Major media outlets are misinterpreting testimony from a former high-ranking Internal Revenue Service official to baselessly suggest that Washington, D.C.-based officials were involved in the improper targeting of conservative groups seeking non-profit status.
Those misinterpretations are based on an apparent confusion on the part of journalists over what made the actions of the Cincinnati-based IRS officials who engaged in that scrutiny improper.
On June 16, several journalists were apparently granted access to review the transcript of an interview the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducted with Holly Paz, a former Washington-based manager in the IRS tax-exempt unit. The access was likely granted under the auspices of committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has been accused of selectively leaking misleading, out-of-context portions of committee interviews in order to damage the Obama administration.
Reporting on the Paz interview, several outlets seized on Paz's statement that she had, in the words of the Associated Press, "reviewed 20 to 30 applications," and falsely claimed this contradicted administration statements that the improper IRS activity had been conducted by IRS officials in Cincinnati.
The Associated Press wrote that Paz's assertion "contradicts initial claims by the agency that a small group of agents working in an office in Cincinnati were solely responsible for mishandling the applications"; ABC's Good Morning America reported (via Nexis) that her "testimony contradicts IRS claims that agents in the Cincinnati field office were solely responsible for targeting those groups"; and the CBS Morning News reported (via Nexis) that Paz said "she was involved in targeting Tea Party groups."
But it is not improper for IRS officials to review the applications of groups seeking non-profit status - in fact, that is their job. The reason the IRS has been criticized is because they used politically slanted criteria to select conservative, but not progressive, groups to receive additional scrutiny. Specifically, the IRS gave additional scrutiny to groups with "tea party," "patriot," and "9/12" in their names. And that criteria was developed by a screening agent from the Cincinnati office, according to excerpts from a congressional interview included in a memo from the Democratic staff of the Oversight Committee.
Paz said she was unaware of these improper procedures, according to the AP:
Paz, however, provided no evidence that senior IRS officials ordered agents to target conservative groups or that anyone in the Obama administration outside the IRS was involved.
Instead, Paz described an agency in which IRS supervisors in Washington worked closely with agents in the field but didn't fully understand what those agents were doing. Paz said agents in Cincinnati openly talked about handling "tea party" cases, but she thought the term was merely shorthand for all applications from groups that were politically active - conservative and liberal.
Paz further testified that when her superior, Lois Lerner, the Washington, D.C.-based director of exempt organizations, became aware that the Cincinnati office was using an improper set of key words to select groups for additional review, Lerner ordered the process stopped.
Not only is this testimony inconsistent with media claims that Paz acknowledged participating in the wrongdoing for which the IRS has been criticized, it actually directly contradicts those claims. This sort of sloppy reporting has surely played a role in misleading the American people into thinking that the White House ordered the targeting of Tea Party groups.
In recent weeks, Sunday morning network news programs have virtually ignored economic issues, instead devoting hours of coverage to the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya; improper targeting of conservative nonprofits by the Internal Revenue Service; controversial federal investigations of national security leaks; and new revelations about National Security Agency surveillance programs.
Cable and network news outlets barely covered the announcement that General Motors will return to the Standard & Poor's 500, a landmark achievement for the company that was booted from the index after filing for bankruptcy four years ago.
Media coverage of the effects of across-the-board spending cuts has narrowly focused on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) furloughs, largely ignoring the broad effects of cuts on other programs and agencies.
On April 26, the House of Representatives approved legislation to end furloughs at the FAA, which had caused significant flight delays. The agency had previously warned that automatic spending cuts would force rolling furloughs of roughly 15,000 air traffic controllers and other staff.
In the week leading up to the House vote, media was heavily focused on the effects of FAA furloughs. A Media Matters analysis found that in the week of April 22 to April 28, 49 cable and broadcast evening news segments mentioned the automatic budget cuts. These segments offered little analysis beyond highlighting the long lines and flight delays expected at airports.
Media's focus on the effects of budget cuts in the past two months has largely been confined to discussing effects on the FAA. On May 24, "Furlough Friday", four federal agencies -- the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) -- forced 115,000 employees to take a day of unpaid leave. As reported by Politico, this forced closure represented the "largest nonweather related partial government shutdown in recent memory."
Despite the impact of "Furlough Friday" on the ability of federal agencies to operate, media remained largely silent. Broadcast and cable news segments were seven times more likely to cover sequestration during the week of FAA furloughs than the week of EPA, HUD, IRS and OMB furloughs. The disparity comes despite the latter round of forced leave affecting nearly eight times more workers across a broader range of government.
Despite the media's lack of coverage, sequestration is still in place and all federal agencies are being forced to cut corners. The budget cuts even altered Memorial Day celebrations across the country over the holiday weekend.
The long-term effects of fiscal austerity can be seen from low-income school closures to impaired military readiness. Another 700,000 federal employees -- mostly in the Department of Defense -- will be forced to take unpaid leave through the remainder of the year.
Media coverage of the automatic spending cuts commonly known as sequestration has tapered off since the policies went into effect on March 1. This drop in coverage comes as more Americans report having personally felt the effects of the cuts.
Economic media coverage has been heavily focused on advocating for deficit reduction, even as deficits decline and the federal government posts a surplus.
A Media Matters analysis on economic news coverage in the month of April found that media continued their long-established focus on deficit reduction. In 45 of 123 total segments discussing policy impacts on the economy, guests or hosts on network and cable news advocated for deficit reduction as a priority.
Calls for deficit reduction beat out mentions of other economic issues, most notably the need for economic growth and job creation, and economic inequality.
The continued focus on deficit reduction is particularly interesting given the fact that, in the month of April, the federal government posted the largest budget surplus in five years. Furthermore, according to the Congressional Budget Office, current and projected deficits are expected to decline in coming years.
Even conservatives have recently acknowledged that deficit reduction is not the country's most pressing economic issue. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), agreeing with President Obama, stated that the country is not facing an immediate debt crisis, a notion shared by prominent Democrats. And John Makin, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, remarked that Congress has already enacted enough deficit reduction.
Meanwhile, economists have expressed concerns over media's focus on deficits, instead calling attention to resolving the very real immediate crisis of unemployment. Economist Jared Bernstein recently began a series on the path to full employment, and numerous other economists have advocated increased short-term spending to bolster economic growth and job creation.
Furthermore, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has even pointed out that focusing on jobs and growth -- not spending cuts -- provides an effective avenue for deficit reduction.
Media outlets largely ignored economic inequality in discussions about the overall economy, despite mounting evidence suggesting that the problem has increased in recent years.
While media have been quick to highlight ostensibly positive gains for the economy -- notably that the Dow Jones Industrial reached 15,000 for the first time in its history, GDP grew by 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2013, and unemployment for April edged down to 7.5 percent -- signs of rising income inequality have gone largely unmentioned.
According to a recent Media Matters analysis, economic coverage for the month of April barely mentioned issues of inequality. In 123 total segments discussing policy effects on the macroeconomy, only 12 touched upon the growing disparity in economic gains for the rich and the poor.
The discrepancy in covering economic inequality stretched across all major outlets. ABC, CBS, and NBC provided no mentions of the problem. MSNBC devoted the most coverage, with roughly 25 percent of segments on the economy discussing rising inequality.
While the media have pushed inequality out of the spotlight, mounting evidence suggests that the problem is getting worse.
As for the rising stock market, while any gains should be viewed as a positive for the economy as a whole, the distribution of those gains paints a less than perfect picture. According to a Gallup poll, 52 percent of Americans currently hold stocks, a number that has been consistently declining in recent years.
Other indicators highlight the deep-seated nature of economic inequality. According to Congressional Budget Office data, from 1979 to 2007 the top one percent of income earners have seen their after-tax share of total income rise by more than 120 percent, while the bottom 20 percent of earners have seen that share decline by almost 30 percent.
And according to an analysis by journalist David Cay Johnston, economic gains in recent history show an even darker reality - from 2009 to 2011, 149 percent of increased income was reaped by the top 10 percent of earners.
Meanwhile, the economy is currently suffering from an epidemic of long-term unemployed workers, which, as noted in a Bloomberg editorial, could create a permanent underclass of workers unable to reenter the labor force.
