Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and continued in the position under President George H.W. Bush, says media outlets have been too wary in their coverage of Republican front-runner Donald Trump. Thornburgh also threw cold water on conservatives' comparisons of Trump to Reagan, saying the analogy "falls flat."
"I'm really quite surprised that the media has treated him with kind of kid gloves," Thornburgh said in a Thursday interview with Media Matters. "They've been wary about criticizing him I think, unnecessarily so. The difference between his experience and the experience of his primary opponents, let alone to compare him to Ronald Reagan, is really not apt at all."
"I've seen enough media efforts in previous campaigns where they're able to establish some weaknesses and vulnerabilities in every candidate," he added. "And they seem to be somewhat intimidated with Trump."
In the latest episode of his ongoing feud with Fox News, Trump recently pulled out of the network's January 28 Republican primary debate. While some right-wing media figures -- particularly those on Fox News -- have criticized Trump over the decision, others have suggested his move was Reagan-esque. CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord, who served as an aide to Reagan, compared Trump skipping the debate to Reagan walking away from nuclear talks with the Soviet Union in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986.
Thornburgh, who was serving as the Republican governor of Pennsylvania at the time, did not find the comparison compelling.
"You're talking about two different things," said Thornburgh. "You're talking about a partisan political primary debate and something of such vast international significance as those disarmament discussions, so I don't know if that is an apt analogy."
"I have a tough time drawing an analogy between Reagan and Trump. Their backgrounds are totally different," Thornburgh said. "Trump has no experience whatsoever in government, in managing large governmental operations, while Reagan was a two-term elected governor of our largest state, California. So I think that analogy falls flat."
He later added, "Reagan was not anywhere near as combative as Trump is, Reagan was a much more low-key operator. He was tough, but not to the point of being rude as Trump has been on several occasions."
Asked what he thought Reagan would make of Trump, Thornburgh said, "I don't think he'd be very pleased. One thing that Ronald Reagan always exhibited was cordiality and affability, he was a very friendly, courteous person -- characteristics I do not find in Donald Trump, quite the contrary."
National security experts and lawyers who handle classified document cases say there's no evidence that Hillary Clinton broke any laws or State Department policies when she emailed an aide in 2011 asking for talking points to be sent to her over a "nonsecure" channel.
Last week, the State Department released the latest batch of Clinton's emails from her time as secretary of state. Among the emails was a message Clinton sent to her adviser Jake Sullivan, in which she responds to word of a delay in receiving talking points over a secure fax by asking Sullivan, "If they can't, turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure."
Republicans quickly seized on the email to accuse Clinton of possible lawbreaking. During an appearance on ABC's This Week, conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt said of Clinton's email, "It's clearly a felony and I think she's going to be indicted."
State Department officials have said there is "no indication that the document in question was sent to Secretary Clinton using nonsecure fax or email," and "instead turned up a secure fax transmission shortly after Clinton's email exchange."
Clinton explained on CBS' Face the Nation that classified information was not sent over unsecure channels, saying, "I think this is another instance where what is common practice -- namely, look, I need information. I had some points I had to make. And I was looking for a secure fax that could give me the whole picture. But, oftentimes, there's a lot of information that isn't at all classified. So, whatever information can appropriately transmitted unclassified often was. That's true for every agency in the government and who everybody does business with the government."
She added that she had "great confidence" in Sullivan to know "exactly what was and wasn't appropriate."
Experts in both national security issues and legal boundaries tell Media Matters that claims that the email to Sullivan is proof of lawbreaking are overheated, citing the lack of evidence that anything classified was ever sent through any unsecure avenues -- and the fact that separating unclassified from classified information for separate treatment can be permissible.
"We don't know what was exactly in the email, but we also don't know that it contained any classified information," said Steven Aftergood, Director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. "Not everything in a classified document is necessarily classified and it is entirely possible to separate out unclassified material from what is classified."
J. William Leonard, former director of the U.S. Information Security Oversight Office under George W. Bush, said such requests must be handled "with care," but also found no proof of illegality.
"It shows people dealing with the daily frustration in terms of trying to use somewhat cumbersome security accounts," he said of Clinton's email. He later said that to prove anything illegal or improper occurred "you'd have to see the actual substance of what was eventually transmitted."
Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University who has testified before Congress on related issues, also found no evidence of an improper act being committed.
"It's certainly not illegal, it's unclassified information," he said. "She has argued that she did not send [anything] classified, or marked classified. And I don't think they have come up with an example."
