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  • The Wash. Post Has A Lobbyist As A Writer; Here Are 12 Times They Didn't Disclose Conflicts Of Interest

    Editorial Page Editor Says The Post Wasn’t “Initially Clear Enough With” Ed Rogers “On Our Expectations” But Defends Paper

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    The Washington Post has repeatedly failed to inform readers about major financial conflicts of interest in pieces by opinion writer Ed Rogers. Rogers is a leading Republican lobbyist who has used his Post column to advocate for the interests of his firm’s clients without disclosure in at least a dozen instances since the beginning of 2016.

    Rogers writes for the publication’s PostPartisan blog. His columns also regularly appear in the Post’s physical edition and are syndicated across the country through its syndication service.

    The Republican lobbyist is the chairman of the BGR Group, which he co-founded in 1991. The firm is one of the country’s largest lobbying groups and had over $17 million in lobbying revenue in 2016.

    His Post credentials are touted to potential clients in his corporate biography, which states: “Since 2011, Ed has been an opinion writer for the Washington Post, where he writes about politics and the current state of affairs in Washington, D.C., from a Republican point of view.”

    Lobbying experts told Media Matters that the Post’s arrangement with a lobbyist of Rogers’ stature is “rare” and “highly unusual.”

    Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and author of The Business of America is Lobbying, said that “It's pretty rare for a megalobbyist to have a gig as a columnist in such a prominent venue.”

    He added that while it’s hard to quantify how much the Post column helps his lobbying business since Rogers “has plenty of influence with or without his columns ... it almost certainly helps him. I can't imagine his gig as a Post columnist isn't part of his pitch to potential clients.”

    Tim LaPira, a James Madison University associate professor who studies lobbying, agreed that the Post’s “arrangement is highly unusual.”

    “Most lobbyists do not promote ideas in the public domain on their own behalf, under their own name,” LaPira said. “I doubt anybody has ever kept track of how common it is for lobbyists to write regular columns like this because it is so rare.”

    Rogers has repeatedly used his Post column to promote the lobbying interests of his firm’s clients over the years. Media Matters previously documented in 2015 how Rogers attacked environmental and financial regulations without disclosing his firm’s relevant clients. Rogers' columns subsequently included disclosures in some -- but not all -- pieces where he discusses environmental regulations.

    In addition to environmental issues, Rogers has numerous potential conflicts on both the domestic and international front. He and his firm's colleagues have registered as agents for foreign governments and have counted Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as clients. Ukraine recently signed BGR to lobby for it as the country “seeks to strengthen its relationship with the United States.”

    Media Matters reached out to The Washington Post and sent examples of Rogers’ writings with conflicts of interests. Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt respond by saying the Post wasn’t “initially clear enough with Ed on our expectations” but defended the Post and Rogers, and disputed “some” of Media Matters’ examples:

    “We weren’t initially clear enough with Ed on our expectations. We do believe genuine conflicts should be disclosed, he is committed to doing so, and has done so numerous times. Some of what you flag here does not strike me as that kind of conflict. For example, we make no secret of the fact that Rogers is a conservative Republican whose firm lobbies for business interests; the fact that he would criticize Hillary Clinton for wanting to raise corporate tax rates I don’t think would surprise readers or strike them as stemming from a hidden conflict of interest. If he lobbies for a specific client or specific issue and then writes about that specific client or issue, I think readers should be made aware, and I’m confident Ed agrees.”

    BGR Group did not reply to a request for comment.

    Media Matters reviewed Rogers’ opinion pieces from the start of 2016 through today and found that the Post is failing to properly disclose when Rogers and his clients’ lobbying interests intersect. These disclosure violations include:

    • Praising President Trump for rescinding a fiduciary rule that protects investors without disclosing that BGR is lobbying to repeal the rule.
    • Criticizing the Dodd-Frank financial rule without disclosing his firm is lobbying on the issue.
    • Criticizing politicians for their attacks on the financial services industry without disclosing that he and his firm have been paid to lobby on behalf of financial services firms.
    • Praising the Tomahawk missile strike against Syria without disclosing that he lobbies on behalf of the missile maker.
    • Pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline without disclosing that BGR is lobbying for a firm that has been pushing for its implementation because it would financially benefit from its approval.
    • Pushing for environmental deregulation and a lowering of the corporate tax rate without disclosing his firm is lobbying on those issues.

       Here are 12 examples of how the Post is failing its readers:

      Department Of Labor Fiduciary Rule

      BRG Lobbied For MassMutual On “Legislation Related To The Proposed DoL Fiduciary Rule.” In 2016, President Barack Obama issued rules for the Department of Labor requiring that, as The New York Times noted, “all financial professionals who provide advice related to your retirement money must provide recommendations that are in your best interest.” President Trump has since delayed the rules. BGR’s lobbying disclosure for financial services company MassMutual stated last year that it lobbied on “legislation related to the proposed DoL fiduciary rule.” MassMutual has publicly criticized the proposed rule, claiming it “will hurt Americans.” BGR received $220,000 in 2016 from MassMutual to lobby. [The New York Times4/6/16; NPR.org, 2/17/17; Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, Boston Business Journal, 4/6/16; OpenSecrets.org, accessed 4/21/17]

      Rogers Praised “Rescinding President Barack Obama’s Retirement Account Advisory Business Regulations Before They Can Go Into Effect.”

