A new report from researchers at Stanford University found that the United States is "dead last" among other developed countries on poverty and inequality measures, which highlights the need for media outlets to focus more on these issues.
On February 1, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality published a special edition of Pathways magazine featuring the university's "State of the Union Report" for poverty and inequality in 2016. The report found that among 10 similarly developed nations -- including Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom -- the United States had the highest levels of income inequality and wealth inequality, and the worst-rated social safety net. The U.S. placed near the bottom (eighth) in terms of both economic mobility and labor market strength, and finished only fifth in terms of poverty. According to the report's authors, a weak safety net, stagnant economic mobility, and rampant economic inequality are the primary reasons for the United States' poor performance, but a "moderate increase" in public spending on safety net programs would push poverty in the U.S. down to the levels of its peers (emphasis original):
The research shows that, among the well-off countries for which comprehensive evidence is available, the U.S. has the lowest overall ranking, a result that arises in part because the U.S. brings up the rear in safety net performance, income inequality and wealth inequality. When the comparison set is expanded to include other less well-off countries, America still ranks 18th (out of 21 countries), with only Spain, Estonia and Greece scoring worse.
The report also notes some bright spots. It shows, for example, that a relatively moderate increase in U.S. safety net spending would push the poverty rate down to levels observed in other well-off countries. The rate of disposable-income poverty, which is the rate that people actually experience after transfers play out, is especially high not because market incomes are all that low but because the safety net is relatively small.
These findings create greater urgency for American media to adequately report on issues related to poverty and economic inequality. According to a recent Media Matters analysis of cable and broadcast economic news coverage in the second half of 2015, media's focus on economic inequality slipped to its lowest point since late 2013. In the second half of 2015, just 23 percent of qualifying economic coverage contained significant discussions of economic inequality:
The findings also highlight a need for media to counter prevailing myths that public assistance programs are expensive and ineffective. According to the study, the United States could measurably improve its poverty rate compared to the rest of the developed world with "a relatively modest increase" in safety net spending at a time when Republican lawmakers, including Speaker Paul Ryan, have proposed doing the opposite. Calls from conservative lawmakers to gut the social safety net are propped up by right-wing media outlets notorious for shaming those that need assistance, and progressive calls to preserve and expand vital programs are openly attacked by the same right-wing outlets.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly invited Republican pollster Frank Luntz on her show to attack a negative ad targeting Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) without disclosing his financial ties to the presidential candidate.
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly brought Luntz on the February 2 edition of The Kelly File to discuss Rubio's third place finish in the Iowa caucus. Luntz offered glowing praise for the candidate, arguing that "Rubio is in perfect position" to do well in upcoming primaries. When asked about a negative ad targeting Rubio created by a pro-Jeb Bush Super PAC, Luntz called it "crap," saying that "all of these ads have failed" and "that money has been wasted":
FRANK LUNTZ: Jeb Bush will spend when this is all over one hundred million dollars. Unprecedented for a Super PAC. And that money has been wasted. If I was a donor, if I was one of these people who contributed half a million, I would demand my money back with interest. ;All of these ads have failed. They've got another one with Marco's boots and it's done to Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking." It's crap. I don't know any other way. It's not persuasive. It doesn't turn voters. I cleaned up my language for you. I do not want to get thrown off the air. But when I play these ads to these focus groups they use the actual word to describe their reaction. It's a waste of money and it actually helps Rubio and it hurts Bush at the same time.
MEGYN KELLY (HOST): Oh really? So it has the reverse effect of that intended?
LUNTZ: Because it makes people angry. They're angry at the person who hosts the ads. You heard the end of that. It says Jeb Bush is a leader. What people hear is Jeb Bush is running a negative ad against his friend, Marco Rubio, and they hate it.
The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2012 that Luntz was hired by Rubio to assist in writing his "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future," which Luntz and host Megyn Kelly failed to disclose.
Fox News and Megyn Kelly have failed to divulge Luntz's ties with Rubio while inviting him to provide political commentary on several other occasions. During a January 28 appearance on The Kelly File, Luntz lauded Rubio's performance in a GOP debate without any financial disclosure, touting "how well he did on immigration." Similarly, during a January 7 appearance on Your World with Neil Cavuto, Luntz praised Rubio without disclosure, calling him "the most optimistic, the most focused on the American dream of any of the candidates" and "what the public needs right now."
