The Washington Times is defending its opinion editor's practice of offering personal political endorsements to Republican candidates, which media observers and editorial page editors at others papers say violates journalistic ethics.
Since joining the Times in 2013 after a career in conservative politics, David Keene has endorsed several Republican senators for reelection, either on his own behalf or on behalf of the National Rifle Association, on whose board he sits. Reporting on the endorsements, Politico's Dylan Byers noted that such endorsements are unheard of for editorial page editors at major newspapers since it would be regarded as a "violation of ethics."
But asked to comment on the endorsements, Times editor-in-chief John Solomon defended Keene, saying the opinion editor's actions were in keeping with the paper's "set of rules to maintain the highest ethical standards for the opinion department" that he and Keene hammered out upon Keene's hiring.
Keene, a former president of the NRA and chairman of the American Conservative Union, says that his endorsements raise no ethical questions because he won't participate in a Times endorsement discussion of the candidates his organizations support.
"As a practical matter, I would not participate in a WT discussion re an endorsement of someone whose NRA endorsement I had previously delivered," Keene told Media Matters via email Tuesday. "The important thing, in my mind at least, is to remember what 'hat' one is wearing and when. For example, I am also still on the ACU Board and ACU through its PAC endorses candidates that neither the WT or the NRA might endorse or even support. Therefore it is incumbent upon me or [anyone] else involved with multiethnic organizations to avoid mixing the roles. I have always endeavored to make certain I avoid that temptation."
Keene has presented the NRA's endorsement of Sen. Mike Simpson (ID) and personally endorsed Sens. Pat Roberts (KS) and Lamar Alexander (TN). But Keene contends his outside endorsements raise no ethical red flags because they are for candidates the Times would not endorse.
"We would not be endorsing someone to whom I had delivered an NRA endorsement in my capacity as a former NRA President and Board member," Keene stated. He added that the NRA's endorsements are made by its lobbying arm, not the organization's board, and that he had presented the NRA's endorsement to Simpson because he was "in Idaho for other reasons."
Keene's actions appear consistent with the lax standards the Times has established for him. Earlier this year, Solomon told Media Matters that Keene had been hired with the understanding that he would continue his advocacy work for the NRA but would recuse himself from editing Times pieces about that organization.
Solomon reiterated that statement in an email to Media Matters today, writing of the paper's ethics rules:
They are simple, straightforward and consistent with the best practices of journalism aimed at mitigating perceived conflicts and creating transparency. David recuses himself from editing any pieces in his department that are focused on the NRA. He is free to write about the NRA in his personal weekly column as long as he discloses to the reader in that column his continuing role with the organization. When he acts in his role as NRA board member, such as delivering the group's endorsement, he does so solely in his role as an NRA member.
Florida journalists are speaking out after their state's legislature passed a proposal making it far more difficult to report on cases involving the controversial Stand Your Ground law.
Florida's Stand Your Ground law has repeatedly made national headlines because of its role in the deaths of teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. On Thursday, the Florida House passed an NRA-backed proposal that includes an amendment which would expand the Stand Your Ground defense to those who fire warning shots to deter potential attacks. The bill also allows for the expunging of records in Stand Your Ground cases where charges were eventually dropped. The bill is now headed to the Florida Senate.
As the bill makes its way through the legislative process, top Sunshine State journalists are worried that making these records unavailable to the public will damage their ability to do proper journalism.
Among those speaking out are top reporters and editors at the Tampa Bay Times, which conducted a lengthy 2012 investigation into Stand Your Ground that won industry praise and raised concerns about the applications of the law, including the fact that in nearly four out of every five cases involving a Stand Your Ground defense, homicides were deemed justified if the victim was black.
"Closing records and putting controversial cases that involve violence into the dark is a bad idea, it is against democracy," said Neil Brown, Times editor and vice president. "This would have inhibited our work further. Our work was done based on court records as well as the stories of the incidents when they occurred."
Bill O'Reilly is being ridiculed for comments last night suggesting that unlike President Obama, President Lincoln would never have appeared on a web comedy show. In addition to the inherent silliness of the comparison, according to a prominent Lincoln scholar, O'Reilly is also dead wrong.
