A misleading Associated Press (AP) headline sparked a storm of right-wing media accusations that former IRS official Lois Lerner targeted Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for audit, though records only show that Lerner asked an expert a legal question about an event invitation sent to Grassley and the subject of her inquiry was unclear.
Right-wing media jumped to parrot a June 25 AP headline that claimed newly released emails show "IRS Official Sought Audit of GOP Senator." The Drudge Report linked to the AP story with the claim "IRS Lerner Targeted GOP Senator," the Daily Caller argued that newly discovered emails from Lerner show "the former IRS Exempt Organizations director's attempt to audit GOP Sen. Chuck," and The Washington Times claimed that Lerner "tried to get her agency to conduct an audit" of Grassley. On the June 26 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox host Steve Doocy said Lerner decided "I've got to target that guy, even though she didn't have any of the facts."
But as the actual AP article pointed out, the email exchange between Lerner and Giuliano does not support the claims forwarded in its own headline and by right-wing media. Lerner initially asked if an event organizer's offer to pay for Grassley's wife to attend an event warranted examination. Lerner mentioned the possibility that the offer was inappropriate but did not specify whether she was suggesting that Grassley should be examined:
Is this the one where we got the copy to Grassley? Did he get one to me? Looked like they were inappropriately offering to pay for his wife. Perhaps we should refer to Exam?
Giuliano was similarly focused on the event host. He noted that that the invitation from the group was not enough to warrant sending the issue to the IRS Exam Department, because Grassley had not yet accepted the invitation, and said the issue would only warrant further investigation if Grassley later failed to report the offer as income. In her response, Lerner didn't indicate interest in pursuing the issue further.
MSNBC's Steve Benen summarized the exchange:
Behold, yesterday's blockbuster that set the right's hair on fire. Lerner questioned whether a group had done something wrong, talked to a colleague, and then dropped the whole thing.
An Associated Press article about the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations to cut carbon emissions failed to disclose that Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a source it cited criticizing the proposal, is a front group for the Koch brothers that routinely makes false attacks against clean energy initiatives.
A June 2 AP article reported that Colorado could serve as a model for reducing carbon emissions while handling its energy needs, following comments from the Obama Administration and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO). The article cited Dustin Zvonek, the Colorado director of Americans for Prosperity, which the outlet described as a group "which warns the EPA's rules would cost billions and lead to higher energy costs," but failed to mention the organization's oil industry funding:
"There's still a lot to be clarified," said Dustin Zvonek, Colorado director of the group Americans For Prosperity, which warns the EPA's rules would cost billions and lead to higher energy costs. Zvonek said Colorado's action to cut carbon emissions may have only prompted an even lower bar to meet.
"Are we going to be penalized or punished for the fuel-switching standard and therefore take an even bigger hit? That's not clear," Zvonek said.
Among AFP's major supporters are brothers David and Charles Koch, their charitable foundations and their company, Koch Industries, Inc., which has significant operations in oil and gas exploration and coal supply and trading. A 2012 report by the International Forum on Globalization explained that the Koch brothers have used their wealth to attempt to block legislation or rules aimed at mitigating the damage climate change is causing.
Greenpeace reported that AFP has received nearly $6 million from Koch-affiliated groups from 2005-2011.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ringing endorsement last week of Truvada, the "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection, presents news outlets with a prime opportunity to cover an historic development in the three-decade struggle against HIV/AIDS. So far, however, media organizations have largely ignored the story.
Truvada is a 10-year-old pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs. Taken daily, it prevents infection of HIV. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug back in July 2012, it hasn't exactly caught on; a September 2013 report by Gilead Sciences found that only 1,774 people had filled Truvada prescriptions from January 2011 through March 2013. Nearly half of users were women, even though gay men are the demographic group most at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Part of the reason Truvada has been slow to gain steam is, undoubtedly, the stigma attached to those who use it. Gay men who use the drug have been derided as "Truvada Whores," a term many users have sought to reclaim. Some HIV/AIDS advocates, including Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have cast doubt on Truvada's effectiveness, noting that it won't block infection unless users strictly adhere to taking it daily.
