Veteran White House correspondents and political scribes dispute claims that a White House aide threatened Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in a recent email exchange, calling that characterization "overblown."
A media firestorm has followed last night's Politico report that Woodward had received a "veiled threat" from White House economic adviser Gene Sperling for the journalist's reporting on the pending spending cuts known as the sequester, based on a snippet of a Sperling email Woodward provided the paper. The full context of Sperling's comment, released by Politico the next day, made it clear to even conservative observers that no threat had been intended.
"It doesn't seem threatening to me at all, it seems to me based on the email exchange that I read, that it was not threatening, it came at the tail end of a very friendly message, it seemed like it was saying 'you are making a mistake,'" said Bill Plante, CBS News White House correspondent and former president of the White House Correspondents Association. "It does not seem to me to be a threat of any kind in the sense that retaliation is promised."
In the email exchange about the sequestration issue, which followed an angry phone exchange for which Sperling apologized, the aide indicated to Woodward that if he reported the president had been "moving the goal post" related to revenue in the negotiations, Woodward would "regret staking out that claim."
In an interview posted Wednesday night, Woodward characterized the exchange as a threat, according to Politico:
Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. " 'You'll regret.' Come on," he said. "I think if Obama himself saw the way they're dealing with some of this, he would say, 'Whoa, we don't tell any reporter 'you're going to regret challenging us.'"
But the full context of the emails, released by Politico the next day, casts doubt on the claim that Woodward had been threatened. In the email, Sperling had stated, "I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying that [President Obama] asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim." Woodward replied to that email in part, "I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening."
Nearly all of the 2011 funding for the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which oversees state news sites nationwide, came from a single foundation that has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to right-wing causes, according to a recent report of the Center for Public Integrity.
CPI detailed that the foundation, Donors Trust, provided 95 percent of the Franklin Center funding in 2011, citing Internal Revenue Service documents. The Center uses that funding to support websites and affiliates providing free statehouse reporting from a "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" to local newspapers and other media across the country.
The Center, which Media Matters highlighted in a lengthy July 2012 report, has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states since it began in 2009 and claims to provide 10 percent of all state government news in the United States.
Since it was created in 1999, Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, have raised more than $500 million from various individuals and organizations, among them billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, and doled out $400 million to a constellation of right-wing causes. That includes $86 million distributed in 2011 alone.
Donors Trust gives many of its funding sources a way to hide their donations or "pass-through" money to various right-leaning organizations and media outlets, many of whom promote free-market ideas. The size and character of these donations has earned the group the moniker "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement."
The $6.3 million donation to the Franklin Center in 2011 was the second-largest gift made that year by Donors Trust. Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund had previously given a combined contribution of $25,000 to the Franklin Center in 2010.
Major Donors Trust contributors include the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund.
Marcus Owens, the former director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, told CPI, "Koch is among an exclusive pool of donors who have used Donors Trust as a 'pass-through.' It obscures the source of the money. It becomes a grant from Donors Trust, not a grant from the Koch brothers."
CPI produced this graphic detailing the flow of money in recent years from Koch-backed and other right-wing foundations through Donors Trust to a variety of conservative groups.
The Franklin Center is also staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with Charles Koch and his brother, David.
Steven Greenhut, Franklin Center's vice president of journalism, was listed as a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative think tank that has received significant funding from foundations headed by the Koch Brothers.
Other top Franklin Center staffers with current or past Koch ties include Erik Telford, the Franklin Center's vice president of strategic initiatives & outreach; Mary Ellen Beatty, Franklin Center director of citizen outreach; Alicia Barnaby, Coalitions Coordinator; and the Franklin Center's director of development, Matt Hauck.
With former NBC chief Jeff Zucker now in charge at CNN, the network reportedly has big changes planned.
The overhaul presents an opportunity for CNN to reverse a decline in environmental coverage that one former top environmental producer at the network blames on an obsession with beating Fox News.
Peter Dykstra, who oversaw the CNN environmental beat from 1995 to 2008, recalled top CNN executives describing environmental stories as "elite issues or liberal issues" that would not draw a Fox News crowd.
"For the last 10 years, CNN has been battered by competition, primarily by Fox. They have incurred huge losses in ratings to Fox and like just about anyone in cable television, they have altered their programming far more in the direction of entertainment and amusement as opposed to information with redeeming value. That of course does not bode well for covering science," Dykstra said in a recent interview. "CNN has looked obsessively at how many viewers they've lost to Fox."
