Veteran journalists and media ethicists -- including a former CBS News Washington bureau chief -- are criticizing CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson for accepting an award from Accuracy in Media, a conservative group with a long history of promoting anti-gay views and conspiracy theories.
Attkisson is scheduled to accept the award in person Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
Several longtime news experts contend Attkisson is hurting her own credibility and that of CBS by participating in the event.
"If you go out and you've received an award from any organization with an agenda, then any reader of your work or viewer of your work has a right to question your impartiality or your fairness," Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker, told Media Matters in an interview. "I don't think journalists should accept awards from either right-wing or left-wing, conservative or liberal organizations, or from any other organized group that has an agenda. We're not supposed to have an agenda. By accepting those awards or appearing, you are raising questions about your own dispassion. We have enough of those questions already about journalists."
Ed Fouhy, a former long-time CBS News producer and one-time Washington bureau chief for the network, called Attkisson a "pawn."
"Sharyl Attkisson is making a mistake in accepting an award from A.I.M. By doing so she becomes just another pawn in the ideological chess games being played with such intensity in Washington," Fouhy stated. "Her acceptance helps to legitimize A.I.M., a fringe group, whose sole agenda is and has been for many years, to undermine the credibility of the mainstream media, fueled by the donations of millionaire conspiracy theorists."
Fouhy, also a former CBS News vice president, then noted A.I.M's past efforts against the network dating back many years:
"Reed Irvine, founder of A.I.M., and his political heirs have long made CBS News a special target in their fevered attempts to propound the myth of the liberal media. Going back to Watergate days, A.I.M. has relentlessly tried to intimidate and harass CBS News journalists. Ms. Attkisson may not be aware of that history but she should know that accepting awards from groups with political agendas, whether of the right or the left, is a bad idea."
Last fall, while television news outlets were largely ignoring the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act during their evening news and opinion programming, their parent companies were busy paying an army of lobbyists to influence Congress on the then-pending legislation.
For months, the networks deemed subjects like Tim Tebow and the British Royal Family to be more worthy of evening coverage. Following criticism for ignoring the growing outrage over the bills, television media eventually devoted considerably more coverage to the widespread protests, website blackouts, and eventual shelving of both bills.
In the fourth quarter of 2011, Comcast (which owns a controlling interest in NBC and MSNBC), News Corp. (Fox News), CBS Corporation (CBS), Time Warner (CNN), Disney (ABC), and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (a trade association that counts Comcast and NBC Universal as members, among others) hired 28 different lobbying firms to lobby Congress on SOPA and Protect IP.
Several CNN on-air journalists are criticizing Dana Loesch's recent comments supporting the U.S. Marines who allegedly urinated on the dead bodies of Taliban forces.
Loesch, a CNN contributor, made the comments during her radio show Thursday. Among other things, Loesch said of the incident: "I'd drop trou and do it too."
Such views brought sharp criticism from some CNN on-air reporters.
"I can't imagine someone really thinking that, it is so outrageous," said one CNN reporter who requested anonymity. "I think she is trying to garner attention to herself, and that is sad. If that is what she truly believes, she has issues. If you look at that video, I don't care who you are, your stomach should turn.
"The problem with these contributors is they aren't under the same guidelines journalists are, and CNN journalists are. We have very clear ways of doing business. When you have these people we bring in to spice up our airwaves, it is going to happen. It is concerning, obviously."
Another regular CNN journalist added: "I am of the school of thought, 'Why aren't we putting people who are knowledgeable on the air?' I'll just say 'Ewww.' I think it's in poor taste."
A third CNN journalist who has been reporting on the story said Loesch is misguided in thinking that defending the Marines' alleged actions amount to being supportive of the military.
"If she is thinking that she is somehow supporting the military, any source in the military will tell you she is not," the journalist said. "It is so distasteful for the military. It is a black eye. Clearly, everyone I've talked to said that is not acceptable."
At least one regular CNN political contributor took issue with the comments and with CNN's handling of Loesch and other right-wing contributors:
"What's interesting is how the kid gloves are applied to outlandish comments made by the likes of Erick Erickson or Dana Loesch and how it has a negative impact on the CNN brand," said the contributor, who also requested anonymity. "There really is no pushback or no real conversation that says, 'Look, you make these kinds of comments or you write these kinds of wild, crazy stuff, that's just not what we're about.' It simply doesn't happen. I think there is fear of saying anything to them because they are Tea Party folks, and there has been a clear effort on the part of our political team to court that whole Tea Party thought process, if you will."
"The danger is always the negative impact on your whole political coverage," the contributor added. "Because clearly you want there to be a point of view, but there is a difference between a point of view and being so far off the rails it defies logic."
George Will's practice of citing groups funded by a conservative foundation -- without disclosing that he is a paid board member of that foundation -- brought sharp criticism from media ethicists and journalism veterans who say such a lack of disclosure is a breach of journalistic ethics.
"Is there a problem here? Of course," said Ed Wasserman, Washington and Lee University journalism professor and a Miami Herald columnist. "Even though he is a committed conservative guy with strongly held principles, you still have the right to read his commentary as something that is independently arrived at rather than a reflection of a nexus of relationships and entanglements that he is embedded in."
Will was elected to the Bradley Foundation board in 2008 and received the Bradley Prize in 2005. A Nov. 19, 2011, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the Bradley Foundation revealed Will received $250,000 for the Bradley Prize and still receives $43,500 annually as a board member.
Media Matters reviewed Will's columns from mid-2008 to the present and found at least a dozen instances in which he has promoted conservative groups that have received money from the Bradley Foundation without disclosing his connection to the foundation. Those groups include the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society, and National Affairs quarterly.
Among the examples is an April 23, 2009 column citing the Heritage Foundation, in which Will writes: "The [Department of Education] could not suppress the Heritage Foundation's report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools."
Media Matters found one column in which Will's Bradley Foundation ties were disclosed. In an August 20, 2009 column, he cited the Institute for Justice, which received Bradley Foundation funding. Will's connection was noted at the end of the piece.
The disclosure initially incorrectly stated that Will was on the board of the MacArthur Foundation, rather than the Bradley Foundation. It said: "The writer is a member of the board of the MacArthur Foundation, which provides some funding for the Institute for Justice."
The error was later corrected at the end of a subsequent column to read: "George F. Will is a member of the board of the Bradley Foundation and not the MacArthur Foundation, as was disclosed in a recent column on threats to freedom of speech."
In November 1998, following midterm losses and a Republican revolt, Newt Gingrich announced he would step down as House speaker and resign from Congress. Thirteen years after his downfall, Gingrich is now a contender for the Republican nomination for president.
During his years away from office and campaigning, Gingrich stayed in the public spotlight as a frequent contributor and occasional host on Fox News. Between October 1999, when he was hired, and March 2, 2011, when his contract was suspended, Gingrich appeared on Fox News over 600 times.
As a Fox News commentator, Gingrich regularly made incendiary and false remarks that helped ingratiate himself to the conservative base. But Gingrich's time at Fox News went beyond conservative punditry and attacks against progressives.
Fox News was a powerful ally when it came to boosting Gingrich's political and business groups. As The Atlanta Journal Constitution noted, Gingrich "built a network of for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations that seamlessly promote his vision of American government and politics. ... Well before Gingrich announced his candidacy, those groups were providing him with money and public exposure."
Fox News heavily promoted American Solutions for Winning the Future, which served as Gingrich's non-profit political organization before he ran for president. Fox News boosted the work and profile of the Center for Health Transformation, Gingrich's for-profit health care consulting company, and The Americano, Gingrich's Hispanic outreach organization. Fox News also served as a constant and reliable promotional vehicle for Gingrich Productions, a for-profit conservative multimedia company run by Newt and wife Callista.
On The O'Reilly Factor yesterday, Fox News "political analyst" Dick Morris touted a scheduled debate moderated by Donald Trump for Newsmax.com. At no point did Morris or Fox News disclose Morris' significant conflict of interests: Morris has said he's been paid by Newsmax; Morris' "e-mail list is represented exclusively by Newsmax"; and Newsmax frequently sponsors content on Morris' email list, most recently sending out an advertisement for its Trump debate.
Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff expressed regret for paying columnists on multiple occasions to write articles favorable to his clients.
During a recent interview with Media Matters while promoting his new book, Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist (WND Books 2011), Abramoff said in the past he would find columnists who agreed with his positions and pay them to "place" articles in newspapers.
"Normally what that means in a lobbying context is that you have a friendly writer who is somebody that the major papers are willing to publish and you get them to focus on your issue and write a piece about it," Abramoff said in a phone interview, later adding, "It just happened when it had to happen. When it did, we would find somebody who agreed with us, a writer, and we'd usually pay them to do it, but they would be in charge of getting it placed. And that probably still goes on. I can't imagine it doesn't go on."
Abramoff said he paid for columns on maybe a half-dozen occasions in several major newspapers. He also said the newspapers themselves were likely unaware of the financial arrangement.
He said the media "was a tool in lobbying, and that's the way lobbyists view the media. That you try as best you can to keep them out of your hair, use them where you can to spin your issue, and otherwise keep them at a distance."
Abramoff also stressed that the writers paid to push his agenda were always columnists or op-ed writers, never reporters:
"I'd find a writer who was sympathetic to the issue, I wouldn't approach a writer who disagreed with me or was neutral. I'd find somebody who was passionate about this and we'd try to get them focused on it, get them some money if they needed money or they wanted to be paid for it," Abramoff explained. "A lot of these writers write for pay, they write columns and get paid by their papers. ... So we would pay them, and their job would be to get the article placed. Rather simple. It didn't always work, by the way. They weren't always able to get them placed. But generally they could."
Asked if he ever tried to pay a news reporter to write something sympathetic, he said, "Nah. Most of the time we stayed away from reporters. Lobbyists don't like to hang out with reporters, at least lobbyists who are prudent."
Abramoff confirmed two specific monetary relationships involving writers Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara, who were quoted in a 2005 BusinessWeek story as having been paid by Abramoff.
Journalism veterans and media ethicists are criticizing Fox News and commentator Jim Pinkerton for failing to disclose that Pinkerton was being paid to partner with Michele Bachmann on her book while regularly speaking about the presidential campaign on Fox.
Among the critics is Fox News contributor Marvin Kalb.
"I believe in transparency and if Jim Pinkerton was talking about [Bachmann's] campaign on Fox News as a Fox News contributor it should have been pointed out to viewers that he was part of this campaign," said Kalb, former host of NBC's Meet the Press and a 30-year television news veteran. "I don't understand why this had to be a secret connection."
The reaction follows the disclosure -- first reported by Politico's Ben Smith -- that Pinkerton spent June, July and August 2011 as a paid collaborator on a book with Bachmann. Pinkerton did not tell Fox viewers about his role in the book while regularly appearing on Fox News Watch.
Pinkerton told Media Matters that his Fox News "superiors" knew of his secret arrangement and approved of it. He declined to name the superiors.
Pinkerton also said he had "zero regrets" about keeping his part in the book secret from Fox viewers, saying he always disclosed that his wife, a former Bachmann campaign chief of staff, was working for Bachmann.
David Zurawik, media critic for The Baltimore Sun, finds hypocrisy in Pinkerton being secretive while appearing on Fox News Watch, a media criticism program.
"All the dishonesty is multiplied by him doing this on a media review show," Zurawik said. "First of all, a media review show is the last place a guy who tries to shade his conflicts of interest this way and keep necessary information from viewers should be. And if Fox News knew, it tells you what management there thinks of telling the truth on such shows."
