USA Today botched a poll graphic about the top descriptions "likely Democratic primary voters" used about current and potential Democratic presidential candidates, which purportedly included "Liar/Dishonest," "Unfavorable/Dislike," and "Idiot/Joke." The paper misread its own poll: those top descriptions included Republican respondents, and Democrats infrequently responded with those terms.
The Republican birther brigade really is one of the most astonishing political stories in recent years. What's truly bewildering and newsworthy is that the birther ranks are apparently expanding and likely number in the millions nationwide. The fact that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump personally vouched for the baseless, anti-Obama conspiracy theory has only elevated its significance.
So why does the press continue to largely turn a blind eye to the telling spectacle?
Amidst the avalanche of news coverage and commentary about Trump's campaign, the birther strain that runs through important parts of the Republican Party (the claim that Obama's secretly a Kenya-born Muslim) has not been a focal point for Beltway reporters and pundits. The media's birther blind spot is part of the larger press failure to grasp, and accurately detail, the truly radical nature of the Republican Party under President Obama.
For instance, since June 1, the New York Times has published approximately 180 articles or columns that included the word "Trump" five or more times, according to Nexis. But just a handful of those have made any mention of Trump's previous birth certificate folly. The same goes for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, for example: Nearly 180 detailed Trump articles and columns published since June between them, but just a few that have addressed the birther nonsense.
I'm not suggesting the topic has been completely ignored. But it is safe to say it's not a priority issue for the press, which seems otherwise consumed with all things Trump.
You can bet that if, for some very strange reason, a left-wing demagogue who previously trafficked in 9/11 Truther conspiracy theories catapulted to the front of the Democratic primary race, that incendiary fact would not be politely ignored or downplayed. But Trump's right-wing birtherism often gets a pass.
Let's face it, the press has never come to terms with the Republican Party's deep birther roots, and therefore hasn't come to terms with the radical revolution unfolding on the far right. This campaign season seems like an obvious time to do so. "We need to reckon even more urgently with what can now be called the 'Trumpists,'" Harvard professor Danielle Allen recently noted, highlighting their birther streak.
It's true Trump's candidacy has for the most part shied away from the touchy birther issue this year. But it's also true that it was his bizarre birther campaign that catapulted Trump to Republican stardom in 2011. That year, he teamed up with Fox News and the two took the dormant issue and turned it into conservative "news," with Fox News hosting more than 50 birther segments within a seven-week span.
Eventually, the White House released Obama's long-form birth certificate and most observers laughed at Trump's political pratfall. And I think most journalists thought that was the end of the issue: The dopey birthplace allegations had been unequivocally debunked, therefore the so-called controversy had been settled, right?
And that's been the press' telltale failure in covering conservatives and Republicans in recent years: Facts often don't matter to them. They occupy their own tribal space and digest the same misinformation that simply feeds their often-paranoid views of Obama and Democrats.
"They have a different sense of what is normal," Rachel Maddow observed about birthers back in 2013. "They have a different sense of what counts as reasonable politics in America -- and failing to appreciate that, means that we fail to develop reasonably accurate expectations for their behavior. And that has become really important."
That's even truer today as America's most famous birther marches towards the Republican nomination.
Trump's appealing to an often-ugly streak within the conservative movement. And he's winning over the demagoguery wing of the Republican Party. That's news.
As Mother Jones' David Corn recently noted, "Many Republicans clearly see the president as a foreign-born secret Muslim with a clandestine plan to weaken, if not ruin, the United States--remember the death panels--and they have a dark, nearly apocalyptic view of Obama's America."
To me, that assertion seems self-evident. So why the Beltway press' reluctance to drill down deep into this troubling phenomenon? What's behind the Beltway-wide decision to pretend there isn't something seismic and disturbing going on within the Republican electorate?
Rather than having the release of Obama's birth certificate dissuade those on the far right about the birther issue, since 2011 the ranks of Republican birthers have swelled to huge proportions as the GOP base clings to the dark fantasy that Obama is an African-born impostor who's ineligible to be president or to command U.S. military forces.
