Michigan State University's decision to host George Will as a commencement speaker this weekend is sparking angry opposition from students, a prominent women's equality group, and campus sexual assault advocates who plan to protest the event because of Will's past comments about campus sexual assault.
In June, Will authored a Washington Post syndicated column suggesting that attempts to curb campus assaults have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
Will's column sparked widespread criticism. Four senators publicly condemned his comments in an open letter, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his syndicated column and apologized for publishing his "offensive and inaccurate" arguments, and women's equality groups called for the Washington Post to fire him.
Last week, The Detroit News reported that Will had been tapped as a commencement speaker for Michigan State University's December 13 graduation ceremonies and would receive an honorary doctorate of humanities. The announcement quickly prompted condemnation from the prominent women's equality group UltraViolet, whose co-founder Shaunna Thomas told Media Matters that Will's "continued attacks on campus rape survivors make him an unfit speaker for any University."
MSU, which is currently under federal investigation for its handling of sexual assault accusations, defended their decision to honor Will. A spokesman told Media Matters, "In any diverse community there are sure to be differences of opinion and perspective; something we celebrate as a learning community. We appreciate all views, and we hope and expect the MSU community will give the speaker the same respect."
But pressure is mounting on the University as Will's planned speech draws closer.
In a press release, UltraViolet announced it had gathered more than 40,000 signatures on a petition calling for the cancelation of Will's speech, which the group plans to deliver on December 10.
Students are also calling foul, with more than 650 already signed up for a protest the morning of Will's speech.
"The hope was that the administration would realize this is a bonehead move and choose someone else," said Emily Gillingham, an MSU law school student and co-organizer of a protest set for 8 a.m. Saturday, right before Will's 10 a.m. address to graduates of several MSU colleges. "I feel so bad for the people who are there who have survived sexual assault who George Will thinks are lying or it was some sort of pleasant experience."
MSU's Council of Graduate Students passed a resolution Sunday calling on the administration to withdraw their invitation to Will. Some students and faculty are discussing plans for an alternate commencement.
"It's really disappointing that MSU chose to invite him, it appears that they knew it would be disappointing because they waited to announce it," said Jessica Kane, an MSU graduate student who works in the campus Sexual Assault Center. "George Will's manner of approaching sexual assault is dismissive to all sexual assault survivors. Basically he calls them all potential liars. The fact that he approached sexual assault with such a callous attitude is really alarming."
After the publication of this post, David Yontz, managing editor of Creators Syndicate, responded to Media Matters' request for comment about Carson.
Yontz said that though Fox News had cut ties with Carson, Creators will not make a decision until he officially announces his presidential plans.
"Given the Fox thing, I don't think we're concerned about that, but he hasn't officially announced yet, it is looking likely he is going to run. But once he officially announces, we most likely will stop syndicating it, we just have to come up with a solution as to what to do, at that time."
"It is on our radar, we are thinking of solutions once that does happen. As of right now we are going to keep syndicating the column until further notice."
Dr. Ben Carson was reportedly dropped as a Fox News contributor over his apparent plans to run for president. But that prospective 2016 bid, which has included a biographical documentary produced by his business manager, is apparently not enough for the Washington Times or Creators Syndicate to sever relations with the surgeon-turned-political commentator.
Fox News ended its contract with Carson last month shortly before the release of A Breath of Fresh Air, an hour-long documentary that aired on 37 television stations as a paid program in early November. The film was widely viewed as a way to boost Carson's profile for a 2016 Republican presidential bid.
Despite that, Carson is still listed as "founding publisher" on the masthead of the Times' digital magazine, American Currentsee. Creators Syndicate has also kept its arrangement with Carson, distributing his column to newspapers across the country, including the Times.
American Currentsee, which is targeted at "conservative blacks," is overseen by executive editor Armstrong Williams, who is also Carson's business manager and whose production company made the Carson documentary. The digital magazine, which is wildly supportive of Carson, often carries columns from both Carson and Williams. It recently devoted an entire issue to the topic, "Is Ben Carson in? How he could lead, how he could win."
Williams, whose own syndicated column is also carried by the Times, said Carson has not announced for president and until he does he has the right to write as he pleases.
"He's a syndicated columnist, he's not running for president, in fact I don't know anyone who has announced they are running for president, do you? Has anybody on the Democratic or Republican side that has announced for president," Williams said in a phone interview. "You know what, as his business manager, the last thing I want him to do is run for president. But you know what? That's the American way. If you are 35 years old and if you're a U.S. citizen you can make a decision to run and the American people can make a decision on whether you're the best candidate for this country or not."
Neither Creators, which syndicated Carson's most recent piece on December 3, nor The Washington Times have responded to requests for comment.
Williams claimed that the documentary that led to the termination of Carson's Fox News relationship should not affect Carson's Times connections or those he has with newspapers that run his column through Creators.
"That has to do with the fact that we aired a documentary that I produced and Fox News said it was a conflict with the contract and so we made a decision to air the documentary and they made a decision to cut ties. That was a business decision," he said about the Fox issue.
A controversial ad that ran in three Minnesota newspapers this weekend opposing a statewide transgender rights school policy is being criticized for misleading readers with false, fear-based claims about student treatment.
The full-page ad, placed by the Minnesota Child Protection League, depicts a female ballplayer with the headline: "THE END OF GIRLS' SPORTS?"
The MCPL, an anti-LGBT organization focused on education, is targeting a new proposed policy that would allow transgender high school student athletes to play on the teams that correspond to their gender identity if they provide sufficient documentation that they either intend to transition or are currently transitioning.
Their ad warns that under the policy, "your 14-year-old daughter just lost her position on an all-girl team to a male... and now she may have to shower with him."
The ad appeared in The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis, the St. Cloud Times and the Duluth News Tribune.
The policy, which is under consideration by the Minnesota State High School League, is set to be considered at a public meeting on Thursday.
The ad has sparked opposition from several LGBT equality groups, including Outfront Minnesota, which issued a call for protest that criticized the ad for spreading "misinformation and fear" and stated, in part: "Trans students deserve full affirmation and support, including the chance to compete in sports with their peers."
Other local activists termed the ads "misleading," "hurtful," and based in "ignorance."
The Star-Tribune and the St. Cloud Times did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But Matt Mazzio, advertising director for the Duluth News Tribune, said his paper ran the ad as a business decision and based on First Amendment rights.
"We had an internal discussion. But just like any other political advertisement, we do believe in the First Amendment rights," he said. "Everybody's got a viewpoint and if they want to reach the largest audience in this area, they know the newspaper is the way to go."
Asked about the ad's misleading information and if that should keep it from being published the same way misleading information in a political ad would be grounds for not publishing, he said, "I'd have to defer that to attorneys."
Veteran journalists and news ethicists are calling on Fox News to suspend Mike Huckabee's contract amid growing evidence that he is planning to run for president in 2016.
The Washington Post reported November 12 on Huckabee's various political activities as he prepares to mount a possible bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, including hiring staff, courting donors and activists, and scouting potential locations for a campaign headquarters. Post reporters Robert Costa and Tom Hamburger noted that Huckabee's team is doing its best to "finesse" the planning of a potential campaign while trying to avoid losing his Fox News platform.
In response to the Post piece, Media Matters called on the network -- which recently cut ties with former contributor Ben Carson due to his possible 2016 run -- to suspend Huckabee. Fox News executive Bill Shine subsequently told CNN that the network is "taking a serious look at Governor Huckabee's recent activity in the political arena and are evaluating his current status."
According to several media critics, ethicists, and reporters, it's definitely time for Fox News to part ways with Huckabee.
"Clearly if someone is organizing to run for president, they should not be given a platform by any news organization where they are basically posing as disinterested or not self-interested commentators," said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. "What we believe in journalism is full disclosure and no hidden agendas. The viewer watching the former governor on Fox News doesn't know necessarily if he is using his position to promote his position."
Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald, said the ethical question is easy.
"It's interesting to watch Huckabee try to find a loophole that would enable him to activate a campaign while holding on to his Fox gig," he said. "The idea that he thinks he could get away with using a political non-profit to masquerade as a campaign without 'crossing the threshold' at Fox strikes me as not only unethical, but dishonest and merits investigation. To me, the simple test of this political non-profit will be, 'if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck ....'"
Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed.
"It is unquestionably a problem to have somebody wearing those two hats to be privately or semi-publicly putting together a presidential campaign and positioning himself as a commentator who is applying his political judgments to disinterested subjects," Wasserman said in a phone interview.
Wasserman pointed out that when viewers watch a commentator who is engaged in a political campaign they can assume his views are affected by that. But if Huckabee does not disclose such a connection, the viewer is misled.
Computer security experts say that a video released by former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson appears to show her computer "malfunction[ing]," likely due to a stuck backspace key, not being hacked by government agents as she had suggested.
In her new book Stonewalled, Attkisson claims that her personal Apple laptop, personal Apple desktop, and a CBS News-issued Toshiba laptop were hacked in late 2012 while she was reporting on the Benghazi terrorist attacks. In June 2013, CBS News confirmed that the CBS News computer was breached, using what the network said were "sophisticated" methods. According to the book, unnamed sources confirmed for Attkisson that an unnamed government agency was behind the attack. She also claims that she has submitted her personal Apple desktop to the Department of Justice's Inspector General for additional review.*
On October 31, Politico reported that Attkisson had released "a video she took with her cellphone of one apparent hack" of her personal Apple laptop. The video shows words typed into a Microsoft Word document rapidly disappearing. During the video, Attkisson's voice can be heard saying she's "not touching it," as the camera pans down to the keyboard. As Politico reported, "There is no way to confirm from the video alone that a hack is actually taking place, and there's reason to doubt that Attkisson was hacked at all," but "Attkisson's decision to release the video suggests she plans on using it to make her case."
Computer security experts who reviewed the video suggested to Media Matters that it seemed to show the results of a stuck backspace key rather than hacking, and said the government and other sophisticated hacking enterprises were unlikely to use such methods.
Matthew Brothers-McGrew, a senior specialist at Interhack Corp. in Columbus, Ohio, said that sometimes computers "malfunction, a key can get stuck, sometimes dirt can get under a keyboard and a key will inadvertently be held down." He explained that sometimes there can be software issues "where the computer will think a key is held down in fact it is not," and said that his firm tested holding down the backspace key on a computer in their offices, and found "if you have Word open it will continually backspace text at about the same rate we are seeing in the video."
Brad Moore, also a senior specialist at Interhack Corp., agreed, noting, "From what we looked at and what we were able to replicate, from that piece of video we don't see what we would call evidence of hacking. There are multiple explanations and we were able to demonstrate quickly and easily one possibil[ity], the backspace key."
Peter Theobald, computer forensics investigator with TC Forensics in Syosset N.Y., said that while he would not be "terribly surprised to find out that someone in the government could or would hack her," he also did not think the video proved "anything."
"If a hacker were to infiltrate her laptop and delete her files there would be better ways to do it, it wouldn't be so obvious to her," Theobald said. "It did not look like a hacker attack to me."
All of the experts agreed that hackers would more typically use other methods to delete documents from a computer.
"The way to do it wouldn't be to hold down the delete key," explained Sam Plainfield, of Syntax Technical Computer Forensics in San Francisco, which is what he thinks appears to be happening in the video. Instead, "you wouldn't see a visual indicator that files are deleting, [they are] just gone."
Brothers-McGrew noted "in our experience if you have the ability to be able to access and submit keystrokes on someone's computer, you generally have system level access where you can just delete or modify the file yourself. The user would not ordinarily see what is going on."
He added, "If the government were in there they would most likely be doing it without making themselves known."
Theobald concurred, saying that the government "would be able to access the files on her hard drive and manipulate and delete them without having to remote control her screen and keyboard while she is sitting at the keyboard."
*The language in this post has been updated to clarify that Attkisson submitted her personal Apple desktop computer to the DOJ for review, not her personal laptop.
Just days after suggesting that some southern states should secede from the U.S. to form a new country that is based on "traditional values" and less tolerant of the LGBT community, columnist Douglas MacKinnon has left his job at the Tampa Tribune, according to the paper's publisher.
MacKinnon, a former aide to Ronald Reagan, recently published The Secessionist States of America: The Blueprint for Creating a Traditional Values Country...Now. According to Right Wing Watch, during a recent interview with conservative radio host Janet Mefferd promoting the book, MacKinnon "specifically cited advances in gay rights as a reason for Southern states to leave the U.S. and create a new country." His proposal -- including floating "Reagan" as an "interim name" for the new country -- received widespread ridicule.
