This week's release of 27,000 emails linking Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to his staff's illegal engagement in political activities while he was Milwaukee County executive did not occur through the generosity of state officials, but through the diligence of journalists.
The emails and hundreds of court documents made public under court order Wednesday came about after a five-month battle in which several news outlets, led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, joined forces to demand access to public records.
The emails, including those from private accounts, revealed that some of Walker's staff were discussing and illegally performing campaign work on county time and in county offices in 2009 and 2010. They were discovered through a Milwaukee County District Attorney investigation dating back to 2010 that has already resulted in the convictions of six county staffers.
The investigation was conducted under Wisconsin's so-called "John Doe" provision, a special secret inquiry that strictly limits information that can be revealed during the proceedings and even after their completion. Among the findings was the existence of a secret email router in the county executive's office that allowed staffers to send and receive emails through private accounts not monitored by the county's regular email system.
The county staffers targeted in the probe included Walker's former chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to a single count of felony misconduct in public office and was sentenced to six months in jail. When she appealed her conviction last year, The Journal Sentinel sought to gain access to the emails, which had been sealed by the court during the investigation and subsequent appeals.
The newspaper's effort to obtain access dates back to August 9, when Editor Martin Kaiser submitted a public records request to the current Milwaukee County executive seeking access to the emails.
When Kaiser's letter received no formal response, lawyers for the Journal Sentinel filed a motion on September 18 in Milwaukee County Circuit Court requesting that the district attorney be ordered to return the emails and other related documents to the county executive, who would then be required to make them available as public records.
"Ordinarily government communications, whether by email or paper or any other form, are presumed public under our public records law," said Robert J. Dreps, the newspaper's attorney. "These were never available for request under the public records law because their existence wasn't even known until they were swept up as part of this criminal investigation."
On September 27, the judge hearing former Walker staffer Rindfleisch's appeal ordered that numerous documents from the original John Doe investigation, including private emails from Rindfleisch's accounts, be released to the appeals court.
The Journal Sentinel followed two days later with a letter to the judge urging that those records not be sealed so that the newspaper can gain access if its motion is granted. On October 3, Rindfleisch filed a motion to seal the documents in her appeals case, including the emails.
Former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who has already served time in prison for corruption, is under new scrutiny regarding his second career as a talk radio show host.
A federal investigation is underway into allegations that the afternoon drive time host on Hartford's CBS Radio affiliate WTIC-AM and former GOP rising star received hidden financial support from one of the 2012 candidates for Connecticut's 5th Congressional seat, Republican Lisa Wilson Foley, and did not disclose it on the air as he attacked her primary opponent.
The Hartford Courant reports that Rowland recently hired a Washington, D.C. law firm to represent him in the case. At issue are allegations that Rowland became a "consultant" for nursing homes owned by Foley's family while also appearing on his radio show to "pummel Wilson Foley competitor Andrew Roraback. Some Republican leaders were startled at Rowland's testy campaigning to gather delegates for Wilson Foley."
The $30,000 payment Rowland apparently received from Foley's nursing homes may not only be a legal problem if it's found to violate campaign disclosure laws, but it's also a media ethics issue as it was reportedly not disclosed by Rowland or the station on the air.
"If in fact he's on the payroll for a candidate or a political cause and is not disclosing that, he is misusing the public trust by using a radio station to advocate for a candidate or a position there," said Harvey Jassem, a communications professor at the nearby University of Hartford. "That's, in my view, unethical. Part of the issue here is the radio station itself, which appears to be a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. He is entitled to promote his point of view, but if he is taking money to favor one cause or candidate over another then he has a responsibility to share his incentives, that he could be personally profiting from the public trust of public airwaves."
Richard F. Hanley, director of the Graduate Program in Journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT., agreed.
"It certainly is an issue to have a host who had political connections in a way that were not public to continue to host," Hanley said. "It is up to CBS Radio to make these decisions to keep him a host or have him clarify his political consultancy to keep him on the air, and let the audience decide if there is a personal ideology to the guests and the audience."
