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.
From the July 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Newt 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 omission is even more egregious since the Journal itself reported Gingrich's hiring last year.
From the July 2 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Mainstream media consistently fail to question GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie's self-promotion as a "straight talking" "truth-teller," but he consistently lies and misrepresents his record in interviews and speeches.
Evening news programs on cable and broadcast news channels were completely silent in the immediate aftermath of a Washington Post story about business dealings by Jeb Bush "that raised questions about his judgment and exposed him to reputational risk." Their complete lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the nearly three hours of coverage by cable and broadcast evening news programs devoted to The New York Times' faulty allegation that Hillary Clinton's State Department was influenced by Clinton Foundation donors when it signed off on the purchase of Uranium One the same day the story came out.
Fox News' Bill Hemmer parroted an erroneous claim that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account is unprecedented, when, in fact, former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used a private email account to conduct government business during his time in the Bush administration and did not preserve those records.
The Washington Post is allowing George Will to engage in an "out-and-out conflict of interest" by promoting the work of a conservative advocacy group that's connected to him through financial grants.
Will wrote a June 25 Post piece attacking Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court's recent decision on the Affordable Care Act. For support, Will cited a lawyer for the Institute for Justice (IJ), who claimed that the United States is becoming "a country in which all the branches of government work in tandem to achieve policy outcomes, instead of checking one another to protect individual rights. Besides violating the separation of powers, this approach raises serious issues about whether litigants before the courts are receiving the process that is due to them under the Constitution."
Will and the Post did not disclose that the Institute for Justice is funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, where Will is a member of the board of directors. The foundation notes on its website that it "substantially supports IJ." The Bradley Foundation directly gave IJ over $500,000 from 2011-2013 (the most recent year available), according to its annual reports. It awarded IJ's president, William H. "Chip" Mellor, a 2012 "Bradley Prize" along with a stipend of $250,000. The foundation states that board members are responsible for grant-making decisions.
The lack of disclosure is perplexing given that the Post previously noted Will's financial connections to IJ. A Nexis search for "Institute for Justice" and "Bradley Foundation" in the Post did not return any results except for an August 21, 2009, correction about Will's ties ("he is a board member of the Bradley Foundation, which has contributed funding to the Institute for Justice").
Washington Post writer Erik Wemple has criticized his colleague's "out-and-out conflict of interest" in previously promoting Bradley Foundation recipients, explaining:
Here, Will touted an outlet funded generously by a group he helps to lead. And thanks to the columnist's kind words, WILL [Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty] may have an easier time finding funders outside of the Bradley Foundation. All very cozy, synergistic and, as media critics might say, an out-and-out conflict of interest -- an offense of which Will has been accused before.
Will defended himself regarding his lack of disclosure last year, claiming, in part, that "I see no reason -- no service to readers -- to disclose my several degrees of separation from the program: My tenuous connection has no bearing on what I think about what they do. There comes a point when disclosure of this and that becomes clutter, leaving readers to wonder what the disclosed information has to do with anything."
Media ethicists and journalism veterans have criticized Will for the practice, calling it a breach of journalistic ethics. As Media Matters has documented, Will has a long history of ethical misfires despite being long employed by a leading national newspaper.
Fox & Friends uncritically parroted debunked allegations made by Republican activist and strategist Peter Schweizer in his book Clinton Cash in order to falsely suggest wrong-doing at Hillary Clinton's State Department regarding the Uranium One deal that gave the Russian government ownership of U.S. uranium mines.
During a June 21 interview on WMUR's CloseUP with Josh McElveen, Hillary Clinton shut down Schweizer's false claims made in Clinton Cash that the former secretary of state had pushed through the Uranium One deal after the Clinton Foundation received donations from stakeholders in the deal, noting that the claims had "no basis" behind them. Peter Schweizer responded in a June 22 op-ed for The New York Post, suggesting that Clinton's interview showed "grave incompetence or brazen dishonesty" and doubling-down on his assertion of a quid pro quo in the Russian uranium deal. Schweizer called Clinton's statement "an admission of extreme executive negligence," and said it "strains credulity."
Fox News parroted Schweizer's attacks on Clinton during the June 23 edition of Fox & Friends. Asking whether Clinton's involvement in the Uranium One deal was evidence of "incompetence" or "deceit," host Elisabeth Hasselbeck speculated that donations to the Clinton Foundation may have influenced the outcome of the deal. Reciting Schweizer's talking points, Hasselbeck called into question Clinton's statement that nine government agencies were involved in approving the deal:
ED HENRY: As you can imagine, Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, believes that was pointed at him when she said that there was a partisan axe that was dealt here. So he's got an op-ed in the New York Post today.
HASSELBECK: Yeah, and it said this, quote 'The transfer of 20% of U.S. uranium -- the stuff used to build nuclear weapons -- to Vladimir Putin did not rise to the level of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's time and attention? Beyond being an admission of extreme executive negligence on an issue of utmost national security, Hillary's statement strains credulity to the breaking point for at least three other reasons.' And those three are this: at least nine of the investors who profited from that uranium deal collectively donated $145 million to the Clinton Foundation. Okay, one of them happened to go globe trotting with her husband and donated $100 million in pledges there. The second point that would bring up, and his third, is that Clinton said that there were nine government agencies. Okay, so she's correct in saying that who signed off on the deal. She forgets to mention that her State Department was one of the nine and happened to be the only agency whose chief, he states, received $145 million in donations from shareholders in that deal. Who, by the way, brings you back to point one -- who ended up donating to the Clinton Foundation. And by the way, Bill Clinton received $500,000 for a single speech he delivered in Moscow, and she couldn't answer to that either.