Broadcast nightly news shows completely ignored the day's landmark court ruling striking down federal net neutrality regulations, an omission that deals a huge disservice to the public audience and a boon to the news outlets' parent corporations.
Net neutrality -- the principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers -- was dealt a serious blow the morning of January 14 when the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidated the Federal Communications Commission's requirement that providers offer equal access to online information, regardless of the source. Prior to the ruling, the FCC prevented internet providers from blocking (or slowing down access to) content in order to benefit their own business interests.
That evening, neither NBC, CBS, nor ABC acknowledged the ruling in their evening news broadcasts.
Here's why that's important -- NBC is owned by Comcast Corporation, which bills itself as the nation's largest high-speed Internet provider. CBS' parent company is CBS Corporation, which also owns multiple sports networks and Showtime, while ABC is part of The Walt Disney Company empire, also the owner of ESPN.
This is a huge conflict of interest for the broadcast news channels, as their parent corporations all have a vested interest in striking down net neutrality laws and promoting their own content at the expense of competitors that lack an advantage in size or Internet service. As PCWorld explained:
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
Broadcast evening news programs slanted coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by hyping negative aspects of the law's rollout while underplaying or not exploring positive changes to insurance coverage under the health care law, including the role that subsidies would play in making health care affordable. All three major broadcast networks aired more segments that took on a negative tone than a positive tone in October and November 2013, according to a Media Matters study.
As the calendar races towards 2014, and Congressional members log their final few days in session while facing daunting deadlines for a long list of pressing and unfinished initiatives, the press has been busy chronicling the futility, assigning collective blame, and giving the president permanent failing marks.
According to historians, 2013 is on track to become the least productive single legislative year in modern American history. And it's not even close. In 1995, 88 laws were passed, setting the previous low-water mark. This year, it's doubtful 70 will make it to the president's desk. (And lots of the bills that have passed are ceremonial or rather trivial in nature.) The press is not happy about the trend.
"The paltry number of bills Congress has passed into law this year paints a vivid picture of just how bad the gridlock has been for lawmakers," announced NBC. The Wall Street Journal noted this year's session has been "long on partisanship, indecision and brinkmanship." USA Today bemoaned the inability "to find common ground." And the Los Angeles Times pointed to "partisan dysfunction" as the main Congressional culprit.
See? "Congress" remains in the grips of "gridlock" and "brinkmanship." Congress just can't find "common ground" and suffers from serious "dysfunction."
So that's why immigration reform, the farm bill, a budget deal, unemployment benefit extensions, workplace discrimination legislation, and the defense spending bill haven't been passed or dealt with yet? And that's why the government was shutdown for 16 days in October?
Wrong. The current Congress obliterated all previous records for diminished output because the Republican Party, and especially those in the Republican-run House, purposefully bottled up as many initiatives as possible and unleashed "procedural sabotage." (They even obstructed disaster relief aid for victim of Hurricane Sandy.)
Yet eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are equally responsible for so little getting accomplished, the press gives Republicans a pass for their purposeful dysfunction.
By the way, are you also experiencing media flashbacks to the government shutdown, which the Republican Party proudly engineered by reneging on a budget deal they had agreed to with the last-minute demand that Obama essentially repeal his signature legislative accomplishment of his first term, the Affordable Care Act? Back then, the one-sided shutdown maneuver was nearly universally portrayed as bipartisan "Washington dysfunction at its absolute worst" (ABC News), a "partisan logjam" (Wall Street Journal), and a "fiscal stalemate" (The Hill).
Yet today, even as some Republican members brag about how little they've allowed Congress to accomplish, even as a plurality of voters says the GOP's top priority is to cause trouble for the president, while a majority blame Republicans for the lack of productivity in Washington, the press still prefers to portray the Capitol Hill standstill as bipartisan "gridlock."
Because, of course, both sides are always to blame.
Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe just days before the looming deadline for a federal government shutdown, Politico's Mike Allen was assessing the politics of the controversy and predicting which Beltway players would get tagged with the blame for the intentional legislative debacle. Despite the fact that Republicans were refusing to fund the government if the White House balked at the demand to essentially repeal its 2010 health care law, Allen suggested President Obama would be the real political loser.
Why Obama? Because he's more famous than the GOP congressional leaders whose actions are causing the impasse.
