ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl's statement in response to criticism for the deceptive sourcing in his so-called "exclusive" on administration talking points on the September attacks in Benghazi is fundamentally misleading.
In a statement to CNN, Karl claimed that ABC News "updated our story immediately" when it became clear it was based on misquoted emails from administration officials. But Karl also insisted the story "still entirely stands," and the network has issued no on-air corrections. In fact, in two on-air reports on the release of administration emails that debunked his reporting, Karl said that those emails "confirm" ABC News' original story.
Conservatives have long claimed that the Obama administration edited references to terrorism out of the Benghazi talking points for political reasons. Karl buttressed those allegations with a May 10 report that claimed, 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 "exclusive" received widespread coverage even though it was largely a rehash of previously covered debates on who gave input into the talking points. It did not disprove 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.
But Karl's story dissolved after CNN's Jake Tapper obtained a key email from a White House aide that differed substantially from how it had been quoted by Karl. The ABC News reporter then acknowledged that he had never seen the actual emails on which he had reported. Rather, a Republican source had read him their own summaries of those emails.
On May 20, CNN's Howard Kurtz reported the following statement from Karl: "Clearly, I regret the email was quoted incorrectly and I regret that it's become a distraction from the story, which still entirely stands. I should have been clearer about the attribution. We updated our story immediately."
This statement merely compounds the dubious practices that in which Karl and ABC News have engaged with regard to this story.
From the May 19 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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ABC News is now claiming that its Benghazi "exclusive" was based on summaries of emails between administration aides, not the emails themselves -- an assertion belied by their earlier reports.
CNN's Jake Tapper reported on May 14 that he had obtained an email sent by White House aide Ben Rhodes that "differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations," including ABC's Karl. According to Tapper, previous accounts of the email 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 Rhodes' email actually stated.'"
The conservative media has spent months obsessing over the Benghazi talking points that administration officials were discussing in those emails. According to right-wing conspiracy, the administration edited the talking points to downplay the role of terrorism in the attack in order to benefit the Obama reelection campaign. In fact, as then-CIA director David Petraeus noted, the talking points were changed to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators -- an account bolstered by the full version of the Rhodes email.
ABC News has responded by claiming their original reporting was based on summaries of the emails, not the emails themselves. In a statement to the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, an ABC spokesperson wrote: "Assuming the email cited by Jake Tapper is accurate, it is consistent with the summary quoted by Jon Karl." Karl himself has responded that rather than reviewing the emails themselves, he actually had been "quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes." He added that "[t]he source was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails," suggesting that his original report was based solely on that source's summaries, and denied that the summaries provided an inaccurate take on the original email.
But ABC News and Karl himself have repeatedly suggested he had obtained the actual emails, not summaries of emails from Rhodes and others in the administration.
In the third paragraph of his May 10 ABCNews.com article, Karl reported that "White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department" (emphasis added). Three paragraphs later, he wrote that "Summaries of White House and State Department emails -- some of which were first published by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard -- show that the State Department had extensive input into the editing of the talking points" (emphasis added). That was the sole reference to "summaries" in the online article. Instead, he repeatedly produced quotes from what he described as "emails," suggesting that he had personally reviewed the original documents.
Karl and his ABC News colleagues also repeatedly suggested on-air that he had obtained the actual emails.
Reporting on ABC's Good Morning America on May 10, Karl neither said he had personally reviewed the emails, nor said he had reviewed summaries. Instead, he said he had "had emails read to me," then provided what he described as a direct quote from a State Department spokeswoman's email.
Karl likewise cited "an email obtained by ABC" on the May 10 edition of ABC's World News and read the comments from the State Department spokeswoman as a "quote" from that email. (via Nexis).
Similarly, ABC's Martha Raddatz referred to Karl having "exclusively obtained the emails" on the May 12 edition of This Week, while Reena Ninan referenced "emails exclusively unearthed" by Karl on the May 11 World News.
