Veteran investigative reporters are objecting to claims that a string of stories about internal national security operations are the result of a White House problem with leaks, saying such journalism is just the usual in-depth investigative reporting.
One Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist described the stories as the result of "classic investigative reporting" and said the reporters involved "don't do their work by sucking up to politicians."
Among the stories being cited are The New York Times' uncovering of a U.S. cyberattack targeting Iran's nuclear program and the Obama administration's secret "kill list" for its campaign of drone strikes.
The cyberattack story, by the Times' David Sanger, has drawn much of the attention, with information for that article coming from research Sanger did for his recent book, Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power.
Despite the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder last Friday directed two federal prosecutors to open investigations into the issue, many conservatives continue to agitate for a special prosecutor to look into the potential leaks.
But longtime investigative journalists tell Media Matters the recent stories under scrutiny were just good investigative reporting and mark no major change in White House security.
"This is normal," said Walter Pincus, the veteran Washington Post investigative reporter. "The thing that is most normal about it is that look at Sanger's stuff, somebody's writing a book, Bob [Woodward] does it all the time. If you're writing a book and nothing is going to appear the next day and you keep going back and back and take a little bit here and a little bit there, that's how you put these things together."
Dana Priest, Pincus' colleague at the Post and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for her own investigative journalism, agreed.
"That is what this looks like, classic investigative reporting," Priest said in an interview. "Talk about the reporters who are on these stories, they are all veteran investigative reporters. They don't do their work by sucking up to politicians in the hopes they will leak them some things. They do the investigative work. I don't know if people outside understand that."
Reporting on emails selectively released by House Republicans, numerous media outlets falsely claimed the documents show Obama donor George Kaiser -- whose family foundation invested in Solyndra -- discussing Solyndra's federal loan with the White House, with Fox going even further to claim "quid pro quo." In fact, the emails occurred after Solyndra had already received the loan guarantee and do not indicate that Kaiser discussed the loan with the White House.
Citing a study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas industry trade group, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry claimed he could create over a million jobs by expanding domestic fossil fuel production. That estimate is based on highly dubious assumptions, but several news outlets have uncritically repeated it.
Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, did what so many news media outlets have proven unable or unwilling to do, and actually scrutinized API's numbers. He concluded that they are "unrealistic":
The numbers that Perry and Romney are offering for job creation in the energy sector are unrealistic. They assume that they will be reversing deeply anti-industry Obama policies that don't actually exist (which is not to say that the Obama policies have no flaws), ignore real constraints at the state level, and don't fully account for market dynamics. Five hundred thousand is a reasonable upper limit for the number of jobs that a new policy might create by 2030, of which 130,000 or so might actually be in oil and gas. Taking into account market dynamics could lower those numbers further.
The Washington Post also recently reported that that "only a third of the 1.4 million positions created would go to people working directly for the petroleum industry." API's job creation estimate includes "a seldom-used category known as 'induced jobs' that API says covers everything from valets to day-care providers, from librarians to rocket scientists," according to the Post. The article added that energy economist Philip Verleger said "The API is the best there is at lying with statistics."
Yet according to a Nexis search, several news outlets simply repeated Rick Perry's claim that his energy plan could produce more than one million jobs.
During an appearance in New York Thursday night, Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson said that former Wall Street Journal Europe publisher Andrew Langhoff did "the honorable thing" by resigning.
During a panel discussion at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism -- which included Bloomberg BusinessWeek chairman Norman Pearlstine and Stephen Adler, editor-in-chief of Reuters -- Thomson was asked about recent News Corp. troubles.
Among the issues is the resignation of Langhoff, who stepped down this week following concerns over two articles published about a company with contractual links to the paper's circulation department.
In addition, The Guardian broke more information about the situation, reporting:
The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channelling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal's true circulation.
The bizarre scheme included a formal, written contract in which the Journal persuaded one company to co-operate by agreeing to publish articles that promoted its activities, a move which led some staff to accuse the paper's management of violating journalistic ethics and jeopardising its treasured reputation for editorial quality.
