Media fell for another misleading leak from the House Oversight Committee when they hyped allegations that the Obama administration ignored HealthCare.gov security warnings -- though the warnings were for a portion of the site that will not be operational until early 2014.
On November 11, a CBS News report cited selectively leaked partial transcripts from Affordable Care Act (ACA) opponent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to claim that "the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security." The network was criticized by Maddow producer Steve Benen when he found that the warnings referenced a function of the health care website that won't be active until early 2014 and has nothing to do with the parts of the website that are currently in use. A Democratic staffer Benen talked to also said that this part of the website "will not submit or share personally identifiable information."
CBS' faulty report aired just days after the network faced widespread criticism and was forced to apologize for failing properly vet an unreliable source that was prominently featured in the network's October 27 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi attack. But CBS wasn't the only outlet to promote misleading claims from the leaked Oversight Committee transcript.
On November 11, The New York Times reported that The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Henry Chao, "[t]he chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace," was "not aware of tests that indicated potential security flaws in the system, which opened to the public on Oct. 1," citing excerpts released by Issa. The same day, FoxNews.com claimed that Obamacare security concerns had been "withheld," but never mentioned that its story was based on a partial transcript. CNN's New Day, and Fox News' America's Newsroom and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren all ran the story on November 12. The Associated Press repeated the claim "Chao was unaware of a memo earlier that month detailing unresolved security issues" as late as November 13 -- after contradictory reports had surfaced.
The media's failure to confirm the suggestions made by partial transcripts from the House Oversight Committee is a significant oversight, considering the committee chairman Darrell Issa's history of releasing misleading material the press.
One of the investigators hired by CBS News to review its problematic 2004 report on George W. Bush's Air National Guard service, which led to the ouster of Dan Rather and other staffers, said the lessons of that review -- to get the facts quickly and disclose them -- should not be forgotten as the network's recent Benghazi story comes under scrutiny.
Louis Boccardi, former Associated Press CEO and president, was part of the two-person team that investigated a 60 Minutes II story after questions were raised about the authenticity of some of the documents cited in the report.
Asked about the current problems with the recent Benghazi report CBS' 60 Minutes ran on the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya -- which aired October 27 and has been plagued by the recent revelation that its key source witness told contradictory tales about the attack -- Boccardi brought up the "lessons" learned in his previous review.
"I think one of the lessons of the Rather situation was that things get worse if you don't get in quickly and figure out what happened," Boccardi said in an interview. "We said that in the report ... that one of the lessons of CBS 60 Minutes II was to get quickly at the bottom of this, get the facts -- and get them quickly -- and put 'em out."
The October 27 report has come under fire from Media Matters and a host of journalism veterans after the Washington Post revealed that Dylan Davies, the security contractor presented by CBS News as a witness to the attacks, had previously filed a report with his security contractor employer saying that he "could not get anywhere near" the compound the night of the attack. 60 Minutes has told the Post it stands by the story.
On November 2, The Daily Beast published an interview with Davies in which he claimed he lied to his employer with his statement that he was not near the Benghazi attack site.
Boccardi declined to comment specifically on the details of the Benghazi report or the issues of concern. But he stressed that finding the facts and disclosing them is a key element in any news story that comes under question, something he says was important in the previous 60 Minutes review he conducted.
"People who know whether it ought to be reviewed and how it ought to be reviewed are the people inside CBS, they know what they're dealing with," Boccardi said. "One of the issues we dealt with last time was in some places in CBS they're insisting that [the story] was right and in other places they weren't sure. Of course as time went on, it got worse. I don't know what they ought to do now. I think getting to the bottom quickly is the right thing for a news company, a news organization to do."
Republicans in the U.S. Senate made history this week when they successfully filibustered the nomination of Rep. Melvin Watt (R-N.C.) to become director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Watt received 56 Senate votes, four short of the 60 necessary to end the filibuster.
The move represented the latest round of raw, extremist obstructionism that Republicans have proudly practiced for the last five years, particularly when it comes to mounting extraordinary efforts to block presidential appointments that in the past were considered to be routine.
The historic element of the Watt rejection was that throughout American history it has been virtually unheard for a sitting member of Congress to be filibustered -- to be denied the courtesy of a final vote -- when selected by the president to fill an administration position. Prior to this week's partisan blockade of Watt, a Congressional rejection like his hadn't happened since before the Civil War, in 1843.
