Several prominent former Newsweek journalists criticized the error-ridden recent cover story by playwright David Mamet that sought to discredit attempts to strengthen gun laws.
Some former staffers point to the Mamet piece as evidence that the magazine, which recently ceased print publication, isn't what it used to be, noting it seems to be seeking more readers through provocative pieces rather than in-depth journalism.
A Media Matters review of the piece found glaring factual mistakes related to background checks, assault weapons, and U.S. Secret Service protection for President Obama's family.
Michael Tomasky and Andrew Sullivan, both of whom write for The Daily Beast, Newsweek's online sibling, also found fault with the article. Tomasky called Mamet's piece a "bizarre rant" while Sullivan stated "Mamet's broad generalizations are empirically wrong and need to be corrected."
In comments to Media Matters, former Newsweek scribes were strongly critical of the poor reporting and accuracy of the piece.
Howard Fineman, who spent three decades at Newsweek covering politics and national issues and is now editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, said the piece does not reflect the Newsweek he once knew.
"I don't think it's what the Newsweek that I knew would have done with its cover space or its cover story, on many levels," Fineman said after reviewing the material involved. "But if they want to go that direction with it, that's up to them...So of course they should stick to basic journalistic rules when they do. Is it the Newsweek that I worked for? No."
He later stressed the need for accuracy and fact-checking, especially when outsiders are writing for the publication.
"Any news operation should stick to the facts and if they haven't in this case, they should explain why they didn't, or correct the record if they need to," he said. "There probably were times when we invited outsiders to write and put outsiders on the cover, I think, I doubt that Newsweek, just politically in the old days, Newsweek would have invited an outsider to denounce gun control. But again, somebody else bought the name and they can do whatever they want with under its banner, but they need to stick to basic journalistic principles when they do, it seems to me."
Asked about the impact such uncorrected stories can have on future research when the magazine is used as source material, Fineman said that should be taken into consideration.
"I think you raise a very good point, let's hope that they honor the fact that Newsweek has been a source for research and information and credible reporting for almost 80 years and they should keep it that way, they should respect that history," he said. "And I'm sure they should and I am sure they will because I think Tina is a very good journalist. I think Tina Brown is very creative and very good and I am sure she doesn't like to get things wrong."
From the March 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
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From the February 20 edition of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show:
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Defending Newsweek's global warming panel, which was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute and featured API president Jack Gerard -- but no representative of environmental groups -- Newsweek director of external relations Mark Block insisted "These events are transparent. They're on the record. ... There's no concern of appearance of impropriety because it's an open and transparent process." Newsweek's Howard Fineman, who moderated the panel, agreed earlier this week: "I see nothing wrong with an open, on-the-record balanced discussion like this."
"Open"? "Transparent"? That's interesting, because when a Greenpeace staffer caught up with Gerard after the event and asked him how much API paid for his seat on the panel, Gerard refused to answer.
So: By "balanced discussion," Newsweek means "the panel doesn't include environmental groups, but does include oil lobbyists who pay us" and by "transparent," they mean "but we won't tell you how much they pay us."
Rep. Ed Markey, the chief sponsor of the House cap-and-trade bill and a leading environmental advocate, is a full participant in the open, on-the-record discussion with no control by API over the questions or flow. Dem Sen Byron Dorgan is also participating and will reflect various views in Dem caucus. Rep Fred Upton, who opposed the House bill, will also participate. I see nothing wrong with an open, on-the-record balanced discussion like this. Newsweek has a long tradition of enviro reporting, including our annual green issue.
Seriously? The "discussion" featured the president of the American Petroleum Institute -- which just happens to fund Newsweek -- but no representatives of environmental organizations ... and Howard Fineman calls that a "balanced discussion"?
Apparently to Newsweek, "balance" means "Industry representatives who fund us and--Hey! Look over there!"
The New York Times has a good article spelling out the obvious problems with Newsweek's decision to team up with the American Petroleum Institute for a forum titled "Climate and Energy Policy: Moving?"
