Revelations that Bill O'Reilly may have misled viewers about his reporting from the Falklands War back in 1982 are drawing fire from veteran war correspondents who contend apparent embellishments like O'Reilly's hurt the credibility of all combat journalists.
On Thursday, Mother Jones reported that O'Reilly "repeatedly told his audience that he was a war correspondent during the Falklands war and that he experienced combat during that 1982 conflict between England and Argentina. He has often invoked this experience to emphasize that he understands war as only someone who has witnessed it could. As he once put it, 'I've been there. That's really what separates me from most of these other bloviators. I bloviate, but I bloviate about stuff I've seen. They bloviate about stuff that they haven't.'"
The magazine went on to note that American journalists were not allowed near the Falkland Islands in that conflict, even citing a CBS News producer who worked on the coverage. The findings follow O'Reilly's criticism of NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who was recently suspended for misleading viewers about his own combat experience.
In comments to Media Matters, war correspondents criticized media figures like O'Reilly for "exaggerating" their experiences.
"I have no patience with journalists exaggerating their role as derring-do types when they're trying to report the news, it's not about us, it's about the news," Don North, a former ABC News and NBC News war correspondent who has covered conflicts from Vietnam to El Salvador, said of O'Reilly. "I think many journalists, all of us probably, have had some attitude toward perhaps embellishing or writing a more dramatic story, but it's a discipline you've got to watch. It's Journalism 101. You don't exaggerate, you don't lie about it."
"I'm concerned about the damage this is doing to journalists everywhere," Sig Christenson, a founding member of Military Reporters and Editors who has covered Iraq and Afghanistan warfare for the San Antonio Express-News, said about O'Reilly. "When people see these stories and then they are called into question it makes the rest of us look bad. We are at a really critical point in our business and our credibility matters. If I am introduced as someone who was in combat will people even believe it?"
He also took O'Reilly to task for having recently been critical of Brian Williams.
"If (O'Reilly's) misrepresenting himself and criticizing someone else for misrepresenting himself then he's got problems," Christenson said. "If Bill O'Reilly's gone out and done something like that, God help him. I know one thing, it's bad for all of us. We don't need it."
Matt Schofield, a McClatchy national security reporter who has reported from combat in Iraq, said such misleading tales hurt readers and reporters.
David Carr, the New York Times media critic, was a giant in our world of people who monitor, report on, and evaluate media.
Carr, 58, died suddenly last night after collapsing in the Times newsroom.
All of us who report on or monitor media have Carr to thank as one of those who broke ground on the beat, offering harsh, direct, and fair coverage.
David Carr was a king of the honest, in-depth report and not afraid to show it (many today are passing around his devastating 2010 report on the Tribune Company). But I also remember him as very calm, professional, and even low-key.
As a lover of the craft, Carr could heap praise on the Times' long-time rivals, writing in October of The Washington Post, "The once-embattled newspaper is in the middle of a great run, turning out the kind of reporting that journalists -- and readers -- live for."
Carr could also challenge his own employer when he thought it justified, stating just last December that the company was among the media giants facing tough times in 2015:
"At the Times, more than half the revenue now comes from consumers, not advertisers, and fully half of the digital consumers arrive via mobile devices. But just 10 percent of digital advertising derives from mobile, a disconnect that will create big problems if it lingers ... declines in print advertising and circulation have created holes in revenue that a recent round of buyouts and layoffs can't begin to fill."
He was one of the few on the media beat who was equally adept at judging the quality of news and programming, as well as the business side of the story - delivering in-depth reporting and crisp writing on them both.
Did he make mistakes? Sure. We all do. He even wrote a great book about his own battles with crack cocaine, The Night of the Gun, not fearing to expose his demons and troubles in a way that likely helped him get past it and offered hope to others.
I wasn't lucky enough to be one of the many who considered themselves Carr's friend. But whenever I was able to speak with him, either on or off record, he was always pleasant and educational. He treated me as much an equal as anyone in our business whether it was during my time at Editor & Publisher or my current work at Media Matters.
Whether we were chatting at an awards event or seeking comment from each other for a story -- more often me seeking his views -- Carr was a pro.
At a time when much of today's media criticism is based on a slanted effort to attack those with whom one disagrees, Carr was focused on the nuts and bolts of a profession that is paramount to our democracy. The real failing of today's media in many ways is the lack of resources as news outlets cut costs and seek to expand audiences through fear, anger, and misleading attacks rather than reporting, in-depth understanding, and honesty.