That important historical context should have been included in every story about the Watt filibuster, but it wasn't. That's not surprising considering the Beltway press corps seems to have made a conscious decision during the Obama presidency to omit virtually all context with regards to the Republicans' continued radical behavior as they cling to filibusters to methodically block, stall and reject most White House policy proposals, as well as countless nominations.
The pliant coverage over the years has likely only enabled Republicans to push ahead with their corrosive strategy, knowing there's certainly no downside with regards to adverse media attention. After all, Republican moved to recently shut down the government, yet lots of journalists suggested the radical, destructive move was because "both sides" just couldn't agree, essentially blaming Democrats for Republican extremism.
Note that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently announced he was going to block all Obama nominations until he got more answers about the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi. Although as CNN's Jeffrey Toobin noted, Republicans block Obama picks as a matter of general principle, so it's not like Graham even needs a stated reason for the obstruction.
Watt wasn't the only presidential pick rejected by Republicans on October 31. They also blocked Patricia Millett, who was nominated to fill one of three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Despite the fact Millett had previously served as an assistant solicitor general, and represented the administration before the Supreme Court 32 times, under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Republicans denied her the right to an up or down vote.
It's telling that Republicans barely even bother to give reasons for the filibusters any more, and that the press doesn't find that odd.
The Associated Press took down a false story that jumped the gun in order to accuse Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe of lying to federal investigators. Before the AP killed the story, however, the right-wing media had already amplified the false report.
In an October 9 article, AP political writer Bob Lewis reported that McAuliffe had allegedly "lied to a federal official investigating a Rhode Island estate planner now imprisoned for receiving death benefits on annuities secured on terminally ill people without their knowledge." The AP's report was based on court documents alleging that an individual identified only as "T.M." had lied to a postal inspector about participating in a death benefit fraud:
The McAuliffe campaign responded after the AP published its report, denying that the "T.M." identified in the court documents was McAuliffe and pointing out that "he was not interviewed by law enforcement on April 20, 2010; rather, he was in Richmond for a day of meetings." The campaign further stated that McAuliffe was a "passive investor" and "he was never involved in the referral of any annuitants to Mr. [Joseph] Caramadre, ever."
Shortly after posting the report, the AP withdrew it. Lewis also issued a retraction, tweeting, "The error was mine and I take responsibility for it." But before the story was withdrawn, it was picked up by several media outlets and amplified by right-wing blog Hot Air, which stated:
Normally in an October surprise like this, one would suspect dirty tricks by the opposing campaign. That doesn't appear to be the case here, though. This isn't an old report uncovered in oppo research, but a new filing in a federal court. McAuliffe's name only got linked to the Caramadre case today. Ken Cuccinelli is the current AG of Virginia, but there isn't any apparent connection between the state AG's office and a federal investigation in Rhode Island, at least not at the moment.
So at least for the moment, this looks like a very big and unspinnable problem for Team McAuliffe, and not just in the campaign. Lying to federal investigators is obstruction of justice, which is a very significant felony -- as Scooter Libby can attest. McAuliffe is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that's only in the legal sense, not the political sense.
Hot Air also updated its blog after the AP story was withdrawn.
UPDATE: On October 10, The Associated Press issued the following statement:
The initial alert moved on AP's Virginia state wire at9:45 p.m. The story was withdrawn one hour and 38 minutes later. That was an hour and 38 minutes too long. As our retraction said, "The indictment did not identify McAuliffe as the 'T.M.' who allegedly lied to investigators."
UPDATE 2: According to the Huffington Post, the Associated Press has fired both Bob Lewis and editor Dena Potter and is expected to reprimand another unnamed editor:
The Associated Press has fired a reporter and editor over an erroneous Oct. 9 report that Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lied to an investigator in a federal fraud case, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The AP retracted the article in question roughly an hour and a half after publication, and last week, suspended its author, veteran political reporter Bob Lewis.
According to sources, Lewis has since been fired. He could not be reached for comment.
The AP has also fired Dena Potter, a Richmond-based news editor for Virginia and West Virginia.
When reached by phone, Potter instructed this reporter to call Paul Colford, the AP's Director of Media Relations. Colford declined to comment on personnel matters.
Another editor is expected to be reprimanded over the incident, according to sources.
Fox News seized on a cold winter forecast from the Farmers' Almanac to mock global warming. But meteorologists say the periodical, whose prediction has been hyped by many in the media, is "like the Ouija board of weather."
Even if the publication's predictions were accurate, it would do nothing to contradict the long-term trend of warmer global temperatures, including warmer winters in the U.S.:
Yet more remarkable than Fox's annual mockery of global warming is that its source essentially gives out the horoscopes of the weather world. Farmers' Almanac broadcasts vague predictions based on a "secret formula" of "tides, astronomical events" and other factors known only to their pseudonymous weatherman Caleb Weatherbee. It then declares itself correct 80 percent of the time -- apparently based on its readers' assessments, as the outlet has not done any actual analysis. Due to this, a Fox News meteorologist previously said she was "weary" of Almanac forecasts.
Yet now the channel is hyping a prediction that The Washington Post Chief Meteorologist Jason Samenow called "outrageous" and "baseless," concluding that "only a fool would take them seriously."
What's worse is that Fox News is not alone: The Associated Press, in a widely reprinted article, broadcast the same weather predictions from the Farmers' Almanac, noting that "[m]odern scientists don't put much stock in" the Farmers' Alamanac's methods, but then credulously repeating its claim that it is "correct about 80 percent of the time." Additionally, in a seeming violation of their own stylebook, AP referred to "Caleb Weatherbee" without explicitly stating that this is a pseudonym.
The Associated Press granted anti-gay groups a platform to spread the unfounded claim that churches could soon be forced to perform same-sex weddings.
In an August 24 story, the AP reported that, in response to the Supreme Court's marriage equality rulings in June, many churches are updating their bylaws to clarify that they won't be blessing same-sex unions. Churches are well within their rights to change their bylaws, but the extension of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples has never posed a threat to churches' right not to perform same-sex weddings. Instead of noting the clear and definitive distinction between civil and religious marriage, however, the AP chose to follow a he said/she said model of journalism to promote a false narrative:
Worried they could be sued by gay couples, some churches are changing their bylaws to reflect their view that the Bible allows only marriage between one man and one woman.
Although there have been lawsuits against wedding industry businesses that refuse to serve gay couples, attorneys promoting the bylaw changes say they don't know of any lawsuits against churches.
Critics say the changes are unnecessary, but some churches fear that it's only a matter of time before one of them is sued.
"I thought marriage was always between one man and one woman, but the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision said no," said Gregory S. Erwin, an attorney for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, an association of Southern Baptist churches and one several groups advising churches to change their bylaws. "I think it's better to be prepared because the law is changing. America is changing."
News outlets who continue to refer to U.S. Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning, who formerly went by the name Bradley, using masculine pronouns after she announced that she identifies as female this week are drawing criticism from transgender advocates, raising the issue of how such news subjects should be covered.
Manning, who on August 21 was found guilty of crimes related to giving classified documents to Wikileaks, on August 22 released a statement through her lawyer which said in part: "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female." Manning requested that "starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun."
In response, the GLAAD and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association each issued statements informing media outlets that they should use the name and pronouns that Manning prefers. But many media outlets have continued to refer to Manning as "Bradley" and describe her using male pronouns.
Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the GLAAD, specifically singled out the Associated Press and Reuters, saying the group had reached out to these two news organizations and requested a correction in their approach going forward.
"Today our focus is on reaching out to them and asking for corrections," Ferraro said of A.P. and Reuters.
Ferraro also pointed out that he believes the AP had violated its own policy that states when reporting on transgender news subjects, "use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth."
AP and Reuters have not yet responded to requests for comment, but AP posted a statement on its website that said the service "will use gender-neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue. However, when reporting is completed, the AP Stylebook entry on 'transgender' will be AP's guide."
The AP, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post on Thursday referred to Manning with a male pronoun throughout stories about her announcement Thursday morning that she wished to be identified as a woman and had wished to be called Chelsea, not Bradley.
"We would probably criticize the media overall," Ferraro said when asked about GLAAD's reaction to such references. "Chelsea Manning's announcement today and subsequent media judgment reflects a lack of education on covering transgender people. Media today should respect Chelsea Manning's announcement and that includes using female pronouns when speaking about her and that includes referring to her as Chelsea."
It's hard to do justice to the extreme views of the new chairman for Oregon's Republican party. But reports on Art Robinson often didn't even come close, merely mentioning that he is a "skeptic of human-caused global warming," while leaving out the chairman's anti-scientific statements on evolution, AIDS, and nuclear waste.
