Eric Boehlert On MSNBC's All In: It's "Up To The Press" To Keep Trump From "Creat[ing] His Own Reality"
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When President-elect Donald Trump made seemingly open-minded remarks about climate change during a November 22 meeting with staff of The New York Times, it set off a wave of television coverage about how Trump had supposedly “reversed course” on climate change. But few of these reports addressed any of the substantive reasons that is highly unlikely, such as his transition team’s plan to abandon the Obama administration’s landmark climate policy, indications that he will dismantle NASA’s climate research program, and his appointment of fossil fuel industry allies as transition team advisers -- not to mention the full context of Trump’s remarks to the Times.
In his interview with reporters, editors and opinion columnists from the Times, Trump contradicted his long-held stance that climate change is a “hoax” by stating that he thinks “there is some connectivity” between human activities and climate change (although even that statement doesn’t fully reflect the consensus view of climate scientists that human activities are the “dominant cause” of global warming). Trump also declined to reaffirm his earlier statements that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the international climate agreement reached in Paris last year, instead saying that he has an “open mind” about how he will approach the Paris agreement.
But there are many reasons to take these comments with a grain of salt. For one, Trump has given no indication that he will preserve the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement. To the contrary, The Associated Press reported that internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan and other recent Obama-era environmental regulations that have been the subject of long-running legal challenges filed by Republican-led states and the fossil fuel industry.” Moreover, a senior Trump space policy adviser recently indicated that the Trump administration plans to eliminate NASA’s climate change research program, a move that would likely be accompanied by significant funding cuts to climate research.
Additionally, Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate science denier from the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead his EPA transition team, and two other close allies of the fossil fuel industry, Kathleen Hartnett White and Scott Pruitt, are reportedly Trump’s leading contenders to run the EPA. Trump also named Thomas Pyle, president of the fossil fuel-funded American Energy Alliance, to head his Energy Department transition team. According to The Washington Post, “Hartnett-White, Pyle and Ebell have all expressed doubt about climate change and have criticized the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”
Then there are Trump’s Times comments themselves, which have been “wildly misinterpreted” in the media, as Grist’s Rebecca Leber has explained. In addition to saying there is “some connectivity” between human activities and climate change, Trump said during the Times interview that there are “a lot of smart people” on the “other side” of the issue, and added: “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views.” Trump also appeared to reference the thoroughly debunked “Climategate” scandal about emails among climate scientists at a U.K. university, stating, “They say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists.”
Nonetheless, Trump’s two seemingly climate-friendly remarks to the Times -- that he has an “open mind” about the Paris climate agreement and that humans play some role in climate change -- generated a tremendous amount of uncritical television coverage:
Trump’s climate remarks also received wall-to-wall coverage on cable news, although unlike the broadcast networks’ reports, several of the cable segments did feature pushback on the notion that Trump had actually changed his position on the issue.
Trump’s climate comments were uncritically covered on several CNN programs, including New Day, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. And on the November 27 edition of Inside Politics, host John King and senior political reporter Manu Raju agreed that Trump’s climate remarks were a “big deal.” Some of these programs included speculation about whether Trump truly meant what he said to the Times or whether it was a negotiating ploy, but none mentioned any specific steps Trump has taken since the election that undermine claims that he has reversed course on climate change.
By contrast, several other CNN programs included pushback on the notion that Trump had “softened” or “reversed” his position on climate change. For instance, on the November 23 edition of Erin Burnett Outfront, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein cited Trump’s plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan as evidence that although Trump is “signaling a different tone” on climate change, “when you get into the guts of the policy, he is going in the same direction”:
Similarly, in an interview with NextGen Climate founder Tom Steyer on the November 27 edition of Fareed Zakaria GPS, host Zakaria noted that despite his comments to the Times, Trump “still has a leading climate change denier [Myron Ebell] as the head of his EPA transition, [and] his actions and contradictory words have climate change activists concerned.” Zakaria added that Trump “does say he's going to reverse a lot of these executive actions that Obama has taken, whether it's on coal-fired plants or vehicle emissions.”
