As the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens today, some in the press have been caught up in a swoon over the former president.
Pundits from the center and the avowed left called on critics to re-examine the former president as a "good man with a good heart," while those on the right declare that "Bush is Back." Political analysts are compiling lists of "The 7 best moments of George W. Bush's presidency" and highlighting polls indicating that Bush is more popular now than he was in office. And Fox News has pulled out all the stops, lining up their Bush-administration-officials-turned-Fox-employees to sing the former president's praises.
Presidential historians and veteran reporters who covered the Bush White House are speaking out, saying that reporting on the Bush library and legacy should put his failures in their proper context.
The academics point out that while some of Bush's defenders in the press have said that the Bush legacy is a question for history, historians largely pan his tenure. And the veteran reporters who covered Bush's presidency urge that coverage of the presidential library provide a complete accounting of his tenure in office, including its many missteps.
"The press needs to take a really cold-eyed look at the circumstances ... look at the state of the country and world on Jan. 20, 2001 and eight years later," said Ed Chen, former Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg correspondent who covered the White House from 1999 to 2010. "Were mistakes made? Sure, the whole WMD fiasco ... it sure has a long way to go for anything close to a full rehabilitation."
Chen later added, "Of the three [presidents] that I covered, we have to put Bush at the bottom."
Several top presidential historians echoed Chen's low-ranking view, noting a week of positive coverage cannot erase that.
"Right now he's ranked as one of the lower presidents because of the War in Iraq and the economy tanking so he's got a long way to go to get rehabilitated," said Douglas Brinkley, a top presidential historian and author. "It is a long revisionist road up from the bottom for George W. Bush. He is ranked toward the bottom rung of presidents."
Indeed, surveys of historians regularly find Bush ranked among the worst of U.S. presidents.
Having toured the new library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Brinkley described it as having a "compassionate conservative motif" for Bush, adding, "I was surprised how much wall space was given to AIDS in Africa, marine conservation, No Child Left Behind. I got the feeling that the Bush crowd was trying to paint their president as more of a centrist than many people feel."
But Brinkley stressed that whatever positive image is being attempted this week cannot rewrite his presidency.
"I don't think it matters two weeks from now, it is a building opening and people tend to be jubilant," he said. "It's the beginning of revisionism of a presidency."
New reports that the politically conservative Koch brothers are interested in buying the Tribune Company's eight regional newspapers -- which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune -- are sparking concerns from newspaper staff members that attempts to influence the editorial process in favor of their far-right political views may follow.
Among those concerned is Clarence Page, a top Chicago Tribune columnist, who said he would oppose a takeover of the paper by David and Charles Koch because of "the fact that they seem to be coming in upfront with the idea of using a major news media as a vehicle for their political voice."
In addition to the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, the Kochs are reportedly seeking to buy The Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government. As the Times detailed, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the stratgy called for investing in the media.
And that has staffers at Tribune Company newspapers -- several of whom requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs -- nervous about the possibility that a Koch takeover could bring with it an ideological focus on the news that risks turning the papers into what one reporter calls a "conservative mouthpiece."
According to those staffers, such concerns are rampant at the papers. "Nobody I know in the newsroom would find it a happy event to have the Koch brothers owning the paper," said one longtime Chicago Tribune staffer, who suggested that the purpose of the takeover is so that the brothers can use the publications to "promulgate their political views."
"I haven't heard anyone here who has welcomed the idea of the Koch brothers... the Koch brothers, that scares people," added an LA Times scribe.
"I think we all have concerns when you think an owner might try to influence editorial content," explained Angela Kuhl, Newspaper Guild unit chair at The Baltimore Sun. "That is sort of contrary to what the newspapering business should be about, free press. You don't necessarily want owners and publishers dictating content."
It's the Kochs' explicit call for investing in the media to achieve their political end that has Kuhl worried. "I read the story that said they have a three-pronged approach to how to move the country in the way they think it should head, and one is to influence the media."
The New York Post has seen three of its supposed scoops about the Boston Marathon bombing fall apart this week. Nonetheless, their editor is unrepentant, lashing out at critics and claiming a "crystal ball" would have been necessary for the paper to publish accurate information.
In a widely criticized move, the April 18 Post front page featured the headline "Bag Men: Feds seek this duo pictured at Boston Marathon" along with a photo of two men holding bags at the event. The article reported that investigators had been "circulating photos of two men spotted chatting near the packed finish line" and also that officials "have identified two potential suspects who were captured on surveillance videos." The Post added that "it was not immediately clear if the men in the law-enforcement photos are the same men in the surveillance videos."
The paper later reported in an online story that the two men they had featured on their front page had been "cleared."
In an email to Media Matters, Post editor Col Allan claimed that when the photo was published this morning, the article stated that the FBI was only emailing the photo to other law enforcement officials and noted "there is no direct evidence linking them to the crime."
