Teachers faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny in 2014, thanks to a landmark legal case dismantling teacher tenure in California, which is likely to spark copycats lawsuits across the country. In part due to this increased scrutiny, educators also encountered various attacks from mainstream and conservative media over the year, five of which were particularly egregious.
In June, a California Superior Court handed down the decision in the Vergara v. California trial, a case in which "a group of student plaintiffs ... argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place." Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu sided with the students, in a ruling that Teacher Wars author Dana Goldstein wrote "has the potential to overturn five state laws governing" how tenure, which helps guarantee due process to prevent "capricious firings," operates in the state. The lawsuit became something of a model for media attacks -- sparking reactions that ranged from outraged to elated -- and prompted extensive media discussion about the positives and negatives to reform of the public education system.
Unfortunately, much of this discussion featured direct attacks on educators in 2014. They came from all facets of the media sphere, and were often rooted in conservative misinformation, though some rang louder, stronger, and more abhorrent than others.
Here are the top five times media failed educators in 2014.
The November 3 cover story of Time magazine, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples," spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers, who were dismayed at the portrayal of their profession as "rotten." The backlash led to a petition calling for an apology from Time that garnered more than 70,000 signatures. In their coverage of the Time backlash, however, several media outlets, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, Fox News' Outnumbered, and The Weekly Standard's blog failed to discuss what was at the heart of the controversy: due process for teachers. These media outlets instead took to doubling down on the allegations of "rotten," and making outlandish claims.
If Fox News can find a way to blame any education controversy on teachers or teachers unions, it will do so. Two such instances in 2014 were particularly egregious. When hundreds of Colorado high school students walked out of class to protest a "conservative-led school board proposal" to change their history curriculum, Fox hosted the country board of education president to falsely allege that "teachers [were] using students" as "pawns" not over the history proposal, but over an upcoming teachers union contract. And in March, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, Fox figures took to speculating and attacking teachers and teachers unions, arguing, among other things, that de Blasio was trying to "kiss back butt on the unions" and wage a "war on children."
Glenn Beck's book Conform, released in May and co-authored with Kyle Olson, lobbed a number of laughable attacks against public schools, the Common Core State Standards, and in particular, teachers. His ridiculous attacks on teachers included claiming that:
In April, the Kansas State Legislature passed a bill in a whirlwind weekend session that "kill[ed] long-held teacher rights" in the state, namely the right to due process. In addition to being pushed by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, the bill was also introduced by a committee whose chairman had ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has received "untold sums of cash" from the Koch brothers. None of the three major newspapers in Kansas, however, made the connection between the legislation and the Koch brothers in their original reporting.
Media Matters conducted an analysis of education coverage on weeknight cable news programs from January 1 to October 31, 2014, to determine how many of the shows' guests who discussed the topic were educators. The report found that across CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, educators made up only 9 percent of guests during education segments, with each network only hosting a total of one, four, and eleven educators, respectively.
This post has been updated for accuracy.
Heritage Foundation chief economist Stephen Moore was caught using incorrect statistics to mislead readers about the relationship between tax cuts and job creation in the United States.
On July 7, Moore published an op-ed in The Kansas City Star attacking economic policies favored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. The op-ed claimed that "places such as New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and California ... are getting clobbered by tax-cutting states." Moore went on to attack liberals for "cherry-picking a few events" in their arguments against major tax cuts, when in fact it was Moore who cited bad data to support his claims.
On July 24, The Kansas City Star published a correction to Moore's op-ed, specifically stating that the author had "misstated job growth rates for four states and the time period covered." The editorial board of the Star inserted this annotation to Moore's inaccurate claims:
Please see editor's note at the top of this column. No-income-tax Texas gained 1 million jobs over the last five years, California, with its 13 percent tax rate, managed to lose jobs. Oops. Florida gained hundreds of thousands of jobs while New York lost jobs. NOTE: These figures are incorrect. The time period covered was December 2007 to December 2012. Over that time, Texas gained 497,400 jobs, California lost 491,200, Florida lost 461,500 and New York gained 75,900. Oops. Illinois raised taxes more than any other state over the last five years and its credit rating is the second lowest of all the states, below that of Kansas! (emphasis original)
On July 25, Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah explained the correction in more detail. Abouhalkah wrote that Moore had "used outdated and inaccurate job growth information at a key point in his article" and that Moore should have used data from 2009 to 2014, rather than from 2007 to 2012. Abouhalkah also argued that "the problems with Moore's opinion article damaged his credibility on the jobs issue."
Moore's credibility on "the jobs issue" is not the only troubling aspect of his economic punditry. Moore was recently brought on as the chief economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation after serving for many years on the right-wing editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and as a go-to economic commentator on Fox News. Moore has a history of disparaging reasonable economic policies in favor of fiscally irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy and painful spending cuts to vital programs.
Moore has referred to unemployment insurance as a "paid vacation" for jobless Americans and bizarrely claimed that laws guaranteeing paid sick leave for full-time workers were "very dangerous for cities." Moore spent years basely claiming that the Affordable Care Act would reduce job creation, seamlessly transitioning from one debunked talking point to the next along the way. He is also an outspoken opponent of increasing the minimum wage, claiming that even a moderate rise in wages would result in a "big increase" in unemployment. In a recent foray out of the safety of right-wing media, Moore's anti-living wage spin was easily cut down by CNN anchor Carol Costello.
The original intent of Moore's Star op-ed was to garner support for tax cuts enacted over the past two years by Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS), which The New York Times and other outlets have labeled "ruinous." The tax cuts have been such a dramatic failure that more than 100 members of the Kansas Republican Party have sworn to help replace Brownback with a Democrat willing to reinstate taxes and spending at their previous levels.
