This week, all four major broadcast networks covered extreme weather and climate change on their Sunday morning political talk shows. Those programs have largely ignored global warming in recent years, making their effort to address the issue unusual and laudable. But several of the segments also demonstrated the vulnerability inherent in treating science as a political debate where both sides receive a platform to air their positions.
Major winter storms across the U.S. in the month of February, drought in California, and President Obama's call for a $1 billion climate change "resilience fund" sparked debates this week over the need for action against climate change. The science of global warming is settled: according to one survey, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that "humans are causing global warming." But the Sunday shows, because they are built on a model of showing political conflicts, have difficulty putting that fact in context.
ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press both featured debates between individuals who support and oppose the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, creating a false balance that could serve to confuse their viewers. Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, meanwhile, hosted a discussion in which no panelist stated that human-caused climate change is occurring while several claimed that it is not. CBS' Face the Nation, by contrast, featured an interview with a scientist who explained that "we know that climate change is happening and humans are contributing."
The broadcast Sunday shows devoted a paltry 27 minutes of coverage to climate change in 2013, according to a Media Matters study. Nearly 60 percent of that coverage came on Face the Nation; Meet the Press did not mention the issue all year. Face the Nation also featured the first interview of a scientist to discuss global warming by any of the programs in five years.
It's a good sign that the Sunday shows are addressing global warming, but treating it as just another political issue causes new complications.
Republicans and conservatives were hosted more often than Democrats and progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning political talk shows. Fox News Sunday was particularly slanted toward the right while ABC's This Week was the only program to feature as many progressives as conservatives.
Two dozen women leaders and organizations have signed a letter to the six network and cable news heads expressing their concern for the lack of gender diversity on Sunday morning political talk shows.
A Media Matters report found that in 2013, men made up more than 70 percent of the guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, and CNN's State of the Union. Only MSNBC's Up and Melissa Harris-Perry reached near parity, with women making up 44 percent of total guests. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time. The top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews were all men. Media Matters also found that gender diversity has not improved on the broadcast political talk shows in the past five years.
The heads of 24 organizations which advocate for women and women's representation in media wrote to the Presidents and Chairs of the broadcast and cable networks, expressing "deep concern" for the lack of diversity and urging them to take action to ensure the morning political talk shows "more accurately reflect the demographics of our diverse nation":
With male guests vastly outnumbering female guests on Sunday morning broadcasts, women lose out in shaping the national discourse, and your viewers miss important points of view.
There are qualified women to speak on issues affecting all Americans, including national security, economic growth, climate change, education and many others. But when it comes to reproductive health, equal pay, and other subjects disproportionately affecting women, it becomes increasingly imperative that Sunday political talk shows reflect our democracy. This is particularly important since these shows frequently set the tone for how these topics are covered later in the week.
The full letter can be read below.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on the broadcast and CNN Sunday morning talk shows in 2013. Melissa Harris-Perry continued to be the most ethnically diverse program.
Want to know if women's representation in media is improving? Here's one indication it's not: the percentage of female guests on the Sunday morning broadcast political talk shows is the same as it was five years ago.
According to a Media Matters analysis, male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday broadcast political talk shows in 2013, with women making up only 25 percent of all guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time on the same programs. In fact, the top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews in 2013 were all men.
This vast underrepresentation of women on political talk shows that often set the agenda is disheartening -- but the number appears even worse when looked at over time.
Female guests made up only 24 percent of guests on the Sunday morning broadcast shows back in 2008 according to Media Matters' data, an insignificant change over the past five years.
One reason for this may be that the pool of potential guests for these shows has also not gotten significantly more diverse over the past five years. The most common guests were in 2013 were journalists and pundits, a profession which is overwhelmingly male. Newsroom diversity has been stagnant for over a decade, with the percentage of women in newsrooms never exceeding 38 percent.
The second most common profession among guests in 2013 on those programs were politicians. According to the Nation Women's Political Caucus, in 2013 women made up only 18.3 percent of Congress, a (shockingly low) number which was not much of an improvement from 2008, when women were 17 percent of Congress.
The lack of diversity in newsrooms and Congress, however, does not entirely excuse the broadcast shows from consistently failing to invite women to the table. In 2013, MSNBC managed to have women make up 44 percent of guests on their Sunday morning political talk shows, with Melissa Harris-Perry (which debuted in 2012) leading in gender diversity by hosting women 47 percent of the time. Broadcast political talk shows have a lot of catching up to do to ensure women have equal participation in our national media.
Let's hope it doesn't take another five years.
