Top conservative media voices spoke out on the need to keep stories accurate and in-depth, while at the same time citing some of the right-wing media's worst stumbles as points of honor during a panel discussion Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
It has been a rough few months for the right-wing media. After a variety of observers pointed to its ineffectiveness during the 2012 election, it has come under fire again over the last month as major stories from The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com have imploded.
But such concerns were largely ignored during the CPAC panel titled "Survivor: Conservative Media," which was billed as an examination of the future of right-wing publications. This comes as little surprise, given that representatives from both the Caller and Breitbart.com were featured panelists.
Moderated by Scottie Hughes of the Tea Party News Network, the panel included Katie Pavlich, news editor at Townhall.com and a Fox News Contributor; Seton Motley, a Breitbart.com columnist; Keith Urbahn, co-founder of Javelin; and Lars Larson, a conservative radio talk show host.
While defending their past work, each appeared to espouse traditional journalistic values of accuracy, in-depth reporting and balance.
"Listen to what everyone else is saying, but don't be afraid to break from the pack," Larson said. "When there is a story, get on it, because there are too many stories that are a sleeper. Fast and Furious was a sleeper for a long time."
Larson referred to the botched ATF mission, which Pavlich and others had baselessly spun as a a conspiracy by the Obama administration to implement stronger gun laws.
American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas defended giving a speaking slot at the organization's 2013 CPAC conference to Donald Trump while snubbing Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
In response to questioning from Media Matters' Joe Strupp at a press conference, Cardenas said that despite Trump's history of racially inflammatory remarks and ongoing promotion of conspiracy theories about President Obama's birthplace, Trump had been invited to speak because "we can't have thirty people saying the same thing with the same backgrounds."
Former Fox News commentator Dick Morris says he still "love[s]" the network and expects to return to its airwaves.
In February Fox confirmed that it had declined to renew Morris' contract. The network had benched him from bookings for several months following his repeated on-air prediction of a Mitt Romney "landslide" in the days leading up to Romney's defeat.
During a March 14 appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) just south of Washington, D.C., Morris told Media Matters, "I love Fox, you know. You come and you go in this business, I'll come again."
Asked if he thought he would return to the network in the future, Morris said, "Sure, probably."
A top executive at a Colorado newspaper has sparked controversy after he sent an email to a state senator opposing legislative efforts to strengthen gun laws that the legislator took as a threat of retaliation by the paper.
Ray Stafford, general manager of the Pueblo Chieftain, sent a March 3 email to State Sen. Angela Giron (D) in which he highlighted his position with the paper and said he opposed legislation to strengthen the state's gun laws. Giron had been undecided on the legislative package under discussion, but ultimately voted for the five bills which passed the state Senate on March 11.
The email from Stafford, sent on his official Chieftain email account, stated: "I am the General Manager and responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom ... I have never written a legislator, but I want you to know I oppose all the bills currently being considered involving guns, ammunition, magazines and ownership transfers because I think they're poorly written and a knee-jerk reaction to recent deaths. I also believe such legislation is a challenge to our Second Amendment."
Stafford denies that his email was intended to intimidate Giron. But Jane Rawlings, assistant publisher of the Chieftain, criticized Stafford for failing to clearly indicate his complaints were his own opinion in the email in which he emphasized his role at the paper.
"A person who works for us should identify this as their personal opinion and he did not state those words in his email, 'this is my personal opinion' and he probably should have," Rawlings told Media Matters.
Giron told KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs, "You don't use work e-mails to send personal stuff out and you certainly don't send and he's literally typed in his name, general manager of The Chieftain and a gun owner. I didn't even know his name so if he didn't send it from The Chieftain, if he didn't say he was the general manager, if he didn't say he was in charge of the newsroom, it probably wouldn't have even been noted."
Stafford's email also did not sit well with Colorado Senate President John Morse, who raised concerns during an appearance on Friday with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, stating, "He threatened her with how he's going to cover her and then followed through, really, she was on the paper and the front page for practically a week straight."
