One of the investigators hired by CBS News to review its problematic 2004 report on George W. Bush's Air National Guard service, which led to the ouster of Dan Rather and other staffers, said the lessons of that review -- to get the facts quickly and disclose them -- should not be forgotten as the network's recent Benghazi story comes under scrutiny.
Louis Boccardi, former Associated Press CEO and president, was part of the two-person team that investigated a 60 Minutes II story after questions were raised about the authenticity of some of the documents cited in the report.
Asked about the current problems with the recent Benghazi report CBS' 60 Minutes ran on the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya -- which aired October 27 and has been plagued by the recent revelation that its key source witness told contradictory tales about the attack -- Boccardi brought up the "lessons" learned in his previous review.
"I think one of the lessons of the Rather situation was that things get worse if you don't get in quickly and figure out what happened," Boccardi said in an interview. "We said that in the report ... that one of the lessons of CBS 60 Minutes II was to get quickly at the bottom of this, get the facts -- and get them quickly -- and put 'em out."
The October 27 report has come under fire from Media Matters and a host of journalism veterans after the Washington Post revealed that Dylan Davies, the security contractor presented by CBS News as a witness to the attacks, had previously filed a report with his security contractor employer saying that he "could not get anywhere near" the compound the night of the attack. 60 Minutes has told the Post it stands by the story.
On November 2, The Daily Beast published an interview with Davies in which he claimed he lied to his employer with his statement that he was not near the Benghazi attack site.
Boccardi declined to comment specifically on the details of the Benghazi report or the issues of concern. But he stressed that finding the facts and disclosing them is a key element in any news story that comes under question, something he says was important in the previous 60 Minutes review he conducted.
"People who know whether it ought to be reviewed and how it ought to be reviewed are the people inside CBS, they know what they're dealing with," Boccardi said. "One of the issues we dealt with last time was in some places in CBS they're insisting that [the story] was right and in other places they weren't sure. Of course as time went on, it got worse. I don't know what they ought to do now. I think getting to the bottom quickly is the right thing for a news company, a news organization to do."
Journalism veterans and media ethicists are demanding answers from CBS News in light of the revelation that the key "witness" in 60 Minutes' recent report on the September 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, had previously said he was not at the diplomatic compound on the night of the attack.
"I don't see any way that 60 Minutes would not need to offer an explanation," said Alex S. Jones, former media writer for The New York Times and current director of the Shorenstein Center on The Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "This definitely needs explaining."
The 60 Minutes segment, which aired October 27, includes a lengthy interview with a man identified by the pseudonym "Morgan Jones," who told the magazine show he was "a security officer who witnessed the attack."
The piece featured "Jones" and his seemingly heroic efforts "scaling" the compound's 12 foot wall, disabling a terrorist "with the butt end of a rifle" and ultimately seeing the lifeless body of Ambassador Chris Stevens in the hospital.
But The Washington Post revealed Thursday that "Jones," identified as defense contractor Dylan Davies, told his employer in a written report just days after the attack that he was far from the area at the time. According to the Post, Davies wrote that "he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa. Although he attempted to get to the compound, he wrote in the report, 'we could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up.'" He also wrote that he had heard of Stevens' death from a colleague.
That revelation drew concern and complaints from those who monitor media ethics and have worked in newsrooms for decades. Several called for a correction or at least further explanation.
Among them is Kevin Z. Smith, chair of the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists and deputy director of the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State University, who called for CBS to "internally review its reporting on this story given the latest information that has surfaced. They need to pursue this new information and story angle with the same fairness and intensity that they did in the original reporting."
In a letter to CBS News' president and chairman, Media Matters founder David Brock called for such a review, modeled on the independent investigation the network conducted after questions were raised about a report on President George W. Bush's Air National Guard service.
Smith said two questions arise from the situation. "First, did Lara Logan and her staff test the accuracy of the information that was given them and exercise care to avoid error?" he asked in an email. "Second, if they are wrong in their reporting, they should show accountability and make needed corrections to their reportage to reflect any mistakes made. That is a key component to establishing and maintaining trust and credibility with the public."
News Corp. not only declined to participate in David Folkenflik's new book about Rupert Murdoch, but "actively discouraged" people from speaking with the NPR veteran, while also "denigrating" his reputation, the author says.
Still, Folkenflik says he was able to conduct his reporting for Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires and has come away with a detailed look at how the mogul built and sustains a global media conglomerate. In a wide-raging Wednesday interview with Media Matters, Folkenflik discussed Fox News' role in Republican Party primaries ("arbiter and umpire"), the network's PR department (Roger Ailes' "unbridled id"), the "searing experience" the Murdoch family has undergone due to the still unfolding phone-hacking scandal in Britain, how the network used Juan Williams' firing to "unleash" unprecedented "vitriol" on NPR, and what the future may hold for the empire Murdoch built.
Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
What prompted you to write this book since so much has been written about Murdoch and News Corp.?
I thought that the extraordinary revelations of the summer of 2011, which I was involved in covering for NPR, offered an extraordinary and new window into the inner workings of how News Corp. operated. If you look at it it involved his properties in England, and yet the stakes were felt very keenly here in the heart of midtown Manhattan just a few blocks from our bureau where News Corp. has its global headquarters. And as I looked at the story more closely, it became clear to me that there were commonalities in the cultures that News Corp. had created, particularly in the three great English-speaking nations in which Murdoch casts such a great shadow, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. That they evolved differently in some ways through the culture of each country, and yet there were these common threads that I thought were worth exploring and teasing out and understanding ... I thought it was important to see what kind of steward he had been at The Wall Street Journal, how Fox and Murdoch had operated in the age of Obama, and what possibly could give rise to the conditions that would allow what now appears to have been fairly widespread criminality to have occurred at his two best-selling newspapers.
Author Stephen Jimenez's suggestion that The New York Times Magazine killed a 2004 story he had written about the murder of Matthew Shepard because it was too politically sensitive is false, according to the former Times editor who worked on the story.
Jimenez claimed in the story -- and in a new book -- that Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student murdered in 1998, was not killed in an act of anti-gay hate, but instead as a result of a drug-induced rage. Shepard's murder became a rallying call for the LGBT movement; a hate crimes prevention law named after him was signed into law in 2009.
Paul Tough, who was an editor at the magazine in 2004 and the one Jimenez says reviewed his piece, said the spiking of the story had nothing to do with politics. It just wasn't good enough.
"My recollection is definitely that it was not killed because it was politically sensitive, but that the story just wasn't there for all of the reasons that stories sometimes aren't there," said Tough, now an author himself and Times magazine contributor. "I remember being really interested in the idea and I think the Times Magazine doesn't shy away from controversy and we're interested in new takes on things and the only reason we had assigned the story was this new idea."
"But for whatever reason," Tough added, Jimenez "was a person I think who didn't have a lot of experience in long-form magazine writing. And so the story never got to the level where we could publish it ... it was not killed for political reasons at all."
Shepard truthers in the right-wing media have cited Jimenez's new book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard, to assail hate crime legislation and the larger push for LGBT rights. But Jimenez's argument is tainted by its reliance on wild extrapolation, questionable and often inconsistent sources, theories that critics of his work are engaged in a "cover-up" of politically sensitive truths, and the dismissal of any evidence that runs contrary to his central thesis.
A new study confirms that Fox News consistently used slanted language when covering the debate over health care reform. Unlike other networks, Fox used language mirroring GOP-friendly phrases promoted by conservative messaging guru Frank Luntz more often than they did neutral descriptors.
NBC Sports will not be a sponsor of the nation's largest gun trade show next year, a spokesperson confirmed to Media Matters. The network had served for several years as a top sponsor of the event, which has billed itself as a show of industry strength against stronger gun laws.
"Our level of sponsorship has varied each year, and this January we will not be sponsoring the show because it does not make business sense for us at this time," said the NBC Sports spokesperson.
The Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show calls itself the "the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries" and "the world's premier exposition of combined firearms." Manufacturers use the event to show off their latest products, typically including an array of assault rifles, tactical shotguns, and pistols with high-capacity magazines.
According to its organizer, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the trade association for firearms manufacturers and dealers), the trade show is also "a powerful display of industry unity and its resolve to meet any challenge affecting the right to make, sell and own firearms."
In January, NBC Sports returned as the sponsor of the show's New Product Center, "the showcase for innovative, new equipment being introduced to the hunting, shooting, outdoors and law enforcement markets," using the event to promote their hunting programming. That sponsorship drew criticism since it came in the wake of NBC Sports host Bob Costas' on-air censure of the nation's "gun culture" and the December 2012 mass shooting in Sandy Hook, CT.
While NBC Sports will not sponsor the event, their executives will be at the show conducting meetings and entertaining clients, according to the network's spokesperson, who stressed that the network is participating for the show's focus on hunting and outdoor sports, not firearms.
The statement comes just days after a controversy involving the network's firearms programming.
Under Wild Skies host Tony Makris, whose National Rifle Association-sponsored hunting show was dropped by NBC Sports Network after he compared critics of his shooting an elephant on-air to Adolf Hitler, says he has no regrets and doesn't take issue with the network for dropping his program.
Makris, who hosted the show on NBC Sports for more than five years dating back to when the channel was known as Versus, says his critics wrongly went after him and forced the network to cancel the show.
"NBC had to do what they had to do and I certainly understand it, I'll move on, I've been doing this for 21 years, not the first time an elephant show has aired," Makris said Monday in a phone interview. "It doesn't affect me one way or another."
Makris certainly doesn't lack for other opportunities. As president of the Mercury Group, he leads the NRA's public relations effort and is responsible for what The Washington Post called "a long line of bare-knuckled NRA advertisements."
Asked if the show will return elsewhere, Makris said, "I'm sure it will, I don't know yet, but I am sure it will. There are a lot of hunting shows on television, there are hunters in the world. There are 25 million hunters in America. If you look at the comparisons between the pro-hunting and the anti-hunting side, the pro-hunting side has a lot more people, it's just that they're not as belligerent or threatening or vile ... The show will stop when I decide to stop it."
But as of now the show is off the air after a whirlwind week. On September 24, Deadspin posted a clip from the most recent episode of Under Wild Skies in which Makris twice shot an elephant in the face during a hunting trip in Botswana (while hunting elephants is currently legal in that country, a ban goes into effect in 2014).
Following days of outrage and a petition calling for NBC Sports to cancel the show, on September 26, an NBC Sports Network spokesperson said that they would not air that episode of the program again. But the same day, Makris took to NRA News to respond to critics by claiming they advocated for a form of "animal racism" by suggesting that it was acceptable to hunt some animals but not others, and concluded that "Hitler would have said the same thing."
On September 27, Media Matters posted video of Makris' comments. The next day, the network announced that Under Wild Skies had been canceled because Makris' "recent comments comparing his critics to Hitler are outrageous and unacceptable."
Makris defended his Hitler reference to Media Matters, claiming he was making a larger point about giving one group more rights than another.
"Take it in context, what was actually said, I said that 'look, if you think that one class of animal is more special and deserving than the other because it is smarter and more majestic and to your liking, Hitler would have said the same thing,'" he stated. "That turns it into all sorts of horrible accusations and all that I meant was that Hitler thought the Aryan nation and the Aryan race was special, smarter and more deserving ... wasn't that what this was all about? Then they come out and say that I compared my critics to Hitler, no I didn't. I'm trying to show you the falseness in that sort of thinking.
"I didn't compare them to Hitler, or anybody else to Hitler, I just said he would have said the same thing. So put another name in there, Stalin, Mao, totalitarianism and genocide started, in every single case and all of those heinous people, with one group is more special than the other so it is fair for you to kill the others."
In an apparent reversal, CNN now says that Crossfire co-host Newt Gingrich is not actually violating network standards by failing to disclose his PAC's financial relationship with politicians discussed on the program.
Rick Davis, CNN's Executive Vice President of News Standards and Practices, issued a statement to Media Matters saying the network is "clarifying" its ethics policy, and that Gingrich is "not in violation" of network rules:
We are clarifying the policy and making it clear Newt Gingrich is not in violation. The policy: If a Crossfire co-host has made a financial contribution to a politician who appears on the program or is the focus of the program, disclosure is not required during the show since the co-host's political support is obvious by his or her point of view expressed on the program.
Davis' statement appears to be at odds with earlier comments he had made about the network's guidelines for Gingrich. In an interview with Media Matters earlier this month, Davis said that if Gingrich, who serves as honorary co-chair for the American Legacy PAC, "is helping fund a candidate and that candidate's on the show, or being discussed on the show, of course he'll disclose that. Disclosure is important when it's relevant."
However, as Media Matters reported, Gingrich hosted Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on the first episode of Crossfire's revival, and discussed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on September 24, without disclosing that his PAC had donated to the campaigns of both Republicans.
Gingrich also praised Cruz on CNN outside of Crossfire. Several hours after Media Matters first reported on Gingrich apparently violating network rules, he appeared on the September 25 edition of Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees and again appeared to cross the line. Gingrich said Cruz is "proving to be a pretty clever guy" and "there are an awful lot of Republicans who'd rather at least see someone with the guts to fight than just be told automatically let's surrender." Gingrich and CNN did not mention his PAC's ties to Cruz.
Issues with Gingrich and his PAC aren't limited to CNN disclosure problems. Mother Jones raised significant questions about whether Gingrich is fronting a "dubious PAC" since "most of the money flowing into American Legacy PAC is benefiting vendors and consultants who have long been associated with Gingrich" rather than actual candidates.
If Newt Gingrich shows signs of raising money or hiring staff for another presidential run he would have to immediately give up his new job on CNN's reborn Crossfire, a top CNN executive told Media Matters.
But until that time, Gingrich can remain on the CNN payroll even as he is involved with at least two political action committees that are working to raise money for Republican candidates and help the former House Speaker retire his 2012 campaign debt, as long as any conflict is disclosed on the show.
Rick Davis, a former Crossfire producer and current CNN executive vice-president of standards and practices, said Gingrich, who has floated a potential 2016 presidential run, would have to give up his new job at the network if he starts fundraising for a new political campaign or forms a staff to conduct such an effort.
"If they're going to get in touch with the [Federal Election Commission] and start raising some money for a campaign our relationship's over, or if they are going to start having some paid staff for some sort of campaign, our relationship's over," Davis said when asked about Gingrich.
According to Davis, Gingrich is subject to the same rules that applied to Crossfire hosts in the show's previous incarnation. Both Pat Buchanan and Geraldine Ferraro ended stints as hosts of that program to run for office, Buchanan for a 2000 presidential run and Ferraro for a 1998 Senate run.
"I was overseeing Crossfire back then and I dealt with both of them then and the policy then is the same policy now," Davis added.
Davis' comments come just days after Gingrich hinted that he may make another White House run in 2016.
In an interview with fellow Crossfire host S.E. Cupp, Gingrich said he would not rule out a 2016 run. When asked if he would "run again in the future," Gingrich replied: "I don't know. We still have a substantial campaign debt. If we can pay it off we would seriously look [at] a 2016 run."
Gingrich had been asked in the past if he would consider running for president in 2016, and said at various times, "It's not a no," "I don't rule it out, but we're not spending any energy on it," "I have no idea at this stage," "It's certainly something that we're going to keep our powder dry and see how the next two years evolve," and "I doubt that, but one never knows."
In June, National Review Online quoted a Gingrich "insider" claiming of a potential Gingrich bid: "There's no planning or anything like that. But these are people who are big fans of his, so a lot of them want to see him run in 2016."
Davis would not say if Gingrich had been asked about his 2016 plans during negotiations for the new Crossfire post, but added, "that's clearly our policy, he knows it and that's it."
Environmental activists, spurred in part by a Media Matters study that found CNBC was misleading on climate change, held a protest in front of CNBC's headquarters Tuesday and submitted more than 42,000 signatures in support of a petition urging the cable network to improve its coverage of that issue.
Members of Environmental Action and Forecast the Facts gathered in front of the business network's offices in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., for a 20-minute event. Their protest highlighted the damage done to New Jersey during last year's Hurricane Sandy and pointed out that CNBC's poor climate change coverage does a disservice to its audience, whose companies can reduce risk and increase profits with accurate information on how climate change is impacting their industries.
"There is this growing evidence of the economic impact of climate change," said Jesse Bacon, field organizer for Environmental Action. "It is crucial and we hope to see an improvement in their climate coverage. CNBC has a reputation as a journalistic outlet so people take them seriously."
The protest is, in part, a response to findings by Media Matters in June that the majority of CNBC's climate coverage cast doubt on the validity of the situation.
At the end of Tuesday's event, Bacon and other organizers presented the petition with what they said were more than 42,000 signatures to CNBC spokesman Brian Steel.
The petition states:
To CNBC Chief Executive Officer and President Mark Hoffman:
Tell Joe Kernen and your other on-air personalities and guests to stop denying climate science and start reporting the facts on the economic risks of fossil-fueled climate change.
Media Matters identified Kernen, the co-anchor of Squawk Box, as "the most vocal CNBC figures on climate change in 2013, frequently pointing to cold weather to suggest that global warming is not occurring."
Bacon said more than 42,000 signatures was "a very high number of people for us. This really resonated. People do care what's on television and what's being covered."
Steel met the group in the parking lot of CNBC and said he "will commit to read these. We always appreciate the feedback, we love viewer feedback."