U.S. military experts and veterans are slamming Bill O'Reilly's proposal to create an American-backed worldwide mercenary force to battle Islamic State militants and other extremists, calling the idea "an outrageous thought" that is "fraught with problems."
O'Reilly proposed the idea on Fox News Monday night, claiming the only credible plan to defeat the Islamic State had to include a mercenary force of 25,000 "English-speaking" fighters that would be recruited and trained by the United States. He added that the mercenary army would be comprised of "elite fighters who would be well-paid, well-trained to defeat terrorists all over the world." He also promoted the idea on CBS This Morning.
Military leaders criticized O'Reilly's approach, citing the poor precedent it would set and the potential danger of having the United States support a mercenary effort that it cannot control in the trenches.
"I think that that's pretty much an outrageous thought," said Dennis Laich, a 35-year military veteran and retired U.S. Army major general who served in Kuwait and Iraq. "The idea of mercenaries in the Middle East, depending on where they come from, is fraught with some history of failure ... If a mercenary military commits atrocity in the name of the United State is that a war crime? Will they be subject to the U.S. military code of justice? We take on a responsibility for their actions that we can't control. It's tactically unworkable and it's strategically and morally incompatible with fundamental principles of the U.S. Constitution and military policy."
Retired Lt. General Edward Anderson, a West Point graduate with 39 years in the U.S. Army, cited the lack of control over such a group.
"It would seem from a military perspective there are a number of issues there, one is command and control," he said in an interview. "My initial reaction is that I am not too enthusiastic about the idea. I can't think of a time when that has worked in the past, not on a scale you are talking about here."
He added, "my biggest concern would be who has the authority to oversee and direct the operations on a large scale for a force of 25,000? Especially if you are talking about multiple contributors, each of them has a loyalty to whoever they are coming from.
"In order to do something like this with ISIS you have to have a logistics piece, an intelligence piece and a communications structure - this is not easy and to think you are going to put together a band of mercenaries to do this does not sound reasonable to me."
Paul Eaton is a retired U.S. Army major general with 33 years in service and now a senior advisor to the National Security Network. He called O'Reilly's idea "a bad precedent."
The downward trend of female leaders in U.S. newsrooms took center stage at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) conference in Chicago, with editors calling for better efforts to put women in top editing roles and grooming younger female journalists to eventually take the top spot.
The concerns about the decreasing numbers of female editors were heightened in May when New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson was fired. Last week, the influential Nieman Reports -- a publication from Harvard University's Nieman Foundation For Journalism -- devoted an entire article to the subject, headlined, "Where are the Women?"
The Nieman report, by reporter Anna Griffin, stated:
The results of this gender disparity in leadership are especially pernicious in journalism. To best serve the public as watchdogs and truth-tellers, news organizations need a broad array of voices and perspectives. To thrive financially, they must appeal to an equally broad array of potential viewers, listeners, and readers. Plus, content analyses and anecdotal evidence suggest that a newsroom leader's gender can have a subtle but important influence on everything from what stories get covered and how, to who gets promoted and why.
Specifically, Griffin cited ASNE data released earlier this year that women serve as top editors in just three of the nation's 25 largest papers, eight of the 25 largest papers with circulations under 100,000, and three of the top 25 under 50,000. Abramson left the Times after the census was completed; her departure means that now none of the top ten daily papers have a woman at the helm and only two of the top 25.
Griffin also noted a 2014 Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) survey that said women comprise just 31 percent of TV news directors and 20 percent of general managers, "despite making up more than 40 percent of the TV workforce. The same survey found that women accounted for just 23 percent of radio news directors and 18 percent of general managers."
Such data did not sit well with attendees at the ASNE conference, both men and women, who called for improvements.
"You can look at the numbers, there aren't enough women [editors]," said Joyce Terhaar, editor of The Sacramento Bee. "But there aren't enough women in newsrooms."
Anders Gyllenhaal, Washington bureau chief for McClatchy, pointed out that 13 of his company's 29 newspapers are run by women. Still, he said the industry as a whole needs improvements, specifically grooming women better for the top roles.