The dispute comes during a highly charged gun debate in Colorado and elsewhere across the country, during which state legislators who support stronger firearms laws have been subjected to intimidation and threats.
The bogus story that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had filed for bankruptcy appeared on Boston.com, the sister website of The Boston Globe, through a third-party content provider that posts content without editorial approval and provides such content to more than 200 web outlets.
That provider, meanwhile, took the story from an Austrian-based blog without any editorial review or fact-checking of its own, a practice that is becoming more and more common in the Internet content sharing world. The blog has since deleted its post and all posts from the author appear to have been removed from Boston.com.
The false story, which had its roots in a satire by the website Daily Currant, was subsequently picked up by the conservative site Breitbart.com, a move later criticized by Krugman himself and numerous news outlets from The Atlantic to Politico. Breitbart.com has deleted the post, with its author blaming Boston.com, which he says he "trusted" for the story.
But according to Boston.com, they played no role in the creation of that post, an editorial mechanism which troubles some observers.
He said he reached out to financialcontent.com at roughly 9 a.m. EDT today to have the item removed. It was removed at 11:34 a.m. EDT.
"The reason why we partner with them is to provide stock data," Agrella explained Monday, just hours after the item was taken down. "That is why we contract with them. The stories are additional content provided on the side. We have partnered with them for 10 or 12 years."
Financialcontent.com had picked up the item from an Austria-based business blog, Prudent Investor, without any editorial review of its own, according to financialcontent.com CEO Wing Yu.
"We are a technology company, we don't have an editorial desk," Yu explained. "There is an RSS feed that we parse from each content provider. We have categorized [Prudent Investor] as a business content provider and the content is syndicated along with the byline."
YU said Prudent Investor is one of more than 400 content providers that financialcontent.com draws on for news and data, which it then forwards to some 200 news outlets such as Boston.com, as well as others owned by McClatchy, Media News Group and AOL.
The Prudent Investor website is based in Vienna, Austria, and run by Toni Straka, who describes himself on the blog as "an INDEPENDENT Certified Financial Analyst who worked as a financial journalist for 15+ years and now evaluate global market trends."
The Washington Post's new reader representative, Doug Feaver, made clear when he was offered the position that he did not want it to be full time.
And it appears he is getting his wish, according to Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, who said Feaver, a former Post editor who has been retired since 2006, will likely spend just two or three days a week on the job and have no set weekly column.
Feaver replaces Patrick Pexton, who as Post ombudsman was hired on a two-year contract that allowed complete independence. The Post has had such an ombudsman for more than 40 years.
"Doug will be part time and we've agreed that he'll kind of feel his way and figure out after some time how part time," Hiatt said Thursday, just hours after announcing Feaver had taken the job. "Right now, I'm sort of assuming it's two or three days a week. I've said to him 'If you find out it needs to be more, we're open to that, or if you find eventually we only need one person, I'm open to that,' I have huge confidence in Doug so I am kind of leaving it to him to figure out what's the best way to make the job work."
Hiatt announced on Thursday that Feaver would be hired as a part-time employee and work with Alison Coglianese, a full-time staffer who had served as assistant to the Post ombudsman for years.
Hiatt says that concerns that a reader representative employed by the Post will have less independence than the paper's traditional ombudsman are misplaced.
"While it's true Doug doesn't have the two-year contract that we traditionally gave ombudsman, to me that's not the main difference," Hiatt said. "Nobody who knows him will doubt that he will be totally independent in his judgment and that he will hold us all properly accountable."
Feaver said he happened to get the job somewhat by accident, explaining that he was visiting Hiatt on another subject a week ago and Hiatt asked him about the position.
"I was in to see Fred on an entirely unrelated matter and he said 'what would you think about this?' and I said 'that could be very interesting.' So that's how the conversation started," Feaver, 73, said. "We were just talking, within the past week. I told him when we started talking I wasn't the least bit interested in a full-time job."
Asked why, Feaver added: "I've been retired, officially retired for the last several years and it was very nice to be asked to come back and do something. But it wasn't going to get into another one of these 60-hour week situations that I did for a long time."
