Media outlets have described Hillary Clinton's wealth and the speaking fees she has earned as a "potentially serious political problem" and a "potential political liability." Will they describe the financial dealings of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush the same way now that he is exploring a presidential run? And will they do in-depth reporting on the controversial business deals Bush has been involved in?
Media figures are touting the Keystone XL pipeline as an "environmentally safe" alternative to truck and rail transportation, uncritically citing a State Department report on the environmental impact of building Keystone XL. But experts and subsequent studies have determined that the report is based on faulty conclusions and grossly underestimates greenhouse gas emissions caused by Keystone.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough peddled the myth that building the Keystone XL pipeline would "create 50,000 new jobs," even though independent fact checkers have called that figure false. The pipeline is projected to create as few as 50 permanent jobs.
The House of Representatives passed a bill to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for the ninth time on Friday. A parallel measure will be considered in the Senate on Tuesday. The administration has indicated that it plans to delay approval of the pipeline while a legal challenge to the proposed route proceeds and suggested that President Obama would veto the effort to accelerate the process.
Scarborough questioned any decision to delay the pipeline on the November 17 edition of Morning Joe and wrongly claimed that the project would "create 50,000 new jobs."
The implication that building the pipeline would create 50,000 jobs that don't currently exist is not true. As PolitiFact noted in calling similar job creation estimates false, many of the jobs that would be supported by the pipeline already exist, and the majority of the construction jobs that would be supported are short term.
"A State Department review found the project could support -- not create -- 42,100 jobs. But that number needs considerable explanation and does not amount to tens of thousands of full-time jobs in the most common sense of employment," PolitiFact noted. "The figure represents the project's estimated direct, indirect and induced jobs over two years of construction, and all but 50 are temporary."
Rushing to defend a recent Time magazine article critical of teacher tenure, several conservative media outlets neglected to discuss what is at the core of a major backlash against the article: due process.
Time's November 3 cover story, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples", has spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers. The Huffington Post noted on October 27 that a petition from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) "asking Time to apologize for the cover had reached 72,000 signatures." In response to the uproar, Time published reactions to its piece from various individuals, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), AFT President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
Various conservative media outlets covered the Time controversy by defending the article and cover, attacking teachers unions, and mischaracterizing teacher tenure. The common thread in all of this coverage, however, was a lack of discussion about due process, or why due process policies like tenure exist.
On the October 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski hosted Time's Nancy Gibbs to discuss the backlash. The segment did not include a discussion or even a mention of tenure or due process, though Scarborough claimed, "It's absolutely silly. There are rotten apples. There are horrible teachers. There are horrible lawyers. There are horrible journalists. There are horrible TV hosts. In every field you can go, there are rotten apples in that field."
Fox News' Outnumbered on October 27 also neglected to discuss due process during a discussion of the Time piece, though co-host Andrea Tantaros stated that teachers unions are "destroying America" while co-host Jedediah Bila claimed:
BILA: And unfortunately, the reality is, is that a lot of bad teachers stay. They have tenure.& You cannot get rid of them. They want no accountability, and they are bringing schools down in every city across this country.
Conservative media have rallied around calls to enforce travel bans from countries in West Africa affected by the Ebola epidemic, despite the fact that medical and military experts have repeatedly noted that travel bans would hamper relief efforts and impede workers' ability to properly address the outbreak.
Joe Scarborough and Ezra Klein are helping to normalize guilt-by-association smears targeting defense attorneys based on their clients, arguing that Hillary Clinton's work defending an alleged child rapist in 1975 is becoming a political liability.
The American Bar Association has condemned this type of attack as "disturbing."
Clinton's work on the case, known publicly and reported on for years, re-emerged after the Washington Free Beacon violated library policy and published an interview Clinton gave in the mid-1980s discussing her legal representation of the alleged rapist.
Clinton defended her work on the case in an interview with Mumsnet that was published July 4, explaining once again that she was assigned to the case, that she asked to be relieved from the assignment, and that she "had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability."
Reporting on the warmed-over scrutiny of the case on Tuesday, Vox claimed that "a criminal defense case from Hillary Clinton's past as a lawyer is becoming a political liability." The headline ominously stated: "Hillary Clinton's legal career is coming back to haunt her."
Klein, the co-founder of Vox, appeared on Morning Joe to expand on the idea that Clinton's legal work was a political liability. "I think it's hard for folks to understand why you would go to the mat for a client who had done something terrible who you knew is guilty," Klein said. "And what she's saying there is that that was her obligation as a lawyer and that the prosecution had done a horrible job."
While Scarborough at one point agreed that attorneys "usually take that court appointment and do their best to defend their client," he subsequently tried to parse the distinction between a public defender and Clinton's role as a court-appointed attorney from a legal aid clinic:
SCARBOROUGH: [I]sn't there a distinction, though, between when you are hired by a public defender's office, and the purpose of the public defender's office is actually to give people the representation that they are guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America? And then you have Hillary Clinton's case, where she was running a legal clinic. She may have been court-appointed, but obviously she had a lot more discretion on whether she was going to take a child rapist or not on as a client than if you are a public defender, where you are working as a public defender, you have no choice.
Legal and child welfare experts told Newsday that Clinton's work in the case was appropriate in 2008, the last time her work in the case came under media scrutiny. Clinton wrote about the case in her 2003 autobiography, Living History. Jonathan Adler, a libertarian law professor, has urged Clinton's critics not to attack her representation in this case, specifically warning that it could be chilling to send a message to young attorneys that representing unpopular clients could become a "political liability."
Adler is not alone. Republicans Ken Starr, Lindsey Graham, and Michael Mukasey have all cautioned against using an attorney's clients as a cudgel.
From the June 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Following days of ill-informed critiques of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski acknowledged that she is excited about the prospects of what Clinton could do for women as a presidential candidate in light of beginning to read Clinton's new memoir.
On the June 11 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski amended previous critiques of Hillary Clinton, noting that after beginning to read Clinton's book Hard Choices, she's "excited" about the valuable impact Clinton could have on women:
BRZEZINSKI: I have an amendment to make to the questions I've been asking. I am excited at the prospects of what she can do for women. I really am.
Two Bush administration veterans have now stated that Karl Rove's comments about Hillary Clinton's health were an intentional effort to push the story into the media, raising significant questions about whether media will be complicit in his smear campaign.
When Rove was quoted wildly speculating that Clinton might have a "traumatic brain injury" following her 2012 concussion and blood clot -- both of which she fully recovered from, according to doctors -- it continued conservative media's months-long efforts to politicize Clinton's health. But new reports suggest Rove's vicious and false attack was calculated to divert more mainstream media attention to Clinton's age and health.
The May 14 Politico Playbook features an anonymous Bush official email which claims that Rove "accomplished exactly what he wanted to" by forcing media to discuss her health and potentially giving her "more reasons to stay out of the race":
A Bush administration alumnus emails: "Karl accomplished exactly what he wanted to: ... Give Hillary more reasons to stay out of the race. Because if she gets in -- no matter how much people villainize him for saying it -- Hillary's health is now a real issue to be discussed. If having to deal with uncomfortable media scrutiny is what will keep her out of the race, this just upped the ante significantly, especially if there is anything healthwise going on, even a small matter. It was a brilliant shot across the bow, even if it was a cheap shot."
Nicolle Wallace, former communications director for the Bush White House and 2004 re-election campaign, also explained on Morning Joe that "Karl didn't just stumble into this line of questioning about Hillary Clinton's health, OK? He is one of the most prepared and deliberate speakers ... I think that the fact that we're having a three day conversation about Hillary's age and health may have been his objective."
While both of these accounts are illuminating looks into Rove's tactics, they also raise significant questions about the media's complicity in pushing these smears. The Morning Joe panel laughed about Rove's remarks (host Joe Scarborough even questioned if Rove himself was "brain damaged,") but as Wallace noted, they were still discussing Rove's falsehood and giving it significant airtime. Similarly, Politico Playbook featured five separate paragraphs hyping "Rove vs. Clinton."
But if we're all just laughing at Rove's ridiculous, malicious attacks, does it matter? According to Peter Beinart at The Atlantic, it does; the media fixation not only proves Rove's tactics worked, but sets up a dangerous precedent where media become complicit in keeping the smear alive (emphasis added):
Why does Rove allegedly smear his opponents this way? Because it works. Consider the Clinton "brain damage" story. Right now, the press is slamming Rove for his vicious, outlandish comments. But they're also talking about Clinton's health problems as secretary of state, disrupting the story she wants to tell about her time in Foggy Bottom in her forthcoming memoir.
Assuming she runs, journalists will investigate Clinton's medical history and age. Now Rove has planted questions that will lurk in their minds as they report.
The idea of journalists and pundits entirely unable to distance their minds from a smear they know to be false is a frightening image -- but it's not as inevitable as Beinart implies. After all, in the same Morning Joe segment, Scarborough (himself a conservative) refused to legitimize Rove's comments by entertaining any discussion of Clinton's age more broadly. Instead, he accurately noted that the fact Clinton would be 69 when inaugurated (if she were to run in 2016 and win) should not be a factor, as Ronald Reagan was inaugurated at 69 and left office at 77. (And as The National Journal has pointed out, because Clinton is female her life expectancy is significantly longer than Reagan's, making any attacks on her age even more nonsensical.)
Media has a responsibility to report the facts, but they also have the ability to choose to not let smears influence how they go looking for those facts. They can laugh at Rove's absurd, desperate jabs without letting them "lurk," and without becoming complicit in his smear campaign. The question is, will they?
MSNBC's Morning Joe helped to legitimize House Republicans' witch-hunt into the Benghazi attacks by pushing some of Fox News' favorite myths about the tragedy.
House Republicans voted on Friday to establish a select committee on the 2012 Benghazi attacks, a move which follows months -- and years -- of Fox News pushing misinformation and consistently calling for Congress to further investigate Benghazi.
In the wake of the establishment of the select committee, right-wing media led by Fox have revived a litany of already-asked-and-answered questions on Benghazi, jumping off the White House's release of a September 14, 2012 email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes used to prepare Susan Rice for the Sunday talk shows after the attacks (despite the fact that the Rhodes' email was consistent with intelligence reports at the time and relied on CIA talking points).
Unfortunately, Fox was not alone -- MSNBC's Morning Joe has also legitimized the investigation by pushing debunked Benghazi myths.
From the May 7 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Mainstream media outlets attempted to cast doubt on White House press secretary Jay Carney's explanation that a memo advising Susan Rice on her TV appearances referred to global protests as opposed to the September 11 attack specifically. However Sunday news coverage from Rice's press tour demonstrates that discussions of Benghazi did include broader context of anti-American protests in the region, as Carney had asserted.
Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe and continued to lob accusations of bias at her former employer while offering no evidence to substantiate her charges.
Since leaving her former job as an investigative correspondent for CBS' Evening News, Attkisson has engaged in a media blitz notable for two goals: promoting her upcoming book and leveling substance-free accusations. In her appearance on Morning Joe on April 22, Attkisson continued this trend, suggesting that the lack of interest on the part of CBS News in pursuing some of her stories was due to political bias.
When offered an opportunity by co-host Mika Brzezinski to substantiate her claims, however, Attkisson refused, saying:
ATTKISSON: I decided for many reasons not go into a lot of detail. I'll probably write about some of this in the book when I can think it out and word it carefully. But it was just, to me, a huge variety of stories, and I'm certainly not the only one complaining about that, and it's not the only network where correspondents think this sort of thing is going on.
Attkisson's campaign of evidence-free accusations has been praised by the right, but has come under fire from media critics. Washington Post's Erik Wemple pointed out that both Attkisson's accusations of bias and her attacks on outlets such as Media Matters "rest on uncorroborated stuff":
In any case, Attkisson's claims against CBS News rest on uncorroborated stuff, as do her claims against Media Matters, as do certain of her suggestions about intrusions into her computers (though she promises news on that front). The more media interviews she does, the more she thrusts this un-journalistic tendency into the public sphere for the inspection of prospective employers. And the more she all but compels CBS News to strike back at her ramblings.
Invited to do just that today, CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair told the Erik Wemple Blog: "CBS News maintains the highest journalistic standards in what it chooses to put on the air. Those standards are applied without fear or favor."
MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski highlighted the need for a "national conversation" on the gender wage gap and called on Republicans to either "come to the table" on the issue or "be quiet." Such a turnaround will be difficult while Fox News remains the communications arm of the GOP, as the network has consistently perpetuated sexist rhetoric and dismissed workplace inequality as a "myth" not worth covering.
A recent report from the American Association of University Woman (AAUW) found that, one year out of college, women on average are paid just 82 percent of what men make and noted that the gap tends to grow over time. According to the report, this discrepancy between men and women's earnings has not improved in the past decade. A 2012 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research explained that "[w]omen's median earnings are lower than men's in nearly all occupations -- whether they work in occupations predominantly done by women, occupations predominantly done by men, or occupations with a more even mix of men and women." As Think Progress has reported, women make less than their male peers regardless of their education level, industry, job, or location.
Brzezinski stressed the necessity of promoting a "national conversation" to address these issues, but Fox News and other conservative media have already hijacked the conversation and are undermining the possibility of open debate. Fox's Bill O'Reilly refused to acknowledge the pay gap as a real issue and questioned the point of disucssing it, while Fox's John Stossel has repeatedly attempted to debunk what he describes as "gender myths" like the pay gap. Radio host Rush Limbaugh has dismissed arguments about the pay gap as "tripe" and claimed that wages are only stagnant for people who "don't do good work."
Though Brzezinski noted that the gender wage gap discussion is "rife with so many ways the Republican Party could really help address some of the issues," Republicans face a major hurdle in engaging with such issues while Fox News remains the GOP's communications arm.
Media coverage of a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the economic effects of raising the minimum wage has largely missed the finding that a $10.10 minimum wage would generate net income gains of $2 billion, Ezra Klein pointed out.
This month President Obama signed an executive order raising the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers. According to a CBO study released February 18, the increase could reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, but would also raise wages for 16.5 million workers and raise 900,000 people out of poverty. The report concluded: "Once the increases and decreases in income for all workers are taken into account, overall real income would rise by $2 billion."
MSNBC political analyst Ezra Klein explained how this significant finding -- $2 billion in net income gains as a result of the minimum wage increase -- has been "mostly missed" amidst the media's focus on job losses during an appearance on Morning Joe:
KLEIN: There's a headline number in this report that I think is getting mostly missed, which is $2 billion. Which is, after you account for everything -- any jobs you think you might lose, all the income gains you think you might have -- you have a net real income gain to workers of 2 billion. So the net result here is positive.