Right-wing media have responded to the Paris terror attacks by calling for increased scrutiny and surveillance of Muslims in the United States. However, surveillance programs that profile Muslims based on their religion are ineffective and threaten constitutional freedoms held by all Americans.
New information and widespread media criticism of the highly flawed New York Times story that falsely implied Hillary Clinton was the target of a criminal investigation over her email practices as secretary of state confirm the paper conflated two different stories to scandalize a routine bureaucratic process. In fact, the current Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) review of Clinton's emails that has led to interagency disputes over retroactive classification would have taken place regardless of whether Clinton used a private email account.
When you hear of a media outlet peddling debunked and misleading research in order to argue against providing transgender people with important medical care, you probably don't think of The New York Times.
But that's exactly what happened in the August 23 Sunday edition of the paper. In an op-ed titled, "How Changeable Is Gender?" Richard Friedman, a Times contributing opinion writer and professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, grossly misrepresented empirical research in order to raise doubts about gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender people, including transgender youth.
The post was quickly debunked by Think Progress' Zack Ford and Vox's German Lopez, who criticized -- among other things -- Friedman's conflation of gender identity and gender expression, his misreading of empirical data, and his dismissal of evidence showing the benefits of gender-affirming treatment.
The errors in Friedman's research aren't minor -- his op-ed is based on a series of blatant oversights that undermine his conclusions. But as of Wednesday morning, The New York Times has failed to issue a correction or clarification to the op-ed. As Lopez noted, the New York Times' decision to publish "error-ridden articles like Friedman's" will likely make it harder for trans people to find supportive home and medical environments.
The Times declined to comment on criticism of Friedman's op-ed.
Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident for the Times, which has come under increased scrutiny in recent months for its willingness to publish misleading and harmful commentary about the transgender community.
In July, the Times published an op-ed titled "What Makes A Woman?" in response to Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover photo. The piece, written by journalist Elinor Burkett, was a trainwreck of harmful and offensive stereotypes about transgender women and essentially suggested that trans women haven't earned the right to be seen as 'real' women. The op-ed, which also framed trans equality as a threat to feminist politics, was condemned for peddling offensive and outdated tropes about transgender women.
Despite the criticism, the Times rejected a rebuttal column by Meredith Talusan, a transgender writer and advocate. Talusan self-published her response, writing, "I find the way The Times keeps centering white cisgender women's perspectives on Jenner deeply disturbing."
"[A]rguing for my existence feels par for the course this week as The New York Times has already sparked a situation where I and other trans women have been constantly put in the position of having to debate our humanity," she added.
And then there's the Times' bizarre defense of research suggesting that some transgender women are actually just men who are sexually aroused by the idea of being a woman, sometimes referred to as "autogynephilia."
In April, the Times published a glowing review of Galileo's Middle Finger, a book written by bioethicist Alice Dreger. Dreger is notorious for defending the widely disputed and controversial research of psychologist J. Michael Bailey, who helped popularize the idea that many trans women are actually men acting out sexual fetishes. But rather than lay out the criticisms of "autogynephilia" research, the Times' David Dobbs lauded Bailey and Dreger's work, describing them as truth-tellers facing down "enraged" transgender activists.
This notion enraged advocates who insisted that transsexuality came invariably from an unavoidable mind-body mismatch -- a mistake of nature -- and never from a variation in taste, which some might consider an indulgence. These advocates sought not only to refute Bailey but to ruin him. When Dreger defended him, they targeted her too.
In the end, as Dreger tells it, she and Bailey won a rough victory. When Dreger's book-length paper on the issue was written up warmly in The Times, formerly gun-shy allies were encouraged to speak out.
The Dreger fiasco reveals why the Times' missteps in transgender coverage are so potentially devastating: when the paper publishes something about the transgender community, people pay attention.
That's because, unlike the fringe right-wing media outlets that publish transphobic pseudoscience on a regular basis, the Times has a reputation for positive and affirming coverage of the transgender community. The paper has worked to avoid misgendering transgender news subjects, elevated the issue of violence against transgender women, published thoughtful editorials about the fight for transgender equality, and given transgender people an opportunity to tell and share their own stories. This week, a reader viewing Burkett's "What Makes A Woman?" on the paper's website likely saw an ad for a TimesTalk event featuring transgender actress Laverne Cox at the top of the page.
