New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller says one of his biggest mistakes as editor was not addressing the paper's misleading pre-Iraq War coverage sooner, including the reporting of former Times writer Judy Miller.
Keller tells Media Matters that he is "not at all" surprised that Miller ended up at the "conservative" Fox News Channel after she left the Times under a cloud of controversy related to her Iraq reporting.
Keller, who announced Thursday that in September he will leave the post he has held since July 2003, said: "Judy was the author of a lot of those stories, and I should have dealt with the stories and with her I think as the sort of first order of business when I took the job rather than waiting until the following year."
Keller was referring to the unusual editor's note the Times published on May 26, 2004, in which it admitted many of its pre-war stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- a number of which were reported by Miller -- misrepresented the situation before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"The whole Judy Miller WMD experience was ... one of the low points of the last eight years," Keller said.
Keller, who took over as editor in 2003, did so in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal that forced the departure of former executive editor Howell Raines and former managing editor Gerald Boyd. It also prompted the Times to institute new safeguards for accuracy and plagiarism.
Keller said he did not want to add to the post-Blair scandal atmosphere by correcting the WMD reporting that soon. But says he should have.
"When I came in, I thought I sort of hate this business of, you come in and you immediately start pointing a finger of blame at your predecessor.
"I covered the Soviet Union and that is what Soviet leaders would always do. They sort of come in and they establish their bona fides by trashing their predecessor. [It was] partly that and it was also I wanted to kind of strike a positive tone in the early days.
"People, I thought, did not need another scandal and so I let it fester for a year. ...What I should have done when I came in was ... write that mea culpa and explain to readers, 'You know, look, we wrote some bad stories in the run-up to the war. I don't think it was out of any malice, I think it was we kind of fell for the conventional wisdom. But, you know, and we've learned from it.' Instead, I let a year go by when a lot of people, particularly people on the left, became disenchanted with the Times because they saw it as having been cheerleaders for the war."
The Star-Ledger's scoop that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey used a state police helicopter to visit his son's baseball game earlier this week may just be the beginning of increased scrutiny of the Republican governor and would-be presidential candidate.
The newspaper plans to launch its own version of Politifact on June 12, according to Editor Kevin Whitmer. Although the paper announced last month it would join the string of state-level, fact-checking sites linked to the St. Petersburg Times, the actual date had not been revealed.
With speculation growing that Christie could jump into the weak GOP presidential field -- including among those who cover him in Trenton -- the timing of the Pulitzer Prize-winning site coming to the Garden State couldn't be better.
"If we know anything about Politifact, it is that it will make everyone in the public eye accountable for their words and actions," Whitmer said when asked about the impact on Christie coverage. "In short time, it will improve the public dialogue."
Jerome Corsi doesn't seem upset by the release of President Barack Obama's "long-form" birth certificate, a development that seems to conclusively debunk the premise -- and title -- of his book, Where's the Birth Certificate?.
In fact, he somehow considers it a plus.
"I was pleased to see that now Obama is engaged and that he is committed to this as his birth certificate," Corsi told Media Matters in a phone interview Wednesday. "It's caused no reason for changing the title because we are still asking, 'Where's the birth certificate?'"
He speculates that the pending publication of the book, which hit book stores Tuesday, likely led the White House to release the long-form document last month.
"Certainly the timing of it would suggest that the White House was trying to counter or in some way deal with the book in advance, but I don't have any inside information on it. It's purely speculation on my part," he said.
And Corsi isn't ready to concede.
"I think the birth certificate released by the White House is a fraudulent document," he insists.
According to Corsi, "I think the consensus was we are still asking the question, 'Where's the birth certificate?' Quite frankly, I wanted it titled 'Where's the Birth Certificate?' because I wanted to see if we might cause the White House to blink. Prior to this, President Obama was trying to stay at 35,000 feet in this issue. Now he's personally involved. And now the future of the Obama administration depends upon the authenticity of this document."