Responding to questions from panel moderator Stephen B. Shepard, dean of the graduate school, Thomson prefaced his statement by saying that "because it's the subject of legal things, one has to be careful about what words one uses."
"But there was the perception of pressure," said Thomson, adding, "The lesson of it is that no matter how far-flung -- and this was a supplement for The Wall Street Journal Europe -- there has to be a very clear line between church and state. That line simply cannot be breached, and creating a circumstance where even the appearance of a breach can take place is unacceptable. And so ... Langhoff did the honorable thing and resigned."
Thomson said that the situation surrounding Langhoff's resignation was "clearly" related to "a circulation agreement which involved bulk sales on the Continent." But he argued that "it's pretty fair to say The Wall Street Journal Europe is not the only newspaper with bulk sales on the Continent."
"But there has to be transparency," added Thomson. "There has to be ... contractual transparency, and there certainly has to be transparency for the reader -- that you cannot pay for play."
Reuters is accusing financier and philanthropist George Soros of bankrolling the Occupy Wall Street movement, pointing to "indirect financial links" between Soros and Adbusters, an organization that has claimed credit for the protests. Reuters is being rewarded for its efforts to scapegoat the right wing's favorite bogeyman with Drudge links and Fox Nation love.
According to disclosure documents from 2007-2009, Soros' Open Society gave grants of $3.5 million to the Tides Center, a San Francisco-based group that acts almost like a clearing house for other donors, directing their contributions to liberal non-profit groups. Among others the Tides Center has partnered with are the Ford Foundation and the Gates Foundation.
Disclosure documents also show Tides, which declined comment, gave Adbusters grants of $185,000 from 2001-2010, including nearly $26,000 between 2007-2009.
That's it. Over a two-year span at least two years before the Occupy Wall Street protests broke out, OSI granted $3.5 million to the Tides Foundation, which granted a whopping $26,000 to Adbusters, which tells Reuters it is almost entirely funded through magazine subscriptions. Officials for Soros told Reuters that he has never heard of Adbusters. Adbusters officials told Reuters that they have never received funding from Soros.
Before there was any evidence of who was responsible for the terrorist bombing and shooting in Norway, mainstream media outlets rushed to finger Muslims and Muslim groups as potential perpetrators and listed grievances that radical Muslims had against the country. Norwegian officials have since said that a non-Muslim was responsible for the terrorist acts.
Several media outlets have reported on a letter sent by House Speaker John Boehner to President Obama signed by "150 economists" who support Boehner's spending cut proposal. But these media outlets have ignored that many of the economists who signed the letter have made baseless predictions in the past, some have endorsed dubious theories, and others have used extreme rhetoric to attack Obama and other Democrats.
Earlier, I noted that last Tuesday, CNN gave airtime to Colby Bohannan, president of the Former Majority Association For Equality, a nonprofit that exists solely to give scholarships to white males -- and only white males. Bohannan and his group have enjoyed a flurry of media coverage in recent weeks despite the fact that as of February 24, the organization had been in existence for nearly a year, had not received a single scholarship application, and had raised less than $500.
Though its website says the organization was incorporated in March of 2010, FMAE doesn't show up in any news reports available on Nexis prior to February 25, 2011,* when the Austin American-Statesman profiled the organization:
The 501(c)3 nonprofit was formally incorporated with the state in March. The group hasn't received any applications, Bohannan said.
A search of public records indicates Bohannan pleaded no contest to charges of theft of property of less than $500 in 2001 and of issuance of a bad check in 2003. William Lake , the group's treasurer, pleaded no contest to issuance of a bad check in 2008.
Bohannan said he was charged with theft after authorities found a county speed limit sign in his Texas State dorm room and with writing a bad check for groceries, also while in college. Lake said he was charged with writing a bad check while managing a now-defunct business he started. Both said the charges have been disposed of.
Bohannan said the group is raising money — as of Monday, the group had raised $485, according to its website — and that he hopes to award scholarships by July 4. The money can be used to go to any college, not just Texas State, Bohannan said.
Bohannan's group isn't the first to offer scholarships only for white students. In 2006, Boston University's College Republicans created a program with similar requirements. A Republican group at a university in Rhode Island offered a similar award in 2004.
So in nearly a year of existence, Bohannan's group had raised only $485 and hadn't awarded a single scholarship or even gotten a single application. And there's nothing innovative about the group: It's been done before.
And yet several media outlets, led by CNN, decided that Bohannan and his organization were worthy of coverage.
On February 28, CNN's Christine Romans interviewed Bohannan. She didn't interview or quote anyone who disapproves of Bohanna's actions. On March 1, Romans repeatedly played clips of Bohannan and devoted a segment to asking CNN contributor Erick Erickson and guest April Ryan about it. On March 4, a CNN.com article used Bohannan's Former Majority Association for Equality as evidence of "signs of racial anxiety" and "A growing number of white Americans are acting like a racially oppressed majority." On March 5, Romans again played a clip of her interview of Bohannan and asked guests Michelle Rhee, Bill Bennett, and Harold Meyerson about it.
Though CNN has led the way in covering this obscure organization, it isn't alone. Fox News has devoted a segment to it, as has Fox Radio's Alan Colmes. Townhall.com has covered it, along with ABC News, Reuters, a Colorado CBS affiliate, the Texas Tribune, and New American magazine.
That last one isn't surprising: The New American is a publication of The John Birch Society. The question is why news organizations like Reuters and -- especially -- CNN think a tiny organization with no money that's never awarded a scholarship deserves all this attention?
* The March 4 CNN.com article appears in Nexis dated December 21, 2010, but this appears to be an error; the article has a Nexis load-date of March 5.
Fox News promoted Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's claim that the federal government has failed to "do its job" on border security without mentioning that border security efforts have increased measurably under President Obama: Deportations, drug seizures, and the number of Border Patrol agents have all increased.
Take a look at the first two examples Reuters uses to claim it's been "a rough year or so" for scientists concerned about global warming -- bizarrely, both are incidents in which the scientists have been vindicated:
It's been a rough year or so for scientists and others who say that data shows human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, accelerate the climate-warming greenhouse effect. Climate skeptics are quick to point this out. To wit:
-- Skeptics allege scientists manipulated climate research, citing the so-called "climategate" scandal of December 2009, in which leaked e-mails from scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit in Britain appeared to show scientists sniping at climate deniers and trying to block publication of articles critical of their findings.
At least four reviews of the case have exonerated the climate scientists but skeptics maintain it cast doubt on all climate research that showed a consistent warming trend.
-- In 2010, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had to correct a 2007 report used by government policymakers that exaggerated the melt of Himalayan glaciers by saying they might all vanish by 2035. Since then, however, independent reviews have reaffirmed the panel's main conclusion that it is at least 90 percent certain that human activities are the main cause of global warming in the past 50 years. [Emphasis added]
So, in the first example, global warming deniers attacked scientists -- but at least four separate reviews exonerated the scientists. And in the second example, independent reviews reaffirmed the conclusion that human activities are the main cause of global warming.
To Reuters, these developments are the lead examples of it having been "rough year or so" for climate scientists. A more rational assessment would be that these are examples of it having been a rough year for the special interests attempting to undermine climate science.
The New York Times detailed Reuters' withdrawal of an article that relied on falsehoods to claim that the Obama administration's budget plan includes "backdoor tax increases that will result in a bigger tax bill for middle-class families." The New York Times' Richard Pérez-Peña wrote: "Some mistakes are about small matters and go unnoticed. Unfortunately for Reuters, reporting on the White House is not one of those things." Pérez-Peña added:
On Monday at about 4 p.m., Reuters.com, part of the giant news service, published an article about President Obama's budget, headlined "Backdoor taxes to hit middle class." It warned of a number of impending changes, focusing particularly on the expiration of the 2001 income tax cuts.
But in fact, Mr. Obama has proposed extending the 2001 cuts except for high-income taxpayers, and there were other inaccuracies in the article. The White House contacted Reuters to object to the story.
At 8:07 p.m., the news service posted an advisory saying that it had withdrawn the article, and the link on Reuters.com was disabled. On Tuesday at 1:35 p.m., Reuters posted another advisory calling the story "wrong."
"The story went out and it shouldn't have gone out," said Courtney Dolan, a Reuters spokeswoman, but she declined to say how the mistake had happened. "It definitely was not up to our standards. It had significant errors of fact."
Pérez-Peña also noted that the Drudge Report had picked up the Reuters article: "The article was not distributed on the main Reuters wire service subscribed to other media, limiting its exposure, but a headline linking to it was displayed throughout the day Tuesday at the top of The Drudge Report, the conservative news aggregation site. During the day, Drudge added a line saying 'Reuters pulls tax story,' with a link to the withdrawal, but it did not remove the original headline, though the link had long since been disabled." Pérez-Peña added that the Reuters story was picked up by "conservative bloggers, some of whom questioned the retraction" and by Rush Limbaugh, who said "Reuters has withdrawn the story because the truth is not to be tolerated in the Obama administration."
Indeed, as Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert has noted, Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com and Red State's Erick Erickson attacked Reuters following the retraction.
From a February 2 TalkingPointsMemo article:
The news service Reuters withdrew a story last night titled "Backdoor taxes to hit middle class" after the White House reached out and pointed out "errors of fact."
The story, which claimed the White House's deficit reduction plan relies on raising taxes against the middle class by allowing tax cuts to expire, was withdrawn at about 8 p.m. Monday, according to Yahoo timestamps. The original story ran at 4 p.m. The withdrawal promises a replacement story later this week.
"The story went out, and it shouldn't have gone out," said Courtney Dolan, a spokeswoman for Reuters. "It had significant errors of fact."
She would not elaborate on the specific errors, but said Reuters will "address those specific points that were incorrect."
A February 1 Reuters article - subsequently withdrawn by the wire service -- claimed that the Obama administration's budget plan includes "backdoor tax increases that will result in a bigger tax bill for middle-class families," citing increases to marginal federal income tax rates that would go into effect if the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire, and an increase in middle class families that would be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) without the renewal of a patch to limit its impact. In fact, Obama's 2011 budget calls for the Bush tax cuts to be extended for individuals making $200,000 or less and couples making $250,000 and for the AMT patch to be extended at its 2009 parameters through 2020.
The Associated Press again falsely reported that "[n]onpartisan budget officials" said President Obama's health care plan could "increase the federal deficit by about $1 trillion," when in fact the Congressional Budget Office has found that the only complete bill to be given a cost estimate "would result in a net increase in the federal budget deficit of $239 billion over the 2010-2019 period." The Los Angeles Times and Reuters also ignored CBO's conclusion that the plan would increase the deficit by less than a quarter of the cost they reported.
Let's be clear about who objectified a 17 year old girl at last week's G-8 summit.
They treated this junior G-8 delegate as an object - for all the world to see - simply so they could crack some stupid jokes about President Obama, or to score some infintismaly small (and false) point against a political figure they don't like.
And then when it was debunked, they just said, essentially, "Oh, we hadn't see the video yet. Bygones." Well, no. The smear of Obama is already out there; a young woman was already dragged into a ridiculous story that treated her as an object rather than a person. That can't be undone.
Is it really that hard for professional journalists to understand that they shouldn't have peddled this non-story before they actually reviewed the video to see if there was anything to it? Tapper, at least, should already have learned a lesson about watching video before passing on bogus claims about it.
But, having pushed the photo, it isn't enough to now say "never mind." They owe their viewers, President Obama, and the young woman an apology.
UPDATE: I should have made this clear earlier, but Reuters bears ultimate responsiblity for this mess. Reuters originally distrubted the highly misleading photo in question, and they should have known it would be misinterpreted by some and used in an opportunistic way by others. Whether it was a simple mistake on their part, or a calculated effort to get attention for their photo, they did a big thing badly, and should be first in line with an apology.