During its first day on the air, Al Jazeera America gave climate change nearly half as much coverage as network news programs did during the year 2012, all while avoiding common pitfalls like providing false balance to those that deny the science and leaving the crisis' manmade origins ambiguous.
The fledgling network's first climate report comprised the entirety of Tuesday's edition of Inside Story, a half-hour news discussion program that promises to "take an in-depth look at the story behind the headlines." Indeed, the inaugural show featured a meaningful dialogue on -- in guest Heidi Cullen's words -- "coming to terms with the fact that we're all part of the problem ... [and] the solution" to manmade global warming, and discussed consequences like extreme weather and rising sea levels. It never wavered on the veracity of the issue:
Al Jazeera America's 30 minutes of climate coverage (about 24 minutes not including commercial breaks) represented nearly half of what was seen on all network nightly news programs in 2012, and more than what was featured by CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront and Anderson Cooper 360 and Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity combined in the past four and a half months:
While the network's early attention to climate change is a breath of fresh air, it may not qualify as a surprise. After all, network heads promised serious, in-depth reporting with "less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings," and commentators have held out hope for a new source of solid TV journalism ever since the sale of Current TV was finalized early this year.
Bottom line: this was a great start. But just as encouraging as what Al Jazeera America discussed last night -- climate change -- is the list of things it didn't do:
Perhaps most significantly, Inside Story explored public opinion on climate science, and even presented differing views on climate policy, without once offering marginal contrarian viewpoints as a "counterbalance." Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera America's acting chief executive, has cited PBS as a model, and it showed. Other cable news channels have sometimes run afoul of this standard.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes released a documentary on climate change Friday, continuing relatively in-depth coverage of what he calls "the single greatest threat that we face." In fact, Media Matters found that even prior to this documentary, Hayes dedicated over 1 hour and 40 minutes to climate change since the launch of his primetime show -- more than three times that of four shows on CNN and Fox News combined in that same time period. Including the coverage that Hayes dedicated to previewing and airing the documentary "The Politics of Power" on Thursday and Friday, Hayes has covered climate change for over 3 hours -- about nine times those shows combined.
From April 1, when the show All In with Chris Hayes premiered, to August 14, Hayes discussed climate change 19 times, devoting approximately 1 hour and 42 minutes to the issue*. By contrast, CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront only mentioned climate change once for about two minutes, Anderson Cooper 360 didn't mention it at all, and Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity only mentioned climate change dismissively, devoting twelve and seven minutes to the topic, respectively. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow also devoted more coverage than these other four primetime shows combined, discussing climate change eight times for a total of 32 minutes.
During this time period, President Barack Obama gave a major speech on climate change, carbon dioxide levels exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in human history, wildfires in the West and flooding in the Midwest were worsened in the context of this carbon pollution, and Republican politicians made several colorful claims denying the overwhelming science on climate change as a pro-Obama group conducted a campaign to highlight exactly these types of remarks.
Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and entitlement reform throughout the second quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many segments lacked proper context or input from economists, while some topics went largely underreported.
Throughout the first half of 2013, broadcast and cable nightly news overwhelmingly discussed Social Security in an unbalanced and negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
In the weeks leading up to an automatic doubling of federal student loan interest rates, broadcast and cable nightly and weekend news devoted little time explaining the effects of the rate hike and the expiration of other programs designed to help American students, graduates and families with increasingly high education costs.
In 2007, Congress passed a law to reduce interest rates on federal subsidized student loans, the Stafford Loan program, to 3.4 percent. The law was intended to reduce college costs and increase access to higher education. The Budget Control Act of 2011 ended several provisions of previous law; foremost setting an expiration date of July 1, 2013, for Stafford Loan interest rates. Today, those rates automatically double to their previous 6.8 percent.
Media Matters research found the looming student loan deadline has been largely ignored by major news networks in the past several weeks. Since May 23, the date the House of Representatives passed a party line student loan plan of its own, primetime and weekend television news has offered just 13 brief segments on student loan issues.
Absent from media analysis has been any real discussion of economists' recommendations for dealing with student debt. Many economists, including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, have supported various efforts to defray college costs, expand federal funding, and provide restructuring and refinancing options for student and family borrowers.
In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report on student loan affordability. It found that expanded refinancing options for student debt could have a simulative effect on economic growth, household formation and homeownership among borrowers. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York had previously found that student debt was a driving force in decreasing home and automotive purchases among recent graduates.
The rate increase set to take effect on July 1 will directly affect millions of Americans while making college less affordable for prospective students. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the higher rate could cost average borrowers more than $1,000 to take out a subsidized federal loan. College graduates are saddled with an enormous debt burden - more than $1 trillion through 2013, according to The New York Times.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Sunday and evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from May 23 through June 30. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: student loan, college loan, student debt, college debt, student, debt, loan, and college.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Evening News (CBS), Face the Nation, Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press with David Gregory, Fox News Sunday, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs (such as Anderson Cooper 360 and Hardball with Chris Matthews), only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of increasing student debt or the July 1 interest rate deadline. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, and re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5p.m. to 11p.m. window.
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.
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.
CNN's Erin Burnett suggested that media "on the left" may have failed to cover the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell for political reasons -- even though Burnett herself had never previously covered Gosnell's story.
Gosnell is currently on trial for murder, accused of grotesque behavior in providing illegal late-term abortions. Conservative media have been engaged in a campaign to pressure the media for providing what they consider insufficient coverage to the trial.
On the April 12 broadcast of her show, Burnett hosted a segment to examine why the story "hasn't gotten much attention in the media at all, it seems." While discussing the trial with Salon reporter Irin Carmon, Burnett said:
BURNETT: [T]here are many people out there, as you're aware, on the right who are saying, "Look, it's pro-choice people on the left who aren't going to cover this story, because they're pro-choice and this hurts their agenda. It's such an awful, horrific thing. It'll make people more adverse to abortion. That's bad for them, so they're not covering it." What do you say to those people as someone who reports on this issue?
Burnett then acknowledged that CNN's own research showed there were almost no media outlets that had run stories "which mentioned [Gosnell's] name more than three times," indicating that the story wasn't being covered "only on the right, obviously."
Yet moments later, she asked guest Donna Brazile, "Do you reject the argument that is being made by many on the right ... that, they say, the mainstream media and those who are pro-choice have ignored this story because it makes abortion look horrific?"
According to a Nexis search, Burnett's own show has never, before this broadcast, covered Gosnell's story.
CNN host Erin Burnett didn't ask NRA board member Ted Nugent a single question about his recent violent remarks concerning gun policy, which included doubling down on his previous claim that he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected.
Burnett hosted Nugent on the April 11 broadcast of her show Erin Burnett OutFront to discuss pending gun safety legislation.
At no point did Burnett ask Nugent about comments he made during an April 8 interview on NRA News, when he complained that not enough was done to stop Obama's reelection and asked, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody." He also doubled down on his claim last year that he would be "either dead or in jail" in a year if the president was reelected.
Nugent is not a credible voice in the gun policy debate, as evidenced by his long history of inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about gun violence. Nevertheless, Burnett has attempted to mainstream Nugent before. In February, Burnett's show featured an interview with Nugent where he suggested the government could confiscate firearms, a conspiracy theory that Burnett and CNN reporter Deb Feyerick later treated as a serious argument.
During the April 11 interview, Burnett experienced some of Nugent's inflammatory rhetoric firsthand when Nugent asked Burnett if she would "support my recommendation that we arrest Eric Holder" in order to "stop gun trafficking."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent will reportedly appear tonight on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront to discuss firearm policy, despite his history of inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about gun violence. In February, OutFront featured an interview with Nugent where he suggested the government could confiscate firearms, a conspiracy theory that host Erin Burnett and CNN reporter Deb Feyerick later treated as a serious argument.
Nugent's appearance comes just days after he doubled down on his infamous comments that he would be "dead or in jail" because of President Obama's gun policies. During that interview on NRA News, Nugent also complained that not enough was done to stop the reelection of Obama, asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody."
Nugent is not a credible figure in the debate over gun laws.
In a February 13 column for birther website WND, Nugent revived false reports to allege that the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre used handguns rather than an assault weapon during his attack. Nugent's claim was based on an erroneous news report often cited by individuals promoting the conspiracy theory that the mass shooting was a hoax. In that same column, Nugent also downplayed the damage done by assault weapons by falsely claiming the AR-15 has more in common with a "squirrel rifle" than a military assault rifle.
In addition to his long history of hateful rhetoric on the topic of race, Nugent has compared the alleged plight of gun owners to civil rights icon Rosa Parks and blamed gun violence on "leftist stooges." By contrast, Nugent has also compared Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder to serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer after they were chosen to lead the administration's gun violence prevention efforts. No stranger to violent rhetoric, Nugent claimed in January that the Obama administration "is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George" and that "if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies."
CNN host Erin Burnett and reporter Deb Feyerick gave serious treatment to National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent's baseless claim that President Obama will attempt to confiscate firearms, even discussing what would happen if the government tried to "take all the guns away tomorrow." Significantly, none of the proposals to reduce gun violence supported by the Obama administration in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre involve firearm confiscation.
Even though Nugent, who in part blamed the Newtown massacre on an "embarrassing, politically correct culture," is not a credible figure in the gun policy debate, Feyerick repeated his wild-eyed conspiracy theories on Erin Burnett OutFront:
BURNETT: President Obama has said he doesn't have any intention of confiscating guns, that that is not his goal, he's not trying to attack the Second Amendment. Nugent, though, doesn't believe him, why?
FEYERICK: No, he doesn't believe him at all. Because the way he sees it, he says, look, the majority of guns, 310 million guns, are in the hands of law-abiding citizens. The minority are in the hands of criminals, they're the ones who are committing the crimes. And that's why he says, look, why is the government coming after us saying we are going to ban these guns when we are not the ones who are doing anything. And so he focuses on criminality, on people who have mental illness, on making sure people stay in prisons long enough. But he says it's not the gun. And that's really the point that the NRA is trying to convey as part of this debate that is going on in the country right now.
BURNETT: So what would you do if there were a gun ban, just ignore it?
FEYERICH: Well, in many cases, yes. Because how do you enforce a gun ban? What do you do? If you take all the guns away tomorrow, people are out there who are going to find and get their hands on guns --
BURNETT: And as you said there are hundreds of millions already out there.
FEYERICH: Absolutely. What do you do? Do you give them -- do you hand in your guns? And that's the slippery slope that [Nugent] sees. That in fact once you start in that direction you're going to be giving up these things, or law enforcement is going to be coming, and trying to register them. So there is a whole series of reasons why they simply do not trust any sort of gun restriction in that way.
While much of Obama's plan to reduce gun violence involves strengthening the background check system for gun transactions, improving mental health services and making schools safer, the proposals that directly regulate firearms don't involve confiscation.
Previewing her upcoming special, CNN reporter Deb Feyerick praised NRA board member Ted Nugent for his "deep connection with the facts" on gun violence. But Nugent's radical views on gun ownership and outrageous and offensive comments about President Obama and prominent Democrats demonstrate that he is not a credible source for information on guns.
On Erin Burnett OutFront, Feyerick previewed a CNN special recorded at Nugent's home that featured a conversation about strengthening gun laws. During the segment Feyerick lauded Nugent for his "very firm grasp of the facts" about gun violence. Feyerick went on to describe Nugent as having "a very deep connection with the facts and the facts that he needs to make his argument":
But despite Feyerick's repeated praise, Nugent is an extremist on the subjects of both guns and government. Nugent has espoused numerous outrageous and offensive comments about gun violence and prominent Democratic politicians.
Despite the clear scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that humans are causing it, CNN's Erin Burnett treated climate change as the subject of debate.
Throughout the segment, Erin Burnett OutFront aired a badly misleading graphic suggesting that global warming is "on ice" because public opinion has changed. The phrase carried a question mark during most of the discussion, but eventually dropped it:
In contrast, here's a chart from the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change showing the long-term change in global temperature:
Last year was also the hottest year on record in the U.S.
From the January 23 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:
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From the January 23 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:
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