But advocates who hail Truvada as a watershed development in the struggle against HIV/AIDS got a huge boost on May 14, when the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called on doctors to prescribe the pill for patients deemed at risk of HIV/AIDS - men who have sex with men, heterosexuals with at-risk partners, anyone whose partners they know are infected, and those who use drugs or share needles.
As The New York Times noted, if doctors follow the CDC's advice, Truvada prescriptions would increase to an estimated 500,000 annually.
On May 15, the Times gave the CDC's historic report prime placement on its front page:
But the Times and The Washington Post were the only major newspapers outlets to cover the CDC's report:
Two Media Matters analyses suggest that over 85 percent of those quoted in the media about climate change are men. Several top women in the field denounced this disparity, noting that women will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
A review of a recent Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of the U.N. climate reports found that women made up less than 15 percent of interviewees. A look back at our analysis of broadcast coverage of climate change unearthed the same stark disparity: less than 14 percent of those quoted on the nightly news shows and Sunday shows in 2013 were women.
Allison Chin, the former president of the Sierra Club, decried this gender gap in a statement to Media Matters:
The gender imbalance among those quoted on the climate crisis is striking, particularly since women around the world are more vulnerable to the dangers of climate disruption and among the most active in the movement for solutions. Globally, existing inequalities give women less access and less control over resources and make them more susceptible to the worst effects of extreme weather. The last thing the media should do is amplify that divide by only covering one set of perspectives.
Rebecca Lefton, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and an expert in international climate change policy and gender equality agreed, telling Media Matters that this is an environmental justice issue because "women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in developing countries." Indeed, studies show, for instance, that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of extreme weather disasters, some of which are exacerbated by climate change, in part because they are more likely to be poor. Lefton added, "Without women's voices we lose the perspective of half of the population and without women's participation, the transition to a cleaner economy will be slower."
The lack of women's voices in climate change conversations in the media is not due to a shortage of powerful women in climate policy and communications. U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, who is in charge of negotiating a global climate treaty, noted in March that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt." The last two heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is slated to come out with carbon pollution standards for future power plants, were both women -- current administrator Gina McCarthy and former administrator Lisa Jackson.
Media Matters has previously found that women make up only about a quarter of guests on the Sunday morning talk shows and weekday evening cable news segments on the economy. However, the gender gap on climate change conversations is even starker. One contributing factor may be that the climate sciences have experienced a "female brain drain," according to Scientific American, as have many other scientific fields. This "female brain drain" is also evident in the largely male leadership of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Women that do enter the field often face discrimination. Two prominent female climate scientists, Heidi Cullen and Katherine Hayhoe, have both been dismissed by Rush Limbaugh as "babe[s]." Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who is one of the stars of a new Showtime series on climate change, told E&E News that much of the internet harassment she receives focuses on her gender:
The final installment of the U.N.'s top climate report, which calls for prompt, extensive action to avoid calamitous impacts from climate change, garnered relatively little attention from the major print, cable and broadcast media outlets compared to the first installment. However, coverage of the third report rightfully gave far less space to those who cast doubt on the science.
Today marked the seventh straight year that The Wall Street Journal has not won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting. It also marks the seventh straight year the newspaper has been owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Does one have anything to do with the other? Perhaps.
During my time at Editor & Publisher magazine from 1999 to 2010, I covered the Pulitzer Prizes each year, corresponding with members of the juries to determine who would win the awards and why.
Anyone who knows the Pulitzers can tell you it is a fierce competition. Failing to take home the prize in no way suggests one's reporting was unworthy.
But for the Journal, which has garnered dozens of the awards during its celebrated history, that stretch of failure cannot go unnoticed. In the history of the Pulitzers, only The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and Associated Press have won more.
And during the past seven years as the Journal has remained winless, those four news outlets have won a combined 33 reporting Pulitzers.
While the newspaper has won two Pulitzers since Murdoch took over, they were for editorial writing and commentary. The heart and soul of any news operation, its reporters and photographers, have been repeatedly denied in the competition that remains the most prestigious award in journalism.
With today's winners ranging from The Tampa Bay Times to Reuters, the Journal's name is sorely missed by many, its staff likely as much as anyone.
