Michael Calderone | Media Matters for America

Michael Calderone

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  • The media are still talking about the National Climate Assessment, and for that we can thank climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Right-wingers' efforts to derail media coverage of the National Climate Assessment backfired not once but twice.

    First, the Trump administration tried to bury the National Climate Assessment by releasing it on Black Friday, but that tactic bombed. It turns out that "Trump tries to bury a new climate report" is a much sexier headline than "Scientists release a new climate report."

    Then, climate deniers fanned out on TV networks to spread lies and deceptive talking about the report, but they got far more criticism than they expected, and that criticism kept climate change in the news.

    Overall the report got loads of media coverage in the days after it was released. The quality was decidedly mixed -- some of it was good, some of it was awful -- but the good coverage appears to have outweighed the bad.

    The good

    At least 140 newspapers around the country featured the National Climate Assessment on their front pages the morning after it was released, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That included not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have strong teams of climate reporters, but also smaller papers all around the U.S., including 20 of them in California. A number of the papers highlighted the ways that climate change is hitting their regions, like the Portland Press Herald in Maine:

    MSNBC aired some strong segments. In one, host Ali Velshi mocked President Donald Trump's claim that his “gut” told him the report is wrong. He then interviewed climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a co-author of the assessment, who explained the report's findings and how scientists arrived at them. 

    CNN served up some highly problematic coverage -- more on that below -- but it also did some good interviews with climate scientists about the report, as well as three senators who are serious about addressing the climate crisis. And CNN took a novel approach to real-time fact-checking when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about the report during a press briefing. The network showed live video of Sanders, but paired it alongside a text bar labeled "Facts First" that corrected some of her false claims:

    All of the Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the report on the weekend after it was released. It was the first time in 2018 that every one of them addressed climate change on the same day. They rarely cover climate change at all.

    The bad

    Unfortunately, we would have been better off without some of that Sunday show coverage -- particularly the segments that gave airtime to rabid climate deniers. One of the worst ran on NBC's Meet the Press and featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers. She trotted out a favorite climate denier line -- "I'm not a scientist" -- and then proceeded to spout pure nonsense about how the globe is getting cooler.

    Egregious drivel about climate change also cropped up on CNN's State of the Union, which asked not one but two climate deniers to weigh in on the report. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) offered bland, lukewarm climate denial: "Our climate always changes and we see those ebb-and-flows through time." Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) one-upped Ernst by going all in for scalding-hot climate denial, praising the Trump team’s attempt to bury the report and claiming that the scientists who wrote it were “driven by the money":

    Santorum was roundly mocked on Twitter for making such a completely bogus claim. You might have thought that this would discourage other climate deniers from following suit, or at least discourage CNN from giving them a platform. You would have been wrong.

    The following Monday, CNN hosted two more right-wingers who made the same ridiculous claim that climate scientists were in it for the money: Tom DeLay, who resigned as Republican House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, and Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving “economist” who's worked for Koch-funded groups.

    The next day, on Tuesday morning, CNN seemed like it might be trying to redeem itself. It ran one segment in which CNN political analyst John Avlon fact-checked and thoroughly debunked the claim that scientists are getting rich by studying climate change, and another in which climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained that she and the other co-authors of the National Climate Assessment were paid "zero dollars" for their efforts.

    But a few hours later, the bonkers claims were back. CNN yet again invited both Santorum and Moore to repeat the warmed-over lie that scientists are driven by a multi-billion-dollar climate change industry that has manufactured a false crisis. Santorum presented this ludicrous falsehood and many others in a panel discussion on Anderson Cooper 360°. Cooper had interviewed Hayhoe for that same episode, but her interview got bumped and was only posted online, while the segment with Santorum’s false claims aired during prime time.

    Oh, and CNN also failed to note that Santorum, Moore, and DeLay have all received copious amounts of cash themselves from the fossil fuel industry.

    The backlash

    Other media outlets bashed CNN and NBC for featuring climate deniers, and that led to still more coverage of climate change and the National Climate Assessment, most of which was good.

    The New York Times published a fact-checking piece titled, "The Baseless Claim That Climate Scientists Are ‘Driven’ by Money," which cited and debunked statements made by Santorum and DeLay. PunditFact, a project of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, looked into Pletka's claims and labeled them "false."

    New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg published a story titled "News Networks Fall Short on Climate Story as Dolphins Die on the Beach," which highlighted the false claims made by Pletka and Santorum and put them in the context of climate change impacts in Florida. The Washington Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted out Rutenberg's story.