"It's something you have to look at when you are choosing other editors," he said. "Clearly, there are not enough women editors in the high-profile positions and in the largest papers."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon criticized some conservative media outlets and national press for their coverage of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Bailon singled out Fox News for focusing on looting and "chaos" while ignoring the "deeper story" in Ferguson, and also cited The Washington Post and the New York Post for running thinly sourced negative stories about Brown.
Bailon, editor of the largest local paper covering the aftermath of the August 9 police shooting that left Brown dead and sparked a national debate on police tactics, spoke to Media Matters at the American Society of News Editors conference in Chicago this week.
While the editor and former ASNE president praised much of the national press coverage, he cited Fox News for criticism.
"I think the national media has done a good job of capturing the story," Bailon said. But he later said of Fox News: "I do think sometimes ... it looks like the whole community was in flames, and it was really a few block area. Significant, but it wasn't like St. Louis was on fire or out of control and there was mass chaos everywhere ... it wasn't like an all-consuming entire metropolitan area was hit by that, yet it commanded a huge presence of what was there."
He added, "I think Fox took a different angle, their view was more of the view of the chaos, was really focusing on the looting and less of what was going on in the community pre-dating the looting. The looting was very dramatic...but there was the deeper story there. Some stayed on in town longer, I think there was a different viewpoint on them and less on the undercurrent. [Fox] didn't look at it as deeply and as long as others, CNN did make an investment, MSNBC was there a lot."
He also cited a Washington Post report that Brown had marijuana in his system and another from the New York Post that the officer who shot Brown suffered a fractured eye socket as facts his paper has yet to report because they cannot be verified.
"There's been a couple of stories that I think the sourcing wasn't quite as good on," he said. "I don't know whether these are wrong but we haven't been able to verify it. There's been talk that Michael Brown had marijuana in his system. Well that hasn't been officially reviewed, we don't know that yet. We haven't reported that. The New York Post picked up some information about [police officer Darren Wilson] having an orbital fracture of his face ... inflicted by Michael Brown. We have not found that to be true. In fact, it has been debunked by many."
The Society of Professional Journalists, the "leading professional association of working journalists," overhauled its Code of Ethics to include new transparency provisions partly in response to 60 Minutes' Benghazi debacle and CNN's failure to disclose Newt Gingrich's political ties, the group's ethics chair said Monday.
He also cited Washington Post columnist George Will's failure to disclose his ties to conservative group Americans for Prosperity as the type of conflict of interest journalists should seek to avoid.
On September 6, SPJ announced the release of its first new Code of Ethics in 18 years, Smith said. The group explained that the "code is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior."
Kevin Smith, outgoing SPJ ethics chair, told Media Matters the revisions were done in part to address the growing problems with transparency, including news outlets failing to disclose clear conflicts of interest.
"I think there is a lot of room to criticize a lot of media today for their lack of transparency," Smith said following the release of the new code on Saturday. "On Fox, I've seen it happen, on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, these conflicts that show up, they do not reveal them in the story."
In the release announcing the changes, SPJ stated:
The idea of transparency makes a debut in this code. Although this code does not abdicate the principle of being independent of conflicts that may compromise integrity or damage credibility, it does note more strongly that when these conflicts can't be avoided, it is imperative that journalists make every effort to be transparent about their actions.
Asked which specific incidents prompted the change, Smith pointed to two major ethical failures that emerged in late 2013.
In October 2013, 60 Minutes aired a since-retracted segment promoting a book written by Dylan Davies, a supposed eyewitness to the 2012 Benghazi attacks whose accounts were later discredited. In its initial segment, CBS failed to disclose that Davies' book was published by Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions, which is owned by CBS Corporation.
"Once they found out [a CBS company] was publishing, wouldn't it make sense there were some internal pressures on Lara Logan to rush that vetting?" Smith said. "I think the book deal is what forced that interview on to TV before it was ready. They could interview him and promote the book."
Smith also cited CNN failing to disclose Crossfire co-host Newt Gingrich's financial contributions -- through his PAC -- to various politicians he had discussed or interviewed on-air. CNN actually changed its ethics policy to make clear that Gingrich's actions were not violations.
"That's problematic, right?" Smith said about CNN. "Don't you believe the audience deserves a full accountability of someone who has benefited financially or contributed their work to a particular candidate?"