Three major newspapers in Kansas have ignored the role of funding from the Koch brothers in the passage of legislation that strips teachers in the state of their right to due process before they are fired, a longstanding right that gives teachers the ability to challenge dismissals.
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.
Breitbart.com and National Review Online (NRO) are using today's Equal Pay Day holiday to misinform about gender wage inequality. Right-wing media have routinely downplayed and obscured legitimate concerns about wage inequality.
Equal Pay Day was created by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages. According to a White House proclamation released on Equal Pay Day in 2012, "National Equal Pay Day represents the date in the current year through which women must work to match what men earned in the previous year, reminding us that we must keep striving for an America where everyone gets an equal day's pay for an equal day's work."
Breitbart.com and NRO both posted a video today that claims the gender wage gap is a myth, positing that the gap fails to account for women's choices, which are primarily responsible for any discrepancies in salary. The video comes from the conservative Independent Women's Forum, a group The New York Times described as "a right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women."
Although the wage gap has decreased since the 1963 passage of the Equal Pay Act, women's earnings remain far below that of men. A report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that "in 2011, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 77 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 23 percent." According to the National Women's Law Center, the wage gap for minority women is even worse: African-American and Hispanic women make 64 and 55 cents for every dollar their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts earn. The claim that personal choice is responsible for the gender wage gap has also been debunked, mostly recently in the AAUW's 2013 Gender Pay Gap Report.
Breitbart.com and NRO's misleading claims about gender wage inequality follow a long trend of right-wing media's misinformation on equal pay. Here are just a few examples since 2012:
Kansas City Star columnist E. Thomas McClanahan continued his attacks on Equal Pay Day -- the day the average woman's salary catches up to the average man's from the previous year -- calling it an exaggeration of the extent of workplace discrimination because "women and men will always make somewhat different choices." However, studies have shown that, even when taking into account a myriad of factors, an unaccounted for gap still exists between women and men's salaries.
Two years ago, McClanahan attacked Equal Pay Day by claiming that "much of the supposed wage gap comes from life choices" and the fact that "men work longer hours than women." He concluded by recommending that "Equal Pay Day should fade quietly into history." In this year's iteration of his attack on Equal Pay Day, which takes place on April 9, McClanahan revived the same attacks as in the previous piece and dismissed the gender wage gap as an inaccurate measure:
What many people don't know is that this [the wage gap] is a cherry-picked number and the idea that it's an accurate measure of discrimination is grossly misleading. While workplace unfairness hasn't been banished, studies that correct for such factors as life choices and family situation show that discrimination today is minimal at best, and in some cases has reversed -- with women making more than men.
Because women generally work fewer hours than men, annual wages is a very poor measure of gender discrimination.
McClanahan's attacks leave out some key details about the wage gap. According to statistics from the Labor Department, in 2012 women made 81 percent as much as male workers, on average. As Meghan Casserly of Forbes explained, comparing men in all jobs with women in all jobs is "easy to laugh off as misleading," but when looking at individual professions, where presumably workers have similar skill sets, the gap is even higher -- especially in the financial and legal professions.
Regression analysis allows us to analyze the effect of multiple factors on earnings at the same time. Controlling for occupation, college major, hours worked per week, and many other factors all at once, we found that college-educated women working full time were paid an unexplained 7 percent less than their male peers were paid one year out of college.
Even 7 percent of lost income could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages for the average female worker. As the Center for American Progress found, over a 40-year period, the average female worker could lose about $434,000 due to this wage gap. With a majority of women becoming the primary breadwinner for their families, entire households are feeling the effects of the persistent wage gap.
It's unfortunate that McClanahan's consistent attacks on the gender wage gap fail to reflect the real issue here -- as women continue to be paid less, men, women, and children all lose.
The Kansas City Star failed to note the significant influence of Koch-funded conservative groups in its coverage of two bills seeking to roll back Kansas' green energy standards.
A recent report by Greenpeace's Connor Gibson outlined several organizations that are influencing the debate surrounding an effort to repeal Kansas' green energy standards. As Gibson notes in his report, groups with significant ties to the fossil fuel industry and funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, including the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Policy Network, and the Beacon Hill Institute, are trying to influence legislators to roll back green energy standards in Kansas. From Greenpeace:
ALEC and a hoard of other Koch-funded interests operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network have hit Kansas legislators hard with junk economic studies, junk science and a junk vision of more polluting energy in Kansas' future. Koch Industries lobbyist Jonathan Small has added direct pressure on Kansas lawmakers to rollback support for clean energy.
Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance. All of the following State Policy Network affiliates (except the Kansas Policy Institute) are directly funded by the Koch brothers, while most of the groups get secretive grants through the Koch-affiliated "Dark Money ATM," Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which have distributed over $120,000,000 to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.
Despite the pressure these groups have placed on the repeal legislation -- including the author of a Beacon Hill Institute report attacking green energy testifying before the Kansas legislature -- The Kansas City Star failed to note these groups' influence on either of the two pieces of legislation making their way through the state legislature.
The paper also failed to put Kansas' green energy initiatives in context. Wind energy in Kansas is a booming industry. A fact sheet from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that renewable energy in Kansas has created more than 12,000 jobs and provided $13.7 million in annual lease payments and royalties to Kansas landowners. According to the American Wind Energy Association, after the adoption of the green energy standard, wind turbine manufacturer Siemens announced a $50 million investment in its first American wind energy manufacturing facility in Kansas. Even Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was a supporter of green energy standards. In 2010, while a U.S. senator, he co-sponsored a national version of Kansas' successful renewable portfolio standard with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), which, if enacted, would have required 15 percent of utilities to be derived from alternative energy by 2021.