He later stated: "If Fox knew and did allow this, it gives lie to all of their P.R. about how unfair it is to call them biased. They can trot Bret Baier out all they want, but if they allow this kind of dishonest behavior, they are not an honest news operation that citizens should trust."
Bill Kovach, founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and former New York Times Washington, D.C., bureau chief, called the actions "deceitful."
Fox News contributor James Pinkerton confirmed that he was paid to "partner" with Michele Bachmann on her new book, but said he did not disclose his role in the project at the request of Bachmann and her publisher.
Pinkerton also revealed that Fox News knew of his arrangement from the start and approved of his keeping it from viewers.
"I was bound by a confidentiality agreement. They said, 'Don't tell anybody,' I said, 'Okay.' I told my superiors at Fox and they knew," Pinkerton said Monday. "I helped on the book from June, July and August, I helped, in a collaborator sense. ... I helped as a collaborator to her. She was busy on the road, so she would have thoughts and tell me things and I would try and help put them together."
Pinkerton is a regular panelist on Fox News' media criticism show and has frequently discussed Bachmann and the other presidential candidates.
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Michele Bachmann hired former speechwriter and domestic policy adviser to the first President Bush and to President Reagan, Jim Pinkerton, to help write her forthcoming memoir, "Core of Conviction," POLITICO has learned.
Contacted by Media Matters Monday evening, Pinkerton confirmed he had collaborated on the book, saying he is mentioned in acknowledgements as "research and writing partner."
Pinkerton said he had "zero regrets" about keeping his part in the book secret from Fox viewers, saying he always disclosed that his wife, a former Bachmann campaign chief of staff, was working for Bachmann.
"I chose not to [disclose his part in the book] because I wanted to protect the confidentiality of the book, although I told my [Fox] superiors," he said. "Every time Bachmann came up, I said that my wife was working for the campaign, and I was making it clear that I had an interest, as it were, in the Bachmann campaign, through my wife's work."
Asked why he did not disclose his book connection, Pinkerton said: "I felt that, I felt the need to keep the book confidential at the request of all parties involved."
Four alleged members of a Georgia militia group were arrested yesterday relating to their alleged plot to kill numerous government officials. According to the complaint, one of the arrested repeatedly cited as the source of their plan the novel Absolved, authored by Fox News expert Mike Vanderboegh, the former militia member famous for urging his blog readers to hurl bricks through the windows of Democratic offices.
In Vanderboegh's novel, which was self-published online, underground militia fighters declare war on the federal government over gun control laws and same-sex marriage, leading to a second American revolution. In the introduction to Absolved, Vanderboegh calls the book "a cautionary tale for the out-of-control gun cops of the ATF" and "a combination field manual, technical manual and call to arms for my beloved gunnies of the armed citizenry."
The Alabama-based blogger was one of the first to report on the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious. He has since promoted a variety of absurd conspiracy theories about the story.
In recent months, Fox News has mainstreamed Vanderboegh, treating him as an expert on the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious, featuring him in cable and online reports and identifying him as an "online journalist" and an "authority on the Fast and Furious investigation." Fox has not acknowledged Vanderboegh's extremist views, actions, and affiliations.
The self-proclaimed Toccoa, Georgia-based "covert group" was allegedly plotting to obtain explosives and silencers and to manufacture ricin, a biological agent. According to the complaint, the group planned to target for assassination numerous government officials, including judges and employees of the Department of Justice and Internal Revenue Service.
The complaint alleges that at an April meeting one of the accused, Frederick Thomas, said he "intended to model their actions on the plot of an online novel called Absolved":
THOMAS also explained to the others present that he intended to model their actions on the plot of an online novel called Absolved. The plot of Absolved involves small groups of citizens attacking United States federal law enforcement representatives and federal judges. THOMAS expressed his belief that they should consider a number of assassinations on various government officials, and he particularly expressed a desire to kill Department of Justice (DOJ) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees.
