Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff expressed regret for paying columnists on multiple occasions to write articles favorable to his clients.
During a recent interview with Media Matters while promoting his new book, Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist (WND Books 2011), Abramoff said in the past he would find columnists who agreed with his positions and pay them to "place" articles in newspapers.
"Normally what that means in a lobbying context is that you have a friendly writer who is somebody that the major papers are willing to publish and you get them to focus on your issue and write a piece about it," Abramoff said in a phone interview, later adding, "It just happened when it had to happen. When it did, we would find somebody who agreed with us, a writer, and we'd usually pay them to do it, but they would be in charge of getting it placed. And that probably still goes on. I can't imagine it doesn't go on."
Abramoff said he paid for columns on maybe a half-dozen occasions in several major newspapers. He also said the newspapers themselves were likely unaware of the financial arrangement.
He said the media "was a tool in lobbying, and that's the way lobbyists view the media. That you try as best you can to keep them out of your hair, use them where you can to spin your issue, and otherwise keep them at a distance."
Abramoff also stressed that the writers paid to push his agenda were always columnists or op-ed writers, never reporters:
"I'd find a writer who was sympathetic to the issue, I wouldn't approach a writer who disagreed with me or was neutral. I'd find somebody who was passionate about this and we'd try to get them focused on it, get them some money if they needed money or they wanted to be paid for it," Abramoff explained. "A lot of these writers write for pay, they write columns and get paid by their papers. ... So we would pay them, and their job would be to get the article placed. Rather simple. It didn't always work, by the way. They weren't always able to get them placed. But generally they could."
Asked if he ever tried to pay a news reporter to write something sympathetic, he said, "Nah. Most of the time we stayed away from reporters. Lobbyists don't like to hang out with reporters, at least lobbyists who are prudent."
Abramoff confirmed two specific monetary relationships involving writers Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara, who were quoted in a 2005 BusinessWeek story as having been paid by Abramoff.
Journalism veterans and media ethicists are criticizing Fox News and commentator Jim Pinkerton for failing to disclose that Pinkerton was being paid to partner with Michele Bachmann on her book while regularly speaking about the presidential campaign on Fox.
Among the critics is Fox News contributor Marvin Kalb.
"I believe in transparency and if Jim Pinkerton was talking about [Bachmann's] campaign on Fox News as a Fox News contributor it should have been pointed out to viewers that he was part of this campaign," said Kalb, former host of NBC's Meet the Press and a 30-year television news veteran. "I don't understand why this had to be a secret connection."
The reaction follows the disclosure -- first reported by Politico's Ben Smith -- that Pinkerton spent June, July and August 2011 as a paid collaborator on a book with Bachmann. Pinkerton did not tell Fox viewers about his role in the book while regularly appearing on Fox News Watch.
Pinkerton told Media Matters that his Fox News "superiors" knew of his secret arrangement and approved of it. He declined to name the superiors.
Pinkerton also said he had "zero regrets" about keeping his part in the book secret from Fox viewers, saying he always disclosed that his wife, a former Bachmann campaign chief of staff, was working for Bachmann.
David Zurawik, media critic for The Baltimore Sun, finds hypocrisy in Pinkerton being secretive while appearing on Fox News Watch, a media criticism program.
"All the dishonesty is multiplied by him doing this on a media review show," Zurawik said. "First of all, a media review show is the last place a guy who tries to shade his conflicts of interest this way and keep necessary information from viewers should be. And if Fox News knew, it tells you what management there thinks of telling the truth on such shows."
He later stated: "If Fox knew and did allow this, it gives lie to all of their P.R. about how unfair it is to call them biased. They can trot Bret Baier out all they want, but if they allow this kind of dishonest behavior, they are not an honest news operation that citizens should trust."
Bill Kovach, founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and former New York Times Washington, D.C., bureau chief, called the actions "deceitful."
Fox News contributor James Pinkerton confirmed that he was paid to "partner" with Michele Bachmann on her new book, but said he did not disclose his role in the project at the request of Bachmann and her publisher.
Pinkerton also revealed that Fox News knew of his arrangement from the start and approved of his keeping it from viewers.
