Several prominent former Newsweek journalists criticized the error-ridden recent cover story by playwright David Mamet that sought to discredit attempts to strengthen gun laws.
Some former staffers point to the Mamet piece as evidence that the magazine, which recently ceased print publication, isn't what it used to be, noting it seems to be seeking more readers through provocative pieces rather than in-depth journalism.
A Media Matters review of the piece found glaring factual mistakes related to background checks, assault weapons, and U.S. Secret Service protection for President Obama's family.
Michael Tomasky and Andrew Sullivan, both of whom write for The Daily Beast, Newsweek's online sibling, also found fault with the article. Tomasky called Mamet's piece a "bizarre rant" while Sullivan stated "Mamet's broad generalizations are empirically wrong and need to be corrected."
In comments to Media Matters, former Newsweek scribes were strongly critical of the poor reporting and accuracy of the piece.
Howard Fineman, who spent three decades at Newsweek covering politics and national issues and is now editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, said the piece does not reflect the Newsweek he once knew.
"I don't think it's what the Newsweek that I knew would have done with its cover space or its cover story, on many levels," Fineman said after reviewing the material involved. "But if they want to go that direction with it, that's up to them...So of course they should stick to basic journalistic rules when they do. Is it the Newsweek that I worked for? No."
He later stressed the need for accuracy and fact-checking, especially when outsiders are writing for the publication.
"Any news operation should stick to the facts and if they haven't in this case, they should explain why they didn't, or correct the record if they need to," he said. "There probably were times when we invited outsiders to write and put outsiders on the cover, I think, I doubt that Newsweek, just politically in the old days, Newsweek would have invited an outsider to denounce gun control. But again, somebody else bought the name and they can do whatever they want with under its banner, but they need to stick to basic journalistic principles when they do, it seems to me."
Asked about the impact such uncorrected stories can have on future research when the magazine is used as source material, Fineman said that should be taken into consideration.
"I think you raise a very good point, let's hope that they honor the fact that Newsweek has been a source for research and information and credible reporting for almost 80 years and they should keep it that way, they should respect that history," he said. "And I'm sure they should and I am sure they will because I think Tina is a very good journalist. I think Tina Brown is very creative and very good and I am sure she doesn't like to get things wrong."
The strange story of Joseph Farah and the conservative Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast has taken a bizarre turn, with the WorldNetDaily birther conspirator returning to the breakfast's list of distinguished guests and its organizer reportedly repudiating her repeated statements to Media Matters that she never intended to give Farah a leading role.
Rev. Merrie Turner, the top organizer for the January 21 event, told Media Matters on January 9 that Farah had been incorrectly listed as a program guest and she would seek to remove him.
"He was not invited to be involved," she said at that time in a phone interview. "He had permission to write an article about it and it's gone much further than that. That was the initial intent, I never met him before and I didn't know anything about his efforts."
Asked then if she would seek to keep Farah, who as CEO of WorldNetDaily has been the driving force behind conspiracies about President Obama's birth certificate, from being among the event's official speakers, Turner said, "Absolutely, this is not going to by any means be an event for anything being said negative about the president, that will not be allowed."
Turner also told Media Matters, "The fact that [Farah] actually ended up on some of the literature so far was not run by me, it was, it came through [keynote speaker] Mr. [Jonathan] Cahn, who is his friend. He is not on the speakers bureau... it was an error." Turner also claimed that she had never met Farah.
Since the Media Matters story ran, Turner has made no effort to contact Media Matters with any complaint about the report or any requests for corrections or clarifications about her comments.
On January 16, however, WorldNetDaily posted an article that questioned the story, claiming Turner was disavowing the comments she made to Media Matters.
Civil rights leaders and advocates sharply criticized conservative commentator Ted Nugent for comparing gun owners to civil rights icon Rosa Parks, calling his views everything from a "very disingenuous comparison" to "offensive" and a "far-fetched fantasy."
Nugent, a Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member, claimed earlier this week that gun owners will become the next Rosa Parks and offer nonviolent resistance if President Obama issues an executive order confiscating guns.
While Vice President Joe Biden has suggested that the White House could take executive action on guns, the administration has not indicated that such action would involve gun confiscation. The Obama administration has reportedly considered executive action in the past to ensure more mental illness records were included in FBI background checks for gun sales.
During an interview with WorldNetDaily, Nugent predicted that if an "actual confiscatory directive" came from Obama, then "heroes of the law enforcement will defy this order." Nonetheless, he worried that there were "enough soulless sheep within our government who would act on such an illegal order" and predicted peaceful resistance from "law-abiding gun owners," who would "be the Rosa Parks and we will sit down on the front seat of the bus."
