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.
Following months of media calls for deficit reduction, cable news channels spent just over 7 minutes reporting on a revised Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection that the 2013 deficit will decline by more than previous estimates. Broadcast network news evening shows did not cover the new report.
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.
CNN is challenging the accuracy of reporting on a supposed email from a White House aide that seemed to suggest an effort to provide political cover for the administration following the September attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The new revelations regarding the email comes after the allegedly flawed reporting has spread through the media.
CNN host Jake Tapper reported today that a newly obtained email from White House aide Ben Rhodes about Benghazi "differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations." Tapper writes that the email shows that someone provided outlets like ABC News and The Weekly Standard with "inaccurate information" to make 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."
From Tapper's report:
In the email sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 9:34 p.m., obtained by CNN from a U.S. government source, Rhodes wrote:
"Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
"There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don't compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
"We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies."
You can read the email HERE.
ABC News reported that Rhodes wrote: "We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don't want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting." The Weekly Standard reported that Rhodes "responded to the group, explaining that Nuland had raised valid concerns and advising that the issues would be resolved at a meeting of the National Security Council's Deputies Committee the following morning."
Whoever provided those quotes seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed. While Nuland, particularly, had expressed a desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and CIA warnings about the increasingly dangerous assignment, Rhodes put no emphasis at all in his email on the State Department's concerns.
The allegedly inaccurate characterizations of the Rhodes email by ABC News and The Weekly Standard were repeated in numerous media outlets, and a Republican research document.
More than 72,000 Americans are calling on ABC, CBS and NBC to reassess their priorities after a Media Matters analysis found that their nightly news programs devoted very little time to climate change in 2012 -- less than they covered the British royal family.
Even during the warmest year on record in the U.S., the nightly news programs combined devoted only 12 full segments to climate change. By contrast, these programs dedicated over seven times more coverage to the royals in 2012, as this graphic by the Climate Reality Project in collaboration with Media Matters illustrates:
The disparity was greatest on ABC World News, which dedicated 43 segments to the royal family and only one to climate change. NBC Nightly News wasn't much better, devoting 38 segments to the royals and only 4 to climate change. CBS Evening News covered climate change the most -- in 7 segments -- but still less than its 11 segments on the royal family.
This ongoing imbalance was illustrated just last week when scientists announced that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is set to surpass 400 parts per million, likely for the first time in human history. ABC World News and NBC Nightly News ignored the story, even as NBC found time to cover Prince Harry's visit to the United States.
A previous Media Matters report found that the broadcast networks covered Donald Trump more than climate change in 2011.
As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
A Media Matters analysis of news coverage of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline since the 2012 election shows that the media continue to largely ignore the risk of an oil spill, while promoting the economic benefits of the project. Meanwhile, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal have dismissed Keystone XL's climate impacts, instead serving as a platform for the pipeline's champions.
Evening network news shows have largely ignored the filibuster brinkmanship of Senate Republicans in blocking President Obama's judicial nominees, as well as the resulting vacancy crisis at the important D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considered the most important court in the country after the Supreme Court, in part because many of its judges go on to become justices, and in part because it is by far the most powerful appellate check on the federal government. Since it is required to examine challenges to a wide range of federal action - from environmental regulations to consumer protections to voting rights - it has the ability to uphold or strike down law on a national level.
However, as another victim of relentless Republican filibustering and the ensuing inability to hold up-or-down votes on the president's nominees to the federal courts, the D.C. Circuit currently has nearly 40 percent of its judgeships vacant. A Nexis search of evening network news shows in the past six months indicates that this problem has been ignored by ABC, CBS, and NBC.
From the March 24 edition of ABC News' This Week With George Stephanopoulos:
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Media figures have repeatedly forwarded the notion that the United States is currently facing a debt crisis. However, leaders of both parties agree there is no immediate crisis, and by focusing attention too heavily on deficit and debt reduction, the media distract from the more imminent problem of growth and jobs.
Throughout news coverage of recent budget negotiations, media figures have consistently framed discussions around the notion that the country faces a debt crisis, an assertion that is often presented uncritically and accepted as an indisputable fact. Since discussions are predicated on the assumption that a debt crisis exists, ensuing analysis of budget proposals is often solely focused on how far they go in reducing short term deficits and debt.
While media are convinced that a debt crisis exists, leaders of both parties have made explicit statements to the contrary. In a March 12 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Obama claimed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt," a statement that was immediately criticized by conservative media. When asked if he agreed with Obama's statement regarding debt on the March 17 edition of ABC's This Week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceded that there is no immediate crisis. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a similar admission on CBS' Face the Nation, saying "we do not have a debt crisis right now."
Furthermore, the media's focus on a "debt crisis" has necessarily steered the debate about budgets toward how the parties will sufficiently address short term deficits. Economists, meanwhile, have repeatedly argued that undue focus on deficits and debt distracts from the more pressing need for economic growth and reduced unemployment.
The bipartisan admission that there is no immediate debt crisis provides media with an opportunity to reframe their budget negotiations coverage around economic growth.
Video by Alan Pyke.
On the same day that Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) high profile filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency received widespread media attention, another filibuster that blocked confirmation for one of President Obama's nominees went completely unnoticed by the broadcast networks and cable news channels.
Paul's filibuster, which delved into serious questions about drone policy and national security, touched off a robust debate in the media. Paul's talking filibuster garnered extensive media attention the same day. According to a Nexis search, Paul was featured in at least 20 news segments Wednesday: 9 on CNN, 6 on Fox News, 4 on MSNBC, and 1 on NBC.
By contrast, not a single broadcast network or cable news channel reported on the silent filibuster of Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
President Obama first nominated Halligan to the DC appellate court in September 2010. Senate Republicans blocked her nomination via filibuster in December 2011. Obama renominated Halligan on January 3, but Republicans again blocked her nomination on Wednesday when 40 Senate Republicans rejected a motion that would allow her confirmation to proceed to an up-or-down vote.
As The Washington Post noted, this GOP obstruction came in the face of widespread support for Halligan in the legal community:
Against the distorted view of Ms. Halligan's record that Republicans have offered stand the endorsements of prominent legal minds both liberal and conservative, a unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association and a storied career in public service and private practice.
While Paul's rare example of a talking filibuster attracted widespread media coverage, silent filibusters have become increasingly common tools to block Obama's nominees.
A November 2012 report from the Alliance for Justice illustrated how Senators' use of the filibuster on judicial nominations has increased drastically during the Obama administration:
The strategy comes amid what the Center for American Progress has described as a judicial vacancy crisis in the federal courts system.
The contrast between the media's extensive coverage of Paul's filibuster and the one used to block Halligan rejection is a testimony to how common the silent filibuster is under the Obama administration, and why it's important for the media not to go quiet.
Now that the Obama administration and Congress are engaged in a debate over immigration policy, a Media Matters review of major news outlets has found that when it comes to immigration coverage, anti-immigrant commentator Mark Krikorian continues to be the media's preferred conservative voice. Krikorian heads the Center for Immigration Studies, a group associated with notorious nativist John Tanton and whose research has been called into question -- but these facts are routinely ignored in coverage of his remarks.