Major broadcast and cable news networks are failing in their coverage of the transgender community, prioritizing sensational depictions of transgender people while ignoring important transgender stories, including the recent murders of seven transgender women of color, according to a new Media Matters report.
Broadcast, cable, and national Spanish-language news networks struggled to appropriately report on stories related to the transgender community -- when they choose to discuss those stories at all. A Media Matters report tracking transgender coverage on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, Telemundo and Univision in the first two months of 2015 raises concerns over the types of transgender stories being told in news media and the extent to which transgender people are allowed to speak for themselves on national television.
Coverage of transgender stories on national news networks varies greatly. MSNBC and CNN, for example, devoted significant coverage to stories involving the trans community, while Fox News, ABC, and NBC largely avoided substantive discussions of transgender issues:
Of the cable and broadcast Sunday news shows, only MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry featured a discussion of trans issues:
When networks did discuss transgender stories, coverage was largely focused on the unusual circumstances of high-profile transgender individuals, rather than the shared experiences of the transgender community. Though CNN spent forty-six minutes discussing transgender issues, for example, over 80% coverage was centered on TV personality Bruce Jenner's transition.
MSNBC's transgender coverage, on the other hand, spotlighted more substantive issues, including the military's ban on transgender service members, Smith College's rejection of a transgender applicant, and shifting representations of trans people in the media:
While a few news hosts, including MSNBC's Melissa Harris Perry and CNN's Don Lemon, used these stories as opportunities to talk about broader issues affecting the transgender community, the norm was overwhelmingly in favor of focusing on the particularities of already sensationalized news events.
This kind of sensationalized focus on trans issues is both misleading and disempowering. In a March 2015 study of transgender representation in the media for the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, Jamie Colette Capuzza wrote:
[T]ransgender people are largely "symbolically annihilated" by the mainstream news industry. Such invisibility makes this population more vulnerable to the power of other types of media images. Consumers may encounter transgender people more often than in the past, but these images lay primarily within entertainment media; even within the news genre, transgender people are featured more often in entertainment, arts, sports, and lifestyle sections. Audiences learn that transgender people are sources of entertainment more than they learn that transgender people face consequential and newsworthy obstacles as a community. [emphasis added]
Cable, broadcast, and Spanish language news networks largely ignored an "epidemic of deadly violence" against the transgender community in the first two months of 2015, despite devoting coverage to various transgender stories. When networks discussed transgender issues, they often failed to include the voices of transgender individuals, especially transgender women of color.
From the April 8 edition of NBC's Today:
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A broad coalition of 39 major Latino organizations has issued a letter to the heads of six major U.S. English-language broadcasters asking them to work towards better Hispanic guest inclusion on the Sunday morning political talk shows.
The letter, issued by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) and addressed to the heads of ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, expresses the group's "deep frustration regarding the continued lack of Hispanic voices" on their agenda-setting Sunday political programs and urges them to "take immediate action to increase Hispanic guest bookings and broaden the scope of issues that include their voices."
Hector Sanchez, NHLA chairman and executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, said in a statement that the lack of Hispanic inclusion on those programs "results in distorting the image of our community's contributions to the life of our nation." Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), added: "It is irresponsible to exclude the perspectives of 17 percent of the U.S. population from the airwaves."
Only seven percent of guests on English-language Sunday shows during the last eighteen weeks of 2014 were Latino, according to a Media Matters study. While the letter notes that this proves "an increase from the two percent representation found in a 2011 report by the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts," these numbers remain significantly short of the 17 percent of Americans who identify as Hispanic.
In the letter, the NHLA encourages the network chiefs to take advantage of the "impressive list of Latino experts from across the country that specialize in issues ranging from education, health, immigration, public safety, the economy, civil rights, the media and beyond."
From the March 15 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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The New York Times accused Hillary Clinton of potentially violating federal law pertaining to the preservation of e-mail records while acting as Secretary of State, but requirements to maintain such records did not exist during her tenure.
Weeknight television news programs have given little attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. Although the nations involved in the negotiations create a huge amount of economic activity, only PBS and MSNBC have devoted any significant coverage to the TPP since August 2013.
In 2014, PBS NewsHour provided far more climate change-related segments and interviewed far more climate scientists than the nightly news programs at ABC and NBC, while also outperforming CBS. Additionally, like CBS Evening News, PBS NewsHour managed to avoid airing any segments that provided a platform for climate science deniers, whereas NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight both featured a segment in which a guest either denied that climate change is occurring or questioned the scientific findings of the National Climate Assessment.
Although it airs for twice as long as its broadcast network counterparts, PBS NewsHour's number of climate segments and scientists more than made up for this difference, particularly in comparison to ABC's World News Tonight. PBS NewsHour, which runs for 60 minutes, aired 45 reports last year that covered climate change. By comparison, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC's World News Tonight, which are each 30 minute programs, aired 22, 14, and 11 climate-related reports in 2014, respectively. PBS NewsHour's 45 climate-related reports were a substantial increase over 2013, when the program aired 35 such reports.
PBS NewsHour also provided scientific perspectives in climate change stories more often than any of the other major networks, interviewing or quoting 27 scientists over the course of the year. In comparison, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News interviewed or quoted 11 and 7 scientists, respectively, while ABC's World News Tonight interviewed or quoted just two scientists.
