U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
Critics pounced after President Obama recently addressed the rising threat of the terror group Islamic State. His answers didn't represent "a national rallying cry" (National Journal). He sent "mixed messages" (ABC News). The president was guilty of an "inartful phrase" (Politico), and he wasn't projecting "an image of presidential resolve" (Washington Post).
The president hadn't necessarily said anything inaccurate or made controversial claims. Critics just didn't like the way he said what he said. It didn't look or sound quite right.
On Meet The Press, Obama conceded he had made a specific error when he played golf after making a public statement about the brutal beheading of American journalist James Foley. "I should've anticipated the optics," he said. "Part of this job is also the theater of it." And he's right, optics do matter for a commander-in-chief, especially in his role as communicator. But optics and stagecraft aren't the only thing. And Beltway pundits proved themselves to be poor judges of optics when a Republican last occupied the Oval Office.
Please recall that the press loved President George Bush's "Mission Accomplished" optics in 2003, which foolishly implied the United States had won the war in Iraq. (NBC's Brian Williams: "He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit.") And don't forget Bush's "bring them on" taunt when he was asked about escalating attacks on American troops inside Iraq. (More than 4,000 Americans subsequently died in fighting there.)
A common complaint about the Beltway press is that journalists obsess over process at the expense of substance. (i.e. Who's up, who's down?) Sadly, we've now eroded to the point where process journalism has been eclipsed by an even more meaningless pursuit: "optics."
Another description for the current press malady is theater criticism. Theater criticism means you don't offer solutions; you don't offer insights or analysis. Theater criticism means you simply detail everything the pitch-poor actor does wrong in terms of word choice, inflection and public emotion. (Or golfing.) Analysis is different. It's more difficult, more rigorous, and it's much needed.
Instead we got the tan suit meltdown. This was an actual tweet last month from one of the largest news organization in America:
How did we arrive at a place so trivial and vacuous?
Right-wing media emphasized the supposed prevalence of "black-on-black" violence in response to the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. But such emphasis takes the crime statistics out of context in order to hype the racial aspect.
National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald falsely said there is no evidence "that the overrepresentation of blacks in prison or arrest statistics is a result of criminal justice racism," while on NBC's Meet the Press. In fact, studies have found "conclusively" that disproportionate incarceration for African Americans is attributed to "racial bias."
Mac Donald has a history of racially inflammatory comments, including claiming that young African-American males have a "lack of self-discipline"; that it is "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive" than white students; and that black men possess a "lack of impulse control that results in ... mindless violence on the streets."
Still, the August 17 edition of Meet the Press turned to Mac Donald to discuss fallout from the fatal shooting of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. In a taped segment, Deadspin.com's Greg Howard argued that "It's physically easier for a police officer to weigh what a black man's life is worth and to end up feeling that he is justified in pulling the trigger." Mac Donald was then presented as a counterpoint, to claim there is no evidence of racial bias in the criminal justice system:
MAC DONALD: The criminology profession has been trying for decades to prove that the overrepresentation of blacks in prison or in arrest statistics is a result of criminal justice racism. It is black crime rates that predict the presence of blacks in the criminal justice system, not some miscarriage of justice.
Due to a lack of information from local authorities it is still unclear what, if any, crime the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown believed Brown was committing, and whether such use of force was a necessary or appropriate response. However, research indicates that nationally, African-Americans are arrested and incarnated at rates that cannot be explained by crime rates.
Nightly network newscasts and Sunday morning talk shows have largely failed to connect two recent Supreme Court decisions to Citizens United v. FEC, the case that radically expanded the legal concept of "corporate personhood" -- the idea that corporations have constitutional rights. This has left viewers with an incomplete understanding of how the Court applied this dangerous precedent to campaign finance and reproductive rights law.
After calling for major network news outlets to air more reporting about climate change, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) praised the finding that Sunday morning news shows dramatically increased their coverage of the climate crisis.
"This is a step in the right direction. Global warming is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet," Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a written statement.
A Media Matters analysis found that ABC's This Week, CBS' Face The Nation, NBC's Meet The Press and FOX Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday included 1 hour, 5 minutes of reporting related to climate change during the first six months of 2014 -- as much as these outlets aired in the previous four years combined.
In response to a year of lackluster coverage assessed in a 2013 Media Matters study, a group of nine U.S. senators demanded that Sunday morning news shows broadcast more reporting about global warming in a January 16 letter to executives at the major broadcast networks. In the letter, they decried how "shockingly little discussion" the Sunday shows devoted to climate change, which poses a "huge threat" to the United States and planet as was confirmed this year in reports issued by the federal government, international climate experts and the business community. From the letter:
We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation," and "Fox News Sunday."
According to the scientific community, climate change is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet. The scientists who have studied this issue are virtually unanimous in the view that climate change is occurring, that it poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community, and that it is caused by human activity. In fact, 97% of researchers actively publishing in this field agree with these conclusions.
The scientific community and governmental leaders around the world rightly worry about the horrific dangers we face if we do not address climate change. Sea level rise will take its toll on coastal states. Communities will be increasingly at risk of billions of dollars in damages from more extreme weather. And farmers may see crops and livestock destroyed as worsening drought sets in. Yet, despite these warnings, there has been shockingly little discussion on the Sunday morning news shows about this critically important issue. This is disturbing not only because the millions of viewers who watch these shows deserve to hear that discussion, but because the Sunday shows often have an impact on news coverage in other media throughout the week.
One month later, on February 16, every major Sunday show offered at least one substantial mention of climate change in a shift that Sanders' office noted at the time. However, some segments used false balance to frame their climate coverage. These broadcasts misled audiences with flawed debates that allowed guests to question the very premise of global warming, contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change is real. In fact, nearly 30 minutes of all Sunday segments included false balance. CBS' Face the Nation was the only Sunday show that avoided introducing false balance into its program during the first half of 2014. In light of that change in coverage, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the National Journal that: "It's time to move on from treating climate change as a debate and talk about what we can do about it for people's lives and businesses."
In April, while standing on the Senate Floor, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) stressed the need for more climate coverage and the danger of airing false balance on the science behind global warming, saying, "The denier castle is crumbling."
A Media Matters analysis finds that the Sunday shows covered climate change more in the first half of 2014 than in the last four years combined, following a push from nine U.S. Senators for increased coverage. Although these shows gave the issue more coverage, at times they used false balance, enshrouding the scientific consensus surrounding climate change.
When is the U.S. economy not a topic worth addressing on the Sunday morning talk shows? Apparently when there's lots of good news to discuss.
At least it seemed that way this past Sunday when all four of the network Sunday morning talk shows ignored last week's surprisingly strong jobs report, which indicated nearly 300,000 news jobs were created in the month of June. Consequently, the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest level since September 2008.
The jobs surge meant America had logged its highest January-through-June job-growth rate since 1999. (The U.S. has added 1.4 million jobs since December, making it the best half-year since the recession ended.) And over the past 52 months of jobs growth, businesses have created nearly 10 million jobs.
Also ignored by all the Sunday hosts and guests was the fact that the Dow Jones stock exchange on Thursday for the first time surpassed the 17,000 mark, "another in a string of records for the index that has lifted portfolios in a five-year bull market for stocks," according to the Associated Press. Indeed, "The Dow has climbed more than 10,500 points since its Great Recession low of 6,547.05 on March 9, 2009."
More from the AP:
The jobs report is the latest piece of data to show the economy continues to improve steadily. On Wednesday, payroll processor ADP said private businesses added 281,000 jobs in June, up from 179,000 in May. Also this week, the Institute for Supply Management said the U.S. manufacturing expanded for the 13th consecutive month.
Keep in mind, none of this was discussed on Face The Nation, Fox News Sunday, Meet The Press, or This Week; shows which, in theory, debate and analyze the weeks' most important news developments. But do they?
Two weeks ago I noted the same Sunday shows completely ignored news of the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, an alleged ringleader of the Benghazi terror attack of 2012. For nearly two years, the topic of Benghazi had been endlessly debated and discussed on the Sunday shows via hundreds of segments, very often casting the Obama administration in a negative light. But when good news emerged about apprehending a possible key suspect, the Sunday shows all turned away.
The Benghazi capture reflected positively on the Obama administration. It was news that the Republican Party did not seem happy about. And it was news that the Sunday shows deemed to be un-newsworthy. Coincidence?
Increasingly, the Sunday shows seem to revolve around inviting Republican guests onto the shows and letting them vent about whatever they think the Obama administration is doing wrong. Period. But when the U.S. economy shows signs of robust growth? When the stock market continues to hit new historic highs? Republicans aren't very interested in talking about Obama successes so, it turns out, neither are the Sunday shows.
Here are some of the topics that were discussed this week on the Sunday programs, instead of strong employment gains and an historic stock market performance:
*Summer reading lists
*"The story of trailblazing chef Leah Chase [who] took a stand against Jim Crow"
*Conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza new documentary, America
*A poll suggesting Obama is "worst president" since World War II
*The World Cup soccer tournament
*Martha-Ann Alito's volunteer activities
*"An author who has made an unusual career at finding American history in everyday places."
From the July 6 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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We may have finally uncovered the answer to the lingering question of what it would take for Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace to not host a discussion about Benghazi. The solution: Have U.S. Special Operations forces capture the lead suspect in the 2012 terror attack.
The news of Ahmed Abu Khattala's capture broke on June 17, and was immediately tagged by the Washington Post as "a significant breakthrough" for the Obama administration, which has been subjected to constant carping and endless harangues from Fox News talkers demanding that Benghazi terrorists be brought to justice. But when the administration made advances in doing just that, Fox attacked them over the timing of the capture for much of the week, and then Wallace turned away on Sunday.
Ordinarily, you'd think any key development in the on-going investigation would be of interest to Fox News Sunday, which, according to an archives search at Nexis, has hosted nearly 100 discussions over the last 20 months where "Benghazi" was mentioned at least three times, and more than two dozen segments just this year. But news of a suspect's apprehension and the possibility he'll soon be facing justice in a U.S. courtroom and held accountable for the deaths of four Americans? That apparently wasn't worth covering on Sunday.
Because, as is so often the case for President Obama, good news is no news.
And it wasn't just Fox News this time. Across the dial on Sunday, every broadcast network political show -- which are credited with setting the public agenda debate inside the Beltway -- failed to address the news about the Benghazi suspect. It was news that reflected positively on the Obama administration. It was news that the Republican Party did not seem happy about. And it was news that the Sunday shows deemed to be un-newsworthy.
NBC's David Gregory pointed a series of questions about Hillary Clinton's role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), allowing Paul to attack Clinton with the long-debunked smear that she was aware of the need for additional security forces at the Benghazi compound yet denied the requests.
On the June 22 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, host David Gregory posed a series of questions on Hillary Clinton's role in the 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, but failed to correct Sen. Paul's false smears that Clinton refused requested security. While discussing the possibility of Clinton running for president in 2016, Gregory asked Sen. Paul about whether "the prosecution of foreign policy," is "the main argument" against Clinton's candidacy. In his response, Paul invoked the debunked myth that Hillary Clinton refused "multiple requests for more security" in the months leading up the attacks.
Later in the interview, Gregory asked whether Benghazi is "disqualifying" for Clinton's potential 2016 candidacy, again allowing Sen. Paul to claim that Clinton "was not responsive to multiple requests for more security." Paul concluded that the American people "want a commander in chief that will send reinforcements, that will defend the country, and that will provide the adequate security," implying for a third time that Clinton refused security she knew was necessary to the Benghazi compound:
NBC and ABC's Sunday news shows turned to discredited architects of the Iraq War to opine on the appropriate U.S. response to growing violence in Iraq, without acknowledging their history of deceit and faulty predictions.
This week a Sunni Iraqi militant group (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) seized control of several Iraqi cities and is focusing their sights on taking control of Baghdad and the rest of the country. The United States is still debating a response to the escalating violence, and has reportedly moved an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf.
To discuss the growing unrest and potential threat of terrorism that could emerge, NBC's Meet The Press turned to Paul Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration.
Wolfowitz, who served in the Bush administration from 2001 -- 2005 as Deputy Secretary of Defense, is universally recognized as one of the original architects of the Iraq invasion. He infamously predicted the war reconstruction effort could pay for itself from Iraqi oil revenue (for reference, the cost of the Iraq War is now estimated to be more than $2 trillion), and publicly accused Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction long after the intelligence community informed the Pentagon that he did not. Later, Wolfowitz claimed that the conflict was primarily about liberating the Iraqi people rather than confronting the WMD threat, while also making the assertion -- without evidence -- that without the invasion, "we would have had a growing development of Saddam's support for terrorism."
