Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.
A brutal attack on a Nigerian town by the militant group Boko Haram that may have killed as many as 2,000 people has been given relatively little attention by the U.S. media.
On January 3, Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Baga, Nigeria, near the Cameroon and Chad borders, after attacking a nearby military base. Conflicting reports on the death toll have emerged -- local officials initially estimated that as many as 2,000 were killed, though recent accounts suggest the death toll is in the hundreds. As of January 12, nine days after the attacks began, "bodies still littered the bushes in the area." More than 10,000 people were killed in 2014 alone in a conflict that has raged for more than five years and displaced 1.5 million people.
But the terrible scale of this tragedy hasn't translated into extensive news coverage, which Maeve Shearlaw noted in a January 12 Guardian article:
But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world's media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored.
On Twitter, Max Abrahms, a terrorism analyst, tweeted: "It's shameful how the 2K people killed in Boko Haram's biggest massacre gets almost no media coverage."
A quick Nexis search confirms this: the Baga massacre has hardly made a dent in cable or network news coverage. Searching evening cable news transcripts between January 3 and 14 for "Boko Haram" turns up only nine substantive discussions of the Baga massacre: four on CNN, three on MSNBC, and two on Fox.
Network news fared even worse. The massacre was mentioned once on NBC, twice on ABC, and once briefly on CBS. According to the American Press Institute, 73 percent of Americans get at least some of their news from nightly broadcast news.
News of the Baga massacre began to reach the Western press around the same time another heinous terrorist attack occurred: the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris. While that attack has received wall-to-wall coverage, Baga has barely been addressed. The Hebdo shooting certainly deserves our attention. But given the scale of the Baga tragedy, with as many as 2,000 dead and survivors still trapped on an island on Lake Chad, don't these victims' stories deserve to be heard too?
2014 was a year of eye-popping media numbers, from millions of dollars' worth of coverage devoted to a trumped-up scandal to mere seconds devoted to historic news. Here are some of the most important -- and most surprising -- figures from the year.
Radio host and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham accused President Obama of "play[ing] to the sentiment" of the audience when responding to a question on race relations from Black Entertainment Television (BET), arguing that Obama made different remarks during an ABC interview on the same subject. In fact, Obama's answers during the interviews were similar, emphasizing the progress made in the United States on race since the Civil Rights era.
From the December 7 edition of ABC's This Week:
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on Fox News Sunday's November 30 segments on civil rights protests in Ferguson, MO, and the resignation of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. CBS' Sunday morning political talk show had a small majority of white guests during similar segments, while ABC's and NBC's shows were more ethnically diverse.
A two-year investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee that debunked several prominent right-wing myths about the Benghazi attacks was largely ignored by the four major broadcast networks' Sunday shows.
Early in his first term, President George W. Bush addressed the nation in primetime about allowing for limited stem cell research in America and his approval for limited medical research. During the weeks leading up to the announcement, there had a been regular news coverage of the topic, as the White House let reporters know the president was deeply engaged on the issue and was meeting with an array of experts to guide him.
As Bush appeared from his ranch in Texas to make the announcement, all of the major broadcast networks joined the cable news channels in carrying his message live.
The stem cell speech didn't address breaking news and it wasn't about an imminent threat facing the nation. But at the time, network executives said they were happy to air the address. "I don't think it was a tough call because it's an issue that's received so much attention," CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius told the Boston Globe. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider agreed: "It's an important issue and one that the country is following closely." He added that Bush was "going to make news" with the speech.
A decade later the rules seem to have shifted. All four networks have announced they won't carry President Obama's address to the nation tonight about his long awaited plan to take executive action to deal with the pressing issue of immigration reform. (Two Spanish language networks, Univision and Telemundo, will carry the address live in primetime.)
Keep in mind, the issue is so paramount, and Obama's strategy supposedly so controversial, that a Republican senator yesterday warned there might be violence in the streets in response to Obama's actions. Some GOP lawmakers insisted Obama could face a flurry of legal action including impeachment proceedings, while others have urged the entire federal government be shut down if Obama goes through with his plan. Yet according to executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, Obama's address isn't worth covering.
In early October, the GOP developed a plan to make the federal government's response to Ebola a central part of its midterm elections strategy. Television media played into Republicans' hands, helping to foment panic about the disease. Following the diagnosis of a handful of U.S. Ebola patients, the major broadcast networks ran nearly 1,000 segments about the virus in the four weeks leading up to the elections. Coverage of the disease plummeted in the two weeks following Election Day, with the same networks running fewer than 50 total segments.