"With regard to today's front page emails containing images of the two young men were sent to law enforcement offices, federal and state, at 3pm yesterday seeking information about them," Allan said in an e-mail. "I have a copy of one of those emails sent to a regional office of the FBI. At no point did the Post state they were 'suspects.' Today it is clear they were not involved ... had you loaned us your powerful crystal ball we would have known this before the presses ran."
But, asked specifically if placing the photos on Page One was misleading because it gave the appearance the men were somehow involved, Allan stated via email:
"Common sense would suggest if the FBI emailed pictures of these men standing around the Boston marathon to law enforcement offices asking for information about them it might be newsworthy. We made no judgment about the men. We simply reported the facts. Their photos were emailed by the feds. Information about them was sought. If it is your idea that we or anyone else in the media wait until the complete truth is clear then there is little need for journalists. Only historians. "
Allan also claimed that a previous incorrect Post report on Monday, that 12 people had died in the bombing -- which has yet to be corrected - was also not the paper's fault.
"Our sources were federal authorities who have been reliable in the past," he wrote. "In this event, they and thus we, were wrong. Later Monday our reporting online and in Tuesday's paper accurately reflected the official toll...give your crystal ball a good hard polish and drop it over sometime."
The day of the bombing, the Post also reported that a Saudi national student had been "taken into custody" and was considered a "suspect." That student was also cleared of involvement. In response to questions about that story also falling apart, Allan claimed that "The Post said a Saudi student WAS detained in hospital after the bomb blast. He was not free to go. at 2 am the following morning the federal bureau of investigation raided his flat and took away several bags of material. The next day the authorities stated he was co--operating and not considered a suspect. The post would have required one of your hindsight crystal balls to have known this."
The Orange County Register's newest weekly sections on local colleges, which are being financed in part by the colleges themselves, are raising concerns about conflicts of interest and credibility from both inside and outside of the newspaper.
At issue is the financial arrangement the Santa Ana, CA, daily has with three local campuses: Chapman University; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California at Irvine.
Under an agreement reached earlier this year, the paper is publishing a separate, weekly six-page special section devoted to positive coverage of each university's news and events. Each of those sections include two columns authored by top university staffers.
In exchange, each university is paying the newspaper $275,000, supposedly for advertising that will appear in that section for one year. The sections began running on April 1.
The financial arrangement and partial control of content by the universities has some at the paper and on campus concerned.
"It does make me a little uncomfortable," said Bill Johnson, a Register columnist. "In this business, appearance is everything. Appearance-wise, it is a bit troubling. If you know people are paying for coverage does that affect the coverage? I would like to think we are way above that, writing good news to satisfy an advertiser."
Jeffrey Brody, a journalism professor at Cal State, Fullerton, and a former Register reporter, called it a "disguised advertorial."
"That's a breach of the wall between editorial and advertising of traditional newspapering," he said. "A newspaper should not be making these kinds of quid pro quo agreements. It seems that that does damage the credibility of the university."
A review of the most recent sections from April 15, 16, and 17, finds stories written by Register staffers, along with two pieces from each university's faculty or administration.
A half-page color ad for the university appears on the back page of each section.
The stories range from a review of the number of bronze busts on the Chapman campus to a report on UC-Irvine's annual "Undie Run." None of the stories could be described as critical of the school.
While newspapers often clearly label such content as "advertisement" or "advertorial," the only note related to the Register's arrangement is a small box on the inside of the page alongside the staff list stating "while the university is the section's primary advertising sponsor, all editorial decisions are independent of the university's control."
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Robert Caro criticized conservative media coverage of President Obama during an appearance in New York City, describing it as "something quite horrible" and venomous.
Caro, known for his biographies of President Lyndon Johnson, spoke during a March 29 interview at Strand Books in Manhattan conducted by New York magazine writer Frank Rich as part of promotion for the paperback version of his fourth Johnson book, The Passage of Power.
Caro, who won Pulitzer Prizes for his third Johnson book, Master of the Senate, and his 1975 book about Robert Moses, has long used newspaper and media coverage in his research about U.S. political history.
Asked by Media Matters what he thought of today's conservative media coverage given his experience with historic news accounts, Caro said there had been strong conservative news coverage of past political figures, but stressed today's approach is worse.
"I think today is something [different], the venom, the absolute venom, whatever we think is really underneath it all, it is something quite horrible," he said, later adding, "Here in New York you live in a different world. I was just giving some lectures and you know when you get out in the rest of the country you realize the depth of the anti-Obama feeling."
Caro's comments follow years of conservative media figures smearing President Obama and his family with outlandish conspiracies, regular falsehoods, trumped-up pseudoscandals, and outright attacks.
Dick Morris is working with Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus on a new television advertisement that will include Preibus seeking to attract Latino voters, Morris revealed during an appearance in New York City Thursday.