WTIC did not respond to requests for comment and Rowland could not be reached Wednesday morning.
Wilson Foley and Roraback were vying for the GOP congressional nomination in 2012 along with other candidates that included former FBI agent Mike Clark and real estate developer Mike Greenberg.
The Register-Citizen of Torrington reported in 2012 that two complaints were filed with the Federal Election Commission related to the allegations, including one that specifically cited Rowland's radio show activities as a potential violation of FEC regulations.
When the editorial board of The Star-Ledger of New Jersey gathered last October to consider an endorsement for governor, it was clear their support for Gov. Chris Christie was lukewarm at best. Even the board vote was an unusual split decision, 3-1, in favor of Christie, according to Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran.
Four months later the board has done an about-face, unanimously agreeing that they now regret the endorsement and, in the words of Moran, admitting they "blew this one."
"Yes, we knew Christie was a bully," Moran wrote in the February 9 column. "But we didn't know his crew was crazy enough to put people's lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn't know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn't know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno."
The endorsement U-turn follows growing evidence tying Gov. Christie's administration to the so-called Bridgegate scandal, in which Christie aides shut down several approach lanes of the busy George Washington Bridge for four days in September, deliberately sparking traffic tie-ups in the town of Fort Lee as a means of political retribution.
Christie fired the aides in question when their role became public, and the issue has sparked demands for more information on what the governor knew and triggered legislative and criminal investigations into the incident.
"We had a severe case of buyer's remorse after endorsing him," Moran said Monday, a day after publishing an unusual column announcing the board's change of heart. "Since his re-election, we have learned some new things about him. We learned that his senior staff was willing to put people's lives at risk to make a political point on the bridge, we've learned that the Hoboken mayor has credible charges of criminal activity by the Lt. Governor and a couple of cabinet members, and we see more and more evidence that he is misusing [Hurricane] Sandy funds for political purposes."
While Fox News contributor and former Sen. Scott Brown ended his financial relationship with the conservative website Newsmax after the company sent his email list controversial solicitations, National Review and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) tell Media Matters they will continue to let Newsmax send dubious ads to their own email lists.
Newsmax previously used both outlets' email lists to send advertisements plugging the same questionable doctor that caused Brown to sever relations with the company this week.
Brown cut ties with Newsmax on February 5, hours after the media began reporting on a missive the company had sent his political email list trumpeting the Alzheimer's disease cures of Dr. Russell Blaylock. In the email, Blaylock linked fluoridated water and flu vaccines to Alzheimer's and excessive exercise to Parkinson's disease.
In recent years, several prominent conservative outlets and personalities have sent Newsmax-sponsored emails to their followers pushing Blaylock's questionable medicine. In addition to Brown, National Review, and CBN, similar email ads have been sent through Newsmax from Dick Morris, Mike Huckabee, and Herman Cain. Newsmax frequently advertises for dubious health and financial products.
When asked about the questionable claims made in Blaylock's ads and the decision of Sen. Brown to terminate his relationship, National Review Publisher Jack Fowler told Media Matters he had no plans to end his magazine's Newsmax agreements.
"We have a relationship with Newsmax and that's all I'm going to say," Fowler said in an interview Thursday. "I can't speak for what Scott Brown does or doesn't do. I don't know who he has had a relationship with or whatever, but we have a relationship with Newsmax and that's it."
Asked if he had concerns given the questionable elements of Blaylock's claims, Fowler said, "Have a good day."
Chris Roslan, a spokesman for Christian Broadcasting Network, also defended the Newsmax/Blaylock email ads, describing Blaylock as a "qualified medical professional" and stating that "it is not uncommon for medical professionals to have differing points of view on medical conditions and their treatments." But he also pointed out that CBN includes a disclaimer in each email that states CBN does not endorse the products.
CBN attempts to vet all potential advertisers based on multiple criteria including pending legal complaints or conflicts, general business practices and also to make certain that there is no offensive material. CBN also evaluates potential advertisers and products based on their compatibility with the online environment we strive to create and the shared common faith values with our website users.
Regarding Dr. Blaylock, he is a retired neurosurgeon and an author with a very large following. As an M.D. he is certainly qualified to weigh in on the tragic disease of Alzheimer's.
As it is not uncommon for medical professionals to have differing points of view on medical conditions and their treatments - case in point: the use of vitamin supplements - CBN does not, and will not, attempt to validate medical opinions from qualified medical professionals in determining whether an advertisement is appropriate.
CBN includes a disclaimer in every sponsored email stating that the content is a paid advertisement and that it is not an endorsement by CBN. We feel our viewers can determine for themselves whether the content is valuable or not. We have not received a single complaint about this advertisement.
Dick Morris and Mike Huckabee did not respond to inquiries from Media Matters, while a spokesman for Herman Cain declined comment via email.
The Washington Times has made a special arrangement with former National Rifle Association president David Keene that allows the pro-gun advocate to serve as the paper's opinion editor, but still apparently be a spokesman for the gun lobby and serve as one of its top leaders.
The unusual arrangement is raising concerns among journalistic ethicists, one of whom accused Keene of "passing yourself off as a journalist."
When Keene was named opinion editor of the Times in July 2013, the Times stressed that he would have a leading role at the paper, stating he would "oversee the newspaper's editorial page, commentary section and online opinion strategy." Times editor-in-chief John Solomon praised Keene's ability to "craft... fresh policy ideas" and "inspire a new generation of conservatives to find their voice, embrace innovation and reach consensus."
But the story announcing Keene's appointment made no mention that he would apparently be continuing to serve as a leader and spokesman for the NRA.
Keene, who served as president of the NRA from 2011 to 2013 after nearly three decades as chairman of the American Conservative Union, remains a member of the NRA's board of directors. His job at the Times has not prevented him from being quoted in the media promoting NRA positions.
For example, a January 21, 2014, article in The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, PA, about a prominent NRA-managed gun show quoted Keene defending such shows and gun rights. For a February 5 story in The Washington Examiner, Keene described the NRA's internal strategy for participating in the 2014 elections, suggesting that the Times editor is still playing a key role in such deliberations.
Solomon, the Times editor, addressed the conflict of interest Keene may face between his newspaper duties and his role with the NRA in an email to Media Matters. He stated that the Times had agreed to Keene wearing both hats, but with some restrictions.
"Our ethics rules allow an employee in special circumstances to hold an outside position, if it is pre-approved and the appropriate ethical steps are followed," Solomon wrote. "That's the case with David Keene and his membership on the board of the NRA. We knew when we asked David to be our opinion editor that he would continue on the NRA board. We also knew that his role with the NRA was publicly and extensively known."
Solomon went on to explain that he and Keene had "worked out a set of rules for him related to the NRA," adding that, "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."
CBS Sunday morning political talk show Face The Nation with Bob Schieffer is knocking down right-wing media claims that an interview with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was edited for political reasons, explaining that the one-on-one just went too long and was also shortened for breaking news on the Maryland mall shooting.
"This was not uncommon at all, this was a quick turnaround pre-tape," a Face the Nation spokesperson told Media Matters Monday, explaining that the interview was slated for seven minutes and ran long. "That just happened to be at the end so it was easy to trim for turnaround. And we had breaking news of the [Maryland mall] shooter's name ... We had already gone overtime, that is pretty much the gist of it."
But some on the right found conspiracy in the routine interview editing, suggesting that the cuts had been made to protect President Obama from attacks Cruz levied in the deleted portion.
Newsbusters posted an item after examining the full version of the interview posted on Cruz's YouTube page, claiming that Cruz "was the victim of editing by CBS" because "the senator's comments surrounding President Obama's 'abuse of power' were edited from the program."
During the deleted segment, Cruz attacked President Obama's handling of the Benghazi attacks and promoted the conservative conspiracy that the administration had indicted conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza because of his film that criticized the president.
While Newsbusters acknowledged that "it is certainly plausible that CBS edited out the ending of the Cruz interview for time," they nonetheless called the editing "highly inappropriate and unusual" and wrote that the network "should explain why it felt it appropriate to edit out a high profile senator accusing the President of the United States of targeting his politcal [sic] enemies."
None of those sites, however, apparently sought to ask CBS or Face The Nation why the edit occurred. Asked if it was done to censor Cruz's Obama criticism, the spokesperson stated: "There was no editorial purpose."
Face The Nation said editing such interviews is common.
"It just varies on topic and the availability of the person," the spokesperson said. "We also had breaking news, too. There's a lot to get into that first half hour."
Despite Fox News' best efforts to hamper it, Gabriel Sherman's new biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes has been the focus of widespread media attention this week.
Sherman's The Loudest Voice In The Room paints an in-depth look at Ailes as someone who operates Fox News more as a political entity than a journalistic one.
In a wide-raging interview Tuesday with Media Matters, Sherman discussed his quest to "show all sides" of Ailes; how Fox News has morphed into "Ailes' personal megaphone"; how the network has "become damaging to the Republican brand"; the "political campaign" Fox has waged to distract people from the book; and the Fox chief's place in history as "one of the great American hucksters."
Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
You said on Reliable Sources that Fox News is a political operation that employs journalists. I think that's an interesting description. How have you seen that hurt its credibility, and can it really operate that way?
Well I think that over time things have changed. In the early years of Fox, the blueprint was more tabloid and populist than baldly conservative but as Ailes has amassed more power, the true nature of the organization he was building has come into clearer view and it's become harder and harder for the network to maintain the fiction of "fair and balanced." And the model, the idea for Fox was always to have the culture of a political campaign. Ailes runs it like a political campaign. There's a secret organization, a secret group of executives inside the network called the G8, which is a riff off of the G6, which was from the George H.W. Bush campaign. So you see how Ailes has brought the culture of a political campaign into the news business. And now, in the Obama years, the last -- since 2008, we've seen Fox has sort of come into full bloom. And it's revealed itself for what it is, which is that it's Roger Ailes' personal megaphone.
And did that hurt its efforts to complete its mission, or did that not really affect it for the people that watch Fox?
Well the audience is very -- it's still the most dominant cable network. The audience is loyal. There's been some dips, especially after the 2012 election. I think one of the most important developments is that as Fox has fully evolved and emerged as Ailes' megaphone, it has hurt Fox's ability to win national elections. From 2000 til 2008, Fox was able to really cheerlead and be a platform for the Bush White House. But as the network has become more extreme, it's become harder and harder to resonate -- it's become damaging to the Republican brand. And that's where you see the limits of Ailes' power. 2012 was a very revealing moment of that.
The Republican Party has leadership problems. Aside from Chris Christie, just in general, losing the last two presidential elections and the other Republican Party problems, how much do they hurt Ailes and Fox, and their effectiveness? Or how much did Ailes and Fox hurt the Republican Party and its efforts, as you said, to win elections?
I would put the responsibility on Ailes and the network he runs because what makes the best television is the most conflict, some of the most extreme voices are the ones that break through on Fox and as his network has effectively become the brand of the Republican Party, you know I said that it has surpassed the Republican Party. So the brand of Fox has become the brand of the Republican Party and that has hurt the party on issues from immigration, on issues of marriage equality, on issues of climate change, and spending.
The idea that in one meeting Ailes said that Obama hates capitalism. Now you could have a lot of -- there can be a debate about the economic policy of this administration, but the notion that they hate capitalism just doesn't -- it's just not supported by the observable reality. I mean Obama has sort of governed as a pretty conventional Democrat, down the middle Democrat with some liberal views. But the idea that he is -- if you believe that Obama, that Ailes defines, is this extreme, statist, you know, radical politician, and that brand is too extreme for the Republican Party to win national majorities.
