A massive spill of toxic coal ash in a North Carolina river on February 2 has been entirely ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC. The spill has led to a federal investigation and allegations that the state's Governor -- who worked for the corporation behind the spill and has received substantial campaign donations from it -- has been too lenient on the company, which was discovered to have spilled coal ash into the river again on February 18.
This week, all four major broadcast networks covered extreme weather and climate change on their Sunday morning political talk shows. Those programs have largely ignored global warming in recent years, making their effort to address the issue unusual and laudable. But several of the segments also demonstrated the vulnerability inherent in treating science as a political debate where both sides receive a platform to air their positions.
Major winter storms across the U.S. in the month of February, drought in California, and President Obama's call for a $1 billion climate change "resilience fund" sparked debates this week over the need for action against climate change. The science of global warming is settled: according to one survey, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that "humans are causing global warming." But the Sunday shows, because they are built on a model of showing political conflicts, have difficulty putting that fact in context.
ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press both featured debates between individuals who support and oppose the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, creating a false balance that could serve to confuse their viewers. Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, meanwhile, hosted a discussion in which no panelist stated that human-caused climate change is occurring while several claimed that it is not. CBS' Face the Nation, by contrast, featured an interview with a scientist who explained that "we know that climate change is happening and humans are contributing."
The broadcast Sunday shows devoted a paltry 27 minutes of coverage to climate change in 2013, according to a Media Matters study. Nearly 60 percent of that coverage came on Face the Nation; Meet the Press did not mention the issue all year. Face the Nation also featured the first interview of a scientist to discuss global warming by any of the programs in five years.
It's a good sign that the Sunday shows are addressing global warming, but treating it as just another political issue causes new complications.
Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."
Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- between the U.S., Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. The nations involved in the talks account for nearly 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of the world's trade, but weekday evening television news broadcasts have largely ignored the topic.
ABC's The View reportedly plans to mainstream conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch by featuring her as a guest co-host on the February 3 program.
The decision to give Loesch a national platform on a highly-rated television show is troubling considering Loesch has gained notoriety for her inflammatory rhetoric, expressing extreme views on topics from gun control to reproductive access.
Loesch made headlines in January 2012 for her reaction to an internet video that appeared to show members of the Marine Corps urinating on the corpses Taliban fighters. On her St. Louis-based radio show, Loesch defended the alleged act, saying that she would "drop trou and do it too" if she was in a similar situation. Loesch criticized "a bunch of progressives that are talking smack about our military because there were Marines caught urinating on corpses -- Taliban corpses," and later defended her comments on a Breitbart.com blog post by claiming she was "defending [the Marines] from overly-dramatic hysteria."
At the time, Loesch was an CNN contributor, and the network reportedly suspended her soon after these remarks.
Loesch was also one of the few right-wing media figures to excuse former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) for his "legitimate rape" remarks. After Akin declared that it is rare for women who had been the victim of "legitimate rape" to become pregnant because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Loesch took to Twitter account and dismissed Akin's comments, claiming he "failed a soundbite" and attacking his critics for "hypocritical overreactions."
Two dozen women leaders and organizations have signed a letter to the six network and cable news heads expressing their concern for the lack of gender diversity on Sunday morning political talk shows.
A Media Matters report found that in 2013, men made up more than 70 percent of the guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, and CNN's State of the Union. Only MSNBC's Up and Melissa Harris-Perry reached near parity, with women making up 44 percent of total guests. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time. The top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews were all men. Media Matters also found that gender diversity has not improved on the broadcast political talk shows in the past five years.
The heads of 24 organizations which advocate for women and women's representation in media wrote to the Presidents and Chairs of the broadcast and cable networks, expressing "deep concern" for the lack of diversity and urging them to take action to ensure the morning political talk shows "more accurately reflect the demographics of our diverse nation":
With male guests vastly outnumbering female guests on Sunday morning broadcasts, women lose out in shaping the national discourse, and your viewers miss important points of view.
There are qualified women to speak on issues affecting all Americans, including national security, economic growth, climate change, education and many others. But when it comes to reproductive health, equal pay, and other subjects disproportionately affecting women, it becomes increasingly imperative that Sunday political talk shows reflect our democracy. This is particularly important since these shows frequently set the tone for how these topics are covered later in the week.
The full letter can be read below.
Want to know if women's representation in media is improving? Here's one indication it's not: the percentage of female guests on the Sunday morning broadcast political talk shows is the same as it was five years ago.
According to a Media Matters analysis, male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday broadcast political talk shows in 2013, with women making up only 25 percent of all guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time on the same programs. In fact, the top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews in 2013 were all men.
This vast underrepresentation of women on political talk shows that often set the agenda is disheartening -- but the number appears even worse when looked at over time.
Female guests made up only 24 percent of guests on the Sunday morning broadcast shows back in 2008 according to Media Matters' data, an insignificant change over the past five years.
One reason for this may be that the pool of potential guests for these shows has also not gotten significantly more diverse over the past five years. The most common guests were in 2013 were journalists and pundits, a profession which is overwhelmingly male. Newsroom diversity has been stagnant for over a decade, with the percentage of women in newsrooms never exceeding 38 percent.
The second most common profession among guests in 2013 on those programs were politicians. According to the Nation Women's Political Caucus, in 2013 women made up only 18.3 percent of Congress, a (shockingly low) number which was not much of an improvement from 2008, when women were 17 percent of Congress.
The lack of diversity in newsrooms and Congress, however, does not entirely excuse the broadcast shows from consistently failing to invite women to the table. In 2013, MSNBC managed to have women make up 44 percent of guests on their Sunday morning political talk shows, with Melissa Harris-Perry (which debuted in 2012) leading in gender diversity by hosting women 47 percent of the time. Broadcast political talk shows have a lot of catching up to do to ensure women have equal participation in our national media.
Let's hope it doesn't take another five years.
Charts by Oliver Willis.
Broadcast evening news programs have remained silent on unemployment benefits since a measure to restore emergency compensation failed to pass the Senate. However, for many Americans, the prospect of losing benefits has only just begun.
At the end of 2013, emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed -- a program that has been in place since the financial crisis took hold -- expired. In the first weeks of 2014, Congress attempted to pass an extension, but the measure eventually fell to a Republican filibuster in the Senate on January 14.
Since the failed bid to extend unemployment benefits, nightly broadcast news programs have largely ignored the issue. Only one evening news segment on ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted time to discussing the now-expired benefits. That came in the form of NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams explaining that the measure to extend benefits failed in the Senate on January 14. Since then, there has been no discussion on any of the three networks.*
And as the Huffington Post's Sam Stein noted, broadcast Sunday show programs on January 19 provided no airtime to discussing the benefits except for a passing mention by NBC's Peter Alexander on Meet the Press.
While broadcast news may see this issue as complete, the negative effects of the benefits expiration will continue for an increasing number of Americans.
In a January 21 piece in The New York Times, reporter Annie Lowrey outlined the very real consequences of letting benefits expire, focusing on the story of Alnetta McKnight, an unemployed security guard. McKnight lost her benefits after 20 weeks due to a recently passed law in North Carolina, and is finding it hard to make ends meet or find a job. According to Lowrey, McKnight's experience is bound to increase across the country because, since the expiration of the emergency unemployment compensation program, "the maximum period of unemployment payments dropped to 26 weeks in most states, down from as much as 73 weeks."
Indeed, the situation will get worse for a number of Americans unless Congress acts to reinstate long-term unemployment insurance benefits. When the long-term unemployment benefits program expired, 1.3 million unemployed people immediately lost benefits. As more of the unemployed reach the maximum time allowed to collect benefits, they will find themselves in similar circumstances. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a total of 4.9 million people will be without any unemployment benefits by the end of the year if emergency measures are not reinstated.
More Americans will face the same situation as Alnetta McNight until the program is restored. Unfortunately for the millions who are currently unemployed, broadcast media have given up the public debate.
*Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC from January 14 to January 21 using the following search terms: unemploy! or employ! or job! or insur! or benefi!. The "!" operator in Nexis allows for all possible suffixes to the word it follows (for example, unemploy! returns unemployed, unemployment, etc.). When transcripts were missing or incomplete, we reviewed video.
Image via Bytemarks using a Creative Commons License
A Media Matters analysis found that network nightly news coverage of climate change was tepid in 2013, despite growing scientific evidence that global warming is getting worse. By contrast, PBS aired nearly three times as much climate coverage as ABC World News, the worst offender.
PBS NewsHour aired more news coverage about climate change and interviewed more scientists on the issue than any other evening network news program in 2013. The scale and scope of coverage demonstrated the program's commitment to reporting on global warming, a pattern Media Matters first identified in 2012. The program broadcast 35 stories that at least mentioned climate change, far more than what ABC World News, NBC Nightly News or CBS Evening News chose to give its audiences. By comparison, the three other network nightly news programs aired a combined total of 49 stories that at least mentioned global warming.
