The New York Times' latest botched story on emails from former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shows why reporters shouldn't trust leaks from anonymous partisan sources, Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote in an August 1 op-ed in The Huffington Post.
Cummings, the ranking minority member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, detailed how the Republican-led investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attacks "has been plagued by a series of inaccurate, partisan leaks designed to attack" Clinton. The Times' recent rush to rely on anonymous "Capitol Hill" sourcing falsely claiming Clinton was the target of a potential criminal investigation -- which resulted in the paper having to issue multiple corrections and answer questions about its credibility -- is only the most recent example of reporters failing to verify information from anonymous sources when it comes to Clinton:
Congressional investigations into the attacks in Benghazi have been plagued by a series of inaccurate, partisan leaks designed to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Many of these attacks rely on anonymous sources to describe -- and often mischaracterize -- documents reporters have not seen.
Last week, the New York Times fell victim to this ploy, reporting that "[t]wo inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information."
I believe the Times' errors, like many before them, could have been avoided. I learned the truth on Thursday -- before the Times' story ran.
The Times' Executive Editor has suggested that its reporters could not have done anything differently because they relied on anonymous senior government officials, which the paper's Public Editor later explained included tips from "Capitol Hill."
I disagree. The Times could have insisted on seeing the documents they were describing. Or, if the Times spoke with Republicans in Congress, even off the record, they could have checked their facts with me or other Committee Democrats.
Unfortunately, this rush to print anonymous, unverified claims against Secretary Clinton is not unique.
Just last month, Politico was forced to correct a front-page story that relied on an anonymous source who apparently provided doctored information about an email that was produced to the Select Committee, rather than seeing the documents or contacting my office. Chairman Gowdy refused to investigate or condemn this leak.
Similarly, in May 2013, an anonymous source provided a description of an email from NSC staffer Ben Rhodes that misrepresented statements he made about the Benghazi talking points. CNN ultimately reviewed the email and reported that the information had been "seemingly invented" by the source.
Reporters have an obligation to ask why these sources demand to remain anonymous while refusing to provide copies of the documents they are peddling. No scoop should be too good to verify.
But the core problem is that these anonymous sources have an agenda, which is to manufacture facts to attack Secretary Clinton.
Iowa radio host Steve Deace is frequently interviewed as a political analyst by mainstream media outlets like NPR, MSNBC, and The Hill when they need an insider's perspective on the GOP primary and Iowa political landscape. However, these outlets may not all be aware that Deace gained his insider status in conservative circles by broadcasting full-throated endorsements of extreme right-wing positions on his radio show and writing online columns filled with intolerant views that he never reveals during main stream media appearances.
Politico's Dylan Byers reported that New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet "refused to publish" a letter from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, which expressed "grave concern" with a recent flawed Times report on Clinton's email use.
The July 23 Times story, which has now been corrected twice and which came under heavy criticism from the Times' public editor and veteran journalists, originally falsely claimed that two inspectors general had requested a criminal investigation into Clinton's email use. In reality, the probe was not criminal and was not focused on Clinton personally. "Despite the overwhelming evidence," Byers noted, "the Times did not remove the word [criminal] from its headline and its story, nor did it issue a correction, until the following day."
Byers explained that in response, the Clinton campaign "sent a nearly 2,000-word letter to the executive editor of The New York Times this week." The campaign then forwarded the letter to reporters after "Baquet refused to publish it in the Times":
"We remain perplexed by the Times' slowness to acknowledge its errors after the fact, and some of the shaky justifications that Times' editors have made," Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri wrote in the letter to Dean Baquet, which the campaign forwarded to the On Media blog late Thursday night.
"I feel obliged to put into context just how egregious an error this story was," Palmieri continued. "The New York Times is arguably the most important news outlet in the world and it rushed to put an erroneous story on the front page charging that a major candidate for President of the United States was the target of a criminal referral to federal law enforcement. Literally hundreds of outlets followed your story, creating a firestorm that had a deep impact that cannot be unwound. This problem was compounded by the fact that the Times took an inexplicable, let alone indefensible, delay in correcting the story and removing 'criminal' from the headline and text of the story."
"In our conversations with the Times reporters, it was clear that they had not personally reviewed the IG's referral that they falsely described as both criminal and focused on Hillary Clinton," Palmieri wrote. "Instead, they relied on unnamed sources that characterized the referral as such. However, it is not at all clear that those sources had directly seen the referral, either. This should have represented too many 'degrees of separation' for any newspaper to consider it reliable sourcing, least of all The New York Times."
