USA Today

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  • Conservatives Lose Their Excuse To Question The Results Of The Clinton Email Investigation

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY, CYDNEY HARGIS & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Conservatives have just lost their excuse to question the results of the investigation relating to Hillary Clinton’s email server, which legal experts say lacks a “legitimate basis” to charge Clinton with crimes. Right-wing media figures have ignored those experts to suggest that if the investigation does not result in a Clinton indictment, it must be politically tainted. But Attorney General Loretta Lynch affirmed that she will “be accepting the recommendations” made by “career agents and investigators” and FBI Director James Comey in the case, and conservative media have spent months lauding Comey’s “impeccable integrity” and ability to impartially conduct the investigation.

  • Editorial Boards Celebrate The Supreme Court’s Strengthening Of Reproductive Rights

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On June 27, the Supreme Court found in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that restrictions placed on Texas abortion providers by the state’s HB 2 violated a woman’s constitutional right to abortion access. Editorial boards across the nation hailed the decision as “a major victory for abortion rights,” and “the most significant victory in a generation for a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.”

  • In Reporting On Trump’s Call For Armed Clubgoers, Some Media Miss NRA’s Extremism On Guns In Bars

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    After presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump said clubgoers at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, where a gunman killed 49 people June 12, should have been carrying guns, many media outlets noted that Trump had staked out a position on guns in bars that was even more extreme than the National Rifle Association’s.

    Several media outlets, however, also incorrectly reported that the NRA opposes guns in bars generally.

    In fact, for years the NRA has made state-level efforts to allow concealed guns to be carried in bars so long as the person with the gun does not consume alcohol. The alcohol prohibition would largely operate on an honor system, as most concealed carry laws require that the gun remain concealed at all times unless being used for lawful self-defense or some other legal purpose.

    In recent years, the NRA has backed legislative efforts to allow guns in bars in states including Tennessee, Ohio, and Georgia.

    On June 17, Trump said while discussing the Orlando mass shooting, “If some of those wonderful people had guns strapped right here -- right to their waist or right to their ankle -- and … one of the people in that room happened to have it and goes 'boom, boom,' you know what? That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight." (Trump later dishonestly claimed he was referring only to the arming of employees or security guards.)

    Two NRA officials were asked about Trump’s remark during Sunday show appearances on June 19. NRA Institute for Legislative Action executive director Chris Cox said people drinking in clubs should not carry guns while NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said, “I don’t think you should have firearms where people are drinking.” The NRA later clarified that LaPierre was expressing opposition only to people drinking while carrying guns in bars.

    So while Trump’s position is further out there compared to the NRA’s position, the NRA’s position itself is out of the mainstream.

    Several outlets misreported the NRA’s extreme position in guns in bars, amid confusion over both Trump and LaPierre attempting to “clarify” remarks made about guns in bars:

    • USA Today: “But NRA officials said Sunday that having armed patrons in bars with alcohol was not such a good idea.”

    • NBC’s Peter Alexander on the June 20 broadcast of Today: “Trump’s argued that if more people at that Orlando nightclub were armed with guns strapped to their waist, and that they fired back at the shooter, the carnage would have been much less. But even the NRA pushed back against that, insisting it does not believe people should carry guns in drinking establishments.”

    • Associated Press: “Donald Trump is backtracking from his contention that victims of the Orlando massacre should have been allowed to carry arms into the nightclub where they were attacked -- a stance even the NRA says is untenable.”

  • How The Media Helped Donald Trump Boost His Candidacy

    Harvard Professor Gives Insight Into New Shorenstein Report About How The Media Helped Trump And Hurt Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The author of a new Harvard study on the media’s coverage of the presidential primary says the press clearly helped Donald Trump on his path to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.

    This week, Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy released a detailed report on the media’s coverage of the presidential race in 2015, the year leading up to the first primaries. The study found that “Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee. Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch."

    The study’s author, Harvard professor Thomas E. Patterson, told Media Matters in an interview that the massive amount of Trump coverage -- as well as its largely positive tone -- predated Trump’s rise in the polls and “helped position him to make a stronger run.”

    “In the past, to get a lot of coverage pre-Iowa you had to be pretty high in the polls, and they started to give him heavy coverage when he was way down there, in the single digits,” Patterson said in an interview. “It is virtually impossible when you go back through all the races before 2016 when you were in a multi-candidate field and you were down where he was you are almost an afterthought to journalists.”