It's that juxtaposition -- positive transgender coverage alongside damaging and misleading commentary -- that troubles advocates for the transgender community. When The New York Times publishes content that suggests trans children shouldn't be affirmed, trans women aren't 'real' women, or trans people are secretly sexual fetishists, it has more of an impact than any extreme right-wing media outlet could hope to have. It lends the paper's tremendous credibility to discredited and problematic myths about trans people. Harmful content makes up a fraction of the Times' total transgender coverage, but it's that rarity that makes the misinformation so pernicious.
And, in the case of Friedman's most recent op-ed, it could end up doing real damage to the most vulnerable members of the transgender community.
Image at top via Flickr user Alec Perkins using a Creative Commons License.
Politico's Dylan Byers reported that New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet "refused to publish" a letter from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, which expressed "grave concern" with a recent flawed Times report on Clinton's email use.
The July 23 Times story, which has now been corrected twice and which came under heavy criticism from the Times' public editor and veteran journalists, originally falsely claimed that two inspectors general had requested a criminal investigation into Clinton's email use. In reality, the probe was not criminal and was not focused on Clinton personally. "Despite the overwhelming evidence," Byers noted, "the Times did not remove the word [criminal] from its headline and its story, nor did it issue a correction, until the following day."
Byers explained that in response, the Clinton campaign "sent a nearly 2,000-word letter to the executive editor of The New York Times this week." The campaign then forwarded the letter to reporters after "Baquet refused to publish it in the Times":
"We remain perplexed by the Times' slowness to acknowledge its errors after the fact, and some of the shaky justifications that Times' editors have made," Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri wrote in the letter to Dean Baquet, which the campaign forwarded to the On Media blog late Thursday night.
"I feel obliged to put into context just how egregious an error this story was," Palmieri continued. "The New York Times is arguably the most important news outlet in the world and it rushed to put an erroneous story on the front page charging that a major candidate for President of the United States was the target of a criminal referral to federal law enforcement. Literally hundreds of outlets followed your story, creating a firestorm that had a deep impact that cannot be unwound. This problem was compounded by the fact that the Times took an inexplicable, let alone indefensible, delay in correcting the story and removing 'criminal' from the headline and text of the story."
"In our conversations with the Times reporters, it was clear that they had not personally reviewed the IG's referral that they falsely described as both criminal and focused on Hillary Clinton," Palmieri wrote. "Instead, they relied on unnamed sources that characterized the referral as such. However, it is not at all clear that those sources had directly seen the referral, either. This should have represented too many 'degrees of separation' for any newspaper to consider it reliable sourcing, least of all The New York Times."
Palmieri's letter, which runs 1,915 words long, includes three other complaints: 1. That the "seriousness of the allegations... demanded far more care and due diligence than the Times exhibited prior to this article's publication. 2. That the Times "incomprehensibly delayed the issuance of a full and true correction." And 3. That the Times' "official explanations for the misreporting is profoundly unsettling."
"I wish to emphasize our genuine wish to have a constructive relationship with The New York Times," Palmieri writes in closing. "But we also are extremely troubled by the events that went into this erroneous report, and will be looking forward to discussing our concerns related to this incident so we can have confidence that it is not repeated in the future."
It's been more than 12 years since The New York Times suffered perhaps its biggest black eye when the Jayson Blair scandal turned the paper's credibility upside down, sparked a special report, and forced the paper's two top editors to resign in disgrace.
Blair, then a 27-year-old rising reporter, committed a string of journalistic sins -- from plagiarism to outright lying about being at events he had supposedly covered.
The Gray Lady's credibility was in doubt until it set in place a list of changes aimed at correcting the systemic mistakes that had allowed Blair to get away with his lies. Among those changes was hiring its first public editor, an ombudsman positon that would independently review the paper's work and freely write about it for readers.