    Climate scientist Hayhoe published an op-ed in The Washington Post that debunked the myths propagated on CNN by Santorum and DeLay, among others.

    WNYC's On the Media hosted yours truly in a discussion about coverage of the National Climate Assessment, including the problem of featuring climate deniers on air.

    Politico's Morning Media daily newsletter, written by media reporter Michael Calderone, highlighted problems with press coverage of the National Climate Assessment on four different occasions after the report came out.

    ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd was just one of many influential media figures who tweeted their disapproval of segments that featured climate deniers:

    The fact that some members of the media screwed up their coverage so royally meant that other members of the media kept reporting on the story longer than they might have otherwise.

    Fox opts for footwear coverage

    Meanwhile, the folks over at Trump's favorite network were living in their own universe, as usual. Fox News gave the National Climate Assessment very little airtime. A few straight-news segments covered it, but the most popular Fox shows didn't. CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out that on the day of the report's release, Fox spent more time discussing the shoes of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) than it did discussing climate change.

    Considering what Fox's top personalities would have been likely to say about the report had they bothered to cover it, it's probably just as well that they stayed mum.

  • Cable Networks Were "Played Like A Fiddle" By Donald Trump’s “20-Second” Birther Statement

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    A slew of media critics and commentators shamed cable news networks for being “played” into providing free live coverage of a campaign event for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. After Trump teased a “major announcement,” cable news networks provided wall-to-wall coverage in anticipation that Trump would address criticism over his role in pushing conspiracy theories that President Obama was not born in the U.S. Trump’s mere seconds-long statement “came only after a lengthy campaign event featuring military officers and award winners who have endorsed him,” turning it into “a de facto commercial for the GOP candidate.”

  • The Right-Wing Media Figures Praising Trump’s Attacks On Press

    Major Media Figures Slam Trump’s Attacks For “Showing Little Regard For Democratic Accountability.”  

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Mainstream media figures criticized presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s attacks on the press during a May 31 press conference as showing “a fundamental misunderstanding of reporters’ roles” and “little regard for … the legitimate role of a free press in a free society,” while right-wing media lauded the attacks as a “smart move” against the “corrupt media.”

  • CNN President Jeff Zucker Defends Network's "Heavy Focus" On Trump And Hiring Of Trump Boosters

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Huffington Post's senior media reporter Michael Calderone reported that "CNN president Jeff Zucker ... defend[ed] his network's heavy focus on Republican front-runner Donald Trump," and that he dismissed criticism of overcoverage of Trump as "too much handwringing."

    In March 2016 alone, Trump has received nearly three hours of interviews on CNN, not including coverage of his live events, or the commentary of his campaign surrogates Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany, who are employed by CNN and appear frequently to push Trump's talking points and defend his racist statements. Even as journalists have called for the end of the media's practice of allowing Trump to call in to shows, CNN's Wolf Blitzer granted Trump an 11-minute phone interview where he advocated for torture following the Brussels attacks. More recently, when news broke of Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski being charged with battery, CNN interviewed both McEnany and Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes, with McEnany calling Lewandowski's charge "a side story." This was soon after Trump complained that CNN's coverage was "one-sided and unfair."

    In the March 30 article, Calderone reported that CNN president Jeff Zucker is standing by his network's "heavy focus" on Trump and that Zucker cited the March 29 Republican forum as "the most-watched ever for that format." Calderone noted that Trump "has been a ratings bonanza for cable news networks like CNN" even while they "have faced questions about the excessive amount of airtime given to Trump." Calderone also noted that CNN has faced scrutiny for hiring Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany, "whose on-air roles seems to be primarily Trump boosters and defenders," and that Zucker defended Lord's role at CNN:

    CNN president Jeff Zucker on Wednesday defended his network's heavy focus on Republican front-runner Donald Trump the day before, particularly its coverage of the arrest of Trump's campaign manager, according to network sources.

    Zucker kicked off Wednesday's employee town hall by saying that the previous night's televised Republican forum, which featured Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was the most-watched ever for that format.

    CNN averaged 3.26 million viewers during the three-hour event, with viewership jumping to more than 4 million during the second hour, which focused on Trump. The real estate mogul has been a ratings bonanza for cable news networks like CNN, which is up 165 percent in prime time from a year ago. At the same time, CNN and its network rivals have faced questions about the excessive amount of airtime given to Trump, who has benefited from having his rallies broadcast live and being able to routinely call in to news shows rather than appearing in person.

