As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
New reports that the politically conservative Koch brothers are interested in buying the Tribune Company's eight regional newspapers -- which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune -- are sparking concerns from newspaper staff members that attempts to influence the editorial process in favor of their far-right political views may follow.
Among those concerned is Clarence Page, a top Chicago Tribune columnist, who said he would oppose a takeover of the paper by David and Charles Koch because of "the fact that they seem to be coming in upfront with the idea of using a major news media as a vehicle for their political voice."
In addition to the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, the Kochs are reportedly seeking to buy The Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government. As the Times detailed, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the stratgy called for investing in the media.
And that has staffers at Tribune Company newspapers -- several of whom requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs -- nervous about the possibility that a Koch takeover could bring with it an ideological focus on the news that risks turning the papers into what one reporter calls a "conservative mouthpiece."
According to those staffers, such concerns are rampant at the papers. "Nobody I know in the newsroom would find it a happy event to have the Koch brothers owning the paper," said one longtime Chicago Tribune staffer, who suggested that the purpose of the takeover is so that the brothers can use the publications to "promulgate their political views."
"I haven't heard anyone here who has welcomed the idea of the Koch brothers... the Koch brothers, that scares people," added an LA Times scribe.
"I think we all have concerns when you think an owner might try to influence editorial content," explained Angela Kuhl, Newspaper Guild unit chair at The Baltimore Sun. "That is sort of contrary to what the newspapering business should be about, free press. You don't necessarily want owners and publishers dictating content."
It's the Kochs' explicit call for investing in the media to achieve their political end that has Kuhl worried. "I read the story that said they have a three-pronged approach to how to move the country in the way they think it should head, and one is to influence the media."
The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed rehashing claims about undocumented immigrants that have been widely debunked, without noting that the author is a fellow at nativist organization the Center for Immigration Studies. CIS is an anti-immigrant organization whose affiliation with hate groups has been thoroughly documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In the February 8 op-ed titled, "Legalizing Illegal Immigrants A Bad Idea," CIS fellow David Seminara repeated the false claims that undocumented immigrants steal jobs from hard-working Americans and that they put a strain on social services. The Tribune identified Seminara simply as a former diplomat who has "issued thousands of visas during his career at the State Department."
According to his bio on the CIS website, Seminara has been a fellow at the organization since 2009. He has written extensively for the group's blog, including writing posts that have criticized an undocumented immigrant fearful of applying for deferred action and attacked scholarships for undocumented immigrants.
Knowing Seminara's affiliation with CIS would have alerted readers that the op-ed was presenting a biased view of the immigration debate as it repeated many of CIS' and other nativist groups' talking points. Indeed, his claim that undocumented immigrants steal Americans' jobs is not new; it has been discredited by economists and immigration experts using mountains of research: Undocumented immigrants do not generally compete with Americans for labor, and in fact have been found to boost Americans' wages.
Immigrants given legal status under the immigration reform framework announced by the Senate are also unlikely to be a strain on the welfare system. Under the current framework, newly legalized immigrants would not be eligible for Medicaid or any government social benefit. In addition, immigrants are more likely to have jobs and over half have a high school degree or more.
In Illinois, consumer spending by undocumented immigrants already generates $5.45 billion in gross regional spending which accounts for 31,000 jobs in the Chicago area,according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. In fact, the Immigration Policy Center reported that in 2010, undocumented immigrants in the state paid nearly half a billion dollars in taxes.
Now that the Obama administration and Congress are engaged in a debate over immigration policy, a Media Matters review of major news outlets has found that when it comes to immigration coverage, anti-immigrant commentator Mark Krikorian continues to be the media's preferred conservative voice. Krikorian heads the Center for Immigration Studies, a group associated with notorious nativist John Tanton and whose research has been called into question -- but these facts are routinely ignored in coverage of his remarks.
Current and former staffers at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune are expressing concern at reports Friday that News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch might be interested in buying the papers from Tribune Company, with one veteran Times newsman calling the notion "horrifying beyond belief."
While many told Media Matters they are worried about Murdoch's potential ownership due to concerns over his ethical history and conservative ideology, others are so desperate to give their bankrupt papers financial stability that they are reluctantly willing to give him a chance.
"I have heard people express concerns of various kinds," said one current Los Angeles Times' journalist and former newsroom editor who requested anonymity. "He invests in the properties, he has not downsized the [Wall Street] Journal. The one concern, fear of the unknown, is, well, the L.A. Times still has a substantial foreign staff, a substantial national staff and a substantial Washington bureau. What happens to those?"