A look at the Journal's history finds the paper's great journalism winning acclaim and top awards, all pre-Murdoch.
From its first reporting award in 1961 for uncovering problems in the timber industry to its last two in 2007 for digging into the scams of backdated stock options and the negative impact of China's growing capitalism the Journal had never gone more than five years without a win, with that stretch in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the five years before Murdoch's purchase, the paper won Pulitzers for public service and international reporting and two each for beat reporting and explanatory journalism.
The Pulitzer Prize is not the ultimate judgment of a newspaper. And many in the industry often criticize editors who appear to assign stories specifically with the goal winning a Pulitzer in mind.
But for a newspaper of the Journal's size and stature, such a long stretch may be a sign of its goals. Murdoch has reportedly made clear that he does not prioritize the kind of in-depth, long form journalism that often wins these awards.
The Department of Energy's clean energy loan program helped fuel the achievements of electric car company Tesla Motors, yet the major broadcast, cable and print media only mentioned the loan in 20 percent of their coverage of Tesla in 2013 (and in only 7 percent of coverage of Nissan's best-selling electric car, the Leaf). Meanwhile, 84 percent of coverage of Fisker, an electric car company that declared bankruptcy, mentioned its federal loan. This skewed coverage may have misinformed the public about the overwhelmingly positive success rate of the program.
Media reports on the Senate vote to renew long-term unemployment benefits established a false contrast between providing a safety net for unemployed Americans and policies designed to create jobs. In fact, experts note that unemployment benefits boost job creation and economic growth.
This week's release of 27,000 emails linking Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to his staff's illegal engagement in political activities while he was Milwaukee County executive did not occur through the generosity of state officials, but through the diligence of journalists.
The emails and hundreds of court documents made public under court order Wednesday came about after a five-month battle in which several news outlets, led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, joined forces to demand access to public records.
The emails, including those from private accounts, revealed that some of Walker's staff were discussing and illegally performing campaign work on county time and in county offices in 2009 and 2010. They were discovered through a Milwaukee County District Attorney investigation dating back to 2010 that has already resulted in the convictions of six county staffers.
The investigation was conducted under Wisconsin's so-called "John Doe" provision, a special secret inquiry that strictly limits information that can be revealed during the proceedings and even after their completion. Among the findings was the existence of a secret email router in the county executive's office that allowed staffers to send and receive emails through private accounts not monitored by the county's regular email system.
The county staffers targeted in the probe included Walker's former chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to a single count of felony misconduct in public office and was sentenced to six months in jail. When she appealed her conviction last year, The Journal Sentinel sought to gain access to the emails, which had been sealed by the court during the investigation and subsequent appeals.
The newspaper's effort to obtain access dates back to August 9, when Editor Martin Kaiser submitted a public records request to the current Milwaukee County executive seeking access to the emails.
When Kaiser's letter received no formal response, lawyers for the Journal Sentinel filed a motion on September 18 in Milwaukee County Circuit Court requesting that the district attorney be ordered to return the emails and other related documents to the county executive, who would then be required to make them available as public records.
"Ordinarily government communications, whether by email or paper or any other form, are presumed public under our public records law," said Robert J. Dreps, the newspaper's attorney. "These were never available for request under the public records law because their existence wasn't even known until they were swept up as part of this criminal investigation."
On September 27, the judge hearing former Walker staffer Rindfleisch's appeal ordered that numerous documents from the original John Doe investigation, including private emails from Rindfleisch's accounts, be released to the appeals court.
The Journal Sentinel followed two days later with a letter to the judge urging that those records not be sealed so that the newspaper can gain access if its motion is granted. On October 3, Rindfleisch filed a motion to seal the documents in her appeals case, including the emails.
The Associated Press gave Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) space to parrot tired Benghazi myths about military aid and President Obama's whereabouts the night of the attacks in its coverage of the congressman's recent speech in New Hampshire.
On February 18, the Associated Press detailed Issa's criticisms of the Obama administration during a New Hampshire speech, highlighting Issa's accusation that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta refused to send military aid to Americans under attack in Benghazi in September 2012 and his suggestion that Obama was absent as the administration planned its response to the attacks:
Issa said that Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were accountable as the "top two informed individuals who were awake."
"They didn't react," he said, adding later, "We need to find out from Secretary Clinton, why in the world you wouldn't have insisted that (security forces) be moving and providing support."
Rather than acknowledge that Issa's claims have been soundly discredited, AP prefaced his remarks with the vague disclaimer, "Democrats complain that the continued focus on the Benghazi attack, in particular, is a political stunt designed to weaken Clinton should she run for president."
And yet, Issa's claim that Clinton and Panetta "didn't react" that night, which AP takes at face value, has been called "cartoonish" by military leaders, who have repeatedly testified that the response represented the best of our military's capabilities.
After the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released new estimates of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) impact on labor markets, the Associated Press' Julie Pace claimed there were "two different ways" to characterize the report: the Republican characterization, and the White House's position. But there's a major problem with Pace's false balance -- only the White House's position is backed up by the facts.
On February 4, the non-partisan CBO released its Budget and Economic Outlook for the years 2014 to 2024. One section of the report projected that the number of full-time-equivalent workers would decline by about 2 million over the next three years due to the impact of the ACA. Conservative media quickly declared that the report showed 2 million jobs would be destroyed.
During a panel discussion on the February 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report, guest host Shannon Bream asked Julie Pace, the Associated Press (AP) White House correspondent, to spell out the details of the new CBO report and what the White House said about it. Pace explained:
PACE: Basically what you have is two different ways of characterizing this report. If you talk to Republicans, they say there are going to be nearly 2.5 million jobs that are going to be lost over a decade because of the Affordable Care Act. If you talk to the White House, there are going to be 2.5 million people who are going to have a choice to leave full-time employment.
Pace included the Republican talking point in an apparent attempt to balance the White House's statements, but the idea that "there are going to be nearly 2.5 million jobs that are going to be lost" is simply not true. As the Los Angeles Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist Michael Hiltzik explained (emphasis original):
The CBO projects that the [Affordable Care] act will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs. There's a big difference. In fact, it suggests that aggregate demand for labor (that is, the number of jobs) will increase, not decrease; but that many workers or would-be workers will be prompted by the ACA to leave the labor force, many of them voluntarily.
As economist Dean Baker points out, this is, in fact, a beneficial effect of the law, and a sign that it will achieve an important goal. It helps "older workers with serious health conditions who are working now because this is the only way to get health insurance. And (one for the family-values crowd) many young mothers who return to work earlier than they would like because they need health insurance. This is a huge plus."
The ACA will reduce the total hours worked by about 1.5% to 2% in 2017 to 2024, the CBO forecasts, "almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor -- given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive." That translates into about 2.5 million full-time equivalents by 2024 -- not the number of workers, because some will reduce their number of hours worked rather than leaving the workforce entirely.
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.
After hyping an alleged "pause" in global warming, mainstream media have entirely ignored a groundbreaking study finding that warming over the last 16 years has actually proceeded at the same rate as it has since 1951 with no "pause" compared to that time period.
The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society by Dr. Kevin Cowtan of the University of York and Robert Way of the University of Ottawa, found that the average global surface temperature has warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius between 1997 and 2012 (see the bold "Global" line in the graph above) -- two and a half times the UK Met Office's estimate of 0.05°C (see "Met Office" line). According to the new estimate, over the last 16 years the globe has warmed at the same rate as it has since 1951.
Writing about the study at the scientific blog Real Climate, climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf concluded that the public debate about the "pause" has "become"completely baseless" and that any speed bump in warming is "not surprising" with natural variability:
The public debate about the alleged "warming pause" was misguided from the outset, because far too much was read into a cherry-picked short-term trend. Now this debate has become completely baseless, because the trend of the last 15 or 16 years is nothing unusual - even despite the record El Niño year at the beginning of the period. It is still a quarter less than the warming trend since 1980, which is 0.16 °C per decade. But that's not surprising when one starts with an extreme El Niño and ends with persistent La Niña conditions, and is also running through a particularly deep and prolonged solar minimum in the second half.
