CBS Sunday morning political talk show Face The Nation with Bob Schieffer is knocking down right-wing media claims that an interview with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was edited for political reasons, explaining that the one-on-one just went too long and was also shortened for breaking news on the Maryland mall shooting.
"This was not uncommon at all, this was a quick turnaround pre-tape," a Face the Nation spokesperson told Media Matters Monday, explaining that the interview was slated for seven minutes and ran long. "That just happened to be at the end so it was easy to trim for turnaround. And we had breaking news of the [Maryland mall] shooter's name ... We had already gone overtime, that is pretty much the gist of it."
But some on the right found conspiracy in the routine interview editing, suggesting that the cuts had been made to protect President Obama from attacks Cruz levied in the deleted portion.
Newsbusters posted an item after examining the full version of the interview posted on Cruz's YouTube page, claiming that Cruz "was the victim of editing by CBS" because "the senator's comments surrounding President Obama's 'abuse of power' were edited from the program."
During the deleted segment, Cruz attacked President Obama's handling of the Benghazi attacks and promoted the conservative conspiracy that the administration had indicted conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza because of his film that criticized the president.
While Newsbusters acknowledged that "it is certainly plausible that CBS edited out the ending of the Cruz interview for time," they nonetheless called the editing "highly inappropriate and unusual" and wrote that the network "should explain why it felt it appropriate to edit out a high profile senator accusing the President of the United States of targeting his politcal [sic] enemies."
None of those sites, however, apparently sought to ask CBS or Face The Nation why the edit occurred. Asked if it was done to censor Cruz's Obama criticism, the spokesperson stated: "There was no editorial purpose."
Face The Nation said editing such interviews is common.
"It just varies on topic and the availability of the person," the spokesperson said. "We also had breaking news, too. There's a lot to get into that first half hour."
Despite Fox News' best efforts to hamper it, Gabriel Sherman's new biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes has been the focus of widespread media attention this week.
Sherman's The Loudest Voice In The Room paints an in-depth look at Ailes as someone who operates Fox News more as a political entity than a journalistic one.
In a wide-raging interview Tuesday with Media Matters, Sherman discussed his quest to "show all sides" of Ailes; how Fox News has morphed into "Ailes' personal megaphone"; how the network has "become damaging to the Republican brand"; the "political campaign" Fox has waged to distract people from the book; and the Fox chief's place in history as "one of the great American hucksters."
Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
You said on Reliable Sources that Fox News is a political operation that employs journalists. I think that's an interesting description. How have you seen that hurt its credibility, and can it really operate that way?
Well I think that over time things have changed. In the early years of Fox, the blueprint was more tabloid and populist than baldly conservative but as Ailes has amassed more power, the true nature of the organization he was building has come into clearer view and it's become harder and harder for the network to maintain the fiction of "fair and balanced." And the model, the idea for Fox was always to have the culture of a political campaign. Ailes runs it like a political campaign. There's a secret organization, a secret group of executives inside the network called the G8, which is a riff off of the G6, which was from the George H.W. Bush campaign. So you see how Ailes has brought the culture of a political campaign into the news business. And now, in the Obama years, the last -- since 2008, we've seen Fox has sort of come into full bloom. And it's revealed itself for what it is, which is that it's Roger Ailes' personal megaphone.
And did that hurt its efforts to complete its mission, or did that not really affect it for the people that watch Fox?
Well the audience is very -- it's still the most dominant cable network. The audience is loyal. There's been some dips, especially after the 2012 election. I think one of the most important developments is that as Fox has fully evolved and emerged as Ailes' megaphone, it has hurt Fox's ability to win national elections. From 2000 til 2008, Fox was able to really cheerlead and be a platform for the Bush White House. But as the network has become more extreme, it's become harder and harder to resonate -- it's become damaging to the Republican brand. And that's where you see the limits of Ailes' power. 2012 was a very revealing moment of that.
The Republican Party has leadership problems. Aside from Chris Christie, just in general, losing the last two presidential elections and the other Republican Party problems, how much do they hurt Ailes and Fox, and their effectiveness? Or how much did Ailes and Fox hurt the Republican Party and its efforts, as you said, to win elections?
I would put the responsibility on Ailes and the network he runs because what makes the best television is the most conflict, some of the most extreme voices are the ones that break through on Fox and as his network has effectively become the brand of the Republican Party, you know I said that it has surpassed the Republican Party. So the brand of Fox has become the brand of the Republican Party and that has hurt the party on issues from immigration, on issues of marriage equality, on issues of climate change, and spending.
