The Attorneys General Letter to Trump: The Rest of the Story

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After the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville and Trump’s controversial response, the media reported eagerly on a letter signed by 67 former state attorneys general and top government lawyers reminding the country of the need to respond vigorously to hate.

“There are times in the life of a nation, or a president, or a state attorney general, when one is called upon to respond directly to the voice of hate,” they wrote in a letter released on Monday, Aug. 21.

The letter cited how, in 1976, Bill Baxley, Alabama’s Attorney General, responded to a threatening letter from a Ku Klux Klan leader. “…all who seek to equivocate in times of moral crisis” should look to the 1976 response of Alabama’s attorney general at the time to the Ku Klux Klan: “[K]iss my ass.”

Though it didn’t mention him by name, the letter was clearly intended as a condemnation of President Trump.

The media jumped on the story.

“Dozens of former attorneys general urge Trump to tell KKK ‘kiss my ass’,” said The Hill.

“Former Attorneys General Urge Trump To Condemn Hate With ‘Moral Clarity’,” wrote HuffPost.

“More than 60 former attorneys general from U.S. states and territories released a letMonday seeking to provide clarity on how to respond to acts of hate,” declared the Washington Post.

“Citing former Alabama AG, officials urge Trump to tell KKK to ‘kiss my….” blasted AL.com, an Alabama news site. “The signatories represent both major parties and 36 of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico,” The New York Times reported.

From the headlines and stories in media across the board, most people likely concluded the letter was truly bipartisan.

Not so fast.

I didn’t see any media outlet note that of the 67 signatories to the letter, all but 12 were Democrats, many of whom left office decades ago. It took me very little time to ascertain this from available records, so obviously the major media weren’t prevented from doing the same.

The letter was essentially a political hatchet job. This isn’t to excuse trump for his offensive comments, but to say that too many journalists hide behind a facade of objectivity. In this case, for all their claims of fairness and balance, the media owe us better.

The Washington Post highlighted that the signers included “several former officials who went on to even more political prominence,” but it cited only former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. It didn’t note that all three were Democrats.

Media coverage also didn’t note the sullied reputations of some of the Democrat signers.

None of the media pointed out that signer State Attorney General Charlie Brown, Democrat of West Virginia, abruptly resigned in August 1989 in exchange for an end to a grand jury investigation into his campaign financial records and allegations that he lied under oath and planned to pay $50,000 in hush money to a former secretary who claimed to need an abortion.

None of the media pointed out that signer State Attorney General Steve Clark, Democrat of Arkansas, resigned as Attorney General and withdrew from a race for governor in 1990 after a scandal. The Arkansas Gazette newspaper reported that his office spent a suspicious $115,729 on travel and meals, and that his vouchers listed a lot of people who said they’d never been his guests. Clark was convicted of fraud by deception.

Nobody pointed out that signer Jim Guy Tucker, an Arkansas Democrat who served as the state’s 43rd governor and Attorney General, resigned the governorship in 1996 after he was convicted of one count of conspiracy and one count of mail fraud.

As radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say in his velvety voice, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

Media Transparency: Who said that?

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Untrustworthy information isn’t just about fake news, the media’s topic du jour. There’s another equally insidious trend in today’s media.

It was highlighted in a recent New York Times  opinion piece contending that Facebook shouldn’t be expected to fact-check news posts.

“What those demanding that Facebook accept “responsibility” for becoming the dominant news aggregator of our time seem to be overlooking is that there’s a big difference between the editorial power that individual news organizations wield and that which Facebook could,” wrote a woman named Jessica Lessin, identified as the founder and chief executive of The Information, a technology news site. “Such editorial power in Facebook’s hands would be unprecedented and dangerous.”

Lessin noted in her piece that her husband worked at Facebook “for a brief period.” That’s it.

But the New York Times’ Public Editor, Liz Spayd, disclosed on Nov. 30 that, in fact, Lessin and her husband, Sam, have pretty damn close ties to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive officer.

Not only have Sam Lessin and Zuckerberg been friends since they both attended Harvard, Spayd reported, but Sam introduced Zuckerberg to investors when he was starting Facebook. In addition, in 2010, Facebook acquired a file-sharing site, Drop.io, that Sam had founded and made Sam a Facebook vice president overseeing product. Zuckerberg was even a guest at the Lessing’s wedding.

Spayd ripped the Times for not disclosing to readers the Lessins’ ties to Facebook, particularly because Jessica Lessin had vigorously defended the company.

The problem is this is not the only case of the media’s failure to disclose relevant information on somebody expressing an opinion.

On Oct. 28, 2016, CBS News Tonight featured a comment by a Matthew Miller condemning FBI Director James Comey for reopening the Clinton email investigation. CBS noted only that Miller had been a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

That same day, Politico reported that Miller had gone on a 14-post spree on Twitter blasting Comey and said Comey’s letter to Congress announcing the review of more evidence in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server constituted “…an inappropriate disclosure.”

Politico also identified Miller only as “a former director of the Justice Department’s office of public affairs.”

Salon jumped on the bandwagon, too, citing a Miller tweet, “FBI is undoubtedly investigating links between the Russian hack, Manafort, & the Trump campaign”. Salon also identified Miller as “Former Department of Justice spokesman…”.

The next day, the Washington Post ran a lengthy opinion piece by Miller titled “James Comey fails to follow Justice Department rules yet again.” Miller blasted Comey, saying his action “…was yet another troubling violation of long-standing Justice Department rules or precedent, conduct that raises serious questions about his judgment and ability to serve as the nation’s chief investigative official.”

In this case, the opinion piece identified Miller only as director of the Justice Department’s public affairs office from 2009 to 2011.

In both cases, there was a glaring omission. For full transparency, CBS and the Washington Post should have pointed out that Miller was hardly an unbiased observer.

Not only has Miller served as communications director for the House Democratic Caucus, but he held the same position at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was elected Senate minority leader on Nov. 16, 2016, making him the highest ranking Democrat in the U.S.

Before working for Schumer, Miller was communications director for the successful 2006 Senate campaign of Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

Don’t you think it would be instructive to know all this before reading Matthew Miller’s opinions?

In other words, untrustworthy news isn’t just about fake news, the media’s topic du jour.

Readers shouldn’t have to research a writer’s background on their own, as I had to do to evaluate Matthew’s credibility, because of the media’s lack of candor. But too often, media cast aside their responsibility to be forthcoming, sometimes I think deliberately, to obscure their biases.

In the end, this is all about the critical importance of the media telling what radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called ‘the rest of the story’ ”.