Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the fourth quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
In its latest piece of shoddy journalism, CBS News' 60 Minutes is labeling cleantech a "dirty word" by ignoring the overall success rate of clean energy investments.
In October, 60 Minutes aired a report criticizing the response to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which eventually had to be pulled as it relied on an untrustworthy "witness" who apparently fabricated his story. Two months later, the news program was widely criticized for a one-sided report on the National Security Agency's surveillance program.
In another one-sided report on Sunday, 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl concluded that "instead of breakthroughs, the [cleantech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops" after stimulus investments, including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program. However, 60 Minutes simply ignored the cleantech breakthroughs that did occur in order to advance this misleading narrative. Here are four facts CBS left out of the story:
1. The DOE Loan Program Has A 97% Success Rate. In July 2012, the former head of the loan guarantee program testified to Congress that funds that went to bankrupt companies represented less than 3 percent of the total Department of Energy portfolio. In other words, the program so far has a 97-percent success rate, far better than that of venture capitalists.
2. Solar And Wind Have Had Big Wins In Recent Years. 60 Minutes made passing mention of Tesla Motors' success after receiving a federal loan guarantee. However, it left out many other successes -- such as SolarCity -- in its myopic focus on Solyndra and other bankrupt companies. Robert Rapier, an energy expert who contributes to the Wall Street Journal and was interviewed for the special, stated on Twitter that he "gave successes they didn't air" and told 60 Minutes "the future is solar power." In 2012, renewable energy was the largest source of new electric capacity, led by wind power. These charts from the Department of Energy highlighted by Think Progress show that as the costs of solar and wind power have decreased, installations have jumped:
3. In Addition To These Strides, Cleantech Jobs Were Created. Stahl claimed that "Everything I've read there were not that many jobs created." However, she never mentioned any actual figures for viewers to assess. The loan program office estimates that its investments have created or saved approximately 55,000 direct jobs.
4. Climate Change Necessitates Cleantech Investments. As energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out, 60 Minutes did not even make a passing mention of climate change. Instead, the program touted the rise of natural gas saying that it was "relatively clean." However, experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Council on Foreign Relations have noted that without significant investment to scale up renewables, climate change will continue apace.
UPDATE (1/6/14): Energy expert Robert Rapier told Think Progress that the 60 Minutes report selectively aired his comments, leaving out his response to Stahl's first question that highlighted the successes of solar and wind power and emphasized that Stahl's question, "Clean tech is dead. What killed it?" was based on a false premise. From Rapier's interview with Think Progress:
The first question Lesley Stahl asked me - "Clean Tech is dead. What killed it?"
I immediately said, "Clean tech is not dead." There are many parts of clean tech that are doing very well - solar power is growing by leaps and bounds, prices are plummeting, wind power is growing exponentially.
Appearing on Face the Nation, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan became the latest media conservative to claim that President Obama and congressional Democrats are attempting to distract attention from problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by addressing income inequality and pushing for an increase in the minimum wage, echoing several attacks from Fox News.
Noonan responded to host Bob Schieffer's question about why Democrats were focusing on income inequality and increasing the minimum wage by claiming that they "need to change the subject" away from Obamacare:
NOONAN: [Obama] does not want to talk about Obamacare. It is widely assumed that in 2014 the bad news of Obamacare, the dislocations, the lost coverage, the price hikes, the premium hikes, et cetera, et cetera, that all of this will continue. It's not the website. The website is the old story. It is the program. It will unveil over the next two years and it's going to be problematic. The president does not want to talk about it. The Democrats do not want to talk about it. Therefore, income equality, minimum wage, et cetera, et cetera. They need to change the subject.
Noonan's claim echoes those of Fox News personalities, who have repeatedly characterized a wide swath of issues -- including immigration reform, international diplomacy, and judicial nominations -- tackled by the administration as attempts to change the subject from the health care law.
Much of the Affordable Care Act (the ACA, also known as Obamacare), went into effect on January 1, 2014. Major evening news broadcasts focused on different aspects of the law's effects and the extent to which the law will benefit consumers.
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
A six-part series by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick destroyed several myths about the September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, myths often propagated by conservative media and their allies in Congress to politicize the attack against the Obama administration.
Since the September 2012 attacks, right-wing media have seized upon various inaccurate, misleading, or just plain wrong talking points about Benghazi. Some of those talking points made their way into the mainstream, most notably onto CBS' 60 Minutes, earning the network the Media Matters' 2013 "Misinformer of the Year" title for its botched report.
