(Flickr image via southerntabitha)
2013 will be remembered as the year of health care policy. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) dominated media outlets across the spectrum, especially following the implementation of the law's health care exchanges in October. Yet often lost in all the noise was factual reporting on the new law. Much right-wing and even mainstream media coverage pushed misleading, hyperbolic, and outright false attacks about the ACA.
Right-wing media figures greeted the health care law's exchanges with inflammatory and irresponsible rhetoric.
In an October 11 appearance at the Values Voters' Summit, recently-hired Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson declared that Obamacare "is the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery," later deciding, "It is slavery, in a way." Carson's comparison of slavery to a law that grants universal access to health insurance was not remarkable for the right-wing media. In an appearance on NPR's Morning Edition, George Will approved of GOP efforts to repeal the law by likening them to the Fugitive Slave Act, saying "the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them." On Fox News' Hannity, right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt compared defunding the ACA to repealing prohibition and slavery.
Conservative media were not the only ones to make outrageous comparisons. Media figures across the ideological spectrum attempted to link technical problems with Healthcare.gov to the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina. The comparison, of course, ignores the thousands of lives lost in the hurricane, as Media Matters pointed out:
Network nightly news broadcasts have served as a conduit for House Republicans to attack Obama administration initiatives through committee hearings -- all part of the GOP's "aggressive campaign," according to a recent New York Times report, to hold committee hearings and rely on media to cover the hearings' chosen narrative.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and entitlement reform throughout the second quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many segments lacked proper context or input from economists, while some topics went largely underreported.
Throughout the first half of 2013, broadcast and cable nightly news overwhelmingly discussed Social Security in an unbalanced and negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
More than 72,000 Americans are calling on ABC, CBS and NBC to reassess their priorities after a Media Matters analysis found that their nightly news programs devoted very little time to climate change in 2012 -- less than they covered the British royal family.
Even during the warmest year on record in the U.S., the nightly news programs combined devoted only 12 full segments to climate change. By contrast, these programs dedicated over seven times more coverage to the royals in 2012, as this graphic by the Climate Reality Project in collaboration with Media Matters illustrates:
The disparity was greatest on ABC World News, which dedicated 43 segments to the royal family and only one to climate change. NBC Nightly News wasn't much better, devoting 38 segments to the royals and only 4 to climate change. CBS Evening News covered climate change the most -- in 7 segments -- but still less than its 11 segments on the royal family.
This ongoing imbalance was illustrated just last week when scientists announced that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is set to surpass 400 parts per million, likely for the first time in human history. ABC World News and NBC Nightly News ignored the story, even as NBC found time to cover Prince Harry's visit to the United States.
A previous Media Matters report found that the broadcast networks covered Donald Trump more than climate change in 2011.
From the January 12 edition of MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes:
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Primetime news has largely overlooked the future ideological direction of the U.S. Supreme Court as a key election issue, failing to note that the candidate who wins in November will likely appoint justices and shape how the court will decide vitally important issues.
Other news outlets have acknowledged the significance of Court nominations for the next president. The New York Times has reported that "[t]he winner of the race for president will inherit a group of justices who frequently split 5 to 4 along ideological lines. That suggests that the next president could have a powerful impact if he gets to replace a justice of the opposing side." The Associated Press has added that "[d]ecisions on many of the hot-button issues in recent years have been by 5-4 votes. These include upholding Obama's health care overhaul, favoring gun rights, limiting abortion, striking down campaign finance laws, allowing consideration of race in higher education and erecting barriers to class-action lawsuits." Both articles note that because four justices are currently in their seventies, the next president's prospects for appointing multiple justices are very real.
Many in the media have long since repudiated their failures in the lead-up to the Iraq War, acknowledging that they were too quick to accept the false notion that Iraq possessed a sizable and dangerous cache of weapons of mass destruction. The question today is whether they have learned from those mistakes.
The media's self-reflection began as early as May of 2004, little more than a year after the conflict began, when The New York Times editorial board reflected on the paper's coverage of the war and stated that they "found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been." Top editors at the Times and The Washington Post subsequently acknowledged they had failed to push for front-page articles on "the flimsiness of the intelligence on W.M.D." The media's poor coverage has been noted by the Post's Walter Pincus, CNN's Howard Kurtz, CBS' Katie Couric, and many more.
But fast forward to today, and the media's coverage of Iran's nuclear program suggests that some outlets have not learned from Iraq reporting failures and risk repeating history. Media Matters reviewed transcripts of ABC's World News, CBS' Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News between November 8, 2011 and March 31, 2012. The examination reveals that once again the media is frequently misrepresenting the expert opinion of the intelligence community.
Two egregious misrepresentations in particular repeatedly came up in news reports on the Iranian nuclear program: suggesting that Iran will imminently obtain the bomb and suggesting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has major influence over the country's nuclear program.
A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX has dropped significantly since 2009. In 2011, these networks spent more than twice as much time discussing Donald Trump as climate change.
From the March 5 edition of ABC's World News:
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Last week, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that hinders enforcement of federal light bulb efficiency standards that were signed into law by President Bush in 2007. Conservative media have repeatedly misled consumers about the standards, and now ABC's flagship nightly news program is adding to the misinformation.
On ABC World News, Diane Sawyer called the measure "a small victory ... for those who like their light bulbs the old-fashioned way." Jonathan Karl suggested that the "light bulb ban" would require consumers to buy "new bulbs [that] are funny looking, dimmer and more expensive."
After relentlessly pushing the false claim that the so-called "Climategate" controversy showed climate scientists deceitfully manipulating data, conservative media are celebrating a Rasmussen Reports poll finding that a majority of Americans believe "some scientists" have likely "falsified research data" to support "their own theories and beliefs about global warming."
From the April 6 edition of ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer:
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Media reports have repeatedly clouded the health care reform debate by uncritically reporting on false claims that the Senate health care bill provides federal funding for abortion beyond the limited cases allowed by current law: rape, incest, and conditions that endanger the life of the pregnant woman.