Friday, January 26, 2007

Media Matters for America summary, January 26, 2007

KSFO's Rodgers: Left-wing websites are "full of bovine excrement"
On the January 25 edition of KSFO's Morning Show, hosts Melanie Morgan and Lee Rodgers continued their discussion of a debunked accusation, first made by, that "researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) have said that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." Rodgers acknowledged that the story had been "discredited" by CNN but in turn purported to discredit CNN by claiming that the network is "the propaganda mouthpiece for the political left. They're the Democratic Party's Al Jazeera." Morgan then said that "certain left-wing websites seem to believe that they can fit the facts to their agenda, and their agenda is to destroy us personally and to get us fired and thrown of the air." Rodgers added that the "left-wing websites" are "full of bovine excrement" and they "lie in their teeth just for the fun of it," to which Morgan replied, "Exactly." Read more

CNN informed viewers that Rep. Hunter "supports military"
On the January 25 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN anchor Tony Harris reported that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) had officially announced his candidacy for president and presented "some quick facts" about Hunter, one of which, Harris claimed, was that "Hunter is a strong supporter of the military." During the report, an onscreen graphic listing three "facts" about Hunter included one reading: "Supports Military." CNN did not elaborate on the assertion that Hunter supports the military, but as Media Matters for America has noted, characterizing those who supported the Iraq war or now oppose the withdrawal of U.S. troops as "pro-military" or supporters of the troops suggests that those who take contrary positions do not support the troops or are anti-military. Read more

Pruden criticized madrassa story, but not suggestions that Clinton or even Obama spread it
In his January 23 column, Washington Times editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden cast doubt on the veracity of an accusation made in that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa or Muslim seminary," but he never denounced the second, baseless part of the story -- that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) was responsible for spreading the rumor -- and he wrote that "maybe Obama himself was behind such a 'leak,' to get the story out where his spinmeisters can cut off the story's legs now, while there's time and opportunity." As Media Matters for America noted, Republican strategist Terry Holt, on the January 19 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, said that "if you took a page out of the Clinton book and you are really shrewd and you were Barack Obama, you might want to put this out yourself so that you could deal with it early in the political campaign and get it over with." Read more "Was Hillary behind Obama Smear?"
On the morning of January 25, on the front page of ABC News' website, a headline read: "Madrassa Madness: Was Hillary Behind Smear?" below pictures of Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) and Barack Obama (IL), despite the fact that the article to which the headline links notes that the accusation that Clinton is responsible for the smear "remains unproven and unsubstantiated." As Media Matters for America documented, right-wing media figures forwarded the accusation, originally published on the website, that "researchers connected to" Clinton were responsible for spreading the allegation that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." Read more

Margaret Carlson: Dems don't have enough "authentic" people
On the January 24 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson said that Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) "seems like an authentic person to me, not enough of which Democrats have." Carlson added: "Like, you might be able to call Jim Webb, and he'd come over, and he'd be able to fix the washer and your sink, like he's a real guy." Read more
SOTU SuperlativesFrom the extensive coverage in the media of the January 23 State of the Union address and aftermath, Media Matters for America culled the most noteworthy statements and moments in each of several categories. Included in those are examples of the media's attributing significance to otherwise mundane or incidental events, with these purportedly relevant observations having the effect of advancing factually dubious, pre-existing storylines about Democrats -- including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) harboring animosity toward Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for seeking the Democratic presidential nomination -- or making thinly-veiled personal attacks against Democrats. Read more

Gregory ignored Bush's "Democrat" slur, lauded "bipartisan spirit" of speech
Reporting on President Bush's State of the Union address during the January 24 edition of NBC's Nightly News, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory asserted that Bush "tried to capture" a "bipartisan spirit ... right from the start" of his speech. But Gregory failed to mention Bush's use of "Democrat" as an adjective during his speech, which Nightly News anchor Brian Williams had described as "pejorative" during MSNBC's coverage of Bush's address the day before. During his speech, Bush congratulated what he called the "Democrat majority" while welcoming the "new," "changed" Congress, even though the prepared text of the speech reportedly called for Bush to recognize the "Democratic majority." Read more
ABC, Wash. Post failed to report Bush's omission of Katrina, New Orleans in State of the Union addressNeither ABC's World News with Charles Gibson nor The Washington Post, in their January 24 coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address, noted Bush's failure to make a single reference to Hurricane Katrina or ongoing recovery efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, despite his August 2006 pledge to "stay until the job is done" in the Gulf Coast. Bush only briefly mentioned Hurricane Katrina in his 2006 State of the Union address, which he gave five months after the disaster took place. According to the most recent polling, taken at the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a majority of Americans do not think Bush has followed through on this promise to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Read more

Wash. Post's Marcus: "80 percent of those with employer-sponsored coverage" unaffected under Bush health care proposal
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus claimed that "80 percent of those with employer-sponsored coverage" would be "unaffected" under President Bush's health care proposal. But, in fact, most workers with employer-sponsored coverage would presumably be affected, because they would pay less into Social Security -- and therefore receive smaller payments when they retire. Read more

Wash. Times claimed Bush health plan would only raise costs of "top CEOs"
A January 24 Washington Times editorial falsely claimed that President Bush's health care proposal would "only come[] at the expense of the richest health plans of top CEOs," while allowing "millions of working-class and middle-class families [to] buy health care with pretax dollars." In fact, it is not only rich CEOs who would have to pay more in taxes under Bush's proposal. Asked at a January 22 White House press briefing what the "average tax increase" would be, Katherine Baicker, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, replied that about 30 million people would end up owing more in taxes; and that, on average, a worker in the "top quintile" of income earners would see his or her tax bill increase by one-tenth of a percent. According to the U.S. Census' 2006 Current Population Survey, in 2005, households that made $91,705 or more were in the top 20 percent, with the top 5 percent beginning at $166,000.

O'Donnell falsely reported Bush's health plan provides "tax credits"
On the January 24 edition of MSNBC News Live, host Norah O'Donnell falsely claimed that President Bush's health care proposal "is tax credits." In fact, Bush did not propose a "tax credit" but, rather, as the White House's fact sheet on the proposal states, "A Standard [Tax] Deduction For Health Insurance." Tax credits and tax deductions are different, as the Internal Revenue Service explains as part of its "Understanding Taxes" education program: "A tax deduction reduces income subject to tax," while a "tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the tax liability." Critics of the president's plan have argued that a credit would more effectively help those who cannot afford health insurance because credits are worth more to those who earn less. Read more

Letter to Wash. Post ombudsman re: Solomon article

January 25, 2007 Deborah HowellOmbudsmanThe Washington Post1150 15th Street NW Washington, DC 20071 Dear Ms. Howell: I was pleased to learn, via Greg Sargent's Horse's Mouth blog, that you plan in your column this weekend to address John Solomon and Lois Romano's January 19 article about John Edwards' recent sale of his Georgetown home. According to Media Bistro, you wrote on your internal Omblog that you were "troubled" by the article and that "[i]t was interesting enough to make an item in In the Loop, but not Page 1. I kept looking for the graf that would tell me that the buyers had some history with Edwards, that they were big campaign contributors, that there was some quid pro quo. Nada." As you may know, Washington Post reporter Jonathan Weisman expressed similar sentiments during a January 19 "Post Politics Hour." While the newsworthiness -- or lack thereof -- of Solomon and Romano's article is a worthy topic for your ombudsman column, I write today to bring to your attention several other points that should be addressed. The article's newsworthiness is ultimately a subjective question about which reasonable people can disagree. But it appears that the article and subsequent statements by Solomon and Post editor Bill Hamilton are based on fundamentally false premises. You would do your readers and your newspaper a great service by addressing the following:

Solomon and Romano's article asserted in the first sentence that "the names of the buyers were not publicly disclosed." Solomon later argued, in a January 23 "Post Politics Hour" discussion, that this purported lack of public disclosure is what made the sale newsworthy: "This wasn't a story about whether John Edwards should or shouldn't have picked the Klaassens as buyers. It was a story about the transparency of the deal." Likewise, according to the Media Bistro excerpt of your Omblog post, Post editor Bill Hamilton described the sale as involving "a secret buyer" and "an attempt to shield the important details of a transaction."One wonders how Hamilton knows what the parties involved in the transaction were attempting to do, as nobody quoted in the article describes it as an attempt to "shield the important details."Perhaps more significantly, the assertion made in the article and later by both Solomon and Hamilton that the buyers were "secret" and "not publicly disclosed" appears to be false.

Publicly available records show that the buyer of the home was P Street LLC. LLCs are required to file articles of organization. Those documents should list the members of the LLC -- in this case, the Klaassens. Unless those documents omitted mention of the Klaassens -- and no one at the Post has indicated this to be the case -- it is simply false to say that the buyers were "not publicly disclosed," or that they were "secret."

If, in fact, there are no public records that show the Klaassens' relationship to P Street LLC, Solomon and Romano should have made that clear. Otherwise, this requires a correction by the Post, at the very least. But an explanation of how Solomon and Hamilton came to describe the transaction falsely would also benefit readers -- as would some assurance that the Post will make every effort to avoid similar false allegations in the future.

In his January 23 "Post Politics Hour" discussion, Solomon's very first answer suggested that Edwards had violated "federal campaign law" by insufficiently disclosing the buyers. Solomon wrote:

Certainly there's been lots of discussion in the blogs about this story and let me try to address the core issue. This wasn't a story about whether John Edwards should or shouldn't have picked the Klaassens as buyers. It was a story about the transparency of the deal. Those who aspire to the highest office in the land are required to disclose their financial dealings to the fullest extent. That isn't a political requirement or some media-driven imposition.

It is encoded in the federal campaign law. When Edwards' campaign first disclosed the deal, much detail was lacking about the deal _ most importantly the name of the buyers. Such information is critical to the transparency of a transaction involving $5.2 million that occurred on the night before Edwards launched his candidacy.

Our story simply filled in the missing blanks.Later, Solomon acknowledged that Edwards "hasn't filed his financial disclosure form yet" and "still has some time to do that," adding, "That's where he'll fulfill his legal obligation. There are very specific and technical rules for how to handle everything from stock transactions to house sales."Solomon's assertion that the question of Edwards' disclosure is not "a political requirement or some media-driven imposition," but rather a matter of "federal campaign law" is deeply problematic.

The first answer appears to accuse Edwards of breaking the law -- but even with the later clarification, Solomon appears to be badly misstating "federal campaign law" and the disclosure requirements that apply to Edwards' sale.Solomon is right that "[t]here are very specific and technical rules for how to handle everything from stock transactions to house sales." Unfortunately, it appears that those very specific rules indicate that Edwards does not have to disclose the sale of his house at all. Though Solomon was not specific, he was apparently referring to the Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report, which must be filed by Executive Branch employees and presidential candidates, such as Edwards.

However, The instructions for Standard Form 278, the Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report, make clear that presidential candidates do not fill out Schedule B, which covers transactions.But even if Edwards did have to fill out Schedule B, he would not have had to disclose the house sale unless he used the home as a rental property. And even if Edwards used the home as rental property, and thus had to disclose the sale, it would not be necessary to list the buyer -- indeed, Schedule B contains no field in which one would list the buyer even if one wanted to.

To sum up: As a presidential candidate, rather than a current executive branch employee, Edwards does not have to fill out Schedule B at all. But even if he did have to, he wouldn't have to list the sale of a personal residence. And even if he did have to fill out Schedule B, and even if he rented out the home, and thus had to disclose the sale, he would not have had to disclose the buyer.Edwards might have to disclose the sale on Schedule A of the Disclosure Report. But Schedule A, like Schedule B, does not require disclosure of the buyer -- nor does it provide a space in which to do so.It is possible that Solomon was referring to some other "federal campaign law" that requires John Edwards to publicly disclose the members of the LLC that bought his home.