Yesterday, comedy website Funny or Die released an episode of its Zach Galifianakis-hosted web series "Between Two Ferns" featuring President Obama, during which the president traded insults with the actor before encouraging people to visit the health care reform website.
Predictably, conservatives freaked out about the appearance, culminating in O'Reilly telling viewers that Lincoln would never have appeared on such a show. (O'Reilly co-authored a 2011 book on the Lincoln assassination.)
But historian Harold Holzer, whose Lincoln scholarship has been recognized by presidents of both parties, tells Media Matters that the former president had a great sense of humor and used a wide variety of methods to spread his message.
"I will tell you Abraham Lincoln would go on 'Between Two Ferns' in a second," said Holzer. "He went in the reeds, he played whatever was the most modern, the most cunning, the most unthinkable, unprecedented way to get his message across in a day when there were no press conferences, no culture for press conferences."
Holzer has authored, coauthored, or edited 46 books on Lincoln and the Civil War over 40 years of scholarship and has a new one, Lincoln and the Power of the Press, scheduled to be published by Simon and Schuster in October. He has also written more than 500 articles and chapters of more than 50 books on the topic.
Holzer is chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, after being appointed to the leadership of its predecessor organization by President Clinton in 2000. In 2008, President Bush awarded him the National Humanities Medal for bringing "new understanding of the many facets of Abraham Lincoln and his era."
According to Holzer, Obama's actions are in keeping with Lincoln's press tactics.
"How could you be angry with President Obama for taking his message to the widest audience, this is absolutely in the Lincoln tradition," said Holzer. "He used humor very well and was very tough, very manipulative with the press."
In a piece at Huffington Post responding to O'Reilly's claims, reporter Michael Calderone notes, "Lincoln was also a man who enjoyed telling off-color jokes, and his bawdy sense of humor attracted its share of press criticism."
The Baltimore Sun cut ties with their conservative blog after learning of the blog's potential unethical behavior, a Sun spokesperson said Monday.
"The Baltimore Sun's editorial independence is among our most fundamental values and we have a strict separation between advertising and the content we produce," Sun Director of Marketing Renee Mutchnik told Media Matters in a statement explaining the paper's separation from the bloggers.
Late last year the Sun inked a deal with the conservative blog Red Maryland to provide content for baltimoresun.com as well as a weekly op-ed page in the paper's print edition. In a November op-ed, Red Maryland's Mark Newgent explained that their blog was "the premiere source for conservative news and opinion in Maryland" and that he and his colleagues would now have "the opportunity to advance conservative, limited government ideas to a larger audience." While the bloggers would continue to operate their private blog, they would also write content for a Red Maryland blog on the Sun's website.
But questions over the bloggers' ethical behavior surfaced last week when a rival conservative blogger posted what he claimed was an email he received from friends outlining a pitch from Red Maryland urging Republican candidates to advertise on the bloggers' radio show to "get the message out to like-minded conservatives in your upcoming primary election." The email claimed that Red Maryland would use all "our platforms at BaltimoreSun.com, RedMaryland.com, and the Red Maryland network" to introduce candidates to the public, suggesting that candidates who paid for the ads could also expect favorable coverage from the bloggers in their roles as paid contributors to the Sun.
Red Maryland did not dispute the authenticity of the email but denied the conservative rival's pay-to-play accusation in a March 7 blog post on their original website, stating that they had provided platforms to candidates since the site's founding to give these candidates media attention and statewide audiences. However, Red Maryland also formally acknowledged that Newgent, who wrote for both Red Maryland's original site and in the Sun, has been paid by Larry Hogan, a Republican gubernatorial candidate Red Maryland has endorsed:
First, we've never claimed to be "objective." We wear our biases openly on our sleeve, always have. You've always known where Red Maryland was coming from. Newgent has repeatedly disclosed his work for Change Maryland and the Hogan for Governor Campaign. He has performed research work for both organizations. Hardly a "political favor."