With the presidential primary season in full swing, prime-time cable and broadcast evening news coverage of the economy focused on the candidates' policy priorities in the second half of 2015. News coverage of economic inequality fell considerably after hitting an all-time high in the first half of the year.
A Media Matters study of network evening news found that the evening news has failed to report that 1 million low income Americans are at risk of having their food assistance benefits severely restricted following 22 states' reinstatement of work requirements as a condition of eligibility on January 1. While the cuts are aimed at able body adults with no dependents, experts agree these individuals are "very poor" and qualify for very few alternative means of assistance.
On the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, PBS remains the gold standard for coverage of campaign finance reform while other broadcast networks show room for improvement, according to a Media Matters review of their evening and Sunday news shows over the past 16 months. While coverage of the subject has increased across the board, with CBS in particular showing a substantial increase, a sizable fraction of the increase is due to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raising the issue in interviews on Sunday programs, rather than proactive efforts by journalists to cover campaign finance reform.
The hosts of the Sunday morning political shows neglected to bring up reports that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz failed to properly disclose $1 million in campaign loans from Goldman Sachs and Citibank during his 2012 Senate campaign.
Media figures have credited House Speaker Paul Ryan with thrusting the supposedly "forgotten" issue of poverty into the 2016 Republican presidential race following his participation in the January 9 presidential forum on poverty, but failed to mention that despite his new rhetoric, Ryan has a long history of promoting harmful policies that would "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."
It is long past time for a presidential debate in which the candidates thoroughly address the most pressing science-related topics, says the non-profit group ScienceDebate.org. And now the organization has a new video featuring a group of children who agree that it's critically important for the presidential candidates to debate science.
Science Debate, which is backed by Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other leaders in science, academics, business, government, and media, is running a campaign calling for at least one presidential debate that is exclusively focused on science, health, tech, and environmental issues. The group points to a recent Zogby Analytics poll that Science Debate commissioned with the health research-focused non-profit Research!America, which found that 86 percent of U.S. adults think the presidential candidates "should participate in a debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the United States."
Thus far, the media figures moderating the presidential debates have rarely asked the candidates about one of the most pressing science-related topics: climate change. In a press release announcing its new video, Science Debate noted that neither CNN nor ABC moderators asked "a single question about climate change" during the Republican and Democratic debates that took place "in the days immediately following the historic Paris climate change summit, where 195 countries reached an agreement to begin shifting the world economy off carbon."
A new Media Matters analysis provides further evidence that presidential debate moderators are short-changing climate change. Our review of the first eight presidential primary debates found that the moderators have thus far asked the candidates more than ten times as many questions about the political horserace and other non-substantive issues as they have asked about climate change.
Reached for comment, Science Debate chair Shawn Otto expressed concern over the Media Matters study's findings, saying that "it's the science issues--from climate change to the Internet, from the war on drugs to a sustainable economy--that are driving most of today's major policy challenges, and the American people deserve answers."
The full statement by Shawn Otto, chair of Science Debate, as provided in an email to Media Matters:
Out of all the questions Media Matters analyzed from the debates so far, just 9 were about climate change. Ninety-four questions, or over ten times as many, were about non-substantive issues. Yet it's the science issues--from climate change to the Internet, from the war on drugs to a sustainable economy--that are driving most of today's major policy challenges, and the American people deserve answers. We have presidential debates dedicated to economics and to foreign policy. It's time we had a presidential debate dedicated to science, health, tech and the environment.
On January 9, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will host a presidential candidate forum in Columbia, South Carolina focused on poverty. As media outlets prepare to cover the event, will they remember that despite Ryan's gentler language, he has a history of promoting budget and fiscal policies that would harm Americans struggling with poverty?
From the December 20 edition of CBS' Face The Nation:
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From the December 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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As the Republican presidential candidates gather to debate tonight in Las Vegas, the Republican National Committee's (RNC) requirement that each debate include a conservative outlet is drawing fire from former debate panelists and veteran network news executives.
Tonight's debate is no exception, with CNN including Salem Radio commentator Hugh Hewitt among the panelists. Hewitt, who served as an official in the Reagan administration, was a panelist for CNN's September debate, and is scheduled to be part of the third CNN debate in March.
In addition, NBC had partnered with National Review and ABC with the conservative IJ Review. Fox News, whose conservative credentials are well established, does not have a partner and reportedly "fought the RNC's partner requirement and ultimately prevailed."