Soon after, in 2004, the Times issued a Policy on Confidential Sources. It stated, among other things, that the identity of anonymous sources must be known by at least one editor before a story is published, and that the paper must explain as much as possible to readers why the anonymity was granted and why the source is credible.
Oddly, that policy, cited in numerous public editor columns through the years, does not appear to currently be online at the Times website.
The Times' Ethical Journalism handbook says only that the paper has a "distaste for anonymous sourcing," and mentions the Policy on Confidential Sources, saying it is "available from the office of the associate managing editor for news administration or on the Newsroom home page under Policies."
The Times did not respond to a request for the latest version of the policy this week. Past links to the 2004 policy reach a dead page.
Since Daniel Okrent served as the first public editor from December 2003 to May 2005, four others have held that role (including Margaret Sullivan, who currently occupies the position).
Despite the public editor post and the confidential source policy, the paper has not overcome its problems with sources that seek anonymity.
The most recent example is the poor reporting on a supposed "criminal investigation" targeting Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state, which appeared in the paper last week sourced to anonymous "senior government officials." After publication, the Times had to issue corrections walking back two of the story's central claims -- that the requested probe was targeting Clinton herself, and that it was "criminal" in nature.
Stretching back to when the paper initially updated the story without issuing a formal correction, the Times has generally done a poor job managing the debacle.
The latest attempt at damage control was an editor's note issued Tuesday that said the approach to correcting the story had "left readers with a confused picture." But it did not explain how or why the paper got so much wrong.
It is clear, however, that one of the problems was relying on anonymous sources, and poor ones at that.
Sullivan wrote that two Times editors involved with the story -- executive editor Dean Baquet and deputy executive editor Matt Purdy -- agreed "that special care has to come with the use of anonymous sources." But Baquet was also quoted pinning much of the story's failure on those sources -- rather than Times staffers -- telling Sullivan, "You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral ... I'm not sure what they could have done differently on that."
As part of her prescription for how the paper could learn from the fiasco, Sullivan suggested the Times should discuss "the rampant use of anonymous sources."
This is far from the first time a public editor has pointed to anonymous sourcing as a pressing issue at the paper. A review of public editor columns dating back to Okrent's days finds numerous incidents in which the public editor at the time had to take the paper to task for its use, or misuse, of confidential sources.
"This post is the inaugural edition of an effort to point out some of the more regrettable examples of anonymous quotations in The Times," she wrote when it launched on March 18, 2014. "I've written about this from time to time, as have my predecessors, to little or no avail."
"My view isn't black and white: I recognize that there are stories -- especially those on the national security beat -- in which using confidential sources is important," Sullivan wrote in a June 2014 column. "And I acknowledge that some of the most important stories in the past several decades would have been impossible without their use. But, in my view, they are allowed too often and for reasons that don't clear the bar of acceptability, which should be set very high."
As Sullivan explained in an October 12, 2013, column, the Times' stylebook says, "Anonymity is a last resort."
Okrent, during his first year on the job in 2004, penned a lengthy review of anonymous sourcing, noting at the time the problems the paper had with properly explaining who sources were, adding, "The easiest reform to institute would turn the use of unidentified sources into an exceptional event."
He later stated, "it's worth reconsidering the entire nature of reportorial authority and responsibility. In other words, why quote anonymous sources at all? Do their words take on more credibility because they're flanked with quotation marks?"
Byron Calame, who held the public editor post from May 2005 to May 2007, also took anonymous sourcing to task on a few occasions.
In a November 30, 2005, column urging more transparency on such sources, Calame wrote, "Anonymous sourcing can be both a blessing and a curse for journalism -- and for readers," adding that top editors' "commitment to top-level oversight, and to providing sufficient editing attention to ignite those 'daily conversations' about sources, has to be sustained long after the recent clamor over the paper's use of anonymous sourcing has faded away."
He wrote on July 30, 2006, "Some realities of anonymous sourcing negotiations deserve to be noted, even if some people think they're obvious. When reporters accept anonymity demands, it's almost always because of one overriding reason that is seldom explicitly acknowledged: the reporter wanted or needed information that a reluctant source possessed. That's probably one reason some of The Times's past explanations for anonymity have been so absurd."