      In just two weeks as president, Donald Trump has already taken some substantive measures on the economy, including his executive order generally reducing regulations and controlling regulatory costs; requiring pipeline projects to be completed using iron or steel products manufactured in the United States; revising Dodd-Frank; and rescinding President Barack Obama’s retirement account advisory business regulations before they can go into effect in April. Plus, Trump made Wilbur Ross, his commerce secretary nominee, one of the adults in charge of the NAFTA negotiations. In doing so, Trump defused a potentially ugly situation and sidelined some of his more bombastic advisers. The NAFTA overhaul is a critically important move, and it’s good that Trump has given Ross a powerful White House embrace. [The Washington Post2/6/17]  

      Dodd-Frank

      BGR Lobbied For MassMutual On Dodd Frank. BGR also lobbied for MassMutual on “Dodd-Frank regulatory implementation provisions relating to insurance companies” and “HR 5983, the Financial CHOICE Act of 2016,” which would roll back Dodd-Frank. [Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, 4/21/17; The New York Times9/13/16]

      Rogers Praised Effort To Roll Back Dodd-Frank.

      In just two weeks as president, Donald Trump has already taken some substantive measures on the economy, including his executive order generally reducing regulations and controlling regulatory costs; requiring pipeline projects to be completed using iron or steel products manufactured in the United States; revising Dodd-Frank; and rescinding President Barack Obama’s retirement account advisory business regulations before they can go into effect in April. Plus, Trump made Wilbur Ross, his commerce secretary nominee, one of the adults in charge of the NAFTA negotiations. In doing so, Trump defused a potentially ugly situation and sidelined some of his more bombastic advisers. The NAFTA overhaul is a critically important move, and it’s good that Trump has given Ross a powerful White House embrace. [The Washington Post2/6/17]  

      Financial Services Industry

      BGR Lobbied For Financial Services Companies. Rogers’ group collected $270,000 in 2016 lobbying on behalf of Franklin Resources in 2016. A 2016 lobbying disclosure report stated that BGR had provided “strategic advice and counsel on legislative and regulatory actions that are impacting or may potentially impact Franklin Resources and/or the financial services industry.” BGR also lobbied for financial services providers LetterOne Holdings, MassMutual, and PGP Investors. Rogers personally lobbied for Franklin and LetterOne. [OpenSecrets.org, accessed 4/21/17; Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, 4/21/17,  4/21/17, 4/21/17]

      Rogers: Hillary Clinton Should Defend The Financial Services Industry And Attack Sanders As Having “No Idea What The Financial Industry Does.”

      First, Clinton should do more — not less, more — live TV. Her net performance is pretty good during the debates and in interviews; she just has to do a better job of preparing for the tough questions. Clinton’s campaign is plagued by two big, corrosive questions. One, she needs to address the issue of her relationship with big banks and Wall Street. She and her family — and I say family because even Chelsea Clinton worked on Wall Street for a while, and her husband is a Goldman Sachs alumnus and currently runs a hedge fund — have been especially close to Wall Street, and it is painful to watch Hillary Clinton try to suggest otherwise. Perhaps Clinton could actually learn something from how Donald Trump unabashedly embraces his experiences. Rather than pretend she doesn’t know the big players on Wall Street, Clinton should use her familiarity with the financial services industry to suggest she knows how to corral them without killing them. Clinton should say, a la Trump, that “I know these people,” “Sure, I took their money” and “I know what they care about and how to make them get in line.” Clinton should argue that Sanders has no idea what the financial industry does or what its pressure points are, but as a former senator from New York, she can easily pinpoint its vulnerabilities. Clinton should look those who question her Wall Street ties straight in the eye and bluff them into silence. [The Washington Post2/8/16]

      Tomahawk Missile Strike Against Syria

      BGR Lobbies For Tomahawk Missile Maker Raytheon. Rogers personally lobbies for Raytheon, which manufactures the million-dollar Tomahawk missiles used in the recent Syria strike. BGR received $120,000 in 2016 for lobbying on “Defense and communications procurement; Defense appropriations and authorizations.” [Media Matters4/11/17]

      Rogers Praised Trump’s Handling Of Syria.

      I don’t want to jinx anything, but President Trump may be experiencing the best sequence of events since he became president. Just this week, he received bipartisan support for his military strike in Syria, secured Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court, had impressive meetings with both King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi of Egypt, caught a break with the Susan Rice scandal, and it appears he has walked away from a successful encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping — all without knocking it off the rails with a wayward tweet. And it’s not just me saying that, no less than Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass wrote that this was “arguably [the] best of Donald Trump’s still young presidency, from [a] successful strike in Syria to confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee.” Imagine that, decisive and poised presidential action from the president himself.

      The president is receiving mostly positive coverage as a result of the strike in Syria, but even Trump’s critics are talking about him in a serious way. There has been no discussion of chaos during the strike or wild tweets and off-key chatter that diminished the significance of the action that was taken. Most analysts and political commentators are describing the attack as a calculated, level-headed decision by a president whose foreign policy disposition has been ambiguous. And oh, by the way, it doesn’t hurt that Trump did something so adverse to Russia in Syria. It showed that Trump is perfectly capable of acting with brutal hostility toward a vital interest of Vladimir Putin’s.

      […]

      In politics, just like in golf, luck counts. The fact that Trump launched an attack against Syria while his Chinese counterpart was present and able to witness the aftermath in the media was a powerful stroke of good luck for the White House. In case Xi needed any reminding of just how serious Trump may be about taking action in North Korea, the Syria attack couldn’t have been a better example or come at a better time. By all accounts, expectations for their meeting were low. But reports indicate that Trump and Xi had substantive, mostly positive conversations, perhaps leaving the Chinese president with a lot to think about. It looks like he may have walked away with a better impression of how Trump thinks and how his administration functions. [The Washington Post4/8/17]

      Keystone XL Pipeline

      Rogers’ Firm Lobbied For Caterpillar, Which Said It Would Financially Benefit From Keystone XL Pipeline’s Approval. A 2016 form for BGR stated that it lobbied for Caterpillar to “provide counsel and strategic guidance on federal activity regarding infrastructure improvements.” Caterpillar stated on its government affairs website that “has an interest in” the Keystone XL pipeline’s approval because “Caterpillar pipelayers, excavators and track-type tractors are used in the North American pipeline business.” BGR received $310,000 in 2016 for its lobbying work. [Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17; Caterpillar, accessed 4/21/17; OpenSecrets.org, accessed 4/21/17]

      Rogers Criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders For His “Wacky” Position On The Keystone XL Pipeline.

      It is safe to say that presidential campaigns are mostly about peace, prosperity and the character of the candidates. In none of these categories does Clinton approach the court of public opinion with clean hands. Most voters do not want an Obama third term — yet in order to get through the primaries, Clinton has had to embrace all things Obama. She has had to embrace the weakest economic growth of any postwar recovery and the first recovery where the economy did not grow at least three percent in any year following the end of the last recession.  She has had to temporarily disassociate herself from longtime Clinton family allies and benefactors on Wall Street and in the business community while espousing Obama’s anti-business mantra. Not to mention, she has had to swing to the left to adopt Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wacky positions on the minimum wage, trade, the Keystone XL pipeline and whatever else. [The Washington Post6/3/16]

      Rogers Dismissed Liberals’ Concerns Over The Keystone XL Pipeline. (The Post piece did disclose that Rogers’ firm “represents interests in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries” but made no mention of Rogers’ ties to a company that “has an interest in” the pipeline being built).

      The left’s opposition to Tillerson will largely be grounded in the fact that he comes from an oil company. Let’s face it: The people who don’t want the Keystone XL pipeline or the Dakota Access pipeline, who oppose drilling or fracking anywhere and who think that de-carbonizing the economy is possible are the same people who will lead the fight against Tillerson’s confirmation. There is almost nothing Tillerson can say that will satisfy these people. Many among the global warming alarmist crowd approach the topic of climate change with a near-religious zeal. [The Washington Post1/5/17]

      Environmental Regulations

      BGR Group Lobbies For Numerous Energy Companies. In 2016, BGR lobbied for Chevron, JKX Oil & Gas, Nuclear Energy Institute, Southern Co., and WEC Energy Group. Rogers personally lobbied for JKX Oil & Gas and Southern (JKX's registration start date with BGR was September 1, 2016). [OpenSecrets.org, accessed 4/21/17; Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, 4/21/17; 4/21/17]

      The Post Has Been Inconsistent In Disclosing Rogers’ Anti-Environmental Conflicts. Rogers frequently criticizes environmental regulations in his Post writings. In some instances, Rogers included a disclosure noting his firm’s clients, writing: “Disclosure: My firm represents interests in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.” In several instances, Rogers did not include such a disclosure. This piece only takes issue with those that do not, which are noted below. [The Washington Post1/5/17]

      Rogers Attacked Liberals For Promoting “Policies, Often Under The Guise Of Environmental And Global Warming Activism, That Suppress Development, Growth And Good, Middle-Class Jobs.”

      The party of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton doesn’t like free enterprise or those who associate with it. They like social activists more than they like American workers. The national Democratic Party is composed of a circle of self-reinforcing members, including academics, feminists, environmentalists, government unions, Hollywood, minority and LGBT activists, trial lawyers and a host of financiers like Tom Steyer. What do they all have in common? These groups tend to have a parasitic relationship with private enterprises that actually employ people, particularly people who work in a trade. Democratic insiders promote policies, often under the guise of environmental and global warming activism, that suppress development, growth and good, middle-class jobs. The failure of the Obama economy speaks for itself. [The Washington Post5/18/16]

      Rogers Criticized Obama For Running “A Punitive Regulatory Regime Enhanced By A Pointless Passion For Global Warming Initiatives” And Having An “Anti-Business Bias.”

      The president and the Democrats are either oblivious or dishonest when they talk about their “economic success.” In what will probably be Obama’s most lasting legacy, he has run up the national debt by $10 trillion — more than all our other presidents combined — leaving future generations weighed down by the Obama debt. He has stifled small businesses with excessive taxation, perpetuated a punitive regulatory regime enhanced by a pointless passion for global warming initiatives and acted with anti-business bias that has all amalgamated to slow growth and spread discontent across the country. [The Washington Post6/23/16]

      Rogers: Democrats “Obsess[ing] Over Climate Change” Helped Them Lose The Election.

      If you’re still confused about why Democrats lost the election, look no further than the issues they prioritize. Instead of focusing on jobs, the economy and national security, the Democrats obsess over climate change, bathroom breaks and, curiously, sanctuary cities. Now is a good time for the Republicans to pick some fights, and the issue of sanctuary cities is a prime target. It’s a perfect reminder of what Democrats have become. As my old boss Lee Atwater used to say, “Never kick a man when he is up.” And right now, the Democrats are down, divided and in disarray. [The Washington Post12/8/16]

      Rogers Criticized Obama’s Global Warming Policy.

      To make matters worse, Obama has capitulated to and strengthened enemy regimes in Iran and Cuba. He scrambled our international priorities and declared global warming to be one of our most significant national security problems, requiring billions to be spent to lower carbon emissions in the United States at the expense of American businesses while giving China a pass. [The Washington Post12/29/16]

      Corporate Tax Rate

      Rogers’ BGR Group Lobbies On Corporate Tax Cuts. BGR lobbied for pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc. on “corporate tax reform.” Amgen CEO Robert Bradway reportedly said the company would be “a clear beneficiary” of lowering the corporate tax. BGR listed “tax reform” as a lobbying issue for other clients such as Southern and Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce [Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, 4/21/17, 4/21/17; FiercePharma, 1/10/17]

      Rogers Praised Trump For Pledging To “Cut The Corporate Tax Rate From The Current 35 Percent Rate To 15 Percent.”

