Media are promoting Republican gains in the House and Senate in Tuesday's midterm elections as evidence that the country has shifted to the "center-right" on political issues, despite the fact that ballot initiatives and national polling reveal broad support for progressive positions.
The Washington Post updated a piece from columnist Marc Thiessen to note his financial ties to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and indicated the need for better disclosure in future Thiessen columns on the 2016 presidential campaign, in response to inquiries from Media Matters.
On September 1, the Post published a column from Thiessen criticizing the idea of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney running for president again in 2016. In the piece, Thiessen identified Scott Walker as one of several "successful governors" that would be a preferable candidate. Thiessen co-authored Walker's 2013 book, a fact the columnist has previously disclosed when writing about the governor for the Post but which went unmentioned in his latest column.
Media Matters published a piece criticizing the Post and reached out to the paper's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, who indicated that Thiessen's mention of Walker was "so glancing" that it did not warrant disclosure. But the Post subsequently reversed course, adding text to the column explaining, "Full disclosure: I co-authored a book with Walker."
Hiatt told Media Matters that he intends to meet with Thiessen to discuss the need for a "best approach" to disclosure in future columns touching on the 2016 presidential campaign.
"You are right that he has disclosed the relationship with Walker whenever he writes about Walker. In this case the reference to Walker was so glancing that I didn't think the co-authorship needed to be re-disclosed," Hiatt said in an email. "But you ask a reasonable question, and as the campaign proceeds I will talk with Marc about what the best approach will be."
The original lack of disclosure drew criticism from media ethicists who said leaving out the fact that Thiessen had co-authored a book with Walker is misleading to readers.
"I think this kind of entanglement is unacceptable," said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. "Where you don't know if a particular writer's column is a payback for favors done in the past or auditions for jobs sought in the future. The reader is not in a place to make any intelligent decisions based on the off-screen relationships. The fact that he is getting money off screen is just not compatible with that."
As Wasserman suggested, Thiessen's extensive political career would make him a plausible hire in a Walker administration. The two have "developed a bond," according to the Post's own reporting.
Kevin Smith, ethics committee chair of the Society of Professional Journalists, said such financial connections "widen an already large divide between the journalist and the public's right to be accurately and fairly informed."
Fox News' The Kelly File hosted 2012 Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to attack President Obama's foreign policy and rewrite the history of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
President Obama on August 7 authorized limited airstrikes against the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq to prevent "genocide" and protect Americans in the region. The Islamic State released a video of its murder of American journalist James Foley on Tuesday, citing the U.S. airstrikes and demanding an end to them. The airstrikes prompted a right-wing media backlash blaming President Obama for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which they accused of increasing the danger posed by the Islamic State.
On August 21, Fox host Megyn Kelly accused President Obama of a reversal on "whether he did or did not order the withdrawal of all of our troops," and of making the decision not to leave a residual force in Iraq. After making this assertion, she asked 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney whether Obama "is misleading the American people." Romney claimed President Obama had made "extraordinary errors with regards to the Middle East," and cited the lack of "the Status of Forces Agreement that would allow us to have troops in Iraq" as a fundamental cause contributing to the growth of the Islamic State and the danger it represents.
Contrary to this attempt to rewrite history, President Obama did not refuse to negotiate a SOFA with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to leave behind American forces. His attempts to negotiate the SOFA were thwarted by the Iraqi government, whose parliament was unwilling to approve the agreement -- approval that was made necessary by a precedent set in 2008 by President Bush.
Time reported in 2011 that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq was "an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending" the existing SOFA. The AP also noted that the Iraqi government stopped the SOFA negotiations when it became unwilling to grant American troops legal immunity -- protections "common in nearly every country where U.S. forces operate," and similar to those guaranteed in Bush's 2008 SOFA. Colin H. Kahn, the senior Pentagon official responsible for Iraq policy during the first three years of the Obama administration, explained:
Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, told U.S. negotiators that he was willing to sign an executive memorandum of understanding that included these legal protections. But for any agreement to be binding under the Iraqi constitution, it had to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. This was the judgment of every senior administration lawyer and Maliki's own legal adviser, and no senior U.S. military commander made the case that we should leave forces behind without these protections.
Unfortunately, Iraqi domestic politics made it impossible to reach a deal. Iraqi public opinion surveys consistently showed that the U.S. military presence was deeply unpopular (only in Iraqi Kurdistan did a majority of people want American G.I.s to stay). Maliki was willing to consider going to parliament to approve a follow-on agreement, but he was not willing to stick his neck out.
So when Iraq's major political bloc leaders met in early October 2011 in an all-night session, they agreed on the need for continued U.S. "trainers" but said they were unwilling to seek immunities for these troops through the parliament. The die was thus cast. Obama and Maliki spoke on Oct. 21 and agreed that U.S. forces would depart as scheduled by the end of the year.
Suffering an election hangover after having been told by Fox News that Mitt Romney's victory was a sure thing (a "landslide" predicted by Dick Morris), some Republicans have promised to break their addiction to the right-wing news channel in the coming year. Vowing to venture beyond the comforts of the Fox News bubble, strategists insist it's crucial that the party address its "choir-preaching problem."
This grand experiment of marrying a political movement around a cable TV channel was a grand failure in 2012. But there's little indication that enough Republicans will have the courage, or even the desire, to break free from Fox's firm grip on branding the party.
For Fox News chief Roger Ailes, the network's slash-and-burn formula worked wonders in terms of catering a hardcore, hard-right audience of several million viewers. (Fox News is poised to post $1 billion in profits this year.) But in terms of supporting a national campaign and hosting a nationwide conversation about the country's future, Fox's work this year was a marked failure.
And that failure helped sink any hopes the GOP had of winning the White House.
From the farcical, underwhelming GOP primary that Fox News sponsored, through the general election campaign, it seemed that at every juncture where Romney suffered a major misstep, Fox misinformation hovered nearby. Again and again, Romney damaged his presidential hopes when he embraced the Fox News rhetoric; when he ran as the Fox News Candidate.
Whether it was botching the facts surrounding the terrorist raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, parroting the Fox talking point about lazy, shiftless voters who make up "47 percent" of the electorate, or Romney's baffling embrace of reality TV show host-turned Fox News pontificator Donald Trump, the Republican candidate did damage to his chances whenever he let Fox News act as his chief campaign adviser.
Fox viewers didn't fare much better. Fed a year's worth of misinformation about the candidates, and completely misled about the state of the race (all the polls are skewed!), Fox faithful were left crushed on Election Night when Romney's fictitious landslide failed to materialize.
"On the biggest political story of the year," wrote Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, "the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media."
Ted Nugent claimed that Democratic politicians in Detroit "train[ed] and reward[ed] people to scam, cheat and refuse to be productive" causing the majority of residents to become "pimps, whores and welfare brats that have made bloodsucking a lifestyle" during an October 30 interview with The Washington Times. Nugent, a board member of the National Rifle Association and columnist for the Times, is also a high-profile endorser of Mitt Romney.
According to Nugent, President Obama is "doing everything he can to take the whole country down" the same path as Detroit:
It is so very true that my birth city of Detroit was the cleanest, most neighborly, positive-energy, work-ethic epicenter of planet earth when I was born there in 1948, right on through to the 1960s. Enter the liberal death wish of Mayor Coleman Young and a tsunami of negative, anti-productivity policies by liberal Democrats that put a voodoo curse on our beloved Motor City. When you train and reward people to scam, cheat and refuse to be productive, there is only one direction that society can go: straight down the toilet. It is truly a heartbreaker. Some wonderful people are still to be found back home, but they are outnumbered by the pimps, whores and welfare brats that have made bloodsucking a lifestyle. And now we have a president who is doing everything he can to take the whole country down that same path. Truly amazing.
Nugent also claimed that The New Deal and Great Society economic programs "succeeded in brainwashing a segment of our country to believe Fedzilla would provide for anyone who decided, for whatever reason, to not be productive."
The New Deal was responsible for creating the Social Security Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs to combat poverty were responsible for the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, and a variety of other anti-poverty programs. These initiatives dramatically reduced the rate of poverty, particularly among the elderly.
A CNN article published yesterday about increased efforts by the National Rifle Association to defeat President Obama credulously echoed false NRA talking points on assault weapons, without noting Mitt Romney's well-documented flip flop on the issue.
The article notes that in responding to a question about assault weapons in Tuesday's presidential debate, Obama mentioned an assault weapons ban. Instead of offering independent reporting on the topic, CNN political director Mark Preston only provided readers with the take of the NRA's chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, on the issue of assault weapons bans:
"Some gun owners took Obama at his word four years ago, when he said he wouldn't take their guns away," said Chris W. Cox, executive director, NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "So, after years of paying lip service to the Second Amendment, President Obama finally let it slip last night that he supports the most draconian form of gun control - a gun ban."
Preston, however, did not acknowledge that 62 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans, favor assault weapons bans. Nor did he mention that President Obama never made a promise to gun owners to not restrict access to assault weapons, as Cox suggested.
Turning to an exchange during Tuesday night's presidential debate where Romney was asked by moderator Candy Crowley about his changing position on assault weapons, Preston served as a stenographer for Romney without noting that the GOP nominee told a distorted version of events concerning his role in banning assault weapons while governor of Massachusetts.
In an October 16 column, Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller praised Mitt Romney's opposition to gun violence prevention legislation while fearmongering about President Obama' s support for an assault weapons ban. But Miller did not acknowledge that Mitt Romney has been a proponent of assault weapons bans -- as recently as the last time that he ran for president.
Criticizing former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens for backing some gun restrictions, Miller warned that Obama "would put another liberal justice -- or three -- on the bench if given a second term." Miller presented Romney in sharp contrast to Justice Stevens, and reprinted Romney's claim that his "Sportsmen for Romney" coalition, whose members include representatives of the National Rifle Association and the gun industry, "will have a friend in the White House" if he becomes president. Obama, who has not enacted any new restrictions on firearms while president, was characterized by Miller as "an outspoken gun-control advocate before he ran for president."
By presenting Romney as a vigorous defender of gun rights, while attacking Obama on the issue, Miller effictively hid Romney's own well documented past support for rigorous gun violence prevention measures.
During tonight's presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney echoed a false claim from the National Rifle Association's radio show Cam & Company that whitewashes the former Massachusetts governor's record on guns.
News outlets will surely report on what was a contentious exchange between candidates on an issue that has thus far been ignored in the presidential race. But will they get to the bottom of Romney's past support for gun violence prevention measures?
Romney echoed the NRA talking point that an assault weapons ban he signed into law while governor of Massachusetts was agreeable to that state's leading gun advocacy group after moderator Candy Crowley suggested that his position on assault weapons has changed in recent years.
CROWLEY: Governor, if I could, the question was about these assault weapons that once were banned and are no longer banned. I know that you signed an assault weapons ban when you were in Massachusetts. Obviously with this question, you no longer do support that. Why is that given the kind of violence we see sometimes with these mass killings? Why is it that you've changed your mind?
ROMNEY: Well, Candy, actually in my state the pro-gun folks and the anti-gun folks came together and put together a piece of legislation. And it's referred to as an assault weapon ban, but it had -- at the signing of the bill both the pro-gun and the anti-gun people came together because it provided opportunities for both that both wanted.
The NRA has endorsed Romney and recently used its NRA News radio outlet to rewrite history in an attempt to hide Romney's past support for tough gun control measures.
During the October 2 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, host Cam Edwards told viewers that Romney's gun policy while governor was in line with the positions of Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), the Massachusetts state gun advocacy group. Edwards also claimed that Romney loosened restrictions on assault weapons while governor instead of enhancing them. Neither claim is accurate.
NRA News is deliberately misleading its supporters about Mitt Romney's firearms policies while he served as governor of Massachusetts. During the October 2 edition of Cam & Company, host Cam Edwards suggested that any action taken by then-Governor Romney on assault weapons was supported by Massachusetts state gun rights group Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) and further stated that Romney "actually undid some of the damage" of the commonwealth's 1998 assault weapons ban. In fact, legislation signed by Romney in 2004 made the Massachusetts assault weapons ban permanent.
A July 1, 2004 press release issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, titled, "Romney Signs Off On Permanent Assault Weapons Ban," leaves little doubt that the former Massachusetts governor was involved in restricting access to assault weapons. Indeed, at the bill's signing ceremony Romney stated that the "sole purpose" of assault weapons is "hunting down and killing people." In response to the new law, GOAL stated that the Romney administration "took a major shot at lawful gun owners and showed their true colors."
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: Doc in Jacksonville, Florida says, "Cam, due to the fact that Mitt Romney signed a gun ban into law while he was governor of Massachusetts, does the NRA trust him to stand up for the Constitution and Second Amendment as president?" You know, I'm glad you asked this question, Doc. Last time -- I've got to promote this video because we've got it up I know on our YouTube page -- the last time we had Jim Wallace from the Gun Owners Action League in studio, that's the state-level organization in Massachusetts, we asked him about this. Because Mitt Romney did sign a bill as Governor of Massachusetts, but he did not institute an assault weapons ban. This was actually a bill that the Gun Owners Action League in Massachusetts supported. The quote unquote assault weapons bill, or excuse me the quote unquote assault weapons ban, was already law in Massachusetts. It was already permanent in Massachusetts. This bill actually provided some relief to gun owners in the state of Massachusetts. It was portrayed and it has been portrayed in the media as Governor Romney signed a bill to ban quote unquote assault weapons in the state of Massachusetts. But that's not the case. This was a bill, as I said, that was supported by the state gun owners' organization in Massachusetts because it actually undid some of the damage of that original legislation.
Fox News misrepresented Mitt Romney's statement that supporters of President Obama are the 47 percent of Americans who "pay no income tax" and "believe that they are victims."
Fox claimed that Romney was actually talking "about our country becoming an entitlement society and too dependent on government," and presented polling showing that most Americans agree with him.
But Romney's 47 percent remark was not simply an argument that Americans are becoming "too dependent on the government," as Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett and the poll claimed. Romney disparaged Obama supporters, saying:
ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.
Romney also declared: "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
But on Happening Now, Jarrett and his guest Steve Hayes hyped the findings of a Fox News poll that asked respondents if they agreed with "what Mitt Romney said on the tape about our country becoming an entitlement society and too dependent on government." Jarrett claimed that 63 percent of Americans think Romney is right. Jarrett's guest Steve Hayes said that while Romney "made an argument that had some problems with it," it is "indisputable" that Romney's "broader case is true."
Fox has defended Romney's comments since they were first revealed, but it seems clear the only way the network can get Americans to buy into its defense of the comments is by mischaracterizing them.
In an attempt to shield Mitt Romney's campaign from criticism that many of its claims against the Obama administration are based on falsehoods, conservative media have resorted to attacking fact-checkers, accusing them of liberal bias or of "shilling" for the Obama campaign. This is in keeping with the position of the Romney campaign, which has said, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
Local Wisconsin reporters say that as the national media begins to scrutinize Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) life and career following his selection as Mitt Romney's running mate, they may overlook details such as his inside-the-Beltway focus, the high level of unemployment in his hometown, and his family connection to the natural gas industry.
In the early stages of such reviews, news outlets are often dependent on the campaigns themselves, prior national coverage of the candidate, and even Wikipedia for insight and can miss the kind of information local reporters who have covered the vice presidential selection for years may know best.
Media Matters went to some of those local reporters in Wisconsin and asked for their take on the information voters, and reporters, need most but may miss as they look at Ryan's career.
One issue most journalists raised was that Ryan left Wisconsin at a young age and climbed the political ladder in Washington. One local scribe compared him to Dick Cheney in that regard, stating both men rose to the top by focusing on D.C. connections and not in home state political circles.
"The way to understand him is he is Dick Cheney, he is a guy who went to Washington as soon as he could, rooted himself in the establishment, got himself elected as soon as he could and became a major player," said John Nichols, an associate editor at the Capital Times in Madison. "He is Dick Cheney with very good hair."
Other Wisconsin news people who have covered Ryan describe him as likeable and accessible to reporters, but something of an unknown even to local voters who re-elect him regularly despite his hometown being hit by hard economic times.
Scott Angus, editor of The Janesville Gazette, the daily newspaper in Ryan's hometown, described Ryan's fellow residents as having mixed views on their representative.
"The people of Janesville are probably as divided about Paul Ryan as the rest of the country," Angus said Saturday, hours after Ryan was announced as Romney's choice. "A lot of people would view [Ryan's opinions] as pretty conservative and pretty far to the right and that does not sit well with a lot of people in his district."
Angus, a 21-year editor of the paper, added, "He has lived here, but he has not worked here much, he has been in Washington working on his career path. I think a lot of people are surprised because he has always said his plans were not to rise to national office. He never had any elected office until he was elected to Congress."
But Janesville's recent past is also important, several reporters said, citing the town's difficult economic situation, sparked by the closure of a General Motors plant in 2009.
"Their unemployment rate is double digits," said Jeff Flynt, a news reporter at WTAQ Radio in Green Bay. "For a state that is trying to turn around the business aspects of the state the fact that Janesville unemployment continues to be pretty high and you have a guy who is known pretty well nationally and has not found a way to help the plant or put something in its place, that may catch" the national media's attention.
Outlining the growing controversy about the timeline of Mitt Romney's Bain Capital career, CNN's Jim Acosta recently asked the candidate if he believed he was "being swift-boated in this campaign." Later that same evening, reporting on Anderson Cooper 360, CNN's Tom Forman forged a tighter connection, suggesting "Republican analysts fear Mitt Romney could become the second politician from Massachusetts swift boated out of the presidency."
Here's how Forman describe the Swift Boat affair [emphasis added]:
FORMAN: He's talking about the Swift Boat campaign, in which President Bush's challenger John Kerry was demonized over what his campaign considered an attribute. His decorated service as a soldier in Vietnam. The Swift Boat ads, backed by a group of pro-Bush veterans, questioned the Democratic challenger's conduct in the war, his anti-war activities later and his patriotism.
Kerry was slow to respond and never very effective in refuting their claims even though his critics offered little in the way of proof. He lost the election of course. And for many Democrats, swift-boating became a catch-all term for any unfair, untrue, personal assault on a candidate.
Trying to tie contemporary questions about Romney's Bain past with an infamous GOP smear campaign is an exercise in false equivalency. "The Swift Boat campaign was completely a lie," Esquires' Charles Pierce recently reminded readers. "Nothing the Swifties said about John Kerry was true." And yet, despite the cavernous gap between the Swift Boat affair and the ongoing Bain story, the comparison continues to gain currency.
The conservative Washington Examiner editorial page on Monday lamented the "Swift-Baining of Mitt Romney." What had the Obama campaign done that was so unfair to the Republican candidate? It had "seized on reports by liberal websites Mother Jones and Talking Points Memo -- and later by the Boston Globe -- citing Securities and Exchange Commission filings that listed Romney as the CEO of Bain after he was said to have left for the Olympics."
Quoting news outlets that cite government documents regarding Romney's employment record now constitutes a smear campaign?
Let's stipulate this fact going forward: A candidate having his résumé or biography examined during the course of a presidential campaign does not constitute being "swift boated." Enthusiastic "vetting" of candidates' backgrounds is a routine aspect of general elections.
The distinguishing feature of a Swift Boat smear campaign, of course, was that virtually every single war-era allegation made against Kerry's military service proved to be false, leaving the assumption that the entire point of the coordinated, deep-pocketed attack was to purposefully spread as manly lies as possible. And not just small fibs, but truly unconscionable lies about a serviceman's record during the unpopular Vietnam War.
On CBS Sunday morning, Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer gave a free pass to Mitt Romney's on his changed position on whether an individual mandate should be part of federal health insurance reform.
Schieffer's interview was the first Sunday morning interview Romney has done this campaign cycle with a show other than Fox News Sunday.
Schieffer asked Romney to respond to the assertion that the federal Affordable Care Act enacted by Obama is essentially the same as the plan that Romney enacted in Massachusetts. Romney responded that he believed an individual mandate at the federal level is "unconstitutional."
However, in a 2009 USA Today op-ed, Romney advocated for a federal individual mandate, expressly stating that the federal government follow his Massachusetts law as a model, a fact Schieffer did not bring up.
As TPM explained:
In July 2009, Mitt Romney called on President Obama to require Americans to buy insurance as part of his health care plan, using "tax penalties" as a backstop -- in other words, the individual mandate that Republicans virulently oppose.
In a USA Today op-ed titled "Mr. President, what's the rush?," which is also available on MittRomneyCentral.com, Romney urged Obama to "learn a thing or two about health care reform" from his Massachusetts plan that contained the same policy, and touted it as effective.
"First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance," Romney wrote. "Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages 'free riders' to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others."
The revelation could damage the GOP presidential frontrunner, who has been attacked by conservatives for enacting a similar law as "Obamacare," but has defended himself by saying such an approach is acceptable on a state level, not a federal level.
Watch the interview from CBS's Face the Nation:
When a distant Obama controversy was resurrected last week by the president's most fervent media foes, the New York Times noted how Mitt Romney's campaign distanced itself from the debate, and from the president's extreme critics.
The Times reported [emphasis added]:
On Thursday, the Drudge Report posted a link on its Web site to a report that sought to revive the long-discredited assertion that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States.
The Romney campaign has kept a considerable distance from the anti-Obama fringe. It only turns off moderate and independent voters, while stirring up Mr. Obama's base.
But has the GOP campaign really kept its distance? It's true that with last week's resurrection of the long-debunked conspiracy theory about Obama's true birthplace, the Romney campaign showed no interest in embracing the story.
In general though, the Republican Party's presumptive nominee has gone out of his way to embrace the anti-Obama fringe, in the form of today's right-wing media complex. The Romney campaign has built strong ties with Fox News, The Drudge Report, and with an array of far, far-right websites that traffic in every imaginable type of anti-Obama hysteria, and do it on a daily basis.
Indeed, the Romney campaign seems determined to wage a general election campaign battle alongside the anti-Obama fringe, in a way that Sen. John McCain did not four years ago.
Recall that earlier this month the Huffington Post reported that in effort to reach out to right-wing bloggers and online journalists, Romney met with dozens of conservative writers for two hours during an on off-the-record gathering in Washington, D.C. The bull session centered around ways the bloggers and writers could help Romney's campaign with its messaging, and how they could most effectively distribute opposition research on Obama.
In other words, the Romney campaign deputized the right-wing blogosphere. And yes, the bloggers whom Romney so graciously met with represent a Who's Who of the anti-Obama fringe. Among those assembled for the Romney meeting were representatives from American Spectator, Human Events, RedState, Townhall, Powerline and PJ Media, among others.
Here's a sample of their recent work: