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.
Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, sweeping the island nation with near-record winds and a towering storm surge. There are many scientific uncertainties around the factors contributing to storms such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, but scientists know that rising sea levels driven by manmade climate change worsen the damage caused by these storms. Yet an analysis of Typhoon Haiyan coverage in television and print media finds that less than five percent of stories mentioned climate change.
A new study found that over the last 60 years the intermediate depths of the Pacific Ocean have warmed 15 times faster than in the past 10,000 years, providing more evidence that the "slowdown" in atmospheric temperature warming over the last 15 years may simply be due to the oceans storing more heat. However, this study was neglected by the same TV outlets who hyped the "slowdown" or "pause," sometimes without including this crucial context.
The study, published in Science on November 1, shows the enormous potential for oceans to act a "storehouse for heat and energy," providing support for the notion that a recent speed bump in atmospheric temperature rise in the past 15 years can be explained by excess heat from global warming being absorbed by the oceans. Study coauthor and Columbia University climate scientist Braddock Linsley explained, "We're experimenting by putting all this heat in the ocean without quite knowing how it's going to come back out and affect climate."
The recent findings were not covered by top U.S. TV outlets,* even though many of those same outlets recently focused on the "slowdown." A Media Matters study found that forty-one percent of media coverage of the the United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) major report mentioned the "slowdown." A CBS segment on the report, for example, focused on the speed bump, calling it an "inconvenient truth" that "the global atmosphere hasn't been warming lately," and turning to a "skepti[c]" without a climate science background to cast doubt on climate change.
Focus on the warming "pause" has received criticism as it's misleading to use a short-term time period to draw conclusions. The IPCC explained, "natural variability and short term factors" causes uncertainty, and the short time period is "very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends." For example, many use the start date of 1998, but this year had an abnormally strong El Nino, temporarily amplifying atmospheric temperatures. As Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA told Mother Jones, "If you shift just 2 years earlier, so use 1996-2010 instead of 1998-2012, the trend is 0.14 C per decade, so slightly greater than the long-term trend."
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.
Cable and broadcast nightly news programs have remained completely silent on pending automatic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly known as food stamps -- which will have negative impacts on the economy and low-income groups.
ABC's The View hosted Betsy McCaughey to attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA), praising her as a "health care policy expert" and ignoring her history of misinformation, including inventing the persistent lie that the health care law contains "death panels."
On the October 29 edition of The View, co-host Barbara Walters introduced a segment with McCaughey by calling her a "health care policy expert" and asking if health care consumers "were not told the truth by the Obama administration," saying, "they are about to lose their current medical plans and they don't know what they are getting instead." The View provided no background about McCaughey aside from naming her as the author of a book opposing the ACA.
McCaughey, who is by no means a "health care policy expert," has no credibility to comment on the ACA. In 2009, during the legislative debate over the bills that would later become the ACA, McCaughey distorted language in the House version of the bill to claim that it would "absolutely require -- that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care." McCaughey's misinformation was echoed throughout the right-wing media, leading to the lie that the ACA contains "death panels" that will judge whether patients are deserving of life-preserving care.
McCaughey's history of health care misinformation doesn't end at death panels. In fact, during her appearance on The View, she solicited a question about senior care in order to push another of her debunked health care claims: that the ACA cuts benefits for Medicare patients. McCaughey has long pushed this false claim, consistently ignoring the fact that the ACA explicitly stipulates that guaranteed Medicare benefits will not be affected.
In the first week of cable and broadcast nightly news coverage of the ongoing government shutdown, networks largely failed to report the effects on low-income Americans, instead opting for discussions of political leverage and national park closures.
Cable and broadcast evening news significantly increased coverage of inequality and poverty in recent months. This increased coverage comes at a crucial time, with reports showing historic highs in both metrics.
A Media Matters analysis found that issues of inequality and poverty were discussed in roughly 20 percent of broadcast and cable nightly news segments on the economy over the third quarter of 2013.
This spotlight on inequality in television news represents a departure from past coverage. In the second quarter of 2013, inequality and poverty were mentioned in only 9.3 percent of cable and broadcast segments on the economy. Similarly, major print outlets have failed to note structural inequality in their coverage of policies and programs that affect low-income groups.
Regardless, the increased coverage of poverty and inequality, especially when it is devoid of political motivations to defund anti-poverty programs, comes at a critical time.
