For the last two weeks, Fox News reporter Mike Tobin has been at the center of his network's coverage of the Wisconsin union demonstrations.
He is also at the center of a controversy over claims -- called into question yesterday after the release of new video -- that he was "assaulted" by protesters.
Tobin spoke with Media Matters at length on Monday about the experience, which has included demonstrators repeatedly chanting "Fox News Lies" and waving signs referencing the network's inaccurate reporting.
On Sunday, Tobin claimed during a live report that he had just been "hit" by one of the protesters.
Tobin wasn't onscreen at the time, and a Fox anchor later said that the network's cameras had been blocked by protesters during the alleged incident.
Nonetheless, the Fox Nation website immediately claimed that Tobin had been "assaulted by demonstrator during live shot."
"I was just hit in the arm a couple of times," he said on Fox Sunday night. "To call it assault or anything like that is a bit of an exaggeration."
On Twitter, Tobin said that he "declined to press charges over a couple little punches in the arm" because doing so would create a "distraction."
That didn't stop Fox. On Monday, Fox anchor Megyn Kelly asked Tobin about the "assault."
When Tobin disputed Kelly's characterization, she rephrased: "It is an unwanted touching. Actually, it's a battery, technically, under the law."
"Yeah, technically, but I got punched in the arm," Tobin responded. "It didn't even leave a bruise. So, I don't want to make too big a deal about it."
In an interview with Media Matters later Monday, Tobin sought to downplay the incident, which he continued to describe as a "punch."
"It was a punch. A punch is a punch, but it was just a punch in my arm. I grew up with three older brothers, it's not my first time being punched. I don't want to overdramatize it for the sake of TV or anything like that."
Then came the video.
The Madison, Wisconsin, radio station that dropped Glenn Beck's program this week issued the following statement to Media Matters when asked why the decision was made:
WTDY can no longer carry the Glenn Beck program. Over the last 12 months, the show has devolved into plugs for Fox News (the radio version of which is aired by our direct competitor), his books, and other personal endorsements. The lack of actual content becomes more apparent daily. Monday's program was the final straw; his unabashed deriding of Madison is unacceptable for broadcast in our community.
Did syndicated columnist Cal Thomas plagiarize sections of a New York Times story for his latest column?
Thomas, who admits he drew information from the story for his work, stopped short of admitting plagiarism. But he said late today through his syndication outlet that he should have cited the Times as a source.
Meanwhile, at least one newspaper editor who regularly runs Thomas' column spiked the piece and said he may not run Thomas' column again.
"If it were my decision, I would not run him anymore. I think he is a hypocrite," said Carroll Wilson, managing editor of the Temple Daily Telegram in Temple, Texas, which has run Thomas' column for four years. "It is not my decision to make, it is my publisher, who is out sick today. I am going to discuss it with her."
Contacted by Media Matters earlier today, Thomas said: "It's ludicrous, I know a lot of people are out to, they would love to bring down conservatives, but come on. I think most people would say I have an exemplary record."
Wilson said he had planned to run the February 23 column in today's paper, but held off after noticing parts of it looked similar to a February 16 Times story by Binyamin Applebaum on the government value of life.
The Thomas column has so far run in several other papers, including the Washington Examiner and the Miami Herald.
Glenn Beck's month-long effort to portray the protests in the Middle East as a conspiracy between Islamic radicals and leftists pursuing a "New World Order" has drawn criticism from veterans of his News Corp. sister outlet, The Wall Street Journal.
Current and former Journal reporters contacted by Media Matters criticized Beck, with at least one warning that the host's strange theories could hurt reporting efforts by other News Corp. reporters.
"The guy either has several screws loose or he is intentionally manipulating the worst fears of his audience in a cartoonish way. For a 'news organization' to give some lunatic that kind of platform that he has tells you all you need to know about Murdoch and Fox News," said Ryan Chittum, who served as a Journal reporter from 2002 to 2007 and now writes for Columbia Journalism Review.
He said that when Fox News gives Beck a show, it gives him undeserved credibility.
"It lends credibility to it and Lord knows what is going to happen. Nothing good is going to come of it. Nothing is getting fact-checked. I know people who are influenced by that. It is the height of irresponsibility to let someone go like this."
Chittum also said he was among several Journal staffers who were concerned when Murdoch took over Dow Jones, the Journal parent company, in 2007: "We didn't like his journalism and what he stood for. One thing we did know was that the credibility of the paper, which was high, is tarnished by its association with Murdoch and Fox News and all that. There is no way around it."
At issue are Beck's shows about the Middle East protests and his claims that the demonstrations are the result of an alliance between radical Muslims and communists, leftists, and labor unions aimed at creating global chaos. Beck has gone so far as to suggest that the U.S. State Department is aiding violent Islamic extremists who are attempting to re-create a "caliphate."
"Am I shocked about some of the stuff Glenn Beck is saying here? Yeah, I find it appalling sometimes," said Joshua Prager, a Journal reporter from 1996 to 2009. "Glenn Beck is ridiculously popular. I find it sort of sad that he commands the sort of audience he does."
Asked about Beck's Egypt comments, One current Journal reporter who requested anonymity said: "We try to ignore the connection to Fox. I don't think the Journal or Journal reporters should be connected to Fox News or Glenn Beck. But people make the connection."
Several sources requested anonymity, saying they feared retaliation.
Among them, a former Journal reporter who says he is glad not to be linked to News Corp. anymore given Beck's recent Egypt tirades.
"I would feel completely outraged if I was still at the Journal. I am happy not to be at the Journal," the source said, noting some current Journal staffers are also frustrated by it. "What Beck says is absurd and they are frustrated about it. I keep in touch with a lot of people."
He also added, "The Journal's coverage itself has been affected by right-wing viewpoints that seem to channel the business line and the right's line on fiscal issues and political issues. But I don't think they are as loony as Beck."
Added another former Journal scribe: "It is not the same company that it was when I worked there."
One ex-Journal writer who had covered the Middle East for the News Corp. paper called Beck's Egypt comments "a stupid thing to say."
"If it's portrayed or presented as news or fact by the network, that would be very serious," the journalist said of Beck's views. "Do I think he has a positive effect on the debate? No. You don't need me to tell you it is a stupid thing to say. There are a lot of irresponsible opinions expressed by him and others. It is important to keep hammering home the facts. I know people who think what he says is true and it is sad."
A former Journal reporter and editor warned that Beck's misinformation could hurt other News Corp. journalists' efforts to get information from sources.
"I think Glenn Beck is a purveyor of opinion and not fact. It is crazy. He is so unique in his take on things, he is seen as an outlier by most serious people," the source said. "But, then again, for those people who are out there talking to politically-attuned sources who don't share the views of Glenn Beck, I don't think they are happy. That is the kind of area where you could see news gathering being affected."
A former Bush administration official featured in Glenn Beck's elaborate Egypt conspiracy theory has called the Fox host's comments "absurd."
In 2008, while serving as an Under Secretary of State, James K. Glassman helped create the Alliance for Youth Movements, a non-profit organization "that aims to support and sustain campaigns for nonviolent social change that harness 21st century tools to safeguard human rights, promote good governance and foster civic engagement."
On his Monday show, Beck suggested that AYM was tied to violent Islamic extremism and that the State Department was aiding groups that want to use the Egyptian protests to create an Islamic "caliphate."
Reached for comment Tuesday, Glassman told Media Matters that he had reviewed video of portions of Beck's show as well as related material on Beck's website.
Glassman called Beck's theory "literally absurd," adding that "it was like the world turned upside down."
"The work we were doing was to advance the cause of anti-violence and freedom, and if we played any small role in events in Egypt, that advances those causes," said Glassman. "I would think that Glenn Beck would stand for those goals."
Glassman is currently executive director of the George W. Bush Institute at the Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. Before joining the State Department, he served as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Watch video of Beck's Monday show:
Attorney Thomas Clare, representing Shirley Sherrod, released the following statement on her behalf today:
Former USDA Official Shirley Sherrod Sues Blogger Andrew Breitbart for Defamation
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2011 - Former USDA Official Shirley Sherrod has filed a lawsuit against blogger Andrew Breitbart, producer Larry O'Connor and an unknown "John Doe" defendant for defamation, false light and infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit, filed February 11 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleges that these individuals authored and posted a series of defamatory statements on Mr. Breitbart's BigGovernment.com website regarding Mrs.Sherrod. These statements, together with highly edited video clips of a 2009 speech given by Mrs. Sherrod, falsely portrayed her as "racially discriminat[ing]" against a white farmer and managing her federal duties at the USDA "through the prism of race and class distinctions." In reality, Mrs. Sherrod's speech was describing events that occurred more than twenty years before she held her federal position and, in fact, was encouraging people not to discriminate on the basis of race. The patently false statements about her immediately went viral on the Internet, igniting a national media firestorm, costing Mrs. Sherrod her federal position, and severely damaging her reputation earned over decades by helping rural farmers.
"This lawsuit is not about politics or race," Mrs. Sherrod said of the lawsuit. "It is not about Right versus Left, the NAACP, or the Tea Party. It is about how quickly, in today's internet media environment, a person's good name can become 'collateral damage' in an overheated political debate. I strongly believe in a free press and a full discussion of public issues, but not in deliberate distortions of the truth. Mr. Breitbart has never apologized for what he did to me and continues -- to this day -- to make the same slurs about my character.
I am issuing this statement because I know there may be intense media interest in this case. But I do not intend at this time to discuss the lawsuit further, and I hope members of the media will respect that decision."
Blogger Andrew Breitbart has been sued by former U.S. Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod who contends her reputation was damaged by Breitbart's posting last year of an edited video.
The New York Times reports today Breitbart was served with the lawsuit at CPAC Saturday. Sherrod contends in the suit that a video clip he posted last year "has damaged her reputation and prevented her from continuing her work."
Breitbart, who first posted the clip on July 19, 2010, at his BigGovernment.com site, had been under scrutiny after it was revealed the clip misrepresented Sherrod's message during a speech in March 2010 before a group of NAACP members.
Fox then posted an online article reporting on the clip, linking to Breitbart's video. Breitbart did not seek comment from Sherrod prior to his report; Fox News also gave no indication that they had done so. She was forced to resign later that day.
Breitbart has recently claimed that Sherrod was not fired because of his video but because of her part in the 11-year-old Pigford case, in which black farmers sued for discrimination against the Agriculture Department.
He stated such a claim again on Thursday in an interview with Media Matters, in which he admitted he had no proof of the assertion, revealing it was a theory.
Breitbart responded to Sherrod's lawsuit Saturday with an online statement that said, in part:
I find it extremely telling that this lawsuit was brought almost seven months after the alleged incidents that caused a national media frenzy occurred. It is no coincidence that this lawsuit was filed one day after I held a press conference revealing audio proof of orchestrated and systemic Pigford fraud. I can promise you this: neither I, nor my journalistic websites, will or can be silenced by the institutional Left, which is obviously funding this lawsuit. I welcome the judicial discovery process, including finding out which groups are doing so.
Sherrod could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum suggested yesterday that he wouldn't have to give up his current Fox News employment if he wanted to participate in the network's upcoming presidential primary debate, so long as he hasn't officially declared his candidacy.
"I don't think you have to be a candidate to be a part of the debate, at least that's my understanding," Santorum said when asked by Media Matters at CPAC if Fox should require contributors to terminate their Fox employment before participating in the May 5 South Carolina debate.
Santorum, a Fox News contributor who's testing the waters for a presidential run, added that he doesn't think it's a conflict of interest to be a part of the Fox debate. Watch:
Rush Limbaugh's dismissive comments about detained New York Times reporters in Cairo have drawn sharp criticism from several veteran war correspondents - including a longtime Times war reporter - as well as those who monitor journalist safety overseas.
Limbaugh said on his Feb. 3 show about two New York Times reporters being detained:
Ladies and gentlemen, it is being breathlessly reported that the Egyptian army -- Snerdley, have you heard this? The Egyptian army is rounding up foreign journalists. I mean, even two New YorkTimes reporters were detained. Now, this is supposed to make us feel what, exactly? How we supposed to feel? Are we supposed to feel outrage over it? I don't feel any outrage over it. Are we supposed to feel anger? I don't feel any anger over this. Do we feel happy? Well -- uh -- do we feel kind of going like, "neh-neh-neh-neh"? I'm sure that your emotions are running the gamut when you hear that two New York Times reporters have been detained along with other journalists in Egypt. Remember now, we're supporting the people who are doing this.
Later in the same show, upon hearing about Fox News crew members and others being beaten and hospitalized, he contended that his previous comments were a joke:
Also, according to Mediaite, Fox News' Greg Palkot and crew have been severely beaten and are now hospitalized in Cairo. Now we were kidding before about The New York Times, of course. This kind of stuff is terrible. We wouldn't wish this kind of thing even on reporters. But it's -- it's serious. And you know, Anderson Cooper got beat upside the head 10 times when he was there. Still feeling it -- still feel sorry about -- reporters all think that the protestors ought to welcome them, they're on the same side.
Still, several leaders of the international journalism community contend the comments are unfair and even harmful to American safety overseas, as well as reporters' ability to gather news.
John Burns, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for The New York Times based in London, covered the Iraq War from 2003 to 2007.
After reviewing the comments made by Limbaugh, Burns stated in an e-mail that his remarks, "inevitably play into a wider climate of disdain for the media that has been building in some quarters in the United States for some years now, and that is something to worry about, whether your politics are of the left, the right, or the centre.
"The fact that the Fox News crew were among those attacked in Cairo suggests powerfully that thuggery against the media is a universal threat, just as encouraging hostility for the press at home ultimately threatens the very basis of press freedom, for all."
Dion Nissenbaum, a Kabul correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers who was himself detained by Palestinian forces in The Gaza Strip in 2005, also questioned Limbaugh's motives.
"I can't quite fathom why Rush Limbaugh would be gleeful about the crackdown on reporting. International reporters are risking their lives to report on this pivotal chapter in Egyptian history," he stated. "Without having these folks on the ground, without having these people risking their lives to write, photograph and document the volatile events, Americans would be at a serious disadvantage as we all try to make sense of what is unfolding in Egypt."
Kelly Kennedy, USA Today military writer and president of Military Reporters and Editors, the top military reporting association, added:
"It's horrifying to wish harm on any American -- or any person -- who is expressing one of our cherished freedoms. In this case, the reporters in Cairo help us, as a country, understand a situation that directly affects us, and they're doing it at great risk to themselves. We should support them. To laugh as the government harms and silences journalists, even as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians protest their inability to govern themselves, makes no sense.
"It was brave for them to go out into the streets even after hearing what had happened to their colleagues. And now the wires are silent? And there are journalists with injuries? How is this something to joke about? We should be proud, even if you don't always agree with what they report."
Clothilde Le Coz, director of Reporters Without Borders' Washington, D.C., office, called Limbaugh's comments rude and disrespectful.
"How did he know about the fact that reporters were attacked? It is rude and disrespectful to say that. How did he know reporters were attacked and one got stabbed? How did he know about this? Because there are reporters," she told Media Matters. "When you don't care about them, you don't care about how the information can come to your country."
"Saying that he doesn't care, when you say that it is because you don't know what is going on. It might seem very, very small compared to the 300 people who are dead there. It is small, but it is also The New York Times. That is someone who can get the word out."
Mike Francis, a military reporter at The Oregonian in Portland and a MRE board member, echoed that view.
"Presumably, Rush gets his news from people who are risking their necks to bring it to him, whether they're employed by Fox News or The New York Times," Francis said. "No matter what he thinks of the way news stories are written or edited, he, of all people, should value what reporters do, because he needs their work. Alternatively, he could take his microphone to Cairo and tell it the way he sees it."
Sig Christensen, military affairs writer for the San Antonio Express-News has served more than a dozen reporting stints in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
"Rush foams at the mouth over the possibility of the Fairness Act being reinstated but feels no apparent outrage over the treatment of journalists who are risking their lives to inform the world about a critical development in U.S. foreign policy," Christensen e-mailed after hearing the Limbaugh comments.
"Anyone who is part of the American media ought to hope that we receive more information, not less, and support the journalists now there."
John Yemma, editor of The Christian Science Monitor, which has several reporters and photographers in Cairo, added:
"Mr. Limbaugh is, as he often says, an 'entertainer.' Our reporters and those of other news organizations in Egypt are doing serious and dangerous work to tell this dramatic story. Thoughtful people know the difference."
Then there is Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who noted simply: "These comments are so stupid and ill-informed, they don't require comment from me to point it out."
A California state senator who criticized Rush Limbaugh's mocking of Chinese culture last week has received two more threatening faxes, according to his chief of staff.
Adam Keigwin, chief of staff to Sen. Leland Yee, said the threats came via fax over the weekend, adding to previous threats that are being investigated. He also said that the senator has "received hundreds of calls and e-mails that support the comments [Limbaugh] made."
"There have been two more threats since Friday," Keigwin said late Monday. "One came late Friday and one came over the weekend, our fax machine shows 4 p.m. on Sunday."
On Jan. 19, Limbaugh used Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit as an opportunity to mock Chinese language and culture.
Yee, chair of the California Senate's Select Committee on Asian Pacific Islander Affairs, responded to Limbaugh's broadcast by calling for an apology, saying that Limbaugh's "classless act is an insult to over 3,000 years of cultural history, and is a slap in the face to the millions of Chinese Americans who have struggled in this country and to a people who constitute one-quarter of the world's population."
On his show the following day, Limbaugh dismissed Yee's criticisms, rejecting the idea that he could have "blown up" 3,000 years of Chinese history "in 18 seconds, right here on the EIB network."
Last week, Yee reported receiving numerous racially charged death threats, including one fax addressed to "Fish Head Leeland Yee" that stated in part: "Rush Limbaugh will kick your Ch*nk ass and expose you for the fool you are."
Keigwin said the latest faxes are similar to two faxes his office received last year - one of which included crosshairs - after Yee sought to have information disclosed regarding Sarah Palin's appearance at a California State University campus.
"We have since received two more similar to that," Keigwin said of the latest faxes. "But one of them includes this crosshairs graphic."
California Highway Patrol, which is investigating the incidents, has asked Yee not to release the images. Keigwin said the U.S. Secret Service is also investigating.
Yee launched an online petition drive last week asking advertisers to drop Limbaugh's radio show.
Keigwin said the petition has received 12,000 names.
Keigwin said the continued negative reaction to Yee's criticism surprised him, given that Limbaugh's broadcast was so offensive and clearly prejudicial.
"I always knew he was pretty popular, I didn't realize that people would support his commentary so much," Keigwin said. "To make the sort of comments he has made and that the comments would be supported and reiterated. Fortunately we received a lot of positive comments, but we have received hundreds of calls and e-mails that support the comments he made. That is surprising that they continue to use that sort of commentary, as if that is acceptable in 2011."
Keigwin added, "It emboldens individuals to take it a step further, 'Hey, our hero Rush Limbaugh is saying it, it must be right, it must be true.' Limbaugh did not threaten Sen. Yee's life, but a supporter of his did. They feel emboldened by his commentary."
Yee, contacted late Monday, added:
"We have received threats in the past, but we take things a lot more serious because of the shooting in Arizona." Asked about Limbaugh, he said: "He is extremely hurtful to our country because we are moving into a different era, with globalization. We can't see ourselves as just Americans anymore."