A couple of CNN guests also challenged the premise that Trump had shifted his stance on climate change. On the November 22 edition of CNN’s Wolf, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said of Trump’s climate remarks to the Times, “The real test is who is he appointing and what will his policies be.” And on the November 23 edition of CNN’s At This Hour, Michael Needham of Heritage Action for America (the sister organization of the fossil fuel industry-funded Heritage Foundation), pointed to other remarks Trump made to the Times in order to dispute the idea that Trump had accepted that climate change is “settled science.” Needham stated:
I read the actual transcript of this thing. If you look at what [Trump] says on climate change, it's pretty much what we would have said at Heritage. He said there are questions that need to be looked at, there's research on both sides of the issue, this is not settled science the way some people on the left want to say.
Finally, all of the prime-time MSNBC shows that featured substantial discussions of Trump’s climate remarks included proper context. For instance, on the December 2 edition of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Hayes explained that incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had “clarif[ied]” that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is “that most of it is a bunch of bunk.” Hayes also explained that a senior Trump adviser had indicated that “NASA would be limited to exploring other planets rather than providing satellite information and data about what’s happening on the only planet we currently inhabit”:
Similarly, on the November 30 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews aired a clip of Priebus confirming that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is that “most of it is a bunch of bunk.” And on the November 22 edition of MTP Daily, guest host Andrea Mitchell pointed out that Trump “appointed somebody from a very conservative, climate-denying, Koch-sponsored organization, policy institute, to lead the transition on energy and climate issues,” although Mitchell nonetheless maintained that Trump’s statement that he is now open to the Paris climate agreement was “a very big signal internationally.”
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MSNBC Only Outlet To Vet Ryan's Scheme To Gut The Social Safety Net
Weekday evening programming on the largest cable and broadcast news outlets almost completely ignored a long-standing Medicare privatization scheme favored by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the days since he first resurrected the idea of radically reshaping the American health care system toward for-profit interests.
During a November 10 interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ryan misleadingly claimed that due to mounting “fiscal pressures” created by the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress would be forced to engage with what Baier called “entitlement reform” sometime next year. Ryan falsely claimed that “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke” and that the popular health insurance system for American seniors will have to be changed as part of any legislation to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s health care reform legacy. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from November 10 to November 27, Ryan’s plan to privatize the nationwide, single-payer health care coverage currently enjoyed by millions of seniors has gone unmentioned on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. Ryan’s so-called “premium support” plan was briefly mentioned on the November 22 edition of PBS NewsHour when co-host Judy Woodruff pressed President-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as to whether Trump would accept Ryan’s privatization proposal. By comparison, during the same time period, MSNBC ran six prime-time segments exposing Ryan’s privatization agenda:
According to a July 19 issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue “a proposal to gradually transform Medicare into a system of premium supports, building on proposals” adopted by Ryan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. These so-called “premium supports” would provide each Medicare beneficiary with a “voucher” that can be used for the purchase of private health insurance; they represent “a significant change from the current system” that pays health care providers directly for services rendered.
In essence, Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and redirect hundreds of billions of tax dollars that currently go to doctors, hospitals, and other medical service providers through the costly private health insurance market.
This startling scheme bears similarities to a failed 2005 attempt by the Bush administration to partially privatize Social Security. Democratic members of Congress are already aligning themselves against Ryan’s throwback plan to gut Medicare, and it’s not actually clear if Trump is supportive of the initiative, which he refused to fully endorse on the campaign trail.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out last July, claims that Medicare is “nearing ‘bankruptcy’ are highly misleading,” and Ryan’s specific charge that Medicare is “broke” because of the ACA is completely wrong. President Obama’s health care reform law greatly improved Medicare’s long-term finances and extended the hospital insurance trust fund’s solvency by 11 years.
