The New York Times

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  • Newspapers buried reports on health care, while TV news missed the Senate’s back room dealmaking

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Television news largely missed reporting on Republican Senate leaders’ secretive drafting of its version of American Health Care Act (AHCA) that could radically alter health care for millions of Americans. New research from Media Matters has found that the five major newspapers almost completely ignored the GOP Senate leadership’s back room dealmaking on their front pages -- having a combined total of only two front page stories during a two-week period.

    On June 16, Vox asked eight Republican senators to explain their party’s prospective bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But the senators couldn’t “answer simple and critical questions” on their own bill. Vox Senior Editor Sarah Kliff pointed out on June 15 that “the Senate is running a remarkably closed process” to hide the bill; it has not released a draft to the public, has held no committee hearings, and has had no speeches “defending the policy provisions of the bill” on the Senate floor. The New York Times reported, also on June 15, that the “remarkable” secrecy around the bill has raised alarm with senators in both parties:

    “They’re ashamed of the bill,” the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said. “If they liked the bill, they’d have brass bands marching down the middle of small-town America saying what a great bill it is. But they know it isn’t.”

    [...]

    Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, offered a hint of the same frustration felt by Democrats seeking more information about the bill.

    “I come from a manufacturing background,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’ve solved a lot of problems. It starts with information. Seems like around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn’t seem to be necessarily the most effective process.”

    The day Vox and the Times reported on the GOP senators’ unprecedented secrecy surrounding the bill, Media Matters released a report documenting the insufficient amount of weekday coverage on broadcast and cable news dedicated to the Senate health care bill from June 1 to June 14. Media Matters reported that the big three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) dedicated a fraction of their airtime -- roughly three minutes across all three networks -- to the Senate deliberations out of 15 total hours of scheduled weekday programming. The performance of cable news channels was not much better, as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News provided just under two combined hours of coverage to the Senate bill out of 150 hours of scheduled weekday programming.

    Television news’ lack of coverage would help the Republican Party move the legislative process forward on this bill without a public debate that would highlight the real human cost of such legislation. Media Matters research also found that in addition to television channels falling flat, print media did not fair much better either on covering the the Senate health care bill.

    An analysis of five major newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- showed that though newspapers did provide more in-depth coverage than television news, those papers almost completely ignored the issue on the front page. In fact, Media Matters did not identify a single front page story on the Republican Senate’s health care bill in the Times, USA Today, or the LA Times from June 1-14 and only identified one front page story each in the Post and the Journal. On June 19, ThinkProgess reported on this lack of front page coverage (which had continued beyond June 14) and noted that it was also a problem with local papers in areas that supported President Donald Trump -- areas which ThinkProgress noted would be “hit hardest by Trumpcare.”

    In total, Media Matters identified 29 print edition news articles in these five major national newspapers that discussed the Senate health care bill from June 1 through June 14. Of these five outlets, the Post and the Times provided the most total coverage -- the Post published 11 articles on eight different days, and the Times published nine articles on seven different days. The Journal was third with six pieces published on five separate days. The Los Angeles Times published just two articles on two separate days, and Media Matters only identified one article in USA Today.

    The GOP is counting on media’s silence and right-wing media myths to push a train wreck of a health care bill that would strip health care from tens of millions to slash taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Right-wing media have repeatedly assisted the GOP with claims that ACA is in a “death spiral” and have attempted to discredit the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office after its report found that up to 24 million people would lose health insurance under the AHCA. Right-wing media have even tried to pacify millions of Americans that would lose access to insurance by absurdly telling them to just go to the emergency room. As Talk Poverty’s Jeremy Slevin pointed out, “It is the responsibility of the press to draw out the contents of the Senate’s health care bill—before it is too late.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of print editions of the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post from June 1, 2017, through June 14, 2017. We identified and reviewed all non-editorial print content that included any of the following keywords: health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or affordable care act or cbo within 20 words of the word Senate.

    Media Matters conducted a Factiva search of print editions of The Wall Street Journal from June 1, 2017, through June 14, 2017. health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or affordable care act or cbo within 10 words of the word Senate (the maximum distance allowed by Factiva).

  • Here's how right-wing media have reacted to months of setbacks for Trump's Muslim bans

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    As President Trump's executive orders banning immigration from first seven, then six, majority-Muslim nations have moved through the U.S. court system, they've been met with a series of legal setbacks and direct action and have drawn extensive media coverage. What follows is a timeline of events surrounding the ban, with a focus on right-wing media hypocrisy, denial, and defense of the president's increasingly indefensible policy. This post will be updated.

  • The Bret Stephens climate saga reaches its logical conclusion

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, whose climate skepticism has been widely criticized by journalists and progressives but defended by the paper, has now been cited from the White House briefing room in defense of the president’s decision to pull out of an international climate accord.

    It’s a disaster for a paper that sold itself to readers as a bulwark against the new president, then turned around and hired a prominent climate change skeptic.

    As I’ve noted, the Times sold subscriptions in the days following President Donald Trump’s election by marketing the paper as an antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.”

    But the paper took that money from new subscribers seeking critical reporting on Trump and his policies and announced on April 12 that it had hired Stephens, a Wall Street Journal columnist who had, among other things, called the scientific consensus around global warming a “sick-souled religion” whose adherents share the methods of “closet Stalinists.”

    The paper’s editors and some of its journalists sneered at progressives who complained that the Times has sold them a bill of goods by bringing on board someone with views that tarnish the Timesotherwise stellar record on climate change.

