A two-year investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee that debunked several prominent right-wing myths about the Benghazi attacks was largely ignored by the four major broadcast networks' Sunday shows.
From the November 23 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Media Matters conducted an analysis of education coverage on weeknight cable news programs so far in 2014 to determine how many of the shows' guests who discussed the topic were educators. The analysis found that across MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN, educators made up only 9 percent of guests during education segments.
From the November 19 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin:
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In early October, the GOP developed a plan to make the federal government's response to Ebola a central part of its midterm elections strategy. Television media played into Republicans' hands, helping to foment panic about the disease. Following the diagnosis of a handful of U.S. Ebola patients, the major broadcast networks ran nearly 1,000 segments about the virus in the four weeks leading up to the elections. Coverage of the disease plummeted in the two weeks following Election Day, with the same networks running fewer than 50 total segments.
From the November 18 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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There was widespread suspicion last month that as cable news gorged on the "Ebola in America" story, feasting on overheated coverage that played off anxiety and outright panic, that the programming was driven, in part, by a cynical attempt to boost ratings. After all, fear sells. And what better way to draw millions of additional viewers to cable news than pumping up a story about an impending virus doom and wrapping it in a partisan pre-election narrative about President Obama's failure to lead?
As PBS science correspondent Miles O'Brien noted during an interview on CNN when the story first broke, and when he urged journalists to "take a breath" (many did not), "Unfortunately it's a very competitive business, the business we're in, and there is a perception that by hyping up this threat, you draw people's attention." He added, "That's a shame to even say that, and I get embarrassed for our brethren in journalism."
Longtime television observer Brian Lowry, writing at Variety, stressed that while television news has "long employed fear as a come-on to viewers," it had "truly outdone itself" with its response to the virus.
Aside from marketing fear, there's some evidence that overreacting to a news story and blowing it up into its own brand (i.e. The Ebola Crisis), can help lift cable news. Recall that back in the winter, CNN was widely mocked for its truly relentless coverage of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. That story helped deliver a significant ratings increase for CNN, at least in the short term.
Yet despite the endless Ebola coverage, the virus health scare did nothing for cable news in terms of inflating ratings during October, when the story dominated the headlines. In fact, total cable news viewership dipped during the month.
For the month of October, CNN's viewership was down 5 percent compared to October 2013. (In primetime, its audience fell 18 percent last month compared to October 2013.) Fox News and MSNBC also suffered rating decreases in October. And if you compare the cable news channels' primetime ratings in October to its primetime ratings during this past summer, viewership was also down.
The ratings story was similar for the three network evening news programs, where viewership for CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC's World News Tonight failed to generate an audience bounce during the news media's unofficial Ebola Month. Combined, the three news programs attracted roughtly 23 million viewers each week in October. That compares to the 23 million viewers who tuned in each week during October 2013.
So if all of that overwrought television coverage didn't produce ratings gains, what was the point since, as Chris Hayes noted this week, too much of it seemed irrational:
From the November 12 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper:
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Just two days after the midterm elections concluded, CNN is helping to make "Whitewater" lies part of the 2016 election.
Doug Henwood, author of a Harper's magazine article headlined "Stop Hillary!," appeared on CNN along with Elise Viebeck, a reporter for The Hill, to discuss Hillary Clinton (whom Viebeck called "pathologically ambitious" and "extremely opportunistic"). After Viebeck claimed that "the past scandals that the Clintons have been involved with" could be used by Republicans in any future election, Henwood mentioned Whitewater, a real estate venture that failed in the 1970s and 1980s and was exhaustively investigated in the 1990s, as key to any campaign to discredit Clinton.
"Every time you do Whitewater, the media will kind of roll its eyes, like 'We've been there; this is old,'" host Chris Cuomo replied. "Not the media, but the media that wants to defend Hillary Clinton, or her defenders in general. You say, oh no, no, no. The facts there mattered. She kind of got a pass."
One key fact that mattered went unsaid by Cuomo or either of his guests: exhaustive investigations by Republican prosecutors and legislators concluded that there was no evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton broke the law in connection to the Whitewater land deal.
Henwood's explanation for why Whitewater still mattered centered on his claim that Clinton "lied" about billing records and how much time she spent as a lawyer working for a bank connected to the deal. Again, the public record fully corroborates what Clinton has said about this.
Nevertheless, Cuomo encouraged his viewers to read Henwood's story in Harper's, calling it an interesting take on Clinton.
Veteran reporters from the 90s see it differently.