Speaking at the Poli Conference, a political consulting event for Latin American campaign professionals, Morris said the ad will feature Priebus reaching out to "those Latin Americans who've come to the United States to help us build our country, to help harvest our food, to help make our economy work and [Priebus'] message is 'welcome, we need you, you're making our country younger, more prosperous, harder working and we need you for the future.'"
According to Morris, the ad will make use of "that concept of reflecting back to people their own value and their own worth. In the advertisement he [Priebus] says, 'we honor our ancestors who took covered wagons to settle the west and brave the Indians, but you are the new pioneers, you are the new people in America doing that.' And I think that is a very, very interesting thing to do in a campaign."
Republican Party Spokesman Ryan Mahoney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ad. Asked about when it might run or where, Morris declined to offer more details.
Morris' work with the Republican National Committee is noteworthy given the implosion of Morris' stature and credibility following the 2012 election and his now infamous prediction of a "landslide" victory for Republican Mitt Romney. After the election Morris was effectively banned from appearing on Fox News, where he worked as an on-air contributor until the network declined to renew his contract in early February. Morris also brings with him a host of ethics problems -- Morris' group Super PAC for America reportedly spent significant amounts of money renting Morris' own email list in the months before the election, allowing him to simply pocket money raised by the group.
Veteran media and criminal defense attorneys agree that the Daily Caller could be subject to a possible libel or defamation lawsuit or even criminal charges if it is proven the publication paid women to lie about having sex with Sen. Robert Menendez for money.
The Daily Caller first reported in a November 1 story allegations from two anonymous women who claimed they were Dominican prostitutes who had been paid by Menendez for sex. Over the past month, the story has slowly fallen apart.
Dominican law enforcement officials have said they determined that the three women who had made allegations about Menendez had actually been paid to do so by Miguel Figueroa, a Dominican attorney who was the only named source in the original Caller report. One of the women has reportedly signed an affidavit retracting her claims and said she was paid to lie.
Last week, the head of the Dominican National Police said Figueroa had blamed the Caller for the entire debacle, claiming that someone allegedly from the publication had supposedly paid him to find prostitutes who would lie about having sex with Menendez.
The Daily Caller has strongly denied making any payments.
Nonetheless, one criminal defense attorney told Media Matters the news outlet or anyone else who paid the prostitutes for their false story could face criminal charges that might involve wire fraud.
"Suppose all of these individuals lied and they were paid to lie and the advantage in some proprietary way flows to the people who paid them and there was a communication over U.S. or U.S and foreign communications facilities, you might make out a wire fraud," said Stuart Pierson, a Washington, D.C. attorney who specializes in white collar crime and media issues. "If there is a communication involving U.S. transmission communication facilities and the purpose of this lie and fraud is to adversely affect the proprietary interest of somebody in the United States or a U.S. Citizen."
A Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment on any investigation that might be related to the reporting of the story.
Pierson and other attorneys agreed a defamation or libel civil charge is likely if it is found the Daily Caller knew the information was false, and is increased if it is found they paid someone to lie, or knew that someone was paid to lie.
Despite widespread recent criticism of the role conservative media outlets played in the 2012 election and its aftermath, most attendees at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference had a positive view of the current state of right-wing journalism.
The calls for reform of conservative media are unconvincing to journalists who have found that the current model has given them a large audience.
Mike Opelka, editor-at-large for Glenn Beck's The Blaze, said the popularity of conservative media proves that they are doing good work.
"Fox dominates the conservative cable media," he said. "We [The Blaze] are averaging 10 million uniques a month. I think it is on target for what we like. We are a center-right source and we think they like what we give them."
Dana Loesch, the conservative radio talk show host whose past work for the Breitbart family of conservative news websites helped generate appearances on CNN, Fox News and ABC News, also gave high marks to conservative outlets.
"I think they are doing a really good job," she said of her fellow right-wing media outlets. "It's a good market, I always think there is an appetite for conservative media because there are a lot of people, myself included, who think you don't get that perspective when you turn it on, CBS, NBC, the channels like that."
Their optimism comes at a time when numerous media voices, including several prominent conservatives, have raised questions about the state of conservative media following a 2012 election in which right-wing media outlets convinced their readers, viewers, and listeners that Mitt Romney was cruising towards a comfortable win over a villainous President Obama. Last week, American Conservative published an extensive piece critical of "groupthink" among "several conservative publications."
Similarly, in a February post at his influential Red State website, new Fox News contributor Erick Erickson criticized the conservative "echo chamber" for "trying so hard to highlight controversies, no matter how trivial" at the expense of basic reporting.
But these concerns, alongside a recent flurry of embarrassments (like the Breitbart.com "Friends of Hamas" debacle), were not shared by most at CPAC, who were quick to paint a rosy picture of their work in interviews with Media Matters.
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."