The Daily Caller's story linking Sen. Robert Menendez to prostitutes continues to disintegrate, as questions emerge about whether the only named source in the original article was paid to make the accusations. While the focus on possible payments to the source further establishes that the story is a farce, it also risks diverting attention from the central fact that the article never should have run in the first place.
The Caller's initial story promoted the allegation that the U.S. senator had visited prostitutes. If true, as editor in chief Tucker Carlson once explained when the target of the story in question was a Republican, that allegation had the potential to bring enough media scrutiny to destroy Menendez's life. If true, it also had the potential to be a hugely important story for the Caller, one that could have undermined previous assaults on the website's credibility and established it as a true player in the Washington media.
For those reasons, one might have expected the Caller to make sure they were on solid factual footing before publishing. That's what an actual news outlet does -- reporters are constantly barraged by a wide array of claims about public figures of varying degrees of truthfulness. It's their job to examine the evidence and report out the stories that are true. Sometimes that means that responsible outlets get beaten by those that don't have such high standards for publication. But more often, this sort of scrutiny prevents the media from scurrying from one story about Barack Obama's gay affairs to another about John McCain being a Manchurian candidate -- ridiculous accusations that lack credible evidence but could serve to distract journalists and thus the public from important issues.
But the Daily Caller didn't engage in this sort of scrutiny. Instead, it appears to have channeled smears peddled by Republican operatives onto its front page without first determining their veracity.
In 2009, Carlson drew boos from the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference for his faint praise of mainstream news outlets, saying "The New York Times is a liberal paper, but it is also... a paper that actually cares about accuracy. Conservatives need to build institutions that mirror those institutions."
It's now apparent that if the Caller was Carlson's attempt to build such an institution, he's failed. As Joan Walsh writes in Salon, what the Caller does "mostly isn't journalism; it's opposition research."
Fox News continues to ignore reports that undermine the Daily Caller smear -- promoted by Fox News -- that Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) patronized prostitutes on a trip to the Dominican Republic. On March 22, media outlets reported that the Daily Caller's original named source, Melanio Figueroa, alleged that the Daily Caller and other media outlets paid and pressured him to fabricate the accusations -- an allegation that Fox News has not covered.
The Washington Post's latest story on the allegations against Menendez reported:
A top Dominican law enforcement official said Friday that a local lawyer has reported being paid by someone claiming to work for the conservative Web site the Daily Caller to find prostitutes who would lie and say they had sex for money with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
The lawyer told Dominican investigators that a foreign man, who identified himself as "Carlos," had offered him $5,000 to find and pay women in the Caribbean nation willing to make the claims about Menendez, according to Jose Antonio Polanco, district attorney for the La Romana region, where the investigation is being conducted.
The Daily Caller issued a statement Friday saying that the information allegedly provided by the Dominican lawyer, Melanio Figueroa, was false.
These revelations demonstrate Figueroa's lack of credibility and thus cast even more doubt on the Daily Caller's already-shaky story, as Figueroa was the only named source in their original story outlining the allegations. Responding to this latest Post story, along with other reports from the Post throwing doubt on the Caller's reporting, CNN media critic Howard Kurtz called the story "discredited" and said that the Daily Caller "owes the senators and its readers an apology."
A transcript search, including a search of the Nexis database, of Fox News programming on March 22 and of Fox's media criticism show Fox News Watch on March 23 shows no mention of Menendez. This continues a pattern of Fox covering the Daily Caller's allegations less and less as the credibility of the story continues to implode, even though the network covered the allegations in at least 20 segments after the initial report was made in November.
Tucker Carlson, who is a Fox contributor and editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller, has not defended his publication's smear of Menendez on the network since March 5, when he appeared on The O'Reilly Factor and called the Daily Caller reporting "straightforward, traditional journalism." He also said that his website's sources "received no money from anyone." Carlson has appeared on Fox News at least three times in the past two weeks -- as a guest on Special Report on March 11 and on America's Newsroom on March 13, and as guest host of Hannity on March 15. The Daily Caller's discredited allegations against Sen. Menendez were never mentioned during those appearances.
Fox's effort to cover up its contributor's floundering story, which Fox was previously happy to promote, raises new questions about Carlson's future relationship with the network.
From the March 24 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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The Daily Caller's lurid, fraudulent story of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) patronizing Dominican prostitutes has taken yet another hit as the lawyer representing the prostitutes, Melanio Figueroa, has reportedly let loose with a variety of outlandish story-changing allegations, among them that he was paid and pressured by various media outlets (the Daily Caller among them) to fabricate the whole affair. Figueroa's credibility is now non-existent, which only serves to reinforce how wildly irresponsible the Daily Caller was to run with the story in the first place.
The Washington Post reported on March 22 that a "top Dominican law enforcement official" said that Figueroa told investigators that in autumn 2012 he had been approached by a man claiming to be from the Daily Caller and offered $5,000 to "find prostitutes who would lie and say they had sex for money with Sen. Robert Menendez." The Daily Caller adamantly denied the allegations, which as of yet lack evidence and appear far-fetched, and the Post acknowledged that the "account provided that Dominican authorities said they received from Figueroa could not be independently confirmed by The Washington Post." The Post also noted that Figueroa's new story is a reversal from his previous denials of having made the whole thing up.
The Daily Caller, meanwhile, has published a story pushing back against Figueroa, reporting that he "blamed four news outlets -- CNN, The Daily Caller, Telemundo and Univision -- for allegedly encouraging him to fabricate false accusations about Menendez." The Caller also reported that "CNN and Univision both issued statements forcefully denying Figueroa's accusations," and pointed out that the attorney has repeatedly contradicted himself in recent days as the Menendez story has collapsed.
In another devastating blow to the credibility of The Daily Caller, the Associated Press is reporting that Dominican police have determined that three women who said they had sex with Sen. Robert Menendez for money were actually paid to make the false accusations.
In November, the Caller reported that two Dominican prostitutes had told the outlet in interviews that Menendez had paid them for sex and that the senator's office had denied the charges. The Caller has since published dozens of pieces furthering the accusations, even as the story started to crumble under scrutiny.
From the AP:
Police in the Dominican Republic say they have determined that three women who said they had sex with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez for money were in fact paid to make false claims by an attorney in the Caribbean country.
Police spokesman Maximo Baez says officers traced the payments to attorney Melanio Figueroa. Baez says two women received about $425 each and the other was paid about $300 to falsely state on camera that they had sex with Menendez (D-N.J.).
Baez said at a news conference today that authorities were seeking to interrogate Figueroa about the payments. Figueroa did not respond to messages left at his office. The women's videotaped statements were published on a conservative U.S. website. Menendez denied the allegations.
President Obama has nominated Thomas E. Perez as Secretary of Labor. Right-wing media used this announcement to push false attacks about Perez based on his service in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and other civil rights work and advocacy.
Top conservative media voices spoke out on the need to keep stories accurate and in-depth, while at the same time citing some of the right-wing media's worst stumbles as points of honor during a panel discussion Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
It has been a rough few months for the right-wing media. After a variety of observers pointed to its ineffectiveness during the 2012 election, it has come under fire again over the last month as major stories from The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com have imploded.
But such concerns were largely ignored during the CPAC panel titled "Survivor: Conservative Media," which was billed as an examination of the future of right-wing publications. This comes as little surprise, given that representatives from both the Caller and Breitbart.com were featured panelists.
Moderated by Scottie Hughes of the Tea Party News Network, the panel included Katie Pavlich, news editor at Townhall.com and a Fox News Contributor; Seton Motley, a Breitbart.com columnist; Keith Urbahn, co-founder of Javelin; and Lars Larson, a conservative radio talk show host.
While defending their past work, each appeared to espouse traditional journalistic values of accuracy, in-depth reporting and balance.
"Listen to what everyone else is saying, but don't be afraid to break from the pack," Larson said. "When there is a story, get on it, because there are too many stories that are a sleeper. Fast and Furious was a sleeper for a long time."
Larson referred to the botched ATF mission, which Pavlich and others had baselessly spun as a a conspiracy by the Obama administration to implement stronger gun laws.
Conservatives in media are hyping the argument of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that a ban on assault weapons would be similar to the government deciding which books people are allowed to read, even though Cruz's argument is based on a misunderstanding of constitutional law and courts have held that assault weapon bans are constitutional.
During a March 14 meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where a party line vote advanced an assault weapons ban proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to the floor of the Senate, Cruz drew an equivalence between banning assault weapons and an act of Congress "to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books" or a law stating that the Fourth Amendment "could properly apply only to the following specified individuals, and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights":
CRUZ: It seems to me that all of us should be begin as our foundational document with the Constitution. And the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights provides that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The term "the right of the people," when the framers included it in the Bill of Rights they used it as a term of art. That same phrase "the right of the people" is found in the First Amendment, the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition their government for readdress of grievances, it's also found in the Fourth Amendment, "the right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures." And the question that I would pose to the senior senator from California is, would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context of the First or Fourth Amendment. Namely, would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books, and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights. Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment's protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?
Cruz's comments were promoted by Fox Nation, The Blaze, Red State, Breitbart.com, PJ Media, The Daily Caller and The Gateway Pundit. Breitbart.com wrote that Cruz "destroys" Feinstein's argument for an assault weapons ban. Red State ran a headline that Feinstein was struck by a "Ted Cruz Missile." The Daily Caller titled its article on Cruz's comments, "Ted Cruz offends Dianne Feinstein by bringing up the Constitution."
The praised heaped upon Cruz by conservative media outlets ignores that the junior Texas senator's constitutional argument is flawed because it fails to acknowledge longstanding and widely accepted limitations on all of the liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
From the March 10 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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More questions about the Daily Caller's role in publicizing prostitution allegations against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have arisen after it was revealed that two newspapers declined to report the story after expressing concerns about the accusers' credibility.
From the March 7 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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Tucker Carlson has defended The Daily Caller's reporting on Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) patronizing prostitutes in the Dominican Republic as "traditional, straightforward journalism" as that story has come under fire. But when Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was accused of patronizing prostitutes in 2007, Carlson defended Vitter and lambasted the media for digging into what he described as private matters that were no business of theirs.
In their initial much-hyped pre-election bombshell, the Caller reported on allegations from two Dominican prostitutes that Menendez had paid them for sex. Menendez has repeatedly denied the allegations, and the FBI has reportedly found no evidence of their veracity.
This week the story has unraveled after the Washington Post and ABC News reported that one of the prostitutes who alleged that she had sex with Menendez has recanted her story in an affidavit and claimed that she was paid to lie about the senator. ABC further reported that they also looked into the story last year but decided not to run it because they doubted the women that they and the Caller had spoken to were telling the truth.
From the March 5 edition of CNN's Around The World:
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Fox News has gone silent after questions emerged casting serious doubt on a Daily Caller report that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) paid women for sex in the Dominican Republic, a report that Fox News hyped during at least 22 segments.
The Washington Post reported on March 4 that a woman who appeared in a video claiming Menendez paid her for sex now says that she was paid to make those claims, claims she now denies, as part of an effort to frame Menendez. Menendez has denied the allegations, first reported in November 2012 by the Daily Caller.
Fox News has yet to discuss the latest developments that undermine what the Daily Caller has reported for months. By contrast, Fox aggressively hyped the uncorroborated allegations when they were being pushed by the Daily Caller, discussing them during at least 22 segments since November 2012, according to a search of the Nexis database.
CNN, which also reported on the initial, uncorroborated allegations against Menendez, has reported on the latest developments.
According to the Post, two affidavits have been filed that refute the Daily Caller's story - one by a woman who claims she was paid to give false accounts about Menendez on the Daily Caller video, and one from a lawyer who claims he was misled into getting the woman to provide a false story.
As New York Magazine's Margaret Harmann noted, this is at least the second report from a legitimate news source that discredited what the Daily Caller first alleged.
The Daily Caller has since claimed that the Post spoke to the wrong woman.
Politico reported that the Post is standing behind its reporting.
Tucker Carlson, the Daily Caller co-founder and editor-in-chief, is scheduled to appear on Fox News' Special Report Tuesday night.
Update: During the March 5 edition of America Live, host Megyn Kelly reported on what she called a "new twist" in the story.
Talk about lowering the bar to can't-miss depths.
In its Sunday, page-one profile of partisan "provocateur" and Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb, the New York Times pointed to a report the right-wing site published this month, which raised questions about a speech Chuck Hagel gave in 2007. Free Beacon claimed Hagel had called the State Department "an adjunct to the Israeli foreign minister's office."
The report represented yet another missile fired by the sprawling, well-funded, far-right smear campaign to obstruct Hagel's nomination as Secretary of Defense. (A campaign that seems destined to fail, by the way.)
Writing up Goldfarb's supposed successes, the Times treated the Hagel report as a singular Free Beacon victory. (Sen. Lindsey Graham mentioned it on the floor of the Senate!) Even though, as the Times itself point out, Hagel denied the quote and no video was ever found to confirm it. Additionally, one professor who was present at the speech adamantly denied Hagel ever made the State Department comment.
But hey, other than that Free Beacon totally nailed the anti-Hagel story.
Also, note that Goldfarb has a long history of making stuff up, calling it news, and then refusing to admit to his published fabrications. The Times, in its puffy profile about how Goldfarb deftly outwits liberals, failed to mention that troubling career trait.
Coming in the wake of last week's Friend of Hamas debacle at Breitbart.com, the Times' toast to the factually challenged Goldfarb raises questions as to how the mainstream media treat disingenuous players inside the GOP Noise Machine. (Historically, the press has played nice with them.)
The good news about Ben Shapiro's colossal Breitbart failure with regards to his bogus claims about the (fictitious) Friends of Hamas group that allegedly had nefarious ties with Hagel? It helped shine a spotlight on the type of dishonest skullduggery that goes on within the conservative blogosphere on a nearly daily basis. The bad news is too many publications analyzed the Breitbart debacle against the backdrop of journalism and fact finding.
It's time for journalists to give up the ghost and stop pretending that lots of players on the far right media spectrum even try to engage in journalism as it's commonly defined. (Thankfully, some exceptions exist.)
It's not journalism. It's not even partisan opinion journalism. It's proud propaganda. More and more, it's the intentional spreading of rumor and misinformation for political gain. (And often done in conjunction with the Republican Party.) For too long, the press has allowed right-wing players to hide behind the shield of journalism, and then acted surprised when they cut egregious ethical corners.