"A lot of people in the country don't know John Boehner. There's no one in the world who doesn't know Barack Obama," Allen explained. "So when Washington is not working, it's going off the rails in a very visible way, a way that is vivid and touches people, that's not good ultimately for the president."
That's an awfully tenuous path to blame Obama for the Republicans' proudly obstructionist strategy to stop funding the government.
Yet so it goes within portions of the Beltway press corps who are straining to include Democrats in the shutdown blame game; to make sure "both sides" are targeted for tsk-tsk scoldings about "Washington dysfunction," and that the Republicans' truly radical nature remains casually ignored. This media act is getting old. And this media act may be emboldening the Republicans' extreme behavior.
Note that unlike the government shutdowns during the Clinton administration, this one was not prompted by a budgetary disagreement between the two parties. It was provoked by the GOP's unheard of demand that in order to vote for government spending they agree is necessary, the White House had to strip away funding for its health care law. Also note that the looming showdown over the debt ceiling represents another orchestrated crisis in which the GOP is making unprecedented demands on the president in exchange for their votes for a policy they say they support. Both cases illustrate the folly of trying to blame the White House for failing to engage with Republicans, who have embraced a path of purposefully unsolvable confrontations.
What's been clear for years is that the press clings to its preferred storyline: When Republicans obstruct Obama's agenda, the president's to blame for not changing the GOP's unprecedented behavior. In other words, "both sides" are to blame for the GOP's radical actions and the epic gridlock it produces.
The media lesson for Republicans? There's very little political downside to pushing extremism if the press is going to give the party a pass.
Benghazi witness Gregory Hicks used an ABC interview to push discredited myths about the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya that have been refuted by military officials and by his own testimony.
During the September 8 edition of This Week, Former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks described his experience and the aftermath of the Benghazi attack with host George Stephanopoulos. Hicks used the interview to accuse the State Department of retaliating against him for his testimony during a House Oversight Committee hearing on May 8. After Stephanopoulos asked Hicks whether he felt he was being punished for his testimony, he responded, "Yes, I feel that I have been punished. ... I don't know why I was punished" and "shunted aside."
But Hicks was not punished for speaking out. Stephanopoulos read from a State Department letter which explained that "The State Department has not punished Mr. Hicks in any way" and his departure from Libya "was entirely unrelated to any statements" he made about Benghazi.
In fact, Hicks' claim about being punished contradicts his previous testimony about not returning to his assignment in Libya. During his testimony at a May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing, Hicks explained that "my family really didn't want me to go back. ... So I voluntarily curtailed" returning to Libya. From Hicks' sworn testimony (emphasis added):
REP. SCOTT DESJARLAIS (R-TN): So when you came back to the United States, were you planning on going back to Libya?
MR. HICKS: I was. I fully intended to do so.
REP. DESJARLAIS: And what do you think happened?
MR. HICKS: Based on the criticism that I received, I felt that if I went back, I would never be comfortable working there. And in addition, my family really didn't want me to go back. We'd endured a year of separation when I was in Afghanistan 2006 and 2007. That was the overriding factor. So I voluntarily curtailed -- I accepted an offer of what's called a no-fault curtailment. That means that there's -- there would be no criticism of my departure of post, no negative repercussions. And in fact Ambassador Pope, when he made the offer to everyone in Tripoli when he arrived -- I mean Charge Pope -- when he arrived, he indicated that people could expect that they would get a good onward assignment out of that.
ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer stated that "the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow" to the Head Start program -- by implementing the automatic spending cuts commonly known as the sequester -- before noting that "critics say" the cuts could have been avoided. While Sawyer did note that the cuts were linked to sequestration, she framed them as an action taken by the Obama administration while failing to highlight the responsibility Republicans in Congress share or mentioning the White House's long standing offers first to avert sequestration and now to replace it.
On August 18, The Washington Post reported that as many as 57,000 children lost access to Head Start's health, nutrition, and early education programs due to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. While covering that story, Sawyer claimed on ABC World News' August 19 broadcast that "an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program head start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education."
SAWYER: And now back here at home an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program Head Start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education. Word tonight: the administration says the sequester forced cuts, but critics say there may have been another way. And tonight 57,000 children are facing the possibility they will no longer get educational support.
Sawyer appeared to lay blame squarely on the Obama administration's shoulders, or at least ignored the responsibility held by Republicans. Sawyer reported that "critics say there may have been another way," but in fact, Obama offered another way with a plan to avert sequestration. Republicans refused to budge on a deal and some even said the cuts were necessary. Once sequestration hit, Obama called on Congress to replace it with a more balanced approach. The president has also been an advocate of early childhood education and even mentioned it in his 2013 State of the Union.
