The Washington Post claims that broadly disclosing that one of its opinion writers is a Republican lobbyist is sufficient even when he is advocating for positions that specifically benefit his firm's unmentioned clients, a standard media critics say is "troubling" and "dishonest."
Ed Rogers writes conservative commentary for the Post's PostPartisan blog. Like many conservative columnists, he regularly criticizes environmental and energy regulations and the environmentalists who support them.
But unlike those other columnists, Rogers has a massive conflict of interest: he is chairman of the lobbying firm BGR Group, whose clients benefit from the positions he espouses. While the Post discloses his position with the firm in the bio appended to his posts, it does not reveal BGR's specific clients and conflicts, even when they directly overlap with the subject matter of Rogers' writing.
After Media Matters documented how Rogers' firm received more than $1.6 million last year from energy and transportation clients that benefit from positions he espoused in his columns, a Post spokesperson defended the practice, telling Media Matters via email, "His full-time lobbying job is in his bio on every single piece he writes." (Media Matters noted this in our original post on the matter.)
Asked again why specific disclosures are not provided for pieces that support issues favorable to a certain client, the spokesperson did not respond. Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt did not respond to requests for comment.
The Post's standard requires readers to search federal lobbying records to research if Rogers has clients that might be impacted by his commentary rather than proactively divulging the information.
Media ethicists panned this policy and urged the paper to do more.
"The burden is on The Washington Post," said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. He singled out Media Matters' report that Rogers had advocated building the Keystone XL pipeline without the Post disclosing that his firm represents Caterpillar, Inc., which would financially benefit from its construction. "If he is going to write about utilities or Keystone and he has clients with a stake in that, the Post should say that."
"It fits a pattern that I find troubling," he added. "Which is that in the television world and in this world, it is cheap to have partisans on the air or write blog posts but when you have on someone talking about say Mitt Romney, does the viewer know that that person has a relationship with Romney? And the same thing here. Does the reader know that Rogers has clients that would benefit from Keystone, so therefore the issue becomes transparency."
Kevin Smith, former ethics committee chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, agreed.
"It's the same scenario repeated time and time again," he said. "When the Washington Post can't present a complete accounting of their writers' associations it goes beyond head scratching and speaks to dishonesty with their readers."
Audrey Cooper does not believe it should have taken a century and a half for the San Francisco Chronicle to name its first female editor-in-chief.
And she should know. She's that editor.
Cooper, who was named to the top post at the Chronicle on Wednesday, said a glass ceiling still exists at news organizations and she's personally had experiences where she felt she wasn't treated equally because of her gender.
"Obviously there is (a glass ceiling)," Cooper said. "I think all of the coverage of [New York Times editor Jill Abramson's 2014] departure laid bare a lot of things that other female editors felt but hadn't really articulated. They're much more subtle than people might think. Sexism in general is a lot more subtle than it used to be 20 years ago. Yes, I've had the experiences that I think that I was not treated the same as men based on my gender."
But Cooper praised her supervisors at the Chronicle and parent company Hearst for giving her initial promotions during her career there, noting, "I was eight months pregnant when I had my interview to become (Chronicle) managing editor."
Cooper also pointed to problems news organizations have retaining working mothers.
"I think the news business in particular has a really difficult time retaining young women or 30-something women because so far we are the only ones who can have babies," said Cooper, 37, who has been at the paper in different roles since 2006. "And it is difficult to be in a job that you do 24 hours a day and can be called at any time and also have a child. I think that's just a reality, it is difficult to keep people in a job like that."
A married mother of a two-year-old boy, Cooper added that, "I don't plan to have a second one because I love my job and it would be too difficult."
It is notable that she is the first woman to lead the paper as it approaches its 150-year anniversary on Friday.
"Yes, I think 150 years is a really long time not to have a woman in this position," she said. "I think it is an interesting historical fact that I am the first at the Chronicle and I look forward to the day when women across industries, particularly ours, can rise to the top of them and not have it noted so frequently that they're the first."
But such change may be difficult given that the number of female editors at top papers has dwindled. Media Matters noted last year that just two top editors among the top 25 circulation daily newspapers were women: Deborah Henley at Newsday and Nancy Barnes at the Houston Chronicle.
"When I got into this industry, there was a lot more discussion about diversity in the newsroom than you have now on a national basis," she said. "I think that's because shortly thereafter we really, really hit the skids and everybody was having serious problems and laying people off and it wasn't the top concern anymore. Now that I think a lot of publications are stabilizing you start to see this emerge again."
The New York Times broke its own glass ceiling in 2011 when it hired Abramson as executive editor, but fired her last spring.
Along with the Times, the New York Daily News, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today are top 10 papers that were led by women during the past 15 years. Among the remaining top 25 daily papers, at least eight had women as the top newsroom bosses during the same time span.
Right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly have damaged the country, according to Alex S. Jones, the outgoing head of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy, who announced his departure Wednesday after 15 years leading the prestigious media training center.
"I wish they could be more objective, I don't begrudge them their particular politics, I just wish they weren't simply one note, I think it's damaging," said Jones, a former media writer for The New York Times and longtime media critic.
Jones cited the conservative media's coverage of President Obama: "Obama certainly is the president and the president is always legitimate prey for criticism, but I don't think that they have done a good thing for our country to be completely undermining him in every way they possibly could. I don't think that's good for any president, Republican or Democrat."
Jones, who announced his pending departure in a letter to supporters published on the Center's website, said it was "time for change," but did not state what his next plans would be.
In an interview with Media Matters, Jones cited concerns about what he deemed the "highly polarized political environment on cable news."
"There's no question that the people like the right wing pundits -- left wing too, to a degree, but they are dwarfed by the right wing -- have done a lot of damage to this country in my opinion, I don't consider that journalism, I consider that to be advocacy."
Jones added of O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and Fox's Sean Hannity, "I don't think that they don't believe what they say, I just wish that they looked at the world in a different way, something more constructive."
He added, "it's more catering to what will draw an audience rather than what is important ... if anything it's the shift toward what has been thought of as the local television model, anything that will attract a crowd, but not necessarily invested in issues and in policy questions and in political debates and things that are of genuine importance."
Jones also had advice for more credible news outlets. He stressed the need for journalists to keep focused on accuracy, fact-checking, and credibility as they increase speed and technology in reporting.
A week after Lamar White broke the story of Rep. Steve Scalise's 2002 speech before a white supremacist group, the fallout is still going strong as Scalise faces withering criticism, including from conservative outlets.
On December 28, White broke the news that Scalise spoke to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EUARO) in 2002. Scalise, who represents Louisiana's 1st District and holds a leadership position as the House majority whip, has since apologized for the appearance, claiming he was unaware of the group's racist background. While Scalise has been heavily criticized, Republican Party leadership has so far not called on him to give up his position as majority whip.
"It is fascinating," White, who has edited CenLamar.com since 2006, told Media Matters in an interview. "It has highlighted this major fraction between the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party and the more sensible wing of the party, or mainstream wing."
Criticism of Scalise has been widespread, even from normally conservative editorial pages such as the Boston Herald and Chicago Tribune, which have both called for Scalise to give up his leadership post.
"By playing footsie with this group, Scalise has disqualified himself from a position of leadership in a party that needs to do a better job of understanding and addressing the suspicions it arouses among many minority Americans," the Tribune editorial board wrote.
USA Today also urged Scalise to step down.
Other newspaper editorial boards, such as the Sacramento Bee and Scalise's hometown Times-Picayune of New Orleans, have stopped short of calling for Scalise to give up his leadership position, but offered harsh rebukes of his actions.
"U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise never should have agreed in 2002 to speak at a conference organized by a hate group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. It was a grievous error in judgment," the Times-Picayune opined, later adding, "his credibility has suffered with Louisianians who find David Duke and his anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-gay beliefs abhorrent. He will have to work diligently to repair it."
Bill O'Reilly raised the issue on his Fox News program Monday night, interviewing EUARO leader David Duke about the issue and stating, "don't sit here and tell me that you're not trying to promote the cause of the white people, because you are."
White, who has been involved in Louisiana news and politics for years, said the key element for coverage is Scalise's leadership position.
Michigan State University is delaying publicly releasing its contract for George Will's speaking engagement until after his speech by giving themselves an extension in responding to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Will is scheduled to speak at the school's December 13 commencement ceremony and receive an honorary doctorate, despite his controversial comments arguing that efforts to combat sexual assault on college campuses have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." Graduate and undergraduate student government associations have passed resolutions denouncing this honor, and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) -- herself an alumna -- issued a statement expressing deep disappointment with the school.
Media Matters contacted MSU requesting information about how much Will would be paid for the speech on December 3. The university responded that per "usual protocol" they could not give out contract information directly, and instead instructed that we file a FOIA request, which we did that same day.
According to the state's law, the university had to respond within five business days. They responded six business days later, on December 11, and told Media Matters they required ten more days "to process" the request "thoroughly" (emphasis added):
A public body must respond to a Michigan Freedom of Information Act (MIFOIA) request within five (5) business days after it receives that request. However, the MIFOIA also permits the public body to obtain additional time to complete its response to an MIFOIA request by issuing a notice to the requester extending the response deadline by up to ten (10) additional business days. This communication serves as notice that in order to process your MIFOIA request thoroughly, additional time is required ... The University will respond to your request on or before 5:00 p.m., Monday, December 29, 2014.
For the second time in three days a student government organization at Michigan State University has passed a resolution opposing the pending commencement address by George Will, citing his offensive comments about campus sexual assault.
The Associated Students of Michigan State University, the school's undergraduate student government, held an emergency meeting Tuesday night and approved the resolution, 23-1, denouncing the decision to host Will as a commencement speaker at the December 13 graduation and to award him an honorary doctorate.
A copy of the resolution provided to Media Matters by the ASMSU states in part, "the choice of George Will has given many students the impression that MSU does not make sexual assault a priority" and concludes that "ASMSU condemns MSU's choice of George Will as a speaker at MSU's Fall commencement and calls for MSU to immediately rescind their invitation and find another speaker to address graduating seniors."
The resolution urges the university to "also allocate funds in at least the same amount as Mr. Will's speaking engagement fee towards the hiring of more counselors for the Counseling Center to address the need for students seeking help with sexual assault and reaffirms commitment to sexual assault prevention and response."
The resolution's passage came just hours after MSU's president, in the face of rising protests from the student body, issued a statement defending their decision to honor Will.
Colin Wiebrecht, a representative of the ASMSU general assembly, introduced the resolution.
"I thought it was important because there had been a growing number of students who were against having George Will and would put a lot more pressure on the administration," he told Media Matters.
Kiran Samra, the ASMSU chief of staff, said the issue was important to bring to a vote.
"The role of the undergraduate student government is to echo the voice of our constituents," she said via email. "It was clear through the numerous communications that this was an issue of importance to our fellow students."
ASMSU's actions follow an earlier resolution from the Council of Graduate Students on Sunday that stated the governing body wanted to, "convey our objections to Dr. George Will serving as one of the commencement speakers and being a recipient of an honorary degree this semester."
In June, Will authored a Washington Post syndicated column suggesting that attempts to curb campus assaults have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
That column has triggered widespread criticism, particularly on college campuses. Over the past two months, Will was uninvited from a speaking engagement at Scripps College and greeted by hundreds of protestors at Miami University.
Following criticism from students, including the condemnation of the Council of Graduate Students, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon posted a statement Tuesday defending the choice of Will, which stated, in part, "Having George Will speak at commencement does not mean I or Michigan State University agree with or endorse the statements he made in his June 6 column or any particular column he has written. It does not mean the university wishes to cause survivors of sexual assault distress. And it does not mean we are backing away from our commitment to continuously improving our response to sexual assault."
Michigan State University's decision to host George Will as a commencement speaker this weekend is sparking angry opposition from students, a prominent women's equality group, and campus sexual assault advocates who plan to protest the event because of Will's past comments about campus sexual assault.
In June, Will authored a Washington Post syndicated column suggesting that attempts to curb campus assaults have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
Will's column sparked widespread criticism. Four senators publicly condemned his comments in an open letter, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his syndicated column and apologized for publishing his "offensive and inaccurate" arguments, and women's equality groups called for the Washington Post to fire him.
