A new Media Matters study documents how TV news outlets -- with the exception of MSNBC -- all but ignored climate change during the 2012 election season, even covering Joe Biden's smile in the vice presidential debate more often. This blackout fit perfectly into the right's climate change playbook.
When we saw events that illustrated the impacts of climate change in the lead-up to the election, the right tried to get the media to look the other way. As wildfires raged this summer, experts said that journalists should be explaining how climate change worsens the risk of wildfires in the West. But once the media finally began to make those connections, the conservative Media Research Center lashed out at them.
When Arctic sea ice loss broke records this summer, conservative media sought to distract their mainstream counterparts by pointing to Antarctic sea ice. Nevermind that the Associated Press had explained that Antarctic sea ice gains did not undermine global warming and were in fact anticipated -- MRC claimed that AP's report was not to be trusted because it "predictably cited scientists." In the end, the record Arctic sea ice loss received little attention from TV media.
And when Hurricane Sandy hit a week before the election, the right attacked the media for even raising global warming. Fox's media criticism show, Fox News Watch, called the media "liberal" for noting the scientific connections between Sandy's destruction and climate change:
JON SCOTT: It didn't take long, though, for liberal media to trot out climate change as the reason behind this storm?
RICHARD GRENELL, FMR. ROMNEY SPOKESMAN: Yes, and that is silly, right.
While TV media's election coverage of climate change ramped up after Sandy, the coverage still totaled less than an hour on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox.
Climate change was almost entirely absent from the political discourse this election season, receiving less than an hour of TV coverage over three months from the major cable and broadcast networks excluding MSNBC. By contrast, those outlets devoted nearly twice as much coverage to Vice President Joe Biden's demeanor during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. When climate change was addressed, print and TV media outlets often failed to note the scientific consensus or speak to scientists.
Current and former staffers at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune are expressing concern at reports Friday that News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch might be interested in buying the papers from Tribune Company, with one veteran Times newsman calling the notion "horrifying beyond belief."
While many told Media Matters they are worried about Murdoch's potential ownership due to concerns over his ethical history and conservative ideology, others are so desperate to give their bankrupt papers financial stability that they are reluctantly willing to give him a chance.
"I have heard people express concerns of various kinds," said one current Los Angeles Times' journalist and former newsroom editor who requested anonymity. "He invests in the properties, he has not downsized the [Wall Street] Journal. The one concern, fear of the unknown, is, well, the L.A. Times still has a substantial foreign staff, a substantial national staff and a substantial Washington bureau. What happens to those?"
One fear is that the takeover could spark an exodus of staff, which occurred at The Wall Street Journal after Murdoch purchased parent company Dow Jones in late 2007. Dozens of the paper's best journalists left, citing a perceived change in the paper's focus and at times an increased push for more business-friendly stories.
Several current and former Tribune Company staffers recalled what happened when Murdoch bought the rival Chicago Sun-Times in 1984, later selling it in 1986. The sale sparked the departure of many Sun-Times staffers, including the legendary columnist Mike Royko, who vowed not to work for Murdoch and left for the Tribune.
"If you look at the history of what he did across the street at the Sun-Times, that is a shot that the paper never fully recovered from," said a current Tribune staffer who sought anonymity. "The sentiment of people is 'we want to keep doing the work we do,' owners do what they want to do with the paper."
Speculation about a Murdoch purchase of the Times, Tribune, or perhaps other Tribune Company properties began last week with an October 19 Los Angeles Times report that he was interested. It cited "two ranking News Corp. executives and others familiar with the situation," indicated talks were in the "early stages," and stated a takeover could occur by the end of 2012.
News Corp. has denied the report, but the Los Angeles Times stands by its story.
A News Corp. purchase of the Times and the Tribune would give Murdoch control of four of the top 10 U.S. newspapers by circulation and, as the Times notes, "strong footholds in the nation's three largest media markets."
The possible purchase by Murdoch comes at a time when Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and 10 other daily newspapers, as well as 23 television stations and other media properties, is emerging from a bruising four-year bankruptcy battle that has already cut its revenues and staff.
The financial problems stem from the 2007 purchase of Tribune Company by real estate magnate Sam Zell, who paid for the takeover through a leveraged buyout that created $13 million in debt. The company filed for bankruptcy a year later, a move that remains unresolved as creditors battle over a resolution plan in court.
The thought that Murdoch could take over some or all of the company's properties drew concern among current and former staffers.
