WorldNetDaily founder and birther conspiracy theorist Joseph Farah will not be among the speakers at a right-wing Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast according to the event's organizer, who criticized his work and said he had been incorrectly listed as a featured guest. It's surprising that Farah is considered too toxic to speak at the event -- which his publication had promoted -- considering the history of its organizer and other reported attendees.
Rev. Merrie Turner, the conservative pastor who is hosting the event and says she has done so since 1993, told Media Matters, "It is against my beliefs to be openly targeting someone like the president of our country, we have enough enemies outside the country."
Turner said Farah's name had been wrongly listed among the speakers headlining the January 21 event and would be removed: "It was incorrectly picked up by our staff, I am going to be correcting that." Farah's website had also reported that he was a "distinguished guest" who was "scheduled to appear at the breakfast to lead prayers for the nation."
Farah is the founder and CEO of WorldNetDaily, the conservative website that has been the driving force behind conspiracies about President Obama's birth certificate and a wide range of other outlandish and incendiary theories.
Prayer breakfast materials still list Rep. Michelle Bachmann and televangelist Pat Robertson as "Special Guests & Speakers" for the event. But Farah's name has been removed since Media Matters contacted the organization. His name still appears in a press release announcing the event, and a flyer linked to on the prayer breakfast site also features Farah's name and picture.
Asked if she was aware of Farah's past anti-Obama work, Turner said, "I was not, honestly."
"He was not invited to be involved. He had permission to write an article about it and it's gone much further than that. That was the initial intent, I never met him before and I didn't know anything about his efforts," Rev. Turner added.
Farah and Bachmann's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Asked if she will seek to keep Farah from being among the official speakers, Turner said, "Absolutely, this is not going to by any means be an event for anything being said negative about the president, that will not be allowed."
Despite Turner's suggestion that Farah didn't fit the theme of the event due to his history of anti-Obama commentary, both Turner and other scheduled speakers have their own history of outrageous remarks.
Former FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey says the conservative outlet that helped launch the Tea Party paid Glenn Beck at least $1 million last year to fundraise for the organization, an arrangement he said provided "too little value" for the money.
"The arrangement was simply FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck money and Glenn Beck said nice things about FreedomWorks on the air," Armey, the former House majority leader, told Media Matters Friday. "I saw that a million dollars went to Beck this past year, that was the annual expenditure."
Armey, who left the organization this past fall after a dispute over its internal operations, said a similar arrangement was also in place with Rush Limbaugh, but did not know the exact financial details.
"I put it down now as basically as paid advertising for FreedomWorks by Beck," Armey said, calling it a mistake.
Media Matters contacted Armey after Mother Jones magazine published a leaked copy of the document FreedomWorks prepared for its Winter 2012 board of directors meeting. That document alluded to "embedded media programs" for fundraising that featured the two conservative radio hosts and claimed that fundraising efforts featuring them raised nearly $1.3 million in 2012, not including event ticket sales from third-party vendors.
From the leaked FreedomWorks document:
Mother Jones further reported that the organization "plans to continue its financial support for Glenn Beck's media enterprise, including sharing a TV studio with and leasing office space to the Washington bureau of TheBlaze, Beck's website and TV network."
Armey said he was told of the Beck arrangement when it first began, but that it would only cost the organization about $250,000 a year. "Once that was approved by the trustees, it then took on a life of its own, it got bigger than we understood it to be. All of a sudden it was we are paying Limbaugh as well as Beck." FreedomWorks did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Reporters at The Hill newspaper are levying tough criticism at the publication's columnist Dick Morris following recent outlandish predictions that caused Fox News to restrict his time on the air.
"I think everyone at The Hill views him the way that people outside The Hill do," said one staffer. "He is a laughingstock, especially the way he acted in this last election."
"I don't think people take his column seriously," added another. "What did he predict, 300 electoral votes for Romney?"
