Pam Vogel

Author ››› Pam Vogel
  • How To Remember Roger Ailes

    (As A Liar And Enabler Who Hurt Women)

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    “He went out in such a sad way, but who doesn't have sins? We all have our sins, we all have our cross to bear.”

    That’s how Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt addressed the death of former Fox CEO Roger Ailes on Fox & Friends this morning. A few hours later, Fox News’ Happening Now co-anchor Jon Scott similarly said of Ailes, “Yes, he had his faults. We all do.” The “sins” and “faults” they’re referring to -- the ones “we all have” -- include Ailes’ serial sexual harassment of Fox News employees spanning decades. They also include the creation of a culture, on and off the air, that repeatedly told women that their bodies were not their own, but rather are subject to the sometimes-violent whims of men.

    Roger Ailes hurt women. A lot of women -- probably more than we know. And if those facts are lost in praise about the ways Ailes “forever changed the political and the media landscape,” or reduced to “kind of a sad ending to an incredible career,” it will be another message that those women don’t matter.

    In addition to the incalculable damage Ailes' signature creation has done to the political landscape in this country, his real legacy is the pain he caused for countless people: the 25 women who reported his sexual misconduct and harassment, the employees who were silenced or surveilled by Ailes and his cronies, the women and black employees who were serially harassed by others under Ailes’ watch, the surely many more Fox employees who went to work every day scared, the viewers who watched harassers deliver the news each day with Ailes’ stamp of approval, and the survivors who hear the stories about Ailes’ serial harassment and are reminded of their own pain.

    These are not “sins” that we all have committed; these are atrocities.

    Ailes’ real legacy is the message that if you’re a wealthy, powerful white man, you can hurt as many people as you want and probably get away with it. You can do it for decades, building up an environment where no one even talks about the pain you cause. And when women speak up, you can spy on them, dismiss them, and harass them.

    And when people listen to those women despite your best efforts to stop them, you can walk away with a “tarnished legacy” and an extra $40 million.

  • Kimberly Guilfoyle Has Been Auditioning On Fox News For White House Press Secretary

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Fox News’ Kimberly Guilfoyle is a front-runner for replacing White House press secretary Sean Spicer -- if, indeed, his replacement is imminent -- and that should surprise no one. If she gets the job, it won’t be much of a change from her current role at Fox: routinely praising President Donald Trump, defending him unquestioningly, and lashing out at media outlets daring to report critically on his actions.

    Guilfoyle, a co-host of the network’s The Five, told the San Jose Mercury News she’s in talks with the Trump administration about the press secretary position. The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers described Guilfoyle’s Mercury News interview by saying she’s “openly gunning for Sean Spicer’s job." He also noted that Guilfoyle certainly took the opportunity to tactfully criticize Spicer “as if he were already gone” and declare her patriotism, signaling loyalty to the president.

    Guilfoyle and Fox News both subsequently released brief statements attempting to walk back the Mercury News interview -- though neither actually denied that Guilfoyle was in communication with the White House (but Guilfoyle is under “long-term” contract at Fox). Both The New York Times and Trump ally and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ website have said that Trump is interested in bringing in Guilfoyle for the role; she was also considered for the job back in December before Spicer was ultimately hired. If Spicer is fired, all signs point to Guilfoyle as a serious contender. 

    Regular viewers of her Fox program might not be surprised by these developments -- in the last week, Guilfoyle has essentially tried out for the job on air. Her sycophantic praise for Trump, blatant critiques of the current White House communications staff, and attacks on reporters suggest she’d fit right into the Trump administration.

    Guilfoyle has also been lavishing Trump with unconditional praise.

    Just hours after The New York Times broke the news that former FBI Director James Comey had written a series of contemporaneous memos detailing his interactions with the president -- one of which included an account of Trump potentially engaging in obstruction of justice by asking Comey to “let go” a federal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn -- Guilfoyle questioned the validity and timing of the memos:

    Last Friday on The Five, Guilfoyle and the other co-hosts discussed Trump’s statements about the White House communications team in an interview with Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, and Guilfoyle’s contributions were essentially a five-minute-long job interview. Her assessment of the White House press shop included subtle implications she’d be more loyal and likeable than Spicer, and a joking reference to her earlier consideration for the role. She also agreed with her co-hosts that “the only person who communicated” effectively about the firing of FBI Director James Comey was Trump “himself.”