Here's the situation in a nutshell: API is paying Newsweek, in exchange for which API president Jack Gerard gets to be the featured participant in a Newsweek forum moderated by Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman. Newsweek says there's nothing wrong with the arrangement, because it is "transparent":
"There's absolutely no conflict of interest, because they're not driving our editorial" content, [Newsweek director of external relations Mark] Block said. "These events are transparent. They're on the record. They're inclusive of media. They're inclusive of people that might disagree. There's no concern of appearance of impropriety because it's an open and transparent process."
That does not, strictly speaking, appear to be true. Take a look at a "V.I.P. Invitation" email Newsweek External Relations Manager Jennifer Slattery sent out about the forum:
The panel discussion will be moderated Howard Fineman, Newsweek National-Affairs Columnist and Senior Washington Correspondent with special guest panelist Jack Gerard, President & Chief Executive Officer of American Petroleum Institute (API). Newsweek is also honored to have forum invitations currently pending confirmation with notable members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
No mention of the fact that API paid for Gerard's participation in the event. So much for "an open and transparent process."
[J]ournalism and ethics experts decried the arrangement.
"You're selling access," said Edward Wasserman, Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. "Newsweek is using its reputation as a great news organization to convene these officeholders to talk about public policy. Then it's renting out a space at the table for one of its customers who would not be at the table if not for giving money to Newsweek."
John Watson, associate professor of communication law and journalism ethics at American University in Washington, agreed.
"You're enticing them to buy these ads to get this thing of value," Watson said.
Newsweek's claims that API's funding doesn't influence its editorial decisions are undermined by the fact that the forum features Gerard -- but doesn't include any representatives of environmental organizations. And, it seems, Newsweek doesn't have any pans to address that exclusion:
Asked whether Newsweek planned to invite a representative from an environmental group to the upcoming event, to balance Gerard's appearance, Block said the magazine "would definitely consider that opportunity," if there were a high-profile environmentalist who might be appropriate. But he said that because members of Congress would likely also participate, time constraints might dictate against it.
Yeah, I bet they might.
And I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Newsweek happily publishes global warming deniers like George Will. And its probably just another coincidence that Will's column relies on the work of the American Enterprise Institute, which gets funding from the likes of Exxon Mobil and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Trust.
That's Charles Koch as in Koch Industries, which was once required to pay "the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company under any federal environmental law to resolve claims related to more than 300 oil spills from its pipelines and oil facilities in six states." Or perhaps you know Koch Industries better as the company that got rich in part by stealing oil from Indian reservations and federal lands -- that is, from U.S. Taxpayers. Then they used the money they stole from taxpayers -- that is, from you -- to fund right-wing think-tanks that advocate policies that would help people like Charles Koch at the expense of, well, you. (Koch Industries agreed to pay $25 million in penalties for stealing all that oil.)
Anyway, I'm sure that's all just coincidence.
Oh, and it's probably also a coincidence that Newsweek is owned by the Washington Post Company, and that the Post got caught earlier this year trying to sell off access to its reporters to corporate sponsors.
From the August 2 edition of The Chris Matthews Show:
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From the July 23rd edition of MSNBC's Countdown:
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Referring to a question he asked at President Obama's press conference, on Morning Joe, Chuck Todd suggested Obama was being inconsistent in not asking the American people for sacrifice -- during a recession, with millions recently unemployed -- after having criticized President Bush for failing to ask for sacrifice following 9-11.
Discussing Sen. Hillary Clinton's answer to a question about whether she believed Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim, Newsweek editor Howard Fineman said that Clinton's answer was "positively Nixonian in its pauses and innuendos." In fact, Clinton's first three words in response to the question -- "You don't believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim?" -- were, "Of course not."
Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman falsely claimed during MSNBC's coverage following the January 15 Democratic presidential candidates debate in Las Vegas that Sen. Barack Obama "admitt[ed] that he can't manage his way out of a paper bag while he's running for president of the United States."
On Countdown, Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman asserted that "[t]he problem that the Democrats have got, indeed, that all America has got, is that having gone into Iraq the way we did, there is, in the opinion of many fair-minded observers, chaos and hell to pay if we get out overnight." While Fineman did not specify which "Democrats" have advocated withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq "overnight," Democrats support several plans that call for a "gradual" withdrawal or a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq, with some troops remaining in Iraq for specified missions after the withdrawal of most combat troops.