From Talking Points Memo [emphasis added]:
Nearly half of Iowans supporting real estate mogul Donald Trump's presidential campaign don't believe President Barack Obama was born in the United States, according to a poll released Tuesday.
The Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll found that 35 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers don't believe the President was born in the U.S. That "birther" share rose to 46 percent among Trump supporters, the poll found.
And from Public Policy Polling:
Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country, and that immigrant children should be deported. 66% of Trump's supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12% that grant he's a Christian. 61% think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21% who accept that he was. And 63% want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, to only 20% who want to keep things the way they are.
Has the modern political press ever had to deal with such a large portion of the partisan electorate that's actively allergic to facts the way birthers are? Probably not.
But I also don't think the current path of routinely downplaying the birther phenomenon and its extraordinary pull within the Republican Party is the right way to handle the story. By too often turning a blind eye to the birther juices fueling Trump's ascension, the press overlooks a defining trait in conservative politics today.
The USA Today editorial board blasted the state-led rollback of abortion access in the United States, explaining how it infringes on the right to choose and underscoring how the misinformation behind the influx of restrictive anti-choice legislation harms women.
According to a July report from the Guttmacher Institute, states have already "enacted 51 new abortion restrictions," bringing "the number of restrictions enacted since 2010 to 282." The slew of anti-choice legislation has included measures roundly condemned as unnecessary and dangerous by medical experts, including "targeted regulation of abortion provider" bills (or TRAP laws), waiting periods, and early abortion bans.
Conservative media's legacy of misinformation surrounding reproductive rights and health has paved the way for such legislation, championing measures that harm women even as experts speak out against them. Lauding restrictions that medical experts agree are based on medically inaccurate or outright false information, conservative media have worked tirelessly to build a platform of falsehoods for the restrictive legislation to build upon.
USA Today underscored the dangerous ramifications of such policies in a September 7 editorial, writing that "the right to an abortion -- guaranteed 42 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court -- has been saddled with so many onerous strictures in so many states that for millions of women, it has become almost meaningless." Pointing to restrictive anti-choice policies in states such as Texas, where "abortion foes, in the guise of making abortion safer" passed legislation that shut down more than half of the state's abortion providers, the editorial board explained how the laws have posed an "undue burden" on women, making abortion all but inaccessible in many states:
A constitutional right that's almost impossible to exercise isn't much of a right at all. Yet the right to an abortion -- guaranteed 42 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court -- has been saddled with so many onerous strictures in so many states that for millions of women, it has become almost meaningless.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Texas, where abortion foes, in the guise of making abortion safer, have passed laws that forced half of the state's clinics to shut down. In 2012, Texas had 41 abortion providers; today, there are fewer than 20.
Women in some parts of Texas must travel hundreds of miles round-trip to exercise their rights, thanks to the law requiring that all clinics meet hospital-like standards for surgery centers and that all providers affiliate with hospitals. Both requirements might sound reasonable, but a federal judge found the building standards so tangential "to patient safety ... as to be nearly arbitrary." And two major medical groups say obtaining hospital privileges adds "no medical benefit" for patients, who could be harmed by having less access to safe abortions.
"Undue burden" might be hard to define. But the justices ought to know it when they see it, as Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography. Women should not have to wait days, listen to forced lectures, drive hundreds of miles or do battle in court repeatedly to access a right guaranteed long ago by the highest court in the land.
Media outlets are highlighting the drastic consequences that implementing Texas' House Bill 2 (HB2) -- a law restricting women's access to safe, legal abortions by imposing "several medically unnecessary requirements" on providers -- would have on women in the state trying to access reproductive health care after news broke that Texas abortion providers have asked the Supreme Court to a hear a challenge to the restrictions.
In an August 30 USA Today opinion piece, the former U.S. attorney who oversaw the prosecution of retired Gen. David Petraeus for mishandling classified state secrets debunked the false comparison by conservative media of Hillary Clinton's email use to Petraeus' actions, explaining that the "comparison has no merit" because "Petraeus knowingly engaged in unlawful conduct" and "Clinton is not being investigation for knowingly sending or receiving classified materials improperly."
Right-wing media frequently hype what they claim are similarities between the two cases, despite the fact that columnists and thought leaders in mainstream media have dismissed it as "inapt," and experts insist "there's no comparison between the Clinton email issue and the Petraeus case."
Writing in USA Today, Anne M. Tomkins, the former U.S. attorney who oversaw the prosecution of Petraeus (and current Hillary Clinton campaign donor), effectively dismantled conservative media's comparison, explaining, "Unlike Petraeus, Clinton did not 'knowingly' store or share classified information in violation of the law":
Both the law and his oath required Petraeus to mark these books as "top secret" and to store them in a Secured Compartmented Information Facility. He did neither.
Rather, Petraeus allowed his biographer to take possession of the journals in order to use them as source material for his biography.
Importantly, Petraeus was well aware of the classified contents in his journals, saying to his biographer, Paula Broadwell on tape, "I mean, they are highly classified, some of them. They don't have it on it, but I mean there's code word stuff in there."
When questioned by the FBI, Petraeus lied to agents in responding that he had neither improperly stored nor improperly provided classified information to his biographer. As Mukasey also highlighted, the key element is that Petraeus' conduct was done "knowingly." That is, when he stored his journals containing "highly classified" information at his home, he did so knowingly. Petraeus knew at that time that there was classified information in the journals, and he knew they were stored improperly.
In sharp contrast, Clinton is not being investigated for knowingly sending or receiving classified materials improperly.
Indeed, the State Department has confirmed that none of the information that has surfaced on Clinton's server thus far was classified at the time it was sent or received. Additionally, the Justice Department indicated that its inquiry is not a criminal one and that Clinton is not the subject of the inquiry.
Fox & Friends joined The Daily Caller in an effort to make alleged terrorists Anwar al-Awlaki and Yaser Hamdi the face of birthright citizenship, falsely claiming the men were born in the U.S. to "illegal parents" and able to pursue terrorist activities without retaliation because their citizenship protected them.
Conservative media figures are attacking Fox News and Megyn Kelly to defend Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, claiming the network and Kelly were "out to get" Trump in Fox News' first Republican primary debate.
Major U.S. newspapers ran front page stories about devastating California wildfires alongside reports on the Environmental Protection Agency's newly-finalized Clean Power Plan, President Obama's flagship policy to address climate change. Yet with only one exception, these newspapers' wildfire articles ignored the documented role that global warming has played in worsening wildfires.
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.
USA Today's editorial board published a misleading editorial comparing the economic crisis currently crippling Greece with the economic problems facing the United States, fear mongering that a similar crisis could happen "in as little as a decade." But economists have repeatedly dismissed the comparison, explaining that the U.S. economy is dissimilar from Greece and therefore unlikely to face a similar debt crisis.
On July 6, the editorial board published a piece claiming that the United States could find itself in a Greece-like economic and financial crisis as a result of America's debt and entitlements. According to the editorial board, "Greece is just further along" in its debt crisis however, Americans can expect a major shock "in as little as a decade."
Both countries have amassed large debts. Both are run by politicians eager to tell voters what they want to hear about national finances, not what they need to hear. Both have aging populations. Both are familiar with irresponsible banks lending to irresponsible borrowers. And both have been plunging headlong towards debt crises.
Greece is just further along.
Yet efforts to even modestly curtail health benefits, or any other "entitlement" programs for that matter, meet thunderous opposition from politicians, labor unions, senior citizen groups and others. Often, the objections are couched in language of people having "earned" their benefits after a lifetime of work.
In fact, they've earned a portion of their benefits. An average couple that retired in 2010, for instance, will receive $387,000 in Medicare benefits after having paid $122,000 in Medicare taxes while working. Social Security is in somewhat better shape but it, too, will soon have to start drawing down its reserves, adding more red ink to the budget.
Unless benefit programs are reined in, America is heading for its own debt crisis. It won't be complicated by whether it should drop out of a currency union. And it might be delayed by a vibrant and innovative private sector. But it could arrive in as little as a decade. And then everything will seem Greek to us.
USA Today's doom and gloom predictions are indistinguishable from the cartoonish fearmongering that has been promoted by Fox News since 2010.
Washington Post contributor and international political economist Daniel Drezner blasted media outlets for allowing the "re-emergence of a Greece-related meme that should have died of shame and embarrassment about four years ago." According to Drezner, after years of the media predicting a Greek-like disaster "exactly none of these things have come to pass."
And on the July 5 edition of ABC's This Week, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman downplayed the impact of the Greek debt crisis for other developed economies, explaining that Greece's GDP is roughly equal to that of Miami, Florida. Krugman also argued in his New York Times column that U.S.-Greece comparisons are unreliable, since they project debt in future decades and assume fiscal policies remain static.
Um, that's comparing a (highly uncertain) projection of debt 20 years from now -- a projection that's based on the assumption of unchanged policy -- with actual debt now. Actual US federal debt is only about half that high now. And it's worth pointing out that Greek debt is projected to rise to 149 percent of GDP over the next few years -- and that's with the austerity measures agreed with the IMF.
Basically, the United States can expect economic recovery to bring the deficit down substantially; Greece, which has a larger structural deficit and also faces a grinding adjustment to overvaluation with the eurozone, can't.
Yes, the United States needs fiscal adjustment -- Auerbach and Gale say that we have a long-run fiscal imbalance of 6-plus percent of GDP, although much of that could be closed by reining in health costs. But we really don't look much like Greece.
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."
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.
Many major media outlets reported that a new Environmental Protection Agency study found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking") has had "widespread" impacts on Americans' drinking water, but did not mention the EPA's explanation for why the study doesn't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The EPA study identified several "limiting factors," including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, which it said "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty."
From the May 21 edition of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes:
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Recent news reports on Republican presidential candidates' current support for pre-viability bans on abortion after 20 weeks have failed to mention that such bans are clearly unconstitutional, and have been repeatedly struck down as such by the courts.
It's no secret that the likely candidates for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination are extremely anti-choice. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was recently in the news for his sponsorship of "personhood" bills that would legally define life at conception, rendering abortion and some forms of birth control the criminal equivalent of murder -- perhaps even without exceptions for rape or incest. With less attention, Paul's potential primary opponents have also staked out far-right positions on American women's access to abortion, and recent reporting indicates their consensus position is coalescing around pre-viability 20-week abortion bans. In addition to Paul, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are all reportedly on board with these bans, despite the fact they flout decades of Supreme Court precedent protecting the constitutional right to abortion.
In reporting on these candidates' current lockstep for bans on abortion, however, mainstream media outlets are neglecting to mention that these 20-week measures are blatantly unconstitutional -- despite the fact that some of these same candidates repeatedly emphasize their fidelity to the "rule of law" and the U.S. Constitution.
In a recent article about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who has yet to officially announce his candidacy, The New York Times noted that Walker's newfound support for a 20-week abortion ban was a "shift in emphasis and tone," but never discussed the constitutional flaw in such bans. USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times omitted the same fact in their political coverage of Walker's position on reproductive rights, with the LA Times choosing to describe a 20-week ban in terms of a "sharper-edged tone" rather than the unconstitutional measure it is.
The trend culminated in an April 17 Politico article that called 20-week abortion bans the "new litmus test" for all Republican candidates. While Politico detailed how anti-choice groups are lobbying Republicans to "make 20-week abortion ban[s] a centerpiece of their campaigns," the article never once noted that those bans are unconstitutional.