Was Rick Santorum caught off guard when Fox News dropped him and Newt Gingrich from their paid appearances because of likely presidential runs, but not Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin?
Santourm told Media Matters last month at CPAC that he believed he could remain a Fox paid contributor and still appear in a planned Fox News South Carolina GOP primary debate in May -- so long as he didn't officially declare his candidacy.
"I don't think you have to be a candidate to be a part of the debate, at least that's my understanding," Santorum said during the CPAC interview on Feb. 10. He later said he did not believe it would be a conflict to work for Fox and participate in the debate.
Apparently Fox did not agree, announcing this week that Santorum and Gingrich would be suspended from their paid commentator contracts for at least 60 days. If they do not notify Fox News by May 1 that they are not running for president, they will be permanently terminated.
No such announcement was made for Palin and Huckabee.
Late Thursday, a Santorum spokeswoman made it clear the campaign would like Fox to treat other would-be presidential candidates the same way.
In a statement to Media Matters, Santorum Communications Director Virginia Davis wrote:
We respect Fox's decision, and we believe they will be consistent in their policy.
Fox News, meanwhile, has yet to respond to Media Matters' requests for comment on why they chose to suspend Santorum and Gingrich, but not Palin and Huckabee.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Dianne Brandi, Fox News executive vice president of legal and business affairs, revealed the suspensions were done because "Gingrich aides told Fox News executives that the former House speaker is stepping up his exploration of a presidential bid" and "Santorum ... has indicated that he plans to participate in Republican primary debates." Brandi told the paper, "so that leads us to believe he is seriously considering running."
The Times also reported:
"We can't have Speaker Gingrich on our payroll while he is in the midst of an exploratory committee to see if he's going to run for office," Brandi said. "It's a clear conflict."
Fox News still has two other potential White House contenders on the payroll: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
"As soon as each of them shows some serious intention to form an exploratory committee, we would take the same action," Brandi said. "Huckabee is on a book tour, so I think his present intention is to sell books."
As for Palin, "She hasn't yet shown a serious intention to form an exploratory committee."
Mike Huckabee's incorrect assertion this week that Barack Obama grew up "in Kenya" has drawn sharp criticism from several media veterans, including a former Meet the Press executive producer.
Huckabee, during an appearance Monday on WOR Radio in New York, said of Obama: "... one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American."
That has sparked strong reaction for the past few days. Huckabee has sought to explain the comment as a "simple slip of the tongue," despite the fact he said it twice.
"You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts. In this case he got his facts wrong," said Barbara Cochran, former Meet the Press executive producer and CBS News Washington, D.C., bureau chief. "Even as a potential presidential candidate, he can give voice to his opinion, but he really shouldn't perpetuate erroneous information. All that does is undermine his credibility."
Bob Steele, a top ethics instructor at the Poynter Institute, said the lack of accuracy is unacceptable.
"Journalists and other media professionals including talk show hosts should be held accountable for the accuracy of their statements. Even opinion and commentary should be factually accurate," Steele said. "These claims have received much more attention than they are worth. The evidence does not support such claims, and the restating of the inaccurate facts creates a false legitimacy to the claims."
For Alex S. Jones, executive director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, it smacks of possible "vicious propaganda."
"Given the willingness of the Republican Right to try to frame Obama as not American, I would say this is either an honest mistake that should be addressed quickly or a piece of vicious propaganda." said Jones, a former media writer for The New York Times.
Ed Wasserman, a Miami Herald columnist and ethics journalism professor at Washington and Lee University, said such a comment will affect Huckabee's standing as a candidate and a television host:
"The thing that will be interesting to see is whether this fundamentally changes the perception of Huckabee as a credible and responsible candidate. How far will a candidate go to appease the most extreme right-wing faction?" Wasserman said. "It says that he does want to do business with that faction of the right. It says something about that kind of policy and his imagination when it comes to policy. That he may be willing to say that about Obama, then what more substantive concessions is he willing to make to the right."
Tim McGuire, former editor of The Star-Tribune in Minneapolis and a top professor at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said it clearly hurts Huckabee's credibility.