New York magazine's Gabe Sherman reported December 4 that segments involving Morris and fellow Fox News political analyst Karl Rove would now require approval from a top network executive. He explained of Morris:
Inside Fox News, Morris's Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line. At a rehearsal on the Saturday before the election, according to a source, anchor Megyn Kelly chuckled when she relayed to colleagues what someone had told her: "I really like Dick Morris. He's always wrong but he makes me feel good."
Morris had used his Fox perch to offer an array of outlandish predictions, including repeated claims that Mitt Romney would win the presidency by a "landslide," Republicans would pick up 10 Senate seats, and stating it was "very possible" President Obama would drop out of the race altogether.
The commentator's record at The Hill was not much better, using his widely-mocked final columns before Election Day to predict a Romney "landslide" of more than 5 points in the popular vote and several GOP Senate victories.
But while Fox News - famously lacking accountability - has decided to reduce Morris' appearances in response to his embarrassing commentary, The Hill appears to be taking no such steps. And that concerns some of the paper's reporters who worry that his work adversely affects their brand.
"If it was up to me, I would not have him as a columnist, but it's not up to me," said a third reporter. "His columns are wildly outlandish. I think that he, as evidenced by this [interview], he probably brings more negative attention than positive to the paper."
It's been just about a year since developer and financier Douglas Manchester bought the San Diego Union-Tribune, the largest newspaper in the city. For some staffers and media observers, it's been the worst year in the paper's eight-decade history.
Manchester, a major Republican Party contributor, and U-T CEO John Lynch have overhauled the once-respected daily into what many consider a front for Manchester's "cheerleading" for business interests and right-wing politics.
"People are so embarrassed by the [newspaper] that they are dropping their subscriptions," says Don Bauder, who spent 30 years at the Union-Tribune from 1973 to 2003, which included stints as financial editor and columnist. "Around town it is an embarrassment."
A group headed by Manchester purchased the Union-Tribune in November 2011, just a few years after the paper won two Pulitzer prizes. He took over operations in January 2012 and immediately put his mark on the paper, changing the name to U-T San Diego to promote all of its news outlets beyond print, hiring Lynch, a longtime friend and local radio station owner, as his CEO, and placing a front-page editorial on the print edition that all but vowed to work for big business.
Such changes have come at a cost. David Carr of The New York Times, among the most respected media columnists in the country, wrote in June that the Union-Tribune "often seems like a brochure for [Manchester's] various interests." He added that any pretense of protecting news coverage from the new ownership's editorial views "was obliterated from the start."
The paper's decline has continued apace since Carr published his piece. In the run up to November's elections, the paper took its support for a Republican mayoral candidate to unusual lengths with front page editorials, while also disparaging President Obama via opinion pieces that featured vitriol usually confined to Internet fever swamps.
From its outlandish front page editorializing for a new football stadium and waterfront development (which would indirectly benefit Manchester's bank account) to its top executive's threatening email to a public official, the newspaper is considered by many staff and local media experts to have fallen into an ethical morass.
And that worry has grown worse in the past few months as Manchester bought the North County Times, a smaller daily in nearby Escondido, CA, which was considered a necessary rival to the Union-Tribune.
"The only way the paper will survive is if people trust it to give the news of their community," said Dean Nelson, director of journalism at nearby Point Loma Nazarene University, who also writes for The New York Times and The Boston Globe. "If people get the sense it is just whoring for the leadership's business enterprises, they are done.
Two former network news presidents offered criticism following the revelation that a Fox News contributor had urged Gen. David Petraeus to run for president at the request of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
"That just isn't what a news guy does," said Michael Gartner, who served as NBC News president from 1988 to 1993. "Twenty years ago it wouldn't have been done. But that was a different era."
The critiques come in response to a December 4 report from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward that Fox News contributor K.T. McFarland, on instructions from Ailes, had urged Petraeus to run for president during a recorded 2011 interview in Afghanistan.
McFarland suggested that Ailes would leave Fox to work on Petraeus' campaign and that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch might "bankroll" the effort.
During the same interview with Petraeus, McFarland said of Ailes, "he loves you, and everybody at Fox loves you. So what I'm supposed to say directly from him to you, through me, is first of all, is there anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?"
