Continuing a "troubling" pattern, The Washington Post is allowing opinion writer Ed Rogers to defend Wall Street from attacks without disclosing his firm "offers services" to Wall Street interests. The Post also doesn't disclose that Rogers' firm "provides investment banking services" for American and foreign clients.
Rogers is a "Republican mega-lobbyist" who is the chairman and co-founder of the BGR Group with former Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) in 1991. The Post noted the firm is one of the top Washington D.C. lobbying firms, having banked more than $15 million in 2014.
Media Matters previously documented that Rogers' firm received more than $1.6 million in 2014 lobbying fees from energy and transportation clients that benefit from positions he repeatedly espoused in his Post writing. The Post and Rogers never disclosed his firm's clients.
The Post has defended the practice, telling Media Matters via email, "His full-time lobbying job is in his bio on every single piece he writes." But such a standard requires readers to actively search federal lobbying records to ascertain if Rogers has clients that might benefit from his writing. Media ethicists have slammed the Post for this "troubling" and "dishonest" standard.
Rogers' undisclosed and conflict-laden commentary extends into other areas beyond the environment, including financial regulations.
How long will the press remain allergic to Hillary Clinton polling data?
It's weird, right? For decades, pundits and reporters have worshiped at the altar of public polling, using results as tangible proof that certain political trends are underway, as well as to keep track of campaign season fluctuations. And that's even truer in recent years with the rise of data journalism. Crunching the political numbers has been elevated to a new and respected art form.
But that newsroom trend seems to be losing out to another, more powerful force as the 2016 cycle gears up. No longer viewing their job as reporting the lay of the campaign land, more and more journalists seem to have embraced the idea that their role is to help tell a compelling story, even if that means making the narrative more interesting, or competitive, than it really is.
The press "desperately wants to cover some Democratic story other than the Clinton Coronation," Bloomberg's David Weigel reported last year. NBC's Chuck Todd conceded it's the Beltway "press corps" that's suffers from so-called Clinton fatigue. The Atlantic's Molly Ball was among those suggesting that Clinton's candidacy is boring and that the American people are already "tired" of the former Secretary of State.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week provided little in terms of narrative excitement, but it was newsworthy nonetheless. It showed Clinton with a commanding 15-point lead over former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and a 13-point lead over former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, two of the best-known Republicans considering White House runs.
Nobody should think that polling results 20-plus months before an election signals certainty. But in terms of context, when the Washington Post and ABC began hypothetical polling in 2011 for Obama's re-election run, its survey showed the president enjoyed a four point lead of Romney at the time. (Obama went on to win by four points.) Today at a similar juncture, Clinton's lead over Romney stands at an astounding 15 points.
And so what kind of media response did the Clinton poll produce this week? Mostly shrugs; the press didn't seem to care. The morning the poll was published, NBC's daily political tip sheet, First Read's Morning Clips, omitted any reference to Clinton's enormous advantage in their laundry list of must-read articles for the day. On cable news, the coverage was minimal. Or put it this way, CNN mentioned the Clinton poll once yesterday, while CNN mentioned "Tom Brady" nearly 100 times, according to TVeyes.com.
"Clinton Enjoys Enormous Lead" is just not a headline the press wants to dwell on. So polling data is often tossed in the dustbin, clearing the way for pundits and reporters to form whatever storyline they want about Clinton and her possible 2016 run. (Hint: She's in trouble! Her book tour was a "disaster"!)
The Washington Post claims that broadly disclosing that one of its opinion writers is a Republican lobbyist is sufficient even when he is advocating for positions that specifically benefit his firm's unmentioned clients, a standard media critics say is "troubling" and "dishonest."
Ed Rogers writes conservative commentary for the Post's PostPartisan blog. Like many conservative columnists, he regularly criticizes environmental and energy regulations and the environmentalists who support them.
But unlike those other columnists, Rogers has a massive conflict of interest: he is chairman of the lobbying firm BGR Group, whose clients benefit from the positions he espouses. While the Post discloses his position with the firm in the bio appended to his posts, it does not reveal BGR's specific clients and conflicts, even when they directly overlap with the subject matter of Rogers' writing.
After Media Matters documented how Rogers' firm received more than $1.6 million last year from energy and transportation clients that benefit from positions he espoused in his columns, a Post spokesperson defended the practice, telling Media Matters via email, "His full-time lobbying job is in his bio on every single piece he writes." (Media Matters noted this in our original post on the matter.)
Asked again why specific disclosures are not provided for pieces that support issues favorable to a certain client, the spokesperson did not respond. Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt did not respond to requests for comment.
The Post's standard requires readers to search federal lobbying records to research if Rogers has clients that might be impacted by his commentary rather than proactively divulging the information.
Media ethicists panned this policy and urged the paper to do more.
"The burden is on The Washington Post," said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. He singled out Media Matters' report that Rogers had advocated building the Keystone XL pipeline without the Post disclosing that his firm represents Caterpillar, Inc., which would financially benefit from its construction. "If he is going to write about utilities or Keystone and he has clients with a stake in that, the Post should say that."
"It fits a pattern that I find troubling," he added. "Which is that in the television world and in this world, it is cheap to have partisans on the air or write blog posts but when you have on someone talking about say Mitt Romney, does the viewer know that that person has a relationship with Romney? And the same thing here. Does the reader know that Rogers has clients that would benefit from Keystone, so therefore the issue becomes transparency."
Kevin Smith, former ethics committee chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, agreed.
"It's the same scenario repeated time and time again," he said. "When the Washington Post can't present a complete accounting of their writers' associations it goes beyond head scratching and speaks to dishonesty with their readers."
The Washington Post has allowed opinion writer Ed Rogers to advocate for the positions and interests of his lobbying firm's clients in numerous anti-environmental pieces. The Post and Rogers have not disclosed his major conflicts of interest even though his firm received over $1.6 million in fees in 2014 alone from energy and transportation clients like Chevron, Caterpillar, and the National Mining Association.
Rogers is a Republican strategist who chairs and co-founded the BGR Group with former Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) in 1991. As the Post itself has reported, the firm is one of the top Washington D.C. lobbying firms, having banked more than $15 million in 2014. The newspaper's reporters have described Rogers as a "Republican mega-lobbyist," "lobbyist extraordinaire," and "a go-to guy for Republicans."
One of BGR's practice areas is energy and transportation, where it professes to having "the industry expertise, Capitol Hill experience and knowledge of government to successfully advocate our clients' public policy goals." Rogers is listed as a group leader for the issue area.
On his Post "Insiders" blog, Rogers frequently advocates for positions favored by his energy and transportation clients. While the Post notes that Rogers is "a political consultant" and "chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group," the publication fails to disclose Rogers' firm's clients and conflicts of interest in his anti-environmental posts. For instance:
Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that "[l]ow oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming."
After a long period of dishonestly flacking for Mitt Romney, Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin appears to have given up on him and is urging him not to run for president a third time.
In two recent blog posts, Rubin reacts negatively to the news that Romney is considering running for president in 2016. She writes that "another Romney run is preposterous" and that Romney donors and advisers pushing for a run "might want to rethink what they are doing."
As New York's Jonathan Chait points out, "Jennifer Rubin, the political commentator most consistently loyal to Romney in the last cycle, has turned against him."
During the 2012 campaign, nobody stuck by Romney like Rubin.
She hailed Romney's convention speech as proof "he can rise to an occasion," said he was "more forthcoming on immigration" than President Obama and described Romney's campaign team as "skilled." She said the presidential debates "recast the race and vaulted Mitt Romney into a position to win the race."
Of course, when the campaign was over and Romney had lost, Rubin wrote a post that revealed she knew how dishonest she had been all along, admitting that the "convention speech was a huge missed opportunity," describing the communications team as "the worst of any presidential campaign I have ever seen" and that Romney needed "more than a good month" on the campaign trail "to be successful."
Rubin appears to be positioning herself to be a booster for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who announced that he is exploring a presidential run. Rubin said "Bush's experience and inside knowledge of his father's and brother's campaigns may be an unappreciated asset" and described a Spanish-language video on his PAC's website as "quintessential Bush -- upbeat, policy-oriented and, yes, conservative."
Considering her track record with Romney, how can we believe what she's saying now?
George Will is citing past shifts in the climate to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that human behavior is currently driving global warming, despite the fact that those previous shifts actually demonstrate the need to take action on climate change.
On January 8, The Washington Post published Will's syndicated column, headlined "Climate change's instructive past," in which he discussed two books about previous climate shifts -- the Medieval Warming Period and the Little Ice Age. Will asserted, "of course the climate is changing -- it always is," and warned against "wagering vast wealth and curtailments of liberty on correcting the climate."
Without explaining his reasoning, Will claimed the books do not "support those who believe human behavior is the sovereign or even primary disrupter of climate normality." But Will ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the main cause of recent global warming. Further, Will's myopic view of history ignores the wealth of scientific evidence showing that greenhouse gases -- which are currently at record levels due to the burning of fossil fuels -- have been the principal factor in prior climate changes.
As Climate Nexus pointed out, Will actually missed the lesson from his historical examples -- that climate change left unchecked will have devastating impacts:
Contrary to [Will's] claim, past changes in our climate should be understood as a warning, but shouldn't be seen as evidence that current climatic change is naturally occurring, as he suggests.
The problem with this claim is that human-made emissions have increased exponentially since Will's historical examples. Science has clearly shown how current human-made climate change is very different from earlier slower natural changes, something Will failed to factor.
More accurately, historical climate change provides insight into problems we can expect in the future as greenhouse gases are increasingly amplifying variations in our climate. Historical trends should, instead, serve as a stark warning of what we can expect from the emission-driven warming we're experiencing now.
ThinkProgress' Joe Romm called Will's logic "exactly backwards." Pointing out that climate change has occurred naturally in the past does not disprove the fact that it is happening unnaturally now, as Romm analogized: "[I]t would be exactly the same as saying that because people who didn't smoke have died of cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer, we can't know that cigarette smoking also causes those diseases and is unhealthy." He added that "climate scientists now have the same degree of certainty that human-caused emissions are changing the climate as they do that cigarette smoking is harmful."
Will is infamous for his climate misinformation -- over the past few years, other writers have called his misunderstanding of science "mystifying" and asserted that he is "helping to muddle our collective scientific literacy." Will's misleading coverage of climate science in his columns sparked a petition in 2014, signed by more than 100,000 people, urging The Washington Post to exclude climate misinformation from its pages.
In advance of the Federal Communications Commission's February vote on net neutrality rules, media have promoted distortions of the proposed regulations, suggesting net neutrality is an unpopular, "Orwellian" takeover of the internet that may stifle innovation, hurt the economy, and raise costs for consumers. In reality, net neutrality has broad bipartisan support, promotes competition, and has been the guiding principle behind Internet innovation since its inception.
2014 was a year of eye-popping media numbers, from millions of dollars' worth of coverage devoted to a trumped-up scandal to mere seconds devoted to historic news. Here are some of the most important -- and most surprising -- figures from the year.
"[W]hen they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."
This single phrase has followed George Will for the last six months. The syndicated conservative columnist, considered by many a thoughtful intellectual rather than a bomb-thrower, severely damaged his brand when he wrote a June 2014 column dismissing efforts on college campuses to combat the epidemic of sexual assault and suggesting that women who say they were raped receive "privileges." The column has sparked hundreds to protest his public appearances, challenges from U.S. Senators and women's rights groups, and the dropping of his column from a major newspaper.
Will's 2014 misinformation was not limited to attacking and dismissing rape victims. Throughout the year, Will failed to disclose several major conflicts of interest in his columns, and his tangled relationship with political entities backed by Charles and David Koch was cited by the outgoing ethics chair of the Society of Professional Journalists as the kind of conflict journalists should disclose in their writing. His history as a prominent denier of climate change also helped further undermine his credibility, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition demanding the Washington Post stop printing the science misinformation he and others regularly push in its pages.
Will has written a column for the Post since 1974, which is syndicated in over 450 papers. He started his career as a Republican Senate staff member and speech writer before moving into the ranks of the conservative press, contributing to The American Spectator and working as the Washington editor for the National Review for a time. He has become a fixture in the right-wing think tank infrastructure, serving as a board member of the Bradley Foundation, which funds conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Federalist Society. But Will was always careful to keep one foot in the mainstream -- in addition to his Post column, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977, he served as an ABC News commentator for three decades and was even a featured interview in several Ken Burns documentaries.
Yet late last year, he left ABC to join Fox News as a political contributor, cementing his increasingly conservative and counterfactual tendencies. Some of his politics -- such as his longstanding climate change denial -- seemed to fit in at the network. But at the time, Media Matters wondered if an association with Fox's more angry and crude fare would ruin the brand of the staid conservative pontificator, shifting his erudite elitism towards the hard-edged style of misinformation for which Fox is better known. Will's accomplishments in 2014 revealed our suspicions were well-founded.
Media Matters isn't the only organization to recognize the damage Will's commentary did to the discourse this year. When PolitiFact awarded its 2014 Lie of Year to "exaggerations about Ebola," they cited Will as a prime example. Will used his Fox News platform to spread lies about the disease, falsely claiming that it could be "spread through the air." As PolitiFact noted:
Will's claim that Ebola could spread through the air via a cough or sneeze shows how solid science got misconstrued. The conservative commentator suggested a thought shift about how the virus could spread. In reality, Will simply misunderstood scientists' consistent, albeit technical explanation.
Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit and diarrhea. Coughing and sneezing are not symptoms.
Will has a long history of pushing misinformation, but it finally caught up with him in 2014, tarnishing the reputation as a public intellectual he had spent decades cultivating. He started the year one of the most respected members of the conservative media elite, and ended it with hundreds protesting his speeches. For this reason, Media Matters recognizes George Will as the 2014 Misinformer of the Year.
Past recipients include CBS News (2013), Rush Limbaugh (2012), Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. (2011), Sarah Palin (2010), Glenn Beck (2009), Sean Hannity (2008), ABC (2006), Chris Matthews (2005), and Bill O'Reilly (2004).
Media outlets have described Hillary Clinton's wealth and the speaking fees she has earned as a "potentially serious political problem" and a "potential political liability." Will they describe the financial dealings of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush the same way now that he is exploring a presidential run? And will they do in-depth reporting on the controversial business deals Bush has been involved in?
Michigan State University (MSU) students protested before, during, and after George Will's speech at the university's graduation ceremony in response to the conservative Washington Post syndicated columnist's offensive comments about sexual assault.
MSU invited Will to speak at the December 13 commencement ceremony despite a controversial June column in which he suggested that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges" on college campuses. Students and faculty, women's rights groups, and even Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) condemned the university's decision to host Will and award him an honorary doctorate.
MSU students used the Twitter hashtag #itsonyouMSU to protest the university's decision to host Will for the commencement ceremony. Before Will's speech, students lined up outside of MSU's Breslin Center in a silent protest. MSU Students United, which describes itself as "the autonomous student union of Michigan State University," documented the protests on Twitter, posting pictures of students holding signs with messages like "Only yes means yes" and "Rape is not a privilege":
During the ceremony, students turned their backs on Will's speech in protest, as Bloomberg News reported. Will reportedly didn't mention the controversy surrounding his sexual assault comments:
As Will got up to speak, about 15 people in the audience of several thousand stood up and turned their backs toward him. The columnist, whose writing is carried by hundreds of newspapers, made no mention of the protest, his June 6 column or the subject of sexual assault. The crowd applauded when he was done.
Protesters outside, including students, survivors of sexual assault and support group members, were polite and quiet, braving the chilly weather around the Breslin Center, the school's basketball arena and commencement venue. Some stood with red tape across their mouth and held placards saying "Fund Rape Counselors, Not Rape Apologists."
Joy Wang, a correspondent for News10 in Lansing, MI, posted a picture of the silent protest:
Image via MSU Students United Twitter account.
Media coverage of an omnibus spending bill that rolled back key financial services regulations ignored the amount of money the financial services industry spent helping elect members of Congress in 2014. In fact, the industry lobbying to eliminate the regulation spent $436 million on federal candidates during the midterm elections.
For the second time in three days a student government organization at Michigan State University has passed a resolution opposing the pending commencement address by George Will, citing his offensive comments about campus sexual assault.
The Associated Students of Michigan State University, the school's undergraduate student government, held an emergency meeting Tuesday night and approved the resolution, 23-1, denouncing the decision to host Will as a commencement speaker at the December 13 graduation and to award him an honorary doctorate.
A copy of the resolution provided to Media Matters by the ASMSU states in part, "the choice of George Will has given many students the impression that MSU does not make sexual assault a priority" and concludes that "ASMSU condemns MSU's choice of George Will as a speaker at MSU's Fall commencement and calls for MSU to immediately rescind their invitation and find another speaker to address graduating seniors."
The resolution urges the university to "also allocate funds in at least the same amount as Mr. Will's speaking engagement fee towards the hiring of more counselors for the Counseling Center to address the need for students seeking help with sexual assault and reaffirms commitment to sexual assault prevention and response."
The resolution's passage came just hours after MSU's president, in the face of rising protests from the student body, issued a statement defending their decision to honor Will.
Colin Wiebrecht, a representative of the ASMSU general assembly, introduced the resolution.
"I thought it was important because there had been a growing number of students who were against having George Will and would put a lot more pressure on the administration," he told Media Matters.
Kiran Samra, the ASMSU chief of staff, said the issue was important to bring to a vote.
"The role of the undergraduate student government is to echo the voice of our constituents," she said via email. "It was clear through the numerous communications that this was an issue of importance to our fellow students."
ASMSU's actions follow an earlier resolution from the Council of Graduate Students on Sunday that stated the governing body wanted to, "convey our objections to Dr. George Will serving as one of the commencement speakers and being a recipient of an honorary degree this semester."
In June, Will authored a Washington Post syndicated column suggesting that attempts to curb campus assaults have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
That column has triggered widespread criticism, particularly on college campuses. Over the past two months, Will was uninvited from a speaking engagement at Scripps College and greeted by hundreds of protestors at Miami University.
Following criticism from students, including the condemnation of the Council of Graduate Students, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon posted a statement Tuesday defending the choice of Will, which stated, in part, "Having George Will speak at commencement does not mean I or Michigan State University agree with or endorse the statements he made in his June 6 column or any particular column he has written. It does not mean the university wishes to cause survivors of sexual assault distress. And it does not mean we are backing away from our commitment to continuously improving our response to sexual assault."
Michigan State University's decision to host George Will as a commencement speaker this weekend is sparking angry opposition from students, a prominent women's equality group, and campus sexual assault advocates who plan to protest the event because of Will's past comments about campus sexual assault.
In June, Will authored a Washington Post syndicated column suggesting that attempts to curb campus assaults have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
Will's column sparked widespread criticism. Four senators publicly condemned his comments in an open letter, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his syndicated column and apologized for publishing his "offensive and inaccurate" arguments, and women's equality groups called for the Washington Post to fire him.
Last week, The Detroit News reported that Will had been tapped as a commencement speaker for Michigan State University's December 13 graduation ceremonies and would receive an honorary doctorate of humanities. The announcement quickly prompted condemnation from the prominent women's equality group UltraViolet, whose co-founder Shaunna Thomas told Media Matters that Will's "continued attacks on campus rape survivors make him an unfit speaker for any University."
MSU, which is currently under federal investigation for its handling of sexual assault accusations, defended their decision to honor Will. A spokesman told Media Matters, "In any diverse community there are sure to be differences of opinion and perspective; something we celebrate as a learning community. We appreciate all views, and we hope and expect the MSU community will give the speaker the same respect."
But pressure is mounting on the University as Will's planned speech draws closer.
In a press release, UltraViolet announced it had gathered more than 40,000 signatures on a petition calling for the cancelation of Will's speech, which the group plans to deliver on December 10.
Students are also calling foul, with more than 650 already signed up for a protest the morning of Will's speech.
"The hope was that the administration would realize this is a bonehead move and choose someone else," said Emily Gillingham, an MSU law school student and co-organizer of a protest set for 8 a.m. Saturday, right before Will's 10 a.m. address to graduates of several MSU colleges. "I feel so bad for the people who are there who have survived sexual assault who George Will thinks are lying or it was some sort of pleasant experience."
MSU's Council of Graduate Students passed a resolution Sunday calling on the administration to withdraw their invitation to Will. Some students and faculty are discussing plans for an alternate commencement.
"It's really disappointing that MSU chose to invite him, it appears that they knew it would be disappointing because they waited to announce it," said Jessica Kane, an MSU graduate student who works in the campus Sexual Assault Center. "George Will's manner of approaching sexual assault is dismissive to all sexual assault survivors. Basically he calls them all potential liars. The fact that he approached sexual assault with such a callous attitude is really alarming."