Citing unnamed sources, Tampa outlet Creative Loafing reported Monday that MacKinnon had been fired, speculating that it was "because of the embarrassment to the paper." Tampa Tribune publisher Brian Burns confirmed to Media Matters today that MacKinnon was indeed leaving the paper, but declined to give a reason. According to Burns, "at this point, no he is not employed."
Asked by Media Matters to clarify if MacKinnon had been fired or quit, Burns said, "I really can't comment on it, it's a personnel issue so we gotta keep that internal."
MacKinnon could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
MacKinnon's secession proposal follows an incident in August when the columnist sparked controversy for a piece that claimed the Walt Disney Company had a "pro-gay agenda" and was trying to "indoctrinate" children.
The Tribune later pulled that column from its website.
Iowa Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst has canceled or declined to meet with editorial boards at several major Iowa newspapers, including the Des Moines Register, the largest circulation daily in the state.
In interviews with Media Matters, staffers at those outlets suggested Ernst's lack of availability is nearly unprecedented.
Ernst is a state senator and the Republican nominee for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin. She is facing Democratic challenger Bruce Braley, currently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In a post to Facebook this morning, Rekha Basu, a Register columnist who participates in the endorsement interviews, announced Ernst had "unilaterally" canceled a planned meeting with her paper's editorial board. Noting she had "also begged off meetings with The Cedar Rapids Gazette and The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald," Basu asked, "Is Joni Ernst afraid of newspaper editorial boards?"
Basu told Media Matters that such a cancellation by a major party U.S. Senate candidate has never occurred before during her 23 years at the paper.
"Never, not that I'm aware of," Basu said. "Not in the time I've been here, no refusing."
Basu, who declined to speculate on Ernst's reason for pulling out of the meeting, pointed out that Ernst did meet with the editorial board in May during the Republican primary and received the paper's endorsement at that time.
"I think it's a very important forum in which to explain one's positions and stand up for them, to make the case for why they are the best person to be elected," Basu said. "I would hope that if someone is committed to being in the U.S. Senate that they would be able to share directly with reporters and editors their reasons and uphold their policy positions."
The paper has yet to endorse a U.S. Senate candidate for the general election next month.
Editors at other Iowa newspapers also spoke out about Ernst declining or avoiding meetings.
"We never got anything on the schedule," said Elizabeth Schott, director of editorial relations for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. "We did request, we offered, we would have liked to interview her, but they chose to spend her time elsewhere. I cannot recall a time that that has happened before. We interviewed 27 other candidates this season, from county supervisor all the way up to U.S. Senate."
Amy Gilligan, managing editor of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald and a member of the editorial board, said she does not believe another major candidate had declined to meet with the newspaper in her 25 years on staff.
"I don't think it's ever happened," she said. "I was surprised, we have the senators in Iowa, it's a huge position and we have such long-serving senators that they're nationally known and iconic and Senator [Chuck] Grassley and Harkin have always made time to come here."
Chuck Todd hopes the media has "grown up" and will avoid sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 presidential run.
In the final installment of Media Matters' three-part interview series with Todd, the new Meet the Press host discusses the challenges facing media outlets covering a possible Clinton White House bid.
During her 2008 presidential run, Clinton faced near-constant sexism from the press. Asked whether things might be different if Clinton chooses to run in 2016, Todd explained he'd "like to think the media's grown up about that." Nonetheless, he cautioned, "Identity politics can sometimes bring out the worst in people on the left and right."
According to Todd, the Clintons' decades-long presence in the public eye presents challenges for both her potential campaign and for reporters that might eventually cover it.
In a September interview with PBS host Charlie Rose, Todd said that the press often misrepresents the idea that there is a "Clinton fatigue problem," explaining that the "fatigue" actually rests with the press and not people in the Democratic Party, with whom the former secretary of state is very popular. Todd expanded on those comments to Media Matters, saying that media outlets need to avoid "'been there, done that' disease."
Todd said that outlets need to utilize their long history of covering Clinton while being wary of "preconceived notions" and employing a "fresh set of eyes."
