Journalism veterans and ethics experts are criticizing Fox News' Bret Baier for treating as credible the false claim that President Barack Obama might not have been born in the United States, with one experienced news person calling his recent coverage of the issue "a complete abandonment of integrity and responsibility."
Baier, often viewed as among the more credible news people at Fox News, reported in a news brief Monday night that Arizona Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett threatened to remove Obama's name from the Arizona ballot if Hawaii officials didn't prove to his satisfaction that Obama was born in Hawaii.
Baier stated: "Bennett says he is not, quote 'a birther' but wants to clear up the issue for concerned Arizonans." But Baier failed to "clear up the issue" for Fox's viewers by stating outright that President Obama was, in fact, born in Hawaii, as indicated by his birth certificate and a contemporaneous newspaper announcement of his birth.
This marked at least the third time this year that Baier reported on developments in the debunked 'birther' movement without providing this crucial context.
By contrast, Fox News' own Shepard Smith stated in 2011: "Well, he has produced a birth certificate. It shows his mother gave birth to him in Hawaii. It is stamped and sealed by the state of Hawaii. It is confirmed, and Fox News can confirm the president of the United States is a citizen of the United States, period."
In a radio interview Tuesday Bennett stated he had withdrawn the threat and told listeners: "If I embarrassed the state, I apologize." The Arizona Republic reported that a "Hawaii official sent Bennett's office verification of birth for President Obama on Tuesday, according to both Bennett and Hawaii officials."
Baier did not respond to several requests for comment.
Several veteran journalists and media critics criticized Baier for his reporting on the subject.
"Whatever the motivation of Arizona's secretary of state it is a complete abandonment of integrity and responsibility for any news gatherer or disseminator not to ask the questions necessary to put a report on the secretary of state's actions in a context that would allow the reader or viewer of the report to make a decision on how he or she can use the information," said Bill Kovach, co-founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief of The New York Times. "In this case there is a rich history on the subject that raises deep and serious question about the motivation of anyone questioning President Obama's qualification for holding office including his citizenship and matters surround the time and place of his birth. To ignore this rich history of facts is irresponsible."
Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former executive editor of The Miami Herald, cited Baier's error of omission.
"An error of omission is the more insidious error because it typically escapes being corrected," Fiedler said in an email. "Nothing in his report is inaccurate. The problem lies in Baier's failure to include one additional fact: that, in due regard for the laws of Hawaii, the president has released an official copy of his birth certificate stating as legal fact that his mother gave birth to him in Honolulu. The state of Hawaii accepts this. The U.S. State Department accepts this."
Geraldo Rivera called himself "the conscience of Fox and the rest of the cable news world" when asked Tuesday about his objections to the use of the terms "illegals" and "aliens" in reference to undocumented immigrants.
He also added that he has made his opposition to such phrases "very, very clear" to Fox employees "from top to bottom," but stopped short of any further direct criticism of the network.
"If I'm going to be the conscience of Fox and the rest of the cable news world, then it is a role that I enthusiastically embrace," he told Media Matters during an appearance at a WABC Radio job fair in New York City.
His comments came in response to a question about a May 4 online column Rivera wrote for Fox News Latino, in which he denounced the use of certain terms to describe immigrants, especially "aliens" and "illegals."
In the column, Rivera took news outlets, including Fox, to task for using such terms, writing:
Like the words 'Jew' or 'slob' or 'slut', the phrase 'illegal alien' has the elegance of being harsh, but defensible, if accurate. Although it can be used as a cutting reference, it can still be uttered in polite company without fear of raising many eyebrows, especially among those who feel similarly negative about the individual being described.
Asked Tuesday if he had raised the issue with Fox executives, Rivera said, "I've talked to all my colleagues, everyone knows my feelings, from top to bottom. I think the combination of those two pejoratives, 'illegal' and 'aliens,' is really a way to demean people, to separate people. I've made my feelings very, very clear to my colleagues at Fox."
