Tag Archives: journalists

Your Right to Know: Trump raises stakes for press, public

Two days before the new president’s inauguration, the Society of Professional Journalists and dozens of other media and government transparency groups sent a letter asking Donald Trump for a meeting to discuss his administration’s relationship with the press.

Among other things, the groups wanted Trump to affirm his commitment to the First Amendment, assure media access to his presidential activities, and allow expert government employees to talk to the media rather than muzzle them in favor of public relations officials.

Trump has yet to respond.

However, the new administration issued orders to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture not to convey information to the media or public. Officials also imposed a news blackout at the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, Trump claimed, with no evidence, that up to 5 million illegal voters participated in the election; his White House spokeswoman used the term “alternative facts” to explain false claims that Trump’s inauguration audience was the largest ever; and chief strategist Steve Bannon called the news media an “opposition party” that should “keep its mouth shut” — views that Trump himself later endorsed.

All this happened within Trump’s first two weeks in office.

Where does that leave us, as members of the press and guardians of your right to know what government is doing?

First, we must report on official efforts to withhold information from the public — which is, after all, footing the bill for government. On day one, the new administration scrubbed references to climate change from the EPA website (echoing similar actions by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources and Public Service Commission). Expect more of the same.

Second, we must continue to be vigilant in the face of Trump’s tendency, first as a candidate and now as president, to engage in bombast and exaggeration. It is our duty to expose unprovable, and outright false, claims.

Third, we must guard against politicians’ unwillingness to subject their actions to media scrutiny. It is our job to disclose what the administration is doing, even in the face of efforts to bypass the traditional White House press corps.

As law professors RonNell Andersen Jones and Sonja R. West recently wrote in The New York Times, while the First Amendment prohibits government censorship and offers protection against lawsuits, journalists have few constitutional rights to government documents and sources, or from being maligned by people in power. Trump, they noted, appears set on blowing up the “mutually dependent” relationships the White House press corps has had with presidential administrations from both parties.

“This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes,” they wrote.

It’s not just about the media. It’s about your right to know. To quote Jones and West, “Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.”

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a group dedicated to open government. Council member Mark Pitsch is an assistant city editor at the Wisconsin State Journal and president of the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

National Press Club raises concerns about Trump’s ‘fake news’ label

The National Press Club raised concerns this week about President-elect Donald Trump’s continual use of the phrase “fake news” to criticize news stories that he disagrees with or that displease him.

In his Jan. 11 news conference, Trump refused to field questions from certain reporters, accusing one journalist of working for a “terrible” organization and referring to an outlet represented by reporters at the event as “fake news.”

For the record

National Press Club president Thomas Burr responded with the following statement:

With the proliferation of false news stories dotting the Internet, it is important for American leaders to discern the difference and not intentionally conflate misleading and fake stories from dogged and investigative news that is fundamental to our country.

It is dangerous and unhealthy to declare a news item as “fake news” to distract from facts that you may not like or don’t favor your perspective.

Our incoming president must treat the news media as the vital cornerstone of our democracy that it is. To label something as “fake” in an effort to undermine news outlets endangers the trust granted journalists by the public and is antithetical to our country’s values.

To be sure, news organizations make honest mistakes and when they learn they’ve done so, they correct them.

That is entirely different from web sites that deliberately disseminate false information.

The president-elect appears to be conflating the two in an attempt to discredit news organizations whose coverage displeases him.

Doing so may foment a dangerous disrespect for journalists who, however flawed, are merely doing their best to inform the public.

Presidents shouldn’t get to pick and chose which reporters’ questions they will answer based on what news outlet for which they work. Doing so now is inappropriate and will do unprecedented damage to our democracy.

About the National Press Club

The National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists.

Through its Press Freedom Committee, the club works to promote freedom of expression and transparency at home and abroad.

The National Press Club Journalism Institute, a nonprofit affiliate, equips news professionals with the skills to innovate, leverages emerging trends, recognizes innovators and mentors the next generation.

Kelly: Trump coverage was like ‘television crack cocaine’

Megyn Kelly says Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to give her gifts, including a free stay at one of his hotels, as part of what she called his pattern of trying to influence news coverage of his presidential campaign.

In her memoir Settle for More, to be released today, Kelly says Trump may have gotten a pre-debate tip about her first question, in which she confronted him with his critical comments about women.

Her book also details the insults and threats she received after Trump’s tirades objecting to her reporting.

The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of the book over the weekend.

Kelly, host of Fox News Channel’s The Kelly Report, said Trump routinely attempted to gain favorable treatment from other journalists and commentators.

“This is actually one of the untold stories of the 2016 campaign: I was not the only journalist to whom Trump offered gifts clearly meant to shape coverage,” Kelly said. He also attempted to woo them with praise, she said, adding, “This is smart, because the media is full of people whose egos need stroking.”

“Trump tried to work the refs, and some of the refs responded,” she said.

When it became obvious that some reporters were “in the tank” for Trump, she alleges in one chapter, “certain TV hosts” would work with the candidate in advance on occasional Trump criticism so they would appear unbiased. She didn’t identify them by name or media outlet.

Resisting Trump’s attempts to buy her goodwill with an offer to comp her “girls’ weekend” stay at his downtown New York City hotel or fly her and her husband to visit his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida was an easy ethical decision, Kelly wrote.

More difficult was rejecting the ratings bonanza the colorful GOP contender could deliver with his “unscripted, unguarded” approach that made for great TV but was the equivalent of “television crack cocaine,” Kelly wrote.

She and her producer agreed they had to provide balance and be judicious in their coverage, asserting this was not a “directive to cover Trump negatively or to ignore him.”

It was at the first GOP primary debate last August that Kelly questioned Trump about derogatory comments he’d made about women. The day before, Trump had called Fox News executive Bill Sammon to say he had heard that Kelly’s first question would be a pointed one aimed at him, she wrote.

““How could he know that?’ I wondered,” Kelly said, not answering the question but clearing her Fox colleagues on the debate team of any suspicion of leaking it to him. Trump was agitated out of proportion in the phone call, she wrote, calling it “bizarre behavior, especially for a man who wanted the nuclear codes.”

Kelly was cast by Trump as his nemesis after the first GOP debate in which she asked him about labeling women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, Trump called her questions ridiculous, adding, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”

Before another Fox debate, Kelly recalled being backstage with her family and getting an unsettling insight on how her children were being affected by the harsh rhetoric.

“I’m afraid of Donald Trump. He wants to hurt me,” she quoted her 5-year-old daughter, Yardley, as saying. When Kelly told her that wasn’t so, the child replied, “Well, he wants to hurt you, so he wants to hurt me too.”

Dispatcher: ‘Gunshots closer, multiple people screaming’

Orlando police dispatchers heard repeated gunfire, screaming and moaning from patrons of the Pulse nightclub who called to report that gunman Omar Mateen was opening fire inside the club, according to written logs released on June 28.

The first call of “shots fired” came in at 2:02 a.m. and the caller reported “multiple people down.”

One caller said Mateen had gone upstairs where six people were hiding. Dispatchers heard up to 30 gunshots in the background at another point as callers screamed and moaned.

“My caller is no longer responding, just an open line with moaning,” one dispatcher said in the report.

Another dispatcher wrote, “Hearing gunshots closer, multiple people screaming.”

A caller described Mateen as wearing a gray shirt and brown pants.

Mateen opened fire at the club on June 12, leaving 49 patrons dead and 53 injured in the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history. In calls with the police after the shooting began, Mateen pledged his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, declared himself to be an Islamic soldier and demanded that the United States stop bombing Syria and Iraq, the FBI said.

“Saying he pledges to the Islamic State,” a dispatcher wrote at 2:40 a.m.

The report recounted where patrons hid in the nightclub: in an office upstairs, in a closet, in a dressing room and behind a stage. Ten people were hiding in the handicap stall of a bathroom. One caller described patrons using their hands to stop the bleeding of shooting victims.

At several points, callers relayed misinformation to the dispatchers. One caller said there was a second gunman and another thought Mateen had a bomb.

