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.
When the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General published a September 2011 audit of conference expenses, the media focused on one finding in particular: the claim that the Justice Department had once paid $4,200 for 250 muffins at a conference in Washington -- or more than $16 per muffin. And as dubbed by ABC's Erica Hill, CBS, and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, "Muffin-gate" was born, reinforcing a common conservative narrative of wasteful government spending. As O'Reilly himself said on September 21: "But the $16 muffin now becomes a symbol of how wasteful the feds are with our tax dollars."
Within days, Hilton Worldwide, which hosted the 2009 conference in question, disputed the claim: "In Washington, the contracted breakfast included fresh fruit, coffee, juice, muffins, tax and gratuity for an inclusive price of $16 per person." And within a week of that, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the DOJ claimed "the actual price was $14.29 per person per day," and that "included breakfast and rental fees for the workshop space and conference rooms." Furthermore, Bloomberg reported that the IG's office subsequently "conceded that it might not have been in possession of all the facts." The IG's office told the magazine: "Since our report was issued, the Capital Hilton has stated that other food and beverage items, such as coffee, tea, and fruit, were included in the charged amount." The IG's link for the report now only states:
In September 2011, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General issued audit report number 11-43, Audit of Department of Justice Conference Planning and Food and Beverage Costs. After our report was issued, the Office of the Inspector General received additional documents concerning the food and beverage costs at one conference that had not previously been provided during the audit. We have reviewed these documents and will issue a revised report in the near future.
Sam Stein of The Huffington Post investigated print coverage of the story and concluded that only 37 of the 223 articles that pushed the $16-muffin myth "offered an explanation for the cost of the muffins or attempted to correct the record." He added that Bill O'Reilly continued to push the falsehood (and even took credit for breaking the story) during a September 28 appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart -- after Hilton disputed the $16-muffin claim.
Media Matters reviewed the transcripts of broadcast and cable news and the articles of the top five national newspapers for coverage of this story. Contrary to the fervor with which the media reported the initial claim from the IG, few outlets followed up with the updates from Hilton or the IG's office, leaving their audiences in the dark about the truth of the $16 muffin.
The coverage surrounding Solyndra, the solar panel manufacturer that declared bankruptcy after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee, has been sloppy on the part of both mainstream and conservative media outlets. It has also been remarkably abundant.
Between August 31, when Solyndra suspended operations, and September 23, six major print outlets discussed the story in 89 items (news and opinion). Broadcast and cable TV networks discussed Solyndra more than 190 times, totaling over 10 hours of coverage -- 8 hours of which occurred on the Fox News Channel.
To put the volume of Solyndra coverage into context, we examined how much attention major print and TV news outlets gave to 1) an obvious case of government corruption exposed in 2008 at the Minerals Management Service (MMS), and 2) a report exposing much greater loss of taxpayer dollars through military contracting waste and fraud. The following charts capture our results:
The last-minute Senate deal announced last night to avoid a government shutdown, and to keep FEMA fully funded, ends -- for now -- the latest Congressional stalemate. The usually commonplace practice of providing FEMA with billions of additional funding in the face of epic natural disasters had flared into a major budget controversy in recent weeks
Coming on the heels of the debt ceiling crisis from this summer, it looked like the logjam over FEMA might be the latest example of Congressional brinksmanship between Democrats and Republicans, since they couldn't agree on how the pay for FEMA's billions in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
Before the story recedes, it's worth examining how the press covered the controversy and specifically how the press often looked away from the latest radical turn taken by Republicans. Indeed, the GOP tried to fundamentally change the way disaster relief legislation was funded -- and passed -- in Congress. That fact was central to the standoff and that's what sparked the stalemate. Yet in so much of the news coverage, that fact was omitted, which changed the entire dynamics of the story.
Instead of the story being about how Republicans were embracing a radical new legislative initiative, and doing it the expense of disaster victims in need of government aid, the story was presented as more partisan sniping.
In reality, the press did Republicans, and their Tea Party activists, a favor by dumbing down the FEMA story and refusing to acknowledge the party's increasingly extremist nature.
If ever a writer was suited to pen editorials for Investor's Business Daily, it's Andrew Malcolm. And starting next month, Laura Bush's former flak will leave his post at the Los Angeles Times to go work for IBD, a far-right newspaper that publishes loopy birther columns, climate change denial rants, nasty personal smears, and in general just makes stuff up on a regular basis.
So yes, Andrew Malcolm should be very happy at the somewhat obscure IBD, writing up breathlessly negative appraisals of the president and all things liberal. He's been doing that for years at the Times.
Honestly, it's not really worth the time or trouble detailing Malcolm's long history of dishonesty. (If you'd like examples though, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Suffice it to say Malcolm has come to symbolize a right-wing media movement that cut all visible ties with journalism, fact-checking, fairness and decency the day Obama was inaugurated, and has instead turned itself into a propaganda movement.
And that's the real reason why this personnel move is noteworthy -- because the Times, one of the largest newspapers in America, for years foolishly gave a national platform to somebody like Malcolm. He was paid to publish purposefully childish, unserious, and disrespectful blog posts, while the faltering Los Angeles newspaper shed employees at a stunning rate.
As LAObserved.com noted in the wake of Malcolm's IBD announcement:
[C]ritics have wondered why the Times devoted a senior (in salary) staff position to a blog that was essentially a gathering place for anti-Obama talking points, while laying off journalists and cutting news and opinion coverage.
And that's been the puzzle of Malcolm employment: Why did a newspaper like the Times decide it would be best if its only opinion writer regularly covering national politics for the largest newspaper in a solidly Democratic state conduct himself like a B-level, Obama-hating blogger? Who at the Times decided it made perfect sense in terms of branding to have someone like Malcolm become the political voice of the daily?
In the rush to cover the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a loan guarantee from the federal government, many news media outlets have misrepresented or omitted key facts.