    Two weeks later, Stephen authored his first piece for the Times. Titled “Climate of Complete Certainty,” it  compares those who believe action should be taken to halt the consequences of climate change to Cold War-era Polish authoritarians. The piece included a single “fact” about climate change in service of the notion that while “modest” warming “is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.”

    Stephens’ analysis was shredded by embarrassed Times journalists, reporters outside the paper, climate scientists, and angry subscribers. The paper’s top editors stood up for him, with Times editorial page editor James Bennet defending the column as necessary to “promoting the free exchange of ideas.”

    Within a handful of days, the paper issued a correction regarding that sole “fact” included in the piece.

    Which brings us to today, when, at a White House press briefing the day after Trump announced that he was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, read from Stephens’ “very important” piece. According to Pruitt, it served as evidence supporting Trump’s decision in the face of criticism from “climate exaggerators.”

    Notably, Pruitt excised the portion of the quote in which Stephens writes that “human influence on that warming” is “indisputable.”

    What an embarrassment for the Times. It’s too bad that the paper lacks a competent public editor to examine whether the “free exchange of ideas” was worth it.

  • Liz Spayd’s final NY Times column shows why she failed as public editor

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The New York Times failed its readers when it decided to eliminate its public editor position. But Liz Spayd’s final column for the paper encapsulates the false choice at the heart of her analysis of the Times’ work, demonstrating why she was a poor fit for the role.

    Under a Trump administration “drowning in scandal,” she writes, “large newsrooms are faced with a choice: to maintain an independent voice, but one as aggressive and unblinking as the days of Watergate. Or to morph into something more partisan, spraying ammunition at every favorite target and openly delighting in the chaos.”

    “If I think back to one subject I’ve harped on the most as public editor over the last year, this is probably it,” Spayd adds. Indeed, Spayd, who takes pride in being criticized from all sides, often seemed to have viewed her role as channeling the criticisms of conservatives against the paper.

    What Spayd misses -- and what she has consistently missed throughout her tenure at the Times -- is that not all criticism is offered in good faith. The difference between “aggressive and unblinking” coverage of the president and “more partisan” reporting is squishy, and it often depends on the eyes of the beholder.

    And the paper’s most ardent conservative critics -- the Trump supporters who believe the president of the United States when he says media are “the enemy of the American people” and deliberately produce “fake news” -- will never be satisfied with that distinction.

    All journalism that undermines the White House worldview will be deemed excessively partisan by those critics. Encouraged by the Trump administration at all levels, they are the heirs of a decades-long conservative campaign to convince the American people that journalists are irrevocably biased and cannot be trusted. Attempts to mollify those critics will fail, as they always have -- and at a time when journalists are literally being assaulted for doing their jobs, trying seems a farce.

    Indeed, Spayd’s paean for the “days of Watergate” is itself based on a false premise, as conservatives of that era portrayed the coverage that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon not as “aggressive” reporting, but as part of a liberal plot.

    The public editor is an essential role for the Times, and the paper was wrong to eliminate the post. But Spayd’s feckless false choices have shown the role at its worst.

  • Former NY Times public editors criticize “unseemly” decision to cut the “essential” position

    Two former ombudsmen at other outlets join in the criticism

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Several past New York Times public editors, along with two former ombudsmen at other media outlets, are criticizing today’s announcement that the newspaper plans to cut the ombudsman-type position after more than 14 years.

    The former public editors said the independent position is a necessary tool in making sure the paper follows its ethical guidelines and sticks to factual reporting.

    “It’s a shame,” said Daniel Okrent, the first Times public editor, who began in December 2003 and served 18 months in the job. “It’s hard for me to gauge the wisdom of doing this. The public editor rightly or wrongly has more authority and credibility than the random critic you’d find anywhere else.”

    The Times announced the elimination of the post currently held by Liz Spayd in a letter to staff today. She was expected to serve until at least 2018. In a story, the paper also announced a buyout offer to employees in an effort to cut back on "layers of editing."

    The letter, from publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., stated that a new “Reader Center” would be created in place of the public editor and stressed that the paper would seek to respond more to reader comments.

    “I think it's unseemly,” Arthur Brisbane, who served as the Times' public editor from June 2010 to September 2012, said about the decision to cut the job. “I think it’s unfortunate because I do think the public editor remains an essential role. I think that a lot of readers look to the public editor as a place where the Times offers some accountability on what it does. And the public editor, because it is a dedicated individual, can really dive deeply into some of the important issues that arise.”

    Clark Hoyt, who served as the Times' public editor from May 2007 to June 2010, agreed.

    “Creating a new Reader Center to expand the ways The Times interacts with readers is a great idea. But it lacks one essential quality: independence,” Hoyt said via email. “No organization – whether it’s an arm of government, a business or a news outlet – likes to be second-guessed. And it’s true that there are already plenty of critics of The Times and the news media in general. There always have been. But the public editor played a unique role as an experienced journalist, within the newsroom but independent of the executive structure, who could investigate complaints and render measured judgment."

    He later added, “In my experience, readers who believed they couldn’t get a fair hearing from a newsroom invested in a particular decision, looked upon the public editor as an essential avenue of appeal. I hope The Times, one of the world’s most respected news organizations, doesn’t come to regret this decision.”

    Byron Calame, the second Times public editor, serving from May 2005 to May 2007, said expanding reader response is good, but not enough.