When too many on the right will assume a left-leaning bias in journalism and use that to allow their own right-leaning bias pass as objective news, the coverage of Carr's passing has included praise from both the right, Breitbart News, and the left, Huffington Post.
Once the shock over this terrible surprise wears off, the Times will have a tough time replacing Carr, if they ever can.
Emily Miller, a reporter for Washington, D.C. Fox affiliate WTTG (Fox 5), is facing strong criticism from journalism experts over her outspoken advocacy for gun rights, with one journalism professor suggesting her conflict of interest is a fireable offense.
Miller, Fox 5's chief investigative reporter, has openly advocated on behalf of gun rights groups, most recently speaking at a rally in Annapolis, Maryland on Tuesday that was organized by the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm and local gun rights groups. Washington Post writer Erik Wemple highlighted Miller's appearance and argued that her presence at events that advance a specific legislative agenda "puts WTTG in a bind vis-a-vis Maryland politics."
Gun safety group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) has also criticized Miller for speaking at pro-gun rallies and has called for her firing. A CSGV petition drive accused Miller of violating the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics with her appearances and stated, "This is the behavior of an activist and pundit, not a journalist. Given her record, D.C. and Maryland residents can't trust that Miller will provide objective coverage on matters of concern to their city."
Miller reportedly told Wemple that WTTG approved of her advocacy for gun-rights groups, but several journalism instructors near the nation's capital and others who monitor news ethics contend Miller's actions are at least a conflict, and at worst a violation of journalistic credibility.
"A journalist who advocates for an organization no longer has credibility as a reporter. Credibility is all we have to sell these days," said Gilbert Klein, a journalism professor at American University in Washington and former National Press Club president. "Even for a columnist, who has more leeway in expressing opinion, being a member of an advocacy group undercuts credibility. I tell my students from day one, if you want to be a journalist, you give up your right to be an advocate, even if your reporting work does not coincide with your advocacy."
Patrick Pexton, a former Washington Post ombudsman, offered a simple answer to whether Miller should be advocating for gun rights while still a reporter: "She shouldn't. Period."
He later said, "To call her a reporter is a stretch. She's more like an activist; there's no pretense of objectivity here. Emily Miller can call herself whatever she wants, it's a free country. Free enough that we can see right through her."
For Dr. Carolyn M. Byerly, a professor at the Howard University School of Communication in Washington, Miller's actions put her in "an untenable situation."
"By taking a clear position on a controversial issue at a high profile political event she has removed the possibility of reporting in a fair and balanced way on the gun control issues," Byerly said. "Reporters must avoid taking such public stances in order to maintain their credibility as journalists."
In the four months after Chuck Todd took the reins of NBC's Meet the Press, guest diversity on the program showed notable improvement, with the show under his tenure becoming more diverse than its competitors on the other three broadcast networks and CNN. Todd tells Media Matters the show is striving to reflect the reality of 21st century politics while also crediting his young staff for urging the program to not only rely on a "white male perspective."
As part of our annual analysis of the Sunday morning political shows, Media Matters found that only 54 percent of Meet the Press guests were white men from when Todd took over hosting duties from David Gregory on September 7 through the end of 2014.
While that number is high relative to the overall population, it represents a seven-point drop compared to 2014 guests during Gregory's tenure. The figure also made Todd's Meet the Press more diverse by that measure than CNN's State of the Union, ABC's This Week, Fox's Fox News Sunday, or CBS' Face the Nation -- beating the latter two programs by more than ten percentage points.
Breaking the numbers down further, 28 percent of Todd's guests were women and 28 percent were people of color, both improvements from Gregory's totals and more diverse by those measures than the other four programs.
The Plain Dealer's decision to cut its reader representative position is drawing criticism from local media and veteran journalists in Cleveland who say it reduces valued self-criticism.
Ted Diadiun, who has held the post since 2005, wrote on Saturday that he is giving up the position in order to join the paper's editorial board. He added that editor George Rodrigue and Chris Quinn, vice president of content for the Northeast Ohio Media Group that owns the newspaper, "will provide insight and response in columns" in the event "larger journalism issues need to be addressed."
