The temptation to try to create campaign news during the slow summer months is one that journalists ought to resist. If not, they could end up looking like CNBC did on Tuesday when the business news channel lost its bearings (again) and invited disgraced birther Donald Trump on to weave his tired conspiracies about the president's supposedly hidden past. Worse, CNBC.com then wrote up Trump's appearance while touting as news a comically awful right-wing fantasy published this week about Obama's years at Columbia University.
Appearing on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Trump was pushing what he claimed to be a brilliant campaign maneuver for the Romney campaign, which finds itself under pressure to release the candidate's tax records, as all presidential candidates have done in recent years. According to Trump, Romney should finally release years of his tax returns, but only if Obama released his college transcripts.
What Trump apparently doesn't understand, and what nobody on CNBC bothered to point out, is that as a rule presidential nominees do release extensive tax returns, and as a rule they do not release their college transcripts. (Romney hasn't.) Trumps brilliant dare to the Obama campaign doesn't make any sense because tax returns and college records have never been treated similarly by campaigns from either party.
CNBC's Trump troubles were compounded online with a report that soft-peddled Trump's birther past, while claiming serious new questions have been raised about Obama's time at Columbia.
From the July 16 edition of CNBC's Closing Bell:
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Donald Trump went on CNN this afternoon to do what has become his specialty of late: make a complete fool of himself. His appearance was precipitated by every sensible person on both sides of the aisle wondering why, exactly, Mitt Romney voluntarily chooses to associate with Trump, given the real estate mogul's vocal obsession with birtherism and his many years as the cartoonish avatar of repellant avarice.
So there he was, in the Situation Room, getting manhandled by Wolf Blitzer on President Obama's place of birth -- an issue that never actually was an issue and was unmercifully put to rest by the president himself when he released his long-form birth certificate. The highlight of the interview? After Trump questioned the birth certificate's authenticity, the presence of Obama's mother at the hospital, and the birth announcements in the Honolulu papers, Blitzer responded with admirable restraint: "Donald, you're beginning to sound a little ridiculous, I have to tell you."
The new fuel for Trump's birther fire is the Breitbart.com "exclusive" about Obama's publisher wrongly claiming 20 years ago that he was born in Kenya -- the same "exclusive" that the Breitbart people said had nothing to do with birtherism. During an interview with CNBC earlier today, Trump referred to the Breitbart story, claiming that Obama told his publisher that he was "born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia." He brought it up again in his CNN interview: "Obama hates the subject. When his publisher comes out with a statement from him made in the 1990s that he was born in Kenya and that he was raised in Indonesia, and all of the sudden it comes out, I think it's something that he doesn't like at all."
That's factually incorrect; the statement was not from Obama but was rather a "fact-checking error" by the literary agency, which told Political Wire: "There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii."
Regardless, it's become the new shiny object for the incurable birther remnant. Who could have predicted?
During today's Squawk Box, CNBC co-anchor Joe Kernen assisted guest Donald Trump's effort to push debunked claims about President Obama's birthplace by citing a supposed quote from Obama in which Obama purportedly suggested that he wasn't born in the United States. The quote is an internet hoax and was never said by Obama, who was born in Hawaii.
After reading the fake quote, Kernen said that "the question is whether there was a time in Obama's life where he thought it was, I don't know, more attractive to be a more international type guy and maybe didn't change the impression that he wasn't. I don't know." He sourced the quote to a "report that was on some of the conservative websites" and added that he hasn't "even confirmed it." Watch:
KERNEN: There is a weird -- in that same report that was on some of the conservative websites and I haven't even confirmed it, Donald, but there was a quote from one of his debates when he was running for state senator, I believe, and one of his opponents said, well, you know, you weren't -- this was at the time when it still -- the Kenya thing was still on some of his biographies or something and the guy said, 'Well, you know, you weren't even born here,' and he said, 'Well, it doesn't matter if I wasn't born here, I'm running for -- I'm not running for president' at the time. And it was a quote that looked like it was right from a debate. I don't know whether you saw it. I'm going to look it up right now.
TRUMP: There was a quote --
KERNEN: -- but from him. And almost so -- but the question is whether there was a time in his life where he thought it was, I don't know, more attractive to be a more international type guy and maybe didn't change the impression that he wasn't. I don't know.
The CNBC anchor appears to be referring to an internet rumor about an exchange that allegedly happened during a 2004 Illinois debate between Alan Keyes and then-state senator Obama during their campaign for the state's U.S. Senate seat.
However, an adviser to the 2004 Keyes campaign who attended the Keyes-Obama debates told Media Matters that the purported exchange is a "hoax."
From the January 22 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the December 16 edition of CNBC's The Kudlow Report:
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From the December 8 edition of CNBC's Squawk on the Street:
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In a promo for the upcoming "Your Money, Your Vote" Republican debate on CNBC that aired on today's edition of Squawk On The Street, a voiceover asks, "How will candidates end the war on wealth?" During the voiceover the ad shows images of the Occupy Wall Street protests:
By framing the debate this way and adopting conservative rhetoric on income inequality, CNBC seems to be running counter to president and CEO Mark Hoffman's promise that "CNBC will deliver a substantive and stimulating dialogue that challenges the candidates and provides the answers voters deserve."
Previously, CNBC's Rick Santelli claimed that traders on Chicago's Mercantile Exchange were "the silent majority," while CNBC host Jim Cramer claimed that President Obama was "taking cues from Lenin."
During an interview with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo whitewashed Boeing's alleged discrimination against union workers and suggested that the National Labor Relations Board should not intervene when companies violate the law to intimidate union workers. Right-wing media have repeatedly distorted the facts about NLRB's complaint against Boeing, including wrongly asserting that the NLRB brought suit against Boeing "because the jobs are non-union."
Today, the Department of Justice's Inspector General officially retracted its allegation that at a 2009 conference, the DOJ had paid $4,200 for 250 muffins -- or, more than $16 per muffin. From the IG's statement:
After publication of the report, we received additional documents and information concerning the food and beverage costs at the EOIR conference. After further review of the newly provided documentation and information, and after discussions with the Capital Hilton and the Department, we determined that our initial conclusions concerning the itemized costs of refreshments at the EOIR conference were incorrect and that the Department did not pay $16 per muffin. We have therefore revised the report based on these additional documents and deleted references to any incorrect costs. We regret the error in our original report.
Earlier this week, Media Matters released a report detailing media coverage of the story on network news, cable news, and print. We discovered that while many outlets reported the initial $16 claim from the IG, few followed up when the figure was disputed by Hilton. Key findings from the report:
As we explained, the media's irresponsible coverage of "muffin-gate" reinforced the common conservative narrative of wasteful government spending. We'll be watching to see whether news outlets that pushed the IG's initial allegation inform their audiences that the $16-muffin claim has now been officially debunked.
When the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General published a September 2011 audit of conference expenses, the media focused on one finding in particular: the claim that the Justice Department had once paid $4,200 for 250 muffins at a conference in Washington -- or more than $16 per muffin. And as dubbed by ABC's Erica Hill, CBS, and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, "Muffin-gate" was born, reinforcing a common conservative narrative of wasteful government spending. As O'Reilly himself said on September 21: "But the $16 muffin now becomes a symbol of how wasteful the feds are with our tax dollars."
Within days, Hilton Worldwide, which hosted the 2009 conference in question, disputed the claim: "In Washington, the contracted breakfast included fresh fruit, coffee, juice, muffins, tax and gratuity for an inclusive price of $16 per person." And within a week of that, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the DOJ claimed "the actual price was $14.29 per person per day," and that "included breakfast and rental fees for the workshop space and conference rooms." Furthermore, Bloomberg reported that the IG's office subsequently "conceded that it might not have been in possession of all the facts." The IG's office told the magazine: "Since our report was issued, the Capital Hilton has stated that other food and beverage items, such as coffee, tea, and fruit, were included in the charged amount." The IG's link for the report now only states:
In September 2011, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General issued audit report number 11-43, Audit of Department of Justice Conference Planning and Food and Beverage Costs. After our report was issued, the Office of the Inspector General received additional documents concerning the food and beverage costs at one conference that had not previously been provided during the audit. We have reviewed these documents and will issue a revised report in the near future.
Sam Stein of The Huffington Post investigated print coverage of the story and concluded that only 37 of the 223 articles that pushed the $16-muffin myth "offered an explanation for the cost of the muffins or attempted to correct the record." He added that Bill O'Reilly continued to push the falsehood (and even took credit for breaking the story) during a September 28 appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart -- after Hilton disputed the $16-muffin claim.