"Of course it is an outrage if anyone considers Huckabee even remotely related to a journalist," McGuire said via e-mail. "He is not. With behavior like this Fox has forfeited any pretensions of being a legitimate journalistic organization. They are an incubator and test-kitchen for right-wing ideas and Republican candidates."
For the last two weeks, Fox News reporter Mike Tobin has been at the center of his network's coverage of the Wisconsin union demonstrations.
He is also at the center of a controversy over claims -- called into question yesterday after the release of new video -- that he was "assaulted" by protesters.
Tobin spoke with Media Matters at length on Monday about the experience, which has included demonstrators repeatedly chanting "Fox News Lies" and waving signs referencing the network's inaccurate reporting.
On Sunday, Tobin claimed during a live report that he had just been "hit" by one of the protesters.
Tobin wasn't onscreen at the time, and a Fox anchor later said that the network's cameras had been blocked by protesters during the alleged incident.
Nonetheless, the Fox Nation website immediately claimed that Tobin had been "assaulted by demonstrator during live shot."
"I was just hit in the arm a couple of times," he said on Fox Sunday night. "To call it assault or anything like that is a bit of an exaggeration."
On Twitter, Tobin said that he "declined to press charges over a couple little punches in the arm" because doing so would create a "distraction."
That didn't stop Fox. On Monday, Fox anchor Megyn Kelly asked Tobin about the "assault."
When Tobin disputed Kelly's characterization, she rephrased: "It is an unwanted touching. Actually, it's a battery, technically, under the law."
"Yeah, technically, but I got punched in the arm," Tobin responded. "It didn't even leave a bruise. So, I don't want to make too big a deal about it."
In an interview with Media Matters later Monday, Tobin sought to downplay the incident, which he continued to describe as a "punch."
"It was a punch. A punch is a punch, but it was just a punch in my arm. I grew up with three older brothers, it's not my first time being punched. I don't want to overdramatize it for the sake of TV or anything like that."
Then came the video.
The Madison, Wisconsin, radio station that dropped Glenn Beck's program this week issued the following statement to Media Matters when asked why the decision was made:
WTDY can no longer carry the Glenn Beck program. Over the last 12 months, the show has devolved into plugs for Fox News (the radio version of which is aired by our direct competitor), his books, and other personal endorsements. The lack of actual content becomes more apparent daily. Monday's program was the final straw; his unabashed deriding of Madison is unacceptable for broadcast in our community.
Did syndicated columnist Cal Thomas plagiarize sections of a New York Times story for his latest column?
Thomas, who admits he drew information from the story for his work, stopped short of admitting plagiarism. But he said late today through his syndication outlet that he should have cited the Times as a source.
Meanwhile, at least one newspaper editor who regularly runs Thomas' column spiked the piece and said he may not run Thomas' column again.
"If it were my decision, I would not run him anymore. I think he is a hypocrite," said Carroll Wilson, managing editor of the Temple Daily Telegram in Temple, Texas, which has run Thomas' column for four years. "It is not my decision to make, it is my publisher, who is out sick today. I am going to discuss it with her."
Contacted by Media Matters earlier today, Thomas said: "It's ludicrous, I know a lot of people are out to, they would love to bring down conservatives, but come on. I think most people would say I have an exemplary record."
Wilson said he had planned to run the February 23 column in today's paper, but held off after noticing parts of it looked similar to a February 16 Times story by Binyamin Applebaum on the government value of life.
The Thomas column has so far run in several other papers, including the Washington Examiner and the Miami Herald.
Glenn Beck's month-long effort to portray the protests in the Middle East as a conspiracy between Islamic radicals and leftists pursuing a "New World Order" has drawn criticism from veterans of his News Corp. sister outlet, The Wall Street Journal.
Current and former Journal reporters contacted by Media Matters criticized Beck, with at least one warning that the host's strange theories could hurt reporting efforts by other News Corp. reporters.