Feaver worked at the Post from 1969 to 2006, serving in jobs that included reporting and editing for the Metro, Business and National staffs, as well as executive editor of washingtonpost.com.
Veteran White House correspondents and political scribes dispute claims that a White House aide threatened Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in a recent email exchange, calling that characterization "overblown."
A media firestorm has followed last night's Politico report that Woodward had received a "veiled threat" from White House economic adviser Gene Sperling for the journalist's reporting on the pending spending cuts known as the sequester, based on a snippet of a Sperling email Woodward provided the paper. The full context of Sperling's comment, released by Politico the next day, made it clear to even conservative observers that no threat had been intended.
"It doesn't seem threatening to me at all, it seems to me based on the email exchange that I read, that it was not threatening, it came at the tail end of a very friendly message, it seemed like it was saying 'you are making a mistake,'" said Bill Plante, CBS News White House correspondent and former president of the White House Correspondents Association. "It does not seem to me to be a threat of any kind in the sense that retaliation is promised."
In the email exchange about the sequestration issue, which followed an angry phone exchange for which Sperling apologized, the aide indicated to Woodward that if he reported the president had been "moving the goal post" related to revenue in the negotiations, Woodward would "regret staking out that claim."
In an interview posted Wednesday night, Woodward characterized the exchange as a threat, according to Politico:
Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. " 'You'll regret.' Come on," he said. "I think if Obama himself saw the way they're dealing with some of this, he would say, 'Whoa, we don't tell any reporter 'you're going to regret challenging us.'"
But the full context of the emails, released by Politico the next day, casts doubt on the claim that Woodward had been threatened. In the email, Sperling had stated, "I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying that [President Obama] asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim." Woodward replied to that email in part, "I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening."
Nearly all of the 2011 funding for the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which oversees state news sites nationwide, came from a single foundation that has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to right-wing causes, according to a recent report of the Center for Public Integrity.
CPI detailed that the foundation, Donors Trust, provided 95 percent of the Franklin Center funding in 2011, citing Internal Revenue Service documents. The Center uses that funding to support websites and affiliates providing free statehouse reporting from a "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" to local newspapers and other media across the country.
The Center, which Media Matters highlighted in a lengthy July 2012 report, has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states since it began in 2009 and claims to provide 10 percent of all state government news in the United States.
Since it was created in 1999, Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, have raised more than $500 million from various individuals and organizations, among them billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, and doled out $400 million to a constellation of right-wing causes. That includes $86 million distributed in 2011 alone.
Donors Trust gives many of its funding sources a way to hide their donations or "pass-through" money to various right-leaning organizations and media outlets, many of whom promote free-market ideas. The size and character of these donations has earned the group the moniker "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement."
The $6.3 million donation to the Franklin Center in 2011 was the second-largest gift made that year by Donors Trust. Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund had previously given a combined contribution of $25,000 to the Franklin Center in 2010.
Major Donors Trust contributors include the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund.
Marcus Owens, the former director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, told CPI, "Koch is among an exclusive pool of donors who have used Donors Trust as a 'pass-through.' It obscures the source of the money. It becomes a grant from Donors Trust, not a grant from the Koch brothers."
CPI produced this graphic detailing the flow of money in recent years from Koch-backed and other right-wing foundations through Donors Trust to a variety of conservative groups.
The Franklin Center is also staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with Charles Koch and his brother, David.
Steven Greenhut, Franklin Center's vice president of journalism, was listed as a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative think tank that has received significant funding from foundations headed by the Koch Brothers.
Other top Franklin Center staffers with current or past Koch ties include Erik Telford, the Franklin Center's vice president of strategic initiatives & outreach; Mary Ellen Beatty, Franklin Center director of citizen outreach; Alicia Barnaby, Coalitions Coordinator; and the Franklin Center's director of development, Matt Hauck.
With former NBC chief Jeff Zucker now in charge at CNN, the network reportedly has big changes planned.
The overhaul presents an opportunity for CNN to reverse a decline in environmental coverage that one former top environmental producer at the network blames on an obsession with beating Fox News.
Peter Dykstra, who oversaw the CNN environmental beat from 1995 to 2008, recalled top CNN executives describing environmental stories as "elite issues or liberal issues" that would not draw a Fox News crowd.
"For the last 10 years, CNN has been battered by competition, primarily by Fox. They have incurred huge losses in ratings to Fox and like just about anyone in cable television, they have altered their programming far more in the direction of entertainment and amusement as opposed to information with redeeming value. That of course does not bode well for covering science," Dykstra said in a recent interview. "CNN has looked obsessively at how many viewers they've lost to Fox."
Dykstra spent 1991 to 2008 on the environmental beat at CNN, except for a short stint on the military desk in 2002, serving as executive producer for environmental and science coverage from 1995 to 2008. He was laid off in 2008 when the environmental unit was shut down, he said.
A former board member for the Society of Environmental Journalists, Dykstra has been publisher of Environmental Health News for the past two years, previously working at the Pew Charitable Trust after leaving CNN.
"The biggest issue is that what we covered were perceived to be either elite issues or liberal issues that were of little value if your goal in life is to compete head to head with Fox News," Dykstra recalled about his CNN days. "You do not need science and technology to compete with Fox."
Ironically, a recent report at the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage ranked Fox News 9th out of 30 national news outlets in the amount of environmental stories, with CNN ranked near the bottom at 25th. The report noted, however, that "Fox's environmental coverage has often been documented and criticized for being biased and misleading."
Dykstra said that former CNN President Jonathan Klein, who served in that role from 2004 to 2010, was one of several executives who called for a reduction in environmental coverage in order to compete with Fox, even though he believed climate change existed.
"I will give him credit for looking me in the eye and telling me to my face, and he was not the only CNN boss who did this, that he did not consider science and environment coverage to be a high priority," Dykstra said of Klein, later adding, "It never was hostility, it was more an attitude of 'that doesn't work for us, that doesn't help us beat Fox.' There was very little if any political push back. In fact, Jon Klein, I recall him saying in editorial meetings on more than one occasion 'it's obvious that this is for real, it just didn't necessarily have a place in CNN's coverage.'"
Former Washington Post ombudsmen are speaking out against the paper's contemplation of eliminating that position, stating that it serves a vital purpose as the only independent communication between readers and the newsroom.
The ombudsman, which is a contracted job with a defined term, has been a Post staple since 1970, making it among the longest-existing reader representative positions at a major daily newspaper.
But Post officials say that the paper may cut the job when the current term of Ombudsman Patrick Pexton ends on March 1, 2013.
"We haven't decided what we are going to do after Pat leaves," Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, told Media Matters in an email. "I think it's important that the Post continue to be accountable and to offer readers a way to ask questions or lodge complaints and be confident they will be heard. I'm not sure that having an ombudsman whose primary focus is on writing a weekly column is the best way to achieve that goal."
The proposed shift did not sit well with several former Post ombudsmen, who stressed the paper's tradition of using the position to interact with readers and feared that the paper would try to save money by dropping the position.
Andy Alexander, who held the job before Pexton, said eliminating the ombudsman would be a "terrible loss for Post readers."
"And I'm afraid it would be widely interpreted, fairly or unfairly, as The Post using financial pressures or other reasons as a pretense to get rid of an internal critic," Alexander, currently a visiting professional at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, said in an email. "From the outset, the role has been to provide readers with access to an independent agent empowered to investigate charges that The Post has not lived up to its high journalistic standards."
"Certainly, the role of the ombudsman can and should evolve in the Digital Age," Alexander added. "It makes sense to continue to use new platforms to converse with readers. But there is a huge difference between an ombudsman who merely reflects what readers are saying, as opposed to an ombudsman who has the independence and authority to ask uncomfortable questions of reporters and editors and then publicly hold the newsroom to account."
Asked about criticism of the Post from former ombudsmen concerned that the paper might eliminate the position, Hiatt said, "I value their opinion, of course, but I hope they'll wait to see what we do before forming final judgments. I also think the media world is quite different from what it was when the Post began hiring ombudsmen."