ABC's coverage was brief -- a common problem in the media's sequestration reporting that Media Matters has previously noted -- but left out critical context that gave the appearance of laying the blame on Obama.
The Republican National Committee voted this morning to ban NBC News and CNN from hosting GOP primary debates in 2016. On paper, the vote was to protest plans by NBC and CNN to produce, respectively, a miniseries and a documentary on Hillary Clinton. But there's a whole lot more undergirding this move to exclude these outlets from the Republican debates. The long-standing animus toward the "liberal media" among conservatives has morphed into outright paranoia, and it came to a head during the 2012 campaign when George Stephanopoulos asked a debate question about contraception.
Here's what happened. Rick Santorum talked about contraception a lot during his 2012 presidential campaign. He railed against "the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea" in an October 2011 interview with an evangelical blog. He told NBC's Today on December 29 that contraception "leads to lot of sexually transmitted diseases, it leads to a lot of unplanned pregnancies." On January 2, 2012, just a few days before participating in a Republican debate co-hosted by ABC News, Santorum was asked by then-ABC reporter Jake Tapper about his belief that states should be able to ban contraception. "The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that," Santorum said.
Then, at the ABC/Yahoo News debate on January 7, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney if he shared Santorum's belief "that states have the right to ban contraception." Romney responded: "George, this is an unusual topic that you're raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can't imagine a state banning contraception." Shortly afterward, all hell broke loose.
From all corners of the conservative media came accusations that George Stephanopoulos, in asking about contraception, had "coordinated" with Team Obama to lure the Republican candidates into some sort of trap on birth control. Much of the speculation was driven by Dick Morris, which should have been a pretty big red flag in terms of reliability. The theory rested on the assumption that the contraception issue just came out of nowhere, which, of course, is not true -- Santorum was asked about it just five days before the debate by one of Stephanopoulos' colleagues.
From the August 11 edition of ABC's This Week:
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Evening television news outlets have largely not reported on two important cases issued by the Supreme Court that rolled back workplace anti-discrimination law, despite the urgent call for congressional action issued by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dual dissents.
Ginsburg, in addition to being one of the most accomplished justices in history due to her trailblazing civil rights work, has also been a crucial participant in the dialogue between the Court and Congress over the scope of anti-discrimination law. Most famously, it was Ginsburg who successfully called upon Congress to act after the notorious Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007) decision, when the conservative majority twisted the intent of Title VII's protections against employment discrimination to make it easier to illegally pay women less than their colleagues.
When the five conservative justices once again attacked Title VII at the end of the Court's latest term and similarly dismissed long-standing law to make it harder for workers to protect themselves from sex and race discrimination, Ginsburg reprised her liberal dissent and asked Congress to undo the conservative damage to this vital component of the Civil Rights Act.
But a Media Matters search of Nexis transcripts since these two opinions were issued reveals that not only have most network and cable evening news programs completely ignored Ginsburg's plea to Congress to take corrective action and "restore the robust protections against workplace harassment the Court weakens" - similar to what legislators did in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 - they are not reporting on the two new Title VII decisions at all. PBS' The NewsHour was the sole exception, with a solitary mention.
While this most recent term will rightly be remembered in part for the important step forward the Court took in according the LGBT community with equal civil rights under law, it will also go down in history as a term where protections for other groups were rolled back, most significantly in the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Indeed, the Court's rightward jerk under Chief Justice John Roberts was even more apparent in the continuation of closely divided pro-business decisions that undermine regulations and law that guard against corporate abuse. As reported by NBCNews.com, "[i]n one measure of the strong term for corporations, the Chamber of Commerce was on the winning side for 14 of the 17 cases in which it filed briefs, and a perfect 8-0 in closely divided cases."
Major media outlets are misinterpreting testimony from a former high-ranking Internal Revenue Service official to baselessly suggest that Washington, D.C.-based officials were involved in the improper targeting of conservative groups seeking non-profit status.
Those misinterpretations are based on an apparent confusion on the part of journalists over what made the actions of the Cincinnati-based IRS officials who engaged in that scrutiny improper.
On June 16, several journalists were apparently granted access to review the transcript of an interview the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducted with Holly Paz, a former Washington-based manager in the IRS tax-exempt unit. The access was likely granted under the auspices of committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has been accused of selectively leaking misleading, out-of-context portions of committee interviews in order to damage the Obama administration.
Reporting on the Paz interview, several outlets seized on Paz's statement that she had, in the words of the Associated Press, "reviewed 20 to 30 applications," and falsely claimed this contradicted administration statements that the improper IRS activity had been conducted by IRS officials in Cincinnati.
The Associated Press wrote that Paz's assertion "contradicts initial claims by the agency that a small group of agents working in an office in Cincinnati were solely responsible for mishandling the applications"; ABC's Good Morning America reported (via Nexis) that her "testimony contradicts IRS claims that agents in the Cincinnati field office were solely responsible for targeting those groups"; and the CBS Morning News reported (via Nexis) that Paz said "she was involved in targeting Tea Party groups."
But it is not improper for IRS officials to review the applications of groups seeking non-profit status - in fact, that is their job. The reason the IRS has been criticized is because they used politically slanted criteria to select conservative, but not progressive, groups to receive additional scrutiny. Specifically, the IRS gave additional scrutiny to groups with "tea party," "patriot," and "9/12" in their names. And that criteria was developed by a screening agent from the Cincinnati office, according to excerpts from a congressional interview included in a memo from the Democratic staff of the Oversight Committee.
Paz said she was unaware of these improper procedures, according to the AP:
Paz, however, provided no evidence that senior IRS officials ordered agents to target conservative groups or that anyone in the Obama administration outside the IRS was involved.
Instead, Paz described an agency in which IRS supervisors in Washington worked closely with agents in the field but didn't fully understand what those agents were doing. Paz said agents in Cincinnati openly talked about handling "tea party" cases, but she thought the term was merely shorthand for all applications from groups that were politically active - conservative and liberal.
Paz further testified that when her superior, Lois Lerner, the Washington, D.C.-based director of exempt organizations, became aware that the Cincinnati office was using an improper set of key words to select groups for additional review, Lerner ordered the process stopped.
Not only is this testimony inconsistent with media claims that Paz acknowledged participating in the wrongdoing for which the IRS has been criticized, it actually directly contradicts those claims. This sort of sloppy reporting has surely played a role in misleading the American people into thinking that the White House ordered the targeting of Tea Party groups.
Sunday talk shows on NBC, CBS, and ABC compared reports that the Internal Review Service (IRS) applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups to President Nixon's Watergate scandal, a comparison which people who worked on both sides of the Watergate scandal agree is baseless.
Republicans leaders are reportedly concerned that the scandal machine that has been kicked into high gear in recent days will lead to similar backlash the party faced over its endless and costly investigations into President Clinton in the 1990s:
To veteran lawmakers, the sudden proliferation of investigations cannot help but raise the ghost of 1998. After seizing control of Congress in 1995, Republicans opened investigations into the White House Travel Office, allegations of malfeasance around the Whitewater Development Corporation, and claims of campaign finance improprieties in the 1996 presidential campaign. Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, famously shot a melon in trying to prove that the White House lawyer Vincent W. Foster Jr. did not commit suicide.
But it was the impeachment of Mr. Clinton that cost Republicans seats in the House, cost Newt Gingrich his job as House speaker, and ultimately lifted a moribund Democratic president from the political depths.
Right-wing media have been quick to invoke Whitewater, the real estate scandal that developed during Clinton's first term, as part of their endless quest to scandalize the Obama administration over the tragedy in Benghazi.
And reliance on shady Whitewater tactics - which involved leaking selectively edited transcripts to the media to push forth the scandal -- was on full display this past week, leading to a critical question: how will the media respond to the campaign of press manipulation?
CBS News reported on May 16 that Republican staffers have been selectively and deceptively leaking information to reporters in order to keep the Benghazi "scandal" alive. As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones explained:
So here's what happened. Republicans in Congress saw copies of these emails two months ago and did nothing with them. It was obvious that they showed little more than routine interagency haggling. Then, riding high after last week's Benghazi hearings, someone got the bright idea of leaking two isolated tidbits and mischaracterizing them in an effort to make the State Department look bad. Apparently they figured it was a twofer: they could stick a shiv into the belly of the White House and they could then badger them to release the entire email chain, knowing they never would.
ABC News, which initially reported that it had "obtained" the actual emails showing greater White House involvement editing the talking points than administration officials had acknowledged, was forced into a slippery acknowledgement that its "exclusive" report was based only on summaries of emails, a method of reporting that journalism experts called "highly problematic ethically" and "sloppy."
ABC's flawed reporting on the emails, based on selective leaks, has led to questions about reporter Jonathan Karl's future, vividly demonstrating the consequences of this type of press manipulation. But whether fellow journalists - and viewers - will demand accountability from Karl remains to be seen.
It's the Whitewater experience, which GOP leaders are reportedly skittish of repeating, that provides a blueprint for accountability over this type of press manipulation.
In the 1990s it was David Bossie, at the time an investigator for the House Government Reform and Oversight, who leaked selectively edited transcripts to the press in order to advance the scandal mongering of President Clinton. Bossie was reportedly fired for his role manipulating the press.
Will the media, which once again saw one of their own get burned by relying on selective leaks in furtherance of a hunting of a president, demand accountability this time?
On May 15 the White House released the full email chain regarding the much-discussed Benghazi talking points, and in doing so deflated conservative and Republican allegations that the administration had engineered a politically minded "cover-up" of the circumstances surrounding the September 2012 attack on the diplomatic facility. The release of those talking points was spurred in no small part by separate reports from The Weekly Standard and ABC News that wrongly suggested the White House's overriding concern in editing those talking points was helping the State Department dodge political attacks from Republicans.
Now that the actual emails are in the public record, we can go back and see exactly what errors ABC and The Weekly Standard made that helped lead us to this point.
(For an easier-to-navigate version of the email chain, check out Yahoo News' interactive feature.)
Weekly Standard writer Stephen F. Hayes' article for the May 13 edition of the magazine noted that after the initial draft of the talking points was sent, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland "responded to raise 'serious concerns' about the draft." Hayes, working primarily off a House GOP report on Benghazi, wrote that Nuland "worried that members of Congress would use the talking points to criticize the State Department for 'not paying attention to Agency warnings.'" That was, we now know, an incomplete description of Nuland's email, and made it seem as though her only concern was protecting that State Department from political attacks.
The controversy surrounding the editing of the administration's Benghazi talking points took an interesting turn on Monday when CNN's Jake Tapper reported that a newly obtained email from White House aide Ben Rhodes written during the editing of those talking points "differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations."
Tapper was referring, in part, to a May 10 report from ABC News' Jonathan Karl, who in that report claimed to be citing both administration "emails" and "summaries" of those emails, provided what appeared to be direct quotes from those emails, and said on air that he had "obtained" them. Karl reported the emails suggested the White House had been deeply involved in crafting a political response to the terror attack that occurred at the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi September 11, where four Americans were killed. The ABC exclusive, accusing the administration of having "scrubbed" vital information from the talking points, ignited a controversy about the White House's handling of the attack.
Referring to the emails quoted in the ABC piece, Tapper stressed that, "Whoever provided those quotes and paraphrases did so inaccurately, seemingly inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed."
(Both the Rhodes email and those of the State Department bolster testimony from then-CIA director David Petraeus noted, the talking points were changed to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators.)
As Media Matters noted, Karl responded by explaining that he had not actually reviewed the emails himself, but had been "quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes." He added that the source "was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails," indicating that Karl's original piece was based entirely on his source's summaries.
Karl insisted that the summaries represent an accurate take on the emails.
But the email obtained by CNN makes it clear that in at least one key instance Karl's source, who he quoted "verbatim," got the emails' contents wrong, leading to a misleading picture of the process by which the talking points were edited.
Was that error accidental? It's hard to imagine how simply writing down the contents of an email could lead to such a glaring discrepancy. And the administration's release yesterday of roughly 100 pages of emails detailing the exchanges between administration aides around the creation of those talking points does even more to put out the fire that Karl helped to ignite. This raises the question of whether misinformation was passed along to Karl deliberately in order to create a political firestorm.
The revelation that the source passed along inaccurate summaries of the emails raises troubling questions for Karl and ABC News: Do Karl's bosses know who the source is who misled the reporter? And do other reporters at ABC News regularly use, and trust, the same source?
Another key question is whether Karl should reveal the source who misled him. While journalists take seriously the vow to not reveal the identity of confidential sources in exchange for the information that those sources provide, it's not unheard of for journalists to reveal source identities if it's proven that that person badly misled a reporter or passed along bogus information. Some observers think that's what happened in the case of the Benghazi talking points.