    “The other piece is more difficult, the crunch time stuff, when the executive editor or another top editor has made a decision that is simply wrong,” he said in an interview. “And will this process find a way to deal with that when the top guy makes a wrong decision?”

    He cited a 2006 story in The New York Times Magazine that claimed an El Salvador woman had been jailed for having an abortion. When it turned out the story was wrong, and that the woman had most likely killed a newborn, Calame revealed the truth in a column months later that prompted the paper to publish an editor’s note correcting the story.

    “I wrote a column and they had to do an editor’s note fessing up to this,” he said. “I think you need a public editor to deal with that. You can question very powerful people and keep questioning them.”

    Okrent said his “biggest concern" is that the move "will be unfairly used by the paper’s enemies [to say] that they can’t take the criticism. To say, ‘See, they don’t care about criticism.’”

    Alicia Shepard, a former National Public Radio ombudsman, said responding to reader comments is good, but it lacks the direct approach the public editor had been allowed to take.

    "While a news organization can respond to readers, no one else can really push management to be accountable and ask tough questions that can't be ignored,” she said via email. “If the new Times' Reader Center can do that, then great. At this point in journalism, we desperately need more accountability and transparency - not less."

    Robert Lipsyte, a former ESPN ombudsman and previously a longtime New York Times sports writer, called the public editor elimination a “big mistake.”

    He wrote in an email that it's "a big mistake to move from independent oversight (as ESPN has) to what is basically a customer complaint and service department. An internal check is particularly important as the paper makes business moves that may affect its journalism," he continued. "The editorial consensus at ESPN was why should we pay for an Ombudsman when we get so much criticism for free. The answer of course is that a good public editor loves the report and wants to make it better within its own terms.”

    Bill Keller, a former New York Times executive editor and the first to work with a public editor, said he did not always like what the public editors did, but he appreciated the need.

    “I've described it as the most thankless job in journalism, squeezed between critics of The Times who see you as an apologist and defenders who see you as an interloper,” he said via email, noting that today’s increased reader comments and responses can make up for some of the public editor’s job.

    “At their best, though, the public editors had two things the reading rank-and-file did not: access and authority," he added. "At their best, they knew the habits, good and bad, of newsrooms, they brought reporting skills to bear, and they sometimes spoke wisdom to power. (Of course, when not at their best they could be a royal pain in the ass.)”

  • The New York Times is failing its readers by eliminating the public editor

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The New York Times is eliminating its public editor position, a move that will reduce accountability at the most powerful news organization in the country at a time when it needs it the most.

    Current public editor Liz Spayd, who was reportedly expected to remain in the position until 2018, will leave the paper Friday, according to a note to staff from New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. about the elimination of the public editor role obtained by Media Matters. HuffPost’s Michael Calderone broke the story of the position’s elimination.

    Since 2003, the Times has employed a public editor to review criticism from the public about the paper’s ethics, the quality of its journalism, and its standards. With a broad mandate and the ability to work “outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newsroom,” the position marries true independence with the ability to get answers from reporters and editors about their methods and stories.

    At its best, the public editor gives readers both a voice and an informed view of how the paper operates. Spayd has frequently failed in her role. But eliminating the position altogether is the wrong move -- indeed, Spayd suffers significantly in comparison to her predecessor, the excellent Margaret Sullivan, who has since moved to The Washington Post.

    It is truly unfortunate that this decision comes amid an all-out assault on the press’s credibility -- including numerous attacks on the Times -- from President Donald Trump and his associates. The public's trust in the media has plummeted. A diligent independent public editor could be a key weapon in combating the growing skepticism toward the media, explaining controversial reporting methods like the use of anonymous sources -- and explaining when those practices are justified -- while also reserving room to critique failures.

    According to Sulzberger’s missive, the public editor’s role will be largely replaced by “dramatically expanding our commenting platform,” engaging with readers on social media, publishing “behind-the-scenes dispatches describing the reporting process and demystifying why we made certain journalistic decisions,” and creating a “Reader Center” to serve as “the central hub from which we engage readers about our journalism.”

    This explanation demonstrates a lack of understanding of the role the public editor plays, offering not accountability but assurances that the paper is doing a great job and if it does fail, journalists at other outlets will be able to criticize its work.

    This is no substitute for the independent, focused review provided by the public editor, and it’s unclear whether the “Reader Center” will have the sort of public cachet that will require editors and reporters to publicly explain their decisions.

    “The one thing an ombud or public editor can almost always do is hold feet to the fire, and get a real answer out of management,” Sullivan noted on Twitter. “The role, by definition, is a burr under the saddle for the powers that be.”

    The Times decision follows the Post’s 2013 elimination of its independent ombudsman, who filled the same role under similar circumstances for four decades, and was similarly replaced with a Post-employed “reader representative.”

    At the time, former Post ombudsmen warned that this would be a “big mistake,” noting that, in the words of Andy Alexander, "there is a huge difference between an ombudsman who merely reflects what readers are saying, as opposed to an ombudsman who has the independence and authority to ask uncomfortable questions of reporters and editors and then publicly hold the newsroom to account."

    The Post's other media critics have at times sought to review their paper’s reporting. But they lack the same ability to command responses from others in the newsroom -- and the mandate to do that job full time -- when the paper fails its readers.

    It was no doubt irritating for Times journalists to subject themselves to Spayd’s often flawed questions. But presuming that the solution is to replace the public editor with a comments section is an insult to the intelligence of Times readers.