    During Wednesday's town hall, an employee asked why CNN seemed to devote "80 to 90 percent" of its airtime Tuesday to Trump, and to the news of the battery charge against his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. The employee pointed out that there were other significant news stories Tuesday, such as a Supreme Court decision on public-sector unions and President Barack Obama's pledge of new initiatives to fight opioid abuse.

    "We actually covered every one of these stories on CNN, but they weren't all necessarily on television," Zucker said, according to sources who were not authorized to discuss the internal meeting.


    Speaking at Wednesday's town hall, Zucker said there has been "too much handwringing" over the media's coverage of Trump, according to sources.

    CNN has also come under scrutiny for hiring two political commentators, Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany, whose on-air roles seem to be primarily as Trump boosters and defenders.


    On Wednesday, Zucker said he's "really comfortable" with Lord's role at the network. The network chief touted CNN's "tremendously diverse roster of analysts," including Lord, as being a big part of the network's success this election cycle.

  • Ten Journalists Who Have Called Out Trump's "Shocking" Phone "Advantage"


    As scrutiny has mounted against cable and network news programs regularly allowing Donald Trump to call in to their broadcasts, rather than appearing in person or by satellite, several journalists have said they will no longer allow him that privilege. Others have called for an end to the "shocking" special treatment across all networks and pointed out the ways the practice gives Trump a strategic "advantage."

  • Huffington Post: Media Has Not Asked Trump About Disturbing Allegations Against His Campaign Manager

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A Huffington Post report found that in over a dozen TV interviews with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, not a single network has asked him about the alleged assault of Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields by Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

    Fields filed a police report against Lewandowski Friday after she was allegedly forcefully grabbed by Lewandowski at a Trump rally while asking a question. Breitbart News' weak response to the incident led to Field and others resigning from the outlet. On the March 14 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, Fields claimed that her former editor told her the incident would be "great" because it would lead to "more access to Donald Trump."

    Donald Trump's campaign has a history of problems with the press, including a Time magazine photographer being choked by a Secret Service agent. Lewandowski himself has been previously accused of making "sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists." Media Matters previously found that the March 13 Sunday political talk shows on NBC, CNN, Fox, and CBS failed to ask Trump about the incident.

    The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone wrote in a March 17 article that "Fields' charge hasn't come up once" in "more than a dozen TV interviews [with Trump] amounting to over two and a half hours of airtime." Calderone noted that "Trump notably brought Lewandowski up on stage during his Tuesday night victory speech in Florida, praising him while he berated the reporters in attendance as 'disgusting' and 'horrible people'":

    Since former Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields filed a police report Friday alleging that Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski assaulted her after a press conference, the GOP front-runner has done more than a dozen TV interviews amounting to over two and a half hours of airtime.

    And in all that time, Fields' charge hasn't come up once.

    Neither have more recent allegations against Lewandowski. Politico reported Tuesday that the top Trump aide has treated reporters roughly and made "sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments" to and about female journalists covering the campaign. Lewandowski denied the claims.

    As Lewandowski's behavior has gone unquestioned in Trump's recent interviews on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, the business mogul has only helped thrust his campaign manager further into the national spotlight.

    Trump notably brought Lewandowski up on stage during his Tuesday night victory speech in Florida, praising him while he berated the reporters in attendance as "disgusting" and "horrible people." Lewandowski enjoyed the media-bashing while Trump refused to take reporters' questions, even though the gathering was purportedly a "press conference." One of the Politico reporters behind Tuesday's story was barred from the event, the latest in a pattern of retribution against news outlets that are critical of Trump.

    Television journalists have subjected Trump to tough questions over the past week about encouraging violence at his events, with Friday night's cable news takeover understandably focused on the candidate's decision to cancel a Chicago rally. Some have also pressed Trump on the $40 million fraud lawsuit involving Trump University, his employment of foreign workers, his lack of a foreign policy team, and his past misogynistic remarks, resurrected in a new ad from an anti-Trump super PAC. They've also, of course, asked about Trump's recent victories and the state of the primary race.

    Still, the lack of questions about the police report Fields filed against Lewandowski has been maddening to Trump's critics, who see it as a serious issue that's going completely unaddressed. Several journalists have pointed out when TV interviewers fail to bring it up, despite the incident's relevance to other questions about violence at Trump's campaign events and his treatment of women.

  • Huffington Post Calls Out Media For Failing To Investigate Trump's "Questionable" Business Dealings

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Huffington Post's senior media reporter Michael Calderone criticized the media for having "only scratched the surface" of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's business record, which "has received less sustained coverage this election cycle than his countless Twitter spats, outrageous remarks and rank bigotry."

    Since Trump announced his candidacy last June, he and his campaign have dominated media coverage. Fox News gave Trump nearly 23 hours of free airtime from May 1, 2015, to December 15, 2015, twice as much as any other candidate. Network news also has concentrated heavily on Trump, with the ABC, CBS, and NBC nightly newscasts devoting 234 minutes of coverage to Trump from January through November of 2015. In interviews with Media Matters, veteran journalists ripped the media's "fawning" and "pathetic" coverage of Trump, which they noted has focused on his incendiary comments and rallies rather than his actual record. 

    In a March 3 article, Calderone lamented that, while "Trump has dominated the national media over the past nine months, especially on television," his business dealings have not. Calderone pointed out that while a handful of outlets have reported on Trump's "questionable record," which "has been hiding in plain sight," the media's initial unserious coverage of Trump "likely resulted in less rigorous coverage than there might have been":

    Some veteran New York City journalists, such as The Smoking Gun's William Bastone, The Daily Beast's Michael Daly and The New York Times' Charlie Bagli, have recently explored Trump's business dealings and associations in the context of the current presidential campaign, Barrett said. But he argues that the broadcast media has "totally failed" in its obligation to vet the candidate. This election cycle, Barrett said, he's been approached by dozens of journalists, including some hailing from TV networks in Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. So far, only one U.S. network journalist has called.

    Trump has dominated the national media over the past nine months, especially on television, where his ratings lead to big profits. In countless interviews, debates and televised rallies, Trump has touted his business record in arguing that the United States needs a brash deal-maker instead of another do-nothing politician. In a Time cover story publishedThursday, Trump said he's "built an incredible business" and described himself as "the most successful person ever to run for President."

    Yet Trump's business dealings -- complete with multiple casino bankruptcies, failed branding ventures, employment of undocumented immigrants, long-reported ties to mob-run businesses and the promotion of a real estate training program that's now the target of a $40 million fraud suit -- has received less sustained coverage this election cycle than his countless Twitter spats, outrageous remarks and rank bigotry. While Trump promised last summer to disclose his tax returns, he continues to stall, thereby preventing journalists from assessing his grand claims about his personal wealth, charitable giving and "Apprentice" salary.

    "I think there's ample room for the media to scrutinize his business record much more closely," said Timothy O'Brien, author of the 2005 book TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald. In that book, O'Brien reported that Trump's wealth was closer to $150-$250 million than his stated $10 billion. Such revelations prompted Trump to sue, unsuccessfully, for $5 billion.


    But the broader media trend during the early months of Trump's campaign was to treat him "as a carnival act," according to O'Brien -- which likely resulted in less rigorous coverage than there might have been. (HuffPost put its own coverage of Trump in the Entertainment section instead of Politics for several months, although its reporting on Trump was essentially the same as on other candidates.)


    Trump's business career is sure to get more media attention now as anti-Trump forces, including former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and a newly formed super PAC, mount a last-ditch campaign to portray the front-runner as a fraud who's taken advantage of Americans through schemes like Trump University. Trump's primary campaign rivals failed last year to attack Trump's record, a mistake the Democrats promise they won't make if Trump wins his party's nomination.

    Of course, journalists didn't have to wait for political campaigns to leak opposition research, given that Trump's questionable record has been hiding in plain sight.

  • Washington Post's Controversial Secret Service Reporting Faces Mounting Scrutiny Over Unnamed Sources

    Blog ››› ››› SOPHIA TESFAYE

    The Washington Post's recent controversial reporting on the Secret Service is facing fresh scrutiny after new revelations put in question the Post's reliance on unnamed sources.

    In late October, it was revealed that David Nieland, the lead investigator in the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) 2012 review of the Secret Service prostitution scandal, had resigned from DHS after facing allegations he personally solicited a prostitute. The Post had relied heavily on Nieland in addition to an anonymous source for its prostitution story on October 8. On November 1, The Post was forced to correct a story that improperly alleged an armed "felon" entered an elevator with President Obama during his visit to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in September - while he had an arrest record, the armed security guard "had not been convicted of a felony." Finally, a report from an independent Inspector General described "problematic" monitoring of an employee's home as lasting a few days, not more than two months, as the Post had originally alleged

    Now, Huffington Post senior media reporter Michael Calderone has questioned the Post's heavy reliance on unnamed sources in light of these revelations. In a November 3 article, Calderone turned to the Post's latest correction as an example of a troubling trend: 

    News outlets are often forced to update stories with additional details that emerge after publication. But for the Post, whose reporting led to the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, the correction could prove costly. Its coverage of the embattled agency was widely praised in media circles and had been expected to rack up journalism prizes, but now, three separate stories have come under scrutiny.


