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  • STUDY: Evening Cable News Devoted Nearly 250 Segments To Wikileaks Emails In The 5 Weeks Before The Election

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ROB SAVILLO

    In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.

    After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.

    Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.

    Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

    In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”

    And Trump wasn’t alone.

    Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)

    Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.

    Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.

    Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).

    CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).

    On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.

    The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.

    USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.

    As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study[] Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”

    Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”

    The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:

    I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.

    The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).

    Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.

    For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.

    We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.

    For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”

  • Echoing Trump Team, NBC And MSNBC Figures Dismiss Claims About Russia And The President-Elect

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & NINA MAST

    NBC and MSNBC figures have adopted misleading language also used by President-elect Donald Trump and his advisors to criticize and dismiss claims that Russia may have compromising information on the president-elect. A statement released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that Trump was briefed on the allegations, which the intelligence community has not yet verified or discredited.

  • First Amendment Watch: December 2016

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks President-elect Donald Trump made against the media -- and instances in which he demonstrated disregard for the press -- during the month of December 2016.

  • Nightly News Fails, Samantha Bee Shines On Abortion Coverage In 2016

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & CAT DUFFY


    TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee drastically outshined nightly broadcast news shows in its coverage of abortion and reproductive rights during the first 11 months of 2016. The weekly comedy program, in just 31 episodes, spent more than twice as much time as any single nightly news show discussing abortion throughout the whole year, and host Samantha Bee’s coverage both delved into policy and debunked abortion myths, unlike the bulk of broadcast coverage. Broadcast news’ lacking coverage of reproductive rights, particularly in a year marked by several newsworthy events around abortion and abortion access, reflected the media’s larger failure to discuss substantive policy issues and left a gap that allowed conservative misinformation to dominate the national dialogue that did take place.

    A Media Matters study found that ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News spent a combined total of 46 minutes and 11 seconds discussing abortion and reproductive rights from January 1 to November 30. NBC led the broadcast networks in the time spent covering abortion, with 16 minutes and 23 seconds, while ABC and CBS spent 15 minutes and 52 seconds, and 13 minutes and 56 seconds, respectively, covering issues related to reproductive rights. By contrast, TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee spent a total of 39 minutes and 43 seconds discussing abortion from when the program premiered in February through November, meaning the weekly comedy program offered more than double the amount of time any one network dedicated to the issue.

    Throwing the disparity into even sharper relief, Full Frontal’s almost 40 minutes of abortion coverage took place over the course of 15 segments in just 31 episodes, while the nightly newscasts’ 46 minutes total took place over 37 segments in roughly 1,000 editions combined.

    Undercoverage Came Despite The Year’s Many Newsworthy Abortion Stories, And Despite Polling Showing Abortion Was One Of The Policy Topics Voters Cared About Most

    The lack of coverage about abortion on nightly broadcast news shows was totally at odds with the number and scope of major abortion stories in 2016. And a Pew Research Center report on important issues in the 2016 election found that 45 percent of respondents ranked abortion as “very important” in deciding their vote, placing abortion in the top 15 issues of the election cycle. There was no shortage of topics related to abortion and reproductive rights for the newscasts to focus on this year:

    • States Continued To Gut Abortion Access In New And Inventive Ways. States around the country passed a series of laws aimed at limiting access to abortion. In the first half of 2016, “17 states had passed 46 new abortion restrictions,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. These regulations included a requirement to hold a burial or cremation for any fetal remains (including those from miscarriages), misguided anesthesia requirements for abortions at 20 weeks or later, and even attempts to completely ban abortion.

    • Whole Woman’s Health Struck Down Unconstitutional Barriers For Abortion Access. The Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt dramatically reshaped the legal landscape of abortion rights by clarifying the “undue burden” standard, which limited the ability of states to regulate (and restrict) a woman’s access to abortion. The decision struck down the Texas anti-choice law HB-2, rejecting the “barely plausible” claims that it increased patient safety, thus issuing a strong rebuke to the “woman-protective anti-abortion” rhetoric that permeated the discussion of HB-2 and other Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, of which numerous other states also have versions. 

    • Trump’s Anti-Abortion Campaign Rhetoric And His Election Energized Anti-Choice Lawmakers And Anti-Abortion Activists. President-elect Donald Trump’s attacks on reproductive rights throughout the campaign included pledging to overturn Roe v. Wade, calling for women who have abortions to be punished, and pushing anti-choice myths like that of “partial-birth abortion.” Anti-choice lawmakers and activists, energized by Trump’s election, have continued plotting their assault on women’s health. As Politico reported, “Congressional Republicans are aiming to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood early next year,” in what would be “the single biggest victory for anti-abortion groups in years.”

    • The Supreme Court Punted In Zubik v. Burwell, Leaving Contraception Access In Limbo For Many Women. The Supreme Court in June sent Zubik v. Burwell, a consolidated case brought by religious nonprofits challenging the opt-out process of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, back to the lower courts in a deadlocked 4-4 decision, urging an appeals court to forge a compromise between the two parties and leaving millions of women without contraception access. As SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston explained, the nondecision created issues around “how soon the government can work out technical arrangements to provide actual access to the contraceptive benefits.”

    • Congressional Republicans Attempted, But Failed, To Defund Planned Parenthood. Congressional Republicans voted in January to strip $450 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood, marking “the first time a bill defunding Planned Parenthood has made it to the president's desk in more than 40 years,” according to Mother Jones. President Obama ultimately vetoed the legislation.

    • Republican Congressional “Witch Hunt” Targeted Women’s Health Care Providers. The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives continued its “witch hunt” against women’s health care providers in 2016, which has been based almost solely on misinformation and has put abortion providers, researchers, and patients at risk of violence. In their report, Republicans on the panel referred Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast to the Texas attorney general’s office, claiming that the group illegally profited from fetal tissue donations. Congressional Democrats on the panel accused the Republicans of using “McCarthy-era tactics” and abusing their power.

    • A New Report Discovered A Sharp Uptick In Anti-Choice Violence. A report released in April from the National Abortion Federation found “a dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” related to abortion. The report called the trend “alarming.”

    The lack of reproductive rights coverage on broadcast news reflected the broader pattern of policy discussions being omitted from election coverage. An October study by Tyndall Report found that evening newscasts dedicated a mere 32 minutes to substantive policy coverage throughout the whole year. Another study from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center found that only 10 percent of news coverage during the election focused on the candidates’ policy stances. By contrast, 42 percent of news reports focused on polling and horserace coverage.

    Samantha Bee Artfully Debunked Conservative Misinformation, Which News Media Allowed To Flourish With Its Lack Of Coverage

    The lack of nightly broadcast news coverage on abortion and reproductive rights allowed misinformation about abortion to gain traction in the media and in politics. For example, in the third general election presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace framed a question about abortion around the myth of partial-birth abortion. Trump echoed the partial-birth abortion myth in his answer, outrageously stating that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month [of pregnancy].” Vice President-elect Mike Pence also invoked the concept of “partial-birth abortion” to attack Clinton during the only vice presidential debate. These mentions marked the only two times abortion was discussed in the general election debates.

    While nightly news programs were failing to adequately cover abortion -- and allowing the partial-birth abortion myth to fester -- on Full Frontal, Bee explicitly called out the concept as a myth, exclaiming into a bullhorn, “Partial-birth abortions aren’t a thing.”

    Bee emphasized the “nonmedical” term’s origin as a "right-wing construct” made up by the National Right to Life Committee in the 1990s, and she explicitly called out Chris Wallace for “conflat[ing] partial-birth abortion -- which doesn't exist -- with late term abortion, which does, rarely.” Bee also mocked Trump for his comment about babies being ripped from the womb at nine months, pointing out that “removing a baby from a woman's womb in the ninth month isn't an abortion -- it's a birth.” Bee’s coverage of the third presidential debate set a model for media to call out other media figures and politicians who adopt right-wing media fictions, like “partial-birth abortion,” to attack and demonize reproductive rights and the people who support them.

    Bee also directly refused false claims that politicians and conservative media pushed in defense of HB-2, which the Supreme Court overturned in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In oral arguments in the case, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller falsely claimed that the regulations the law put in place, which included requirements that facilities where women get abortions meet the same standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASC) and that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, were medically necessary. Keller also asserted that the law wouldn’t reduce access to abortion services because “the six most populous areas of Texas” would be able to perform “over 9,000 abortions annually.” A report for the University of Texas in January found that the law had already “delayed and in some cases prevented” abortions altogether.

    Bee interviewed Texas Republican state Rep. Dan Flynn -- one of the authors of HB-2 -- and exposed the flawed logic behind the arguments that HB-2 supports women’s health care. Bee pointedly asked, “How does removing access to health care increase health care?” and she corrected Flynn when he asserted that abortion involves “cutting on people’s bodies,” noting that “you don’t cut a woman in an abortion, though.” And Bee debunked Flynn’s claims of increased safety and clinic access, asking, “Have you thought about regulating the safety of back alleys? Because that’s where a lot of women will be having their abortions now.”

    Crucially, Bee also spotlighted Americans United for Life (AUL), “an anti-choice group that creates boilerplate bills for lawmakers around the U.S.” that restrict abortion rights. Bee called out Flynn’s lack of knowledge about reproductive health, saying, “you don’t seem to know anything specifically about abortion, really at all,” and explaining -- in a way most news media fail to do -- the process through which AUL’s restrictive anti-choice model legislation is passed in state legislatures.

    Full Frontal offered a clinic in how to properly debunk conservative misinformation on abortion. From her deep dive investigations into long-standing myths to her monologues responding to contemporary events, Samantha Bee set the bar for news coverage of abortion issues.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ media for mentions of “abortion,” “Planned Parenthood,” “women’s health,” “reproductive rights,” “Center for Medical Progress,” “Roe v. Wade,” and “Whole Woman’s Health” in editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, NBC’s Nightly News, and TBS’ Full Frontal that aired between January 1 and November 30. For this study, Media Matters included only those segments where the stated topic of discussion was abortion or where the discussion contained "substantial discussion" about abortion (defined as a discussion in which two or more speakers had at least one direct exchange on abortion). We identified four types of segments: a host monologue, a news package or news report, a panel discussion, or an interview. We did not include teasers for upcoming segments. Segments identified were timed using iQ media.

    Sarah Wasko contributed graphics to this piece

  • News Reports Uncritically Portray Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson As Climate Change Advocate

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & ANDREW SEIFTER

    Several media outlets reporting on President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state have uncritically described Tillerson as accepting of climate change and supportive of a carbon tax. But these reports ignored scientifically inaccurate claims Tillerson has made about climate change, Exxon’s continued financial support of groups that deny climate science, inconsistencies by both Tillerson and Exxon on whether they truly support a carbon tax, and fierce opposition to Tillerson’s nomination from leading environmental groups -- not to mention the fact that Exxon is under investigation in several states for possibly violating state laws by deceiving shareholders and the public about climate change.

  • Broadcast News Ignores NC GOP's “Unprecedented Power Grab”

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Broadcast news completely ignored an unprecedented move by North Carolina Republicans to limit the power of the state’s incoming Democratic governor. A series of measures put forth by the Republican-controlled legislature have been criticized as a way to “subvert the will of the voters,” and an elections law expert noted that they could spur legal challenges.

    Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly held a special session on December 14 in which they proposed a series of laws to strip away power from the state’s incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, including a bill that “removes partisan control of the state and county election boards from the governor,” according to The New York Times. Instead, the Times noted, “a Republican will lead the state board during election years and a Democrat in nonelection years.” A CNN.com report outlined other proposed legislation from the “unprecedented power grab,” including bills to slow the judicial process for the governor to bring legal battles to the state Supreme Court, to block Cooper from appointing members to the state Board of Education and the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina, and to reduce the number of appointments in the Cooper administration from 1,200 to 300.

