The last time Newsweek published an anti-environment op-ed without disclosing the author's oil industry ties, the esteemed news outlet was forced to acknowledge the error and provide proper disclosure to its readers. Now it's happened again.
On October 1, Newsweek published an op-ed by the Cato Institute's Walter Olson that argued against calls for the government to investigate climate science deniers under the federal racketeering law. But Newsweek identified Olson only as "a senior fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies," failing to disclose that Cato has received funding from the oil industry, including ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil is currently under fire after an InsideClimate News investigation revealed that although Exxon's own scientists discovered decades ago that fossil fuel emissions could lead to catastrophic climate change, the company subsequently "spent more than 20 years discrediting the research its own scientists had once confirmed." Additionally, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and a group of 20 prominent scientists have called for an investigation of "corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change" under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the same law that tobacco companies violated by deceiving the public about the health risks of smoking.
In his Newsweek op-ed, Olson pushed back against the idea of investigating climate science deniers under the RICO statute, claiming it threatens the right to free speech. Olson asserted that "controversial speech need not be true to be protected" and defended the right to use "half-truths, selectively marshaled data, [and] scientific studies that spring from agendas," arguing that these tactics are merely "common currency of everyday debate in Washington."
Newsweek failed to disclose the Cato Institute's industry funding, which includes at least $125,000 from ExxonMobil. Cato was co-founded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and has received millions of dollars from the Koch family.
The Cato Institute is also home to long-time climate science denier Patrick Michaels, and once published a fake "addendum" to a federal climate report, which Climate Science & Policy Watch characterized as "counterfeit."
In April, Newsweek published a deeply-flawed op-ed attacking wind energy by Utah State University professor Randy T. Simmons without disclosing that Simmons' full title at Utah State was the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy, or that he is a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. After Media Matters and others drew attention to the lack of disclosure and other problems with the op-ed, Newsweek added a correction and an editor's note disclosing Simmons' oil industry ties, and also published an op-ed responding to his misleading claims.
Following the incident, Newsweek Managing Editor Kira Bindrim told Politico: "Admittedly, we did not do an outside vetting of Simmons, and we are not in the habit of fully fact-checking opinion pieces picked up like this from outside sites. These are aspects of our workflow that we're looking at now."
Image at the top from Flickr user Tommaso Galli with a Creative Commons license.
Media reporting on a National Rifle Association-backed bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to change the national background check system for gun purchases should know that the bill would actually weaken the system by making it easier for some people with serious mental health issues to buy guns.
Many major media outlets reported that a new Environmental Protection Agency study found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking") has had "widespread" impacts on Americans' drinking water, but did not mention the EPA's explanation for why the study doesn't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The EPA study identified several "limiting factors," including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, which it said "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty."
UPDATE (6/5/15): Following the publication of this post, The Washington Times changed its headline from "EPA: Fracking doesn't harm drinking water" to "EPA finds fracking poses no direct threat to drinking water." However, the New York Post published an article on June 5 adopting The Washington Times' original language, headlined, "Fracking doesn't harm drinking water: EPA."
Within hours of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releasing a study on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," Newsweek and The Washington Times published online articles with headlines that falsely claimed the EPA determined fracking does not pollute drinking water. However, while the EPA said it found no evidence that fracking has led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States," the study also identified "specific instances" where fracking "led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells."
In its headline, Newsweek asserted: "Fracking Doesn't Pollute Drinking Water, EPA Says." The Washington Times' similar headline, "EPA: Fracking doesn't harm drinking water," was also adopted by The Drudge Report, a highly influential conservative news aggregator.
But the EPA study said none of those things. Rather, the EPA concluded (emphasis added):
From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources. These mechanisms include water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water; fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.
We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.
A more accurate headline about the EPA's study would have resembled that of U.S. News & World Report, which stated: "EPA: Fracking Tainted Drinking Water, but Problems Not Widespread."