CNBC aired its October debate without a conservative partner. Following the debate, the RNC objected to CNBC's moderation so strongly that it suspended its NBC debate while promising that National Review will remain a part of a future debate.
The RNC's unusual requirement is drawing criticism from several veteran journalists who have served on debate panels in the past, with most calling it improper and saying it waters down the effectiveness of tough questioning.
"I think this whole idea of trying to adjust debates and judging them according to ideology lead to nothing but trouble," said Elizabeth Drew, a 1976 presidential debate panelist and moderator of a 1984 Democratic primary debate. "Presumably, journalists are supposedly non-political and the Republicans dine out a lot on attacking the 'liberal media.' But that doesn't mean that that's what happens. What they are asking for is sympathetic questioners."
Drew, also a staff writer at The New Yorker from 1973 to 1992, said the debate loses its independence when such demands are met.
"It never used to be this way," she said. "I think the problem is putting so much of the power with the parties ... They're looking for safer and softer questions than they might otherwise get. The structure has gone off the rails."
Marvin Kalb, a 1984 presidential debate panelist and former Meet the Press host, agreed: "It should not be an issue for the Democratic debates, nor for the Republican debates. The selection of questioners must remain a decision for the networks."
Max Frankel, a 1976 presidential debate panelist and former New York Times executive editor, said he would have refused to be involved if the RNC made such a request at his debate.
"My politics is none of their business," he said. "And if I had to identify myself by my politics I would tell them to go to hell and not to participate."
He later added, "more times than not they need the network more than the network needs them. For the moment they need the debates because the presence of Trump is bringing the cable networks a bigger audience than they have ... It's all a mess because several of these cable networks have their own agendas."
Richard Valeriani, a panelist for the 1976 general election presidential debate and a 28-year NBC News correspondent, called the RNC demand "overreaching."
"The debates should be open," he said. "For the parties to set requirements is not good for the system. It impugns the integrity of the media. Saying we can't do our jobs."
He added, "You have sort of a controlled environment, which is not what the free press is about ... One of the values of a debate is to challenge a candidate's ability to think on his or her feet as any president will have to do."
Asked how this compares to his debate, he said: "The parties had nothing to do with it, this is quite unusual to try to dictate who the networks should provide. The next will be to dictate the questions we should ask."
CBS News' February 13 debate does not have a conservative media partner as Face the Nation host John Dickerson will be the lone moderator. CBS News declined to comment on how it managed to broker a deal for a debate without that requirement. The conservative Fox Business Network does not have a partner for its January 14 debate.
CNN, NBC, and ABC also declined to comment on the RNC requirement or why none of the Democratic debates are including a progressive media outlet among the panelists. (NBC News will partner with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute for its January 17 debate.)
A source at the Democratic National Committee close to its debate negotiations said no such requirement was ever brought up during its planning with the networks.
Several former network news presidents said the RNC demand is unusual and not something they would have agreed to.
"If I were still at the network and we were putting on the debate, we would refuse," said Bill Small, NBC News president from 1979 to 1982 and a former CBS News Washington bureau chief. "The debate questioners ought to be the choice of the networks. Would you want to see a political party pick your interviewer if you were doing your newscast? If they want to have network news people they have to recognize that the networks will choose."
He later added, "I've never heard of it before, almost always during my experience, a debate was set up, the networks chose not only who they wanted but who would moderate it. I can't conceive of a news organization saying we'll carry it. It reflects badly on the Republicans and on the networks."
Jonathan Klein, CNN president from 2004 to 2010 and former executive vice president of 60 Minutes, said the parties have long tried to dictate terms, but said this is more than in the past.
"In most ways, it's a good thing for news organizations to be fiercely independent of any outside forces," he said. "What a news organization has to decide is if it is important to maintain that it is in fact objective in its questioning and is an equal opportunity griller. Can we just ask tough questions that are not softballs and are not unfair to the candidates? Generally speaking, we never liked to allow the political organizations on either side too much say in the format or the approach."
Lawrence Grossman, NBC News president from 1984 to 1988, said giving the RNC such power "distorts" the debates.
"The question remains who is in charge of the debates?" he said. "The people who schedule it or the people who participate in it? They should probably not say who asks the questions. They can decide not to participate if they don't like the conditions."
Every Sunday morning political talk show on December 13 discussed Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric and his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, but failed to acknowledge that other Republican presidential candidates have similarly anti-Muslim positions.