It seems reasonable for readers to assume that when, for instance, a reporter publishes a direct quote attributed to a White House staffer from what is described as "an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m.," the reporter is producing the actual words the aide wrote. Now ABC News is claiming that that is not the case.
Economic media coverage has been heavily focused on advocating for deficit reduction, even as deficits decline and the federal government posts a surplus.
A Media Matters analysis on economic news coverage in the month of April found that media continued their long-established focus on deficit reduction. In 45 of 123 total segments discussing policy impacts on the economy, guests or hosts on network and cable news advocated for deficit reduction as a priority.
Calls for deficit reduction beat out mentions of other economic issues, most notably the need for economic growth and job creation, and economic inequality.
The continued focus on deficit reduction is particularly interesting given the fact that, in the month of April, the federal government posted the largest budget surplus in five years. Furthermore, according to the Congressional Budget Office, current and projected deficits are expected to decline in coming years.
Even conservatives have recently acknowledged that deficit reduction is not the country's most pressing economic issue. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), agreeing with President Obama, stated that the country is not facing an immediate debt crisis, a notion shared by prominent Democrats. And John Makin, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, remarked that Congress has already enacted enough deficit reduction.
Meanwhile, economists have expressed concerns over media's focus on deficits, instead calling attention to resolving the very real immediate crisis of unemployment. Economist Jared Bernstein recently began a series on the path to full employment, and numerous other economists have advocated increased short-term spending to bolster economic growth and job creation.
Furthermore, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has even pointed out that focusing on jobs and growth -- not spending cuts -- provides an effective avenue for deficit reduction.
Media outlets largely ignored economic inequality in discussions about the overall economy, despite mounting evidence suggesting that the problem has increased in recent years.
While media have been quick to highlight ostensibly positive gains for the economy -- notably that the Dow Jones Industrial reached 15,000 for the first time in its history, GDP grew by 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2013, and unemployment for April edged down to 7.5 percent -- signs of rising income inequality have gone largely unmentioned.
According to a recent Media Matters analysis, economic coverage for the month of April barely mentioned issues of inequality. In 123 total segments discussing policy effects on the macroeconomy, only 12 touched upon the growing disparity in economic gains for the rich and the poor.
The discrepancy in covering economic inequality stretched across all major outlets. ABC, CBS, and NBC provided no mentions of the problem. MSNBC devoted the most coverage, with roughly 25 percent of segments on the economy discussing rising inequality.
While the media have pushed inequality out of the spotlight, mounting evidence suggests that the problem is getting worse.
As for the rising stock market, while any gains should be viewed as a positive for the economy as a whole, the distribution of those gains paints a less than perfect picture. According to a Gallup poll, 52 percent of Americans currently hold stocks, a number that has been consistently declining in recent years.
Other indicators highlight the deep-seated nature of economic inequality. According to Congressional Budget Office data, from 1979 to 2007 the top one percent of income earners have seen their after-tax share of total income rise by more than 120 percent, while the bottom 20 percent of earners have seen that share decline by almost 30 percent.
And according to an analysis by journalist David Cay Johnston, economic gains in recent history show an even darker reality - from 2009 to 2011, 149 percent of increased income was reaped by the top 10 percent of earners.
Meanwhile, the economy is currently suffering from an epidemic of long-term unemployed workers, which, as noted in a Bloomberg editorial, could create a permanent underclass of workers unable to reenter the labor force.
Some of the media's attention -- albeit very little -- has focused on the inequitable impact of sequestration on low-income individuals. The overwhelming majority of discussion of inequality in April, most notably on MSNBC, focused on Congress' unwillingness to mitigate the impacts of sequestration of the poor, while members were seemingly enthusiastic to correct inconveniences for those at the upper end of the income scale.
While some attention has been given to economic inequality, the broader trend in media is to ignore the issue, preferring instead to focus on the widely recognized non-issue of short-term deficit and debt reduction.
Evening news coverage throughout April touched upon several economic issues, including income inequality, deficit reduction, and entitlement cuts. A Media Matters analysis of this coverage reveals that many of these segments lacked proper context or necessary input from economists, while some networks ignored certain issues entirely.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl is helping to promote a dishonest narrative regarding why then-CIA director Gen. David Petraeus expressed disapproval for a set of talking points written in response to the September attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Karl's reporting on the issue has ignored the central reason Petraeus said that he didn't like the talking points: he thought they didn't do enough to connect the attacks to demonstrations in Cairo that were triggered by an anti-Islam video. Since right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have spent months accusing the Obama administration of politically-motivated lying for stating that there was a link between the attacks and the video, this point is crucial.
According to CBS News, in a September 15 email, Petraeus wrote that "he doesn't like the talking points and he would 'just assume they not use them... This is not what [Rep.] Ruppersberger asked for. We couldn't even mention the Cairo warning. But it's their call.'"
The "Cairo warning" Petraeus mentioned appears to refer to the following sentence that CBS News reported was added to the original talking points but subsequently removed:
On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy [in Cairo] and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy."
As has been extensively reported, the September demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt, were part of a series of global riots and protests in Muslim countries that came in response to increasing awareness of the anti-Islam video. In the days and weeks following the attack, President Obama both referred to the attacks as an "act of terror" and offered criticism of that video for "spark[ing] outrage through the Muslim world."
It was not unreasonable for Petraeus and Obama to cite a link between the attacks and the video - according to the New York Times, the Benghazi attackers told bystanders that "that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video." In fact, the original set of talking points prepared by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that the attacks "were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo."
But in reporting on the same Petraeus email, Karl has left out Petraeus' stated reason for disliking the talking points and in one case allowed his interviewer to suggest that Petraeus actually opposed linking the attacks to the video.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
ABC News is falsely suggesting there is a contradiction between the Obama administration removing references to terrorist groups in Libya from talking points about the September 11 attacks on diplomatic facilities in that country and pointing to President Obama's statements that those attacks were an "act of terror."
The original September 14 version of a set of talking points compiled by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that "Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa'ida participated in the attack," and specifically suggested the involvement of the group Ansar al Sharia. Those specifics were subsequently removed, with the final version of the talking points stating only that "extremists participated" in the attacks.
In closed congressional testimony following his resignation as CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly said that these specifics had been "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." Administration officials have also said that there were other intelligence and legal concerns with naming the suspected perpetrators:
"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. "There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants -- a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.'s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
Indeed, ABC News has reported that in an email in response to the initial talking points, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland "objected to naming the terrorist groups because 'we don't want to prejudice the investigation.'"
By contrast, in his September 12 and September 13 remarks, President Obama described the attacks as an "act of terror," but did not specify who the perpetrators of that act might be. Presumably such comments would not alert the perpetrators that they were being tracked or jeopardize the criminal probe in the same way that the naming of the specific group might.
Despite that clear distinction, ABC Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz and White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl both suggested that the White House is trying to "have it both ways."
At the height of the manufactured "Climategate" controversy, distortions of an email from a top climate scientist made it all the way to one of the leading Sunday shows. But a recent study re-confirms what that scientist was actually saying -- that much of recent heat has been trapped deep in the ocean.
In 2009, a batch of emails was stolen from the University of East Anglia. In one of the emails, which skeptics quickly took out of context, Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, lamented the "travesty" that "we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment." Trenberth was actually referring to gaps in our "observing system" that make it difficult to say where short-term energy -- or heat -- is going, not copping to a lack of long-term climate change, as some claimed. In the email, Trenberth alluded to research suggesting that the "missing" heat might be sequestered deep in the ocean.
For some media, none of this mattered. In a November 2009 appearance on ABC's This Week, conservative columnist George Will suggested Trenberth's email showed that "global warming has stopped," and that since climate science is "a complicated business," we "shouldn't wager these trillions" on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
But a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the ocean has in fact played a "key role" in absorbing recent heat, which "strengthens our confidence in the robustness of our climate models." The findings echo the conclusions of a paper co-authored by Trenberth himself as well as findings published in the journal Physics Letters A in late 2012, all indicating that climate change continues apace.
Recent analyses by Media Matters show that the "Climategate" episode was typical of the way the influential Sunday shows favor political spin over scientific fact. On the rare occasion Sunday shows covered climate change between 2009 and 2012, not a single scientist or climate expert was part of the discussion. In addition, every politician who discussed climate change on the Sunday shows in 2012 was a Republican:
Examining trends more broadly, the Sunday shows have hosted more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives. In this environment, honest appraisals of science are rare, and commentators like George Will fit right in.
Broadcast and cable news networks have largely ignored a new report which concluded that the United States' rebuilding efforts in Iraq squandered billions of dollars due to widespread fraud, abuse, and waste.
Last week, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released a report concluding that of the $60 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction projects in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, at least $8 billion of it was "wasted."
In the five days since its release, only PBS and MSNBC have offered substantial coverage of the report.
NBC, ABC, and CBS have all ignored it during their evening newscasts (though it warranted passing mention on NBC's Today, the other networks' morning news programs also ignored the findings). Fox News' Bret Baier gave the story less than twenty seconds of coverage during Special Report.
CNN has completely ignored the report.
Though NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN have devoted a combined thirty five seconds to the story, PBS and MSNBC have each spent more than ten minutes discussing the report and its conclusions.
Media ignored economists in their reports leading up to the initiation of the economically damaging across-the-board spending cuts commonly known as sequestration.
If Congress fails to act by midnight, across-the-board spending cuts of up to $85 billion in 2013 alone will take effect. While sequestration is inherently an economic issue, media are ignoring the last chance to have economists weigh in on the consequences.
Media Matters reviewed news coverage leading up to the sequestration deadline, specifically the February 28 evening news broadcasts; March 1 reports from The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times; and the March 1 morning news programs on the major cable and broadcast networks. We found that economists have been almost completely shut out. Of 122 total guests and quoted figures appearing in a total of 43 articles or television segments, one lone economist was mentioned, Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner in a report from the Journal.
From the January 9 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
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A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX remained low in 2012 despite record temperatures and a series of extreme weather events in the U.S. When the Sunday shows did discuss climate change, scientists were shut out of the debate while Republican politicians were given a platform to question the science.
Most cable news and major news networks were silent on the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and House Republicans' failure to reauthorize the law for the first time since 1994. However, MSNBC provided its viewers with extensive coverage of reauthorization, repeatedly warning that the law was set to expire if Congress did not act and exposing the GOP's obstructionism.
After the Senate voted 68-31 to approve the bipartisan VAWA in April, 2012, the bill was sent to the House where Republicans allowed the act to expire. House Republicans reportedly blocked the reauthorization due to objections over the law's expanded provisions to protect Native American women, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT victims of domestic violence. House Republicans later proposed their own version of the bill that stripped the Senate's added protections.
Media Matters looked at the month leading up to the expiration of the VAWA and found that both Fox News and CNN failed to cover the need to reauthorize the act, while MSNBC informed its viewers of the law's status. A search on Nexis for segments referring to the Violence Against Women Act on Fox News and CNN between December 1, 2012 and January 2 found only one mention between the two networks. In comparison, a search of MSNBC transcripts turned up ten references to the expiring VAWA and House Republicans' efforts to block the reauthorization along with another two brief mentions of the law in broad discussion.
In fact, during the December 16, 2012 edition of MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes devoted two segments to the importance of House Republicans' refusal to approve the law. The panel noted the danger that the GOP's obstructionism posed to women victims of domestic violence across the country.