George Will has found himself in financial disclosure trouble several times in the past -- from failing to reveal his money connections to Wisconsin's conservative Bradley Foundation when citing their data to writing columns critical of former Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry's opponents without mentioning his wife worked for Perry's campaign.
So when he appeared at a VIP dinner to kick off last weekend's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Defending the American Dream summit, Media Matters was interested in whether he was paid for the appearance by the influential conservative political group backed by the powerful Koch brothers, as well as who paid for his travel and expenses.
But despite repeated attempts by Media Matters to get answers from Will, AFP, his syndicator, and others, nobody is talking.
Because Will routinely promotes Koch-supported candidates and policies in his syndicated column, several journalism ethicists raised concerns about his connection to the right-wing political group and urged that questions about payments for his appearance be answered given Will's prominence in the conservative movement and his past failure to disclose.
"If Will does intend to write about Americans for Prosperity's agenda," and wants to behave ethically "he should have purchased a ticket to the dinner equal to the value of the meal (thus leaving nothing extra for the AFP's later lobbying use)," said Tom Fiedler, Dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and a former Miami Herald editor and political editor. "Of course, accepting an honorarium -- a payoff -- to attend the dinner would elevate the need for him to fully disclose all this if/when he would address AFP interests in a column."
But finding out if Will was paid, how much and by whom, is not that easy.
AFP Public Affairs Director Levi Russell said only: "He appeared and spoke with some of our supporters on Thursday night at a dinner, any of the speakers who come to our events, we don't discuss if they are paid or not."
He later said, "You are free to ask him." But calls and emails to Will were not returned.
Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, said he did not know of Will's appearance fees, if any, and said he is not under the supervision of the editorial page since he is syndicated through the Washington Post Writers Group.
"With regard to George Will: he is not a 'staffer,' as you describe, and Washington Post staff rules do not apply to him," Hiatt wrote in an email. "He is an independent columnist and we subscribe to his column through the Washington Post Writers Group. Questions about his dining or travel should be addressed to him. I have confidence that he will tell readers, as he does from time to time, when he has a conflict that is relevant to a column he is writing."
The Washington Post Writers Group did not respond to an inquiry and no such information was provided by the Washington Speakers Bureau, with whom Will is contracted for outside appearances.
The Washington Post updated a piece from columnist Marc Thiessen to note his financial ties to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and indicated the need for better disclosure in future Thiessen columns on the 2016 presidential campaign, in response to inquiries from Media Matters.
On September 1, the Post published a column from Thiessen criticizing the idea of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney running for president again in 2016. In the piece, Thiessen identified Scott Walker as one of several "successful governors" that would be a preferable candidate. Thiessen co-authored Walker's 2013 book, a fact the columnist has previously disclosed when writing about the governor for the Post but which went unmentioned in his latest column.
Media Matters published a piece criticizing the Post and reached out to the paper's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, who indicated that Thiessen's mention of Walker was "so glancing" that it did not warrant disclosure. But the Post subsequently reversed course, adding text to the column explaining, "Full disclosure: I co-authored a book with Walker."
Hiatt told Media Matters that he intends to meet with Thiessen to discuss the need for a "best approach" to disclosure in future columns touching on the 2016 presidential campaign.
"You are right that he has disclosed the relationship with Walker whenever he writes about Walker. In this case the reference to Walker was so glancing that I didn't think the co-authorship needed to be re-disclosed," Hiatt said in an email. "But you ask a reasonable question, and as the campaign proceeds I will talk with Marc about what the best approach will be."
The original lack of disclosure drew criticism from media ethicists who said leaving out the fact that Thiessen had co-authored a book with Walker is misleading to readers.
"I think this kind of entanglement is unacceptable," said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. "Where you don't know if a particular writer's column is a payback for favors done in the past or auditions for jobs sought in the future. The reader is not in a place to make any intelligent decisions based on the off-screen relationships. The fact that he is getting money off screen is just not compatible with that."
As Wasserman suggested, Thiessen's extensive political career would make him a plausible hire in a Walker administration. The two have "developed a bond," according to the Post's own reporting.
Kevin Smith, ethics committee chair of the Society of Professional Journalists, said such financial connections "widen an already large divide between the journalist and the public's right to be accurately and fairly informed."
