Right-wing media continue to pretend that dozens of conservative lawsuits challenging various provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are principled legal challenges to supposed overreach from the Obama administration. In reality, these lawsuits are radical attacks on well-established law, and have been widely rejected by both legal experts and the courts.
If you are a woman, you no longer have the same rights you had 41 years ago.
January 22 is the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, in which the court ruled that women have a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.
But in the intervening decades, that right has largely disappeared, a process helped by media outlets that have misinformed on these safe and legal health procedures.
Thanks to Supreme Court rulings that came after Roe, states are now free to regulate and restrict abortion so long as new laws do not impose an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose. But state legislatures are currently testing what qualifies as an undue burden, and in 2013 alone 70 different anti-choice restrictions were adopted in 22 states across the U.S. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more abortion restrictions have been enacted in the past three years than in the entire previous decade.
In December, Ian Millhiser and Tara Culp-Ressler published a thoughtful piece about this process at ThinkProgress headlined, "The Greatest Trick The Supreme Court Ever Pulled Was Convincing The World Roe v. Wade Still Exists." They argued that while a woman's right to choose an abortion is still ostensibly covered by the constitution, the reality is that right is increasingly restricted to just wealthy women who happen to live in (or are able to travel to) one of the few states that will still permit them the opportunity to exercise that right.
This sustained attack on women's rights is fast becoming a key issue for politicians in the 2014 midterms. But the media have also played a sizeable role in this process, contributing to the vanishing power of Roe by allowing anti-choicers to control the conversation.
Hillary Clinton's name doesn't appear in the bipartisan portions of the Senate review of the tragic September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, but you would not know that by looking at the media.
The report, released earlier in the week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a Rorschach test for the media, and as is almost always the case with Hillary Clinton, they are stretching to see something nefarious.
According to the Post, the report "is likely to provide fodder" for Clinton's political opponents, even though the Post acknowledged that the only references to the former Secretary of State came from partisan Republicans in an addendum, not from the review itself.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer said the report was "fueling heated debate, partisan debate, about her leadership," while correspondent Elise Labbott insisted that Clinton would "have to address Benghazi during" any 2016 campaign.
Inexplicably, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin accused media of being too "incurious" when it comes to Clinton and called Benghazi Clinton's "drip, drip, drip problem." Partisan Republicans are certainly happy that the media is carrying their water. Almost on cue, Sen. Marco Rubio said the report should justify further investigations ... into Clinton.
The question of "leadership," however, has been a lopsided one as it played out in the media's campaign to use the Senate report as an indictment of Clinton.
Clinton has "deflected questions" about Benghazi, according to The New Yorker's Amy Davidson, who argued that Clinton "does not come out well" in the Senate report -- again, a report that never mentions Clinton. Davidson's explanation? "The State Department made mistakes when [Clinton] was its leader."
Clinton herself has acknowledged ultimate responsibility for any bureaucratic shortcomings that played a role to the tragedy in Benghazi. "I do feel responsible," she said under questioning by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). "I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department. I take it very seriously."
So everybody agrees that Clinton had ultimate responsibility for leading the State Department.
That makes the question of what that leadership looks like critical, particularly since the media seems determined to parrot the right-wing narrative that Benghazi is a singular reflection on the former Secretary of State.
What is problematic about the way the media has used the Senate's review as a reflection on Clinton's leadership is that the reports ostensibly exploring Clinton's leadership make no mention of the fact that one of her last acts as Secretary of State was to fully accept and begin implementing the findings of the Accountability Review Board, an independent, nonpartisan review panel that looked into what went wrong and how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
That review, like the Senate report that led to the latest bout of Benghazi mania, also singled out bureaucrats, not the Secretary of State, for scrutiny over diplomatic security failures. Four mid-ranked department officials were suspended for those failures; according to Ambassador Thomas Pickering, one of the chairmen of the ARB, their "future career[s]" are "finished."