After ducking the controversy over National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel," NRA leaders at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference tried to shield the organization from the fallout over those comments.
While some NRA supporters criticized Nugent, three NRA board members sought to downplay his actions and his connection to their organization, suggesting he isn't viewed mainly as an NRA representative or brushing the controversy off as unimportant.
Nugent issued the slur during a January interview, but the comments received new interest last month when Nugent campaigned with Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. Following days of negative coverage for both Abbott and Nugent, including condemnations from GOP leaders, Nugent offered a half-hearted apology, though "not necessarily to the president," for his "subhuman mongrel" comment. He then attacked Obama as a lying, law-breaking racist who engages in Nazi tactics.
Former NRA president and current board member David Keene said the "subhuman mongrel" comments do not reflect on the gun-rights organization because "Ted is seen as Ted more than as an NRA board member."
Grover Norquist, another NRA board member, said the comments were "not a good idea," but added they are not bad enough to hurt the NRA's image because Nugent is viewed differently than other NRA leaders.
"He's a rock star and people know he's talking as him and he is talking outrageously," Norquist said following a CPAC "meet and greet" he hosted for fans. "If an establishment Republican said that, you'd go, 'whoa Nellie.' Rock stars and hip hop artists are cut some slack in American society."
Despite their attempts to suggest Nugent's comments don't reflect directly on the NRA, as a musician and conservative commentator, Nugent is to many the public face of the organization. He has had a longstanding relationship with the group, serving on its board of directors since 1995. In the group's 2013 board elections Nugent was second only to Fox News contributor Oliver North for most votes in favor of reelection.
After the 2012 meeting, Nugent drew the attention of the Secret Service for saying he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected as president. An NRA memo indicated that he was paid $50,000 by the group for a "spoken presentation" in 2011. Nugent has also recorded the song "I Am The NRA," which includes the lyrics: "If you hate tyrants and dictators and are ready to give freedom a whirl/Celebrate the NRA and the shot heard round the world."
Oliver North denied knowing about the "subhuman mongrel" comments during an interview at CPAC. He accused Media Matters of trying to instigate criticism from him. Questioned at CPAC's radio row, North said, "I'm not necessarily sure how to take your word for what he said since I didn't hear it I am not going to comment about it."
If the annual Conservative Political Action Conference is any indication, conservative media won't be abandoning their scandal-mongering about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi any time soon. Though conservatives' conspiracies about the assault on U.S. diplomatic facilities have fallen apart under scrutiny, many CPAC attendees are upset with mainstream outlets for not being aggressive enough on the story.
"I would say the media isn't pursuing information about Benghazi enough, including FOIAs, trying to interview people who ... the government doesn't want interviewed and has discouraged from being interviewed and not in general doing due diligence," said John Fund, a conservative columnist at National Review. "I would compare the lack of follow through unfavorably to scandals such as Abu Ghraib and even Guantanamo."
Larry O'Connor, editor of Breitbart.com, offered a similar view when asked if Benghazi is being covered enough. "I see stories from Sharyl Attkisson at CBS News and Bret Baier's Special Report that I don't see other outlets covering."
Mainstream outlets have devoted significant coverage to the Benghazi story, if not always in the manner that those pushing the scandal would prefer. In December, The New York Times published an exhaustive six-part series on Benghazi which debunked several myths propagated by the conservative media. The fact-finding out of Congress also hasn't backed the scandal narrative; in January, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a bipartisan report stating that there was no attempt by the Obama administration to cover up the attacks and pointing out that no "stand down" order was given to the military.
Those facts aren't stopping the conservative media.
"We have still not gotten a great answer as to why the military did not respond when one of our embassies is attacked," said John Solomon, editor of The Washington Times. Regardless of what Solomon considers a "great answer," the various aspects of the military response the night of the attacks have been widely detailed.
TownHall.com editor and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich largely blamed the administration for reporters' difficulties covering the story, saying, "It is difficult for reporters to cover an issue when the government is not giving answers."