Some of the media's attention -- albeit very little -- has focused on the inequitable impact of sequestration on low-income individuals. The overwhelming majority of discussion of inequality in April, most notably on MSNBC, focused on Congress' unwillingness to mitigate the impacts of sequestration of the poor, while members were seemingly enthusiastic to correct inconveniences for those at the upper end of the income scale.
While some attention has been given to economic inequality, the broader trend in media is to ignore the issue, preferring instead to focus on the widely recognized non-issue of short-term deficit and debt reduction.
Evening news coverage throughout April touched upon several economic issues, including income inequality, deficit reduction, and entitlement cuts. A Media Matters analysis of this coverage reveals that many of these segments lacked proper context or necessary input from economists, while some networks ignored certain issues entirely.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Broadcast and cable news networks have largely ignored a new report which concluded that the United States' rebuilding efforts in Iraq squandered billions of dollars due to widespread fraud, abuse, and waste.
Last week, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released a report concluding that of the $60 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction projects in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, at least $8 billion of it was "wasted."
In the five days since its release, only PBS and MSNBC have offered substantial coverage of the report.
NBC, ABC, and CBS have all ignored it during their evening newscasts (though it warranted passing mention on NBC's Today, the other networks' morning news programs also ignored the findings). Fox News' Bret Baier gave the story less than twenty seconds of coverage during Special Report.
CNN has completely ignored the report.
Though NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN have devoted a combined thirty five seconds to the story, PBS and MSNBC have each spent more than ten minutes discussing the report and its conclusions.
Media ignored economists in their reports leading up to the initiation of the economically damaging across-the-board spending cuts commonly known as sequestration.
If Congress fails to act by midnight, across-the-board spending cuts of up to $85 billion in 2013 alone will take effect. While sequestration is inherently an economic issue, media are ignoring the last chance to have economists weigh in on the consequences.
Media Matters reviewed news coverage leading up to the sequestration deadline, specifically the February 28 evening news broadcasts; March 1 reports from The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times; and the March 1 morning news programs on the major cable and broadcast networks. We found that economists have been almost completely shut out. Of 122 total guests and quoted figures appearing in a total of 43 articles or television segments, one lone economist was mentioned, Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner in a report from the Journal.
Multiple Fox News personalities have suggested the Justice Department's lawsuit against Standard & Poor's is 'political retribution,' either papering over or outright ignoring the facts behind the suit. However, the S&P investigation began well before U.S. credit was downgraded, and a raft of internal emails suggest the company may have knowingly inflated securities ratings.
From the January 9 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
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A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX remained low in 2012 despite record temperatures and a series of extreme weather events in the U.S. When the Sunday shows did discuss climate change, scientists were shut out of the debate while Republican politicians were given a platform to question the science.
Most cable news and major news networks were silent on the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and House Republicans' failure to reauthorize the law for the first time since 1994. However, MSNBC provided its viewers with extensive coverage of reauthorization, repeatedly warning that the law was set to expire if Congress did not act and exposing the GOP's obstructionism.
After the Senate voted 68-31 to approve the bipartisan VAWA in April, 2012, the bill was sent to the House where Republicans allowed the act to expire. House Republicans reportedly blocked the reauthorization due to objections over the law's expanded provisions to protect Native American women, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT victims of domestic violence. House Republicans later proposed their own version of the bill that stripped the Senate's added protections.
Media Matters looked at the month leading up to the expiration of the VAWA and found that both Fox News and CNN failed to cover the need to reauthorize the act, while MSNBC informed its viewers of the law's status. A search on Nexis for segments referring to the Violence Against Women Act on Fox News and CNN between December 1, 2012 and January 2 found only one mention between the two networks. In comparison, a search of MSNBC transcripts turned up ten references to the expiring VAWA and House Republicans' efforts to block the reauthorization along with another two brief mentions of the law in broad discussion.
In fact, during the December 16, 2012 edition of MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes devoted two segments to the importance of House Republicans' refusal to approve the law. The panel noted the danger that the GOP's obstructionism posed to women victims of domestic violence across the country.