But local observers disagreed with the move, noting that having a person devoted to self-criticism offers more internal review than just having the top editors do it.
"Chris Quinn doesn't respond like an editor should and for Ted to say that George and Chris Quinn will be the ones handling this stuff is troubling to me," said Vince Grzegorek, editor of the alternative weekly Cleveland Scene. "It is the largest media operation in town where we have any number of big topics being discussed. For someone not to be examining how they do their job is a disservice."
Jim McIntyre, news director at WHK Radio in Cleveland and a 30-year broadcast media veteran of the area, echoed that view.
"I'm saddened by it, I enjoyed his column very much. I thought he provided an insight into the process, an insight that those outside the print media weren't privy to," he said. "It's always important to have access to the decision makers I think, just hold them accountable for what they're publishing."
Doug Clifton, the Plain Dealer editor from 1999 to 2007 who created the position, said: "I still believe in the concept. If there was a way to keep it, I would have kept it."
The loss of an internal review also comes at a time when the newspaper has been criticized for the way it has handled several stories.
Among them was the coverage of the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American who was shot and killed by police in late 2014. The paper reported on Tamir's father and focused on his criminal record, even posting a mug shot.
Another issue arose just a few weeks earlier when the Plain Dealer posted, then removed, video of its editorial board interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald and incumbent Republican Governor John Kasich.
As for the video interview, Quinn ordered the video to be taken down from the Cleveland.com website, prompting the Columbia Journalism Review to call the move "weird" and the original lack of explanation from Quinn "frustrating."
Computer security experts tell Media Matters that the report of a federal investigation into Sharyl Attkisson's claims of computer hacking, which found no evidence of a remote intrusion, suggests that Attkisson's computer may have been contaminated by a private technician who reviewed the computer for her.
Attkisson, a former CBS News reporter who now writes for the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal, has claimed that her computers were hacked under an alleged federal effort to monitor her following her critical reporting of the Obama administration.
But the investigation from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General, based on an examination of her personal computer, found that the OIG "was not able to substantiate the allegations that Attkisson's computers were subject to remote intrusion by the FBI, other government personnel, or otherwise," according to an abbreviated report of the review that was entered into the congressional record when Attkisson testified before Congress on January 29.
Computer security experts contacted by Media Matters reviewed the OIG report and explained that the findings revealed that at least one of the private technicians used by Attkisson likely contaminated any evidence that may have been on her computer.
In her book Stonewalled, Attkisson describes a private computer forensics analyst hired by CBS News coming to her house in February 2013 to examine her computers for potential intrusions.
The technician initially "opens up the CBS News laptop and begins deconstructing the files," until he finds some suspicious activity having occurred in December 2012. The technician then decides to take "a quick look at [Attkisson's] personal Apple iMac desktop computer" before leaving. He goes "straight to December" on the iMac as well, finds more suspicious activity, and tells Attkisson, "Oh shit!...That's not normal. Someone did that to your computer."
CBS News confirmed in June 2013 that Attkisson's CBS-issued laptop was breached, using what were "sophisticated" methods, but did not comment on her personal computers, nor did they identify the party or parties behind the breach. Attkisson then gave her personal Apple computer to the DOJ's inspector general for review, claiming evidence from the CBS analyst and other private security technicians who examined her computers confirmed for her that she was under surveillance by the federal government.
The OIG report "did not find evidence of remote or unauthorized access." However, they did find evidence of someone with physical access to the computer performing an examination in February 2013 (around the same time Attkisson says a CBS technician visited her home) that "is not forensically sound nor is it in accordance with best practices." The OIG concluded that this technician's actions "could have obscured potential evidence of unauthorized access."
Computer security experts contacted by Media Matters reviewed the OIG report, and agreed with the government's assessment that the technician's actions ignored the basics of standard forensic examination and contaminated the computer.
"We would never sit down, turn on the computer and start doing our investigation from the computer itself, for a number of reasons," said Peter Theobald, a computer forensics investigator with TC Forensics of Syosset. N.Y. "One is that our own activities would leave traces all over the computer. It would be like going to a crime scene in big muddy boots and walking all over the crime scene. We would copy the hard drive first and all of our work would be done from that copy."
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's plan to launch what some are calling a "state-run news service" is drawing harsh criticism from Indiana news outlets who say the move is a blatant effort to bypass the press and spin information.