An earlier Media Matters analysis found that mainstream media mentioned the alleged "pause" in nearly half of coverage of a major international climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, media have often been reluctant to cover data contradicting that narrative, including a study finding that heat may have been stored in the intermediate depths of the ocean, where warming has proceeded 15 times faster than in the past 10,000 years, rather than in the atmosphere.
As for claims that global warming has "stopped" or that global warming is "[o]ver," the study found with 94 percent probability that there has been some warming over the last 16 years. Dr. Cowtan wrote that "the hypothesis that warming has accelerated ... is four times as likely as the hypothesis that warming has stopped."
Why were previous estimates off?
Media fell for another misleading leak from the House Oversight Committee when they hyped allegations that the Obama administration ignored HealthCare.gov security warnings -- though the warnings were for a portion of the site that will not be operational until early 2014.
On November 11, a CBS News report cited selectively leaked partial transcripts from Affordable Care Act (ACA) opponent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to claim that "the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security." The network was criticized by Maddow producer Steve Benen when he found that the warnings referenced a function of the health care website that won't be active until early 2014 and has nothing to do with the parts of the website that are currently in use. A Democratic staffer Benen talked to also said that this part of the website "will not submit or share personally identifiable information."
CBS' faulty report aired just days after the network faced widespread criticism and was forced to apologize for failing properly vet an unreliable source that was prominently featured in the network's October 27 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi attack. But CBS wasn't the only outlet to promote misleading claims from the leaked Oversight Committee transcript.
On November 11, The New York Times reported that The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Henry Chao, "[t]he chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace," was "not aware of tests that indicated potential security flaws in the system, which opened to the public on Oct. 1," citing excerpts released by Issa. The same day, FoxNews.com claimed that Obamacare security concerns had been "withheld," but never mentioned that its story was based on a partial transcript. CNN's New Day, and Fox News' America's Newsroom and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren all ran the story on November 12. The Associated Press repeated the claim "Chao was unaware of a memo earlier that month detailing unresolved security issues" as late as November 13 -- after contradictory reports had surfaced.
The media's failure to confirm the suggestions made by partial transcripts from the House Oversight Committee is a significant oversight, considering the committee chairman Darrell Issa's history of releasing misleading material the press.
One of the investigators hired by CBS News to review its problematic 2004 report on George W. Bush's Air National Guard service, which led to the ouster of Dan Rather and other staffers, said the lessons of that review -- to get the facts quickly and disclose them -- should not be forgotten as the network's recent Benghazi story comes under scrutiny.
Louis Boccardi, former Associated Press CEO and president, was part of the two-person team that investigated a 60 Minutes II story after questions were raised about the authenticity of some of the documents cited in the report.
Asked about the current problems with the recent Benghazi report CBS' 60 Minutes ran on the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya -- which aired October 27 and has been plagued by the recent revelation that its key source witness told contradictory tales about the attack -- Boccardi brought up the "lessons" learned in his previous review.
"I think one of the lessons of the Rather situation was that things get worse if you don't get in quickly and figure out what happened," Boccardi said in an interview. "We said that in the report ... that one of the lessons of CBS 60 Minutes II was to get quickly at the bottom of this, get the facts -- and get them quickly -- and put 'em out."
The October 27 report has come under fire from Media Matters and a host of journalism veterans after the Washington Post revealed that Dylan Davies, the security contractor presented by CBS News as a witness to the attacks, had previously filed a report with his security contractor employer saying that he "could not get anywhere near" the compound the night of the attack. 60 Minutes has told the Post it stands by the story.
On November 2, The Daily Beast published an interview with Davies in which he claimed he lied to his employer with his statement that he was not near the Benghazi attack site.
Boccardi declined to comment specifically on the details of the Benghazi report or the issues of concern. But he stressed that finding the facts and disclosing them is a key element in any news story that comes under question, something he says was important in the previous 60 Minutes review he conducted.
"People who know whether it ought to be reviewed and how it ought to be reviewed are the people inside CBS, they know what they're dealing with," Boccardi said. "One of the issues we dealt with last time was in some places in CBS they're insisting that [the story] was right and in other places they weren't sure. Of course as time went on, it got worse. I don't know what they ought to do now. I think getting to the bottom quickly is the right thing for a news company, a news organization to do."