The Washington Post has allowed opinion writer Ed Rogers to advocate for the positions and interests of his lobbying firm's clients in numerous anti-environmental pieces. The Post and Rogers have not disclosed his major conflicts of interest even though his firm received over $1.6 million in fees in 2014 alone from energy and transportation clients like Chevron, Caterpillar, and the National Mining Association.
Rogers is a Republican strategist who chairs and co-founded the BGR Group with former Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) in 1991. As the Post itself has reported, the firm is one of the top Washington D.C. lobbying firms, having banked more than $15 million in 2014. The newspaper's reporters have described Rogers as a "Republican mega-lobbyist," "lobbyist extraordinaire," and "a go-to guy for Republicans."
One of BGR's practice areas is energy and transportation, where it professes to having "the industry expertise, Capitol Hill experience and knowledge of government to successfully advocate our clients' public policy goals." Rogers is listed as a group leader for the issue area.
On his Post "Insiders" blog, Rogers frequently advocates for positions favored by his energy and transportation clients. While the Post notes that Rogers is "a political consultant" and "chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group," the publication fails to disclose Rogers' firm's clients and conflicts of interest in his anti-environmental posts. For instance:
Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that "[l]ow oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming."
After a long period of dishonestly flacking for Mitt Romney, Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin appears to have given up on him and is urging him not to run for president a third time.
In two recent blog posts, Rubin reacts negatively to the news that Romney is considering running for president in 2016. She writes that "another Romney run is preposterous" and that Romney donors and advisers pushing for a run "might want to rethink what they are doing."
As New York's Jonathan Chait points out, "Jennifer Rubin, the political commentator most consistently loyal to Romney in the last cycle, has turned against him."
During the 2012 campaign, nobody stuck by Romney like Rubin.
She hailed Romney's convention speech as proof "he can rise to an occasion," said he was "more forthcoming on immigration" than President Obama and described Romney's campaign team as "skilled." She said the presidential debates "recast the race and vaulted Mitt Romney into a position to win the race."
Of course, when the campaign was over and Romney had lost, Rubin wrote a post that revealed she knew how dishonest she had been all along, admitting that the "convention speech was a huge missed opportunity," describing the communications team as "the worst of any presidential campaign I have ever seen" and that Romney needed "more than a good month" on the campaign trail "to be successful."
Rubin appears to be positioning herself to be a booster for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who announced that he is exploring a presidential run. Rubin said "Bush's experience and inside knowledge of his father's and brother's campaigns may be an unappreciated asset" and described a Spanish-language video on his PAC's website as "quintessential Bush -- upbeat, policy-oriented and, yes, conservative."
Considering her track record with Romney, how can we believe what she's saying now?
George Will is citing past shifts in the climate to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that human behavior is currently driving global warming, despite the fact that those previous shifts actually demonstrate the need to take action on climate change.
On January 8, The Washington Post published Will's syndicated column, headlined "Climate change's instructive past," in which he discussed two books about previous climate shifts -- the Medieval Warming Period and the Little Ice Age. Will asserted, "of course the climate is changing -- it always is," and warned against "wagering vast wealth and curtailments of liberty on correcting the climate."
Without explaining his reasoning, Will claimed the books do not "support those who believe human behavior is the sovereign or even primary disrupter of climate normality." But Will ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the main cause of recent global warming. Further, Will's myopic view of history ignores the wealth of scientific evidence showing that greenhouse gases -- which are currently at record levels due to the burning of fossil fuels -- have been the principal factor in prior climate changes.
As Climate Nexus pointed out, Will actually missed the lesson from his historical examples -- that climate change left unchecked will have devastating impacts:
Contrary to [Will's] claim, past changes in our climate should be understood as a warning, but shouldn't be seen as evidence that current climatic change is naturally occurring, as he suggests.
The problem with this claim is that human-made emissions have increased exponentially since Will's historical examples. Science has clearly shown how current human-made climate change is very different from earlier slower natural changes, something Will failed to factor.
More accurately, historical climate change provides insight into problems we can expect in the future as greenhouse gases are increasingly amplifying variations in our climate. Historical trends should, instead, serve as a stark warning of what we can expect from the emission-driven warming we're experiencing now.
ThinkProgress' Joe Romm called Will's logic "exactly backwards." Pointing out that climate change has occurred naturally in the past does not disprove the fact that it is happening unnaturally now, as Romm analogized: "[I]t would be exactly the same as saying that because people who didn't smoke have died of cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer, we can't know that cigarette smoking also causes those diseases and is unhealthy." He added that "climate scientists now have the same degree of certainty that human-caused emissions are changing the climate as they do that cigarette smoking is harmful."
Will is infamous for his climate misinformation -- over the past few years, other writers have called his misunderstanding of science "mystifying" and asserted that he is "helping to muddle our collective scientific literacy." Will's misleading coverage of climate science in his columns sparked a petition in 2014, signed by more than 100,000 people, urging The Washington Post to exclude climate misinformation from its pages.
In advance of the Federal Communications Commission's February vote on net neutrality rules, media have promoted distortions of the proposed regulations, suggesting net neutrality is an unpopular, "Orwellian" takeover of the internet that may stifle innovation, hurt the economy, and raise costs for consumers. In reality, net neutrality has broad bipartisan support, promotes competition, and has been the guiding principle behind Internet innovation since its inception.
2014 was a year of eye-popping media numbers, from millions of dollars' worth of coverage devoted to a trumped-up scandal to mere seconds devoted to historic news. Here are some of the most important -- and most surprising -- figures from the year.
"[W]hen they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."
This single phrase has followed George Will for the last six months. The syndicated conservative columnist, considered by many a thoughtful intellectual rather than a bomb-thrower, severely damaged his brand when he wrote a June 2014 column dismissing efforts on college campuses to combat the epidemic of sexual assault and suggesting that women who say they were raped receive "privileges." The column has sparked hundreds to protest his public appearances, challenges from U.S. Senators and women's rights groups, and the dropping of his column from a major newspaper.
Will's 2014 misinformation was not limited to attacking and dismissing rape victims. Throughout the year, Will failed to disclose several major conflicts of interest in his columns, and his tangled relationship with political entities backed by Charles and David Koch was cited by the outgoing ethics chair of the Society of Professional Journalists as the kind of conflict journalists should disclose in their writing. His history as a prominent denier of climate change also helped further undermine his credibility, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition demanding the Washington Post stop printing the science misinformation he and others regularly push in its pages.
Will has written a column for the Post since 1974, which is syndicated in over 450 papers. He started his career as a Republican Senate staff member and speech writer before moving into the ranks of the conservative press, contributing to The American Spectator and working as the Washington editor for the National Review for a time. He has become a fixture in the right-wing think tank infrastructure, serving as a board member of the Bradley Foundation, which funds conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Federalist Society. But Will was always careful to keep one foot in the mainstream -- in addition to his Post column, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977, he served as an ABC News commentator for three decades and was even a featured interview in several Ken Burns documentaries.
Yet late last year, he left ABC to join Fox News as a political contributor, cementing his increasingly conservative and counterfactual tendencies. Some of his politics -- such as his longstanding climate change denial -- seemed to fit in at the network. But at the time, Media Matters wondered if an association with Fox's more angry and crude fare would ruin the brand of the staid conservative pontificator, shifting his erudite elitism towards the hard-edged style of misinformation for which Fox is better known. Will's accomplishments in 2014 revealed our suspicions were well-founded.
Media Matters isn't the only organization to recognize the damage Will's commentary did to the discourse this year. When PolitiFact awarded its 2014 Lie of Year to "exaggerations about Ebola," they cited Will as a prime example. Will used his Fox News platform to spread lies about the disease, falsely claiming that it could be "spread through the air." As PolitiFact noted:
Will's claim that Ebola could spread through the air via a cough or sneeze shows how solid science got misconstrued. The conservative commentator suggested a thought shift about how the virus could spread. In reality, Will simply misunderstood scientists' consistent, albeit technical explanation.
Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit and diarrhea. Coughing and sneezing are not symptoms.
Will has a long history of pushing misinformation, but it finally caught up with him in 2014, tarnishing the reputation as a public intellectual he had spent decades cultivating. He started the year one of the most respected members of the conservative media elite, and ended it with hundreds protesting his speeches. For this reason, Media Matters recognizes George Will as the 2014 Misinformer of the Year.
Past recipients include CBS News (2013), Rush Limbaugh (2012), Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. (2011), Sarah Palin (2010), Glenn Beck (2009), Sean Hannity (2008), ABC (2006), Chris Matthews (2005), and Bill O'Reilly (2004).
Media outlets have described Hillary Clinton's wealth and the speaking fees she has earned as a "potentially serious political problem" and a "potential political liability." Will they describe the financial dealings of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush the same way now that he is exploring a presidential run? And will they do in-depth reporting on the controversial business deals Bush has been involved in?
Michigan State University (MSU) students protested before, during, and after George Will's speech at the university's graduation ceremony in response to the conservative Washington Post syndicated columnist's offensive comments about sexual assault.