Clark Hoyt, who served as public editor from May 2007 to June 2010, broached the subject numerous times -- usually with sharp demands for skepticism and rarity in the use of such sourcing.
"The Times continues to hurt itself with readers by misusing anonymous sources," Hoyt wrote on April 17, 2010, in a column laying out a list of problematic examples. "Despite written ground rules to the contrary and promises by top editors to do better, The Times continues to use anonymous sources for information available elsewhere on the record. It allows unnamed people to provide quotes of marginal news value and to remain hidden with little real explanation of their motives, their reliability, or the reasons why they must be anonymous."
On March 21, 2009, Hoyt objected again to the overuse of confidential voices, stating, "The Times has a tough policy on anonymous sources, but continues to fall down in living up to it. That's my conclusion after scanning a sampling of articles published in all sections of the paper since the first of the year. This will not surprise the many readers who complain to me that the paper lets too many of its sources hide from public view."
The public editor prior to Sullivan was Arthur Brisbane, who served in the role from August 2010 to August 2012. He opined on the issue only a handful of times, according to Times archives.
Since Sullivan took over, however, she has made the issue a key part of her regular reviews, with the Clinton email reporting problems a clear example that the paper has not followed its own guidelines and has not adhered to the Times' legendary history of correcting even the most minute details.
When Dean Baquet says that it's hard to know what the reporters and editors on the botched Clinton story "could have done differently," he is failing to take into account the anonymous source lessons of the past, and the rebukes from public editors over the years.
A Department of Justice official reportedly contradicted a New York Times article on Hillary Clinton's email use, clarifying that the DOJ investigation into State Department email practices is not criminal, as was initially reported.
On July 23, the New York Times initially cited anonymous "senior government officials" to claim former Secretary of State Clinton was the target of a DOJ "criminal investigation" for her use of a private email account while at State.
The Times then made a major change to that report, walking it back to instead claim there was merely a referral from two inspector generals for a potential "criminal investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account." At the time, the paper said they would not issue a correction, claiming there had been no "factual error."
Now, however, Times' John Harwood reports a second major problem: the investigation is not actually "criminal." Harwood tweeted that a "Justice Dept official" was "contradicting earlier reports" to confirm that the "'referral' related to Hillary Clinton's email is NOT for a criminal investigation":
Justice Dept official says "referral" related to Hillary Clinton's email is NOT for a criminal investigation - contradicting earlier reports-- John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) July 24, 2015
Washington Post reporter Sari Horwitz similarly tweeted that the DOJ is "now correcting their earlier statement & saying the referral regarding Clinton emails was not a criminal inquiry."
It is currently unclear whether the multiple "senior government officials" the Times initially cited in their report are the same sources now reversing their statements, or if there are several officials leaking differing information.
Right-wing media are seizing on a New York Times report that misleadingly stated that Paul Begala sought "talking points" from the State Department before a CNN appearance to discuss Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state to attack the CNN contributor as biased. But in the email in question, Begala actually requested a "briefing," not talking points.
The New York Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan has now weighed in on The Times' misleading article advancing baseless industry allegations that the EPA illegally lobbied on behalf of clean water protections. But while Sullivan recognized that the article has some significant problems, she nonetheless defended it as a "solid story" overall.
Those who fault the article for not having its "to be sure" caveats up higher may have a point. And it's possible that the front-page display suggests what [Washington, D.C. reader Ben] Somberg calls a "smoking gun" that doesn't materialize -- though plenty of front-page stories lack that element.
But despite this acknowledgement, Sullivan came to the defense of the reporters who authored the story, declaring that the article "raises important questions" and that it is "a legitimate examination of a worthwhile issue." She also quoted an email from one of the reporters, Eric Lipton, who claimed the premise of the article is justified because "in the view of certain members of Congress, and opponents of the rule, [the EPA's actions] may have violated the Anti-Lobbying Law. That is what the article said."