    Guilfoyle’s Twitter account also highlights her Trump praise. More than a third of the tweets and retweets Guilfoyle’s posted since May 11 are just Trump retweets. Another is a Twitter “moment” she shared of comedian Melissa McCarthy unflatteringly impersonating Spicer. And the Fox personality’s pinned tweet is a post-inauguration response thanking the president for promoting her book in an old tweet from 2015.

    Guilfoyle also seems to agree with her potential new boss on one key issue: She regards members of the media who are critical of Trump with contempt. She praised Trump’s media-bashing February press conference -- in which he mockingly called CNN “very fake news” and scolded reporters for writing critically about the White House -- as “wildly entertaining,” and celebrated that Trump “let the media have it for their bogus, dishonest reporting.” In March, Guilfoyle said Trump’s repeated attacks calling legitimate news organizations “fake news” were “pretty funny,” and that “he does have a pretty good delivery and inflection when he says it.”

    And in the last week, Guilfoyle has doubled down. On May 10, Guilfoyle responded to Trump’s firing of Comey by asserting she would “have done the same thing,” and mocking “mainstream media” for going into “full meltdown mode” over the highly unusual and newsworthy move.

    The next day, Guilfoyle again stood by Trump’s decision to fire Comey. She opened the May 11 episode of The Five with a lengthy, press-conference-ready defense of the firing -- but offered a brief and helpful critique of “what would have helped” the White House “in terms of the communications” to keep “detractors” from “trying to make something out of this.”

    And just last night, Guilfoyle delivered a diatribe about mainstream media’s “witch hunt” against Trump, arguing that CNN reporters are engaging in a “bloodsport” and “trying to do in the presidency of Donald Trump” by running “biased” stories that “effectuate that outcome.”

    She sounds ready for the Trump briefing room.

  • Women In Sports Media Discuss What’s Missing From Coverage Of Sexual Violence

    Jessica Luther: Imagine The “Conversations That Are Getting Lost Or Ignored Because Women Aren’t There”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Reporters who cover sports media say major outlets like ESPN have a long way to go before they can claim to be reporting responsibly and accurately on sexual assault and harassment in the sports world.

    A recent Media Matters analysis found that during the first quarter of 2017, ESPN networks relied disproportionately on male guests (74 percent) to discuss domestic violence and sexual assault.

    ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN News together aired about 30 hours and 40 minutes of coverage on sexual assault and domestic violence -- out of more than 8,600 hours of airtime. And about one-third of the minimal coverage across ESPN networks on the topic was the re-airing of an ESPN documentary highlighting false rape accusations made against the Duke lacrosse team.

    This snapshot of coverage at the leading sports network hints at a much larger problem: an extremely narrow pipeline for talent and expertise in sports journalism.

    In fact, an annual report by the Women’s Media Center on gender diversity in media indicates that these ESPN numbers are (sadly) pretty good when you consider the rest of the sports media landscape. The report cites data showing that women made up just 13.3 percent of total sports staff and less than 10 percent of sports editors at major newspapers and websites in 2014. ESPN employed by far the largest proportion of that small percentage of women, who were also overwhelmingly white. Another study, examining gender and sports reporting, found that ESPN’s on-air talent was also overwhelmingly male and white -- though slightly more diverse than the Los Angeles affiliate networks the study also analyzed. 

    Deadspin writer Diana Moskovitz considered Media Matters' study and said, “Given the systemic exclusion of women from sports journalism (as well as other forms of journalism, including politics, criminal justice, and investigative work), these numbers show just how far the industry still has to go in creating newsrooms that actually reflect the country we live in.”

    When women -- and particularly women of color -- aren’t part of the conversation, audiences are denied important perspectives. And this trend can cause specific and irreparable harm when it comes to sports reporting on sexual violence.

    Jessica Luther, an expert on sports and culture, said the demographic imbalance in terms of who is reporting on sports has an impact when it comes to discussing sexual violence: “There is a sort of bias to who we see as experts in this society, and who we think can speak to these things. … Imagine the conversations that are getting lost or ignored because women aren’t there.”