The looming fight over the future of Medicare, which serves over 55 million beneficiaries and accounted for 15 percent of the entire federal budget in 2015, has been well-documented, but it has garnered almost no attention on major television news programs.
Millions of Americans who rely on broadcast and cable evening news are completely unaware of the stakes in this health care policy fight. They are also unaware that Ryan’s privatization scheme would leave millions of retirees at the whims of the same private insurance market that right-wing media are currently attacking because of increased rates.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from November 10, 2016, through November 27, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any mention of “Medicare.”
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Media Emphasis On Tax Returns Overshadows Outrageous Tax Policies
According to Media Matters’ ongoing quarterly analyses of prime-time weekday cable news coverage of the economy, cable outlets more frequently discussed Republican nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns than any economic topic from July through September. Amid the flurry of coverage focused on Trump’s tax secrecy, the major cable networks missed an opportunity to also thoroughly discuss how Trump’s unworkable tax policy proposals would adversely affect the American public.
With just one day left before Election Day, Trump has yet to release his tax returns during his run for president of the United States. According to The Huffington Post, “the writing has been on the wall for months now” that Trump would not release his tax returns before November 8. Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns makes him the first major party nominee to do so since 1976. Media have floated many theories for why Trump has refused to release his tax information: He may be hiding the fact that he has not paid federal income taxes; he could be covering up the news that he makes less money than he claims; or he might be trying to disguise the fact that he improperly used funds from his nonprofit foundation for personal expenses.
In the third quarter of the year, evening cable news shows featured 63 segments dedicated to Trump’s tax returns -- more than the number of segments on actual tax policy (49) or any other economic subject. Media Matters tracked the number of segments each of the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- committed to Trump’s tax returns. Then we compared those figures to the other economic topics tracked as part of our quarterly report on coverage of the economy -- economic inequality, economic growth, tax policy, the federal deficit and national debt, health care, and the minimum wage:
Fox News spent much of the third quarter ignoring Trump’s tax returns while promoting his embrace of failed trickle-down economic policies. Fox aired the fewest segments discussing Trump’s tax returns (11) -- fewer segments than the network spent on economic inequality (38), economic growth (33), taxes (29), the debt and deficit (15) -- and the same number as network devoted to health care (11). The only economic topic Fox News had fewer segments on was the minimum wage (5).
Fox’s economic coverage largely pushed economic claims aligned with Trump’s policies. Of the 76 segments Fox aired discussing the economy, almost one-third (24) specifically discussed the supposed benefits of cutting taxes -- a major part of Trump’s tax plan. Fox’s Hannity frequently used persistent economic inequality as a foil against Trump’s political opponents to claim progressive economic policies under President Obama had failed.
Despite airing the fewest segments about Trump’s tax returns, the majority of Fox’s segments actually attempted to defend Trump’s decision not to release his tax returns -- and Fox was the only network that attempted to defend Trump. Out of 11 segments, Media Matters identified seven that were either attempts by the host to defend Trump’s actions or were appearances by Trump where he defended not releasing his tax returns. Five of these seven segments were on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.
Coverage of Trump’s tax returns on MSNBC eclipsed all other economic coverage. Much of MSNBC’s relentless drumbeat for transparency came from The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, which accounted for over half of all coverage at the network, with 17 segments, followed by All In with Chris Hayes (10), and The Rachel Maddow Show (3). In total, the network discussed Trump’s tax returns in 30 segments, more than all economic segments combined (25).
While MSNBC dedicated more coverage in the third quarter to Trump’s failure to release his tax returns than any other network, it also provided the least amount of coverage on the economy (25 segments) compared to CNN (35) and Fox News (76). MSNBC did discuss tax policy in relation to Trump's tax returns once and was the only network to do so. As was the case with CNN and Fox, MSNBC could have used more of its segments on Trump’s tax returns to provide more context on how Trump’s actual tax policy plans would increase the deficit and neglect the middle class while giving the largest tax reductions to high-income individuals. Unfortunately, MSNBC covered tax policy only 12 times:
CNN featured twice as many segments discussing Trump’s tax returns (22) as Fox News (11). CNN also discussed the economy (35) more than MSNBC (25). Yet, while CNN did have more economic coverage than MSNBC, the network did not produce as many segments discussing tax policy (8) as MSNBC (12). And while none of MSNBC’s coverage on tax policy pushed debunked trickle-down economics, CNN did have three segments promoting the supposed benefits of tax cuts.