Scientists lent their insight on a range of topics on PBS NewsHour, providing perspective on landmark reports on climate change, describing the impact of climate change on wildlife habitats, and illustrating how climate change is already having an impact on communities in places as disparate as Alaska and Florida. For example, in a two-part special on climate change's impacts in Alaska, PBS NewsHour interviewed paleoclimatologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, and ecologists to detail how climate change is threatening local wildlife and a centuries-old way of life for many Alaskans.
The recent announcement by NOAA and NASA that 2014 was the warmest year on record should serve as the starkest reminder yet that climate change is an issue deserving of mainstream media coverage. The networks' nightly news programs -- and ABC's World News Tonight in particular -- would do well to follow PBS NewsHour's lead by improving the quality and quantity of their climate change coverage.
On January 28, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) released a statement in response to Media Matters' study detailing how the major broadcast networks covered climate change in 2014. The Media Matters analysis found that although the networks increased their coverage of climate change, the Sunday shows still underrepresented scientists and most of them provided a platform for climate science deniers.
Sen. Schatz stated that the networks' increase in climate coverage is "not enough," and that he "remain[s] deeply concerned about both the lack and the quality of the coverage." He concluded: "It is time for broadcasters to stop creating a false debate about the reality of climate change and engage in the real debate about how we can solve it."
Sen. Schatz's full press release read:
Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i) today released the following statement in response to a new Media Matters report detailing how broadcast networks covered climate change in 2014:
"While I am pleased that broadcast media coverage of climate change has increased this year, it is not enough," said Senator Schatz. "I remain deeply concerned about both the lack and the quality of the coverage. This new report shows that Sunday shows still aired segments that misled audiences and ignored the scientific consensus by framing the facts of climate change as a "debate". The debate is over. Human-caused climate change is accepted by Fortune 500 companies, school-teachers, religious groups, the United States military, nurses and doctors, professional sports leagues, the majority of other countries, and over 97 percent of climate scientists. It is time for broadcasters to stop creating a false debate about the reality of climate change and engage in the real debate about how we can solve it."
The total coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox continued to increase for the third consecutive year, according to a Media Matters analysis, yet still remained below the level seen in 2009. Coverage on the networks' Sunday shows reached a six-year high after a group of senators demanded they provide more coverage of the issue, but the Sunday shows still infrequently interviewed scientists.
Media coverage of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst's Republican response to the State of the Union failed to explain that Ernst's family farm has benefited from large government subsidies, despite highlighting her upbringing on her family farm and calls to cut government spending.
Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.
A brutal attack on a Nigerian town by the militant group Boko Haram that may have killed as many as 2,000 people has been given relatively little attention by the U.S. media.
On January 3, Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Baga, Nigeria, near the Cameroon and Chad borders, after attacking a nearby military base. Conflicting reports on the death toll have emerged -- local officials initially estimated that as many as 2,000 were killed, though recent accounts suggest the death toll is in the hundreds. As of January 12, nine days after the attacks began, "bodies still littered the bushes in the area." More than 10,000 people were killed in 2014 alone in a conflict that has raged for more than five years and displaced 1.5 million people.
But the terrible scale of this tragedy hasn't translated into extensive news coverage, which Maeve Shearlaw noted in a January 12 Guardian article:
But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world's media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored.
On Twitter, Max Abrahms, a terrorism analyst, tweeted: "It's shameful how the 2K people killed in Boko Haram's biggest massacre gets almost no media coverage."
A quick Nexis search confirms this: the Baga massacre has hardly made a dent in cable or network news coverage. Searching evening cable news transcripts between January 3 and 14 for "Boko Haram" turns up only nine substantive discussions of the Baga massacre: four on CNN, three on MSNBC, and two on Fox.
Network news fared even worse. The massacre was mentioned once on NBC, twice on ABC, and once briefly on CBS. According to the American Press Institute, 73 percent of Americans get at least some of their news from nightly broadcast news.
News of the Baga massacre began to reach the Western press around the same time another heinous terrorist attack occurred: the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris. While that attack has received wall-to-wall coverage, Baga has barely been addressed. The Hebdo shooting certainly deserves our attention. But given the scale of the Baga tragedy, with as many as 2,000 dead and survivors still trapped on an island on Lake Chad, don't these victims' stories deserve to be heard too?
From the January 11 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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As the newly GOP-controlled Senate attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the long-debunked myth that the pipeline would create 42,000 jobs continues to pervade in the media -- despite the fact that it will create only 35 permanent jobs:
For many years conservative media and the the GOP have framed the Keystone XL pipeline -- which would transport highly greenhouse gas-intensive Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico for export to the global oil market -- as a job creation policy, often claiming that the project would create 42,000 new jobs.
Over time, that message has made its way into mainstream media -- even after being debunked by studies and outlets such as Politifact, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and more -- by both Republican Senators who tout misleading job benefits without being corrected and by media pundits themselves.
But an exhaustive study by the State Department concluded that the Keystone XL project will result in just 50 jobs, including "35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors." Further, the report stated that spending on the project would support only 3,900 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted one year and just 1,950 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted two years. The report also states that a majority of potential other jobs supported by the project would come from "indirect and induced spending," yet a recent Washington Post article detailed how the "indirect" job estimates themselves don't hold up, as some have already been created in anticipation of the pipeline, and most would last for less than a year:
"42,000 new jobs" is going too far. Most of those jobs are far from the construction site, and it's hard to argue they are new. Moreover, under State's accounting, they only last for a year. For some workers, it would be a good but brief payday.