MSU invited Will to speak at the December 13 commencement ceremony despite a controversial June column in which he suggested that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges" on college campuses. Students and faculty, women's rights groups, and even Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) condemned the university's decision to host Will and award him an honorary doctorate.
MSU students used the Twitter hashtag #itsonyouMSU to protest the university's decision to host Will for the commencement ceremony. Before Will's speech, students lined up outside of MSU's Breslin Center in a silent protest. MSU Students United, which describes itself as "the autonomous student union of Michigan State University," documented the protests on Twitter, posting pictures of students holding signs with messages like "Only yes means yes" and "Rape is not a privilege":
During the ceremony, students turned their backs on Will's speech in protest, as Bloomberg News reported. Will reportedly didn't mention the controversy surrounding his sexual assault comments:
As Will got up to speak, about 15 people in the audience of several thousand stood up and turned their backs toward him. The columnist, whose writing is carried by hundreds of newspapers, made no mention of the protest, his June 6 column or the subject of sexual assault. The crowd applauded when he was done.
Protesters outside, including students, survivors of sexual assault and support group members, were polite and quiet, braving the chilly weather around the Breslin Center, the school's basketball arena and commencement venue. Some stood with red tape across their mouth and held placards saying "Fund Rape Counselors, Not Rape Apologists."
Joy Wang, a correspondent for News10 in Lansing, MI, posted a picture of the silent protest:
Image via MSU Students United Twitter account.
Media coverage of an omnibus spending bill that rolled back key financial services regulations ignored the amount of money the financial services industry spent helping elect members of Congress in 2014. In fact, the industry lobbying to eliminate the regulation spent $436 million on federal candidates during the midterm elections.
For the second time in three days a student government organization at Michigan State University has passed a resolution opposing the pending commencement address by George Will, citing his offensive comments about campus sexual assault.
The Associated Students of Michigan State University, the school's undergraduate student government, held an emergency meeting Tuesday night and approved the resolution, 23-1, denouncing the decision to host Will as a commencement speaker at the December 13 graduation and to award him an honorary doctorate.
A copy of the resolution provided to Media Matters by the ASMSU states in part, "the choice of George Will has given many students the impression that MSU does not make sexual assault a priority" and concludes that "ASMSU condemns MSU's choice of George Will as a speaker at MSU's Fall commencement and calls for MSU to immediately rescind their invitation and find another speaker to address graduating seniors."
The resolution urges the university to "also allocate funds in at least the same amount as Mr. Will's speaking engagement fee towards the hiring of more counselors for the Counseling Center to address the need for students seeking help with sexual assault and reaffirms commitment to sexual assault prevention and response."
The resolution's passage came just hours after MSU's president, in the face of rising protests from the student body, issued a statement defending their decision to honor Will.
Colin Wiebrecht, a representative of the ASMSU general assembly, introduced the resolution.
"I thought it was important because there had been a growing number of students who were against having George Will and would put a lot more pressure on the administration," he told Media Matters.
Kiran Samra, the ASMSU chief of staff, said the issue was important to bring to a vote.
"The role of the undergraduate student government is to echo the voice of our constituents," she said via email. "It was clear through the numerous communications that this was an issue of importance to our fellow students."
ASMSU's actions follow an earlier resolution from the Council of Graduate Students on Sunday that stated the governing body wanted to, "convey our objections to Dr. George Will serving as one of the commencement speakers and being a recipient of an honorary degree this semester."
In June, Will authored a Washington Post syndicated column suggesting that attempts to curb campus assaults have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
That column has triggered widespread criticism, particularly on college campuses. Over the past two months, Will was uninvited from a speaking engagement at Scripps College and greeted by hundreds of protestors at Miami University.
Following criticism from students, including the condemnation of the Council of Graduate Students, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon posted a statement Tuesday defending the choice of Will, which stated, in part, "Having George Will speak at commencement does not mean I or Michigan State University agree with or endorse the statements he made in his June 6 column or any particular column he has written. It does not mean the university wishes to cause survivors of sexual assault distress. And it does not mean we are backing away from our commitment to continuously improving our response to sexual assault."
Michigan State University's decision to host George Will as a commencement speaker this weekend is sparking angry opposition from students, a prominent women's equality group, and campus sexual assault advocates who plan to protest the event because of Will's past comments about campus sexual assault.
In June, Will authored a Washington Post syndicated column suggesting that attempts to curb campus assaults have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
Will's column sparked widespread criticism. Four senators publicly condemned his comments in an open letter, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his syndicated column and apologized for publishing his "offensive and inaccurate" arguments, and women's equality groups called for the Washington Post to fire him.
Last week, The Detroit News reported that Will had been tapped as a commencement speaker for Michigan State University's December 13 graduation ceremonies and would receive an honorary doctorate of humanities. The announcement quickly prompted condemnation from the prominent women's equality group UltraViolet, whose co-founder Shaunna Thomas told Media Matters that Will's "continued attacks on campus rape survivors make him an unfit speaker for any University."
MSU, which is currently under federal investigation for its handling of sexual assault accusations, defended their decision to honor Will. A spokesman told Media Matters, "In any diverse community there are sure to be differences of opinion and perspective; something we celebrate as a learning community. We appreciate all views, and we hope and expect the MSU community will give the speaker the same respect."
But pressure is mounting on the University as Will's planned speech draws closer.
In a press release, UltraViolet announced it had gathered more than 40,000 signatures on a petition calling for the cancelation of Will's speech, which the group plans to deliver on December 10.
Students are also calling foul, with more than 650 already signed up for a protest the morning of Will's speech.
"The hope was that the administration would realize this is a bonehead move and choose someone else," said Emily Gillingham, an MSU law school student and co-organizer of a protest set for 8 a.m. Saturday, right before Will's 10 a.m. address to graduates of several MSU colleges. "I feel so bad for the people who are there who have survived sexual assault who George Will thinks are lying or it was some sort of pleasant experience."
MSU's Council of Graduate Students passed a resolution Sunday calling on the administration to withdraw their invitation to Will. Some students and faculty are discussing plans for an alternate commencement.
"It's really disappointing that MSU chose to invite him, it appears that they knew it would be disappointing because they waited to announce it," said Jessica Kane, an MSU graduate student who works in the campus Sexual Assault Center. "George Will's manner of approaching sexual assault is dismissive to all sexual assault survivors. Basically he calls them all potential liars. The fact that he approached sexual assault with such a callous attitude is really alarming."
The Washington Post is helping a former official from President George H.W. Bush's administration walk back his 1990 congressional testimony that Bush's executive action on immigration could have helped up to 1.5 million people and using that to decry the Obama administration's use of the figure to justify its upcoming immigration action. But the official, then-Federal Immigration Commissioner Gene McNary, was the person who introduced the 1.5 million figure, and an immigration expert's analysis of immigration numbers at the time shows that the figure is plausible.
The Washington Post editorial board is contesting the Obama administration's claim that his recent executive action on immigration is similar in scope to former President George H.W. Bush's temporary administrative relief for undocumented immigrants in 1990, which reportedly affected 1.5 million family members of legalization applicants. Calling the White House's 1.5 million figure "indefensible," the editorial also repeated the accusations of its fact checker, Glenn Kessler, who previously insisted that the figure is inflated despite contemporaneous congressional testimony to the contrary.
But now a leading immigration expert says the Post is "doubling down on a grievous error."
According to Charles Kamasaki, Executive Vice President of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), author of a forthcoming book on the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 and its subsequent effects, and one of the leading experts on immigration law and policy in the country, the White House's citation of the 1.5 million estimate of those who stood to benefit from Bush's 1990 action is "completely defensible."
In a December 4 letter published on the NCLR website, Kamasaki pointed out numerous mistakes in both the substance and reasoning in both the Post's editorial and fact check, and pointed out that a "'quick and dirty' analysis" that encompasses "Kessler's own reporting" demonstrates that the White House's "1.5 million estimate of ineligible family members of IRCA's legalization applicants is valid on its face":
There's a second way of looking at this issue, which is to take the available data and see whether, independent of take-up rates, the 1.5 million estimate of ineligible family members of IRCA's legalization applicants is valid on its face. A quick analysis suggests it is eminently plausible. First, consider the number of applicants: 3.3 million people applied for IRCA's two main legalization programs, another 40,000 or so for a special Cuban-Haitian program, and perhaps 75,000 for a registry program for those who had entered prior to 1972. So we start with a base of more than 3.4 million applicants.
But these were not the only applicants potentially covered by "family fairness" in 1990. Under two major national class action lawsuits, hundreds of thousands of people claimed they had been unfairly denied the opportunity to apply for legalization because of improper eligibility rules, inaccurate information, or other reasons. The plaintiffs largely won on the merits in the lower courts, although appeals courts later denied all but a few thousand the opportunity to apply. The key point, however, is that as of 1990, when the Bush policy was announced, this litigation was still pending, and thus several hundred thousand of these class members technically were still potential applicants. Adding these potential applicants to those who had applied brings the universe of total actual and potential IRCA applicants whose ineligible family members might've been covered by family fairness into the four million range.
- Kessler's own reporting shows that 42% of IRCA applicants were married. Multiplying four million by 42% produces a total of 1.7 million spouses. But many, arguably half, likely qualified for legalization themselves, bringing the number of spouses ineligible for legalization to perhaps 840,000.
- How many kids might've been covered? Here we have very good data on the contemporary undocumented population, which we might apply to 1986-1990 in a backward fashion. The Migration Policy Institute estimated last year that of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, there were more than 1.9 million unauthorized youth who were brought to the country by their parents. In other words, about 17% of the current undocumented population is made up of children analogous to those who would have been covered by the Bush policy. Applying this 17% figure to the estimated 5 million undocumented population as of 1986 produces a total of about 850,000 unauthorized children.
- Some number of those were likely older than 21 as of 1990; adjusting for this produces an estimated population of ineligible children of legalization applicants as of 1990 to perhaps 640,000. Still, 840,000 spouses added to 640,000 children equals 1.48 million, very close to the cited 1.5 million estimate.
Based on this "quick and dirty" analysis, there really were close to 1.5 million people eligible for relief in 1990, and it is a completely defensible number.
A Rolling Stone article about campus rape and how universities respond to sexual assault has raised an important debate about what the proper standards for reporting on sexual assault should be -- but it's crucial that whatever standards are ultimately chosen, they don't make it impossible to tell these stories.
A University of Virginia student named Jackie told Rolling Stone that she was gang raped in 2012 by members of a campus fraternity, and that campus administrators failed to investigate her story when she reported it. Jackie was one of several students in the piece who criticized UVA's response to sexual assaults, and the school is currently under federal investigation for its handling of such cases.
The Rolling Stone article initially received widespread acclaim and triggered swift action from UVA. But it has since come under fire from critics who say that the magazine violated journalism best practices, particularly with regard to its handling of the alleged assailants. Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the article, and Rolling Stone, have since explained that they corroborated Jackie's story by talking to dozens of her friends, in part to ensure that she had consistently told the same story for years, but were unable to reach the accused rapists (one of whom is identified with the pseudonym "Drew" and others who are not identified at all) for comment -- a fact which was omitted in the article. (UPDATE: After the publication of this post NPR's David Folkenflik brought to our attention that in an interview with him, Erdely said she had not contacted the alleged assailant at the request of Jackie. Her editor Sean Woods made similar statements to The New Republic. These comments appear to contradict other statements Erdely gave to Slate and Woods gave to The Washington Post, on which the criticisms referenced in this post were based.)
A number of journalists have criticized Erdely for this omission. Slate's Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt wrote that the "basic rules of reporting a story like this" include doing everything possible to reach the alleged assailant, and, if one is unable to do so, including a sentence "explaining that you tried -- and explaining how you tried." They criticize Rolling Stone for failing to include such a sentence, writing that this is "absolutely necessary, because it tells readers you tried your best to get the other side of the story."
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple took this critique a step further, saying that Rolling Stone had "whiff[ed]" with the article and suggesting they should have held the piece until they were able to name the accused in print (Erdely says she had agreed to Jackie's request "not to name the individuals because she's so fearful of them"), or find some other "solid" evidence:
The publication says it didn't name the perpetrators because Jackie is "so fearful of them. That was something we agreed on," Erdely commented. That's a compelling reason -- to hold the story until Jackie felt comfortable naming them; or until she filed a complaint; or until something more solid on the case emerged.
In voicing these concerns about Erdely's journalistic practices, these reporters are proposing that there is a standard these types of stories should meet -- perhaps before they can even be published -- which includes a high bar for finding of proof, including doing everything in the reporter's power to identify and contact the accused, informing the reader of those attempts, and possibly going as far as to include their name and perspective in the piece.
Reporters may find such standards appropriate. Sexual assault, and particularly gang rape, is a terrible crime, and it is logical that journalists would want to tread carefully when assessing the validity of accusations. Rosin's and Benedikt's argument that it would at the very least have been simple for Erdely to include a sentence noting she had attempted to reach out seems reasonable.
However, previous reports on sexual assaults -- including from the Post and Slate -- have not met these standards, and have not come under similar scrutiny or criticism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson, who has said he was not involved in the editing of this particular piece, tweeted several examples of reporting on sexual assault in which publications did not include any mention of ever attempting to contact the accused for comment and did not name the alleged perpetrator.