A Media Matters analysis finds that Fox News has aided Republican efforts to make Solyndra the face of clean energy in 2012 by incessantly covering it a year after the company declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have disproportionately hosted opponents of clean energy to discuss Solyndra, and uncritically repeated allegations that Solyndra's loan guarantee was politically motivated, even though a yearlong investigation has found no evidence to support the "crony capitalism" narrative.
Yesterday, after the Treasury Department announced that total public debt has surpassed $16 trillion, a number of media outlets quoted vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan attacking President Obama for not reducing said debt. "Of all the broken promises from President Obama, this is probably the worst one because this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," said Ryan in Iowa, stumping for Mitt Romney. That debt, however, didn't create itself. It's primarily the product of Bush-era policies that Paul Ryan voted to enact -- a fact that was lost in the coverage of Ryan attacking the debt he helped create.
Uncritical quotation of Ryan's debt attack abounds -- NBC, ABC, the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and so on. But as Ezra Klein pointed out during last week's Republican National Convention, which featured a prominently displayed debt clock in the convention hall, the majority of current debt can be laid at the feet of George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress of the early 2000s.
The specific Bush-era policies driving debt, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are the tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bailouts of Wall Street and Fannie and Freddie. Economic recovery measures put in place under Obama, i.e. the stimulus, play a comparatively miniscule part in the total debt picture.
Paul Ryan voted for the tax cuts. He voted for the wars. He voted for TARP. Every Bush-era policy that ballooned the debt to its current level got the Paul Ryan stamp of approval. And if press outlets are going to quote him saying "this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," they should note that this "threat" is partially of his own creation.
In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney suggested that Barack Obama was unqualified to be president because he didn't have enough experience working in a business. In reporting this claim, media outlets have not noted that Romney selected a vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, who has worked almost exclusively in the public sector.
In his speech to the Republican National Convention last night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie declared that would-be president Mitt Romney will share "hard truths" with the nation on debt and the economy. "Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good paying private sector jobs again in America. Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the torrent of debt that is compromising our future and burying our economy," said Christie.
Christie's praise for Romney was reported by a number of media outlets. Less remarked upon was the fact that Christie's promise of economic "hard truths" from Romney is undercut by the Romney campaign's stated and steadfast refusal to release details of their economic proposals.
Christie's remarks were quoted by the Associated Press as part of his "broad indictment of Democrats." The Los Angeles Times reported: "After detailing his own accomplishments for some time, Christie pivoted to Romney, saying he would 'tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth.'" CBS News noted simply that Christie "called on Americans to face the nation's 'hard truths' this November, and embrace a 'new era of truth-telling' when deciding the country's political future."
The press corps continues to be enamored of Congressman Paul Ryan, the budget and economic "wonk." Just this morning, articles both the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times dropped casual references to Paul Ryan, "budget wonk." All this despite Ryan's best efforts to prove it a misnomer.
Last night on Fox News' Special Report, Bret Baier asked the vice-presidential nominee why the Romney campaign refuses to release details regarding its tax plan and the deductions/loopholes it would eliminate to pay for massive, across-the-board tax cuts. Ryan said he couldn't give those details because they will be hammered out with Congress -- after the American people have voted to send Romney and Ryan to the White House.
BAIER: Why not be specific on the loopholes you'll eliminate and the deductions you'll eliminate to cut off that attack?
RYAN: Because what we don't want to do is just like they did with health care reform, where we cut some backroom deal -- what President Obama did in Harry Reid's office and then just give it to the country and then they can read what's in it later on. We want to go through a transparent process in Congress where we have a dialogue with the public -- what of these tax expenditures are important? What are broad based? We want to get rid of the corporate welfare, the crony capitalism stuff in the tax code, but we want Congress to participate in a transparent debate in front of the public eye so we can have a really good debate about how best to broaden the tax base and lower tax rates.
On Wednesday, scientists announced that melting over the Greenland ice sheet has already "shattered the seasonal record" set in 2010, with four weeks left before the end of the melting season. Scientists say this record melting is driven by rising Arctic temperatures and could have serious consequences for the environment and coastal communities. But the major media outlets are once again failing to report on clear evidence that our climate is changing.
Professor Marco Tedesco, whose research was sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, examined satellite data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and found that Greenland has "experienced extreme melting in nearly every region" this year. He concluded: "With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a goliath year - the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979."