Media critics have nonetheless responded harshly to the McFarland-Petraeus interview, with Dylan Byers at Politico writing that no other major news outlet would tolerate such behavior from their top executive, and Erik Wemple at the Post writing that it indicated "Fox News is corrupt."
David Westin, who served as ABC News president from 1997 to 2010, also offered concern about the exchange to Media Matters.
While Westin said he did not know the details of Ailes' direct involvement, and noted Ailes had told Bob Woodward his comments to MacFarland had been "more of a joke" than a serious request, Westin did offer criticism of such communications between news person and news subject.
"The report had someone from Fox News, now it was a contributor, not on staff, but a contributor, saying things to a subject of news coverage that normally a journalist wouldn't say," Westin said late December 4. "You need to keep some distance from the people you're covering and you don't want to be partial for them or against them either way, so what I read would be something that normally a journalist wouldn't do."
After inquiries from Media Matters, Politico has updated an op-ed on energy policy authored by former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) to acknowledge his role at a law firm that represents energy companies that would benefit from the policies he supported in the piece.
In his November 4 op-ed, Stupak argued that as part of a "grand bargain," congressional proposals "must include significant segments in regard to energy consumption and our environmental footprint," including an increased focus on "clean coal," natural gas, and renewable energy sources.
Politico originally identified Stupak as only "a Democrat from Michigan" who "served in Congress on the House Energy and Commerce Committee." But Stupak is currently a partner at Venable LLP, where he represents clients in the energy industry. Venable's energy practice includes clients in the "clean coal," natural gas, and renewables sectors.
Asked for comment on why Stupak's conflict of interest had not been disclosed, Politico managing editor Bill Nichols responded, "It's a totally fair point; we should have disclosed that to readers and we'll update the piece to do that and acknowledge the error." Nichols also said Politico plans to run a correction in Monday's print edition.
Stupak's original description from Politico has since been replaced with the following text: "CORRECTION: An earlier version of this opinion piece failed to note that Bart Stupak is employed by a law firm that does work in the energy sector."
Current and former staffers at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune are expressing concern at reports Friday that News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch might be interested in buying the papers from Tribune Company, with one veteran Times newsman calling the notion "horrifying beyond belief."
While many told Media Matters they are worried about Murdoch's potential ownership due to concerns over his ethical history and conservative ideology, others are so desperate to give their bankrupt papers financial stability that they are reluctantly willing to give him a chance.
"I have heard people express concerns of various kinds," said one current Los Angeles Times' journalist and former newsroom editor who requested anonymity. "He invests in the properties, he has not downsized the [Wall Street] Journal. The one concern, fear of the unknown, is, well, the L.A. Times still has a substantial foreign staff, a substantial national staff and a substantial Washington bureau. What happens to those?"
One fear is that the takeover could spark an exodus of staff, which occurred at The Wall Street Journal after Murdoch purchased parent company Dow Jones in late 2007. Dozens of the paper's best journalists left, citing a perceived change in the paper's focus and at times an increased push for more business-friendly stories.
Several current and former Tribune Company staffers recalled what happened when Murdoch bought the rival Chicago Sun-Times in 1984, later selling it in 1986. The sale sparked the departure of many Sun-Times staffers, including the legendary columnist Mike Royko, who vowed not to work for Murdoch and left for the Tribune.
"If you look at the history of what he did across the street at the Sun-Times, that is a shot that the paper never fully recovered from," said a current Tribune staffer who sought anonymity. "The sentiment of people is 'we want to keep doing the work we do,' owners do what they want to do with the paper."
Speculation about a Murdoch purchase of the Times, Tribune, or perhaps other Tribune Company properties began last week with an October 19 Los Angeles Times report that he was interested. It cited "two ranking News Corp. executives and others familiar with the situation," indicated talks were in the "early stages," and stated a takeover could occur by the end of 2012.
News Corp. has denied the report, but the Los Angeles Times stands by its story.
A News Corp. purchase of the Times and the Tribune would give Murdoch control of four of the top 10 U.S. newspapers by circulation and, as the Times notes, "strong footholds in the nation's three largest media markets."