"The most basic facts elude him," Gene Lyons observed in the Arkansas Times. Lyons, who wrote a book that originated as a Harper's article on the media's Whitewater failures, offers a devastating point-by-point rebuttal to Henwood before concluding, "a journalist who chooses to question a presidential candidate's character by dragging up 20-year-old controversies owes it to readers to know two or three things about them."
And CNN owes it to its viewers to challenge its guests over basic, verifiable facts.
In early October, Yahoo! News columnist Michael Isikoff revisited the Whitewater saga that made him famous, touting a book written by the first special prosecutor to look into the land deal before he was replaced by Ken Starr. Dredging up old news and breaking no new ground, Isikoff warned that Clinton foes would try to use Whitewater against her.
Joe Conason, who co-authored The Hunting of the President with Lyons, took Isikoff to task for ignoring the facts and offered compelling guidance to journalists who insist on discussing Whitewater. "If we must dredge up Whitewater," Conason wrote, "then let's be specific instead of vague." Conason urged journalists to "report all of the evidence."
Watch the CNN segment from the November 6 edition of New Day:
Media are promoting Republican gains in the House and Senate in Tuesday's midterm elections as evidence that the country has shifted to the "center-right" on political issues, despite the fact that ballot initiatives and national polling reveal broad support for progressive positions.
Election experts have observed that a heavy dose of congressional redistricting after the 2010 elections has polarized the nation and given Republicans an advantage in elections for years to come, but the practice's impact on election outcomes was all but ignored during the major cable news outlets' 2014 election night broadcasts.
CNN's Legal View with Ashley Banfield glossed over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) history of obstructionism after he promised to work with Democrats in the Senate following his reelection, choosing instead to paint him as a "conciliatory" lawmaker.
CNN political contributor Ana Navarro suggested President Obama is to blame for not delivering on "promises on immigration" without noting the GOP's efforts to obstruct any action on the issue.
On the November 5 edition of CNN's Wolf, Navarro pointed to Obama's 2007 campaign promises on the issue and claimed that the president had not acted for "political reasons":
NAVARRO: I do think that President Obama and Republicans both are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to this executive immigration action, particularly President Obama. He's under tremendous pressure from Latinos, from immigration advocates, from his progressive base. He has been making promises on immigration since he was campaigning as Senator Barack Obama in 2007, and time and time again, these groups have had to hear from him, "Wait. It's not your turn yet. For political reasons, you have to wait." And a lot of them are done waiting. But on the other hand, you've got Republicans, some of whom I think have a genuine desire to work on immigration, but it will poison the well. When you've got people like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and John McCain, authors of the bipartisan agreement in the Senate on immigration, sending him a letter saying, "You know, really think about it," and, "This is going to have consequences," I think it's a very difficult place.
But Navarro's assessment of who is to blame for lack of reform ignores Republican efforts to delay action on immigration by any means necessary, including threats of impeachment.
In 2013, after the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, House Republicans steadfastly refused to act on it for over a year. This led President Obama to announce in June that he would take executive action on the issue if Republicans continued to refuse to vote on the bill.
Forget the issues. Let's talk about fear and anger.
That message, coming out of a CNN interview with Vice President Joe Biden, perfectly captures the media's role in the 2014 midterm elections.
Biden and Gloria Borger, CNN's chief political analyst, discussed the VP's future political ambitions and his take on whether the 2014 midterms will shift the balance of power in Washington in an interview that aired this morning.
"If you look at every single major issue in this campaign, the American public agree with our position," Biden said, "from federal support for infrastructure to minimum wage to marriage equality."
Biden is right, and the numbers are staggering. Seventy percent of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, according to the results of a CBS News/New York Times poll from September. When Gallup asked whether voters would be more likely to support candidates who want to spend federal government money on infrastructure repairs, 72 percent said they would. Polling from ABCNews/Washington Post, The New York Times/CBS News, and McClatchy-Marist all shows majority support for marriage equality. Add universal background checks and federal action to combat climate change to the growing list of progressive issues backed by large majorities of the electorate.
"But wait a minute," Borger injected:
Our polls show voters are angry, they're fearful, they're frustrated. Not only about domestic policy, like the roll out of the president's health care reform, but also on the handling of Ebola and ISIS. So the question is how do you fix that?
It's true that a recent CNN poll found that voters are scared and angry -- when they are asked by pollsters how scared and angry they are. That poll, incidentally, didn't ask what issues matter most to voters.
All of this feeds right into the GOP electoral strategy of using fear-based appeals to sway voters.