But there is a major flaw in Lipton's logic -- and it's one that is not addressed in Sullivan's response. Just because opponents of the EPA are claiming the agency violated the Anti-Lobbying Act, that doesn't mean that claim is worthy of a story in The New York Times if it is a completely baseless allegation. And it is a completely baseless allegation.
From the April 23 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes
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From the March 3 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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A New York Times report finds that conservative members of Congress appear more often on Sunday news shows than liberal members, reaffirming Media Matters' data finding overall that guest appearances on Sunday news shows lean right.
A Times analysis of research collected by American University finds that the distribution of guest appearances by members of Congress on Sunday news shows favors conservatives by a margin of 57 percent to 42 percent. The report finds that the ideological tilt also applies to former Congressional members by nearly the same margin.
The parade of politicians on the Sunday morning talk shows veers to the right, not the left.
Conservative members of the current Congress have appeared more often on the network talk shows than their liberal counterparts. Senators and representatives from the conservative end of the ideological spectrum have made 57 percent of the appearances, compared with 42 percent for liberals, according to an Upshot analysis of data collected by American University.
When the Sunday shows have turned to former members of Congress, the same ideological pattern emerges: Conservatives have made 56 percent of the appearances, compared with 41 percent for liberals. As a group, the former conservative lawmakers were slightly more liberal than their current counterparts.
These findings reinforce an analysis from Media Matters that found guest appearances by elected and administration officials on Sunday broadcast news shows in 2013 favored Republicans on at least half of the shows, especially in solo interviews.
Ideology Of Guests On Sunday News Broadcast Shows: More Conservatives Than Progressives. Media Matters found that conservative guests outnumbered progressive guests on three of the four Sunday shows in 2013.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Conservatives Received Majority Of Solo Interviews On Three Of The Four Broadcast News Shows. Three of four Sunday shows also devoted a majority of their solo interviews to conservative guests.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Sunday Broadcast News Shows Invited More Conservative Journalist Guests Than Liberals. A Media Matters analysis found that all Sunday broadcast news shows in 2013 hosted more conservative journalists and pundits than liberals. Fox News Sunday had the largest imbalance with a 49 percent plurality of journalist guests being conservative and only 16 percent being progressive. On the other three broadcast news shows neutral journalists and pundits were the most common, followed by conservatives, and then progressives.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Sunday Broadcast News Shows Dramatically Leaned Conservative During George W. Bush's First Term. A Media Matters study found that during President Bush's first term, Republican/conservative guests outnumbered Democratic/progressive guests, 58 percent to 42 percent. Guest appearances by elected officials and administration representatives also favored Republicans during this period, 61 percent to 39 percent. [Media Matters, 2/14/06]
Footnote: All original analysis conducted by Rob Savillo.
The New York Times did not follow the advice of its public editor, who has argued the paper should report that the type of voter fraud that strict voter ID laws are supposed to prevent is virtually nonexistent. In the two-year period between her current and past request that the paper add "the truth" to "he said, she said" coverage on voter ID and voter fraud, the Times reported the evidence on in-person voter impersonation in only 15 of 28 articles.
The New York Times failed to disclose Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz's financial ties to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an op-ed it published on Cantor's loss.
On June 11, the Times offered Luntz a platform to analyze the surprise primary defeat of Cantor by challenger Dave Brat and discuss the failings of polls, which had predicted a Cantor victory. At the end of the op-ed, the Times noted that Luntz works as "a communications adviser and Republican pollster" and "is president of Luntz Global Partners, a consulting firm," but did not disclose Luntz's direct ties to the Cantor camp.
What the Times didn't mention is that Luntz Global has received more than $15,000 in consulting fees from Cantor's campaign since 2012. According to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Cantor paid Luntz Global $2,354 for "seminar expenses" on February 27, $5,000 for "speech consulting" on December 12, and $8,000 for "speech writing" on April 9, 2012.
CBS News has already come under fire for a similar failure to disclose Luntz's connections to the Cantor campaign after it turned to Luntz for political analysis of Cantor's loss. As Media Matters reported, veteran media critics and reporters slammed the omission: former New York Times media writer and director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University Alex S. Jones said that the lack of disclosure was either "bad" or "corrupt" journalism, and former Washington Post ombudsman Andy Alexander said:
It's Journalism 101. Anything that could impact the credibility of the person being interviewed should be disclosed. It's a matter of being honest and transparent with your audience.
