Columnist Joe Nocera of The New York Times made a sweeping negative generalization about "mass tort" lawsuits and "plaintiffs' lawyers" because BP is currently paying out more in damages than it expected for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
BP pled guilty to the felony manslaughter of 11 workers who perished when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April 2010. In addition, BP pled guilty to lying to Congress about the extent of the resulting environmental catastrophe and agreed to a $4 billion plea agreement - a record sum in criminal penalties. BP also settled in civil proceedings for damage beyond the immediate blowout, such as the extensive economic and medical harm caused to those who depend on a Gulf of Mexico unpolluted by millions of barrels of oil.
Currently, BP, which remains the "world leader in deepwater drilling," is attempting to renege on this agreement.
Defending BP's appeal of its settlement and advertising campaign warning against potential claimants "tak[ing] money they don't deserve," Nocera claimed that many Gulf residents and business owners receiving court-ordered damage awards are "basically bystanders...[with] their hands out" represented by "plaintiffs' lawyers [who] gin up cases because, well, that's what they do." From the NYT:
One of the things I find particularly offensive is that the settlement includes criteria that virtually ensure that businesses unharmed by the oil spill will get compensation. All over the Gulf, lawyers are advising clients to line up at the BP trough, and they are doing so.
But how is this righting a wrong? Why is it appropriate to transfer money from BP shareholders to people who were basically bystanders and now have their hands out? When I posed this question to the plaintiffs' lawyers who sued BP, I received a lengthy statement from one of the lead lawyers, Steven Herman, describing a formula that, he noted several times, BP had agreed to, and even encouraged. He said that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was aimed at helping people who have been harmed "indirectly." What he didn't say is that the more claimants getting BP's money, the more money winds up with the lawyers themselves.
If some claimants or attorneys have profited from illegitimate claims, that is wrong.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal provided incomplete reporting of GOP criticism that President Obama downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. None of these newspapers provided their readers with Obama's actual comments labeling the attacks an "act of terror," thereby giving undue weight to Republican attacks.
Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent has meticulously dismantled New York Times columnist Bill Keller's March 3 piece laying blame for the sequester at President Obama's feet, noting that one of Keller's key arguments -- that Obama campaigned in 2012 "on poll-tested tax hikes alone" -- is flatly untrue. Obama spent almost all of 2012 promoting a "balanced" approach to deficit reduction that included tax increases on the wealthy and spending cuts, as Sargent documented. And at the time, Obama's deficit-reduction campaign message caught the eye of... Bill Keller, who wrote in October 2012 that an Obama second term would see "a gradual, balanced attack on deficits that includes higher taxes on the wealthiest."
Keller's October 28, 2012, column for the Times pushed back hard against the complaint voiced by journalists and commentators that Obama and Mitt Romney each lacked an agenda. "There are plenty of legitimate reasons voters (and the media) should be disenchanted by the candidates and the campaign," Keller wrote, "but the idea that we'll be voting in the dark is not one of them."
Here's what Keller said to expect from a reelected President Obama:
With Obama, we can anticipate that the unfinished business of universal health care and the re-regulation of the Wall Street casino will be finished. We can expect investments in education, infrastructure and innovation, followed by a gradual, balanced attack on deficits that includes higher taxes on the wealthiest. (And this time he will have a hefty stick to apply to a recalcitrant Congress: the fiscal cliff, which forces Congress to compromise or share the blame for the ensuing havoc.) We can expect the Pentagon, after winding down two wars, to bank a peace dividend. If Obama is re-elected, especially if he is elected with substantial Latino support, we can expect that he will try to deliver on his postponed promise of comprehensive immigration reform. The fact that these objectives represent a continuation of his first term does not mean he is aiming low. These are ambitious goals.
He even cited the Obama campaign's release of "a 20-page booklet of its intentions," which was "dismissed in my own newspaper for containing 'no new proposals.'" That booklet was one of the many, many Obama campaign materials promoting "a balanced approach to reducing the deficit," and highlighted Obama's plan to cut the deficit "by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, including $1 trillion in spending cuts he signed into law last summer, and cutting $2.50 in spending for every $1 in additional revenue from the wealthiest families and closing corporate loopholes." [page 13]
In 2012, Keller knew Obama was pushing a "balanced" deficit plan and even described it as such. Now he's saying Obama campaigned exclusively on tax increases in order to whack the president for failing to lead -- not only getting the facts wrong but contradicting himself in the process. The irony here is that Keller's October 2012 column was meant to rebut the lazy, incorrect thinking from reporters and pundits that led them to push bogus narratives instead of laying out the facts.