Media Matters reviewed the transcripts of broadcast and cable news and the articles of the top five national newspapers for coverage of this story. Contrary to the fervor with which the media reported the initial claim from the IG, few outlets followed up with the updates from Hilton or the IG's office, leaving their audiences in the dark about the truth of the $16 muffin.
The Wall Street Journal has not decided if it will form a partnership with Fox Business similar to the newspaper's current arrangement with CNBC when that deal ends next year, the Journal's top editor tells Media Matters.
"We haven't decided anything on it," Journal managing editor Robert Thomson said during a brief interview last week. Asked directly if a deal similar to the CNBC arrangement would be of interest to the Journal, he said, "not necessarily."
Since News Corp. purchased Dow Jones in late 2007, speculation has arisen among its employees that the Journal would align itself with Fox Business once the Journal's current agreement for many of its reporters and content to appear first on CNBC ends in December 2012.
A Journal spokesperson declined this week to reveal details of the CNBC arrangement, first forged in 1998, other than to say it ends in December 2012. She stated in an email:
We don't publicly discuss the nature of agreements.
But a source familiar with the agreement who requested anonymity said it includes a content-sharing arrangement in which CNBC receives advanced access to certain financial-related original reporting and data from all Dow Jones business outlets so that CNBC can report it simultaneously.
CNBC also pays a fee to Dow Jones for the content based on ad revenue, according to the source, who said it has averaged some $15 million annually in recent years.
In addition, CNBC has the right of first refusal to have Journal reporters appear on its network to discuss business news before appearing on other networks, including on Fox Business.
When asked if the Journal would forge a similar deal with Fox Business once the CNBC arrangement ends, Thomson said:
"Not necessarily. Because, in part, you look at what's happening with WSJ Live and the amount of video we are doing ourselves. The possible permutations are far more than that presumption allows."
Asked if there could be an outcome where the Journal is not aligned with Fox Business as it has been with CNBC, Thomson again left the door open.
Former Fox Business executive producer Terry Baker contends he was fired last fall in part because of his objections to controversial host Eric Bolling, whom calls a "fame whore" and someone who could damage the network.
"I think he's a complete loose cannon and his only desire is to be a star," said Baker, who last week signed on with Current TV as executive vice president of production. "He just says stuff to be inflammatory and I don't believe that he has any real knowledge of any of it. He's just saying whatever he can say to get attention."
Bolling is among the regulars on Fox News' The Five, the roundtable show that replaced Glenn Beck's program in July.
On both networks, Bolling has gained a reputation for controversial comments. Just last week, he said that the American hikers recently released from Iran were spies and that Iran "should have kept them." This spring, Bolling used his Fox Business show to push conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth certificate. He has also made a series of racially charged comments, for example teasing a segment about Obama hosting the president of Gabon by saying: "Guess who's coming to dinner? A dictator. Mr. Obama shares a laugh with one of Africa's kleptocrats. It's not the first time he's had a hoodlum in the hizzouse."
"My belief when I was there was that at some point he's going to harm the network because he doesn't care about what he says," Baker, 55, added about Bolling. "He would happily be called names by the rest of the world if that got him hits on the Internet; he's a complete fame whore."
In a lengthy interview with Media Matters, Baker, who spent three years at Fox Business, said his concerns about Bolling were often ignored by higher-level executives.
Baker also weighed in on the future of Fox Business, predicting it will likely seek a closer link to The Wall Street Journal when the Journal's arrangement with CNBC ends in 2012. But he speculated that closer ties could cause friction inside the Journal newsroom.
He also said Fox News' image as a conservative outlet made it difficult to book many liberal or Democratic guests on Fox Business. Baker described being fired by Ailes as a "badge of honor."
CNBC has reportedly withdrawn the program World Business from its weekend schedule over allegations that the show was used as a public relations vehicle for members of the Malaysian government without disclosure. A blog reported that the production company behind World Business (FBC Media) had a contract with a Malaysian politician to improve his image using reports on World Business.
"In light of serious questions raised last week, CNBC immediately initiated [sic] an examination of FBC and its business practices and has withdrawn the program 'World Business' indefinitely," Brian Steel, senior vice president of media relations at CNBC, told POLITICO.
According to Politico, World Business did not air in the United States this past weekend, but did air on CNBC Europe and CNBC Asia.
CNBC's website describes World Business:
On "World Business," Managing Editor John Defterios and our team of international correspondents cover every corner of the globe, tracking the business trends that are going to affect you.
From the July 18 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box:
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