Ten years after the start of the war, Wolfowitz admitted that the Bush administration bungled the conflict and should never have taken control of the country away from Iraqi leadership, despite having been the first senior Bush official after September 11, 2001 to call for Hussein's overthrow.
And on June 15 from his NBC platform, Wolfowitz opined that the current Iraqi violence could be traced to the absence of U.S. troops, suggesting that we should have stayed in Iraq just as we "stuck with South Korea for 60 years." When Meet The Press host David Gregory asked the former Bush official for advice on how to mitigate the potential terrorist threat merging from ISIS, saying "what do you do then, as a policy matter, to stop this," Wolfowitz responded that the Obama administration must convince the Middle East that the U.S. "is serious," arguing, "I would do something in Syria."
That same day ABC's This Week invited network contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol to discuss how the U.S. should handle the growing violence in Iraq, a notable decision given Kristol's poor record on Iraq War predictions.
Hosts of the network Sunday news shows treated Benghazi myths and facts with false equivalence, an approach that hides the truth about the tragedy.
The right-wing's manufactured hysteria over the release of new White House memos and the House GOP's announcement that it would form a special select committee brought the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya back into the spotlight on the May 4 Sunday news talk shows. The latest charge from conservative media is that a newly-released email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes preparing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk shows -- where she suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests -- was part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
In a seeming effort to provide false balance between the facts and the myths, the network news hosts lent credence to evidence-free claims by their guests, giving them equal weight with the truth.
Conservative media have rushed to praise the recent Supreme Court ruling which upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action policies, while ignoring the ruling's dangerous consequences for minority rights.
On the April 27 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, conservative author Mallory Factor applauded the decision by the Supreme Court in Schuette v. BAMN, in which the conservative justices of the Supreme Court effectively overturned decades of civil rights precedent and gutted a core component of equal protection law by giving Michigan voters the power to change their state's constitution to ban race-based university admissions. Factor praised the court for "finally saying, we're not going to make law from on high; we're going to leave law to the states and let the states make some decisions."
But Michigan provides a perfect example for why rights like these should be decided by the courts, and not left up to voters: over 80 percent of residents are white. The Supreme Court decision did not change the fact that race-conscious government action, such as affirmative action, remains constitutional, but it did open a door for state majorities to change their political systems unfairly disadvantage minorities -- and in a state like Michigan where white Americans are the overwhelming majority, it's all too easy to see the dangerous consequences this decision could have on civil rights.
The data shows the reality of these negative consequences. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that despite majority support for affirmative action programs around the country, a strong racial and partisan divide in opinion exists, with the overwhelming majority of those who oppose these policies being white and/or Republican:
As Think Progress reported, the decision also "sanctioned two tiers of access in our nation's colleges and universities: one for the children of donors, alumni, and other interest groups, and another for racial and ethnic minorities." Any non-minority group seeking to lobby the state's public universities for improved admissions standards in the future -- such as children of rich donors or legacies -- are free to petition the university directly, but minorities must overturn a state constitutional amendment.
In Michigan, the impact of the decision is already being felt by minority students. In addition to racist incidents and racial tensions on campuses around the country, the ACLU reported that enrollment of African-American students in Michigan has seen a dramatic decrease since Proposal 2, the act which barred the state's universities from considering race as an admission factor, took effect:
There has been a notable decline in minority enrollment since Proposal 2 took effect. For example, African-American enrollment plummeted 33 percent at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor between 2006 and 2012, even as overall enrollment grew by 10 percent.
Factor isn't the only one praising the Schuette ruling. Immediately after the Supreme Court's decision was announced, conservative media jumped to applaud it, hailing affirmative action as a form of reverse-racism. Right-wing media's praise for the decision for doing away with imaginary racial discrimination against white people ignores the fact that the case did not actually rule on affirmative action itself, but instead ruled to give states the power to ban affirmative action themselves through a ballot initiative.
By blindly praising the decision, conservative media cast aside the dangerous consequences it could have on civil rights by granting voters, instead of the courts, the power to make these decisions.