In May, O'Reilly Factor host Bill O'Reilly told Fox News political analyst Dick Morris that because he was "so far out on the limb" predicting a Romney win in the presidential election, if Obama were to be re-elected Morris would be "through" and "selling refrigerators in Topeka." Seven months later, following Obama's comfortable re-election, Morris isn't selling appliances in Kansas (that we know of), but he's the laughingstock of the political pundit class and has temporarily been benched at Fox News.
Like most other years of Morris' media career, 2012 was marked by terribly inaccurate election predictions, habitual dishonesty, and questionable ethical conflicts. Unlike most other years, however, Morris appears to actually be facing consequences and backlash for his role as America's Worst Political Pundit.
After Morris made more than fifteen appearances on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On the Record in October and early November, he's been absent from the network's primetime lineup since November 12 following reports that producers now have to get special permission to book him (or Karl Rove) on their shows. He has also been publicly criticized by numerous media ethicists from prominent newspapers and universities, countless political writers and reporters in the U.S. (and abroad), donors to his shady super PAC, and his colleagues at The Hill newspaper.
Appearing on Fox & Friends the day before the election to discuss his prediction of a "landslide" Romney victory, Morris said of the various people predicting an Obama win, "either I'm gonna have to go through a big reckoning, or they are. And you know what? They are."
It was another prediction that wouldn't shake out.
Reporters at The Hill newspaper are levying tough criticism at the publication's columnist Dick Morris following recent outlandish predictions that caused Fox News to restrict his time on the air.
"I think everyone at The Hill views him the way that people outside The Hill do," said one staffer. "He is a laughingstock, especially the way he acted in this last election."
"I don't think people take his column seriously," added another. "What did he predict, 300 electoral votes for Romney?"
New York magazine's Gabe Sherman reported December 4 that segments involving Morris and fellow Fox News political analyst Karl Rove would now require approval from a top network executive. He explained of Morris:
Inside Fox News, Morris's Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line. At a rehearsal on the Saturday before the election, according to a source, anchor Megyn Kelly chuckled when she relayed to colleagues what someone had told her: "I really like Dick Morris. He's always wrong but he makes me feel good."
Morris had used his Fox perch to offer an array of outlandish predictions, including repeated claims that Mitt Romney would win the presidency by a "landslide," Republicans would pick up 10 Senate seats, and stating it was "very possible" President Obama would drop out of the race altogether.
The commentator's record at The Hill was not much better, using his widely-mocked final columns before Election Day to predict a Romney "landslide" of more than 5 points in the popular vote and several GOP Senate victories.
But while Fox News - famously lacking accountability - has decided to reduce Morris' appearances in response to his embarrassing commentary, The Hill appears to be taking no such steps. And that concerns some of the paper's reporters who worry that his work adversely affects their brand.
"If it was up to me, I would not have him as a columnist, but it's not up to me," said a third reporter. "His columns are wildly outlandish. I think that he, as evidenced by this [interview], he probably brings more negative attention than positive to the paper."
A November 19 article in The Hill repeated the false claim that the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty -- a proposal to crack down on the supply of weapons to human rights abusers -- poses a threat to private gun ownership in the United States.
In a piece that relied entirely on a House Resolution filed in opposition to the ATT, Hill reporter Pete Kasperowicz also credulously repeated suggestions that the treaty could impact assistance to Israel and Taiwan. In fact, both of these claims are contradicted by the text of the proposed treaty itself and by basic United Nations procedure.
Throughout the entire article, Kasperowicz does not cite any authorities to provide deeper context for the ATT, relying instead on the text of the House Resolution filed by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), which is quoted at length. From The Hill:
The resolution, whose main sponsor is Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), argues that the ATT does not recognize the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms, and thus threatens to undermine the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
The ATT's draft preamble clearly "reaffirm[s] the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems." Furthermore, the Department of State has also declared that the United States will oppose any final treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
From the November 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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The Hill recently published two falsehood-filled columns by Dick Morris suggesting that President Obama will subjugate the United States to the United Nations.
In a column posted yesterday, Morris claimed that "[s]ecretly, behind closed doors, the nations of the world are negotiating a treaty -- initiated by Russia and China -- to regulate the Internet through the United Nations" that will be signed in December in Dubai. Yet Morris conveniently omitted one relevant fact: The United States opposes any such regulation.
The White House has repeatedly said it "opposes the extension of intergovernmental controls over the Internet" and has "vowed to block any proposals from Russia and other countries that they believe threaten the Internet's current governing structure or give tacit approval to online censorship."
Indeed, Reuters reported that the U.S. has been "trying to drum up support, both domestically and internationally, to preserve a decentralized Internet" and quoted an unnamed State Department official stating: "This is one of those circumstances where I think it's fair to say there's absolute unanimity. I don't believe you'd find any dissent at all to the view that we would like to keep the Internet free of inter-governmental controls."
Morris previously claimed during a Republican fundraiser that Obama has "secret plans particularly to force UN regulation of the Internet."
In a separate Hill column posted on October 8, Morris claimed that Obama "will invite the United Nations to tax Americans directly" and claimed that "Obama, Hillary and the U.N. are planning" to enact a "U.N.-imposed tax on billionaires all over the world" that would somehow "gradually grow downwards to cover more and more Americans."
However, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations has stated that it opposes global taxes. A spokesperson told FoxNews.com: "The United States opposes global taxes because we believe that any source of revenue should remain under the control of national authorities. This is an idea that has been kicked around for years. Fortunately, it hasn't gone anywhere, nor will it."
In what is likely a first for a major political party, one of the themes for the GOP's nominating convention next week is built around a falsehood. When Republicans meet in Tampa on Tuesday, the banner will be "We Built It," which plays off the manufactured controversy this summer in which conservatives, led by Fox News, claimed President Obama insulted small businessmen and women by supposedly saying they hadn't built their own success.
Speaking to supporters for nearly an hour in Roanoke, VA. on July 13, the president touched on the topic of small business success and the collective forces that shape it, such as the U.S. infrastructure and teachers. Fox quickly claimed Obama insulted small business owners by telling them of their accomplishments, "you didn't build that." (He was referring to the "this unbelievable American system" which includes the "roads and bridges.")
Obama's opponents succeeded in concocting an uproar over a single sentence from an Obama campaign appearance by ripping it out of context. They were able to do that despite being debunked by fact-checker ("out of context"), after fact-checker ("taken wildly out of context") after fact-checker ("ignores the larger context of the president's meaning") after fact-checker ("that quote distorts the meaning of Obama's claim").
Nonetheless, through the sheer force of repetition, as well as taking advantage of a timid press corps that too often suggested the meaning of Obama's comment was somehow in dispute (or a press corps that didn't even care), "build that" has lived on and is now being revived in time for Tampa.
The question now is will the press allow Republicans to get away with it again? Or will the press do its job and point out that the party's "build that" attack revolves around a Fox-fueled falsehood?
Early indications are not encouraging.
Fact-checkers have said that nearly every claim made in the latest Romney ad attacking green energy investments and the stimulus is misleading or false. Yet on The O'Reilly Factor, Lou Dobbs said "Basically [the ad is] true," and he and O'Reilly went on to amplify several of the misleading attacks in the ad.
On Wednesday, The Hill turned an undiscriminating spotlight on a new Republican effort to, as The Hill put it, "block the EPA from using drones." From the article:
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and 11 other House members introduced a bill Tuesday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from conducting aerial drone surveillance of farms to enforce the Clean Water Act, or using any other overhead surveillance.
"Unemployment has been at or above 8 percent for 30 consecutive months. Is conducting flyovers of family farms across the country really the best use of taxpayer money?" Capito asked on Tuesday.
In fact, flyovers are exactly that -- a cost-saving measure, as the Washington Post reported last week:
This is the part that's true: for more than a decade, EPA inspectors have flown over farmland in small private planes -- the traditional kind of aircraft, with people inside them. The inspectors are looking for clean-water violations, like dirty runoff or manure dumped into a stream.
The EPA says the flights are legal under a 1986 Supreme Court decision. And they're cheap: an on-the-ground inspection might cost $10,000, but it costs just $1,000 to $2,500 to survey the same farm by air.
An agency spokesman said these flights are not happening more frequently now than in the past.
What's worse, the Hill story also ignores the fact that the GOP bill is designed in part to solve a problem that has never existed. Despite the manufactured outrage by Republicans, the EPA has never used drones, and the right-wing myth that the agency was "spying" on farmers with unmanned vehicles has been roundly debunked for some time.
The jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning showed that 115,000 jobs were created in April, and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 percent. Reacting to the report on Fox & Friends, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called it "very, very disappointing" and said: "We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery."
Romney's comments were reported by ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others. In each instance, these outlets simply quoted Romney's target for job growth of 500,000-plus per month.
Some context is sorely needed here.
Since 1939, monthly job growth has exceeded 500,000 a grand total of sixteen times, according to BLS. It's happened only five times since the end of the Eisenhower administration: March 1978, April 1978, September 1983, September 1997, and May 2010.
To put that in perspective, monthly job growth that exceeds 500,000 happens with roughly the same frequency as perfect games in baseball, of which there have been 19 since 1900. (Not an exact comparison, of course, but it illustrates the infrequency.)
The vanishing rarity of such explosive job creation should have been mentioned when reporting Romney's call for sustained growth at that rate.
Dick Morris's failure to disclose his financial ties to political entities he writes about for The Hill brought sharp criticism from journalism veterans and news ethicists, one of whom accused the Fox News analyst of breaking an "ethical commandment."
The top editor of The Hill, meanwhile, declined to admit that the newspaper or the columnist had done anything wrong, even as media critics called out the paper's failure to police Morris's column.
In a statement to Media Matters, Hugo Gurdon, the editor-in-chief of The Hill, said:
Our comment pages publish opinion pieces from people on the left and the right who are active in partisan politics. We're confident that our readers know this, but we will continue to make additional disclosures where we think this is necessary.
Asked to elaborate further on Morris's specific actions and whether the paper would subject his work to greater scrutiny in the future, editors at The Hill did not respond.
At issue are several instances identified by Media Matters in which Morris, a well-known conservative political consultant, wrote columns for The Hill, but failed to disclose his financial ties to some subjects of the columns.
In one column earlier this month, Morris attacked "RINO Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.)" for supporting the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The column did not disclose that Morris had headlined a September 2011 fundraiser for Lugar's Republican primary opponent, Richard Mourdock. The Mourdock campaign had also rented Morris's email list in July 2011 for a donation solicitation, which featured an appeal from Morris.
Morris's practice brought criticism from Howard Kurtz on his CNN Reliable Sources program Sunday.
After reading a comment from Gurdon in which the Hill editor said that the paper's readers "are being kept well-informed" about their columnists' potential conflicts of interest, Kurtz commented that those readers "should be kept a little more well-informed."
From the February 26 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Over the past several years, The Hill has published numerous columns by Dick Morris analyzing political groups or races in which he had a financial interest. In these cases, neither The Hill nor Morris disclosed his financial connections to readers.
The Hill's lack of disclosure on Morris include:
Morris has also repeatedly discussed candidates and organizations on Fox News without disclosing his financial connections to them. After the Associated Press questioned Morris and Fox News last December about his promotions of Republican presidential candidates, Morris went on Fox News and admitted that he's taken money from certain candidates.
The AP's David Bauder subsequently wrote about Morris and noted that "advocates for ethics in journalism tend to lean toward full disclosure of conflicts caused by relationships between politicians and on-air reporters or commentators." Does that ethics policy apply to The Hill with Morris?
Requests for comment to The Hill were not returned.