The idea that in one meeting Ailes said that Obama hates capitalism. Now you could have a lot of -- there can be a debate about the economic policy of this administration, but the notion that they hate capitalism just doesn't -- it's just not supported by the observable reality. I mean Obama has sort of governed as a pretty conventional Democrat, down the middle Democrat with some liberal views. But the idea that he is -- if you believe that Obama, that Ailes defines, is this extreme, statist, you know, radical politician, and that brand is too extreme for the Republican Party to win national majorities.
The New York Times Book Review has run an advertisement for a biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes during each of the past two weekends.
The ads seem to be an attempt to counter the Sherman book, stating that Chafets' book is "based on the only exclusive interview with Ailes" and that "Chafets book captures the real ROGER AILES and the true inside story of FOX News."
It's unclear who is behind the ads. But the ads were reportedly placed by Ailes' "personal PR consultant."
The ads are somewhat unusual in that they do not mention the publisher, Penguin Book's conservative imprint Sentinel, and are vague about who paid for the placement. A Times spokesperson revealed that the ads were placed, not by Penguin, but by the Dilenschneider Group, a public relations firm, as Huffington Post's Michael Calderone previously reported.
As Calderone notes, the firm's founder, Robert Dilenschneider, is described in Sherman's book as Ailes' "personal PR consultant."
The Dilenschneider Group has so far failed to respond to inquiries about the ads, while Chafets' publicist at Penguin declined to comment on it, stating via email, "I won't be commenting on the ad to anyone. I'm sorry I'm not more helpful."
Another unusual element of the story is that both books are published by divisions of the same company, Penguin Random House, formed when the two prominent publishers merged last year. Sherman's book is published through Random House, while Chafets' is a project of the Penguin/Sentinel division.
For one division to run a high-profile ad indirectly attacking another division's book on the same subject right before that book's release seems odd.
In addition, while there is no ad in the Book Review for Sherman's book, there is a lengthy review of Sherman's biography in the weekly book section.
The entwined history of the Chafets and Sherman biographies, as well as the firm that placed them, may present clues as to the source of the ads.
Ailes reportedly agreed to cooperate with Chafets as a way of pre-empting Sherman's biography; his network gave the relentlessly positive result heavy coverage following its release.
The network reportedly fired its top PR executive who they were worried was leaking information to Sherman; Fox personalities publicly attacked the New York reporter, allegedly at a top network executive's behest; and the network threw roadblocks in the way of Sherman's attempts to speak with Fox employees and even threatened to sue him.
Fox News did not respond to inquiries about any involvement by Ailes or the network in the Chafets ad. Chafets did not respond to requests for comment.
After revealing this week that its reader representative had departed, The Washington Post confirmed Friday that there will be a replacement. But the paper made clear that it will not revive the popular ombudsman position that the reader representative supplanted last year.
"We will not bring the ombudsman back," Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said in an email. "We will continue to have someone in a reader rep role." He did not indicate when that person would be named.
Hiatt said that while ombudsmen have made valuable contributions to the paper in the past, "we are in an era when we have to make difficult choices."
The decision comes as former Post ombudsmen and others who hold similar jobs elsewhere urge the paper to bring back the ombudsman job, citing the need for independent reviews.
"I think that's a mistake," Patrick Pexton, the last Post ombudsman, said this week about the prospect of not reviving the ombudsman job. "I said so when I left in March. I understand the arguments against having an ombudsman, but I don't agree with them."
The newspaper allowed Pexton's contract to expire at the end of February 2013, ending the paper's decades-long tradition of employing an independent contracted ombudsman to critique the paper's reporting. Hiatt subsequently announced that the position would be replaced by a reader representative, a part-time position with less independence and more focus on reader views than internal investigation.
He named Doug Feaver, a former Post editor who had retired in 2006, to the position. But this week Hiatt confirmed to Media Matters that Feaver had left the paper earlier than he was scheduled.
As reader representative, Feaver reported to Hiatt and wrote columns that consisted mostly of reader comments about news issues, not the sort of commentaries on Post reporting that readers had come to expect from the paper's ombudsman.
At the time of Feaver's appointment, Hiatt promised that Feaver would be able to fill the ombudsman's shoes.
"While it's true Doug doesn't have the two-year contract that we traditionally gave ombudsman, to me that's not the main difference," Hiatt told Media Matters at the time. "Nobody who knows him will doubt that he will be totally independent in his judgment and that he will hold us all properly accountable."
This accountability was absent from Feaver's published works. Of his 28 blog posts since April 5, 2013, 26 consisted of Feaver aggregating reader comments from Post articles and columns without additional commentary. The other two consisted of a piece declaring the paper free of any conflict of interest regarding the Post's Jerusalem correspondent and Feaver's first post chronicling the initial inquiries he had received in his position ("the biggest issue to come to my attention was the disappearing print button on the article pages of washingtonpost.com").
"I looked at almost all of his blog posts," Pexton said. "Reading between the lines it seems his instructions probably included, or he chose himself, not to make any judgments and I think the key thing an ombudsman does is make judgments."
Asked about Feaver's work at the paper earlier in the week, Hiatt said that in addition to his public platform, Feaver's job consisted of privately channeling reader questions and concerns to others at the paper ensuring they are responded to properly.
Pexton said bringing back the ombudsman position would have given the Post "a little bit more credibility, they'd have a go-to source for readers if they are upset or concerned. I think that in this era of engagement, having a full time person engage with readers and the staff is crucial, it makes you more responsive, it makes you more credible."
Andy Alexander, another former Post ombudsman, agreed that Feaver's job description did not go far enough.
"What Doug did, even if he did it very well, was far different than what a truly independent ombudsman would do," Alexander said. "Anyone who served in the role of Post ombudsman would tell you that its value was that you were truly independent and you were empowered to really cover the Post as a beat. You functioned as a reporter who independently investigated the Post. A truly independent ombudsman is empowered to go into the newsroom and investigate, it goes beyond saying what is on readers' minds.
Alexander pointed to new Post owner Jeff Bezos as someone who could make a difference, stating, "you have a new owner who has deep pockets. I would encourage them to re-instate the position of an independent ombudsman, I think that is the best way to represent the interests of readers."
Asked Friday what he thought of the push for the ombudsman to return, Hiatt portrayed the position as a valuable asset, but nonetheless a luxury at a difficult time for the newspaper business.
"I understand why Andy, Pat and others feel the way they do. I think our readers gained a lot from their contributions," Hiatt told Media Matters in an email. "But we are in an era when we have to make difficult choices. With two reporters inside the Post covering the media, including the Post, full time and many more critics writing about us from the outside, this seemed to us like one of the difficult decisions that make sense."
Hiatt's suggestion that the decision was made at least in part for business reasons appears to contradict his statements in March 2013 that the termination of the ombudsman was "not a financial issue" but rather a deliberate move to reinvent the position for the benefit of readers.
Less than a year after taking the newly created post of reader representative at The Washington Post, Doug Feaver has left the paper, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt confirmed Wednesday.
Feaver, who had served in other positions at the Post but retired in 2006, took the part-time job in March 2013. That announcement came one month after the paper had eliminated its ombudsman position, a mainstay at the paper for more than 40 years.
The Post's elimination of the ombudsman drew criticism at the time from former holders of the position and other media observers, who said that the ombudsman served a vital purpose as the only independent communication between readers and the newsroom.
Unlike the ombudsmen, who worked on two year contracts, the reader representative was a paid staff member who served at the pleasure of the editorial page editor.
In an email to Media Matters, Hiatt confirmed the departure of Feaver, saying that the reader representative had agreed to work for one year but had "moved the departure date up a bit for personal reasons."
Hiatt added that the Post is still considering whether or how Feaver will be replaced, saying that Feaver's deputy, Alison Coglianese "may assume the role."
Feaver, who had served in other positions at the Post prior to his appointment, took the job in March 2013, one month after the paper had eliminated the popular ombudsman position. Feaver's last column ran December 5.
Feaver's appointment drew criticism at the time because it followed the elimination of the ombudsman, a contracted position that was given more independence to critique the paper.
A 60 Minutes segment claiming that federal government efforts to encourage clean tech -- the production and use of alternative energy sources and more efficient technology -- have failed drew some harsh disagreement among reporters covering the energy beat who say the negative report ignored many successes and focused too narrowly on a few unsuccessful companies.
Correspondent Lesley Stahl concluded in the January 5 piece that while stimulus spending including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program was invested in the industry, "instead of breakthroughs, the [clean tech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops."
Stahl's segment has drawn criticism from observers who have noted that 60 Minutes focused on Solyndra and a handful of other failed companies whose loans made up a tiny fraction of federal loans and ignored the clean tech breakthroughs and the explosive growth in the sector that have occurred.
The report was only the latest in a series of 60 Minutes reports that have been subject to stinging critiques in recent months. The program has been excoriated by media observers and accused of "check[ing] its journalistic skepticism at the door" by The New York Times.
Journalists who cover the same energy industries took issue with the clean tech report in interviews with Media Matters, noting that it did not take into account the long-term development needs of clean energy and the many ongoing successes.
"I thought it was a pretty poor piece of journalism, frankly," said David Baker, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering clean tech and energy. "There are areas of this field that are hurting, but there are others that are doing very, very well."
Baker added that 60 Minutes' error begins with its conception of the story: "The problem really begins when you just talk about clean tech as one thing - it is a bunch of things and a lot of it is energy generation and energy use. In a report like this where you look at clean tech in general, you have difficulty because it is not the same for each sector."
"The other biggest problem with the CBS story is it looked at some of the flops and really seemed to turn a blind eye to the success," he continued. "That is one of the most fundamental mistakes Lesley Stahl and her producers make."
Baker pointed to several west coast examples of successes, including the recently created California Solar Ranch, the largest solar plant in the nation that went online late last year.
"We are going to have a huge amount of power going on the grid from solar," Baker explained. "Some of those projects were funded in part through the Department of Energy loan program, the same one that funded Solyndra."
Following reports that firearms industry trade magazine Guns & Ammo yielded to advertiser pressure when it fired a columnist for arguing that Second Amendment rights are subject to regulation, editors at trade magazines that cover other industries are speaking out against such a response, stressing the need for such publications to be independent.
Guns & Ammo fired gun journalist Dick Metcalf after he wrote a piece for the December 2013 edition of the magazine arguing that, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be."
According to The New York Times, Metcalf's column caused two "major gun manufacturers" to threaten to pull advertising support from Guns & Ammo publisher Intermedia Outdoors (IMO) if Metcalf wasn't fired. (IMO is the publisher of 15 sportsman themed magazines and owns The Sportsman Channel, which is known for its Ted Nugent hunting specials and airs the National Rifle Association's daily news show.)
Jim Bequette, the editor who approved Metcalf's column, also apologized to readers and resigned.
Metcalf's firing highlights one of the key challenges that niche trade publications face. While all news outlets have to make sure their ad dollars keep coming in, those who cover specific industries and narrow areas of interest often feel even greater pressure.
That pressure requires trade journalists to manage a balancing act that is paramount to keeping journalistic ethics and reader trust solid. Even if you are reporting for a smaller audience about a specific industry or area of interest, your credibility needs to be as unyielding as any other news outlet.
Perhaps more so because trade magazines in many areas are often the only outlet for relevant news about a specific business or niche interest.
"Writing for a trade magazine can occasionally be tricky, because you're in a unique position: You run the risk of potentially upsetting an advertiser by writing something that they could find objectionable," said Shawn Moynihan, executive managing editor at National Underwriter, Property & Casualty, which covers property and casualty insurance issues. "The truth is the truth, though, for better or worse, and that's your job -- to report it. To do less would violate the trust your readers place in you."
Fox News' assertion that a New York Times reporter who was at the scene of the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound at Benghazi, Libya, should have alerted authorities is drawing harsh criticism from veterans of war coverage who say the critique demonstrates a lack of understanding about the role of journalists.
The comments came in reaction to a lengthy series published December 28 by the Times. The series, authored by Mideast Correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick with additional reporting from journalists in Benghazi and Cairo, refutes many of the claims about the attack that conservatives have used to portray it as a scandal for the Obama administration.
Notably, the piece reveals that a Libyan journalist working for the Times was present during the event, when dozens of heavily-armed Libyans attacked the U.S. compound and set it on fire. Some of the attackers told the reporter and other onlookers that they were acting in response to an anti-Islam video that had been posted on YouTube.
Fox and Friends co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy responded to this revelation -- which undermined months of Fox News claims that the video had played no role in the attack -- by attacking the Times reporter who had been present.
"[T]he question comes to mind," said Kilmeade, "is, okay, if you have a reporter at the scene and you know Americans are in danger and you are working for The New York Times. Did you, I don't know, have a sat[ellite] phone? Number one. Number two, did you use that sat phone to call in help or announce what was happening?"
"He probably had a phone, probably had a sat phone" Doocy agreed during a later segment. "That would have been the perfect time to call in for help. Did they?"
Kirkpatrick did not respond to Media Matters' requests for comment on the Fox hosts' views, but Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson said in an email, "This is just Fox being Fox" and called such claims "ridiculous."
War reporters and groups that represent them say that the Fox critique shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the role of journalism, particularly during dangerous conflicts.
"When you're in the middle of a riot or an attack like that, first of all, it is not a reporter's job to call the authorities and he would have to assume the authorities know about it. It seems so bizarre," said Josh Meyer, director of education and outreach for the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative and a former Los Angeles Times national security reporter who has reported from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
As the consequences for 60 Minutes' botched story on Benghazi continue to unfold, it's unclear whether the apparent charlatan at the center of that report will face punishment from the publisher of his book.
After the October 27 segment aired, it was revealed that Dylan Davies, the supposed eyewitness featured in the story, had given conflicting accounts of his actions the night of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi. CBS News eventually pulled the segment and announced after an internal review that correspondent Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan would be taking a leave of absence from 60 Minutes.
But the 60 Minutes segment wasn't the only publicity boost CBS Corporation gave to Davies' story. Two days after the 60 Minutes report aired, Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions released The Embassy House, a book featuring Davies' dubious account.
While Threshold pulled the book from shelves shortly after CBS retracted its segment, the publisher has not revealed any action it plans to take against Davies to recoup costs or damages from his apparent lies. Requests for comment have been ignored.
But book publishing veterans, including several attorneys who handle such cases, said Threshold's options are clear according to traditional author agreements. They admit, however, that the publisher may have trouble actually collecting any damages.
"One of the important elements in a book publishing contract is a clause called representations and warranties, a list of promises and guarantees that an author makes to the publisher. These are very standard -- the customary assurances that the author gives is that the work is original and does not infringe on copyright," said Jonathan Kirsch, a publishing attorney based in Los Angeles. "Some publishers are smart enough or have lawyers who are smart enough to include additional assurances that the book is true, accurate, and based on sound research."
Kirsch added, "If you had a contract where the representation and warranties clause didn't include these assurances, the publisher would be in a more exposed position. If they do include that assurance then the publisher can sue for breach of contract. At the very beginning of the book contract it says that the book is a work of fiction or non-fiction. If the contract characterizes it as a work of non-fiction or an autobiography or an historical account, there is an implication that it is true and the publisher can sue on that account."
Historians are throwing cold water on conservatives' "fundamentally ludicrous" attempts to co-opt John F. Kennedy's legacy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
In recent days, several conservative media figures -- including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Chris Wallace -- have suggested that if Kennedy were alive today, his views would align with conservatives and the Tea Party. But in interviews with Media Matters historians dismissed these claims as "silly" and "bunk."
"It shows me that John F. Kennedy's legacy is so powerful that even those who stand for everything he stood against want to claim his legacy," said Sean Wilentz, professor of history at Princeton University. As for the right-wing pundits' view of a right-wing JFK? "It's bunk," says Wilentz. "John F. Kennedy embraced liberalism. He called himself a liberal, he was grateful to get the nomination of the Liberal Party of New York State. He ran on the liberal line."
Wilentz explained that the idea of him as conservative likely comes from his tax cuts, but he adds, "tax cuts are not necessarily conservative or liberal. The economy was sluggish at that moment, and it was to improve unemployment. Conservatives wanted to radically and dramatically change the income tax, basically collapse it."
Wilentz and other historians pointed to Kennedy's efforts at drafting the first versions of the 1964 civil rights bill, seeking nuclear disarmament, and supporting health and education funding.
"Was he a liberal? Yeah, he certainly thought he was a liberal and he went out of his way to be a liberal," said Edward D. Berkowitz, professor of history and public policy and public administration at The George Washington University. "A pro-government kind of liberalism, you can see that clearly in his domestic program. He was a big advocate of Medicare and federal aid to education."
Jeffrey A. Engle, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and the author of eight books, said describing JFK as conservtive is "a fundamentally ludicrous claim, which fundamentally misreads Kennedy's actual life and imprints upon Kennedy [the] political views that they themselves like. Kennedy fundamentally believed that the government could and should play a vital role in bettering people's lives, be it in education, civil rights, social welfare or the economy and he simply would not have been a conservative, there is just no way around it."