A 60 Minutes segment claiming that federal government efforts to encourage clean tech -- the production and use of alternative energy sources and more efficient technology -- have failed drew some harsh disagreement among reporters covering the energy beat who say the negative report ignored many successes and focused too narrowly on a few unsuccessful companies.
Correspondent Lesley Stahl concluded in the January 5 piece that while stimulus spending including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program was invested in the industry, "instead of breakthroughs, the [clean tech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops."
Stahl's segment has drawn criticism from observers who have noted that 60 Minutes focused on Solyndra and a handful of other failed companies whose loans made up a tiny fraction of federal loans and ignored the clean tech breakthroughs and the explosive growth in the sector that have occurred.
The report was only the latest in a series of 60 Minutes reports that have been subject to stinging critiques in recent months. The program has been excoriated by media observers and accused of "check[ing] its journalistic skepticism at the door" by The New York Times.
Journalists who cover the same energy industries took issue with the clean tech report in interviews with Media Matters, noting that it did not take into account the long-term development needs of clean energy and the many ongoing successes.
"I thought it was a pretty poor piece of journalism, frankly," said David Baker, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering clean tech and energy. "There are areas of this field that are hurting, but there are others that are doing very, very well."
Baker added that 60 Minutes' error begins with its conception of the story: "The problem really begins when you just talk about clean tech as one thing - it is a bunch of things and a lot of it is energy generation and energy use. In a report like this where you look at clean tech in general, you have difficulty because it is not the same for each sector."
"The other biggest problem with the CBS story is it looked at some of the flops and really seemed to turn a blind eye to the success," he continued. "That is one of the most fundamental mistakes Lesley Stahl and her producers make."
Baker pointed to several west coast examples of successes, including the recently created California Solar Ranch, the largest solar plant in the nation that went online late last year.
"We are going to have a huge amount of power going on the grid from solar," Baker explained. "Some of those projects were funded in part through the Department of Energy loan program, the same one that funded Solyndra."
National Review Online Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru dedicated his Bloomberg View column to misleading about two unprecedented Supreme Court cases that could make it easier for for-profit, secular corporations to refuse to provide insurance coverage to its employees that includes comprehensive preventive care.
On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, two cases that would allow some corporations to obtain exemptions from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA already provides exemptions and accommodations for non-profit, religiously-affiliated organizations like churches and hospitals -- but the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are for-profit businesses that sell crafts and wood cabinets, respectively.
But that didn't stop NRO's Ponnuru from complaining that the contraception mandate runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because it imposes a "substantial burden" on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga. Ponnuru insisted that corporations are well within their rights to refuse to pay for coverage of preventive care such as contraception for their employees, but didn't seem to mind that allowing corporations to dictate the personal health choices of its employees could very well infringe on those employees' religious beliefs.
From Ponnuru's December 1 editorial:
From reading the New York Times, you might think that religious conservatives had started a culture war over whether company health-insurance plans should cover contraception. What's at issue in two cases the Supreme Court has just agreed to hear, the Times editorializes, is "the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners' religious views on workers who do not share them."
That way of looking at the issue will be persuasive if your memory does not extend back two years. Up until 2012, no federal law or regulation required employers to cover contraception (or drugs that may cause abortion, which one of the cases involves). If 2011 was marked by a widespread crisis of employers' imposing their views on contraception on employees, nobody talked about it.
What's actually new here is the Obama administration's 2012 regulation requiring almost all employers to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that may cause abortion. It issued that regulation under authority given in the Obamacare legislation.
The regulation runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law. That act says that the government may impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious belief only if it's the least restrictive way to advance a compelling governmental interest. The act further says that no later law should be read to trump this protection unless it explicitly says it's doing that. The Affordable Care Act has no such language.
Is a marginal increase in access to contraception a compelling interest, and is levying steep fines on employers who refuse to provide it for religious reasons the least burdensome way to further it? It seems doubtful.
Ponnuru's characterization of these lawsuits as entirely mainstream is misleading. Although the Supreme Court held in Citizens United that corporations had the right to engage in political speech without undue government restrictions, for the Court to hold that a corporation is a "person" capable of religious belief or conscience would be a radical reimagining of both First Amendment and corporate law precedent. As David Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center pointed out, "it is nonsensical to treat a business corporation as an actor imbued with the same rights of religious freedom as living persons. No decision of the Supreme Court has ever recognized such an absurd claim."
