In reporting on conservative activist James O'Keefe's latest absurd adventure, major media coverage acknowledged it was a flop and something of a joke, except for the New York Times.
O'Keefe held a press conference to announce that his group Project Veritas had released an undercover video of the Clinton campaign allowing a Canadian to give a Project Veritas operative money so that she could purchase a Clinton t-shirt, which was a campaign product that could not be legally purchased by a non-American. At his event O'Keefe presented the incident as if it were a major scandal, while most of the press reported that it was at best a trivial infraction of less than $80.
Bloomberg Politics compared the offense to "jaywalking," National Journal described O'Keefe's press conference as a "vortex of political absurdity" and noted that "we had been snookered into another supposedly salacious release from O'Keefe's organization." The Los Angeles Times said the story, "billed as a blockbuster," was "hardly the stuff of a Pulitzer Prize. " The event and revelation were so underwhelming that a reporter from the Daily Beast asked O'Keefe, "Are you sure it's not a joke?"
The New York Times' Alan Rappeport, in an article headlined "James O'Keefe, Political Sleuth," was far more charitable than the rest of the media. Rappeport wrote that O'Keefe "fired an opening salvo" in 2016 coverage and "campaigns were put on notice on Tuesday."
The Times accepted O'Keefe's framing of the exchange between the Canadian woman and the Project Veritas staffer, writing, "Mr. O'Keefe made the case that the video showed a willingness by the campaign to skirt laws that forbid taking donations from foreigners by using a conduit." In fact the video shows a Clinton staffer pointing out that a foreign national is prohibited from buying the t-shirt in question.
Rappeport proceeded to parrot O'Keefe's argument by noting, "Foreign donations are a sensitive subject for the Clintons, as their family foundation has been under scrutiny for accepting money from overseas." The Times has repeatedly misinformed its readers on the nature of donations to the Clinton Foundation. To reiterate, this is in reference to a $75 transaction over a t-shirt.
The paper even sought comment from the Federal Election Commission, reporting that "at least four commissioners would have to agree that there was a violation before any penalties could be imposed."
While the Times noted that reporters attending O'Keefe's presentation snickered at the obvious absurdity of the occasion, the Times report gave O'Keefe's deceptive claims an enormous and largely uncritical platform.
Conservative activist James O'Keefe has once again overpromised and underdelivered. This time, he claims his latest sting operation found Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign breaking the law, when in reality all that happened was the purchase of a t-shirt.
O'Keefe's Project Veritas Action accused the Clinton campaign on September 1 of allowing a Canadian tourist to launder money, in the form of allowing a t-shirt to be purchased.
In the video representatives of the Clinton campaign at a campaign event point out to a woman from Montreal that that the campaign can't take contributions from anyone who isn't American. An undercover activist from Project Veritas then makes the purchase on behalf of the Canadian.
As The Washington Post's Dave Weigel points out: "There are just two catches. One: No one's ever thrown the book at an American for purchasing merchandise from a campaign, then giving it to a foreigner as a gift. Two: The person who takes the Canadian's money and gives it to the Clinton campaign is the Project Veritas Action journalist."
Weigel further notes, "Daniel Pollack, the director of communications at Project Veritas, argued that the on-camera swag exchange was part of a Clinton scandal continuum, comparable to the stories about foreign businessmen donating to Bill Clinton's foundation and expecting something from Hillary Clinton's state department."
O'Keefe held a press conference September 1 to promote the video, where journalists reportedly asked him "Is this a joke?"
O'Keefe's crew has reportedly already made multiple other attempts to sabotage the Clinton campaign.
Project Veritas last month released a video showing their operative undercover with the Clinton campaign, discussing the registration process and whether they can register people who don't support Clinton.
A Clinton campaign staffer is then shown telling the Project Veritas operative that they will register anyone who asks, regardless of their presidential preference. As Time reported, "Nothing in the video shows the Clinton campaign violating the law, or the campaign's own policy. But Veritas claims, nonetheless, that the campaign is 'skirting the law' by first asking whether potential voters are supporters before making the registration offer. This approach to training volunteers is standard operating procedure across field campaigns, according to a Republican field staffer, who requested anonymity."
Time reports that in addition to the t-shirt scheme, Project Veritas operatives approached the campaign and attempted to pass a cash donation to volunteers and interns while another told the campaign they wanted to illegally funnel donations through a third party.
These failure-laden sting attempts continue O'Keefe's pattern of using deceptively-edited videos, childish costumes, and sometimes committing crimes, in a futile campaign to attack the left. Even Fox News hosts have been embarrassed for O'Keefe, telling him to "give it a rest."
Fox News' Steve Doocy falsely claimed that undocumented immigrants issued driver's licenses in California "have gotten the right to vote." But in reality, licenses issued under the California program are "specially marked" and "do not entitle [undocumented immigrants] to vote."
Media outlets downplayed the legal concerns swirling around Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's fundraising for his affiliated super PAC prior to his formal campaign announcement in their reports on the campaign's unprecedented fundraising success.
The Wall Street Journal dismissed concerns that likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has delayed announcing his campaign while he sidesteps campaign laws and continues coordinating with his super PAC, describing questions about his candidacy as the "return of the speech police." But Bush has been facing increased scrutiny from both legal experts and media noting that he may have violated the law.
Campaign law watchdogs organizations have repeatedly filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission urging them to investigate whether Jeb Bush is illegally coordinating with the super PAC Right to Rise. They argue that Bush is in violation of campaign finance laws that prohibit candidates from certain coordination with PACs and believe that Bush's actions suggest he should be treated as a presidential candidate under the law, regardless of whether he's formally announced his candidacy.
The Wall Street Journal dismissed these concerns in a June 8 editorial, warning readers not to "be surprised if the subpoenas [from the DOJ] hit Republican candidates at crucial political moments." The Journal described criticism of Jeb Bush for delaying his announcement as the "return of the speech police" from the "political left":
The theory behind this accusation is campaign "coordination," the new favorite tool of the anti-speech political left. Earlier this year the Justice Department invited such complaints with a public statement that it would "aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every appropriate opportunity."
Under federal law, illegal coordination occurs if a campaign expenditure (say, a TV ad) mentions a candidate by name in the 120 days before a presidential primary, or if it advocates for a candidate and if the candidate and Super PAC have coordinated the content of the ad.
The liberals claim that a Super PAC raising and spending money in favor of a Bush candidacy should be treated as coordinated expenditures, making them de facto contributions to his campaign. Candidate is the operative word here, a designation that has always been applied to those who announce they are running for public office.
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer says Mr. Bush should be considered a candidate who is illegally coordinating because if you asked "100 ordinary Americans" if he is a candidate, they will say yes. What a bracing legal standard. What would the same 100 Americans have said about Hillary Clinton in 2013, or Ted Cruz in high school? Where is the limiting principle?
But the Journal's dismissal of the criticism of Bush's questionable PAC coordination ignores the growing number of legal experts who have raised questions about his actions. The New York Times noted that "[s]ome election experts say Mr. Bush passed the legal threshold to be considered a candidate months ago, even if he has not formally acknowledged it." CBS' Bob Schieffer similarly pointed out that it is "pretty obvious" Bush is running for president, even as he "rais[es] huge amounts of money for [his] super PAC." Even conservative blog Brietbart.com criticized Bush's PAC coordination, pointing to "Several campaign finance law experts [who claim] they believe Bush is violating the law."
The Wall Street Journal has previously advocated for doing away with the same laws they're now claiming Bush isn't breaking, again claiming they are "dangerous" and no more than a "political attack ... [as] part of a larger liberal campaign." In reality, the decades-old law crafted in the wake of the Watergate scandals to prevent coordination between independent groups and political candidates has long had support across the political spectrum, including the conservative majority in the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.
From the June 8 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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A coalition of 18 groups that advocate for campaign finance reform are calling on broadcast media outlets to devote more coverage to America's broken campaign finance system and the need for reforms, especially as some estimates suggest that spending for the 2016 presidential election could top $10 billion.
On June 4, the groups sent a letter to the heads of the major news networks, calling on them to "take greater action in the future to ensure that Sunday political talk shows and nightly news devote appropriate attention to campaign finance reform." The letter, which was sent to Fox News, CBS News, NBC News, ABC News, and PBS, comes after a series of Media Matters analyses indicated that the crisis of big money in politics -- an issue that is of deep concern to a bipartisan majority of Americans -- was rarely covered by these networks.
The letter went on to explain that increased coverage of money in politics is crucial in the run-up to the 2016 election because of the influx of "dark money," secretive funds given to political nonprofits and super PACs by undisclosed donors. As the groups explained in their letter, dark money "runs counter to American values of accountability and transparency that give voters the information they need to make informed decisions," and substantive coverage of its outsized influence on the democratic process is more important than ever:
From the June 3 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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From the April 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the April 9 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
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Fox News Host Sean Hannity is criticizing singer John Legend's Oscars speech, which invoked the civil rights movement and the ongoing fight for racial and social justice. In response to Legend's completely accurate statement that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is under attack today, Hannity disagreed and appeared to argue that the seminal civil rights law was irrelevant to strict voter ID laws.
On February 22, Legend and co-writer Common won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Glory," from the film Selma, a historical drama about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s fight for equal voting rights. In his acceptance speech, Legend noted that the civil rights struggle represented in the movie continues "right now": "We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now, in this country, today."
On the February 23 edition of his show, Hannity complained that Legend "decided to make all things political." Even though Legend didn't explicitly bring up voter ID laws in his speech, Hannity went on to suggest that it was inappropriate for Legend to "equate the Voting Rights Act with showing an ID to get to vote so we can keep honesty and integrity in our elections ... I like John Legend as a musician, but he doesn't know anything about politics":
An upcoming House Oversight Committee hearing features two conservative media darlings infamous for their anti-immigrant rhetoric and peddling misinformation about voter fraud and election law.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing February 12 titled, "The President's Executive Actions on Immigration and Their Impact on Federal and State Elections." The hearing advisory, obtained by Media Matters, promises an examination of the president's executive actions on immigration and how they may affect "federal and state elections, including the issuance of Social Security Numbers and drivers' licenses to individuals covered by the action."
Two witnesses who will be featured at the hearing, according to the advisory, are well known for spreading misinformation in conservative media circles: Kris Kobach and Hans von Spakovsky.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a repeat guest on Fox News and is often touted by right-wing pundits who support his extreme positions on immigration. He first elevated his profile by pushing a bill that would have directed police officers in Arizona to check the immigration status of those stopped for violations of city and county ordinances, civil traffic violations, and other non-crimes, and would have allowed police to consider race as a factor. Kobach was also instrumental in pushing a Kansas voter registration law that has disenfranchised thousands of American citizens. Appearing on Fox & Friends in March 2014, Kobach tried to cast doubt on the president's immigration enforcement, accusing the administration of "cooking the books" on deportation numbers.
Hans von Spakovsky has been featured on Fox News and on National Review Online for years, demonstrating an unending willingness to distort the truth in the service of restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws. Spakovsky has repeatedly overstated the prevalence of in-person voter fraud and continues to push for voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minority communities and suppress legal voters. At National Review, Spakovsky characterized the modern civil rights movement as being "indistinguishable" from "segregationists."
This hearing comes on the heels of the Senate's recent hearing on Loretta Lynch, a highly regarded nominee for attorney general, which featured a witness list peppered with habitual conservative media misinformers.
UPDATE: On the eve of the hearing, prosecutors in Kansas are questioning Kobach's voter fraud claims. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Kobach has asked lawmakers to grant him the "the power to press voter fraud charges because he says prosecutors do not pursue cases he refers."
But federal prosecutors in Kansas say Kobach hasn't referred any cases to them, and county prosecutors report that the cases referred to them did not justify prosecution.
Five years after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of campaign spending with its Citizens United decision, top newspapers in the three states with the most expensive judicial campaigns, Ohio, Alabama, and Texas, have largely failed to connect Citizens United with major changes in these races. The influx of money into state judicial elections following the decision has accelerated negative advertisements and campaign financing that may influence judges' decisions.
This January marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court case that expanded the idea of "corporate personhood" by ruling that the First Amendment protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Network news coverage of its legal impact, however, has largely ignored how the Supreme Court continues to aggressively expand the decision.
This expansion of corporate rights has wide-ranging consequences, even outside of the context of campaign finance deregulation. The court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, for example, seemed to embrace the idea that corporations are capable of morally objecting to contraception coverage, co-opting yet another constitutional right -- that of religion -- that had previously been reserved for people, not businesses.
In terms of election law, the conservative justices further dismantled campaign finance restrictions in 2014's McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate campaign donation limits and allowed wealthy donors to contribute money to a virtually unlimited number of candidates and political parties. The court will hear yet another campaign finance case on January 20 called Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which could strike down a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from directly soliciting money from donors -- a rule that was put in place in response to a serious corruption scandal that resulted in the resignations of four Florida Supreme Court justices.
Yet despite the cascade of decisions from conservative justices intent on dismantling campaign finance regulations and rewriting corporate rights -- and the majority of Americans who support a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United -- the media have largely underreported this story.
Here are four graphics that illustrate this failure.
On January 20, the day before the five-year anniversary of Citizens United, the Supreme Court will hear yet another case that could roll back campaign finance restrictions, this time for judicial elections. Here is a media guide to some of the legal briefs filed by experts in that case, Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which warn that allowing judges to solicit campaign donations directly is a recipe for disaster.