Clinton herself recently lamented the tendency of the press to focus on "the best angle, quickest hit, the biggest embarrassment" at the expense of more substantive news. Todd agreed with Clinton, saying that "what gets the attention and what gets clicks" for political reporters is "the gotcha moment." But he added that "the media isn't doing it on their own." Pointing to the proliferation of opposition research on both sides, Todd said that while it used to be utilized by the press merely to highlight hypocrisy, it's turned into "where's every negative thing I can find."
"So it doesn't matter how responsible 70 percent of the journalism community is," Todd said. "There's always a 30 percent chunk that is willing to just take whatever's handed them." He added, "it doesn't matter if the mainstream media is responsible when you have the 10,000 other outlets to get below-the-belt stuff out, right?"
Relevant transcript from Todd's Media Matters interview has been published with each part.
Answers covered in part three are below:
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat apologized for appearing at a fundraising event for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an extreme anti-gay legal group working to criminalize homosexuality.
On October 16, Douthat spoke at "The Price of Citizenship: Losing Religious Freedom in America," an event held by ADF and aimed at drawing attention to a number of popular right-wing horror stories about the threat LGBT equality poses to religious liberty. Douthat spoke alongside radio host Hugh Hewitt and the Benham brothers, who are notorious for their history of extreme anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The event ended with explicit solicitations for donations to support ADF's legal work.
As Media Matters noted, ADF is one of the most extreme anti-gay legal groups in the country, fighting against even basic legal protections for LGBT people and working internationally to repress LGBT human rights, including supporting Belize's draconian law criminalizing gay sex.
On Wednesday, Douthat explained that he did not know ADF's event was a fundraiser and said he plans to decline the honorarium he received from the event.
"I was not aware in advance that this event was a fundraiser and had I known, I would not have agreed to participate," he said in a statement issued to Media Matters through the Times Wednesday. "I was invited by an events organizing group, not by ADF directly. I understood this to be a public conversation about religious liberty. This is my fault for not doing my due diligence, and I will be declining the honorarium."
If Chuck Todd's plans for the new Meet the Press are successful, within a year the show will balance the need to explain the inner workings of Washington to viewers with elevating public concerns that are not getting enough attention in the political sphere.
In the second part of a three-part interview series with Media Matters, Todd lays out his goals for Meet the Press, the struggle for guest diversity on Sunday political shows, and the current state of the media landscape.
Responding to a frequent progressive critique of the Sunday shows -- that they are obsessed with gaffes and spin and not actual issues -- Todd expressed hope that his show would pull off a "balancing act."
"On one hand, we're trying to explain and interpret what Washington is up to for the public," Todd said. "But at the same time, trying to bring the public's concerns and the public's issues and the things that they seem to be worried about to Washington's doorstep."
Asked whether Meet the Press should discuss issues like climate change that are generally under-covered or merely reflect the current discussion in Washington, Todd explained that it's difficult to find time to cover every deserving story, especially when breaking news events like the Ebola outbreak eat into the schedule.
Media Matters has repeatedly highlighted the lack of diversity on the Sunday morning political shows, including on Meet the Press. In 2013, when the show was hosted by David Gregory, a full 62 percent of the guests were white men.
Todd said that it's probably too early to judge his own efforts with regards to diversity but said it is "a front-burner issue for us, not a back-burner issue."
While Todd said he had so far sought to make his weekly roundtables diverse, he warned of challenges in providing a balanced slate of interview subjects.
Todd highlighted how, for instance, "90 percent of the generals and the military experts out there" are white men. "Some of this stuff is out of your control. At the end of the day, you want to put the best people on. You want to put the best, smartest people on," Todd said. "I'd like to think we're doing a better job at making sure that we're reflecting America."
He also pointed to the need for geographical diversity among guests in order to avoid "socioeconomic groupthink," as well as providing diverse ideological voices within both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Todd criticized Fox News' use of straight news reporters to balance conservative commentators on their roundtable panels, saying that it demonstrates the network has an "agenda," adding that Meet the Press doesn't "believe in that." Todd also criticized Fox News for "trying to make everything about media bias."
Despite his criticism of the conservative network, Todd offered that "too many citizens are only getting news from one place and not understanding the other side."
The first part of Todd's interview with Media Matters focused on the media's coverage of scandals and crises. The third and final installment will focus on media coverage of Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 presidential run.
Relevant transcript from Todd's Media Matters interview will be published with each part.
Answers covered in part two are below: