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According to Fox's Bill O'Reilly, feminist journalists should not be allowed to report on Donald Trump because “Trump is the antithesis” of feminism. By O’Reilly’s standard, any journalist Trump may have offended would be disqualified from reporting on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
On the May 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly speculated on whether "the national media can cover Trump with any fairness," suggesting that editors should not let feminist journalists report on Trump because his past in the beauty pageant world would bias feminists against him (emphasis added):
BILL O'REILLY: She is a feminist. Trump is a beauty contestant purveyor. Do you let a feminist report on a beauty contestant person who is now turned politician?
O’REILLY: Wait, wait. If I'm an editor and I know there is a feminist woman in my newsroom who is brilliant, because I think this woman is an excellent reporter, I don't let her report on a guy like Trump because Trump is the antithesis of that. And so I don't want any margin of error here. There are plenty of reporters who can do the story. Do you not see that?
Based on O'Reilly's logic, anyone who has reasons to find Trump's positions problematic is unfit to cover him. This standard disqualifies a lot of people:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Under this rubric, the only people left to cover Donald Trump would likely be those who have made softball interviews of the candidate their specialty, like Sean Hannity, those amplifying Trump’s conspiracy theories like Alex Jones, or people who share a “personal friendship” with the candidate, like O’Reilly. Following O’Reilly’s logic, media’s role of vetting, fact-checking and challenging a candidate, would become a thing of the past.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee and climate science denier Donald Trump told Reuters that if elected, he would renegotiate the historic Paris climate change agreement -- if not scrap it altogether -- because “China doesn’t adhere to it, and China’s spewing into the atmosphere." But media outlets should think twice before repeating Trump’s claims about China, which experts say is already well on its way toward meeting its obligations under the Paris agreement thanks to major investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.
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Life can be full of surprises, but Big Oil ally Robert Bryce deceptively attacking wind energy in the pages of the Wall Street Journal evidently isn’t one of them.
On May 6, Daily Kos published a blog post presciently warning that the Journal would provide Bryce with opinion page space to attack wind energy by latching onto newly announced revisions to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulations governing the accidental harming or killing of bald and golden eagles. The blog cited Bryce and the Journal as likely contributors to “a fresh round of fossil fuel-penned pieces crying crocodile tears for birds”:
Bryce wrote op-eds attacking wind power in February, October and November 2013, which are all similar to one he wrote in 2009, and just like what he wrote in 2015. Since he already attacked wind power back in February of this year, one might think the WSJ editors wouldn’t want to go back to him for essentially a rerun of the same op-ed. But the WSJ has published over twenty of his pieces since 2009, all of which are either explicitly anti-wind or pro-fossil fuels.
On May 15, Bryce and the Journal proved the Daily Kos blog post right with a Bryce op-ed castigating FWS for “trying to make it easier for the wind industry to kill” eagles.
Bryce complained that the new rules would allow wind energy producers to kill or injure up to 4,200 eagles per year and hyped data showing that wind turbines were responsible for about 573,000 total bird deaths (not just eagles) in 2012. But as the Daily Kos piece explained, it is misleading to cite these figures without explaining that wind turbines are responsible for only “about 3 percent of human-caused eagle deaths” and that other factors -- including the oil and gas industry and climate change -- are a much greater threat to birds than wind energy. From the Daily Kos:
[A]t present 970 million birds crash into buildings annually, 175 million die after flying into power lines, 72 million killed by misapplied pesticide, 6.6 million from collisions with communications towers, and “as many as 1 million birds die in oil and gas industry fluid waste pits."
Given the massive harm to birds from carbon pollution (an Audubon report found that half of all of America’s birds are at risk from climate change) [Bryce] should be gung-ho about reducing emissions.
In addition to Bryce’s long record of attacking clean energy, there’s another reason his latest anti-wind screed is so predictable: He’s a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, which has received millions of dollars from oil interests over the years, including $800,000 from ExxonMobil and $1.9 million from a foundation run by the oil billionaire Koch brothers.
Unfortunately, it was also easy to predict that the Journal editorial board members would allow Bryce to attack wind energy without disclosing his oil industry conflict of interest -- because they did the same thing earlier this year.
In April, Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters released Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. The book lays out the “carefully concealed but ever-growing industry of organized misinformation that exists to create and disseminate lies in the service of political agendas.”
I recently spoke with Rabin-Havt about the group of people -- and their enablers -- feeding false narratives into the media, how we’ve entered an era “where truth doesn’t exist,” and how to fix the problem.
The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The book is titled Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. What does that refer to?
Well it refers to two things. It refers to a group of people who I found in this book are at the center of creating a lot of the lies you see permeating through the conservative media. A group of people who have come up with everything from death panels to the notion that children raised by LGBT couples have worse outcomes than children raised by straight couples. It’s a recognition that a group of people exists to create lies for both ideological and financial profit with the express intent of distorting the public policy process. That’s Lies, Incorporated.
The post-truth refers to the fact that because of this group and because of the media environment that this group feeds off of, we now exist in a world where truth doesn’t exist. Where there’s a truth on the right and a truth on the left, and instead of having debates about issues, we have debates about what is true and what is false, and that’s not a debate that advances us as a country.
And this is a group that not a lot of people realize exists, with an agenda to argue against the facts?
Sometimes a group of people, “experts,” who are paid to create the facts, who are paid to manufacture the facts with the express intent -- and this is what’s interesting -- not of advancing their cause, but of taking us to a draw, keeping us at the status quo. It’s not about advancing an ideology, it’s about keeping everything locked in place.
Because there are certain people who benefit from that, whether it’s a certain political party, or a certain business?
It’s a certain ideology, it’s a certain business, it’s a certain faction, it’s sometimes a group of people. Sometimes the issues are barely connected. A lot of the scientists who worked against the notion that tobacco causes cancer had issues that were completely unrelated. Some were cold warriors who simply believed that any regulation was a step towards communism. One prominent tobacco scientist was a eugenicist who believed that cancer was caused by genetics and therefore couldn’t be caused by tobacco.
The book opens with the story that in 1957 the tobacco industry really started it.
The tobacco industry, they were patient zero here, they really launched this world. What happened is the barons of the tobacco industry met at the Plaza Hotel with John Hill, who was the head of Hill & Knowlton, the legendary public relations firm. John Hill sat them down and said, “You have to stop this advertising that says our cigarettes are the healthiest, you have to cut that out. What we need you to do is start arguing with the science that says cigarettes are unhealthy. And how you do that is we form this Tobacco Industry Research Committee and we do our own science that speaks to our needs.”
What’s interesting is John Hill knew cigarettes are unhealthy. How do we know that? Because John Hill quit smoking prior to this meeting because of its impact on him.
You cover a lot of issues in the book, such as cigarettes, climate change, guns, immigration, and abortion. Which issues among the ones in the book seem to have the biggest offenders?
They’re all very different. The thing I would like to look at is that these lies have an impact on people. We think about death panels for example. This woman, Betsy McCaughey, made up death panels.
That was in the Affordable Care Act debate.
That was horrible, right? But the truth is why it’s horrible is because people aren’t getting insurance today because of that lie. Who isn’t? Well, there was a story in the Washington Post that quoted two women who qualified for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but weren’t getting it and were paying out of pocket for expensive out-of-pocket costs and when they asked them why, one put her fingers in the shape of a gun and implied that it was death panels.
You cite several conservative outlets from Fox News to The Daily Caller to Breitbart. What is the role that the right-wing media have in spreading these lies?
Some of it is laziness, some of it is people are biased towards lies that conform to their world views and confirm their world views. They make us comfortable, they make us feel good. We go to media that doesn’t educate us, that makes us feel good about living in our own world.
My friend Clay Johnson wrote a book a few years back called The Information Diet. In it, he talks about how pizza tastes better than broccoli. If you had a pizza pie in front of you and a plate of steamed broccoli, which one do you want to eat? Well, 99 percent of people want to eat the pizza. But we know that you can’t just eat pizza, you need to eat your broccoli, too. The fact is, we know that in our food diets. On our information diets, people believe and just ingest only pizza, and that’s part of the problem.
Has that gotten better or worse in recent years?
I think it’s gotten worse. Part of the reason is we have a media structure now where you don’t have to get any information other than the information you want.
Our world now is a world of unlimited bandwidth. Which in the end it is better to have more voices in the process, it’s better to have a world where somebody can create a site like Daily Kos, like Breitbart and rise up based on the ability to attract an audience -- that’s not a bad thing. The question is, if your only source of news is somebody like Breitbart, it’s going to distort your world view.
Why do you think the Lies, Incorporated group has so much success with these right-wing outlets?
Sometimes they work for them. You look at certain right-wing outlets, and you’ll see members of Lies, Incorporated writing and working for them. Sometimes it’s because these liars are spreading lies that conform to that world view. And part of that is, a lot of this world blossomed over the past seven years. In the past seven years, we had a Democrat in the White House who was pushing for change that leaned progressive, which meant the people fighting that change were conservative, which meant Lies, Incorporated, whose goal is to keep the status quo in place, was fighting against that. I think that creates the world that you’re talking about.
How much does the mainstream media enable these lies?
I think they occasionally do. I think some of it is when you have the ‘he said-she said’ version of reporting, it enables the lies. It’s also enabling to the lies to sometimes just broadcast them in general. Putting Betsy McCaughey on TV at all, even if you’re doing it to call her out, enables her lies. The question is, how do you then structure your coverage, and this is part of the solution, is media need to bear responsibility for broadcasting lies and for putting liars on television. And when they do, this will help to start to solve this problem.
You mention false equivalency in the book, in which every story has to have two equal sides.
Sometimes I feel like public policy stories end up getting covered like AP sports stories. An AP sports story has a similar model every time. Two teams played, this was the score, quote from winning team, quote from losing team, close story. When you try to cover public policy that way, you invariably end up injecting lies into the equation.
People can have differences of opinion. We can look at similar data and have a different view on what that data means. That happens all the time. And there should be differences and we should have a debate about those differences. And we should come to the best conclusions. But the data should be the data and should be upheld and truth should be truth and we should hold it up and we shouldn’t allow people to inject lies in just because they’re doing it under the cover of politics.
Which lies are the worst culprits on the false equivalency?
The one that I think rises above all else is climate change, where the false equivalency for years put climate deniers who had no standing in the scientific community at the same level as scientists and in fact advanced some climate deniers further because they weren’t interested in science and accuracy, they were interested in spinning politics.
Why does it still stick when there is overwhelming scientific agreement that there is man-made climate change?
The lies are sticky, when people believe what they believe it is very difficult to convince people to look at truth when they have a firmly held belief in their head.
What is the way to counter this?
Part of it is a media solution, not giving liars a platform to lie and not allowing them to grow in the media. Part of it is making sure there is a transparency in how issues are covered. Part of it is making sure we don’t cover public policy like we’re covering basketball.
If we did those three things alone, it would weaken Lies, Incorporated because the practitioners of Lies, Incorporated are hackers, they’re hackers of our small “d” democratic process.
Hackers exploit weakness in computer systems. These democracy hackers exploit weakness in our media and public policy systems recognizing that they can inject themselves into the debate. Like a patch on a piece of computer software, by closing those loopholes and vulnerabilities, we can shut them out of the system.
How are these liars making money doing this?
Some of it is grant money from conservative institutions, some of it is speaking fees, some of it is writing a best-selling book. Some of it is they hold positions that allow them to make money and do this ideologically. Some of them are independently wealthy.
What is the biggest surprise people might find from the book?
How interconnected this world is. How all these people kind of all come from the same kernel. How all of this is an interconnected web designed to distort democracy. And how we actually, this is going on behind the scenes and how little coverage it gets.
A group of scientists from around the world is using new web-based technology to assess the accuracy of media coverage of climate change, and the organization spearheading these efforts is looking for support to take its work to the next level.
The organization, known as Climate Feedback, uses what’s known as web annotation technology to layer scientists’ comments directly onto articles and opinion pieces, so that readers can easily understand whether -- and to what degree -- the pieces are consistent with scientific understanding of climate change. Climate Feedback then assigns a credibility score known as “feedback” to each media piece, which serves as an overall guide to its accuracy -- or lack thereof.
The result looks like this:
At Media Matters, we’ve given scientists a forum to set the record straight when media distort their climate studies. Now Climate Feedback is further improving the media conversation by giving scientists the opportunity to respond to a wide variety of climate change coverage, as founder Dr. Emmanuel Vincent explained in an email to Media Matters.