"I was bound by a confidentiality agreement. They said, 'Don't tell anybody,' I said, 'Okay.' I told my superiors at Fox and they knew," Pinkerton said Monday. "I helped on the book from June, July and August, I helped, in a collaborator sense. ... I helped as a collaborator to her. She was busy on the road, so she would have thoughts and tell me things and I would try and help put them together."
Pinkerton is a regular panelist on Fox News' media criticism show and has frequently discussed Bachmann and the other presidential candidates.
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Michele Bachmann hired former speechwriter and domestic policy adviser to the first President Bush and to President Reagan, Jim Pinkerton, to help write her forthcoming memoir, "Core of Conviction," POLITICO has learned.
Contacted by Media Matters Monday evening, Pinkerton confirmed he had collaborated on the book, saying he is mentioned in acknowledgements as "research and writing partner."
Pinkerton said he had "zero regrets" about keeping his part in the book secret from Fox viewers, saying he always disclosed that his wife, a former Bachmann campaign chief of staff, was working for Bachmann.
"I chose not to [disclose his part in the book] because I wanted to protect the confidentiality of the book, although I told my [Fox] superiors," he said. "Every time Bachmann came up, I said that my wife was working for the campaign, and I was making it clear that I had an interest, as it were, in the Bachmann campaign, through my wife's work."
Asked why he did not disclose his book connection, Pinkerton said: "I felt that, I felt the need to keep the book confidential at the request of all parties involved."
The Wall Street Journal has not decided if it will form a partnership with Fox Business similar to the newspaper's current arrangement with CNBC when that deal ends next year, the Journal's top editor tells Media Matters.
"We haven't decided anything on it," Journal managing editor Robert Thomson said during a brief interview last week. Asked directly if a deal similar to the CNBC arrangement would be of interest to the Journal, he said, "not necessarily."
Since News Corp. purchased Dow Jones in late 2007, speculation has arisen among its employees that the Journal would align itself with Fox Business once the Journal's current agreement for many of its reporters and content to appear first on CNBC ends in December 2012.
A Journal spokesperson declined this week to reveal details of the CNBC arrangement, first forged in 1998, other than to say it ends in December 2012. She stated in an email:
We don't publicly discuss the nature of agreements.
But a source familiar with the agreement who requested anonymity said it includes a content-sharing arrangement in which CNBC receives advanced access to certain financial-related original reporting and data from all Dow Jones business outlets so that CNBC can report it simultaneously.
CNBC also pays a fee to Dow Jones for the content based on ad revenue, according to the source, who said it has averaged some $15 million annually in recent years.
In addition, CNBC has the right of first refusal to have Journal reporters appear on its network to discuss business news before appearing on other networks, including on Fox Business.
When asked if the Journal would forge a similar deal with Fox Business once the CNBC arrangement ends, Thomson said:
"Not necessarily. Because, in part, you look at what's happening with WSJ Live and the amount of video we are doing ourselves. The possible permutations are far more than that presumption allows."
Asked if there could be an outcome where the Journal is not aligned with Fox Business as it has been with CNBC, Thomson again left the door open.
During an appearance in New York Thursday night, Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson said that former Wall Street Journal Europe publisher Andrew Langhoff did "the honorable thing" by resigning.
During a panel discussion at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism -- which included Bloomberg BusinessWeek chairman Norman Pearlstine and Stephen Adler, editor-in-chief of Reuters -- Thomson was asked about recent News Corp. troubles.
Among the issues is the resignation of Langhoff, who stepped down this week following concerns over two articles published about a company with contractual links to the paper's circulation department.
In addition, The Guardian broke more information about the situation, reporting:
The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channelling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal's true circulation.
The bizarre scheme included a formal, written contract in which the Journal persuaded one company to co-operate by agreeing to publish articles that promoted its activities, a move which led some staff to accuse the paper's management of violating journalistic ethics and jeopardising its treasured reputation for editorial quality.
Responding to questions from panel moderator Stephen B. Shepard, dean of the graduate school, Thomson prefaced his statement by saying that "because it's the subject of legal things, one has to be careful about what words one uses."
"But there was the perception of pressure," said Thomson, adding, "The lesson of it is that no matter how far-flung -- and this was a supplement for The Wall Street Journal Europe -- there has to be a very clear line between church and state. That line simply cannot be breached, and creating a circumstance where even the appearance of a breach can take place is unacceptable. And so ... Langhoff did the honorable thing and resigned."
