After President Obama unveiled new executive orders aimed at reducing gun violence, a constant media theme has been that the proposals are deeply controversial. But are they? Or are media outlets providing a disjointed look by giving a skewed, Republican-friendly take on the issue by stressing conflict where very little exists?
A key component of Obama's initiative is to expand the pool of people who count as gun dealers, which would require more people to be licensed. That would mean more buyers being screened. It's the White House's concerted effort to bypass obstructionist Republicans to close the so-called "gun show loophole."
News coverage has generally been good in terms of clearly detailing the specifics of the proposals. But the coverage falls down when it comes to the politics; when it comes to explaining why Obama has been forced to use his powers as chief executive to address gun violence. (Hint: It's because Republicans have purposefully made Congress dysfunctional.)
Too much of the coverage has also omitted the fact that expanding background checks is wildly popular with everyone, it seems, except Republican members of Congress and the NRA's board of directors.
"Gun owners overwhelmingly support background checks," Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, told the Center for American Progress last year. "And that includes gun owners who are Republicans and gun owners who are NRA members."
By leaving out the context -- by leaving out the fact that 90 percent of Americans support background checks to cover all gun sales -- the press erroneously presents the Obama initiative as deeply controversial and deeply partisan.
But they're not. And it's worth noting that much of the existing polling showing vast support for expanded background checks has focused on the question of whether all gun sales should be subject to a background check, but Obama's proposal doesn't even go that far.
It's actually hard to find another high-profile public policy issue in the U.S. that enjoys as much bipartisan backing. The polling data is rather remarkable:
*90 percent of Americans support criminal background checks for all gun sales.
*83 percent of gun owners nationally support criminal background checks on all sales of firearms.
*72 percent of NRA members back them.
By often ignoring those findings, the press misreads the story.
For instance, Politico reported Obama will have "a tricky task" convincing "gun-owning Americans" to support his background check push. But that doesn't make sense because most gun-owning Americans already support background checks.
And by failing to distinguish the fact that the NRA and GOP politicians categorically object to any Obama attempt to address gun ownership, but most Americans, including most gun owners, do not.
That omission highlights an ongoing newsroom failure when covering the gun debate during the Obama years: whitewashing the GOP's radical obstruction, and especially the nearly unanimous opposition to the White House-backed gun bill in the wake of 2012 Newtown school gun massacre.
Here's how the Washington Post referred to it in a January 4 article [emphasis added]:
His administration failed to persuade lawmakers to approve tighter legislative controls on gun sales in 2013, in the wake of the December 2012 killings of 20 children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Added NPR: "Obama was stymied in his effort to promote gun control legislation three years ago in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre."
That's not quite accurate. What happened in 2013 is Obama persuaded a majority of lawmakers to pass a gun bill, including a handful of Republicans. But a hardcore minority of Republicans in the Senate refused to allow a vote on the issue.
Even though more than 90 percent of Americans supported the bill. Even though more than two dozen people had recently been gunned down in one day at an elementary school. Even though Obama had just become the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win election and reelection with 51 percent of the vote or more and had made the gun bill a top legislative priority, Republicans still refused to even allow a vote on the background check bill.
Why did Republicans refuse? Because they didn't want to be seen giving the president a victory. That, according to Republican Sen. Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, among the few who tried to help the White House fashion together a deal: "There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it."
Ignoring that crucial background information, this week we're told rather vaguely that Congress (not Republicans) "stymied" Obama on guns. The lack of context has produced real oddities.
From the Wall Street Journal:
A National Rifle Association spokeswoman said before the White House's announcement that the president had failed to pass his anti-gun agenda through Congress and now is defying the will of the people by relying on executive action.
Nine out of ten Republican senators in 2013 refused to allow a vote on a gun bill with overwhelming public support, but the NRA claims it's Obama who's "defying the will of the people"?
Some news coverage has gotten it right. For instance, during a CNN report Monday night, an on-screen graphic documented the polling data on the topic:
And a USA Today article on Obama's initiative set aside space to note, "White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed to recent polls showing 89% of Americans -- and 84% of gun owners -- support universal background checks."
That's all it takes to provide the proper context. The press should at least do the minimum.
Politico reported that NBC News President Deborah Turness used the word "illegals" - a derogatory term viewed as an offensive slur by many Latinos - during a meeting with Hispanic lawmakers about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's appearance on Saturday Night Live.
Several media outlets have stopped using the term "illegals" to describe undocumented immigrants. The Associated Press Stylebook instructs journalists against "the use of 'illegal' to describe a person," and The New York Times followed suit. The National Associated of Hispanic Journalists, in a March 2006 press release calling on media to stop using "illegals" as a noun, explained that using that term "crosses the line by criminalizing the person," and the Asian American Journalists Association and National Association of Black Journalists issued similar statements in 2006.