Dykstra spent 1991 to 2008 on the environmental beat at CNN, except for a short stint on the military desk in 2002, serving as executive producer for environmental and science coverage from 1995 to 2008. He was laid off in 2008 when the environmental unit was shut down, he said.
A former board member for the Society of Environmental Journalists, Dykstra has been publisher of Environmental Health News for the past two years, previously working at the Pew Charitable Trust after leaving CNN.
"The biggest issue is that what we covered were perceived to be either elite issues or liberal issues that were of little value if your goal in life is to compete head to head with Fox News," Dykstra recalled about his CNN days. "You do not need science and technology to compete with Fox."
Ironically, a recent report at the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage ranked Fox News 9th out of 30 national news outlets in the amount of environmental stories, with CNN ranked near the bottom at 25th. The report noted, however, that "Fox's environmental coverage has often been documented and criticized for being biased and misleading."
Dykstra said that former CNN President Jonathan Klein, who served in that role from 2004 to 2010, was one of several executives who called for a reduction in environmental coverage in order to compete with Fox, even though he believed climate change existed.
"I will give him credit for looking me in the eye and telling me to my face, and he was not the only CNN boss who did this, that he did not consider science and environment coverage to be a high priority," Dykstra said of Klein, later adding, "It never was hostility, it was more an attitude of 'that doesn't work for us, that doesn't help us beat Fox.' There was very little if any political push back. In fact, Jon Klein, I recall him saying in editorial meetings on more than one occasion 'it's obvious that this is for real, it just didn't necessarily have a place in CNN's coverage.'"
Former Washington Post ombudsmen are speaking out against the paper's contemplation of eliminating that position, stating that it serves a vital purpose as the only independent communication between readers and the newsroom.
The ombudsman, which is a contracted job with a defined term, has been a Post staple since 1970, making it among the longest-existing reader representative positions at a major daily newspaper.
But Post officials say that the paper may cut the job when the current term of Ombudsman Patrick Pexton ends on March 1, 2013.
"We haven't decided what we are going to do after Pat leaves," Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, told Media Matters in an email. "I think it's important that the Post continue to be accountable and to offer readers a way to ask questions or lodge complaints and be confident they will be heard. I'm not sure that having an ombudsman whose primary focus is on writing a weekly column is the best way to achieve that goal."
The proposed shift did not sit well with several former Post ombudsmen, who stressed the paper's tradition of using the position to interact with readers and feared that the paper would try to save money by dropping the position.
Andy Alexander, who held the job before Pexton, said eliminating the ombudsman would be a "terrible loss for Post readers."
"And I'm afraid it would be widely interpreted, fairly or unfairly, as The Post using financial pressures or other reasons as a pretense to get rid of an internal critic," Alexander, currently a visiting professional at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, said in an email. "From the outset, the role has been to provide readers with access to an independent agent empowered to investigate charges that The Post has not lived up to its high journalistic standards."
"Certainly, the role of the ombudsman can and should evolve in the Digital Age," Alexander added. "It makes sense to continue to use new platforms to converse with readers. But there is a huge difference between an ombudsman who merely reflects what readers are saying, as opposed to an ombudsman who has the independence and authority to ask uncomfortable questions of reporters and editors and then publicly hold the newsroom to account."
Asked about criticism of the Post from former ombudsmen concerned that the paper might eliminate the position, Hiatt said, "I value their opinion, of course, but I hope they'll wait to see what we do before forming final judgments. I also think the media world is quite different from what it was when the Post began hiring ombudsmen."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is the newest weekly columnist for the discredited birther conspiracy website WorldNetDaily. Asked how this will affect his relationship with The Washington Times, Nugent side-stepped the question, telling Media Matters, "I am so busy going places I never pay attention to leaving."
After contributing 184 opinion pieces to the Times since May 2010, according to a Nexis search, he has not authored a piece for the paper since January 1 -- a rare but not unheard-of lapse for the verbose rocker.
An un-bylined February 6 WorldNetDaily article states that Nugent is "an exclusive WND columnist," and features praise from CEO Joseph Farah:
Exuding a love of liberty, guns and America that elicits either delight or dismay - depending on your perspective - the outspoken rock showman, humanitarian and TV host Ted Nugent debuts today as an exclusive WND columnist.
Nugent's column, entitled "The Ted Offensive," will appear on the news site each Thursday.
"Ted Nugent rocks," said Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WND. "And I don't mean just as a music star. He rocks as an outspoken entertainer who is so politically incorrect. We're honored that he would choose WND to sound off about what's on his mind every week."
In his first column for WND, Nugent lashed out against Obama, Biden, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for supporting an assault weapons ban, calling them "socialists and Marxists" who "don't care about mass murder" but instead want "their boots on our necks." He accuses Obama of using "Rule 10 and 12" of Saul Alinsky's "12 Rules For Radicals" to promote the ban.
WND regularly publishes a wide array of conspiracy theories, particularly ones related to President Obama's birth certificate. The WND "Superstore" sells an array of birther paraphernalia, including Jerome Corsi's WND-published tome "Where's the Birth Certificate?" and his follow-up e-book, "Where's the REAL Birth Certificate?"
"We knew all along that the brilliant minds at WND deserved me," said Nugent when reached by email to discuss how he had landed the WND gig, "but now that our sacred hunting season is winding down, I decided the time was right to unleash the ultimate self-evident truth logic beast upon an unsuspecting public. America needs me now more than ever."
Journalists who have been included on what is being called an "enemies list" of the National Rifle Association are speaking out about the designation, either welcoming the attention as a badge of honor for their work or criticizing the NRA for trying to intimidate them.
The list of 506 organizations, public officials, celebrities, and others was first posted on the NRA web site in September. After being highlighted online last week it has been widely covered and described as an "enemies list" by critics.
The NRA web site lists 37 columnists, cartoonists, and editors along with other organizations and public officials it sees as opponents of its efforts under the headline "National Organizations With Anti-Gun Policies."
The list claims that the journalists in question "actively editorialize in favor of gun control laws."
Several of those news people on the list criticized the NRA for the move in comments to Media Matters.
"I am proud to be on the NRA 'enemies' list," said Frank Rich, a former New York Times columnist currently writing for New York magazine. "But it says a lot that I didn't even know I was on it until [Media Matters] told me today. It just goes to show that NRA in the 21st-century is becoming something of a paper tiger and shouldn't intimidate anyone, including members of Congress. An 'enemies list,' after all, is a lame retread from the Richard Nixon playbook of Watergate."
E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, welcomed being on the list, but offered concern such an effort might intimidate some non-journalists.
"Since I have long favored gun control and written rather passionately about the issue, I guess I would have been disappointed if I had not been on the NRA's list," he wrote in an email. "I don't think it is intimidating to opinion writers to be on such a list, but I wonder if it might intimidate people in other lines of work. I certainly hope not."
Journalism veterans and media ethicists are urging Geraldo Rivera to give up his many media perches if he intends to run for U.S. Senate, saying his Cumulus radio program and Fox News platform give him an unfair and unethical advantage.
Since Rivera first revealed his intention to explore a run for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey on his syndicated radio show, he has promoted the idea on Fox News Channel and the Fox News Latino website.
During an appearance Friday on Fox & Friends, Rivera suggested that he will continue to appear on the network while he "hone[s] a message," and do so until "it's no longer legal."
On the January 31 edition of his Cumulus radio show, Rivera told listeners that he is "truly contemplating" running for U.S. Senate in New Jersey. Following a discussion this morning of various news events, including the suicide attack in Turkey, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson asked Rivera about the "firestorm" he had created by announcing a possible run. In response, Rivera launched into what co-host Steve Doocy appropriately labeled a "stump speech."
In both his Fox & Friends appearance and his Fox News Latino column, Rivera touted his stance on various political issues. During the Fox & Friends interview, Rivera suggested that he is a "modern Republican" that could appeal to "a point of view that is unrepresented in states like New Jersey."
Asked to comment on the potential conflicts and unfair advantage of his candidacy by email, Rivera responded with this statement:
The campaign is still a year away, so I still have significant exploration ahead before I commit. In the meantime the ideas I published today in my FNL column are the ideas that I've been unabashedly articulating for years on Fox and here on Cumulus radio.
Cumulus Spokesperson Golden Davidson also defended Rivera and hinted that he is unlikely to be asked to give up his radio perch anytime soon, stating in an email:
Talk radio hosts talk about lots of things and if at some point this is more than talk we'll address the issue appropriately then.
But mixing his political aspirations and his media posts did not sit well with several news veterans and journalism observers who told Media Matters that Rivera was engaged in a clear conflict of interest that should be stopped immediately.
"When I first saw this, the thing that really concerns me again is not so much Geraldo doing this, but I am surprised that Fox News is letting itself be used this way," said David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun's media critic. "It is really, honestly one of the most troubling [things], really wrong that Fox allows itself to play this political role the way it did with [Rick] Santorum and with [Newt] Gingrich, to go on as long as they did into those primaries and be on the air. These guys have benefited enormously from being on Fox and having access to that large and active political audience they have.
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."