Since Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) announced his presidential campaign, the media has largely ignored the controversy over his attempt to gut Wisconsin's open records laws while continuing to obsess over Hillary Clinton's emails.
Walker, working with other Republicans in Wisconsin, inserted a measure in the proposed state budget that would, as the Associated Press reported, "shield nearly everything created by state and local government officials from Wisconsin's open records law, including drafts of legislation and staff communications." The provision was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats in the state, with one state senator, Robert Cowles (R - Green Bay), describing it as an "assault on democracy."
As the controversy grew, it became clear Walker's office was involved in drafting the provision. The Wisconsin State Journal noted the controversy began to heat up "barely a week before Walker was scheduled to announce a bid for the 2016 presidential nomination." The provision was then pulled.
Yet, national media largely ignored the story after months of coverage of Hillary Clinton's emails and the issue of transparency.
Around the time of Walker's July 13 presidential announcement, the open records controversy was barely mentioned. A USA Today op-ed from a Wisconsin Democrat noted it, as did the Washington Post, along with a short mention in a CNN report.
Fox's Sean Hannity interviewed Walker on the evening of his announcement, asking what he thought about "somebody that erases not only their e-mails and then their server" but never brought up Walker's open records problem or the bipartisan backlash.
At the same time, the media continued to bring up the Clinton email story - the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Fox News during Special Report, Hannity, and The Kelly File, and MSNBC on Hardball. Often the Clinton emails were still being referenced despite the absence of any relevant news. The State Department disclosure of some of the emails produced anodyne highlights like inter-office discussions about the use of a fax machine and iced tea.
As they reported on these conversations, Walker's gambit barely registered with the national press despite the furor in Wisconsin.
The media has previously exhibited this double standard on covering transparency issues within the context of covering the 2016 presidential campaign. When disclosing his emails from his time as governor of Florida, Jeb Bush omitted emails he determined were not relevant to the public record - including emails related to "politics, fundraising and personal matters while he was governor."
Even when it became known that Bush had discussed security and troop deployments using his private email, the press barely noticed, still focusing on the Clinton story.
Last week, the Associated Press helped dictate campaign coverage for a news cycle when it emphasized how its latest poll showed Hillary Clinton's favorable ratings falling.
"The survey offers a series of warning signs for the leading Democratic candidate," the AP warned, suggesting its survey results were "troubling" for the Democratic frontrunner. Despite the fact that the AP's own poll found that a vast majority of Democratic voters view Clinton favorably, the article included interviews with three Democratic voters, all of whom gave Clinton negative reviews.
The excited AP dispatch set off a new round of Clinton-in-trouble coverage by news organizations that reprinted the AP's survey results:
And at the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza pounced on the AP's polling data and announced it was all very bad news for Clinton.
But notice what information was buried in the 18th and final paragraph of the AP's report on Clinton's falling favorable ratings [emphasis added]:
Clinton's bad marks weren't unique: Nearly all of the Republican candidates surveyed in the poll shared her underwater approval ratings. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a leading GOP candidate, saw his unfavorable ratings rise to 44% from 36% in April.
Bush's favorable ratings, which have been underwater all year, lag behind Clinton's in the latest AP poll (31 percent Bush, 39 percent Clinton) and his unfavorable ratings are on the rise? Correct. But at the AP, there were no warnings about what those "troubling" numbers mean for Bush's campaign, and there were no AP interviews with Republican voters voicing their disappointment in the candidate.
For the AP, Jeb Bush and his soft poll numbers were clearly not the story. They barely even garnered a footnote.
Welcome to the often-baffling world of polling reporting for the 2016 campaign, where perceived dips by Clinton are obsessed over by the press while Bush stumbles rarely draw interest.
The famous Republican scion from a family whose supporters have raised over $100 million in campaign funds trails a buffoonish celebrity in several recent polls? The press doesn't really think that's a big story for Bush's candidacy. Imagine if Clinton were suddenly overwhelmed by a political outsider on the Democratic side, the doom-and-gloom commentary would be all-consuming.
What is a big story, apparently, is the state of Clinton's favorable ratings.
There's no real mystery why the press downplays polling results that show Clinton with a commanding lead and hypes surveys that show that gap closing, or her popularity supposedly slumping. "Coronations are boring," noted Nate Silver, as he recently highlighted deficiencies in the media's polling coverage. Journalists would "rather see a competitive Democratic primary, which means more to talk about and analyze."
The problem for the press is that, the AP survey notwithstanding, Clinton has enjoyed a nice run of polling results in recent days and weeks.
That last Iowa poll may be the most telling in terms of the very peculiar news coverage that Clinton polls produce, simply because there was essentially a news blackout surrounding the survey's results compared to polls that show a tightening race.
For instance in early July, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Clinton's Iowa lead shrinking to 19 points and the New York Times wrote up a separate news dispatch just about that poll. Just six days later, a We Ask America poll was released showing Clinton with a 40-plus point lead in Iowa. The New York Times reaction? It simply ignored it, as did virtually every news organization in America.
It didn't fit the script.
The last oddity: There's an entrenched pattern of media polls echoing Republican talking points about Clinton and her honesty.
Note this from Fox News:
But here's the possible trouble for Clinton in the general election: 70 percent of voters overall say that a candidate who is sometimes less than honest is a "deal breaker" for their vote -- and a 58-percent majority believes Clinton's natural instincts lean more toward "hiding the truth" than "telling the truth" (33 percent).
What is odd is that Fox never asked voters about Bush's trustworthiness, or any other Republican candidate's trustworthiness. Fox only asked about Clinton.
The same was true of a poll released in June by CNN: "A growing number of people say she is not honest and trustworthy." How did Clinton's "trust" score compare with Bush's? We don't know because CNN didn't ask if voters trust Bush.
And yes, the latest AP poll is guilty of the same imbalance -- it asks if Clinton is "honest," types up the results as bad news for the Democrat, but doesn't pose that query about Bush, or any of the Republican candidates.
Why the persistent double standard?
Does anyone remember the rope line kerfuffle that broke out between reporters and Mitt Romney's campaign team in May 2012? After the Republican nominee addressed supporters in St. Petersburg, Florida, campaign aides tried to restrict reporters from getting to the rope line where the candidate was greeting audience members.
As the incident unfolded, Kasie Hunt from the Associated Press tweeted, "Campaign staff and volunteers trying to physically prevent reporters from approaching the rope line to ask questions of Romney." And from CNN's Jim Acosta: "Romney campaign and Secret Service attempted to keep press off ropeline so no q's to candidate on Bain." (Bain Capital is the investment firm Romney co-founded.)
Contrast that with the media wildfire that broke out over the Fourth of July weekend this summer when Hillary Clinton marched in the Gorham, New Hampshire parade. Surrounded by throngs of reporters who jumped into the parade route to cover the event, Clinton's aides created a moving roped-off zone around Clinton to give her more space.
The maneuver produced images of journalists temporarily corralled behind a rope, which most observers agreed made for bad campaign optics.
Note that like Romney's episode on the rope line when reporters objected to being barred from overhearing the candidate interact with voters, journalists in New Hampshire were upset they couldn't hear Clinton greet parade spectators. But this story was hardly a minor one. It created an avalanche of coverage -- nearly two weeks later journalists still reference it as a major event.
It's interesting to note that during his 2012 campaign, Romney often distanced himself from the campaign press and provided limited access, the same allegations being made against Clinton this year. But the way the press covered the two media strategies stands in stark contrast.
That's not to suggest Romney's avoidance of the press wasn't covered as news four years ago. It clearly was. But looking back, it's impossible to miss the difference in tone, and the sheer tonnage of the coverage. Four years ago the campaign press calmly detailed Romney's attempts to sidestep the national press (minus Fox News), versus the very emotional, often angry ("reporters are being penned off like farm animals"), and just weirdly personal dispatches regarding Hillary's press strategy.
In a 2011 article, the Huffington Post interviewed reporters about how Romney was employing a much more closed-off press strategy compared to his 2008 campaign. The article featured quotes from Beltway journalists like the Washington Post's Dan Balz saying that while Romney had been more "open and available" in his 2008 campaign, during the 2012 cycle, "In general, I think they have kept him as much as possible out of the press spotlight ... And I think it's part of what has been their overall strategy, which has been to act like a frontrunner and not do a lot of interviews."
By contrast, the New York Times, reporting on Clinton's press relationship, recently described her as a "regal" "freak" who "seems less a presidential candidate than a historical figure, returning to claim what is rightfully hers." Slate noted "the political press has turned noticeably hostile in the face of her silence." And the Daily Beast wanted to know why Clinton was so "determined" to "infuriate the press."
So when Clinton's standoffish with the press, she's deliberately trying to "infuriate" journalists. But when Romney was standoffish, he was just employing a frontrunner strategy.
Why the blatant double standard? Why the steeper grading curve for the Democrat?
Are the Romney and Clinton press scenarios identical? Probably not. But they do seem awfully similar. Note that in February 2012, ABC News reported that "Romney last held a press conference in Atlanta on Feb. 8, and has not done so again since. Wednesday is the two week mark." Two months later, not much had changed: "Reporters yelled questions at Romney yesterday on the rope line after a speech prebutting this summer's Democratic National Convention -- to no avail. Romney has not taken questions from the press since March 16 in Puerto Rico."
That dispatch came on April 19, which meant at the time Romney hadn't taken a question from the national press in more than a month, and that was during the heart of the Republican primary season. But where was the Washington Post's running clock to document the last time Romney fielded a question, and the New York Times special section to feature hypothetical questions to ask Romney if and when he next spoke to the press?
When Romney ignored the national media for more than a month in 2012 the press mostly shrugged. When Hillary did something similar this year, the press went bonkers, sparking "an existential crisis among the national press corps," according to Slate.
And that may be an understatement. The coverage of Clinton's treatment of the press has become a truly boundless genre of commentary. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
And that's just a sampling.
For whatever reason, the Beltway press signaled a long time ago that the press was going to be a central topic during the Clinton campaign and the press was going to write a lot about how the press felt about Clinton's relationship with the press. (Media critic Jay Rosen has dismissed some of the media's campaign complaints as being nonsensical.)
We've certainly never seen anything like this in modern campaigns. And it certainly did not happen with Romney four years ago.
Media outlets called out a conservative group for deceptively editing a video purporting to show a Planned Parenthood official discussing prices for the illegal sale of fetal tissue from abortions. As many articles pointed out, the full, unedited footage shows the official discussing the reimbursement cost of consensual, legal tissue donations.
When the story of Hillary Clinton's private email account first broke in March, the Beltway media's response resembled barely controlled hysteria as pundits searched for adjectives to describe the impending political doom in store for Clinton.
Ron Fournier at National Journal immediately announced that perhaps Clinton shouldn't even bother running for president, the damage she faced was so grave. And New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wondered if the revelation meant Clinton had a secret political "death wish."
According to the nattering nabobs of negativism (to borrow a phrase), the revelation that Clinton had used a private email server while secretary of state was possibly the story that would doom Clinton's White House hopes.
As the media firestorm raged, the State Department announced it would release 55,000 pages of former Secretary of State Clinton's emails next January. But a U.S. District Court ordered the department to release portions of the email archive on a monthly basis. The first batch was released in May, and the second round, or roughly 3,000 emails, came late last week. Clinton has always said she welcomed the emails being made public. And now we know why.
Among the "highlights" from the latest email revelations, a story that has at times consumed the Beltway press? She once emailed then-Center for American Progress chief John Podesta to "Please wear socks to bed to keep your feet warm." She on one occasion requested some iced tea. In June 2009, she wrote aides, "I heard on the radio that there is a Cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?"
That October, Clinton sent an email to longtime confidante Sidney Blumenthal, asking in the subject line, "Are you still awake?" The body of the email read, "I will call if you are." (That Clinton emailed with Blumenthal has been treated as very big news, although there's rarely a press explanation as for why it's treated that way.)
More scintillating insights? Clinton emailed an assistant to get the phone number of Judge Sonia Maria Sotomayor so Clinton could congratulate her on being nominated for the Supreme Court. Clinton once sent senior advisor Jake Sullivan an appreciative email, telling him what good work he was doing. And of course, there was the media's never-ending fax-machine coverage, detailing the trivial back-and-forth between Clinton and her aide as they struggled to get a piece of office equipment to work.
So since March, we've gone from breathless claims that Clinton's emails might end her presidential hopes, to reporting about how Clinton's emails revealed she was flummoxed by the office fax machine.
In other words, the story has traveled from scandal to farce in just four months' time.
Three months after a Columbia University investigation found major journalistic errors in a Rolling Stone report on campus sexual assault at the University of Virginia, major news outlets say they have not adjusted their approach to covering similar stories. But rape survivor advocates say they have seen less coverage of the issue since the failures of the Rolling Stone report came to light, and, in some cases, an increased hesitancy in trusting survivors' accounts.
The November 2014 Rolling Stone article "A Rape on Campus" prominently featured the story of "Jackie," a pseudonymous University of Virginia student who told the outlet she was gang-raped in 2012 at a fraternity party.
After initially receiving praise, the article came under fire for an apparent failure to seek comment from the alleged suspects. Other factual questions arose, prompting Rolling Stone to commission an investigation with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and its dean, Steve Coll.
That investigation, released in early April, found the Rolling Stone story was a "journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine's editors to reconsider publishing Jackie's narrative so prominently, if at all."
Though the report outlined specific failures in the Rolling Stone editorial process (while declining to adjudicate exactly what happened to "Jackie"), it also pointed to broader problems in how all outlets cover sexual assault, and offered some suggestions on "how journalists might begin to define best practices when reporting about rape cases on campus or elsewhere." It recommended, for example, that journalists spend time further deliberating how best to balance sensitivity to victims with the demands of verification, and how best to corroborate survivor accounts.
In interviews with Media Matters, editors from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and other outlets said they have not adjusted their approach to covering the stories of rape survivors in light of the Rolling Stone mess and the resulting Columbia report.
Several editors said that the Rolling Stone saga would not cause them to believe survivors less or hesitate to publicize their stories.
"I don't think that story holds any larger lessons about rape coverage, or whether one should believe alleged assault victims," New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet told Media Matters via email. "It was a poorly-done story ... It doesn't make me any more or less likely to believe a source. We always verify, get the other side, and report the heck out of a story, no matter the subject."
Other editors who spoke with Media Matters maintain their coverage will be unaffected.
"It hasn't, or won't change how we view these stories," said David Callaway, editor of USA Today. "I always thought the idea that news organizations would cut back on their coverage because of one poor example seemed a bit far-fetched. We still get people coming to us with stories or requests for coverage many times a day, and the ones we choose to go after we only pursue if we can verify. We have detailed guidelines on sourcing and fairness in coverage and we have no plans to change those in the wake of the Rolling Stone debacle."
Fossil fuel advocates are criticizing Pope Francis' recent climate encyclical, claiming his call to phase out fossil fuels will harm the poor by preventing access to electricity and keeping them in "energy poverty." But fossil fuels are not economically viable in most of the communities that suffer from a lack of electricity, and on-the-ground experts have explained that distributed renewable energy sources are often a more effective way to lift the world's impoverished -- who will be most affected by the adverse impacts of climate change -- out of energy poverty.
Media coverage of Texas' restrictive anti-abortion legislation often presents a false equivalence between arguments from proponents of the legislation and women's health advocates, despite medical experts agreement that such measures are dangerous to women.
The Supreme Court temporarily blocked implementation of two provisions of Texas' extreme efforts to restrict abortion through a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law. The provisions in question required all clinics providing abortions "in the state to meet the standards for 'ambulatory surgical centers,' including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing," The New York Times explained, and required doctors who performed the procedure "to have admitting privileges at nearby hospital[s]."
Media coverage of Texas' anti-abortion laws often provides equal coverage to both sides of the debate, at the expense of fact-checking anti-abortion proponents who claim, against the advice of medical experts, that the legislation helps women, as Amanda Marcotte noted in a July 2 post for RH Reality Check. Pointing to a recent article from NPR on the Supreme Court's move to temporarily block the state's restrictions, Marcotte explained that although the piece's efforts to quote both sides "is not, in itself, an issue," a statement from a representative from Texas Right to Life, which claimed the law was simply meant to protect women's health, went unquestioned. "What is frustrating is that there is not a whiff of an effort to provide actual real-world facts to give the audience context," wrote Marcotte. She went on:
NPR framed the story like it was two parties making value claims, with no way to measure their statements against evidence. The problem here is that the debate is not about values. Both sides claim to have the same goal--protecting women's health--and the fight is over who has a better strategy to get there.
Similarly, in their reporting on the Supreme Court's block, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal each included statements from both sides of the debate arguing that they were protecting women's health while failing to note that medical experts don't support the legislation.
Health experts have roundly backed abortion access advocates in their assertion that laws of this nature are both medically unnecessary and dangerous to women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Health Association condemned such measures in a joint amicus brief, writing that the measure to be implemented in Texas "jeopardize[s] the health of women" and "denies them access" to safe abortions. Yet despite the health community's denouncement of the provisions, the media often fails to interrogate anti-abortion proponents' false claims on the law.
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.
Mainstream media consistently fail to question GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie's self-promotion as a "straight talking" "truth-teller," but he consistently lies and misrepresents his record in interviews and speeches.
Several months into the 2016 presidential campaign, the media is frequently failing to fact-check statements by presidential candidates denying the science of climate change. Seven major newspapers and wire services surveyed by Media Matters have thus far failed to indicate that candidates' statements conflict with the scientific consensus in approximately 43 percent of their coverage, while the major broadcast and cable news outlets other than MSNBC have failed to do so 75 percent of the time.
Evening news programs on cable and broadcast news channels were completely silent in the immediate aftermath of a Washington Post story about business dealings by Jeb Bush "that raised questions about his judgment and exposed him to reputational risk." Their complete lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the nearly three hours of coverage by cable and broadcast evening news programs devoted to The New York Times' faulty allegation that Hillary Clinton's State Department was influenced by Clinton Foundation donors when it signed off on the purchase of Uranium One the same day the story came out.
Chris Christie "reduces me to a 14-year-old girl at a Beatles concert." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, December 20, 2010.
"Chris Christie is someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical." Mark Halperin appearing on Meet The Press, November 10 2013.
It's hard to miss the aura of a letdown that surrounds the news coverage of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's long-awaited announcement of his presidential candidacy. Set to address supporters today at his alma mater of Livingston High School in New Jersey, Christie enters a very crowded Republican field of White House hopefuls and does so with some extraordinary baggage, which explains the Hail Mary flavor of the coverage, which comes with almost a tinge of sadness, or what-could-have-been regret.
Detailing his "long-shot presidential bid," Politico noted it now revolves around a "bank-shot strategy, a narrowly tailored approach that leaves Christie with little room for error." The Associated Press headlined its article, "As He Launches 2016 Bid, Christie Embraces Underdog Role."
Starting with the Bridgegate revelations in January 2014, Christie has been riding a year-and-a-half worth of bad news that has translated into his lowest approval ratings ever in New Jersey. Christie hasn't just drifted off course. His political standing has completely collapsed to the point where it's not clear whether he will even qualify to be among the 10 candidates on the stage of the first Fox News-sponsored debate.
Yet of all the announced Republican candidates -- and those still queuing up this summer -- Christie without question enjoyed the most unique and encouraging relationship with the Beltway press corps. For years there was an almost tribal affection for Christie and his bullying personality among the Acela media class. (aka The "liberal" media.)
It was a strange, cozy relationship that's worth recalling on the eve of his candidacy. Rarely has the political pundit class bet so heavily on a particular politician. And rarely has a bet paid off as poorly as the media's wager on Christie.
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan believes the paper is making progress when it comes to using the more accurate term "denier" -- rather than "skeptic" -- to refer to those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change.
In an interview with Media Matters, Sullivan described "denier" as the "stronger term" and the appropriate label "when someone is challenging established science." Sullivan said that "the Times is moving in a good direction" on the issue, adding that the newspaper is using the term "denier" more often and "perhaps should be doing it even more."
She also likened the discussion to the Times' process for evaluating whether to refer to "enhanced interrogation techniques" as torture, stating: "After a long time the Times came around to calling it torture and I thought that was a very good thing. I think we're sort of in the same realm with the business about skeptics and deniers."
Sullivan, who briefly addressed the distinction between "skeptics" and "deniers" in her May 7 column, said she doesn't have any immediate plans to return to the topic. But she reiterated that "language choice is something that interests me a lot because I think it's something that matters."
Philip Corbett, the Times' associate managing editor for standards, confirmed to Media Matters that Times staff are "aware of the issue and have discussed it." Corbett said Times reporters and editorial staff "do our best" to keep the proper use of labels in mind "even if the process is not always perfect," and that "[w]e intend to continue scrutinizing future stories with these concerns in mind."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made news on his first official day as a GOP presidential candidate by suggesting that Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change could inappropriately push religion "into the political realm" and declaring: "I don't get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope." But the media should be covering Bush's remarks in the context of a closed-door meeting he held with coal industry CEOs earlier this month -- an important piece of information that could shed some light on who Bush is actually getting his "economic policy" from when it comes to climate change.
Bush's June 1 appearance at the Coal & Investment Leadership Forum was first revealed in a May 29 report by The Guardian, based on materials the newspaper received from the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit watchdog group. As The Guardian reported at the time:
The former Florida governor is appearing at the invitation of six coalmining company owners and executives: Joe Craft III of Alliance Resource Partners, Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources, Nick DeIuliis of Consol Energy, Garry Drummond of Drummond Company, John Eaves of Arch Coal, and Jim McGlothlin of United Coal Company.
Between them, the six companies have spent more than $17.4m on campaigns and lobbying since the last presidential elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets website.
The Guardian further noted that the meeting occurred "at a critical time for the energy industry and for Bush's political ambitions," with the Environmental Protection Agency "expected to finalize new rules for carbon pollution from power plants this summer" and Bush "relatively free of fundraising disclosure requirements until the official launch of his presidential campaign."