“We think scientists need to have a voice of their own in the media,” Vincent said. “Not as a replacement of journalism, but as a way to ensure that scientific results are not misunderstood or distorted.”
The approach Climate Feedback employs is unique in several respects. It borrows from the peer review process used to evaluate scientific research papers, ensuring that media coverage of climate science receives a similar level of scrutiny. “After an article is selected for review, scientists with relevant expertise are invited to provide their feedback directly” using the web annotation platform, Vincent said. “Reviewers then fill [out] a short questionnaire with their rating and appreciation of the overall credibility of the piece that are all revealed at the same time to guarantee the independence of scientists’ reviews.”
Vincent noted that Climate Feedback usually solicits comments from five to 10 scientists for each media evaluation, which is substantially higher than the two to three reviewers typically involved in a classic peer review of scientific literature. “This distributes the workload among scientists who can focus on discussing what they know best,” and helps “convey a more robust sense of the consensus when there is one.”
Climate Feedback also ensures that only highly qualified experts weigh in on the accuracy of the media reports it analyzes. According to Vincent, contributors must have been the lead author of an article published in a top-tier peer-reviewed scientific journal within the last three years, and they must have a doctorate in a relevant discipline. Depending on the nature of the claims made in the article, Climate Feedback may seek comments from experts in a variety of subjects including biogeochemistry, oceanography, climate variability, paleoclimatology, climate impacts on ecosystems, human health and beyond.
Once an evaluation is published, Climate Feedback shares it with the reporter or columnist via email or social media. As an example of his group’s success, Vincent pointed to an article in London’s Telegraph newspaper, which “appended a correction and made major modifications” to its original article, “withdrawing 5 sentences, in such a way that the title of the article announcing an imminent ice age is not supported anymore.” Additionally, one Climate Feedback evaluation formed the basis of an open letter from a group of scientists to The Wall Street Journal, criticizing an opinion piece for “attempt[ing] to throw clouds of uncertainty around the hard facts about climate change.” And just last week, members of the British House of Lords referenced another Climate Feedback evaluation while calling on The Times of London to more accurately cover climate science.
Since Climate Feedback launched in late 2014, Vincent has observed several common media failings, including using flawed reasoning, making logical fallacies, cherry-picking data, and offering misleading or imprecise statements. One example he highlighted was a May 2015 Forbes column by “merchant of doubt” James Taylor, of the Exxon- and Koch-funded Heartland Institute, which misleadingly denied the impact of global warming on polar ice. Vincent noted in his email that Taylor’s column received “almost a million views and is by far Forbes’ most influential climate article in 2015 – which gives an idea of the scale of the problem we’re tackling.”
Indeed, because the challenge is so great, Climate Feedback is ramping up its efforts via a crowdfunding campaign this week. The aim is to raise enough funds to hire a scientific editor and build a “Scientific Trust Tracker,” which will aggregate the group’s ratings to assess the overall credibility of various news sources. According to Vincent, the new tool “should provide a healthy incentive for more accurate science reporting,” because “building trust is essential for news sources and scientists’ endorsements can help journalists with integrity to get ahead.”
Climate Feedback is doing this work at an important time. Major U.S. media outlets continue to give undue attention to those who deny the scientific consensus that fossil fuel pollution and other human activities are causing global warming, while scientists remain vastly underrepresented in some of the most high-profile media discussions of climate change, such as those taking place on the broadcast networks’ Sunday shows. And revelations of Exxon’s climate change deception exemplify the ability of the fossil fuel industry to inject misinformation into the media to undermine climate policies. As the fossil fuel industry continues to wage war on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and other major climate initiatives, too many Americans remain confused about the causes of climate change (although the trend is positive), and not enough recognize the urgent need for action.
As Vincent explained, “We now have growing evidence that corporate interests have been using the same playbook as Tobacco companies a few decades earlier: using the media to sow doubt about the science of the smoking-cancer connection then and of climate change now in order to confuse the public and undermine democratic support for dealing with the issue.”
Climate Feedback is a valuable resource to counteract the fossil fuel industry’s harmful influence and encourage media consumers to “stand with science” to achieve more accurate climate change coverage.
Following Temperature Record Announcements, Oil Industry Ads Outpaced Climate-Related Coverage By Almost 5-To-1
CNN aired almost five times as much oil industry advertising as climate change-related coverage in the one-week periods following the announcements that 2015 was the hottest year on record and February 2016 was the most abnormally hot month on record. Specifically, CNN aired 23.5 minutes of American Petroleum Institute ads during its morning, afternoon, and primetime coverage over those two weeks, compared to just five minutes of coverage about climate change or the temperature records. That disparity does not even account for dozens of Koch Industries ads that also ran on CNN, which were not energy-focused but did serve to boost the image of the oil billionaire Koch brothers’ primary corporation.
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On Earth Day, 175 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement -- the most countries to ever sign an international accord on a single day. Conservative media are reacting by recycling debunked myths about the landmark climate change agreement. Here are the facts.
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The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) claims that it is speaking for the small business community in its opposition to Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination. In reality, NFIB is a front group that has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers network and other large corporate interests, and its opposition to Garland is part of a campaign against environmental, labor and healthcare policies that most small businesses support.
NFIB has released a scorecard criticizing Garland for allegedly having “ruled against private parties and especially private businesses with striking regularity.” But here is how NFIB rates on Media Matters' small business scorecard:
Contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are echoing false attacks on attorneys general who are investigating whether oil companies deceived the public on climate change, and grossly misrepresenting why the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands has subpoenaed records from an oil industry-funded think tank as part of his investigation.
A coalition of attorneys general has committed to holding fossil fuel companies including Exxon accountable if they obfuscated climate change research in order to protect their financial interests. This follows reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showing that Exxon’s own scientists confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterwards. One of the climate denial organizations that Exxon funded was the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker is now subpoenaing CEI for “records of the group's donors and activities involving climate policy,” as InsideClimate News reported. CEI said it “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena,” and called it "an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”
Now, contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are defending CEI and Exxon by misrepresenting Exxon’s alleged wrongdoing. Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle authored a column on April 8 headlined, “Subpoenaed Into Silence on Global Warming,” in which she claimed the attorneys general are trying to “shut down dissenters” and criminalize “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.” Similarly, USA Today contributor Glenn Reynolds proclaimed in an April 11 column that the attorneys general investigations look like “a concerted scheme to restrict the First Amendment free speech rights of people they don’t agree with,” and that their goal is to “treat disagreement as something more or less criminal.”
In casting the issue as a matter of “free speech,” both McArdle and Reynolds ignored the real reason the attorneys general have launched investigations into Exxon and subpoenaed records from CEI. As InsideClimate News explained, despite Exxon’s “emerging understanding of climate change science in the 1970s,” the oil giant subsequently worked to “undermine the scientific consensus, in part by financing research organizations including CEI.” InsideClimate News added:
CEI is one of several organizations that have been repeatedly named over the years by those who have criticized Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for financing the climate denial work of third parties. After the Royal Society of the United Kingdom castigated Exxon in 2006 for giving money to groups misrepresenting climate science, Exxon said it had stopped financing the CEI.
Additionally, the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) uncovered that the year after CEI received $270,000 from Exxon for “Global Climate Change,” “Global Climate Change Outreach,” and “General Operating Support,” CEI released a climate science-denying TV commercial with the tag line: “Carbon Dioxide: They Call it Pollution, We Call it Life.” CIC stated that the commercial “caused such an outcry, we believe it triggered ExxonMobil to cut funding to CEI altogether.”
Bloomberg View’s McArdle warned that the attorneys general investigations could set a bad “precedent” that would “eventually be used against” the “enemies of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ExxonMobil.” But that has already happened: climate science denier and then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was found by the Virginia Supreme Court to have overstepped his authority by demanding that the University of Virginia provide emails and other documents from climate scientist Michael Mann. Identical documents were sought by the American Tradition Institute, whose senior director of litigation, Chris Horner, was also a senior fellow at CEI.
McArdle did mention in her column that her husband Peter Suderman had “briefly worked for CEI as a junior employee.” While she was at it, she could have disclosed that Suderman currently works for Reason magazine, and that the Reason Foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Exxon.