Mateen “is saying he is a terrorist … and has several bombs strapped to him in the downstairs female restroom,” the dispatcher notes said.

According to the time-stamped calls, nine people were evacuated through the air conditioner window of a dressing room at 4:21 a.m. At 5:07 a.m., dispatchers heard an explosion as SWAT team members tried to knock down a bathroom wall to free 15 hostages. At 5:17 a.m., dispatchers heard: “Bad guy down.”

Emails, inspection reports and texts released by the Orlando Fire Department on June 28 suggested that one of the exits at the Pulse nightclub wasn’t operable weeks before the massacre, but a fire department spokeswoman and an attorney for the club both said that wasn’t true.

The last fire inspection at Pulse was conducted in late May when the inoperable exit door was discovered, according to an email exchange between Orlando Fire Marshall Tammy Hughes and Fire Chief Roderick Williams. A follow-up visit was planned but hadn’t been assigned so it wasn’t known if the problem was fixed, the emails said.

But Pulse attorney Gus Benitez said that none of the six exits at the gay nightclub was blocked during the inspection. The inspector only found that a light bulb in an exit sign needed to be replaced and a fire extinguisher needed to be hung on wall. Both items were corrected, Benitez said in a statement.

Fire department spokeswoman Ashley Papagni backed up Benitez’s contention. She said the exit door was deemed inoperable because of the light bulb problem in the exit sign.

Pulse had twice the number of exits needed to accommodate its maximum occupancy of 300 patrons, according to the emails and texts.

The emails and dispatcher notes were released on the same day that a legal tug-of-war broke out over which court should be the venue for determining whether 911 tapes from the Pulse nightclub shootings can be made public.

Nearly two dozen news media organizations — including The Associated Press, CNN and The New York Times — contend city officials are wrongly withholding recordings of 911 calls and communications between gunman Mateen and the Orlando Police Department. Mateen was killed by police after a standoff in the shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

City officials claim the recordings are exempt under Florida law and are part of an FBI investigation.

A hearing had been scheduled this week in a Florida courtroom in Orlando but it was abruptly canceled after the U.S. Department of Justice was added to the case and Justice officials asked for it to be transferred to federal court.

Attorneys for the news media organizations said they will fight to keep the case in state court.

Calls for stronger gun laws follow on-air shootings

The on-air slayings of a TV journalist and her cameraman in Virginia brought renewed attention to gun violence in the United States, which has the highest percentage of privately owned guns in the world, followed at a distance by Serbia and then Yemen.

Each day, an average of 89 people die of gunshot wounds in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 58 of those deaths are suicides. Most of those who die are white and male.

The morning of the killings, Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he was heartbroken over the tragedy and loss. He said, “As we reflect with heavy hearts on this tragedy, it is appropriate to begin to ask questions about how we can prevent these senseless events in the future. Keeping guns out of the hands of people who would use them to harm our family, friends and loved ones is not a political issue; it is a matter of ensuring that more people can come home safely at the end of the day. We cannot rest until we have done whatever it takes to rid our society of preventable gun violence that results in tragedies like the one we are enduring today.”

Of course, McAuliffe is aware that gun control is a political issue — charged like a powder keg, partisan and polarizing.

The White House quickly called on Congress to move on gun-control legislation and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton repeated her call for universal background checks. 

“We’ve got to do something about gun violence in America,” Clinton said while campaigning in Iowa. “And I will take it on. It’s a very political, difficult issue in America. But I believe we are smart enough, we are compassionate enough, to figure out how to balance the legitimate Second Amendment rights with preventative measures and control measures so that whatever motivated this murderer who eventually took his own life, we will not see more deaths, needless, senseless deaths.”

Republicans, meanwhile, focused on mental health.

Presidential candidate Marco Rubio said, “It’s not the guns, it’s the people who are committing these crimes.”

“The common thread we see in many of these cases is a failure in the system to help someone who is suffering from mental illness,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who as Milwaukee County executive dramatically cut the budgets for mental health services and opposed $92 million in federal stimulus money for a mental health complex.

Gun-rights advocates like Walker argue that stricter gun laws wouldn’t prevent killings like the WDBJ shooting.

However, gun-control advocates point to the law in California that bars people convicted of violent misdemeanors from owning guns and to the permit-to-purchase regulations in 13 states that require prospective gun buyers to be cleared by local police, who can check character references. 

Meanwhile, a national permit-to-purchase system was proposed in legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

“The evidence is clear: sensible handgun laws save lives. … All states require licenses to drive a car or hunt or fish — so why not handguns, which can kill? Requiring a license to purchase a deadly weapon is at least as important as requiring one to drive a car. This legislation should win broad, bipartisan support,” said Blumenthal.

The bill is based on research from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research showing a clear link between requiring a license to purchase a handgun and a dramatic reduction in firearm homicides. The research found Connecticut’s adoption of its handgun-purchaser licensing law led to a 40 percent decrease in firearm homicide rates. Earlier research found that Missouri’s repeal of a similar law led to a 25 percent increase in firearm homicide rates.

In Wisconsin, the open carry of loaded handguns and long guns is allowed without a license. Private sales of guns are legal in the state and no background check or government permission is necessary.

In June, Walker signed into law measures that eliminated the state’s 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases and allowed off-duty, retired and out-of-state police officers to carry firearms on school grounds.

Walker, who has a rating of 100 percent from the NRA, previously made Wisconsin the 49th state to legalize concealed carry and signed into law a “castle doctrine” bill, giving homeowners more legal protections when they shoot someone.

Journalists, scientists oppose EPA muzzling of experts

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must not interfere with leading national scientists from talking to media outlets and the public, says a coalition of journalists and scientists concerned with the an agency memorandum instructing Science Advisory Board members to get permission before talking to the press.

“The EPA wants to control what information the public receives about crucial issues affecting Americans’ health and well-being,” Society of Professional Journalists president David Cuillier said in a news release. “The people are entitled to get this information unfiltered from scientists, not spoon-fed by government spin doctors who might mislead and hide information for political reasons or to muzzle criticism.”

The SPJ, Society of Environmental Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press along with the American Geophysical Union, the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Society for Conservation Biology sent a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy demanding the agency reverse its policy.

“If EPA scientists — or any other scientists — can’t tell reporters what they know, then the public is likelier to remain in the dark,” said Joseph A. Davis, director of SEJ’s WatchDog Project. “That makes it easier for political appointees to mislead the public about environmental issues that may critically affect their health.”

Press groups in recent years have criticized the EPA for increasing roadblocks to information. For example, during the Elk River water crises in West Virginia earlier this year, the EPA stonewalled reporters seeking to find out how the released chemicals would affect citizens.

The memo would extend EPA’s already-restrictive vetting requirements for responding to external requests for information to independent scientists who advise the agency. The memo states: “If a representative member receives a request from a source that they do not represent or if a (special government employee) receives a request related to (their) employment from a non-EPA source (such as a member of the press, a trade association, or other non-governmental organization, or members of Congress or their staff), the…member should forward that request to” a designated agency employee, who will either “respond to the request or will forward it to the appropriate office within the Agency for response.”

Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that it’s inappropriate for the agency to place these restrictions on independent scientists. The memo contradicts current guidelines for advisory board members and also cuts against EPA’s own scientific integrity policy, which is supposed to guarantee agency scientists the right to speak with journalists and outside groups about their work.

Presidential standup: Obama’s comedy routine at Gridiron dinner

President Barack Obama had a ready excuse for anyone who didn’t think he was funny enough at the Gridiron dinner on March 9: “My joke writers have been placed on furlough.”

Always a target for humorous barbs, the president tossed out a few of his own Saturday night during the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner, an annual event that features political leaders, journalists and media executives poking fun at each other.

The so-called sequester – the forced automatic spending cuts – that struck the federal budget this month drew another observation from Obama: “Of course, there’s one thing in Washington that didn’t get cut – the length of this dinner. Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense.”

The ambitions of 70-year-old Vice President Joe Biden? “Just the other day, I had to take Joe aside and say, ‘Joe, you are way too young to be the pope. You can’t do it. You got to mature a little bit.’”

During a pause in his remarks, Obama took a long, slow sip of water and then said, “That, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.” He was referring to an awkward moment in which the Florida senator drank from a bottle of water during the Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union address.

Obama also mocked criticism from some quarters that he takes time off from his job. “We face major challenges. March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions. But I want to assure you, I have my top advisers working around the clock. After all, my March Madness (college basketball championship tournament) bracket isn’t going to fill itself out. And don’t worry – there is an entire team in the Situation Room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment.”

The dinner was the organization’s 128th since its founding in 1885. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar represented the Democrats while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal cracked jokes for the Republicans.

Klobuchar joked that Obama had aged in office. “His Secret Service name used to be ‘Renegade,’” she said. “Now it’s ‘50 Shades of Gray.’”

Jindal took a poke at Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, telling the audience that Romney had warned him that “47 percent of you can’t take a joke.” Referring to his own prospects for a presidential run, Jindal, an Indian-American, asked, “What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion have of being elected president?”

Political disputes and feuds between politicians and the news media provided plenty of fodder for jokes and Gridiron parodies. There was Obama’s sometimes frosty relationship with the news media, the internal struggles roiling the Republican Party, and journalist Bob Woodward’s dustup with White House economic adviser Gene Sperling. He advised Woodward in an email that the veteran Watergate reporter would regret his reporting about the forced spending cuts.

In prepared remarks to welcome the 650 people attending the dinner, Gridiron president Charles J. Lewis of Hearst Newspapers noted that the organization had promised to keep the evening short, “especially because Gene Sperling said that a late night is something we’d all regret.”

With a nod to print reporters’ complaints about dealing with the Obama administration, Lewis said he thought he had overhead Obama remark on the way to the dinner: “So many newspaper reporters. So many interviews to turn down.”

Musical skits are a tradition at the Gridiron dinner, and club officials released its musical program ahead of the event. Using the Beatles song “When I’m 64,” one skit featured a look at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s future with the lyrics:

Got a bit older, Growing my hair, Gained a pound or two

Going home to vegetate in Chappaqua, I just want to be a grandma

It was more than a case of Benghazi flu, Still I’ll be just fine.

Will you select me, will you elect me, When I’m 69

Noting the close relationship between the Republicans and the influential gun rights lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, Gridiron members sang a tune called “My Gun,” a takeoff on the song “My Girl.” The lyrics included:

If you hate the NRA/Tell my Walther PPK

You’re flirting with disaster/With my Bushmaster

And when pigs fly away/You can take me away

From my gun

The Gridiron Club and Foundation contributes to college scholarships and journalistic organizations. It limits its active members to 65 journalists based in Washington.

Except for Grover Cleveland, every president since the Gridiron was founded has addressed it. The club is the oldest and most exclusive for Washington journalists. Its motto is “singe but never burn.”

No TV cameras were allowed.

The following is a transcript of the president’s remarks:

10:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Before I begin, I know some of you have noticed that I’m dressed a little differently from the other gentlemen.  Because of sequester, they cut my tails.  (Laughter.)  My joke writers have been placed on furlough.  (Laughter.)  I know a lot of you reported that no one will feel any immediate impact because of the sequester.  Well, you’re about to find out how wrong you are.  (Laughter.) 

Of course, there’s one thing in Washington that didn’t get cut — the length of this dinner.  (Laughter.)  Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense.  (Laughter.)  

As you know, I last attended the Gridiron dinner two years ago.  Back then, I addressed a number of topics — a dysfunctional Congress, a looming budget crisis, complaints that I don’t spend enough time with the press.  It’s funny, it seems like it was just yesterday.  (Laughter.)  

We noticed that some folks couldn’t make it this evening.  It’s been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling predicted.  (Laughter.)  I have to admit this whole brouhaha had me a little surprised.  Who knew Gene could be so intimidating?  (Laughter.)  Or let me phrase it differently — who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating?  (Laughter.) 

Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively.  But hey, when has — can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward?  (Laughter.)  What’s the worst that could happen?  (Laughter and applause.)

But don’t worry.  We’re all friends again in the spirit of that wonderful song.  As you may have heard, Bob invited Gene over to his place.  And Bob says he actually thinks that I should make it too.  And I might take him up on the offer.  I mean, nothing says “not a threat” like showing up at somebody’s house with guys with machine guns.  (Laughter.)  

Now, since I don’t often speak to a room full of journalists — (laughter) — I thought I should address a few concerns tonight.  Some of you have said that I’m ignoring the Washington press corps — that we’re too controlling.  You know what, you were right.  I was wrong and I want to apologize in a video you can watch exclusively at whitehouse.gov.  (Laughter.) 

While we’re on this subject, I want to acknowledge Ed Henry, who is here — who is the fearless leader of the Washington press corps now.  (Applause.)  And at Ed’s request, tonight I will take one question from the press.  Jay, do we have a question?  (Laughter.)  Surprisingly, it’s a question from Ed Henry.  (Laughter.)  “Mr. President, will you be taking any questions tonight?”  (Laughter.)  I’m happy to answer that.  No, Ed, I will not.  (Laughter.) 

I also want to recognize David Corn.  He’s here from Mother Jones magazine.  He brought his iPhone.  So Bobby Jindal, if you thought your remarks were off the record, ask Mitt Romney about that.  (Applause.) 

I have to say, I thought Bobby was incredibly funny this evening.  (Applause.)  I thought he was terrific.  Amy Klobuchar was sparkling and fantastic and fabulous.  (Applause.)  I am worried about Al Franken though.  (Laughter.)  How do you start off being one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live and end up being the second-funniest Senator in Minnesota?  (Laughter and applause.)  How the mighty have fallen.  (Laughter.)

Now I’m sure that you’ve noticed that there’s somebody very special in my life who is missing tonight, somebody who has always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem.  So tonight, I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation — thank you, Nate Silver.  (Laughter.)  

Of course as I begin my second term, our country is still facing enormous challenges.  We have a lot of work to do — that, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.  (Laughter and applause.)

As I was saying, we face major challenges.  March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions.  But I want to assure you, I have my top advisors working around the clock. After all, my March Madness bracket isn’t going to fill itself out.  (Laughter.)  And don’t worry — there is an entire team in the situation room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment.  (Laughter.) 

But those aren’t the only issues on my mind.  As you are aware — as has been noted this evening — we’ve had to make some very tough, huge budget cuts apparently with no regard to long-term consequences, which means I know how you feel in journalism.  (Laughter.)  I’ve been trying to explain this situation to the American people, but clearly I am not perfect. After a very public mix-up last week, my communications team has provided me with an easy way to distinguish between Star Trek and Star Wars.  (Laughter.)  Spock is what Maureen Dowd calls me.  Darth Vader is what John Boehner calls me.  (Laughter.)  

Of course, maintaining credibility in this cynical atmosphere is harder than ever — incredibly challenging.  My administration recently put out a photo of me skeet shooting and even that wasn’t enough for some people.  Next week, we’re releasing a photo of me clinging to religion.  (Laughter and applause.)  

I’m also doing what I can to smooth things over with Republicans in Congress.  In fact, these days John McCain and I are spending so much time together that he told me we were becoming friends.  I said, “John, stop.  Chuck Hagel warned me how this ends up.”  (Laughter.)  

It took a while, but I’m glad that the Senate finally confirmed my Secretary of Defense.  And I have to say, I don’t know what happened to Chuck in those hearings.  I know he worked hard, he studied his brief.  And I even lent him my presidential debate team to work with him.  (Laughter.)  It’s confusing what happened.  (Laughter.) 

But all these changes to my team are tough to handle, I’ve got to admit.  After nine years, I finally said goodbye to my chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau.  I watched him grow up.  He’s almost like a son to me, he’s been with me so long.  And I said to him when he first informed me of his decision, I said, “Favs, you can’t leave.”  And he answered with three simple words — “yes, I can.”  (Laughter.)  Fortunately, he did not take the prompter on his way out.  (Laughter.)  That would have been a problem.  (Laughter.) 

With all these new faces, it’s hard to keep track of who is in, who is out.  And I know it’s difficult for you guys as reporters.  But I can offer you an easy way of remembering the new team.  If Ted Cruz calls somebody a communist, then you know they’re in my cabinet.  (Laughter.)  

Jack Lew is getting started on his new role as Treasury Secretary.  Jack is so low key, he makes Tim Geithner look like Tom Cruise.  (Laughter.)  Don’t worry, everybody, Jack signed off on that joke or a five year old drew a slinky.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know which.  (Applause.) 

Another big change has been at the State Department.  Everybody has noticed that obviously.  And let’s face it — Hillary is a tough act to follow.  But John Kerry is doing great so far.  He is doing everything he can to ensure continuity.  Frankly, though, I think it’s time for him to stop showing up at work in pantsuits.  (Laughter.)  It’s a disturbing image.  (Laughter.)  It really is.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know where he buys them.  He is a tall guy.  (Laughter.) 

And even though I’m just beginning my second term, I know that some folks are looking ahead to bigger things.  Look, it’s no secret that my Vice President is still ambitious.  But let’s face it, his age is an issue.  Just the other day, I had to take Joe aside and say, “Joe, you are way too young to be the pope.”  (Laughter.)  “You can’t do it.  You got to mature a little bit.”  (Laughter.) 

Now, I do want to end on a serious note.  I know that there are people who get frustrated with the way journalism is practiced these days.  And sometimes those people are me.  (Laughter.)  But the truth is our country needs you and our democracy needs you.

In an age when all it takes to attract attention is a Twitter handle and some followers, it’s easier than ever to get it wrong.  But it’s more important than ever to get it right.  And I am grateful for all the journalists who do one of the toughest jobs there is with integrity and insight and dedication — and a sense of purpose — that goes beyond a business model or a news cycle.

This year alone, reporters have exposed corruption here at home and around the world.  They’ve risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya, stories that need to be told.  And they’ve helped people understand the ways in which we’re all connected — how something that happens or doesn’t happen halfway around the world or here in Washington can have consequences for American families.

These are extraordinary times.  The stakes are high and the tensions can sometimes be high as well.  But while we’ll always have disagreements, I believe that we share the belief that a free press — a press that questions us, that holds us accountable, that sometimes gets under our skin — is absolutely an essential part of our democracy.

So I want to thank everybody for not just a wonderful evening — and, Chuck, I want to thank you for your outstanding presidency — but I also just want to thank you for the work that you do each and every day.  And in the words of one of my favorite Star Trek characters — Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise — “May the force be with you.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Right charges Fox News and MSNBC are “in bed together on gay rights”

Fox News and MSNBC are “in bed together on gay rights,” charges a columnist on a right-wing website.

As evidence, writer Cliff Kincaid says that Fox News anchors Jamie Colby, Rick Folbaum, and Kimberly Guilfoyle are listed as “special guests” at a March 24 fundraiser to be held in conjunction with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. The event, titled “Headlines & Headliners,” will be hosted by MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts.

Kincaid quotes Peter LaBarbera, of the virulently homophobic group Americans for Truth, blasting Guilfoyle and questioning Fox News’ anti-gay credentials.

“It is appropriate that Guilfoyle would be at this event based on her appearance on the Fox News “Red Eye” show in which she not only dismissed the social conservative boycott of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) but she laughed at Greg Gutfeld’s nasty anti-Christian bigotry,” LaBarbera is quoted as saying. “Gutfeld called pro-family groups haters. She didn’t come to the defense of pro-family groups to defend their moral belief that homosexuality is wrong. It demonstrates her own bias against pro-family organizations. Many social conservatives are afraid that Fox News is going from neutral to becoming increasingly pro-gay. Fox News hosts were pretty much AWOL on the homosexuals in the military debate.”

Kincaid does on to attack Fox News for covering a story about Chick-fil-A restaurant’s anti-gay activities.