ABC's World News Tonight pushed the myth that building the Keystone XL pipeline could create up to 40,000 jobs. In fact, the pipeline is expected to create as few as 50 permanent jobs.
During a November 18 report on the failed Senate vote to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, World News Tonight anchor David Muir stated that "many argued it could have created thousands of American jobs." ABC White House correspondent Jonathan Karl added that "the jobs estimates range from 4,000 to 40,000 jobs. Proponents say it not only creates jobs, but it could lead to energy independence."
But PolitiFact has classified similar claims that the construction of the pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs to be "mostly false," because a vast majority of the jobs would be temporary, and it "does not amount to tens of thousands of full-time jobs in the most common sense of employment." According to PolitiFact, "the State Department estimates the operation of the pipeline will only create 35 permanent, full-time jobs and 15 temporary contractors" once construction is complete.
The pipeline would also do little for "energy independence." Much of the oil that would be carried by the pipeline is slated for export, and U.S. imports of oil would be minimally affected by the supply that would flow through the pipeline.
Sunday morning political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox devoted just 30 seconds of coverage to net neutrality the week after President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to require Internet service providers to treat all content equally. Those same programs dedicated nearly 17 minutes to helping scandalize comments made by Jonathan Gruber, an economist who helped estimate the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
ABC World News Tonight with David Muir was the only one of the three broadcast evening newscasts to ignore the Obama administration's announcement supporting net neutrality. NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News both covered the story.
President Obama issued a statement on Monday asking the Federal Communications Commission to "implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality." Obama asked the FCC to put into effect "bright-line rules" that would prevent Internet providers from blocking access to services, throttling Internet speeds or forcing one service to be prioritized over another. He also asked for providers to have to be more transparent in how their services operate.
Conservative media's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 - October 15 included smearing migrant children as conveyors of disease, accusing the Mexican president of encouraging illegal immigration, and mocking MSNBC host Jose Diaz-Balart for conducting a bilingual interview.
The media heralded a report in early 2014, which claimed that building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change. Since then, multiple studies have found that same report to be flawed, but most mainstream media outlets have refused to give these studies coverage.
President Obama has stated that he would not approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada through the United States, if it "significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution." So when the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement concluding that the Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate change, the media touted State's findings as justification for the contentious pipeline's approval.
However, various studies have since called the State Department's report into question, finding specifically that their climate impact analysis is likely inaccurate. The agency's conclusion rests on the assumption that if the Keystone XL is not approved, the oil sands will simply be transported by rail instead. This may not be the case. According to Reuters, the State Department's predictions of increased rail capacity have been consistently wrong. Reuters broke the news in March that State's latest estimates of tar sands being transported by rail were overestimated by over 400 percent. But no* other major mainstream outlet reported on these findings, which undermined the claim that Keystone XL won't affect the climate - a meme many of these same outlets previously had amplified.
More recently, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that approving the Keystone XL could lead to carbon dioxide emissions four times greater than the State Department's highest estimates. Again, the findings were mostly ignored by top U.S. media outlets** -- with one notable exception. The Los Angeles Times amplified the study and its findings that State's analysis didn't account for the pipeline's impact on the global oil market, which would lead to far greater greenhouse gas emissions. The study authors projected that the pipeline will increase carbon emissions by up to 110 million metric tons due to increased global consumption, far overshooting State's projection of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons. The oil industry has dismissed this study based on the faulty argument that the oil will be shipped by rail anyways, which Associated Press reported -- without mentioning Reuters' contradictory findings.
The authors previously concluded in a similar study that approving the Keystone XL could "potentially counteract some of the flagship emission reduction policies of the U.S. government." How many more studies and reports need to be issued before the mainstream media corrects themselves on the climate impact of approving the Keystone XL pipeline?
*According to a LexisNexis search for "keystone" from March 5 to March 8 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
**According to a search of LexisNexis and internal video archives for "keystone" from August 8 to August 11 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
Image at the top of an oil sands site from Flickr user Pembina Institute with a Creative Commons license.
ABC News has reportedly invited former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson to be a part of the roundtable on This Week, creating a potential challenge for other panelists given her history of inaccurate stories and conspiracy theories.