Rivera's complaints have as yet fallen on deaf ears. The "illegals" slur is regularly used on Fox's "straight news" and opinion programming and websites. The week before Rivera published his column, his Fox colleagues Bill O'Reilly, Tucker Carlson, and Mike Huckabee all defended such rhetoric in separate segments criticizing what O'Reilly termed the "crazy" opposition to the term by the "far left."
In fact, the same day Rivera published his column, The O'Reilly Factor guest host Laura Ingraham re-aired the segment in which O'Reilly was "taking on that far left campaign that wants to ban the word "illegal" when it comes to -- I'm saying it, wait - illegal aliens." Earlier in that same broadcast, Ingraham hosted Rivera to discuss a woman who brought her child into a tanning salon with her and a lethal hazing case at a Florida college.
Rivera credited Fox for letting him make his views clear on the air, even if the network would not ban the use of such phrases.
"And the great thing though, in fairness to Fox, they let me say and they let me publish that and, you know, I say it on the air as well."
Model legislation supported by the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council that would make it illegal for private citizens to conduct stings exposing illegal gun sales is being criticized by veteran investigative reporters and media law experts who say it could negatively impact undercover journalists who report on such activities.
"This law appears to create a shield for illegal conduct. We would be very concerned as investigative reporters with any attempt to criminalize legitimate reporting. Reporters don't go out and somehow force gun dealers to make these sales," said Stephen Engelberg, managing editor at ProPublica.org, the Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporting site. "The illegal activity is the sale of the guns, not the failure to flash a press badge for the sale of the gun."
The so-called "Honesty in Purchasing Firearms" bill was presented in August 2011 by NRA lobbyist Tara Mica to ALEC's since-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The task force adopted it as model legislation.
The bill states, in part, that:
Any person who knowingly solicits, persuades, encourages or entices a licensed dealer or private seller of firearms or ammunition to transfer a firearm or ammunition under circumstances which the person knows would violate the laws of this state or the United States is guilty of a felony.
The bill also makes it illegal to intentionally give a licensed firearm dealer or private seller "materially false information with intent to deceive the dealer or seller about the legality of a transfer of a firearm or ammunition." Violators are punished with up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
The NRA has explicitly stated that such legislation, which has been adopted in several states, is intended to target undercover stings by gun violence prevention activists seeking to shine a light on illegal private sellers.
Those efforts typically involve private dealers selling firearms to undercover activists after those individuals tell the buyer they don't think they could pass a federal background check. Such checks are not required for the transfer of firearms by private sellers, only federal firearms licensees, but it is illegal for anyone to sell a firearm if they have reason to believe the buyer can't legally own the weapon.
Critics contend the proposed law could block undercover reporters who seek to purchase weapons in this manner in an effort to expose the criminal practice.
Earlier this year NBC national investigative reporter Jeff Rossen engaged in such a sting and produced an extensive report for Today which the network said "exposes how simple it is for criminals and even terrorists to purchase deadly weapons in public places - with no questions asked."
"It's ill-guided, or misguided or worse," said Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, which advises media outlets on legal issues, when asked about the bill. "It might also provide some basis for a constitutional challenge to such a bill if it were enacted in that it is intended to single out the press and those with a particular perspective on illegal gun sales."
She later added, "The whole notion is that if we can make it unlawful to show and tell, then no one will ever know about it. It is an extraordinary effort and I believe it is a desperate one when you have to penalize those who would make public unlawful acts; it is a pretty desperate measure."
The former chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council's recently disbanded Elections and Public Safety Task Force said most of the committee's work on voting and gun issues probably will not continue elsewhere within ALEC, but said some could be pursued if they have ties to economic issues.
"The criminal justice area has been one where we have had consensus in doing the kinds of things we're doing with justice re-investment and with the things like our smart on crime initiatives and those things I hope don't get damaged by these actions going on now to break up what we've been able to put together," said Republican Texas State Rep. Jerry Madden, former chair of the committee.
Madden made the comments following the announcement last week that ALEC would disband the committee after it drew complaints for its role in promoting NRA-backed gun laws and voter restrictions. ALEC says it will now refocus on economic legislation.
The Christian Post reported earlier this week that Madden said ALEC planned to pursue many of the same issues elsewhere within the organization:
Republican State Rep. Jerry Madden of Texas chairs the Public Safety Task Force and although he is disappointed the committee is disbanding, he said many of the issues will be transferred to other committees.
"ALEC's decision won't impact the important issues we've worked on," Madden told The Christian Post. "But I will say this, these groups are targeting ALEC because when conservatives get together, we influence state and federal policy in a major way and these groups are scared of us - and should be."
Contacted by Media Matters on Wednesday, Madden said most of the gun and voting issues previously targeted by his committee will likely not be pursued as ALEC continues. But he hinted that some might have ties to economic concerns that would make them valid subjects to target
The chief executive of a leading Jewish policy organization is condemning Fox News president Roger Ailes for reportedly urging his hosts to push the false claim that Jewish philanthropist George Soros aided the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Alan van Capelle, CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, criticized Ailes following a report today that Ailes had emailed Fox host Bill O'Reilly suggesting he promote the false claim about Soros. Van Cappelle said that those emails indicate "the hate at Fox starts at the top."
According to a story on Gawker, which obtained the emails:
On November 1, 2010, Ailes sent an email to Bill O'Reilly and his producer David Tabacoff. It contained a partial transcript from a 12-year-old 60 Minutes profile of George Soros in which Soros, a Jew, acknowledged that he posed as a Christian under the Nazi regime and helped confiscate property from other Jews being shipped off to death camps.
The emails indicate Ailes received the transcript from Mitchell Kweit, Fox's vice president for news research and strategic information, in an email titled "Soros No Nazi Guilt," and forwarded it to O'Reilly and Tabacoff with the note, "FYI. This guy has no conscience."
In reality, as a fourteen-year-old boy in occupied Hungary, Soros was hidden from the Nazis by a Christian family. The man hiding Soros was assigned to go inventory the estate of a wealthy Jewish family and brought Soros along to protect him. Soros himself was never part of any property confiscation.
O'Reilly's producer Tabacoff replied to Ailes with a single word: "ugly." Ailes responded by asking, "Do you think you guys will use it or should I give it to someone else?"
That someone else was likely Glenn Beck. The following evening during the 5 p.m. hour of his show, Beck promoted a special about Soros. Beck referred to the billionaire philanthropist as a "puppet master" and questioned his Jewish identity. Earlier that day on his radio show, Beck said Soros "saw people into gas chambers."
Beck's "special," which was broadcast a week later, included the information Ailes forwarded to O'Reilly. Beck claimed Soros "had to help the government confiscate the lands of his fellow Jewish friends and neighbors." On his radio show Beck went even further, saying that Soros helped "send the Jews" to "death camps." His comments were widely condemned by Jewish leaders.
"It's obvious that Glenn Beck could not have carried on his insane tirades against George Soros without the support of Roger Ailes, so these emails really just confirm what common sense tell us - the hate at Fox News starts at the top," van Capelle told Media Matters in a statement Thursday.
"George Soros lost family members in the Holocaust. As a 13 year old boy he survived because his father arranged for him to be hidden with a non-Jewish family willing to take an enormous risk to do the right thing. Six decades later Roger Ailes and Glenn Beck exploited these circumstances to call Soros a Nazi-collaborator. It's a characterization that speaks volumes about Ailes and Beck, and says nothing at all about George Soros."
Bend the Arc was formed in April 2012 from the merger of Jewish Funds for Justice and the Progressive Jewish Alliance.
|NRO contributor Robert Weissberg (left)|
at American Renaissance conference
with "pro-White" radio host James Edwards
and editor Jared Taylor.
In a post last night at NRO, Rich Lowry announced that Weissberg "will no longer be posting" at National Review due to his appearance at the American Renaissance conference:
Unbeknowst to us, occasional Phi Beta Cons contributor Robert Weissberg (whose book was published a few years ago by Transaction) participated in an American Renaissance conference where he delivered a noxious talk about the future of white nationalism. He will no longer be posting here. Thanks to those who brought it to our attention.
