In reporting on conservative activist James O'Keefe's latest absurd adventure, major media coverage acknowledged it was a flop and something of a joke, except for the New York Times.
O'Keefe held a press conference to announce that his group Project Veritas had released an undercover video of the Clinton campaign allowing a Canadian to give a Project Veritas operative money so that she could purchase a Clinton t-shirt, which was a campaign product that could not be legally purchased by a non-American. At his event O'Keefe presented the incident as if it were a major scandal, while most of the press reported that it was at best a trivial infraction of less than $80.
Bloomberg Politics compared the offense to "jaywalking," National Journal described O'Keefe's press conference as a "vortex of political absurdity" and noted that "we had been snookered into another supposedly salacious release from O'Keefe's organization." The Los Angeles Times said the story, "billed as a blockbuster," was "hardly the stuff of a Pulitzer Prize. " The event and revelation were so underwhelming that a reporter from the Daily Beast asked O'Keefe, "Are you sure it's not a joke?"
The New York Times' Alan Rappeport, in an article headlined "James O'Keefe, Political Sleuth," was far more charitable than the rest of the media. Rappeport wrote that O'Keefe "fired an opening salvo" in 2016 coverage and "campaigns were put on notice on Tuesday."
The Times accepted O'Keefe's framing of the exchange between the Canadian woman and the Project Veritas staffer, writing, "Mr. O'Keefe made the case that the video showed a willingness by the campaign to skirt laws that forbid taking donations from foreigners by using a conduit." In fact the video shows a Clinton staffer pointing out that a foreign national is prohibited from buying the t-shirt in question.
Rappeport proceeded to parrot O'Keefe's argument by noting, "Foreign donations are a sensitive subject for the Clintons, as their family foundation has been under scrutiny for accepting money from overseas." The Times has repeatedly misinformed its readers on the nature of donations to the Clinton Foundation. To reiterate, this is in reference to a $75 transaction over a t-shirt.
The paper even sought comment from the Federal Election Commission, reporting that "at least four commissioners would have to agree that there was a violation before any penalties could be imposed."
While the Times noted that reporters attending O'Keefe's presentation snickered at the obvious absurdity of the occasion, the Times report gave O'Keefe's deceptive claims an enormous and largely uncritical platform.
From the September 1 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox & Friends repeatedly hyped an old, flawed claim that Hillary Clinton's iPad use contradicts her previous statement that she established a personal email account to facilitate the use of a single mobile device. However, this speculation relies on a flawed timeline to ignore the fact that the iPad did not exist until the year after Clinton's personal email account was established.
Conservative activist James O'Keefe has once again overpromised and underdelivered. This time, he claims his latest sting operation found Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign breaking the law, when in reality all that happened was the purchase of a t-shirt.
O'Keefe's Project Veritas Action accused the Clinton campaign on September 1 of allowing a Canadian tourist to launder money, in the form of allowing a t-shirt to be purchased.
In the video representatives of the Clinton campaign at a campaign event point out to a woman from Montreal that that the campaign can't take contributions from anyone who isn't American. An undercover activist from Project Veritas then makes the purchase on behalf of the Canadian.
As The Washington Post's Dave Weigel points out: "There are just two catches. One: No one's ever thrown the book at an American for purchasing merchandise from a campaign, then giving it to a foreigner as a gift. Two: The person who takes the Canadian's money and gives it to the Clinton campaign is the Project Veritas Action journalist."
Weigel further notes, "Daniel Pollack, the director of communications at Project Veritas, argued that the on-camera swag exchange was part of a Clinton scandal continuum, comparable to the stories about foreign businessmen donating to Bill Clinton's foundation and expecting something from Hillary Clinton's state department."
O'Keefe held a press conference September 1 to promote the video, where journalists reportedly asked him "Is this a joke?"
O'Keefe's crew has reportedly already made multiple other attempts to sabotage the Clinton campaign.
Project Veritas last month released a video showing their operative undercover with the Clinton campaign, discussing the registration process and whether they can register people who don't support Clinton.
A Clinton campaign staffer is then shown telling the Project Veritas operative that they will register anyone who asks, regardless of their presidential preference. As Time reported, "Nothing in the video shows the Clinton campaign violating the law, or the campaign's own policy. But Veritas claims, nonetheless, that the campaign is 'skirting the law' by first asking whether potential voters are supporters before making the registration offer. This approach to training volunteers is standard operating procedure across field campaigns, according to a Republican field staffer, who requested anonymity."