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?
Bloomberg columnist and National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru picked up the repeatedly debunked right-wing media myth that President Barack Obama is "court-packing" because Senate Democrats are trying to hold up-or-down votes on nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In addition to the fact that filling vacant seats is not actually "pack[ing] the court," the term used to describe FDR's failed attempt to add more seats to the Supreme Court, Ponnuru includes a variety of discredited falsehoods in his column as reasons why Republicans should continue to block Obama's judicial nominees, regardless of their stellar qualifications and bipartisan endorsements.
From his November 12 Bloomberg column:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he intends to force a vote this week on the nomination of Cornelia Pillard to the court. Pillard's is one of three nominations Republicans are opposing. They say the Democrats are trying to pack the court. The Democrats say they're just trying to fill vacancies, and argue that the Republicans' behavior is so abusive they'll restrict the filibuster if it continues.
Republicans should remember what happened the last time we had such a fight, and they shouldn't give in.
Starting in 2003, the Democratic minority embarked on an unprecedented series of filibusters to stop President George W. Bush's appointments to appeals courts. Back then, Republicans said there was a crisis of judicial vacancies needing to be filled. Democrats replied that the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit, were underworked and that the Republicans were trying to pack the courts with like-minded judges. Now the sides are reversed, and so are the talking points.
As it happens, the Republicans have the better of the current argument. They aren't conducting a "blockade" that violates past norms. President Barack Obama's nominees are getting confirmed at a faster pace than Bush's were at the same point in his presidency. One of Obama's nominees, Sri Srinivasan, was unanimously confirmed in May.
And the D.C. Circuit now has even less work than it did when Democrats were blocking nominees. Merrick Garland, the court's chief judge and an appointee of President Bill Clinton, informed the Senate that the number of oral arguments per active judge has fallen over the past decade. So have the number of written decisions issued and appeals taken. Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, says that one judge on the circuit wrote to him to argue that "there wouldn't be enough work to go around" if more were appointed. Grassley has introduced a bill that would shrink the circuit by three seats, and urges the administration to fill vacancies in other circuits.
I'll let you in on a little secret: Nobody on either side of this debate actually cares about how big the circuit's caseload is. What they care about is the court's ideological balance.
Ponnuru goes on to assert that the D.C. Circuit "is actually balanced between Democratic and Republican appointees." This is not the first time right-wing media have trotted out faulty math to to try and argue that the D.C. Circuit is somehow ideologically balanced -- but it just isn't true. In fact, there are six judges on the court who have taken "senior status," a form of quasi-retirement that allows those judges to hear panel cases. Of the six judges who have taken senior status, five are Republican appointees. Far from being "balanced" ideologically, conservative justices outnumber their more liberal counterparts 9 to 5.
Right-wing media are championing an appellate decision currently before the Supreme Court that upended the ability of presidents to appoint nominees during Senate recesses as a repudiation of President Barack Obama. But National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning was a radical decision that ignored long-standing precedent, and if the Supreme Court finds such appointments unconstitutional, governmental operations could be hindered to a historic degree.
USA TODAY became the latest mainstream newspaper to incorrectly "balance" the views of the hundreds of scientists behind a major climate report with the the Heartland Institute, a fossil-fuel-funded organization that once compared those who accept climate science to the "Unabomber." In an op-ed published by the newspaper Tuesday, the head of the organization portrayed outright falsehoods as simply "opinion" in order to dismiss the United Nations panel behind the report as a "discredited oracle."
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), which convenes hundreds of top climate experts from around the world to assess the scientific understanding of climate change, stated in its most recent report that scientists are 95 percent certain that the majority of recent warming is manmade, or about as certain as they are that cigarettes kill. This is an increase from just over 50 percent certainty in 1995, and 66 percent certainty in 2001. Yet the head of the Heartland Institute, Joseph Bast, counterfactually suggested in USA TODAY that "we are no more certain about the impact of man-made greenhouse gases than we were in 1990, or even in 1979."
