Houston looks set to become ground zero for the country's next major LGBT civil rights battle. How national and local media cover that fight could help determine how the rest of the country thinks about the next stage of the struggle for full LGBT equality.
For the past 15 months, the city of Houston has been embroiled in a drawn-out battle over its non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, military status, marital status, religion, disability, national origin, age, familial status, genetic information, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The Houston City Council adopted the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in May 2014, in the face of fierce opposition from anti-LGBT groups who immediately launched a signature-collection effort to put the ordinance on the ballot for possible repeal. Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman disqualified their effort after determining that many of the signatures collected were invalid. The result was a protracted and messy legal battle that has drawn the attention of Fox News and national conservative figures.
On July 24, the Texas Supreme Court overturned a district court decision and ordered the city to either repeal HERO or put the measure up for a public vote in the November 2015 election.
That decision has set the stage for an even more heated and expensive battle over the fate of the ordinance - one that will likely serve as a test case for how the media, and Americans at large, talk about LGBT equality in the new era of marriage equality.
HERO has been the target of conservative misinformation since it was unveiled in April of 2014. Local and national anti-LGBT groups, including the Houston Area Pastor Council, Texas Values, and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), rallied against the ordinance.
Opponents attacked HERO by lying about the ordinance; claiming it would undermine religious liberty, trigger costly and frivolous lawsuits, and allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender - predictions that have proven false in other Texas cities with similar laws in place. Horror stories about public restrooms became a central sticking point in the city council's debate over HERO, with opponents even labeling the ordinance the "Sexual Predator Protection Act."
The "sexual predator" talking point has been thoroughly debunked by law enforcement experts, government officials, and advocates for sexual assault victims in states and cities that have had laws like HERO on their books for years. Non-discrimination laws don't make sexual assault legal, and sexual predators don't decide to act based on whether a local non-discrimination ordinance exists.
But that didn't stop local media outlets in Houston from uncritically repeating the "bathroom" myth in their reporting on HERO. Opponents' talking points permeated local news coverage of the ordinance, resulting in a public debate that focused on conservative fearmongering rather than anti-LGBT discrimination:
That kind of irresponsible coverage continued after HERO's passage, as the push to put the ordinance on the ballot gave way to an intense legal battle. Houston's Fox affiliate continued to uncritically repeat the bogus "bathroom" myth, and before long, Fox News' national network took notice. Led by Mike Huckabee, the network turned the fight in Houston into a national conservative rallying cry, peddling myths about HERO and misrepresenting legal proceedings to stoke outrage. Presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined Huckabee in using the controversy to establish his social conservative bona fides. By November of 2014, thousands of activists were descending on Houston to rally against HERO and demand a public vote.
Following the Texas Supreme Court's decision last week, Houston Mayor Annise Parker expressed confidence that voters will approve HERO if it's put up for a vote. If that happens, Houston voters will almost certainly be bombarded with ads and mailers peddling the same misinformation that has defined conservatives' opposition to the ordinance thus far. Scare tactics that invoke bathroom attacks and religious freedom are incredibly effective in getting people to vote against legal protections for LGBT people. And if local media outlets don't do the vital work of separating fact from fiction, HERO could become the first major LGBT defeat in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark marriage equality ruling.
The fight over Houston's non-discrimination ordinance foreshadows the emerging national LGBT civil rights battle in America: the push for comprehensive non-discrimination protections. On July 23, Democrats in Congress introduced the "Equality Act," which would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other areas. Major national LGBT groups have thrown their support behind the bill, signaling their shift in priorities now that the marriage fight has largely ended. Opponents have already begun attacking the Equality Act with the same talking points they used in their fight against HERO: horror stories about religious freedom, special rights, and bathroom predators.
It remains to be seen how effective conservatives will be at influencing the media narrative around non-discrimination protections. Since losing their fight against marriage equality, anti-LGBT activists have made controlling media depictions of non-discrimination efforts a central part of their fight against LGBT equality. By characterizing non-discrimination laws as a threat to religious freedom and personal safety, conservatives are hoping to hijack the conversation about even the most basic legal protections for LGBT people.
As the fourth largest city in the country, Houston could be a test case for how successful anti-LGBT conservatives will be at injecting their bogus talking points into media coverage of major non-discrimination fights. If anti-gay conservatives there can use misinformation and fearmongering to defeat HERO, it will set a powerful example for national anti-LGBT groups looking to shape the broader debate around laws like the federal Equality Act. If, on the other hand, local media outlets debunk and correct misinformation about the measure, they'll be setting a positive precedent for national media outlets and helping set the tone for how Americans view the continuing struggle for LGBT equality.
As outrage continued over the killing of tourist attraction Cecil the lion by a hunter in Zimbabwe, National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent called the controversy "a lie" and a "joke," adding, "God are people stupid."
The 13-year-old lion was killed by an American hunter after reportedly being lured outside of the confines of Hwange National Park sometime in early July. Cecil rose to fame and became a major tourist attraction after his participation in a scientific study that involved GPS tracking of his movements.
The BBC gave an account of the hunt, which involved wounding Cecil with a crossbow before killing him with a gun more than a day later, and noted that Cecil's cubs will now be killed:
He is believed to have been killed on 1 July but the carcass was not discovered until a few days later.
The ZCTF said the hunters had used bait to lure him outside Hwange National Park during a night-time pursuit.
Mr Palmer is said to have shot Cecil with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The group didn't find the wounded lion until 40 hours later, when he was shot dead with a gun.
The animal had a GPS collar fitted for a research project by UK-based Oxford University that allowed authorities to track its movements. The hunters tried to destroy it, but failed, according to the ZCTF.
On Monday, the head of the ZCTF told the BBC that Cecil "never bothered anybody" and was "one of the most beautiful animals to look at".
The six cubs of Cecil will now be killed by the new male lion in the pride, Johnny Rodrigues added, in order to encourage the lionesses to mate with him.
Controversy over the killing grew in recent days with the identification of Cecil's killer as an American dentist, leading to widespread condemnation of the man. The hunter, who previously pled guilty to a hunting-related crime in the United States, has said that he did not intend to kill Cecil. Still, the man is reportedly now wanted for poaching in Zimbabwe and may be the subject of a congressional inquiry.
On Facebook, Nugent attacked those upset by Cecil's killing on July 28, writing, "the whole story is a lie. ... I will write a full piece on this joke asap. God are people stupid."
NRA figures have previously defended controversial hunting practices. In September 2013, widespread outrage occurred after the host of NRA-sponsored hunting show Under Wild Skies, Tony Makris, shot an elephant in the face. Makris, who has longstanding ties to the NRA, responded to outrage over his hunt by comparing his critics to Hitler. NBC Sports canceled the show, citing Makris' "outrageous and unacceptable" comments.
A RedState.com blog post claimed that deceptively-edited videos from an anti-choice group smearing Planned Parenthood demonstrate that the organization is "our Auschwitz."
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a third video on July 28 claiming to show Planned Parenthood officials engaging in a "black market in baby parts." Like the two deceptively-edited videos previously released by CMP, the latest video once again features strategically-edited conversations that merely show that Planned Parenthood is being reimbursed for costs associated with the procurement of fetal tissue, which federal law allows.
A July 29 RedState.com blog post used the highly-edited videos to call Planned Parenthood "our Auschwitz." Writing that Planned Parenthood is "outpacing" the Nazis, the post claimed that for the organization "extinction is not enough. They want to make money off the slaughter":
The third undercover video exposing Planned Parenthood from the Center for Medical Progress is out. By now, the takeaway from this media is clear: this is our Auschwitz.
Some might recoil at this statement. Wait a minute, they're thinking, cool your jets. Auschwitz was a concentration camp. That's not Planned Parenthood. In the simplest terms, no, Planned Parenthood is not a concentration camp. It is not performing ethnic cleansing (anymore). It performs certain medical services that are of value to women. But for decades, the real "value added" function of the organization has been this: it has provided a safe and legal way for the killing and disposal of babies.
Sometimes, people make this connection where it's not warranted. This, however, is a cultural moment that put things in black and white. Planned Parenthood is facilitating preposterous acts of evil. In its abortion-and-fetal-tissue-business, it is doing the following: 1) killing innocent lives, 2) desecrating their bodies, and 3) profiting from these bodies.
Our muddy moral moment might obscure this searing truth: we are not simply keeping up to speed with the Nazis. We are outpacing them. Planned Parenthood is operating by a for-profit motive that was largely alien to the Third Reich. The point of the Final Solution was not profit. It was extinction of the Jews and other disposable persons. But for Planned Parenthood, extinction is not enough. They want to make money off of slaughter.
As a society, we have tolerated a culture of death. But now the lights are on, and the opportunity for reckoning is at hand. Let us not quiet our consciences. Let us not fail to seize this moment to save many more tiny boys and girls. Let us not miss the opportunity to do good. In this horrible instance, doing good means making clear what Planned Parenthood is: our Auschwitz.
Vox's Jonathan Allen suggested that House Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy knew about the request to the Justice Department regarding Hillary Clinton's email practices "at least a day" before The New York Times published its botched story relying on anonymous sources that "had it wrong" according to "a top-ranking editor directly involved" with the report.
On July 23, the Times published a report headlined "Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email" which stated that "[t]wo inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state." The Times has since issued two corrections, acknowledging that the referral in question was not criminal and did not specifically request an investigation into Clinton herself. They have yet to correct the piece's remaining error to indicate that the referral was actually made by only one inspector general.
The Times public editor Margaret Sullivan published a column examining the problems with the error-riddled story, and acknowledged that the paper should have a discussion not only about increasing transparency, but also about its use of anonymous sources: "In my view, that must also include the rampant use of anonymous sources, and the need to slow down and employ what might seem an excess of caution before publishing a political blockbuster based on shadowy sources." According to Sullivan, a "a top-ranking editor directly involved with the story" explained "We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong."
In a July 28 Vox article, Jonathan Allen reported that Gowdy was "fully aware" of the request to the Justice Department before the Times broke its story, and noted that "Gowdy's team has been accused of leaking something untrue to a reporter before":
I don't know who the Times's sources are, but I do know this: My reporting suggests that House Benghazi Committee Chair Trey Gowdy was fully aware of the request to the Justice Department at least a day before the Times broke the story. If he or his staff were sources, it should have been incumbent upon the Times to check every detail with multiple unconnected sources. Gowdy's team has been accused of leaking something untrue to a reporter before.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democratic member on the House Select Committee on Benghazi essentially suggested on MSNBC's Hardball that Republicans on the Benghazi Committee were responsible for faulty information, and has previously criticized the "reckless pattern of selective Republican leaks and mischaracterizations of evidence relating to the Benghazi attacks" a claim supported by numerous examples.
Matt Gertz contributed to this blog
Author and New York Sun co-founder Ira Stoll attacked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's new climate change plan for focusing on installing solar panels instead of setting emissions limits or investing in battery storage technology. Stoll apparently didn't realize that those policies are included in Clinton's plan, too.
In a July 27 Sun op-ed, which was also published on conservative news sites NewsMax and Reason.com, Stoll lectured Clinton that her goal of installing more than half a billion solar panels by the end of her first presidential term isn't a "serious" climate change strategy. According to Stoll, if Clinton "really wants to fight climate change," she should abandon her solar panel goal and instead pursue other policies, such as "fund[ing] research and development for battery storage" or "set[ting] emissions goals and let[ting] utilities or states decide the cheapest and best ways to meet them" (emphasis added):
If Mrs. Clinton really wants to fight climate change or cut carbon emissions, there are plenty of ways to go about it. She could fund research and development for battery storage. She could set emissions goals and let utilities or states decide the cheapest and best ways to meet them. She could allow more hydrofracturing that replaces coal-fired plants with cleaner oil and natural gas. But counting solar panels? Come on, Mrs. Clinton. Get serious.
But Clinton's proposal actually includes both of those things.
In a briefing fact sheet that she released as part of her climate change plan, Clinton announced that her "Clean Energy Challenge" would include funding "clean energy [research and development], including in storage technology" (emphasis added):
As part of the Clean Energy Challenge, Clinton will ensure that every part of the federal government is working in concert to help Americans build a clean energy future. This includes:
Innovation: Increase public investment in clean energy R&D, including in storage technology, designed materials, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and sequestration. Expand successful innovation initiatives, like ARPA-e, and cut those that fail to deliver results.
And Clinton also confirmed that she would make it a "top priority" to defend and implement the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants. As the EPA has explained, the Clean Power Plan involves "EPA setting a goal and the states deciding how they will meet it. Each state will choose the best set of cost-effective strategies for its situation."
Stoll's only other climate policy suggestion -- that Clinton "allow more hydrofracturing" -- ignores evidence that methane leaks may eliminate any of the potential climate benefits of extracting natural gas via hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. And Stoll's claim that oil-fired power plants are "cleaner" than coal-fired plants is an exercise in exceedingly low expectations, since the carbon-intensity of oil-fired plants is only marginally better.
There's also one other reason Clinton shouldn't take Stoll's advice on how to best address climate change: He doesn't accept that it is a particularly serious problem. According to Stoll, "Secretary Clinton assumes that man-made climate change is a risk serious enough to try to mitigate and that America should try to mitigate it by reducing its carbon emissions. These are big 'ifs,' but ones I will grant for argument's sake."
If only he would also grant Clinton all of the proposals that are included in her climate change platform.
Image at top by Paul Morse and taken from Flickr using a Creative Commons License.
"I was wrong because my sources were wrong." -- Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, 2005.
"We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong." New York Times Deputy Executive Editor Matt Purdy, 2015.
One of the most baffling elements to The New York Times botched story about a fictional "criminal" investigation bearing down on Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email account is the seemingly shrug-of-the-shoulders response from the Times editors who are ultimately responsible for the newsroom's black eye.
Rather than signaling that they're drilling down to find out exactly what went wrong and how such a painfully inaccurate story landed on the Times' front page (there is no criminal investigation), to date editors seem content to simply blame sources for giving Times reporters bad information.
"This story demands more than a promise to do better the next time, and more than a shrug," wrote Norm Ornstein in The Atlantic. "Someone should be held accountable here, with suspension or other action that fits the gravity of the offense."
But there's no indication that's going to happen, largely because there's no indication editors blame the reporters or themselves for the embarrassing failure. Instead, they mostly fault sources who gave the Times bogus information about an alleged "criminal" probe of Clinton sought by two inspectors general.
Answering questions put to them by the Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan, who labeled the email story a "mess," senior editors worked hard to absolve their reporters. "We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong," said deputy executive editor Matt Purdy, who also stressed the newspaper takes seriously its obligation to be factually accurate. Added executive editor Dean Baquet: "You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral. I'm not sure what they could have done differently on that."
If this sounds familiar, it ought to. During the previous decade, the Times' reputation took a major hit when, during the run-up to the Iraq War, reporters cozied up to Bush administration sources and helped the White House tell a tale about Saddam Hussein's looming stockpile of chemical weapons and the pressing demand that Iraq be preemptively invaded. As the war effort quickly unraveled and no weapons of mass destruction were found, it became evident that lots of people at the Times had gotten the Iraq War story very, very wrong.
Leading the Times' misinformation pack was Judith Miller, now a Fox News contributor.
From New York [emphasis added]:
During the winter of 2001 and throughout 2002, Miller produced a series of stunning stories about Saddam Hussein's ambition and capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, based largely on information provided by [Ahmed] Chalabi and his allies--almost all of which have turned out to be stunningly inaccurate.
Miller's response to critics who called out her mountain of erroneous reporting? "I was wrong because my sources were wrong," she told The New Yorker in 2005. And that's the script she's stuck to for the last decade. Like Times editors today, Miller brags that she had great sources -- they just happened to get virtually everything wrong about Iraq.
No, I'm not comparing the gravity of the current Times dust-up with the deadly and far more serious war in Iraq. But I am saying the newsroom similarities deserve attention.
For instance, did the Times learn anything from the Miller fiasco?
In 2004 the daily belatedly addressed the paper's faulty WMD reporting. In its "From The Editors" note, the paper conceded the reporting was "not as rigorous as it should have been." Specifically, the review determined, "Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper."
Compare that to the nearly identical point Sullivan raised this week while critiquing the failed email story: "Competitive pressure and the desire for a scoop led to too much speed and not enough caution."
As media critic Jack Shafer has asserted, journalists have the right to be wrong. Making mistakes is part of the open and public process of newsmaking in America. But making mistakes, avoiding blame, and then throwing up your hands and saying, 'Oh well, there was nothing we could do,' should not be part of that equation. "The right to be wrong functions best when paired with a willingness to set things right instead of making excuses," wrote Shafer.
Today, Times editors lean towards the making excuses option.
Meanwhile, there's deep irony in the fact that the Times routinely demands accountability, transparency and quick, thorough responses from public officials (including Hillary Clinton), yet the Times has largely discarded all three with regards to its botched email story.
And lots of questions still remain. As Norm Ornstein noted at The Atlantic, if the Times' Purdy is claiming reporters Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo had "reliable" and "very good sources" just days after those sources got the email story completely wrong, what does that say about Purdy's perspective? (Purdy once served as Miller's editor.) If the Times were serious, the sources that burned Schmidt and Apuzzo would be banned from every Times reporters contact list. If nothing else, reporters should be forbidden from ever granting those sources anonymity again.
They simply cannot be trusted.
Meanwhile, Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald makes a persuasive case that not only did the Times reporters get burned by bad sources, but they misstated the premise of the non-criminal referral that the inspector general sought regarding the State Department's handling of Clinton's emails. (The Times was also wrong in saying the referral was sought by two inspectors general, for the record). According to Eichenwald, the referral is part of a bureaucratic back-and-forth over how to classify information from Freedom of Information Act requests, and has little to do with Clinton.
When are Times editors going to address the fact that reporters acted as stenographers for unreliable, and possibly partisan, sources and failed the grasp what the referral story was even about? "In terms of journalism, this is terrible," wrote Eichenwald.
Which brings us back to Judith Miller.
Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow highlighted the similarities between Times editors today blaming sources and Miller doing the same a decade ago:
Veteran newspaper editors and other longtime journalists are harshly criticizing how The New York Times has handled its recent botched story related to Hillary Clinton's emails, calling out the paper for failing to take responsibility for its errors and for being slow to offer corrections for its mistakes sparked by anonymous sourcing.
The concerns stem from the July 23 story originally headlined "Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email," which stated that "[t]wo inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state."
The Times has since issued two corrections, noting that the referral in question was not criminal and did not specifically request an investigation into Clinton herself. Critics noted that the Times did not issue corrections in either case until long after it was clear they could not support their reporting.
Media observers have criticized the Times' reporting and its poor attempts to explain its mistakes, with some stating that the events indicate that the paper "has a problem covering Hillary Clinton." Norm Ornstein in The Atlantic called it a "huge embarrassment," while former Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald referred to the story as "bungled" in Newsweek.
Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has written that there were "at least two major journalistic problems" in the crafting of the story, calling the paper's handling of the story "a mess." Meanwhile, in an interview with Sullivan, Times executive editor Dean Baquet expressed regret that the paper had been slow to issue public corrections, but defended his editors and reporters, saying, "I'm not sure what they could have done differently" on the story.
Such actions and reactions are not sitting well with some of the news industry's top journalists and former editors, who point to the problems such anonymous sourcing can create and the Times' lack of professionalism in failing to swiftly own up to them.
"I agree with the public editor that if you are The New York Times you need to be sure-footed and walk cautiously and accurately," said Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington correspondent and current director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University. "I hope this is not a harbinger of a rapid-fire news cycle in campaign 2016 where news organizations are competing so fiercely and so rapidly that this sort of thing happens again. They are correcting it reluctantly and sloppily. You have to have a culture of transparency and a culture of accountability."
Sesno added that he found it "extraordinary" that "they got so many elements wrong and they got the correction wrong, in the way they revealed what had happened and why."
Tom Fiedler, former editor of The Miami Herald and a one-time political reporter for that paper, also cited the Times appearing to favor speed over accuracy.
"Although I have no inside information, I think The Times staff is increasingly inclined to do these 'ready-fire-aim' stories about Hillary because they feel the hot breath of the WSJ [Wall Street Journal] on their necks, especially when it comes to stories that slam Hillary," he said via email. "The WSJ could care less about a Times' story that puts Hillary in a positive light. But the WSJ will go nuts if The Times scoops them with an HRC hatchet job. So all the incentive in the Times' newsroom is to wield that hatchet if only to annoy the WSJ. Just a theory."
Fiedler also speculated that Baquet may be privately criticizing the reporters and editors involved in the story's production while defending them publicly, saying that he engaged in such behavior when his own reporters had "screwed up."
Tim Franklin, past editor of the Indianapolis Star, Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun, said he understands Baquet supporting his reporters. But he said that it is also necessary in such cases for papers to be prompt with corrections.
"I think in this case, we live in a media environment where stories get shared, we are also talking about a story involving alleged criminal activity of a presidential candidate," Franklin said. "So there is a premium on transparency in these cases. You don't want to leave the impression among readers that you are trying to bury a mistake."
He later added, "I think in this situation the editors need to do forensics with reporters; What did you have? What did your source tell you? Who are your sources and what do we need to do now to get accurate information? It is a first step you need to take quickly. It is apparent you need to correct this story and append the story at the top and an explanation as to why."
Kelly McBride, an ethics instructor at The Poynter Institute, said the Times did not take into account the readers who likely saw the incorrect story via a mobile device, but not the corrections.
"While they corrected it in their traditional correction format, they pushed that story out on mobile," she said. "They never sent out a mobile push that said the correction, and 'we got it wrong.' By not sending out a correction in mobile they lost a huge swath of the audience that received the push alert but didn't swipe through to the story."
For Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, the corrective needs are obvious: "If you have an anonymous source, you usually have confidence in what that source says and if you get it wrong, you have to correct yourself."
Republican insiders are complaining that the right-wing media "is shaping the party's agenda in ways that are impeding Republicans' ability to govern and to win presidential elections," according to a new Harvard report.
New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes, a Joan Shorenstein fellow at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, spent nearly four months researching how the conservative media is increasingly influencing the Republican Party. She found "unanimity among establishment Republicans -- many of them conservatives by the definition of anyone but purists -- that rightwing media has become a big problem for the party, and their readiness to talk about it, was something of a surprise to this reporter of three decades' experience in Washington."
Since its founding in 2004, Media Matters has documented the increasingly extreme rhetoric and policy positions of conservative media. But party Republicans are now complaining that conservative commentators, many of whom are lining their pockets with big salaries, are making it difficult for Republicans to govern and win national elections.
Dave Schnittger, a longtime former top aide to House Republican leaders, told Calmes that conservative media are loudest in opposing actions "that leaders have to get done as part of governing," such as meeting basic fiscal deadlines.
Another top Republican aide, who asked for anonymity, complained of the conservative media: "There's no money, ratings or clicks in everyone going along to get along." Calmes added, "Asked whether he could offer examples of legislative outcomes affected by conservative media, this Republican all but snapped, 'Sure. All of 'em.' Does he worry more broadly then about the small-d democratic process? 'Yeah, absolutely. Because the loudest voices drown out the sensible ones and there's no real space to have serious discussions.'"
When it comes to national issues, Republicans fret that the conservative media has pushed the party "far to the anti-government, anti-compromise ideological right." Republicans pointed to the conservative media being "on the wrong side of history" and at odds with public opinion on "gay rights, insurance for contraceptives, climate change, and budget policy." They also complained that right-wing pundits have destroyed Republicans' ability to help pass comprehensive immigration reform.
One Republican Senate aide claimed that it's "the conservative media pushing us to take these positions, these extremist positions. And of course there are those who are more than willing to take them because it gets them press. It's a vicious cycle: The shows want ratings -- they're a business. The members want publicity. So it's just this unholy alliance."
The conservative media's influence on the Republican Party has become a key story during the 2016 presidential primary season. Fox News has an unprecedented media role in the process, as it is hosting the first Republican debate and using polling to cap the number of debate participants at 10. Candidates competing to get into the debates are now frequently appearing on the network's airwaves, and their allies are spending big money on advertising to reach Fox's conservative audience.
Perhaps one of the most disruptive forces in the primary, Donald Trump, has enjoyed a cozy relationship with Fox News. Fox has promoted Trump's antics so much that Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch has reportedly fought with chairman and CEO Roger Ailes over the channel's coverage of the divisive Republican candidate.
American Enterprise Institute scholar and The Atlantic contributing writer Norman Ornstein is strongly criticizing The New York Times' botched story on Hillary Clinton's emails, and its handling of the aftermath.
Ornstein writes that "the huge embarrassment over the story ... is a direct challenge to its fundamental credibility." He adds, "The paper's response since the initial huge error was uncovered has not been adequate or acceptable," pointing to Times editor Dean Baquet's response:
Times editor Dean Baquet does not fault his reporters; "You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral," he said. That raised another question. What is "the government?" Is any employee of the Justice Department considered the government? Was it an official spokesperson? A career employee? A policy-level person, such as an assistant attorney general or deputy assistant attorney general? One definitively without an ax to grind? Did the DOJ official tell the reporters it was a criminal referral involving Clinton, or a more general criminal referral? And if this was a mistake made by an official spokesperson, why not identify the official who screwed up bigtime?
This story demands more than a promise to do better the next time, and more than a shrug.
Later Ornstein notes, "Holding a story until you are sure you have the facts--as other reporters did, with, it seems, 'government officials' shopping the story around--or waiting until you can actually read the documents instead of relying on your good sources, so to speak, providing misleading and slanted details, is what they could have done differently." Ornstein concludes that someone at the Times "should be held accountable here, with suspension or other action that fits the gravity of the offense."
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has criticized the paper for running a "sensational" story before it was ready and for not being transparent with readers about revising it. Media Matters Chairman David Brock recently called on the Times to commission a review exploring "the process of reporting and editing at The New York Times that has allowed flawed, fact-free reporting on so-called scandals involving Hillary Clinton and report back to readers."