The New York Times Book Review has run an advertisement for a biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes during each of the past two weekends.
The ads seem to be an attempt to counter the Sherman book, stating that Chafets' book is "based on the only exclusive interview with Ailes" and that "Chafets book captures the real ROGER AILES and the true inside story of FOX News."
It's unclear who is behind the ads. But the ads were reportedly placed by Ailes' "personal PR consultant."
The ads are somewhat unusual in that they do not mention the publisher, Penguin Book's conservative imprint Sentinel, and are vague about who paid for the placement. A Times spokesperson revealed that the ads were placed, not by Penguin, but by the Dilenschneider Group, a public relations firm, as Huffington Post's Michael Calderone previously reported.
As Calderone notes, the firm's founder, Robert Dilenschneider, is described in Sherman's book as Ailes' "personal PR consultant."
The Dilenschneider Group has so far failed to respond to inquiries about the ads, while Chafets' publicist at Penguin declined to comment on it, stating via email, "I won't be commenting on the ad to anyone. I'm sorry I'm not more helpful."
Another unusual element of the story is that both books are published by divisions of the same company, Penguin Random House, formed when the two prominent publishers merged last year. Sherman's book is published through Random House, while Chafets' is a project of the Penguin/Sentinel division.
For one division to run a high-profile ad indirectly attacking another division's book on the same subject right before that book's release seems odd.
In addition, while there is no ad in the Book Review for Sherman's book, there is a lengthy review of Sherman's biography in the weekly book section.
The entwined history of the Chafets and Sherman biographies, as well as the firm that placed them, may present clues as to the source of the ads.
Ailes reportedly agreed to cooperate with Chafets as a way of pre-empting Sherman's biography; his network gave the relentlessly positive result heavy coverage following its release.
The network reportedly fired its top PR executive who they were worried was leaking information to Sherman; Fox personalities publicly attacked the New York reporter, allegedly at a top network executive's behest; and the network threw roadblocks in the way of Sherman's attempts to speak with Fox employees and even threatened to sue him.
Fox News did not respond to inquiries about any involvement by Ailes or the network in the Chafets ad. Chafets did not respond to requests for comment.
After revealing this week that its reader representative had departed, The Washington Post confirmed Friday that there will be a replacement. But the paper made clear that it will not revive the popular ombudsman position that the reader representative supplanted last year.
"We will not bring the ombudsman back," Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said in an email. "We will continue to have someone in a reader rep role." He did not indicate when that person would be named.
Hiatt said that while ombudsmen have made valuable contributions to the paper in the past, "we are in an era when we have to make difficult choices."
The decision comes as former Post ombudsmen and others who hold similar jobs elsewhere urge the paper to bring back the ombudsman job, citing the need for independent reviews.
"I think that's a mistake," Patrick Pexton, the last Post ombudsman, said this week about the prospect of not reviving the ombudsman job. "I said so when I left in March. I understand the arguments against having an ombudsman, but I don't agree with them."
The newspaper allowed Pexton's contract to expire at the end of February 2013, ending the paper's decades-long tradition of employing an independent contracted ombudsman to critique the paper's reporting. Hiatt subsequently announced that the position would be replaced by a reader representative, a part-time position with less independence and more focus on reader views than internal investigation.
He named Doug Feaver, a former Post editor who had retired in 2006, to the position. But this week Hiatt confirmed to Media Matters that Feaver had left the paper earlier than he was scheduled.
As reader representative, Feaver reported to Hiatt and wrote columns that consisted mostly of reader comments about news issues, not the sort of commentaries on Post reporting that readers had come to expect from the paper's ombudsman.
At the time of Feaver's appointment, Hiatt promised that Feaver would be able to fill the ombudsman's shoes.
"While it's true Doug doesn't have the two-year contract that we traditionally gave ombudsman, to me that's not the main difference," Hiatt told Media Matters at the time. "Nobody who knows him will doubt that he will be totally independent in his judgment and that he will hold us all properly accountable."
This accountability was absent from Feaver's published works. Of his 28 blog posts since April 5, 2013, 26 consisted of Feaver aggregating reader comments from Post articles and columns without additional commentary. The other two consisted of a piece declaring the paper free of any conflict of interest regarding the Post's Jerusalem correspondent and Feaver's first post chronicling the initial inquiries he had received in his position ("the biggest issue to come to my attention was the disappearing print button on the article pages of washingtonpost.com").
"I looked at almost all of his blog posts," Pexton said. "Reading between the lines it seems his instructions probably included, or he chose himself, not to make any judgments and I think the key thing an ombudsman does is make judgments."
Asked about Feaver's work at the paper earlier in the week, Hiatt said that in addition to his public platform, Feaver's job consisted of privately channeling reader questions and concerns to others at the paper ensuring they are responded to properly.
Pexton said bringing back the ombudsman position would have given the Post "a little bit more credibility, they'd have a go-to source for readers if they are upset or concerned. I think that in this era of engagement, having a full time person engage with readers and the staff is crucial, it makes you more responsive, it makes you more credible."
Andy Alexander, another former Post ombudsman, agreed that Feaver's job description did not go far enough.
"What Doug did, even if he did it very well, was far different than what a truly independent ombudsman would do," Alexander said. "Anyone who served in the role of Post ombudsman would tell you that its value was that you were truly independent and you were empowered to really cover the Post as a beat. You functioned as a reporter who independently investigated the Post. A truly independent ombudsman is empowered to go into the newsroom and investigate, it goes beyond saying what is on readers' minds.
Alexander pointed to new Post owner Jeff Bezos as someone who could make a difference, stating, "you have a new owner who has deep pockets. I would encourage them to re-instate the position of an independent ombudsman, I think that is the best way to represent the interests of readers."
Asked Friday what he thought of the push for the ombudsman to return, Hiatt portrayed the position as a valuable asset, but nonetheless a luxury at a difficult time for the newspaper business.
"I understand why Andy, Pat and others feel the way they do. I think our readers gained a lot from their contributions," Hiatt told Media Matters in an email. "But we are in an era when we have to make difficult choices. With two reporters inside the Post covering the media, including the Post, full time and many more critics writing about us from the outside, this seemed to us like one of the difficult decisions that make sense."
Hiatt's suggestion that the decision was made at least in part for business reasons appears to contradict his statements in March 2013 that the termination of the ombudsman was "not a financial issue" but rather a deliberate move to reinvent the position for the benefit of readers.
Less than a year after taking the newly created post of reader representative at The Washington Post, Doug Feaver has left the paper, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt confirmed Wednesday.
Feaver, who had served in other positions at the Post but retired in 2006, took the part-time job in March 2013. That announcement came one month after the paper had eliminated its ombudsman position, a mainstay at the paper for more than 40 years.
The Post's elimination of the ombudsman drew criticism at the time from former holders of the position and other media observers, who said that the ombudsman served a vital purpose as the only independent communication between readers and the newsroom.
Unlike the ombudsmen, who worked on two year contracts, the reader representative was a paid staff member who served at the pleasure of the editorial page editor.
In an email to Media Matters, Hiatt confirmed the departure of Feaver, saying that the reader representative had agreed to work for one year but had "moved the departure date up a bit for personal reasons."
Hiatt added that the Post is still considering whether or how Feaver will be replaced, saying that Feaver's deputy, Alison Coglianese "may assume the role."
Feaver, who had served in other positions at the Post prior to his appointment, took the job in March 2013, one month after the paper had eliminated the popular ombudsman position. Feaver's last column ran December 5.
Feaver's appointment drew criticism at the time because it followed the elimination of the ombudsman, a contracted position that was given more independence to critique the paper.