The complaint also alleges that at a prior meeting, Thomas "mentioned a fictional novel he had read on-line in which an anti-government group killed a large number of federal Department of Justice attorneys, and then he stated, 'Now of course, that's just fiction, but that's a damn good idea.' " Thomas also allegedly linked his plan to Absolved during a June 9 meeting.
According to the complaint, in May, Thomas and a confidential government source traveled to Atlanta and "conducted surveillance" on ATF and IRS offices "to plan and assess for possible attacks," with Thomas discussing obtaining explosives and the best way to blow up the buildings. The complaints allege that from June through November, Thomas and defendant Dan Roberts negotiated the purchase of explosives from an undercover agent. The government also alleged that in October, the other two members of the group described to the confidential source plans to manufacture ricin and disburse it in U.S. cities.
Roberts' complaint describes the defendents as "members of a fringe group of a known militia organization, with the fringe group calling itself the 'covert group.' " According to FBI sources, the "known militia organization" is the Georgia Militia, a statewide militia with at least a dozen active chapters, or "battalions" according to its website. The Georgia Militia website identifies Toccoa resident Dan Roberts as both a "Captain" and the commanding officer of the Toccoa-based 440th Squad. Emails to address listed for Roberts were not immediately returned.
In a post to his blog yesterday evening, Vanderboegh linked to an article about the arrests, commenting, "Pretty geriatric 'militia.' What does ricin have to do with 'saving the Constitution'? The only idiots I ever heard interested in ricin were neoNazis."
Last night, Fox News' Greta Van Susteren hosted GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain to respond to the Politico story about past sexual harassment allegations against him. Van Susteren was once again pushing the boundaries of journalistic ethics, as she failed to disclose her husband's relationship with Cain during the interview. But Van Susteren wasn't the only Fox personality discussing the Cain allegations last night that has an undisclosed conflict of interest.
In the opening segment of Sean Hannity's show, Fox political analyst Dick Morris joined Hannity to discuss, in Hannity's words, "Politico's attempt to smear the GOP's frontrunner" (before the two awkwardly transitioned to discussing Dick Morris' new children's book about a golden retriever that goes to Washington, which "you can buy at DickMorris.com").
During the conversation, Morris said that "unless there are more facts in this, we cannot derail one of the most creative, forward-thinking, effective campaigns that's been waged this year on the strength of this kind of flimsy stuff." Morris' effusive praise of Cain is complicated by the fact that he has apparently been profiting off of Cain's campaign, which was not disclosed during his appearance.
On Saturday night, Pat Buchanan appeared on the white nationalist radio program The Political Cesspool to promote his new book. During the nearly twenty-five minute interview, Buchanan attacked the country's increasing diversity and warned that America would face numerous problems when whites become a minority.
Buchanan has a long history marred by bigotry and hostility toward minorities. He recently released a new book, Suicide of a Superpower, which claims that America is disintegrating as whites lose their majority status. Buchanan also serves as a political analyst for MSNBC -- an affiliation that was mentioned by host James Edwards after the interview and on the program's website.
The Political Cesspool describes itself as representing "a philosophy that is pro-White ... We wish to revive the White birthrate above replacement level fertility and beyond to grow the percentage of Whites in the world relative to other races."
The Anti-Defamation League has criticized Edwards for having "white supremacist views" and interviewing "a variety of anti-Semites, white supremacists, Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists and anti-immigrant leaders." The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in 2007 that The Political Cesspool host "has probably done more than any of his contemporaries on the American radical right to publicly promote neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, raging anti-Semites and other extremists" and that his program "has become the primary radio nexus of hate in America."
Last week, nearly one thousand representatives from business groups, education departments, state legislatures, and free-market think tanks descended on San Francisco's Palace Hotel to strategize a revolution in American education. Focused on state-level politics and driven by marketing buzzwords like "blended learning" and "customized online instruction," it was not the kind of policy powwow that typically draws national media attention.