    Taken together, these instances raise questions about the sources, often anonymous, the Post relied on for its coverage of the Secret Service. Even so, executive editor Marty Baron has continued to defend the paper's reporting, as he did again Monday in an email to The Huffington Post.


    Baron did not respond to a question about how the Post remains confident in the other details provided by its anonymous sources, given that the claim that Tate was a felon is inaccurate.
  • What exactly is a "polite-company conservative"?

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Politico's Michael Calderone has a post up about David Frum, who said just yesterday, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox."

    Calderone writes:

    Just about every time I include David Frum's views on anything related to Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh, I hear about it from fellow his fellow conservatives in comments and emails. Frum, they'll say, doesn't speak for them.

    Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, has strong views on the future of the Republican Party, and is respected by some leading figures on the right, as Daniel Libit wrote last September in POLITICO. But he's got a lot of right-wing foes, too, especially in the talk radio world.

    And it seems he also has a critic in Tunku Varadarajan, a former Wall Street Journal editorial board member and now a writer at the Daily Beast. For Varadarajan, Frum is representative of a certain speecies of conservative that one may find in cities connected by the Acela.

    David is a man I've known professionally for almost a decade, and with whom my social interaction has always been very genial. He is a good and energetic man, and has, in the years since he left service at the White House, dedicated himself to being what I call a "polite-company conservative" (or PCC), much like David Brooks and Sam Tanenhaus at the New York Times (where the precocious Ross Douthat is shaping up to be a baby version of the species). A PCC is a conservative who yearns for the goodwill of the liberal elite in the media and in the Beltway-who wishes, always, to have their ear, to be at their dinner parties, to be comforted by a sense that their liberal interlocutors believe that they are not like other conservatives, with their intolerance and boorishness, their shrillness and their talk radio. The PCC, in fact, distinguishes himself from other conservatives not so much ideologically-though there is an element of that-as aesthetically.

    So, Varadarajan thinks Frum, Brooks and Tanenhaus are "polite-company conservatives." Read his description of that term one more time: "[A] conservative who yearns for the goodwill of the liberal elite in the media and in the Beltway-who wishes, always, to have their ear, to be at their dinner parties, to be comforted by a sense that their liberal interlocutors believe that they are not like other conservatives, with their intolerance and boorishness, their shrillness and their talk radio."

    Implied in the very term "polite-company conservative" is the notion that because of their behavior and ability to mince words or hold back, such people are welcome with open arms by the media elite, i.e. they are acceptable in polite company. They get column space, marquee television time, and invitations to fancy parties etc. In other words, they are accepted... a form of validation bestowed by our media.

    This is, of course, ridiculous. The idea that the Frums of this world have done anything to become "polite-company conservatives" is a load of crap. If anything, they represent the rare exception of thoughtful media conservatives who largely refrain from nastiness and bomb-throwing.

    It would be far more accurate - if speaking from the mentality of our media - to term people like Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and other similar conservative media stars as "polite-company conservatives." After all, they can say anything -- no matter how offensive or wrong -- and it doesn't seem to keep them off of tony programs like the Today Show, The View, Good Morning America or the major broadcast and cable news networks. In other words, they can do or say anything and still be accepted in "polite-company."

    I guess you could call it the media's golden rule when it comes to punditry: Conservatives are mainstream no matter how right-wing, bigoted or otherwise untruthful their views, while progressives can't stray too far from the center or else they risk being considered illegitimate and not part of polite company.

    Need more evidence?

    I'm sure Ann Coulter has a new book on the horizon (doesn't she always?) and we all know her history. If you think that history will keep her from making the rounds on the cable and broadcast news chat shows, think again. It never has before.

    When was the last time that someone as liberal and mean-spirited as Ann Coulter is conservative and mean-spirited got even a minute of time in front of the camera?

    Then again, I struggle to even think of a liberal example that fits the Coulter-mold.

  • Fox News Sunday producer joins Republican Whip's office as flack

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Politico's Michael Calderone reports:

    Megan Whittemore, who was recently the research producer for "Fox News Sunday," has been named deputy press secretary to Republican whip Eric Cantor.


