ABC's Jonathan Karl is drawing criticism from journalism veterans and media ethicists who say his recent reporting on talking points related to the September attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya has been "sloppy" and "highly problematic ethically."
The conservative media and Republican politicians have claimed for months that the Obama administration had for political purposes edited references to terrorism out of a set of talking points used shortly after the attacks.
On May 10, Karl gave those claims new life with an "exclusive" online report that found, based on what appeared to be direct quotes from the emails of White House and State Department aides, that "the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department."
Karl's muddled account reported both that "White House emails reviewed by ABC News" and that "summaries of White House and State Department emails" led to that conclusion. He also repeatedly produced quotes from what he described as "emails," suggesting that he had personally reviewed the original documents. In on-air reports, Karl and his colleagues subsequently claimed he had "obtained" the emails.
But after CNN produced the full text of one of the emails Karl had cited and reported that the version in Karl's article had made it "appear that the White House was more interested in the State Department's desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and warnings about these groups so as to not bring criticism to the State Department" than was actually the case, Karl acknowledged that he had actually been "quoting verbatim" an unnamed source "who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes," and had not seen the emails himself. Observers have suggested that Karl had been burned by his source, given the discrepancies between what Karl reported about the email and what it actually said in full.
The slippery language Karl and ABC News adopted in describing the emails has drawn fire from media ethicists and veteran journalists.
"At best, it's extremely sloppy. At worst, it's a deliberate attempt to conceal the secondhand -- and possibly distorted -- nature of the information ABC was relying on so as to put its shoulder to the wheel of a highly prejudicial reading of the affair," said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Miami Herald columnist. "Whether best or worst is true, it's highly problematic ethically, and the failure to acknowledge and correct is even worse."
Tim McGuire, journalism professor at Arizona State University and former president of the American Society of News Editors, criticized Karl for failing to adhere to basic standards of ethics.
A Wall Street Journal article highlighted Republican complaints that references to Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations were removed from unclassified talking points on the Benghazi, Libya, attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility but failed to note that those references were removed to avoid compromising a criminal investigation and tipping off those terrorist organizations.
In a May 14 article about the Obama administration's release of more than 100 pages of emails showing the editing process behind unclassified talking points about the Benghazi attacks, the Journal channeled Republican critiques that references to Al Qaeda were removed to intentionally mislead the American public about what occurred in Benghazi:
The talking points were meant to provide a first public account of the attacks on U.S. posts in Benghazi, which claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The very first set of talking points said "extremists with ties to al Qaeda" took part in the attacks. The final product made no reference to al Qaeda, but to extremists.
United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice used the talking points as the basis of the administration's explanation of what happened in the assault in a series of television interviews Sept. 16, 2012, five days after the attacks.
Republicans have said the talking points show the administration misled the public about the role of al Qaeda. Democrats charge the GOP with trying to damage the standing of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a 2016 Democratic presidential prospect.
But the removal of references to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations weren't designed to mislead anybody but terrorists. The New York Times reported in November that former CIA Director David Petraeus told lawmakers in congressional testimony that the names of terrorist organizations suspected of participating in the attacks "were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them."
Additionally, the release of the talking points emails shows that the CIA's general counsel was concerned about naming specific groups because it could "conflict with express instructions from NSS/DOJ/FBI that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this." The emails also show State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland expressing concern that naming the terrorist groups possibly involved might "prejudice the investigation."
In contrast to the Journal's report, The Washington Post included explanations about why references to specific terrorist organizations were removed from the talking points:
According to the e-mails and initial CIA-drafted talking points, the agency believed the attack included a mix of Islamist extremists from Ansar al-Sharia, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and angry demonstrators.
White House officials did not challenge that analysis, the e-mails show, nor did they object to its inclusion in the public talking points.
But CIA deputy director Michael Morell later removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia because the assessment was still classified and because FBI officials believed that making the information public could compromise their investigation, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate.
A senior administration official said Wednesday that the only indication the CIA had at that point that Ansar al-Sharia was involved was a single piece of intelligence, whose existence it did not want to reveal lest its sources and methods be compromised.