The November 19 Politico article explained that members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were looking for an explanation from NBC of why Trump hosted SNL, after the network decided to cut all business ties with Trump in the wake of his insulting comments that Mexicans are "rapists." NBC's decision to allow Trump to host the show was met with protest by immigrant advocacy groups, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus issued a statement asking NBC to disinvite Trump from hosting. According to Politico, Turness used the term "illegals" near the beginning of the meeting "that was already expected to be tense":
NBC News President Deborah Turness committed a major blunder -- as far as the Hispanic lawmakers were concerned -- when she described undocumented immigrants as "illegals," a term that many in the Latino community find highly offensive.
Turness was describing NBC's integration with their Spanish-language network Telemundo, which included coverage of Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. and his interaction with a young girl who was afraid her parents would be deported because they're "illegals."
"I'm going to stop you right there. We use the term undocumented immigrants," Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) interrupted.
That exchange kicked off a meeting that was already expected to be tense. Lawmakers were hoping for an explanation of why Trump hosted Saturday Night Live, despite formal protests from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. MSNBC and NBC News executives -- who are part of a separate entity from NBC's entertainment division, which oversees SNL -- came expecting to talk about the progress they've made in making their newsrooms more diverse.
Vargas later told POLITICO, "She was saying how they've done all these great things and then boom, she said 'illegals.'"
Media outlets previously helped Peter Schweizer push back against criticism of his anti-Clinton book Clinton Cash by credulously reporting that he was conducting a similar investigation into former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But now that the product of his investigation has been released -- a 38-page e-book compared to The New York Times bestseller he wrote on Bill and Hillary Clinton -- Schweizer says "there's not a comparison" because the Clintons' behavior is "unprecedented." Schweizer's Clinton allegations were widely debunked.
As newspapers' ad revenues have fallen over the years, prestigious publications have been going to increasingly extraordinary lengths to make up for the financial shortfall. Consider the Los Angeles Times, which has recently provided prime front page real estate to advertisements for companies like American Airlines and products like the Universal Studios film, Minions.
But while these kinds of advertising arrangements aren't particularly new for the Times, the same cannot be said for a newly-launched oil industry propaganda website the newspaper created for California Resources Corporation, an oil and gas spin-off company of Occidental Petroleum. The website, called poweringcalifornia.com, has raised concerns despite assurances from the Times that it is produced by a department of the Times company that is wholly independent of the reporting and editorial staff.
The Powering California website features a fearmongering video that asks viewers to "imagine a day without oil" as a young man helplessly watches many of the products he relies on every day suddenly disappear. The site's text asserts that because "a majority of products that you use every day are made from petroleum," a day without oil and natural gas "would be a huge disruption for you and the people you depend on." It goes on to allege that a day without oil could even be "life-threatening."
After Western States Petroleum Association President Cathy Reheis-Boyd promoted the website in an October 27 tweet, it caught the attention of Clean Energy California, a non-profit organization that worked with businesses, consumer, health, faith, labor and environmental groups to pass Senate Bill 350, California's landmark climate change legislation. Specifically, Clean Energy California asked why the Los Angeles Times and its parent company, Tribune Publishing, were sponsoring this "oil propaganda project."
As Politico reported on October 29, the original disclaimer on the Powering California website identified it as "a joint copyrighted effort of the Los Angeles Times and the California Resources Corporation":
Following criticism from Clean Energy California and others, the Times changed the copyright disclaimer to remove mention of itself and added an additional statement on the Powering California website that read:
Powering California is sponsored content produced by The Los Angeles Times Content Solutions team for California Resources Corporation. The Los Angeles Times reporting and editing staffs are not involved in the production of sponsored content, including Powering California.
But the updated disclaimer has not settled all of the concerns that have been raised about a major U.S. newspaper company sponsoring an oil industry propaganda website.
In an October 30 article, LA Weekly wrote that "[e]ven as the Times was publishing [a] hard-hitting story" detailing evidence that ExxonMobil may have purposely deceived its shareholders about climate change science, "the business side of the paper was presenting a much rosier view of the oil industry through a sponsored content campaign." Noting that the Times' editorial board recently suggested that California legislators had fallen for "oil industry propaganda," LA Weekly observed that it is "thus a little awkward, or at least ironic, that the Times is simultaneously getting paid to create promotional material for the oil industry." (It's worth pointing out that the Times' recent environmental coverage hasn't all been good; the newspaper also received heavy criticism from scientists for publishing a deeply flawed article that disputed the link between California's recent wildfires and climate change.)
LA Weekly concluded by noting that even though it could be argued the oil industry is helping fund journalism that is sometimes aimed at "exposing" the oil industry, "some in the environmental community see this as a troubling sign":
"I understand the concept behind sponsored content, but when it's being used to defeat climate action by Big Oil, it goes way beyond Zappos," said Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of Climate Resolve. "To see the most prestigious paper in the Western U.S. cozying up to these well-heeled interests is deeply disturbing."
Somewhere Al Gore is probably experiencing painful campaign flashbacks. Like if he heard NBC's Andrea Mitchell ask Hillary Clinton in a recent interview, "Does it hurt you when people say you are too lawyerly, you parse your words, you are not authentic, you're not connecting?"
Or when the Wall Street Journal published a piece suggesting so much of what Clinton does sounds "scripted and poll-tested." Or when Politico declared she's a White House hopeful "with an authenticity problem." Or when the Washington Post reported, "Her campaign has struggled to present her as authentic and relatable." Or when McClatchy Newspapers asked "Is Hillary Clinton Authentic Enough for Voters," and likened her to Richard Nixon.
"Authenticity" has clearly become the Beltway media's latest buzzword to describe what's supposedly wrong with Clinton's campaign, even as she continues to have a sizeable national lead over her Democratic competitors.
The answer: She's a phony.
Why is this all likely ringing in Gore's ears? Because the last White House campaign that the Beltway press openly waged war against (the way it's now openly waging war on the Clinton campaign) was Gore's 2000 push. The Beltway elites hated Gore and didn't try to hide it, just like so many journalists seem to openly despise Clinton today. ("Reporters liked Bush and didn't like Gore," observed Paul Krugman at the New York Times.)
In 2000, Gore was widely ridiculed in the press as the wooden, over-calculating, poll-driven phony who was running against the epitome of true authenticity: George W. Bush. Sure, Gore knew his stuff cold and Bush seemed wobbly on the facts, and forget that Bush's entire campaign turned out to be built around the staged-crafted prevarication known as "compassionate conservativism." The press loved the Bush image and couldn't stand the Gore persona -- The New York Times mocked him as "Eddie Haskell," the neighborhood brownnoser from Leave It To Beaver.
The press dutifully spent the entire campaign regurgitating the Republicans' playbook on Gore: he's a phony who can't be trusted. Fast-forward and the Republican playbook reads the same on Clinton: She's a phony who can't be trusted. So yes, the media's current authenticity chatter plays right into the GOP's hands. It perfectly coincides with conservative talking points about how to undermine the Democratic frontrunner.
But the authenticity math doesn't seem to add up.
In 2008, Clinton tallied 18 million votes during the Democratic primary season. Obviously, she lost to Barack Obama but how did she win a whopping 18 million votes if, according to the press, she can't connect with people due to her utter lack of authenticity? (Reminder: Clinton won her 2000 New York Senate race in a landslide.)
The recent "authenticity" wave began with a New York Times article that claimed "there will be new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious." The piece came complete with the mocking headline, "Hillary Clinton to Show More Humor and Heart, Aides Say." (Punch line: Clinton's handlers have to instruct her be warm and funny?)
Commentators immediately mocked the Clinton camp. "You don't project [authenticity] by having your campaign tell the world you're going to project authenticity," Bloomberg News' John Heilemann said on Face the Nation. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank ridiculed Clinton aides as "moron[s]" and fired off this insult: "And now comes the latest of many warm-and-fuzzy makeovers -- perhaps the most transparent phoniness since Al Gore discovered earth tones."
I couldn't have scripted that Gore reference better myself. Convinced Clinton is a phony who isn't comfortable in her own skin, Milbank reminded readers that Gore was such a supposed phony that he started wearing "earth tones," a reference to a manufactured kerfuffle from the 2000 campaign when the press claimed author Naomi Wolf counseled Gore on what color clothes he should wear. (Why? Because Gore doesn't know who he is!)
Turns out though, Wolf denied the claim as did Gore's aides. In fact there was never any proof to substantiate the charge, first floated as speculation in the Washington Post, about Gore and an earth tone wardrobe makeover. But that didn't matter because the press loved it and repeated the claim endlessly as proof of Gore's complete lack of foundation. (It ranked right up there with the made-up story about Gore claiming to have invented the Internet.)
Recap: During the 2000 campaign, the Post, citing speculation by Dick Morris, invented a tale about someone telling Gore to wear "earth tones," which supposedly proved what a phony he is. For the 2016 campaign, a Post columnist revived that false "earth tones" story and used it as a reference for how phony Clinton is.
So yes, the symmetry is perfect.
Now we're onto the Catch-22 phase of the "authenticity" blitz, in which commentators are sure any attempt by Clinton to show humor and heart is part of a calculated plan at authenticity.
In other words, after demanding that Clinton be more authentic, the press is now deducting points from Clinton for being more authentic. So really, there is no way for her to win. If Clinton's not spontaneous enough, the chattering class complains. If she is spontaneous or shows more of her private side, the chattering class dismisses it as orchestrated.
It's true that in 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney was hounded by allegations he wasn't being real enough. But much of that was driven by his clear pattern of flip-flopping on major issues, like the fact that as governor of Massachusetts he championed health care reform that looked a lot like Obamacare. Then he campaigned to abolish Obamacare. That eye rolling was amplified when Romney, the former center-right governor, suddenly declared himself to have been a "severely conservative" overseer in Massachusetts.
The media's authenticity police rarely ticket Clinton over substantive issues or for policy flip-flops. She's written up for personality infractions. Authenticity sometimes seems to be media shorthand for, 'We don't like you.'
Al Gore can relate.
Numerous mainstream outlets are reporting on Jeb Bush's proposal to lower income tax rates and reduce exemptions as being "populist" and anti-Wall Street, ignoring that his proposal offers no means of making up for lost revenue and is essentially a retread of mainstream Republican tax policy, including George W. Bush's disastrous tax cuts from 2001 and 2003.
Hillary Clinton likes to watch Parks and Recreation.
That's what the Clinton email kerfuffle seemed to amount to this week. News organization excitedly dove into the latest trove of emails released from Clinton's time as secretary of state, only to have to settle for vacuous nuggets about her TV viewing habits.
We seem to be at the stage where the mere existence of publicly-available Clinton emails prompts journalists to hype each additional set as big news, even when the contents of the emails are non-descript. Hard-wired into the Republican way of thinking, the Beltway press often automatically treats Clinton's electronic communications as damning and suspect.
But they're not.
We've seen this pattern repeated numerous times in recent days, and not just with the latest, monthly release of Clinton's State Department emails. Last week, news outlets including CNN, Washington Post, and ABC News dutifully typed up reports about emails obtained by the Clinton-bashing group Citizens United, which filed lawsuits for the release of Hillary Clinton's communications. Presented as containing some damning revelations, upon closer examination the emails simply produced more yawns. They contained nothing proving any kind of wrongdoing on the part of Clinton. (Unless Clinton aide Huma Abedin using emails to organize a small dinner for the former secretary of state now qualifies as wrongdoing.)
Ordinarily, I might chalk up this oddly breathless coverage about ho-hum emails to the summer doldrums, as journalists are hard-pressed to create compelling content during the traditionally slow news month of August. But the Beltway press did the exact same thing with the previous email release. And I suspect we'll see this pattern continue for months to come, in part because a U.S. District court has decreed that the email dumps are going to be monthly events through January.
There have now been three enormous batches of State Department emails released, totaling more than 10,000 pages, and none of them have produced blockbuster revelations or truly fueled the so-called Clinton email scandal.
So why hasn't the press treated the release of boring, "mundane" emails as proof that widespread partisan claims of malfeasance are simply not supported? Why doesn't the press openly concede that the email disclosures that show the former secretary of state to be funny and hardworking represent good news for Clinton, instead of perpetually presenting them as bad news? (i.e. A "fresh headache," according to Yahoo News.)
As I previously noted, the out-of-context coverage likely stems from the fact there's a standing army of Clinton-assigned journalists who are responsible for producing endless content for the next year. Additionally, many in the press have invested a huge amount of capital in the email story since it broke in March, and now seem reluctant to acknowledge there might not be any there there.
Today in fact, The New York Times published a column from a Republican operative who announced the email story had "crippled" Clinton's campaign, and claimed she may have committed a crime worse than former CIA director David Petraeus, who pleaded guilty to unauthorized removal and retention of classified information. The Times published this claim days after Petraeus' prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins, explained there's no connection between the two cases and that unlike Petraeus, "Clinton committed no crime."
Elsewhere, the press forged ahead on the email dump in search of news. This was Politico's news lede for the email release:
A new batch of Hillary Clinton's emails made public by the State Department on Monday night show her expressing interest in the presidential aspirations of Gen. David Petraeus, who ultimately took a job as CIA director in the Obama administration rather than run for president in 2012 and was then driven out of government by scandal.
According to Politico, the most newsworthy "insight" from the thousands of Clinton emails released this month was that the former secretary of state expressed "interest" that a famous U.S. general was possibly eyeing a White House run. How did Politico gage Clinton's "interest"? How did Politico conclude she "sounded intrigued"? A friend emailed Clinton some information in 2010 and she typed back a five-word response.
Meanwhile, after being given Clinton emails from Citizen United regarding foreign speech offers Bill Clinton had received, and his insistence on getting guidance from the State Department on whether he should accept the offers (he did not), ABC News's Jonathan Karl announced:
ABC News has obtained State Department e-mails that shed light on Bill Clinton's lucrative speaking engagements and show he and the Clinton Foundation tried to get approval for invitations related to two of the most repressive countries in the world -- North Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In fact, the emails did not show Clinton and the Foundation "tried to get approval." The emails showed that Clinton and the Foundation sought advice on the matter. At no point did Clinton or the Foundation try to overrule the State Department. And in the end neither invitation was accepted.
In other words, Bill Clinton's office routinely ran speech requests past the State Department to "review for any real or apparent conflict of interest with the duties of Secretary of State." So when ABC News obtained emails that confirmed that fact, rather that presenting the emails as proof the Clintons did in private exactly what they said they were doing in public, ABC News presented the emails as somehow troubling and controversial -- they showed "show just how far Bill Clinton was willing to go to earn those lucrative fees."
This is what's called heads you lose/tails you lose.
Without any discernible news value found in the emails themselves, the press instead clings to the "glimpse" and "window" crutch. From ABC News: "The emails also provide a glimpse into the person behind the office." And The New York Times stressed the emails "offered a rare window into" the Clintons.
But again, how does a "glimpse" into routine communications pass as news? It doesn't.
The truth is, the wind continues to go out of the email "scandal" sails. As the Associated Press reported this week, experts agree there's currently virtually no chance Clinton faces any criminal jeopardy over the handling of her emails.