Charts by Oliver Willis.
Male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday morning broadcast and CNN political talk shows in 2013, according to a Media Matters review. MSNBC's programs gave women a significantly greater opportunity to voice their opinions.
A Media Matters review of the Sunday morning political talk shows finds that white males largely dominated the guest lists in 2013. MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry and Up with Steve Kornacki achieved greater ethnic and gender diversity than the broadcast shows or CNN's State of the Union. Overall, conservatives outnumbered progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning shows.
If you are a woman, you no longer have the same rights you had 41 years ago.
January 22 is the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, in which the court ruled that women have a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.
But in the intervening decades, that right has largely disappeared, a process helped by media outlets that have misinformed on these safe and legal health procedures.
Thanks to Supreme Court rulings that came after Roe, states are now free to regulate and restrict abortion so long as new laws do not impose an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose. But state legislatures are currently testing what qualifies as an undue burden, and in 2013 alone 70 different anti-choice restrictions were adopted in 22 states across the U.S. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more abortion restrictions have been enacted in the past three years than in the entire previous decade.
In December, Ian Millhiser and Tara Culp-Ressler published a thoughtful piece about this process at ThinkProgress headlined, "The Greatest Trick The Supreme Court Ever Pulled Was Convincing The World Roe v. Wade Still Exists." They argued that while a woman's right to choose an abortion is still ostensibly covered by the constitution, the reality is that right is increasingly restricted to just wealthy women who happen to live in (or are able to travel to) one of the few states that will still permit them the opportunity to exercise that right.
This sustained attack on women's rights is fast becoming a key issue for politicians in the 2014 midterms. But the media have also played a sizeable role in this process, contributing to the vanishing power of Roe by allowing anti-choicers to control the conversation.
A Media Matters analysis reveals that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX picked up in 2013 over the previous year, but remained lower than a 2009 high. Furthermore, while one Sunday show interviewed scientists about climate change, distinguishing itself as the first such program to do so in five years, these shows continued to rely largely on media figures and Republicans to dictate the conversation around global warming.
Not once but twice in recent days Meet The Press host David Gregory announced that the troubled launch of President Obama's new health care law is roughly the equivalent to President Bush's badly bungled war with Iraq. The NBC anchor was quick to point out that he didn't mean the two events were the same with regards to a death toll. (Nobody has died from health care reform.) But Gregory was sure that in terms of how the former president and the current president are viewed, in terms of damage done to their credibility, the men will be forever linked to a costly, bloody war and a poorly functioning website, respectively.
"Everybody looked at Bush through the prism of Iraq," Gregory explained. "Here, I think people are going to look at Obama through the implementation of Obamacare." It's Obama's defining event of their two-term presidency. It's a catastrophic failure that's tarnished Obama's second term, and will perhaps "wreck" his entire presidency, according to the media's "doom-mongering bubble," as Kevin Drum at Mother Jones described it.
But like the painfully inappropriate comparisons to Hurricane Katrina that have populated the press, Gregory's attempt to draw a Bush/Obama parallel is equally senseless. Bush's war morass stretched over five years, so of course it defined his presidency. Obama's health care woes are in week number six and could be fixed within the next month.
There's something else in play here though, as the Beltway press corps strains to anoint Obama as the new Bush, as it tries to convince news consumers that Obama's failures simply show how presidents are so alike, as are the crises they face and sometimes create. An American city drowned in slow motion following Hurricane Katrina? The United States launched a senseless, pre-emptive war that will drain the U.S. Treasury for decades to come? Well, Obama's Healthcare.gov website doesn't work very well!
This is the mother lode of false equivalency.
But note that the casual attempt to connect the current health care setbacks with the war in Iraq represents a particularly disingenuous attempt to downgrade Bush's historical failures, and to cover the media's tracks of deception.
Fact: You can't talk about the Iraq War as a political event without addressing the central role the U.S. media played in the botched run-up to the war, and the fevered and futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction. By suggesting that Obama's six-week health care crisis puts him in the same position of Bush following the Iraq invasion softens not only the magnitude of Bush's failures, but the media's as well. It's an effort to downplay the massive missteps that led to the war and to trivialize the staggering costs still being paid by Americans. (The Bush and media failures surrounding Iraq are forever linked.)