      Obviously, Trump’s able advisers had a hand in crafting what is a solid, Republican plan. I have said for years that we don’t have many problems that wouldn’t be solved by a few years of 4 percent economic growth. Well, the plan that Trump laid out yesterday calls for at least 3.5 percent growth per year — which, considering the anemic growth under President Obama, would be an economic boom. He also wants to cut the corporate tax rate from the current 35 percent rate to 15 percent, and his plan eliminates both the death tax and the carried-interest loophole. Much of this is standard Republican fare that the Democrats and the usual suspects among their apologists will instantly criticize. But that’s okay, because finally, this campaign will be getting around to having arguments about policy.

      […]

      I’m not ready to say Trump would be a good president, but this a good plan. [The Washington Post9/16/16]

      Rogers Attacked Clinton For Saying She Would Make Corporations “Pay Their Fair Share.”

      As I read the economic policy speech Hillary Clinton gave in Michigan yesterday, as a partisan Republican, I was enthused by the prospects. Her economic plan isn’t even Obamanomics 2.0; it is Obamanomics 1.5. For those of you who haven’t read the fact sheet that the Clinton campaign released along with the speech, I encourage you to read it. Here’s the link. It’s a parody of what a real fact sheet should look like. And the tired, pedantic language Clinton uses is cringe-worthy. She wants to tinker around the edges with just more of the same: Raise taxes, spend more, send more money to Washington and give away more money here and there. One of my favorite lines is “Hillary will make sure that corporations and the most fortunate play by the rules and pay their fair share.” Gee, that’s a bold position. The way she sets up her positions to supposedly contrast with those of Donald Trump reads like a Goofus and Gallant page from Highlights magazine. [The Washington Post8/12/16]

    • Fox News Omits Key Facts Regarding Unprecedented Arkansas Death Penalty Cases

      Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

      During its reporting on the state of Arkansas’ unprecedented plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days, Fox News repeatedly omitted important details about the legal challenges to the plan, downplayed the extent of criticism to the plan, and misled its viewers on the reasons the executions have not yet been carried out.

      On the April 18 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now, host Jon Scott opened a panel discussion by asking, “The reasoning for this holdup has nothing to do with the lethal injection drugs that are currently in question, right?” In fact, one of the orders blocking the executions was issued for that exact reason. The Arkansas circuit judge temporarily blocked the state from using one of its drugs, vecuronium bromide, a paralytic used in prisons for lethal injections (and for other purposes elsewhere).This ruling came after McKesson, a distributor of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, filed a complaint alleging that the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) “intentionally sought to circumvent McKesson’s policies by claiming that the drug would only be used for medical reasons in a health facility.” The ADC has to date declined to answer questions about how it obtained the restricted drugs or whether it planned to return them.

      An hour before Scott’s show aired, correspondent Casey Stegall noted on Fox’s America’s Newsroom that “states have had a difficult time getting new supplies of this drug [midazolam] because many critics say it should not be used to kill people.” He was referring to another drug that Arkansas has in its possession but which will expire on April 30. Stegall, however, failed to mention that these “critics” include the drug makers themselves. West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes midazolam, and Fresenius Kabi USA, manufacturer of potassium chloride, another drug used in executions, have also expressed opposition to the use of their drugs for lethal injection. In an amicus brief they filed with the district court, the companies wrote that using their medicines in executions “runs counter to the manufacturers’ mission to save and enhance patients’ lives.” Spokespersons for Fresenius Kabi and West-Ward told The Washington Post that they had “recently learned” that their medicines “might be used in Arkansas lethal injections.” The reporting on these drugs shows that all three drugs used in Arkansas’ lethal injection cocktail are implicated in legal battles. Thus for Fox to imply that the planned executions are opposed merely by “critics” is a gross understatement of the legal challenges ADC is facing.

      During his reporting, Stegall also failed to provide context for the shortage of the drugs in the first place. Since 2011, many European drug companies, in an alignment with the European Union’s objection to death penalty, have decided to cease shipment of their drugs to U.S. prisons that carry out executions via lethal injections. This has created a shortage that has led U.S. prisons to turn to dangerous experimentation, as was in the case in 2014, when Dennis McGuire, an Ohio inmate on death row, was injected with a never-before-used drug cocktail. McGuire’s execution lasted 25 minutes, the longest in Ohio’s history, and witnesses said he “gasped several times throughout” before dying.

      After criminal defense attorney Yodit Tewolde explained that “for Arkansas to try to rush executions for the sake of a drug expiring at the end of the month is disrespectful to the intent of justice in this case,” Scott ignored her point and flippantly remarked that it “seems odd” to characterize the response to a crime that happened in 1992 as a “rush to judgment.” His comment and Casey Stegall’s claim that the “expedited timeline” was initiated because “the state is up against this deadline” of expiring drugs ignores the legal implications of their expiration. Arkansas’ “rush” to use drugs before their expiration for purposes which are opposed by the companies that sell them is a potentially illegal contract violation, and given the state’s reported admission that it violated contracts with drug makers in an earlier case, this context is especially important.

      Arkansas hasn’t carried out any executions since 2005. The state’s aggressive and potentially unconstitutional plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days is unprecedented, hugely consequential, and has drawn national scrutiny at a time when Americans’ support for the death penalty is on the decline. Leaving out important details when reporting on such a high profile case is an inexcusable journalistic failure, especially given the American public’s lack of knowledge about capital punishment in the nation’s prisons.

      Image by Sarah Wasko.

    • Punditry On Syrian Airstrikes Is Encouraging Trump To Escalate Tensions With North Korea

      Similar Media Support Helped Enable Iraq War

      ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

      After President Donald Trump launched airstrikes against Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in that country, media figures from across the political spectrum praised his “beautiful” attack, with many also linking the action to the growing threat that another country -- North Korea -- poses to the United States. Effusive media support of military conflict was a key precursor to the Iraq War; the danger of such uncritically hawkish commentary has multiplied under Trump, who sources policy ideas -- and defenses for his conduct -- directly from media.

    • Wash. Post Uses Shabby Reporting To Justify Cutting Social Security Disability Insurance

      Experts Browbeat The Post’s Call For “Reform” Of SSDI At A Time Of “Unprecedented Inequality”

      Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

      The Washington Post’s editorial board used its paper’s own flawed profile of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients to justify the unsubstantiated claim that the program discourages people with disabilities from working and therefore “needs reform” in the form of increased restrictions and benefit cuts.

      On March 30, the Post ran a profile of a struggling low-income family as a proxy for millions of Americans who are dependent on SSDI that bordered on poverty shaming. The article misleadingly characterized SSDI recipients and the social safety net in ways that echoed myths commonly peddled by right-wing media outlets.

      Then, on April 8, the Post‘s editorial board referred back to the paper’s portrayal of SSDI while misleadingly claiming that the program’s eligibility requirements create “every incentive to cease working,” and that those requirements are part of the reason so few beneficiaries ever return to the workforce. The editorial board bizarrely added that recipients would be incentivized to work if SSDI benefits could be scaled down gradually as workers with disabilities returned to the workforce. Yet, the Post makes no mention that SSDI already has a return to work trial period where recipients can attempt to rejoin the labor force without losing assistance. Even more peculiar, while it argued for unneeded reforms, by the editorial board’s own admission the program is not actually rife with wasteful spending and recipients are only eligible if their disability prevents them from working. From The Washington Post:

      Nor is the program’s growth the result of rampant fraud, as sometimes alleged; structural factors such as population aging explain much recent growth. Nevertheless, at a time of declining workforce participation, especially among so-called prime-age males (those between 25 and 54 years old), the nation’s long-term economic potential depends on making sure work pays for all those willing to work. And from that point of view, the Social Security disability program needs reform.

      In particular, SSDI’s rules require that applicants be unable to engage in any significant paying work, or “substantial gainful activity,” in the program’s argot. Would-be recipients thus have every incentive to cease working completely to qualify — and to avoid rehabilitation lest they lose cash benefits and that all-important health care. And, in fact, only a tiny percentage of SSDI beneficiaries return to the labor force once they exit. “The decision to apply, in many cases, is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether,” as [Washington Post reporter Terrence] McCoy wrote. “For the severely disabled, this choice is, in essence, made for them. But for others, it’s murkier. Aches accumulate. Years pile up. Job prospects diminish.” The typical SSDI recipient now is a middle-aged worker whose main ailment is musculoskeletal or psychological.

      The Post is overselling the notion that SSDI creates an incentive for people with disabilities to abstain from work -- and it is doing so while linking back to research on ailments of SSDI recipients that was published in 1995. In actuality, SSDI recipients are only eligible to receive benefits if the Social Security Administration agrees that their disability prevents them from working. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), which analyzed data collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), eligibility requirements in the United States are already “among the strictest in the world” and program benefits “are less generous than most other countries’ disability benefit programs.” According to CAP, almost 80 percent of SSDI applicants are denied during the initial application and “thousands of applicants die” annually waiting to learn if they will receive assistance. Furthermore, CAP also found that disability recipients who are approved tend to skew older and had worked in physically demanding jobs before applying for benefits.

      An April 9 blog from Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) economist and co-founder Dean Baker browbeat the Post for complaining about people with disabilities not working when inequality is at an “unprecedented” level -- the paper’s tone deafness is all the more apparent at a time when the wealthiest Americans live a decade longer than their low-income counterparts. Baker continued by pointing out that the benefits from SSDI are far from lavish, averaging a mere $1,170 a month, which amounts to less than a full-time job paying the federal minimum wage.

      The editorial board closed its call for needlessly reforming SSDI by claiming that its aim is to “help people with disabilities retain the earnings and dignity that come from work,” an argument that mirrored rhetoric from the right-wing Heritage Foundation for a more “compassionate” policy of work incentives and dropping recipients after a set time on the program.

      The Post’s repeated mischaracterization of SSDI follows a long history of misinformation from mainstream outlets, which often publish error-riddled stories filled with anecdotal evidence portraying disability recipients as undeserving. These pieces sound as if they come from right-wing media, which have spent years attacking the program and its recipients.

    • O'Reilly Scandal Proves That Sex Predators Stick Together

      Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

      President Donald Trump, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, and former Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes all have at least one thing in common: Multiple women have accused each of them of sexual harassment in the context of the workplace. In addition, they have defended each other over those allegations, with O’Reilly dismissing the accusations against Trump, and Trump reciprocating by defending the alleged harassers at Fox News.

      During an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Trump took time to single “out Fox News and the host Bill O’Reilly for praise” and to defend the host in light of the recent Times reporting that the network settled five lawsuits with women claiming he engaged in sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. Trump said of O’Reilly, “I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” and weighed in on the allegations by adding, “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

      The president’s defense seemed to come in reciprocation for O’Reilly’s support last fall, when he excused and minimized Trump’s comments about grabbing women by their genitalia. O’Reilly dismissed Trump’s comments as “guy talk” and attacked The Washington Post, the outlet that broke the story.

      The Times interview wasn’t the first time Trump has defended an alleged sexual harasser at Fox News. Amid the 2016 scandal in which former Fox host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment and several other women came forward with similar complaints, Trump dismissed the serious allegations as “unfounded” during an interview with the Washington Examiner. He told the Examiner, "Totally unfounded, based on what I read." O’Reilly also publicly stood “behind Roger 100 percent,” paying back Ailes for years of protection from public scrutiny.

      The scandal led to Ailes’ ouster from the network after a generous contract buyout, but that hasn’t stopped newer lawsuits and accusations from other Fox employees from coming.

      Despite mounting evidence that Fox News continues to be a “cesspool of sexual harassment,” its white-glove treatment of the Trump administration has clearly guaranteed the network a powerful ally, one whose own history with sexual harassment accusations seems to indicate he cares as little as Fox does about respecting women.

      Image by Sarah Wasko

    • Trump Has Given Fox News More Than $5 Million In Free Advertising; Fox Has Given Him Millions More

      Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

      According to The Washington Post, President Donald Trump has given Fox News more than $5 million in free social media advertising through his positive tweets. But Trump’s $5 million gift to Fox pales in comparison to the network’s promotion of Trump during the 2016 campaign.

      The Washington Post’s Philip Bump reported that Donald Trump has given Fox News more than $5 million in free social media advertising since he announced his candidacy, based on an established valuation by Captiv8, an analytics and social media marketing platform. According to Captiv8’s monetary valuation, one of Trump’s tweets is worth about $60,000, so when he promotes a show on Fox it is “essentially, a gift worth $60,000.” The company also estimated that Trump’s 52 tweets about the “failing @nytimes” could be seen as “the equivalent of $3.1 million in bad publicity.” From The Washington Post:

      In other words, that tweet from Trump promoting Pirro’s show was more than a favor to Pirro and her employer, Fox News. It was, essentially, a gift worth $60,000.

      With these metrics in mind, we went back through Trump’s social-media posts since he announced his candidacy to see how often he actively encouraged people to watch or buy particular programs or products. Although the list of those posts that appears at the bottom of this article is probably incomplete, it gives a sense of the value that Trump has provided to news networks.

      By our estimates, Trump has provided Fox and its affiliated networks (Fox News, Fox Business) with more than $5 million in free advertising

      [...]

      Although no social-media company connects brands to celebrities to have the celebrities disparage them, Subramanian figured that the hit to a company’s value from a negative post would be damaging, perhaps to the extent that a positive tweet or Facebook post was helpful. In other words, Trump’s 52 tweets about the “failing @nytimes” could be thought of as the equivalent of $3.1 million in bad publicity.

      Of course, Trump’s relationship with the media is a two-way street. The New York Times reported in March 2016 that Trump had already earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention on television, in print, and online, based on an analysis by mediaQuant, a media coverage tracking firm. Media Matters calculated that, for its part, Fox News gave Trump nearly $30 million in free airtime from May 2015 through December 2015. Another Media Matters analysis found that Fox News host and Trump sycophant Sean Hannity gave Trump more than $31 million in free advertising in the form of fawning interviews with the candidate between June 2015 and August 2016.

      The relationship between Trump and the network goes back to before the 2012 election when the network helped promote Trump's political ambitions.Trump has repeatedly praised Fox News, admitted that he may not have been elected president without the network, and appears to get both his news and talking points from the network. For its part, Fox has also repeated Trump’s lines to bolster his spin.

      The Washington Post’s analysis shows that Trump’s tweets are not only a way for him to circumvent the press, they also provide him the opportunity to help favorable news networks like Fox with tweets while simultaneously lashing out at news outlets that have been more critical of his presidency.

    • Did News Outlets Finally Learn Their Lesson About Trump’s Exaggerated Jobs Announcements?

      Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

      Since his election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed credit for private businesses’ decisions to invest in the United States. His flimsy and misleading boasts have been routinely amplified by compliant media outlets before the claims eventually collapse under scrutiny. Yet the response from mainstream journalists to the president’s latest jobs boast seems to indicate that perhaps some outlets have “caught on” to Trump’s exaggerated pronouncements and have stopped taking them at face value.

      On March 27, The Detroit News broke the news that the Ford Motor Co. has announced an investment of “$1.2 billion in three Michigan facilities” and that most of the investment was brokered in 2015 as part of the company’s contract with the United Auto Workers union. Roughly $350 million of that total investment represents new money, but Ford is expected to “add or retain” only 130 jobs -- a marginal amount compared to the 201,000 people the company employs worldwide.

      Trump moved early the next day to take credit, tweeting that Ford would announce an investment “in three Michigan plants” and that “car companies [are] coming back to the U.S.” before concluding, “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” Later in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to the Ford announcement as proof that “the president’s economic agenda is what American businesses have been waiting for.”

      In the past few months, Media Matters has chronicled dozens of occasions when outlets stumbled over themselves to credit Trump for creating new American jobs based on his misleading claims of playing a role in private sector business decisions that he had little to do with. (See: Alibaba, Carrier, Ford, SoftBank.)

      Trump’s tweet about Ford seemed poised to inspire more of the same media fawning, but journalists who covered the news largely downplayed Trump’s role rather than falling for his boast. The Washington Post, USA Today, Bloomberg, and Reuters all reported that the majority of the Ford investment plan far predated the Trump administration and was part of the company’s long-term restructuring plan for its American factories.

      New York Times columnist and MSNBC contributor Steven Rattner noted that “The big news ended up being only 130 jobs” and asked of the president, “When will he stop misleading [people]?” CNBC reporter Jacob Pramuk reported that the “White House on Tuesday promoted a Ford investment in American plants” even though “most of [the money] was part of a plan the automaker first announced in 2015.” Vox senior correspondent Matt Yglesias highlighted that CNBC article on Twitter and commented that reporters were “catching on” to Trump’s game. Washington Post reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee pointed out that the Ford investment “had nothing to do [with] Trump’s election.” Meanwhile, New York Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum mocked Trump by writing that the president’s tweet contained “three more exclamation points … than the number of new jobs that Ford created today.” In his write-up of Trump’s announcement, CNNMoney senior writer Chris Isidore added that “Ford isn't bringing any work back to the United States from Mexico, or any other foreign country” -- a blow to Trump’s claim that automakers are “coming back to the U.S.”

      In contrast to the sober reporting from mainstream media, right-wing outlets that are aligned with Trump continued to promote his unsubstantiated role in creating jobs for American workers. The “alt-right” website Breitbart.com promoted the Ford story under the banner “TRUMP JOBS BOOM CONTINUES” while the sycophants at Fox News called the investment deal “another win for American workers” and Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy hyped the investment plan by stating, “Oh, it’s so much winning.” From the March 28 edition of Fox & Friends:

      As the White House has become embroiled in scandal and legislative failure, Trump has flooded the news cycle with lies far more outrageous than his attempt to take credit for jobs he didn’t create. Journalists, therefore, still need to be mindful of the administration’s attempts to build up the myth of Trump as a unique dealmaker and economic leader.

    • Trump Invokes Right-Wing Media’s Misrepresentation Of NY Times Article To Defend His Wiretap Lie

      ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

      In an interview, President Donald Trump claimed that a January New York Times article proved his false claim that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower and suggested that the newspaper later changed the article's headline to remove the word "wiretap." Both claims about the article come from fringe and right-wing media. In fact, the Times article does not prove Trump’s claim, and its headline was never altered.

    • Hate Group's Explanation For Why It's Not A Hate Group Exemplifies Why It's A Hate Group

      ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

      After the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) added the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) to its annual “Year in Hate and Extremism” report, CIS executive director Mark Krikorian responded in a Washington Post op-ed downplaying the extremism of white nationalism and the white nationalists connected to CIS, including its founder. CIS has a long record of publishing anti-immigrant reports with deeply flawed methodologies, and Krikorian -- who is now saying that labeling his group marginalizes it and thus diminishes public debate -- has in the past assigned his own negative labels to other groups.

    • How Broadcast Networks Covered Climate Change In 2016

      ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

      In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial -- the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.

    • Report: Trump Is Wrong, Media Disproportionately Overreport Terror Attacks By Muslims

      Media’s Unbalanced Coverage Of Terrorism Leaves Americans With “An Exaggerated Sense Of That Threat”

      Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

      The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog published a report that found that news media give “drastically more coverage to attacks by Muslims, particularly foreign-born Muslims -- even though those are far less common” than terror attacks committed by non-Muslims. The finding debunks President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the media underreport terror attacks by Muslim perpetrators.

      On February 6, Trump baselessly claimed that terror attacks are “not even reported, and in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't even want to report it." The White House then released a list of “78 major terrorist attacks targeting the West that were executed or inspired by ISIS since September 2014.” The administration primarily listed attacks committed by Muslims, omitted any mention of right-wing terrorism, and included several attacks that were in fact reported extensively. Trump and White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway also both have referenced terror attacks allegedly committed by Muslims that actually never happened.

      Trump’s false claim is just one facet of his ongoing campaign to demonize and fearmonger about Muslims; he has also on several occasions stated his intent to ban Muslims from the United States. But in fact, Muslims (and others mistaken for Muslims) in the United States are often the target of violence from white supremacists, and their voices are underrepresented in the news media, both generally and also in discussions of issues that directly and disproportionately impact them.

      The authors of the report published in the Post on March 13 found that of the 89 terror attacks identified by the Global Terrorism Database between 2011 and 2015 in the U.S., 12.4 percent were committed by Muslims and 88 percent by non-Muslims, but that attacks by Muslims received 44 percent of news coverage about terror attacks. The disparity was even more extreme in cases where the attacker was a foreign-born Muslim. Even after they controlled for a “host of factors,” attacks by Muslims perpetrators received an average of 4 ½ times more coverage. “In other words,” the researchers wrote, “whether intentional or not, U.S. media outlets disproportionately emphasize the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims — leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat.” From the March 13 report:

      Of the 89 attacks, 24 did not receive any media coverage from the sources we examined. The small proportion of attacks that were by Muslims — remember, only 12 percent — received 44 percent of the news coverage. In only 5 percent of all the terrorist attacks, the perpetrator was both Muslim and foreign-born — but those four attacks got 32 percent of all the media coverage.

      [...]

      In real numbers, the average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks, which received an average of 18.1 articles.

      [...]

      But even controlling for [a host of factors], attacks by a Muslim perpetrator get, on average, about 4½ times more coverage. In other words, whether intentional or not, U.S. media outlets disproportionately emphasize the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims — leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat.

      [...]

      Our own research, and that of our colleagues, shows that people are more likely to consider an attack to be terrorism when the perpetrator is Muslim. That’s true, even though the chance of an American being killed by an foreign-born terrorist, measured over the past 40 years, is 1 in 3.6 million each year, as a recent Cato Institute report noted.

      But since the news media focus so disproportionately on attacks by Muslims, particularly foreign-born Muslims, it’s no wonder that so many Americans think that these groups make our country less secure.

    • Reporting On Trans Rights Supreme Court Case, Major Outlets Failed To Call Alliance Defending Freedom A Hate Group

      Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

      The anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was quoted in four major publications’ coverage of the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to hear a monumental transgender equality case. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN and Reuters wire services all failed to label ADF as a hate group, instead misleadingly identifying the extremist group as merely a “conservative Christian” organization and effectively erasing the context readers deserve.

      On March 6, the Supreme Court issued a one sentence order announcing it would not hear G.G v. Gloucester County School, which would have been its first major case on transgender equality. In its order, the Supreme Court vacated the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ previous ruling -- which stated that a transgender Virginia high school student, Gavin Grimm, had the right to access restrooms and locker rooms appropriate for his gender identity -- and asked the lower court to reevaluate the decision. This ruling was a direct result of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of Obama-era nondiscrimination protections for transgender students last month.

      In reports on the March 6 Supreme Court order, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, and CNN’s wire service all quoted a representative of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, according to a Media Matters search of four leading papers and three major wire services in the two days following the decision.

      The outlets all published similar variations of a statement from ADF’s communication director Kerri Kupec, who said that anti-transgender policies are needed to “protect” students’ privacy. None of the articles noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group for its well-documented history of working domestically and internationally to criminalize gay sex, as well as spreading dangerous lies and misinformation that harm LGBTQ people and their families.

       A Washington Post blog also quoted an ADF representative, and while it did note that ADF opposes “allowing transgender children to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity,” it similarly failed to contextualize ADF’s long track record of anti-LGBTQ extremism or hate group status. 

      ADF has an undeniably prominent role in leading the fight against transgender student equality. But the group is not merely a “conservative” an organization concerned with protecting “religious freedom” and “privacy.” It’s an extremist organization that has actively worked against protecting LGBTQ students from bullying in public schools. Identifying ADF as only a “conservative” or “conservative Christian” organization -- as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Reuters did -- only helps ADF pretend its opposition to equality isn’t motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus.

      These dangerous oversights are just the latest in mainstream outlets’ journalistic failure to accurately label anti-LGBTQ hate groups, despite employing SPLC’s designation for other extremist ideologies. And it does a disservice to readers looking for the full story -- to properly asses ADF’s red herring plea for “privacy,” readers need to know up front that the group is disreputable and driven by hate.

      Methodology:

      Media Matters searched major publications The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, CNN Wire, and the Associated Press in Nexis for coverage between 10 AM March 6, through 10 AM March 8, 2017, using the the search terms “Alliance Defending Freedom" OR “Defending Freedom.” OR "Family Research Council" OR "American Family Association" OR "Liberty Counsel." The same search was repeated for Reuters using a site search of the Reuters website, and The Wall Street Journal in Factiva.

      Graphic by Sarah Wasko. 

    • The Ink On Trump's New Muslim Ban Is Barely Dry And Another Xenophobic Hate Crime Is Being Investigated

      Sikh Man’s Shooting Highlights Consequences Of State-Sanctioned Discrimination Spurred By Right-Wing Media Myths

      Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

      As President Donald Trump releases his new Muslim ban, officials are investigating the shooting of a Sikh man in Washington state as a hate crime. The incident underscores the danger of having a government that legitimizes racial and religious profiling, implicitly validates the hatred of extremist groups, and promotes right-wing media myths to criminalize immigrants and refugees.

      Trump signed his revised Muslim ban on March 6, almost six weeks after he put out his original order, which proved indefensible and was blocked by a federal court. According to the Center for American Progress, the policy “not only has nothing to do with preventing terrorism, it also helps the Islamic State, or IS, and makes Americans less safe.” Additionally, leaked Department of Homeland Security memos undercut several administration rationales for the travel ban. Initiatives under Trump’s order, including the recently announced Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which will allegedly report on so-called "honor killings" by foreign nationals among other violent incidents, also serve no legitimate public safety purpose and appear to be an excuse to promote the persistent and dangerous right-wing media myths that immigrants and refugees are criminals.

      Despite the Trump administration’s claims that the order does not discriminate on the basis of religion, experts and advocates agree that the intent behind it is the same, and its legitimization of discrimination against an entire group of people based on their country of origin will undoubtedly fuel hatred from the radical right just the same, too.

      Hate groups generally are on the rise in America, a finding that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual census of hate groups attributes in large part to Trump’s presidential candidacy and its validation of far-right extremists. The report found that the most dramatic growth was in hate groups that target Muslims (and those perceived to be Muslim, such as Sikhs), which have increased from 34 in 2015 to 101 in total last year. 

      According to The Washington Post, the victim, who has been identified as 39-year-old Sikh man, Deep Rai, was working in his driveway in a town outside Seattle on March 3 when he was accosted by an armed white man in a mask who said, “Go back to your own country,” before shooting the victim in the arm. The victim was not a believer of Islam, but of Sikhism, a Indian monotheistic religion of which there are about 25 million adherents worldwide. As the Sikh Coalition, America's largest Sikh civil rights group, explained to CNN, Sikhs are often targeted for hate crimes in part "’due to the Sikh articles of faith, including a turban and beard, which represent the Sikh religious commitment to justice, tolerance and equality.’" Since the 9/11 terror attacks there have been thousands of reports from the Sikh community about hate crimes, workplace discrimination, school bullying, and racial and religious profiling, but the FBI began including hate crimes against Sikhs in their annual report only in 2016, and many in the Sikh community believe the media is still underreporting hate crimes against Sikhs.

      In his first speech to a joint session of Congress on February 28, Trump remarked, “Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.” While his apparent commitment to Jewish victims of religious hate is inconsistent and a departure from his previous refusal to denounce anti-Semitism, his failure to denounce xenophobia in his mention of the “Kansas shooting” is a conspicuous omission. Srinivas Kuchibhotla was an Indian immigrant in Kansas who was shot and killed by a white man who, similar to the perpetrator of the Washington shooting, shouted, “Get out of my country" before fatally shooting him and wounding another immigrant, Alok Madasani. The incident, which is being investigated as a hate crime, was largely ignored by broadcast and cable news.

      It is crucial that these individual hate crimes not be lost in coverage of Trump's immigration policies, which are inspired by dangerous right-wing media myths and validate extremist views. In the aggregate, these shootings are simply another form of state-supported hate.

      Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh.

      This post has been updated with additional information about the victims.