Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.
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.
Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins has all but ceased to appear as a guest on CNN and MSNBC. It's a dramatic change for the anti-gay hate group leader, whose constant appearances on cable news during the 2012 GOP primary cycle drew criticism from progressive faith groups.
Since becoming president of the Family Research Council in 2003, Perkins has used his position as a leader among social conservatives to command significant media attention. FRC hosts the annual Values Voters Summit, making Perkins an easy choice for networks looking for a prominent voice to comment on social conservatism and GOP politics.
Over time, networks also began turning to Perkins for commentary on LGBT issues like the fight over marriage equality and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Perkins was happy to oblige - he has a history of making incendiary comments about LGBT people, and FRC has turned the production of anti-gay propaganda into an art form.
In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled FRC an anti-gay "hate group," citing the organization's propagation of known falsehoods about LGBT people.
That label, unfortunately, didn't stop cable news networks from continuing to invite Perkins on national television on behalf of social conservatives. During the 2012 Republican presidential primary season, Perkins appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News a total of 56 times. MSNBC was particularly friendly to Perkins, with Hardball host Chris Matthews praising Perkins as an "honest conservative" who always tried "to find the truth" during a November 2011 interview:
Perkins' platform on cable news didn't sit well with audiences familiar with his long and sordid history of bigoted anti-LGBT rhetoric. Faithful America, a progressive Christian group dedicated to "reclaiming Christianity from the religious right," launched a petition in February 2012 asking the network to stop inviting Perkins on air. The petition garnered 20,000 signatures, which were delivered to MSNBC's headquarters.
Perkins' platform at MSNBC created an awkward situation for Hardball host Chris Matthews. At a March 2012 book event, Matthews was asked about his willingness to invite Perkins on his show and admitted that his critics "may be right." At a book signing a few weeks later, Matthews told Faithful America members that the group had "a good argument" for no longer hosting Perkins." Perkins did appear on Hardball once more, in a joint appearance with gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA. But rather than offer the warm welcome Perkins had come to expect, Matthews grilled Perkins on his anti-LGBT extremism.
In the summer of 2013, Faithful America launched a similar petition targeting CNN after the network hosted Perkins to discuss the Supreme Court's ruling on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The petition urged CNN not to let Perkins "speak on behalf of America's Christians" and quickly gathered more than 32,000 signatures.
A new Equality Matters analysis finds that both MSNBC and CNN have largely ended their practice of hosting Perkins in the months since the end of the 2012 GOP primary. Perkins hasn't appeared on MSNBC since March 2013, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in two marriage equality cases. Meanwhile, Perkins' appearances on CNN have steadily declined in the last year, and he hasn't been on the network since February: At Fox News, on the other hand, Perkins' appearances have held steady and actually increased in the past year:
MSNBC political analyst Joan Walsh corrected attempts to cast doubt on the fact that Hillary Clinton served as defense attorney on a decades-old criminal case at the direction of the court, pointing out that, in fact, the judge had compelled Clinton to take the case.
The July 8 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews rehashed Hillary Clinton's work as a court-appointed defense attorney in the 1975 prosecution of an alleged rapist, a role that, while known publicly for years, is reemerging in wake of the conservative Washington Free Beacon's improper appropriation and publication of an interview Clinton gave in the mid-1980s discussing the case.
During the discussion, frequent MSNBC guest and president of the conservative Bernard Center for Women Michelle Bernard repeatedly suggested that Clinton had elected to represent the defendant of her own volition. Joan Walsh, Salon editor and MSNBC analyst, attempted to correct the record on Clinton's court appointment, pointing out that "she was court-appointed" and that the judge had forced her to take the case. Bernard, however, continued to imply Clinton may have voluntarily accepted the role after speaking with the prosecutor.
The fact that the court appointed Clinton to represent the defendant is not in doubt. The judge -- not the prosecutor -- directed Clinton to take on the case, as Glenn Thrush established in a 2008 Newsday report:
From the August 9 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
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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.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
From the March 5 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
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Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."
During the May 10 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews invited Tony Perkins – president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC) – and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) to discuss the issues of same-sex marriage and adoption.
Perkins' presence on MSNBC isn't surprising – the hate group leader has become a regular guest on the network over the past several months, and has typically been treated as a credible, uncontroversial political figure, especially on Hardball.
On Thursday, however, things were different.
For nearly 15 minutes, Matthews, with the help of Frank, grilled Perkins on his views on homosexuality, marriage equality, and same-sex parenting. Matthews challenged Perkins' anti-gay misinformation, held him accountable for past statements, and demonstrated how out-of-the-mainstream his extreme positions really are:
This is exactly the kind of interview that major news outlets should be conducting when dealing with someone like Perkins.
Instead of sitting idly by while Perkins peddled his anti-gay talking points, Matthews forced him to defend his positions under serious scrutiny. It's how responsible news anchors should strive to treat guests who have histories of promoting misinformation, and it's what audiences should expect to see when watching a serious political discussion.
From the May 9 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
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