One of the pillars of the right-wing's Benghazi hoax has been to accuse Clinton of being dismissive of the tragedy during her Congressional testimony when she asked "what difference, at this point, does it make" what led the attackers to target the diplomatic facility on that day.
Often left out of the sound bite is what Clinton said next: "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
The Accountability Review Board laid out dozens of recommendations as to how to prevent future tragedies, recommendations largely in line with those contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. Those recommendations are being implemented.
It's woefully inadequate to leave that fact out of a discussion of leadership.
Right-wing media denied the effectiveness of anti-poverty policies in response to President Obama's recent push to reduce income inequality, instead hyping marriage as a preferable economic solution. But experts have rejected that notion, citing a systemic lack of economic opportunity as a more critical issue.
After revealing this week that its reader representative had departed, The Washington Post confirmed Friday that there will be a replacement. But the paper made clear that it will not revive the popular ombudsman position that the reader representative supplanted last year.
"We will not bring the ombudsman back," Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said in an email. "We will continue to have someone in a reader rep role." He did not indicate when that person would be named.
Hiatt said that while ombudsmen have made valuable contributions to the paper in the past, "we are in an era when we have to make difficult choices."
The decision comes as former Post ombudsmen and others who hold similar jobs elsewhere urge the paper to bring back the ombudsman job, citing the need for independent reviews.
"I think that's a mistake," Patrick Pexton, the last Post ombudsman, said this week about the prospect of not reviving the ombudsman job. "I said so when I left in March. I understand the arguments against having an ombudsman, but I don't agree with them."
The newspaper allowed Pexton's contract to expire at the end of February 2013, ending the paper's decades-long tradition of employing an independent contracted ombudsman to critique the paper's reporting. Hiatt subsequently announced that the position would be replaced by a reader representative, a part-time position with less independence and more focus on reader views than internal investigation.
He named Doug Feaver, a former Post editor who had retired in 2006, to the position. But this week Hiatt confirmed to Media Matters that Feaver had left the paper earlier than he was scheduled.
As reader representative, Feaver reported to Hiatt and wrote columns that consisted mostly of reader comments about news issues, not the sort of commentaries on Post reporting that readers had come to expect from the paper's ombudsman.
At the time of Feaver's appointment, Hiatt promised that Feaver would be able to fill the ombudsman's shoes.
"While it's true Doug doesn't have the two-year contract that we traditionally gave ombudsman, to me that's not the main difference," Hiatt told Media Matters at the time. "Nobody who knows him will doubt that he will be totally independent in his judgment and that he will hold us all properly accountable."
This accountability was absent from Feaver's published works. Of his 28 blog posts since April 5, 2013, 26 consisted of Feaver aggregating reader comments from Post articles and columns without additional commentary. The other two consisted of a piece declaring the paper free of any conflict of interest regarding the Post's Jerusalem correspondent and Feaver's first post chronicling the initial inquiries he had received in his position ("the biggest issue to come to my attention was the disappearing print button on the article pages of washingtonpost.com").
"I looked at almost all of his blog posts," Pexton said. "Reading between the lines it seems his instructions probably included, or he chose himself, not to make any judgments and I think the key thing an ombudsman does is make judgments."
Asked about Feaver's work at the paper earlier in the week, Hiatt said that in addition to his public platform, Feaver's job consisted of privately channeling reader questions and concerns to others at the paper ensuring they are responded to properly.
Pexton said bringing back the ombudsman position would have given the Post "a little bit more credibility, they'd have a go-to source for readers if they are upset or concerned. I think that in this era of engagement, having a full time person engage with readers and the staff is crucial, it makes you more responsive, it makes you more credible."
Andy Alexander, another former Post ombudsman, agreed that Feaver's job description did not go far enough.
"What Doug did, even if he did it very well, was far different than what a truly independent ombudsman would do," Alexander said. "Anyone who served in the role of Post ombudsman would tell you that its value was that you were truly independent and you were empowered to really cover the Post as a beat. You functioned as a reporter who independently investigated the Post. A truly independent ombudsman is empowered to go into the newsroom and investigate, it goes beyond saying what is on readers' minds.