One fear is that the takeover could spark an exodus of staff, which occurred at The Wall Street Journal after Murdoch purchased parent company Dow Jones in late 2007. Dozens of the paper's best journalists left, citing a perceived change in the paper's focus and at times an increased push for more business-friendly stories.
Several current and former Tribune Company staffers recalled what happened when Murdoch bought the rival Chicago Sun-Times in 1984, later selling it in 1986. The sale sparked the departure of many Sun-Times staffers, including the legendary columnist Mike Royko, who vowed not to work for Murdoch and left for the Tribune.
"If you look at the history of what he did across the street at the Sun-Times, that is a shot that the paper never fully recovered from," said a current Tribune staffer who sought anonymity. "The sentiment of people is 'we want to keep doing the work we do,' owners do what they want to do with the paper."
Speculation about a Murdoch purchase of the Times, Tribune, or perhaps other Tribune Company properties began last week with an October 19 Los Angeles Times report that he was interested. It cited "two ranking News Corp. executives and others familiar with the situation," indicated talks were in the "early stages," and stated a takeover could occur by the end of 2012.
News Corp. has denied the report, but the Los Angeles Times stands by its story.
A News Corp. purchase of the Times and the Tribune would give Murdoch control of four of the top 10 U.S. newspapers by circulation and, as the Times notes, "strong footholds in the nation's three largest media markets."
The possible purchase by Murdoch comes at a time when Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and 10 other daily newspapers, as well as 23 television stations and other media properties, is emerging from a bruising four-year bankruptcy battle that has already cut its revenues and staff.
The financial problems stem from the 2007 purchase of Tribune Company by real estate magnate Sam Zell, who paid for the takeover through a leveraged buyout that created $13 million in debt. The company filed for bankruptcy a year later, a move that remains unresolved as creditors battle over a resolution plan in court.
The thought that Murdoch could take over some or all of the company's properties drew concern among current and former staffers.
Affirmative action policies that will come before the Supreme Court in the upcoming Fisher v. University of Texas case have long been the target of right-wing misinformation that distort the benefits of diversity in higher education. Contrary to the conservative narrative in the media, these admissions processes serve important national interests by promoting equal opportunity and are based on long-standing law.
Reuters is running the headline: "More US coal plants to retire due to green rules-study." But the group that authored the study says the additional expected retirements are "Due To Low Natural Gas Prices," not Environmental Protection Agency rules.
Economists at the Brattle Group project in a new report that "59 GW to 77 GW (for lenient versus strict [regulatory] scenarios, respectively) of coal plant capacity are likely to retire" by 2016 -- more than previously forecast. But as David Roberts at Grist first noted, the report attributed this change primarily to "changing market conditions, not environmental rule revisions, which have trended toward more lenient requirements and schedules."
The Chicago Tribune and Scientific American are running the Reuters report with versions of its inaccurate headline. And Roberts noted that another mainstream media outlet is making this mistake: a Christian Science Monitor guest blog titled "Study: EPA regulations squelch US coal industry." (UPDATE 10/10/12: The Christian Science Monitor has removed this post, redirecting readers to an article from September that noted "some experts" say coal plant closures are "coming less from the Obama administration than from natural gas.")
These inaccurate reports feed into the conservative myth that long overdue clean air and water regulations constitute a "war on coal," even though many experts say that the primary reason for declining coal generation is the low price of natural gas.
This afternoon, Mother Jones' David Corn reported on a video of Mitt Romney taken surreptitiously at a campaign fundraiser in which the Republican presidential candidate tells donors that "there are 47 percent who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims," and that "my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Romney explained that he has to "convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents" to vote for him to get him just over the electoral hump.
The immediate reaction among some members of the press has been to draw parallels to the campaign 2008 foofaraw over candidate Obama's "bitter clinger" tape. Aside from the obvious similarity that both secret recordings captured a presidential candidate speaking unguardedly to donors, the comparison is inapt. In 2008, Obama was explaining to donors the challenge of winning over voters who had lost faith in the government. Romney was writing off a huge swath of the electorate as hopeless.
Nonetheless, it was the first comparison journalists reached for. The Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn headlined his post on the Romney video "Romney's 'cling to their guns' moment." This is from The Washington Post's initial write-up:
Candidates tend to talk more freely at closed-door fundraisers than they do publicly, and when those remarks leak out to the media, they can create trouble. In 2008, President Obama told a San Francisco fundraiser that small-town Pennsylvania voters "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion" -- a quote that is still being used against him.