    She had previously covered Capitol Hill for Fox News and FoxNews.com, according to the release, and worked on the network's 2008 election coverage.

  • Politico profiles Media Matters: Left gears up to fight media wars

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Over the weekend, Politico published a profile of Media Matters by Michael Calderone.

    He writes:

    From a glitzy new office in downtown Washington, the ideological war over the media is fully engaged.

    Six years after its founding to counter what it said was "conservative misinformation," Media Matters for America employs a staff of 70 that spends 19 hours a day monitoring newspapers, magazines, broadcast and cable television, talk radio, and the Internet to counter reporting or commentary it deems to be inaccurate or biased.


    One of the bloodiest battles in that war occurred last fall, when Kevin Jennings, an openly-gay educator hired by the Department of Education to run an anti-bullying campaign, became a conservative cause.

    Jennings was under fire from critics because he once described how as, a 24-year-old teacher, he counseled a student having a sexual relationship with an "older man." Several conservative outlets and commentators said that by law Jennings had to report the incident, claiming the student was only 15 years old at the time, and the relationship thus constituted statutory rape.

    Media Matters obtained the student's driver's license and proved he was 16 at the time, the age of consent in Massachusetts. While some may still question Jennings' judgment, he didn't break any law.

    "This should put to rest claims made by Fox News and other conservatives that Jennings covered up 'statutory rape' or 'molestation,'" wrote Media Matters senior fellow Karl Frisch. "To continue reporting such reckless speculation is at best willful disregard for the facts and at worst journalistic malpractice."

    The battle over Jennings convinced Media Matters that it needed to not only monitor other media but to do its own original reporting. On Monday, Joe Strupp, who covered the press for 11 years with Editor & Publisher magazine, will launch a new media blog after signing on as the group's first investigative reporter.

    Joining a partisan organization is a change for Strupp, given that his press coverage with E&P, or in appearances on "Fox News Watch," was solidly non-partisan. However, Media Matters, he says, didn't ask about his political beliefs when it hired him, and his goal remains to do "straight-ahead reporting." Still, Strupp acknowledges that he represents a "new sort of wing for their organization."


    So while Media Matters may increasingly hire journalists with more traditional news backgrounds, the reporting and writing still fits in with the organization's goals. Unlike a newspaper, Media Matters is not in the business of selling advertising, subscriptions or competing on a variety of beats. It also has a clear political agenda.

    For instance, Media Matters hired Will Bunch, a veteran Philadelphia Daily News reporter and blogger, as a senior fellow last month. Bunch plans on remaining at the Daily News while also working on a book that seems well-suited for the Media Matters audience: "The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, Hi-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama."


    While Media Matters president Eric Burns and senior fellow Eric Boehlert are more visible presences on cable news and talk radio, founder David Brock remains chief executive and a major presence in the organization.

    He plays a key role in strategy and fundraising, which supports the entire non-profit apparatus, and is typically at the office each day. "He guides us, gives vision," Rabin-Havt said.

    That Brock has anything to do with the organization at all is more than a little ironic given his own role as part of the right-wing conspiracy. Two of Brock's notable contributions were his book "The Real Anita Hill," and a 1994 American Spectator article that spawned "Troopergate," leading to allegations that Bill Clinton, while Governor of Arkansas, used state troopers to arrange liaisons with women.

    Brock later confessed that much of the Anita Hill book was false, apologized to the Clintons for the Troopergate article, broke with the right officially in a 1997 Esquire piece, and four years later explained his conversion in greater detail with his memoir, "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative."

    At the time Brock started Media Matters, the main counter to conservative media groups such as MRC and the even more established Accuracy in Media, founded in 1969, was Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a liberal watchdog group that launched in 1986 to target media bias and censorship. While FAIR offers some analysis online each day, it doesn't do so as comprehensively as the better-funded Media Matters, which has researchers posting clips of video and audio throughout the day along with frequently updated online content.


    Rabin-Havt, who like other Media Matters executives, arrived at the organization after working for a number of groups affiliated with liberal advocacy and the Democratic Party, said he thinks Media Matters has been somewhat misunderstood by mainstream reporters.

    "The culture here, in this office, and I think reporters would be surprised by this, isn't one of sniping or disrespect towards the media," Rabin Havt said, adding that "being a reporter is such an incredibly honored profession, and plays such a role in our society and our debate, and we want people to do the best job they can."

    Be sure to check out the profile in its entirety.

