National Public Radio is backing away from a revised job description for its ombudsman that suggested the person in the position should avoid "passing judgment" on any errors in NPR News coverage, calling that listing "a mistake."
Earlier this week, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen highlighted a job listing for the NPR ombudsman/public editor position, which has historically reviewed and critiqued NPR's reporting. The listing asserted the role did not include "passing judgment" or providing "commentary."
In one section it stated, "The NPR Ombudsman/Public Editor focuses on fact gathering and explanation, not commentary or judgment." Another section added, "In addressing audience complaints about journalistic errors in NPR News coverage, the Ombudsman/Public Editor will gather facts and can interview key news managers. The Ombudsman/Public Editor will then explain any errors without passing judgment."
Citing the concerns of two former NPR ombudsmen, Rosen declared that the outlet had "downgraded the ombudsman position."
Following the criticism, NPR CEO Jarl Mohn issued a statement to Media Matters calling the language a "mistake":
The Ombudsman is a critically important role at NPR and the expectations of the job have not changed. The Ombudsman must be fully independent and fully transparent in order to do their job on behalf of the public. The language in the current job description about not providing commentary or passing judgment is a mistake and we are removing it. I take this position very seriously and am committed to recruiting an outstanding journalist for the job and ensuring he or she has the resources required.
Several NPR member stations had expressed concerns to Media Matters about the apparent reduction in the power of the ombudsman.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who criticized Chelsea Clinton's speaking fees as "unseemly," brings home less than half as much as the former first daughter for her own paid engagements.
American Program Bureau, one of two speaking bureaus that broker speaking appearances for Dowd, said she receives an average of $30,000 per appearance, plus travel expenses. An APB agent who requested anonymity, confirmed Dowd averages at least eight to 12 such appearances per year.
Dowd's other speaking bureau, All-American Speakers, declined to release fee information for Dowd.
This is less than half of the $75,000 Chelsea Clinton receives per event according to a previous New York Times story. That article noted that all of her fees go to the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, which "works to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment."
Dowd, who has a decades-long history of viciously criticizing President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, took on their daughter this past Sunday in a column that said there was "something unseemly" about the younger Clinton being paid to speak:
Why on earth is she worth that much money? Why, given her dabbling in management consulting, hedge-funding and coattail-riding, is an hour of her time valued at an amount that most Americans her age don't make in a year?
Dowd went on to write that if Clinton "really wants to be altruistic," she should "contribute the money to some independent charity not designed to burnish the Clinton name" or "speak for free."
Could the same be said of Dowd's own work on the paid speaking circuit? She has appeared at college campuses ranging from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to Hofstra University and the University of Rochester in the past. Her paid appearances have also spanned the likes of the Philadelphia Bar Association and Temple B'nai Abraham in Livingston, N.J.
"We don't pay all of our speakers, but in her case I am sure we did," said Dan Anderson, vice president for university relations at Elon University in Elon, N.C., where Dowd spoke in 2012.
Dowd did not respond to a request for comment seeking to determine whether she donates her speaking fees to charity.
Ads urging five major newspapers to drop George Will following his offensive column demeaning campus sexual assault victims are being sponsored by the women's rights group UltraViolet and highlight a survivor who first told her story to Media Matters.
The ads seek the removal of Will's syndicated column from the Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Orlando Sentinel, The Detroit News, and Richmond Times-Dispatch. The group has been running an online petition urging The Washington Post, Will's flagship paper, to drop him as well.
"Rape is a crime that keeps women from having equal access to essential services, like education, and addressing that is essential to equality," Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, said in a release.
At issue is Will's June 6 column that sparked outrage from women's organizations, U.S. senators, and college rape survivors for suggesting that sexual assault victims -- or people who Will decided were only claiming to be sexual assault victims -- enjoyed "a coveted status that confers privileges." To make his point, Will relied on an anecdote from a Philadelphia magazine article about a young woman from Swarthmore College, implying that he didn't believe her story qualified as an actual incident of assault.