Thomson said that the situation surrounding Langhoff's resignation was "clearly" related to "a circulation agreement which involved bulk sales on the Continent." But he argued that "it's pretty fair to say The Wall Street Journal Europe is not the only newspaper with bulk sales on the Continent."
"But there has to be transparency," added Thomson. "There has to be ... contractual transparency, and there certainly has to be transparency for the reader -- that you cannot pay for play."
Last year, Washington Post education reporter Bill Turque made clear what he thought of how his paper's editorial board covered then-Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.
In a blog post, Turque wrote that the Post's editorial support for Rhee had been "steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring."
The item was quickly removed from the Post's website, but Turque is hardly alone in his views.
Two of the Post's journalists covering education recently shared with Media Matters their own concerns about the way the paper's editorial page has covered Rhee.
Jay Mathews, a 40-year Post scribe who writes the Class Struggle blog and a weekly column, pointed to editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao's coverage of recent allegations of potential cheating on standardized tests. Mathews noted that Armao is his former boss and praised her work on education in general, but he said that on the testing issue, he could not "understand why her reporting instincts have failed her." Mathews criticized what he called Armao's "failure to address seriously what seems to me are problems that cannot be overlooked," later adding, "Her failure to see that, I find troubling and puzzling given my great respect for her as a person and a journalist."
Valerie Strauss, who pens the Post's Answer Sheet blog, told Media Matters:
"I didn't agree with very much of the editorial stance when it came to the Rhee era. But certainly, as an editorial board, it had a right to take a stand and stick to it. That's what editorial boards do." She added, "There were times when they could have been more critical, they could have looked harder and been more even-handed about how they presented information."
Rhee's tenure at the helm of D.C.'s schools -- from 2007 to 2010 -- was contentious. She implemented a controversial reform program designed to improve achievement. She angered some parents and education officials and fired hundreds of teachers. (Rhee reportedly once invited a PBS camera crew to film her firing a principal.)
Rhee had something to show for her work -- gains in student achievement. The Post editorial page -- along with other Rhee supporters -- has pointed to rising test scores as evidence of her success.
CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik, whose recent tweets referred to Occupy Wall Street protesters as whiners and interested in "smoking weed," now regrets at least one of the postings, according to a CNN spokesperson.
Asked to respond to the tweets that have drawn criticism from media critics and journalism veterans, CNN emailed this short statement:
Alison regrets the tweet and took it down.
That statement was in reference to a Twitter exchange Kosik had in which she described the "purpose" of Occupy Wall Street protests "in 140 [characters] or less" as "bang on the bongos, smoke weed!"
Another Kosik tweet, in response to a question about the list of demands from protesters, stated: "the list of whines is too long already."
Both Twitter comments were captured by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. Kosik has removed the "smoke weed" posting, but the "whines" item remained up as of Friday afternoon.
Several media writers and news instructors said Kosik crossed the line when she offered such opinions on Twitter while also covering the growing story as a CNN reporter.
"What is her job? Is she a straight news reporter?" Eric Deggans, media critic of the St. Petersburg Times, asked sarcastically. "And if she is considered a straight news reporter, it crosses the line because she is revealing contempt for the protesters before she even gets there."
Media critic David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun said Kosik needs to understand the power of her tweets.
"It's public record. You can say 'I'm doing it in a different forum, it is not in the story or the post or the report,' but you are still making a public utterance about this story," Zurawik said. "I think this is really a management problem at CNN New York. I don't think their standards are there. You have what is really an important story, literally on your doorstep and you go out and make fun of it."
Radio Host Neal Boortz's attempt to compare President Obama's presidency to the tragedy of September 11 drew harsh criticism from several relatives of people who died on that day.
Boortz, appearing on Fox News' Hannity program Thursday night, stated: "Barack Obama is a bigger disaster to this country than 9-11."
For some of those who lost loved ones that day, the comparison is an insult.
"One of the most unsettling aspects of the aftermath of 9-11 has been the politicization of it," said Donald Goodrich, whose son, Peter, died in the attacks.
"It is a sad commentary on our democracy that the loss of nearly 3,000 innocent civilians of every political persuasion and religious conviction is used to demonize a president of this great country."