Pence, a Republican, will create Just IN, a website that will seek to break news about his administration and utilize state press secretaries headed by a former reporter to provide written stories for news outlets. The website will launch in February, according to The Indianapolis Star, which obtained documents detailing the project.
The Star added that "the endeavor will come at some taxpayer cost, but precisely how much is unclear. The news service has two dedicated employees, whose combined salary is nearly $100,000, according to a search of state employee salary data."
Local outlets across the country have been strapped for cash and cutting back on statehouse coverage, conservative outlets have attempted to fill the void by offering free access to their own slanted stories. Pence's proposal appears to be a similar effort to flood the state with free "journalism" in the hopes that desperate papers and news stations are willing to run such work.
But Indiana news outlets were quick to condemn the approach as a clear effort to bypass an independent press, with one editor declaring it "troubling," and another calling it "uncomfortable."
"I can't imagine a scenario where we would" print Just IN stories, Jeff Taylor, editor and vice president of The Star, told Media Matters. "You don't pick up news stories from government agencies and use them as news stories that have been vetted and given the kind of scrutiny that you give to the information that we report."
"There's a big difference between press releases that can lead to legitimate stories where reporters can ask questions and look into information and sift between factual information and something that might have an agency behind it," he added.
"It's not the Associated Press, it's not our coverage, we wouldn't run it verbatim anywhere because it's not independent news," said Bob Heisse, editor of The Times of Munster. "No, we certainly wouldn't use any of that."
Bob Zaltsberg, editor of The Herald Times of Bloomington, said anything from the governor's office would be treated as a news release, not a publishable story.
"We wouldn't take anything from a state-run news agency and just publish it as news, we would do our independent reporting," he said, adding that it appears the governor's office is trying to control the message.
"It seems like they want to go into competition with the mainstream news media that's trying to watch out for what government does," he added. "It's trying to control the message in a way that's not healthy for democracy."
He and other editors said the move comes as many publications have been cutting back on Indiana statehouse coverage in response to budget cuts.
"There has been a tremendous cutback in statehouse reporters there, we haven't had a statehouse reporter in decades," Zaltsberg said. "What's really telling is they are organizing this and they are going to have reporters and break news and that makes everyone in the media nervous and apprehensive and very uncomfortable. It makes me very, very nervous."
The Washington Post claims that broadly disclosing that one of its opinion writers is a Republican lobbyist is sufficient even when he is advocating for positions that specifically benefit his firm's unmentioned clients, a standard media critics say is "troubling" and "dishonest."
Ed Rogers writes conservative commentary for the Post's PostPartisan blog. Like many conservative columnists, he regularly criticizes environmental and energy regulations and the environmentalists who support them.
But unlike those other columnists, Rogers has a massive conflict of interest: he is chairman of the lobbying firm BGR Group, whose clients benefit from the positions he espouses. While the Post discloses his position with the firm in the bio appended to his posts, it does not reveal BGR's specific clients and conflicts, even when they directly overlap with the subject matter of Rogers' writing.
After Media Matters documented how Rogers' firm received more than $1.6 million last year from energy and transportation clients that benefit from positions he espoused in his columns, a Post spokesperson defended the practice, telling Media Matters via email, "His full-time lobbying job is in his bio on every single piece he writes." (Media Matters noted this in our original post on the matter.)
Asked again why specific disclosures are not provided for pieces that support issues favorable to a certain client, the spokesperson did not respond. Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt did not respond to requests for comment.
The Post's standard requires readers to search federal lobbying records to research if Rogers has clients that might be impacted by his commentary rather than proactively divulging the information.
Media ethicists panned this policy and urged the paper to do more.
"The burden is on The Washington Post," said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. He singled out Media Matters' report that Rogers had advocated building the Keystone XL pipeline without the Post disclosing that his firm represents Caterpillar, Inc., which would financially benefit from its construction. "If he is going to write about utilities or Keystone and he has clients with a stake in that, the Post should say that."
"It fits a pattern that I find troubling," he added. "Which is that in the television world and in this world, it is cheap to have partisans on the air or write blog posts but when you have on someone talking about say Mitt Romney, does the viewer know that that person has a relationship with Romney? And the same thing here. Does the reader know that Rogers has clients that would benefit from Keystone, so therefore the issue becomes transparency."
Kevin Smith, former ethics committee chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, agreed.