That woman, Lisa Sendrow, spoke with Media Matters in an interview published earlier this week, stating: "I absolutely have not received any privileges from sexual assault. [Will] has clearly never experienced the fear of sexual assault ... He clearly has no idea how hard it is to sleep, to walk around, thinking at any moment this person that you live down the hall from could come out."
Since the column was published, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced it would stop running Will's column, while the Tribune Editorial Page Editor Bruce Dold declined to run the particular campus rape column, telling Media Matters it was "misguided and insensitive."
A statement from Sendrow is included in UltraViolet's press release about the ad campaign, in which she notes that survivors are "further victimized by people like George Will" when their stories are "dismissed, diminished, and brushed aside."
The ads are running online through banner advertisements and Facebook in the cities where the newspapers are located.
UltraViolet also offered the testimony of "Elizabeth B," another survivor of campus sexual assault, who said: "In my junior year of college I was assaulted by a serial rapist while walking from campus to my apartment. People from the police to other students questioned my story or made comments that suggested I was responsible. George Will's destructive column brought the pain of that trauma right back for me, and makes it even harder for survivors to come forward. He has a right to free speech but no god-given right to write a biweekly column in the Washington Post or anywhere else."
The Washington Free Beacon's claim that it's being singled out by the University of Arkansas Library for unfair treatment in its reporting on Hillary Clinton-related documents was debunked by CNN, which confirmed it followed the same rules the Free Beacon was punished for not following.
The Free Beacon was informed on June 17 by the library that its access to their archives had been suspended because Free Beacon researchers had not followed standard procedures for gaining permission to publish library documents related to Clinton back in February. The Free Beacon suggested the revocation of their access was political retribution.
But CNN officials confirmed to Media Matters that its researchers were required to fill out permission forms to first gain access to the library's collection of private documents in February related to Hillary Clinton, and later submit separate requests for approval to publish the documents on its website.
"We do have policies that are in place for all researchers and we expect all of our researchers to comply," said Laura Jacobs, associate vice chancellor for university relations for the University of Arkansas. "The idea that we would single out any researcher is false. It is unfortunate that we have been characterized as trying to stifle academic freedom. It is one of the core tenets that we take seriously. Frankly, this is a simple procedural matter."
In a story on June 20 about an interview Clinton had given in the 1980's, the Free Beacon claimed it was never told to file any forms or seek permission.
"I find that hard to believe," said Jacobs. "The process is when you come in to research in our special collection, you sit down with the research manager, you sign something saying you will comply with our policies, you tell the reading room manager materials you would like to access and it is pro forma."
In fact, the University of Arkansas Library provided Business Insider with copies of the request forms that Shawn Reinschmiedt, a GOP operative who worked with the Free Beacon to provide research for the story, signed, including an email that noted that he would be required to fill out an additional form if he wished to publish.
The Free Beacon did not comment on the forms, but told Business Insider they did not believe the University had the right to restrict publication of the documents.
"You can get materials for personal use, we will provide materials for you all day long," Jacobs added. "When you ask us to duplicate materials, if you intend to publish them you are required to complete the permission to publish form."
CNN officials on Monday confirmed CNN researchers who posted a similar story in February did file such forms and requests for permission and were granted approval.
The Chicago Tribune declined to run George Will's controversial column on sexual assault, labeling it "misguided and insensitive."
Will has been under fire following a column he wrote earlier this month about "the supposed campus epidemic of rape" and how some schools' efforts to curb the problem "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." The column sparked outrage and calls for his removal from the Washington Post by prominent women's rights groups, including the National Organization for Women and UltraViolet. Several U.S. senators have also criticized Will.
On June 18, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced it was dropping Will's column from the paper following his "offensive and inaccurate" piece.
The Tribune, one of the largest papers in the country, told Media Matters that the paper turned Will's column down after reading it.