Indeed, the EPA's determination that fracking has contaminated some drinking water wells was even included within the body of The Washington Times article. But a headline often shapes the way the rest of the article is perceived, and even reading the article may not be enough to correct for the headline's misinformation -- that is, if the reader gets past the headline, which most Americans do not.
In addition to mischaracterizing the EPA study, Newsweek and The Washington Times also excluded EPA's explanation of why its findings don't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The agency identified several "limiting factors" in its analysis, including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, stating that these limitations "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty." As the Environmental Defense Fund stated in a press release about the EPA study, "Better and more accessible data on activities surrounding hydraulic fracturing operations is needed."
UPDATE (4/21): Newsweek added an editor's note at the top of Simmons' op-ed, which reads: "Editor's note: The author of this piece, Randy Simmons, is the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University. He's also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. These ties to the oil industry weren't originally disclosed in this piece."
Newsweek also published an op-ed in response by the Environmental Defense Fund's Jim Marston, and issued the following correction to Simmons' op-ed: "Correction: This article has been updated with a corrected figure for wind power's current share of US electricity generation. It also clarifies the range of cost estimates from Lazard."
Newsweek missed by a mile when it promised to provide readers with "full disclosure" concerning the author of a deeply flawed opinion piece it published attacking wind energy.
Newsweek stated that the April 11 column's primary author, Randy Simmons, is a "professor of political economy at Utah State University" and added: "Full disclosure: Randy Simmons receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (grant has been completed and there is no current funding) and Strata, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization."
But Simmons isn't just any professor of political economy; he is the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State's business school.* He's also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center.
If Newsweek was serious about disclosing any pertinent information about Simmons' possible motives for arguing against wind energy, the obvious place to start would be with his ties to the Koch brothers, who have a vested interest in opposing sources of energy like wind that would reduce America's dependence on carbon-based energy sources. Instead, Newsweek considered it "full disclosure" to simply note that Simmons has received grants from the U.S. government and a non-profit organization.
New reporting highlights the links between Newsweek's new owners, IBT Media, and an evangelical college that threatens to punish students if they're caught engaging in "homosexual activity."
After a one-year print hiatus, Newsweek is back on newsstands and under the new ownership of IBT Media. In-depth reports in The Guardian and Mother Jones document the extensive ties between IBT and David J. Jang, the leader of an evangelical Christian sect called "the Community" and founder of the Bay Area Olivet University.
Writing for Mother Jones, Ben Dooley revealed that IBT CEO Etienne Uzac and Chief Content Officer Johnathan Davis have cultivated deep ties with Olivet and the Community:
- Olivet and IBT are linked to a web of dozens of churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the world that Jang has founded, influenced, or controlled, with money from Community members and profitable ministries helping to cover the costs of money-losing ministries and Jang's expenses. Money from other Community-affiliated organizations also helped fund IBT's early growth.
- Olivet students in the United States on international student visas say they worked for IBT and other Community media entities, sometimes for as little as $125 a week. Both Olivet and IBT described these positions as internships, and said no-one was allowed to work illegally. Several students I spoke with say they were not told they were interns, and documents from Olivet and the businesses list students as reporters, editors, and salespeople.
- According to the Times, Uzac and Davis "said Jang had no financial stake in IBT or influence on the business." But the pair acknowledged to Mother Jones that Jang has provided "advice" to IBT. And while there's no evidence Jang controlled editorial matters, internal documents show him routinely weighing in on a wide range of business decisions, from personnel and business strategy to typography.
- Jang sees Community-affiliated media organizations, including IBT, as an essential part of his mission to build the kingdom of God on Earth. He has said that media companies affiliated with the Community are part of a new Noah's ark designed to save the world from a biblical flood of information.
There aren't any formal links between the Community and IBT, but in an email unearthed by Dooley, Davis wrote that his ties to Jang's network were "inherently covert."
Several prominent former Newsweek journalists criticized the error-ridden recent cover story by playwright David Mamet that sought to discredit attempts to strengthen gun laws.
Some former staffers point to the Mamet piece as evidence that the magazine, which recently ceased print publication, isn't what it used to be, noting it seems to be seeking more readers through provocative pieces rather than in-depth journalism.