    The special session was a surprise, called suddenly and immediately after the conclusion of another special session to address disaster relief. As The Atlantic noted, “legislators used the same obscure maneuver they did when they passed HB2,” an anti-LGBTQ law that governs access to public bathrooms, “calling themselves back into session with the support of three-fifths of legislators.” Several media figures have pointed out that the backlash against HB 2 -- which invalidated local governments' ability to provide legal protections for LGBTQ people -- was likely a deciding factor in Gov. Pat McCrory’s recent re-election loss. The Atlantic article also explained that Republican House Speaker Tim Moore claimed “the decision to open the second special session had been made only Wednesday,” December 14, which was “a lie that was quickly revealed by the list of signatures from legislators needed to call the session, dated December 12.”

    None of these details, however, have been reported on any national broadcast news programs since Wednesday. A review of the December 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, NBC’s Nightly News, and of the December 15 and 16 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today found no mentions of the attempted power grab. Local affiliates of all three networks did cover the story.

    Other national and internet media outlets also covered the unprecedented moves. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “This last-minute power grab marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms” and is “a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.” The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards criticized the North Carolina Republicans for “resorting to a novel strategy to subvert the will of the voters” and attempting a “graceless power grab.” CNN and MSNBC have also covered what MSNBC’s Chris Hayes described as a “legislative coup.” New York magazine reported that the bills will get a vote on December 20, but that the new measures may spur a larger battle. As elections law expert Rick Hasen explained, some of the measures would spur “potential Voting Rights Act and federal constitutional challenges.”

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Snapstream and iQ media for mentions of “North Carolina” on the December 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News and the December 15 and 16 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today.

  • Nightly News Shows Combat Fake News About Pizzeria With Real Reporting

    ABC, NBC, CBS Show “How A Fake News Story Can Lead To A Real Life-Threatening Situation"

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Nightly news programs on NBC, CBS, and ABC examined “how a fake news story can lead to real world consequences” in their reports on a shooting incident at Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, DC, pizzeria.

    Accused shooter Edgar Welch entered the pizzeria on December 4 with an AR-15 assault rifle, fired at least one round into the floor, and told authorities he was there to “self-investigate” the conspiracy theory that dozens of prominent liberals are complicit in an international child sex trafficking ring, because emails stolen from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta referenced “pizza.”

    While conservative media outlets have typically downplayed fake news stories calling them “silly” and “nonsense,” broadcast nightly news programs on NBC, CBS, and ABC reported how fake news can have dangerous consequences.

    NBC correspondent Tom Costello reported on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that “the Pizzagate conspiracy began with the Clinton WikiLeaks and an email stolen from campaign chief John Podesta about a fundraiser involving the restaurant.” Costello noted that 4chan users “suggested without any proof whatsoever that the word ‘pizza’ was code for ‘child sex trafficking’ at the restaurant,” and from there the malicious rumor spread “to Reddit and YouTube, feeding fake online news stories, then jumping to Facebook and Twitter.” Even though “both DC police and federal agents say the story is false,” Costello added that “discredited rumors about sex trafficking” targeting Democrats are “even shared by President-Elect Trump’s choice for national security adviser, General Michael T. Flynn.”:

    On CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelley, Chip Reid took apart the “fictitious online conspiracy theory” started by “right-wing sites that make up fake news” alleging Clinton and her associates were involved in a pedophile ring. Host Scott Pelley noted that the shooter gave up when he “found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant,” as the lies on the internet baselessly alleged:

    ABC senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas highlighted the “egregious and deliberate lie” that is the Pizzagate conspiracy on ABC World News Tonight with Scott Pelley. Thomas reported that the suspect “aimed a rifle at an employee and fired a round into the floor” because he decided to “self-investigate” the “utterly false story about child abuse” at Comet Ping Pong. Thomas further reported that “employees have been besieged by death threats” since the right-wing lie gained traction online, “shows how a fake news story can lead to a real life-threatening situation”:

  • News Networks Sidelined Trump's Conflicts Of Interest Until His Election

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO

    The broadcast networks’ flagship evening news programs failed to inform their viewers about the inherent conflicts of interest a potential Donald Trump presidency would bring in the months leading up to Election Day, and have not given the subject the urgency it deserves in the wake of his election, according to a Media Matters review.

