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.
Mainstream media outlets are misrepresenting Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's stance on pay equality, reporting on her claim that she supports equal pay without noting her opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Serial misinformer and GOP activist Peter Schweizer's forthcoming book Clinton Cash speculates that Clinton Foundation donors may have influenced State Department activities during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state. Consistent with the author's long history of shoddy reporting, media are highlighting how the book presents "little evidence" and "no smoking gun" proving that speculation.
The New York Times accused Hillary Clinton of potentially violating federal law pertaining to the preservation of e-mail records while acting as Secretary of State, but requirements to maintain such records did not exist during her tenure.
Republican Rand Paul certainly seems to be riding an extended wave of glowing press coverage, as reporters and commentators line up to dub the Kentucky senator a deeply fascinating man.
From Politico: "Rand Paul, The Most Interesting Man in Politics."
The Washington Post: "Rand Paul Is The Most Interesting Man In The (Political) World"
And now this week's cover story from Time: "The Most Interesting Man In Politics."
What the supportive Paul coverage lacks in originality, it makes up for in passion and admiration. We've learned Paul represents "the most interesting voice in the GOP right now." He boasts a "supple mind" and is a "preternaturally confident speaker." And from Time, Paul spoke to a recent crowd "with the enthusiasm of a graduate student in the early rapture of ideas."
There appears to be such a media rush to toast Paul as a Republican freethinker that the feel-good coverage sometimes confuses what he actually stands for. Note that Politico claimed the senator's "instinctive libertarianism, meanwhile, plays well with America's pro-pot, pro-gay marriage younger generation."
Fact: Paul opposes gay marriage.
Nonetheless, the glowing press clips pile up, with Time's cover story representing the most recent entry. In April 2013, the Kentucky senator graced Time's cover when he was dubbed one of the 100 Most Influential people in the World. (Paul's entry was written by Sarah Palin, who declared that his "brand of libertarian-leaning conservatism attracts young voters.")
What's especially odd about Time's most recent salute is that the magazine essentially published the same laudatory Rand Paul feature last year. It marveled at his political rise and suggested he might change the course of the GOP ("Can he reshape [the] party"), which is precisely what this week's cover story is about. ("Can he fix what ails the GOP?")
But there's something about Time's supportive Paul coverage that stands out. Indeed, the publication has morphed into something of a national cheering section for the Kentucky Republican, obediently covering his appearances, typing up as news his attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton, and publishing his first-person essays.
Time misrepresented the findings of an Inspector General report to falsely imply that former State Department aide Cheryl Mills was faulted for "strong-arming" departmental investigations, even though the inspector general cleared Mills of wrongdoing in the only case where her actions were investigated.
In an October 17 piece, Time claimed several aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been faulted for the appearance of "undue influence and favoritism" during three State Department investigations. In what Time called "the highest-level case," a U.S. Ambassador in Belgium was recalled to Washington for an internal review into accusations that he had solicited a prostitute. "The move effectively halted an investigation by the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security," Time reported. It continued:
The ambassador, Howard Gutman, was recalled to Washington from Belgium to meet with Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy and Clinton Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, according to the report.
By focusing on Mills' role in that meeting -- in an article centered around claims that Clinton aides were strong-arming investigators and fostering an atmosphere of favoritism -- Time implied that Mills was found negligent by the Inspector General. But the inspector general report did not criticize Mills for her role in that meeting. The IG report was only critical of the decision to internalize the inquiry, a decision made by the Undersecretary of Management, Patrick Kennedy. From the report:
The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a "management issue" based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission.
Despite insinuating that Mills was criticized by the Inspector General, Time made no mention of the fact that Mills was explicitly cleared of wrongdoing in a separate investigation, even though that investigation was a focus of their report. The investigation centered on whether that an assistant secretary of state was found to have improperly delayed an interview with a nominee to be ambassador to Iraq. Mills, who was Chief of Staff at the time, was explicitly cleared of any improper actions:
OIG found no evidence of any undue influence by the Chief of Staff/Counselor.
OIG did not find evidence of perceived or actual undue influence or favoritism in four of the DS internal investigations reviewed.
After devoting a cover story and an accompanying series of editorials to highlight the "sexual assault crisis on American campuses," Time helped reframe the debate by questioning statistics that illuminate the prevalence of sexual assault.
In September, Time ran three problematic pieces online questioning the validity of statistics that highlight the prevalence of sexual assault.
In a September 29 "Ideas" piece discussing sex crimes on college campuses, Camille Paglia argued that "claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses" have been "wildly overblown." Asserting that most "campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault" are in fact "oafish hookup melodramas," Paglia went on to blame the victim by noting that the assaults had arisen from "mixed signals and imprudence on both sides."
The rush to condemn the statistics and dispute the gravity of sexual assault previously made its way to Time in a September 17 online piece in which Cathy Young called statistics on sexual and intimate violence in the United States from the CDC "misleading" and "inflated," claiming they were part of a "radical feminist narrative" that was unsupported by the data due to a broad definition of what constituted various acts of sexual violence.
A few weeks earlier, a September 2 online op-ed by the American Enterprise Institute's Christina Hoff Summers also asserted that the statistic showing one in five college women will experience sexual assault is a "feminist myth." Hoff Summers called the one-in-five statistic -- reported by the National Institute of Justice's study on campus sexual assault -- a "statistical hijinks," deeming the study flawed by an "overly broad definition of sexual assault."
Time's recent ink questioning the validity is troubling given its earlier reporting. In May, Time Magazine offered a comprehensive look at the "sexual assault crisis on American campuses," with a cover story and an accompanying series of editorials. Recognizing the pervasiveness of these crimes, their cover story explained that high instances of the rape at the University of Montana were no outlier among colleges in the United States:
Calling Missoula the rape capital is as misleading as it is ugly. The University of Montana isn't a bizarre sexual-assault outlier in higher education. Instead, it is fairly average. The truth is, for young women, particularly those who are 18 or 19 years old, just beginning their college experience, America's campuses are hazardous places. Recent research shows that 1 in 5 women is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault during college.
By questioning the validity of sexual assault statistics, Time's most recent opinion pieces further stigmatize a crime that according to the Rape, Abuse, And Incest National Network already goes unreported up to 60% of the time.
Media outlets are overlooking President Obama's consistent emphasis on eliminating the threat posed by the extremist group the Islamic State -- and the U.S. airstrikes against it -- to fixate on Obama's recent reference to shrinking the group's influence to a "manageable problem."
Thirty months after flaming out on the Republican primary campaign trail, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose aborted 2012 run logged a fifth-place finish in Iowa and a sixth-place showing in New Hampshire before being suspended, is suddenly enjoying a Beltway media resurgence. With the issue of America's border security and the influx of unaccompanied children generating headlines, Perry has been out front criticizing President Obama, and the governor's performance is earning raves.
"People love his ass" is what "one Republican operative close to Perry" told Buzzfeed (anonymously). On The McLaughlin Group this weekend, so many panelists sang Perry's praise ("shrewd," "winning," "absolutely terrific") that host John McLaughlin announced, "a star is born."
Time has been in full swoon mode lately, touting Perry as "swaggering," "handsome and folksy," and insisting he's "refreshed his message, retooled his workout routine and retrained his sights toward the national stage." Meanwhile CNN's Peter Hamby claimed Perry is "completely underrated" as a 2016 contender. Why? Because "other than Chris Christie, it's hard to think of another Republican candidate with the kind of charm and personal affability, and frankly just good political skills, that Rick Perry has."
Keep in mind, Perry recently compared gays to alcoholics (and then acknowledged he "stepped right in it"), and suggested that the Obama White House might somehow be "in on" the wave of immigrant refugees crossing the U.S. border. He also became something an punch line last week when this sourpuss photo of his meeting with Obama lit up Twitter:
As for the issue of border security, Fox News' own Brit Hume noted on Sunday, Perry's demand that the National Guard be sent to patrol the border doesn't make much sense since, by law, Guardsmen aren't allowed to apprehend any of the refugee children coming into the country. (Children who are turning themselves over to Border Patrol agents.)
Apparently none of that matters when the press coalesces around a preferred narrative: Perry is hot and perfectly positioned for 2016. (He won the week!)
Perry's soft press shouldn't surprise close observers of the Beltway press corps. It's part of a larger media double standard where Republican campaign trail losers now routinely get treated like winners. (Think: John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney). The trend also extends to Republican policy failures, like the discredited architects of the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq, who have been welcomed back onto the airwaves to pontificate about Iraq, despite the fact they got almost everything wrong about the invasion eleven years ago.
And no, the same courtesy is not extended to Democrats. John Kerry did not camp out on the Sunday talk shows after losing to President Bush in 2004 and become a sort of permanent, television White House critic, the way McCain did after getting trounced by Obama in 2008.
Time published an article documenting the Family Research Council's (FRC) annual "Watchmen on the Wall" conference, glossing over the anti-gay hate group's extreme positions.
In a May 30 story titled "Watchmen on the Wall: Pastors Prepare to Take Back America," Time correspondent Elizabeth Dias offered a profile of FRC's annual "Watchmen on the Wall" conference. The article offered a one-sided depiction of FRC's efforts "advocate for... Biblical values," framing the group's struggle as an effort to fight back against a culture in which "religion is losing its public influence" (emphasis added):
[A group of 50] pastors had come to the nation's capital as part of the annual "Watchmen on the Wall" Washington briefing, a conference sponsored by the Family Research Council to connect pastors with policy makers and legislators and to encourage the pastors to advocate for those Biblical values FRC believes should be advanced in America.
This year's briefing focused on defending the idea that marriage only should exist between a man and woman and on countering what many conservative Christians believe are widespread attacks on Christian religious liberty. "There is an all-out assault on Biblical marriage, with judges overturning the will of the vast majority of voters in some states [...] Religious organizations and Christian-owned businesses are being forced to provide insurance plans that cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs or face fines and punishment...and the list goes on," FRC president Tony Perkins wrote in a welcome letter to attendees. "It would appear that lawlessness has been unleashed upon our country and culture as we witness an unprecedented and outrageous abuse of power by governing authorities."
For many of them, the battle goes beyond politics: it is spiritual warfare. As senior FRC fellow E.W. Jackson preached to the gathering, the ACLU and the Foundation for the Freedom from Religion, in trying to stop Christian prayer at public events, represent a movement "not simply [of] human beings who disagree with us--it is demonic power moving to shut down the power of God."
The article failed to note that the FRC is a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)-designated anti-gay hate group, owing to the malicious anti-LGBT rhetoric of FRC figures like FRC president Tony Perkins, who has endorsed a Ugandan bill that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality, asserted that gay people face "eternal damnation," and compared gays with terrorists. Along with other FRC personalities, Perkins has accused gay men of preying on children and condemned efforts to curb anti-LGBT bullying as part of an effort to "recruit" children "into that lifestyle."
Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.
The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."
Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."
JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.
Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."
This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.
So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.
This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.
Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.
And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."
As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.
But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.
A 60 Minutes segment claiming that federal government efforts to encourage clean tech -- the production and use of alternative energy sources and more efficient technology -- have failed drew some harsh disagreement among reporters covering the energy beat who say the negative report ignored many successes and focused too narrowly on a few unsuccessful companies.
Correspondent Lesley Stahl concluded in the January 5 piece that while stimulus spending including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program was invested in the industry, "instead of breakthroughs, the [clean tech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops."
Stahl's segment has drawn criticism from observers who have noted that 60 Minutes focused on Solyndra and a handful of other failed companies whose loans made up a tiny fraction of federal loans and ignored the clean tech breakthroughs and the explosive growth in the sector that have occurred.
The report was only the latest in a series of 60 Minutes reports that have been subject to stinging critiques in recent months. The program has been excoriated by media observers and accused of "check[ing] its journalistic skepticism at the door" by The New York Times.
Journalists who cover the same energy industries took issue with the clean tech report in interviews with Media Matters, noting that it did not take into account the long-term development needs of clean energy and the many ongoing successes.
"I thought it was a pretty poor piece of journalism, frankly," said David Baker, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering clean tech and energy. "There are areas of this field that are hurting, but there are others that are doing very, very well."
Baker added that 60 Minutes' error begins with its conception of the story: "The problem really begins when you just talk about clean tech as one thing - it is a bunch of things and a lot of it is energy generation and energy use. In a report like this where you look at clean tech in general, you have difficulty because it is not the same for each sector."
"The other biggest problem with the CBS story is it looked at some of the flops and really seemed to turn a blind eye to the success," he continued. "That is one of the most fundamental mistakes Lesley Stahl and her producers make."
Baker pointed to several west coast examples of successes, including the recently created California Solar Ranch, the largest solar plant in the nation that went online late last year.
"We are going to have a huge amount of power going on the grid from solar," Baker explained. "Some of those projects were funded in part through the Department of Energy loan program, the same one that funded Solyndra."
Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, major media outlets whitewashed many of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's extreme positions, including on abortion, health care, and the situation in the Middle East. In doing so, these outlets aided Romney's efforts to remake himself as a moderate politician.
Analyzing the presidential campaign in the wake of the first debate, Time's Mark Halperin wrote on October 10 that Mitt Romney's sudden "rush to the center" politically had emerged as the key topic - "the central tactical issue"-- for the Barack Obama's team to address. Halperin stressed it would be a challenge for Democrats because the Romney's campaign's "brazen chutzpah knows no bounds."
How odd. At the first debate Romney had so brashly reinvented himself by shifting his position on taxation, immigration and health care away from the Republican Party, that the onus was on Obama to counter Romney's slick maneuver. In other words, Romney's flip-flops, according to Halperin, were a major problem for the Obama campaign, not for the Republican who late in the game unveiled a new political persona. (Farewell "severely conservative.")
It's also telling that on October 10, Halperin considered Romney's makeover into a moderate to be the campaign's dominant issue. Yet one week earlier on the night of the first debate when Halperin graded both participants, the pundit made no reference to Romney's "rush to the center." In real time, Halperin heaped praise on Romney's style "(Started strong, level, and unrattled -- and strengthened as he went along") as well as his substance ("He clearly studied hard.")
Final grade, Romney: A-
Between the first debate and October 10, Romney's brazen flip-flops were not subject to any serious critique from Time's political team. What coverage Romney received for altering his campaign positions (aka his "tack toward the political center") mostly revolved around how conservative activists reacted to Romney's sudden embrace of moderate rhetoric. (They're totally fine with it.) Time was much less interested in what the about-faces said about Romney's candidacy, his character or what his presidency might look like.
The fact that the Republican candidate had radically altered his positions on core domestic issues just one month before Election Day was not treated as a campaign evolution that reflected poorly on Romney. To the contrary, it was largely portrayed as a savvy move by the Republican.
Time's soft peddling of Romney's broad reinvention was typical of how the Beltway press has politely covered the candidate's latest chameleon turn.