As President Obama prepares to take the stage tonight at the Democratic National Convention, a media debate swirls around whether Americans are better off than we were four years ago. According to five esteemed business and finance reporters from top news outlets, the situation has improved in almost all economic sectors.
In their attempts to grapple with the question of whether Americans are better off, cable news outlets have regularly failed to provide important context about the dire state of the economy in late 2008, when millions of jobs were lost.
Several veteran economics reporters and editors told Media Matters that the economy is better off, especially given the fact that this month marks the fourth anniversary of some of the worst shocks to the financial system.
"September 2008 was one of the scariest months I have ever experienced as a business reporter," said Diana Henriques, who spent 22 years covering finance for The New York Times and is the author of several books on Wall Street. "We had seen Bear Stearns nearly fail, we had seen Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac taken under receivership.
"But those turned out to be footnotes to what erupted when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, AIG was on the brink of collapse. I went to work every day wondering if this would be the day the ATMs went dark, wondering if this is the day the American banking system failed, it failed in the great depression."
Henriques and several other economics reporters cited the Lehman Brothers collapse, which occurred almost exactly four years ago, on September 15, 2008.
"By the end of that week, American companies were having trouble raising cash to meet payrolls," Henriques recalled. "If you look clearly at the functioning of the internal infrastructure this week four years ago, it was the scariest week I have ever spent as a financial journalist. Congress seemed paralyzed by inaction, the president didn't seem to get what was going on. It was not clear if anyone was going to pull together enough public reassurance."
Other veteran financial scribes point to the overall economic picture today as compared to 2008, while also noting that the positive direction of the economy is important, too. Their comments are supported by a number of key indicators: The economy has grown for twelve consecutive quarters; private sector employment has grown for 29 consecutive months, adding millions of jobs; and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has nearly doubled from its low point in March 2009.
The Wall Street Journal's failure to disclose op-ed columnist Karl Rove's ties to political organizations raising hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat President Obama and other Democratic candidates is drawing harsh criticism from editorial page editors at America's top newspapers.
Even as he writes regular columns on the 2012 election for the Journal, Rove serves as what Vanity Fair calls "the defacto leader of the Republican Party." As the co-founder of the super PAC American Crossroads and its related organization Crossroads GPS, Rove is helping to assemble a massive war chest to run attack ads against Democrats this fall -- an obvious conflict of interest.
While Rove occasionally (but not consistently) discloses his connection to the political organizations in his columns, the description of Rove on the WSJ.com website and with each print column states only that "Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush." The ties are also absent from the 171-word bio of Rove that is occasionally appended to his columns on the Wall Street Journal website.
Howell Raines, a former editorial page editor and executive editor at The New York Times, says that description is woefully inadequate during the current election season. "His role at American Crossroads is, if anything, more relevant to this campaign than his Bush ties, given the importance of PAC commercials in this campaign," Raines told Media Matters in an email.
According to Raines, who served as the Times' editorial page editor in the mid-1990s, "full disclosure of a contributor's ties and interests is a threshold requirement," and the Journal's description fails to provide the reader with "information relevant to the issue at hand."
Rove often appears to use his Journal column to further his efforts to defeat Democratic candidates. In one recent column, Rove suggested that the Romney campaign would be better off running positive ads on their own candidate, writing that attacking Obama is "a job better left (mostly) to outside groups." Neither Rove nor the Journal disclosed Rove's own role in working to raise at least $240 million before Election Day to fund such ad buys.
Raines is not alone in his critique. More than a dozen current and former editorial page editors at major newspapers told Media Matters that they were uneasy with the Journal's practice. Many stated outright that the Journal should be disclosing Rove's ties and some said they would not publish such columns with or without such disclosure.
The Wall Street Journal and Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot did not respond to requests for comment.
Local Wisconsin reporters say that as the national media begins to scrutinize Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) life and career following his selection as Mitt Romney's running mate, they may overlook details such as his inside-the-Beltway focus, the high level of unemployment in his hometown, and his family connection to the natural gas industry.
In the early stages of such reviews, news outlets are often dependent on the campaigns themselves, prior national coverage of the candidate, and even Wikipedia for insight and can miss the kind of information local reporters who have covered the vice presidential selection for years may know best.
Media Matters went to some of those local reporters in Wisconsin and asked for their take on the information voters, and reporters, need most but may miss as they look at Ryan's career.