Asked what it would take to convince him that Obama was born in the United States and is eligible to be president, Corsi raised two requirements "for starters": An independent forensic examination of the "original" long-form birth certificate and the release of patient records proving that Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, gave birth at Honolulu's Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital.
"I was very surprised the White House, when they released this birth certificate, did not submit the original document, the original paper document to independent forensic testing," he said, later adding, "Secondly ... now that President Obama has identified Kapiolani Hospital, why can't we see the patient records for Ann Dunham as independent corroboration that that was the birth hospital?"
But asked if those two requirements would be enough to satisfy him, Corsi suggested there might still be room to move the goal posts:
"Well, let's just get those two things and we'll go from there. I don't know. I mean, it depends. I don't have a list of requirements. [I am] wanting to get to the truth."
Several Washington Post staffers, including a well-respected Pulitzer Prize-winner, are speaking out in support of a union request for the same 16.4% raise that Publisher Katharine Weymouth recently received.
Media Matters reported Friday that the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents more than 900 Post staffers, requested the salary hike last week.
Post officials responded to the guild's request with a statement that avoided discussion of salary, but noted that the paper's circulation and print advertising revenue had fallen throughout Weymouth's tenure that began in 2008.
"Whatever the merits of Katharine's raise, people in the newsroom are working harder than ever before to make sure the Post survives," said Dana Priest, a two-time Pulitzer winner who has spent 23 years at the paper. "It is uncomfortable for people to read about [Weymouth's raise] because they have not been getting raises."
Guild leaders confirmed that many Guild members have gone up to three years without raises. Post officials declined to comment on staff pay, offering only a copy of the bulletin they issued last week, which stated:
While we know many Guild-covered employees are interested in the parties' wage proposals, we told the Guild that The Post was not prepared to make a wage proposal during the opening bargaining session, but would do so as negotiations progress.
We explained to the Guild that we need time to analyze the Guild's proposals in light of the business challenges facing the paper, to consider how realistically the Guild responds to The Post's key proposals, and to see what type of progress we can make on other economic and non-economic items before putting a wage proposal on the table.
We certainly have work to do in order to reach a new agreement. Today the Guild made many economic proposals that are unrealistic in today's business climate.
Fred Kunkle, an 11-year staff writer and co-chair of the Post Guild local, said the union understands the paper's financial problems. But he said it does not accept such an imbalance in salary increases.
"It is obviously unfair," he said of Weymouth's raise. "We appreciate very much that the Post is facing a difficult economic climate. But why should everybody in the rank-and-file, everyone in the newsroom, suffer for it and bear all of the hardship for it? We are willing to work with management and find a way to move the newspaper into the 21st Century. It can't be by us alone giving all of the sacrifices."
Union leaders representing newsroom and other employees at The Washington Post want the same 16.4% pay raise that Publisher Katharine Weymouth received this year, according to a message to rank-and-file members that also criticized management contract demands regarding holidays and salary issues.
The salary request occurred during this week's first round of contract negotiations. The Guild's current contract with the Post expires on June 7, 2011.
In a bulletin to members issued late Thursday, the Washington Baltimore Newspaper Guild Local 32035 declared: "After at least three years of doing much more with less, the Guild is asking for a 16.4 percent across-the-board pay increase -- exactly the amount given to the Post's publisher this year."
A March SEC filing by the Post revealed the 16.4% pay hike for Weymouth, who has been publisher since 2008. It also stated that Weymouth received a substantial performance bonus last year:
In 2010, Ms. Weymouth was paid $537,000 in base salary and received a bonus of $483,750 based on the achievement of pre-established 2010 performance goals. In addition, Ms. Weymouth received $1,053,441 based on achieving pre-established goals under the WP Media Three-Year Long-Term Incentive Plan and a payment of $72,000 for her 2,400 vested Performance Units in the 2007-2010 Award Cycle.. Effective April 1, 2011, Ms. Weymouth's base salary will increase to $625,000.
