Ethics

Issues ››› Ethics
  • It’s Time For MSNBC To Address Reports That Joe Scarborough Is Advising Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    MSNBC must address recent reports that President-elect Donald Trump “often seeks out” political advice from network host Joe Scarborough. If true, the reports call into question Morning Joe’s Trump coverage and present an ethical dilemma for the network.

    On November 19, The New York Times reported that Trump “still maintains the routine that sustained him during the campaign,” which includes “often seek[ing] out” advice from Scarborough. CNN media reporter Brian Stelter referenced the Times report on the November 20 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, stating that Scarborough "has been giving Trump advice.” Scarborough failed to address the allegations during the November 21 edition of Morning Joe.

    Scarborough has repeatedly attacked those who claimed he was supporting Trump on-air. In November, Scarborough lashed out at the “really disgusting” people who suggested he favored Trump, adding that he doesn’t want viewers to believe “that anybody [on Morning Joe] is rooting for Donald Trump because we’re not.” Similarly, when conservative columnist Bill Kristol called out the Morning Joe hosts for “rewriting history” on the show’s coverage of Trump during a guest appearance in October, Scarborough and his co-host Mika Brzezinski devolved into a screaming match, calling Kristol “bitter,” and claiming he was “practically crying.”

    Despite the hosts’ defense of their Trump coverage, they have repeatedly fawned over Trump and defended him from media criticism following an off-air meeting between Scarborough, Brzezinski, and Trump in September to “rekindle their relationship.” Since that meeting, Scarborough has lashed out at journalists who expressed concern over Trump’s refusal to say if would accept election results, refused to accept that a Trump television ad featured anti-Semitic themes, and denied the assertion that the press carried Trump through his campaign.

    Other media figures have criticized the program’s cozy relationship with Trump throughout the election. Conservative radio host Steve Deace told MSNBC that Scarborough had turned his show into “a Trump super PAC for six months,” and Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik called Scarborough’s relationship with Trump “inappropriate.” And an NBC pollster cited Morning Joe’s Trump coverage as an example of how the media have bolstered, and to an extent, even "created" Trump.

    Trump has also sought advice from other conservative media figures like Fox News’ Sean Hannity. In August, The New York Times reported Hannity had expanded beyond his role as “Trump’s biggest media booster” and “veer[ed] into the role of adviser,“ where he “peppered Mr. Trump, his family members and advisers with suggestions on strategy and messaging.” Like Scarborough, Hannity has repeatedly defended Trump from criticism and been accused of acting as an “arm of the Trump campaign.”

    At the risk of compromising the network’s journalistic integrity, MSNBC must address reports that Scarborough is advising Trump, since Scarborough has shown he will not address them on his own. If reports are accurate, Scarborough should fully disclose his advising role to Trump. To do otherwise would be journalistic malpractice.

  • NY Times Public Editor Says Problem With Paper’s Election Coverage Is It Was Too Mean To Trump Supporters

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In a strange move that bodes ill for the paper’s future coverage, The New York Times’ public editor devoted her review of the paper’s election work almost entirely to detailing ways in which she thought the paper hadn’t been understanding enough of Donald Trump’s supporters.

    Throughout the column, public editor Liz Spayd detailed how readers were upset about the newspaper’s election work and she quoted several of them to prove the point. She stressed that reader outpouring from “around the country” was extremely high (“five times the normal level”), and that there was a “searing level of dissatisfaction out there with many aspects of the coverage.”  

    But Spayd’s hand-selected readers led inexorably to her point that the Times had not been sufficiently charitable to Trump voters. “Few could deny that if Trump’s more moderate supporters are feeling bruised right now, the blame lies partly with their candidate and his penchant for inflammatory rhetoric,” she wrote. “But the media is at fault too, for turning his remarks into a grim caricature that it applied to those who backed him.” At every turn, the readers with whom Spayd chooses to engage criticize the purported liberalism of the Times’ coverage. The message the public editor sends is clear: the paper should move to the right to quell reader concerns.

    Yet not a single reader whom Spayd chose to include in her post-campaign analysis expressed any concern about the daily’s Clinton coverage. Nor did she feature any complaints that the paper’s coverage of Trump may have been insufficiently rigorous. Instead, criticism from the left of the paper’s general election coverage was entirely absent.

    The omission and complete lack of introspection is also strange simply because the Times’ treatment of Clinton has been the topic of an ongoing media debate, as a wide array of writers have detailed what they viewed as the paper’s patently unfair treatment of the Democratic nominee. Even the Times’ former executive editor, Jill Abramson, agreed that the newspaper gives Clinton “an unfair” level of scrutiny.

    She was hardly alone this campaign, as numerous media observers and readers alike criticized the paper’s treatment of the Democratic nominee, calling the coverage a "biased train wreck" that indicated "a problem covering Hillary Clinton," who was "always going to be presumed guilty of something."

    Yet gazing over all of that commentary and all those detailed complaints, Spayd saw no reason to address progressive criticism of the paper. It really does appear that the Times-wide denial is complete.

    But so what about the Clinton treatment, some might say. What’s done is done and Trump is the pressing media issue moving forward. I agree. But I also see a direct connection between the Times’ unfair and accusatory Clinton coverage, and what appears to be its increasingly passive reporting on President-elect Trump.

    And it stands to reason: If the main lesson the Times newsroom is being taught from the election is that the paper was too tough on Trump, too mean to his supporters, and that readers think the paper’s “liberal” bias is evident, guess what kind of coverage that produces?

    It produces the kind of coverage where, one day after Trump’s attorney announced the newly elected president was settling a huge $25 million consumer fraud lawsuit filed against him (an unheard-of development in American politics), the Times published a mostly-upbeat, front-page Trump piece that portrayed him as “confident,” “focused,” “proud,” and “freewheeling.” (To date, the Times has published exactly one news article about the Trump University fraud settlement.)

    Right below that article on the front page the same day appeared another puff piece, this one an admiring look at Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, described by the Times as a “steadying hand” with “driving confidence” who might serve as a “moderating influence” with Trump. This, just days after Trump appointed a white nationalist as his top advisor.

    Meanwhile, the Times’ response to the kerfuffle that recently broke out when Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed by audience members while attending “Hamilton” on Broadway was oddly passive and defensive. At least two Times staffers, including one reporter currently covering Trump for the newsroom, seemed to denounce the boos as being disrespectful. And in its news report on the incident, the Times noted Trump tweeted about the booing, but failed to inform readers that Trump’s tweet was completely inaccurate: Cast members were not “very rude” to Pence. (It was audience members who booed, not the performers, who thanked Pence for attending and asked that he work on behalf of all Americans.)

    That’s not to say the Times hasn’t published any worthy news articles during the early stages of the Trump transition. On November 19, the newspaper reported on the morass of looming conflicts for the new president:

    President-elect Donald J. Trump met in the last week in his office at Trump Tower with three Indian business partners who are building a Trump-branded luxury apartment complex south of Mumbai, raising new questions about how he will separate his business dealings from the work of the government once he is in the White House.

    Where did the potentially damaging piece appear? On page 20.

    The Times did follow up two days laterwith a front-page examination of Trump’s pending conflicts. But the question still lingers: Did the newsroom learn the wrong lessons from the 2016 campaign?

  • A $25 Million Settlement Just Tanked Right-Wing Media’s Fraudulent Defense Of Trump University

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    President-elect Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits alleging his for-profit business Trump University used aggressive sales tactics and unqualified instructors to scam students. Throughout the lawsuit’s litigation, right-wing news outlets helped shield Trump University from criticism by enabling Trump to lie about the institution and aiding his racist attacks on the judge overseeing the case.

  • Ethics Authorities Raise Corruption Concerns Over Trump’s Children Running His Businesses And Transition

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Media are reporting on concerns raised by watchdogs and government-ethics experts that President-elect Donald Trump is creating avenues for corruption by failing to put his business dealings in a true blind trust. Instead, Trump says he will hand over those business dealings to his children -- but his children are also serving on Trump’s White House transition team, where, experts note, they are in a position to choose the people who make regulatory decisions impacting the businesses.

  • CNN’s Final Humiliation: Corey Lewandowski Quits To Work For Trump

    The Network Should Have Fired Him Months Ago

    Blog ››› ››› BEN DIMIERO

    Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for President-elect Donald Trump turned professional Trump propagandist for CNN, has resigned from the network amid reports that he is seeking a job in the new administration. His resignation just days after Trump’s win underlines the farcical nature of his employment as a “political commentator” for CNN during the election. And the nature of his exit -- proactively resigning to potentially go back to officially working for Trump rather than being fired by CNN for obvious ethical reasons -- should humiliate the network.

    CNN hired Lewandowski shortly after he was fired by the campaign in June. His hiring was immediately and widely criticized, both due to his history of open hostility toward -- and even physical altercations with -- the press, and the fact that he was likely prevented from criticizing Trump due to a non-disparagement agreement. The New York Times reported Friday that Lewandowski “has been frequently spotted this week at Trump Tower in Manhattan, chatting with senior aides and attending meetings,” and that he is seeking a senior adviser role in the administration and is in consideration for a leadership role with the Republican National Committee.

    CNN president Jeff Zucker repeatedly defended Lewandowski’s hiring, even as it became clear that he was still drawing large “severance” checks from the campaign, advising Trump on strategy, helping to prep him for the debates, and flying on the candidate’s plane while working for the network.

    Zucker’s defense for hiring Lewandowski is that he provided needed pro-Trump balance to CNN’s airwaves while supposedly being able to offer expert information from someone who had been inside the campaign apparatus. But CNN’s airwaves were already filled with Trump apologists, and Lewandowski’s reported non-disclosure agreement essentially prevented him from sharing any unique insight into the campaign. So what CNN viewers got instead was a lot of dishonest shilling on Trump’s behalf -- and given the nature of Trump’s campaign, there was no shortage of scandals for Lewandowski to spin to CNN’s audience.

    When video of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women emerged in October, Lewandowski downplayed the seriousness of the comments by telling CNN viewers that “we’re not electing a Sunday School teacher” and stressing Trump’s leadership ability. (In a separate appearance a few days later, Lewandowski announced that “nobody cares” about Trump’s comments before pivoting to talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails.)

    When women came forward alleging that Trump had assaulted them, Lewandowski cast doubt on the veracity of the claims, suggesting it was suspicious that they had waited until so close to the election to come forward.

    When The New York Times published tax documents suggesting Trump had been able to avoid paying federal income tax for years, Lewandowski tried to obscure the nature of the report by accusing the Times of a “felony” for publishing its article and encouraging the candidate to sue the paper “into oblivion.”

    When a fellow panelist questioned Trump's years-long racist crusade questioning President Obama’s birthplace, Lewandowski questioned (to the horror of dozens of journalists) why Obama hadn’t released his college records, asking, “Did he get in as a U.S. citizen, or was he brought into Harvard University as a citizen who wasn't from this country?”

    There are plenty of other lowlights from Lewandowski's CNN tenure, but you get the idea.

    Lewandowski’s resignation essentially confirms what was already an open secret: he never really stopped working for Trump -- his role just changed. Media Matters had for months been calling for CNN to cut ties with Lewandowski over ethical concerns, but now that he’s resigned, CNN can’t even salvage a small bit of journalistic responsibility over the Lewandowski debacle.

    In effect, CNN just paid Trump’s close ally for five months to spin on Trump’s behalf while auditioning for a job in the Trump administration. The network’s journalists should be embarrassed that their executives had so little regard for CNN’s credibility.

  • Former Prosecutors Criticize Media’s “Uninformed Speculation” On FBI Email Letter

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Several former prosecutors are criticizing the wildly speculative and overblown media coverage of FBI Director James Comey’s Friday letter announcing that the bureau plans to review additional emails that “appear to be pertinent” to its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

    Comey’s letter has been criticized by figures across the political spectrum due to its vagueness and apparent defiance of Justice Department precedent. This weekend, the Clinton campaign distributed a letter featuring several dozen former federal prosecutors and officials at the Department of Justice “expressing serious concerns over FBI Director Comey's departure from long-standing department protocols.”

    In interviews with Media Matters, several signatories of the letter were critical of the “firestorm of misinformation” and baseless speculation that has dominated media coverage of Comey’s actions since Friday.

    “It’s a predictable result of what happens when you depart from well-settled DOJ practice regarding criminal investigations,” said Tony West, a former U.S. Associate Attorney General from 2012 to 2014. “Oftentimes it’s uninformed speculation. It created a firestorm of misinformation and misinterpretation and speculation from the media and political commentators.”

    He later added, “There’s a tension between trying to be first and fast and trying to be accurate. I find that with stories like this, it’s not unlike what I experienced in the Justice Department – you would have an incident and early intelligence on that incident and oftentimes the early intelligence is incorrect. You see that play out with stories like this. It is very difficult to correct first impressions.”

    Stuart M. Gerson, former acting U.S. Attorney General and a former Assistant Attorney General from 1989 to 1993, agreed.

    “The problem with it is we are in an age of scoop journalism. Finding an accurate picture requires a lot more experience, judgment and perception,” Gerson said in an interview. “There is nothing in that letter that suggests there is a single culpable email, there is not even an indication of that. They should have dug further. There should have been tougher interviews of sources. There needed to be something more from the Justice Department itself. More real reporting.”

    For Donald B. Ayer, a former deputy U.S. Attorney General from 1989 to 1990, there was “a lot of confusion surrounding” Comey’s letter that should have sparked caution.

    “Who knew what?” he said. “The media is running around trying to pick up the story and examine it. The letter he wrote wasn’t a masterpiece of clarity.”

    “To the extent the media reported they were emails from Hillary Clinton, no one ever said that,” he added, later saying of the media reaction, “there were people with their hair on fire, ‘oh my God,’ ‘the end of the world is upon us,’ there was a lot of alarm.”

    Ayer also stressed that Comey’s letter said “he had no way to know that there was any information at all that they had that had any bearing. If the press was really trying hard, they could have deduced that they had come upon things to look at, but we don’t know anything about them. That would have been better than to put talking heads on TV to speculate on what it might be.”

    Jamie Gorelick, former Deputy Attorney General of the United States, struck a similar note, saying Comey's letter was "so unusual that it allowed kind of rank speculation.”

    Timothy Heaphy, a former U.S. Attorney from 2009 to 2014, accused many in the press of being “more focused on the sensationalist headline of reopening the investigation and nefarious speculation. They could have been more careful reporting, going beyond the FBI’s letter. There were more questions raised than answered by that letter.”

    Bill Nettles, former U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina from 2010 to 2016, said many in the news media should have just reported what was known and not guessed at what was not revealed yet.

    “Just to report the letter and then let it speak for itself,” Nettles said. “You’ve got all of these people with opinions who would rather be in the media than be right. Do a little bit more in-depth reporting and let more facts come out.”

    Donald Stern, former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts from 1993 to 2000, said the letter’s vagueness and timing “led to the kind of rampant, unwarranted and purely speculative reporting of what the FBI had and what it meant. Some of it is uninformed speculation and some of it is speculation without knowing what to make of it.”

    Asked what the press should be doing differently, he said, “put it in context, parse the language that Comey is saying and make clear he is really not saying anything of substance, that they do not know what is relevant and they don’t even have [the emails] in their possession yet. In that way, a much more restrained way, would have been the way to go.”

  • CNN And Fox Push Trump’s Baseless “Pay To Play” Accusation Against Clinton For Morocco Speech She Didn’t Give

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & MATT GERTZ

    CNN’s Jake Tapper and Fox News’ Chris Wallace pushed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s baseless accusation that stolen emails released by WikiLeaks shows former secretary of state Hillary Clinton engaged in “pay to play” with the Moroccan government.