National Review, which recently severed its relationship with writer John Derbyshire for a column in which he advised parents to teach their children to be wary of blacks, has another contributor who may draw similar scrutiny.
In March, National Review Online contributor Robert Weissberg spoke at the annual conference of the magazine American Renaissance, described as a "white supremacist journal" by the Anti-Defamation League. Reportedly proposing "A Politically Viable Alternative to White Nationalism," Weissberg described to the audience of 150 an "enclave" solution in which zoning laws and other methods could be used to create "Whitopias" in America.
Weissberg, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois, is a regular contributor to National Review Online, having written 10 posts for its Phi Beta Con blog on education, the most recent coming within the last week.
During his speech at the conference, Weissberg discussed how to keep "Whitopias" white and the positives of "maintaining whiteness," according to the American Renaissance website:
Prof. Weissberg argued that an "80 percent solution" would be one that enforced the "First-World" standards of excellence and hard work that attract and reward whites. He pointed out that there are still many "Whitopias" in America and that there are many ways to keep them white, such as zoning that requires large houses, and a cultural ambiance or classical music and refined demeanor that repels undesirables. This approach to maintaining whiteness has the advantage that people can make a living catering to whites in their enclaves.
Prof. Weissberg went on to argue that liberals are beyond reason when it comes to race, that explaining the facts of IQ or the necessity of racial consciousness for whites "is like trying to explain to an eight-year-old why sex is more fun than chocolate ice cream."
Other speakers at the conference include James Edwards, known for his "pro-white" radio show, Political Cesspool, and the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the white nationalist American Third Position party, Mervin Miller and Virginia Abernathy.
Last Thursday, longtime National Review writer Derbyshire published a piece for Taki's Magazine that urged parents to teach their children to, among other things, not "attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks." The piece was swiftly condemned across the ideological spectrum; on Saturday night National Review Editor Rich Lowry announced that Derbyshire could no longer write for National Review. Lowry did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Weissberg's standing with National Review Tuesday morning.
Weissberg spoke with Media Matters Monday evening about his views and American Renaissance involvement, first noted at LittleGreenFootballs.com.
Asked why he would appear at an event sponsored by American Renaissance, Weissberg defended the group.
"It really is, it's not a white supremacist, as far as I'm concerned. There are probably people in the organization who are white supremacists, okay. There are probably people in the Democratic party and the Republican party who are also, okay," he said. "But I would not tar an organization by singling out a few members who have odd extreme political views and then labeling the organization as endorsing those views. The problem, if I may digress here a little bit, I am a member of several organizations, sort of conservative, ranging from AR, which is, to much more respectable things and the thing about AR is that they cannot control who shows up. You walk in the door, or you pay your whatever it is, $75 convention fee, and you are part of the crowd, that's it."
When Cumulus Media launches its new Mike Huckabee radio show on April 9 it will not be broadcasting on the company's largest station in its largest market, WABC in New York City.
Instead, Huckabee will broadcast on competing WOR Radio in New York, and in a delayed format, according to Joe Bilotta, president and CEO of Buckley Radio, which owns WOR Radio.
Cumulus Media has billed Huckabee's show as a direct competitor to Rush Limbaugh's broadcast, and their ownership of more than 500 radio stations gives them a strong starting position.
But Limbaugh cannot be replaced on his flagship station until his contract with WABC expires. That will be sometime in 2013, according to Cumulus, which declined to reveal an exact date. Bilotta said he expects Huckabee to be broadcast on WOR at least until that contract runs its course.
"Nobody has contacted us about taking Rush Limbaugh [On WOR] at the end of the [WABC] term," Bilotta said.
Speculation has arisen that Cumulus would remove Limbaugh and replace him with Huckabee as soon as his contract is up.
"You can bet WABC, New York, owned by Cumulus, will dump Limbaugh the moment they are able to clear their contract restrictions," Jerry Del Colliano, a veteran radio industry expert, wrote in his daily subscription newsletter on March 22.
WABC and Cumulus declined to comment on the issue Monday.
The National Rifle Association's longtime Florida lobbyist acknowledged Monday that the organization helped draft Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which critics have dubbed "Kill at Will" in the wake of its connection to the Trayvon Martin case in that state.
Deceptively identified by its supporters as the "Castle Doctrine" (the term for the common law principle to defend one's home from intruders), the 2005 law states that civilians in any place they have a legal right to be, public or private, need not retreat in the face of what they perceive as threats but may instead use deadly force and be immune from prosecution, regardless of where the events occur.
"The NRA participated in drafting the Castle Doctrine and supporting it through the process," Marion Hammer told Media Matters. Hammer was president of the NRA from 1995 to 1998, remains a member of its board, and is a longtime Florida lobbyist for the group.
On February 26, Martin was returning from a local 7-Eleven to the apartment of his father's fiancée when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man carrying a concealed handgun who acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer in the gated community. According to recordings, Zimmerman called 911 to report Martin as a "real suspicious guy" and "a black male" with "his hand in his waistband," then left the car to pursue the youth against the dispatcher's recommendation.
A struggle followed, ending with Zimmerman shooting and killing Martin. Police have said that because Zimmerman stated that he had acted in self-defense, he could not be arrested under the "Stand Your Ground" law, while experts have stated that the statute may prevent Zimmerman's prosecution. This has resulted in a public outcry and a Department of Justice investigation.
"Most legislation is written by lobbyists, legislators and bill-drafters," Hammer said. "In most cases, legislation comes about as a result of some action that causes legislators to believe that there is a need for remedial legislation. NRA did help draft the Castle Doctrine Law and [former Florida state]Senator [Durell] Peaden was the one that came to us and said we have a bad situation here and we need to do something about it."
In 2005, Florida Today reporter Paul Flemming reported on the "Stand Your Ground" legislation before it was passed, writing that the NRA "wrote the bill."
Asked again last week about the NRA's role, Flemming -- now at the Tallahassee Democrat and still covering the statehouse - reiterated that statement.
"There is no doubt about it. Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist here, former president of the NRA wrote the legislation and she would tell you so," Flemming told Media Matters.
Asked how he discovered that the NRA had co-written the legislation, Flemming stated: "She told me, I talked to her. I speak to Marion and certainly spoke to Sen. Peaden regularly. The observation is that they have their legislative priorities every year and that was one." He added, "All of the gun laws that come through the Florida legislature, she writes."
Hammer recalled that the law came about after an incident following Hurricane Ivan in 2004 in which 77-year-old James Workman shot an intruder who broke into his RV after the deadly storm. Months before the statute was passed, prosecutors declined to press charges against Workman, saying he had legally acted in self-defense.
"Yes, we helped," Hammer said. "Sen. Peaden and I had a conversation, he was outraged at what had happened and ... they had not decided whether to charge this man. He says, 'what are we going to do about it?' I said 'we can work on some legislation to deal with this issue.' It is not an uncommon problem."
She added, "he came to us, we helped draft it, he took it, he put it in the bill drafting, it came out of bill drafting, it came through the process, it passed."
Asked if the final version differed much from the original bill she helped draft, Hammer said: "I don't remember. I know that we supported the legislation. If the bill did not do what the people of the state of Florida needed to do, it would not have passed."
Hammer did note that she does not believe the law applies to the Zimmerman case.
Contacted by Media Matters, Sen. Peaden confirmed that the NRA "participated," in crafting the law, but said he wrote the law.
Asked to specify how Hammer was involved, Peaden said, "I don't remember, that was seven years ago. They're lobbyists, they lobby laws and things like that."
Rep. Dennis Baxley, who co-sponsored the law in the Florida House of Representative, declined to comment on the legislation, his office said Monday.
Flemming also described Hammer and the NRA as playing a major part in writing other pro-gun laws in Florida.
"She is a very powerful lobbyist in the state house in Tallahassee and they pick a number of priorities in the legislature to go after," Flemming explained. "One was a couple of years ago, guns at work, they had the concealed carry previous to that and that year, in 2005, they wanted to take on the Castle Doctrine."
Flemming later added, "There was a bill last year, more recent memory, sponsored by the guy who now holds Durell's seat in the state senate, Greg Evers, to prohibit doctors from asking patients if they owned guns or not. That again was an NRA-sponsored, Marion Hammer-written piece of legislation."
Veteran journalists and media ethicists say Fox News failed to adequately respond to contributor Dick Morris' attempt to auction off a tour of Fox studios at a Republican fundraiser, with several calling for his suspension.
Earlier this week, Media Matters reported that Morris had been paid to speak at an event for the Republican Party of Lake County, Florida, and had auctioned himself off for the group's benefit as a personal tour guide for a visit to Fox News in New York.
Bill Shine, the network's executive vice president of programming, subsequently reached out to TVNewser to state that Fox had "reprimanded" Morris and that the tour had been canceled.
But the network has apparently taken no further action against Morris, a paid Fox contributor who has a long history of conflicts of interest related to his Fox appearances. The day after Shine told TVNewser Morris had been reprimanded, he appeared on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor.
Fox's response drew criticism from news veterans and media critics, who argued that Morris' offense tarnished Fox's reputation and should have resulted in more severe punishment.
"What does it take to suspend Morris?" said David Zurawik, television critic for the Baltimore Sun. "To me, it is crazy that they don't either suspend him or kick him off the air for good. Is there anybody in the media you can think of who has less of an ethical compass? You have to ask yourself, why do they let him get away with this? He is really a sleazy operative."
Zurawik, who teaches media ethics at Goucher College in Baltimore and has previously defended Fox News from criticism, also questioned the impact on the network's credibility to continue having Morris on the air.
"The larger issue is I really do think this hurts Fox in this regard. They like to present Bret Baier as the face of who they are. Morris, I really think, in many ways is the face of Fox," Zurawik said. "He is a dirty political operative intensely partisan with a history of alliances that on a good day would be called sleazy. And yet they keep putting this guy on the network. I would urge people, don't think of Bret Baier, think of Dick Morris."
Eric Deggans, media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, also expected stiffer punishment for Morris.
Cumulus Media Networks sees the recent controversy surrounding Rush Limbaugh as providing a "real opportunity" for its new Mike Huckabee radio program to succeed.
In a media conference call Monday, Cumulus Media, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Lewis Dickey was asked how the firestorm following Limbaugh's misogynistic attacks on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke would affect the company's earnings. Cumulus currently carries Limbaugh on 35 of its 570 stations.
In response, Dickey acknowledged that the advertiser exodus from Limbaugh's program has caused the company "logistical difficulties" as companies demanded that their ads be pulled from the show. But Dickey went on to say that the controversy would be "very helpful" to subsidiary Cumulus Media Networks in their effort to launch The Mike Huckabee Show, scheduled to debut April 2 in the same time slot as Limbaugh on 110 radio stations.
"There's obviously some pluses and minuses associated with all of this," said Dickey. "But on the plus side, it's going to really be very helpful to us with our new show launch."
Dickey first stated that the scrutiny of Limbaugh for his comments about Fluke - calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" - had affected Cumulus in a negative way.
The Cumulus CEO said that the company had "had some logistical issues, primarily in swapping out network spots in the ABC News casts that go in there." He added, "We've been working with our advertising partners on a very constructive basis to accommodate them wherever necessary."
So far, more than 100 advertisers have distanced themselves from Limbaugh and at least two radio stations have dropped his program since he first made the comments, despite two widely-criticized attempts at apologies.
Dickey, however, also seemed optimistic that Limbaugh's problems could be an opportunity for Cumulus's new Huckabee program, which he said was intended to compete directly with the radio giant.
"[W]e've also seen a real opportunity with this in the marketplace to talk about our new show that will compete head to head with Rush, which is the Mike Huckabee show," Dickey said. "And we're launching that next month and it will be positioned again with our affiliates as 'more conversation and less confrontation.'"