Last week, The Detroit News reported that Will had been tapped as a commencement speaker for Michigan State University's December 13 graduation ceremonies and would receive an honorary doctorate of humanities. The announcement quickly prompted condemnation from the prominent women's equality group UltraViolet, whose co-founder Shaunna Thomas told Media Matters that Will's "continued attacks on campus rape survivors make him an unfit speaker for any University."
MSU, which is currently under federal investigation for its handling of sexual assault accusations, defended their decision to honor Will. A spokesman told Media Matters, "In any diverse community there are sure to be differences of opinion and perspective; something we celebrate as a learning community. We appreciate all views, and we hope and expect the MSU community will give the speaker the same respect."
But pressure is mounting on the University as Will's planned speech draws closer.
In a press release, UltraViolet announced it had gathered more than 40,000 signatures on a petition calling for the cancelation of Will's speech, which the group plans to deliver on December 10.
Students are also calling foul, with more than 650 already signed up for a protest the morning of Will's speech.
"The hope was that the administration would realize this is a bonehead move and choose someone else," said Emily Gillingham, an MSU law school student and co-organizer of a protest set for 8 a.m. Saturday, right before Will's 10 a.m. address to graduates of several MSU colleges. "I feel so bad for the people who are there who have survived sexual assault who George Will thinks are lying or it was some sort of pleasant experience."
MSU's Council of Graduate Students passed a resolution Sunday calling on the administration to withdraw their invitation to Will. Some students and faculty are discussing plans for an alternate commencement.
"It's really disappointing that MSU chose to invite him, it appears that they knew it would be disappointing because they waited to announce it," said Jessica Kane, an MSU graduate student who works in the campus Sexual Assault Center. "George Will's manner of approaching sexual assault is dismissive to all sexual assault survivors. Basically he calls them all potential liars. The fact that he approached sexual assault with such a callous attitude is really alarming."
After the publication of this post, David Yontz, managing editor of Creators Syndicate, responded to Media Matters' request for comment about Carson.
Yontz said that though Fox News had cut ties with Carson, Creators will not make a decision until he officially announces his presidential plans.
"Given the Fox thing, I don't think we're concerned about that, but he hasn't officially announced yet, it is looking likely he is going to run. But once he officially announces, we most likely will stop syndicating it, we just have to come up with a solution as to what to do, at that time."
"It is on our radar, we are thinking of solutions once that does happen. As of right now we are going to keep syndicating the column until further notice."
Dr. Ben Carson was reportedly dropped as a Fox News contributor over his apparent plans to run for president. But that prospective 2016 bid, which has included a biographical documentary produced by his business manager, is apparently not enough for the Washington Times or Creators Syndicate to sever relations with the surgeon-turned-political commentator.
Fox News ended its contract with Carson last month shortly before the release of A Breath of Fresh Air, an hour-long documentary that aired on 37 television stations as a paid program in early November. The film was widely viewed as a way to boost Carson's profile for a 2016 Republican presidential bid.
Despite that, Carson is still listed as "founding publisher" on the masthead of the Times' digital magazine, American Currentsee. Creators Syndicate has also kept its arrangement with Carson, distributing his column to newspapers across the country, including the Times.
American Currentsee, which is targeted at "conservative blacks," is overseen by executive editor Armstrong Williams, who is also Carson's business manager and whose production company made the Carson documentary. The digital magazine, which is wildly supportive of Carson, often carries columns from both Carson and Williams. It recently devoted an entire issue to the topic, "Is Ben Carson in? How he could lead, how he could win."
Williams, whose own syndicated column is also carried by the Times, said Carson has not announced for president and until he does he has the right to write as he pleases.
"He's a syndicated columnist, he's not running for president, in fact I don't know anyone who has announced they are running for president, do you? Has anybody on the Democratic or Republican side that has announced for president," Williams said in a phone interview. "You know what, as his business manager, the last thing I want him to do is run for president. But you know what? That's the American way. If you are 35 years old and if you're a U.S. citizen you can make a decision to run and the American people can make a decision on whether you're the best candidate for this country or not."