A Media Matters review of the piece found glaring factual mistakes related to background checks, assault weapons, and U.S. Secret Service protection for President Obama's family.
Michael Tomasky and Andrew Sullivan, both of whom write for The Daily Beast, Newsweek's online sibling, also found fault with the article. Tomasky called Mamet's piece a "bizarre rant" while Sullivan stated "Mamet's broad generalizations are empirically wrong and need to be corrected."
In comments to Media Matters, former Newsweek scribes were strongly critical of the poor reporting and accuracy of the piece.
Howard Fineman, who spent three decades at Newsweek covering politics and national issues and is now editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, said the piece does not reflect the Newsweek he once knew.
"I don't think it's what the Newsweek that I knew would have done with its cover space or its cover story, on many levels," Fineman said after reviewing the material involved. "But if they want to go that direction with it, that's up to them...So of course they should stick to basic journalistic rules when they do. Is it the Newsweek that I worked for? No."
He later stressed the need for accuracy and fact-checking, especially when outsiders are writing for the publication.
"Any news operation should stick to the facts and if they haven't in this case, they should explain why they didn't, or correct the record if they need to," he said. "There probably were times when we invited outsiders to write and put outsiders on the cover, I think, I doubt that Newsweek, just politically in the old days, Newsweek would have invited an outsider to denounce gun control. But again, somebody else bought the name and they can do whatever they want with under its banner, but they need to stick to basic journalistic principles when they do, it seems to me."
Asked about the impact such uncorrected stories can have on future research when the magazine is used as source material, Fineman said that should be taken into consideration.
"I think you raise a very good point, let's hope that they honor the fact that Newsweek has been a source for research and information and credible reporting for almost 80 years and they should keep it that way, they should respect that history," he said. "And I'm sure they should and I am sure they will because I think Tina is a very good journalist. I think Tina Brown is very creative and very good and I am sure she doesn't like to get things wrong."
Newsweek has published a bizarre rant on guns by playwright David Mamet as the cover story of its latest issue. Riddled with falsehoods, the piece alleges that efforts to strengthen gun laws -- many of which are supported by a majority of Americans -- are actually a Marxist plot.
Over the course of his hysterical rant, Mamet offers up several false or illogical claims. Notably, it is puzzling that Newsweek would turn to a writer for a major story on guns who is apparently wholly unfamiliar with the existence of the federal background check system or the definition of assault weapons during the current political debate -- especially after the publication acknowledged that they have no fact-checking department but instead "rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material."
In an attempt to distract from an emerging debate over how much to strengthen gun laws, Newsweek and Daily Beast special correspondent Megan McArdle called for people, even children, to be trained to "gang rush" active shooters. The Department of Homeland Security, however, recommends that people evacuate or hide in response to an active shooter, and to take direct action only as a last resort and when your life is in "imminent" danger.
McArdle's essay on how to prevent mass shootings in the wake of the tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, begins with a libertarian defense of congressional inaction on gun issues, even sneering that it is "easy and satisfying to be for 'gun control' in the abstract, but we cannot pass gun control, in the abstract." You might well have seen most of this essay after any mass shooting in recent decades.
McArdle is so resigned to any gun laws failing to prevent gun violence that she concludes that people should be encouraged to "gang rush" shooters rather than hide:
I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
So, in sum: the chances of achieving anything with any gun legislation are so low that in these circumstances, people should resign themselves to probable death by running at the person firing a gun in the hope that enough people will follow that their likely death will not be in vain.
As Jonathan Chait points out at NY Magazine, this is an absurd proposition:
Are you kidding me? You think gun control is impractical, so your plan is to turn the entire national population, including young children, into a standby suicide squad? Through private initiative, of course. It's way more feasible than gun control!
Unless I am missing a very subtle parody of libertarianism, McArdle's plan to teach children to launch banzai charges against mass murderers is the single worst solution to any problem I have ever seen offered in a major publication. Newsweek, I award this essay no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security has specific guidelines on how to act when one's life is threatened in a shooting situation. Objective 1 is to evacuate, and if you cannot evacuate, objective 2 is find a hiding place: "If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you." DHS recommends that people take action against an active shooter only as a last resort and when your life is in imminent danger.
Media figures have used the recent attacks on the U.S. embassy in Egypt and consulate in Libya to make Islamophobic comments, from claiming that "they hate us because they hate us" to asking guests if they think "there is a Muslim problem in the world."
The most recent issue of Newsweek features on the cover stereotypically angry Arab men, presumably from inside a recent anti-American protest, with the headline "MUSLIM RAGE." The pushback against the cover was immediate and strong. Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, described the cover in an interview with Politico as "extremely unhelpful" and "playing to Islamophobic stereotypes."
Want to discuss our latest cover? Let's hear it with the hashtag: #MuslimRage.-- Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 17, 2012
This has led to some genuinely humorous responses that effectively illuminate the problem with Newsweek's cover story on their own, but the situation is deeper than that.
Niall Ferguson's Newsweek cover story on President Obama exemplifies a deficiency in today's media. As criticism of Ferguson's shoddy work mounted -- both from outside and inside of Newsweek/The Daily Beast -- Newsweek explained to Politico's Dylan Byers that Newsweek "rel[ies] on our writers to submit factually accurate material." Indeed, Byers also noted that Newsweek does not even have a fact-checking department.
This admission is disturbing on face. Newsweek wants to sell you stories and news about the world but can't even be bothered to check the claims it publishes. Even worse, they didn't seem all that uncomfortable with the admission. Newsweek's defense is that others are this lackadaisical at journalism, which is to say Newsweek has no defense. In a media environment without fact-checkers, it's no wonder we have fabulists and problems with facts and the media. But there's a more pernicious ramification of Newsweek's abdication of journalistic practices: This is what the predatory conservative echo-chamber and Fox News count on.
Fox and the right-wing echo chamber exploit these vulnerabilities in the media. When the media process seems shoddy (regardless of whether it actually is) and the result produces news that is inconsistent with conservative ideology, right-wing media pounce and attack the outlet as part of some left-wing media cabal. We've seen Fox do this from Dan Rather to Politico to ABC News to MSNBC and more. On the other hand, when they find the argument useful, the right-wing echo chamber can herald the piece and ignore inaccuracies within.
It's no surprise that while discussing Ferguson's article across multiple programs, Fox never discussed the myriad factual problems in Ferguson's piece that one could find with a rudimentary Google search. This is even as Ferguson's self-professed friend who writes for the same outlet called the piece "absurd propaganda."
The Prius is now the world's third best-selling car line, but before it became a clear success story, it was the target of attacks from conservative media similar to those now being leveled against electric vehicles.
In 2000, the year the Prius was released in the U.S., Diane Katz and Henry Payne wrote at the Wall Street Journal that hybrid cars are not "what the public wants." The next year, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels declared the Prius would "never" deliver a profit for Toyota and hyped how "demand has been weak" for hybrids. That these conservative pundits have clearly been proven wrong with time is a lesson for today's pundits who suggest that current electric car sales mean that electric cars will never be successful. As Bloomberg reporter Jamie Butters noted in a video report, "a lot of people will criticize the sales of the Chevy Volt by GM or the Nissan Leaf, but when you really look back they're selling at significantly higher opening volumes than the Prius when it came out 15 years ago."
Even after Prius sales had significantly ramped up, conservative media were still downplaying the market for hybrids in the U.S. In 2004, a Fox News guest declared that "Americans don't want hybrids":
During the week of September 12, Fox's "straight news" division launched a weeklong attack on government regulations, including child labor, workplace safety, and civil rights laws. Fox's war on regulation, which mirrors Republican talking points, has now been revealed to be the brainchild of Fox News president Roger Ailes.
The latest issue of Newsweek claims that "a new study suggests" offshore wind farms cause whales to beach themselves. In fact, the authors of the study said their research did not establish such a link, and the UK newspaper that reported the claim pulled the story from its website and issued a correction.