Robinson is best known for organizing a petition rejecting climate change that claims to have 31,072 American scientist signatories, with "scientist" defined as anyone who claims to have a bachelor's degree in various fields including computer science, statistics, and metallurgy. Robinson, who is a chemist but has not done any scientific research into climate change, has acknowledged that fake names such as the Spice Girl's Geri Halliwell made it onto the list. The petition says little to rebut the consensus of the vast majority of scientists, as it does not state what percentage of people responded to the survey. Robinson told the conspiracy website WND.com in 2002 that ""[t]here is absolutely not a shred of evidence that humans are causing any change in the climate by generating CO2."
Furthermore, at no point during Robinson's candidacy for GOP chairman did the two largest Oregon papers (The Oregonian and The Eugene Register-Guard)* mention that Robinson has made several other claims that run counter to scientific research:
Nor did they mention* the following extreme views and conspiratorial claims from the former Congressional candidate (in fact, The Oregonian published an op-ed suggesting that Robinson has not engaged in "offensive and bizarre comments"):
A study of wildfire coverage from April through July 1 finds that print and TV media only mentioned climate change in 6 percent of coverage, although this was double the amount of coverage from a year ago. While many factors must come together for wildfires to occur, climate change has led to hotter and drier conditions in parts of the West that have increased the risk of wildfires.
Media outlets are pushing the conservative narrative that the Obama administration will "bypass Congress" with a new plan to reduce carbon emissions while ignoring key context: the 2007 Supreme Court decision that explicitly gave the executive branch the power to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act and the endangerment finding that made the EPA "statutorily obligated" to do so.
President Obama announced the details of his new plan to deal with the challenge of climate change in a June 25 speech at Georgetown University. Details of the White House plan, which will extend regulation on carbon emissions to existing power plants, were released on the morning of June 25.
Advance coverage of Obama's climate speech and plan by Fox News, Politico, The Associated Press, NBC News, and The Hill echoes past criticism from conservative media of Obama's efforts to combat climate change by focusing on the fact that the efforts do not need to be approved by Congress.
On the June 25 edition of Fox & Friends First, business analyst Diane Macedo concluded her report on the climate policies that Obama is likely to announce by noting that "none of these steps require congressional approval," and that Obama is "seek[ing] ways to work around [Congress]."
Politico reported on June 21 that the president was "preparing to bypass Congress on climate change." An NBCNews.com headline described the president's intent to "sidestep Congress with new initiatives to reduce carbon emissions." And The Hill stated that the administration would "curb emissions using executive powers that sidestep Congress" and the plan was "designed to get around Congress."
However, not one of these outlets explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government already has the authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. Right-wing media outlets similarly excluded this critical context when they hyperbolically accused the administration of breaking the law by proposing carbon regulations that did not require congressional approval. In June 2012, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said that earlier EPA regulations on carbon emissions were "outright lawlessness." A March Wall Street Journal editorial also claimed that Obama's efforts to regulate carbon make him similar to a dictator.
The Associated Press ignored significant context about the role of organized labor in its report on the comeback of Hostess brands and the iconic Twinkie snack. The article privileged attacks from executives claiming unions were to blame for the company's demise while ignoring a history of union concessions, executive pay raises, and financial mismanagement that paint a different picture about the Twinkie's temporary expiration.
The AP reported Sunday that Hostess Brands LLC, a trimmed-down version of the defunct Hostess Brands Inc., is aiming to have Twinkies and other well-known Hostess brand products back on store shelves by July 15. The story noted that Hostess went bankrupt "after an acrimonious fight with its unionized workers" and described in he-said-she-said fashion how the company ultimately failed:
Hostess Brands Inc. was struggling for years before it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in early 2012. Workers blamed the troubles on years of mismanagement, as well as a failure of executives to invest in brands to keep up with changing tastes. The company said it was weighed down by higher pension and medical costs than its competitors, whose employees weren't unionized.
To steer it through its bankruptcy reorganization, Hostess hired restructuring expert Greg Rayburn as its CEO. But Rayburn ultimately failed to reach a contract agreement with its second largest union. In November, he blamed striking workers for crippling the company's ability to maintain normal production and announced that Hostess would liquidate.
The trimmed-down Hostess Brands LLC has a far less costly operating structure than the predecessor company. Some of the previous workers were hired back, but they're no longer unionized.
The article's depiction of the company's fall omits crucial context and leaves readers with the impression that the act of discarding union workers is what allowed the "trimmed-down" company to re-emerge. The AP did not tell readers that, just three years prior to Mr. Rayburn's negotiations with labor, union workers made "substantial concessions" to aid the company's financial health, or that Hostess stopped contributing to workers' pensions and cut wages and benefits "by 27 to 32 percent."
Major media outlets are misinterpreting testimony from a former high-ranking Internal Revenue Service official to baselessly suggest that Washington, D.C.-based officials were involved in the improper targeting of conservative groups seeking non-profit status.
Those misinterpretations are based on an apparent confusion on the part of journalists over what made the actions of the Cincinnati-based IRS officials who engaged in that scrutiny improper.
On June 16, several journalists were apparently granted access to review the transcript of an interview the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducted with Holly Paz, a former Washington-based manager in the IRS tax-exempt unit. The access was likely granted under the auspices of committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has been accused of selectively leaking misleading, out-of-context portions of committee interviews in order to damage the Obama administration.
Reporting on the Paz interview, several outlets seized on Paz's statement that she had, in the words of the Associated Press, "reviewed 20 to 30 applications," and falsely claimed this contradicted administration statements that the improper IRS activity had been conducted by IRS officials in Cincinnati.
The Associated Press wrote that Paz's assertion "contradicts initial claims by the agency that a small group of agents working in an office in Cincinnati were solely responsible for mishandling the applications"; ABC's Good Morning America reported (via Nexis) that her "testimony contradicts IRS claims that agents in the Cincinnati field office were solely responsible for targeting those groups"; and the CBS Morning News reported (via Nexis) that Paz said "she was involved in targeting Tea Party groups."
But it is not improper for IRS officials to review the applications of groups seeking non-profit status - in fact, that is their job. The reason the IRS has been criticized is because they used politically slanted criteria to select conservative, but not progressive, groups to receive additional scrutiny. Specifically, the IRS gave additional scrutiny to groups with "tea party," "patriot," and "9/12" in their names. And that criteria was developed by a screening agent from the Cincinnati office, according to excerpts from a congressional interview included in a memo from the Democratic staff of the Oversight Committee.
Paz said she was unaware of these improper procedures, according to the AP:
Paz, however, provided no evidence that senior IRS officials ordered agents to target conservative groups or that anyone in the Obama administration outside the IRS was involved.
Instead, Paz described an agency in which IRS supervisors in Washington worked closely with agents in the field but didn't fully understand what those agents were doing. Paz said agents in Cincinnati openly talked about handling "tea party" cases, but she thought the term was merely shorthand for all applications from groups that were politically active - conservative and liberal.
Paz further testified that when her superior, Lois Lerner, the Washington, D.C.-based director of exempt organizations, became aware that the Cincinnati office was using an improper set of key words to select groups for additional review, Lerner ordered the process stopped.
Not only is this testimony inconsistent with media claims that Paz acknowledged participating in the wrongdoing for which the IRS has been criticized, it actually directly contradicts those claims. This sort of sloppy reporting has surely played a role in misleading the American people into thinking that the White House ordered the targeting of Tea Party groups.
As wildfires swept through southern California over the past week, experts warned that the state is in for an especially dangerous wildfire season due to unusually hot and dry conditions. But in their coverage of the fires, several of California's major newspapers have entirely ignored how climate change has increased wildfire risks in the region.
California's wildfire season kicked off early this year, with record temperatures, heavy winds and ongoing drought conditions fueling fires across the state that have threatened thousands of homes and businesses. California has already experienced 680 wildfires this year -- about 200 more than average for this period -- and the National Interagency Fire Service is predicting "above normal" potential for significant fires in northern and southern California this season. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing for a higher number of significant fires across the West.
Climate experts warn that rising global temperatures are already leading to more frequent and more severe wildfires and longer fire seasons in the Southwest, calling large fires like those in California "the new normal." But several major print outlets in California have failed to make this connection, even after Governor Jerry Brown noted the link Monday.
The San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and U-T San Diego have not mentioned climate change while reporting on the recent fires. These papers also printed several stories from the Associated Press, none of which mentioned climate change. By contrast, the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times mentioned climate change in 33 percent and 27 percent of coverage, respectively.
As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.