The Washington Post is publishing a week of climate change editorials aimed at sparking action on what editorial page editor Fred Hiatt calls "an existential threat to the planet."
In an interview with Media Matters about the ongoing series, Hiatt said that the Post views this as a moment "when the debate could begin to get unstuck." He believes that increasingly dire warnings from scientists about the threat of climate change and new regulations aimed at reducing carbon pollution could lead to new legislation on this issue. "So we wanted to encourage that process and also put forward as you'll see later in the week, a couple of approaches that we think would make a lot of sense and might at some point even be politically feasible."
The series marks a major effort from an editorial page that has in the past been criticized by progressives for publishing misleading columns about global warming.
"Over the long run it is an existential threat to the planet, I believe that, so you don't get much bigger than that," Hiatt said about the decision to run the week of editorials. "That doesn't mean that you can set aside other really big problems that are facing us today, but over time ... the longer we wait to do something about it, the greater the damage is likely to be and the more disruptive the response will be."
Among the potential solutions the paper is considering -- in an editorial slated for Wednesday -- is an effort to create some kind of carbon cap or permit fee, perhaps based on a proposal from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), that would require utilities and others to pay a fee for levels of greenhouse gas emissions beyond a certain point.
"We have consistently said that the best way to do this is to put in some way to put a price on carbon, you can do that with carbon tax, you can do that with a cap and dividend system and we'll talk a little bit about the relative merits," Hiatt said. "Somehow you need to put a price on the greenhouse gases that we emit into the atmosphere so that people have to pay for the damage they are doing and they have an incentive to invest in new approaches."
Hiatt cited editorial writer Stephen Stromberg as the "driving force" behind the series, which will run through Friday.
"We've been talking about it for quite a while," he explained. "But whether to do it as an occasional series or all at once or call it a series or not call it a series we sort of probably decided on that a week or so ago."
Hiatt agreed it is unusual for a newspaper to devote an entire week of editorials to one issue, but said climate change warrants the attention.
"I've done this before, we did a big series on inequality maybe 10 years ago," he said. "I don't do it too often because I think it's asking a lot of readers who expect, they don't come to editorials for a long read. Every once in a while I think it makes sense and including as a way for us to say this is really an important issue, and one of the luxuries of an editorial page is we can write about stuff even if we don't have an immediate news peg."
While many national outlets are dismissing the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry as political payback, Texas journalists warn that such claims are misguided, incomplete, and the product of a "rush to judgment."
On August 15, news broke that Perry was being indicted for "abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant," both of which are felonies.
The charges relate to Perry's threatened and completed veto of $7.5 million in state funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit.
The case claims that the threat and veto were retaliation against Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat and the head of that unit, who ignored Perry's call for her to resign after she was convicted of drunk driving. At the time Lehmberg's unit was investigating corruption in a program Perry had heavily touted; if she had resigned, Perry would have appointed her replacement.
Following the announcement, a split has emerged among press covering the story. Much of the Lone Star State media has covered it as a valid legal proceeding and part of a greater picture of misconduct, while national media are treating Perry's indictment as mere politics.
The New York Times editorial board speculated that it "appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution." Liberal New York magazine reporter Jonathan Chait labeled the indictment "unbelievably ridiculous." A USA Today editorial dubbed it a "flimsy indictment," while The Wall Street Journal called it "prosecutorial abuse for partisan purposes."
But Texas journalists say many on the national level don't know the facts and context and are too quick to judge from afar.
"The national pundits -- and some of them are very thoughtful people -- tend to focus first and most easily on the politics," said Wayne Slater, a columnist at the Dallas Morning News. "How does this particular event help or hurt that candidate in the potential horse race? Many reporters in Texas know Perry and are much more familiar with the details in this case, the fact that these are Republicans investigating this and that Perry has a history of hardball politics in forcing people out. This is a much more nuanced story than some in the Beltway understand."
Slater adds, "Rick Perry is getting good press because he has been masterful in the way he has framed this as a matter of partisan politics. Instinctively political journalists and reporters and outlets at some distance understand that Perry is winning the politics at the moment and that his narrative of events really comports with their general sense of how things work, that politicians threaten people and coerce people."
Forrest Wilder, who is covering the story for the Texas Observer, noted in a recent piece that the criminal complaint against Perry filed in June 2013 by Texans for Public Justice was assigned to a Republican judge who then appointed a former prosecutor in the George H.W. Bush administration as special prosecutor. In comments to Media Matters, Wilder said the charges were something "we should take seriously."
John Dean, former aide and counsel to President Richard Nixon, denounced right-wing media for "rewriting" the history of Watergate in order to attack President Obama, calling comparisons of current events to the historic scandal "nonsense" and "absolutely silliness."
August marks the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation in the wake of Watergate, a vast scandal that The New York Times explained included, "wiretapping, money laundering, destruction of documents, payment of hush money, character assassination, disinformation and deception -- all perpetrated by people at the highest levels of Government."
Dean served as Nixon's White House counsel during Watergate and is promoting a new book on the subject. In an interview with Media Matters, he slammed Republican officials and right-wing commentators who have compared Watergate's historic criminality to various supposed Obama administration scandals, with some going so far as to call for the president's removal from office.
"It's absolutely silliness," Dean said. "The conservative media just doesn't seem to understand the impeachment clause. It is not designed to ... besmirch a president with, and that's all they're doing with it."
"They don't understand it, they don't have a clue what happened during Watergate, do not have a clue," he added. "They want to distort that history, rewriting it, ignore it and then use it. That's the conservative media."
Dean's book, The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It (Viking 2014), is based on hours of tapes from Nixon's years at the White House, many of which were never catalogued, he said. It attempts to set the record straight on the scandal and Nixon's involvement, arguing the president's actions had broader implications than previously understood.
Today, however, Dean noted that conservative media "know" an Obama impeachment "can't prevail in a trial," and that "even talking about it is nonsense and there's no high crime. For them it's a high crime to be a Democrat and serve as president."
Citing conservative media's attempts to compare Watergate to a never-ending litany of supposed "scandals," including the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks and the IRS targeting investigation, Dean said, "I told my publisher that they should send a copy of my new book to every Republican in the House so they can understand what impeachable behavior looks like." Dean later declared: "It does not work at all, in fact they don't even raise to the level of scandal ... both Benghazi and IRS."
The Tampa Tribune has pulled a controversial column that alleged Disney is indoctrinating children with its "pro-gay agenda." The column, which was highlighted by Media Matters, had also drawn criticism from gay rights activists and Florida journalists.
On August 11, Douglas MacKinnon, who is listed on the since-pulled column as "Tribune staff," argued that Disney has been engaged in an underhanded effort to wrongly "indoctrinate" children. He also contended the company is trying to subtly push an agenda through its children's programming.
The piece, titled, "Disney's pro-gay agenda is disturbing," quoted an anonymous "former Disney executive" saying, "the company has taken direct aim at children to indoctrinate them about gay lifestyles and gay marriage through shows it airs on The Disney Channel and Disney XD."
MacKinnon later added:
The former executive said one of the more subtle techniques is to incorporate the colors of the gay-pride flag in as many shots as possible. The colors are woven in as a wink and nod to the gay community and show up on shirts, hats, posters, stacked cups and rings. The practice has been picked up by other children's networks and national advertisers. Disney also pushes the gay agenda by introducing openly gay characters and couples on its children's programing. Again, that is their right, but should they be in the business of entertaining children or indoctrinating them?
As of publication, Media Matters had received no response to requests for comment from the Tribune.* The column was removed midday today.
The newspaper posted several letters to the editor critical of the column, which termed it "boring" and "hate-filled." The Tribune's "letter of the day" on August 14 also focused on the column, stating it was "disturbing."
Prior to the column's removal from the Tribune website, several gay rights activists and journalists expressed concern to Media Matters about its stereotypical and offensive arguments. Among them, Nadine Smith, founder and CEO of Equality Florida and a former Tribune reporter.
"The first time I read it I thought it was satire," said Smith, who worked at the Tribune from 1989 to 1993. "It's absurd. He's so fixated on this bizarre, paranoid fantasy that he's actually missed the larger story. Businesses are speaking up and being very visible and speaking out quite publicly for equal rights."