  • The role of journalism in exposing a culture of violence at Rikers Island

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NINA MAST

    After years of investigations into a culture of violence, abuse, and neglect for human life at Rikers Island prison complex, correction officials’ attempts to cover it up, and the failures of New York City’s elected officials to implement real reforms, Rikers prison is set to be closed in the next 10 years. Here, we document some of the crucial investigative journalism and storytelling by The Village Voice, The New Yorker, and The New York Times that helped expose the extent of the horrors at one of the worst prisons in America.

  • How New York journalists overcame barriers to prison access and opened the world’s eyes to the horrors of Rikers

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    The media’s access to prisons is replete with roadblocks, which vary from state to state and can be as extreme as blanket denials to journalists. U.S. courts have found that journalists have no more right to access prisons than the general public does, and much of their reporting requires navigating complicated relationships with prison officials. Despite these challenges, dogged reporting from New York journalists covering the Rikers Island jail complex made it impossible for the public and officials to ignore injustices in the prison, which Mayor Bill de Blasio promised in March to shut down.

    Journalists face numerous barriers to prison access, which varies from state to state

    New York journalists' reporting on Rikers exemplified how to overcome many challenges to access

    Reporting on prisons is in the public interest


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Journalists face numerous barriers to prison access, which varies from state to state

    One of the first complexities journalists face in their reporting on prisons is different access policies across states. The Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) developed a state-by-state media access policy resource after finding that several states “offer few guidelines for granting or denying media requests, simply leaving it up to ‘the discretion’ of whoever is in charge.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) even suggests reporters “try personally appealing to the head of the department” when they are unable to navigate the complex and often arbitrary policies. SPJ’s Jessica Pupovac interviewed a Wall Street Journal criminal justice reporter who compared prisons to “a fiefdom” with a “feudal system” in which “the warden is at the top.”

    Pupovac’s toolbox on prison reporting outlined other discrepancies between states. For example, some states permit face-to-face interviews with inmates “but reserve the right to terminate such conversations at any time,” while others may reject nearly all requests. An Alabama Department of Corrections spokesperson even admitted to Pupovac in 2012 that he does not “remember any times” the department has “granted access in the last year and a half.” Other prisons require that “any sources from within the prisons” be “hand-selected by staff.” According to “peer-to-peer educational platform” GenFKD, state-by-state access policies “appear to be arbitrary considering they can be based on previous legislation, administrative regulation, individual cases or a combination thereof,” and that there are only a handful of places with “due process for media to complain if they are denied” access.

    The law, however, generally does not guarantee any sort of journalist access to prisons, though journalists have successfully sued for that access. In a 2013 Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) cover story, Beth Schwartzapfel wrote, “The courts have repeatedly held that journalists do not have any rights of access greater than that of the general public. Of course, they have no fewer rights of access, either.” One Chicago journalist threatened a lawsuit “hom[ing] in on that right to equal access,” as prison officials had granted access to school and church groups, along with the prison watchdog group John Howard Association prior to then-Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issuing “blanket denials to journalists seeking access to the state’s prisons.” Illinois’ Department of Corrections eventually granted access, and one of the reporter’s lawyers reasoned that it was because the department “knew that to give access to John Howard and not the media raised a significant equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

    But the challenges do not end even when a journalist is granted access. Journalists must “navigate a complicated relationship with correctional administrators whose goals and needs are often at odds with their own,” and, as Pupovac told CJR, “Openness, and transparency are ‘the exception to the rule.’” GenFKD noted that reporters also often “take statements from officials as truth without investigating further,” and “prisoners and guards alike will be dishonest and mislead regularly.”

    Former Los Angeles Times corrections reporter Jenifer Warren told CPJ that when journalists can’t get access through prison officials, they should follow “the paper trail,” noting that “prisons are functions of state governments, and state governments keep all sorts of records.” Warren also noted that though the media may not have access to current inmates, reporters can “interview former inmates,” “talk to people who just got out, people on probation and parole, and their friends and family.” And according to GenFKD, “Though corrections officials can make it hard to talk to inmates, they can’t make it impossible. Inmates are allowed to write letters, and most have access to phone calls if reporters are willing to pay hefty fees.”

    New York journalists’ reporting on Rikers exemplified how to overcome many challenges to access

    Many of these tactics were effectively employed by New York journalists reporting on the Rikers Island jail complex, which Mayor de Blasio has vowed to close, potentially within the next 10 years.

    New York magazine writer Jennifer Gonnerman’s long-form feature about Kalief Browder, who was incarcerated at Rikers, was a Pulitzer award finalist. Browder spent three years awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack when he was 16, nearly two of which were in solitary confinement. He was pressured to plead guilty as his trial was repeatedly delayed, and he was eventually released without a trial because his accuser left the country and the prosecutor was therefore “unable to meet our burden of proof at trial.” Browder took his own life in 2015 after having attempted to do so “several times” during his time in Rikers. Gonnerman’s work brought national attention to Browder’s case, with former President Barack Obama citing his case in a Washington Post op-ed he wrote in 2016, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy specifically citing Gonnerman’s reporting in a Supreme Court opinion. According to The New York Times, she was also credited with increasing public attention “on the plight of younger teenagers at Rikers” that led to the eventual plan to move 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers “to a dedicated jail for youths in the Bronx.”