Bast also falsely claimed that the IPCC "admits, but does not explain, why no warming has occurred for the past 15 years." It would be one thing for Bast to claim that he is not convinced by the IPCC's explanation that that the slightly slower rate of atmospheric warming in the last 15 years was likely due to the ocean absorbing much of recent heat, along with other natural factors such as volcanic eruptions. But Bast simply pretended that this explanation does not exist so that he could cling to the myth that short-term variability rebuts the idea of a long-term greenhouse gas signal.
A recent study by Media Matters found that The Washington Post and Bloomberg News also turned to Bast, making him one of the most frequently quoted climate doubters in IPCC coverage. The New York Times quoted a report backed by the Heartland Institute. None of these newspapers disclosed that Heartland has recently received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, backed by the CEO of a corporation with major oil interests, and received funding from ExxonMobil from 1998 to 2006. Nor did they mention factors that might help readers assess the credibility of the Heartland Institute, including that in 2012 the group launched a billboard campaign associating "belief" in global warming with murderers such as Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber," which they discontinued after backlash from many of their own donors but refused to apologize for.
On October 15, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, a case that challenges a 2006 ballot initiative in Michigan that amended the state's constitution to prevent state universities from using race or sex as one of many equal factors in admissions. Although proponents of what was formerly known as Proposal 2 say this resulting affirmative action ban is consistent with the law, it appears to be specifically prohibited by the "political restructuring" doctrine of the Supreme Court.
A study of coverage of the recent United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that many mainstream media outlets amplified the marginal viewpoints of those who doubt the role of human activity in warming the planet, even though the report itself reflects that the climate science community is more certain than ever that humans are the major driver of climate change. The media also covered how recent temperature trends have not warmed at as fast a rate as before in nearly half of their IPCC coverage, but this trend does not undermine long-term climate change.
Despite increasing evidence of a pro-corporate slant in recent Supreme Court decisions, right-wing media continue to insist that there is no such bias.
In a Bloomberg View editorial, National Review Online senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of "hyperbolic" grandstanding because she accurately cited a comprehensive study that showed that the current Supreme Court of the United States is one of the most pro-business in history. Ponnuru's September 16 editorial called Warren's statements the result of "flawed thinking":
Citing "a recent study"... she said: "The five conservative justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court are in the top 10 most pro-corporate justices in a half-century -- and Justices Alito and Roberts are numbers one and two -- the most anti-consumer in this entire time."
The study doesn't tell us what Warren thinks it does, or anything we should care about. It gives equal weight to every vote by a justice, even though decisions plainly vary in importance for businesses, and for everyone else. It ignores decisions that matter a great deal for businesses but don't have business litigants.
Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University, notes that the study excludes Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, one of the two or three most important Supreme Court cases for business of the past decade. The court ruled that the Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to fight global warming. Because neither named party in the case was a business, the study excludes it.
The study that Ponnuru dismisses, "How Business Fares in the Supreme Court," analyzed nearly 2,000 Supreme Court decisions over the last 65 years. Although Ponnuru doesn't say so, the study was co-written by esteemed--and conservative--federal judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. It has been described, even by its detractors, as "the most comprehensive examination of the Supreme Court's handling of business-related cases in the post-New Deal era."
Bloomberg News gave a platform for a fossil-fuel funded climate misinformer to advance groundless allegations against scientists -- the second time this year it has drawn a false equivalence between top climate scientists and climate deniers.
In an article on the recently leaked draft of a climate change report authored by the world's top scientists, Bloomberg News quoted Marc Morano, who runs the industry-funded blog Climate Depot that Bloomberg described as "skeptical of climate change" (New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin has called it "divisive and toxic"). Morano has no scientific background, yet Bloomberg gave him space to baselessly assert that the report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is based on "predetermined science" and will "add very little to the scientific debate." The global panel of scientists actually determined with over 95 percent certainty that human activities are the primary drivers of climate change, and found that global sea levels are rising swiftly, potentially adding 3 feet by the end of the century and bringing devastating impacts to several parts of the world including three major cities in the United States.
Bloomberg's article paralleled Fox News' coverage of the report, which also quoted Morano in an effort to cast doubt on the IPCC's findings. In the article, FoxNews.com promoted Morano's claim that "all of these fatuous figures are pulled out of the air to support the IPCC ideologies and not based upon any statistical analysis or science." (The report is actually based on the synthesis of the peer-reviewed scientific literature by hundreds of top scientists.)
This is the second time this year that Bloomberg has given false balance or "false equivalence" to claims that run counter to established climate science, even though the facts lie squarely in one camp. In May 2013, Bloomberg also gave a platform to Morano, uncritically repeating his absurd claim that catastrophically high carbon dioxide levels should be "welcomed" because "plants are going to be happy."
Climate change deniers should not be given a place in business coverage at a time when industries from agriculture to insurance are making real financial decisions dealing with its impact, according to some of the nation's top business journalists.
Last month Media Matters reported that more than half of the climate change segments on CNBC this year cast doubt on man-made climate change. That network's coverage drew criticism from top business journalists who said such coverage does not serve their viewers.
"It doesn't seem to me at this point to be a point of serious controversy within the corporate establishment," said Paul Barrett a Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporter (Bloomberg BusinessWeek's sister company Bloomberg News is a CNBC competitor). "The insurance industry, which is a key barometer of these things, has reached the conclusion that whatever your politics are on this, the costs of extreme weather are so great and the patterns over the last couple of decades are so distinct that the corporate establishment absolutely must recognize these risks."
Barrett added, "It's past the point of letting ideology shape the dollars-and-cents calculations that businesses are already making, it is not a question of whether business should do this, business is doing this."
Michael Hiltzik, a veteran Los Angeles Times business columnist, agreed.
"I accept the evidence of climate change," he said. "I don't think I've ever run into a legitimate business leader or business owner in the course of my reporting who doesn't. I think, for the most part, it is settled science and the debate is really over what to do about it."
Hiltzik and others stressed that in business reporting, information is so vital to those running large and small companies that facts have to be on point and disregard political calculations.
"There is no percentage in denying it, there's no point. You can't hold back the tide," Hiltzik said. "It seems to me that denial is basically a political position, it's not a practical position, especially for a business that is in an industry that is going to be impacted by climate change."
With climate scientists in agreement that climate change is occurring and being triggered by human activity, major companies are acknowledging and evaluating the impact of that change on their businesses. Top consulting groups have pointed out that climate change is a major risk to insurance companies, and a 2011 survey found that most investors now consider climate change consequences across their organization's entire investment portfolio.
In spite of this emerging consensus among business leaders that climate change is a real concern for their companies, Media Matters found that 24 of the 47 substantial mentions or segments on climate change in 2013 on CNBC, or about 51 percent, cast doubt on whether man-made climate change even existed. Prominent CNBC figures have claimed that climate change is simple "a scam analysis" by "high priests." More than 14,000 people have signed Forecast The Facts' petition calling urging CNBC's executives to stop their network from promoting climate change denial.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million (ppm) on Thursday for the first time in human history. But one thing hasn't changed: false balance still crops up in climate change stories.
False balance occurs when journalists give equal weight to arguments from both sides, regardless of where the facts lie. Climate change is a textbook example of this problem -- in fact, the term was coined in academic papers to criticize climate coverage in the 1990s.
Yet 20 years later, we still get articles like this from Bloomberg News, reporting on the 400 ppm milestone:
"The Earth has had many-times-higher levels of CO2 in the past," said Marc Morano, former spokesman for Republican Senator James Inhofe and executive editor of Climate Depot, a blog that posts articles skeptical of climate change. "Americans should welcome the 400 parts-per-million threshold. This means that plants are going to be happy, and this means that global-warming fearmongers are going to be proven wrong."
That position is disputed by many researchers, said Melanie Fitzpatrick, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"This needs to be a wake-up call," she said in a statement. "Reaching 400 parts per million represents a dire experiment with the climate system. As long as humans have walked the Earth, we've never seen carbon dioxide levels this high."
Marc Morano is not a scientist and has no scientific education. He is paid by an oil-industry funded organization to confuse the public about climate change, and has compared climate science to the Mayan calendar, Nostradamus, and medieval witchcraft. Moreover, his argument is laughable: by focusing on how carbon dioxide stimulates plant growth in a controlled environment, he ignores that our huge emissions of it and other greenhouse gases are warming up the planet, thereby increasing the risk of extreme rainfall and drought to the detriment of agriculture. A Wall Street Journal op-ed made the same argument on Thursday, leading to a deluge of condemnation.