Alexander pointed to new Post owner Jeff Bezos as someone who could make a difference, stating, "you have a new owner who has deep pockets. I would encourage them to re-instate the position of an independent ombudsman, I think that is the best way to represent the interests of readers."
Asked Friday what he thought of the push for the ombudsman to return, Hiatt portrayed the position as a valuable asset, but nonetheless a luxury at a difficult time for the newspaper business.
"I understand why Andy, Pat and others feel the way they do. I think our readers gained a lot from their contributions," Hiatt told Media Matters in an email. "But we are in an era when we have to make difficult choices. With two reporters inside the Post covering the media, including the Post, full time and many more critics writing about us from the outside, this seemed to us like one of the difficult decisions that make sense."
Hiatt's suggestion that the decision was made at least in part for business reasons appears to contradict his statements in March 2013 that the termination of the ombudsman was "not a financial issue" but rather a deliberate move to reinvent the position for the benefit of readers.
Less than a year after taking the newly created post of reader representative at The Washington Post, Doug Feaver has left the paper, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt confirmed Wednesday.
Feaver, who had served in other positions at the Post but retired in 2006, took the part-time job in March 2013. That announcement came one month after the paper had eliminated its ombudsman position, a mainstay at the paper for more than 40 years.
The Post's elimination of the ombudsman drew criticism at the time from former holders of the position and other media observers, who said that the ombudsman served a vital purpose as the only independent communication between readers and the newsroom.
Unlike the ombudsmen, who worked on two year contracts, the reader representative was a paid staff member who served at the pleasure of the editorial page editor.
In an email to Media Matters, Hiatt confirmed the departure of Feaver, saying that the reader representative had agreed to work for one year but had "moved the departure date up a bit for personal reasons."
Hiatt added that the Post is still considering whether or how Feaver will be replaced, saying that Feaver's deputy, Alison Coglianese "may assume the role."
Feaver, who had served in other positions at the Post prior to his appointment, took the job in March 2013, one month after the paper had eliminated the popular ombudsman position. Feaver's last column ran December 5.
Feaver's appointment drew criticism at the time because it followed the elimination of the ombudsman, a contracted position that was given more independence to critique the paper.
Much of the media is adopting Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's description of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' forthcoming memoir as a damning critique of President Obama -- a narrative undermined by Woodward's own description of the book's contents.
Gates' memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, will be released January 14. On January 7, both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported on the contents of the book based on copies they had received prior to publication. Those articles have been the source for a firestorm of coverage on cable and broadcast television, with much of the media adopting Woodward's portrayal of the book as a harsh and nearly unprecedented attack on the president.
According to the anecdotes relayed by the Times and the Post, Gates details his frustration with the White House's civilian national security staff, which he believes took on responsibility that should have been the prerogative of the Defense Department and the military. And he at times offers specific criticisms of President Obama's actions. But Woodward's portrayal of the book, which has been adopted by the rest of the media, depicting it as a bombshell attack on the president simply does not follow from the facts at hand.
Under the headline "Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama's leadership in 'Duty,'" Woodward begins his article by writing that Gates "unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama's leadership" and offers "one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat":
In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama's leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president "doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out."
Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was "skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail," Gates writes in "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War."
Woodward also writes that "It is rare for a former Cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president."
Cable and network news programs - whose reporters apparently have not read the book themselves -- are adopting Woodward's frame of the book as an attack on the president.
But elsewhere in his article, Woodward undermines this narrative by pointing out that Gates writes that all of Obama's Afghanistan decisions were correct, as The New Republic's Isaac Chotiner notes. Rather than consider the possibility that he is wrong to present Gates' book as a "harsh critique" of Obama, Woodward suggests that Gates is contradicting himself:
Gates's severe criticism is even more surprising -- some might say contradictory -- because toward the end of "Duty," he says of Obama's chief Afghanistan policies, "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions." That particular view is not a universal one; like much of the debate about the best path to take in Afghanistan, there is disagreement on how well the surge strategy worked, including among military officials.
Woodward also writes that Gates "writes about Obama with an ambivalence that he does not resolve, praising him as 'a man of personal integrity' even as he faults his leadership."
2013 was an epic year of right-wing media misinforming the public on the health care debate, particularly on women's health issues. Ignoring women's health experts, conservative media spent this year stoking fears about everything from birth control to maternity care, ignoring science, distorting state and federal regulations, and demonizing women's health care options in the process. These are the top six scare tactics from 2013.
Media Matters looks back at the best of the worst of right-wing media's treatment of women in 2013.
2013 got off to a promising start when perennial conservative huckster Dick Morris was finally fired from Fox News.
But any hope for year free from scandal unraveled as conservative outlets like Fox, and venerable institutions like CBS and CNN, found themselves mired in ethical morasses of their own making.
Media Matters looks back at the year in media ethics:
The past 12 months witnessed innumerable attacks on social safety net programs in the United States. These attacks on American social insurance programs were hardly limited to Social Security -- all forms of social insurance, including unemployment benefits, food stamps, and disability, came under fire from mainstream and conservative media alike, regardless of the programs' social or economic benefits. Media Matters compiled a list of the six types of attacks on the social safety net in 2013.
For more than three years, an influential study by two Harvard economists -- Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff -- provided a plausible foundation for attacks on spending of all types. The study fostered debt-paranoia among pundits otherwise interested in austere fiscal policies.
An April study by economists at the University of Massachusetts, however, concluded that the Reinhart-Rogoff data was error-filled in a way that selectively biased the results. A further review of the corrected data by economists at the University of Michigan found that the study should have been deemed inconclusive.
Despite losing its intellectual foundation in April, the deficit reduction talking point maintained a prominent position in fiscal policy discussion throughout the year.
Media calls for deficit reduction in the past year also regularly relied on budget reporting that lacked adequate context that federal budget deficits have declined precipitously from their 2009 peak. A Media Matters review of budget reporting done by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post revealed that a sizeable majority of articles provided budget items and program spending figures out of context. Further analysis concluded this misrepresentative reporting to be little more than a scare tactic, which bolstered calls for deeper cuts to the safety net for the sake of alleged fiscal responsibility.
This lack of context in media, and the effect it had in shifting the policy debate, eventually encouraged Times public editor Margaret Sullivan to issue a statement promising to correct problematic reporting standards going forward, but other outlets have yet to follow suit.
First things first.
Here is a video from the memorial service that was held last week in South Africa to honor anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela. While watching the video, keep in mind the controversy that erupted in the media when President Obama was part of a selfie picture at the event. Some media commentators were furious because it was such a undignified thing to do at a somber "funeral":
Here's how South Africans experienced the same memorial.
USA Today described the event, which was not a funeral, as a "raucous and festive send-off" that at times resembled a "soccer match," one where attendees "stomped until the bleachers shook." In fact, they "chanted and sang so loudly an official begged the crowd to quiet down."
So no, President Obama, Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron were never in danger of puncturing the memorial mood by using a few fleeting seconds to playfully snap a photo of themselves.
Nonetheless, the New York Daily News, among others, pounced. Following the right-wing media's misinformation lead, the Daily News mocked Obama for posing at a "funeral," while the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza described Obama as "acting like a bored kid at a school assembly during a funeral for a world leader." And a National Public Radio headline announced "President Obama Took A Funeral Selfie."
Of course, Obama didn't attend Mandela's funeral. But it sounded better to pretend he did, so lots of journalists did just that.
The story also sounded better by pretending images of First Lady Michelle Obama that day revealed the makings of a husband/wife spat, as journalists went full-on Zapruder on a couple of harmless snapshots and eagerly divined a soap opera storyline to the day, one that starred Michelle Obama as the "angry black woman" casting a nasty stare at the Danish prime minister.
Yes, the media simultaneously attacked Barack Obama for being too gleeful at the memorial and attacked Michelle Obama for not being gleeful enough. Talk about a lose-lose. And yes, this from the same press corps that bemoans the fact presidents aren't more spontaneous and unscripted.
Keep in mind, the mindless coverage revolved entirely around false premises; Obama was being disrespectful at a "funeral," and Michelle Obama was royally peeved at her husband's behavior. False and false: Here's a photo of Michelle sharing a light moment with the Danish prime minister that day.
To produce journalism and commentary this vapid and pointless takes work. It doesn't just happen. You have to play dumb about a whole range of issues in order to join in the Beltway fun. Coming at the end of the year, the selfie charade represented a sad encapsulation of the Beltway media's shortcomings; of its painfully unserious pursuits.
What is especially maddening is it highlighted that while the press becomes increasingly fascinated with gotcha events and treats them that as news, it's failing in its primary duty to produce reliable reporting about pressing public policy issues. Specifically, the selfie nonsense played out against the backdrop of the Beltway press corps' that bungled coverage of health care reform.
America's top newspapers focused their coverage of health care reform on its political implications while largely ignoring its real-world impact in the week before the health care exchanges opened. Those papers have since shifted their focus, with most articles highlighting benefits under the law and enrollment in the exchanges in the week after the Obama administration relaunched the Healthcare.gov website.
On a seemingly never-ending hunt for bad news about Hillary Clinton and her political prospects, the New York Times recently published a front-page article about how the former first lady is busy trying to mend fences between herself and African-Americans, "the constituency that was most scarred during her first bid for the presidency."
Under the headline, "Eye on 2016, Clintons Rebuild Bond With Blacks," the Times claimed the turbulent Democratic primary from 2008 left deep wounds and assumed Hillary Clinton's appearances before black audience this year represented a pointed effort to fix that.
Usually when trying to assess a voting community's perception of a politician or public figure, reporters consult polling data. In this case the Times did not. Certain that Hillary needed to "rebuild" a "bond" with black voters, the Times chose to ignore all the polling data that indicates she currently enjoys extraordinary support among black voters. Indeed, including polling results in the article would have completely undercut the premise. (Why would you "rebuild" a bond that's amazingly strong?)
Instead, the Times omitted any reference to a Quinnipiac poll from this summer that found 88 percent of black voters view her favorably. The Times also ignored the recent NBC/WSJ poll that found in a hypothetical match-up against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Clinton would receive 83 percent of the black vote, versus Christie's four percent. As Political scientist John Sides noted, "Among black voters, any negative feelings about Hillary Clinton were erased long ago."
As for Bill Clinton, a Fox News poll from this year revealed that 90 percent of "non-whites" view the former president favorably.
The Times piece seemed to be little more than an attempt to pick at a five-year old political wound, while glossing over the fact that the abrasion's been healed for years. It was the Times trolling around in search of a conflict and justifying the creation of a dedicated beat devoted to the former secretary of state when, in this case, no conflict exists. (What's next for the daily, a look at how Clinton has to "rebuild" her bond with middle aged women?)
The baffling Times article was just the latest, and perhaps the most egregious, example of a new school of commentary that's cropped up around the Clintons, and specifically around speculation regarding Hillary's presidential plans in 2016. Not content with what-if columns, articles and panel discussions, the press increasingly spends significant time and energy conjuring up what could go wrong if Clinton ran.
Despite Clinton's enviable position with regards to her sky-high name recognition, a proven ability to fundraise, and her strong favorable ratings, the starting point for much of the Clinton coverage lately is She Might Be Doomed. (The New Yorker's Amy Davidson has already declared Clinton's 2016 campaign to be a "predestined" "train wreck.") Does anyone remember two years worth of He Might Be Doomed coverage for George W. Bush when he emerged as the clear Republican front runner well before the 2000 campaign?
That's not to suggest that Clinton is off limits from tough, skeptical coverage and commentary. She's not. But pretending she has to rebuild a relationship that's not broken? That's not skepticism, that's just spin.
After weeks of highlighting negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media outlets have largely underreported the law's success in helping slow the growth of health care costs.