    In her reporting, Gonnerman interviewed Browder, who had already been released, as well as his lawyers and family. She also relied heavily on court filings, transcripts, and a report by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. These reports were instrumental in corroborating Browder’s story, such as when he recounted officers beating him and telling him that he would be sent to solitary if he went to the medical clinic rather than back to bed. The group of guards had lined Browder and other inmates “up against a wall, trying to figure out who had been responsible for an earlier fight,” and Browder recounted that though “he had nothing to do with the fight,” the guards beat him and the other inmates. Gonnerman reported that “the Department of Correction refused to respond to these allegations, or to answer any questions about Browder’s stay on Rikers.” But she was able to substantiate his story by noting that Bharara’s report “recounts many instances in which officers pressured inmates not to report beatings.”

    The New York Times’ Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have also covered Rikers extensively. Their 2014 reporting -- in conjunction with court reporter Benjamin Weiser -- that the city had omitted “hundreds of inmate fights … from departmental statistics” was referenced by Bharara when he warned that his office, as the Times reported, “stood ready to file a civil rights lawsuit against” New York City over conditions at Rikers. The Times obtained a confidential report that showed that the data was incorrect in those statistics and that the warden and deputy warden “had ‘abdicated all responsibility’ in reporting the statistics and that both should be demoted.” Bharara’s office eventually joined an existing class-action lawsuit against the city for brutality at the complex. Reflecting on their “high-impact journalism,” Winerip and Schwirtz wrote that it was “remarkable” that they were able “to see the results of our reporting almost immediately.”

    In an earlier landmark report on rampant brutality at Rikers, Winerip and Schwirtz also noted that a “dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence” at the prison “hidden from public view.” Nevertheless, they uncovered “details on scores of assaults” through both interviews and by “reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records”:

    The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

    The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.

    Rather than simply report on the secret study, which “included no names and had little by way of details about specific cases,” Times reporters obtained “specific information on all 129 cases and used it to take an in-depth look at 24 of the most serious incidents.” In addition to many anonymous interviews with “inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail,” Winerip and Schwirtz interviewed officials like Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte and the president of the correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook. While reflecting on their reporting, they noted that “once we started publishing articles, insiders saw we were serious and came forward to help. Many of them could have lost their jobs if their names were published, but they were able to point us to documents that had been covered up, and to people who were in a position to speak honestly and openly.”

    Winerip and Schwirtz’s reporting also demonstrated the need to not take officials’ words or reports at face value. Schwirtz talked about their reporting in another article, writing that “inmates can be, or be seen as, unreliable, and the correctional bureaucracies are often not forthcoming,” so he and Winerip had “to be creative.” They got help from prisoners’ “wives and girlfriends,” who passed information from their partners to the reporters, to report on brutal interrogations. They also used letters inmates wrote to the Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, and the group’s lawyers then put the inmates in contact with the Times. Schwirtz and Winerip also spoke to inmates on the phone and were able to visit four of them. The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not provide the “names of correction officers” with whom the reporters could speak and issued “only a short statement suggesting that allegations of abuse were under investigation.” 

    Reporting on prisons is in the public interest

    Reporting on prisons and incarceration is a matter of intense public interest and can expose real injustice, waste, and corruption. SPJ’s Pupovac noted that “what happens behind prison walls affects us all.” Taxpayers must pay for “an annual budget of more than $74 billion” to run U.S. prisons, and incarcerated people eventually re-enter their communities. Yet in CJR, Schwartzapfel noted that “compared to other areas that siphon significant public resources, such as healthcare, prisons get vanishingly little media attention.” Schwartzapfel also noted that “more than 600,000” incarcerated people “eventually go home” each year, and their experience in our prisons “has profound consequences for the society they return to”:

    [I]t is hard to overstate the importance of covering prisons. For starters: 95 percent of prisoners—more than 600,000 people each year—eventually go home. What happened while they were inside—whether they received job training, adequate healthcare, or learned positive life skills, or whether they were embittered, recruited into a gang, or made connections in the criminal underworld—has profound consequences for the society they return to. And the ripples extend far beyond the prisoners themselves: Almost two million children have a parent in prison—to say nothing of inmates’ parents, spouses, and siblings. Half a million correctional officers work behind the walls.

    There are entire organizations dedicated to investigating incarceration in America. The Marshall Project, a Pulitzer-winning nonprofit news organization, uses “award-winning journalism, partnerships with other news outlets and public forums … to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice,” as well as to “create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” Organizations like the Marshall Project and reporting by journalists, such as those investigating Rikers, overcame barriers to prison access and shined a light on unacceptable conditions, helping spur positive change.

  • This is the reporting piecing together Trump and Russia

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    March 20. CNN: Then-FBI Director James Comey confirms that the agency is investigating ties between Trump campaign and Russia. In a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, then-FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the agency had an open investigation into whether there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia’s interference with the U.S. election.

    April 11. The Washington Post: FBI monitored communications of Trump’s campaign adviser Carter Page. Law enforcement and other U.S. officials told the Post that the FBI and the Department of Justice requested and received authorization to surveil Page’s communications because “there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia.”

    April 27. The Washington Post: The Pentagon opened an investigation to determine whether former national security adviser Michael Flynn broke the law by receiving money from foreign groups without being authorized to. The Post published a letter Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) released showing Flynn had been warned by a Defense Department lawyer about being “forbidden from receiving payments from foreign sources” without government permission. Since he failed to acquire that permission, the Pentagon informed Flynn that he was being investigated.

    May 9. The New York Times: Trump fired Comey. The administration said Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had recommended Comey’s firing based on his handling of the investigation into Secretary Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

    May 10. The New York Times: Trump received the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office. The meeting between Trump and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was closed off to the American press corps; only Russian media was allowed.

    May 11. The New York Times: Trump asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him. Sources told the Times that Comey shared with some associates that during a dinner in January, Trump demanded Comey pledge his loyalty to him, and Comey refused by saying all he could pledge was honesty. The White House denied it and Trump told NBC that he never asked that of Comey.

    May 11. NBC News: Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt he had planned to fire Comey before he received a recommendation to do so. In the televised interview, Trump also referred to Comey as a “showboat” and admitted that he had asked the former FBI director whether he was also under investigation.

    May 15. The Washington Post: Trump revealed classified information to the Russians during their Oval Office meeting. “Current and former U.S.officials” told the Post that Trump revealed “highly classified information” to Lavrov and Kislyak that had been given to the U.S. by an ally. The White House denied the report through national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who said that nothing was disclosed that wasn’t “already known publicly.”

    May 16. The Washington Post: Trump tweeted an acknowledgement of having shared classified information with Russia. In his tweets the next day, Trump undercut the White House’s narrative that the sharing had not occurred, by writing that he had “the absolute right to do so.” After Trump contradicted McMaster’s version from the day before, the national security adviser briefed the press, saying Trump’s decision to share the information was spur-of-the-moment and that Trump “wasn’t even aware of where this information came from.”

    May 16. The New York Times: Israel was the ally who provided the U.S. with the information Trump shared with the Russian officials. Current and former officials told the Times that Israel had provided the information Trump disclosed. According to the Times, the disclosure “could damage the relationship between the two countries.”

    May 16. The New York Times: Comey memo indicated Trump asked him to stop Flynn investigation. The Times reported that Comey wrote a memo after meeting Trump in February, in which he documented the president requesting him to shut down the investigation into Flynn’s ties with Russia by asking him to “let this go.” According to the Times, it’s “the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence” federal investigations into his associates and Russia.

    May 17. NPR: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed special counsel of Russia investigation. The Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller, who preceded Comey as FBI director, as special counsel to lead the probe into Russia’s intervention into the 2016 elections and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

    May 17. The New York Times: Trump knew Flynn was being investigated when he appointed him. Two sources told the Times that Flynn told Trump’s transition team “weeks before the inauguration” that he was being investigated for “secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey,” but Trump made him national security adviser nevertheless.

    May 19. The Washington Post: A current White House official is being investigated as part of the Russia probe. Sources told the Post that a current White House official is “a significant person of interest” in the federal investigation looking into the possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    May 19. The New York Times: During the meeting with Russian officials, Trump said firing Comey eased “great pressure” from the Russia investigation. A document summarizing the May 10 meeting between Trump and Russian officials showed that Trump told Lavrov and Kislyak that firing “nut job” Comey had “taken off” the “great pressure because of Russia.”

    May 19. CNN: Russian officials bragged that their Flynn connections would allow them to influence Trump. Sources told CNN that Russian officials had bragged about their connections to Flynn as a strategic advantage that they could use to “influence Donald Trump and his team.”

    May 20. CNN: A source close to Comey said the former FBI director believes Trump tried “to influence his judgment about the Russia probe.”

    May 22. The Washington Post: Trump asked two intelligence officials to “publicly deny” collusion between his campaign and Russia. Former and current officials told the Post that Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Director of the National Security Agency Michael Rogers to push back against the Russia investigation and deny the “existence of any evidence of collusion.” Both officials refused and deemed the requests inappropriate.

    May 23. The New York Times: Former CIA Director Brennan “had unresolved questions” about Trump and Russia ties. During testimony to the House intel committee, Former CIA Director John Brennan said “he was concerned” by, as the Times reported, “suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and Mr. Trump’s associates.” Brennan testified that he “had unresolved questions” about “whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf.”

    May 24. The New York Times: In the summer of 2016 senior Russian officials were intercepted discussing how they would influence Trump. As reported by the New York Times, American intelligence "collected information" last year that showed senior Russian "intelligence and political" officials were focused on using Flynn and Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, "to exert influence over Donald J. Trump."

    May 25. The Washington Post: The FBI is now looking at Jared Kushner in conjunction with its investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Post reported May 19 that the FBI’s investigation included a focus on a senior White House official but didn’t name the individual. A week later, the Post reported that, while he is not a central focus, the FBI is looking at meetings between Kushner and Russians given “the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians.”

    May 26. The Washington Post: Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin. In a May 26 article, the Post reported that according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports, Kushner "discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities." The conversation took place during a meeting between Kushner, Flynn, and Kislyak, and according to the Post, it was "an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring." 

    May 30. The New York Times: Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen was asked to testify before Senate and House intel committees investigating Russia ties. Cohen declined to cooperate saying the requests were “poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered.”

    May 30. The Washington Post: Michael Flynn expected to hand over documents and records to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sources told the Post that Flynn is expected to “hand over documents and records to the Senate Intelligence Committee.” The documents were subpoenaed by the committee to aid in its investigation of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. presidential election. Flynn’s attorneys indicated Flynn would “start turning over” the requested information.

    May 30. ABC News: Trump associate Boris Ephsteyn has received “a request for information” from the House Intelligence Committee. Former White House press officer Boris Epshteyn confirmed that “he has received a request for information and testimony from the House Intelligence Committee.” His lawyer said in a statement that Epshteyn hasn’t been subpoenaed and is asking the committee to specify the kind of information it is seeking to decide whether Ephsteyn will be “able to reasonably provide it.”

    May 31. CNN: Comey expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sources told CNN that Comey will testify publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committee to reportedly shed light on the accusation that Trump asked Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation into Flynn’s interactions with Russia.

    June 1. The New York Times: Putin suggests that “patriotic hackers” from Russia could have meddled in the U.S. presidential election. During an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “patriotically minded” hackers in Russia may have interfered with the American presidential election. Putin also insisted that none of the meddling was supported by Russian officials.

    June 4. Reuters: Putin denied Russia meddled in the U.S. election, downplayed his relationship with Flynn. In an interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin denied that the Russian government had meddled in the U.S. election, saying intelligence agencies “have been misled.” Putin added, “They aren’t analyzing the information in its entirety. I haven’t seen, even once, any direct proof of Russian interference in the presidential election.” Putin called Kelly’s questions on the topic a “load of nonsense.” Putin also denied having classified information implicating Trump and downplayed his relationship with Flynn.

    June 6. The Washington PostTrump asked top intelligence official to ask Comey to halt investigation into Flynn. Coats told associates that Trump had complained to him and CIA Director Mike Pompeo about Comey and the FBI investigation into Russia. Besides requesting that intelligence officials publicly deny that there was any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump attempted to have top intelligence officials stop Comey from continuing the FBI’s investigation.

    June 14. The Washington Post: Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice. Officials told the Post that Mueller is widening the scope of the probe into Russian intervention in the 2016 election to investigate  whether Trump “attempted to obstruct justice.” Officials are examining Trump’s firing of former FBI Director Comey and “any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates.”

  • The NY Times Sold Subscriptions On Opposing “Alternative Facts.” Then It Published Bret Stephens.

    The Newspaper of Record Earned The Backlash It Has Received

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The New York Times finds itself mired in controversy after newly-minted op-ed columnist Bret Stephens devoted his first piece to preaching a “teach the controversy” approach to climate change. The piece has been pilloried by journalists inside the paper and out, the Times is crouched in damage control mode, and some readers say they will terminate their subscriptions because they believe the paper is siding with climate deniers.

    The Times is responsible for this backlash. After President Donald Trump’s election, the paper sold new subscribers on providing vigorous resistance to the “alternative facts” that fueled his rise. Now, it's publishing them.

    The paper’s subscription growth soared after the election, with new Times customers explaining on social media they wanted to support a bulwark against the new president. The paper fueled that narrative in pursuit of more subscriptions, creating an advertising campaign that depicted the Times as an opponent to Trumpian “alternative facts.” The paper’s CEO and executive editor claimed in earnings calls and cable news interviews that the president’s attacks on the outlet had backfired and generated more readers.

    But when you market your paper as an antidote to a worldview that is unmoored from reality, your subscribers will actually expect you to follow through. When you fail to fulfill your promise, those readers will take their money elsewhere.

    Flash forward to Friday, when Stephens -- whose hiring drew criticism for, among other things, his past columns calling global warming a “sick-souled religion” whose adherents share the methods of “closet Stalinists” -- authored his first piece for the paper.

    In keeping with his past work, Stephens used an “alternative fact” contradicting the paper’s own reporting to compare those who believe action should be taken to halt the consequences of climate change to Cold War-era Polish authoritarians. His “teach the controversy” salvo argued that “ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism” around climate change because “history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.”

    The column was accompanied by a note from Times editorial page editor James Bennet, who praised Stephens and wrote that “we should have the humility to recognize we may not be right about everything and the courage to test our own assumptions and arguments.”

    Stephens’ piece provoked a fierce backlash from embarrassed Times journalists, reporters outside the paper, climate scientists, and angry subscribers, some of whom said they were taking steps to cancel their subscriptions.

    Then came the backlash-to-the-backlash, with Bennet issuing a statement defending the column as a necessary part of the Times “promoting the free exchange of ideas,” executive editor Dean Baquet standing by Stephens during an interview on CNN, and several prominent Times journalists lashing out at readers for the “liberal embarrassment” of criticizing the paper and wanting to cancel subscriptions over Stephens.

    I’m a third-generation Times reader who finds the paper’s reporting on any number of topics essential, including their excellent news coverage of climate change. I won’t be dropping the paper in light of Stephens’ hiring and first column -- my expectations for the paper’s columnists are astonishingly low after two decades of reading Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman. But I understand where those faltering subscribers are coming from, and the Times’ response to its progressive critics is silly and insulting.

    Contra Bennet, the paper is not providing some sort of unique value to news consumers by publishing an op-ed columnist whose writing on climate change defies the facts published in the paper’s news section. If that’s what readers want, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and George Will’s columns in The Washington Post are readily available.

    It stands to reason that some Times subscribers signed up precisely because they were looking for something different -- for what the Times itself was promising in its advertising, a paper where “alternative facts” were unwelcome.

    Good journalism is an essential part of a democratic system. But newspapers are a commodity in a capitalist economy -- the Times will run you more than $900 a year for seven-day-a-week home delivery -- and if customers aren’t happy with the product, they won’t stick around. They’ll find another source for news, Times political reporters will get to look down their noses at the hippies who don’t want what they’re selling, and people like me will still be reading the paper for what it does well. It’s a win-win-win!

    The problem for the Times, of course, is that the faltering financial model for print journalism means that the paper desperately needs to keep its subscription numbers rising, or it’ll be in a financial crunch that will lead to more layoffs. Which is why it tried to juice its subscription numbers by selling itself to liberals as a force against “alternative facts” in the first place.

