Fears that David and Charles Koch will buy Tribune Company's major regional newspapers sparked a lively discussion at the National Press Club today among those who worry the conservative billionaires would misuse the influential properties.
The event, titled, "Should the Koch Brothers Own the Tribune Newspapers?" was sponsored by the Newspaper Guild and drew an audience of about 60 reporters, union leaders and concerned media observers.
"In just 2011 and 2012, more than 6,000 U.S. newspaper workers were laid off or accepted buyouts," Guild President Bernie Lunzer said in a statement at the event. "This not only affects workers; it dramatically affects communities and their access to information via qualified, experienced journalists. With the appearance on the scene of the Koch brothers, many people and organizations are raising new concerns."
As Tribune Company emerges from bankruptcy, it has indicated plans to sell its eight regional daily newspapers. Charles Koch has indicated an interest in the brothers' company, Koch Industries, acquiring media outlets, and the company reportedly may bid on the Tribune papers, which include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Charles Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government.
As The New York Times detailed earlier this year, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the strategy called for investing in the media.
Charles Koch recently told the Wall Street Journal that their company would seek to purchase newspapers to provide a "focus on real news, not news with an agenda or news that is really editorializing." But current and former staffers at the Tribune papers told Media Matters in April that a purchase by the Kochs "scares people" and puts the credibility of those outlets at risk.
Those concerns were on display at the National Press Club event.
Christopher Assaf, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun who is also the paper's guild leader, said the Kochs' past history of political influence through PACs and other outlets is a concern as it could affect the newspapers' standing in the community.
"We have goodwill and we have credibility and if people start leaving in droves and they see changes...they will know and the goodwill will help to kill it," said Assaf. "The Sun will become something else, it may become a mouthpiece, a national mouthpiece, but it will lose that credibility. Credibility plays a large part in what a newspaper does and we have to protect that credibility."
"The Kochs very explicitly have a mission to influence public policy, that's what they do," offered Tia Lessen, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and producer of Citizen Koch, a documentary that had been slated for PBS broadcast but was dropped. "If the question is will David and Charles Koch influence how news is covered? I think the answer is yes."
Some of the country's top news editors are criticizing a new Louisiana law that punishes journalists who publicly identify gun owners with concealed weapons permits.
At the American Society of News Editors annual conference being held this week in Washington, D.C., several major newspaper editors spoke out against the law during interviews with Media Matters, with some saying that it appears unconstitutional.
"It seems absurd on its face," said Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman said. "In fact, it seems to me on the surface it is a prior restraint issue."
"Prior restraint" is government action that prohibits speech, and with few exceptions has been found by the Supreme Court to violate the First Amendment.
The Louisiana law, signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal on June 19, sets penalties of fines of up to $10,000 or six months in jail for those who publish "any information regarding the identity of any person who applied for or received a concealed handgun permit." The law includes exceptions for cases in which the concealed handgun holder is charged with a felony offense involving the use of a handgun.
The law stems from the controversial decision by The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., to publish names and addresses of those who had conceal carry permits in their area last year. The information was obtained legally through open public records; in Louisiana, such records are closed to the public.
Journalists in the state have spoken out against the bill, arguing that it chills and criminalizes journalists for doing their jobs. That argument found support at the ASNE convention.
"The reporting of factual information in the public interest is something I support," said Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, who added that it must be handled carefully, but should not be outlawed.
Martin Baron, editor of The Washington Post, also said he would not necessarily publish such information, but opposes legal restrictions.
"I don't think media organizations should have to pay a price," he said. "It is up to the news organization to decide if it should be published. I think that is for every individual news organization to make that decision on their own."
Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The New York Times and former editor of The Buffalo News, said "I am not in favor of punishing newspapers who serve the public by getting information out there."
Fox News host Brian Kilmeade's praise of a British nationalist hate group leader as doing "great" work is being criticized by that nation's journalists, who call the group "thuggish" and "unsavory."
Kilmeade drew criticism after he praised English Defence League co-founder Tommy Robinson during a June 10 interview on his Fox News Radio program. Kilmeade told Robinson "we got your back" and said, "it's great what you're doing."
Numerous U.S. outlets, including Fox News, have previously detailed the violent and fringe nature of the EDL, which has clashed with police during anti-Muslim protests.
Kilmeade's treatment of a group known for its anti-Muslim hatred did not sit well with those in the United Kingdom who have reported on EDL and Robinson.
"No great surprise but still disturbing that a Fox News extremist will cuddle up to a British hate extremist with a number of convictions for violence and who served time behind bars after he was caught trying to enter the U.S. with a false passport," Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror and a political columnist, wrote in an email.
Robinson (whose real name is Stephen Lennon) used a false identity document to enter the United States to attend an anti-Islam event with anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller. Robinson pleaded guilty and was jailed in January and released in February. His offense was not his first brush with the law.
"So we may add hypocrisy to the charge sheet against Fox," added Maguire, "when the channel demands America's borders be secure yet hails a violent man who tried to sneak into the US with somebody else's ID."
Maguire described Robinson as "thuggish" and his supporters as "Nazi-saluting followers."
Fiona Hamilton, a crime reporter for The Times of London, which is also headed by Rupert Murdoch, said of Kilmeade and others who offered supportive comments or favorable interviews to EDL, "I think they should take a closer look at what they stand for, definitely. This is a man who said he would ban the future building of mosques."
She said the group is "viewed as extremists" in the U.K., adding, "I don't think you would find a majority of Britains who would agree with the English Defence League."
John Higginson, political editor of Metro -- a free London newspaper owned by the Daily Mail parent company -- said Kilmeade's comments were a mistake.
"The BBC wouldn't say 'I've got your back.' If he is saying that, he is condoning these extremist views," Higginson said. "The EDL, some of what they're preaching is to get rid of people just on religious grounds, just being a Muslim. To be saying that, it is bad."
Tom Whitehead, security editor at The Telegraph of London, has covered the EDL and called them "a fairly extreme right-wing group" that engages in "threats and incidents of violence." He said that if a British journalist echoed Kilmeade's views, "it wouldn't be seen very favorable to all. Personally, I certainly would not condone that at all."
Gun Owners of America Execuive Director Larry Pratt is happy to appear on talk shows hosted by conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job, think white Christians should arm themselves for the coming race war, or want to shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.
Pratt told Media Matters in a lengthy interview this week that outlandish, discredited claims by the likes of talk show hosts Alex Jones and Pete Santelli do not bother him as long as his interviewer "has an audience and he provides a microphone for us to reach that audience."
"As long as I have a chance to present what Gun Owners of America is doing ... ideally seek support for Gun Owners of America, get [people] on our alert list, receive the alerts, then that's all good," Pratt said.
In the interview, Pratt also defended conspiratorial claims he had made on extremist programs, including his suggestion that the government might have been involved in the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Pratt's organization has become an important player in the gun debate, with The New York Times in April heralding their role as an "increasingly potent group" that was "emerging as an influential force" over then-pending Senate gun legislation. This high-profile role has come in spite of Pratt's long record of extremism.
As Media Matters has documented, discredited conspiracies and outlandish and offensive statements are the stock-in-trade of several radio talk show hosts whose regular guests have included Pratt, as well as gun advocates Ted Nugent and former NRA President David Keene.
Among the radio shows that Pratt has frequented are those hosted by Jones, Santelli, and Stan Solomon and Gary Franchi.
Solomon, a race-baiting host who is convinced a war between a "black force" and a "white resistance" is set to break out at any moment, also believes the December 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school was a "programmed event" designed to help pass gun legislation.
Franchi is an avid conspirator who drew unwanted attention when NBC News highlighted his history of promoting conspiracy theories, including his extensive involvement in the "9-11 truth" movement and his belief that the government is secretly building FEMA concentration camps to round up American citizens.
Jones believes the government actively carried out or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the mass shooting in Newtown. (He also recently suggested a government "weather weapon" could possibly have created the devastating tornado in Oklahoma.)
Santelli in recent weeks has been in the news for repeatedly expressing his desire to shoot Hillary Clinton "in the vagina" over her supposed treasonous acts.
Asked if he agrees with these hosts or finds any problem with their views, Pratt stated, "If they will provide an audience, we're happy to speak to their audience."
ABC's Jonathan Karl is drawing criticism from journalism veterans and media ethicists who say his recent reporting on talking points related to the September attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya has been "sloppy" and "highly problematic ethically."
The conservative media and Republican politicians have claimed for months that the Obama administration had for political purposes edited references to terrorism out of a set of talking points used shortly after the attacks.
On May 10, Karl gave those claims new life with an "exclusive" online report that found, based on what appeared to be direct quotes from the emails of White House and State Department aides, that "the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department."
Karl's muddled account reported both that "White House emails reviewed by ABC News" and that "summaries of White House and State Department emails" led to that conclusion. He also repeatedly produced quotes from what he described as "emails," suggesting that he had personally reviewed the original documents. In on-air reports, Karl and his colleagues subsequently claimed he had "obtained" the emails.
But after CNN produced the full text of one of the emails Karl had cited and reported that the version in Karl's article had made it "appear that the White House was more interested in the State Department's desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and warnings about these groups so as to not bring criticism to the State Department" than was actually the case, Karl acknowledged that he had actually been "quoting verbatim" an unnamed source "who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes," and had not seen the emails himself. Observers have suggested that Karl had been burned by his source, given the discrepancies between what Karl reported about the email and what it actually said in full.
The slippery language Karl and ABC News adopted in describing the emails has drawn fire from media ethicists and veteran journalists.
"At best, it's extremely sloppy. At worst, it's a deliberate attempt to conceal the secondhand -- and possibly distorted -- nature of the information ABC was relying on so as to put its shoulder to the wheel of a highly prejudicial reading of the affair," said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Miami Herald columnist. "Whether best or worst is true, it's highly problematic ethically, and the failure to acknowledge and correct is even worse."
Tim McGuire, journalism professor at Arizona State University and former president of the American Society of News Editors, criticized Karl for failing to adhere to basic standards of ethics.
U-T San Diego, a California daily newspaper which has been criticized for promoting the pro-business and hard-right political activities of new owner Douglas Manchester, is under review by state election regulators for allegedly giving discounted political ad rates to conservative campaigns and Republican candidates it favored.
Manchester, a local developer with a history of conservative political activism, purchased the paper, then named the San Diego Union-Tribune, in late 2011. Since then, he has come under fire from local media observers and U-T employees for using the paper to benefit his corporate and ideological interests.
The state inquiry comes amid reports that another pair of corporate titans who are major funders of the conservative movement, Charles and David Koch, are among those interested in buying Tribune Company, owner of the nearby Los Angeles Times and other daily newspapers.
The U-T San Diego's alleged practice has sparked a review by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, an independent body which oversees campaign violations and can issue fines.
The outlets explain:
inewsource and KPBS audited ads in the U-T every day between Labor Day and Election Day 2012 and compared the list with campaign finance records. The results show varied payments for ads, indicating the U-T may have offered bargains to [a group opposing the campaign of Democratic Mayor Bob Filner] and to other candidates and issues the newspaper endorsed.
According to their report, U-T San Diego may have offered discounted ad rates to local, state, and federal Republican and conservative campaigns that the paper endorsed. Unless such discounts were reported as in-kind contributions to the recipients, they could violate election laws, experts told inewsource and KPBS.
Glenn Beck's The Blaze continues to push the debunked claim that a Saudi Arabian national who was briefly placed on the federal No-Fly List following the Boston Marathon bombing was wrongly removed from that list and, at one time, was a suspect.
And now it wants Congress to help.
For weeks, Beck and The Blaze have fixated on the 20-year-old Saudi man, Abdul Rahman Ali Alharbi, claiming that he was once considered a suspect in the bombing and had been up for deportation. Other news outlets have debunked these claims.
But just this week, a producer at the conservative outlet sent an email (since obtained by Media Matters) to staff members at congressional offices of both houses and parties asking whether members of Congress would "be willing to raise" the Blaze's claims with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano or FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The email (below) from Blaze producer Virginia Grace states:
From: Grace, Virginia
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 4:40 PM
To: Grace, Virginia
Subject: Revised: Request from TheBlaze
Over the past two weeks TheBlaze has been reporting on the Saudi National, AbdulRahman ali Al-Harbi, who was briefly detained as a potential suspect after the Boston bombing. Shortly after a search of his apartment in Revere, Massachusetts an event file was issued by the NTC designating him as a terrorist under the Immigration Nationality Act 212 (a)(3)(B)(ii)(II) and making reference to involvement in the bombing. Twenty four hours later the file was amended to remove the terrorist designation and a short time after that removed from the system altogether. To date Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has refused to comment on the terrorist designation, first even denying Mr. Al-Harbi had ever been a person of interest before finally admitting to Congress on Tuesday that he had, in fact, been placed on the Watch List for a short time. TheBlaze believes the public has a right to know why Al-Harbi went from terrorist to nobody in the span of 48 hours. What evidence led to the designation in the first place and what transpired to reverse it a short time later.
Would you be willing to raise those issues with Ms. Napolitano or Mr. Robert Muller at the FBI and report your findings to the American public?
Please let us know.
Sincerely, The Blaze
Several journalism veterans say this email is unusual for a media outlet, both as an effort to spark political action and as an attempt to get members of Congress to do their reporting.
"My general view is that legitimate, neutral news organizations should report and let members of Congress decide on their own whether they want to get involved," said Andy Alexander, former Washington Post ombudsman.
A member of the independent panel that reviewed the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya is calling attempts by Fox News and congressional Republicans to blame Hillary Clinton for the deaths of U.S. personnel "total bullshit."
Fox News has been promoting Republican attacks blaming Hillary Clinton for security cutbacks prior to the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. But Richard Shinnick, a member of the five-person State Department Accountability Review Board that reviewed the Benghazi attacks last fall, says such claims are unfounded.
"Hillary Clinton was never in the loop for that," said Shinnick, a former 27-year foreign services officer. "It just doesn't make any sense to anybody who understands the State Department. They all know that the Secretary of State was never in that chain of responding to Benghazi, it just wasn't so."
On April 25, the Republican chairmen of five House committees released a report that stated Clinton's congressional testimony that she was unaware of requests for additional security at the Benghazi compound was false, citing a cable signed by Clinton that responded to one such request by calling for security cuts. Fox News, which has frequently harped on the Benghazi attack to criticize the Obama administration, quickly promoted the GOP attacks, calling them a "Benghazi Bombshell."
The Republican report specifically criticized the Accountability Review Board for failing to criticize Clinton:
The Board's finding regarding the security decisions in Benghazi, however, was limited to Diplomatic Security professionals and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. The Committees' review shows that the leadership failure in relation to security and policy in Benghazi extended to the highest levels of the State Department, including Secretary Clinton.
But Shinnick says the claim that Clinton's signature on the cable indicates her involvement misrepresents how the State Department operates. He said many directives and orders come through that office without the secretary personally reviewing each.
"Every single cable going out is signed 'Clinton,' it is the normal procedure," Shinnick said. "Millions of cables come into the operation center every year, not thousands, millions. And they are all addressed Hillary Clinton."
"So you can make a story that Hillary saw a cable and didn't act on it or sent a cable out; it's all bullshit, it's all total bullshit," Shinnick stressed. "I can't be any clearer than that. I read those stories and fortunately or unfortunately the people on the ARB understood that. If you don't want to believe that, then go chase a story."
As the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens today, some in the press have been caught up in a swoon over the former president.
Pundits from the center and the avowed left called on critics to re-examine the former president as a "good man with a good heart," while those on the right declare that "Bush is Back." Political analysts are compiling lists of "The 7 best moments of George W. Bush's presidency" and highlighting polls indicating that Bush is more popular now than he was in office. And Fox News has pulled out all the stops, lining up their Bush-administration-officials-turned-Fox-employees to sing the former president's praises.
Presidential historians and veteran reporters who covered the Bush White House are speaking out, saying that reporting on the Bush library and legacy should put his failures in their proper context.
The academics point out that while some of Bush's defenders in the press have said that the Bush legacy is a question for history, historians largely pan his tenure. And the veteran reporters who covered Bush's presidency urge that coverage of the presidential library provide a complete accounting of his tenure in office, including its many missteps.
"The press needs to take a really cold-eyed look at the circumstances ... look at the state of the country and world on Jan. 20, 2001 and eight years later," said Ed Chen, former Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg correspondent who covered the White House from 1999 to 2010. "Were mistakes made? Sure, the whole WMD fiasco ... it sure has a long way to go for anything close to a full rehabilitation."
Chen later added, "Of the three [presidents] that I covered, we have to put Bush at the bottom."
Several top presidential historians echoed Chen's low-ranking view, noting a week of positive coverage cannot erase that.
"Right now he's ranked as one of the lower presidents because of the War in Iraq and the economy tanking so he's got a long way to go to get rehabilitated," said Douglas Brinkley, a top presidential historian and author. "It is a long revisionist road up from the bottom for George W. Bush. He is ranked toward the bottom rung of presidents."
Indeed, surveys of historians regularly find Bush ranked among the worst of U.S. presidents.
Having toured the new library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Brinkley described it as having a "compassionate conservative motif" for Bush, adding, "I was surprised how much wall space was given to AIDS in Africa, marine conservation, No Child Left Behind. I got the feeling that the Bush crowd was trying to paint their president as more of a centrist than many people feel."
But Brinkley stressed that whatever positive image is being attempted this week cannot rewrite his presidency.
"I don't think it matters two weeks from now, it is a building opening and people tend to be jubilant," he said. "It's the beginning of revisionism of a presidency."
New reports that the politically conservative Koch brothers are interested in buying the Tribune Company's eight regional newspapers -- which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune -- are sparking concerns from newspaper staff members that attempts to influence the editorial process in favor of their far-right political views may follow.
Among those concerned is Clarence Page, a top Chicago Tribune columnist, who said he would oppose a takeover of the paper by David and Charles Koch because of "the fact that they seem to be coming in upfront with the idea of using a major news media as a vehicle for their political voice."
In addition to the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, the Kochs are reportedly seeking to buy The Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government. As the Times detailed, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the stratgy called for investing in the media.
And that has staffers at Tribune Company newspapers -- several of whom requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs -- nervous about the possibility that a Koch takeover could bring with it an ideological focus on the news that risks turning the papers into what one reporter calls a "conservative mouthpiece."
According to those staffers, such concerns are rampant at the papers. "Nobody I know in the newsroom would find it a happy event to have the Koch brothers owning the paper," said one longtime Chicago Tribune staffer, who suggested that the purpose of the takeover is so that the brothers can use the publications to "promulgate their political views."
"I haven't heard anyone here who has welcomed the idea of the Koch brothers... the Koch brothers, that scares people," added an LA Times scribe.
"I think we all have concerns when you think an owner might try to influence editorial content," explained Angela Kuhl, Newspaper Guild unit chair at The Baltimore Sun. "That is sort of contrary to what the newspapering business should be about, free press. You don't necessarily want owners and publishers dictating content."
It's the Kochs' explicit call for investing in the media to achieve their political end that has Kuhl worried. "I read the story that said they have a three-pronged approach to how to move the country in the way they think it should head, and one is to influence the media."