Interestingly, the Post's own bargaining bulletin, also issued this week, reveals that the paper lost revenue, circulation, and advertising income while under Weymouth's watch:
The Newspaper Publishing Division (of which The Post is the major part) reported significant operating losses in 2008 and 2009, and a smaller operating loss in 2010 (due in part to several one-time charges), and The Post continues to experience declines in circulation and print advertising revenue. In 2010, for example, The Post's Sunday and Daily circulation fell 8.2% and 7.5%, respectively.
Print advertising revenue at The Post also continued to drop, falling 6% last year on top of prior years' declines; as the following chart demonstrates (using information from Washington Post Company earnings reports), Post print advertising revenues in 2010 were 50% lower than in 2005, when The Post and the Guild last held on-the-record contract negotiations.
The Associated Press issued an advisory late Wednesday that it will not cover tonight's Fox News Republican debate in South Carolina.
The advisory, below, cites media restrictions that "violate basic demands of newsgathering."
GOP Debate, Coverage Advisory
This is to inform you that The Associated Press is not planning to cover Thursday night's Republican presidential candidate debate in South Carolina because of restrictions placed on media access. The debate sponsors, Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party, will only allow photos to be taken in the moments ahead of the debate and not during the event itself.
These are restrictions that violate basic demands of newsgathering and differ from other debates where more access was granted. Accordingly, the AP will not staff the event in any format nor will the AP disseminate any pool photos taken by another outlet. This is consistent with longstanding policy exercised in coverage of many events.
Should access conditions change, the AP will reassess this decision and expedite a new coverage advisory if warranted.
Sarah Palin defended Fox News' practice of giving airtime to "birthers," telling Media Matters in a recent video exchange: "I love that everybody has the right to voice their opinions in America. Fox embraces it, I love it."
Fox has a history of giving birther believers airtime, even with continued proof that they have no basis in their claims. Following last week's release of Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate, for example, Fox Business host Eric Bolling drew attention April 27 for raising bizarre theories about whether the birth certificate was "Photoshopped."
I caught up with Palin outside a fundraising brunch Saturday morning in Washington, D.C., held as part of the White House Correspondents' Association dinner that night.
When asked what she thought of Fox having birthers on, she answered: "Oh I love that everybody has the right to voice their opinions in America. Fox embraces it, I love it."
When I asked her, "What is your belief on the birther issue? Do you think it should be put away now?" she declined to answer.
It seems not everyone at The Washington Post was happy about the newspaper inviting Donald Trump to Saturday's White House Correspondents Dinner.
Several staffers, including two who spoke with Media Matters, criticized the paper for inviting Trump to the dinner given his recent controversial views and his potential presidential candidacy.
"People were definitely uneasy and anxious about the appearance," said one Post writer who requested anonymity. "Some people are uncomfortable about the whole dinner and participation in it. Others may be uncomfortable about Trump."
Columnist Dana Milbank took the paper to task in a column that criticized the Post for hosting Trump just days after running a stinging editorial about his now-debunked birther claims.
On Thursday, The Washington Post editorializes that Donald Trump has been campaigning on "bogus" issues and that he should "cease and desist." An article in the news pages the same day reports that the great orange charlatan's "simply wild speculation" has "almost no basis in fact."
Then, on Saturday night, Post reporters and editors, in black-tie finest, go to the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner to host their invited guests, including . . . Donald Trump.
Awkward though the Trump invitation is, it is just one of the many problems with the annual dinner and its satellite events.
He later added:
I don't fault any one host for throwing a party or any journalist for attending. Many of them are friends. There's nothing inherently wrong with savoring Johnnie Walker Blue with the politicians we cover.
But the cumulative effect is icky. With the proliferation of A-list parties and the infusion of corporate and lobbyist cash, Washington journalists give Americans the impression we have shed our professional detachment and are aspiring to be like the celebrities and power players we cover.
Contacted by Media Matters on Monday, Milbank expanded on his views, adding that several other Post staffers had agreed with him:
"Based on what people said to me after [the column] ran, several people had similar concerns. As it happened in the end, it sounds like Obama and Seth Meyers made him miserable enough that it was worthwhile. It sounds like some rough justice was had."