As conservative legislators in nine states renew the push for restrictive voter ID laws, their efforts have been aided by state media outlets that continue to ignore or misinform readers on the issue.
Republican lawmakers in several states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- have stated that new or more restrictive voter ID rules will top their agendas in 2013. (Republicans control both houses of the legislature in all those states but New York and West Virginia. In Virginia, the GOP controls the House and maintains a 50/50 split with Democrats in the state Senate.) These proposals come just weeks after the 2012 election, in which there was no evidence of massive voter fraud.
A Media Matters analysis of the largest newspapers in each state found that coverage of these new voter ID initiatives has been largely devoid of context about the overstated dangers of voter fraud or of the significant influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy organization dedicated to pushing a homogeneous conservative agenda state-by-state. Only four of the nine newspapers covered the 2013 initiatives at all, and only one mentioned ALEC.
Reports by major media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and CNN, are giving credence to Republicans' baseless attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice over statements she made in September appearances on Sunday morning political shows regarding an attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, Rice's remarks were based on the intelligence available at the time, and commentators from across the political spectrum agree that the attacks on Rice are inaccurate and driven by partisanship.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd defied her own paper's reporting to hype false Republican attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice.
Dowd devoted much of her November 27 column to quoting questions Republican Sen. Susan Collins (ME) had for Rice -- who currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and is rumored to be a possible nominee to become the next secretary of state -- regarding statements Rice made during September appearances on Sunday political shows about the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. But the questions Dowd posed have already been answered by Times reporting, and those answers show that Rice is being unfairly attacked.
This is the second time that Dowd has defied her own paper's reporting to attack Rice.
Dowd wrote that Collins "wants to know Rice's basis for saying on ABC that the attacks were 'a direct result of a heinous and offensive video' " -- a reference to an anti-Islam video that sparked unrest across the Muslim world. In fact, the Times has repeatedly reported that the Benghazi attackers cited the video as motivation for their attack. In an October 15 article, the Times reported:
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
The Times similarly reported on November 27 that "[w]itnesses to the assault said it was carried out by members of the Ansar al-Shariah militant group, without any warning or protest, in retaliation for an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad."
Major print media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, erased Mitt Romney's discredited lie that his economic agenda will be responsible for 12 million new jobs in 4 years from the debate record. In fact, independent analysts have said that Romney cannot support his own math, and some economists say the economy is already on track to create that many jobs.
The New York Times aided Mitt Romney's effort to allay fears about his extreme positions on reproductive rights.
Romney has embraced a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion, suggested he would appoint anti-reproductive rights judges, and supported bills to restrict abortion. Nevertheless, the Times reported that Romney recently "said he had no plans to pursue new laws limiting abortion." The Times quoted a statement that Romney gave to The Des Moines Register saying "no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."
The only pushback in the Times print edition was a report that "Responding to Mr. Romney's comment on abortion, the Obama campaign called it a 'lie,' inconsistent with earlier promises to name Supreme Court justices opposed to Roe v. Wade." (accessed via Nexis)
In fact, Romney has repeatedly embraced anti-abortion legislation.
On his website, Romney declares that he is "pro-life" and opposes abortion in almost all instances. He promises to "advocate for and support a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion." He also says that as president he will "support efforts to prohibit federal funding for any organization like Planned Parenthood, which primarily performs abortions or offers abortion-related services."
Romney also says he will reinstate the so-called "global gag rule" on international family planning organizations. He promises to "reinstate the Mexico City Policy to ensure that non-governmental organizations that receive funding from America refrain from performing or promoting abortion services, as a method of family planning, in other countries."
Romney has also pledged support for the long-time Republican platform plank on abortion, which calls for a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortions without exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape and incest.
And Romney attacks the Supreme Court justices who enshrined abortion rights in the Constitution as "a small group of activist federal judges legislating from the bench." He promises to "only appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution and the laws as they are written, not as they want them to be written."
The Times has since updated the online version of its story to note that after his statement to The Des Moines Register, Romney's campaign released a statement saying: " 'Gov. Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life,' spokeswoman Andrea Saul said, declining to elaborate."
In its update, the Times' online story also stated that "Mr. Romney's statement on abortion seemed to conflict with some Republicans in Congress who have sought to further restrict federal financing for abortions, including bills supported by his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan."
New York Times columnist David Brooks ignored the actual proposals that Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan have for Medicare to claim that their plan "would not shift costs to seniors."
Brooks wrote: "Whenever you hear a Democrat say that Romney and Ryan would end Medicare or cost seniors $6,000, that is a misleading reference to the original Ryan plan, not anything on offer today. Today's Romney plan would not shift costs to seniors." Brooks later added "The Romney-Ryan approach might work. If it doesn't, the federal budget would suffer but seniors wouldn't."
The Affordable Care Act provides money to help seniors pay for their prescription drugs. The Medicare prescription drug benefit passed under President George W. Bush created a "donut hole" that required seniors with high prescription drug costs to pay thousands of dollars. The Affordable Care Act closed that donut hole.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this provision of the Affordable Care Act has saved seniors $3.2 billion already. If the Romney-Ryan plan is enacted and the ACA is repealed, seniors would have to pay that money again.
Numerous independent experts have also said that Ryan's plan to transform Medicare into a voucher system will force seniors to spend millions more for health care because the vouchers would not keep pace with rising health care costs. Indeed, Yale public policy professor Ted Marmor has said that under the Ryan plan, some seniors would be forced to "choose between paying for better coverage and having more money for food and other items."
A New York Times blog post echoed the Drudge Report's distortion of a 14 year old audio recording of President Obama talking about government's role in creating a society where everybody has a shot.
Tuesday afternoon, the Drudge Report linked to an audio recording apparently taken from a 1998 conference Obama attended at Loyola University, with the headline: "I actually believe in redistribution." A post later that night on The New York Times' The Caucus blog echoed the cropped quote that Drudge highlighted:
By Tuesday afternoon, the campaign seemed to find its footing. Aides inside Mr. Romney's Boston headquarters began highlighting a video of their own: a 1998 clip showing Barack Obama, then a state senator, saying that he wanted the government to facilitate the distribution of wealth. "I actually believe in redistribution," Mr. Obama said on the tape.
Soon, Mr. Romney was on Fox News, his television comfort zone, mocking the video. Twitter lit up with Romney aides taking the president to task for his word choice.
Suddenly, the mood in the Romney camp began to perk up, ever so slightly.
But Drudge's and The Times' version of the quote left off the rest of Obama's sentence in the audio recording: "at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot."
It also ignored the fact that Obama actually talked about both the government's role in providing services and the problems of ineffective government programs. For instance, Obama says in the audio, "[W]e do have to be innovative in thinking, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live?"
(h/t Greg Sargent)
A New York Times article suggested that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) favors policies that restrict women's health care such as cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood, but Mitt Romney does not. In fact, Romney supports each of the anti-women policies cited by the Times.
The Times suggested that Ryan has "more conservative views" than Romney because Ryan has cast votes that "would restrict family planning financing overseas, cut off all federal funds to Planned Parenthood and repeal President Obama's health care law." From the Times:
On Tuesday, Republicans approved platform language for next week's nominating convention that calls for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no explicit exceptions for cases of rape or incest. That is a view more restrictive than Mr. Romney's, who has said that he supports exceptions to allow abortions in cases of rape.
Mr. Ryan's more conservative views, which have been reflected in votes that would restrict family planning financing overseas, cut off all federal funds to Planned Parenthood and repeal President Obama's health care law, have come into sharp relief as Mr. Akin struggles for his political life. Mr. Akin and Mr. Ryan each have voted in this Congress for 10 abortion-restricting measures as well as those that limited other family planning services.
But Romney has taken identical positions to Ryan on each of the women's health issues mentioned by the Times:
The New York Times allowed William Gheen, president of the anti-immigrant Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), to push the canard that immigration will increase unemployment.
The Times quoted Gheen in an August 9 article on the effect of the Obama administration's policy of allowing certain young immigrants the opportunity to gain work permits. According to the Times, Gheen said that Obama's policy is poison because it supposedly harms American workers:
Opponents of the policy argue that it is ill-timed, given a dismal job market that is especially grim for Americans under 30 who do not have college degrees. Talk of harvesting "wasted talent" is "just sugar to make the poison go down," said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, a political action committee. Mr. Obama is harming American workers by "placing more illegal immigrants up against them as competitors," he said.
The Times did not attempt to fact-check Gheen's claim that Obama's immigration policies harm American workers. In fact, numerous economists have pointed out that higher immigration does not mean higher unemployment. Indeed, study after study has found that immigrants' economic impact is positive.
Gheen has regularly demonized immigrants as disease carries, murders, drunk drivers, and gang members. His group ALIPAC is also supported by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-immigrant hate group.
Nevertheless, the Times and other top print outlets continue to regularly cite ALIPAC in their papers.
In his most recent column, the New York Times' Ross Douthat repeated a common media charge about what a harsh campaign President Obama is running this year. Dubbing the president "Mr. Negative," Douthat bemoaned what he saw as Obama's nasty Nixonian streak and a campaign that Douthat claims "started out negative and has escalated to frank character assassination."
This kind of dire rhetoric has become quite common among Beltway pundits and reporters, along with right-wing commentators. Collectively, they have formed a tight-knit narrative about what an almost shockingly negative campaign Obama is running, and how the harsh tone represents the polar opposite of Obama's feel-good run in 2008.
The media chatter really has become deafening. A New York Times news report last month emphasized how both campaigns have gone "relentlessly negative," while a Miami Herald column trumpeted Obama's "seek and destroy" campaign style, built around a "negative onslaught" targeting Romney. (The Herald piece suggested Obama was "doing the same" thing to Romney that the Swift Boat Veterans had done to John Kerry in 2004.) Meanwhile, The Atlantic dubbed Obama's run a "nasty" and "bare knuckle" campaign fueled by "brutal" tactics.
In fact, when the Romney campaign made an ad complaining about how negative Obama's re-election run has been, it cobbled together on-air quotes from CBS's Bob Schieffer, Time's Mark Halperin and the New York Times' David Brooks, all of whom have gone on TV lamenting the tone of Obama's campaign.
But is the claim accurate? Is the Democrat really running some sort of guttural, ruthlessly negative campaign? Is it far and way more negative than his opponent's effort? And is the tone of Obama's 2012 campaign completely different from his 2008 run for election, as the press insists?
No, no, no, and no.
Incoming New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan says she believes that "newspapers must be truth vigilantes" and that such a focus is "a clear part of our mission."
Sullivan, whose appointment to the position was announced Monday, will take over the post from current public editor Arthur Brisbane on Sept. 1, 2012.
Brisbane drew criticism for a January 12 report in which he posed the question, "Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?" In his piece, he said he was "looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about." As Adam Clark Estes observed at The Atlantic Wire, "The immediate answer, everyone we follow [on Twitter] seemed to agree, was a resounding YES."
In a follow-up post, Brisbane said he had been misunderstood, and that his "inquiry related to whether The Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut 'facts' that are offered by newsmakers when those 'facts' are in question." He added, "I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one." Responding to his original post, Times executive editor Jill Abramson wrote that "[t]he kind of rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing you describe is a fundamental part of our job as journalists" and that "[w]e do it every day, in a variety of ways."
In an interview with Media Matters, Sullivan, currently editor of The Buffalo News, said she agrees with the contention that newspapers must challenge facts presented by sources or news subjects if they are found to be in dispute, a position she said put her in step with both her predecessor and Abramson.
"I think that possibly what came out of that was that we all know and Arthur Brisbane knows and Jill Abramson knows and every one of us knows that newspapers must be truth vigilantes and there never really was any question about that I don't think," she said Monday. "Certainly that's a value that we all share and that's not really in question. It's a clear part of our mission, to ferret out the truth. What else are we here for?"
Asked Monday if accepting answers from subjects and sources at face value is not enough, Sullivan added:
"For any newspaper, for any news organization, I don't think it's nearly enough, we have to be much more searching. I think that challenging facts and getting to the bottom of statements is central to the mission of journalism. To me, it's a very clear cut kind of thing."
Sullivan, 55, comes to the Times post after 13 years as editor of The Buffalo News and an employee of that paper since 1980.
On how she plans to approach the job -- and perhaps differently from her four predecessors -- Sullivan said, "I think that ... the difference is that we live in a very different era right now. It has changed a whole lot in just the past couple of years."
"We are so immersed in digital culture and the Public Editor's role needs to respond to that. I see this as a way of aggregating the comment and criticism and discussion that's out there into a probably daily or close to daily blog, getting reader comment going in a real time basis and have a true sort of ongoing online conversation with the Times readers about the New York Times," she added.