Palmieri's letter, which runs 1,915 words long, includes three other complaints: 1. That the "seriousness of the allegations... demanded far more care and due diligence than the Times exhibited prior to this article's publication. 2. That the Times "incomprehensibly delayed the issuance of a full and true correction." And 3. That the Times' "official explanations for the misreporting is profoundly unsettling."
"I wish to emphasize our genuine wish to have a constructive relationship with The New York Times," Palmieri writes in closing. "But we also are extremely troubled by the events that went into this erroneous report, and will be looking forward to discussing our concerns related to this incident so we can have confidence that it is not repeated in the future."
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
"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:
From the July 27 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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This morning, The New York Times issued a second substantial correction to its anonymously-sourced report that originally hyped a potential Department of Justice investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of personal email. The paper has now removed the claim -- which appeared in both the article's headline and first sentence -- that two inspectors general were seeking a "criminal" investigation into the handling of Clinton's emails.
The paper has not addressed numerous lingering questions about both the sourcing and vetting of its report, with their corrections instead blaming the errors on "information from senior government officials" who remain anonymous. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan indicated on Twitter that she plans to weigh in on the story on Monday.
A comparison of the opening sentence of the July 23 article as originally published and how it currently appears on the Times website underscores the deeply flawed nature of the paper's report. In less than 48 hours, the article went from alleging a request for a "criminal investigation" of Clinton herself to "an investigation" into whether information had been mishandled in connection with her email account.
Here's the story's original opening, which appeared under the headline "Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use of Email":
Two 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, senior government officials said Thursday.
And here's how it currently appears, as of 2:30 p.m. EST on July 25:
Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state, senior government officials said Thursday.
The changes to the Times' original story have come as their reporting has unraveled.
Shortly after publication, the paper walked back the allegation that Clinton herself would be the target of the supposed criminal probe. While the Times made these changes without issuing a formal correction -- a spokesperson originally claimed it was unnecessary because there was no "factual error" -- it reversed course several hours later and appended a correction to its piece, explaining that the referral in question "did not specifically request an investigation into Mrs. Clinton."
But the Times hadn't only botched the target of the inquiry, it misstated its nature as well. Yesterday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democratic member of the Benghazi Select Committee, released a statement saying that he had personally spoken with the State Department Inspector General and the Intelligence Community Inspector General and "both confirmed directly to me that they never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton's email usage. Instead, they said this was a 'routine' referral, and they have no idea how the New York Times got this so wrong."
Additionally, a Justice Department official reportedly said yesterday -- apparently contradicting earlier statements from the DOJ -- that the referral over the emails was not "criminal."
During an appearance on MSNBC's Hardball, Rep. Cummings called out the Times for still labeling the investigation "criminal" in its headline despite evidence to the contrary. This morning, the paper revised the article once again to remove references to a criminal investigation and added a second correction to the bottom of its piece:
In addition, government officials who initially said the request was for a criminal investigation later said it was not a "criminal referral" but a "security referral" pertaining to possible mishandling of classified information.
As Media Matters laid out yesterday, there are several significant questions about the Times' handling of the story, which originally levied the bombshell allegation that a criminal investigation had been sought into a leading candidate for the presidency based on anonymous sourcing. Those questions include the sources for the paper's faulty information, whether the Times saw or attempted to see the referral document itself, whether the paper reached out to Cummings or any other Democrats on the Benghazi committee, and whether it contacted the inspectors general before publication.
In a statement, Cummings highlighted the report's sourcing, calling the Times story "the latest example in a series of inaccurate leaks to generate false front-page headlines -- only to be corrected later -- and they have absolutely nothing to do with the attacks in Benghazi or protecting our diplomatic corps overseas." Media have frequently been forced to walk back their initially flawed reports on Clinton's emails.
From the July 24 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
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This act is getting tired.
In recent years, conservative activists, under the guise of renegade journalism, have been churning out undercover "sting" videos supposedly capturing reprehensible behavior by their mostly liberal targets. Those targets have included low-level workers at ACORN, a fundraiser at National Public Radio, and now officials at Planned Parenthood, among others.
The activists release a series of videos in an effort to build a big takedown story, and the press usually plays along. Meanwhile, activists coordinate with right-wing media players and members of Congress to generate simultaneous outrage over the clips.
The problem for the activists, and the problem for journalists who excitedly treat the clips as news, is that the videos invariably turn out to be doctored, filled with deceptive edits, and missing context in an effort to manufacture scandal.
The whole cycle has become a media cliché, but it's one that conservative partisans cheer. And they're cheering again this month as the Center for Medical Progress releases edited clips to claim Planned Parenthood officials have been caught discussing how the organization "sells the body parts of aborted fetuses" and "haggling" over prices for "baby parts."
Both incendiary videos have been proven to omit crucial context undermining their central claims.
While some outlets have done a good job calling out the deceptive nature of the campaign against Planned Parenthood, too many veer into a he said, she said construction while writing up the allegations. (See the front page of yesterday's New York Times, for example.)
Commentary's John Podhoretz was impressed by the roll-out:
This Planned Parenthood video drip-drip-drip is the first time anyone has properly followed the Andrew Breitbart playbook since his death.-- John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) July 21, 2015
Podhoretz was likely referring to the ACORN sting videos that Andrew Breitbart's site helped roll out in 2009, as the conservative media waged war on a nonprofit group that helped poor people -- a war waged via dishonest undercover clips that captured James O'Keefe and his sidekick, Hannah Giles, famously getting advice from ACORN workers in various field offices on how prostitutes could skirt tax laws. The ACORN videos that the press went bonkers for were built around the fundamental lie that O'Keefe entered the ACORN offices dressed like a cartoonish pimp and workers still counseled him. They were also bolstered by deceptive editing.
California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. pointed out that the videotapes were "severely edited by O'Keefe." According to a 2010 New York Daily News article about an investigation into O'Keefe's sting at a Brooklyn office, "a law enforcement source" said the conservative activists had "edited the tape to meet their agenda."
In 2011, O'Keefe released a set of sting videos to expose NPR's supposed liberal bias. It featured fundraiser Ron Schiller having lunch with two potential (albeit fake) Muslim donors and Schiller making disparaging comments about Republicans and Tea Party members. It was soon revealed that the tapes had been highly edited and done so in a way to make the Schiller comments seem more damning than originally believed. (In the short term, the videos worked -- NPR's CEO was forced to resign.)
The anti-choice group Live Action rolled out a series of undercover videos in 2013 claiming to catch Planned Parenthood conducting "illegal and inhuman practices." Like the others, the Live Action videos were dishonestly edited to improve the story activists wanted to tell.
Let's put it this way, when conservative activists release an undercover sting video that doesn't rely on dishonest editing to manufacture its point, it will be their first.
But the dismaying part is the formula works in the short term because too much of the media, drawn to the heat and the light of agitated conservative outrage, almost immediately types up the tapes as news despite the fact that for six years running, the established record shows that these types of tapes are regularly debunked. (Joining some other outlets that have called out the spin, a New York Times editorial this week cut through the ambiguities and declared the clips to be part of a larger, deeply dishonest smear campaign.)
Does the press honestly believe these tape releases aren't carefully choreographed by conservatives? Meaning, the press seems to treat as news that the tapes generate outrage within the conservative media and the Republican Party.
From the New York Times last week: "The video spread rapidly over social media and was discussed on talk radio."
But there are clear indications that the outrage was planned in advance, so why is the ire considered newsworthy?
In fact, we now know at least two key Republican congressmen who expressed outrage at Planned Parenthood last week were shown the first sting video weeks earlier -- and did nothing with the information. Apparently not wanting to step on the media roll-out, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) -- a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee -- and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) both sat on the information contained in the video and only sprang into action after it was released to the press.
After the right-wing's NPR video was proven to be misleading in 2011, some reporters conceded that activists releasing bogus clips have the advantage because the press doesn't want to slow down and ask questions about whether the clips are dishonest or not.
But how many times does the same script have to play out before journalists refuse to star as actors in orchestrated, far-right attack campaigns?
John Kasich, whose long career at Fox News helped him secure the Ohio governorship, is the latest former Fox News employee to run for the Republican nomination for president. Kasich's entrance into the race makes him the fourth Republican presidential candidate -- along with Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum -- that has worked for Fox News. Fox built up Kasich during his years as an employee and politician, and Kasich has pointed to his time at Fox to enhance his resumé.
Kasich is certainly among the most successful Fox News candidates. He joined the network in 2001 as a former congressman and left in 2009 to successfully run for governor. Kasich was a frequent guest host for The O'Reilly Factor and the host of the programs From The Heartland and Heroes. Fox paid Kasich $265,000 in 2008 for his work.
Toledo Blade editor David Kushma noted that Kasich's "tenure at Fox News, where he honed his heartland persona, helped make him media-savvy." A 2002 Columbus Dispatch profile of Kasich reported that he "wants to be in the White House," but in the meantime was "concerned about doing a good job with Fox, developing as 'a media person' and connecting with viewers."
During one 2014 meeting, Kasich reportedly "endeared himself to the conservatives by mentioning his past TV work," telling them: "I used to be at Fox News. I was a big star at one time."
Kasich told CNBC during a July 14 interview that working for Fox News "pushed me intellectually to learn many things, really, in a short period of time."
Fox News heavily promoted Kasich during his first post-Fox political run. Sean Hannity, who hosted a fundraiser for Kasich, told him on Fox to "do me a favor. Go get elected governor." In another interview, Hannity said, "you can help us. Win the state of Ohio." During an interview on The O'Reilly Factor, Kasich asked for donations while Fox News put his website address on-screen (the solicitation drew a formal complaint, later dismissed by Ohio officials, from the Democratic Governors Association).
Kasich has also received financial backing from Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch donated $10,000 to his 2010 campaign. Murdoch's News Corporation, which at the time owned Fox News, also donated $1 million in 2010 to the Republican Governors Association; Murdoch said the donation "was actually [a result of] my friendship with John Kasich." In December 2014, Murdoch donated $10,000 for Kasich's 2014 transition fund.
Kasich has touted his friendship with Murdoch, telling the Financial Times in July that "I love him" and "I love to be with him." Politico also reported on June 19 that Kasich has "begun a concerted push to lock down the support of Murdoch" and "was hopeful he could be brought aboard." The outlet added "When they are both in New York City, Kasich and Murdoch make plans to see one another. But Murdoch, those familiar with the effort say, hasn't yet committed to Kasich, and has said he has many friends in the contest. He has pointed to Bush, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie as candidates he particularly admires."
In a November 4 interview after Kasich won his reelection campaign, Fox's Megyn Kelly told Kasich that it "wasn't that long ago that you were here at the Fox News Channel. Everyone loved you. Now you go to Ohio. The people love you. Are you going to make a pitch on a national level and hope they love you and put you in the White House?" Kasich dodged by the question by responding, "what I'm really bucking for in the short term is to wonder if I can come back and host O'Reilly again at least once or twice. It would be a lot of fun. I don't think they've ever had a sitting governor do that."
The Columbus Dispatch reported following the exchange that Fox News head Roger "Ailes called him this morning to ask if he was serious" about wanting to host again on Fox. The paper quoted Kasich stating, "I think if I want to make it happen they will." A Fox News spokesperson told Politico that Ailes called "to congratulate Governor Kasich on the win in his home state and was joking about hosting a show."
There are indications that Kasich's old colleagues will afford him a home-field advantage. Fox had promoted a Kasich 2016 presidential run prior to it becoming official. Senior vice president and host Neil Cavuto, for instance, told Kasich last year his "success" as governor has given the liberals "reason to fear you" in 2016.
Fox News contributor John LeBoutillier wrote that if Kasich does run, Fox would "accord him very favorable coverage. Why? Because Kasich used to host shows on Fox -- and rumor has it that Sir Rupert Murdoch likes him."
Fox News hosted Roger Stone to defend Donald Trump's inflammatory remarks about Sen. John McCain's military service. Neither Fox nor Stone disclosed that Trump's presidential campaign pays Stone, who is reportedly a "top" Trump adviser.
Super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Marco Rubio have purchased millions of dollars of ad time on Fox News, according to data obtained by Media Matters from a media buying source. An adviser to super PACs backing Perry reportedly admitted the spending is intended to raise his profile to help him qualify for the upcoming Fox News primary debate.
Ever since Fox declared that its August 6 debate would only include candidates "in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls," the 15 Republicans currently running (with more potentially entering the race soon) have scrambled to gain the exposure necessary to make the cut, with some super PACs reportedly changing their entire campaign strategies.
In response to the debate rules announcement, Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus argued that Roger Ailes "will decide which candidates can compete in Republican presidential primaries next year." The debate rules are already having a tangible impact on the campaign.
