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“Not Off To A Good Start”: Heritage Tries Its Hand At News, But Forgets The Facts

The Daily Signal,  The Heritage Foundation’s online “news” website, debuted Tuesday, offering up vagaries and unverifiable assertions aplenty, but too few empirical facts and little in the way of attribution. Its first video was a publicist’s dream, a puff piece that no serious news organization would air.

What appears in The Daily Signal matters because it is assured a large audience eager for reinforcement of deeply embedded views, but no real evidence that would challenge or even bring into question the factual basis of those views.

Reader comments on the Signal’s first investigative piece – the only solid piece of fact-based journalism it published Tuesday – showed just how eager Signal readers are to read confirmation of their biases into pieces and to ignore inconvenient facts, especially subtly presented truths that run contrary to the Heritage Foundation’s well-established perspectives.

Heritage opened its doors in 1973 and has since worked to ensure business dominance of American politics and government. It likes to describe itself as the true champion of the poor in America. A realistic appraisal of its policies shows that it favors protecting existing wealth against the creative destruction by which the existing economic structure is constantly under siege from new wealth seekers.

Heritage also turns a blind eye to the many stealth forms of welfare for the already rich that I detailed in my books Perfectly Legal, Free Lunch, and The Fine Print.

America needs fact-based, insightful and aggressive journalism — both opinion and fact — from every point on the spectrum. But sadly, much of what we get from what mainstream news organizations mislabel  “conservative” is radical rhetoric that far too often has little basis in fact or even reality.

Progressives and liberals in particular should encourage, and read, quality journalism from the right because it will help weed out flabby, half-baked ideas by everyone not in accord with the Koch brothers and Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Without rigorous journalism from the far right, the whole country suffers a paucity of informing debate.

The framers used empiricism and reason to make their case for our Constitution and were critical of naked assertion, vague accusations and failure to test hypothesis with verifiable facts.

The breathtaking distortions and even lies by some of our best-known opinion journalists who self-identify as conservatives drew my scrutiny in National Memo columns this year, which you can read here, here, here and here.

The Signal surely cannot quarrel with my call for fact-based news and opinion, as its website says, “We are committed to news coverage that is accurate, fair and trustworthy. As we surveyed the media landscape, it became clear to us that the need for honest, thorough, responsible reporting has never been more critical. That’s a challenge in today’s fast-moving world. And it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept.”

The website then proclaims:

We are dedicated to developing a news outlet that cuts straight to the heart of key political and policy arguments – not spin reported as news. The Daily Signal is supported by the resources and intellectual firepower of The Heritage Foundation – a dedicated team of experienced journalists to cover the news and more than 100 policy experts who can quickly help put issues in perspective. We believe this combination of news, commentary and policy analysis will establish The Daily Signal as a trusted source on America’s most important issues.

We believe that high-quality, credible news reporting on political and policy issues is of paramount importance to an informed and free society. This is a reflection of that Jeffersonian notion that the greatest defense of liberty is an informed citizenry.

So, let’s take a look first at the Signal’s featured first-day video, an interview with Sharyl Attkisson, a former reporter and anchor for CBS, CNN and PBS.  The headline is hyped, describing an interview with the Signal’s own correspondent as “exclusive.”

The headline also promises a report on “Journalism’s Very Dangerous Trend” but presents zero verifiable evidence of anything dangerous or even of any trend.

After Attkisson quit CBS, she told Bill O’Reilly in April that her Benghazi, Obamacare and “Fast and Furious” gun stories did not make the air because senior producers lost interest. O’Reilly, an entertainer possessed of masterfully honed commercial instincts, skillfully conflated that into an implication of foul motives at CBS without a shred of empirical evidence that anyone could verify. Classic O’Reilly.

At The Daily Signal, producer Kelsey Harkness tossed Attkisson softballs, even puffballs. As edited, the video shows zero effort to get beyond rhetoric to empirical evidence — names, dates, specific stories, etc. Naked assertion without verifiable specifics is not reporting, it is propaganda, an irony evidently lost on the Signal’s editors.

Harkness promises two more installments, so perhaps we will see some actual reporting by her in the days ahead. Hopefully she will improve with experience, but if not, she can look forward to a superb career as a flack, as reporters call publicists.

The Daily Signal let Attkisson mix and conflate issues in a way no serious and experienced journalist would let pass. Her vague assertions about CBS newsroom managers, as edited, flowed seamlessly into a different issue — non-journalists who use social media to confuse the public.

Attkisson gave no specifics, nor did Harkness ask for any. Attkisson did express a belief that stories want to “tell themselves” in “natural” ways, whatever that means.

News does not exist in nature. It does not just happen. News is made by reporters who gather facts, check and crosscheck them, seek out a range of perspectives and present what they learn in the time available as narrative, attributing facts to sources. Reported columns, like this one, combine those facts with expert knowledge gained through years of study and practice.

Differences between reporters in the field and editors at their desks are, and always will be, sources of disagreement and even angry words.

Different news organizations also have different takes on what is significant and where the heart of the story lies, as shown by academic studies. Long ago, a front-page series in the Los Angeles Times by the late David Shaw, the pioneering news-as-a-beat reporter, documented how little the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers have in common. That’s competition for you.

Attkisson has done serious work, winning Emmys and once being named a finalist for an Investigative Reporters and Editors award. But as presented by The Daily Signal, she comes across as a disgruntled former employee who does not offer even one telling detail to back up her vague implications of news distortions.

News distortions do sometimes occur. In 1973 I exposed how for years the owner of what was said to be the most profitable TV station in America and five other broadcast outlets issued orders to manipulate the news to advance his commercial interests, which eventually resulted in the forced sale of those stations.

Attkisson’s own words describe what is nothing more than routine disagreements about significance, yet The Daily Signal gullibly presented her story without a single tough question.

Attkisson also indicates she may have been late on some of the stories, coming up not with solid facts, but merely tantalizing leads she wanted to pursue. In TV news, where immediacy is paramount, potential new angles on last week’s news to be offered sometime next month is not a formula for success. But The Daily Signal failed to explore this perfectly legitimate and routine basis for telling Attkisson to move on to more pressing stories.

This puff video comes with the Signal’s first investigative piece, a report by Attkisson about deceiving parents of premature babies into participating in a federally funded medical experiment. It is a troubling tale that I recommend.

But unless you are a careful reader, you could miss that these experiments all took place during the George W. Bush administration.

That brings us back to Heritage’s new outlet feeding an audience what it wants rather than what it needs to know. Deciding what matters among an overwhelming array of choices is the judgment for which journalists get paid.

One of the first to comment on Attkisson’s investigative piece wrote: “Don’t forget that this is the Obama administration. The same people that burn aborted babies to generate electricity.”

Many of the other comments on the piece, and the video, are also mindless screeds against Obama, Democrats and anyone with whose views the posters viscerally disagree. Plenty of liberal and centrist websites post equally mindless comments, a practice that would diminish if people had to sign their real names.

America needs well-informed, thoughtful and fact-respecting conservative journalists. Without serious and fact-based, issue-oriented journalism, we get civic debates that confuse rather than enlighten, we get poorly conceived ideas that sometimes become law. The quality of our civic debate matters so long as we intend to choose our own fate.

Going forward, I hope that new websites managers demonstrate that they are in fact in the business of news, a difficult task given that The Daily Signal is an arm of an advocacy organization with a well-established reputation for ignoring important issues, not the least among them how its supporters sup with big spoons at the public trough. They are not off to a good start, but that can change if The Daily Signal is really about what its website asserts.


By; David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, June 4, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Heritage Foundation, Journalism, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’re All Journalists Now”: No, Glenn Greenwald Cannot Be The One Who Decides What Stays Secret

This Sunday, The New York Times Book Review will finally print Michael Kinsley’s review of Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, two and a half weeks after the review was published online and provoked a polarizing debate involving Greenwald, the Times‘ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, Kinsley again, and countless commentators who promptly took sides in the dispute about government secrecy and freedom of the press.

Some readers, including Sullivan, objected to Kinsley’s smart-alecky tone and psychological sketches of Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange, which these critics saw as bordering on ad hominem attacks. But there were also more substantive criticisms levied by Sullivan and many others, most of them boiling down to the claim that it was simply outrageous of Kinsley to deny journalists an absolute right to print classified material passed on to them by leakers.

Here is the most controversial passage from the review:

It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government. No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay. But ultimately you can’t square this circle. Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald. [The New York Times]

Some objected to this passage because they thought it contradicted another line of the review in which Kinsley called the Snowden leaks a “legitimate scoop.” But for most critics, the issue was far more fundamental: How dare anyone suggest, and in the pages of America’s newspaper of record no less, that the government, and not an intrepid journalist like Glenn Greenwald, should get to decide, while wielding threats of prosecution and imprisonment, what information is secret and what is not?

Clearly, the critics implied, Kinsley was expressing a deep-seated sympathy for authoritarianism that no self-respecting American citizen, let alone a journalist professionally and existentially devoted to the press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment, could possibly endorse.

There’s just one problem with this objection: Kinsley was almost certainly correct.

In the ensuing debate about the review, The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf made the strongest and most concise case against Kinsley’s position. When we look at the competing track records of the government and journalists in deciding what should be kept secret and what should be made public, Friedersdorf argued, it is clear that journalists have done a far better job. For that reason, journalists, and not the government, should get to decide.

Friedersdorf also made a point of stipulating that this does not imply blanket permission for leakers to divulge to journalists any information they wish. In Friedersdorf’s words, “The least-bad system is one where leakers can be charged and punished for giving classified secrets to journalists (which isn’t to say that they always should be), but where journalism based on classified information is not criminalized.”

That sounds like a perfectly reasonable compromise — at least until you think it through.

Permitting journalists to publish anything and everything that gets leaked to them, under no possible threat of prosecution, would make it nearly impossible to prosecute a leaker, since the harmlessness of the leak would automatically be demonstrated the moment a journalist makes the decision to publish the classified information. After all, in Friedersdorf’s least-bad system, it’s journalists who decide what can and can’t be made public, based in part on their assessment of the likely public harm. This means that as soon as classified information gets published by a journalist, the leaker would instantly be exonerated.

To which many will no doubt respond: So what? That’s exactly how it should work!

Except for one additional consideration, which Kinsley raised in his original review. In the age of blogs, portable audio and video recording, instant messaging, and social media platforms, “it is impossible to distinguish between a professional journalist and anyone else who wants to publish his or her thoughts.”

We’re all journalists now.

In such a world, Friedersdorf’s rules produce a situation in which any leaker who leaks any information to anyone willing to publicize it is automatically absolved of any crime.

In such a world — a world completely lacking in disincentives to leak classified information — government secrecy would be rendered impossible.

“But no,” I imagine Friedersdorf objecting. “I mean real journalists, working for established, recognized media companies. Only they should be given the power to decide what to publish.”

To which the proper reply is to repeat Kinsley’s line that making such a call — deciding who is and who is not a “real” journalist — is impossible. Sure, we can agree that a journalist employed by The New York Times or The Atlantic is an authentic journalist entitled to make the hard calls on secrecy. But what about a reporter working for BuzzFeed? Or a reporter working for BuzzFeed six years ago, when it had little politics coverage and was known primarily for its cat-photo click-throughs?

And what about self-employed blogger Andrew Sullivan? Is he a journalist? If someone leaked classified information to him, should he have blanket authorization to decide whether to publish it?

What about someone who runs a blog with a tenth of Sullivan’s traffic and journalistic experience? A hundredth? A thousandth?

We seem to have a problem. Either anyone or everyone gets to make the call, rendering state secrets impossible, or we need some independent authority to decide who is and who is not empowered to make the call. Government licensing of journalists? That’s where Friedersdorf’s “least-bad system” leads us, I’m afraid.

Which means that Friedersdorf leads us right back to Kinsley: “Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald.”

Pace Friedersdorf, the least-bad system is the one we have right now: Government (elected officials, appointees, and judges) deciding what gets and stays classified. In that system, both leaking and publishing classified information are treated as crimes, albeit crimes for which leakers and journalists are rarely punished, with the benefit of the doubt usually swinging in their favor.

This system isn’t perfect. Free speech absolutists don’t like it, and understandably so, because it makes government secrecy the legal principle and press freedom an exception dependent on the prudential judgment of prosecutors and judges.

But in a world where secrets are necessary, this may be the best that a democracy can do.


By: Damon Linker, The Week, June 6, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Journalists, Media, National Security | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s The People Stupid”: The Way To Stop Corporate Lawbreaking Is To Prosecute The People Who Break The Law

Today General Motors announced that it has fired 15 employees and disciplined five others in the wake of an internal investigation into the company’s handling of defective ignition switches, which lead to at least 13 fatalities.

But who’s legally responsible when a big corporation breaks the law? The government thinks it’s the corporation itself.


“What GM did was break the law … They failed to meet their public safety obligations,” scolded Sec of Transportation Anthony Foxx a few weeks ago after imposing the largest possible penalty on the giant automaker.

Attorney General Eric Holder was even more adamant recently when he announced the guilty plea of giant bank Credit Suisse to criminal charges for aiding rich Americans avoid paying taxes. “This case shows that no financial institution, no matter its size or global reach, is above the law.”

Tough words. But they rest on a bizarre premise. GM didn’t break the law, and Credit Suisse never acted above it. Corporations don’t do things. People do.

For a decade GM had been receiving complaints about the ignition switch but chose to do nothing. Who was at fault? Look toward the top. David Friedman, acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says those aware of the problem had ranged from engineers “all the way up through executives.”

Credit Suisse employees followed a carefully-crafted plan, even sending private bankers to visit their American clients on tourist visas to avoid detection. According to the head of New York State’s Department of Financial Services, Credit Suisse’s crime was “decidedly not the result of the conduct of just a few bad apples.”

Yet in neither of these cases have any executives been charged with violating the law. No top guns are going to jail. No one is even being fired.

Instead, the government is imposing corporate fines. The logic is that since the corporation as whole benefited from these illegal acts, the corporation as a whole should pay.

But the logic is flawed. Such fines are often treated by corporations as costs of doing business. GM was fined $35 million. That’s peanuts to a hundred-billion-dollar corporation.

Credit Suisse was fined considerably more — $2.8 billion. But even this amount was shrugged off by financial markets. In fact, the bank’s shares rose the day the plea was announced – the only big financial institution to show gains that day. Its CEO even sounded upbeat: “Our discussions with clients have been very reassuring and we haven’t seen very many issues at all.” (Credit Suisse wasn’t even required to turn over its list of tax-avoiding clients.)

Fines have no deterrent value unless the amount of the penalty multiplied by the risk of being caught is greater than the profits earned by the illegal behavior. In reality, the penalty-risk calculus rarely comes close.

Even when it does, the people hurt aren’t the shareholders who profited years before when the crimes were committed. Most current shareholders weren’t even around then.

Calling a corporation a criminal is even more absurd. Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to criminal conduct. GM may also face a criminal indictment. But what does this mean? A corporation can’t be put behind bars.

To be sure, corporations can effectively be executed. In 2002, the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen was found guilty of obstructing justice when certain partners destroyed records of the auditing work they did for Enron. As a result, Andersen’s clients abandoned it and the firm collapsed. (Andersen’s conviction was later overturned on appeal).

But here again, the wrong people are harmed. The vast majority of Andersen’s 28,000 employees had nothing to do with the wrongdoing yet they lost their jobs, while most of its senior partners slid easily into other accounting or consulting work.

The truth is, corporations aren’t people — despite what the Supreme Court says. Corporations don’t break laws; specific people do. In the cases of GM and Credit Suisse, the evidence points to executives at or near the top.

Conservatives are fond of talking about personal responsibility. But when it comes to white-collar crime, I haven’t heard them demand that individuals be prosecuted.

Yet the only way to deter giant corporations from harming the public is to go after people who cause the harm.


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, June 4, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Auto Industry, Corporations, Financial Industry | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Aren’t Pro-Life”: They’re Just Pro-Birth, And There’s A Big Difference

One of the main platforms of the Republicans is that, as a party, they say they are definitively pro-life. But if you really look closely at their stance on weapons, abortion, food stamps, global warming, minimum wage, veterans, prisons, etc… you have to wonder how they can make that claim.

AK47, military-style weapons and large magazine clips are part of the Republican chant. They claim it is their Second Amendment right to bear these arms, but even in Wyatt Earp’s Dodge City, outsiders were told to leave their guns at the city limits. Today Republicans, who are funded and graded by the NRA, want to have guns not only for self-protection, but also for showmanship. They believe it is their right to carry weapons everywhere including family restaurants, bars, classrooms and churches.

On average, three people are killed by a gun every hour and approximately seven are shot. How can anyone who says they are pro-life also be pro-weapon? If the Republican Party truly believes life is sacred, then why do they insist on unrestricted assault weapons — whose sole purpose is to kill — rather than reasonable gun regulations?

I also wonder how, on the one hand, a pro-life Republican demands that pregnant women have their unwanted children. Yet on the other hand, choose to cut food stamps that help feed these women and children. Did they ever consider the financial responsibilities involved in raising a child when they voted to close down small clinics that perform abortions and insurance coverage for birth control?

Currently, the Republicans are suggesting paying for summer lunches but only for rural kids, not urban ones. In other words, they want to provide food for the mostly rural white kids, but not provide food for the mainly minority, inner-city kids. How do these actions match their pro-life philosophy?

If you are pro-life, I would bet that you would vote for the right to breathe… but, a breath free of pollution is becoming more and more difficult these days. Republicans, like Florida’s Marco Rubio, continue to deny man’s role in climate change and denounce any scientific evidence. Is this really a pro-life stance when the impact to our children and grandchildren will be devastating?

The Republicans boast pro-life but also oppose raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to a living income. If they are really for life, then why would they be against paying a living wage that makes it possible for people who work to put food on their table? Not only is voting for the increase in minimum wage the right decision, but it also makes good business sense. Henry Ford, a leading businessman of his time, understood if he didn’t pay his workers enough to buy his product, then he wouldn’t prosper; today’s Republicans like Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz obviously believe otherwise.

Something else to ponder is when you vote for war, but against taking care of the wounded warriors, is that really being pro-life? Sending men and women into battle seems to be easy for Republicans, yet only two Republicans, Sens. Dean Heller and Jerry Moran, voted for a bill that would improve veterans’ healthcare and other benefits.

Republican state governors like Idaho’s Butch Otter and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell don’t want to expand Medicaid, even though it is virtually free to them. Without the federal funds, fewer people can receive healthcare, and many will die. Doesn’t sound much like a pro-life stance to me.

The Republican House voted more than 50 times to repeal the ACA yet kept their government funded healthcare. How can they say no to improved healthcare for our war heroes, but accept it for themselves? Do they only believe in pro-life when it’s opportune?

When it comes to the death penalty, the same Republicans stating they are pro-life don’t seem to think twice about having someone put to death in their state — even though many of the accused people who were once on death row have been exonerated. Texas Governor Rick Perry brags about the number of executions that have taken place under his governorship. Do they understand that even if the person is guilty, they are taking someone’s life?

Republicans aren’t pro-life. They are just pro-birth. And there’s a big difference between the two.


By: Gerry Myers, CEO, President and Co-Founder of Advisory Link; The Huffington Post Blog, June 4, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Pro-Life, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Please Make Up Your Mind”: The Wall Street Journal Can’t Decide Why Obama Is Terrible

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal editorial board found an unusual way to criticize Barack Obama for his new limits on carbon emissions: the action, the paper declared, showed that he was too principled and insufficiently attuned to short-term political benefits.

One consequence of President Obama’s new anticarbon energy rule will be to create what economists call “stranded assets,” in this case still useful fossil-fuel plants that are suddenly made noneconomic. This is part of the plan. But if this grand design ultimately fails, it will be because Mr. Obama is also creating stranded Democrats from energy-producing states.

This will have far-reaching implications, especially for Democrats in energy-rich states and especially this year. Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton would never have dreamed of rolling out this EPA regulation five months before an election. Mr. Obama is willing to risk it now because his second term is winding down and he wants to put in place as a much of a legacy as he can…

As Jonathan Chait has noted, it’s rich indeed for the Journal, which savaged Bill Clinton to such an extent that it collected its editorials attacking him into a five-volume collector set, to now be praising him in hindsight for being more politically expedient and partisan-minded than his Democratic successor. But it gets  better than that. Todayjust one day laterthe Journal completely flipped its critique of Obama. His problem, you see, is that he is too fixated on domestic politics, as his handling of Bowe Bergdahl’s release shows:

President Obama’s decision to swap five Taliban killers for the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has morphed from a debatable policy decision into the Administration’s latest political fiasco. There’s a lesson here about the risks of spin and narrow political calculation, especially in foreign policy when American lives are stake…

The larger problem is that Mr. Obama treats all of foreign policy as if it’s merely part of his domestic political calculus. It’s all too easy to imagine him figuring that if he announced the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by 2016 as he did last week, he could then more easily sell the prisoner swap, which would then help empty Guantanamo so he could fulfill that campaign promise too. Is it too much to ask that, in his final two and half years in office, the President act as if more is at stake in foreign policy than his domestic approval rating?

I read the Journal’s editorials every day, and have for years. I find them a handy way to track conservative opinionhard-edged, no doubt, but generally also well-wrought (better-wrought, it must be admitted, than their counterparts at the New York Times.) But really, the Journal is not doing its regular readers a service here. We’re awfully confused: is Obama recklessly disregarding domestic politics to cement his legacy with grand edicts, or making hasty decisions purely for domestic political gain? Please make up your mind.


By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, June 5, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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