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is garnering increased attention among Republican candidates thanks to a rise in his New Hampshire polling numbers, is misleading many about his economic record, has a history of big corporate tax breaks, and continues to fall in the polls back home, according to Garden State journalists who have covered him for years.
Many reporters and editors who have followed Christie's career for the past six years as governor, and before that as U.S. attorney, say the image of Christie in campaign coverage is lacking in important details.
"I think New Jersey's economic record will get talked about a lot. It is not as good as he portrays it being," said Michael Symons, a statehouse reporter for Gannett's six New Jersey newspapers. "He says job growth under him has been more than it was under the past four governors. That is in part the result of the national economy. New Jersey as it compares to other states, only 7 or 8 states have a lower rate of private sector job growth when you go back to when he took office."
He later added, "Machinery of state government has kind of ground to a halt, a lot of it due to a lack of him being here. If you look at the polls, New Jerseyans don't approve of the job he is doing. There has not been a lot of action going on in Trenton."
Michael Aron, chief political correspondent for NJTV, the local public television network, agreed that Christie's record deserves closer scrutiny from the Beltway press: "His popularity in the state has plummeted."
"His record is an albatross," Aron added. "It's very easy to say that New Jersey lags in the nation in recovery, nine credit downgrades. We lead the nation in foreclosures, we have the highest property taxes in the nation, we are the 49th or 50th most heavily taxed state in the country."
Salvador Rizzo, who covers the statehouse for The Record of Bergen County, the state's second largest newspaper, also points to the economic record.
"He says that we've had some of the best economic growth in 15 years. But if you compare New Jersey's job growth in the private sector to other states, we have been among the lowest growing," says Rizzo.
Rizzo invoked the difficulties media outlets that are not as familiar with New Jersey might have in fact-checking Christie's claims. "We have complex economic problems and it's tough to fact-check them on the spot when he portrays it perhaps as a more healthy recovery than it has been compared to other states."
Bob Jordan, a political reporter for the Asbury Park Press, pointed to a recent editorial in his paper giving Christie failing marks in many areas.
"That does not look like a good home state record," Jordan said, later citing issues he says Christie has failed on since taking office. "Property tax reform, education funding reforms, tenure protection for teachers, a lot of stuff Christie made promises on. He hasn't been here to follow through on his top promises. Estimates of him being out of state last year are between 60% and 70% of the days."
Jordan also pointed to Christie's efforts after the devastating Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He said Christie got some initial credit for being on the scene, but added that his push for federal aid was weak.
"People in New Jersey still are not (supportive of) how Christie performed after Sandy," Jordan said. "In terms of the federal funding and how that money was spent and the contracts that went out as seemingly political favors -- from debris collection to the $25 million tourism campaign that featured the governor in the commercials."
David Cruz, another NJTV reporter who's been covering Christie on the campaign trail, said his tax breaks to corporations did not provide the job growth he had promised.
"There had been tax breaks to corporations through the state Economic Development Authority that have lavished tax gifts on corporations and have not really produced the kind of jobs that people were promised or expected."
He also cited Christie's claims as a crime-fighting U.S. attorney: "The terrorism fighter image is slightly exaggerated. But when he was U.S. attorney and running for governor twice, his focus was always on how much of a corruption fighter he was, but there were a lot of easy targets."
Then there's Tom Moran, editorial page editor and columnist for The Star-Ledger, who has been a longtime critic of Christie and says he "flat out lies on the campaign trail all the time. This is not like the shading of the truth, there are flat out things that are not true that he knows are not true."
Asked to list some examples, Moran cited three:
Moran said media outlets "need to check his record as governor and every claim he makes because he's shameless."
"What is sort of being lost in all the hubbub is that he has a terrible record in New Jersey," Moran added. "The state's credit rating is the second lowest in the country and has dropped nine times under his watch. The state's transportation system is in a real mess, the transportation trust fund is going broke in six months, and he's done nothing about the state's housing crisis."
The recent purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ) by an entity reportedly controlled by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson is sparking concern among staffers at the paper. One reporter says that stories about the purchase before Adelson's involvement was public were edited by the publisher to remove references to the conservative billionaire.
Last week, LVRJ was purchased by a previously unknown company called News + Media Capital Group LLC. After days of speculation about the mysterious group behind the purchase, several outlets confirmed that Adelson and his family were the main buyers.
James DeHaven, who has reported for the paper for three years and has been covering its ownership change, told Media Matters that publisher Jason Taylor intervened last week to remove portions of two stories that hinted at Adelson's company as the buyer.
"We knew that we had been bought on Thursday, we just didn't know who bought us," DeHaven said. "We ran a story on Friday in which quotes were removed by the publisher. Portions of a Saturday story were removed, all mentions of [Adelson] were removed."
DeHaven said reporters at the paper had enough information to at least speculate about Adelson's involvement in stories that were published December 11. But he contends that Taylor intervened to remove portions of those stories.
"That's the first time it happened since I've been at the paper," DeHaven said.
Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.
Review-Journal staffers, meanwhile, are offering concern about the Adelson purchase, noting his past history of conservative activism, political influence and even his previous lawsuits against journalists -- including one who had worked for the paper.
"His litigiousness is something we're all concerned about, that is what I am worried about," said one reporter who requested anonymity. "It would be court-related in general, concerned about cases he has going through the courts." The reporter added, "We're definitely worried about it. It would be good to have a local owner, but I think everyone is definitely still a little nervous."
Another newspaper staffer highlighted that some reporters at LVRJ have previously had difficulty with Adelson: "Until our owners were willing to reveal themselves, we didn't have a lot of credibility. Some people here have had very difficult interactions with him, there's obvious concern here about it. We don't know how this current arrangement might change in the next few months. There are plenty of readers who have concerns about it."
A third newsroom staffer agreed, adding, "We don't know what's going to happen next, we're just in a holding pattern. Everyone is pretty unsure, it could go a lot of different ways, just not sure. We have to move on to the next step of figuring out what he wants from us."
DeHaven said the lack of initial information did not help the staff's trust in the new owners.
"It worries people," he said. "It's concerning because we still need to disclose those people in order to do our jobs properly. It is also concerning because of Adelson's political leanings. I know our editorial board doesn't want their endorsements meddled with any more than we want our stories meddled with.
"In terms of news coverage, Sheldon is a big political donor. If you were reporting on him or his political donations -- he makes a lot of those -- that would be one area of concern."
Jon Ralston, a former Review-Journal columnist whose website and TV show are seen as having the pulse of the state, said he is hearing worries from former colleagues as well.
"I think people are surprised and now wondering what they're going to do," Ralston said. "I think they're very unsettled at the paper, who wouldn't be? We have a major political player who has an obvious political agenda buying a newspaper. You have to wonder if he will make big changes, will it affect news coverage? People are worried for their jobs, they are worried about interference."
The editor of an Ohio newspaper was fired this week after she questioned her publisher about the paper's refusal to run an editorial that was critical of the National Rifle Association.
Jan Larson McLaughlin, a 31-year veteran of The Sentinel-Tribune in Bowling Green, Ohio, says she had written the editorial, sought input from her staff and planned to run it a week ago when Publisher Karmen Concannon killed it.
"I have written editorials before that have not been positive about the NRA, and those have gotten through," McLaughlin told Media Matters on Wednesday. "For some reason our publisher felt it was insubordination for me to have our news staff read the editorial. I always have our news staff read the editorials and that has never been the issue before."
McLaughlin said she was fired on Monday after seeking to discuss the rejected editorial last week. She said Concannon told her that her termination was due to "insubordination."
"She said it was for allowing the staff to read the editorial before she approved it," McLaughlin recalls. "But I submit my editorials to her each time and at least 95 or more percent of the time I never hear anything from her, pro or con. I have the staff read them because that is the next process."
The Toledo Blade first reported on McLaughlin's firing and noted that there has been backlash to the decision within the Bowling Green community.
McLaughlin, who has been at the afternoon paper for 31 years and served as editor since 2013, said she wrote the editorial on Dec. 7 and submitted it to the publisher for approval on Dec. 8, with plans to run it on Dec. 9.
The editorial raised the issue of NRA influence on gun-related legislation and specifically a bill in the Ohio legislature that would allow loaded guns to be carried on college campuses.
Home to the 16,000-student Bowling Green State University, the community has been very mixed on the gun proposal, newsroom staffers said.
The editorial stated, in part: "The NRA has not always been the paranoid 'pry the gun from my cold dead hands' organization that it is now. It was formerly an association aimed at serving its membership by providing safety classes, marksmanship training and even gun control support. But somewhere it got hijacked from its real purpose to its fanatical presence. It's time for reasonable gun owners to say enough is enough."
But it never made it to print.
McLaughlin said Concannon informed her via email on Dec. 8 that the editorial could not run. She said when the Dec. 9 edition was published and some of her staff saw the editorial had been spiked, they approached Concannon with a joint letter urging her to reconsider.
"When the news staff saw it was not in the next day's paper, everyone wrote a letter to the publisher asking her to reconsider, to look at the editorial again and reconsider it because they felt it was worth publishing," McLaughlin said. "All I know is that she told the reporter that gave it to her that she would not read it."
The letter, which was obtained by Media Matters, praises McLaughlin for having "more Associated Press honors and news awards than all of us put together." It added, "If the reason for not publishing the editorial is to avoid what clearly is a controversial issue, we worry that doing so calls into question our ability to report news that some people might not like."
McLaughlin said she approached the publisher on Dec. 10 and asked to discuss why the editorial did not run since her past editorials are nearly always approved.
"She said she didn't have to give me a reason and I said, 'alright, but I need to know further direction for where I go from here,'" McLaughlin said. "She said she wasn't required to talk to me about it."
On the morning of Dec. 14, after that day's edition was published, McLaughlin said she was called into the publisher's office and given a termination letter. She adds that she was offered a $5,000 severance package if she agreed not to discuss the issue outside of the newspaper. She said she could not agree to that.
"I said, 'it's unfortunate that you can't listen to opinions that are different from yours.' It's just not good management."
Concannon, whose family has owned the newspaper for decades, did not respond to requests for comment. She also did not respond to the Blade's request for comment.
McLaughlin's supporters in and out of the newspaper have been up in arms about the firing.
"There has been an uproar because she is very widely respected," said Frances Brent, a former Sentinel-Tribune columnist who currently freelances for the paper. Brent noted the seriousness of the gun issue in town: "There was great concern on campus about the legislature allowing guns everywhere."
David Dupont, who worked at the Sentinel-Tribune for 20 years until he quit last month, said McLaughlin's firing was just the latest in a string of problematic moves by the paper's management.
"Just the total lack of support in the newsroom," he said of the publisher. "A real lack of respect for what the newsroom does. It was a constant decelerating lack of support, disrespect."
McLaughlin called the firing "surreal" given her time at the paper and her love of the job: "I have lived for that paper for 31 years. I'm a big believer in talking things over and listening to disagreements."
As the Republican presidential candidates gather to debate tonight in Las Vegas, the Republican National Committee's (RNC) requirement that each debate include a conservative outlet is drawing fire from former debate panelists and veteran network news executives.
Tonight's debate is no exception, with CNN including Salem Radio commentator Hugh Hewitt among the panelists. Hewitt, who served as an official in the Reagan administration, was a panelist for CNN's September debate, and is scheduled to be part of the third CNN debate in March.
In addition, NBC had partnered with National Review and ABC with the conservative IJ Review. Fox News, whose conservative credentials are well established, does not have a partner and reportedly "fought the RNC's partner requirement and ultimately prevailed."
CNBC aired its October debate without a conservative partner. Following the debate, the RNC objected to CNBC's moderation so strongly that it suspended its NBC debate while promising that National Review will remain a part of a future debate.
The RNC's unusual requirement is drawing criticism from several veteran journalists who have served on debate panels in the past, with most calling it improper and saying it waters down the effectiveness of tough questioning.
"I think this whole idea of trying to adjust debates and judging them according to ideology lead to nothing but trouble," said Elizabeth Drew, a 1976 presidential debate panelist and moderator of a 1984 Democratic primary debate. "Presumably, journalists are supposedly non-political and the Republicans dine out a lot on attacking the 'liberal media.' But that doesn't mean that that's what happens. What they are asking for is sympathetic questioners."
Drew, also a staff writer at The New Yorker from 1973 to 1992, said the debate loses its independence when such demands are met.
"It never used to be this way," she said. "I think the problem is putting so much of the power with the parties ... They're looking for safer and softer questions than they might otherwise get. The structure has gone off the rails."
Marvin Kalb, a 1984 presidential debate panelist and former Meet the Press host, agreed: "It should not be an issue for the Democratic debates, nor for the Republican debates. The selection of questioners must remain a decision for the networks."
Max Frankel, a 1976 presidential debate panelist and former New York Times executive editor, said he would have refused to be involved if the RNC made such a request at his debate.
"My politics is none of their business," he said. "And if I had to identify myself by my politics I would tell them to go to hell and not to participate."
He later added, "more times than not they need the network more than the network needs them. For the moment they need the debates because the presence of Trump is bringing the cable networks a bigger audience than they have ... It's all a mess because several of these cable networks have their own agendas."
Richard Valeriani, a panelist for the 1976 general election presidential debate and a 28-year NBC News correspondent, called the RNC demand "overreaching."
"The debates should be open," he said. "For the parties to set requirements is not good for the system. It impugns the integrity of the media. Saying we can't do our jobs."
He added, "You have sort of a controlled environment, which is not what the free press is about ... One of the values of a debate is to challenge a candidate's ability to think on his or her feet as any president will have to do."
Asked how this compares to his debate, he said: "The parties had nothing to do with it, this is quite unusual to try to dictate who the networks should provide. The next will be to dictate the questions we should ask."
CBS News' February 13 debate does not have a conservative media partner as Face the Nation host John Dickerson will be the lone moderator. CBS News declined to comment on how it managed to broker a deal for a debate without that requirement. The conservative Fox Business Network does not have a partner for its January 14 debate.
CNN, NBC, and ABC also declined to comment on the RNC requirement or why none of the Democratic debates are including a progressive media outlet among the panelists. (NBC News will partner with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute for its January 17 debate.)
A source at the Democratic National Committee close to its debate negotiations said no such requirement was ever brought up during its planning with the networks.
Several former network news presidents said the RNC demand is unusual and not something they would have agreed to.
"If I were still at the network and we were putting on the debate, we would refuse," said Bill Small, NBC News president from 1979 to 1982 and a former CBS News Washington bureau chief. "The debate questioners ought to be the choice of the networks. Would you want to see a political party pick your interviewer if you were doing your newscast? If they want to have network news people they have to recognize that the networks will choose."
He later added, "I've never heard of it before, almost always during my experience, a debate was set up, the networks chose not only who they wanted but who would moderate it. I can't conceive of a news organization saying we'll carry it. It reflects badly on the Republicans and on the networks."
Jonathan Klein, CNN president from 2004 to 2010 and former executive vice president of 60 Minutes, said the parties have long tried to dictate terms, but said this is more than in the past.
"In most ways, it's a good thing for news organizations to be fiercely independent of any outside forces," he said. "What a news organization has to decide is if it is important to maintain that it is in fact objective in its questioning and is an equal opportunity griller. Can we just ask tough questions that are not softballs and are not unfair to the candidates? Generally speaking, we never liked to allow the political organizations on either side too much say in the format or the approach."
Lawrence Grossman, NBC News president from 1984 to 1988, said giving the RNC such power "distorts" the debates.
"The question remains who is in charge of the debates?" he said. "The people who schedule it or the people who participate in it? They should probably not say who asks the questions. They can decide not to participate if they don't like the conditions."
A Michigan mayor who was asked by a CNN anchor whether she is "afraid" to govern "a majority Muslim-American city" told Media Matters she was caught "completely by surprise" by the line of questioning.
Karen Majewski, mayor of Hamtramck, Michigan, appeared November 23 on CNN Newsroom and was asked by anchor Carol Costello, "You govern a majority Muslim-American city. Are you afraid?" Majewski responded by explaining that she is "not afraid," and clarifying that she does not think the city is actually majority Muslim population-wise, though it did recently elect a majority-Muslim city council.
"I was very surprised," Majewski said of Costello's questioning during a Monday interview with Media Matters. "What I had expected and what people usually ask me about is the diversity of this city and the changing demographics and something about the way that reflects changing American demographics in general. So the focus on terrorism and fear caught me completely by surprise."
"We just never think about it in those terms and we don't think of our Muslim neighbors in those terms," she added. "There may be tensions, but they're not tensions over something like terrorism."
Majewski, who has served as mayor since 2006 and runs a vintage clothing shop in town, said CNN producers did not tell her beforehand about the terrorism-focused line of questioning.
"No, they didn't," she said. "I just assumed it was about the election and the kind of change from a Polish-dominated city to a city where the demographic is changing."
"I didn't ask and they didn't tell me that there was a kind of national security person who was going to be the co-interviewee," she added. "If I had known that it might have clued me to what kind of angle they were going to take." (The other person on the panel was Buck Sexton, a conservative radio host for Glenn Beck's The Blaze and CNN political commentator.)
Majewski speculated that the interview focus might have been prompted by a November 21 Washington Post article that she contends misstated that the city's population was now Muslim-majority, not just the city council, and raised unfounded terrorism fears.
"I think the misinterpretation came from the headline of The Washington Post article," Majewski said. "The article itself seemed truncated and cut off at the knees and the headline was completely misleading."
Asked if CNN or Costello had reached out to apologize or discuss the interview, Majewski said, "I imagine she might be getting some flack. I wouldn't expect any kind of apology. I just thought it was an odd line of questioning."
CNN's interview of Majewski:
Emily Miller, the chief investigative reporter for Washington, D.C.'s Fox 5 (WTTG), sparked unnecessary concerns about danger in the Washington, D.C. area on November 18 when she publicized an internal police document about the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) seeking information on four men who appear to be Middle Eastern engaged in "suspicious activity" on D.C.'s rapid transit system.
But according to the Metro Transit Police, the "routine" document was not intended to be released to the public, and by the time Miller tweeted it to her 50,000 followers, the alert had already been resolved. MTPD says Miller did not contact the department before releasing the information.
Miller tweeted out a "BOLO" (Be On The Lookout) notice on Twitter the night of November 18 about four people sought for questioning since Sunday:
This is scary: Be On The Lookout alert for these men on DC metro at Pentagon. Note it was a warm on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/hkgTuhBgKx-- Emily Miller (@EmilyMiller) November 19, 2015
Miller's tweet quickly gained attention, garnering more than one thousand retweets and articles on Glenn Beck's news site, The Blaze, conspiracy website InfoWars, the website of conservative blogger Jim Hoft, and the Daily Mail. Several Twitter users responded to the image by raising fears about an Islamist terror attack in D.C. and making derogatory comments about Syrian refugees.
After her initial tweet, Miller responded to someone asking where the alert came from by saying the document is "an internal metro #BOLO that I got from a source who thinks it should be public."
But by the time she had distributed the internal BOLO, the four individuals had been reached by police, interviewed, and found not to be a danger to anyone, a spokesman for the Metro Transit Police told Media Matters.
"What was not reported out when it went out on the Internet last night was that those individuals had met with law enforcement yesterday, they were fully cooperative and the Bolo had been cancelled," said Dan Stessel, chief spokesman for Washington's Metro Transit Police. "They were identified by Metro Transit Police, they met with Metro Transit Police and our federal partners, again full cooperation with police just running that information to ground as we do every day and the Bolo again was cancelled."
Stressel added that the notice "was never intended to be released publicly. There are times when we do, whenever it is warranted we will not hesitate to do so. But in this case there was a report that these individuals may have acted suspiciously while in the area of the Pentagon and police checked it out."
Responding to Miller's tweet last night, MTPD tweeted that it could not confirm the authenticity of the document, because it "does not comment on non-public material." Following widespread attention given to Miller's tweet, MTPD followed up the morning of November 19 by explaining, "The 4 men in internal MTPD bolo were ID'd & contacted by us yest evening. All checked out, fully cooperative, no nexus to criminal activity." (Miller promoted the MTPD statement with a tweet.)
"We'll leave it to others to opine on the appropriateness of the release of this internal material," Stessel said. "What I can say is these individuals had done nothing criminal, there were no warrants issued, were not wanted, and the material was not intended for public release. We were not contacted prior to the information being posted to the Internet."
Asked what he would have told Miller if she had reached out for comment or to confirm the information, Stessel said, "We would have likely declined comment, but we would have taken the opportunity to advise the reporter that it was routine, the kind of material that is shared internally with law enforcement every day and that doesn't necessarily mean there is anything of concern for the public and caution any reporter that the individuals here are not suspected of any criminal activity."
He stressed that many internal alerts are issued to police on areas of concern, many of which turn out to be nothing and that is why they are not given public airing.
"That's routine," he said. "It's the kind of Bolo that is shared within law enforcement every day. It was not shared publicly because it was not a crime, no warrant and no overt reason for public concern."
Veteran media observers and political journalists are criticizing the Republican Party's recent pullout of an upcoming NBC primary debate and its push to dictate terms of the event, with one journalist calling it an effort to "bully the press."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced last week that the party had withdrawn from the NBC debate set for February 26, 2016. He said the debate would still occur, but not on the network, adding it was in response to the recent CNBC debate that was allegedly "conducted in bad faith."
In recent days, some Republican presidential campaigns have begun circulating a letter of demands to the television networks for future debates, which include control over the "parity and integrity" of questions, graphics, and time allowed for opening and closing statements. Donald Trump is reportedly planning to negotiate on his own with network executives.
