Media outlets downplayed the legal concerns swirling around Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's fundraising for his affiliated super PAC prior to his formal campaign announcement in their reports on the campaign's unprecedented fundraising success.
The Wall Street Journal had to issue an "amplification" to a Newt Gingrich op-ed after it was revealed the paper failed to disclose Gingrich's financial ties to a group involved in the piece's subject. A PR firm associated with Gingrich attempted to defend the lack of disclosure, but their baffling explanation is just further proof the Journal should have included the information in the first place.
As Media Matters originally noted, the Journal published a July 1 op-ed by Gingrich attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and promoting the U.S. Consumer Coalition without disclosing that the anti-CFPB group employs him as a paid adviser. The paper updated the piece this morning with the sentence: "Amplification: Newt Gingrich is a paid adviser to Wise Public Affairs, whose clients include the U.S. Consumer Coalition, which opposes some policies of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."
Washington Post writer Erik Wemple reported that Brian Wise, head of Wise Public Affairs, claimed that Gingrich has a relationship with his firm, but "'not necessarily a direct relationship with the USCC,' which is a client of Wise Public Affairs. 'The USCC wasn't involved at all in the creation of that article,' says Wise." Wise also reportedly said that Gingrich "has not advised USCC on the CFPB data-mining issue" and didn't see a problem with the WSJ piece.
Wise's response is puzzling, since the USCC states on its website and Facebook page (see here, here, here) that Gingrich is an advisor to the group. Indeed, the group's press release promoting Gingrich's WSJ op-ed identified him as "US Consumer Coalition Senior Advisor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich."
Additionally, Gingrich's op-ed contains similar rhetoric as USCC's anti-CFPB talking points.
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."
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Newt Gingrich attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and promoting the U.S. Consumer Coalition without disclosing that the anti-CFPB group employs him as a paid adviser. The omission is even more egregious since the Journal itself reported Gingrich's hiring last year.
Media coverage of Texas' restrictive anti-abortion legislation often presents a false equivalence between arguments from proponents of the legislation and women's health advocates, despite medical experts agreement that such measures are dangerous to women.
The Supreme Court temporarily blocked implementation of two provisions of Texas' extreme efforts to restrict abortion through a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law. The provisions in question required all clinics providing abortions "in the state to meet the standards for 'ambulatory surgical centers,' including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing," The New York Times explained, and required doctors who performed the procedure "to have admitting privileges at nearby hospital[s]."
Media coverage of Texas' anti-abortion laws often provides equal coverage to both sides of the debate, at the expense of fact-checking anti-abortion proponents who claim, against the advice of medical experts, that the legislation helps women, as Amanda Marcotte noted in a July 2 post for RH Reality Check. Pointing to a recent article from NPR on the Supreme Court's move to temporarily block the state's restrictions, Marcotte explained that although the piece's efforts to quote both sides "is not, in itself, an issue," a statement from a representative from Texas Right to Life, which claimed the law was simply meant to protect women's health, went unquestioned. "What is frustrating is that there is not a whiff of an effort to provide actual real-world facts to give the audience context," wrote Marcotte. She went on:
NPR framed the story like it was two parties making value claims, with no way to measure their statements against evidence. The problem here is that the debate is not about values. Both sides claim to have the same goal--protecting women's health--and the fight is over who has a better strategy to get there.
Similarly, in their reporting on the Supreme Court's block, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal each included statements from both sides of the debate arguing that they were protecting women's health while failing to note that medical experts don't support the legislation.
Health experts have roundly backed abortion access advocates in their assertion that laws of this nature are both medically unnecessary and dangerous to women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Health Association condemned such measures in a joint amicus brief, writing that the measure to be implemented in Texas "jeopardize[s] the health of women" and "denies them access" to safe abortions. Yet despite the health community's denouncement of the provisions, the media often fails to interrogate anti-abortion proponents' false claims on the law.
Right-wing media are seizing on a New York Times report that misleadingly stated that Paul Begala sought "talking points" from the State Department before a CNN appearance to discuss Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state to attack the CNN contributor as biased. But in the email in question, Begala actually requested a "briefing," not talking points.
In the wake of the South Carolina shooting massacre that killed nine at an African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Wall Street Journal editorial board claimed that the institutionalized racism that enabled racist attacks on black churches throughout history no longer exists in America.
President Obama spoke on June 18 about the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, saying the shooting is reminiscent of "a dark part of our history," and explaining, "We know that this is not the first time in our history that black churches have been attacked."
The Wall Street Journal responded to Obama's remarks the next day, claiming that the institutionalized racism "that enabled racist killings" throughout history "like those in the Birmingham church" no longer exists:
A white man murdering black people in the South forces bad memories to the surface, and so it surely was appropriate for President Obama to note this in his remarks Thursday. Specifically, Mr. Obama recalled the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four black girls.
Amid the horror of Charleston, it is also important to note that the U.S., notably the South, has moved forward to replace the system that enabled racist killings like those in the Birmingham church.
Back then and before, the institutions of government--police, courts, organized segregation--often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims.
The universal condemnation of the murders at the Emanuel AME Church and Dylann Roof's quick capture by the combined efforts of local, state and federal police is a world away from what President Obama recalled as "a dark part of our history." Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.
The Wall Street Journal dismissed concerns that likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has delayed announcing his campaign while he sidesteps campaign laws and continues coordinating with his super PAC, describing questions about his candidacy as the "return of the speech police." But Bush has been facing increased scrutiny from both legal experts and media noting that he may have violated the law.
Campaign law watchdogs organizations have repeatedly filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission urging them to investigate whether Jeb Bush is illegally coordinating with the super PAC Right to Rise. They argue that Bush is in violation of campaign finance laws that prohibit candidates from certain coordination with PACs and believe that Bush's actions suggest he should be treated as a presidential candidate under the law, regardless of whether he's formally announced his candidacy.
The Wall Street Journal dismissed these concerns in a June 8 editorial, warning readers not to "be surprised if the subpoenas [from the DOJ] hit Republican candidates at crucial political moments." The Journal described criticism of Jeb Bush for delaying his announcement as the "return of the speech police" from the "political left":
The theory behind this accusation is campaign "coordination," the new favorite tool of the anti-speech political left. Earlier this year the Justice Department invited such complaints with a public statement that it would "aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every appropriate opportunity."
Under federal law, illegal coordination occurs if a campaign expenditure (say, a TV ad) mentions a candidate by name in the 120 days before a presidential primary, or if it advocates for a candidate and if the candidate and Super PAC have coordinated the content of the ad.
The liberals claim that a Super PAC raising and spending money in favor of a Bush candidacy should be treated as coordinated expenditures, making them de facto contributions to his campaign. Candidate is the operative word here, a designation that has always been applied to those who announce they are running for public office.
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer says Mr. Bush should be considered a candidate who is illegally coordinating because if you asked "100 ordinary Americans" if he is a candidate, they will say yes. What a bracing legal standard. What would the same 100 Americans have said about Hillary Clinton in 2013, or Ted Cruz in high school? Where is the limiting principle?
But the Journal's dismissal of the criticism of Bush's questionable PAC coordination ignores the growing number of legal experts who have raised questions about his actions. The New York Times noted that "[s]ome election experts say Mr. Bush passed the legal threshold to be considered a candidate months ago, even if he has not formally acknowledged it." CBS' Bob Schieffer similarly pointed out that it is "pretty obvious" Bush is running for president, even as he "rais[es] huge amounts of money for [his] super PAC." Even conservative blog Brietbart.com criticized Bush's PAC coordination, pointing to "Several campaign finance law experts [who claim] they believe Bush is violating the law."
The Wall Street Journal has previously advocated for doing away with the same laws they're now claiming Bush isn't breaking, again claiming they are "dangerous" and no more than a "political attack ... [as] part of a larger liberal campaign." In reality, the decades-old law crafted in the wake of the Watergate scandals to prevent coordination between independent groups and political candidates has long had support across the political spectrum, including the conservative majority in the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.
Right-wing media figures are criticizing 2016 hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for his comments blaming the rise of ISIS on Republican foreign policy positions, lashing out at Paul as an "Obama Republican" and accusing him of "rewriting history."
Ahead of former Sen. Rick Santorum's announcement that he will run for president in 2016, media outlets reported on Santorum's efforts to frame himself as a "champion of the working class," without mentioning that Santorum's past tax policies favor the wealthy.
Media should take note that a new Supreme Court voting rights case with important implications for Latinos is being advanced by Edward Blum, an anti-civil rights advocate with past ties to the right's "dark money ATM" and a long history of using the courts to undermine decades of anti-discrimination precedent.
On May 26, the Supreme Court agreed "to decide whether the Constitution requires only eligible voters be counted when forming legislative districts" in a lawsuit brought by anti-Voting Rights Act (VRA) activist Edward Blum:
The lawsuit was advanced by Edward Blum, whose Austin-based Project on Fair Representation has been litigating for years to roll back affirmative action, Voting Rights Act enforcement and other policies intended to benefit minorities.
The group's goal is to remove noncitizens and illegal immigrants from the legislative district count, but the Supreme Court has the option of considering whether other nonvoters should be excluded in calculating voting district sizes, such as minors, felons and even people who are eligible to vote but haven't registered.
The case represents a massive shift from the current system of calculating total residents and would benefit Republicans by shifting electoral clout away from Democratic-leaning urban areas. The change would dilute Hispanic communities' representation and "devastate" Latino voting power. Although currently focused on undocumented immigrant populations, Blum's latest efforts could also exclude minors, felons and eligible but unregistered voters from being counted, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Project on Fair Representation has seen some success in undermining the VRA. Blum masterminded Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, in which the Court overturned a key section of the VRA that prevented states from making potentially discriminatory changes to election law or district maps without Department of Justice approval. That decision cleared the way for numerous states to pass voter suppression laws in the lead-up to the 2014 midterm elections. In the lead-up to Shelby, Blum was allowed to push falsehoods about the VRA and voter suppression in The Wall Street Journal, while right-wing media figures hyped unfounded fears of voter fraud and distorted the continued need for voter protections.
In addition to voting rights, Blum has gone after affirmative action policies aimed at improving diversity in higher education. Although ultimately unsuccessful in the courts, Blum's affirmative action challenge was based on frequently cited myths about affirmative action's benefits.
Blum's efforts to undermine voting rights and eliminate affirmative action have been bankrolled by the conservative Donors Trust, deemed the "dark money ATM of the conservative movement" by Mother Jones.
Despite Blum's extensive anti-civil rights resume, mainstream media have historically failed to report his ties to conservative dark money, a mistake they should not repeat as his latest voter suppression effort makes its way to the Court.
A front-page Wall Street Journal report suggested that a top political appointee in Hillary Clinton's State Department improperly "blocked" documents sought under public records law. But even the article's anonymous sources don't support that allegation.
While career officials are supposed to make the final decisions on the release of documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is normal for political appointees to play a role in the process. As explained in a 2011 Inspector General report issued as part of an investigation into the role political appointees played in the FOIA processes of the Department of Homeland Security, both political and career officials "should undoubtedly ask questions and offer suggestions while a course of action is under consideration. This is the 'deliberative process' in which government employees must engage in order to make reasoned decisions. "The report noted that it is "appropriate that there be internal debate among DHS employees about DHS programs, and FOIA processing is no exception."
Echoing this understanding of how the FOIA process works, the Journal includes a State Department spokesman's comment that it is "entirely appropriate for certain Department personnel" to be consulted regarding FOIA requests, and a Clinton spokesman's statement that the focus of the article, former State Department chief of staff Cheryl Mills, "did not inappropriately interfere with the FOIA process."
Hoping to create permanent criminal investigations into Bill and Hillary Clinton's dealings -- reminiscent of the ones that hounded them in the 1990s -- conservative commentators employed by Rupert Murdoch have been demanding that the FBI or the Department of Justice open inquiries to determine if the Clintons are guilty of criminal wrongdoing. Their hook is the new Murdoch-published Clinton Cash book, which alleges wide-ranging misconduct by the Clintons and their global charity, the Clinton Foundation.
Hoping to take author Peter Schweizer's fantastic claims of foreign donors buying influence, Murdoch media voices at Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Post and elsewhere want to create a churning culture of subpoenas, testimonies, and legal briefings, likely all in the hopes of catching somebody in a misstatement while under oath. Recall that the 1990's impeachment crusade surrounding president Bill Clinton's sex life grew out of special prosecutor Ken Starr's completely unrelated investigation into the Clintons' money-losing Whitewater land transaction.
A criminal probe sparked by Clinton Cash would be a dream come true for partisan media outlets.
"When you have a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who is going get the nomination of her party, the FBI has a duty to, we the people, to investigate any appearance of impropriety. Does it not?" asked Bill O'Reilly this week. "The FBI has got to go in and look. They have to go in and look. If they don't, that's corrupt."
The only problem for Murdoch's minions is they can't point to any evidence that even remotely indicates the Clintons broke the law via their foundation or foreign donations to it. The claims of bribery or quid pro quo deals are entirely flimsy, drowning in innuendo. Instead, the Fox News-led posse is essentially demanding criminal investigations be launched in order to find the evidence first, and then proceed to political prosecutions. It's a bold attempt to criminalize politics.
That blueprint worked while Bill Clinton was president, so it's not surprising conservative media, working alongside Republicans, are trying to resurrect the strategy, hoping to create enough "foreign donation" hysteria to prompt some sort of inquiry.
"I think this warrants investigation," Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer recently stressed to Fox News.
Newsmax's Christopher Ruddy detailed the entanglements between several media properties owned by Rupert Murdoch that are promoting the upcoming book Clinton Cash from conservative activist Peter Schweizer.
In an April 27 column headlined "In Defense of the Clinton Foundation," Newsmax CEO and editor Christopher Ruddy -- who is himself a donor to the Foundation -- discussed the allegations made against the charity in Clinton Cash, which were recently hyped in a Fox News special. He writes that the claims in the book, which suggests the Clintons used donations to influence foreign policy, are "unsubstantiated, unconnected, and baseless," and tells journalists to "follow the money" when discussing the book itself, warning that "where there's smear, there's not always fact."
Ruddy notes, "The sister companies of News Corp and 21st Century Fox own HarperCollins, which published Peter Schweizer's book; they own The Wall Street Journal, which first raised the issue of the foreign donations; they own the New York Post, which broke the details about the Schweizer book; and they own Fox News, which gave the story oxygen and legs."
He adds, "With so much media mojo from one company, there is no doubt they will be doing some pretty good 'cashing in' from the many millions of dollars their new best-seller will generate."
Schweizer has a long history of errors and retractions, and the stories released from Clinton Cash fail to implicate former Secretary Clinton, President Clinton, or the Foundation in any wrongdoing. However, Murdoch properties have still promoted its claims.
Newsmax is a conservative publication, which has gone after the Clintons and other Democrats and progressives for years. But in the course of writing about the Clinton Cash allegations, Ruddy explains that he doesn't want to go back to the 1990s, "when one allegation led to a daisy-chain effect, and the GOP ended up looking bad as the Democrats kept winning."
Media outlets trumpeted likely Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie as striving to be "authentic and brave" for proposing harmful cuts to Social Security benefits that would include raising the retirement age.
Speaking in New Hampshire on April 14, the New Jersey governor laid out a series of proposed broad changes to Social Security benefits, including means tests for seniors making $80,000 a year in non-Social Security income and a phase-out of all payments for those making above $200,000. Christie also proposed raising the retirement age at which seniors can receive benefits to 69 and the early retirement age to 64.
Many media outlets characterized Christie as a straight-shooter for his proposal, describing him as attempting to paint himself as a teller of hard truths.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, wrote that Christie had "moved to depict himself as the fiscal truth-teller of the Republican presidential field" with his proposal, calling it "provocative, and risky." A Washington Post opinion piece said Christie was "positioning himself, like other would-be presidents of the past, as the one guy willing to talk straight about the government's unsustainable finances." An NBC News article on the proposal was titled "Chris Christie Sells 'Hard Truths' on Social Security Reform," while a Business Insider headline declared, "Chris Christie's plan to win the White House is to tell people what they don't want to hear." Fortune's Nina Easton claimed on Fox News' Happening Now that Christie's proposal "plays into the narrative that he's authentic and brave and tells it like it is."
Painting Christie as seeking to be seen as a "brave" and "authentic" truth-teller in coverage of his proposed Social Security cuts not only helps the likely GOP candidate spread his desired narrative, but it masks the harmful impact such cuts would have on the poor and middle class.
"Raising the retirement age is terrible for the poor," Vox explained, despite Christie's contention that his plan would only affect the rich. Raising the retirement and early retirement age would effectively constitute "an across-the-board benefit cut of almost 10 percent in Americans' lifetime Social Security benefits." As economist Teresa Ghilarducci told PBS Newshour, "Evidence shows that many older workers are simply not able to work past traditional retirement age without substantial suffering. Reducing their retirement income and throwing them off medical insurance will create a new cohort of impoverished elderly, reversing the tangible gains in reducing old age poverty made since the Great Depression."
What's more, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, cutting benefits for those making over $200,000 is unlikely to save the program much money, given how few recipients earn that much. His estimations are backed up by a 2011 Center for Economic and Policy Research study, which found that 90 percent of Social Security recipients earn less than $50,000 in non-social security income.