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.
For years, personal indiscretions by elected officials have been viewed as fair game by the press. The political impact of the ensuing stories is left to the public, which must determine whether a particular aspect of an individual's private life is relevant to their public one.
When reporting on personal issues, the press owes the people a full and accurate accounting, especially when suggesting reasons why a certain action might be relevant to voters. But today's print coverage of Senator John Ensign's affair demonstrates how often stories concerning personal problems miss a central part of the tale.
If Mr. Ensign's actions are indeed newsworthy (an idea some would dispute), it is because they represent hypocrisy on behalf of a lawmaker with future political ambitions. To that end, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times noted in their articles that Sen. Ensign had been highly critical of former Idaho Senator Larry Craig for his alleged actions in a Minneapolis bathroom, adding that Ensign had also called on Bill Clinton to resign during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Reuters and the Associated Press included the Craig connection, but failed to mention the statements regarding Clinton. The New York Times, to its discredit, chose not to mention Ensign's reaction to either event.
But more importantly, not one of these news organizations felt compelled to note that Senator Ensign has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage, as well as being a public and proud supporter of the Defense of Marriage Amendment (DOMA). As a readily available press release on Mr. Ensign's website makes clear, for him, "Marriage is an extremely important institution in this country and protecting it is, in my mind, worth the extraordinary step of amending our constitution."
This obvious and highly consequential hypocrisy was immediately picked up on by several progressive blogs, such as DailyKos and Think Progress.
An editorial in today's Las Vegas Review-Journal shows why this major omission on behalf of print journalism's standard bearers is so galling. Not content merely to ignore all of Senator Ensign's past statements on the behavior (and marriage rights) of others, it defended him by illogically shifting the focus onto the "leftists" who couldn't recognize that this was a "personal matter":
[D]espite the predictable cries of "hypocrisy" from leftists who are only spared the label because so little is expected of them, it's worth pointing out that this is a personal matter -- not the kind of betrayal of official trust Democrats demonstrate every time they sacrifice the public welfare to satiate their paymasters, the trial lawyers or the public employee unions.
For the Review-Journal, it is worth noting, Bill Clinton's personal behavior was anything but personal.
The piece follows this purely partisan attack by noting that "Sen. Ensign remains one of the more principled spokesmen now on the Washington stage for a government limited in size and intrusiveness into our lives." Apparently, federally mandating which consenting adults can and cannot marry one another fits the "limited intrusiveness" guidelines.
Nevada readers are regrettably exposed to such poorly reasoned conservative dogma every day, much to their detriment. As such, more responsible news organizations with a national reach have a responsibility to pick up the pieces and provide them with the full story.
The omission of Sen. Ensign's support of DOMA from coverage both at the national and state level therefore represents the kind of failure that does a disservice to readers and voters, and must not be repeated.
In an article about President-elect Barack Obama's emphasis on alternative energy production in his economic stimulus speech, Reuters quoted criticism of Obama's plan by Thomas Pyle of the Institute for Energy Research. However, the article did not mention the Institute for Energy Research's ties to the oil industry or that Exxon Mobil Corp. has funded the organization.
Reporting on the appointment of Rep. Rahm Emanuel as President-elect Barack Obama's White House chief of staff, Reuters quoted RNC spokesman Alex Conant's assertion that Obama's choice of Emanuel "undermines his promise to 'heal the divides.' " But Reuters did not note that Republicans have reportedly praised Emanuel, including Sen. Lindsey Graham who said that he is "a wise choice" and that he "understands the need to work together."
Reuters and MSNBC.com's First Read reported Gov. Sarah Palin's assertion that Sen. Barack Obama "supported cutting off funding for our troops in the war" without noting that Sen. John McCain himself voted against legislation to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
An NPR news brief and a Reuters article noted Gov. Sarah Palin's recent comment that Sen. Barack Obama has been "palling around with terrorists," a reference to his acquaintance with Bill Ayers. But neither noted that The New York Times, in the article Palin cited for her claim, reported that "the two men do not appear to have been close."
In articles reporting that a McCain campaign ad criticizes Sen. Barack Obama for voting against legislation to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Reuters, the Associated Press, and the Los Angeles Times did not mention, as Obama pointed out during the first presidential debate, that Sen. John McCain has also voted against troop funding legislation.