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By Michael A. Memoli and Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Jeb Bush defended his credentials as a “reform-minded conservative” Friday, even as he held firm to positions that threaten to undermine his standing with party activists, telling skeptics at the Conservative Political Action Conference he hoped to be their “second choice.”

During a question-and-answer session with Fox News host Sean Hannity before a packed ballroom at the annual gathering of conservative activists, the former Florida governor acknowledged that many are suspicious of his potential candidacy. He emphasized that Republicans need to appeal to a broader audience of people who could become supporters.

“There are a lot of other conservatives that haven’t been asked. They don’t know that they’re conservative,” he said. “If we share our enthusiasm, love for our country and believe in our philosophy, we will be able to get Latinos and young people and other people that we need to win,” he said.

The crowd’s doubts about Bush were evident early. When Hannity conducted an informal audience poll of potential 2016 candidates, Bush’s name provoked a chorus of boos.

Hours before his speech, Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host, launched a broadside against the son and brother of former presidents, saying he would be better off running on a ticket with Hillary Clinton than leading the Republican ticket against her.

Questioning Bush, Hannity asked about the gap between him and many conservatives, particularly on immigration and education policy.

“I read about it,” Bush quipped.

Speaking at a rapid-fire pace, Bush offered quick and practiced answers on most of the topics that have complicated his relationships with conservatives.

On immigration, he reiterated his support for some kind of path to legal status for those who have come to the U.S. illegally, saying there “is no plan to deport 11 million people.”

“We should give them a path to legal status where they work, where they don’t receive government benefits, where they learn English and they make a contribution to our society,” he said.

But Bush also said he opposed President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions that would shield up to 5million from deportation. He supported a congressional effort to try to block the policy, he said, but not if doing so risked funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

“I’m not an expert on the ways of Washington. It makes no sense to me that we’re not funding control of our border, which is the whole argument,” he said.

He stood by his support for granting driver’s licenses and in-state tuition to some immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. The latter, he noted, was enacted in Florida just last year “by one of the most conservative state legislatures, I might add, and a conservative governor … Not by me.”

Bush also defended his support for education standards known as the Common Core, saying he supported the idea of set standards but suggesting he was aligned with conservatives on his opposition to involvement by the federal involvement.

The Obama administration has meddled in the process with its “Race to the Top” program that ties school money to achievement on standardized tests, Bush said.

“The federal government has no role in the creation of standards either directly or indirectly,” he said. “The role of the federal government, if there is any, is to provide incentives for more school choice.”

Bush also denied reports that he may be shifting his opposition to same-sex marriage as he courts gay donors.

“No, I believe in traditional marriage,” he said.

He won cheers by declaring he opposes legalizing marijuana but believes “states ought to have that right to do it.”

The two-day conference, at a hotel just outside Washington, D.C., featured an opening-day lineup heavy with first-time national candidates eager to make a strong impression and a Friday agenda that revealed the potential challenge, and opportunity, of the ideological diversity in the party.

Before Bush spoke, “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson was on stage delivering a meandering speech that went beyond his allotted time. Earlier, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (R-KY), defended his vision of a more limited foreign policy only to be followed immediately by Rick Santorum’s push for a more aggressively military response to the militants of the Islamic State.

On the schedule in between was Donald Trump advocating, well, Donald Trump.

But speeches by Bush and Paul best captured the choice between establishment favorite and a grassroots-backed wild card.

Paul has traditionally thrived with the CPAC audience — he won the 2014 presidential preference straw poll — and again drew the most enthusiastic reaction here.

His afternoon speech, delayed by votes in the Senate, was grounded in libertarian principles. He said conservatives’ support for limited government at home should inform their foreign policy, too.

“Conservatives should not succumb to the notion that a government inept at home will somehow succeed abroad, that a government that can’t even deliver the mail will somehow be able to create nations abroad,” the Kentucky Republican declared.

His view of national defense — “unparalleled, undefeatable and unencumbered by nation-building” — was an extension of Ronald Reagan’s advocacy of “peace through strength,” he said.

At home, Paul said his travels to communities often ignored by the GOP, including Detroit and Ferguson, Mo., have shown him that “liberal policies have failed.”

“Those of us who have enjoyed the American dream must break down a wall that separates us from the other America,” he said, before promising to “cut everyone’s taxes, from richest to poorest.”

CPAC has long attracted Republican White House hopefuls eager to make a splash before a conservative audience. But this year, the American Conservative Union, the event’s organizer, has done more to present it as a presidential audition.

Rather than just allow would-be candidates to deliver a red-meat speech, the group has required candidates to follow their opening remarks with a question-and-answer session. Conservative media figures including Ingraham and Hannity have led the questioning.

Last year, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), delivered a stern speech to CPAC focused almost singularly on foreign policy. In his opening remarks this time, Rubio again hewed to his message about the importance of American leadership on the world stage. He silenced the crowd with an emotional, personal pitch.

“This is deeply personal,” he said. “America doesn’t owe me anything. But I have a debt to America that I will never be able to repay.”

Then, however, he sat with Hannity, who peppered him with questions about more politically difficult parts of his record, particularly immigration. Rubio’s support for a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 is extremely unpopular with many conservatives.

Rubio said the lesson he has learned in the two years since he helped write that legislation was that you can’t discuss pathways to citizenship until Americans believe “that future illegal immigration will be controlled.”

Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said the changes to the format are about giving conservative activists “the best experience they can get.”

“We’re trying to bring the stage out among them to make it less imposing, to make it easier to interact with the speakers and make the speakers interact with them,” he said.

“The prospects for conservatives to be successful in 2016 are incredibly high,” he added. “And conservatives have a chance to make sure that a conservative nominee is the standard bearer.”

Former Governor Jeb Bush speaks at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Feb. 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Md. Conservative activists attended the annual political conference to discuss their agenda. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

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Chris Cuomo

News Literacy Week 2022, an annual awareness event started by the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making everyone “smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy” has closed out. From January 24 to 28, classes, webinars, and Twitter chats taught students and adults how to root out misinformation when consuming news media.
There’s no downplaying the importance of understanding what is accurate in the media. These days, news literacy is a survival tactic. One study estimated that at least 800 people died because they embraced a COVID falsehood — and that inquiry was conducted in the earliest months of the pandemic. About 67 percent of the unvaccinated believe at least one COVID-19 myth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s not that accurate information isn’t available; people are rejecting reports of vaccine efficacy and safety because they distrust the news media. A third of Americans polled by Gallup said they have no trust at all in mass media; another 27 percent don’t have much at all.
Getting people to believe information presented to them depends more on trust than it does on the actual data being shared. That is, improving trust isn’t an issue of improving reporting. It’s an issue of improving relationships with one’s audience.
And that’s the real news problem right now; some celebrity anchors at cable news outlets are doing little to strengthen their relationships with their audiences and a lot to strengthen their relationships with government officials.
The most obvious example is how CNN terminated Prime Time anchor Chris Cuomo last month for his failure to disclose the entirety of his role in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the sexual harassment accusation that unfolded in Albany, a scandal that eventually led to Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.
But there are others. Just this month, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealed that another anchor on another cable news network, Laura Ingraham of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, texted then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last January, advising Meadows how Trump should react to reports of possible armed protests at state capitols around the country. This revelation followed the story that Sean Hannity, host of the eponymous news hour at Fox News, also texted Meadows with advice last year.
And while he didn't advise a government official, CNN anchor Don Lemon revealed information not available to the public when he texted embattled Empire actor Jussie Smollett to tip him off about the Chicago Police Department’s wavering faith in his story about an assault. That’s from Smollett’s own sworn testimony.
When English philosopher Edmund Burke joked about the press being the Fourth Estate — in addition to the First, Second and Third (the clergy, nobility and commoners, respectively) — his point was that, despite their influence on each other, these “estates” — bastions of power — are supposed to be separate.
The Fourth Estate will always be an essential counterweight to government. But, since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, we’ve been so focused on stopping an executive branch from pressing the press to support an administration's agenda — either by belittling journalists or threatening to arrest them for doing their jobs — that we’ve ignored the ways that it affects and influences other Estates, and not necessarily through its reporting.
That is, we have news personalities-cum-reporters who are influencing government policy — and not telling us about it until it’s too late.
The United States has fostered an incredible closeness between the Second Estate — which in 2021 and 2022 would be political leaders — and the Fourth Estate. About a year ago, an Axios reporter had to be reassigned because she was dating one of President Biden’s press secretaries. Last year, James Bennet, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times and brother of Colorado Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Michael Bennet, had to recuse himself publicly from the Gray Lady’s endorsement process. In 2013, the Washington Post reported at least eight marriages between Obama officials and established journalists.
To be clear, there aren’t any accusations that anyone just mentioned engaged in anything other than ethical behavior. But I, for one, don’t believe that James and Michael Bennet didn’t discuss Michael’s campaign. I don’t think the Axios reporter and her West Wing-employed boyfriend — or any journalists and their federally employed spouses, for that matter — didn’t share facts that the public will never know. Such is the nature of family and intimacy.
And as long as those conversations don’t affect the coverage of any news events, there’s nothing specifically, technically wrong with them. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t damaging.
As these stories show, when we don’t know about these advisor roles, at least not until someone other than the journalist in question exposes them, it causes a further erosion of trust in news media.
What’s foolish about the Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon improprieties is that they don't necessarily need to be the problem they’ve become. Cuomo’s show contained opinion content like 46 percent of CNN’s programming. An active debate rages on as to whether Fox News is all opinion and whether or not it can rightly even be called opinion journalism since its shows are so studded with inaccuracies and lies.
What that means is that Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon are allowed to take a stand as opinion journalists; Cuomo and Lemon never really worked under a mandate of objectivity and Ingraham and Hannity likely wouldn’t honor it if they did. Indeed, a certain subjectivity — and explaining how it developed for the journalist — is part of an opinion journalist’s craft. To me, little of these consulting roles would be problematic if any of these anchors had just disclosed them and the ways they advised the people they cover.
But they didn’t. Instead, the advice they dispensed to government employees and celebrities was disclosed by a third party and news of it contributes to the public’s distrust in the media. While personal PR advisory connections between journalists and politicians haven’t been pinpointed as a source of distrust, they may have an effect. Almost two-thirds of respondents in a Pew Research poll said they attributed what they deemed unfair coverage to a political agenda on the part of the news organization. No one has rigorously examined the ways in which individual journalists can swing institutional opinion so it may be part of the reason why consumers are suspicious of news.
Cleaning up ex post facto is both a violation of journalistic ethics and ineffective. Apologies and corrections after the fact don't always improve media trust. In other credibility contests, like courtroom battles, statements against one’s interests enhance a person’s believability. But that’s not necessarily true of news; a 2015 study found that corrections don’t automatically enhance a news outlet’s credibility.
It’s a new adage for the 21st century: It’s not the consulting; it’s the cover-up. Journalists need to disclose their connections to government officials — up front — to help maintain trust in news media. Lives depend on it.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.


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