Hosts of the network Sunday news shows treated Benghazi myths and facts with false equivalence, an approach that hides the truth about the tragedy.
The right-wing's manufactured hysteria over the release of new White House memos and the House GOP's announcement that it would form a special select committee brought the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya back into the spotlight on the May 4 Sunday news talk shows. The latest charge from conservative media is that a newly-released email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes preparing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk shows -- where she suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests -- was part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
In a seeming effort to provide false balance between the facts and the myths, the network news hosts lent credence to evidence-free claims by their guests, giving them equal weight with the truth.
CBS' Sunday news program will reportedly only feature Republicans to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.
On the March 7 edition of CBS' This Morning, Face the Nation guest host Charlie Rose announced that the "main topic" of the upcoming show would be the crisis in Ukraine. Rose also revealed that the guests the show will feature are all Republicans: Vice President Dick Cheney, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and James Baker, who was chief of staff and secretary of treasury under President Reagan and secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush:
Republicans have used the crisis in Ukraine to attack President Obama's foreign policy, including CBS' upcoming guests. Cheney attacked the President this week when asked about Putin's action, "I think that Barack Obama has conducted himself in a way consistently for the past five years that conveys a real sense of weakness." While Ryan appeared on Fox this week to blame the Russian invasion on Obama's foreign policy:
Mitt was right, I think the president was incredibly naive on his Russia policy. His reset has been a total failure and I think this is what happens when a superpower projects weakness in its foreign and defense policy, agression fills that vaccum and I think that is what is happening right now.
A massive spill of toxic coal ash in a North Carolina river on February 2 has been entirely ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC. The spill has led to a federal investigation and allegations that the state's Governor -- who worked for the corporation behind the spill and has received substantial campaign donations from it -- has been too lenient on the company, which was discovered to have spilled coal ash into the river again on February 18.
This week, all four major broadcast networks covered extreme weather and climate change on their Sunday morning political talk shows. Those programs have largely ignored global warming in recent years, making their effort to address the issue unusual and laudable. But several of the segments also demonstrated the vulnerability inherent in treating science as a political debate where both sides receive a platform to air their positions.
Major winter storms across the U.S. in the month of February, drought in California, and President Obama's call for a $1 billion climate change "resilience fund" sparked debates this week over the need for action against climate change. The science of global warming is settled: according to one survey, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that "humans are causing global warming." But the Sunday shows, because they are built on a model of showing political conflicts, have difficulty putting that fact in context.
ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press both featured debates between individuals who support and oppose the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, creating a false balance that could serve to confuse their viewers. Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, meanwhile, hosted a discussion in which no panelist stated that human-caused climate change is occurring while several claimed that it is not. CBS' Face the Nation, by contrast, featured an interview with a scientist who explained that "we know that climate change is happening and humans are contributing."
The broadcast Sunday shows devoted a paltry 27 minutes of coverage to climate change in 2013, according to a Media Matters study. Nearly 60 percent of that coverage came on Face the Nation; Meet the Press did not mention the issue all year. Face the Nation also featured the first interview of a scientist to discuss global warming by any of the programs in five years.
It's a good sign that the Sunday shows are addressing global warming, but treating it as just another political issue causes new complications.
Republicans and conservatives were hosted more often than Democrats and progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning political talk shows. Fox News Sunday was particularly slanted toward the right while ABC's This Week was the only program to feature as many progressives as conservatives.
Two dozen women leaders and organizations have signed a letter to the six network and cable news heads expressing their concern for the lack of gender diversity on Sunday morning political talk shows.
A Media Matters report found that in 2013, men made up more than 70 percent of the guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, and CNN's State of the Union. Only MSNBC's Up and Melissa Harris-Perry reached near parity, with women making up 44 percent of total guests. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time. The top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews were all men. Media Matters also found that gender diversity has not improved on the broadcast political talk shows in the past five years.
The heads of 24 organizations which advocate for women and women's representation in media wrote to the Presidents and Chairs of the broadcast and cable networks, expressing "deep concern" for the lack of diversity and urging them to take action to ensure the morning political talk shows "more accurately reflect the demographics of our diverse nation":
With male guests vastly outnumbering female guests on Sunday morning broadcasts, women lose out in shaping the national discourse, and your viewers miss important points of view.
There are qualified women to speak on issues affecting all Americans, including national security, economic growth, climate change, education and many others. But when it comes to reproductive health, equal pay, and other subjects disproportionately affecting women, it becomes increasingly imperative that Sunday political talk shows reflect our democracy. This is particularly important since these shows frequently set the tone for how these topics are covered later in the week.
The full letter can be read below.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on the broadcast and CNN Sunday morning talk shows in 2013. Melissa Harris-Perry continued to be the most ethnically diverse program.
Want to know if women's representation in media is improving? Here's one indication it's not: the percentage of female guests on the Sunday morning broadcast political talk shows is the same as it was five years ago.
According to a Media Matters analysis, male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday broadcast political talk shows in 2013, with women making up only 25 percent of all guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time on the same programs. In fact, the top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews in 2013 were all men.
This vast underrepresentation of women on political talk shows that often set the agenda is disheartening -- but the number appears even worse when looked at over time.
Female guests made up only 24 percent of guests on the Sunday morning broadcast shows back in 2008 according to Media Matters' data, an insignificant change over the past five years.
One reason for this may be that the pool of potential guests for these shows has also not gotten significantly more diverse over the past five years. The most common guests were in 2013 were journalists and pundits, a profession which is overwhelmingly male. Newsroom diversity has been stagnant for over a decade, with the percentage of women in newsrooms never exceeding 38 percent.
The second most common profession among guests in 2013 on those programs were politicians. According to the Nation Women's Political Caucus, in 2013 women made up only 18.3 percent of Congress, a (shockingly low) number which was not much of an improvement from 2008, when women were 17 percent of Congress.
The lack of diversity in newsrooms and Congress, however, does not entirely excuse the broadcast shows from consistently failing to invite women to the table. In 2013, MSNBC managed to have women make up 44 percent of guests on their Sunday morning political talk shows, with Melissa Harris-Perry (which debuted in 2012) leading in gender diversity by hosting women 47 percent of the time. Broadcast political talk shows have a lot of catching up to do to ensure women have equal participation in our national media.
Let's hope it doesn't take another five years.
Charts by Oliver Willis.
Male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday morning broadcast and CNN political talk shows in 2013, according to a Media Matters review. MSNBC's programs gave women a significantly greater opportunity to voice their opinions.
A Media Matters review of the Sunday morning political talk shows finds that white males largely dominated the guest lists in 2013. MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry and Up with Steve Kornacki achieved greater ethnic and gender diversity than the broadcast shows or CNN's State of the Union. Overall, conservatives outnumbered progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning shows.
CBS Sunday morning political talk show Face The Nation with Bob Schieffer is knocking down right-wing media claims that an interview with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was edited for political reasons, explaining that the one-on-one just went too long and was also shortened for breaking news on the Maryland mall shooting.
"This was not uncommon at all, this was a quick turnaround pre-tape," a Face the Nation spokesperson told Media Matters Monday, explaining that the interview was slated for seven minutes and ran long. "That just happened to be at the end so it was easy to trim for turnaround. And we had breaking news of the [Maryland mall] shooter's name ... We had already gone overtime, that is pretty much the gist of it."
But some on the right found conspiracy in the routine interview editing, suggesting that the cuts had been made to protect President Obama from attacks Cruz levied in the deleted portion.
Newsbusters posted an item after examining the full version of the interview posted on Cruz's YouTube page, claiming that Cruz "was the victim of editing by CBS" because "the senator's comments surrounding President Obama's 'abuse of power' were edited from the program."
During the deleted segment, Cruz attacked President Obama's handling of the Benghazi attacks and promoted the conservative conspiracy that the administration had indicted conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza because of his film that criticized the president.
While Newsbusters acknowledged that "it is certainly plausible that CBS edited out the ending of the Cruz interview for time," they nonetheless called the editing "highly inappropriate and unusual" and wrote that the network "should explain why it felt it appropriate to edit out a high profile senator accusing the President of the United States of targeting his politcal [sic] enemies."
None of those sites, however, apparently sought to ask CBS or Face The Nation why the edit occurred. Asked if it was done to censor Cruz's Obama criticism, the spokesperson stated: "There was no editorial purpose."
Face The Nation said editing such interviews is common.
"It just varies on topic and the availability of the person," the spokesperson said. "We also had breaking news, too. There's a lot to get into that first half hour."
A Media Matters analysis reveals that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX picked up in 2013 over the previous year, but remained lower than a 2009 high. Furthermore, while one Sunday show interviewed scientists about climate change, distinguishing itself as the first such program to do so in five years, these shows continued to rely largely on media figures and Republicans to dictate the conversation around global warming.
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.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
CBS anchor Bob Schieffer allowed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to push the discredited claim that health care website contractors were pressured to change an aspect of HealthCare.gov by the White House days after those contractors explicitly denied any pressure from administration officials.
On the October 27 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, Schieffer asked Issa about the purpose of congressional subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee, which Issa chairs. Issa responded by claiming contractors had admitted that White House officials pressured them to drop a tool that allowed exchange customers to get a price estimate before registering on the website. Issa's accusation was the shorter version of one he made earlier in the week, in which he claimed in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, "We are concerned that the administration required contractors to change course late in the implementation process to conceal ObamaCare's effect on increasing health insurance premiums."
Schieffer never pushed back on Issa's accusation, even though officials from the contractor, CGI Federal, denied any White House pressure to remove the tool from the website. A press release from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) pointed out that in congressional testimony, CGI senior vice president Cheryl Campbell refuted Issa's claims, testifying that she was not aware of any orders from the White House to remove the price estimate tool: