A local reporter's five-year investigation into rape kit backlogs in Ohio helped inspire state-level reforms and identify hundreds of serial rapists, evidencing how good reporting can bring about positive change to states' handling of sexual assault -- a stark contrast to conservative media's dismissal of sexual assault that may actually discourage victims from coming forward.
Reporter Rachel Dissell discovered a decades-long backlog of untested rape kits while researching sexual assaults for Cleveland's The Plain Dealer. As she told NPR's Fresh Air, the Cleveland police possessed at least 4,000 untested kits, which contain DNA evidence that could be used to identify and prosecute perpetrators. While many factors contribute to why the kits were left untested, Dissell explained that often times the perceived credibility of the victim played a role: "A lot of the victims whose cases didn't go forward and whose kits weren't tested were minorities. They were drug addicts. They had mental health issues -- all kinds of things like that that just really made them the most vulnerable and the least likely to be believed."
Dissell and The Plain Dealer's reporting helped inspire a groundbreaking Ohio law mandating that old and new rape kits be tested, leading to the reopening of nearly 2,000 rape investigations and the identification of over 200 serial rapists or potential serial rapists.
The positive impact of such reporting shines a light on conservative media's comparatively dangerous coverage of sexual assault, which actively reinforces the stigma surrounding sexual assault victims.
Conservative media have repeatedly attempted to discredit research showing that one-in-five women experiences a completed or attempted sexually assault at college, mocking those who do come forward and dismissing efforts to address the crime as proof of a "war" on men.
Glenn Beck's TheBlazeTV argued that the sexual assault epidemic is "completely untrue" by acting out sexual positions and labelling each skit "RAPE!", while George Will asserted that victim has become a "coveted status." Pundits from Rush Limbaugh to The Weekly Standard's Harvey Mansfield have blamed women for the epidemic, while other conservative talking heads stoke fears about a supposed increase in false reports of sexual assault. Others have explicitly blamed victims for their sexual assault, describing sexual assault survivors as "bad girls...who like to be naughty" and lecturing women about the burden of personal responsibility, saying, "It is the truth that if you are the victim of violent crime or the victim of an attempted violent crime, it is not the patriarchy that puts the burden on you to defend yourself, it is not rigid gender roles, it is -- it's a fact of life."
Such disparaging coverage not only stigmatizes victims, it can actually discourage victims from reporting the crimes and their attackers in the first place. And sexual assault is already a vastly underreported crime -- estimates show that sexual assault goes unreported nearly 70 percent of the time.
In her interview with Fresh Air, Dissell described how discrediting sexual assault victims helps their rapists go unpunished: "They knew if they chose the most vulnerable women - the least likely to be believed - that they would never get caught. And I just don't know how that happened. How did we let them outsmart us for all that time?"
Fox News was completely silent after a Christian minister pleaded guilty to plotting to attack American Muslims in New York, continuing a habit of downplaying threats to Muslims and ignoring extremist acts with no ties to Islam.
Robert Doggart, an ordained Christian minister and former Tennessee congressional candidate, was arrested and pled guilty to attempting to recruit "expert Gunners" to aid him in a plot to kill residents of Islamberg, NY, a largely Muslim community at the foot of the Catskill Mountains. RawStory reported on the details of Doggart's plan:
He met with the informant in Nashville and discussed using Molotov cocktails to firebomb buildings in the Muslim community, which was founded by African-Americans who had converted to Islam from Christianity.
Doggart told the informant during a recorded conversation that he planned to bring 500 rounds of ammunition for the M4 rifle and a pistol with three extra magazines - as well as a machete.
"If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds," he told the informant.
He said during a recorded call that the "battalion" he commanded hoped the raid on Hancock, which is also known as Islamberg, would be a "flash point" in a possible revolution.
"So sick and tired of this crap that the government is pulling that we go take a small military installation or we go burn down a Muslim church or something like that," Doggart said.
The Daily Beast pointed out that the media has remained largely silent on the story, wondering at the absence of "the Fox News panic" and noting:
It goes without saying that if Doggart had been Muslim and had planned to kill Christians in America, we would have seen wall-to-wall media coverage. Fox News would have cut into its already-daily coverage of demonizing Muslims to do a special report really demonizing Muslims.
And in fact, Fox News has made no mention of the story at all. What's more, the network does have a history of downplaying threats against Muslims while hyping any Islamic connection to terror it can find. After the Boston Marathon bombings, the network ridiculed former Attorney General Eric Holder for warning against retaliatory acts of violence, ignoring years of threats against Muslims. In 2010, Fox host Brian Kilmeade claimed that "all terrorists are Muslims."
And Fox has reacted to terror attacks committed by right-wing extremists with a yawn. After the Department of Homeland Security released a report on right-wing terror in 2015, Fox News' Eric Bolling claimed "you can't name" instances of right-wing terrorism "in the last seven years," ignoring dozens of examples.
Right-wing media have also been known to fearmonger about often-unsubstantiated Islamic terror threats. Outlets like Fox News, The Drudge Report, and The New York Post hyped an unfounded "jihadist" plot against Fort Jackson in South Carolina. And Sean Hannity and other conservatives promoted an unsubstantiated story of an Islamic State (ISIS) training camp on the U.S.-Mexico border around the same time Doggart was arrested.
Islamberg, the town Doggart was planning to attack, has also garnered Fox News' attention in the past -- a 2007 FoxNews.com article wondered if it was a "terror compound" and a report by Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed the town was home to a group engaging in "guerilla war training."
During a bizarre appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested the Obama administration is engaging in "Nazi stuff" by using ethnic politics, and wants to confiscate all the country's firearms and put people "in jail for even having them."
Jones, America's leading conspiracy theorist, believes the government perpetrated mass catastrophes like the September 11 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Boston Marathon bombing, and several mass shootings. Jones has recently been pushing the conspiracy theory that a military training exercise, Jade Helm, is an attempt to create martial law in the United States (it isn't). Jones is an ally of Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul and helped launch his political career.
Fox News executive vice president Bill Shine has dismissed Jones, saying he "wishes he had a platform on Fox News ... That's not going to happen, so he should stick with trying to locate the black helicopters." Some of Carlson's colleagues have dismissed Jones as a "nut job radio guy" who owns a "radical far-right Web site."
Carlson, who is also the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Caller, claimed during the appearance that progressives use ethnic politics and identity politics to divert attention from their "policy failures." He said the strategy is "really dangerous," comparing it to countries where there is a violent ethnic divide. He said of the Obama administration: "They categorize people by race in a way that, you know, you can't even imagine -- 30 years ago you would have said, 'Wait a second, that's like Nazi stuff.'"
Fox News failed to mention that 2,700 children will be booted off Arizona's welfare program in the wake of extreme restrictions pushed through by Republicans in the state.
Arizona legislators voted on May 18 to drastically restrict the state's welfare program, capping the lifetime limit for recipients to one year. As the AP reported, the new rule would be "the shortest window" of benefits in the nation, and "As a result, the Arizona Department of Economic Security will drop at least 1,600 families - including more than 2,700 children - from the state's federally funded welfare program on July 1, 2016."
Yet no mention of the thousands of children and families that stand to lose access to the program was made during a May 20 segment on the vote during Fox News' Fox & Friends. During an interview with Arizona state Senator Kelli Ward (R), co-host Steve Doocy instead focused on state budgetary problems, asking "why was this bill important?" Going on to suggest that the bill was produced to address the frustrations about "the way welfare works in the country," Doocy gave an uncritical platform for Sen. Ward to claim that the measures were simply "necessary" despite the consequences:
But the measure will not only hurt those who need such programs most, it may also increase costs to the state in the long run. As Liz Schott, a welfare policy analyst, explained to the AP: "Long-term welfare recipients are often the most vulnerable, suffering from mental and physical disabilities, poor job histories and little education ... But without welfare, they'll likely show up in other ways that will cost taxpayers, from emergency rooms to shelters to the criminal justice system."
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly interviewed a former biker gang leader about a recent biker shootout in Waco, Texas that left nine people dead. O'Reilly's interview with his white guest was a sharp contrast to interviews the host regularly has with African-American guests, where he lectures them about black violence, culture, and family structure.
On May 17, authorities arrested roughly 170 bikers following the deadly shootout between biker gangs and police in Waco, Texas that left nine people dead and 18 wounded outside of a restaurant. According to The New York Times, "Law enforcement officials and gang experts said the conflicts between two motorcycle groups, the Bandidos and the Cossacks, led to the shooting."
During the May 19 edition of his show, O'Reilly interviewed former Bandidos biker gang member Edward Winterhalder to comment on the bloody shootout. During the discussion O'Reilly asked Winterhalder about alleged violence and criminal activity among biker gangs and allowed Winterhalder to explain uninterrupted that "there is a lot of different types of individuals in a motorcycle club" but most are law abiding citizens who "are just regular guys who have jobs, families, and kids ... the only thing they're guilty of is having a little too much fun on the weekends":
Fox News has attacked ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos for participating in Clinton Foundation-affiliated events, calling it a "mistake" that compromises "good coverage." But Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo moderated or participated in at least eight CGI events between 2008 and 2013 while at CNBC.
The Clinton Global Initiative is a nonpartisan initiative of the Clinton Foundation that convenes notable leaders to offer "solutions to the world's most pressing challenges." It holds annual meetings during which participants make charitable commitments. For years, both CGI and the Clinton Foundation were widely praised on a bipartisan basis, with attendees and donors including leading Republican politicians and conservative media moguls. But as Hillary Clinton has emerged as a leading Democratic candidate for president, conservatives have turned on the organization, painting it as a partisan extension of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
Bartiromo has heavily praised President Clinton and CGI, once lauding CGI as "fantastic" and saying Clinton and the foundation have done "so much in terms of raising awareness and money for the AIDS epidemic." Bartiromo was listed as a "member" of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on the program's website.
Bartiromo is the host of Fox News' Sunday Morning Futures and the future host of the Fox Business program Morning Money with Maria Bartiromo. She regularly covers Hillary Clinton on Fox News, according to a search of Nexis.* She moved to Fox from CNBC in January 2014.
Rush Limbaugh's Boston radio affiliate WRKO has announced it is dropping Limbaugh's talk show from its lineup. Limbaugh's syndicator, Premiere, confirmed the news in a statement, which reads in part: "We were unable to reach agreeable terms for The Rush Limbaugh Show to continue on WRKO. A final broadcast date will be announced in the near future."
WRKO has now become the second major radio station in recent weeks to drop Limbaugh's program. Limbaugh's longtime Indianapolis affiliate WIBC severed ties with him in April. WIBC's parent company noted that Limbaugh's absence could actually improve its advertiser prospects.
The commercial viability of Rush Limbaugh's show has suffered since 2012, when advertisers began fleeing the program in the wake of Limbaugh's prolonged attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the millions of dollars in advertising revenue stations who carry Limbaugh's show lose, as well as the industry-wide damage resulting from Limbaugh's toxicity to advertisers. Notably, according to the report, the exodus of national advertisers has played a significant part in reducing talk radio advertising rates to about half of what it costs to run ads on music stations, even though the two formats have "comparable audience metrics."
WRKO dropping Limbaugh from its lineup is just the latest reminder that Rush Limbaugh is bad for business.
Advertisers continue to leave and stay away thanks to a dedicated group of independent organizers in the Flush Rush and #StopRush communities. Their participation matters and is having a big effect.
Fox News selectively quoted a statement from Hillary Clinton's lawyer to suggest that she lied about having a "second email account" during her time as secretary of state. But the network ignored in several segments that the supposed discrepancy was explained months ago.
On May 18, The New York Times published selected emails from Clinton's time at State, which appeared to show her sending emails from two private addresses: HDR22@clintonemail.com and email@example.com. Right-wing media immediately jumped on the story to claim that it contradicted Clinton's previous statement that she only used one email address while at State.
Fox went so far as to suggest Clinton "was lying" about her use of email, missing key context in several of their segments on the topic. On the May 19 edition of America's Newsroom, guest co-host Gregg Jarrett asked: "Either she forgot, or she was lying. What do you think?" Fox reporter Doug McKelway also claimed that the "second email" was a "direct contradiction" to Clinton's previous statements, noting those remarks were "not made in testimony, nor was it made under oath, so perhaps there's some wiggle room there, but I'm not sure how she gets out of that."
Later on Happening Now, McKelway highlighted a letter sent from Clinton's lawyer that stated "firstname.lastname@example.org is not an address that existed during Secretary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State."
However, this seeming discrepancy was explained in the same letter McKelway selectively quoted from.
As Clinton's lawyer noted back in that March 2015 letter -- and which Fox News ignored in these segments -- Clinton changed her email address when she left State because Gawker had published emails that revealed the "HDR22" address. That was when she changed the address to "hrod17."
According to her office, when this change occurred, the new address replaced the old address on the digital records of her previous emails. Thus, as explained in a release several months ago, when her emails were printed out and provided to the State Department, the new email address "appeared on the printed copies as the sender."
While this context was missing from Jarrett and McKelway's morning reports, Fox Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry reported the Clinton campaign's explanation in a separate segment on America's Newsroom, saying that "when she printed out all the emails to turn over back to the government, that second account came up, even though that was not the one she was using months earlier."
The old "HDR22" address still appears in some of the documents the Times highlighted, but seems to only occur in the text of the body of emails that were replies or forwards from other individuals. For example, a printed email from Clinton aide Jake Sullivan which was published by the Times still shows "HDR22" in the text of his email, because he was replying to her original message.
The backdating of the email addresses "led to understandable confusion" for the congressional Select Committee on Benghazi earlier this year, prompting Clinton's office to issue this explanation in March.
The original Gawker report, which highlighted emails sent to Clinton during her time at State, also includes screenshots of those emails. The emails shown are all clearly sent to Clinton's original email account, HRD22, in keeping with Clinton office's explanation for the email address confusion.
The New York Times devoted a front page article on May 19 to advancing baseless industry allegations that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) illegally lobbied on behalf of clean water protections. Buried deep within the article was an acknowledgment that the allegations don't hold up, but The Times ran with the story anyway.
The Times reported that "industry critics said the agency's actions might be violating federal lobbying laws," and that the EPA's efforts to build support for its proposed clean water rule "are now being cited as evidence that the E.P.A. has illegally engaged in so-called grass-roots lobbying."
Yet the very same Times article acknowledged that multiple "experts" -- including an energy industry lobbyist who worked for the EPA under the Bush administration -- "said the agency's actions did not appear to cross a legal line."
Moreover, The Times wrote that "the Justice Department, in a series of legal opinions going back nearly three decades, has told federal agencies that they should not engage in substantial 'grass-roots' lobbying." That led The Times into a discussion of a social media campaign in support of the clean water rule that the EPA conducted "in conjunction with the Sierra Club," while "grass-roots group" Organizing for America "was also pushing the rule." The Times added that "critics said environmental groups had inappropriately influenced the campaign," citing officials from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who claimed that "[t]here is clear collusion between extreme environmental groups and the Obama administration" on new regulations.
It wasn't until 34 paragraphs after the initial mention of the Justice Department that The Times included this massive caveat (emphasis added):
In its previous opinions to federal agencies, the Justice Department has indicated that "grass-roots" efforts are most clearly prohibited if they are related to legislation pending in Congress and are "substantial," which it defined as costing about $100,000 in today's dollars -- a price tag that the E.P.A.'s efforts on the clean water rule almost certainly did not reach if the salaries of the agency staff members involved are not counted.
As likely Republican candidates for president continue to struggle with the legacy of the Iraq War, and specifically with the question of whether they would have authorized a similar invasion if they had been president at the time, it's important to remember the media's role in the foreign policy failure. At a time of heightened patriotic fervor, the national press played a crucial role in helping to sell President George W. Bush's war to the public in 2003.
There were some key, praiseworthy exceptions, but in general the Beltway press failed badly during the run-up to the war. It's a fact that shouldn't be forgotten as politicians today grapple with the past.
Below is an excerpt from my book, Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over For Bush. (Note: "MSM" is shorthand for mainstream media.)
Battered by accusations of a liberal bias and determined to prove their conservative critics wrong, the press during the run-up to the war -- timid, deferential, unsure, cautious, and often intentionally unthinking -- came as close as possible to abdicating its reason for existing in the first place, which is to accurately inform citizens, particularly during times of great national interest. Indeed, the MSM's failings were all the more important because of the unusually influential role they played in advance of the war-of-choice with Iraq.
"When America has been attacked -- at Pearl Harbor, or as on September 11 -- the government needed merely to tell the people that it was our duty to respond, and the people rightly conferred their authority," noted Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect magazine. "But a war of choice is a different matter entirely. In that circumstance, the people will ask why. The people will need to be convinced that their sons and daughters and husbands and wives should go halfway around the world to fight a nemesis that they didn't really know was a nemesis."
It's not fair to suggest the MSM alone convinced Americans to send some sons and daughter to fight. But the press went out of its way to tell a pleasing, administration-friendly tale about the pending war. In truth, Bush never could have ordered the invasion of Iraq -- never could have sold the idea at home -- if it weren't for the help he received from the MSM, and particularly the stamp of approval he received from so-called liberal media institutions such as the Washington Post, which in February of 2003 alone, editorialized in favor of war nine times. (Between September 2002 and February 2003, the paper editorialized twenty-six times in favor of the war.)
The Post had plenty of company from the liberal East Coast media cabal, with high-profile columnists and editors -- the newfound liberal hawks -- at the New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, the New York Times, the New Republic and elsewhere all signing on for a war of preemption. By the time the invasion began, the de facto position among the Beltway chattering class was clearly one that backed Bush and favored war.
Years later the New York Times Magazine wrote that most "journalists in Washington found it almost inconceivable, even during the period before a fiercely contested midterm election [in 2002], that the intelligence used to justify the war might simply be invented." Hollywood peace activists could conceive it, but serious Beltway journalists could not? That's hard to believe. More likely journalists could conceive it but, understanding the MSM unspoken guidelines -- both social and political -- were too timid to express it at the time of war.
To oppose the invasion vocally was to be outside the media mainstream and to invite scorn. Like some nervous Democratic members of Congress right before the war, MSM journalists and pundits seemed to scramble for political cover so as to not subject themselves to conservative catcalls.