If so, Solomon should identify the law immediately, and I will promptly withdraw this complaint.Otherwise, he -- and the Post -- owe Edwards a public retraction and apology for suggesting that Edwards had, or may, run afoul of the law by inadequately disclosing the transaction. Solomon and the Post also owe readers an explanation of how the Post's lead reporter on campaign finance issues and his editors could apparently be so completely wrong about the disclosure requirements -- and an assurance that the Post will make every effort to avoid such false claims in the future.

Solomon and Romano's article made much of the sale price, and of the difference between the sale price and the amount Edwards paid for the home four years earlier. But the article didn't give readers any of the context necessary to assess whether Edwards' profit was unusual or improper -- there is no mention of the performance of the Georgetown real estate market over the time in question, for example.

Such context would seem to be an essential element of an article like this. And, as's Tim Grieve demonstrated, such context would likely have shown that there was nothing unusual about the $1.4 million difference between sale and purchase prices.Moreover, the article makes reference to the Edwardses' having undertaken a "substantial renovation," but it gives no indication of the actual profit made by the Edwardses, after the transaction costs and the presumably substantial cost of the "substantial renovation" are considered.

It is worth noting that last year, while employed by the Associated Press, Solomon co-wrote an article about a real estate transaction in which Sen. Harry Reid made what appeared to be a sizable profit -- and that article, too, omitted any context about the Las Vegas real estate market that would help readers assess the transaction.

Finally, Hamilton reportedly told you that the sale justified front-page treatment because it involved a "presidential candidate [who] just happens to be a millionaire who is basing his campaign on a populist appeal to the common man."Hamilton's statement appears to suggest that, because Edwards' campaign is based in part on promoting policies designed to benefit "the common man" and combat poverty, his personal financial transactions and wealth are newsworthy.

I hope Hamilton does not mean to suggest that the personal financial transactions and wealth of candidates who oppose such policies would not be newsworthy.Indeed, it would seem that exploring the personal finances of wealthy candidates who support policies that would disproportionately benefit the wealthy would be a better use of the Post's resources.

In any case, the Post should clarify whether it plans to subject candidates who base their campaigns on an "appeal to the common man" to greater financial scrutiny than those who advocate policies that will benefit the wealthy.

I hope you will use your column to explore these issues and to determine that these mistakes were made, rather than focusing solely on an assessment of the news value of the story -- and that you will use your position to urge the Post to retract and apologize for any false or misleading statements, either in the original article and in subsequent comments made by Solomon and Hamilton. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Sincerely, Jamison FoserManaging DirectorMedia Matters for America Read more

Olbermann bestowed "Worst Person" honors on conservative media figures for attack on Clinton

On the January 24 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann honored the "yakkers of the irrational right" with his "Worst Person in the World" award for hyping a discredited post on the NewsBusters weblog that baselessly suggested Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) had recorded the video announcing her presidential bid months ago. The "yakkers of the irrational right" included CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, radio hosts Neal Boortz and Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News hosts Steve Doocy and Sean Hannity. Read more

The Politico's Simon botched description of Kerry's joke
Roger Simon, chief political columnist for The Politico, wrote that Sen. John Kerry had "botched a joke about the draft" in October 2006. In asserting that the botched joke was about "the draft," Simon echoed Republican claims that Kerry was disparaging U.S. troops, rather than President Bush, as Kerry has said. Read more

O'Reilly admitted to "pushing the goalposts further back" on Iraq
On the January 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, while defending President Bush's plan to send an additional force of 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq, host Bill O'Reilly was accused by a guest of "pushing the goalposts further back" concerning Iraq, to which O'Reilly replied: "And I do. And I do push it back because it's that important." Read more

O'Reilly predicted Oscar win for Gore, ridiculed his "Béla Lugosi" haircut
On the January 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, during a discussion of former Vice President Al Gore and his film An Inconvenient Truth, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary, host Bill O'Reilly called the film "fine" and said that Gore "does a good job ... provoking the conversation" about global warming. He then compared Gore's appearance to "Dracula," claiming Gore has a "Béla Lugosi haircut" and needs only "the cape and say, 'The children of the evening.' " O'Reilly added: "He's going to win this year for An Inconvenient Truth and he's going to win -- next year will be The Return of Dracula." Read more

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