    ThinkProgress sports reporter Lindsay Gibbs expanded on that often-missing perspective. She said that while there “are certainly men who are well-versed on the subject of sexual violence, and there are absolutely men who have been victims as well,” women typically have a different daily experience.

    “I think there are things [women] have to deal with on a daily basis that men don’t -- whether it’s being afraid to go out on a run after dark because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “Or locking your doors the second you get home, or having to think twice before you talk to that person at the bar, or having to send your friend the location of your Tinder date just in case they don’t hear from you.

    “These are things that women of all kinds deal with on a daily basis, that inform our discussions of topics like this, that men don’t have to deal with,” she continued. “That’s going to impact the sensitivity and the awareness of the issue.” 

    Olympic athlete Anita DeFrantz, who is a board member at the Women’s Media Center, added, “Women reporters will have a different view based on the context of their life experiences. … If one truly wishes to contribute to knowledge about a subject, why continue to use the same sources of thought?” 

    The Media Matters snapshot of ESPN coverage also hints at immediate opportunities sports reporters -- and all reporters -- can take advantage of to better serve an audience that undoubtedly includes survivors of sexual violence.

    Gibbs said that when media ignore a sexual violence report about a sports figure or try “to paint it as a distraction,” they are “minimizing the subject as a whole, and that does a lot more harm than good.”

    Sports reporters also have an obligation to report on sexual violence without bias, taking care not to focus on the perpetrator without including the survivor’s perspective, or to ascribe blame to anyone who has come forward to report. 

    Luther explained that, because of widespread reports of sexual violence involving athletes, a 24-hour sports news cycle, and the nature of sports fan investment, “whether they like it or not, sports reporters are going to be leading the discussion on [sexual violence], on a ubiquitous issue that is harmful when it’s reported poorly. It keeps people quiet. It emboldens people who do violence. When it’s reported in a way that is mean to people who’ve come forward, it’s sympathetic to people who’ve been reported in a way that isn’t balanced with sympathy for victims.”

    “I always think of the victims in this case,” Gibbs said. “They’re watching.”

    Sexual violence is a topic that’s far too important to get wrong -- and women leaders in the sports media industry are demonstrating what quality reporting looks like.

    Luther, Moskovitz, and Gibbs have all contributed to a promising category of in-depth, nuanced reporting on sexual assault and domestic violence in the sports world. They’re joined by stand-out journalists at ESPN too: Kavitha Davidson, Paula Lavigne, and, until recently, Jane McManus.

    McManus, a role model whom Luther described as “the leader, especially at ESPN, on reporting on the NFL and domestic violence,” was among those laid off from the network in April. 

  • On The Firing Of Bill O’Reilly: What Is Gone, And What Is Not

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    It’s official: Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News. What exactly does that change? What stays the same?

    On April 1, The New York Times wrote that O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, have paid out at least $13 million in settlements with five women reporting sexual harassment by O’Reilly. After weeks of relentless activism from progressive organizers including Media Matters, of advertisers pulling their ads from the O’Reilly Factor time slot, of more courageous women coming forward to share their own reports of misconduct by O’Reilly, of hundreds of sexual violence survivors asking Fox to do better, O’Reilly has been deemed too toxic for Fox.

    O’Reilly’s smug on-camera demeanor, his attacks on women for speaking up, and his attempts to blacklist media outlets that reported on his sexual harassment settlements as far back as 2004 will be diminished if not gone for good. The lies he tells about women’s bodies and the blame he lays squarely at women’s feet every night will be silenced, at least for now.

    But what happens to the company, and the culture, that allowed him to thrive for so long? O’Reilly abused the power he was given by Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Shine, and Jack Abernethy. These are the same men who greenlighted a sham investigation into the workplace culture at Fox News, who oversaw decades of mistreatment of women employees, and who profited when O’Reilly and his peers (including replacement Tucker Carlson) launched racist and sexist attacks on their shows.

    Only one of those men is no longer in the picture, because he, too, abused the power he had to harass women. The rest remain, and thus it also remains to be seen if Fox News will actually change for the women it employs.