Tedesco looked at the extent and duration of melting to determine the "cumulative melting index," which measures the "strength" of the melting season. The following chart illustrates that by early August, Greenland's melting index was already higher than at any time in the past 30 years:
Tedesco attributed his findings to rising temperatures in the Arctic, noting that accelerated melting and ice sheet thinning are consistent with models of the effects of climate change. But, he added, "the difference is how quickly this seems to be happening."
Scientists say that human-induced climate change made this year's record heat more likely, and project that extreme heat will become more common in the United States. But a Media Matters analysis of media coverage of record-breaking heat in July finds that major television outlets rarely made the connection between heat waves and a changing climate.
Major news networks have largely ignored Republican obstruction of a regulation addressing the recent resurgence of black lung, a disease caused by coal mine dust. By contrast, media coverage of the Republican narrative about "job-killing regulations" has been abundant, indicating that news outlets let the Republican Party define the media discourse about regulation of the coal industry.
While numerous factors determine the frequency, severity and cost of wildfires, scientific research indicates that human-induced climate change increases fire risks in parts of the Western U.S. by promoting warmer and drier conditions. Seven of nine fire experts contacted by Media Matters agreed journalists should explain the relationship between climate change and wildfires. But an analysis of recent coverage suggests mainstream media outlets are not up to the task -- only 3 percent of news reports on wildfires in the West mentioned climate change.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, they're also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, or sometimes as global warming's "evil twin" or the "osteoporosis of the sea." Scientists have warned that it poses a serious threat to ocean life. Yet major American
news outlets covered the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification over the past year and a half.
Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, and if we do not lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the ocean surface could be up to 150 percent more acidic by 2100. At that level, the shells of some plankton would dissolve, large parts of the ocean would become inhospitable to coral reef growth, and the rapidity of the change could threaten much of the marine food web. According to the National Research Council, the chemical changes are taking place "at an unprecedented rate and magnitude" and are "practically irreversible on a time scale of centuries."
Despite a boom of recent scientific research documenting this threat, there has been a blackout on the topic at most media outlets. Since the end of 2010, ABC, NBC, and Fox News have completely ignored ocean acidification, and the Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS have barely mentioned it at all.
Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court struck down three of the four contested provisions of Arizona's anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. In the wake of the decision, the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times all allowed anti-immigrant voices to peddle misinformation about the ruling's impact. The LA Times quoted an Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC) statement while the Washington Post quoted both Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- a Southern Poverty Law Center labeled- hate group -- and Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, a group associated with white supremacists and the notorious anti-immigrant activist John Tanton. However, while both the LA Times and the Post gave limited space to these voices, the New York Times provided an extensive section to Mr. Stein and FAIR:
Both sides claimed on Monday that they had achieved important gains. Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, a group that supported Arizona, called the ruling "an important victory."
"Even if the Obama administration refuses to enforce most immigration laws, states have the power to deter and discourage illegal aliens from settling or remaining within their jurisdictions," Mr. Stein said.
He said the ruling, coupled with a Supreme Court decision last year that affirmed an Arizona law requiring employers to verify the legal immigration status of employees, gives states "broad latitude to carry out a policy of attrition through enforcement."
Mr. Stein's organization supported a small but determined corps of lawyers who created legal blueprints for Arizona's and other state laws that were intended to drive out illegal immigrants by making daily life impossible for them in this country.
As a Media Matters study previously found, the top five newspapers in America cited anti-immigrant groups hundreds of times since the introduction of SB1070 in January 2010. In addition, as was the case with FAIR's description here, the New York Times often whitewashed the group's ugly past, including its strong ties to Tanton and the fact that it has received over $1.2 million from the white supremacist Pioneer Fund. The Times had previously published two articles detailing the group's affiliations to Tanton and white nationalist organizations and acknowledging FAIR's effort to scrub Tanton's name from their website following the initial report.
Unfortunately, the Washington Post and the New York Times weren't the only ones to provide a platform for Stein to air his anti-immigrant views. Immediately following the ruling, CNN hosted Stein for an interview to air his reaction to the ruling. Unsurprisingly, CNN's John King also failed to note Stein's unsavory ties, instead calling FAIR "the country's largest immigration reform group."
A majority of federal rulings on the substance of President Obama's health care reform law have found it to be constitutional, including the law's mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. But a Media Matters review of the five largest newspapers and the flagship CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs finds that the media overwhelmingly focused on rulings that struck down the law in whole or in part -- 84 percent of segments on the broadcast and cable programs reviewed and 59 percent of newspaper articles that reported on such rulings -- while largely ignoring rulings that found it constitutional or dismissed the case.