Timothy Sumner, whose brother-in-law was a firefighter killed on September 11, said he is no fan of Obama. But he criticized Boortz's comparison
"I think it's a ridiculous comment, it is so far off the topic, how can you emote from that?" Sumner said. "It is not even related to 9/11.
"I have issues with Barack Obama. But when you make comments like that, it is so over the top and out of context it is hard to do anything but laugh at the comment, it seems idiotic."
For Nancy Aronson, whose sister-in-law, Myra, was killed on September 11, the response was shock.
"Oh my God!" she said. "That's just ridiculous. It's politicizing an international tragedy. People from 53 countries died on September 11. Even linking Obama with that, it's just a non sequitur."
Herb Ouida's son, Todd, was killed in the North Tower on September 11. Ouida said the comparison to and criticism of Obama are both wrong.
Judith Miller's criticism of a Poynter Institute online course on Islamic issue reporting, which she claimed urged "political correctness," drew a harsh rebuttal from the journalism training outlet.
Kelly McBride, a Poynter senior faculty member, told Media Matters: "I think she's crazy. The course urges journalists to be smart, accurate and contextual when it comes to reporting on Islam in America. It suggests that when you are reporting about deaths caused by Islamic terrorists that you not descend into fear mongering and instead put the threat of terrorism in proper context.
"It is a sound, solid journalistic course, it's based on the values of accuracy and fairness and context and independence in minimizing harm."
At issue is an online column Miller posted at Fox News' website Friday about the free Poynter online course: Covering Islam in America.
Poynter's News University presents the course in conjunction with Washington State University and the Social Science Research Council.
Miller wrote that she took the course and objected to its suggestion that Islamic terrorism might be getting disproportionate coverage in relation to other deadly issues such as AIDS or world hunger:
The professors offer these helpful comparative death tolls to give the 9/11 death toll "some context," they say.
But the implicit message of the course seems obvious enough: 3,000 dead Americans, (and they might have looked up the actual death toll) have been over-covered. Why don't journalists spend more time covering malaria, or hunger, or especially HIV/AIDS, which the last time I checked, was hardly being ignored by the nation's media?
For that matter, why aren't the media investigating bathtub deaths, since according to "Overblown," John Mueller's attack on what he regards as the government's obsessive focus on terrorism, more Americans die in bathtub accidents each year than in terrorist attacks?
The answer should be fairly obvious to such an august institution as Poynter: just as the press covers murders rather than traffic fatalities, which far outnumber killings in America each year, it covers terrorism intensively because motive matters.
Three weeks into her new job as executive editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson is set to ratchet up the paper's 2012 campaign coverage with a big meeting this weekend.
"I am going to Washington next Sunday for a big kick-off meeting," she told Media Matters by phone this week. "We're getting a lot of our main politics reporters together in Washington to begin. We have already been knee-deep in the coverage ... We stay very much on top of what's going on. We definitely stay away from minutia, the kind of stuff that would only appeal to the hardest core political junkie. But of course, we have offerings for them as well. That's part of our audience, too."
Abramson, the former Washington bureau chief and managing editor who replaced Bill Keller on September 6, shared her views on political coverage, newsroom organization, and leading a newspaper that is both a journalistic icon and a target for claims of liberal bias.
"I do think it's a misunderstanding," she said, disputing claims that the paper's liberal editorial page bleeds into its news reporting. "And I think as an editor I've always gone out of my way to guard against reflecting any viewpoint and emphasize to our reporters that when they begin their reporting they should not have their conclusions already in mind about what the story is or what it should say. It's true that the ... Times editorials often reflect the liberal viewpoint. But I also worked for 10 years at The Wall Street Journal where the editorials reflected a very conservative viewpoint and the news report was straight at the Journal. I feel that that's what we aim to be, too."
Asked how the Times competes with other news outlets that spew slanted, inaccurate or rumor-plagued coverage, Abramson said such approaches help the Times standout.
"There is a lot of noise out there, but in some ways I think it makes The New York Times' place in the media eco-system all the more important because of our accuracy and authority and the fact that when you read it in the Times you can depend on it. I think that's why we remain the biggest newspaper web site and we have a loyal readership like no other."
She criticized the focus by some news outlets on the "minutia" of the campaign, stating: "My word for some of that news is 'scooplets.' They are not really, they are kind of evanescent."