But education reform is a hot topic these days, and interest in the two-day "Excellence in Action" summit was further heightened by the controversial presence of the summit's keynote speaker: News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, whose recent foray into for-profit education has focused a spotlight on an increasingly confident and ambitious movement to privatize and digitize American K-through-12.
The debate over the reforms endorsed at "Excellence in Action" has been steadily intensifying. Reform boosters -- a mix of (mostly) Republican state lawmakers, for-profit education companies and their lobbyists, and libertarian ideologues -- maintain that creating a competitive hi-tech education marketplace will make U.S. students more competitive internationally and close the much-lamented achievement gap. Critics suspect an agenda that has more to do with smashing teachers unions and turning tax dollars into profits. Since entering the education reform fray, Murdoch has become a vocal reform booster and unlikely spokesperson for "our children." As he has several times before, he used his time in San Francisco to argue forcefully that what public education needs is a good dose of free-market innovation. "Put simply we must approach education the way Steve Jobs approached every industry he touched. To be willing to blow up what doesn't work or gets in the way."
The Wall Street Journal has not decided if it will form a partnership with Fox Business similar to the newspaper's current arrangement with CNBC when that deal ends next year, the Journal's top editor tells Media Matters.
"We haven't decided anything on it," Journal managing editor Robert Thomson said during a brief interview last week. Asked directly if a deal similar to the CNBC arrangement would be of interest to the Journal, he said, "not necessarily."
Since News Corp. purchased Dow Jones in late 2007, speculation has arisen among its employees that the Journal would align itself with Fox Business once the Journal's current agreement for many of its reporters and content to appear first on CNBC ends in December 2012.
A Journal spokesperson declined this week to reveal details of the CNBC arrangement, first forged in 1998, other than to say it ends in December 2012. She stated in an email:
We don't publicly discuss the nature of agreements.
But a source familiar with the agreement who requested anonymity said it includes a content-sharing arrangement in which CNBC receives advanced access to certain financial-related original reporting and data from all Dow Jones business outlets so that CNBC can report it simultaneously.
CNBC also pays a fee to Dow Jones for the content based on ad revenue, according to the source, who said it has averaged some $15 million annually in recent years.
In addition, CNBC has the right of first refusal to have Journal reporters appear on its network to discuss business news before appearing on other networks, including on Fox Business.
When asked if the Journal would forge a similar deal with Fox Business once the CNBC arrangement ends, Thomson said:
"Not necessarily. Because, in part, you look at what's happening with WSJ Live and the amount of video we are doing ourselves. The possible permutations are far more than that presumption allows."
Asked if there could be an outcome where the Journal is not aligned with Fox Business as it has been with CNBC, Thomson again left the door open.
When Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to deliver a fact-free defense of the Lord's Resistance Army, he left numerous angry listeners with the impression that President Obama had sent troops to "kill Christians in Africa."
Last week, Obama ordered 100 U.S. troops to Africa to help combat the LRA, a violent cult that has engaged in murder, torture, and rape and has kidnapped children and impressed them into military service.
On Friday, Limbaugh added his own spin to a straight-forward ABC News report on the matter. Limbaugh declared, "Obama Invades Uganda, Targets Christians." According to Limbaugh, "Lord's Resistance Army are Christians. They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan. And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them." Limbaugh added, "So that's a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda. ... Now, are we gonna help the Egyptians wipe out the Christians? Wouldn't you say that we are? I mean the Coptic Christians are being wiped out."
Several minutes after Limbaugh's rant began, conservatives on Twitter began to echo his claims. A few examples:
Some Limbaugh listeners even appear to have contacted Congress to protest Obama's supposed assault on African Christianity. A congressional staffer, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record, told Media Matters that his office received an email and a phone call from constituents who "claimed that it was an attack on Christians and said Obama was supporting [an] Islamic regime."