Support for more Benghazi investigations did not only come from media figures at CPAC. With former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receiving massive attention over her potential run for the White House in 2016, conservatives clearly see Benghazi as a way to damage her possible candidacy.
During a speech, Sen. Mitch McConnell claimed media were "trying to fix Benghazi for Hillary" by not repeating the right-wing myths about the attacks.
There was also a Breitbart News-sponsored panel just a block away from the CPAC venue where participants claimed a cover-up exists, but offered few specifics.
Fox News host Mike Huckabee denied responsibility for shady email pitches sent to subscribers to his email list, telling Media Matters that he is "simply a conduit to send messages" and "can't always vouch for the veracity" of the promoted products.
Huckabee is part of the conservative movement's attempts to cash in on their followers by renting out their email lists to suspect sources. Fox News contributor Scott Brown was recently forced to disown a quack doctor after he sent a sponsored email touting the doctor's dubious Alzheimer's disease cures. Huckabee also sent emails promoting the doctor.
During a press conference held at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington, Media Matters asked Huckabee about shady sponsored emails he's sent with his name on it, such as the Alzheimer's disease emails.
Huckabee shrugged off responsibility for the emails, saying "You are supposed to read the disclosure and the disclaimer that is a part of the messages. You know, we are simply the conduit to send messages, these are sponsored and I can't always vouch for the veracity."
Huckabee's sketchy sponsored emails extend beyond questionable medical cures. He recently sent a sponsored email touting the stock recommendation of a financial analyst who was fired from Fox News for ethical violations.
Just because Gov. Chris Christie, who was notably banned from the Conservative Political Action Conference last year, spoke at the event Thursday doesn't mean he is the conservative media's new darling.
While the New Jersey governor drew loud applause from the audience during his address, which focused on Republicans pushing for their ideas not against their opponents, right-wing media voices at the conference say that won't translate to support if he seeks the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Some pointed to his well-known embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy in the lead-up to the 2012 election, which may have played a role in the decision by CPAC organizers not to invite him last year. Others declared him insufficiently opposed to gay marriage to garner their support.
"I don't think he will be the nominee anyway," said Tim Constantine, a conservative radio talk show host. "There are ups and downs, it's the nature of politics that he will be knocked down. Chris Christie is the right guy for Republicans in a Northeast state, but not nationally."
Tea Party News Network's Scottie Nell Hughes agreed. She said he is hurt by the George Washington Bridge scandal, but was not her choice even before that.
"It hurt him completely," she said of the bridge controversy. "He is not going to get the conservative vote. It wasn't a non-issue, it was politics."
Hughes said the media coverage of the scandal does give Christie some sympathy, but not enough to overcome opposition within the right-wing movement. "If I am going to put him up against [Wisconsin governor] Scott Walker, I am going to take Scott Walker," she said, adding that Christie "is not going to get the vote. The [GOP] establishment has left him."
Several media commentators said they were surprised that CPAC had invited Christie and found no difference in his electability or conservative credentials since last year.
"You would think it would be the other way around," said Jon Moseley, a conservative talk radio host at Philadelphia's WNJC-AM, suggesting that Christie should be less palatable to CPAC in the wake of the bridge scandal. "A lot of people perceive it as an endorsement, they should not."
Rusty Humphries, the veteran talk radio host and newly-minted columnist at The Washington Times, also said inviting Christie was a mystery. "Would I have invited him? No. He isn't conservative. He is an establishment guy."
Breitbart News' John Sexton called CPAC "a refuge for" Christie. "I think last year he was more electable," Sexton added. "I don't think right now anybody is supporting him."
Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge was a no-show at a Benghazi discussion panel Thursday co-hosted by Breitbart News, despite having been listed as a participant.
Moderated by newly-minted Breitbart News columnist and Center for Security Policy founder Frank Gaffney, the panel was held just blocks from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington. The discussion was part of "The Uninvited," a national security forum co-hosted by Breitbart News featuring many speakers that "were not invited to CPAC."