"With four weeks to go before the midterm elections, Republicans have made questions of how safe we are -- from disease, terrorism or something unspoken and perhaps more ominous -- central in their attacks against Democrats," The New York Times reported in October.
Since that time, CNN discussed the minimum wage on 35 broadcasts and mentioned unemployment or economic growth during 52 broadcasts, according to a Nexis search. Ebola appears in 565 news transcripts during that time. Even factoring in CNN's international broadcasting, it would hard to find an hour of news programming that didn't feed into Ebola panic in the past 4 weeks.
And it's not just CNN. Throughout the closing weeks of the election, news media have gone into overdrive helping Republican sow the seeds of Ebola panic.
Voters, meanwhile, are 11 times more likely to say that jobs and the economy are one of the most important issues heading into the economy than they are to cite Ebola.
Nevertheless, Borger was congratulated by her CNN colleagues for forcing Biden off a discussion of issues like raising the minimum wage.
"He had listed that laundry list, that grocery list of items and you pushed him off that, you were right to," New Day host Chris Cuomo said. "Because it's all about the perception of whether or not there's been leadership on the key issues, not the positions."
By defining the problem as one of perception, CNN lets Republicans off the hook for blocking massively popular policies like raising the minimum wage or establishing universal background checks on firearms sales.
Discussing her interview with Biden, Borger warned that Democrats would need to reconsider whether they spent enough time talking about the economy this election cycle. That would be a reasonable critique had Borger not just made sure the conversation was centered around fear and anger:
They're going to have to have the discussion about whether they had a campaign with a bunch of themes, which I would argue they didn't, and what they can talk about. Should they have been talking about the economy, as Joe Biden was trying to talk about, or did they let the message get out of control on other items? Lots of Republicans are running on fear.
And lots of media outlets are lending them a helping hand.
CNN's Candy Crowley failed to fact-check GOP Senator Rand Paul (KY) as he attempted to distort and scandalize Hillary Clinton's recent remarks on the efficacy of so-called trickle-down economic theory.
During the November 2 edition of CNN's State of the Union, host Candy Crowley interviewed Sen. Paul and allowed Paul a platform to attack Hillary Clinton. Paul attempted to paint Clinton's recent comments on the failures of trickle-down economics as a suggestion that she believes government is primarily responsible for creating jobs:
CROWLEY: But you feel this is a referendum on the president. What does it say about Republicans, because a lot of these races, about ten of them are still pretty darned close, which means that those Democrats have been able to survive in the worst of environments.
PAUL: Well, I think it shows that our country is pretty evenly divided and it tilts a little bit one way and a little bit the other way. But, I think that when you have a president and then you have Hillary Clinton saying the same thing, saying that businesses don't create jobs, a lot of Americans are scratching their heads and saying, "who do these people think create jobs if businesses don't? Do they think government creates jobs and that that's how America became great?" And I think there's a fundamental, philosophical debate in our country. But I sense a lot of people saying to themselves, "you know what, I think if we don't understand businesses create jobs or we don't understand that we want American money and businesses to come home and we want to do something constructive, then maybe we need new leadership in the country." So I think people are ready for new leadership.
The full context of her remarks reveals that Clinton never said "government creates jobs" -- a fact Crowley failed to correct Paul on. Rather, Clinton's stated position merely emphasized the important role consumer demand plays in generating success for American businesses, and pointed to increases in the minimum wage as a potential avenue for enhancing the demand side of the economy:
CLINTON: Don't let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. They always say that. I've been through this. My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s. I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what? Millions of jobs were created or paid better and more families were more secure. That's what we want to see here, and that's what we want to see across the country.
And don't let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried. That has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.
One of the things my husband says, when people say, what did you bring to Washington? He says, well I brought arithmetic. And part of it was he demonstrated why trickle-down should be consigned to the trash bin of history. More tax cuts for the top and for companies that ship jobs overseas while taxpayers and voters are stuck paying the freight just doesn't add up. Now that kind of thinking might win you an award for outsourcing excellence, but Massachusetts can do better than that. [Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley] understands it. She knows you have to create jobs from everyone working together and taking the advantages of this great state and putting them to work.
Crowley also failed to mention that Clinton reiterated this position during a clarification of her original comments:
CLINTON: So-called trickle-down economics has failed. I shorthanded this point the other day, so let me be absolutely clear about what I've been saying for a couple of decades: Our economy grows when businesses and entrepreneurs create good-paying jobs here in an America where workers and families are empowered to build from the bottom up and the middle out -- not when we hand out tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs or stash their profits overseas.