As the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens today, some in the press have been caught up in a swoon over the former president.
Pundits from the center and the avowed left called on critics to re-examine the former president as a "good man with a good heart," while those on the right declare that "Bush is Back." Political analysts are compiling lists of "The 7 best moments of George W. Bush's presidency" and highlighting polls indicating that Bush is more popular now than he was in office. And Fox News has pulled out all the stops, lining up their Bush-administration-officials-turned-Fox-employees to sing the former president's praises.
Presidential historians and veteran reporters who covered the Bush White House are speaking out, saying that reporting on the Bush library and legacy should put his failures in their proper context.
The academics point out that while some of Bush's defenders in the press have said that the Bush legacy is a question for history, historians largely pan his tenure. And the veteran reporters who covered Bush's presidency urge that coverage of the presidential library provide a complete accounting of his tenure in office, including its many missteps.
"The press needs to take a really cold-eyed look at the circumstances ... look at the state of the country and world on Jan. 20, 2001 and eight years later," said Ed Chen, former Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg correspondent who covered the White House from 1999 to 2010. "Were mistakes made? Sure, the whole WMD fiasco ... it sure has a long way to go for anything close to a full rehabilitation."
Chen later added, "Of the three [presidents] that I covered, we have to put Bush at the bottom."
Several top presidential historians echoed Chen's low-ranking view, noting a week of positive coverage cannot erase that.
"Right now he's ranked as one of the lower presidents because of the War in Iraq and the economy tanking so he's got a long way to go to get rehabilitated," said Douglas Brinkley, a top presidential historian and author. "It is a long revisionist road up from the bottom for George W. Bush. He is ranked toward the bottom rung of presidents."
Indeed, surveys of historians regularly find Bush ranked among the worst of U.S. presidents.
Having toured the new library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Brinkley described it as having a "compassionate conservative motif" for Bush, adding, "I was surprised how much wall space was given to AIDS in Africa, marine conservation, No Child Left Behind. I got the feeling that the Bush crowd was trying to paint their president as more of a centrist than many people feel."
But Brinkley stressed that whatever positive image is being attempted this week cannot rewrite his presidency.
"I don't think it matters two weeks from now, it is a building opening and people tend to be jubilant," he said. "It's the beginning of revisionism of a presidency."
A Bloomberg article on troubled electric automaker Fisker reports that the company's co-founder was first encouraged by the Department of Energy to pursue its federal loan guarantee, but never clarifies that those overtures, as well as the loan program itself, began during the Bush administration.
However, Bloomberg failed to note Fisker's statement that he was approached about the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program during the Bush administration, even as it quoted a Republican congressman suggesting the Obama administration had chosen the company inexplicably. From Fisker's testimony:
In January 2008, Fisker Automotive showed the concept car for the Kanna at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Soon after, I was approached at a sustainability conference in California by Mr. John Mizroch, the then-Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. We discussed the technology that Fisker Automotive was developing and he encouraged the company to apply for a loan from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program (ATVM). Fisker continued its conversations with the Department and the company applied for a loan at the end of 2008. At that time, we already had significant financial backing from private investors.
The research consistently cited by media figures to support cutting government spending has recently been invalidated, raising questions about how mainstream coverage of economic policy promoted incorrect data.
In January 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff released a study that suggested when countries reach debt levels of 90 percent relative to GDP, economic growth would be compromised. Conservatives in politics and media alike repeatedly cited the figure in discussions about the economy.
A study released on April 16, however, found that the conclusions reached by Reinhart and Rogoff were based on data that was riddled with errors. Reinhart and Rogoff's response to the critique -- in which they maintain they never implied that rising debt caused lower growth, just that the two were associated -- shows that media's handling of the figure was wrong all along.
These new developments show that media consistently used an apparently incorrect figure for the past few years to call for austerity measures. Here's a look back at how major cable networks cited the figure in its coverage of the budget and economic policy:
Video by Alan Pyke.