For media critics and veteran political reporters, such a move by the GOP is unacceptable and will lead to debates that are not true journalism or helpful to voters.
"It's not a way to run a debate," said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. "It's a way to present a candidate's talking points. A debate is meant to draw out what the candidates think about a range of issues, including where they differ. That's what journalists are meant to do. And while the questions and mock-superior tone of debate reporters is lamentably worthy of criticism, unworthy is the effort by candidates to intimidate journalists to lob softball questions or to ask, as some candidates have, if the reporters have ever voted in a Republican primary."
Marvin Kalb, former host of Meet the Press and a panelist for the 1984 general election debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale, agreed.
"It's political bravado," he said. "If the RNC wants to commit suicide they are free to do so. They need the networks, but they want them on their terms. The networks have the opportunity to stand tall on principle and stick to what they do best."
Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University and a former CNN White House correspondent, called such party demands "completely unreasonable."
"The negotiations should be done in such a way that citizens are put first, not candidates and not networks," he said.
He also said the RNC making such moves to retaliate for CNBC's debate is unfair: "It's wrong what the RNC is doing, it's responding to the pressure it's under from its base. They know NBC and MSNBC are independent from CNBC. If we want to be grown up about this we'll recognize that having 10 candidates at a time and a partisan audience further complicate the challenge to having a coherent rational conversation or debate."
David Zurawik, TV critic at The Baltimore Sun, said the debates have become such a ratings grab for networks that the revenue may make it hard for them to say no to candidate demands.
"This is a big deal, we are at a crucial point right now and maybe it's because Donald Trump is part of the mix and the audiences are exponentially larger and these debates are making so much money for these cable channels," he said. "Money changes everything. They are going to demand all kinds of stuff and if they get their way we will have nothing but campaign ads up at these podiums. Who are these debates supposed to serve? They are supposed to serve the public and I don't think they are if they go down this road."
Tim McGuire, a journalism chair at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, said the RNC's actions are bully tactics.
"Certainly the GOP is trying to bully the press but that's been going on since there were pols and reporters. The issue of approved questions is quite another matter," he said. "If candidates insist on approving questions, the press should not cover the debates -- at all."
Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, mirrored that view: "Obviously, it's a tremendous affront to the notion that the media are there to be independent arbiters and asking the questions that the people would ask, they are representatives of the voters."
He said if the candidates can dictate terms, "it loses all pretense of being a discussion that is determined by disinterested questions asked by knowledgeable moderators. It loses all of the spontaneity and all of the qualities of what is supposed to be illuminated. It's gone."
For Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former political editor at The Miami Herald, such actions will turn it into a "party showcase."
"If the GOP chooses the format and the moderators, this event will cease to be a 'debate,'" he said, later adding, "in that case, the networks should treat such a program in the same way that they treat infomercials -- as sponsored programming suitable only for broadcast in the dead of night."
Climate activists are calling on National Geographic to hire a public editor to keep tabs on its editorial approach following the magazine's purchase by a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Murdoch has repeatedly made scientifically inaccurate comments about climate change, and recently lamented "alarmist nonsense" on the issue.
The National Geographic Society and 21st Century Fox announced last month an expansion of their current partnership to include National Geographic's cable channels, its flagship magazine, and other digital and social media.
As National Geographic explained, "Under the $725-million deal, Fox, which currently holds a majority stake in National Geographic's cable channels, will own 73 percent of the new media company, called National Geographic Partners. The National Geographic Society will own 27 percent."
"We will now have the scale and reach to fulfill our mission long into the future," National Geographic Society CEO Gary E. Knell said at the time. "The Society's work will be the engine that feeds our content creation efforts, enabling us to share that work with even larger audiences and achieve more impact. It's a virtuous cycle."
In an interview with Media Matters shortly after the announcement of the deal, National Geographic editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg said she was "not concerned" about News Corp.'s history and its ties to Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets that routinely promote misinformation on climate change. "21st Century Fox is an enormously large creative global company that has lots of different properties operating underneath that umbrella," Goldberg said at the time. Goldberg also stressed that James Murdoch -- not his father Rupert -- is the head of 21st Century Fox. (The younger Murdoch was installed as CEO of 21st Century Fox in July, while Rupert is now executive co-chairman of 21st Century with his other son, Lachlan.)
While both National Geographic and 21st Century Fox have pledged that National Geographic will maintain its editorial independence, at least three climate advocacy groups are urging National Geographic to hire a public editor to keep watch over its editorial product and ensure it remains a science-based news outlet, especially on the issue of climate change.
Online petitions from Climate Truth, Common Cause, and SumOfUs have drawn thousands of signatures urging National Geographic to bring in an independent observer to keep watch. The petitions were launched online shortly after the deal with 21st Century Fox was announced in September.
"[Rupert] Murdoch has a troubling history of editorial meddling, and there's no measures in place to assure his denial of climate science won't taint National Geographic's historically excellent coverage," the Climate Truth petition, which has gathered more than 25,000 signatures, states.
Brant Olson, Campaign Director for Climate Truth, said a public editor would help get concerns from readers to the editors.
"There is pretty widespread concern in the press and among our members after the announcement of the deal that one of the world's most well-respected brands of science is coming under control of a man who has not been shy about saying he doesn't believe in climate change," Olson said. "Elsewhere, when we have had concerns about coverage of climate change, we have engaged their public editor."
Olson cited two issues that were recently addressed at other media outlets when public editors and ombudsmen were contacted: The New York Times' misuse of the phrase "climate skeptics"; and PBS member stations having oil billionaire David Koch on their boards.
"Having a public editor offers a forum for readers and others to discuss matters of editorial oversight and interference," Olson added. "And why not do that at National Geographic? Historically, National Geographic has been fantastic and we hope that will continue in the future."
The magazine's recent climate change issue, which was released online earlier this month, seems to take a fair approach, with stories on reducing carbon emissions, dangerous rising sea levels, and promoting wind and solar energy.
But not everyone is willing to take for granted that the climate change issue or the magazine's past climate coverage is a sign of things to come under Fox.
Common Cause Digital Campaign Organizer Jack Mumby said his group launched its petition for a public editor to help readers keep informed fairly.
"We believe that voters need a media ecosystem where scientific truth is accurately represented," he said. "We rely on a media that gives voters the information they need to cast their ballots. We want to make sure National Geographic does everything it can to make sure it remains a source of accurate information."
Noting its petition was posted in September, Mumby declares, "It will be up until the issue is resolved." He said the goal is to "make sure that the magazine is editorially independent, we want to hear what their plan is to make sure this change in ownership does not change the independent and science-based journalism voters rely on."
SumOfUs Senior Campaigner Katherine Tu also cited National Geographic's history of playing "a vital role in the fight against climate change," and expressed concern that "Murdoch has a well-known history of meddling with media outlets that he owns and could undermine National Geographic's historically excellent coverage."
More than 100,000 SumOfUs members have joined their campaign for a public editor, which Tu told Media Matters would protect the magazine's "independence" and "represent the interests of the public."
National Geographic says it has no plans to hire a public editor or ombudsman, claiming it deserves the benefit of the doubt and has no incentive to take a wrong turn in its climate coverage.
"We think our 127-year track record of science, research and storytelling in service illuminating the wonder, as well as the issues, of the planet speaks for itself, and find it interesting as well as kind of ironic that the petition was put forward the very week our all climate change issue was published," National Geographic Society Chief Communications Officer Betty Hudson said via email. "That said, we're very comfortable with the robust governance guidelines that National Geographic Partners has in place, and would repeat our shared belief that the essence of the value of the enterprise is ultimately connected to our brand integrity."
Hudson also referred to a statement the society issued to the petition groups after their online protests were posted, laying out how 21st Century Fox and National Geographic plan to maintain "editorial autonomy and mutual institutional respect":
National Geographic has had a nearly two decade long relationship with 21st Century Fox, and during that time has enjoyed editorial autonomy and mutual institutional respect, which we fully expect to continue going forward. The terms of the transaction include an expanded and specific governance framework designed to ensure that the content, publications and activities of NG Partners remain supportive of the mission of NGS and consistent with the National Geographic brand.
National Geographic Partners will be governed by an eight person board comprised of an equal number of representatives from the Society and 21CF. NGS President and CEO Gary Knell will serve as first Chair, a role that will alternate annually. Under the trademark license, NG Partners must adhere to a 300+ page Standards Guide that articulates the principles of the National Geographic Society as well as its content vision. The Society has the right to review and approve the NGPartners annual content plan as well as the annual marketing plan, and has the right to remove the Chief Executive Officer and/or the Chief Marketing Officer should brand integrity be compromised.
But all involved have spoken to the shared belief that the very value of the enterprise in which the Partners are investing resides in that brand integrity, and anything that undermines or dilutes that integrity damages the institution, as well as the investment.