    The two January 2015 emails in question show a discussion between aides Robby Mook and Huma Abedin about whether Clinton would participate in an upcoming Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) summit in Morocco. Abedin expressed concern about Clinton cancelling her appearance, saying that Moroccan king Mohammed VI pledged $12 million to the Clinton Foundation’s charitable efforts and was expecting Clinton’s participation.

    On October 21, Trump said during a rally in North Carolina, “Now from WikiLeaks, we just learned she tried to get 12 million (dollars) from the king of Morocco for an appearance. More pay for play." On October 23, Tapper and Wallace questioned Mook, who is now Clinton's campaign manager, about the emails released by WikiLeaks. On State of the Union, Tapper, although noting that Clinton didn’t go to Morocco, insisted that “this is a real issue ... pay to play.” And on Fox News Sunday, Wallace asked, “why wasn’t that classic pay to play?”

    The suggestion that Clinton’s activities with regard to Morocco are a corrupt pay to play are dubious for three reasons.

    First, there is no evidence that Clinton offered Morocco’s leadership any government action. In fact, she was in no position to do so, as the summit was scheduled for more than two years after she stepped down as secretary of state.

    Second, in spite of Abedin’s concerns, Clinton did not actually attend the summit and it went forward anyway.

    Third, according to ABC News, “Clinton Foundation records do not show any direct pledge of funding from the king or government of Morocco to the charity.” ABC suggests that this is because the $12 million pledge was actually a commitment to CGI, which are “agreements only to aid the program's international projects, not to directly fund the Clinton Foundation itself.”

    CNN’s own report of Trump’s remarks shows why his accusation is baseless (emphasis added):

    The accusation is just the latest Trump has leveled against Clinton as he's argued she engaged in "pay for play" schemes involving the Clinton Foundation during her time as secretary of state. But the Clinton Global Initiative summit in Morocco that Clinton was set to attend in exchange for the $12 million pledge took place in May 2015 and was discussed in emails by Clinton's top aides in November 2014, after her tenure as secretary of state ended.

    Clinton did not end up attending the summit.

    Because Clinton did not attend the summit, was not in the employ of the government at the time, and the funds would not have gone to the Clinton Foundation directly, there is no “pay for play” here, despite claims by Trump and some in the media. Instead, this is just the latest in a string of reporting failures regarding Clinton Foundation donations.

  • Fox’s Brit Hume Attacks Latest Trump Accuser’s Claim Because She “Has Sex On Camera For” Money

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume attacked the latest woman to accuse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of sexual misconduct, writing on Twitter, “Woman who has sex on camera for $ says Trump propositioned her. ‘This is not acceptable behavior.’ Please.”

    During an October 22 press conference Jessica Drake, who directs and performs in adult films, accused Trump of “inappropriate sexual contact” at a charity golf tournament where she alleges he kissed and touched her without her permission. Drake also says that Trump also propositioned her with a $10,000 offer, which she declined. “This is not acceptable behavior for anyone -- much less a presidential candidate,” she told the press.

    Hume responded to Drake’s allegations by suggesting that Drake could not be offended by Trump’s alleged proposition because of her line of work.

    From Hume’s Twitter account:

     

     

    Hume previously cast doubt on the claim of a woman who told The New York Times that Trump groped her by after lifting the armrest between her and Trump while the two were on an airplane flight during the early 1980s. Hume said on Fox News’ On the Record, “The kinds of armrests that I'm accustomed to seeing in those airplanes don't mysteriously disappear. … So it could be that the Trump camp has a point about the impracticability of such an assault.”

    Hume also sought to diminish the credibility of former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson after she sued former Fox News CEO and chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment in July. Commenting on the fact that Carlson filed her suit after her Fox News contract was not extended, Hume wrote on Twitter, “Here's another suggestion. Why didn't she quit & sue instead of suing only after she got fired?”