Indeed, after speaking with "half-dozen knowledgeable lawyers," longtime Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius recently broke from the D.C. pack and concluded the email "'scandal' is overstated."
So with the criminal element of the so-called scandal evaporating, the press is left to dwell on the perception and the optics of the controversy. And the press remains mostly in heated agreement that it's all very bad news for Clinton, insisting this summer that her polling has gone "under water" because of it. (Note that a national survey released Tuesday showed Clinton maintaining a 35-point lead in the Democratic primary race, the same large advantage she enjoyed the previous month.)
"Clinton" + "email" has become media shorthand for big, big news. But with each new batch of emails released, it's becoming impossible to defend that formula.
In anticipation of the first Republican presidential debate, Politico's Andrew Restuccia laid out the questions "we'd ask the candidates" if "we had it our way." Among the questions Restuccia came up with are why climate-denying GOP candidates think they "know better than most climate scientists"; what would be their "alternative" to the Clean Power Plan for meeting the Supreme Court requirement that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit carbon pollution; would they "support dismantling the federal EPA" like Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI); do they "believe that fossil fuels receive any subsidies in the tax code"; and do they support the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.
From the August 6 edition of Politico's Morning Energy (ME):
HERE'S WHAT ME WOULD ASK: ME is under no illusion that energy will take center stage at the debate. But if we had it our way, here's what we'd ask the candidates:
-- How many of you think climate change is a hoax? If so, what evidence can you point to to support that position and why do you know better than most climate scientists?
-- How specifically would you go about dismantling Obama's climate regulations? Given that the Supreme Court has compelled the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, what would your alternative be?
-- If diplomats succeed in reaching an international climate change deal later this year, would you ignore those commitments as president?
-- Would you support dismantling the federal EPA and delegating its responsibilities to individual states, as Gov. Walker has suggested?
-- If President Barack Obama rejects the Keystone XL pipeline, would you encourage its developer to resubmit an application as soon as you take office, so your administration can approve it?
-- Do you support lifting the ban on crude oil exports? How would you respond if, as some critics warn, ending the crude export ban results in a gasoline price spike?
-- Do you believe that fossil fuels receive any subsidies in the tax code? If so, how many would you support repealing? (Be specific.) If not, why not?
-- What is your position on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project? And if not Yucca, where should the nation put its nuclear waste?
The curious revelation that reporters from nine news organizations recently attended Charles and David Koch's political summit and voluntarily agreed not to identify key donors in attendance provided a helpful look into the double standard that the media often use when covering conservatives vs. covering the Clintons.
Willing to temporarily look away from the donor news behind the Koch brothers push to remake American politics in their billionaire image (and to bankroll the GOP's 2016 nominee), several of the same outlets have spent months this year needling Bill and Hillary Clinton for not being transparent enough about donors to the charitable Clinton Foundation.
To hear much of the press' often fevered coverage of the Clinton Foundation, it's simply unacceptable and downright deceitful to hide the names of wealthy people who give. Yet many of the same class of reporters volunteered not to disclose Koch donors who mingled among journalists all weekend at the five-star GOP summit?
Given that willingness to look the other way, it's difficult to take seriously the media's incessant demands that the Clintons be more transparent about their donors; donors who give to a charity devoted to help poor people around the world, not devoted to electing U.S. politicians, which is what Koch donors are all about. (The Koch brothers, and affiliated groups, are expected to spend $889 million on the 2016 race, after having raised $400 million on the 2012 contests.)
Moreover, the Clinton Foundation has actually done more than most charities do to disclose their donors. Though a few of their affiliates have not revealed some donors (in part because of differing laws in other countries), the charity has gone to great lengths ever since Clinton first became secretary of state: "In posting its donor data, the foundation goes beyond legal requirements, and experts say its transparency level exceeds that of most philanthropies," the Post previously reported.
Yet try to image the universal, all-encompassing, hour-after-hour pundit outrage that would be unleashed if the Clinton Foundation held a political summit this year and demanded journalists hide the identity of key donors who attended. The same Beltway media have no problem with the Kochs hiding 450 of their big, dark-money donors -- and hiding them in plain sight.
The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone spelled out the obvious ethical troubles raised by stipulations attached to the formerly closed-to-the-press Koch summit, where key Republican politicians were invited to address conservative billionaires:
The problem is that the ground rules could restrict journalists from reporting what's right in front of their eyes. If, say, Rupert Murdoch, or even a lesser-known billionaire, walked by, they couldn't report the person's attendance without permission. So it's possible journalists end up reporting largely what the event sponsors want, such as fiery speeches and candidate remarks criticizing Democrats, but less on the power brokers attending who play key behind-the-scenes roles in the 2016 election.
By playing by the Koch's rules, the press left itself open to some sizeable bouts of hypocrisy.
Recall that in April, Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins published partisan author Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash, a sloppy, book-length attack on Clinton Foundation donors. The book purported (and failed) to show how foundation donations corrupted Clinton's decisions during her time as secretary of state. Media Matters documented nearly two dozen errors and distortions in the book.
But that didn't stop key outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post from teaming up with Schweizer and helping to push his lines of attack. At the time, here's how the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza's defended the immediate embrace of Clinton Cash:
The most foundational principle of covering a presidential campaign (or anything, really) is trying your damnedest to give people the fullest possible picture of the candidates running to represent them. The more information you have at your disposal then, the better.
Added Cillizza, "We are information-gatherers at heart."
So when the issue at hand was donors to the Clinton Foundation, the Washington Post sounded a clarion call, urging reporters to look at the all the information in order to give readers the "fullest possible picture of the candidates running." (And who might be trying to buy their influence.)
But last weekend, when the issue at hand was Koch summit donors, the Washington Post quietly demurred and apparently concluded not all information needed to be shared with voters.
It seems clear that the Clinton Foundation feeding frenzy sprang from the media assumption that the Clintons are hiding something, they aren't truthful, and they cannot be trusted. As Vox's Jonathan Allen asserted, detailing the press corps' "unspoken rules" to covering Hillary, "the media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there's hard evidence otherwise."
By contrast, what explained the pass given to the Kochs? Was it fueled by an inverse press assumption that the Kochs are forthright, they're honorable men, and of course they play by the rules?
If donors are deemed the targets of intense media scrutiny, the press should apply the rules fairly to both sides
It's hard to miss the media's looming sense of bewilderment over Donald Trump's continued strong showing among Republican voters. As the bulling billionaire cements his status as this summer's star GOP attraction, many pundits and reporters have been left scratching their heads over the turn of events.
Regularly dismissed one month ago as a campaign distraction, much of the Beltway media appeared to be in agreement that Trump's campaign was nothing more than a joke and might not even be worth covering.
But now with poll after poll showing him racing to the front of the Republican pack, journalists are trying to make sense of it all. (The fallout from Trump's attack on Sen. John McCain's war record is still being calculated.)
"Everybody has been surprised that Donald Trump has seen these kind of poll numbers," noted Bloomberg's Steven Yaccino. Indeed, Trump's "surprising" frontrunner status has been a constant media theme -- especially after his campaign was first tagged as a "giant joke" and "sideshow" by some pundits. (Last month, the Washington Post pointed to Trump's favorability rating among Republicans as evidence for "Why no one should take Donald Trump seriously.")
But is Trump's run really that surprising? It shouldn't be if you've been paying attention to the radical, obstructionist turn both Republican politics and the right-wing media have taken over the last six-plus years. Yet during most of that span, the D.C. media stoically pretended the GOP hadn't taken an ugly, radical turn. And that's why so many seem baffled by Trump's rise.
Increasingly, Trump represents Fox News' Republican Party. He's holding up a mirror. But many journalists seem slow, or unwilling, to acknowledge that.
Some Beltway analysts blame the press for Trump's rise, insisting it's only because he's generating so much media attention that Republican voters are selecting him as their top choice. But that premise only works if you assume Trump doesn't connect with a certain group of voters. The fact is, most of Trump's coverage over the last month has been highly unflattering, as journalists and pundits detail his seemingly endless string of outrageous statements. (Minus Fox News, of course, where several hosts continue to fawn over him.) Yet Trump's favorable rating among Republican voters has been on the rise, suggesting that he is, in fact, connecting with the GOP base.
The idea that Trump's appeal isn't genuine or that the press has lured Republicans into supporting him is likely more comforting than acknowledging the truth: Trump, an ignorant, nativist birther, is appealing to an often-ugly streak within the conservative movement. He's winning over the illogical, demagoguery wing of the Republican Party that's been feasting off far-right media hate rhetoric for years.
This was the "grassroots" political movement that was so freaked out by Obama's ascension to power that it reached for the Nazi analogies just months into the president's first term, before he'd barely even finished filling out his cabinet positions. This is a wing of the party that views Obama as a monster of historic proportions who's committed to stripping citizens of their liberties and getting them addicted to government dependencies, like a drug dealer.
Is anyone surprised that Trump has the backing of Rush Limbaugh, even after the billionaire attacked McCain's war record? It's the same Limbaugh who claimed that if Obama weren't black he'd be working as a tour guide in Hawaii, not sitting in the Oval Office. The same Limbaugh who decried Obama as some sort of black Manchurian Candidate who ran for office because he resents white America and wants to garnish some payback. (Obama also thought Americans deserved to become infected with Ebola, according to Limbaugh.)
And you cannot underestimate Trump's previous birther charade and what that likely means for him today, politically. Note that a 2014 Economist/YouGov poll found that two-thirds of Republicans "disagree with the statement that the president was born in the United States."
Interviewing Trump's current supporters, the New York Times reported, "Some said they doubted whether President Obama was a citizen, a misrepresentation Mr. Trump has reinforced repeatedly."
And from the Daily Beast, which interviewed Trump donors:
I asked McNerney, who repeatedly referred to the president as "Obama Hussein," if he thought Obama was Muslim. He said, "I know he is." I asked if he thought Obama was born in America. He replied, "No, I don't. Probably Africa." Where in Africa, I wondered. "Wherever his father and his white mother were living." Kenya? "You got it," he said.
Earlier this month Trump told a CNN interviewer he wasn't sure where Obama was born.
Fueled by hateful rhetoric and right-wing media programming, Republicans and conservatives have veered towards extremism in recent years. If the press had honestly documented that trend, today's Trump phenomenon wouldn't come as such a shock.
Image via Michael Vadon via Creative Commons License
Last week, the Associated Press helped dictate campaign coverage for a news cycle when it emphasized how its latest poll showed Hillary Clinton's favorable ratings falling.
"The survey offers a series of warning signs for the leading Democratic candidate," the AP warned, suggesting its survey results were "troubling" for the Democratic frontrunner. Despite the fact that the AP's own poll found that a vast majority of Democratic voters view Clinton favorably, the article included interviews with three Democratic voters, all of whom gave Clinton negative reviews.
The excited AP dispatch set off a new round of Clinton-in-trouble coverage by news organizations that reprinted the AP's survey results:
And at the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza pounced on the AP's polling data and announced it was all very bad news for Clinton.
But notice what information was buried in the 18th and final paragraph of the AP's report on Clinton's falling favorable ratings [emphasis added]:
Clinton's bad marks weren't unique: Nearly all of the Republican candidates surveyed in the poll shared her underwater approval ratings. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a leading GOP candidate, saw his unfavorable ratings rise to 44% from 36% in April.
Bush's favorable ratings, which have been underwater all year, lag behind Clinton's in the latest AP poll (31 percent Bush, 39 percent Clinton) and his unfavorable ratings are on the rise? Correct. But at the AP, there were no warnings about what those "troubling" numbers mean for Bush's campaign, and there were no AP interviews with Republican voters voicing their disappointment in the candidate.
For the AP, Jeb Bush and his soft poll numbers were clearly not the story. They barely even garnered a footnote.
Welcome to the often-baffling world of polling reporting for the 2016 campaign, where perceived dips by Clinton are obsessed over by the press while Bush stumbles rarely draw interest.
The famous Republican scion from a family whose supporters have raised over $100 million in campaign funds trails a buffoonish celebrity in several recent polls? The press doesn't really think that's a big story for Bush's candidacy. Imagine if Clinton were suddenly overwhelmed by a political outsider on the Democratic side, the doom-and-gloom commentary would be all-consuming.
What is a big story, apparently, is the state of Clinton's favorable ratings.
There's no real mystery why the press downplays polling results that show Clinton with a commanding lead and hypes surveys that show that gap closing, or her popularity supposedly slumping. "Coronations are boring," noted Nate Silver, as he recently highlighted deficiencies in the media's polling coverage. Journalists would "rather see a competitive Democratic primary, which means more to talk about and analyze."
The problem for the press is that, the AP survey notwithstanding, Clinton has enjoyed a nice run of polling results in recent days and weeks.
That last Iowa poll may be the most telling in terms of the very peculiar news coverage that Clinton polls produce, simply because there was essentially a news blackout surrounding the survey's results compared to polls that show a tightening race.
For instance in early July, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Clinton's Iowa lead shrinking to 19 points and the New York Times wrote up a separate news dispatch just about that poll. Just six days later, a We Ask America poll was released showing Clinton with a 40-plus point lead in Iowa. The New York Times reaction? It simply ignored it, as did virtually every news organization in America.
It didn't fit the script.
The last oddity: There's an entrenched pattern of media polls echoing Republican talking points about Clinton and her honesty.
Note this from Fox News:
But here's the possible trouble for Clinton in the general election: 70 percent of voters overall say that a candidate who is sometimes less than honest is a "deal breaker" for their vote -- and a 58-percent majority believes Clinton's natural instincts lean more toward "hiding the truth" than "telling the truth" (33 percent).
What is odd is that Fox never asked voters about Bush's trustworthiness, or any other Republican candidate's trustworthiness. Fox only asked about Clinton.
The same was true of a poll released in June by CNN: "A growing number of people say she is not honest and trustworthy." How did Clinton's "trust" score compare with Bush's? We don't know because CNN didn't ask if voters trust Bush.
And yes, the latest AP poll is guilty of the same imbalance -- it asks if Clinton is "honest," types up the results as bad news for the Democrat, but doesn't pose that query about Bush, or any of the Republican candidates.
Why the persistent double standard?
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made news on his first official day as a GOP presidential candidate by suggesting that Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change could inappropriately push religion "into the political realm" and declaring: "I don't get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope." But the media should be covering Bush's remarks in the context of a closed-door meeting he held with coal industry CEOs earlier this month -- an important piece of information that could shed some light on who Bush is actually getting his "economic policy" from when it comes to climate change.
Bush's June 1 appearance at the Coal & Investment Leadership Forum was first revealed in a May 29 report by The Guardian, based on materials the newspaper received from the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit watchdog group. As The Guardian reported at the time:
The former Florida governor is appearing at the invitation of six coalmining company owners and executives: Joe Craft III of Alliance Resource Partners, Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources, Nick DeIuliis of Consol Energy, Garry Drummond of Drummond Company, John Eaves of Arch Coal, and Jim McGlothlin of United Coal Company.
Between them, the six companies have spent more than $17.4m on campaigns and lobbying since the last presidential elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets website.
The Guardian further noted that the meeting occurred "at a critical time for the energy industry and for Bush's political ambitions," with the Environmental Protection Agency "expected to finalize new rules for carbon pollution from power plants this summer" and Bush "relatively free of fundraising disclosure requirements until the official launch of his presidential campaign."
It's official: Hillary Clinton now faces two looming campaign challengers, Republicans and their allies in the press. But don't take my word for it. The anti-Clinton press campaign is now an open secret in the media, and it marks a whole new chapter in campaign journalism.
Election seasons always usher in debates about press coverage, with the assumption being coverage can affect electoral results. Which candidates are getting the most positive coverage? And which ones are being dogged by journalists?
Journalists traditionally wave off any allegations of unfair treatment for particular candidates and insist the claims are nothing more than sour grapes, or partisan plots to boost the candidate's chances. Instead, scribes claim, they always play campaigns down the middle.
But in a new twist, some members of the Beltway press corps are stepping forward to announce categorically that Hillary Clinton, despite her envious standing, is the obvious target of media derision. And that the press is actively trying to harm her campaign.
"The national media has never been more primed to take down Hillary Clinton," Politico's Dylan Byers observed late last week, as he surveyed the unfolding campaign season. The same press corps, he added, stands poised to "elevate a Republican candidate."
That's a rather astonishing revelation from inside the Beltway media bubble, right? Openly taking down a Democrat, while elevating a Republican? Wow.
The weird part was that campaign journalists didn't seem to object to the description. There was very little pushback regarding Byer's rather shocking claim; it barely caused a ripple. Journalists don't seem ashamed of that fact that Clinton faces a tougher press than her fellow candidates, or think it reflects poorly on the state of political journalism. More and more journalists are simply admitting the truth: The press is out to get Clinton. Period.
How is it the likely Democratic Party nominee for president has become a constant target of press derision and that journalists admit the media's out to get her? Whatever happened to journalism's role of reporting on what happens in a campaign, and not trying to determine the outcome?
And could you imagine the seismic revolt that would unfold if reporters openly targeted Republicans? But don't hold your breath. When was the last time you read an article, or heard a single television discussion, in which Beltway media elites opined about how their media colleagues despise Gov. Scott Walker, are out to get former Gov. Jeb Bush, or want to take down Sen. Marco Rubio?
That kind of talk could kill a journalist's career because it would ignite the right wing's Liberal Media Bias mob. But publicly admitting the press is "prime" to try to disrupt and dismantle the likely Democratic Party's presidential nominee seems to represent perfectly acceptable behavior.
Talk about the Clinton Rules.
Multiple media outlets have been forced to walk back and update initial reports scandalizing Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account during her tenure as secretary of state, after The New York Times kicked off the pseudo-scandal in an article the paper later acknowledged was "not without fault."
Since it was founded in 2007, Politico has published thousands of articles and columns. (It's published almost 50,000 mentions of Barack Obama alone.) But according to site's online archives, only recently has Politico described a public figure as a "ruthless attack dog."
That person? Gabby Giffords, the former Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head in 2011 when a gunman, brandishing a 9mm Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, opened fire at Gifford's outdoor shopping center event, shooting 19 people, six of whom died.
Why "ruthless attack dog"? Because Giffords is running tough, accurate gun safety ads through her PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, against Republicans in various states to highlight the fact the GOP stonewalled any efforts to pass gun legislation, even after the school massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
Talk about incongruity. The 44-year-old recovering gunshot victim was labeled "mean," tagged for having "unleashed some of the nastiest ads" of the year, and brandishing a "bare-knuckled approach" to politics. It fit into a larger pattern of Giffords "harshly attack[ing] her Republican foes," according to Politico.
The misguided Politico piece has received plenty of deserved criticism this week, especially for denouncing someone who got shot in the head as "angry" and "mean" when she's trying to pass laws to diminish the number of Americans who get shot in the head.
But additional elements in play make the piece even more distressing, and highlight continuing trends in political news coverage. It's impossible to ignore the fact that Giffords, as a woman in a predominantly male field of campaign politics, was singled out for being the poster child for disconcertingly "mean" and "angry" politics this election cycle. And that she was singled out on almost laughably thin evidence. (Politico's sole example of a "liberal leaning" critic of the ad was the Arizona Republic, a paper that endorsed GOP presidential candidates in the last four election cycles.)
A Democratic woman goes toe-to-toe against the mostly-male gun lobby in America and she's the one whistled for a foul by Politico's etiquette police? She's the one depicted as a convenient victim because the life-threatening injury she suffered represents "quite the conundrum" for those who might otherwise attack her and who now feel "helpless" to respond to her supposedly nasty ads?
As Hillary Clinton prepares for perhaps her second presidential run, it's worth reflecting on how prominent women are often treated and slighted by the Beltway press. How they're frequently held to a different standard, warned against getting too emotional, to the point where making factually accurate campaign ads in 2014 leads to wide-eyed Politico declarations of being "mean" and "angry" and "ruthless."