New York Times' Nick Confessore reported July 15 that a group of super PACs supporting Rick Perry "are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising on the Fox News Channel and other cable channels to raise Mr. Perry's profile," in order to "see him on that debate stage," according to an adviser to the groups.
Data obtained by Media Matters from a media buying source shows that a super PAC supporting Marco Rubio has also been investing in Fox News airtime.
For ads running over the next 12 days, Opportunity and Freedom, a super PAC supporting Perry, is spending $450,000 on Fox News Channel, and an additional $50,000 on sister channel Fox Business.
While Conservative Solutions, a group backing Rubio, will spend more than $3 million on Fox News, and $28,000 on Fox Business, for ads running between June 23 and July 27.
"Because of the way the Fox News Channel has taken over the Republican presidential process this year," MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reported last night, the groups backing Perry "are completely changing the way they are trying to campaign."
Maddow explained that Fox News now gets to "cash in" on its own rule, adding, "It's a nice racket":
MADDOW: If Rick Perry is excluded from the Republican presidential debates, effectively he's not even running for president any more, right? If he's not in the debates, nobody is considering his nomination ... So, the Rick Perry super PAC today decided first things first -- instead of focusing on the early states, like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina like candidates always have in the past, today, they announced that they would stop those efforts. They would start ignoring the early states and instead they're going to put all of their resources, all their money, ahundred of thousands of dollars, as fast as they can into ads for Rick Perry to run on the FOX News channel, and on other national cable networks. ... the Rick Perry super PACs are being rational. They're putting all of their eggs into that basket.
So, FOX News set that rule for the Republican Party, and now, FOX News gets to cash in on that role, by getting all of the Rick Perry super PAC money in the form of his national ads. It's a nice racket, right? [transcript via Nexis]
Media Matters has previously reported on Fox News' unprecedented involvement with the Republican primary. Candidates flock to the network to boost their profiles among the network's audience while also trying to win favor from its influential hosts.
Fox host Sean Hannity has sought to become a "conservative kingmaker," with his show devoting significantly more air-time to lengthy interviews with candidates than any other program on the network.
Our most recent data showed former reality TV host Donald Trump taking the lead in the "Fox Primary" with more on-air appearances in June than any other GOP contender. Rick Perry came in second with seven appearances; Marco Rubio only made one appearance that month.
Several of the GOP candidates whose current polling numbers appear to leave them below Fox's threshold for participation have criticized the debate rules and the power it gives Fox, though others are using it to fundraise. Carly Fiorina wrote to supporters in May: "I need your help to get on that debate stage ... Will you donate $13 today?" In June, Lindsey Graham also asked Fox News Radio listeners to "help me" get into the debate.
From the July 15 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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Media outlets downplayed the legal concerns swirling around Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's fundraising for his affiliated super PAC prior to his formal campaign announcement in their reports on the campaign's unprecedented fundraising success.
The Wall Street Journal had to issue an "amplification" to a Newt Gingrich op-ed after it was revealed the paper failed to disclose Gingrich's financial ties to a group involved in the piece's subject. A PR firm associated with Gingrich attempted to defend the lack of disclosure, but their baffling explanation is just further proof the Journal should have included the information in the first place.
As Media Matters originally noted, the Journal published a July 1 op-ed by Gingrich attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and promoting the U.S. Consumer Coalition without disclosing that the anti-CFPB group employs him as a paid adviser. The paper updated the piece this morning with the sentence: "Amplification: Newt Gingrich is a paid adviser to Wise Public Affairs, whose clients include the U.S. Consumer Coalition, which opposes some policies of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."
Washington Post writer Erik Wemple reported that Brian Wise, head of Wise Public Affairs, claimed that Gingrich has a relationship with his firm, but "'not necessarily a direct relationship with the USCC,' which is a client of Wise Public Affairs. 'The USCC wasn't involved at all in the creation of that article,' says Wise." Wise also reportedly said that Gingrich "has not advised USCC on the CFPB data-mining issue" and didn't see a problem with the WSJ piece.
Wise's response is puzzling, since the USCC states on its website and Facebook page (see here, here, here) that Gingrich is an advisor to the group. Indeed, the group's press release promoting Gingrich's WSJ op-ed identified him as "US Consumer Coalition Senior Advisor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich."
Additionally, Gingrich's op-ed contains similar rhetoric as USCC's anti-CFPB talking points.