This did not sit well with top civil rights advocates and organizations who saw Nugent's words as an insult to Parks' memory.
"It's offensive to make a comparison between the right of black people to sit on the front of a bus and the right of gun owners to own guns," said Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee in the 1960s and the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Rosa Parks was protesting against a system that discriminated against her because of her race and color and Nugent is fantasizing about an alleged threatened right to carry a gun, to own a gun. As the story said, there's no hint that the administration has gun confiscation in mind. This is paranoia on the part of gun owners and the rights aren't the same either."
Damien Conner, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group whose first president was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., offered similar outrage.
"It's a very poor analogy and contrast to draw on his part," Conner said of Nugent in an interview with Media Matters. "Given that Rosa Parks and Dr. King and many of the others who worked with them were anti-violent, against violence and they were actually non-violent, they touted a non-violent philosophy for social change. In that respect, I think that it's a poor analogy and kind of a poor contrast to make that connection between Rosa Parks and gun owners, especially when we're dealing with a really violent culture obviously when we see multiple shootings happening in our country particularly in schools."
WorldNetDaily founder and birther conspiracy theorist Joseph Farah will not be among the speakers at a right-wing Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast according to the event's organizer, who criticized his work and said he had been incorrectly listed as a featured guest. It's surprising that Farah is considered too toxic to speak at the event -- which his publication had promoted -- considering the history of its organizer and other reported attendees.
Rev. Merrie Turner, the conservative pastor who is hosting the event and says she has done so since 1993, told Media Matters, "It is against my beliefs to be openly targeting someone like the president of our country, we have enough enemies outside the country."
Turner said Farah's name had been wrongly listed among the speakers headlining the January 21 event and would be removed: "It was incorrectly picked up by our staff, I am going to be correcting that." Farah's website had also reported that he was a "distinguished guest" who was "scheduled to appear at the breakfast to lead prayers for the nation."
Farah is the founder and CEO of WorldNetDaily, the conservative website that has been the driving force behind conspiracies about President Obama's birth certificate and a wide range of other outlandish and incendiary theories.
Prayer breakfast materials still list Rep. Michelle Bachmann and televangelist Pat Robertson as "Special Guests & Speakers" for the event. But Farah's name has been removed since Media Matters contacted the organization. His name still appears in a press release announcing the event, and a flyer linked to on the prayer breakfast site also features Farah's name and picture.
Asked if she was aware of Farah's past anti-Obama work, Turner said, "I was not, honestly."
"He was not invited to be involved. He had permission to write an article about it and it's gone much further than that. That was the initial intent, I never met him before and I didn't know anything about his efforts," Rev. Turner added.
Farah and Bachmann's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Asked if she will seek to keep Farah from being among the official speakers, Turner said, "Absolutely, this is not going to by any means be an event for anything being said negative about the president, that will not be allowed."
Despite Turner's suggestion that Farah didn't fit the theme of the event due to his history of anti-Obama commentary, both Turner and other scheduled speakers have their own history of outrageous remarks.
Former FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey says the conservative outlet that helped launch the Tea Party paid Glenn Beck at least $1 million last year to fundraise for the organization, an arrangement he said provided "too little value" for the money.
"The arrangement was simply FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck money and Glenn Beck said nice things about FreedomWorks on the air," Armey, the former House majority leader, told Media Matters Friday. "I saw that a million dollars went to Beck this past year, that was the annual expenditure."
Armey, who left the organization this past fall after a dispute over its internal operations, said a similar arrangement was also in place with Rush Limbaugh, but did not know the exact financial details.
"I put it down now as basically as paid advertising for FreedomWorks by Beck," Armey said, calling it a mistake.
Media Matters contacted Armey after Mother Jones magazine published a leaked copy of the document FreedomWorks prepared for its Winter 2012 board of directors meeting. That document alluded to "embedded media programs" for fundraising that featured the two conservative radio hosts and claimed that fundraising efforts featuring them raised nearly $1.3 million in 2012, not including event ticket sales from third-party vendors.
From the leaked FreedomWorks document:
Mother Jones further reported that the organization "plans to continue its financial support for Glenn Beck's media enterprise, including sharing a TV studio with and leasing office space to the Washington bureau of TheBlaze, Beck's website and TV network."
Armey said he was told of the Beck arrangement when it first began, but that it would only cost the organization about $250,000 a year. "Once that was approved by the trustees, it then took on a life of its own, it got bigger than we understood it to be. All of a sudden it was we are paying Limbaugh as well as Beck." FreedomWorks did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Reporters at The Hill newspaper are levying tough criticism at the publication's columnist Dick Morris following recent outlandish predictions that caused Fox News to restrict his time on the air.
"I think everyone at The Hill views him the way that people outside The Hill do," said one staffer. "He is a laughingstock, especially the way he acted in this last election."
"I don't think people take his column seriously," added another. "What did he predict, 300 electoral votes for Romney?"
New York magazine's Gabe Sherman reported December 4 that segments involving Morris and fellow Fox News political analyst Karl Rove would now require approval from a top network executive. He explained of Morris:
Inside Fox News, Morris's Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line. At a rehearsal on the Saturday before the election, according to a source, anchor Megyn Kelly chuckled when she relayed to colleagues what someone had told her: "I really like Dick Morris. He's always wrong but he makes me feel good."
Morris had used his Fox perch to offer an array of outlandish predictions, including repeated claims that Mitt Romney would win the presidency by a "landslide," Republicans would pick up 10 Senate seats, and stating it was "very possible" President Obama would drop out of the race altogether.
The commentator's record at The Hill was not much better, using his widely-mocked final columns before Election Day to predict a Romney "landslide" of more than 5 points in the popular vote and several GOP Senate victories.
But while Fox News - famously lacking accountability - has decided to reduce Morris' appearances in response to his embarrassing commentary, The Hill appears to be taking no such steps. And that concerns some of the paper's reporters who worry that his work adversely affects their brand.
"If it was up to me, I would not have him as a columnist, but it's not up to me," said a third reporter. "His columns are wildly outlandish. I think that he, as evidenced by this [interview], he probably brings more negative attention than positive to the paper."
It's been just about a year since developer and financier Douglas Manchester bought the San Diego Union-Tribune, the largest newspaper in the city. For some staffers and media observers, it's been the worst year in the paper's eight-decade history.
Manchester, a major Republican Party contributor, and U-T CEO John Lynch have overhauled the once-respected daily into what many consider a front for Manchester's "cheerleading" for business interests and right-wing politics.
"People are so embarrassed by the [newspaper] that they are dropping their subscriptions," says Don Bauder, who spent 30 years at the Union-Tribune from 1973 to 2003, which included stints as financial editor and columnist. "Around town it is an embarrassment."
A group headed by Manchester purchased the Union-Tribune in November 2011, just a few years after the paper won two Pulitzer prizes. He took over operations in January 2012 and immediately put his mark on the paper, changing the name to U-T San Diego to promote all of its news outlets beyond print, hiring Lynch, a longtime friend and local radio station owner, as his CEO, and placing a front-page editorial on the print edition that all but vowed to work for big business.
Such changes have come at a cost. David Carr of The New York Times, among the most respected media columnists in the country, wrote in June that the Union-Tribune "often seems like a brochure for [Manchester's] various interests." He added that any pretense of protecting news coverage from the new ownership's editorial views "was obliterated from the start."
The paper's decline has continued apace since Carr published his piece. In the run up to November's elections, the paper took its support for a Republican mayoral candidate to unusual lengths with front page editorials, while also disparaging President Obama via opinion pieces that featured vitriol usually confined to Internet fever swamps.
From its outlandish front page editorializing for a new football stadium and waterfront development (which would indirectly benefit Manchester's bank account) to its top executive's threatening email to a public official, the newspaper is considered by many staff and local media experts to have fallen into an ethical morass.
And that worry has grown worse in the past few months as Manchester bought the North County Times, a smaller daily in nearby Escondido, CA, which was considered a necessary rival to the Union-Tribune.
"The only way the paper will survive is if people trust it to give the news of their community," said Dean Nelson, director of journalism at nearby Point Loma Nazarene University, who also writes for The New York Times and The Boston Globe. "If people get the sense it is just whoring for the leadership's business enterprises, they are done.
Two former network news presidents offered criticism following the revelation that a Fox News contributor had urged Gen. David Petraeus to run for president at the request of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
"That just isn't what a news guy does," said Michael Gartner, who served as NBC News president from 1988 to 1993. "Twenty years ago it wouldn't have been done. But that was a different era."
The critiques come in response to a December 4 report from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward that Fox News contributor K.T. McFarland, on instructions from Ailes, had urged Petraeus to run for president during a recorded 2011 interview in Afghanistan.
McFarland suggested that Ailes would leave Fox to work on Petraeus' campaign and that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch might "bankroll" the effort.
During the same interview with Petraeus, McFarland said of Ailes, "he loves you, and everybody at Fox loves you. So what I'm supposed to say directly from him to you, through me, is first of all, is there anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?"
Media critics have nonetheless responded harshly to the McFarland-Petraeus interview, with Dylan Byers at Politico writing that no other major news outlet would tolerate such behavior from their top executive, and Erik Wemple at the Post writing that it indicated "Fox News is corrupt."
David Westin, who served as ABC News president from 1997 to 2010, also offered concern about the exchange to Media Matters.
While Westin said he did not know the details of Ailes' direct involvement, and noted Ailes had told Bob Woodward his comments to MacFarland had been "more of a joke" than a serious request, Westin did offer criticism of such communications between news person and news subject.
"The report had someone from Fox News, now it was a contributor, not on staff, but a contributor, saying things to a subject of news coverage that normally a journalist wouldn't say," Westin said late December 4. "You need to keep some distance from the people you're covering and you don't want to be partial for them or against them either way, so what I read would be something that normally a journalist wouldn't do."
After inquiries from Media Matters, Politico has updated an op-ed on energy policy authored by former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) to acknowledge his role at a law firm that represents energy companies that would benefit from the policies he supported in the piece.
In his November 4 op-ed, Stupak argued that as part of a "grand bargain," congressional proposals "must include significant segments in regard to energy consumption and our environmental footprint," including an increased focus on "clean coal," natural gas, and renewable energy sources.
Politico originally identified Stupak as only "a Democrat from Michigan" who "served in Congress on the House Energy and Commerce Committee." But Stupak is currently a partner at Venable LLP, where he represents clients in the energy industry. Venable's energy practice includes clients in the "clean coal," natural gas, and renewables sectors.
Asked for comment on why Stupak's conflict of interest had not been disclosed, Politico managing editor Bill Nichols responded, "It's a totally fair point; we should have disclosed that to readers and we'll update the piece to do that and acknowledge the error." Nichols also said Politico plans to run a correction in Monday's print edition.
Stupak's original description from Politico has since been replaced with the following text: "CORRECTION: An earlier version of this opinion piece failed to note that Bart Stupak is employed by a law firm that does work in the energy sector."
Current and former staffers at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune are expressing concern at reports Friday that News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch might be interested in buying the papers from Tribune Company, with one veteran Times newsman calling the notion "horrifying beyond belief."
While many told Media Matters they are worried about Murdoch's potential ownership due to concerns over his ethical history and conservative ideology, others are so desperate to give their bankrupt papers financial stability that they are reluctantly willing to give him a chance.
"I have heard people express concerns of various kinds," said one current Los Angeles Times' journalist and former newsroom editor who requested anonymity. "He invests in the properties, he has not downsized the [Wall Street] Journal. The one concern, fear of the unknown, is, well, the L.A. Times still has a substantial foreign staff, a substantial national staff and a substantial Washington bureau. What happens to those?"
One fear is that the takeover could spark an exodus of staff, which occurred at The Wall Street Journal after Murdoch purchased parent company Dow Jones in late 2007. Dozens of the paper's best journalists left, citing a perceived change in the paper's focus and at times an increased push for more business-friendly stories.
Several current and former Tribune Company staffers recalled what happened when Murdoch bought the rival Chicago Sun-Times in 1984, later selling it in 1986. The sale sparked the departure of many Sun-Times staffers, including the legendary columnist Mike Royko, who vowed not to work for Murdoch and left for the Tribune.
"If you look at the history of what he did across the street at the Sun-Times, that is a shot that the paper never fully recovered from," said a current Tribune staffer who sought anonymity. "The sentiment of people is 'we want to keep doing the work we do,' owners do what they want to do with the paper."
Speculation about a Murdoch purchase of the Times, Tribune, or perhaps other Tribune Company properties began last week with an October 19 Los Angeles Times report that he was interested. It cited "two ranking News Corp. executives and others familiar with the situation," indicated talks were in the "early stages," and stated a takeover could occur by the end of 2012.
News Corp. has denied the report, but the Los Angeles Times stands by its story.
A News Corp. purchase of the Times and the Tribune would give Murdoch control of four of the top 10 U.S. newspapers by circulation and, as the Times notes, "strong footholds in the nation's three largest media markets."
The possible purchase by Murdoch comes at a time when Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and 10 other daily newspapers, as well as 23 television stations and other media properties, is emerging from a bruising four-year bankruptcy battle that has already cut its revenues and staff.
The financial problems stem from the 2007 purchase of Tribune Company by real estate magnate Sam Zell, who paid for the takeover through a leveraged buyout that created $13 million in debt. The company filed for bankruptcy a year later, a move that remains unresolved as creditors battle over a resolution plan in court.
The thought that Murdoch could take over some or all of the company's properties drew concern among current and former staffers.