Early on in the Obama presidency, The Hill published a news analysis piece on the "meaninglessness of the 24/7 news cycle." Author Scott Nance counseled the journalists "who contribute to the multimedia cacophony" to "rethink their place in the universe," and reserved special ire for the contrived narrative that the president -- by default the most visible public figure in the country, perhaps the world -- could possibly be "overexposed" [via Nexis]:
And, in perhaps the greatest irony of all for those who are themselves the ones feeding and perpetuating the constant stream of mostly soundbites and general bloviation that calls itself news and analysis -- you would think that Obama himself is just talking too darn much under some threat of being "overexposed."
Like the proverbial game of telephone, these storylines just get more exaggerated and overblown as they are repeated to fill TV airtime, column inches in a newspaper, or lines of text on blogs.
That Obama proved the truth of that this week with his primetime White House press conference probably says as much, or more, about how pointless much of the so-called 24/7 news cycle really is, as it does about the president himself.
Sure, people are real angry about AIG greed, but most Americans continue to express confidence in Obama and his policies. Following Tuesday's primetime presidential press conference -- and after a week of Obama getting hammered for being under attack and "overexposed" -- a national study among 1,375 Americans revealed that confidence levels increased among both Democrats and independents regarding the president's approach to the nation's critical issues like the economy, education, and the federal budget. Confidence levels decreased only among Republicans, a group likely to have a negative impression of Obama anyway.
That advice appears not to have been fully absorbed.
Earlier today I asked whether American news outlets would do their due diligence in evaluating the content of the newly-released batch of "Climategate" emails hacked from the University of East Anglia two years ago. It didn't take long for our esteemed print outlets to disappoint.
Writing on the Washington Post's website, Juliet Eilperin quotes an email exchange that she said was about "whether the IPCC has accurately depicted the temperature rise in the lower atmosphere":
In one round of e-mails, researchers discuss whether the IPCC has accurately depicted the temperature rise in the lower atmosphere. An official from the U.K. Met Office, a scientific organization which analyzes the climate, writes to the Climate Research Unit's former director Phil Jones at one point, "Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these further if necessary [...]"
Later, the official adds, "I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run."
Astoundingly, Eilperin does not tell readers that these email exchanges took place in February 2005 and were about the first draft of a chapter of the IPCC report released two years later. The emails depict the authors of the chapter hashing out what should be included -- exactly what you would expect this process to look like.
After providing comments on the draft, then-Met Office official Peter Thorne wrote: "I'm pretty sure we can reconcile these things relatively simply. However, I certainly would be unhappy to be associated with it if the current text remains through final draft - I'm absolutely positive it won't."
So were his concerns addressed in the final draft? If only we had reporters who asked these questions. For his part, The Hill's Ben Geman simply repeats what Eilperin reported, while admitting that he hasn't even "been able to view the newly released emails."
On the same day Fox News analyst/hype man-for-hire Dick Morris released a DickMorris.com video and column in The Hill promoting the electability of Newt Gingrich, Gingrich's campaign rented Morris' email list to send out a fundraising appeal.
Gingrich is now the third GOP presidential candidate paying Morris during the primary, following Herman Cain, whose campaign has sponsored at least nine emails to Morris' list, and Michele Bachmann, whose campaign has sponsored at least three. Several of the Cain and Bachmann emails were promoting softball interviews Morris had conducted with the candidates, with the emails indicating that they were "paid for" by the campaigns.
Monday night on Fox, Morris may have set the new land-speed record for violating disclosure ethics.
Morris joined Sean Hannity to discuss the state of the GOP primary and what Morris described as the "incredible field we have." Morris praised Cain (who is paying him) as "one of the most charismatic politicians" since Obama and declared that he is "now immune from the charges of sexual harassment." He said that Gingrich (who is paying him) "knows it all" and is "the smartest person in the room." After declaring that it was likely a three-way race between Cain, Gingrich and Romney at this point, Morris hastened to add that "I don't think you can count out Bachmann" (who is paying him).