Time reports that in addition to the t-shirt scheme, Project Veritas operatives approached the campaign and attempted to pass a cash donation to volunteers and interns while another told the campaign they wanted to illegally funnel donations through a third party.
These failure-laden sting attempts continue O'Keefe's pattern of using deceptively-edited videos, childish costumes, and sometimes committing crimes, in a futile campaign to attack the left. Even Fox News hosts have been embarrassed for O'Keefe, telling him to "give it a rest."
From the August 30 edition of CNN en Español's Choque de Opiniones:
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CNN repeatedly asked former Vice President Dick Cheney for his criticism of Hillary Clinton's email practices during her time as secretary of state, but the network failed to acknowledge the fact that Colin Powell, who was secretary of state during the Bush-Cheney administration, similarly used a private email account to conduct State business.
In an August 30 USA Today opinion piece, the former U.S. attorney who oversaw the prosecution of retired Gen. David Petraeus for mishandling classified state secrets debunked the false comparison by conservative media of Hillary Clinton's email use to Petraeus' actions, explaining that the "comparison has no merit" because "Petraeus knowingly engaged in unlawful conduct" and "Clinton is not being investigation for knowingly sending or receiving classified materials improperly."
Right-wing media frequently hype what they claim are similarities between the two cases, despite the fact that columnists and thought leaders in mainstream media have dismissed it as "inapt," and experts insist "there's no comparison between the Clinton email issue and the Petraeus case."
Writing in USA Today, Anne M. Tomkins, the former U.S. attorney who oversaw the prosecution of Petraeus (and current Hillary Clinton campaign donor), effectively dismantled conservative media's comparison, explaining, "Unlike Petraeus, Clinton did not 'knowingly' store or share classified information in violation of the law":
Both the law and his oath required Petraeus to mark these books as "top secret" and to store them in a Secured Compartmented Information Facility. He did neither.
Rather, Petraeus allowed his biographer to take possession of the journals in order to use them as source material for his biography.
Importantly, Petraeus was well aware of the classified contents in his journals, saying to his biographer, Paula Broadwell on tape, "I mean, they are highly classified, some of them. They don't have it on it, but I mean there's code word stuff in there."
When questioned by the FBI, Petraeus lied to agents in responding that he had neither improperly stored nor improperly provided classified information to his biographer. As Mukasey also highlighted, the key element is that Petraeus' conduct was done "knowingly." That is, when he stored his journals containing "highly classified" information at his home, he did so knowingly. Petraeus knew at that time that there was classified information in the journals, and he knew they were stored improperly.
In sharp contrast, Clinton is not being investigated for knowingly sending or receiving classified materials improperly.
Indeed, the State Department has confirmed that none of the information that has surfaced on Clinton's server thus far was classified at the time it was sent or received. Additionally, the Justice Department indicated that its inquiry is not a criminal one and that Clinton is not the subject of the inquiry.
Fox News host and resident media critic Howard Kurtz questioned Jorge Ramos' journalistic integrity in the wake of the Univision anchor's contentious press conference questioning of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, concluding that Ramos was little more than "a heckler."
During an August 25 press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, Ramos pressed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on his promise to forcibly remove millions of undocumented immigrants, and presumably in some cases their American-born children, from the United States as part of a sweeping and expensive redesign of the American immigration system. Trump's initial reaction was to have his security team escort Ramos from the room, before eventually engaging in a minutes-long argument with the journalist over the feasibility and legality of his plan.
Ramos' actions during the press conference have been widely criticized at Fox News. On August 26, Fox contributor and Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson claimed that Ramos is "not a reporter," but rather "an editorialist" and "an activist" whose questioning of Trump was not protected by the First Amendment. Fox host Bill O'Reilly complained that media were not "report[ing] this story honestly" before proceeding to lecture Ramos on journalistic etiquette and concluding that the Univision anchor was not "an objective purveyor" of the news. During an interview with Ramos, Fox host Megyn Kelly asked if he could "understand Trump's side" of the dispute, citing a seemingly unrelated legal battle between Univision and Trump's Miss USA beauty pageant.
On the August 30 edition of Fox News' Media Buzz, host Howard Kurtz used his program as a platform to continue Fox's campaign against Ramos as well as its defense of the Republican frontrunner. Kurtz allowed conservative columnist Mercedes Schlapp to forward the unsubstantiated claim that conservative and mainstream media "both agree that Jorge Ramos was out of line." Washington Examiner correspondent Susan Ferrechio accused Ramos of interrupting other reporters to get his point across, before Kurtz concluded that Ramos was acting like more like "a heckler" than a journalist:
KURTZ: Jorge Ramos is the chief anchor of Univision, chief news anchor, which is the largest Spanish-language network in the country. And so, he clearly has opinions on this issue, but he's not paid to go and disrupt events. I mean, I thought at times he seemed like a heckler -- like a heckler.
The ejection of Ramos from Trump's August 25 press conference garnered national headlines and was roundly condemned by Spanish-language media, but the reaction among right-wing media personalities has been to instead attack Ramos for speaking out of turn. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh denigrated Ramos as a "shill" and "activist" who was merely attempting to elevate the profile of his network, and Erick Erickson called Ramos a "thug" and dismissed him as "a self-absorbed, self-righteous leftwing activist."
From the August 28 edition of MSNBC's MSNBC Live:
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From the August 28 edition of Premiere Radio Network's The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Despite the crowded field of Republican presidential candidates, conservative talk radio seem unified on their favorite: Donald Trump.
Thanks to talk radio, Buzzfeed News' Rosie Gray noted in her August 27 article "The Real Media Machine Behind Trump: Conservative Talk Radio," "you can almost listen to pro-Trump News all day." Gray pointed how "some of the biggest names in conservative talk radio -- Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Savage -- have praised Trump and his bashing of the politically correct left and Republican establishment":
Unlike cable news, conservative talk radio speaks directly to the disaffected conservative base fueling Trump's rise. Rush Limbaugh's is still the most-listened-to talk radio program in the country, pulling in 13 and a quarter million weekly listeners, according to estimates in Talkers magazine, an industry publication (Limbaugh himself has estimated it in the past at 20 million). Talkers puts Sean Hannity in second, with 12.5 million. Mark Levin ties with Glenn Beck (a Trump critic) for fourth, with 7 million. Savage has more than 5 million, according to Talkers' estimates.
And if you're someone who listens to a lot of talk radio, you can go from Ingraham to Limbaugh to Hannity or Savage to Levin in a day and hear nary a word of displeasure with Trump.
Though many hosts have avoided a formal endorsement, they've heaped praise on the candidate and signaled to their listeners that Trump is their guy.
Indeed, Limbaugh has spent the summer praising Trump for tapping into the base Republicans need to win and for his "ability to illuminate" issues. Hannity has lauded Trump as "impressive and refreshing," while Ingraham has claimed he resonates with voters because he's willing to say what "no one else is saying."
It's not mere compliments spewing from talk radio -- the conservative pundits are championing Trump's offensive and dangerous proposals. And as Gray noted, "[i]f Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin or Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham decide that birthright citizenship is going to be a big issue, then lo, it becomes the issue of the week, or month." She went on:
And right now, Trump's embrace of hardline immigration ideas like ending birthright citizenship matches up perfectly with the policies that some of these hosts have been promoting for some time. The Trump-inspired debate over immigration is allowing them to mainstream ideas that once didn't have much purchase, the birthright citizenship question being a notable recent example. Both Levin and Limbaugh have seized on a quote by Sen. Jacob Howard, the original sponsor of the Citizenship Clause, that they're using to bolster their case that the 14th amendment doesn't guarantee citizenship to the children of people in the country illegally. Laura Ingraham has also referenced it.
Limbaugh has bragged that Trump's smear of Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and criminals is similar to what he's been saying on the radio for years. On birthright citizenship, Limbaugh applauded Trump's call to end the constitutional right, saying Trump "has people standing up and cheering." Hannity and Levin joined forces to declare that "Trump was right" on the 14th Amendment.
The praise should come as no surprise, as Trump's call to end birthright citizenship is itself taken from right-wing talk radio talking points. For years, Ingraham and Levin have been demanding an end to birthright citizenship, which Levin dismissed as a "nut-job policy" and Ingraham attacked as "nonsense."
Washington Post opinion writer David Ignatius checked the "overstated" uproar over Hillary Clinton's email use as secretary of state, citing national security legal experts who roundly dismiss the idea that any criminal mishandling of classified information occurred.
In an August 28 post describing "The Hillary Clinton e-mail 'scandal' that isn't," Ignatius cited legal experts and agency officials to explain how Clinton's use of a private server is "not something a prosecutor would take to court" and how transmitting unmarked, then retroactively classified emails does "almost certainly not" constitute a crime:
Does Hillary Clinton have a serious legal problem because she may have transmitted classified information on her private e-mail server? After talking with a half-dozen knowledgeable lawyers, I think this "scandal" is overstated. Using the server was a self-inflicted wound by Clinton, but it's not something a prosecutor would take to court.
"It's common" that people end up using unclassified systems to transmit classified information, said Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel who's now a partner at Arnold & Porter, where he often represents defendants suspected of misusing classified information.
Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state has been a nagging campaign issue for months. Critics have argued that the most serious problem is possible transmission of classified information through that server. Many of her former top aides have sought legal counsel. But experts in national-security law say there may be less here than it might appear.
First, experts say, there's no legal difference whether Clinton and her aides passed sensitive information using her private server or the official "state.gov" account that many now argue should have been used. Neither system is authorized for transmitting classified information. Second, prosecution of such violations is extremely rare. Lax security procedures are taken seriously, but they're generally seen as administrative matters.
Informal back channels existed long before e-mail. One former State Department official recalled the days when most embassies overseas had only a few phones authorized for secret communications. Rather than go to the executive office to make such a call, officers would use their regular phones, bypassing any truly sensitive details. "Did we cross red lines? No doubt. Did it put information at risk? Maybe. But, if you weren't in Moscow or Beijing, you didn't worry much," this former official said.
Back channels are used because the official ones are so encrusted by classification and bureaucracy. State had the "Roger Channel," named after former official Roger Hilsman, for sending secret messages directly to the secretary. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had a similar private channel. CIA station chiefs could send communications known as "Aardwolves" straight to the director.
Are these channels misused sometimes? Most definitely. Is there a crime here? Almost certainly not.
Ignatius also knocked down conservative media's oft-repeated refrain that Clinton's email use was akin to David Petraeus' crimes, noting how intent to mishandle classified information is central to culpability:
Potential criminal violations arise when officials knowingly disseminate documents marked as classified to unauthorized officials or on unclassified systems, or otherwise misuse classified materials. That happened in two cases involving former CIA directors that are cited as parallels for the Clinton e-mail issue, but are quite different. John Deutch was pardoned in 2001 for using an unsecured CIA computer at his home to improperly access classified material; he reportedly had been prepared to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. David Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in April for "knowingly" removing classified documents from authorized locations and retaining them at "unauthorized locations." Neither case fits the fact pattern with the Clinton e-mails.
Fox News figures attacked President Obama's new call for gun safety measures after a gunman killed two journalists as they delivered a live TV report in Virginia, saying Obama's remarks were "too soon" and was "politicizing tragedy." This comes a day after the father of one of the shooting victims also called for gun safety measures during an appearance on Fox News.
Fox News rolled out a series of debunked myths about Hillary Clinton's email use during her tenure at the State Department in order to call for an investigation into whether the Democratic presidential candidate committed "criminal negligence."
Fox News chief Roger Ailes has apparently negotiated another ceasefire in the back and forth between his network and leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Fox figures and Ailes pushed back on Trump early this week after he again asserted that Megyn Kelly was a poor journalist and promoted a tweet calling her a "bimbo."
After Ailes and Trump traded hostile press releases, on Wednesday Trump told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that he and Ailes spoke and settled the latest dispute: "Roger Ailes is great. He's a special guy and a good friend of mine. We just spoke two minutes ago. I mean, Roger Ailes is a great guy and no, I have no problem."
As the Washington Post's Erik Wemple argues, this is evidence of Ailes working outside of the realm of a news network executive to directly confer with a political candidate: "Yet by participating in these peace-making discussions with Trump, Ailes comes off more as a player in the GOP primary game than as a news executive. His role is to drive news stories on Trump, not to hop on the phone with him to work things out."