That moment has, somewhat ironically, become a totem of grievance to which conservatives cling quite bitterly to this day. But, again, the comparison doesn't wash. Here's what Obama said at that fundraiser as he explained the challenge of winning over voters to his campaign:
But the truth is, is that our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's no evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, a lot -- like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they've gone through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate, and they have not. It's not surprising, then, that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations. At least in some communities, anyway.
That's a completely different message, delivered with a completely different tone, than Romney's.
But that's not to say the Romney video is not without comparative value. For example, an enterprising reporter might want to ask Romney about what the videotaped remarks say about these comments Romney made last month:
Romney accused Obama of pushing Republicans and Democrats "as far apart as they can go" and he accused Obama of waging an even more divisive campaign by "dividing us all in groups."
"He demonizes some. He panders to others. His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then cobble together 51 percent of the pieces. If an American president wins that way, we all lose," Romney said. "So, Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago, and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America."
Natural gas can help the U.S. transition away from reliance on coal in the near-term if it is produced responsibly. But conservative media have dismissed the risks involved with the rapid spread of natural gas extraction to push for deregulation, attack the Obama administration, and ignore the need for a comprehensive energy policy to transition to renewable energy.
"Economic growth is a good thing, even when it's lubricated by graft."
So argued Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, dismissing concerns about corporate bribery raised amid reports that Wal-Mart officials have covered up evidence tying the company to bribery in Mexico. Chapman's Sunday column defended Wal-Mart, whose largest subsidiary (Wal-Mart de Mexico), is under investigation by the Justice Department (DOJ). The New York Times reported:
In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company's largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.
The allegations of illicit payments put Wal-Mart under the jurisdiction of DOJ, which is investigating potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, a law that has been described as an "anti-bribery, anti-corruption measure enacted...to prohibit American companies from paying off foreign officials and to create an international example for ethical business practices."
The law has been in effect for 35 years, but Chapman questioned the wisdom of using U.S. law to govern corporate behavior overseas:
The question is why it's the duty of the U.S. government to dictate business practices in nations with very different business climates. You would think the Justice Department has plenty to do enforcing American laws on American soil without trying to sanitize the rest of the world.
Our idea of appropriate business practices ought to prevail in America, but less developed countries are entitled to do things their own way. If Mexico doesn't police bribery and can't change its economic culture, why should Uncle Sam take on the job? [...]
By deterring American companies from investing in such places, we deprive their citizens of goods and jobs that would improve their lives.
When extortionate officials block Wal-Mart from opening stores in Mexico, ordinary Mexicans suffer. Economic growth is a good thing, even when it's lubricated by graft.
As automakers are starting to bring electric vehicle (EV) technology into the mainstream, conservative media outlets have repeatedly misled consumers about electric cars by trying to paint them as environmentally harmful and unsafe, among other false claims.
With the Justice Department's motion to block the AT&T/T-Mobile merger a few days behind us, politicians and media types are slowly declaring their allegiances in what is promising to be the biggest antitrust fight we've seen in a good long while. Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman inked an editorial this weekend denouncing Justice for moving to stop the merger, and took a stab at debunking DOJ's primary reason for blocking the deal: its anticompetitive effects.
According to Chapman, the situation facing the wireless communications market is no different than that of the burger-slinging set:
The lawsuit argues that losing T-Mobile would be a devastating blow to competition. But there are plenty of other, lesser-known cellphone companies, including U.S. Cellular, MetroPCS and Leap. In fact, 90 percent of Americans can choose from five or more cellphone companies.
The Justice Department scoffs at the importance of these smaller operators because they don't compete nationally as the larger carriers do. It's a strange position that misunderstands the nature of the wireless marketplace.
Joe's Burger Shack doesn't compete with McDonald's nationally, but McDonald's still has to compete with it and thousands of other single-site restaurants across the country. If prices go up under the Golden Arches, patrons have plenty of options besides Burger King.
AT&T faces a similar landscape of small and large rivals. If it loses customers who resent being gouged, it's cold comfort to see them sign up with rivals that don't buy Super Bowl ads.
The similarities between the competitive landscapes facing AT&T and McDonald's are actually quite few.
The print edition of the Chicago Tribune included a poster of Philaelphia Flyers player Chris Pronger with the skirt and legs of a female ice skater. Pronger and the Flyers are playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL's Stanley Cup Finals. The poster refers to Pronger as "Chrissy Pronger" and says, "Looks like Tarzan, skates like Jane."
From the Tribune's website:
While addressing both Arizona's controversial new immigration law and national immigration reform, media outlets have reported that polls found widespread support for Arizona's law. But these reports ignored recent national polls finding that large majorities also support providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants in the United States.