Neither Creators, which syndicated Carson's most recent piece on December 3, nor The Washington Times have responded to requests for comment.
Williams claimed that the documentary that led to the termination of Carson's Fox News relationship should not affect Carson's Times connections or those he has with newspapers that run his column through Creators.
"That has to do with the fact that we aired a documentary that I produced and Fox News said it was a conflict with the contract and so we made a decision to air the documentary and they made a decision to cut ties. That was a business decision," he said about the Fox issue.
A controversial ad that ran in three Minnesota newspapers this weekend opposing a statewide transgender rights school policy is being criticized for misleading readers with false, fear-based claims about student treatment.
The full-page ad, placed by the Minnesota Child Protection League, depicts a female ballplayer with the headline: "THE END OF GIRLS' SPORTS?"
The MCPL, an anti-LGBT organization focused on education, is targeting a new proposed policy that would allow transgender high school student athletes to play on the teams that correspond to their gender identity if they provide sufficient documentation that they either intend to transition or are currently transitioning.
Their ad warns that under the policy, "your 14-year-old daughter just lost her position on an all-girl team to a male... and now she may have to shower with him."
The ad appeared in The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis, the St. Cloud Times and the Duluth News Tribune.
The policy, which is under consideration by the Minnesota State High School League, is set to be considered at a public meeting on Thursday.
The ad has sparked opposition from several LGBT equality groups, including Outfront Minnesota, which issued a call for protest that criticized the ad for spreading "misinformation and fear" and stated, in part: "Trans students deserve full affirmation and support, including the chance to compete in sports with their peers."
Other local activists termed the ads "misleading," "hurtful," and based in "ignorance."
The Star-Tribune and the St. Cloud Times did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But Matt Mazzio, advertising director for the Duluth News Tribune, said his paper ran the ad as a business decision and based on First Amendment rights.
"We had an internal discussion. But just like any other political advertisement, we do believe in the First Amendment rights," he said. "Everybody's got a viewpoint and if they want to reach the largest audience in this area, they know the newspaper is the way to go."
Asked about the ad's misleading information and if that should keep it from being published the same way misleading information in a political ad would be grounds for not publishing, he said, "I'd have to defer that to attorneys."
Veteran journalists and news ethicists are calling on Fox News to suspend Mike Huckabee's contract amid growing evidence that he is planning to run for president in 2016.
The Washington Post reported November 12 on Huckabee's various political activities as he prepares to mount a possible bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, including hiring staff, courting donors and activists, and scouting potential locations for a campaign headquarters. Post reporters Robert Costa and Tom Hamburger noted that Huckabee's team is doing its best to "finesse" the planning of a potential campaign while trying to avoid losing his Fox News platform.
In response to the Post piece, Media Matters called on the network -- which recently cut ties with former contributor Ben Carson due to his possible 2016 run -- to suspend Huckabee. Fox News executive Bill Shine subsequently told CNN that the network is "taking a serious look at Governor Huckabee's recent activity in the political arena and are evaluating his current status."
According to several media critics, ethicists, and reporters, it's definitely time for Fox News to part ways with Huckabee.
"Clearly if someone is organizing to run for president, they should not be given a platform by any news organization where they are basically posing as disinterested or not self-interested commentators," said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. "What we believe in journalism is full disclosure and no hidden agendas. The viewer watching the former governor on Fox News doesn't know necessarily if he is using his position to promote his position."
Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald, said the ethical question is easy.
"It's interesting to watch Huckabee try to find a loophole that would enable him to activate a campaign while holding on to his Fox gig," he said. "The idea that he thinks he could get away with using a political non-profit to masquerade as a campaign without 'crossing the threshold' at Fox strikes me as not only unethical, but dishonest and merits investigation. To me, the simple test of this political non-profit will be, 'if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck ....'"
Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed.
"It is unquestionably a problem to have somebody wearing those two hats to be privately or semi-publicly putting together a presidential campaign and positioning himself as a commentator who is applying his political judgments to disinterested subjects," Wasserman said in a phone interview.
Wasserman pointed out that when viewers watch a commentator who is engaged in a political campaign they can assume his views are affected by that. But if Huckabee does not disclose such a connection, the viewer is misled.