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.
ABC News published a story which quoted several members of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) but failed to disclose the organization's ties to nativist John Tanton, who is affiliated with a designated hate group, and ignored the organization's well-established credibility problems.
On January 14, ABC News reported on a conference held by CIS, which attacked "legalization programs for undocumented immigrants":
Analysts from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank that advocates reduced immigration levels and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws, said today that legalization programs for undocumented immigrants typically lead to fraud and increased illegal immigration.
ABC provided a platform for CIS representatives to voice their opposition to a variety of proposed immigration measures, but ABC failed to provide background on CIS, despite the group's long history of anti-immigrant rhetoric, ties to nativist organizations, and lack of credibility.
The Center for Immigration Studies was started in 1985 by John Tanton, an anti-immigrant nativist with ties to other anti-immigrant organizations such as NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Southern Poverty Law Center-labeled hate group. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Although you'd never know it to read its materials, CIS was started in 1985 by a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton -- a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials. CIS' creation was part of a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at creating a set of complementary institutions to cultivate the nativist cause -- groups including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA. As is shown in Tanton's correspondence, lodged in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Tanton came up with the idea in the early 1980s for "a small think tank" that would "wage the war of ideas."
And while Tanton never actually ran CIS, his correspondence shows that as late as 1994, nine years after it was started, Tanton, who remains on FAIR's board of directors today, saw himself as setting the "proper roles for FAIR and CIS." He raised millions of dollars for the think tank and published the writings of top CIS officials in his racist journal, The Social Contract. He maneuvered a friend on to the board of CIS -- a man who shared his interest in eugenics and who attended events with Tanton where white nationalists gave presentations. Through it all, CIS pumped out study after study aimed at highlighting immigration's negative effects.
ABC also failed to note that CIS studies have also been the subject of frequent criticism. The Southern Poverty Law Center has previously called into question the group's findings, stating that CIS often reaches baseless conclusions which are "either false or virtually without any supporting evidence." The Center for New Community has also scrutinized CIS and even warned professional journalists that CIS is not a "credible voice in the debate on immigration."
One of ABC's sources, CIS executive director Mark Krikorian, has a history of making insensitive remarks about other ethnic groups. He has previously claimed that "Haiti's so screwed up because it wasn't colonized long enough," that foreign-nationals who aren't raised in the United States could become terrorists, and that Muslims are a "vicious people." In addition, Krikorian has stated that the United States should deny pregnant women entry to the U.S. because someone "visiting Disneyland" could give their child American citizenship (while referring to said child using the derogatory phrase "anchor baby"). None of Krikorian's past rhetoric was documented by ABC.
Unfortunately, ABC isn't the only major news outlet to treat CIS as a reasonable voice in the immigration debate. The nation's top seven newspapers cited CIS and other anti-immigrant groups over 250 times from January 2010 through June 2012. The New York Times cited the group several times despite publishing an exposé on the organizations unsavory ties with Tanton. NPR has also featured Krikorian as an alternative voice to Jose Antonio Vargas during an immigration debate, despite his harsh views on immigration.
A Media Matters analysis found that the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC largely ignored climate change in 2012, despite record-breaking temperatures and a series of extreme weather events in the U.S. By contrast, PBS NewsHour devoted almost twice as many segments to climate change as the other networks combined.
When the National Climatic Data Center announced Tuesday that 2012 was the hottest year in recorded history for the contiguous U.S., broadcast networks admirably devoted segments connecting the announcement to climate change. But for most of the year they turned a blind eye to climate change, even while reporting on its consequences. Together, the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC devoted only 12 segments to climate change in 2012. PBS' coverage stood out, with its nightly news program dedicating 23 segments to the issue:
PBS' coverage included interviews with 29 climate scientists -- more than ABC, CBS and NBC combined. In September, the program made the mistake of seeking false balance in its reporting, giving non-expert Anthony Watts a platform to cast doubt on the science of climate change. PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler later criticized the segment, noting that it is "wrong to create an artificial or false equivalence" between the views of climate "skeptics" and the established science. But in the majority of its coverage, PBS acknowledged the scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet and turned to climate experts to educate its audience on the causes and impacts of climate change.
The news shows of the major networks ABC, NBC, and CBS did not report on the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired after the House failed to reauthorize it by the close of the 112th Congress on Tuesday. The reauthorization of the law was blocked by House Republicans over provisions that extended domestic violence protection to immigrants, LGBT Americans, and Native Americans.
Two former network news presidents offered criticism following the revelation that a Fox News contributor had urged Gen. David Petraeus to run for president at the request of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
"That just isn't what a news guy does," said Michael Gartner, who served as NBC News president from 1988 to 1993. "Twenty years ago it wouldn't have been done. But that was a different era."
The critiques come in response to a December 4 report from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward that Fox News contributor K.T. McFarland, on instructions from Ailes, had urged Petraeus to run for president during a recorded 2011 interview in Afghanistan.
McFarland suggested that Ailes would leave Fox to work on Petraeus' campaign and that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch might "bankroll" the effort.
During the same interview with Petraeus, McFarland said of Ailes, "he loves you, and everybody at Fox loves you. So what I'm supposed to say directly from him to you, through me, is first of all, is there anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?"
Media critics have nonetheless responded harshly to the McFarland-Petraeus interview, with Dylan Byers at Politico writing that no other major news outlet would tolerate such behavior from their top executive, and Erik Wemple at the Post writing that it indicated "Fox News is corrupt."
David Westin, who served as ABC News president from 1997 to 2010, also offered concern about the exchange to Media Matters.
While Westin said he did not know the details of Ailes' direct involvement, and noted Ailes had told Bob Woodward his comments to MacFarland had been "more of a joke" than a serious request, Westin did offer criticism of such communications between news person and news subject.
"The report had someone from Fox News, now it was a contributor, not on staff, but a contributor, saying things to a subject of news coverage that normally a journalist wouldn't say," Westin said late December 4. "You need to keep some distance from the people you're covering and you don't want to be partial for them or against them either way, so what I read would be something that normally a journalist wouldn't do."