In comments to Media Matters, Bruce Dold, editorial page editor of the Tribune, explained why his paper, which runs Will on occasion, passed on the June 7 column.
"I thought the column was misguided and insensitive," Dold told Media Matters Thursday. "We didn't publish it. Marcia Lythcott, the Op-Ed editor, made that decision and it was the right call."
The paper has no plans to abandon Will permanently, however.
"That doesn't mean we pulled Will for that week, though. We don't anchor syndicated columnists," Dold explained. "We run George Will on occasion. I checked our archives and it looks like we've run him four times in the past year. We will continue to consider him on a column by column basis, as we do with other syndicated columnists we buy."
Marriage equality advocate attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson see the media opposition to their cause softening, and believe that while conservative media "are not prepared to embrace marriage equality," they are shying away from the issue because "they think that the wave of the future is against them."
Boies and Olson garnered attention when they joined forces in 2010 to battle California's anti-marriage equality ballot measure, Proposition 8, which was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.
The duo, who had previously worked in opposition during the 2000 Bush vs. Gore case, kicked off a book tour this week to promote Redeeming the Dream, their account of the legal battle for marriage equality and the landmark ruling that struck down Proposition 8.
Prior to an event in Maplewood, N.J. Wednesday night, the lawyers-turned-authors spoke with Media Matters and said they see the media coverage of marriage equality becoming increasingly supportive, marking a notable change from even the recent past.
"The media in my view covered this issue very poorly for many years," Boies said. "The whole area of gay and lesbian rights was something that the media didn't know how to deal with, were a little uncomfortable dealing with it, didn't want in their view, to get too far out ahead of some of their readers. Because it was a sensitive issue [they] didn't cover it nearly as much as they should have."
Now, according to Boies, media figures "are beginning to feel uncomfortable opposing it ... I think there have been a number of people who you might think of as conservative commentators who have either been modestly favorable to us or silent on the issue and waiting to see."
Olson added, "We had one or two favorable Op-Ed pieces by members of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. National Review has been pretty consistently on the other side of this. Ed Whelan, who writes in the National Review is very, very strong on the other side of the issue. But a lot of the conservative press is staying away from the issue because I think they think that the wave of the future is against them. So that tells you something right there."
"I think the shift's continuing," Boies noted. "I think some of the more conservative media are sort of standing back. They are not prepared to embrace marriage equality, but I do think they see that that is the wave of the future. Remember, as much as between 75 to 80 percent of people under 30 ... liberals, conservatives ... 75 to 80 percent of those people favor marriage equality. You don't want to get crossways with that kind of demographic wave."
Media Matters has documented Fox News' lack of coverage of marriage equality court decisions since the 2013 Supreme Court rulings, with many major cases receiving less than a minute of coverage on the network.
Both Boies and Olson felt they had personally been well-received by both conservative and mainstream media outlets, and that their issue had received fair coverage.
"Lots of different media reacted in different ways, but we were received very warmly, or I was, on Chris Wallace's show, on Fox," Olson recalled. "Of course, places like MSNBC have given us more access than some of the other outlets, but the novelty of the two of us coming together have caused curiosity. I'd say we were fairly favorably well-received in most places."
Organizations that monitor reporter access and safety overseas are harshly criticizing a Fox News reporter's suggestion that U.S. forces could have posed as journalists in order to more quickly apprehend a recently-captured suspect in the Benghazi attacks.
Earlier today, news broke that following "months of planning," U.S. Special Operations forces had captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected ringleader of the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Several conservative media figures have criticized the administration for the timing of Khattala's capture. At a State Department press briefing, Fox News reporter James Rosen questioned State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki about why journalists had been able to access Khattala -- several major outlets have published interviews with him since the attacks -- while U.S. forces had still not apprehended him.
After Psaki responded that there was a difference between suspected terrorists wanting to talk to reporters and special forces being able to capture them, Rosen asked, "Following your own logic...why didn't we pose as a reporter to capture him then?"