The dream of wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T -- or any company, really -- is to be able to charge twice for providing the same service. In working towards that goal they're getting a big assist from ESPN and tearing down net neutrality in the process.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that ESPN is in talks with "at least one" major U.S. wireless internet provider to "subsidize wireless connectivity on behalf of its users." This means that they're willing to pay a wireless carrier like AT&T a significant chunk of change to enable ESPN viewers to stream unlimited sports programming to their mobile devices without having to worry about exceeding the carrier's monthly data caps. So wireless subscribers would pay AT&T for access to the internet, and ESPN would pay AT&T for access to the customer. One service, two charges.
And if AT&T does end up pairing with ESPN on this scheme, that wouldn't be surprising given that AT&T has been trying to work out ways to double-charge for their services for quite some time. Last February the Journal reported that the wireless carrier was scheming out a way to charge developers of data-intensive mobile apps for the traffic AT&T subscribers incurred while using their products, and on May 15 AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told investors that he expects those plans to be in effect soon. They also tried to double-charge customers for the privilege of using Apple's FaceTime videochat app -- a potential violation of the almost-impossible-to-violate Open Internet rules. They eventually made FaceTime available to all subscribers except those who still have unlimited data plans grandfathered in from before AT&T switched over to tiered plans with data caps.
That should give you an idea how much wireless carriers love data caps and how central they are to their future business models. It's a lucrative proposition for them: set up the cap, charge customers who go over it, and charge companies who can afford to pay to get around it. And that's where the net neutrality concern comes in: wireless carriers who allow companies to circumvent their data limits are, in effect, prioritizing the content of those companies and disincentivizing subscribers from seeking out content from companies who haven't paid for the exemption. As Public Knowledge put it: "Imposing data caps on consumers and then allowing wealthy content holders to buy their way around them is a recipe for stagnation online."
As media scrutinize accidental shootings involving children, the National Rifle Association's news program Cam & Company has instead repeatedly highlighted incidents where students clashed with administrators over school policies that relate to guns.
Accidental shootings involving children have been a much discussed topic over the past few weeks, with some incidents receiving widespread coverage. In particular, a fatal accident in Burkesville, Kentucky, where a 5-year-old boy unintentionally shot his 2-year-old sister with a rifle designed to be used by young children, was covered by The New York Times, CNN, the Associated Press, CBSNews.com, and MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes.
Between the Kentucky accident that occurred on April 30 and May 14, Cam & Company spent only 5 minutes and 33 seconds covering gun accidents, mostly by attacking the media for reporting on the incidents. In comparison, the show spent 71 minutes and 13 seconds highlighting instances where host Cam Edwards felt that students had been unfairly treated by schools for their participation in gun culture. During the sole segment that covered a gun accident, Edwards criticized The New York Times for its reporting on the Burkesville accident.
School incidents that received ample coverage on Cam & Company, which airs on The Sportsman Channel, include:
Emails from Obama administration aides obtained by CNN should end the right-wing media's nine-month witch hunt regarding the creation and editing of talking points related to the September 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
CNN has obtained more than 100 pages of emails detailing the exchanges between CIA, State Department, and other Obama administration aides concerning what should be included in talking points for public appearances by members of Congress and administration officials.
Those talking points were used by U.N. ambassador Susan Rice in a series of interviews that were subsequently seized upon by conservative critics who claimed she downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks in order to aid President Obama's re-election. On May 10 ABC's Jonathan Karl reported on what he later acknowledged were summaries of a handful of the emails of administration aides, triggering another wave of claims that the administration had engaged in a cover-up.
But while the right has spent more than half a year mired in scandalmongering over the talking points, the emails buttress what Gen. David Petraeus, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, testified in November: that the intelligence community signed off on the final draft of the talking points, and that references to terrorist groups in Libya were removed in order to avoid tipping off those groups and preserve the ongoing investigation.
Notably, while the right-wing media has expressed months of outrage over administration statements linking the attacks to an anti-Islam video, claiming that this was based on political desire and not the conclusions of the intelligence community, every version of the talking points stated that the attacks were "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo," which had been triggered by the video. The emails contain no criticism of that statement.
CNN's Jake Tapper further reports that the removal of portions of the talking points dealing with warnings about the security situation in Benghazi prior to the attacks were supported by the CIA:
Senior administration officials say that long before the CIA heard concerns from the State Department about warnings being put in the talking points, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell advocated for taking the warnings out, since he felt the talking points should focus on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, rather than the previous six months.
He also felt it was unprofessional and unfair for the CIA to cite its own warnings to the State Department, officials said. Victoria Nuland, then the State Department spokeswoman, raised concerns over the CIA's first version of the talking points, saying that they went further than what she was allowed to say about the attack during her briefings.
Right-wing media are increasingly and uniformly pushing the "personhood" position in their anti-choice attacks, an absolutist argument that equates fetuses with persons and goes beyond repealing Roe v. Wade to banning all abortions.
As recently as the 2012 presidential campaign, the GOP standard bearer claimed that although he opposed Roe v. Wade, he supported standard exceptions to abortion restrictions, and overturning 40 years of reproductive rights precedent would merely "return to the people and their elected representatives the decisions with regards to this important issue." This so-called moderate Republican position on "limits on abortion" was endorsed by prominent right-wing media figures such as Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, who assured her readers that "the GOP isn't waging a 'war on women'; it is waging a war on abortion on demand."
Now that the election is over, Rubin is following the lead of right-wing media and using convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell to attack extremely rare and mostly prohibited late-term abortions, by arguing a "baby is far more than a fetus" or a "a clump of cells" because "there's a lot of science out there that...allows us to save these children." From Rubin's appearance on the May 13 edition of Fox News' America Live:
We're talking about infants that if they would be operated on, for example, by a surgeon at 24 weeks, would likely survive. As you say, you can take sonogram, you can see them sucking their thumb, they respond to music, there's all sorts of indications that that baby is far more than a fetus, which is the way the pro-abortion lobby likes to refer to it. And I think this makes Americans confront that. The president doesn't want to talk about it. He goes out and talks to Planned Parenthood, and says I'm all with you folks, and those are the people who want abortion on demand for any reason, any place, any time.
I think one of the problems that the abortion lobby is having is the science. They say conservatives don't like science. Well, there's a lot of science out there that not only allows us to save these children but also allows you to see them. And to obtain an indication that this is something far more than just a clump of cells.
In falsely comparing Gosnell's killing of newborns with legal abortion, Rubin is making an important rhetorical shift that is being repeated elsewhere on Fox News. On May 14, Fox News co-host of The Five, Andrea Tantaros, did the same:
[Gosnell's conviction] gives the pro-life movement an argument against the pro-abortion movement, which is they continue to argue, argue, argue in favor of abortion. However, this court just said, you kill a baby outside the womb, it's murder. But what about a baby inside of the womb? That question has to be answered. And I think that this does give the pro-life movement some fuel for their fight.
Fox News ignored President Obama's explicit demand for accountability in the wake of news that the Internal Revenue Service applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups. The network's omission gave it cover to accuse Obama of not taking the IRS's actions seriously and to call for a special prosecutor.
Obama first addressed the IRS controversy during a May 13 joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, where he condemned the IRS's behavior with the caveat, "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported," then "that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable."
After the Inspector General published its report on the IRS's actions, concluding the agency applied "inappropriate criteria" to conservative applicants, Obama granted the IRS no such caveat. He released a statement definitively naming the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable" and directing action to be taken to hold those responsible accountable:
I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog's report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.
I've directed Secretary Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again.
Yet the next day, America Live host Megyn Kelly and Fox's digital political editor Chris Stirewalt pretended Obama issued no such condemnation.
Instead, Kelly claimed that even after the IG's report was released, "we still have the president saying, 'Well, if they did it, if they did it, if they did it." She ranted, "I don't understand, more so today than the other day, why the president used that word 'if.' 'If these people did this, if these people did that.' Now that I've seen the Inspector General report -- and you're telling me -- now Fox News just got it last night. But other news organizations had it leaked to them early. You're telling me President Obama couldn't have got it when it was complete on Monday?"
Kelly and Stirewalt used their mischaracterization of Obama's response to call for a special prosecutor into the IRS's actions. Stirewalt told Kelly that if he were the president, he would "find a Republican of good standing" to appoint as an independent investigator. Kelly responded with the charge, "Where is the harm to this administration, if as these IRS employees state, no one outside of the IRS had anything to do with this, this was just IRS employees deciding to target conservatives. So if the White House and no one else had anything to do with it, where is the harm? Why doesn't the president just say 'absolutely'?"
Fox News chose to ignore the historic passage of marriage equality in Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota, opting instead to promote a handful of asinine horror stories about same-sex marriage.
Fox News viewers are likely unaware that three states - Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota -voted to legalize same-sex marriage over the past three weeks. That's because Fox News spent a total of one minute covering the stories, according to an Equality Matters analysis:
While CNN and MSNBC both covered the developments, Fox News made only three mentions of the passage of marriage equality in Rhode Island, entirely ignoring the new law in Delaware.
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade reacted to a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report showing the 2013 deficit dropping by $200 billion by lamenting that the report might discourage further austerity measures.
In a May 14 report, the non-partisan CBO estimated that in 2013, the federal deficit will be $200 billion lower than previously projected, the smallest deficit since 2008. The report also predicted that the deficit over the next 10 years will be $618 billion less than previously thought.
Kilmeade reacted to this news with calls for increased austerity, lamenting that the "positive news" in the CBO report might lead away from a mindset of "fiscal discipline." Kilmeade concluded, "I just hope we still feel the urgency to get our budget in order."
However, Kilmeade's concern may be misplaced. As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein noted in a May 14 post, the new CBO estimate makes the deficit look "downright manageable":
[T]he debt disaster that has obsessed the political class for the last three years is pretty much solved, at least for the next 10 years or so.
In fact, that's probably too much deficit reduction, too quickly.
Many economists agree that too much in spending cuts too quickly can hurt economic growth. In an April 27 post on his New York Times blog, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called continued efforts at deficit reduction through austerity measures "very bad policy," explaining that recent declines in government spending -- at the federal, state, and municipal levels -- have contributed to slow economic growth. Similarly, in a February 8 Guardian op-ed, the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker asserted that "deficit reduction is throwing people out of work" and concluded that "we need deficits today to fill a huge hole in demand created by the private sector."
Additionally, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that austerity has led to a decline in government spending, which has turned into a drag on economic growth:
Our recent report on diversity on evening cable news produced an unexpected finding that raised eyebrows here at Media Matters: According to our results, Fox News' Hannity was the third most ethnically diverse show, sandwiched closely between MSNBC's Politics Nation with Al Sharpton and CNN's Erin Burnett Outfront. But a closer look at the figures shows that this apparent diversity was largely due to the impact of a single Hannity episode devoted to black conservatives who oppose President Obama.
Hannity's guests for April of this year were 30 percent non-white, in stark contrast to the rest of Fox's evening programming, which is dominated by white guests: Special Report with Bret Baier (7 percent of guests were non-white), The O'Reilly Factor (11 percent), and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren (9 percent).
Hannity's apparent greater diversity, though, can largely be attributed to the April 8 episode where host Sean Hannity aired, in his own words, a "very special studio audience edition of Hannity" that was comprised entirely of "a very distinguished group of African-American conservatives."
In all, 22 of Hannity's 58 non-white guests during the month of April were featured on this single show. That represents 38 percent of Hannity's non-white guests and 50 percent of Hannity's African-American guests.
To put into perspective just how truly unusual this April 8 episode was for Hannity, we can look at numbers for a typical show. Excluding the April 8 outlier, the average Hannity show hosted approximately 7 white guests and just a single non-white guest. That puts the numbers much closer to those of the other Fox programs studied.