The possible purchase by Murdoch comes at a time when Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and 10 other daily newspapers, as well as 23 television stations and other media properties, is emerging from a bruising four-year bankruptcy battle that has already cut its revenues and staff.
The financial problems stem from the 2007 purchase of Tribune Company by real estate magnate Sam Zell, who paid for the takeover through a leveraged buyout that created $13 million in debt. The company filed for bankruptcy a year later, a move that remains unresolved as creditors battle over a resolution plan in court.
The thought that Murdoch could take over some or all of the company's properties drew concern among current and former staffers.
A new "documentary" alleging that President Obama's real father is actually communist writer Frank Marshall Davis was enthusiastically promoted by Fox News contributor and O'Reilly Factor guest host Monica Crowley on her radio show last month.
Dreams from My Real Father, which was written, directed, and produced by conservative filmmaker Joel Gilbert, largely bases its premise that Obama is a "red diaper baby" born to the communist Davis on Gilbert's contention that the two men closely resemble one another (the authors of this story disagree). In an interview with Media Matters, the documentarian castigated both the mainstream and the conservative media for not following up on his work, which he compared to the Academy Award-winning Watergate thriller All The President's Men.
Though it has not been picked up for theatrical release, the film recently made headlines due to a campaign to mail millions of copies of the DVD to voters in swing states. On October 23, The New York Times described the effort as "the latest example of how secretive forces outside the presidential campaigns can sweep into battleground states days before the election."
Since its release in April, coverage of Dreams by conservative outlets has been relegated mostly to fringe websites like WorldNetDaily, where Jerome Corsi has written several articles promoting the film (when he hasn't been busy alleging that Obama is also secretly gay and secretly Muslim). Gilbert told Media Matters that without conservative talk radio, "it would be very hard to get information out" on the film, and indeed his promotional tour has featured numerous appearances on lower-tier conservative radio shows and a handful of interviews with larger shows like that of Michael Savage, as well as conspiracy-friendly broadcasts like The Alex Jones Show.
But alongside outlets that promoted the film like birther website WorldNetDaily and radio hosts like "conspiracy king" Alex Jones stands Fox News' Monica Crowley.
Last month, Crowley invited Gilbert onto her radio show for an extended interview. Previewing the segment, Crowley claimed that Obama "has been president for almost four years and we still don't know who he is." Blaming the "left-wing press" for their supposed lack of interest in vetting Obama, Crowley claimed that Gilbert has done "the actual investigative work into Obama and his background."
Crowley made it clear that she had already seen the film before hosting Gilbert and over the course of the interview repeatedly plugged the film's website, ObamasRealFather.com. Crowley labeled the film "just dynamite" and "very well done" and encouraged her listeners to "judge the story for themselves."
Wisconsin-based radio host Charlie Sykes may want to be the next Glenn Beck.
But a new marketing project aimed at spreading his hard conservative talk brand beyond home station WTMJ of Milwaukee to web, video, social media and perhaps other media outlets owned by parent company Journal Communications is drawing concern in the state's media community. Sykes' burgeoning network of platforms resembles nothing other than a smaller-scale version of the former Fox News host's sprawling web-based empire.
"That is a fair comparison," says Don Walker, a 34-year veteran of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is also owned by Journal Communications. "Glenn took this huge, I think risk, getting off Fox, or he was pushed, and he left Fox to form this very, very different venture. I think there is some comparison to that Charlie is making a move in a direction that he senses that he can make a move nationally, that he can make a move in a national direction."
That potential move is causing distress in the ranks of the state's journalists, including among reporters at the Journal Sentinel who say the paper already suffers from its association with Sykes' hard-right views.
Several newspaper staffers point to Sykes' partisan approach as undermining the paper's image as the source for fair, unbiased news.
"I know that it frustrates some people," Craig Gilbert, who works out of the Journal Sentinel Washington, D.C., bureau said about his newspaper's staffers. Gilbert called Sykes "a guy who takes sides in all these political battles" and said the radio host's show "certainly has an impact on the Republican party, all of the conservative talk, on Republican primaries. It's a venue where if you are a Republican politician, you can speak to your base in a sympathetic environment."
"I think there's probably people out there who feel we're this large cabal and that we're force-feeding our particular views on all our products," he said about Sykes' impact, later adding, "he does this show, I think it is highly, highly partisan, there is no mistaking where he is coming from. I think a lot of people, including journalists, feel that most of the time he is there just to repeat Republican Party talking points."
In just the last year, Sykes, 57, has used his platform to become a major voice in the nationally-followed recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, and more recently has enjoyed access to GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, whose congressional district is just south of Sykes' home base.
A former reporter for the Milwaukee Journal (which merged with the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1995) and one time editor of Milwaukee Magazine, Sykes launched his radio show nearly 20 years ago on WTMJ. He also hosts a Sunday morning political talk show on WTMJ-TV and this year produced his sixth book A Nation of Moochers (St. Martin's Press, 2012).
But it may be Sykes' newest effort, the ambitious Conservative Politics Digital Project, which will extend his reach even further. The project, using the website RightWisconsin.com, seeks to take his outspoken conservative approach and expand it to many platforms, including podcasts, web columns, videos, and on-location events.
Given his recent high-profile connections to some of the country's conservative leaders -- and the backing of a communications company that owns 48 television and radio stations in 12 states -- observers say Sykes has the platform to push his far-right views nationally.
"He is a smart, ambitious guy and I would not be surprised to see him go beyond WTMJ," said Jim Romenesko, who runs an influential media news website and worked with Sykes at Milwaukee Magazine in the 1980s. Asked if Sykes could reach that national level, Romenesko added, "I think so, he's smart, he's very quick and I think he has what it takes to really capture the audience's attention. He knows how to play that talk radio game."
An online ad for a managing editor of the Conservative Politics Digital Project indicates it will be a very direct effort to push a conservative message, describing it as "a new suite of digital products related to Charlie Sykes and targeted at Conservatives in Wisconsin."
Veteran economics reporters and columnists are strongly criticizing conservative claims that the unemployment data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday was manipulated to benefit President Obama politically, calling such allegations "implausible" and "unfounded."
Shortly after the BLS announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8%, former GE CEO Jack Welch tweeted, "Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers." Welch's tweet was quickly highlighted by the Drudge Report. Since then, conservative media figures, including multiple Fox News personalities, have tried to cast doubt on the new jobs numbers.
But experienced financial journalists at outlets like The New York Times and The Economist say the contention that the new unemployment rate is fraudulent is not based on any valid proof.
"It is completely implausible to me that they would actively rig the thing to help Obama," said Joe Nocera, New York Times business columnist. "The guys are green eye-shaded career bureaucrats who have no particular vested interest one way or another in who wins the presidential election."
Nocera was referring to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the unemployment rates and has no political ties to the White House.
"They come out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if you are going to cook them, how exactly would you go about it, it is pretty implausible that the career bureaucrats at the Bureau would cook the books for Obama," Nocera added. "Everybody likes a conspiracy theory, but it is hard to understand how they would do it."
Jesse Eisinger, senior reporter for finance at ProPublica and a former seven-year Wall Street Journal reporter, agreed.
"This is complete fantasy," he said about the claims of political influence. "It is yet another one of these right-wing denialist ideas. They're perennial ideas that government statistics are manipulated. These are flawed measures, certainly, but the flaws are not due to any partisanship ... These are done by reputable civil servants. There is almost no way that these numbers could be manipulated for political gain. It doesn't hold up in any way you think about it."
Martin Wolk, executive business editor for NBC News Digital, also called such claims baseless.
"I've been covering economics for a long time and I have been watching these reports come out every month and I talk to these economists and I think that those claims are unfounded," Wolk said in an interview Friday. "They do the best to present those claims honestly. I have never seen a pattern where the numbers consistently favor one party or another. I would defy anyone to find a pattern in those numbers that is politically motivated."
Added David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times economics reporter and author of many books on taxes and business:
"This claim gets made often. It has never been shown to have any basis in fact afterward during previous administrations."