed within the next month.
There's something else in play here though, as the Beltway press corps strains to anoint Obama as the new Bush, as it tries to convince news consumers that Obama's failures simply show how presidents are so alike, as are the crises they face and sometimes create. An American city drowned in slow motion following Hurricane Katrina? The United States launched a senseless, pre-emptive war that will drain the U.S. Treasury for decades to come? Well, Obama's Healthcare.gov website doesn't work very well!
This is the mother lode of false equivalency.
But note that the casual attempt to connect the current health care setbacks with the war in Iraq represents a particularly disingenuous attempt to downgrade Bush's historical failures, and to cover the media's tracks of deception.
Fact: You can't talk about the Iraq War as a political event without addressing the central role the U.S. media played in the botched run-up to the war, and the fevered and futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction. By suggesting that Obama's six-week health care crisis puts him in the same position of Bush following the Iraq invasion softens not only the magnitude of Bush's failures, but the media's as well. It's an effort to downplay the massive missteps that led to the war and to trivialize the staggering costs still being paid by Americans. (The Bush and media failures surrounding Iraq are forever linked.)
"No pundit should be allowed to use Iraq as a measuring tool until they are willing to have an honest discussion about their role in selling the country on Iraq," wrote PoliticsUSA's Sarah Jones this week. And she's right.
Addressing the falling standards at CBS News and its hallmark Sunday night news magazine program, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hilzik recently lamented how 60 Minutes "used to stand for rigorous, honest reporting. What's happened to it?" Hiltzik accused 60 Minutes of practicing a "ghastly" brand of journalism.
Hiltzik has hardly been alone been expressing his amazement at CBS's dubious performance. What's key about his observation was that it came in early October, three weeks before CBS became enmeshed in the humiliating Benghazi controversy, in which the network was forced to retract a badly flawed report that featured a bogus "eyewitness."
So why in early October, prior to the Benghazi fiasco, was Hiltzik bemoaning the appalling journalism sponsored by 60 Minutes? The columnist took aim at an October 6, scare report the CBS program aired, alleging widespread fraud within the Social Security disability program. ("A secret welfare system.") Told from the perspective of a crusading Republican lawmaker, Media Matters noted at the time the CBS report relied almost entirely on anecdotal evidence to dishonestly portray the social welfare program as wasteful, despite the fact that award rates fell during the recession and that fraud is less than one percent of the program.
After watching the report, Hiltzik denounced CBS correspondent Steve Kroft's "rank ignorance about the disability program: how it works, who the beneficiaries are, why it has grown." The columnist was hardly alone in expressing his amazement at CBS's deficiencies. Kroft's one-sided, badly flawed report sparked widespread criticism.
But the disability and Benghazi debacles have hardly been isolated incidents. CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson this week aired a Republican-sponsored attack piece on the supposed security lapses of Healthcare.gov based entirely on a partial transcript leaked by President Obama's most partisan, and untrustworthy, critics on Capitol Hill. (Upon closer review, Attkisson's erroneous report completely fell apart.)
And during the roll-out of Obamacare when lots of news outlets were badly misreporting about the implications of insurance companies sending out health care plan cancellation notices, CBS News' Jan Crawford produced perhaps the most misleading and factually challenged report of them all; a report that came to symbolize the mainstream media botching the health care coverage with misleading scare coverage.
Viewed as a whole, it seems something is unraveling inside CBS News, as it now produces gotcha reports that are quickly proven to be flat-out wrong; reports that appear to be built around attempts to obfuscate the truth. And yes, in all these instances the target is the Democratic administration and those cheering the loudest are President Obama's most dedicated critics.
In the disability, health care and Benghazi cases, CBS aired four outrageously misleading and factually inaccurate reports. And CBS did all of that in the window of just six weeks. I'm hard pressed to point to the same number of ABC or NBC reports that have aired in the last 12 months that were as egregious as the CBS foursome.
Journalism veterans and media observers continue to strike the same chord while launching a chorus of criticism at CBS News in recent days: The network needs to be transparent and explain exactly what happened with its botched Benghazi report, and start detailing how such an obviously flawed report made in onto the most-watched news program in America.
And yet it's silence from CBS, which is now stonewalling press inquiries, as well as the calls for an outside review of its Benghazi reporting. CBS' refusal to undergo a public examination in the wake of such a landmark blunder stands in stark contrast to how news organizations have previously dealt with black eyes; news organizations that once included CBS News.
CBS is now taking a radically different approach. There appears to have been a corporate decision made that granting members of an independent review panel unfettered access to 60 Minutes represents a greater danger than the deep damage currently being done to the network's brand via the two-week-old scandal.
So again and again the question bounces back to this: What is CBS hiding? And who is CBS protecting?
I'm sure network executives there are embarrassed by the controversy and wish the report hadn't aired as it did. There's a reason Jeff Fager, Chairman of CBS News (above left), ranked it as among the worst mistakes in the nearly 50 year history of 60 Minutes. But as we learn more and more about the errors and oversights, it's becoming increasingly difficult to understand the magnitude of the malfeasance; the refusal by CBS to follow even rudimentary rules of journalism.
In a small but telling example, Mother Jones recently reviewed the Benghazi book that CBS' discredited "witness," Dylan Davies, co-wrote, and which CBS supposedly relied on to corroborate this tale, which included him informing the FBI about his heroic actions the night of the attack at the U.S. compound in Benghazi. (It was later confirmed Davies wasn't even at the compound and the book was quickly recalled.) Mother Jones found Davies' published account to be completely, and almost comically, unbelievable:
The message from CBS News, following the high-profile implosion of its October 27 Benghazi report? We're sorry. But we're not that sorry.
Coming days after CBS News chief Jeff Fager categorized the Benghazi mess as among the worst blunders in the show's history, the network's eagerly awaited apology on Sunday's night's 60 Minutes turned out to be an extremely tepid and limited effort, with correspondent Lara Logan taking just 90 seconds to walk back what she described as a sourcing error.
Logan's correction, in which she conceded the program "made a mistake," failed to capture the scope of the 60 Minutes Benghazi blunder. She also refused to address the pressing questions about how she and her colleagues produced such a flawed report; a report that 60 Minutes reportedly worked on for an entire year. (Logan's previous apology on CBS This Morning also failed to address those key issues.) The correction was widely derided by critics as being insufficient and misleading.
Perhaps more importantly, Logan offered no indication that CBS News is undertaking any kind of review to figure out what went so wrong at 60 Minutes, how an entire report was built around a charlatan "eyewitness," and how the show's bosses can prevent a colossal embarrassment like this from transpiring again.
Remember: In the days that followed the original airing of the troubled Benghazi report, CBS did nothing to re-report or fact-check the story. Other journalists, including those from the Washington Post and the New York Times, took on that burden. Basically, CBS waited for outside journalists to vet CBS' own Benghazi story, and only after they uncovered glaring inconsistencies did the network's news division admit that mistakes were made.
To date, CBS has pointedly failed to appoint an independent panel to review the controversial report. That refusal stands in stark contrast to the path CBS took in the wake of its 2004 story about questions surrounding President's George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. That 60 Minutes II report featured documents from one of Bush's former commander that could not be authenticated and sparked widespread condemnation from CBS' conservative critics, as well as an internal crisis at the network.
The double standard here is striking: CBS News chief Jeff Fager says the Benghazi story is among the biggest mistakes in the history of 60 Minutes. So why not appoint an independent review to figure how it happened, the way CBS did the last time the news magazine franchise was embroiled in a politically charged controversy? Why did the National Guard story require a painstaking autopsy performed by outside observers, but Benghazi garnered just a 90-second correction on 60 Minutes? Are CBS executives that nervous about what an autonomous review might undercover this time?
Also, are politics in play? Does CBS not feel the need for an independent review because this time the criticism is coming from mainstream media reporters as well as those on the left? When CBS faced the wrath of the right-wing media in 2004, the network's corporate reaction was noticeably different.
Not only was the review ordered, but it was later discovered that CBS officials were so spooked by the conservative attacks that when it came to assembling its "independent" panel the network reportedly considered including Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge on a list of possible review panelists. Also, CBS insiders were concerned that former GOP senator Warren Rudman would not "mollify" the network's right-wing critics so he was not selected for the "independent" panel.
Meanwhile, note that the importance of an outside and truly independent review is even more pressing today because CBS News boss Fager is also the Executive Producer of 60 Minutes, which would make it impossible for there to be a truly thorough, internal vetting of what went wrong considering Fager himself would be questioned about why his own program screwed up so badly. Ultimately, it would be Fager who'd likely come under the most scrutiny from an outside review; an outside review that Fager so far refuses to appoint.
CBS News' extended refusal to specifically address questions at the heart of its controversial 60 Minutes Benghazi terror report ran counter to the counsel CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager has given in recent years about the importance of journalists admitting their mistakes and being transparent in the process.
In public speeches, Fager, who also holds the title of 60 Minutes' Executive Producer, has repeatedly insisted that for the good of a free press, journalists must acknowledge errors when they are made and must be honest with news consumers when doubts arise about their work. For the simmering Benghazi controversy however, CBS News embraced a mostly non-responsive strategy, exactly the opposite of what Fager has preached.
The problems with 60 Minutes' politically charged Benghazi report were self-evident in terms of the witness the program featured. Yet CBS News executives refused for a full week to address the central issue regarding the fact that that witness had told two contradictory tales about the Benghazi terror attack and what he did that night. Instead officials, including Fager, continued to publicly laud its Benghazi work (the news chairman remained "proud" of it, as of November 6), despite the fact that, as one veteran journalist put it, the report represented a "serious problem" for the network.
It was only when the New York Times last night reported that there were even deeper discrepancies in the report that Fager and CBS conceded mistakes were made with regards to its star witness. It wasn't until today's edition of CBS' This Morning that the network's Lara Logan finally admitted that the nearly two-week-old report had been a "mistake" and explained that CBS News had failed to fully vet that witness.
CBS's defensive, slow-footed response was difficult to match up with Fager's previous pronouncements. "When you do make a mistake, boy oh boy own up to it," Fager told Arizona State University journalism students in 2011. "Go out of your way to own up to it." He added: "Credibility is what we sell."
That same year while addressing the City Club of Cleveland, Fager stressed that "one of the most serious threats to a free press is a big mistake without an apology or a correction."
More advice from Fager [emphasis added]:
If you've made a mistake you better recognize it, and tell people you recognize it, and start looking into what went wrong and be very transparent about that.
In both of those cases, Fager was speaking about the lessons CBS News learned in the wake of the 2004 controversy regarding the 60 Minutes II report about President Bush and his service in the Texas Air National Guard and the disputed documents correspondent Dan Rather used. Fager chastised the CBS team that produced that story, claiming it set out to prove a story it wanted to tell and when that happens journalists "tend to leave any mitigating factors out because they might work against your theory, and only disaster can come from that."
Yet critics suggest that's precisely what happened with the 60 Minutes Benghazi report. The program's failure to alert viewers that its witness had given conflicting account of the terror attacks appeared to be a prime example of journalists withholding "mitigating factors."
The chilling details have already faded from view, but the terror that unfolded at the Los Angeles International Airport last week is worth recalling. That's when unemployed motorcycle mechanic Paul Ciancia marched into Terminal 3, pulled out an assault weapon and opened fire. Targeting Transportation Security Administration employees, Ciancia repeatedly shot Geraldo Hernandez at point-blank range, and quickly shot two other agents and a nearby passenger.
With police in pursuit and panicked passengers fleeing the scene or taking cover in stores and restaurants, Ciancia moved towards the airport gates, still firing his gun, where he was shot four times, subdued and arrested.
Hernandez died at the scene.
Sadly, the details of the LAX shooting rampage can easily be swapped out for equally chilling accounts of other recent gun rampages all across the country. The public eruptions of gun violence where gunmen target strangers have become an unwanted hallmark of the most heavily armed country in the world.
What made Ciancia's deadly shooting anything but random was the fact that according to news reports Ciancia, perhaps thinking he'd die at the scene of his crime, brought with him a one-page, handwritten manifesto in which he described himself as a "pissed-off patriot" and affirmed he had "made a conscious decision to kill" multiple TSA employees.
He wrote that he wanted to "kill TSA and pigs" in order to "instill fear in your terrorist minds." The note included references to the Federal Reserve and "fiat currency," issues popular with anti-government conspiracists. Ciancia signed the declaration with the letters "NWO," in an apparent reference to New World Order, another conspiracy that fears a totalitarian one-world government.
Also, Ciancia's note reportedly referred to former Homeland Secretary chief Janet Napolitano as a "bull dyke" and contained the phrase "FU Janet Napolitano."
So a "pissed-off patriot" brought a .223-caliber assault rifle and a duffel bag filled with hundreds of rounds ammunition to an airport to kill federal government workers (TSA employees) and perhaps local law enforcement officers ("pigs"), and the story's met with something akin to a newsroom collective shrug and days later is virtually ignored?
Yes, the awful event was big news while it was breaking and while the news helicopters were circling near LAX. These types of deadly shootings are often widely hyped while they're producing compelling television images and the fear of the unknown permeates. But as has become the media tradition, once the latest shooting stops and the gunman is apprehended or killed, and if the victims number one or two, and especially if there is no Islamic terrorism angle, the story immediately recedes with little additional coverage or consideration for what prompted it.