With their conspiratorial, knee-jerk claim that New York Times' lengthy investigation into the Benghazi terror attack of 2012 was really an elaborate effort to aid Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in three years -- to "clear the deck" as Chris Wallace put it -- right-wing journalists seem to have mistaken the newspaper of record for one of their own conservative "news" outlets. It's the right-wing media, not the Times, that has a record of peddling purposeful misinformation for purely political reasons.
David Kirkpatrick's Times series, "A Deadly Mix In Benghazi," undercut a number of favorite right-wing Benghazi talking points. Among them, the Times debunked claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the terror attacks -- a central tenet of the Benghazi hoax that conservatives have deployed to attack President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and others for engaging in a "cover-up" of the attack.
Since its publication, far-right commentators have have rushed to engage in lazy speculation about what motivated the Times to investigate Benghazi (aside from the fact that far-right voices have demanded for more than a year that news organizations like the New York Times investigate Benghazi).
But when the Times came to the 'wrong' conclusions and Fox News and friends needed to explain to their loyal customers why the year-long Benghazi tale they've been telling had been demolished by the Times, critics announced the story was all part of some vast, left-wing conspiracy.
The allegation is pure conjecture, though. Conservatives don't, and can't, cite any sources inside the Times who confirm the sprawling claim of a Clinton cover-up because there's zero evidence to bolster the allegation. Instead, the fact that the Times never mentioned Hillary Clinton in its Benghazi report simply confirms that the report was all about Hillary Clinton. And the fact that a Times editor pointedly denied the report was about Clinton simply confirms that the report was all about Clinton. (See how that convenient, closed loop works?)
Conservatives have become so used to the idea that their own outlets are, and should be, used to advance political agendas that they've convinced themselves that's how reputable news organizations go about gathering and disseminating information.
In this case, conservatives have convinced themselves, without being weighted down by facts or evidence, that senior editors at the Times assign long-term investigative pieces based on how the predetermined outcome of the reporting will benefit Democratic politicians, and specifically Democratic politicians who might run for president in 2016. It's journalism as political cover. Or, pretty much the opposite of how the trade is actually practiced.
The notion is pure fantasy, not to mention insulting, and reveals a complete lack of understanding of how journalism functions in a democratic society. The Fox and Republican assumption is that journalists act as unpaid advisers and advocates for politicians and that their work revolves around advancing a partisan agenda. Why do they think that?
Because that's how conservatives behave. And they're often quite open about it.
In a New York magazine post, Gabriel Sherman pointed out that while Fox News resisted calls to discuss gun policy in the wake of the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox's parent company, News Corp., was expressing support for more restrictive gun laws. Sherman noted that the difference between Fox's pro-gun history and Murdoch's call for action on gun control "highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and [Fox News CEO Roger] Ailes":
Certainly Fox's decision to avoid widespread policy talk could be seen as an editorial impulse to keep the focus trained on the tragedy's human dimension. But Fox's coverage also highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and Ailes. Gun culture is alive and well at Fox News. Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity are reportedly licensed to carry concealed handguns in New York City. Fox personality Eric Bolling is a vocal Second Amendment proponent on air. "Not only do they carry guns, they don't allow an honest debate on TV," a Fox News insider said. In the past, when Ailes has clashed with Murdoch on politics, Fox News's outsize profits have helped Ailes prevail. Earlier this fall, Ailes signed a new four-year contract, and he retains complete editorial control over the network.
A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment on Ailes's Second Amendment views.
While Ailes's network said it wasn't the right time to talk about legislation, Murdoch had no hesitation. Within hours of the attack, he took to Twitter to call for an automatic-weapons ban. "Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy," he wrote, referring to Australia's move to ban assault weapons in 1996 after a man used two semiautomatic rifles to kill 35 people and wound 21. That massacre came six weeks after the horrific mass school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, in which sixteen children and one adult were murdered. (Despite Murdoch's plea, automatic weapons are already illegal in the United States; Adam Lanza used semiautomatics.)