A group of senators is asking for more broadcast coverage on climate change, following a Media Matters analysis which found that Sunday shows aired only scant coverage on the issue last year.
On Thursday, January 16, a letter spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was sent to the top executives of four major television networks, expressing "deep concern" about the lack of coverage on global warming, deeming it a "serious environmental crisis" which "poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community." The letter cited findings from a recent Media Matters study, which revealed that Sunday news shows dedicated merely 27 minutes of coverage to the issue of climate change throughout all of 2013. They wrote that "this is an absurdly short amount of time for a subject of such importance."
The senators concluded with a call to action: "We urge you to take action in the near term to correct this oversight and provide your viewers, the American public, with greater discussion of this important issue that impacts everyone on the planet."
The other senators that signed the letter were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
The letter in full:
Dear Mr. Ailes, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Sherwood, and Ms. Turness:
We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation," and "Fox News Sunday."
According to the scientific community, climate change is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet. The scientists who have studied this issue are virtually unanimous in the view that climate change is occurring, that it poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community, and that it is caused by human activity. In fact, 97% of researchers actively publishing in this field agree with these conclusions.
The scientific community and governmental leaders around the world rightly worry about the horrific dangers we face if we do not address climate change. Sea level rise will take its toll on coastal states. Communities will be increasingly at risk of billions of dollars in damages from more extreme weather. And farmers may see crops and livestock destroyed as worsening drought sets in. Yet, despite these warnings, there has been shockingly little discussion on the Sunday morning news shows about this critically important issue. This is disturbing not only because the millions of viewers who watch these shows deserve to hear that discussion, but because the Sunday shows often have an impact on news coverage in other media throughout the week.
A study published today by Media Matters for America reported that Sunday news shows devoted 27 minutes of air time in 2013 to climate change coverage.
Although it is a modest improvement over the eight minutes of coverage in 2012, given the widely recognized challenge that climate change poses to the nation and the world, this is an absurdly short amount of time for a subject of such importance.
We are more than aware that major fossil fuel companies spend significant amounts of money advertising on your networks. We hope that this is not influencing your decision about the subjects discussed or the guests who appear on your network programming.
Thank you very much for your interest in this matter. We urge you to take action in the near term to correct this oversight and provide your viewers, the American public, with greater discussion of this important issue that impacts everyone on the planet. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
A Media Matters analysis reveals that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX picked up in 2013 over the previous year, but remained lower than a 2009 high. Furthermore, while one Sunday show interviewed scientists about climate change, distinguishing itself as the first such program to do so in five years, these shows continued to rely largely on media figures and Republicans to dictate the conversation around global warming.
In the second half of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable evening news discussed Social Security in a largely negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news continue to place undue focus on government spending cuts and deficit reduction, pushing a narrative that is out of touch with economic reality.
Media Matters research revealed that throughout the fourth quarter of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable nightly news programs were more likely to advocate for deficit reduction than economic growth and job creation. Out of a total 890 segments on the economy, 250 saw the host or guest mention deficit reduction as an economic priority, while only 204 segments mentioned the need for economic growth and job creation.
Of course, Fox News led the charge in calling for deficit reduction, echoing trends seen in previous quarters.
Media's focus on deficit reduction was a constant theme throughout 2013, a theme increasingly out of touch with economic realities.
While broadcast and cable evening news programs were clamoring about the need for deficit reduction, in fiscal year 2013, the Treasury posted the smallest budget deficit since 2008. The same news programs that advocated for deficit reduction, however, were unlikely to mention this fact -- only 15 total segments over the fourth quarter noted that deficits are in decline.
Meanwhile, economic growth and job creation, while taking a backseat in media coverage, still remain a persistent problem in the U.S. economy. Many economists have repeatedly argued that sluggish economic growth and weak job creation are directly tied to an undue policy focus on deficit reduction. But with the recent government shutdown and budget negotiations taking place, weekday broadcast and cable evening news coverage consistently turned the debate back to deficit and debt reduction and away from more pressing issues like unemployment.
Maybe this is why only six percent of Americans know the deficit is shrinking.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the fourth quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
Much of the Affordable Care Act (the ACA, also known as Obamacare), went into effect on January 1, 2014. Major evening news broadcasts focused on different aspects of the law's effects and the extent to which the law will benefit consumers.