    Between September 14 and Election Day, the networks only aired approximately seven minutes of stories about or at least mentioning a conflict of interest. In the week after the election, they aired approximately 14 minutes -- but only half of that explicitly called the issues “conflicts.”

    Trump has said throughout his campaign and following his election that he intends for his children to run his business empire while he is president. But on September 14, Newsweek reported that if Trump and his family don’t cut ties to the family’s business conglomerate, Trump would “be the most conflicted president in American history, one whose business interests will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” due to the Trump Organization’s relationships and financial entanglements with foreign interests.” Responding to that story, Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told Media Matters that the only way to avoid serious conflicts of interest would be for Trump and his family to sell all of their holdings in the Trump Organization. Painter also stressed that the issue was a “serious problem” that warrants increased media attention.

    Painter sounded some of the earliest alarms about Trump’s conflicts. Speaking with Mother Jones in June, he explained that the idea of a sitting president holding any debt owed to an entity that the government regulates should disturb the public: “[H]aving a president who owes a lot of money to banks, particularly when it's on negotiable terms -- it puts them at the mercy of the banks and the banks are at the mercy of regulators.”

    The flood of potential and actual conflicts of interest have been made manifest following Trump’s election. A Washington Post investigation recently revealed a sprawling, globe-trotting Trump empire, showing that the president-elect’s real estate, management, and branding companies have business interests in at least 18 countries or territories. The Post also reported over the weekend that foreign diplomats had flocked to an event at the Trump International Hotel, located just a few blocks from the White House, seeking “to curry favor or access with the next president.”

    The New York Times reported that developers of Trump Towers Pune, located in Pune, India, flew to New York last week to meet with the Trumps during the president-elect’s initial stages of his transition to the White House. Pranav R. Bhakta, a consultant who helped Trump establish a foothold in the Indian market five years ago, told the Times, “To say, ‘I have a Trump flat or residence’ -- it’s president-elect branded. It’s that recall value. If they didn’t know Trump before, they definitely know him now.”

    These recent events should have come as no surprise, yet the network news hardly mentioned the conflicts of interest inherent in Trump’s global business ties before or after the election.

    Media Matters looked at ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir, CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelley, and NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt for reports on Trump’s conflicts of interest -- including the Trump Organization’s ties to foreign governments or businesses, Trump promoting his own businesses through the presidency, plans for Trump’s children taking over the Trump Organization through a “blind” trust or attempting to access security clearances, and Trump’s children using their access to the president-elect to promote their own businesses -- starting from Newsweek’s September 14 article.

    From then until Election Day, the networks spent approximately seven minutes on stories about or at least mentioning a conflict of interest. NBC aired a three-minute segment, and ABC aired a three-and-a-half-minute segment. Both were about Trump using his campaign to promote his own businesses; however, neither explicitly pointed to potential upcoming conflicts of interest should Trump win the election. NBC briefly mentioned the Newsweek report in a segment about corruption in the Trump Foundation, and the night before the election, the network again briefly mentioned the conflict of interest of Trump’s business ties for about eight seconds.

    In the week after the election, the networks have devoted more coverage to these conflicts of interest, but it hasn’t been enough. From November 9 to 16, the networks spent approximately 14 minutes on stories about or at least mentioning a conflict of interest, but only half of those explicitly called them conflicts. They spent a total of about seven minutes on Trump’s foreign business ties, six minutes on Trump’s children helping with the president-elect’s transition or vying for security clearances, and two minutes on Ivanka Trump using a photo of herself in Trump’s recent 60 Minutes interview to sell a bracelet that retails for over $10,000.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched news transcripts from the Nexis database for mentions of any variations of “conflict,” “corrupt,” “organization,” “trust,” “business,” “interest,” “cabinet,” “transition,” or “divest” within the same paragraph as “Trump” for ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir, CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelley, and NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt from September 14 through November 16. We reviewed video to determine length of coverage.

  • Trump's Transition Signals He Will Continue To Be Incredibly Hostile To The Press

    Journalists Need To Stand Up Or Risk Losing Traditional Access Forever

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In the week following the election, President-elect Donald Trump’s actions in curtailing the access of the press and continuing to lash out at media outlets have demonstrated the need for journalists to take a stand before those restrictions and behaviors are codified under a Trump administration.