Other media experts made similar points.
New York Times reporter Derek Willis responded to the Luntz piece by tweeting, "Did we really publish an oped from Frank Luntz without telling readers he *worked* for Cantor's campaign?"
Did we really publish an oped from Frank Luntz without telling readers he *worked* for Cantor's campaign? http://t.co/XMIFHoELUI-- Derek Willis (@derekwillis) June 12, 2014
While mainstream media coverage of the serious allegations of improper practices at certain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health clinics has been extensive in recent weeks, a bill to expand health care for veterans that was blocked by Senate Republicans in February received little attention.
The New York Times used the upcoming 2014 congressional elections to revive the lazy analysis that candidates who support stronger gun laws will be punished at the polls.
Since the 1994 election, the media -- often aided by flawed analysis from Democrats -- have baselessly claimed that an all-powerful National Rifle Association will motivate angry voters to defeat candidates who defy them.
This week the Times revived this tired claim when it suggested that the Democratic push for gun violence prevention is a political loser for the party:
Generally, however, the Democrats' Senate majority is at risk, which helps explain why the party has not tried to revive gun-safety legislation proposed after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. Few issues have hurt Democrats more among working-class white men over time.
While the Senate has not revived its gun-safety legislation after it failed to clear a procedural vote despite the support of 55 senators, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he plans to bring the bill back to the floor in 2014. Moreover, the Times' lazy analysis about the current political impact of stronger gun laws is simply unfounded.
Democratic Gun Policy Has Overwhelming Public Support. The policy that most Senate Democrats voted for in 2013 -- expanding the background check system to cover almost all gun sales - is incredibly popular with voters of all demographics, garnering support of up to 90 percent of respondents in several polls, even in deep red states. Even strong majorities of Republicans support the passage of the Senate bill.
Gun Safety Opponents Took A Political Hit After The Legislation Was Blocked. Senators of both parties who opposed the background check bill saw their political standing decline in the wake of their votes, including Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) -- who became "one of the most unpopular Senators in the country" after he told the mother of a victim of the Aurora theater shooting that he supported expanded background checks then voted against the bill -- along with Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). In each case, between 36 percent and 52 percent of voters said they'd be less likely to support their senator because of their vote.
Little Evidence Shows Guns Are An Electoral Loser For Democrats. While the myth that the NRA is capable of punishing Democrats who support stronger gun laws has been bandied about for two decades, a closer look at electoral results reveals that the group's impact is minimal. After reviewing the results of every House and Senate race in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010, Paul Waldman determined that both the NRA's endorsement and its spending has virtually no impact on congressional election results. And despite spending more than it ever had before in 2012, the NRA's chosen candidates were devastated. The NRA failed to achieve its main goal, the defeat of President Obama, and also backed the losing Senate candidate in six out of its top seven targeted races. Over two-thirds of House incumbents who lost their seats were endorsed by the NRA. One study found that less than one percent of $10,536,106 spent by an NRA political group went to races where the NRA-backed candidate won.
A Pro-Gun Safety Candidate Won Virginia's Governorship in 2013. The 2013 gubernatorial elections provided an excellent test case for the theory that support for sensible gun laws damages Democratic candidates. In Virginia, a quintessential swing state in the South, Democrat Terry McAuliffe ran on his support of expanded background checks and defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who opposed that policy. Guns were a major issue in the campaign, to the surprise of media observers who considered it a loser for McAuliffe -- shortly before the election, The Washington Post wrote of him, "For once, a Democrat is talking tough about gun control, as if daring the National Rifle Association to take him on." McAuliffe wasn't the only Virginia Democrat to win statewide while championing stronger gun laws. After Mark Herring was elected Virginia's Attorney General, his campaign manager attributed the victory to ignoring the conventional wisdom and running on Herring's "strong record and advocacy for sensible gun legislation." Both Democrats withstood hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending from the NRA.