As anti-immigrant legislation has flooded state houses from coast to coast over the past two years -- culminating most notably with the Supreme Court's review of Arizona's controversial SB 1070 -- the nation's print media have given voice to the anti-immigrant special interest groups cheerleading (and in some cases orchestrating) these initiatives. Many of these groups have ties to white nationalist organizations and racists, and at least one has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These extremist ties have not prevented the nation's most respected newspapers, as well as the Associated Press and Reuters, from citing the institutions as authorities on the immigration debate.
In fact, a Media Matters analysis of news coverage since SB 1070's introduction in January 2010 has discovered that the nation's top five newspapers (New York Times, L.A. Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post), the Associated Press, and Reuters have cited these groups over 250 times. Over that period, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia, among other states, have introduced strict immigration bills that -- by their introduction alone -- have been met with a measure of success.
If print media plays a part in shaping public opinion, isn't it fair to ask whether the normalization of these extremist groups in the pages of America's daily papers has advantaged the ability of anti-immigrant measures to reach fruition?
For details on the methodology and other information in the Media Matters report, click here.
Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, was introduced in January 2010. Since then, in their coverage of immigration issues America's top five newspapers and the Associated Press and Reuters newswires have cited anti-immigrant organizations with ties to white supremacists and racists -- including one that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center -- over 250 times.
The Congressional Budget Office's annual long-term budget report shows that without any changes in the law, government debt will peak this year, then slowly decline for two decades. Despite this finding, many media outlets are emphasizing a "dire" outlook, while downplaying or ignoring CBO's finding that there is a path to a stable budget that includes maintaining the social safety net.
Mitt Romney's remarks at Solyndra were full of falsehoods that went unchecked by many major media outlets. The media also largely failed to point out that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney invested in several companies that subsequently went bankrupt or defaulted on state loans.
If ever a more shining example of an inherent problem plaguing the media today exists, this is it. Just three weeks ago, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two well-respected, centrist political commentators with records of accomplishment going back decades, charged in a Washington Post op-ed that the Republican Party is to blame for our "dysfunctional" Congress -- just days before the release of their book detailing this thesis, It's Even Worse Than It Looks.
But "the most quoted men in Washington" can't even get a booking on the opinion-setting Sunday morning talk shows, as Washingtonpost.com blogger Greg Sargent explained. Media Matters' own research reveals that while journalists writing for the top five national U.S. newspapers have frequently quoted Mann or Ornstein in news articles in the past, the duo is entirely absent from these pages since they publicized their latest observation about the state of Congress.
Such a thesis would seem "likely to generate widespread discussion," opined Steve Benen on Maddowblog recently. "Where's the debate?" he asked. That's a great question, and its examination reveals a structural problem with the way that journalists typically report the news.
Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, are well-respected centrist congressional experts who are often cited by the media. But their recent conclusion that Republicans are responsible for political dysfunction -- laid out in an April 29 Washington Post op-ed and their recently released book -- has been largely ignored, with the top five national newspapers writing a total of zero news articles on their thesis.
Ahead of today's release of the annual Social Security trustees' report, Trudy Lieberman of the Columbia Journalism Review reviewed the failures of the mainstream media in its coverage of Social Security. As Lieberman wrote, "[M]uch of the press has reported only one side of this story using 'facts' that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others."
A great example of the media's unwillingness to accurately report on Social Security came when Texas Gov. Rick Perry described the program as a "Ponzi scheme." Most coverage of the incident focused either on its political fallout or presented the issue in a "he said-she said" style -- ignoring the false nature of the "Ponzi" attack.
Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme. People who call it a Ponzi scheme are not "wrong but partially right," they're not "called wrong by critics" -- they're just wrong.
A Ponzi scheme is a criminal endeavor that involves opaque financial dealings that promise investment returns when none or next to none actually exist. Social Security's finances are crystal clear, and the interest generated by its trust fund is quite real.
A Ponzi scheme eventually collapses. According to last year's report, Social Security can continue as it is, paying full benefits for nearly 25 years, and 77 percent of promised benefits thereafter.
During coverage of Perry's claims, the Los Angeles Times wrote that "[s]upporters of Social Security argue that the program is a general benefit," while "[o]pponents, like Perry, see the program as a robbing of one generation to pay for the older one, a type of cheat akin to a Ponzi scheme." At no point did the article acknowledge that the "Ponzi scheme" attack was incorrect.
Meanwhile, a Politico story focused entirely on reactions to Perry's comments from Republican officials and completely ignored whether or not his comments had any basis in reality. And a Christian Science Monitor article reported that Perry "says he is not backing down from what he said, but the point is to get people's attention and push for ways to reform Social Security so it will endure long enough to help today's youngsters."
A Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of rising gasoline prices between January 1 and February 29 finds that news outlets often provided a shallow and shortsighted treatment of the issue. For instance, several outlets largely overlooked fuel economy standards -- a key policy solution that mitigates U.S. vulnerability to price spikes -- while promoting increased U.S. drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline, which would likely move gas prices by only a few cents, if at all. In addition, cable news outlets primarily hosted political figures rather than energy experts or economists to comment on gas prices. Fox News, which covered gas prices far more frequently than any other outlet, regularly blamed President Obama for the recent price increase, a claim in line with Republican strategy but not with the facts.
On Friday the President of low-lying Pacific island nation Kiribati (pronounced KEER-ih-bhass) told The Associated Press about a plan to buy land from Fiji as an "insurance policy" against the effects of climate change. The land purchase would be large enough for the whole population of Kiribati to move should their country become uninhabitable. Not a single major newspaper or television news outlet has covered the story.
The over 100,000 I-Kiribati (Kiribati residents) face rising sea levels, reduced access to safe water, and changing weather patterns in part due to climate change. The village of Tebunginako, which is now all but abandoned, is a powerful symbol of this threat:
Yet none of the major print newspapers (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Los Angeles Times), the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), or the cable networks (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) have covered the Kiribati's plight since Friday, according to a search of Nexis and Snapstream transcripts. (The Post and USA Today ran the AP report on their websites, but not in print.)
Right-wing media have applauded Susan G. Komen for the Cure's decision to stop providing funds to Planned Parenthood. But Komen's decision could affect access to breast cancer screenings and other cancer-related services for thousands of women, as the Komen funds have allowed Planned Parenthood to provide 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals in the past five years.
A Media Matters analysis shows that as a whole, news coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline between August 1 and December 31 favored pipeline proponents. Although the project would create few long-term employment opportunities, the pipeline was primarily portrayed as a jobs issue. Pro-pipeline voices were quoted more frequently than those opposed, and dubious industry estimates of job creation were uncritically repeated 5 times more often than they were questioned. Meanwhile, concerns about the State Department's review process and potential environmental consequences were often overlooked, particularly by television outlets.
After incessant coverage of the failed solar panel maker Solyndra, major TV and print news outlets are now ignoring a report concluding that "the focus on Solyndra is not proportional to its impact." The Bloomberg Government analysis of the Department of Energy's 1705 loan guarantee program found that 87 percent of the portfolio is low-risk and that even if all 10 of the higher risk projects defaulted, we'd still have nearly half a billion dollars left in the fund set aside by Congress to cover losses.
Alison Williams - who previously served as a DOE analyst under both the Bush and Obama administrations - authored the report, which is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the loan guarantee program that assisted Solyndra. According to a Nexis search, not a single major newspaper or television news outlet has reported on the analysis, which was covered by The Hill and the Huffington Post.
The main takeaway from the report is that 87 percent of the value of all the 1705 loan guarantees (18 of the 28 projects) went to power generation projects, as opposed to manufacturing projects like Solyndra's factory. The DOE required generation projects to secure a buyer before receiving a loan guarantee -- ensuring stable revenue and significantly reducing the risk of the investment. In fact, Shayle Kann, a solar power market expert at GTM Research, has said that these projects have almost no risk of default.
Right-wing media are once again attacking President Obama over his vacations, this time for planning a "staggering" 17-day holiday trip to Hawaii. But vacations of that length are not unprecedented; President Reagan took a 25-day vacation in August 1983, and President George W. Bush took 27-day and 25-day vacations in August 2001 and August 2002, respectively.
When the Justice Department's Inspector General alleged in September that the DOJ had paid more than $16 per muffin at a 2009 conference, most major media outlets rushed to cover this latest example of "outrageous spending" by the government. But several of those same outlets -- Fox, CBS, NBC, and USA Today -- have failed to report that the IG has since retracted that claim.
Last Week, Media Matters released a report detailing coverage of the IG's initial allegation. Our study revealed that while network news, cables news, and top national newspapers reported on the $16-muffin claim, few outlets followed up when the IG's $16 figure was called into question by the Hilton hotel that hosted the conference.
On Friday, the IG's office officially retracted the $16-muffin claim. Here's a look at how the media outlets that initially reported the erroneous allegation have handled (or ignored) the IG's retraction.
Today, the Department of Justice's Inspector General officially retracted its allegation that at a 2009 conference, the DOJ had paid $4,200 for 250 muffins -- or, more than $16 per muffin. From the IG's statement:
After publication of the report, we received additional documents and information concerning the food and beverage costs at the EOIR conference. After further review of the newly provided documentation and information, and after discussions with the Capital Hilton and the Department, we determined that our initial conclusions concerning the itemized costs of refreshments at the EOIR conference were incorrect and that the Department did not pay $16 per muffin. We have therefore revised the report based on these additional documents and deleted references to any incorrect costs. We regret the error in our original report.
Earlier this week, Media Matters released a report detailing media coverage of the story on network news, cable news, and print. We discovered that while many outlets reported the initial $16 claim from the IG, few followed up when the figure was disputed by Hilton. Key findings from the report:
As we explained, the media's irresponsible coverage of "muffin-gate" reinforced the common conservative narrative of wasteful government spending. We'll be watching to see whether news outlets that pushed the IG's initial allegation inform their audiences that the $16-muffin claim has now been officially debunked.