But organizations that advocate for reporter access and safety overseas told Media Matters such an approach would put legitimate journalists in danger because their credibility would come into question more often.
"Let's recognize that military and intelligence operations should never, ever use journalists as cover," said Joel Simon, executive director of The Committee to Protect Journalists, which monitors treatment of reporters in foreign outposts and tallies physical and rights abuses of journalists. "Intelligence agents should never use journalistic cover, never because that jeopardizes the work of the media.
Simon and other experts said that military elements posing as journalists could pose a danger to the ethics and safety of legitimate reporters who would be accused of being spies or intelligence plants.
"We see every day all over the world that journalists are accused of being spies and of having ties or supporting military efforts that a particular country is taking," Simon stressed. "The most important asset that journalists have in those situations is their independence and their impartiality and anything that compromises that or the perception of their impartiality further endangers them."
Bryan Bender, former president of Military Reporters & Editors and a current MRE board member, agreed.
"I think setting aside for a second the case of this suspect, many of us who cover the Pentagon would have huge concerns if we learned U.S. military was posing as journalists," said Bender, also a Boston Globe national security reporter. "We'd get upset as we did in Iraq years ago that the military was planting stories in local media to help their cause. It is important to us as journalists and it should be important to the government that we fulfill our unique roles and not confuse one with the other."
Veteran news ethicists and observers are criticizing CBS News and pollster Frank Luntz for failing to disclose Luntz's financial ties to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor during an appearance on CBS This Morning today to discuss Cantor's surprise primary defeat.
Luntz, a CBS News political analyst, said during the interview that Cantor's defeat was "a great loss not just for Virginia, but for the country." But at no point did CBS News or Luntz disclose that Luntz's firm, Luntz Global, had received more than $15,000 in consulting fees since 2012 from Cantor's congressional campaign.
CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair claimed the network had provided adequate disclosure during the broadcast, telling Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple: "His work as a strategist for Republicans was disclosed on the broadcast."
That explanation doesn't satisfy veteran media critics and reporters. They slammed CBS in interviews with Media Matters, saying that the specific Cantor connection should have been revealed.
"I think it is a classic case of a conflict of interest and CBS was remiss in not knowing it," said Alex S. Jones, former media writer for The New York Times and director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "If CBS did know it and didn't mention it, then they are bad journalists. If they did know and agreed not to mention it as a condition for getting Luntz on the show, then they were not only bad, but corrupt."
Andy Alexander, former Washington Post ombudsman, agreed.
"It's Journalism 101. Anything that could impact the credibility of the person being interviewed should be disclosed," he said in an email about Luntz. "It's a matter of being honest and transparent with your audience."
Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker, said such non-disclosures are becoming too common: "He should have disclosed he got paid and CBS should have disclosed he got paid," Auletta said in a phone interview. "This is very common now in television to have political consultants as talking heads."
David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun television writer, called the lack of disclosure "outrageous."
"I can't imagine how anyone would think it is ok NOT to clearly explain that conflict of interest," he said via email. "And CBS wants to sell this show as somehow being the journalistically solid viewing choice."
For Alicia Shepard, former NPR ombudsman, such action is a form of deception by CBS: "When CBS viewers learn -- and they will -- that Luntz worked for Cantor, they will feel deceived. None of us likes that feeling. CBS loses nothing by acknowledging that Luntz worked for Cantor. Why not be transparent? "
Kevin Smith, chair of the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, offered a similar thumbs down: "This constant parade of pundits and analysts on network TV with insider interests needs to stop. Clearly, CBS and others are not willing to be forthcoming about these conflicts and share them in a transparent manner with the viewers."
This isn't the first time CBS has had disclosure problems with Luntz, who has been an analyst for the network since 2012. The GOP strategist appeared on CBS in October and November of that year to discuss Republican vice presidential candidate and Rep. Paul Ryan without disclosing Luntz Global had received money from Ryan's congressional campaign.