"No pundit should be allowed to use Iraq as a measuring tool until they are willing to have an honest discussion about their role in selling the country on Iraq," wrote PoliticsUSA's Sarah Jones this week. And she's right.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
In the first nine months of 2013, white men dominated the guest lists on the broadcast network Sunday shows and CNN's State of the Union. MSNBC was the only network achieving notable diversity in its guests, particularly on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Republicans and conservatives are hosted significantly more on the broadcast Sunday shows than Democrats and progressives.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed to support increasing the number mental health records in the gun background check system, even though his organization was instrumental in blocking legislation that would have made that change earlier this year.
LaPierre appeared on the September 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press to deliver his first public comments since the September 16 mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. During the segment, LaPierre claimed that "the NRA supported the gun check because we thought the mental records would be in the system." In April his organization was singled out by President Obama for influencing the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal to improve the background check system that was filibustered by a largely-Republican coalition of Senators. The NRA falsely claimed that the legislation would have created a national gun registry, even as the bill itself explicitly prohibited such an action. Instead, Machin-Toomey would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales -- including sales at gun shows and over the Internet -- and would have increased the number of disqualifying records in the background check system.
LaPierre bemoaned the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI-administered tool for processing background checks on gun sales from licensed dealers, is missing mental health records that would disqualify individuals from buying a gun. However, Manchin-Toomey would have given states funding incentives and disincentives for submitting records. NRA-backed alternative legislation would have also provided funding incentives to increase the number of records, but would have weakened the background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system.
David Gregory is set to host National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre on this Sunday's Meet the Press. It's LaPierre's first Sunday show interview since March and a rare opportunity to put the NRA chief under the microscope.
In his past coverage of the gun violence debate, Gregory has demonstrated the ability to push back on LaPierre's spin and force him to account for his group's intransigence. But he's also shown a willingness to adopt false media tropes about the supposed electoral weakness of lawmakers who back stronger gun laws.
In recent days, following the recalls of two Colorado state senators who supported stronger gun laws and the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard shooting, some in the media have suggested that no progress on the issue is possible, a lazy claim that could shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws. Here are a few things Gregory should remember to avoid falling into that conventional wisdom trap.
Legislation to expand background checks to cover private sales, which failed to receive a supermajority in the Senate earlier this year, is favored by an overwhelming majority of the American people. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that bill should have passed. A majority of Americans also support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The evidence does not back up the claims from some pundits that the Colorado recall elections show that Democrats should avoid the issue of stronger gun laws if they want electoral success. The gun laws passed in Colorado earlier this year, which remain on the books, are popular statewide, with more than 80 percent of Coloradans supporting the expanded background check law and a plurality supporting the limit on high-capacity magazines. The recall elections featured shockingly low turnouts of 21 and 36 percent; turnout was likely reduced by efforts from recall supporters to prevent the use of mail-in ballots that the state usually uses. While opponents of stronger gun laws did succeed in their efforts to remove two state senators, they originally had targeted two more but failed to qualify for the ballot. And President Obama and the state's governor and senator all won recent elections despite fervent opposition from the NRA.
NBC News' Chuck Todd claimed that Congressional Republicans refrained from talking about Benghazi on the one-year anniversary of the attacks -- the statements and actions of at least seven GOP officials on September 11 prove otherwise.
September 11, 2013 marked the twelve-year anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history and the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Over the last year, congressional Republicans and conservative media have formed an echo chamber of lies, smears, and conspiracies related to the Benghazi attacks and the Obama administration's handling of its aftermath.
On Meet the Press the Sunday following the anniversary, NBC News' Chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd claimed that Republicans withheld from discussing Benghazi during the one-year anniversary of the attacks: (emphasis added)
DAVID GREGORY (host): Meanwhile, we're talking about not only twelve years after 9/11, and the Middle East, Benghazi, back as a political focus this week.
TODD: It is. The House Republicans have not dropped this as an issue. They didn't talk about it last week during the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attack, but this week on Thursday alone, three different hearings are going to be taking place on the same day on Capitol Hill. House Republicans, they don't want to drop this.
But House and Senate Republicans alike jumped at the opportunity to push Benghazi falsehoods on the anniversary of the attacks.
Several elected Republicans took to the friendly airwaves of Fox News on Wednesday, September 11 to politicize the year-old attacks and condemn the president's response. Republican Congressman Frank Wolf (VA) suggested the Obama administration was hampering an investigation into the Benghazi attacks when he spoke on Fox's America Live. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) went on Fox's Your World and complained that the debate over intervention in Syria is a distraction from the Benghazi attacks "where nothing ever occurred to ... bring people to justice." Later, on Fox's On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, both Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) launched multiple attacks on Obama to intimate that the administration was not committed to investigating Benghazi.