    The study looked at coverage of the candidates prior to the caucus and primary votes by Fox News, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

    Equating the Trump coverage to advertising dollars, Patterson’s report found that Trump received about $55 million worth of positive and neutral coverage in the eight outlets studied, well ahead of the second place candidate, Jeb Bush, at $36 million.

    “It’s gold, it works in every way in [his] favor,” Patterson said. “As you start to go up in the polls, there is a circular pattern, you can raise money and it becomes easier to pull voters into your column. What was abnormal was this extraordinary amount of attention Trump got early on even though he did not appear on paper to be a credible candidate. He was far down in the polls, but he made statements that made for great stories.”

    The study found that all eight of the news outlets studied gave Trump predominantly positive or neutral coverage, from The New York Times, where 63% of stories about Trump were positive or neutral, to USA Today, which led the way with 74%.

    By the same token, Clinton received largely negative coverage across the eight news outlets during 2015. The report argues of this disparity, "Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump, it helped tear down Clinton. Trump’s positive coverage was the equivalent of millions of dollars in ad-buys in his favor, whereas Clinton’s negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end." 

    Patterson pointed to reporting on Clinton's use of a private email account while secretary of state and Republicans' ongoing focus on the 2012 Benghazi attacks as two of the most negatives stories.

    “In her case, the emails and the questions about the emails, how big an issue is this actually, that was a big part of her coverage,” Patterson said. “Benghazi was a bigger part of the news early on and then she had that day-long session with Congress that a lot of people thought she did quite well with. Of all the candidates of recent decades who have been front-runners, she has had the strongest headwinds of negative coverage.”

    But Patterson said the press may have over-covered the email issue and failed to put it in proper context.

    “How big an issue is the email controversy in the context of the candidate’s preparedness and ability to be president of the states?” he asked. “I think you would get some who say it is a molehill into a mountain. My own sense is that as a standalone issue the emails are pretty small potatoes in the realm of presidential preparedness. It has been a common practice in Congress and among cabinet officers to combine them one way or another. She is not an outlier on this and you could ask why the press has not brought that part of the story into it.”

    Patterson added that even apart from those controversies, Clinton’s “substantive issue coverage was more negative than the other candidates.”

    Despite the helping hand the media gave Trump during the primaries, Patterson notes that “in the past few weeks, Trump has gotten the kind of press scrutiny that if it had come earlier it would have been a drag of some kind on his candidacy, perhaps enough to make it hard for him to go into the convention with a majority.”

  • Reports: Even Trump's Defense Of Trump U. Is Fraudulent

    Redstate, USA Today Expose Trump Ties Behind New Video

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Media are already pointing out that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new defense of his now-defunct “Trump University” business is itself a “scam.”

    Following the release of unsealed court documents related to the ongoing lawsuits against Trump’s business, the Trump campaign posted a three-minute video on June 1 purporting to show the “true story” from “hard-working students who can attest to the first-hand truth about Trump University.”

    USA Today and RedState have already pointed out the questionable resumes and personal Trump ties of the three “former students” highlighted by the video.

    RedState, which termed the video a “scam,” noted that two of the three former students shown in the video, Kent Moyer and Casey Hoban, do not appear to currently work in real estate, and that at least one of the students, Hoban, may have “an ongoing business and personal relationship with the Trump family.” RedState and USA Today both highlighted multiple posts from Hoban’s Twitter account that appear to show that the protein water Hoban sells is sold at various Trump properties.

    The third student, Michelle Gunn, is a real estate investor who has previously given a testimonial for an unrelated self-help workshop. As USA Today reported, Gunn also “manages her college-aged son, Houston, who wrote a book at 13, Schooled for Success: How I Plan to Graduate from High School a Millionaire. It was endorsed by Donald Trump.”

    In addition to what RedState and USA Today reported, in 2013 both Michelle and Houston appeared in yet another testimonial, which mentioned the release of the book and Trump’s endorsement. Houston Gunn’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter profile also feature photos of Gunn and Trump together. In a 2013 book tour talk, Houston Gunn seemed to credit his attendance of a Trump University real estate seminar for Trump’s endorsement of his book.

    None of these apparent conflicts are mentioned in the new testimonials released by the Trump campaign, which instead characterized them as “representative of the many students who were overwhelmingly satisfied with Trump University.”

  • Journalists Should Stop Validating Trump Ally And Conspiracy Theorist Roger Stone

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Journalists have regularly validated top Donald Trump ally and infamous conspiracy theorist Roger Stone in their reporting by uncritically quoting Stone without acknowledging his history of dirty tricks, racism, sexism, and violent rhetoric.

    Political reporters turn to candidates’ campaign staff and other political allies in order to provide insight into campaign strategy. Journalists have used Stone as a source for this insight with regard to the Trump campaign, often referring to him as merely a Trump “associate” or “ally.”

    But Stone is not a typical political adviser, and when the press treats him as one they miss out on a key election story: the extremism of Trump’s supporters. Stone’s decades-long history of dirty tricks includes playing a role in Watergate that later caused him to be fired from a job in the Senate. He has a record of racist and misogynistic rhetoric that caused MSNBC and CNN to ban him from their networks. Stone also regularly calls for public figures to be executed.

    Stone’s history of extremism is particularly relevant for readers when he is quoted discussing the Clintons. Stone has alleged that the Clintons are “plausibly responsible” for the deaths of roughly 40 people, including John F. Kennedy Jr. He has also claimed that Bill Clinton is not Chelsea Clinton’s real father. In 2008, he ran an anti-Hillary Clinton group that went by the acronym “C.U.N.T.”

    Recent articles that have quoted Stone without providing readers with any context regarding his history include:

    • A May 16 BuzzFeed article that quoted “longtime political ally and former campaign adviser to Donald Trump” acknowledging that Trump “posed as his own publicist.”
    • A May 24 Fox News segment discussed comments from “Trump confidant Roger Stone” about whether the candidate had given money to Kathleen Willey.
    • A May 23 Washington Post article quoted “Trump confidant” Stone on the candidate’s strategy for attacking the Clintons.
    • A May 17 USA Today article cited “Trump adviser” Stone on the candidate’s position on Wall Street.

    The media’s validation of Stone closely echoes the mainstreaming of Trump’s extremism. On CNN, Huffington Post Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington called out the media for just that, noting that “by not challenging” Trump’s “extreme statements,” media “are allowing them to become part of the conversation, to become part of the mainstream; we’re getting used to these absurdities.” Journalists should keep that in mind when covering Stone, too.

  • An Extensive Guide To The Fact Checks, Debunks, And Criticisms Of Trump’s Various Problematic Policy Proposals

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY & JARED HOLT

    Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.

  • USA Today Lets Extremist Gun Group Distort Merrick Garland’s Judicial Record

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    USA Today gave a representative of extremist gun organization Gun Owners of America (GOA) a platform to smear Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. The group wrote a column distorting the facts on several U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit opinions to claim Garland “had 4 chances to vote against gun rights, and he took them all.”

    GOA is a far-right organization with past ties to anti-Semites and white supremacist groups and a leader, Larry Pratt, who has repeatedly suggested that politicians should fear being shot by a GOA supporter if they pass laws regulating firearms.

    In a May 1 column at USAToday.com, GOA general counsel Michael Hammond distorted Garland’s involvement in four cases decided before the D.C. Circuit, where Garland sits as chief judge, to claim Garland is “anti-gun.”

    In one case Hammond cited, Garland did not participate in the ruling, but rather took part in a vote to decide whether the entire D.C. Circuit should rehear the case, which would require the full panel of judges to consider it. According to legal experts, a judge’s vote to rehear or not rehear a case is not indicative of what the judge thinks the outcome of the case should be. Two of the cases Hammond cited were not actually decided on Second Amendment grounds and cannot be characterized as showing bias for or against gun rights. And in the fourth case he cited, Garland did not participate in the ruling and the case was not decided on Second Amendment grounds.

    Parker v. District of Columbia

    Hammond first attacked Garland for his participation in a vote related to Parker v. District of Columbia, a 2007 challenge to Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban. In a 2-1 panel decision -- which Garland did not participate in -- the D.C. Circuit reversed a lower court's decision upholding the ban, finding that D.C.'s law violated the Second Amendment.

    Following the ruling, Garland was one of four judges, including George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Raymond Randolph, to vote to have the entire D.C. Circuit rehear the case en banc. A majority of D.C. Circuit judges voted not to rehear the case, and it moved on to the Supreme Court, where it became the landmark Second Amendment decision District of Columbia v. Heller.

    The claim that Garland’s en banc vote in Parker means that he is "anti-gun" is a smear developed by the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a discredited right-wing group that is spending millions to oppose Garland's nomination. Numerous legal experts, however, have debunked the claim that an en banc vote is representative of how a judge would rule on the merits if the case were reheard.

    According to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, an en banc rehearing “ordinarily will not be ordered unless” a full panel’s “consideration is necessary to secure or maintain uniformity of the court's decisions; or the proceeding involves a question of exceptional importance.” As PolitiFact noted, the Parker case satisfied both of those conditions.

    Seegars v. Gonzalez

    Hammond also attacked Garland for his involvement in a case preceding Parker that unsuccessfully challenged D.C.'s handgun ban. As in Parker, Garland did not participate in the decision in Seegars v. Gonzalez, but rather participated in a vote on whether to rehear the case en banc.

    The Seegars case was brought by a group of District of Columbia residents who argued that D.C.’s handgun ban and trigger lock laws violated their Second Amendment rights. In 2005, the D.C. Circuit ruled against the residents in an opinion authored by Reagan appointee Judge Stephen F. Williams.

    While the D.C. residents made a Second Amendment argument against D.C.’s gun law, the court never ruled on the merits of this argument. Instead, the court dismissed the case on procedural grounds, with the majority opinion finding that “under controlling circuit precedent no plaintiff has standing” to challenge D.C.’s handgun ban and trigger lock laws. The vote to rehear the case failed 7-3, with Garland voting against rehearing alongside D.C. Circuit judges appointed by Democrats and Republicans. Then-D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg, a Reagan appointee, filed a concurrence in the denial to rehear the case. As in Parker, Garland’s vote does not indicate how he would have ruled on the merits of the case.

    National Rifle Association v. Reno

    Hammond also cited Garland’s joining of the 2000 decision National Rifle Association v. Reno as supposed evidence of “anti-gun” bias. As with his citation of the Parker case, Hammond’s attacks concerning NRA v. Reno originate from debunked talking points pushed by JCN.

    In Reno, the NRA claimed that the way the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun purchases temporarily retained data on gun owners violated a federal prohibition on creating a registry of gun owners.

    On appeal, the NRA lost the decision, 2-1, with Garland joining Judge David S. Tatel's majority opinion, which ruled: “Finding nothing in the Brady Act that unambiguously prohibits temporary retention of information about lawful transactions, and finding that the Attorney General has reasonably interpreted the Act to permit retention of such information for audit purposes, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the complaint.”

    As with the Seegars case, the ruling was not decided on Second Amendment grounds. Rather, the case was one of statutory construction and interpretation, assessing whether the NICS system of temporary record retention was permissible under the language of the Brady Act and the Department of Justice’s interpretation of that act.

    Furthermore, no court accepted the NRA’s argument that the NICS system was tantamount to a gun registry. The NRA lost the case at the federal district court level, then again at the D.C. Circuit in the ruling Garland joined, before the then-conservative-leaning Supreme Court finally denied a request by the NRA to hear the case. In fact, Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft opposed the NRA’s request that the Supreme Court hear the case, writing that the D.C. Circuit decision Garland joined was “correct.”

    United States v. Burwell

    The last example Hammond cited as supposed evidence of Garland’s “anti-gun” bias was the 2012 decision United States v. Burwell, where the D.C. Circuit reheard a case involving a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence given to a man convicted of possessing a machine gun while committing a "crime of violence."

    At issue was whether the criminal defendant in that case, who had brandished a fully automatic AK-47 assault rifle during a series of bank robberies, knew that the firearm was capable of fully automatic fire (the gun in question was capable of both automatic and semi-automatic fire).

    A 2012 decision before the entire D.C. Circuit – after members of the court had voted to rehear the case en banc – affirmed the D.C. Circuit’s original decision in a majority opinion that upheld the defendant’s conviction.

    Garland joined the majority opinion authored by Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a George W. Bush appointee.

    Like with the Seegars and Reno cases, it is misleading to claim that the opinion here offers an indication of a judge’s view on gun rights because the case was not decided on Second Amendment grounds. Instead, the case was decided on statutory grounds: whether the sentencing minimum law required the prosecution to prove that the defendant knew whether the firearm used in a crime of violence was fully automatic.

    The ruling affirming the defendant’s conviction largely relied upon prior precedent within the D.C. Circuit -- a 1992 case called United States v. Harris. In that case, a panel of judges composed of Carter appointee Ruth Bader Ginsburg, George H.W. Bush appointee Clarence Thomas, and Reagan appointee Laurence H. Silberman issued a per curiam opinion that reached the same legal conclusion as the opinion Garland joined in the Burwell case.

  • Major News Outlets Fail To Identify The Hate Group Boycotting Target

    The American Family Association Has Been Designated An Anti-LGBT “Hate Group” By The SPLC

    ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Major news outlets have largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT "hate group," often only referring to the group as a "Christian" or "conservative" organization.

  • USA Today, Bloomberg Contributors Obscure Role Of Industry-Funded Think Tank In “Exxon Knew” Scandal

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are echoing false attacks on attorneys general who are investigating whether oil companies deceived the public on climate change, and grossly misrepresenting why the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands has subpoenaed records from an oil industry-funded think tank as part of his investigation.

    A coalition of attorneys general has committed to holding fossil fuel companies including Exxon accountable if they obfuscated climate change research in order to protect their financial interests. This follows reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showing that Exxon’s own scientists confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterwards. One of the climate denial organizations that Exxon funded was the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker is now subpoenaing CEI for “records of the group's donors and activities involving climate policy,” as InsideClimate News reported. CEI said it “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena,” and called it "an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”

    Now, contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are defending CEI and Exxon by misrepresenting Exxon’s alleged wrongdoing. Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle authored a column on April 8 headlined, “Subpoenaed Into Silence on Global Warming,” in which she claimed the attorneys general are trying to “shut down dissenters” and criminalize “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.” Similarly, USA Today contributor Glenn Reynolds proclaimed in an April 11 column that the attorneys general investigations look like “a concerted scheme to restrict the First Amendment free speech rights of people they don’t agree with,” and that their goal is to “treat disagreement as something more or less criminal.”

    In casting the issue as a matter of “free speech,” both McArdle and Reynolds ignored the real reason the attorneys general have launched investigations into Exxon and subpoenaed records from CEI. As InsideClimate News explained, despite Exxon’s “emerging understanding of climate change science in the 1970s,” the oil giant subsequently worked to “undermine the scientific consensus, in part by financing research organizations including CEI.” InsideClimate News added:

    CEI is one of several organizations that have been repeatedly named over the years by those who have criticized Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for financing the climate denial work of third parties. After the Royal Society of the United Kingdom castigated Exxon in 2006 for giving money to groups misrepresenting climate science, Exxon said it had stopped financing the CEI.

    Additionally, the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) uncovered that the year after CEI received $270,000 from Exxon for “Global Climate Change,” “Global Climate Change Outreach,” and “General Operating Support,” CEI released a climate science-denying TV commercial with the tag line: “Carbon Dioxide: They Call it Pollution, We Call it Life.” CIC stated that the commercial “caused such an outcry, we believe it triggered ExxonMobil to cut funding to CEI altogether.” 

    Bloomberg View’s McArdle warned that the attorneys general investigations could set a bad “precedent” that would “eventually be used against” the “enemies of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ExxonMobil.” But that has already happened: climate science denier and then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was found by the Virginia Supreme Court to have overstepped his authority by demanding that the University of Virginia provide emails and other documents from climate scientist Michael Mann. Identical documents were sought by the American Tradition Institute, whose senior director of litigation, Chris Horner, was also a senior fellow at CEI.

    McArdle did mention in her column that her husband Peter Suderman had “briefly worked for CEI as a junior employee.” While she was at it, she could have disclosed that Suderman currently works for Reason magazine, and that the Reason Foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Exxon.

  • Conservatives Are Already Preparing To Cry "Cover-Up" If Hillary Clinton Isn't Indicted

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Right-wing media figures have been laying the foundation to allege a "scandal" and "cover-up" if the FBI's investigation into Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton's email server does not result in Clinton's indictment, thus setting her up for a lose-lose situation. Yet multiple law experts have explained that an indictment is highly unlikely.