Kirkpatrick's series, titled "A Deadly Mix In Benghazi," debunks a number of these right-wing talking points based on "months of investigation" and "extensive interviews" with those who had "direct knowledge of the attack." Among other points, Kirkpatrick deflates the claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the attacks and that Al Qaeda was involved in the attack:
Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
Fox News, scores of Republican pundits, and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), among others, dragged then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice through the mud for citing talking points that mentioned an anti-Islamic YouTube video on Sunday morning news programs following the attacks. Despite right-wing media claims to the contrary, however, Kirkpatrick stated that the attack on the Benghazi compound was in "large part" "fueled" by the anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube. He wrote (emphasis added):
The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.
Another talking point that right-wing media used to accuse the Obama administration of a political cover-up was the removal of Al Qaeda from Rice's morning show talking points. Kirkpatrick, however, affirmed in his NYTimes report that Al Qaeda was not involved in the attack in Benghazi (emphasis added):
But the Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda's international terrorist network. The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker's boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault.
Kirkpatrick also dispelled the notion that the attack on the compound was carefully planned, writing that "the attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs."
This NYTimes report should lay to rest these long-debunked yet oft-repeated talking points on the part of both right-wing media and their conservative allies.
For more on conservative media myths about the September 2012 attack, read The Benghazi Hoax, the e-book by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt.
The past 12 months witnessed innumerable attacks on social safety net programs in the United States. These attacks on American social insurance programs were hardly limited to Social Security -- all forms of social insurance, including unemployment benefits, food stamps, and disability, came under fire from mainstream and conservative media alike, regardless of the programs' social or economic benefits. Media Matters compiled a list of the six types of attacks on the social safety net in 2013.
For more than three years, an influential study by two Harvard economists -- Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff -- provided a plausible foundation for attacks on spending of all types. The study fostered debt-paranoia among pundits otherwise interested in austere fiscal policies.
An April study by economists at the University of Massachusetts, however, concluded that the Reinhart-Rogoff data was error-filled in a way that selectively biased the results. A further review of the corrected data by economists at the University of Michigan found that the study should have been deemed inconclusive.
Despite losing its intellectual foundation in April, the deficit reduction talking point maintained a prominent position in fiscal policy discussion throughout the year.
Media calls for deficit reduction in the past year also regularly relied on budget reporting that lacked adequate context that federal budget deficits have declined precipitously from their 2009 peak. A Media Matters review of budget reporting done by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post revealed that a sizeable majority of articles provided budget items and program spending figures out of context. Further analysis concluded this misrepresentative reporting to be little more than a scare tactic, which bolstered calls for deeper cuts to the safety net for the sake of alleged fiscal responsibility.
This lack of context in media, and the effect it had in shifting the policy debate, eventually encouraged Times public editor Margaret Sullivan to issue a statement promising to correct problematic reporting standards going forward, but other outlets have yet to follow suit.
On the same day reports circulated that the reporters behind a fatally flawed, retracted 60 Minutes story may return to CBS News' airwaves as soon as early January, the program again faced criticism for a report that critics are calling a "puff piece" and an "infomercial."
On December 15, 60 Minutes aired a report on the National Security Agency based on unprecedented access to its headquarters and interviews with Agency staff, including its chief, Keith Alexander, who discussed the concerns many Americans have about its operations since the disclosures by Edward Snowden.
The segment opened with reporter John Miller's acknowledgement that he had once worked at another federal intelligence agency. It featured no critics of the NSA. Miller explained his thoughts on the story in an interview with CBS News, saying that the NSA's view is "really the side of the story that has been mined only in the most superficial ways. We've heard plenty from the critics. We've heard a lot from Edward Snowden. Where there's been a distinctive shortage is, putting the NSA to the test and saying not just 'We called for comment today' but to get into the conversation and say that sounds a lot like spying on Americans, and then say, 'Well, explain that.'"
Miller's report was immediately ripped apart by NSA critics and veteran journalists. Some have called the veracity of CBS News' reporting into question. Others termed the segment a "puff piece" and an "embarrassing" "infomercial," saying that it filmed was under guidelines that overwhelmingly favored the agency and proved the effectiveness of the NSA's communications staff.
The NSA report is only the latest of several heavily criticized 60 Minutes stories. Most notably, the network was forced to retract and remove from the airwaves the reporters responsible for a segment based on a supposed eyewitness to the 2012 Benghazi attacks who apparently fabricated his story. The day after the NSA story ran and less than three weeks after the leaves of absence were announced, Politico reported that those journalists, Lara Logan and Max McClellan, have "started booking camera crews for news packages" and could return to 60 Minutes as early as January. In recent weeks the program has also been criticized for reports on Social Security disability benefits and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.