    So far during his transition period, Trump has violated the norms of any president or president-elect when it comes to his relations with the media. Most recently, on November 15, Trump left his home to get dinner without his press pool, after his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, had told reporters that nothing else would happen that day. As the Huffington Post wrote, “Private events, such as family dinners, can be closed to the press, but reporters should be made aware of them.” CNN’s Brian Stelter explained that Trump’s behavior “breaks with well-established norms governing a president's relationship with the press corps,” adding, “Those same norms are also applicable to the president-elect.” The president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, Jeff Mason, criticized Trump’s actions as “unacceptable,” while Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, noted on Twitter that Trump should have told the press where he was going and “a press van would normally be included in the motorcade” even if “the pool waits outside” the restaurant.

    This was hardly the first instance in the past week where Trump made his hostility to the press known. On November 10, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Trump “refused to allow journalists to travel with him to Washington for his historic first meetings with President Barack Obama and congressional leaders” after his aides “rebuffed news organizations' requests for a small ‘pool’ of journalists to trail him as he attended the meetings.” The Washington Post noted that later in the day, “Trump ditched the media again” and provided the press with no information about his whereabouts. The White House Correspondents’ Association said in statement at the time that they were “deeply concerned” by his disregard for the press.

    Since the election, Trump has taken to Twitter several times to lash out at The New York Times for their “BAD coverage.” In a November 13 tweet, Trump falsely claimed that the Times was “losing thousands of subscribers because of their very poor and highly inaccurate coverage” about him, despite the fact that the paper is adding subscribers.

    Trump also has not held a news conference since being elected, which NBC News explained is “the longest any recent president has waited to speak to the press.” In fact, Trump's last press conference was in July. NBC added, “The media covering the president-elect have also not yet been offered briefings on his transition efforts, which was a typical practice for past presidents that allowed the public to keep apprised of the details of the new government.”

    In addition, Trump is reportedly considering conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham to serve as White House press secretary, despite Ingraham’s hostility and disdain towards media, especially Spanish-speaking outlets, which she has claimed are “toxic” and “revile the American experience.”

    Trump’s campaign for the White House offered no positive signs for the future of his relationship with media. Trump declared war on the press, which included mocking specific reporters as “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time.” He retreated to softball interviews during the final weeks of the campaign with largely friendly interviewers, Fox News, and fringe media.

    Trump also argued in favor of making it easier to sue the media for libel, even threatening to sue The New York Times for a report in which two women say he groped them. The Trump campaign also released a statement threatening that a Trump administration would “break up” media conglomerates that criticized him.

    During the campaign, the Committee to Protect Journalists declared Trump an “unprecedented threat” to free press. So far, his transition has indicated that won’t be changing anytime soon.

  • STUDY: Cable And Broadcast Coverage Of The Economy Stumbles In Election Season

    Economists Made Up Roughly 8 Percent Of Guests In Third Quarter Of 2016 Amid Rampant Misinformation From Trump Campaign

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Cable and broadcast news outlets dedicated considerably less airtime to the economy in the third quarter of 2016 compared to the previous three-month period, as media focused increasingly on the presidential horserace. The proportion of economic news segments touching on economic inequality increased relative to the previous quarter, but the tone of coverage revealed problematic trends toward misinformation as Fox News assumed an even more prominent role in shaping the dialogue. The relative proportion of economists featured as guests during qualifying segments reached an all-time high during the third quarter as outlets struggled to keep up with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s shifting and often-contradictory tax and economic policy proposals.

  • Study Confirms Network Evening Newscasts Have Abandoned Policy Coverage For 2016 Campaign

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Walking away from a long-standing tradition of covering issues and presidential policies during campaign season, the network evening newscasts have all but abandoned that type of reporting this year, according to recent tabulations from Tyndall Report, which for decades has tracked the flagship nightly news programs.

    Since the beginning of 2016, ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News have devoted just 32 minutes to issues coverage, according to Andrew Tyndall.

    Differentiating issues coverage from daily campaign coverage where policy topics might be addressed, Tyndall defines issues coverage by a newscast this way: “It takes a public policy, outlines the societal problem that needs to be addressed, describes the candidates' platform positions and proposed solutions, and evaluates their efficacy.”

    And here’s how that kind of in-depth coverage breaks down, year to date, by network:

    ABC: 8 minutes, all of which covered terrorism.

    NBC: 8 minutes for terrorism, LBGT issues, and foreign policy.

    CBS: 16 minutes for foreign policy, terrorism, immigration, policing, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    And this remarkable finding from Tyndall [emphasis added]:

    No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits. To the extent that these issues have been mentioned, it has been on the candidates' terms, not on the networks' initiative.

    These numbers are staggering in terms of the complete retreat they represent from issues-orientated campaign coverage. Just eight years ago, the last time both parties nominated new candidates for the White House, the network newscasts devoted 220 minutes to issues coverage, compared to only 32 minutes so far this year. (CBS Evening News went from 119 minutes of issues coverage in 2008 to 16 this year.)

    Note that during the Republican primary season alone, the networks spent 333 minutes focusing on Donald Trump. Yet for all of 2016, they have set aside just one-tenth of that for issue reporting.

    And look at this: Combined, the three network newscasts have slotted 100 minutes so far this year for reporting on Hillary Clinton’s emails while she served as secretary of state, but just 32 minutes for all issues coverage. (NBC’s Nightly News has spent 31 minutes on the emails this year; just eight minutes on issues.)

    Indeed, this approach used to be a hallmark of presidential campaign reporting; outline what candidates stand for, describe what their presidency might look like, and compare and contrast that platform with his or her opponents. i.e. What would the new president’s top priorities be on the first day of his or her new administration?

    It seems clear that the media’s abandonment of issues coverage benefits Trump since his campaign has done very little to outline the candidate’s core beliefs. Clinton, by contrast, has done the opposite.

    As the Associated Press reported, “Trump’s campaign has posted just seven policy proposals on his website, totaling just over 9,000 words. There are 38 on Clinton’s ‘issues’ page, ranging from efforts to cure Alzheimer’s disease to Wall Street and criminal justice reform, and her campaign boasts that it has now released 65 policy fact sheets, totaling 112,735 words.”

    Tyndall’s findings echo what other media researchers have found this campaign season, and what commentators have been noting for months:

    A study released last month from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy confirmed that during the time of both parties’ conventions this summer, just eight percent of news coverage centered on policy and issues.

    “During the convention period, even though questions of policy and leadership were on the agenda within the halls of the national conventions, they were not on journalists’ agenda,” wrote Harvard University professor Thomas Patterson. “Polls, projections, strategy and the like constituted about a fifth of all coverage, whereas issues took up less than 1/12 and the candidates’ qualifications for the presidency accounted for less than 1/13.”

    Part of the purpose of campaign coverage, including at the flagship network newscasts, is to help inform voters about key issues of public concern. It’s troubling that the networks have decided this year to walk away from that responsibility.

  • Evening News Programs, USA Today Ignore Climate Change Context Of Hurricane Matthew

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The broadcast networks' evening news programs did not address climate change in their coverage of Hurricane Matthew, even when they reported on an event where Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore explained the role that climate change played in worsening the storm's damage. USA Today also ignored the climate context of the storm, while other major newspapers covered it briefly in their print editions, and some published more extensive articles on their websites.

  • NBC Keeps Digging After Starting Dud Clinton Email Story That Trump Campaign Ran With

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    After scandalizing communications from the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton regarding publicly available information about a court hearing, NBC continues to engage in sloppy reporting on the matter. Citing hacked emails, an NBC News reporter first brought attention to a Clinton campaign email thread discussing litigation regarding the release of Clinton’s work emails. Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign subsequently seized upon the report to baselessly suggest “collusion” between the Department of Justice and top aides to Clinton. While other news outlets have explained that the emails present no evidence of impropriety and are merely discussions of a routine -- and public -- litigation update, NBC properties have continued to suggest otherwise.