CNN covered Trump’s taxes more than any single economic topic: economic inequality (16), economic growth (17), tax policy (8), the debt and deficit (4), the minimum wage (5), and health care (5). Slightly over half of the segments on Trump’s tax returns were from Anderson Cooper 360 (12). In one exchange with Trump senior adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sanders claimed Trump could not release his tax returns because he is being audited, and host Anderson Cooper answered that “what you are saying doesn't make sense.” From the September 9 edition of Anderson Cooper 360:
Scrutiny of Trump's missing tax returns was necessary given the possible reasons for his unprecedented breach of political norms. Trump has tried to falsely claim that he cannot release his tax returns while under audit by the IRS, but even President Richard Nixon released his tax returns during his re-election campaign in 1972, when he was under audit by the IRS.
Trump’s tax returns are just one aspect of the concerns media and experts have had with his extreme and unconventional campaign. Trump’s economic plan has been blasted as “pie in the sky” and “magical thinking” by experts on both sides of the aisle. The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation found Trump’s proposed tax cuts will explode the deficit by $2.6 to $3.9 trillion. Media Matters identified 19 economic myths Trump has spread during this election cycle. Trump’s actions even moved 370 economists, including eight Nobel laureates, to sign a letter denouncing his repeated lies about the economy.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of network broadcast news and cable prime-time (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from July 1, 2016, through September 30, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom! or jobs or growth or debt or deficit or minimum wage or inequality or taxes or poverty or low income or low-income or obamacare or aca or affordable care act or health care.
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A Media Matters analysis of cable news prime-time coverage of voter fraud and voter suppression efforts between October 27 and November 2 found that Fox News completely ignored or dismissed voter suppression in this time period while fearmongering about rare and isolated threats of voter fraud. MSNBC dedicated 10 segments to voter suppression and debunking claims of widespread voter fraud, while CNN discussed voter suppression twice and voter fraud once.
Over the past week, Fox News discussed voter suppression once once, during a November 1 O’Reilly Factor segment (via Nexis) where host Bill O’Reilly and The Five host Kimberly Guilfoyle dismissed concerns of voter intimidation. The two criticized a lawsuit alleging that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign was intimidating voters by calling on supporters to challenge the qualifications of voters at the polls. During the segment, O’Reilly questioned, “How can you intimidate someone after they have already voted?” later calling the lawsuit “a total publicity stunt.” Guilfoyle asked what the “point of the lawsuit” was and asserted that it was “going to fail.”
In contrast, Fox News devoted two segments to fearmongering about voter fraud, one on The Kelly File and another on The O’Reilly Factor. On the October 27 edition of The Kelly File (via Nexis), Fox’s Trace Gallagher reported on “voting machines flipping votes” in Texas and “a few other states,” alleging that votes for Republicans had been suspiciously flipped to votes for Democrats. NPR also reported on this story but added the context that the likely problem with voting machines is that they are old, that voters “see it happen right in front of them on the voting machine screen” in the “handful” of reports, and that voters can easily fix the error:
Voters can usually change the selection to the right one before their ballot is cast. If not, they can let a poll worker know there's a problem so they can move to a machine that works. In many places, such machines also have paper ballot backups, if there's ever a question about the vote.
Trump appeared on the October 27 edition of The O’Reilly Factor (via Nexis), where he alleged that “there are 1.8 million people who are dead who are registered to vote, and some of those people vote.” O’Reilly did ask Trump to provide data or facts on vote flipping in Texas, which Trump could not do: “No, they just call in,” he said, presumably referring to people who have reported that their votes were flipped.