He also added, "To me, the whole weekend is a colossal embarrassment and that was one minor embarrassment that, with all of the others, added to a colossal embarrassment."
The Washington Post invited Donald Trump as our guest to the correspondent's dinner?http://bit.ly/fsTH2t That's embarrassing.
He later noted:
Apparently, the New York Times began sitting out the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2007. Smart.http://n.pr/fOPAAU
Klein did not respond to a request for comment.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Lally Weymouth -- Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth's mother and the sister of former publisher and current chairman Donald Graham -- was responsible for the Trump invitation.
One Post source told Media Matters that Weymouth, a former Newsweek senior editor, had usually made her requests for dinner guests through Newsweek, which was sold by The Washington Post Company last year.
The source said this may become a trend, advising Post staffers to "brace for" similar moves in the future.
A Post spokesperson declined to comment on the Trump invitation.
When Thomson Reuters announced a major reshuffling of its news operation last week, the story may have said as much about the state of one of the company's biggest competitors as it did about Reuters itself.
That's because all four of the hires to Reuters' news leadership are former top Dow Jones staffers. It's the latest chapter in the steady loss of talent from Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal since Rupert Murdoch took over. And many of the departed personnel are helping to boost the efforts of Dow Jones' biggest rivals -- Reuters, Bloomberg, and The New York Times.
Even before Murdoch's News Corp. finalized the purchase of Dow Jones in late 2007, concerns arose in and out of the news operation that his conservative bent and business strategy could slant coverage or, at least, hurt quality.
In interviews with Media Matters, many of the dozens to flee the Journal and Dow Jones in the past three and half years say the push for shorter stories, less investigative work, and -- at times -- a subtle nudge for more business-friendly stories has made it a worse place to work and resulted in a diminished editorial product.
"Everyone who could leave the Journal and get a good job has done so," said one former Journal scribe now at Bloomberg. "If it had been a better time in the industry, I think you would have seen more."
A former Pulitzer Prize winner at the Journal who left for another major news outlet said fears of Murdoch's impact helped drive him out.
"I was open to leaving partly because of him. I wasn't happy about it. I objected to him on principle. Fox News has a bad reputation. What he had done to the London Times, I had seen criticism of that. The New York Post is not a shining beacon of journalism," the writer said. "He commented a lot about that he didn't like newspapers that competed for prizes. There was a lot of worry at the time that his business agenda would influence coverage. Inside it was seen as a terrible shotgun marriage."
The speculation about Dow Jones departures was raised again last week when Thomson Reuters announced a management change that included four top former Dow Jones journalists, all of whom left since Murdoch's takeover was announced.
* Paul Ingrassia, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and former president of Dow Jones Newswires, who started at the company in 1977 and was among the first top executives to leave in 2007 after word of Murdoch's purchase became public. He told Reuters at the time: "There just didn't seem to be an appropriate place for me in the company," later adding that he did not see "any role that really excited me" at Dow Jones. Ingrassia has been named deputy editor-in-chief overseeing news content creation at Reuters.
* Jim Gaines, who most recently served as managing editor of News Corp's online publication The Daily. Gaines, who becomes ethics, standards and innovation editor at Thomson Reuters, left The Daily after only three months.
* Stuart Karle, former general counsel to The Wall Street Journal who was fired in 2008, becomes chief operating officer for Thomson Reuters news division.
* Reginald Chua spent 16 years at the Journal before leaving in 2009. He joins Reuters as data editor.
James O'Keefe has made a name for himself by using hidden video recordings to promote his agenda.
But he apparently doesn't like to be interviewed on camera himself.
After addressing a crowd of some 200 Tea Party members in New Jersey at the group's state convention Saturday in East Windsor -- in which he mentioned his controversial Planned Parenthood stings - O'Keefe declined to be interviewed on camera when approached by Media Matters for America.
Despite several requests for a comment on the Planned Parenthood controversy, O'Keefe refused to go on camera, then walked away.
The incident comes a month after O'Keefe barred the Asbury Park Press from video recording a speech he gave in Keyport, N.J., on March 17 before another Tea Party group.