    UPDATE: After Baquet, Bennet, and Stephens all publicly defended the piece, the Times has now added a correction to Stephens' first column. Stephens had falsely claimed that the evidence shows "modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere." The updated column corrects that statement to accurately note that the figure represents the global change, but leaves all Stephens' conclusions (originally based in part on a falsehood) intact. The correction reads

    An earlier version of this article misstated the area that warmed by 0.85 degrees Celsius as noted in the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel report. It was the globally averaged combined land and ocean surface, not only the Northern Hemisphere.

    As Think Progress' Joe Romm has noted, a 0.85-degree warming globally is a substantially bigger deal than the same increase would be in the Northern Hemisphere alone:

    The 0.85°C is not “modest.” It is roughly the same as the entire variation the Earth experienced during the several thousand years of stable climate that enabled the development of modern civilization, global agriculture, and a world that could sustain a vast population 

    So Stephens got his facts wrong, in a way that undermines his argument, but even after the correction sees no need to alter his conclusions. What an embarrassment for the paper.

  • The Press Struggles To Finally Break Its “Populist” Habit For Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Like smokers trying to quit a pack-a-day habit, some journalists are finally trying to drop the long-running practice of portraying President Donald Trump as a “populist.” 

    Sparked specifically by Trump’s blatant economic flip-flops this month regarding trade deals, currency policy concerning China, and the Export-Import Bank, more members of the press seem willing to concede that Trump’s attempt to govern as a populist has quickly ended.  

    Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus announced that Trump’s “populist revolution” is “already over -- at least for now.” The Week agreed that Trump is “beating a hasty retreat from populism.” And even The New York Times, which has been an aggressive promoter of the “populist” meme, recently noted that Trump, “has stocked his administration with billionaires and lobbyists while turning over his economic program to a Wall Street banker.”

    But like any stubborn habit, the “populist” one won’t be easy to quit. Note that while that Times article detailed Trump's obviously non-populist agenda, Times reporters regularly use the label to describe him in other pieces.

    This month alone, the Times has referenced Trump’s “populist appeal,” credited a “populist economic message” for his political rise, grouped him with “fellow populist Marine Le Pen,” and described both him and Turkey’s president as “populist leaders.”

    And the Times isn’t alone in clinging to the narrative. The Christian Science Monitor last week reported, “Trump the populist is back.”

    Reminder: Populism represents a political struggle on behalf of regular people against elite economic forces. Today, Trump’s brand of pro-corporate, anti-worker politics represents the exact opposite.

    The clues have not been hard to find, as Trump quickly stacked his administration with a cavalcade of pro-business multimillionaires and billionaires. But that was just the beginning.

    The president and his Republican allies have spent much of this year trying to repeal health care for 20 million Americans, pass massive new tax cuts for the wealthy, eliminate a State Department program “which sends food to poor countries hit by war or natural disasters,” greatly expand the Pentagon’s budget, potentially block overtime pay for workers making less than $47,000 a year, defund Planned Parenthood, defund public broadcasting, abolish the government block grant program that helps fund Meals on Wheels for the elderly, and roll back rules protecting net neutrality.

    So no, Trump’s not a “populist,” even if he has “styled himself as a man of the people.” (Trump’s residence in New York City, where the first lady currently lives, is an apartment that’s decorated in 24-karat gold.)

    The whole Trump’s-a-populist trope has been a media mess for more than a year now.

    And why “populist”? Why is that almost always the catch phrase journalists reach for when “white nationalist,” “nativist,” and “authoritarian” are likely more accurate descriptions of Trump?

    The truth is, “populist” serves as a crutch. And when it’s still used today, the identifier represents a lazy shorthand used to describe Trump’s grab bag of often contradictory political positions.

    Last year, the narrative served as a campaign mirage: the Brigadoon of American politics. Trump’s “populism” enticed the press and provided journalists with an acceptable, nonthreatening way to address his primary and general election successes. It was a way to downplay white nationalism, race-baiting, and sexism as the driving forces of his campaign. Yes, Trump cynically embraced populist rhetoric. But journalists ought to be able to see beyond campaign ploys like that.

    To this day, the concept allows journalists to engage in more "both sides" analysis, comparing and contrasting Trump’s “populism” with the approach of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who actually does promote a populist, pro-people agenda.  

    Sanders’ signature political crusade revolves around making sure all American have access to health care. By contrast, Trump continues to plot the overthrow of the Affordable Care Act, which would cause millions of Americans to lose their insurance coverage.

    How does any working journalist look at those two sets of facts and conclude, yeah, Trump and Sanders are both populists?

    Even more troubling have been the press pronouncements that some of Trump’s deeply nativist proposals are somehow populist.

    As The New York Times wrote [emphasis added]:

    For the first two months of Mr. Trump's presidency, Mr. Bannon occupied an unassailable perch at the president's side -- ramming through key elements of his eclectic and hard-edge populist agenda, including two executive orders on freezing immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries.

    This is especially upsetting. Trump's goal of banning people from Muslim countries from entering the United States, and his scheme to build a $20 billion wall to fix a nonexistent immigration crisis, have very little to do with “populism.” But they do have a lot to do with nativism and the idea that white America is under siege and that the federal government must take unprecedented action to protect its fragile sovereignty.

    Portraying that as “populism” -- as Trump sticking up for the little guy -- is dangerous and deeply misguided.