In September, economists found that income inequality had reached its highest level since 1928, right before the onset of the Great Depression, with incomes for the top 1 percent of earners rising 20 percent. Meanwhile, incomes for the bottom 99 percent rose by only 1 percent. This research came on the heels of a report by the Economic Policy Institute that found median wages have remained stagnant for nearly a decade, despite increases in productivity.
As inequality has risen, improvement in poverty statistics has been lacking. On September 17, the United States Census Bureau released its annual report on income poverty and health insurance coverage for 2012. The report found that there was no significant improvement in reducing poverty since 2011, with the official poverty rate holding at 15 percent.
As reports flood in about the rising inequality and stagnant poverty rates, media have no choice but to cover issues that are unfortunately pertinent to an increasing number of Americans.
Cable and broadcast television outlets, driven largely by Fox News, promoted the myth that the Affordable Care Act is forcing employees into part-time work and killing full-time jobs, while ignoring serious discussions of the labor market and the effect of policy proposals on job growth.
Media Matters research, which looked at economic news coverage over the past three months, revealed an overwhelming bias in news coverage of the effects of health care reform on the American job market. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was identified as a primary driver of slow job growth and increased part-time employment in 90 recorded segments concerning the economy. More than three-quarters -- 69 -- of those segments came from Fox News, which has invested considerable time and attention to attacking President Obama's signature health care law.
The claim that ACA has a negative effect on the job market has been addressed and debunked by independent economists, but the myth persists as a talking point in the media. At Fox, the myth is a central theme of economic discussions.
Meanwhile, the negative effect of spending cuts on reducing economic growth and labor market demand went relatively unmentioned in the media. Only 37 recorded segments concerning the economy mentioned the harmful impact of spending cuts, the majority of which -- 27 -- came from MSNBC.
Economists agree that the austerity measures enacted over the past several years have dragged down economic growth. Nobel Prize-winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have written and commented about the effect of depressed spending at length, as have many others. However, cable and broadcast news coverage of the economy consistently ignore the views of economists in favor of discussions centered around optics and political horse races. Only 3 percent of featured guests in these segments during the past three months have been professional economists.
The lack of serious discussions of economic policy, in favor of politically driven talking points, has had a tangible effect on the economy and government. The vitriol directed at health care reform from the right-wing reached its peak on October 1 when House Republicans, emboldened by supportive media, opted to shut down the government rather than concede their demand that Democrats dismantle the ACA in exchange for a temporary extension of current spending.
The ACA was signed into effect on March 23, 2010, and has been subject to constant media scrutiny for more than three years. Calls to have the law repealed, or to have significant portions delayed, have been pushed by right-wing outlets for the past several months in preparation for the start of enrollment for state-based exchanges on October 1.
Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act throughout the third quarter of 2013. While coverage of certain issues improved, a Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News advancing the erroneous notion that the Affordable Care Act is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
On the evening of September 11, 2012, a heavily armed group of terrorists allegedly led by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia attacked a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith were killed in the assault. The remaining members of the mission were evacuated to a nearby CIA facility, which came under artillery fire early the next morning. Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both CIA contractors who had served as U.S. Navy Seals, were killed in that attack.
At roughly 10:24 p.m.* on the east coast, Mitt Romney's campaign released a statement accusing President Obama of "sympathizing" with the attackers; this politicization was immediately echoed by the right-wing noise machine.
Over the past year, conservative media figures and activists, led by Fox News, have repeatedly created and promoted lies, smears, and conspiracies related to the Benghazi attack. While the attack raised meaningful questions about how we can best protect U.S. diplomats in dangerous environments, the right has instead sought to use what happened in Benghazi and in the days that followed to bring down President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other members of the administration.
Much of the criticism has revolved around two lines of attack: That the Obama administration downplayed the role that terrorists played in the attack, and that the administration held back additional U.S. military forces that could have been used to save lives. In reality, President Obama referred to the attack as an "act of terror" during his September 12 Rose Garden speech, and U.S. officials have made clear that all available and appropriate forces were sent as quickly as possible. As former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz wrote in their book Under Fire:
There was never a question concerning U.S. resolve or the overall capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to Benghazi. There was, however, nothing immediate about an immediate response. There were logistics and host-nation approvals to consider. An immediate response was hampered by the equation of geography and logistics.
In this report, Media Matters chronicles:
In an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl this weekend, Donald Trump was asked for one word to describe himself. His response? "Smart." (At least he didn't say "humble.")
In terms of press savvy, Trump is smart enough to once again fool the media into another few years of conversations about whether he'll run for president.
It's clear there is a significant constituency of individuals in the Republican Party that would like to see Trump run -- and not just for the laughs. He strikes a tone that perfectly captures the essence of the modern conservative movement: He is smart enough to be dumb.
Ignorance is not a state of mind but, rather, a potent political strategy of the right. Mother Jones reported last week on a new study on media coverage of climate change published in the journal Public Understanding of Science that found "watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh both increase one's level of distrust of these scientific experts. Or as the paper puts it, '[C]onservative media use decreases trust in scientists.' "
On This Week ABC's Karl, his voice elevating in pitch as he traveled down the rabbit hole of rationality, asked Trump: "But you don't still question [Barack Obama] was born in the United States, do you?"
"I have no idea," Trump replied. "Was there a birth certificate? You tell me. You know, some people say that was not his birth certificate. I'm saying I don't know. Nobody knows and you don't know either, Jonathan."
In its online post of the interview, ABC felt compelled to label Trump's birtherism "a conspiracy theory that has been proven false."
ABC News is scheduled to host Donald Trump on this Sunday's edition of This Week to discuss whether he plans "to run for president." If ABC wants to waste airtime on Trump, will the network challenge the reality show star about his baseless conspiracy theories, and habit of using the false promise of running for president as a vehicle for self-promotion?
ABC promoted Trump's appearance with a tweet asking, "Is @realDonaldTrump planning to run for president in 2016? We ask him Sunday on #ThisWeek." But as ABC has itself reported, Trump has previously floated the prospect of a presidential run in order to promote himself and his related business ventures.
Trump insists he's serious, but experts in branding and politics are dubious, saying the art of this deal for The Donald is simple: gaining favorable exposure.
It's not that he needs fame. Trump already is one of the most well-known people on the planet. Rather, they said, flirting with an idea of a presidential campaign helps to burnish the Trump name, the foundation of his business.
Trump is unlikely to be an actual candidate in this election or any other, and never has been- why would ABC News allow itself to be used for yet another round of promotional appearances for a charlatan?
Print media coverage of Social Security finances overwhelmingly favors reporting figures in raw numbers that lack relevant context, a trend that reflects cable and broadcast news coverage's push for reducing the cost of the program over strengthening benefits for recipients.
A Media Matters analysis finds that three major print sources -The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post - are more likely to report figures on Social Security revenue, spending, and funding gaps in terms of raw numbers that lack relevant context, such as previous years' figures. Fifty-nine percent of total mentions of Social Security's finances throughout the first half of 2013 relied strictly on raw numbers:
According to economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research Dean Baker, the overreliance on reporting economic figures in raw numbers only serves to confuse and mislead readers:
It is understandable that people who want to promote confusion about the budget -- for example convincing people that all their tax dollars went to food stamps -- would support the current method of budget reporting. It is impossible to understand why people who want a well-informed public would not push for changing this archaic and absurd practice.
Fox News is continuing its push for government spending cuts despite broadcast and cable news outlets largely shifting toward advocating economic growth in their coverage.
Media Matters research revealed that throughout the second quarter of 2013, broadcast and cable nightly news programs were more likely to advocate economic growth over deficit reduction. Of the total 280 segments on the economy, 97 had the host or guests advocate economic and job growth as an economic priority, compared to 80 that pushed for deficit reduction.
Fox News, however, stands out in its continued and overwhelming focus on deficit reduction, dedicating 61 segments to the topic, nearly double the number of segments it afforded to discussions of economic growth. Moreover, the network accounts for 76 percent of segments that advocate deficit reduction across all networks.
Fox's continued focus on deficit reduction occurs despite a broad shift in economic coverage in television news. In the month of April, cable and broadcast nightly news advocated deficit reduction over economic growth by 45 segments to 35. The latest data shows a reversal of this trend.
More importantly, the network's continued focus on reducing spending and deficits ignores economic reality and the opinions of economists.
Deficits over the past few years have been declining rapidly, and current Congressional Budget Office projections show falling deficits in coming years. Furthermore, both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget recently reduced estimates for this year's deficit.