Joe Strupp

Author ››› Joe Strupp
  • The Breitbart Team Turned An Anti-Clinton Smear Book Into A Terrible Documentary

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The upcoming anti-Clinton documentary Clinton Cash largely rehashes the shoddily-researched conspiracies from the 2015 book on which it’s based.

    Media Matters attended a screening of the film Thursday in New York City ahead of its release. Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon – who co-wrote and co-produced the film -- were on hand to promote it to an audience that included Fox News personalities Bill Hemmer and Brian Kilmeade. 

    When the book -- which largely pushes the evidence-free claim that while serving as secretary of state, Clinton did favors for foreign entities that donated to the Clinton Foundation -- was published last year, Schweizer, a Republican activist with a history of factual problems, was criticized by Media Matters and other outlets for a series of sloppy errors. Some of the errors were later corrected in the Kindle version of the book. 

    Clinton Cash also heavily relied on innuendo in the absence of solid proof for its central allegation that the Clintons have traded favors for money. As Slate writer Jamelle Bouie put it, “Peter Schweizer’s attack on the Clintons leads with his conclusions and never connects the dots.”

    The film has many of the same factual problems. For example, a key accusation lobbed at the Clinton Foundation in the film in order to undermine the idea that it does important charitable work is the claim that only “10 percent” of its donations actually go to charity.

    Schweizer repeatedly relied on this talking point while on the Clinton Cash book tour last year, claiming that other than the 10 percent the Clinton Foundation gives to “other charitable organizations, the rest they keep for themselves.”

    But the “10 percent” statistic is deceptive -- even Fox News labeled it “incredibly misleading.” Network correspondent Eric Shawn explained in a report last year that the Clinton Foundation doesn’t “give grants to other charities. They do most of it themselves." He also cited IRS figures indicating the foundation has a "rate of spending of about 80 percent" and "experts for charity say that's very good.”

    The film uses big headlines and grainy news clips to paint the Clintons as being in the pocket of anyone who pays for a speech or donates to the Clinton Foundation, but still fails to connect the dots with substantial evidence.

    “You have money coming at certain times and then you have policy decisions that are made that affect the people that sent the money, then people are left to the question: is this all coincidence or is this a case of follow the money,” Schweizer told Media Matters after the screening. “I just don’t believe it’s coincidence.”

    The film doesn't feature interviews with sources or people with direct knowledge of the events that Clinton Cash claims prove a quid pro quo arrangement. 

    “That was intentional,” Schweizer said about the missing outside voices. “We simply wanted to narrate the stories as they came through and explain to people how it rolled out. We didn’t want it to be talking head.” 

    Following the screening, Bannon said the film is going to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, and that the producers are “in discussions with people approaching us to get this out before the [Democratic] convention.”

    Bannon added, “We may cut a TV deal with a broadcast or a cable network like Yahoo or Netflix, we are in discussion with people to get this out to a broader audience.” He later joked, “We’re open for bids right after this.”

    He said the movie “cost a couple million bucks” to make, but did not elaborate on the funding sources.

    Schweizer claimed the documentary is not designed to just throw “red meat” out to a conservative audience, instead suggesting the filmmakers are trying to dissuade people outside the Republican party from supporting Hillary Clinton. 

     “This is really designed to appeal to people in general, who may not know much about how the Clintons have operated,” Schweizer said. ”You can have a business model that says ‘let’s throw red meat out there that make a lot of money,’ or you can create a documentary film that’s designed to inform people who may not necessarily agree with your point of view and get that information out.”

    When Bannon was asked by an audience member about the reaction to the book, he turned defensive, claiming the mainstream media was ignoring the findings. He also criticized the Democratic primary debate panelists for not raising any of the issues in the debates.

    “12 to 14 debates, 35 to 40 hours of prime time debates, not one question about anything in this film,” Bannon said. “That’s an indictment on the mainstream media and that’s an indictment of everybody who had a debate.”

    Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has recently indicated that he plans to use the claims from Clinton Cash in a likely general election matchup with Clinton. In an interview with Breitbart News this week – where Schweizer also serves as senior editor-at-large – Trump called the Clinton Cash book “amazing” and said he is sure the movie “will be good” because of Bannon’s involvement.

    Breitbart News has faced widespread criticism over the past year for its Trump cheerleading. Last year, Buzzfeed reporter McKay Coppins reported that “many” people inside Breitbart “believe Trump has provided undisclosed financial backing to the outlet in exchange for glowing coverage.” (Bannon called the allegation “a lie.”)

    After the screening, Schweizer said Trump and his campaign had “zero” involvement with the film, and said that because of his role as president of the non-profit Government Accountability Institute, “we are not allowed to do that.” 

    When asked what he thought of the reaction the book got and if he was disappointed with all of the criticism, Schweizer said, “I think we got good media coverage. Some people in your organization have disagreements on some of these matters, the interpretations."

    Media Matters’ fact check of Schweizer’s book can be read here

  • Veteran Campaign Reporters: “The Stakes Are Too High” To Let Trump Get Away With Constant Lying

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veteran campaign reporters are calling on media outlets to sharply increase their fact-checking of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, telling Media Matters “the stakes are too high” to let Trump get away with peddling conspiracy theories and near-constant falsehoods.

    In the week since Trump’s win in the Indiana presidential primary essentially clinched the nomination for him, the candidate has faced criticism from media critics and fact-checkers for his continued embrace of outlandish conspiracy theories. CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday called on journalists to confront Trump “head-on” over his misinformation. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler hit a similar note in a May 7 article, writing that outlets have “no excuse” to let Trump get away with falsehoods.

    In conversations with Media Matters, Kessler and several veteran presidential campaign reporters highlighted the sheer tonnage of misinformation from Trump, with several arguing that outlets need to be more aggressive when challenging the Republican.

    “The Trump lies are so many and they come out at such a rapid fire, Gatling-gun fashion, it is hard for the reporters to keep up in May. I can just imagine what it will be like in October,” said Walter Shapiro, who covered nine presidential campaigns dating back to 1980 for The Washington Post, Newsweek, Salon and others. “The most important thing is that you don’t put the fact checks in some separate envelope done by the fact-check expert. You have to put as many fact checks as you can in the story of the speech, in the story of the assertion and if necessary don’t resort to euphemisms, like ‘misspoke.’ He did not misspeak, he did not obfuscate, he did not miss the meaning -- he lied.”

    Trump’s falsehoods and conspiracies have piled up over the course of the campaign, running the gamut from his repeated (and often unchallenged) boast that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning to more bizarre claims like his recent embrace of a National Enquirer conspiracy linking Sen. Ted Cruz’s father to JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

    “These are totally different problems than we have ever faced before,” Shapiro said about covering Trump. “I give lots of news organization in the months ahead a lot of latitude because we have never dealt with someone for whom truth is as dispensable as Kleenex in politics.”

    He said part of the problem is when news outlets carry Trump speeches and rallies live, which by nature prevents immediate fact-checking.

    “The problem is if the networks are going to give you one hour of unedited access a night, there is no way for the fact checks to catch up,” he said. “There are dictators who control the media who have less access than he does.”

    David Yepsen, a former top political reporter for the Des Moines Register for 34 years, said news outlets need to “double-down on fact-checking” as the campaign continues.

    “News organizations can take each one of these statements apart,” Yepsen said via email. “They can't be blown off or dismissed. The tone has to be calm, factual, but dispassionate and methodical. Reporters need to keep the focus on Trump and his statements.”

    He later added, “It is also going to be critically important to get this debate out on social media. It's more important than a lot of reporters want to admit because more and more people are getting information about the campaign in this way.” 

    Adam Clymer, a former New York Times campaign reporter from 1977 to 2003, said the lack of scrutiny in the past is due to time pressures and poor editing, but that cannot continue.

    Asked how journalists can counter him going forward, Clymer said, “By repeating after every time he says it that ‘Mr. Trump has offered no evidence of his theory that has been debunked by X, Y, or Z.’”

    “Somebody’s got to be responsible,” Clymer urged. “Everything about his substance becomes more important when someone may be the nominee.”

    He added, “Since Trump makes more stuff up than most people, he becomes a particularly glaring example of the press’ shortcomings. Do the basic job, which is different than what they have been. But it is not just reporters, don’t let editors off the hook at all levels.”

    “He is off the charts,” said Kessler, who writes The Fact Checker column for The Washington Post.

    Of the 34 fact-checks done on Trump in the column, nearly 70 percent have resulted in four Pinocchios, which is the site’s worst rating, Kessler said. “Your average politician gets 10 percent to 20 percent of their ratings as four Pinocchios.”

    At PolitiFact.com, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking site, 62 percent of Trump comments that were reviewed received either False or “Pants on Fire,” its worst rating.

    Angie Holan, PolitiFact editor, says no other 2016 presidential candidate even comes close.

    “The results are the results, he’s wrong pretty regularly,” she said. “He gets small details wrong, too. He said the trade deficit with China is $500 billion. It’s not, it’s $300 billion. That’s quite a bit to be wrong. You add up wrong on big things and wrong on little things and that’s how he gets such a bad record.”

    Kessler agreed the answer is for reporters to increase their scrutiny as they would any unreliable source 

    “He says this stuff and keeps saying it,” Kessler said. “There is little excuse for not saying something to him when, for instance, he says he was against the war in Iraq or that Hillary Clinton started the birther movement -- things that have been fact-checked and found to be bogus.”

    And Trump’s falsehoods are nothing new, according to people who covered him in the 1980s when he was a rising real estate mogul and New York gossip page regular.

    Among those was Susan Mulcahy, former editor of the New York Post’s Page Six from 1983 to 1985. She recently penned a piece for Politico recounting his history of lies.

    Her advice to today’s campaign reporters who must cover him through Election Day: “Every statement that he makes has to be checked. Even mundane, innocuous things.”

    She suggested treating him as a lawyer would a witness on the stand, saying “be prepared for answers to some of the questions ahead of time,” later adding that lying “doesn’t bother him, he has been doing this for so long.”

    Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Associated Press campaign reporter, said the challenge is for journalists to scrutinize him more than most candidates because of his poor factual record.

    “It requires more homework covering a guy like this, and the trouble with Trump is you never know what he is going to make up next,” Mears said. “It is not argumentative to say that Trump is lying, it is not argumentative if you state the actual fact.”

    Clark Hoyt, a former reporter and editor for Knight Ridder and McClatchy -- who covered presidential races in 1968, 1972, and 1976 -- said Trump’s level of dishonesty is unprecedented in American politics and requires a demand for truth.

    “If he says something that is demonstrably false it should immediately be called that. We have an obligation to even point out the history of these things, that this has been a pattern with Trump and not to let readers or viewers forget it. The stakes are too high,” said Hoyt, also a former public editor for The New York Times. “You have to be prepared to say what he says and then say what the truth is. That puts a great burden on news organizations to be really fast on their feet with research and the resources to dig into some of these things.”

    Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute, said reporters need to stick to the basics and not let lies pass by unchecked.

    “He does seem to say a lot of things that just simply are not true,” said Tompkins. “He has a very high negative and part of that negative seems to be his demeanor, but also whether or not he can be trusted.”

    Media Matters recently highlighted several other examples of journalism experts and veteran reporters calling on the media to fact-check Trump more effectively: 

  • Inside The Industry Manufacturing The Lies You Hear Every Day

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    In April, Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters released Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. The book lays out the “carefully concealed but ever-growing industry of organized misinformation that exists to create and disseminate lies in the service of political agendas.”

    I recently spoke with Rabin-Havt about the group of people -- and their enablers -- feeding false narratives into the media, how we’ve entered an era “where truth doesn’t exist,” and how to fix the problem.

    The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    The book is titled Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. What does that refer to?

    Well it refers to two things. It refers to a group of people who I found in this book are at the center of creating a lot of the lies you see permeating through the conservative media. A group of people who have come up with everything from death panels to the notion that children raised by LGBT couples have worse outcomes than children raised by straight couples. It’s a recognition that a group of people exists to create lies for both ideological and financial profit with the express intent of distorting the public policy process. That’s Lies, Incorporated.

    The post-truth refers to the fact that because of this group and because of the media environment that this group feeds off of, we now exist in a world where truth doesn’t exist. Where there’s a truth on the right and a truth on the left, and instead of having debates about issues, we have debates about what is true and what is false, and that’s not a debate that advances us as a country.

    And this is a group that not a lot of people realize exists, with an agenda to argue against the facts?

    Sometimes a group of people, “experts,” who are paid to create the facts, who are paid to manufacture the facts with the express intent -- and this is what’s interesting -- not of advancing their cause, but of taking us to a draw, keeping us at the status quo. It’s not about advancing an ideology, it’s about keeping everything locked in place.

    Because there are certain people who benefit from that, whether it’s a certain political party, or a certain business?

    It’s a certain ideology, it’s a certain business, it’s a certain faction, it’s sometimes a group of people. Sometimes the issues are barely connected. A lot of the scientists who worked against the notion that tobacco causes cancer had issues that were completely unrelated. Some were cold warriors who simply believed that any regulation was a step towards communism. One prominent tobacco scientist was a eugenicist who believed that cancer was caused by genetics and therefore couldn’t be caused by tobacco.

    The book opens with the story that in 1957 the tobacco industry really started it.

    The tobacco industry, they were patient zero here, they really launched this world. What happened is the barons of the tobacco industry met at the Plaza Hotel with John Hill, who was the head of Hill & Knowlton, the legendary public relations firm. John Hill sat them down and said, “You have to stop this advertising that says our cigarettes are the healthiest, you have to cut that out. What we need you to do is start arguing with the science that says cigarettes are unhealthy. And how you do that is we form this Tobacco Industry Research Committee and we do our own science that speaks to our needs.”

    What’s interesting is John Hill knew cigarettes are unhealthy. How do we know that? Because John Hill quit smoking prior to this meeting because of its impact on him.

    You cover a lot of issues in the book, such as cigarettes, climate change, guns, immigration, and abortion. Which issues among the ones in the book seem to have the biggest offenders?

    They’re all very different. The thing I would like to look at is that these lies have an impact on people. We think about death panels for example. This woman, Betsy McCaughey, made up death panels.

    That was in the Affordable Care Act debate.

    That was horrible, right? But the truth is why it’s horrible is because people aren’t getting insurance today because of that lie. Who isn’t? Well, there was a story in the Washington Post that quoted two women who qualified for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but weren’t getting it and were paying out of pocket for expensive out-of-pocket costs and when they asked them why, one put her fingers in the shape of a gun and implied that it was death panels.

    You cite several conservative outlets from Fox News to The Daily Caller to Breitbart. What is the role that the right-wing media have in spreading these lies?

    Some of it is laziness, some of it is people are biased towards lies that conform to their world views and confirm their world views. They make us comfortable, they make us feel good. We go to media that doesn’t educate us, that makes us feel good about living in our own world.

    My friend Clay Johnson wrote a book a few years back called The Information Diet. In it, he talks about how pizza tastes better than broccoli. If you had a pizza pie in front of you and a plate of steamed broccoli, which one do you want to eat? Well, 99 percent of people want to eat the pizza. But we know that you can’t just eat pizza, you need to eat your broccoli, too. The fact is, we know that in our food diets. On our information diets, people believe and just ingest only pizza, and that’s part of the problem.

    Has that gotten better or worse in recent years?

    I think it’s gotten worse. Part of the reason is we have a media structure now where you don’t have to get any information other than the information you want.

    Our world now is a world of unlimited bandwidth. Which in the end it is better to have more voices in the process, it’s better to have a world where somebody can create a site like Daily Kos, like Breitbart and rise up based on the ability to attract an audience -- that’s not a bad thing. The question is, if your only source of news is somebody like Breitbart, it’s going to distort your world view.

    Why do you think the Lies, Incorporated group has so much success with these right-wing outlets?

    Sometimes they work for them. You look at certain right-wing outlets, and you’ll see members of Lies, Incorporated writing and working for them. Sometimes it’s because these liars are spreading lies that conform to that world view. And part of that is, a lot of this world blossomed over the past seven years. In the past seven years, we had a Democrat in the White House who was pushing for change that leaned progressive, which meant the people fighting that change were conservative, which meant Lies, Incorporated, whose goal is to keep the status quo in place, was fighting against that. I think that creates the world that you’re talking about.

    How much does the mainstream media enable these lies?

    I think they occasionally do. I think some of it is when you have the ‘he said-she said’ version of reporting, it enables the lies. It’s also enabling to the lies to sometimes just broadcast them in general. Putting Betsy McCaughey on TV at all, even if you’re doing it to call her out, enables her lies. The question is, how do you then structure your coverage, and this is part of the solution, is media need to bear responsibility for broadcasting lies and for putting liars on television. And when they do, this will help to start to solve this problem.

    You mention false equivalency in the book, in which every story has to have two equal sides.

    Sometimes I feel like public policy stories end up getting covered like AP sports stories. An AP sports story has a similar model every time. Two teams played, this was the score, quote from winning team, quote from losing team, close story. When you try to cover public policy that way, you invariably end up injecting lies into the equation.

    People can have differences of opinion. We can look at similar data and have a different view on what that data means. That happens all the time. And there should be differences and we should have a debate about those differences. And we should come to the best conclusions. But the data should be the data and should be upheld and truth should be truth and we should hold it up and we shouldn’t allow people to inject lies in just because they’re doing it under the cover of politics.

    Which lies are the worst culprits on the false equivalency?

    The one that I think rises above all else is climate change, where the false equivalency for years put climate deniers who had no standing in the scientific community at the same level as scientists and in fact advanced some climate deniers further because they weren’t interested in science and accuracy, they were interested in spinning politics.

    Why does it still stick when there is overwhelming scientific agreement that there is man-made climate change?

    The lies are sticky, when people believe what they believe it is very difficult to convince people to look at truth when they have a firmly held belief in their head.

    What is the way to counter this?

    Part of it is a media solution, not giving liars a platform to lie and not allowing them to grow in the media. Part of it is making sure there is a transparency in how issues are covered. Part of it is making sure we don’t cover public policy like we’re covering basketball.

    If we did those three things alone, it would weaken Lies, Incorporated because the practitioners of Lies, Incorporated are hackers, they’re hackers of our small “d” democratic process.

    Hackers exploit weakness in computer systems. These democracy hackers exploit weakness in our media and public policy systems recognizing that they can inject themselves into the debate. Like a patch on a piece of computer software, by closing those loopholes and vulnerabilities, we can shut them out of the system.

    How are these liars making money doing this?

    Some of it is grant money from conservative institutions, some of it is speaking fees, some of it is writing a best-selling book. Some of it is they hold positions that allow them to make money and do this ideologically. Some of them are independently wealthy.

    What is the biggest surprise people might find from the book?

    How interconnected this world is. How all these people kind of all come from the same kernel. How all of this is an interconnected web designed to distort democracy. And how we actually, this is going on behind the scenes and how little coverage it gets.

  • Network Sources Deny Trump Claim That He Dictated Number Of Primary Debate Participants

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Donald Trump claimed on Saturday that he had pushed networks to host an odd number of candidates during Republican primary debates in order to ensure that he would not have to share center stage with another candidate and “usually won.” Network sources flatly deny that this happened.

    While Trump was placed in the center during the debates on CNN, CNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, CBS and ABC, the choice to place him there and the number of candidates onstage was determined by polling data, not his request, those sources say.

    “We determined position based on poll numbers,” CNBC Spokesman Brian Steele told Media Matters. Other sources at the networks also said such an approach has been standard during recent campaign cycles and had nothing to do with Trump or any other candidate’s demands.

    Trump said during a speech Saturday in Waterbury, Connecticut, that he fought to be in the center by himself and “I usually won that fight, but not always.”

    See his full comment below:

    DONALD TRUMP: Every single debate I was on center stage, and the only thing I asked of the debates were I want an odd number of people. You know why? When it was an even number I was on center stage with somebody else. In other words, if we had five I was in the center, if we had six I was sharing it, I didn't like that OK? So I'd fight, and I usually won that fight, but not always. But I was center stage, I was number one, on every single debate. 

    But sources at several of the networks said that placement and number of candidates was based on polling only, and had been for the past few campaign cycles.

    A CNN spokesperson declined to comment, but referred Media Matters to the network’s reporting on their debates that indicated participation would be based on set, previously announced criteria. 

    The articles state that participation in the CNN December debate was based on “the average of the national polls from November and December,” while the CNN February debate in Houston was based on the delegate count for the first four nominating contests. 

  • Law Experts Shoot Down "Silly" "Nonsense" Attacks On Merrick Garland As Anti-Business

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Conservative claims that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s rulings prove he is anti-business are "silly" "nonsense," according to administrative law experts who spoke with Media Matters.

    Earlier this month, the Koch-backed National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released a “scorecard” of Garland’s rulings as a judge on the D.C. Circuit. The group claimed its scorecard proved Garland “is quantifiably biased in favor of regulatory agencies and against private sector businesses” because he often ruled in favor of several government agencies.

    But as Media Matters previously explained, the scorecard is misleading and not evidence that the nominee is somehow outside of the legal mainstream. In fact, many of the decisions NFIB highlighted for criticism were rulings in which Garland was joined by Republican-appointed judges, and the conservative group’s attempt to provoke outrage over Garland’s record ignores crucial legal context.

    Top legal experts who spoke with Media Matters pointed out that in most federal appeals cases involving governmental agencies, the court sides with the agency under the Chevron Deference doctrine, which “raised the issue of how courts should treat agency interpretations of statutes that mandated” agency action, where the “Supreme Court held that courts should defer to agency interpretations of such statutes unless they are unreasonable.”

    “If you look at cases involving direct regulation by government agencies, his pattern of voting in those cases is entirely standard,” said Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School. “It’s the common approach because ever since the Chevron decision the idea has been that Congress can’t always address all of the details that arise in the regulatory state so they give a lot of leeway to expert agencies in deciding how best to carry out the underlying purpose that Congress had in enacting statutes. Therefore, the idea is when agencies resolve those ambiguities in ways that are at least rational and don’t cross any boundaries that are laid down, federal judges usually defer.”

    Joseph Landau, associate professor at Fordham Law School, agreed.

    “The Supreme Court has said that if the statute is unclear, courts should defer to the agency’s interpretation of the federal law as long as the agency’s interpretation of the statute is reasonable,” he said. “If the statute is unclear, and the agency is interpreting the statute, courts have generally held that the agency gets deference. There are exceptions, but deference is the presumption.”

    Jon Michaels, a UCLA Law School professor and a former clerk for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, pointed out that the man Garland is seeking to replace, Justice Antonin Scalia, was a strong supporter of the "Chevron Deference" doctrine.

    He also said the D.C. Circuit Court usually rules in favor of the government agencies because it cannot turn down cases and must review even the most unlikely claims.

    “The court is limited in what it can overturn,” Michaels added. “The court is not supposed to substitute its preference on questions of an agency’s interpretation of law, fact or policy.”

    William H. Simon, Arthur Levitt Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, called the NFIB attack “silly.”

    “It's silly to conclude that he is 'biased,'” Simon said. “The law says judges are supposed to defer to the agencies on many issues. A reluctance to overrule the other branches is a defining characteristic of a judicial 'moderate', which is what many in both parties say they are looking for.”

    Osamudia James, a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said, “When Judge Garland or any judge comes in and says they side with the agency, they are saying that based on the statute that Congress set up, what the agency is doing is reasonable.”

    She also cited that many Republican-appointed judges agreed with Garland. “That is an interesting part of this to see who sided with him,” she added. “Other Republican judges are in agreement with him. That undercuts attacks that Garland is excessively pro-regulatory.”

    For Daniel Selmi, professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, the criticism of Garland is “nonsense.”

    “The court reviews what the agency has done based on the administrative record and in doing it, it exercises the standard of review,” Selmi explained. “Which is favorably inclined toward the public agency. They win a majority of the cases. That wouldn’t be abnormal and it wouldn’t tell you anything about bias, it would tell you he is following the law.”

    Joseph A. Grundfest, a law professor at the Stanford Law School, added that Garland’s opinions are “entirely unremarkable and reflect no bias either for or against regulatory agencies or private sector entities.”

  • Questioned By Media Matters, Roger Stone "Vehemently" Denies His "Negro" And "C*nt" Tweets Were Racist And Sexist

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP & ERIC HANANOKI

    Questioned by Media Matters, Roger Stone acknowledged that he deleted a series of sexist and racist tweets he had sent about media figures, but “vehemently” denied that they were actually sexist and racist. The Trump ally also criticized the media outlets that banned him over his crude commentary, and said he has “no idea” why Fox News host Megyn Kelly -- who has a “nice set of cans,” according to an old Stone tweet -- has not hosted him on her program recently.

    Media Matters reporter Joe Strupp interviewed Stone before he spoke Monday at New York City’s Federal Hall National Memorial for City & State’s Great Debate. Stone heads the pro-Trump super PAC Committee to Restore America's Greatness and has been under fire for his plan to disclose the hotel room numbers of Republican convention delegates who are purportedly trying to steal the nomination from Trump.

    Stone has also been criticized by conservatives and liberals for his outrageous tweets targeting media figures. He wrote (among many other things) that commentator Roland Martin is a "stupid negro" and a "fat negro," New York Times columnist Gail Collins is an "elitist c*nt," MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is "Rachel the muff-diver," CNN's Ana Navarro is “Borderline retarded” and an “Entitled Diva Bitch,” and Fox's Allen West is an "arrogant know-it-all negro." He mocked writer Charles Krauthammer for being paralyzed, and tweeted "DIE BITCH" at former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson.

    CNN and MSNBC have both banned Stone from their airwaves. Stone has pointed the finger at the “book burners at Media Matters for the bans.

    Stone has since deleted many of those tweets. Asked by Media Matters at the Great Debate event about removing the tweets, Stone said, “Some of them were perhaps intemperate, but I, of course, vehemently deny that they were either racist or sexist.”

    While Stone has not been banned from Fox, he hasn’t appeared on Kelly’s program in two months. Stone was formerly a regular guest on The Kelly File, having appeared on the show four times in January and February (February 19February 10February 1, and January 21), according to a Nexis transcript search. The appearances stopped after news surfaced about Stone’s crude Twitter attacks, which were first noted by Media Matters on February 22 and 23.

    On the February 28 edition of Fox News’ Media Buzz, host Howard Kurtz noted that “Stone, who has also appeared on Fox News in recent months, has made disparaging physical comments about Megyn Kelly and Charles Krauthammer in the past.” He added that “Stone should be asked about these tweets the next time he shows up on Fox.”

    Stone acknowledged to Media Matters he hasn’t appeared on The Kelly File in a while, but said he had “no idea” if Kelly had been barring him from appearing on the show. Stone has recently tweeted at Kelly asking to appear on her program. He has continued to appear on other Fox News and Fox Business programming.  

    Back in 2011, Stone tweeted (and recently deleted) that Kelly has a "nice set of cans.” In response to a 2013 question from FishbowlDC about whom he would pick to have dinner with -- "NBC’s Brian Williams, CNN’s Roland Martin, ABC’s Sherri Shepherd or Fox News’ Megyn Kelly" -- Stone picked Kelly because she’s “hot." Last month he tweeted his desire to take her out for a drink.

    Stone told Media Matters that any media organization that bans him “exposes that they're not a media organization.” But the Trump backer said he wasn’t upset about his cable news bans, concluding that “there are dozens of other media outlets.”

    Stone is still a fixture on fringe conservative radio, including appearing as a regular guest on Alex Jones’ conspiracy show.

  • How Journalists Are Grappling With The Rampant "Bathroom Bill" Misinformation In North Carolina

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    North Carolina journalists tell Media Matters that covering the state’s controversial House Bill 2, which stripped nondiscrimination protections from LGBT residents, has been especially challenging due to the amount of fearmongering and misinformation spread by the law’s proponents.

    In a day-long special session on March 23, North Carolina’s legislature introduced, passed, and enacted HB2, a bill that restricts transgender people's bathroom access and “nullified local ordinances around the state that would have expanded protections for the LGBT community.” It was quickly signed by the state’s Republican Governor, Pat McCrory.

    Since its passage, HB2 has come under intense criticism and sparked protests and backlash -- including companies pulling business from the state, editorial boards at state newspapers condemning the law, and performers like Bruce Springsteen canceling planned North Carolina concerts.

    The law is most widely known for its provision targeting the transgender community, requiring people to use the bathrooms that correspond with the sex designated on their birth certificate. HB2 applies to restrooms, locker rooms, and showers in public buildings, which includes schools and public institutions of higher education. Proponents falsely claim laws like this are needed to prevent sexual predators from sneaking into women's restrooms by claiming to be transgender.

    The onslaught of lies and fear-based claims about "bathroom predators" have challenged local news outlets' reporting on the law, according to journalists from some of the state's largest news outlets.

    Rick Gall, news director at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, said countering the misinformation is a major challenge.

    “One of the biggest things that the supporters of the law have stated is ‘we did this to protect families, particularly women and children in restrooms,’” Gall said. “There’s certainly not a lot of evidence to indicate this has been a major problem in the past. We ask if this is fixing a problem that really existed.”

    He described much of the fear-based claims as “Doomsday-type scenarios,” adding, “we cannot be purveyors of … some wild accusations.”

    As Media Matters has repeatedly pointed out, there is absolutely no evidence to support conservatives’ fearmongering about transgender “bathroom predators.”  

    “The biggest challenge in covering this is that so much of it is dealing with speculation and fear,” said Brent Wolfe, news director at North Carolina Public Radio. "There have not been cases of a problem" with letting transgender people use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

    Fayetteville Observer executive editor Michael Adams agreed that countering the false claims adds to an already complicated story.

    “We have indicated there is no evidence of that. We include that to say that this was done despite the fact that there was no evidence that this has caused problems.”

    He cited the fact that Bank of America Stadium, the Carolina Panthers home field, and TimeWarner Cable Arena, home to the Charlotte Hornets, had already allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

    Adams said any such problems at those locations have been “non-existent as far as I can see.”

    “There’s been a lot of misinformation put out by the side that passed it, that this is just a bathroom bill to protect the privacy of the bathroom, but there is a lot more to this law than that,” Adams added.

    Katie Wadington, news director of the Ashville Citizen-Times, echoed that view.

    “It is a matter of finding counter views that aren’t fear-mongering,” according to Wadington. “We are trying to get as much of the truth out there as we can.

    Wadington also stressed the importance of highlighting other troubling provisions in HB2. “The transgender portion is the part that is getting the headlines, but there are other angles,” she said.

    In addition to its anti-LGBT provisions, HB2 removed the rights of many residents to sue on the basis of age and gender discrimination, and it prohibits any North Carolina municipality from raising its minimum wage.

    “We’ve tried to point that out repeatedly, report that this is much more than a transgender bill, much more than a bathroom bill. All of the things with the biggest impact are not about what bathroom you can pee in,” said Jeff Gauger, editor and publisher of the Greensboro News & Record. “We have tried to put before our readers more what is in this law.”

    Several journalists singled out misleading claims from Gov. McCrory for criticism.

    Gall explained his station posted a lengthy fact-check of a “Myths vs Facts” document about the bill put out by McCrory’s press office that was riddled with “several factual problems.” (It was given the lowest possible rating on the outlet’s fact checking scale.)

    “We have to be careful that we don’t become a sounding board for something that is inaccurate, misleading and there is plenty of that out there on this story,” Gall added. “We have tried to report stories that explain what the law really is. When some prominent individuals have made major claims, we have gone and looked at what are the facts, is that a fair representation?”

    Dan Barkin, senior editor at The News & Observer of Raleigh, also cited the "Myths vs Facts" put out by the governor's office.

    “The narrative that was being promoted in the first few days by the McCrory administration was that this really didn’t take anything away from localities, it didn’t take away any rights,” Barkin said. “A plain reading of the legislation really took away that narrative.”

    Barkin pointed to several related PolitFact posts done in partnership with News & Observer, including one that rated as “false” McCrory’s claim that the new law had not “taken away any rights that have currently existed in any city in North Carolina.”

    Rick Thames, executive editor of the Charlotte Observer, said many of the official voices for the pro-HB2 side have been misleading: “Supporters of the bill often suggest that they’ve done nothing to interfere with the rights of LGBT citizens and those citizens have recourse at the federal level. But it invalidated the ordinances across the state that were protections for people who believed they were discriminated.”

    Many newspapers statewide, as well as news outlets around the country, have relied on the Associated Press for much of the information on the new law.

    Tim Rogers, AP’s Carolinas news editor, said his reporters have focused not only on the details of the bill, but separating the real facts from the false claims.

    “The key there is to stick to what you can prove and stick to what you can show,” Rogers said. “We’re going to experts and reach out to experts on the issue.”

    He said the best way to challenge false claims is “by pushing back on characterizations, pushing back when someone is characterizing it and says ‘isn’t it this way?’ We are doing a lot of that.”

    Early on, AP’s Carolinas team, based in Raleigh, issued a fact sheet on the bill to all AP clients and members. It not only laid out the details, but raised questions, such as how the law will be enforced.

    “It’s been a difficult story to cover,” Rogers said. “To make sure what you are putting out there is accurate and not falling victim to spin.”

  • Washington Post Brushes Off Clinton Email Reporting Error: "Mistakes Are Made"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The Washington Post does not plan to change its policy on anonymous sourcing despite a major reporting mistake on the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails.

    On March 27, the paper published an extensive front-page story on "How Clinton's email scandal took root." The article originally claimed, "One hundred forty-seven FBI agents have been deployed to run down leads, according to a lawmaker briefed by FBI Director James B. Comey."

    After a wide range of outlets trumpeted the detail about the "one hundred forty-seven" agents, the Post issued a correction to its story, noting, "Two U.S. law enforcement officials have since told The Washington Post that figure is too high. ...  the officials say the number of FBI personnel involved is fewer than 50."

    Asked by Media Matters whether the Post planned to review its policy on the use of anonymous sources in light of the error, deputy managing editor Tracy Grant said via email that even with good reporting and vetting, "mistakes are made and when that happens we correct quickly and completely." Grant added that the paper does not think the error warrants an overhaul of sourcing procedures:

    "The Washington Post's policy on confidential sourcing states clearly that we prefer named sources over unnamed sources, but it also acknowledges that sometimes people will only speak on the condition of anonymity. Nothing is published from an unnamed source without at least one editor knowing who that source is. In this case, two senior editors knew who the sources were. Sometimes, despite rigorous reporting and vetting, mistakes are made and when that happens we correct quickly and completely as we did in this circumstance. We are always open to looking at our procedures for ensuring the integrity of our journalism, but this case does not cause us to feel that a policy change is necessary."

    Post executive editor Martin Baron did not respond to a request for comment.

  • Oklahoma Bombing Trial Reporters: Merrick Garland-Led Case "Reinstilled Faith" In American Courts

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Reporters who covered the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh praised Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland's work as a Justice Department official on the case, with one saying the successful prosecution "reinstilled faith in the American criminal justice system."

    Garland, currently chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, was serving as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice when the case went to trial in 1997. McVeigh was eventually convicted for his part in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that left 168 people dead.

    Those who covered the case said Garland, who oversaw the choice of the prosecution team and organized much of the evidence and gathering of witnesses, showed professionalism and a keen legal understanding that helped the prosecution win convincingly. 

    "I was impressed," Nolan Clay, a veteran Oklahoman journalist who was the hometown paper's lead reporter on the trial, told Media Matters. "He came down here and he was involved in the very first hearings and he chose the prosecution team and he chose a bunch of spectacular people."

    Clay added that Garland "had the O.J. Simpson trial in mind and he didn't want people who would make names for themselves. He let them do the case and did not micro-manage them. He insisted that search warrants be done properly. He did it very much by the book."

    Clay recalled the initial appearance before the court by McVeigh on April 21, 1995, two days after the bombing.

    "Garland was there and made sure reporters and some members of the public could come in and see it," Clay recalled. "It was a public airing and he wanted it done by the book. I was impressed by that." 

    Here's video of Garland speaking at that April 1995 appearance, from the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum via The Oklahoman

    Asked about Garland's fitness for the Supreme Court based on his experience, Clay said, "He clearly shows he is a people person. Consensus building is usually what it takes and I think he'd be good at that."

    "He was sort of behind the scenes. Super-intelligent and the prosecution was pretty successful," said Paul Queary, who covered the trial for the Associated Press. "The prosecutor always seemed highly-organized and they were particularly attuned to the sensitivities of the victims' survivors and the families of the people who were killed."

    The case took on an added workload because it was moved to Denver to avoid the possibility of a biased jury and because the courthouse in Oklahoma City had been damaged by the bombing itself, which occurred next door.

    Queary added, "The lead prosecutors were from outside Oklahoma and I assume were picked by [Garland]. I thought that their general level of decorum and professionalism in that case was really high. There was a fair amount of grandstanding from the defense on that case, charismatic Oklahoma and Texas defender types. There were a lot of concerns at the time that the bombing was so close to the legal community in Oklahoma, it was right next to the federal courthouse, he chose an elite team from out of town for that purpose."

    Queary said of Garland's Supreme Court nomination: "I'm not aware of any reason to object to him. If that is a reflection of his competence then it is a fine reflection."

    Richard A. Serrano, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who covered the trial, also wrote a 1998 book about the case. He said Garland's work was a key element in the successful prosecution.

    "He was head of the criminal division so he oversaw the prosecution, he assembled the team and helped coordinate evidence and subpoenas and search warrants, he also had the Unabomber at the same time," Serrano said. "It was very streamlined, very dramatic and he brought a lot of victims to testify. They obviously did a good job. Very methodical and very well put together."

    He also said that the prosecution brought the case to trial within two years, which is very unusual: "Some trials take forever to bring to trial. When you think about the military commissions that go on forever, it says a lot." 

    Maurice Possley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Chicago Tribune reporter who covered the case, described it via email as a "well done prosecution. Tightly focused. Carefully presented. Powerful."

    "Clearly, it was a great prosecution team given they had a brutal case to prosecute and this was occurring at a time when we had recently come out of the whole O.J. Simpson case and we had an amazing federal judge and a spit-a-polish prosecution team that did not have an easy case," said Peter Annin, a former Newsweek correspondent who reported on the trial.

    He added that Garland "was closely following the case and was checking in daily and doing a lot of interviews with reporters on background, he was following the case closely enough to do that."

    Annin said it "reinstilled faith in the American criminal justice system in the wake of the circus of the O.J. Simpson trial."

  • Legal Scholars: Reading Anti-Gun Bias Into Merrick Garland's En Banc Vote Is A "Dangerous" Assumption

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Legal experts at some of the nation's top law schools told Media Matters that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland's vote to rehear a gun-related case years ago cannot be held up as evidence that he is anti-gun.

    On Wednesday, President Obama nominated Garland -- currently the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia -- to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Even before his nomination was announced, the discredited right-wing group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) was laying the groundwork for conservatives to oppose him over his purported views on the Second Amendment.

    In a March 11 post for National Review, JCN chief counsel Carrie Severino argued that Garland has a "very liberal view on gun rights" in part because he voted in 2007 in favor of the full D.C. Circuit Court rehearing an unprecedented case on Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban. She added that this vote for the full court was somehow indicative of his desire to overturn Justice Antonin Scalia's D.C. v. Heller decision, which upended precedent a year after the D.C. Circuit case and laid down new constitutional rules for the Second Amendment.

    Shortly after Garland's nomination was announced, the National Rifle Association tweeted a link to Severino's piece to label Garland "bad on guns." JCN also released a set of "topline points" after the announcement falsely claiming Garland had voted "to uphold D.C.'s very restrictive gun restrictions."

    The idea that Garland is somehow anti-gun based on the 2007 vote that predated Heller has since spread through right-wing media.

    But legal scholars disagree.

    In 2007, the D.C. Circuit decided the case Parker v. District of Columbia, which challenged the constitutionality of Washington D.C.'s ban on private handgun ownership. In the 2-1 decision, a D.C. Circuit panel of three judges ruled that the ban was unconstitutional.

    Garland did not participate in that decision.

    Garland's involvement came after the D.C. government asked for the case to be reheard en banc, which meant in front of the entire appeals court. In a 6-4 vote, the court declined to rehear the case, without explanation. Along with his conservative colleague Judge A. Raymond Randolph, Garland was one of four judges who voted to rehear it. 

    Legal scholars stress to Media Matters that a rehearing vote should not be taken as evidence of how a judge would rule in the case.

    "A vote to rehear a case can be based only on the importance of the issue and the need to have the full court address it or it can be because the issue is a complicated and confusing one that demands the clarity provided by a discussion of the full court of appeals," said Andrew Bradt, assistant professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. "It doesn't at all indicate a pre-judgement that the panel's decision was wrong."

    "A vote to rehear a case en banc by a judge who was not a member of the original panel does not provide evidence of that judge's views on the merits," said Steve Burbank, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. "It usually indicates that in that judge's opinion there are aspects of the case that are sufficiently important or sufficiently difficult to warrant consideration by the full court."

    He added that, "en banc review is a necessary safeguard to ensure that panels speak for the court as a whole."

    Sherman L. Cohn, a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center and a former D.C Circuit law clerk, agreed.

    "A vote to re-hear, or not to re-hear, by a judge who did not sit on the original panel, is a dangerous way to predict how that judge would vote," Cohn said via email. "Sometimes the vote to rehear is because the judge does not believe that the original, panel decision was strong enough or clear enough - and not because the judge disagrees. When I was a law clerk on that very court (1957-58), I saw that happen."

    Marin K. Levy, an associate professor at the Duke University Law School, has written on the issue several times. She said assumptions based on a rehearing vote are often incorrect.

    "A judge's vote to rehear a case en banc can indicate many things apart from a desire to have the case decided differently on the merits," she said. "For example, a judge might think that the issue is sufficiently important that it should be decided by the entire active court and not simply a three-judge panel. Or a judge might think the outcome was the correct one but that the reasoning to reach the result was flawed."

    She later added, "There are many reasons why one would want to rehear a case en banc and so a judge's vote in this context should not be taken to necessarily mean he would have voted for a particular outcome."

    Dan Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law said, "All it really means is that he thought the case deserved consideration by the entire court, not just the three judges who heard it initially. He might have disagreed with it, or he may have thought that it conflicted with other precedents or rulings from other courts, or just that it was a very important issue." 

    He added, "If they ever had a hearing, senators could ask him about this!"