"The guy either has several screws loose or he is intentionally manipulating the worst fears of his audience in a cartoonish way. For a 'news organization' to give some lunatic that kind of platform that he has tells you all you need to know about Murdoch and Fox News," said Ryan Chittum, who served as a Journal reporter from 2002 to 2007 and now writes for Columbia Journalism Review.
He said that when Fox News gives Beck a show, it gives him undeserved credibility.
"It lends credibility to it and Lord knows what is going to happen. Nothing good is going to come of it. Nothing is getting fact-checked. I know people who are influenced by that. It is the height of irresponsibility to let someone go like this."
Chittum also said he was among several Journal staffers who were concerned when Murdoch took over Dow Jones, the Journal parent company, in 2007: "We didn't like his journalism and what he stood for. One thing we did know was that the credibility of the paper, which was high, is tarnished by its association with Murdoch and Fox News and all that. There is no way around it."
At issue are Beck's shows about the Middle East protests and his claims that the demonstrations are the result of an alliance between radical Muslims and communists, leftists, and labor unions aimed at creating global chaos. Beck has gone so far as to suggest that the U.S. State Department is aiding violent Islamic extremists who are attempting to re-create a "caliphate."
"Am I shocked about some of the stuff Glenn Beck is saying here? Yeah, I find it appalling sometimes," said Joshua Prager, a Journal reporter from 1996 to 2009. "Glenn Beck is ridiculously popular. I find it sort of sad that he commands the sort of audience he does."
Asked about Beck's Egypt comments, One current Journal reporter who requested anonymity said: "We try to ignore the connection to Fox. I don't think the Journal or Journal reporters should be connected to Fox News or Glenn Beck. But people make the connection."
Several sources requested anonymity, saying they feared retaliation.
Among them, a former Journal reporter who says he is glad not to be linked to News Corp. anymore given Beck's recent Egypt tirades.
"I would feel completely outraged if I was still at the Journal. I am happy not to be at the Journal," the source said, noting some current Journal staffers are also frustrated by it. "What Beck says is absurd and they are frustrated about it. I keep in touch with a lot of people."
He also added, "The Journal's coverage itself has been affected by right-wing viewpoints that seem to channel the business line and the right's line on fiscal issues and political issues. But I don't think they are as loony as Beck."
Added another former Journal scribe: "It is not the same company that it was when I worked there."
One ex-Journal writer who had covered the Middle East for the News Corp. paper called Beck's Egypt comments "a stupid thing to say."
"If it's portrayed or presented as news or fact by the network, that would be very serious," the journalist said of Beck's views. "Do I think he has a positive effect on the debate? No. You don't need me to tell you it is a stupid thing to say. There are a lot of irresponsible opinions expressed by him and others. It is important to keep hammering home the facts. I know people who think what he says is true and it is sad."
A former Journal reporter and editor warned that Beck's misinformation could hurt other News Corp. journalists' efforts to get information from sources.
"I think Glenn Beck is a purveyor of opinion and not fact. It is crazy. He is so unique in his take on things, he is seen as an outlier by most serious people," the source said. "But, then again, for those people who are out there talking to politically-attuned sources who don't share the views of Glenn Beck, I don't think they are happy. That is the kind of area where you could see news gathering being affected."
A former Bush administration official featured in Glenn Beck's elaborate Egypt conspiracy theory has called the Fox host's comments "absurd."
In 2008, while serving as an Under Secretary of State, James K. Glassman helped create the Alliance for Youth Movements, a non-profit organization "that aims to support and sustain campaigns for nonviolent social change that harness 21st century tools to safeguard human rights, promote good governance and foster civic engagement."
On his Monday show, Beck suggested that AYM was tied to violent Islamic extremism and that the State Department was aiding groups that want to use the Egyptian protests to create an Islamic "caliphate."
Reached for comment Tuesday, Glassman told Media Matters that he had reviewed video of portions of Beck's show as well as related material on Beck's website.
Glassman called Beck's theory "literally absurd," adding that "it was like the world turned upside down."
"The work we were doing was to advance the cause of anti-violence and freedom, and if we played any small role in events in Egypt, that advances those causes," said Glassman. "I would think that Glenn Beck would stand for those goals."
Glassman is currently executive director of the George W. Bush Institute at the Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. Before joining the State Department, he served as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Watch video of Beck's Monday show:
Attorney Thomas Clare, representing Shirley Sherrod, released the following statement on her behalf today:
Former USDA Official Shirley Sherrod Sues Blogger Andrew Breitbart for Defamation
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2011 - Former USDA Official Shirley Sherrod has filed a lawsuit against blogger Andrew Breitbart, producer Larry O'Connor and an unknown "John Doe" defendant for defamation, false light and infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit, filed February 11 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleges that these individuals authored and posted a series of defamatory statements on Mr. Breitbart's BigGovernment.com website regarding Mrs.Sherrod. These statements, together with highly edited video clips of a 2009 speech given by Mrs. Sherrod, falsely portrayed her as "racially discriminat[ing]" against a white farmer and managing her federal duties at the USDA "through the prism of race and class distinctions." In reality, Mrs. Sherrod's speech was describing events that occurred more than twenty years before she held her federal position and, in fact, was encouraging people not to discriminate on the basis of race. The patently false statements about her immediately went viral on the Internet, igniting a national media firestorm, costing Mrs. Sherrod her federal position, and severely damaging her reputation earned over decades by helping rural farmers.
"This lawsuit is not about politics or race," Mrs. Sherrod said of the lawsuit. "It is not about Right versus Left, the NAACP, or the Tea Party. It is about how quickly, in today's internet media environment, a person's good name can become 'collateral damage' in an overheated political debate. I strongly believe in a free press and a full discussion of public issues, but not in deliberate distortions of the truth. Mr. Breitbart has never apologized for what he did to me and continues -- to this day -- to make the same slurs about my character.
I am issuing this statement because I know there may be intense media interest in this case. But I do not intend at this time to discuss the lawsuit further, and I hope members of the media will respect that decision."
Blogger Andrew Breitbart has been sued by former U.S. Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod who contends her reputation was damaged by Breitbart's posting last year of an edited video.
The New York Times reports today Breitbart was served with the lawsuit at CPAC Saturday. Sherrod contends in the suit that a video clip he posted last year "has damaged her reputation and prevented her from continuing her work."
Breitbart, who first posted the clip on July 19, 2010, at his BigGovernment.com site, had been under scrutiny after it was revealed the clip misrepresented Sherrod's message during a speech in March 2010 before a group of NAACP members.
Fox then posted an online article reporting on the clip, linking to Breitbart's video. Breitbart did not seek comment from Sherrod prior to his report; Fox News also gave no indication that they had done so. She was forced to resign later that day.
Breitbart has recently claimed that Sherrod was not fired because of his video but because of her part in the 11-year-old Pigford case, in which black farmers sued for discrimination against the Agriculture Department.
He stated such a claim again on Thursday in an interview with Media Matters, in which he admitted he had no proof of the assertion, revealing it was a theory.
Breitbart responded to Sherrod's lawsuit Saturday with an online statement that said, in part:
I find it extremely telling that this lawsuit was brought almost seven months after the alleged incidents that caused a national media frenzy occurred. It is no coincidence that this lawsuit was filed one day after I held a press conference revealing audio proof of orchestrated and systemic Pigford fraud. I can promise you this: neither I, nor my journalistic websites, will or can be silenced by the institutional Left, which is obviously funding this lawsuit. I welcome the judicial discovery process, including finding out which groups are doing so.
Sherrod could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum suggested yesterday that he wouldn't have to give up his current Fox News employment if he wanted to participate in the network's upcoming presidential primary debate, so long as he hasn't officially declared his candidacy.
"I don't think you have to be a candidate to be a part of the debate, at least that's my understanding," Santorum said when asked by Media Matters at CPAC if Fox should require contributors to terminate their Fox employment before participating in the May 5 South Carolina debate.
Santorum, a Fox News contributor who's testing the waters for a presidential run, added that he doesn't think it's a conflict of interest to be a part of the Fox debate. Watch: