Joe Strupp

Author ››› Joe Strupp
  • Journalism advocates are "horrified" by GOP candidate’s assault on reporter

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    A Montana Republican congressional candidate’s alleged body-slamming assault on a reporter for The Guardian the day before today’s special election is drawing harsh criticism from journalism advocates and reporters, while also causing three local newspapers to pull their endorsements of the politician.

    Greg Gianforte, the GOP candidate in the race for Montana’s lone House seat, was charged with assault Wednesday after allegedly attacking reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian.

    Audio of the incident indicates Jacobs was asking the candidate his view of the recent Congressional Budget Office report, released Wednesday, on the latest House Republican health care bill. The long-awaited report indicated that the plan would leave up to 14 million more people without health insurance next year and as many as 23 million uninsured by 2026.

    Apparently without provocation, Gianforte reportedly assaulted Jacobs so badly that he broke the reporter’s glasses.

    The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is among several groups that condemned the incident.

    "Public figures in Montana and throughout the U.S. should condemn the violent assault of a reporter by a congressional candidate," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's program director and senior program coordinator for the Americas. "The role of reporters is even more important on the eve of elections. Gallatin County authorities should show that politicians will be held accountable for attacks against journalists who are merely trying to keep the public informed."

    Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, issued a statement that said, in part:

    While Mr. Gianforte’s campaign seemed to excuse his violent behavior by belittling Mr. Jacobs as a “liberal journalist,” his fellow reporters at Fox News who were on the scene have supported his account by stating that “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

    The journalists are united, and the country should be united, behind the belief that these kinds of attacks on reporters are an assault on the very core of democratic life and require the swiftest condemnation by public officials everywhere.

    Lynn Walsh, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists and the investigative executive producer at NBC 7 San Diego, called it an “attack against the rights this country was founded on.”

    “Ben was practicing his rights guaranteed in this country, freedom of the press,” she said in an interview. “To be physically harmed for doing this, the public should be outraged. Is this the direction we want to be going in? We condemn any sort of attacks, physical harm or arrests of journalists when they are doing their jobs. This was a journalist doing his job to get information to share with the public.”

    Kelly McBride, vice president at The Poynter Institute, said Jacobs was only doing his job.

    Jacobs “was politely trying to do his job,” McBride told Media Matters. “Getting a comment from this guy’s important, and this guy didn’t want to give a comment, and this is what we do as reporters -- nail public officials down on their beliefs in public policy.”

    Several of the journalism advocates also pointed to the latest incident as part of a trend of recent unacceptable violent actions against reporters, adding that President Donald Trump’s ongoing anti-press rhetoric may have been a cause.

    The CPJ statement also included this view:

    The attack on Jacobs comes less than a week after security forces at the Federal Communications Commission allegedly pinned CQ reporter John Donnelly against a wall while he tried to ask a question of the departing commissioners at the agency's headquarters in D.C., according to press reports. In a separate event, a West Virginia reporter was arrested this month as he tried to ask a question of Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price in the West Virginia state capitol.

    Bernie Lunzer, president of the News Guild-CWA, which represents Jacobs and other Guardian staffers through Local 3122, said the union is “horrified” at what appears to be a growing trend.

    “This is not an isolated incident,” Lunzer said in an interview Thursday. “We had the situation in West Virginia, the FCC incident. I think a climate has been created where people, rather than argue and debate facts, we’ve now got a situation where they target the messenger. … It is a climate where Trump has made it OK to attack reporters.”

    McBride agreed, adding that “it’s rare that it escalates to some sort of physical assault, but not surprising in the general level of disdain for reporters to do their job. Trump has definitely made it OK and popular.”

    Walsh echoed that view: “When you look at it and make an educated assumption, you tend to see these sorts of things, they do tend to come from the top down, follow what the top of their party might be doing. I think the assumption that because of the things President Trump said during the campaign and has continued to say as president I think can be contributing to some of this. We have to make sure this doesn’t become the new norm.”

    In a related move, three of Montana’s largest daily newspapers that had endorsed Gianforte pulled their support Thursday morning.

    Among them was the Billings Gazette, the state’s largest paper in terms of circulation. Its editorial board stated, in part:

    While there are still questions left unanswered about GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforte's altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, eyewitness accounts, law enforcement investigations and records are all shocking, disturbing and without precedent.

    That's why The Billings Gazette editorial board is also doing something without precedent: We're rescinding our editorial endorsement of Greg Gianforte.

    Although we're greatly troubled by this action against a member of the media who was just doing his job, to make this an issue of media intrusion or even a passionate defense of the role of a free press during an election would be to miss the point.

    If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn't condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn't condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn't accept it from a man who is running to become Montana's lone Congressional representative.

    The other two papers included the Missoulian of Missoula and the Independent Record of Helena, the state capital.

    The Independent Record stated, in part:

    Democracy cannot exist without a free press, and both concepts are under attack by Republican U.S. House Candidate Greg Gianforte.

    A reporter for the Guardian newspaper called Bozeman police Wednesday night to report that Gianforte had assaulted him at a barbecue for campaign volunteers. The reporter said he was “body slammed,” and a Fox News reporter said she saw the candidate grab him by the neck, slam him to the ground and punch him.

    We cannot condone that kind of violence.

    The reporter went to the hospital, and Gianforte has been cited for misdemeanor assault. And while we may not know all of the specifics of the incident until the investigation has concluded, we know that we can no longer support Gianforte’s candidacy.

    The Missoulian’s withdrawal added:

    Greg Gianforte should not represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republican candidate for Congress not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night when, according to witnesses, he put his hands around the throat of a reporter asking him about his health care stance, threw him to the ground and punched him — he should lose the confidence of all Montanans.

  • Journalists and experts slam Trump's budget plan to eliminate HUD program that mostly benefits "low-income groups"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    While many conservative media voices have been cheering President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that would cut billions in vital programs for the impoverished and disadvantaged, experts and reporters who focus on one of the most far-reaching programs -- Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) -- say its proposed elimination would impact more citizens than most.

    Trump initially proposed eliminating the CDBG funds earlier this year when his budget blueprint was first announced. His full budget, released Tuesday, still includes a total CDBG elimination.

    The 42-year-old program, enacted by the Ford administration as a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides some $3 billion for local communities to use for everything from senior centers to housing and road construction to drug treatment, say experts.

    And when the cuts were first proposed in March, reporters who cover such programs contended that claims of waste and corruption in the funding are misleading.

    “They just think it's government waste, that these are slush funds of local officials and particularly that they were funneled to special projects,” Liz Farmer, public finance writer for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., said of critics. “But the block grants hit everybody, particularly needy populations because that is what local governments tend to want to spend the money on.”

    Since Trump’s budget blueprint was revealed on March 16, many conservative commentators have cheered the spending plan for its efforts to cut programs from climate research to public broadcasting.

    Several have also taken on the CDBG program specifically. Among them is Reason magazine’s Scott Shackford, who wrote, “The CDBG program is chock full of cronyism and corruption and should be eliminated. Much like the corrupt city redevelopment agencies, what actually ends up happening is that this money gets funneled by politicians to friends with connections for various projects that aren't really about helping the poor at all.”

    Similar anti-CDBG pieces have been published at Breitbart.comWashington Examiner and The Washington Times.

    But those who rely on the funding, and others who report on it, say such claims are unfounded and the program actually helps more people in more places than many other federal funding sources do.

    “In Philly, they help residents who are facing foreclosure to keep their houses, foreclosure assistance, and for homeowners who are low-income and own their houses, they help with repairs of those houses,” Aubrey Whelan, a local government and community services reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, said when the cuts were initially revealed. “It is a lot for commercial development, aid to small businesses.”

    She said Philadelphia alone receives about $39 million in CDBG funds, with much of it going to affordable housing and providing assistance to small businesses in hard-hit low-income neighborhoods.

    “City officials said it would wholesale eliminate programs, not just have them operating at a limited capacity,” said Whelan. “It’s something that people are pretty concerned about here. It affects a lot of different people.”

    Whelan, Farmer, and other journalists we spoke with when the CDBG elimination was first proposed said they find little to no problems in CDBG management, contrary to claims found in conservative media.

    Most said the real story is how the cutbacks would hurt the most needy in many of their communities.

    “Palm Beach County has been using this funding to address underserved areas, to tackle homelessness and for vulnerable groups,” said Skyler Swisher of the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “If those funds are going to be cut, you are going to have some local officials who are not going to be very happy.”

    Swisher, who covers the county that is home to Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club, said the county receives about $5.8 million in CDBG funds each year, which has helped with abandoned building demolition, code enforcement, water and sewer improvements, and a homeless shelter's operation. It has also supported transitional housing for those impacted by domestic violence. 

    He also pointed out that the proposed cuts would come while Trump costs the county $60,000 per day in overtime for police officers every time he visits, according to the county sheriff’s office.

    “The biggest beneficiaries are some of the most low-income communities of Palm Beach County,” Swisher said of the grants.

    Another place that would feel the pain is El Paso, TX, which receives about $6 million in CDBG funds, according to Veronica Soto, the city’s director of community and human development.

    “We use the bulk of the money to do investments, reinvestments into low-income neighborhoods,” Soto said earlier this year. “We have funded improvements to parks in lower and moderate income areas, we have senior centers, we have done curb cuts, sidewalk gaps. It would mean those projects would not move forward. Because a lot of our money goes to parks, the kids would be impacted.”

    She said the Trump budget cuts would also mean cutting 33 city jobs, nine in her department.

    “I would have to lay myself off,” Soto said. “Seventy-five percent of my salary is from grants.”

    Kevin Howard, manager of the community development division for Little Rock, AR, said the cuts would affect about 10,000 people in his community.

    “The citizens benefit from this in different ways,” he said. “We do a lot of homeowner-occupied rehabs and public service grants for health services, meals on wheels, and private wheelchair ramps for senior citizens.”

    Asked about claims by some in the media that these programs are wasteful or mismanaged, he replied: “These are not handouts; these are people who cannot do it themselves. I have never seen any corruption or mismanagement.”

    Roland Garton, president of The Grant Helpers of Champagne, IL, a grant writing consulting firm that aids local communities in filing for such grants, said CDBG cuts would hurt the neediest.

    “Since they tend to target low-income groups, those would be the hardest hit,” Garton said. “This is money that big cities and small cities both have access to. There are a lot of programs that focus on one or the other. But these have broad applications to all cities. The hits would be broad. States that are weak economically would be hardest hit.”

    The proposed cuts have also been criticized by the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Republican Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. He issued a statement in March condemning the proposed cuts: 

    “Community Development Block Grants are the only federal funding source that gives city leaders some discretion in how the money is spent, and mayors have used them to leverage private investment, create affordable housing, spur economic development, rebuild infrastructure and provide services that strengthen metro areas. America’s mayors will continue to work with our many champions in both the House and Senate to ensure that critically-needed tools like CDBG funds and the HOME Investment Partnership are fully funded.”

  • Experts and Tribune Media unions raise concerns about Sinclair’s history of pushing conservative “propaganda”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s recent purchase of Tribune Media is drawing serious concern from Tribune employees and their union leadership, as well as broadcasting experts who fear the company will continue its long history of aggressively slanting local news coverage to the right.

    Sinclair, now the nation’s largest owner of local television stations, announced earlier this month it will acquire more than 42 stations from Tribune Media, which will make the company more politically powerful than ever.

    The purchase includes stations in numerous markets in key swing states, and also includes three of the biggest independent news stations in the country in the three largest markets: WPIX in New York City, WGN in Chicago, and KTLA in Los Angeles. All three have strong news operations, while WGN also includes WGN America, a super cable station that serves many markets. (Some observers have speculated that Sinclair could try to turn WGN America into a Fox News competitor.)

    Sinclair's well-established pattern of using its stations to boost Republicans politically was on display during the 2016 election, when the company reportedly cut a deal with the Trump campaign for increased access in exchange for more Trump-friendly coverage. (The recent Tribune purchase was made possible thanks to Trump’s FCC commissioner rolling back a regulation designed to prevent excessive media consolidation.)

    Bob Daraio, a local representative for the NewsGuild of New York CWA Local 31003 -- which represents most WPIX writers and producers -- told Media Matters that Sinclair’s pattern of influencing coverage is worrisome to many of the union’s members.

    “Sinclair is a very right-wing, conservative, almost alt-right in their political beliefs,” Daraio said. “This brings a concern about objectivity. The fewer companies that own media outlets, the less diversity in the point of view that viewers get to see.”

    “Sinclair’s business model is going into a market, buying multiple stations, moving them all to one facility, and firing three quarters of the staff to get as much work with the fewest employees,” he added. “The concern about this media consolidation is it limits diversity. It also creates a barrier to entry into the business for smaller minority- and women-owned companies.”

    David Twedell is a business representative in charge of broadcast for International Cinematographers Guild Local 600, which represents two Tribune Media stations slated for Sinclair takeovers: KTLA in Los Angeles and WJW in Cleveland

    He said members are concerned about Sinclair’s past actions and how that might affect their work environment.

    “Our employees are very nervous about the situation,” he said. “It is a combination of political influence and that Sinclair is extremely anti-union in dealing with its employees. What is it going to mean? It’s a concern and we will be scheduling a membership meeting to talk about it.”

    Twedell knows Sinclair’s approach well as a representative for two current Sinclair stations, KATU in Portland and KOMO in Seattle.

    Twedell has previously flagged concerns from union members about Sinclair’s practice of creating “must-run” videos with messages that the local stations are required to broadcast. As The Washington Post reported, in a “must-run” video from this March, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston railed against members of the “national media” who “push their own personal bias,” and echoed Trump’s complaints about the mainstream media pushing “fake news stories.” (The New York Times did a larger look at Sinclair's use of conservative "must-run" commentaries last week, including a 2016 video "that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery.")

    “It is a matter of supreme frustration amongst everyone in the newsroom,” Twedell told Media Matters. “When they have these must-runs dropped into the programming, it definitely affects the credibility of the product, and that is something our people are nervous about.”

    Eric W. Chaudron, executive director of Chicago’s SAG-AFTRA local, which represents most WGN on-air employees, expressed concerns over excessive consolidation. 

    “We are watching the Sinclair/Tribune deal very closely. WGN TV is the flagship station of the Tribune Media Company, and it has always prided itself on locally focused news content. We are especially concerned that WGN TV continues to maintain its reputation as ‘Chicago’s Own’ station,” he said via email. “We have consistently expressed deep concern over the impact of deregulation and media consolidation on those who work in the industry. Moreover, we believe that professional broadcasters must always serve the public interest of maintaining a diversity of opinion and voices in the media.” Chaudron added, “We are encouraged by Sinclair’s statement that it plans to use the acquisition ‘to strengthen [its] commitment to serving local communities.’”

    Broadcasting experts and veterans, meanwhile, offered their own concerns given Sinclair’s history and political agenda.

    “They have an ideological position with news and they promote that in their local stations,” said Mark Effron, a clinical specialist in the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University and a former WPIX vice president of news.                                                   

    He cited Sinclair’s hiring of Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign adviser, as an analyst last month.

    “During the campaign they ran stories that decidedly had a pro-Trump bent to them,” Effron said. “Some of the stations they are taking over have a proud history of reporting. Not only will they be the largest chain in America, but there is a focus and an ideological bent to what they are doing locally. That gives me great concern.”

    Jeff Jarvis, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, a former TV Guide editor and BuzzMachine creator, called some of Sinclair’s past actions “overtly propaganda.”

    “Yes, I worry about that,” he said in an interview. “In this case, when it is consolidated under a blatant or subtle ideological bent, I’m worried. It is influencing the world view of local reporting, how national agendas seep into local coverage; immigration, abortion, guns.”

    Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member for broadcast and online at The Poynter Institute, pointed to Sinclair’s decision in 2004 not to air an episode of Nightline that included images and names of Americans who died in the Iraq War on its seven ABC affiliates. The move drew a harsh rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

    “The Nightline episode was the flag in the ground, a really big shot that they are different. That’s a pretty big deal,” Tompkins said, later adding, “They do have some right-wing leanings, that’s for sure. … One of the telltale signs is if [Sinclair's conservative slant] shows up in the mid-term elections, that may be a chance for them to differentiate themselves.”                                               

    One veteran television reporter at a Tribune Media station who requested anonymity said, “Anytime you’re bought by somebody, you wonder, you worry about what’s coming. You’d rather have the devil you know versus the one you don’t. I’ve read the press clippings about their style, their bent in some markets.”

    A journalist at a separate Tribune Media station said the company's conservative history is a "concern." "You know about them,” the person added.

  • Press Advocates Appalled By Trump’s Reported Call To Jail Journalists

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Media law experts and journalism advocates are sounding the alarm about President Donald Trump's reported call to jail journalists for publishing classified information, saying the move amounts to “threatening to take away the right of free speech.”

    The New York Times reported that former FBI Director James Comey said Trump told him that he “should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.” The request reportedly happened during the now-infamous February meeting where Comey also claims he was asked to shut down the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump's alleged call to jail journalists is just the latest in his administration's ongoing and vicious war on the press.

    Several journalism veterans and legal experts expressed alarm over Trump’s reported comments, which they say go against decades of legal practice.

    “We never like to hear words like that coming out of the mouth of the leader of our country. It is an attack against the freedoms that are guaranteed in our country,” said Lynn Walsh, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “By saying you want to lock up journalists, you are threatening to take away the right of free speech, which is guaranteed in this country.”

    George Freeman, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center and former vice president and assistant general counsel for The New York Times, said such an action would be unprecedented.

    “That would be a game changer because that has never happened before,” Freeman said. “That would change the whole balance between the government and the press in incalculable ways. It would be criminalizing behavior that goes on every day.”

    Lucy Dalglish, former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and current dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland, said most prosecution of reporters has related to their refusal to reveal sources rather than the content of what they publish.

    “The government has never actually charged a journalist for publishing secrets, publishing national security information. They have always gone the route of charging the leaker, not the reporter,” Dalglish said. “It would have a dramatic and instant stifling effect on the flow of information about what is going on in that administration to the public. It would be almost instantaneous.”

    Freeman cited two historic examples of previous administrations seeking to stop the publication of information in The New York Times over what they considered to be classified or protected, the 1971 Pentagon Papers and the 2005 warrantless wiretapping story.

    “Bush and Cheney publicly said the Times should be prosecuted, but it never happened,” Freeman recalled of the 2005 issue. “It was so unprecedented.”

    He also pointed out that in the case of the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that publishing the secret report on the Vietnam War was not a violation of law.

    “The Supreme Court has said you can’t be punished for publishing something that’s truthful, that’s newsworthy, and that you did nothing illegal to obtain,” Freeman said.

    Freeman and other journalism veterans said that distinction, between prosecuting reporters for what they publish and not just their failure to reveal sources, is a key element of journalistic protection that Trump’s suggestion would destroy.

    “The uncertainty and the context in which these threats are made or attempted makes it a little more uncomfortable for journalists,” said Phil Bronstein, executive chair of The Center for Investigative Reporting and former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. “We ought to pay close attention to anyone who threatens the ability of reporters to do their job.”

    Bronstein recalled when two of his former Chronicle reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, faced jail time in 2006 for failing to reveal sources in their exposé of BALCO, a Bay Area firm that was illegally distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

    The duo had reported on leaked testimony from the secret grand jury testimony of former San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds in which he admitted using banned substances. They were held in contempt of court and faced 18 months in prison for refusing to reveal the source of the leak. But the order was removed when the source came forward.

    Bronstein stressed that even in that case, the paper faced no punishment for reporting the leaked information, a standard Trump’s request would change drastically.

    “I think we have to be prepared for those things to happen,” Bronstein said. “Have good lawyers. Have great lawyers.”

    Bill Church, president of the Associated Press Media Editors, said Trump’s approach would actually hurt the public good: "Protecting the First Amendment shouldn't be a felony. Jailing journalists for looking after the public's interests makes as much sense as requiring Superman to get FAA clearance before saving the world."

    Trump’s suggestion also brought condemnation from Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who issued this statement:

    "The comments attributed to President Trump cross a dangerous line. But no president gets to jail journalists. Reporters are protected by judges and juries, by a congress that relies on them to stay informed, and by a Justice Department that for decades has honored the role of a free press by spurning prosecutions of journalists for publishing leaks of classified information. 

    "Comments such as these, emerging in the way they did, only remind us that every day public servants are reaching out to reporters to ensure the public is aware of the risks today to rule of law in this country. The president’s remarks should not intimidate the press but inspire it."

    Two of the top newspaper editors in the U.S. also spoke out against Trump’s idea.

    Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron told the Times, “Suggesting that the government should prosecute journalists for the publication of classified information is very menacing, and I think that’s exactly what they intend. … It’s an act of intimidation.”

    Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, meanwhile, told the Post that Trump “doesn’t understand our role. He wants ‘Fox & Friends’ coverage instead.”

  • Law School Dean: Trump's Comey Actions “Are Evidence Of Obstruction Of Justice”

    Legal Experts See A Potentially Impeachable Offense In Trump's Comey Conduct

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Congress could consider actions taken by President Donald Trump regarding former FBI Director James Comey to constitute obstruction of justice warranting impeachment, legal experts tell Media Matters.

    Trump has been embroiled in controversy over his firing of Comey, who was leading an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

    On May 16, The New York Times published a bombshell report stating that “President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.”

    The memo purports that Trump said to Comey, “I hope you can let this go.”

    Last week, Trump himself admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that when he was deciding whether to fire Comey, he was thinking about “this Russia thing,” which he declared a “made-up story.”

    Trump’s conservative media allies -- especially those on Fox News -- have been defending and excusing the president’s actions, arguing that Trump did nothing wrong and ridiculing journalists for supposedly overreacting.

    While right-wing media are trying to convince people that what Trump did is no big deal, experts disagree.

    Legal scholars who spoke to Media Matters explained that impeachment of a president is a political matter. While a federal statute exists defining obstruction of justice, it would be up to Congress to decide whether Trump’s alleged obstruction of the Russia investigation warrants impeachment as a “high crime or misdemeanor,” of which there is “no settled definition.” (Both Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were charged by Congress with obstruction of justice during impeachment proceedings.)

    Legal experts told Media Matters that Trump’s conduct could be seen by Congress as obstruction of justice, and Congress could impeach Trump on those grounds.

    Erwin Chemerinsky, the newly named dean of Berkeley Law, told Media Matters via email that Trump’s actions “are evidence of obstruction of justice” and that the current situation is “very comparable to what caused Nixon to resign.”

    “Obstruction of justice occurs when one ‘obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding.’ I think that this warrants a thorough investigation. Certainly a felony is a basis for impeachment. Whether the majority of the House will vote articles of impeachment is a different question,” Chemerinsky added.

    Victoria Nourse, a Georgetown University Law Center (GULC) professor and former Obama nominee to the Seventh Circuit, said via email that both actions taken by Trump vis-a-vis Comey could be seen by Congress as obstruction of justice and that those actions could serve as grounds for impeachment.

    Regarding Trump’s reported request for Comey to “let it go” concerning the investigation of Flynn, Nourse said, “Of course, in a criminal case, you would have to show POTUS had the ‘intent’ to obstruct, but his own words are making that easier every day.”

    “The opposition will deny it, but it’s hard to understand what he meant by ‘letting’ the investigation ‘go’ ... if he did not mean to end it. Perhaps the Comey memo will reveal more.”

    John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, explained that recent comments by Trump could be seen as obstruction of justice because Trump “explained his state of mind with Lester Holt when he fired [Comey], that this was a phony investigation.”

    Asked whether this conduct could be impeachable, Dean responded, “It is, historically. You can make the case that Nixon was impeached for impeding the FBI inquiry into Watergate.” He added, “It is kind of a direct parallel, having the CIA go to the FBI and tell them to shut down is just a little more indirect than Trump saying can you not investigate Flynn, which is the import of that message when he and Comey are speaking.”

    David Pozen, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, told Media Matters that if the “serious charges” against Trump “are correct, they look like plausible violations of the president’s Constitutional oath and therefore impeachable offenses.” He added, “But it depends on the facts and, realistically, it depends on the politics.”

    Stressing that “impeachment is not a matter decided by judges, it is a political matter decided by representatives,” constitutional law professor Louis Michael Seidman at GULC told Media Matters, “It seems entirely possible that [Trump] made the advance to Comey and fired him because he wanted to stop the investigation because he was afraid of what it would turn up.”

    “If that were true, then it would be obstruction of justice,” he concluded.

  • Experts: Trump's New Voter Fraud Commission Could Be Used To Suppress Legal Votes

    "We should be focusing on ways to make it easier, not harder, to vote"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    President Donald Trump’s new commission on “election integrity” is drawing complaints from experts who continue to point out that no evidence exists for Trump’s ongoing claims of widespread voter fraud. 

    For years, conservative media have been overhyping evidence-free allegations of systemic voter fraud in the U.S., often as a pretense to argue for restrictive voter ID laws and other policies that inevitably suppress voting.

    Following his surprising Electoral College win, Trump sought to explain away his popular vote loss by claiming he would have gotten the majority of votes had “millions” of illegal votes not been tallied for Clinton, a conspiracy theory that had been popularized by Alex Jones’ Infowars website.

    This week, Trump signed an executive order forming a “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity,” in part to examine "improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations, and fraudulent voting,” as well as voter suppression. The vice chair of the commission is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has repeatedly been criticized for his crusade over the issue.

    While the move was predictably cheered by the usual suspects in conservative media outlets, experts on the issue are sounding the alarm, saying the commission is a solution in search of a problem and that it could be used to suppress legal votes.  

    “In general I think the commission is unnecessary,” University of Kentucky College of Law professor Joshua Douglas said via email. “We already know there is not much fraud in the system, and certainly not to the level that Trump has suggested. And having Mike Pence and Kris Kobach lead it means it will have no credibility whatsoever.”

    He added, “Trump will no doubt try to use this commission to support further voter suppression measures. Instead we should be focusing on ways to make it easier, not harder, to vote.”

    Lorraine Minnite, a Rutgers University professor and author of the 2010 book The Myth of Voter Fraud, said, “I think they want to try to create whatever kind of record they think they can create for a justification to propose amendments to tighten up and require nationwide what Kansas requires with proof of citizenship. And who knows what else they would dream up to make it hard to vote.”

    She continued, “It is a pattern we have seen more flagrantly over the past 15 years to promote the idea that voter fraud is rampant in America. There are always some problems with a federal election, but there is just no evidence that voter fraud is rampant.”

    Bill Schneider, a former CNN senior political analyst and current professor of public policy at George Mason University, said there “is just no evidence” to support claims of widespread voter fraud.

    “What’s happening here is that Trump has an obsession,” Schneider said. “He can’t get over the fact that Hillary Clinton won a plurality. He wants to destroy that notion and establish the fact that he is the legitimate winner. He is taking every step he can to try to demonstrate that notion.”

    Michael McDonald, director of the U.S. Election Project at the University of Florida -- who has been involved in the ACLU’s legal action against Kobach – offered skepticism of the commission’s work.

    “I’m skeptical given Trump’s recent statements, his firing of Comey,” McDonald said. “The integrity of this commission itself will be suspect because it likely won’t have the ability to look independently, or to look at Trump’s claims that there were 3 to 5 million illegal votes.”

    The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed several legal challenges in Kansas targeting Kobach’s efforts to limit voting rights and prosecute alleged fraudulent voters, said it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request "seeking information that the Trump administration is using as the basis for its voter fraud claims."

    “President Trump is attempting to spread his own fake news about election integrity,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement about the commission. “Such claims have been widely debunked, but he is still trying to push his false reality on the American public. It is telling that the president’s choice to co-lead the commission is none other than Kris Kobach, one of the worst offenders of voter suppression in the nation today. If the Trump administration really cares about election integrity, it will divulge its supposed evidence before embarking on this commission boondoggle.”

  • Police Reporters And Experts: Sessions’ Consent Decree Criticism Has “No Basis In Fact”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Experts and reporters are criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent comments opposing reform agreements the Obama administration reached with a handful of controversial police departments, saying Sessions’ opposition to the consent decrees has “no basis in fact.”

    The Obama administration reached consent decrees with the law enforcement agencies of roughly two dozen cities including Baltimore, MD, Ferguson, MO, and Seattle, WA. The consent decrees were the products “of aggressive efforts by the Obama administration to improve relations between the police and the communities they serve,” as The New York Times noted.

    Those actions are now under fire from the new Trump administration. Sessions has “ordered Justice Department officials to review reform agreements with troubled police forces nationwide, saying it was necessary to ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime.” And he has been criticizing them in the media, claiming the consent decrees “can reduce morale of the police officers” and “discourage the proactive policing that keeps our cities safe.”

    Sessions’ actions have been applauded by conservative media such as The New York Post and Rush Limbaugh, who praised Sessions for unraveling “the extraconstitutional, extrajudicial behavior of the Obama administration.”

    But experts say the opposition to the agreements from the Trump administration and its right-wing media cheerleaders is based on myths.    

    Vanita Gupta, the head of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice from 2014 to 2017 who oversaw investigations resulting in consent decrees, said she hasn’t seen any data “to back anything” Sessions has been saying about the orders.

    “The attorney general has said a lot about his views on consent decrees, but I will confess that I have seen no data to back anything he says, either vis-a-vis police morale or crime upticks,” Gupta told Media Matters. “In fact, there is evidence to the contrary in places like Newark where they are entered into their second year of a consent decree. Crime has been going precipitously lower. And other places like Seattle and New Orleans where many crime rates have been going down even as their consent decrees are implemented.

    “The other thing that seems striking to me about what is happening right now is that there are only 15 consent decrees in a country with anywhere between 16,000 and 18,000 police departments,” she added. “It seems a lot of hay is being made about a tool that is very judiciously used. It leads one to think about whether they are politicizing the program in a way that both undermines the push for constitutional policing and, frankly, at the end of the day, the rebuilding of trust in communities where there has been such a severe erosion of it, and where consent decrees have been really necessary at producing the kind of systemic reform that they do.”

    Reporters on the ground in cities that have been under consent decrees say they have found positive results, with several city leaders warning that stopping the decrees now would get in the way of improvements.

    “It doesn’t deter policing or result in additional harm to officers,” said Steve Miletich, a Seattle Times reporter who has covered that city’s consent decree that was implemented in 2012 to address excessive force and discriminatory policing. The general feeling is that ours is pretty locked in place, largely because the city is fully on board. The police chief is part of that. She has made it clear she is committed to the reform process and finishing the consent decree.”

    Asked about Sessions’ claims, Miletich said, “The city disputes that. They are taking the position that we are at a point where we can measure that crime has actually gone down some and police injuries have dropped a little bit.”

    In Cleveland, which instituted a consent decree in 2015 to improve staffing levels, equipment, and training in the use of force, reporter Eric Heisig of Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer said, “I don’t think it has affected morale. I haven’t seen a lowering of morale as a result of the reforms.”

    He also pointed to praise that Cleveland police received for their work during last year’s Republican convention in the city, which sparked some protests and heated rallies but no police problems.

    “The way they were received -- they were present, but they did not appear threatening,” Heisig said about the convention-related policing. “That went a long way to give them a morale boost.”

    He said the consent decree “was a factor in that. There had been talk and stories weeks before about how police would handle this.”

    As for Sessions’ attempts to change things, Heisig said, “The city, the monitor, the judge have said they do not want to see changes happen as a result of Trump. The judge said in January that he did not want to see a change.”

    Among the most-watched consent decrees is in Ferguson, MO, where the shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014 sparked protests, as well as accusations of police abuse.

    Since a court-ordered consent decree took effect there in early 2016, reporter Jeremy Kohler of the nearby St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he hasn't seen public criticism of the agreement from either the city or the local police department.

    “The city hasn’t complained about the consent decree. The department hasn’t said anything publicly about it making it hard to police,” Kohler said, adding that shortly after his 2017 re-election, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said it would rip the fabric of the community if it were removed.

    “I haven’t heard anyone say publicly Ferguson should back out of it or it is unfair since it has been in effect,” Kohler added. “I think it is far enough along that it would be difficult to get rid of it.”

    In New Orleans, which has been under a consent decree since 2012, reporter Emily Lane of The Times-Picayune points to a citizens survey done each year that found satisfaction with police is up from 33 percent in 2009 to 64 percent in 2016.

    “The [police] union spokespeople at least have been pretty receptive to the changes, most of the changes,” said Jessica Mazzola of The Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ, where a consent decree has been in place since March 2016. “Saying they are anxious to do better for the public. … They have cited a big reduction in crime and violent crime specifically, 2016 over 2015.”

    Police experts, meanwhile, say the decrees are a positive tool in most communities that give police a way to improve themselves and work with residents.

    “The consent decrees provide for a more direct connection that a change needs to be made,” said Steven Brandl, professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the author of two related books, including The Police in America.

    Asked what could happen if they are removed, he said, “The negative is there is one less inducement for police departments to get better, to change.”

    Christy E. Lopez, a Georgetown University Law Center professor and former deputy chief of the special litigation section that oversaw police practices for the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under President Obama, agreed.

    She said of the attorney general’s comments, “There’s no actual data to support what Sessions is saying about consent decrees. … Sessions is, from everything I understand, behaving in an extremely emotional manner. He is making emotional decisions with no basis in fact and in doing that he is disrespecting people in the Department of Justice.”

    Samuel Walker, a retired professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said of Sessions: “He’s wrong on his basic assumptions. He ignores the positive benefits of consent decrees that have occurred. This is a lawful court order signed by a judge -- the judge is in charge. One party can’t just walk away from it.”

  • Newspaper Chooses To Focus On "Troubled Past" Of The Passenger Who Was Violently Dragged Off A United Flight

    Update: Journalism Experts Call Out The "Irrelevance" Of The Information

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL & JOE STRUPP

    This post has been updated with comments from journalism experts. 

    Days after United Airlines passenger David Dao was violently removed by security officials from an overbooked flight, his local newspaper, The Courier-Journal, published a report detailing the man’s completely unrelated “troubled past” and printed photos of his home and office. This the latest in an irresponsible pattern in which media attempt to recast nonwhite victims as criminals rather than interrogating the institutional structures motivating instances of violence.

    On Sunday, videos emerged online of three Chicago Department of Aviation security officers violently dragging a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, KY. The videos, taken by fellow passengers from several different angles, show three officers physically removing the passenger, Dr. David Dao, from his seat, pulling him to the ground and injuring his face in the process, then dragging his limp body off the plane. In contrast to the raw violence captured in the videos, United Airlines’ “lukewarm” response has so far been riddled with euphemisms, and a letter to United employees disparaged Dao as “disruptive and belligerent.”

    By Tuesday morning, the passenger’s hometown Louisville newspaper, The Courier-Journal, had published a report detailing Dao’s completely unrelated criminal record from over a decade ago. The report also included photos of his house and office (the photo of his house appears to have since been removed from the post). This reporting was not a matter of public interest, nor was it relevant to the incident in any way -- instead, it acted as an attempt to redirect public conversation from corporate power, institutional violence, and potential racism to a singular focus on an individual’s past actions.

    Quality journalism holds power to account. But we’ve seen journalists focusing instead on  investigating individuals who have been subject to institutional violence before -- and writers are highlighting the ethical implications of this continuing practice, even as the paper defends its piece and others gear up to engage in the same character assassination:

    UPDATE:

    In comments to Media Matters reporter Joe Strupp, journalism experts and reporters were critical of the Courier-Journal’s decision to publish Dao’s history.

    Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University, said he was “appalled that the Courier-Journal would dredge up this passenger’s personal history, which is not only irrelevant to the incident but is tied to a crime that occurred 13 years ago and has been fully adjudicated. The effect of this article is to further victimize the victim.”

    Former NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard said the article was “such an overreach.” She added, “His personal life, troubles, work history is of absolutely no news value. That is one of the clearest invasions of privacy I've heard about in a long time. The Louisville Courier-Journal should be ashamed of itself. I'd love to hear their justification. They and United's treatment are newsworthy because each treated Mr. Dao and his family without any empathy or humanity.”

    "If they took advantage of things in his personal background to make a story, the information would have to be very important for the public to know," according to Bill Kovach, founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. "Otherwise it is, in effect, a commercial gimmick to capitalize on a public event to gather eyeballs." Kovach pointed out that the paper "could also have done a story on the personal background of the officer who was dragging him."

    John Ferré, a journalism professor at the University of Louisville, said Dao’s past conviction “had nothing to do with security staff dragging him off a United Airlines flight for which he had purchased a seat. Whether the report has harmed Dr. Dao is unclear, but the irrelevance of the information to this story seems certain.”

    Former Courier-Journal staffer and current University of Kentucky journalism professor Al Cross said, "There is a natural curiosity among the public about a person who would object to this kind of treatment and would be one of the four people bumped who would not cooperate." He added, "That being said, I wouldn’t make this the featured story on the home page. They seem to be overdoing it. I understand the desire to get readership on a story that has international implications. It is a local story, but one of the elements of journalism is proportional. In the age of hunger for audience, it's fairly common for a wide range of news media to make too much out of things.”*

    *Note: This story has been updated to make clear Cross was saying the paper may have been "overdoing it" with the promotion of the story, not the initial reporting.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

  • Milwaukee Journalists: Sheriff David Clarke Is “Missing In Action”

    “It’s Horrible. He’s Got People Dying In His Own Jails And He Is Nowhere To Be Found”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin has become a fixture on Fox News and at conservative political events, regularly serving as a shameless advocate for President Donald Trump.

    But local journalists who report on the 15-year sheriff of Wisconsin’s most populous county say his newfound national spotlight sharply detracts from his law enforcement duties. They note that he spends much of his time away from home, either promoting Trump or pushing his new book, Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime and Politics for a Better America

    Wisconsin reporters also point out that his local approval ratings continue to fall as he ignores his responsibilities, as well as a string of troubling incidents that have occurred in the past few years. Chief among the concerns are four inmate deaths that occurred in his jails in 2016, which Clarke has failed to adequately explain, they say.

    “It gives the impression that he is missing in action and that he is an advocate for the Trump administration,” Daniel Bice, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who has reported extensively on Clarke, said about his recent actions. “The perception is that he has gone from being the sheriff to being an advocate for Trump -- that is his primary role right now.”

    Clarke, a Democrat and African-American, is among Fox News' favorite guests. A search of Fox News transcripts on Nexis since 2015 finds he has made prime time appearances more than 100 times, in most cases to discuss national issues, not his home county. (Nexis does not capture Fox News appearances on morning and daytime programming.)

    In addition, a recent Journal Sentinel review of Clarke’s outside income disclosure statements found he had earned more than $220,000 in 2016 from speaking fees and related expenses, along with other gifts, during speeches to 34 different groups in 20 states outside of Wisconsin. These earnings outpace his sheriff salary which is $132,290.

    “He’s not around and he’s not doing his job and not providing any leadership,” said Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative Wisconsin talk show host now appearing on MSNBC and WNYC Radio in New York. “His approach has been to refuse to comment, refuse to be transparent in any way, and attack anyone who raises questions about it.”

    And then there are the questionable incidents involving Clarke, ranging from his tweet calling CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill a “jigaboo” to his alleged harassment of a fellow airplane passenger.

    Clarke also called for a boycott of a local Fox affiliate, claiming it presented “fake news” and “racist” coverage.

    “He doesn’t talk to the local press except through the county sheriff’s Facebook page, but he does talk to Fox News, which is a contrast,” Bice said. “The assumption nationally among the conservatives is that he is beloved here, but even conservatives are frustrated with how long he is gone and not doing his job.”

    Clarke was first appointed sheriff in 2002, winning re-election later that year and again in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He is up for re-election again in 2018.

    But he didn't gain national prominence until his last election, when groups of gun-safety advocates helped support an effort to have him voted out.

    When he won that election, local reporters say, he started getting national attention as a gun-rights advocate and law enforcement voice. He drew further attention last year when he spoke out against the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a hate group. He was also an early Trump supporter.

    One of the misconceptions about Clarke, however, is his image as a crime-fighter, local journalists say. His office does very little in the way of policing, with most of its work focused on the county's jails, highways, and parks.

    “The county sheriff has almost nothing to do with crime. The police handle the crime,” said Bruce Murphy, editor of UrbanMilwaukee.com, former editor of Milwaukee Magazine and onetime Journal Sentinel reporter. “He’s the classic example of all hat and no cattle. He talks tough and he has the impression of being this guy who is taking care of crime, and he has very little to do with it.”

    A January 31 report from Public Policy Polling found that Clarke had a 31 percent approval rating among local voters, and it noted that “voters consider him to be somewhat of a national embarrassment.” It also revealed that 65 percent believed Clarke has had a negative impact on Milwaukee County’s image.

    PolitiFact, meanwhile, has deemed 75 percent of his statements that it reviewed false or mostly false.

    “He’s very thin-skinned. He enjoys the limelight, likes the big checks and flying first class,” said Mike Crute, a talk show host on WRRD News Talk 1510 in Milwaukee. “It’s horrible. He’s got people dying in his own jails and he is nowhere to be found.”

    Crute added: “He is a guy who undermines the office and the public service office. It’s all narcissism, building himself as a TV brand, following Trump’s example. The sheriff’s office and its duties are just tedious to him. He doesn’t do anything.”

    James Wigderson, assistant editor of the conservative website RightWisconsin.com, called the outside appearances “a distraction.”

    “The fact that he probably earns more from speaking fees than he does at his day job leads you to believe that his day job has to be suffering at some point in this process,” Wigderson said. “It’s a mixed bag in Milwaukee County when you are more frequently appearing on Fox News nationally than you are on the local news discussing what is going on in Milwaukee County.”

    Journalists also say that he has not properly addressed the jail deaths or his constant trips out of town. When Media Matters approached him at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in February outside Washington, D.C., Clarke declined to comment on either.

    Most reporters who cover Clarke believe he will not run for re-election in 2018, due in part to his diminishing local image and popularity, but also because of his continued support for Trump, as many believe he still hopes to serve the president in some capacity.

    “He’s become a Fox News commentator/Trump surrogate and at that point has become almost completely disconnected with the community,” said Sykes.

    In response to a request for comment, Fran McLaughlin at Clarke's office sent the following:

    I spoke with the sheriff :

    The left (Progressives, Democrats) doesn't think a black guy is capable of handling many things at one time. Let me introduce them to Sheriff David Clarke. He's added Tammy Baldwin to the list. He's EVERYWHERE! He's too busy to talk to you right now though. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain

  • Public Media Executives: Trump's "Foolish" Public Broadcasting Cuts Will Hurt “Small-Town America”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    President Donald Trump’s proposal to gut funding for public broadcasting in his new budget released Thursday would mostly harm residents of small rural towns, many of who are Republican voters, according to public TV and radio executives.

    The 2018 budget plan from the White House would eliminate all federal subsidies for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which was allotted $445 million to fund local National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations and productions in the 2017 federal budget. Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services -- which totaled more than $500 million in the 2017 budget -- would also be eliminated. 

    While some of the larger stations would see a smaller reduction in their budgets -- between 2 percent and 7 percent -- some smaller stations in rural areas depend on the funding for up to 30 percent of their operating costs, station managers say. And many of those stations are often one of the few sources for news and information in their locations.

    “At smaller radio stations, there is no question the cuts would be more significant, for stations in rural areas particularly where there are strong constituents for Donald Trump, one of the ironies,” said Bill Davis, president of Southern California Public Radio, which operates several stations led by KPCC in Pasadena. “It would be a significant hit at every level of decentralized public media we have here. You are going to have different impacts, but they are all pretty significant.”

    For his stations, it would mean a $1.2 million to $1.4 million annual reduction. “That would be a cut of about 12 employees,” he said. “It’s a real hit. Even at the largest station level, this will have potential significant consequences.”

    William J. Marrazzo, CEO of Philadelphia's WHYY-TV and WHYY-FM, agreed.

    “The lion’s share of the money does find its way into local station hands and the term is Community Service Grants,” he said. “The CPB makes definite grants to local public television and local public radio stations.”

    He said about 7 percent of his budget comes from the federal government, around $2.5 million per year. But smaller stations need it even more.

    “It puts more of the money into communities that don’t have that local infrastructure to build out that universal access model,” Marrazzo said. “It hurts. It’s a very tiny percentage of the federal appropriation and any cut of any size is coming at a time when there is growing evidence that the American public wants more and more from its local public media companies. It is clear by all the research that we conduct that public media has the most trusted form of news and information, that public media has the easiest portal to giving people access to creative expression.”

    Public broadcasting veterans and local executives stressed that the biggest impact of such cuts will be on the most needy citizens, those with few free broadcasting options.

    “Public stations provide truthful journalism, cultural, educational content throughout the country and today, 170 million people from urban and rural areas alike enjoy and learn from their local public stations that provide content that commercial broadcasting cannot produce,” Anthony Brandon, president and general manager of WYPR Public Radio in Baltimore, said via email. “De-funding public media is foolish and hurts local stations in red and blue states. We hope Congress will think of the origins of the CPB while the funding debate goes on.”

    Jeffrey Dvorkin, a former vice president of news and information at NPR and former NPR ombudsman, called the cuts “very disturbing.”

    “In the past, public broadcasting has had very strong support in Republican districts. They are listening and it is reasonably balanced,” he said. “In my time at NPR I heard from a lot of conservatives who did not always agree, but they liked the programming. In some important ways public broadcasting is infrastructure, it is important.”

    He said CPB pays for up to 30 percent of operational budgets for many stations in smaller areas with smaller populations.

    “Small-town America in the middle of the country, in Alaska, where there’s a large population of people who depend on broadcasters for an informational lifeline,” Dvorkin said. “The whole concept of what is in the public interest has been hijacked by conservative think tanks and thinking.”

    Asked what will happen if the funding is cut so dramatically, Dvorkin said, “It will be a monopoly situation for talk radio because as some of these stations are finding out now they cannot exist. As these stations are driven close to bankruptcy, their license will be picked up by talk radio and commercial TV.”

    Alicia Shepard, a former NPR ombudsman, called this funding threat among “the most serious” in NPR and PBS history.

    "This is not the first time, they are threatened. But it is the most serious,” she said via email. “It would be a big mistake to eliminate funding for NPR and PBS.  The amount that goes to fair, balanced and thoughtful reporting is minuscule in comparison to the defense budget.” She also noted, “let's not forget that PBS and NPR act as the government's emergency broadcasting network. And in rural areas, PBS and NPR might be all people have access to."

    Leaders of the CPB and PBS each issued strong criticisms of the budget plan today.

    "PBS and our nearly 350 member stations, along with our viewers, continue to remind Congress of our strong support among Republican and Democratic voters, in rural and urban areas across every region of the country,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said in her statement. “We have always had support from both parties in Congress, and will again make clear what the public receives in return for federal funding for public broadcasting. The cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse."
     
    She also cited two new national surveys -- by conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports and from collaboration of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint and Democratic polling firm Hart Research Associates -- that revealed voters “across the political spectrum overwhelmingly oppose eliminating federal funding for public television. Rasmussen shows that just 21% of Americans – and only 32% of Republicans –favor ending public broadcasting support. In the PBS Hart Research-American Viewpoint poll, 83% of voters – including 70% of those who voted for President Trump – say they want Congress to find savings elsewhere.”

    Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the CPB, stated:

    There is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media’s educational and informational programming and services. The elimination of federal funding to CPB would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions for Americans in rural and urban communities alike.

    Public media is one of America’s best investments. At approximately $1.35 per citizen per year, it pays huge dividends to every American. From expanding opportunity, beginning with proven children’s educational content to providing essential news and information as well as ensuring public safety and homeland security through emergency alerts, this vital investment strengthens our communities. It is especially critical for those living in small towns and in rural and underserved areas.

    Viewers and listeners appreciate that public media is non-commercial and available for free to all Americans. We will work with the new Administration and Congress in raising awareness that elimination of federal funding to CPB begins the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.

    Bill Moyers, the award-winning PBS host and news legend, also spoke out against the proposed cuts. He told Media Matters that a decades-long crusade by some conservatives to eliminate public broadcasting may succeed "now that they control the White House, the House, and the Senate," while also offering a measure of hope, predicting that "it won’t be the end of us. There’s strong support across the country for public television –- especially children’s and cultural programming –- and even stronger appreciation for NPR’s news and public affairs programming." 

    Moyers added that the proposed cuts would mean "many of the smallest stations around the country will struggle and likely perish and the people who supported Trump outside the large metropolitan areas will lose a cultural presence in their lives that they value." He concluded, "Still, I can’t believe the public at large wants to see public television or public radio disappear and will rally to support both public television and radio in new ways."