    Other Profiles of Media Matters:

  • Kurtz faithfully jots down misleading Fox attack on Maddow

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Sometimes, it's like Howard Kurtz doesn't even try to do his job. Check out this passage from the Washington Post media critic's profile of Rachel Maddow:

    [S]he rejects the notion that she's explicitly pushing for change: "I think of it more in the tradition of muckraking. A lot of the best reporting since time immemorial has been driven by outrage about things not being the way they should be, by the shock at shameless, lying hypocrisy."

    She adds: "For me it's a question of whether you're doing advocacy journalism or not. It's not activism -- you see a lot of that at Fox, using news coverage to inspire political participation."

    Asked for comment, a Fox spokesperson says, "These feelings that she experienced about Fox News didn't stop her from applying for a job here."

    Wait, what? A Fox spokesperson says Rachel Maddow applied for a job at Fox News? What does that mean? How long ago? What were the circumstances? Howard Kurtz doesn't explain; he just leaves it there. That's more than a little odd, particularly since the claim is meant to impugn Maddow's credibility.

    Fortunately, Politico's Michael Calderone finished Kurtz's job for him:

    So did Maddow, former Air America host and now a star of MSNBC's liberal prime-time line-up, really apply to work at Fox News?

    "I never personally applied for a job at Fox," Maddow tells POLITICO in an email. "I have an agent who I assume talks to everyone on my behalf, so I have no reason to believe that Fox's claim that they were approached on my behalf is false, even if I never knew anything about it at the time."

    So ... Yeah. It doesn't exactly sound like Maddow was stopping by Fox HQ twice a week to fill out applications and ask for an interview, does it? Actually, Maddow's version doesn't sound like anything that is typically meant by "applying for a job," which suggests that the Fox flak's statement to Kurt was quite misleading. Good thing -- for Fox, that is -- Kurtz didn't ask for an explanation.

  • Coming this spring... Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Politico's Michael Calderone reports this morning that, Alexander Zaitchik who "wrote a multi-part series for Salon looking at the life of Glenn Beck, probably the most comprehensive take in terms of back story that I've seen on the conservative talk star" will be releasing a new biography on the right-wing conspiracy-theorist this spring titled, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance (Wiley & Sons, 2010).

    If you've not yet read Zaitchik's amazing series on Beck for Salon, you can do so here.

  • Accountability for thee, but not for me

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Over the weekend, a major story broke about the Washington Post's efforts to sell access to its reporters to corporate interests. When the story first broke earlier this year, Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli told at least two different reporters at two different news organizations -- the New York Times and Politico -- that he had been unaware that the events were being promoted as off-the-record. But over the weekend, it was revealed that Brauchli wrote a letter to a former Post marketing executive acknowledging that he had known about it all along.

    On Saturday, Brauchli refused to talk to Michael Calderone, the Politico reporter he seems to have misled earlier, instead talking only to Post reporter Howard Kurtz -- who happens to work for Brauchli, and who omitted any mention of Brauchli's earlier comments to Politico. Kurtz did, however, include in his article Brauchli's claim that the Times simply misunderstood him -- a claim that is seriously undermined by Calderone's reporting for Politico.

    Today, Brauchli held a previously-scheduled online Q&A session with Post readers. I noted this morning that the Post had subtly changed the way it was promoting the session, seeming to limit the topic to exclude questions about Brauchli's honesty.

    And, sure enough, Brauchli continued ducking tough questions.

    Brauchli took questions about the new format for bylines on Post articles, a request that the Post "capitalize the headlines," a question about page number formats, a complaint that the Post doesn't just leave its layout the same, and a positive comment about the paper's font choices.

    And he responded to a comment (not even a question) about the Awesome Washington Post's Awesome Awesomeness:

    Alexandria, Va.: You did a real nice job with the redesign. I opened the Post this morning to find a refreshing and better design. Reminded me a lot of the WSJ! No surprise. I also want to comment that it seems recently the news sections have got a little richer. Maybe more stories, but not sure. All in all, I think the Post is really doing a lot to build a great product.

    From, a subscriber of 21 years.

    But Brauchli ducked questions about the weekend revelations that he apparently lied to two different reporters at two different publications about his role in the Washington Post's efforts to sell access to its reporters until the end of the Q&A, then chose questions that he could easily dismiss.

    Incidentally, I know Brauchli received and ignored tough questions because I submitted some so the Post could not claim Brauchli was asked only about fonts and bylines.

    Here's a question I submitted about the weekend revelations:

    You say the New York Times misunderstood you, and that you did NOT tell them you were unaware the Post's controversial corporate dinners were being promoted as "off the record."

    But Politico reporter Michael Calderone has reported that you said the same thing to him, and that he interpreted it the same way the Times did.

    Are we supposed to believe that two different reporters at two different news organizations misinterpreted two different interviews with you in precisely the same way?

    And is this why you refused to talk to Calderone yesterday, but did talk to your own employee, Howard Kurtz -- who failed to mention Calderone's reporting in his story about this matter?

    Brauchli didn't take that question. Nor did he take this question about his recent comments to Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander:

    You told the Post's ombudsman that the paper needs to be more responsive to conservatives. Would you care to reconcile that position with the paper's abusive treatment of Al Gore during the 2000 election and with the paper's reporting on the Bush administration's Iraq war claims, which countless Post employees past and present have acknowledged was deeply flawed and insufficiently critical?

    Nor did Brauchli take this question about the massive conflict of interest he allows Kurtz to work under:

    Post media critic Howard Kurtz repeatedly gave CNN President Jonathan Klein a pass during Kurtz's reporting for the Post on CNN's Lou Dobbs and his promotion of the Birther conspiracy theory. Klein defended Dobbs' reporting and attacked his critics -- but Kurtz never mentioned Klein's defense, despite their clear news value, and despite his repeated reporting on the Birther story.

    Oh, and Howard Kurtz happens to be employed on the side by CNN.

    Why does the Post tolerate this conflict of interest? Are you investigating Kurtz' handling of this story? Do any of your other reporters have financial relationships with those they are assigned to cover for the Post?

    I guess Brauchli just didn't have time for questions like those after dealing with hard-hitting questions about how great the Post is and how wonderful the new font is. And a comment from a reader about how much her husband likes the Post's redesign.

    Brauchli did take two questions (at the very end of the Q&A) that touched on the salon dinner controversy -- but they didn't mention reporting by Politico's Calderone that undermines Brauchli's claim that he told the truth about his own role. Here's the first, which makes no mention of Brauchli's role:

    Rochester, NY: Obviously, you won't take this question, but I'd like to ask: isn't there a problem when the same reporters who were to be part of your health care "salon" are now essentially repeating insurance industry claims about the health care bill?

    I'm referring specifically to Ceci Connolly. I write as a regular reader and fan of your paper -- are you aware how much credibility you have lost as a result of the salons?

    Marcus Brauchli: Actually, I will take this question, because it comes with a silly premise that needs knocking down.

    First, there were no salon dinners. They were planned and they were canceled. Second, Ceci Connolly, who is an absolutely first-rate, independent-minded reporter, was simply asked who might be worth inviting to a roundtable discussion on healthcare. There is no reason she should be taken off of this story. Third, while we appreciate your visiting with us on this chat, you should read what we write. We have scrutinized the insurance industry's claims about healthcare legislation extensively, including in a lengthy piece last week by Alec MacGillis. Finally, yes, I realize that the salon dinner episode was embarrassing and damaging to our credibility, but I would say to you: judge us by our journalism.

    That last line is hilarious coming from someone who just spent a whole online Q&A ducking questions about the Post's journalism in favor of talking about fonts and byline formats.

    And the second:

    Philly, Pa.: If you know a reporter has reported something about you which is inaccurate, are you not obligated to publicly correct the record?

    I'm sorry, sir, but I lost all respect for you after reading the letter you sent to your former colleague. You knew that it was reported that you claimed to have no knowledge of the off-the-record promises, and you chose to allow that to stand. You scapegoated an employee, and misled the public. Of course, that version is being generous, and its every bit as likely that you just lied to the NYT's reporter, hoping not to get caught.

    You lied to your readers. You lied to your employees.

    I hope your retirement is happy and fruitful, and I hope it starts very soon.

    Marcus Brauchli: When these events were planned, we intended that the information from them would inform and shape our coverage, without attribution. That is not, under our rules, off the record.

    They were later promoted as "off the record," and I knew that before July 2.

    As I have said repeatedly since then, I failed to reconcile the language and the intentions, which I should have done.

    The notion that I lied to the New York Times "hoping not to get caught" is absurd.

    Notice that Brauchli chose to answer questions that didn't mention Calderone's report, while ducking a question that did.

    Imagine how the Washington Post would react if, say, John Edwards invited them to a press conference, then took only pre-screened questions about how great he is, refusing to allow anyone to ask about his affair and his false statements about it. That's essentially what Marcus Brauchli did today. It shows nothing but contempt for Post readers, and makes a mockery of the concepts of transparency and accountability.