The National Organization for Women is urging The Washington Post to drop George Will's column after he downplayed the prevalence of campus sexual assault and suggested some college efforts to curb it "make victimhood a coveted status."
Will has received harsh criticism over his June 7 syndicated column, in which he cited the response to "the supposed campus epidemic of rape, aka 'sexual assault'" as an example of how when colleges "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."
The column has drawn complaints from numerous women's rights groups and prompted National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill to call for Will's ouster Tuesday.
"George Will needs to take a break from his column and The Washington Post needs to take a break from his column, they need to dump him," O'Neill told Media Matters in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "It is actively harmful for the victims of sexual assault when that kind of man writes a piece that says to assault victims, 'it didn't happen and if it did happen you deserve it.' That re-traumatizes victims. I can't believe that Mr. Will has had this experience if he would put out such a hateful message."
"We want him to back off and we want The Washington Post to stop carrying his column."
O'Neill later added, "That is absolutely the kind of further attack on victims that just does such extraordinary harm ... The media blaming women for the horrific rape of violence against women and sexual assault it is really shameful."
NOW's request follows a similar call for Will's departure from the women's rights group UltraViolet, which launched a petition drive to remove Will.
Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt defended Will's column, issuing this statement to Media Matters:
George Will's column was well within the bounds of legitimate debate. I welcomed his contribution, as I welcome the discussion it sparked and the responses, some of which we will be publishing on our pages and website. This is what a good opinion site should do. Rather than urge me to silence a viewpoint they disagree with, I would urge others also to join the debate, and to do so without mischaracterizing the original column.
The author of Sons of Wichita, the new biography of the Koch brothers, never got the interviews he wanted with the archconservative billionaires. But he says the family nonetheless kept a close eye on his research, deploying the "very aggressive P.R. operation" they have used for years to silence media criticism.
"I had a senior person at [Koch Industries] basically tell me, 'Yeah, that is our strategy, we hit back and over time because of doing this the mainstream press has sort of learned a lesson to be careful about what they say about us,'" said Daniel Schulman, the book's author and a senior editor at the progressive Mother Jones magazine. "I would describe it as pugilistic, [which] is often their style in general."
Despite the lack of support from its subjects, Schulman's book is a fascinating portrait of the often bitter relationships between the four brothers -- Charles, David, Bill, and Frederick -- whose sprawling political empire has become a dominant force in the right-wing movement.
Schulman said the company's efforts to find out about his research and stop some from cooperating is not unusual, noting the Koch brothers and Koch Industries, the company at the root of their vast wealth, have a history of both intimidating reporters and seeking to counter negative coverage.
"People in the media certainly have what they would call their war stories dealing with Koch Industries," Schulman said in a lengthy interview with Media Matters. "There is a range of experiences. They have a very aggressive P.R. operation." He added, "I should also say that I like a lot of people I was in communication over there, they were nice people. But they were aggressive."
Schulman, whose book was published last week, said he began his research by writing a formal inquiry letter to each of the four brothers. He said only Frederick, the least involved in the company, would meet with him -- and then said he would only discuss his family if he received veto power over any third-party source material. Schulman declined.
At Koch Industries, which is headed by David and Charles, initial reaction was curious and somewhat cooperative, Schulman said. But it never amounted to any access to the two top executives.
"At one point they flew out to even talk to the publisher," Schulman recalled about a Koch executive. "They wanted to make sure this was going to be a fair book, they saw Mother Jones and immediately thought the worst. I was speaking to people there throughout the process, but they would never give me access to David or Charles, which I think was unfortunate because I do think that they had not much to lose and a lot to gain. I think these guy are all very interesting and should have their stories told."
But Koch Industries' interest did not end there, Schulman said
"I certainly got the sense that there were ... certain people [to whom] they were probably saying, 'don't talk to him.' I definitely got that impression," Schulman said. "I definitely talked to people who said, 'yeah, I spoke to Charles and he said he would prefer that I don't speak to you.'"
The Koch concerns about the book went even further, Schulman said.