One issue most journalists raised was that Ryan left Wisconsin at a young age and climbed the political ladder in Washington. One local scribe compared him to Dick Cheney in that regard, stating both men rose to the top by focusing on D.C. connections and not in home state political circles.
"The way to understand him is he is Dick Cheney, he is a guy who went to Washington as soon as he could, rooted himself in the establishment, got himself elected as soon as he could and became a major player," said John Nichols, an associate editor at the Capital Times in Madison. "He is Dick Cheney with very good hair."
Other Wisconsin news people who have covered Ryan describe him as likeable and accessible to reporters, but something of an unknown even to local voters who re-elect him regularly despite his hometown being hit by hard economic times.
Scott Angus, editor of The Janesville Gazette, the daily newspaper in Ryan's hometown, described Ryan's fellow residents as having mixed views on their representative.
"The people of Janesville are probably as divided about Paul Ryan as the rest of the country," Angus said Saturday, hours after Ryan was announced as Romney's choice. "A lot of people would view [Ryan's opinions] as pretty conservative and pretty far to the right and that does not sit well with a lot of people in his district."
Angus, a 21-year editor of the paper, added, "He has lived here, but he has not worked here much, he has been in Washington working on his career path. I think a lot of people are surprised because he has always said his plans were not to rise to national office. He never had any elected office until he was elected to Congress."
But Janesville's recent past is also important, several reporters said, citing the town's difficult economic situation, sparked by the closure of a General Motors plant in 2009.
"Their unemployment rate is double digits," said Jeff Flynt, a news reporter at WTAQ Radio in Green Bay. "For a state that is trying to turn around the business aspects of the state the fact that Janesville unemployment continues to be pretty high and you have a guy who is known pretty well nationally and has not found a way to help the plant or put something in its place, that may catch" the national media's attention.
Several former Wall Street Journal environmental reporters -- including a one-time environmental editor at the paper -- criticized the paper's editorial page for its history of skewed coverage of environmental issues.
The former staffers reacted to last week's lengthy report on the Journal editorial page's poor record on environmental issues posted by Media Matters. The report details the Journal editorial board's long history of distorting facts to downplay concerns about issues ranging from the ozone layer to acid rain.
Notably, the Journal continues to cast doubt on whether human activities are contributing to climate change in the face of a strong scientific consensus driven by abundant evidence. Following the pattern they used in responding to previous environmental threats, the paper has downplayed this consensus, claimed that fixing any potential problem is too expensive, and attacked those seeking to fix the problem as motivated by politics, not science.
The head of North America's leading association of environmental journalists and several environmental journalism professors with years of experience in the field are criticizing The Wall Street Journal editorial page's decades-long history of undermining scientific facts and consensus to dismiss environmental threats.
Using phrases like "disingenuous," "misleading," and "dangerous," some of the nation's top scientific news instructors and veteran reporters weighed in with harsh comments on the Journal's practices.
The science journalism veterans reacted to a lengthy report on the Journal editorial page's poor record with regard to environmental issues posted today by Media Matters. The report shows a history of the Journal editorial board distorting facts to downplay concerns about issues ranging from the ozone layer to acid rain.
Notably, the Journal continues to cast doubt on the fact that human activities are contributing to climate change in the face of a strong scientific consensus driven by abundant evidence. Following the pattern they used in responding to previous environmental threats, the paper has downplayed this consensus, claimed that fixing any potential problem is too expensive, and attacked those seeking to fix the problem as motivated by politics, not science.
Carolyn Whetzel, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists and an environmental reporter for the private publisher Bloomberg BNA, said such behavior by the Journal is "not grounded in facts."
"In the case of climate change, there is strong body of scientific evidence that shows climate change is occurring and that is caused by human activities," she said. "This has been reported in hundreds of news outlets in the U.S. and around the world. Editorials that argue otherwise simply do not reflect peer-reviewed science and may confuse the news consuming public."
"There's a lot of that going on, in terms of the opinion pieces not based on, not grounded in the facts," she added. "You can have your own opinions and the facts are the facts and in many cases on these issues, the facts speak loudly as to what's true, what the research finds and shows."
Whetzel and others also pointed out that the impact of the Journal as a news source and influential opinion page makes its inaccuracies even more problematic.
"It can sway opinion," she noted about the Journal editorial pages, later adding, "I personally respect much of the Journal's reporting, but when I read the editorial page I go into it knowing it is the editorial page. If the editorial page skews the facts it is confusing and that creates a lot of uncertainty, including [with regard to] environmental issues and particularly climate change."
Leading Latino leaders are criticizing the Fox News website Fox News Latino, saying it lacks credibility among Hispanics by profiting from them even as they are demonized by the conservative parent network known for anti-immigrant coverage.
Since it launched in 2010, Fox News Latino has positioned itself as "the place to go for news that impacts the Latino Community," covering news, politics, entertainment, and other stories through that lens.
"We were skeptical when we heard about this," Inez Gonzalez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said of the creation of Fox News Latino. "Fox News is a big voice in the anti-Latino rhetoric, so we were skeptical. Some of the articles that I have seen have been interesting to me, [but] I think the owners are hypocrites. I think they are totally forgetting there is double speak here.
"They should be called on for their hypocrisy because they are blasting Latinos in English media and courting us in Latino media, hoping no one who is reading it is bilingual. I don't use Fox News Latino as a source. I would not use Fox News as a source because I know their history. I would question their statistics because I know where they are coming from. They're still Fox."
Indeed, the tone of Fox News Latino's coverage of issues like immigration dramatically differs from that of other parts of the Fox News family, which typically adopt a hardline slant.
Last month after President Obama announced that his administration would no longer seek to deport young undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children, Fox News Latino covered the story using the headline "Obama Administration Halts Deportations for Undocumented Children" and featuring a photo of a Latina activist in front of the U.S. Capitol.
By contrast, the Fox Nation website headlined its story on the subject "Obama Administration Bypasses Congress, to Give Immunity, Stop Deporting Younger Illegals" accompanied by a photo of handcuffed young Latinos.
Such disparities in coverage between the Latino-focused website and the rest of the right-wing network are frequent, with other instances including a January 2011 border shooting and last month's Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's immigration law.
Fox News hosts and personalities regularly demonize immigrants, refusing to abandon the slur "illegals" though other outlets have done so. The network also cheerleads controversial immigration laws like those in Arizona and Alabama, and outlandish smears of immigrants.
"Their record will ultimately catch up with them, you can't be a media company and think you are hiding your message," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "Latinos aren't dumb. They understand who is on their side and who is not."
Incoming New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan says she believes that "newspapers must be truth vigilantes" and that such a focus is "a clear part of our mission."
Sullivan, whose appointment to the position was announced Monday, will take over the post from current public editor Arthur Brisbane on Sept. 1, 2012.
Brisbane drew criticism for a January 12 report in which he posed the question, "Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?" In his piece, he said he was "looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about." As Adam Clark Estes observed at The Atlantic Wire, "The immediate answer, everyone we follow [on Twitter] seemed to agree, was a resounding YES."
In a follow-up post, Brisbane said he had been misunderstood, and that his "inquiry related to whether The Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut 'facts' that are offered by newsmakers when those 'facts' are in question." He added, "I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one." Responding to his original post, Times executive editor Jill Abramson wrote that "[t]he kind of rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing you describe is a fundamental part of our job as journalists" and that "[w]e do it every day, in a variety of ways."
In an interview with Media Matters, Sullivan, currently editor of The Buffalo News, said she agrees with the contention that newspapers must challenge facts presented by sources or news subjects if they are found to be in dispute, a position she said put her in step with both her predecessor and Abramson.
"I think that possibly what came out of that was that we all know and Arthur Brisbane knows and Jill Abramson knows and every one of us knows that newspapers must be truth vigilantes and there never really was any question about that I don't think," she said Monday. "Certainly that's a value that we all share and that's not really in question. It's a clear part of our mission, to ferret out the truth. What else are we here for?"
Asked Monday if accepting answers from subjects and sources at face value is not enough, Sullivan added:
"For any newspaper, for any news organization, I don't think it's nearly enough, we have to be much more searching. I think that challenging facts and getting to the bottom of statements is central to the mission of journalism. To me, it's a very clear cut kind of thing."
Sullivan, 55, comes to the Times post after 13 years as editor of The Buffalo News and an employee of that paper since 1980.
On how she plans to approach the job -- and perhaps differently from her four predecessors -- Sullivan said, "I think that ... the difference is that we live in a very different era right now. It has changed a whole lot in just the past couple of years."
"We are so immersed in digital culture and the Public Editor's role needs to respond to that. I see this as a way of aggregating the comment and criticism and discussion that's out there into a probably daily or close to daily blog, getting reader comment going in a real time basis and have a true sort of ongoing online conversation with the Times readers about the New York Times," she added.
The union representing most newsroom staffers at The Wall Street Journal is telling workers to seek "every dime" they earn in reaction to recent cutbacks and increased workload.
In a fiery email sent to 1,500 union members Wednesday, Steve Yount, president of the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees Local 1096. noted that 62 employees of parent company Dow Jones were laid off this year, including 31 in late June alone.
IAPE represents journalists at the Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Barron's, SmartMoney, SmartMoney.com, MarketWatch, and all sales, support, and technical staff within those outlets, Yount said.
The email goes on to urge staffers to seek any additional compensation -- such as comp time, vacation time, and holiday pay -- they earn, a practice that had not always been followed to the letter. According to Yount, "The company is counting, as always, on your willingness to work for free: stay late or work weekends and never charge the company," but "Those days of free labor have to end."
The email states:
Since the first of the year, Dow Jones has laid off 62 of your co-workers (31 of them in the last week of June) and once again senior management is telling you "we simply have to do more with less." That means they get more and you get less.The company is counting, as always, on your willingness to work for free: stay late or work weekends and never charge the company.
Those days of free labor have to end.
Not everyone is eligible for overtime (most reporters aren't eligible for overtime, but all are eligible for, at least, comp time) and everyone is eligible for holiday pay and a premium for working on a scheduled day off. From now on, you have to file for every dime the contract says that the company owes you. We have to clearly demonstrate that we're tired of "Doing More With Less" and that there's No More Free Labor from Dow Jones employees. I promise you that IAPE will aggressively pursue each and every claim. If you have any problems or questions, let me know or reach out directly to union organizer Tim Martell.
IAPE CWA 1096
Dow Jones reported on many of the most recent layoffs last month when it announced the shutdown of SmartMoney's print production.
Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
When Idaho state legislators proposed a seemingly uncontroversial bill to ban access to commercial tanning beds by minors earlier this year, IdahoReporter.com took up the issue with force.
The state news website, an affiliate of the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and overseen by the free market Idaho Freedom Foundation, posted six stories on the proposal between Feb. 16 and March 22, when the bill was voted down in a state Senate Committee.
The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.
The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.
More than half of all public broadcasting stations would be put "at risk" if federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were eliminated, according to a new report commissioned in response to attacks from conservatives that put the funding in jeopardy.
The report stated: "Ending federal funding for public broadcasting would severely diminish, if not destroy, public broadcasting service in the United States."
The study, released June 20 from Booz & Company Inc., reviewed alternative funding options for public broadcasting if federal funding is removed. It found that trying to replace such funding -- which accounts for about 15% of CPB's operating budget -- with advertising and other revenue would be detrimental as well.
In 2011, a House vote to defund National Public Radio was supported by numerous conservative commentators, many spouting false claims of liberal bias and citing alternative sources that could be used to replace the federal dollars -- many of which the CPB report finds ineffective.
"There have been a lot of suggestions that public broadcasters could just turn to commercial broadcasting, but this report shows that is not possible," said Tim Isgitt, senior vice-president for communications and government affairs at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. "The most surprising thing that comes out of this report is that advertising would significantly limit our other funding sources; foundations provide funding because it is a public good and mission driven. They wouldn't do that if we were a commercial model, and individual members would be less likely to give money to an entity that is commercial."
The study was commissioned at the request of the Conference Report accompanying the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012 (H.R. 2055). The report states that "the conferees requested that CPB provide a report to House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 180 days of enactment of the Act on alternative sources of funding for public broadcasting stations in lieu of federal funding."
The report states, in part:
A reduction or elimination of CPB funding will put 63% (251) of radio stations and 67% (114) of television stations in the public broadcasting system at risk:
19% (76) of radio stations and 32% (54) of TV Stations that currently operate at a minimum practical cost level, and would be at a high risk of closing.
44% (175) of radio stations and 35% (60) of TV stations have a history of operating deficits and would suffer reduced effectiveness or closure under increased financial pressure.