"It's the same scenario repeated time and time again," he said. "When the Washington Post can't present a complete accounting of their writers' associations it goes beyond head scratching and speaks to dishonesty with their readers."
Audrey Cooper does not believe it should have taken a century and a half for the San Francisco Chronicle to name its first female editor-in-chief.
And she should know. She's that editor.
Cooper, who was named to the top post at the Chronicle on Wednesday, said a glass ceiling still exists at news organizations and she's personally had experiences where she felt she wasn't treated equally because of her gender.
"Obviously there is (a glass ceiling)," Cooper said. "I think all of the coverage of [New York Times editor Jill Abramson's 2014] departure laid bare a lot of things that other female editors felt but hadn't really articulated. They're much more subtle than people might think. Sexism in general is a lot more subtle than it used to be 20 years ago. Yes, I've had the experiences that I think that I was not treated the same as men based on my gender."
But Cooper praised her supervisors at the Chronicle and parent company Hearst for giving her initial promotions during her career there, noting, "I was eight months pregnant when I had my interview to become (Chronicle) managing editor."
Cooper also pointed to problems news organizations have retaining working mothers.
"I think the news business in particular has a really difficult time retaining young women or 30-something women because so far we are the only ones who can have babies," said Cooper, 37, who has been at the paper in different roles since 2006. "And it is difficult to be in a job that you do 24 hours a day and can be called at any time and also have a child. I think that's just a reality, it is difficult to keep people in a job like that."
A married mother of a two-year-old boy, Cooper added that, "I don't plan to have a second one because I love my job and it would be too difficult."
It is notable that she is the first woman to lead the paper as it approaches its 150-year anniversary on Friday.
"Yes, I think 150 years is a really long time not to have a woman in this position," she said. "I think it is an interesting historical fact that I am the first at the Chronicle and I look forward to the day when women across industries, particularly ours, can rise to the top of them and not have it noted so frequently that they're the first."
But such change may be difficult given that the number of female editors at top papers has dwindled. Media Matters noted last year that just two top editors among the top 25 circulation daily newspapers were women: Deborah Henley at Newsday and Nancy Barnes at the Houston Chronicle.
"When I got into this industry, there was a lot more discussion about diversity in the newsroom than you have now on a national basis," she said. "I think that's because shortly thereafter we really, really hit the skids and everybody was having serious problems and laying people off and it wasn't the top concern anymore. Now that I think a lot of publications are stabilizing you start to see this emerge again."
The New York Times broke its own glass ceiling in 2011 when it hired Abramson as executive editor, but fired her last spring.
Along with the Times, the New York Daily News, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today are top 10 papers that were led by women during the past 15 years. Among the remaining top 25 daily papers, at least eight had women as the top newsroom bosses during the same time span.
Right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly have damaged the country, according to Alex S. Jones, the outgoing head of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy, who announced his departure Wednesday after 15 years leading the prestigious media training center.
"I wish they could be more objective, I don't begrudge them their particular politics, I just wish they weren't simply one note, I think it's damaging," said Jones, a former media writer for The New York Times and longtime media critic.
Jones cited the conservative media's coverage of President Obama: "Obama certainly is the president and the president is always legitimate prey for criticism, but I don't think that they have done a good thing for our country to be completely undermining him in every way they possibly could. I don't think that's good for any president, Republican or Democrat."
Jones, who announced his pending departure in a letter to supporters published on the Center's website, said it was "time for change," but did not state what his next plans would be.
In an interview with Media Matters, Jones cited concerns about what he deemed the "highly polarized political environment on cable news."
"There's no question that the people like the right wing pundits -- left wing too, to a degree, but they are dwarfed by the right wing -- have done a lot of damage to this country in my opinion, I don't consider that journalism, I consider that to be advocacy."
Jones added of O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and Fox's Sean Hannity, "I don't think that they don't believe what they say, I just wish that they looked at the world in a different way, something more constructive."
He added, "it's more catering to what will draw an audience rather than what is important ... if anything it's the shift toward what has been thought of as the local television model, anything that will attract a crowd, but not necessarily invested in issues and in policy questions and in political debates and things that are of genuine importance."
Jones also had advice for more credible news outlets. He stressed the need for journalists to keep focused on accuracy, fact-checking, and credibility as they increase speed and technology in reporting.