This series of debacles was noted by former CBS News correspondent Marvin Kalb, who was at one time the moderator of NBC's Meet the Press, who wrote that a program that "used to be the gold standard of network magazine programs" is increasingly "under fire." He concluded:
What's clear from this episode is that 60 Minutes is not facing another Lara Logan embarrassment. Miller did not get his facts wrong; he just did a story on 60 Minutes that should never have been on 60 Minutes. It was a promotional piece, almost by his own admission. In addition, the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley did a story on the 60 Minutes Miller piece to help promote it, as though it were an exceptional exclusive, which it was not.
In a funny way, all of this fresh criticism can be seen as a compliment. People expect 60 Minutes to be a place on the dial for tough questioning and rigorous reporting. When it does anything less than that, it opens itself to snap judgments that may be unfair but should not be surprising. It should, though, suggest strongly that CBS has further need for continuing self-examination.
Politico's Dylan Byers similarly opined that 60 Minutes has had "a terrible year" and that the program "is desperately in need of a news package that earns it praise rather than criticism.It needs to put up a hard-hitting investigation, fact-checked to the teeth, that doesn't come off as a promotional puff-piece. Because its reputation as the gold standard of television journalism has taken some serious hits of late."
Miller referred questions from Media Matters about the segment to a CBS News spokesperson who declined to comment on the record.
Following Texas State Senator Wendy Davis' June 25, 2013, filibuster of extreme restrictions on reproductive health clinics in Texas, national evening broadcast and cable news programs have provided extensive coverage of issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights. The vast majority of segments, however, failed to identify or discuss the key economic benefits of access to reproductive health care, including its role in reducing economic insecurity.
Broadcast evening news programs slanted coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by hyping negative aspects of the law's rollout while underplaying or not exploring positive changes to insurance coverage under the health care law, including the role that subsidies would play in making health care affordable. All three major broadcast networks aired more segments that took on a negative tone than a positive tone in October and November 2013, according to a Media Matters study.
After the publication of Media Matters' ebook The Benghazi Hoax, which tells the story of how the right twisted a tragedy into a failed witch hunt against the Obama administration, CBS News came under fire from media critics and journalism experts for airing a botched 60 Minutes report on Benghazi that featured a supposed eyewitness to the attacks who had lied about his actions the night of the attack. The story resulted in an internal investigation into how 60 Minutes got it wrong and a leave of absence by correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan. Here's the story of how CBS got burned by the Benghazi hoax.
As the consequences for 60 Minutes' botched story on Benghazi continue to unfold, it's unclear whether the apparent charlatan at the center of that report will face punishment from the publisher of his book.
After the October 27 segment aired, it was revealed that Dylan Davies, the supposed eyewitness featured in the story, had given conflicting accounts of his actions the night of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi. CBS News eventually pulled the segment and announced after an internal review that correspondent Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan would be taking a leave of absence from 60 Minutes.
But the 60 Minutes segment wasn't the only publicity boost CBS Corporation gave to Davies' story. Two days after the 60 Minutes report aired, Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions released The Embassy House, a book featuring Davies' dubious account.
While Threshold pulled the book from shelves shortly after CBS retracted its segment, the publisher has not revealed any action it plans to take against Davies to recoup costs or damages from his apparent lies. Requests for comment have been ignored.
But book publishing veterans, including several attorneys who handle such cases, said Threshold's options are clear according to traditional author agreements. They admit, however, that the publisher may have trouble actually collecting any damages.
"One of the important elements in a book publishing contract is a clause called representations and warranties, a list of promises and guarantees that an author makes to the publisher. These are very standard -- the customary assurances that the author gives is that the work is original and does not infringe on copyright," said Jonathan Kirsch, a publishing attorney based in Los Angeles. "Some publishers are smart enough or have lawyers who are smart enough to include additional assurances that the book is true, accurate, and based on sound research."
Kirsch added, "If you had a contract where the representation and warranties clause didn't include these assurances, the publisher would be in a more exposed position. If they do include that assurance then the publisher can sue for breach of contract. At the very beginning of the book contract it says that the book is a work of fiction or non-fiction. If the contract characterizes it as a work of non-fiction or an autobiography or an historical account, there is an implication that it is true and the publisher can sue on that account."
In 2013, broadcast evening news programs have largely ignored the need for the economy to return to full employment, instead placing overwhelming focus on debt and deficit reduction.
After weeks of highlighting negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media outlets have largely underreported the law's success in helping slow the growth of health care costs.
From the November 26 edition of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes:
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