    Fox News later paid Carlson $20 million to settle her claims and released a statement that read, in part, “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”

  • BuzzFeed: Supposedly “Apolitical” Media Group Tried To Place Right-Wing Stories In Black Newspapers Before Election

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    BuzzFeed reports that the American Media Institute (AMI) “proposed an 11th-hour effort to place news articles critical of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats in black newspapers in the runup to the November election.”

    AMI bills itself as an “independent source of exclusive in-depth investigative journalism,” but the non-profit is largely funded by right-wing donors and is headed by Richard Miniter, a conservative author and journalist with a long history at right-wing publications. 

    In recent months AMI has placed “investigations” with a right-wing tilt in mainstream outlets including Fusion, Politico Magazine, and U.S. News & World Report. AMI’s 2014 tax filings indicate that it is largely funded through Donors Trust, a right-wing group that has been called “the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement.”

    Buzzfeed reported that AMI “approached Republican donors to finance” articles attacking Clinton to be distributed through AMI’s Urban News Service. A source told Buzzfeed that the plan “looks like voter suppression” intended to decrease Democratic turnout:

    A right-leaning nonprofit has proposed an 11th-hour effort to place news articles critical of HIllary (sic) Clinton and other Democrats in black newspapers in the runup to the November election, BuzzFeed News has learned.

    The American Media Institute has approached Republican donors to finance the articles, three sources said. They were to run in a nominally apolitical black wire service that serves the black press, the sources said.

    One source shared details of the plan with BuzzFeed News out of concern that the proposal “looks like voter suppression,” the source said. The group’s founder, Richard Miniter, adamantly denied that charge. It is also unclear whether any donors have committed to financing the project in the election’s final weeks.

    Miniter, a former Washington Times editorial page editor who is CEO and founder of the American Media Institute, has told associates that the that the stories would be distributed by the nonprofit’s Urban News Service, adding that the articles would include attacks on Obamacare and on the Clintons’ failures regarding people of color.

    Miniter’s pitch, according to a source closely familiar with its details, centers on the prospect of reaching black voters through news articles, rather than obvious opinion pieces or advertisements.

  • ThinkProgress: Trump Has Funded Discredited Right-Wing Activist James O’Keefe Through His Foundation

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    ThinkProgress has identified a $10,000 donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to Project Veritas, the 501(c)(3) organization run by discredited conservative activist and videographer James O’Keefe.

    O’Keefe has a long history of engaging in criminal, misogynistic, ethically dubious, and bizarre behavior related to his video stunts. He has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering a government office under false pretenses; sought to set up a video “sting” in which he would lure a female CNN reporter onto a boat filled with sex toys and attempt to seduce the reporter on camera; and had to pay a former video target $100,000 and publicly apologize in a legal settlement. O’Keefe’s videos often make a big splash, but they fall apart under scrutiny by reporters and state investigations.

    The Trump campaign has used O’Keefe’s latest dubious and heavily edited videos to support its baseless claim that the election is “rigged” against the Republican candidate, and O’Keefe attended the final presidential debate on October 19 and pushed his videos in spin room interviews after the debate. But as ThinkProgress explained, Trump may have a more direct connection to O’Keefe’s new videos through a $10,000 donation his private charitable foundation made to O’Keefe’s Project Veritas in May 2015, barely more than a month before he officially became a Republican candidate for president. Project Veritas’ affiliated 501(c)(4) organization Project Veritas Action, which is more free to engage directly in political matters, is the group that released this week’s videos. From ThinkProgress:

    Trump claimed the videos exposed that a violence at a March Chicago rally was a “criminal act” and that it “was now all on tape started by her.”

    Trump neglected, however, to mention his own connection to the videos, released by James O’Keefe and his Project Veritas tax-exempt group. According to a list of charitable donations made by Trump‘s controversial foundation (provided to the Washington Post in April by Trump’s campaign), on May 13, 2015, it gave $10,000 to Project Veritas.