Titled, "Benghazigate: The Ugly Truth and the Cover-Up," the panel included Retired Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin, Chris Farrell of Judicial Watch, and Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, a security officer who was killed during the Benghazi attacks.
Herridge did not respond to a request for comment on why she declined to join the panel, or why she had agreed to participate in the first place given the title of the discussion and the planned co-panelists. Boykin, for example, has a long history of making inflammatory comments about Islam; in 2003 President George W. Bush criticized him for saying Islamic extremists worship "an idol" and hate the U.S. "because we're a Christian nation."
Even with Herridge absent, she did receive support from the panel and Gaffney, who said her work on Benghazi made her a "truth-teller par excellence." He said she had informed the panel she could not make it due to unspecified work demands.
Gaffney and the other panelists offered few specifics on what Benghazi elements had been covered up. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee review released in January concluded there was no "cover-up" surrounding the attacks.
"This Benghazi thing is not just about four dead Americans, it's not just about a cover up, it's not just about the things that are circulating in the media, it is about our national security," Boykin claimed, calling on Boehner to hold a bipartisan investigation. "A major ethos in America has been violated."
Boykin and the others claimed that more support should have been given to U.S. forces in Benghazi, but again offered no details on how or why they were not.
"What I really care about is why there was no effort to go to these people and be there when they needed us," Boykin claimed. "That is egregious, that is unacceptable, that is not the America I served for and fought for."
Farrell of Judicial Watch went one step further, accusing Boehner of having "guilty knowledge" of the Benghazi attacks, but (of course) offering no specifics or proof.
"We can't let this one slide away as just another scandal," Farrell said. "We will not let it go. We will pursue this until we find answers."
This week, Media Matters accidently broke the news to The Washington Times that longtime conservative columnist Frank Gaffney no longer plans to write for the paper.
To rewind a bit: earlier this week, Breitbart News announced that Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and a former Reagan official, would be bringing his column to the conservative website after having published "some 1,300 weekly columns over the past twenty-five years at the Washington Times."
According to Breitbart News, Gaffney's weekly column was "terminated within days of the release of a letter" he had signed alongside "influential national security practitioners." The letter in question was sent to the American Conservative Union (ACU) in support of Gaffney's charge that conservative activists Grover Norquist and Suhail Kahn are closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In comments to Media Matters, Gaffney said that his departure resulted from the Times seeking to cut his column from weekly to monthly, which he hinted was linked to the release of the letter.
"One thing happened and then the next thing happened and I leave it to others to judge if it was a punitive action or whether it was just coincidental," Gaffney told Media Matters Thursday. "I am going to be writing for the Breitbart News Network. The arrangement that [was] announced for my writing [monthly] for The Washington Times is really not satisfactory to me."
He said that he would not be writing for the Times, stating, "I want to write a weekly column and I'm happy that whatever the reason for this decision I'm going to have a considerably larger audience at Breitbart than I had at The Washington Times. I've got an arrangement with Breitbart and I will be taking the fullest advantage of that, I wish the Times well."
When initially contacted by Media Matters about Gaffney on Wednesday, Times editorial page editor David Keene praised his "well-researched" work and said that while he was unaware Gaffney was planning to write for Breitbart, the paper would still welcome his writing as long as it was "exclusive." When Media Matters spoke with Keene again today after talking to Gaffney, the news that Gaffney planned to leave the paper apparently came as a surprise.
"We're sorry to lose him but wish him well," Keene told Media Matters. "I guess he's notifying us through you and we appreciate your willingness to serve as his intermediary on this."
The uproar began February 18 when Gaffney's CSP released the newest salvo in its years-long campaign to attack Grover Norquist and ACU board member Suhail Khan for their supposed association with the Muslim Brotherhood. The group sent a letter to ACU board member Cleta Mitchell signed by "influential national security practitioners" including former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former CIA Director James Woolsey.
The letter criticized the ACU's ties to Norquist and Khan and included a 45-page report detailing claims against them, which listed 87 alleged "facts" about Norquist and Khan it claimed were signs of their "assault on the right."
In addition to serving as the Times editorial page editor, David Keene also serves on the ACU board.