    What’s more, the way women move through the world won’t change because of O’Reilly’s firing. The statistics won’t change with the downfall of one man.

    One in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 has been sexually harassed at work.

    More than 90 percent of women who work in tipped wage positions in restaurants have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

    About 70 percent of women who experience workplace sexual harassment do not report it, for fear of retaliation.

    Our culture won’t change this quickly either. The pain of countless women lingers in O'Reilly's wake.

    Bill O’Reilly won’t be around every night to remind me -- and, I’m sure, countless others -- of the men who have hurt and violated us in the past. But the president of the United States will be; in fact, he’s come to O’Reilly’s defense

    Image at top created by Sarah Wasko. 

  • San Bernardino School Shooting Shows Which Crime Victims Matter For TV News

    Television News Ignored The Dangerous Intersections Of Intimate Partner Violence, Access To Firearms, And Black Women’s Lives After San Bernardino School Shooting

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    On the morning of April 10, a man entered a special education classroom at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, CA, and opened fire with a revolver. He shot and killed the teacher -- his estranged wife Karen Smith -- and an 8-year-old student named Jonathan Martinez, and injured another student before killing himself. By April 12, national television news had virtually stopped talking about it.

    News media coverage of intimate partner violence has the power to shape public perception of the issue, and inadequate or dismissive coverage can ultimately normalize or perpetuate this epidemic of violence against women.

    In the United States, a woman is assaulted every nine seconds, and “an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute.” One in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner. And access to firearms, like the revolver used to murder Karen Smith and Jonathan Martinez, only increases the likelihood that intimate partner violence will end with a woman dead.

    According to Everytown for Gun Safety, in more than half of U.S. mass shootings from 2009 through 2016, “the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.” One study found that among women living in the United States, “about 4.5 million have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun and nearly 1 million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.” A 2016 Associated Press analysis of FBI data concluded that “an average of 760 Americans were killed with guns annually by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners between 2006 and 2014.” The connection between intimate partner violence and firearm deaths can also sometimes carry a larger body count: “Many mass shooters have a history of domestic violence,” like the San Bernardino school shooter did.

    And this dangerous intersection of normalized intimate partner violence and access to firearms hurts black women, like Karen Smith, most. As Teen Vogue’s Morgan Jerkins noted:

    It's also important to note that intimate partner violence disproportionately affects black women, like Smith. In 2014, Time reported that black women are nearly three times as likely to experience death as a result of domestic violence than white women. What’s more, in 2014, black women were murdered by men more than twice the rate of white women. And like the murder in San Bernardino, most homicides against black women are committed by men whom they know.

    Yet Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone pointed out that, though “a shooting at an elementary school might be expected to receive outsize coverage due to the shocking nature of the act,” that didn’t seem to happen with the Monday murders of Karen Smith and Jonathan Martinez:

    On Monday night, the three major broadcast evening newscasts led with the San Bernardino school shooting story, but the anchors remained in New York. By Tuesday, the story was already receding from the headlines. Cable morning shows, like CNN’s “New Day” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” only covered it in passing. And The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal didn’t run front page stories on it.

    And a search of Nexis and Snapstream transcripts from the major news networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- for the week since the shooting has come up almost completely empty on necessary context.

    In these available transcripts from Monday, April 10, through Monday, April 17, not a single segment or report on the shooting shooting mentioned the prevalence of intimate partner violence in the U.S. or hinted at the role guns play in making instances of intimate partner violence deadlier. There were also no mentions of the disproportionate danger to black women that intimate partner violence poses.

    Mainstream media seem unwilling to devote much coverage to intimate partner violence, even when women die. And there is a particular lack of coverage concerning the violence routinely perpetrated on black women’s bodies. When television media silence helps to perpetuate the normalization of violence -- particularly against black women -- it becomes deafening.

    Methodology

    For the time period between April 10 and April 17, Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for any mentions of the terms “San Bernardino,” “Karen Smith,” or “Karen Elaine Smith.” The search included all available news transcripts for ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Nexis transcripts include all-day programming on CNN, evening programming on MSNBC and Fox News, and morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on the broadcast networks. Snapstream transcripts were used to analyze daytime programming on MSNBC and Fox News.

    Do You -- Or Does Someone You Know -- Need Help?

    If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

    For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

    Image at top created by Sarah Wasko.

  • Read Attorney Lisa Bloom’s Letter About Fox News’ Toxic Culture And Why It Should Tank Murdoch’s Sky News Deal 

    Bloom, Who Represents O'Reilly Accuser Wendy Walsh: Fox Has Shown An "Utter Disregard For The Rights Of Women"

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Fox News’ “ongoing culture of sexual harassment, its recent payouts of tens of millions of dollars of hush money, and most egregiously, its role in ending the careers of women who complained has been well documented in American media,” and it reveals an “utter disregard for the rights of women,” according to attorney Lisa Bloom.

    Bloom -- whose firm is well-known for representing clients who report sexual assault and sexual harassment by men in positions of power, including President Donald Trump -- now represents Wendy Walsh, a radio personality who says Fox News host Bill O’Reilly sexually harassed her in 2013.

    Walsh shared her experience in the wake of an April 1 New York Times report revealing that O’Reilly and Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, have paid a total of about $13 million to avoid lawsuits pertaining to reports of sexual harassment and other misconduct by O’Reilly. Walsh’s account is the latest in a long timeline of reports of sexual harassment at Fox News that reveals a pattern of corporate retaliation, victim-blaming, and million- and million-plus-dollar payouts for silence extending far beyond O’Reilly or former Fox chairman Roger Ailes, who resigned last year after numerous women said that he had sexually harassed them. Activists, including Media Matters president Angelo Carusone, have spurred more than 80 U.S. advertisers to respond to the Times report about O’Reilly by pulling their ads from airing during the O’Reilly Factor time slot.

    Bloom is now joining global activism group Avaaz in laying out the case for why this toxic workplace culture of sexual harassment, discrimination, and silence -- which has festered under the watch of 21st Century Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and his sons -- should disqualify the company from its bid to acquire British satellite broadcasting company Sky.

    21st Century Fox struck a $22.9 billion deal to acquire Sky in December, but they have faced hurdles in getting clearance from British antitrust and media regulators. The U.K. media regulator Ofcom is now charged with reviewing 21st Century Fox and Murdoch’s stakes in British media, and it could “kill the deal if it decides that Murdoch and 21st Century Fox do not meet the standard of ‘fit and proper’ owners.” The standard, as CNN reports, is “broad” and includes consideration of “any relevant misconduct” on the part of Murdoch or the company -- such as, perhaps, his reported resistance to firing O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox’s long-term complicity in violating workplace protections for women and people of color.

    Bloom sent a letter to Ofcom on April 11 detailing the company’s long history of sexual harassment and discrimination under Murdoch’s leadership, which the attorney noted had also spurred her to ask the New York State Division of Human Rights to “open an investigation into the toxic culture for women at Fox News.” New York City public advocate Letitia James has also called on the city’s Commission on Human Rights to investigate Fox for employment discrimination.

    In her letter to Ofcom, Bloom wrote that 21st Century Fox’s silence and “utter disregard for the rights of women” reveal a “lack of oversight, intervention, and decency” at the company.

    Read the full letter to Ofcom below, and Bloom’s dossier on Fox culture sent to the Division of Human Rights here.

    Lisa Bloom letter to Ofcom by Media Matters for America on Scribd

    Image at top by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • 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.

  • Reporters, It’s Time To Investigate DeVos’ Department Of Education

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In the lead-up to billionaire Republican megadonor and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, numerous media outlets published deep-dive investigations into DeVos’ background, significant political contributions, potential conflicts of interest, far-right ideology, and negative influence on Michigan policies.

    But since she formally took over at the Department of Education, the investigative work seems to have mostly dropped off; coverage of DeVos has focused more on her public gaffes than the inner workings of the agency she now runs. It certainly doesn't help that DeVos and her department have struggled with media transparency. As education media writer Alexander Russo wrote, "DeVos takes press questions at events only occasionally, has yet to grant a formal interview with a major national education reporter, and heads a department that only intermittently provides answers in a timely manner – through a spokesperson whose name reporters are forbidden to use. The agency has even struggled to put out her weekly schedule in advance of public events."

    It's time for investigative journalists to dig deeper and shine light on DeVos' priorities, such as early staffing decisions at the Education Department. There's certainly plenty to explore -- many of the temporary staffers in the Education Department are veterans of the right-wing think tank echo chamber on "education reform," and some have anti-LGBTQ and anti-black track records. Like DeVos, almost none have spent significant time as educators. 

    As ProPublica reported, the Trump administration has installed hundreds of officials across federal agencies including the Education Department (known as “beachhead” teams). Though the positions are designed to be temporary, many are expected to transition into permanent roles, and may have “taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees” who need to first be vetted and confirmed by the Senate:

    Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

    [...]

    Much about the role of the beachhead teams at various federal agencies is unclear. But close observers of the early weeks of the Trump administration believe they have taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees.

    The beachhead team members are temporary employees serving for stints of four to eight months, but many are expected to move into permanent jobs.

    Several Education Department Officials With Offensive Online Histories May Remain On Staff

    A December Politico report highlighted three newly named Education Department staffers who had previously posted offensive comments about women and people of color online. Two of the staffers still appear to work for DeVos’ agency months after the report. Kevin Eck, a special assistant to Secretary DeVos, had to apologize after he tweeted disparagingly in late 2015 about the “all black cast” of NBC’s The Wiz adaptation. Politico also documented several disparaging tweets by Eck about the LGBTQ community, including at least one post that pushed the dangerous “bathroom predator” myth people use to justify barring transgender individuals (students, in particular) from using the appropriate public facilities. According to his LinkedIn profile, Eck still serves in this role at the department.

    The Politico article identified another staffer, Derrick Bolen, who “has tweeted numerous statements that could be considered insensitive to African-Americans and women.” Bolen’s posts include at least one in which he used a racial slur. He began serving as a confidential assistant to DeVos in the early days of the administration; ProPublica notes that Bolen “appear[s] to have switched departments” and may now be working at the Department of Labor. His LinkedIn profile does not list any past experience in teaching or education policy; instead, Bolen served most recently as a regional field director for the Republican National Committee.

    One "Beachhead" Staffer Was Investigated For Corruption By The Federal Government

    Former Alaska state Sen. Jerry Ward served as a special assistant to Secretary DeVos until his reported resignation last week. Years before Ward worked as the Alaska state director for the Trump campaign or served on Trump’s inaugural committee, he was investigated by the Department of Justice for alleged corruption stemming from “his relationship with private prison advocate William Weimar.” According to local media coverage, federal prosecutors also concluded that Ward had interfered with a witness in a corruption trial in order to protect himself from prosecution. Little is known about Ward's resignation from the "beachhead" team; he has not discussed the matter publicly. 

    Prominent Education Officials Have Serious Ties To The For-Profit Education Industry

    Journalists have already begun identifying new members of the Education Department staff -- beachhead or otherwise -- whose backgrounds raise strong conflict-of-interest questions. In March, The New York Times reported that Robert Eitel, a vice president for regulatory legal services at for-profit college operator Bridgepoint Education Inc., is on leave from the position to work as a special assistant to Secretary DeVos. Ethics experts told the Times that Eitel’s connections to Bridgepoint, in particular his legal work while the company faced several government investigations, could “bump up against federal rules involving conflicts of interest and impartiality.” Eitel was recently granted written permission from ethics officials to work on regulations specifically affecting student loan repayment; under his legal leadership, Bridgepoint paid out “a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.”

    Another early member of DeVos’ staff, Taylor Hansen, also has significant financial ties to the for-profit higher education world; he’s both a for-profit college lobbyist and the son of the former CEO of a student loan guarantee agency. As Bloomberg News reports, Hansen resigned from his role at the Education Department in mid-March, just one day after the department announced a reversal on an Obama-era directive related to fees that loan guarantee agencies can charge some students who default on their loans. The change, Bloomberg explained, “is almost certain to hand … a victory” -- and possibly $15 million in additional revenue -- to the company that, until very recently, was operated by Hansen’s father.

    Jerry Falwell Jr. Brings A Handful Of Conflicts And Concerns To The Department

    Jerry Falwell Jr. is the son of televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. and the president of Liberty University, a Christian college in Virginia founded by Falwell Sr. in 1971. He has also been tapped to head a "task force on higher education” in the Trump administration, reportedly at the insistence of senior White House official and former Breitbart.com executive Stephen Bannon. Falwell Jr. has encouraged students to carry concealed weapons on campus in order to “end those Muslims,” and defended President Donald Trump’s 2005 comments boasting about sexually assaulting women. Liberty University also offers insight into Falwell Jr.’s leadership and priorities -- the school is closely tied to the Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, hosts extremist groups and individuals for campus events, and prohibits “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.”

    Little information has come to light about Falwell’s plans for the higher education task force, but reports indicate that he is “particularly interested in curbing rules that require schools to investigate campus sexual assault under Title IX, a federal law that bans discrimination in education.” Falwell has also said that he wants the task force to “re-evaluate ‘overreaching regulation’ by the federal government,” reportedly in areas such as college accreditation and federal loan cancellation for defrauded students, leading to calls for more information from Senate Democrats who see potential for conflicts of interest. “Mr. Falwell’s personal and financial interests on issues affecting student loan debt, recruitment, and distance education are extensive,” the lawmakers wrote, noting that Liberty University was the third-largest recipient of federal student loans in 2016.

    Numerous “Beachhead” Officials Have Ties To Privatization Groups DeVos Has Supported -- And Almost None Have Ever Worked In Classrooms

    The vast majority of “beachhead” officials within the Education Department have close connections to the right-wing “education reform” media echo chamber bankrolled by billionaires and private corporations -- but little to no experience in the classroom.

    This list includes at least four staffers who have previously worked for education privatization groups led by DeVos in some capacity: Michael Frendewey, a communications staffer at American Federation for Children, which was founded by DeVos and led by until her nomination; and Andrew Kossack, Josh Venable, and Neil Ruddock, all former staffers of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which counted DeVos as a board member until her nomination.

    The longer list of staffers who come from the dark-money “education reform” echo chamber includes Jason Botel, of the DeVos-affiliated Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now; Michael Brickman, a former staffer with the Fordham Institute and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI); Gillum Ferguson, a former staffer for conservative outlets Opportunity Lives and The Washington Free Beacon; Alexandra Hudson, who has written education policy pieces at conservative outlets and think tanks like The Heartland Institute, The Federalist, and The Weekly Standard and recently worked as an education policy analyst for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (part of the State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks); Lauren Rigas of the American Conservative Union and the American Enterprise Institute; and Patrick Shaheen, a former staffer at the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

    And DeVos’ Brother, Erik Prince, Held A Secret Overseas Meeting To Create A “Trump-Putin Back Channel”

    Let’s not forget the bombshell Washington Post report from April 3: Erik Prince, DeVos’ brother and the founder of the infamous Blackwater security firm, met with “a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and [then] President-elect Donald Trump” days before Trump’s inauguration. According to officials, Prince “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump” during the secret Seychelles meeting although he has no formal role with the administration. The meeting took place less than two months after Trump announced he would pick Prince’s sister to head the Education Department. 

  • The Conservative Dark-Money Groups Infiltrating Campus Politics

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    College campuses have long served as unique places for the free exchange of ideas -- but increasingly they’ve also become playgrounds for ideologically driven, right-wing billionaires and the dark-money groups they fund. Media Matters has mapped out some of the biggest actors behind astroturf conservative campus activism, creating an echo chamber of seemingly grass-roots right-wing student media and campus groups that are actually propped up by a handful of the same conservative funders and, sometimes, even prominent hate groups.

  • The Viral Story About Missing Black And Brown Girls In D.C. Reveals A Huge Media Blindspot

    Women's Outlets Explain How These Stories Are Significantly And Routinely Undercovered

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A social media post about missing black and brown girls in the Washington, D.C., area went viral, but the numbers it cited were incorrect. Women’s outlets -- primarily those geared toward young, black and brown audiences -- took the lead in explaining the underlying reality about media coverage of missing children that made the post so believable.