On MSNBC, however, hosts Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes primarily focused on the threats of voter suppression in the 2016 election, with Maddow’s show covering the topic in every episode over the course of a week and Hayes covering it during four of five episodes of his show All In. Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell covered it once, combining to make a total of 10 discussions on the topic on MSNBC. When the shows covered voter fraud, the hosts always debunked the myth that it is widespread. For example, on the November 1 edition of Maddow’s show, Maddow discussed the controversial Voter Integrity Project in North Carolina, which “famously claimed they had identified 30,000 dead people who were registered to vote” in the state and whose website once ran a piece headlined “Raping the Retard Vote.” Maddow debunked the group's claims, stating:
RACHEL MADDOW (HOST): That story did get awkward when these supposedly dead people in North Carolina started turning up, raising their hands, talking to the press, making a pretty convincing case that they were, in fact, not dead. They were alive. We hosted an elections official in North Carolina at the time who confessed to us how many man-hours, how much work, how many resources the state was having to put in to chasing down these supposedly 30,000 dead people on the rolls after they got so much press.
Ultimately, they were not able to find a single instance of voter fraud despite all those headlines. They hadn`t been able to find any real dead people really voting.
MSNBC’s hosts also noted that many of these voter suppression efforts have a disproportionate impact on minorities. During the October 31 edition of his show (via Nexis), Hayes explained that a North Carolina voter ID law was struck down for “deliberately target[ting] African-Americans with almost surgical precision in an effort to depress and suppress black turnout at the polls.” Hayes noted that the Republican-controlled state and local government there targeted “the means of voting that they know will be disproportionately used by black voters.”
Although CNN only discussed voter suppression twice, Don Lemon devoted a substantial portion of the November 2 edition of his show (via Nexis), CNN Tonight, to voter suppression in North Carolina and a lawsuit there brought by the NAACP. The lawsuit claimed that the “restrictive voting laws” in the state “are really designed to keep African-Americans from casting their ballots.” Guest Irving Joyner, a professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law, highlighted the case of 100-year-old Grace Bell Hardison, an African-American woman who was nearly wrongfully purged from the voter registration rolls because a postcard the Voter Integrity Project sent her was returned unanswered.
CNN also had one significant discussion on voter fraud during the October 27 edition of CNN Tonight, where Lemon asked CNN contributor and Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany what was “behind this rigging theme from the Trump campaign.” Lemon pushed back on McEnany’s claims that Obama said “people who are in power tend to tilt things their way,” noting that is “very different than saying the entire system is rigged.”
Media Matters searched CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News prime-time (8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) transcripts on Nexis between October 27 and November 2 for the following terms or variations of terms within 50 words of the terms and variations of “vote,” “ballot,” “poll,” and “election”: “suppress,” “intimidate,” “fraud,” “impersonate,” “dead,” “fake,” “watch,” “monitor,” “imposter,” “improper,” “integrity,” “security,” or “switch.” Media Matters counted segments where voter suppression or fraud was the stated topic of conversation or monologue or there was an exchange of two or more people discussing the point in an exchange. These segments do not include mentions of voter suppression relating to voter enthusiasm.
Economists Made Up Roughly 8 Percent Of Guests In Third Quarter Of 2016 Amid Rampant Misinformation From Trump Campaign
Cable and broadcast news outlets dedicated considerably less airtime to the economy in the third quarter of 2016 compared to the previous three-month period, as media focused increasingly on the presidential horserace. The proportion of economic news segments touching on economic inequality increased relative to the previous quarter, but the tone of coverage revealed problematic trends toward misinformation as Fox News assumed an even more prominent role in shaping the dialogue. The relative proportion of economists featured as guests during qualifying segments reached an all-time high during the third quarter as outlets struggled to keep up with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s shifting and often-contradictory tax and economic policy proposals.
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