Sherman further reported that the lack of gun policy coverage on Fox stemmed from an order from David Clark, executive vice president of Fox's weekend coverage, who reportedly instructed producers to avoid the subject. According to Sherman's sources within Fox, the decision not to address gun policy "created a rift inside the network."
Fox has a history of top-down orders to affect how news is reported on the network. Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon has attempted to slant Fox's coverage on everything from climate change to health care reform and influenced Fox's coverage of President Obama's 2009 Cairo speech on America's relationship to the Muslim world.
PBS' Frontline recently aired a documentary titled "Climate of Doubt," examining how conservative groups, frequently funded by the fossil fuel industry, have pushed Republicans to reject the scientific consensus on manmade global warming. Here, Media Matters looks back at how Fox News has contributed to that "Climate of Doubt," often teaming up with industry to misrepresent science and attack all efforts to address this threat.
"This is the most humble day of my life."
That's how Rupert Murdoch began his July 20 testimony to Parliament about the phone hacking and bribery scandal that had already resulted in the resignations and arrests of key News Corp. officials.
Murdoch's son, James, was equally contrite. "I would like to say as well just how sorry I am and how sorry we are, to particularly the victims of illegal voicemail interceptions and to their families," he told the committee. "It is a matter of great regret to me, my father and everyone at News Corporation. These actions do not live up to the standards that our company aspires to everywhere around the world."
The story had begun spiraling out of Rupert Murdoch's control two weeks earlier, when the Guardian reported allegations that employees of Murdoch's London tabloid News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone voicemails of a British schoolgirl who had gone missing, and who was later found dead.
"I cannot think what was going through the minds of the people who did this. That they could hack into anyone's phone is disgraceful," lamented Prime Minister David Cameron as the scandal quickly engulfed the U.K., and spread throughout Murdoch's global media reach. "But to hack into the phone of Milly Dowler, a young girl missing from her parents, who was later found to be murdered, is truly despicable."
Allegations of phone hacking within Murdoch's newspapers had been simmering for years in the U.K., and News Corp. had been forced to make public apologies for the systematic invasions of privacy, often sponsored by News of the World and targeting celebrities, athletes and members of the royal family.
And while parts of the Dowler story have since been called into question, News Corp. agreed to pay her family 2 million pounds, and Murdoch himself delivered an apology in person. Moreover, the story set off a cascade of damning revelations that have continued to this day.
Evidence quickly tumbled out indicating the hacking been widespread, and that multiple, high-ranking executives had known about the intrusions. That meant previous explanations to Parliament, when Murdoch managers claimed the crimes had been limited, had been misleading at best. At worst, Murdoch chiefs lied to lawmakers in an effort to cover-up massive wrongdoing.
For years, Media Matters has documented the stream of purposeful misinformation that flows from Murdoch's American properties, most notably Fox News, where the misinformation has taken an epic turn for the worse under President Obama. Yet the corporate spectacle on display this year is even more troubling. This has been Murdoch overseeing a corrupt enterprise and one whose transgressions extend well beyond tapping into phone messages.
And for that dubious distinction, as well as for starring in a media unraveling that has attracted multiple police and government investigations on several continents, Rupert Murdoch and his international media behemoth are the recipients of this year's Misinformer of the Year award.
Frequent Fox News guest and "word doctor" Frank Luntz has reportedly advised the Republican Governors Association on how to discuss taxes and the Occupy protests, using phrases like "government taking from the rich" and urging protesters to "occupy the White House." This language is nothing new to Luntz's regular Fox hosts, who adopted the Luntz-approved language weeks ago.
A new study confirms that Fox News systematically paints a distorted picture of climate change, with the effect of worsening political polarization. Published by The International Journal Of Press/Politics, the study examined primetime cable news broadcasts from 2007 and 2008, and found that Fox "discussed climate change most often," but "the tone of its coverage was disproportionately dismissive":
According to the study, "Fox broadcasts were more likely to include statements that challenged the scientific agreement on climate change, undermined the reality of climate change, and questioned its human causes."
Since 2008, Fox's climate coverage has only worsened.
In a Newsweek article titled "Roger's Reality Show," Howard Kurtz wrote that Fox executives acknowledge that the news channel "took a hard right turn." This admission confirms what has long been clear: that Fox's news division has been slanted.
Last year, Media Matters began a series of reports on Fox News vice president and Washington managing editor Bill Sammon who, according to one source with knowledge of the situation, has pressured his news staff to "slant news to the right."
In addition to speaking with sources, Media Matters released several internal Fox emails showing Sammon slanting his bureau's reporting by pressing journalists to adopt Republican talking points and misinformation. We also uncovered an audio recording of Sammon admitting that he lied during the closing days of the 2008 presidential campaign when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism."
In the wake of the revelations, Sammon drew criticism from journalists, including several veteran Washington bureau chiefs who said that Sammon acted unethically, and his actions were problematic for someone with a newsroom leadership role.
Perhaps in response to the controversies over his management, Sammon -- who was a regular fixture on Fox programming -- appears to have stopped making TV appearances in 2011. (A search of Media Matters' internal archives and available transcripts in the Nexis and TVEyes.com databases for search terms " 'Sammon' OR 'Bill Salmon' OR 'Bill Samon'" returned no relevant results from 2011.)
Despite the mountains of evidence about Sammon's partiality and lack of journalism ethics, Fox News apparently still values Sammon. In his recent article about Fox News, Howard Kurtz notes that Sammon was involved with the network's preparation for the recent Fox News/YouTube GOP debate. Sammon also appears to have been involved with Fox News' previous debates.
If Fox News chief Roger Ailes really wants to reposition Fox News to the "fair and balanced" middle, keeping Bill Sammon as his DC managing editor isn't the right course of action.
While participating in a panel discussion about new emails purportedly showing "White House Bias" against Fox News, Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane commented that he'd "like to see the internal emails here at Fox about the Obama administration" as a contrast. Lane is in luck. Internal emails obtained by Media Matters have shown attempts by Fox News executive Bill Sammon to slant news coverage against President Obama and his policies.
Of all the things that Glenn Beck's awkward transition off Fox News says about the so-called news organization, it certainly says nothing about Fox developing a sudden intolerance for dishonesty.
All along, there was never any indication that Fox News actually held Beck accountable for the litany of falsehoods and deceptive editing he used to smear progressives. And all the evidence at hand makes perfectly clear that Beck's departure is in no way a result of Fox News suddenly opting to hold him accountable for that routine dishonesty.
After all, the Fox stable has no shortage of commenters who still get paid despite a proclivity for mendacity.
On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace criticized a University of Maryland study which indicated that Fox News viewers are more misinformed than the consumers of other news media. Wallace said the study labeled those who "questioned whether climate change is occurring" as misinformed, and suggested that doing so would be improper.
The study actually asked, "Do you think that MOST SCIENTISTS believe that" 1) Climate change is occurring, 2) Views are evenly divided or 3) Climate change is not occurring. Noting that the correct answer is that most scientists believe that climate change is occurring, the study found that of those who said they watched Fox News "almost every day," 60 percent got it wrong -- significantly higher than the consumers of other news sources.
A Stanford University study similarly found that "more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists' claims about global warming, [and] with less trust in scientists."
It is a fact that climate change is occurring, and anthropogenic global warming is so well-supported in peer-reviewed research that, as the Maryland study notes, the United States' National Academy of Sciences and "97% of self-identifying actively publishing climate scientists agree" that it is occurring.
When Fox News Sunday edited out Jon Stewart's criticism of Bill Sammon, it wasn't the only Sammon-related disappearing act this year. The Fox News vice president and Washington managing editor has been completely absent from Fox's airwaves this year, according to a Media Matters search.* During the same time period in 2010 (through June 21), by contrast, Sammon made over a dozen guest appearances on Fox News and Fox Business.
Sammon hasn't been on either network since November 2, 2010. Sammon's absence coincidences with criticism of him for slanting the reporting of Fox's DC bureau.
Last October, Media Matters reported that a source with knowledge of the situation said Sammon exerts "pressure" on his news staff to "slant news to the right." Media Matters later released several internal Fox emails showing Sammon slanting his bureau's reporting, and an audio recording of him admitting that he lied during the closing days of the 2008 presidential campaign when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism."
Roger Ailes apparently objects to staffers having family ties to the public figures they cover -- at least when those public figures happen to be Democrats.
According to New York magazine's blockbuster profile, the Fox News boss was upset that one of his executives -- whose brother was serving as an Obama foreign policy adviser -- was too close to the incoming administration:
Then, three weeks after the election, David Rhodes, Fox's vice-president for news, quit to work for Bloomberg. Rhodes had started at Fox as a 22-year-old production assistant and risen through the ranks to become No. 2 in charge of news. His brother was a senior foreign-policy aide to Obama, and Rhodes told staffers that Ailes had expressed concern about this closeness to the White House. Rhodes privately told people he was uncomfortable with where Fox was going in the Obama era.
That story may seem surprising to anyone who remembers the 2000 presidential election. Back then, Ailes seemed to have no problem with John Ellis -- who happened to be a vocal supporter of his cousin, George W. Bush -- leading Fox News' "decision desk." It was Ellis and his team who made the election night recommendation to call Florida (and, therefore, the election) for Bush -- a decision Fox would ultimately have to retract. At the same time, Ellis was using his position at Fox to feed information to the Bush campaign.
As Howard Kurtz reported at the time:
Even as he was leading the Fox decision desk that night, John Ellis was also on the phone with his cousins--"Jebbie," the governor of Florida, and the presidential candidate himself--giving them updated assessments of the vote count.
Ellis's projection was crucial because Fox News Channel put Florida in the W. column at 2:16 a.m.--followed by NBC, CBS, CNN and ABC within four minutes. That decision, which turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the embarrassed networks less than two hours later, created the impression that Bush had "won" the White House.
Which is why media circles were buzzing yesterday with the question of why Fox had installed a Bush relative in such a sensitive post.
Ellis, who lives in Irvington, N.Y., was among those briefing Fox News President Roger Ailes last Tuesday night, but he was not a total Bush loyalist. At 7:52 p.m., Fox called Florida for Al Gore based on Ellis's recommendation, though Fox was not the first to make that projection. After Fox's report, according to the New Yorker, Jeb Bush called and asked Ellis: "Are you sure?"
The Gore call, based heavily on exit polls from Voter News Service, also turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the networks two hours later.
At 2 a.m., Ellis called his cousins to say it was "statistically impossible" for Gore to win Florida. "Their mood was up, big-time," Ellis told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer. "It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth--me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other the president-elect. Now that was cool."
In an extensive piece for New York Magazine, Gabriel Sherman reports that Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon "angered Fox's political reporters, who saw him pushing coverage further to the right than they were comfortable with." Sherman writes:
Meanwhile, Hume's replacement, Bill Sammon, a former Washington Times correspondent, angered Fox's political reporters, who saw him pushing coverage further to the right than they were comfortable with. Days after Obama's inauguration, an ice storm caused major damage throughout the Midwest. At an editorial meeting in the D.C. bureau, Sammon told producers that Fox should compare Obama's response to Bush's handling of Katrina. "Bush got grief for Katrina," Sammon said.
"It's too early; give him some time to respond," a producer shot back. "This ice storm isn't Katrina."
Media Matters has documented that Fox News' Bill Sammon problem has further tarnished the network's credibility and called into question the purported wall between its "opinion" and "news" divisions. Sources familiar with the situation have told Media Matters that the DC bureau is slanting more to the right in recent years under Bill Sammon. Sammon became Washington managing editor in February 2009 after serving as deputy managing editor since August 2008.