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.
2014 was a year of eye-popping media numbers, from millions of dollars' worth of coverage devoted to a trumped-up scandal to mere seconds devoted to historic news. Here are some of the most important -- and most surprising -- figures from the year.
The Sunday broadcast political shows overwhelmingly ignored the omnibus spending bill's rollback of key regulations on Wall Street and campaign finance. Only ABC's This Week covered the provisions, which come at a time when the financial services industry and large donors are playing an increasingly outsized role in elections.
Congress' controversial $1.1 trillion spending bill to avoid a government shutdown took several days of debate to pass in the Senate and barely passed through the House of Representatives, due to the inclusion of provisions "easing rules on campaign finance and the banking industry," as NPR explained.
The deal reverses a requirement of 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform, allowing banks to "place both standard accounts and accounts that handle riskier derivative trades under the protection of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." The provision was drafted by Citigroup bank and provides a major benefit to big banks that allows riskier trades and transfers accountability for banks' failures -- and potentially future financial crises -- onto the government and taxpayers. The bill also rolls back campaign finance regulations, dramatically increasing the limit wealthy individuals may donate to national political parties.
This erosion of key Wall Street and campaign finance regulations was all but ignored on the broadcast Sunday political talk shows. Neither NBC's Meet The Press, CBS's Face The Nation, nor Fox Broadcasting Company's Fox News Sunday acknowledged the controversial provisions in their discussion of the spending bill, glossing over the specific rollback of regulations in favor of general discussions on inner-party divisions on the vote. Only ABC's This Week highlighted the provisions. Host Martha Raddatz explained how the bill "dramatically ease[s] restrictions on the amount of cash individuals can donate to campaigns," while a later panel discussion emphasized the rollback of Wall Street regulations.
The shows' failure to cover the rollback of banking regulations and systematic erosion of campaign finance comes at a time when dark money, large donors, and outside spending are playing an increasingly outsized roll in elections and the financial services sector -- the very industry which drafted and stands to benefit from the Dodd-Frank reversal -- is already outspending all other industries in midterm elections.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on Fox News Sunday's November 30 segments on civil rights protests in Ferguson, MO, and the resignation of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. CBS' Sunday morning political talk show had a small majority of white guests during similar segments, while ABC's and NBC's shows were more ethnically diverse.
A two-year investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee that debunked several prominent right-wing myths about the Benghazi attacks was largely ignored by the four major broadcast networks' Sunday shows.
In early October, the GOP developed a plan to make the federal government's response to Ebola a central part of its midterm elections strategy. Television media played into Republicans' hands, helping to foment panic about the disease. Following the diagnosis of a handful of U.S. Ebola patients, the major broadcast networks ran nearly 1,000 segments about the virus in the four weeks leading up to the elections. Coverage of the disease plummeted in the two weeks following Election Day, with the same networks running fewer than 50 total segments.
Sunday morning political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox devoted just 30 seconds of coverage to net neutrality the week after President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to require Internet service providers to treat all content equally. Those same programs dedicated nearly 17 minutes to helping scandalize comments made by Jonathan Gruber, an economist who helped estimate the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
An NBC affiliate in Arizona aired a softball interview with Cathi Herrod, the state's leading anti-LGBT culture warrior. But while the segment depicted Herrod as a victimized Christian activist, it ignored her history of peddling extreme smears about the LGBT community while fighting against basic legal protections for gays and lesbians.
On November 7, NBC's Phoenix affiliate Channel 12 News aired an interview with Herrod, the president of the right-wing Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). A promo for the segment described Herrod's critics as being "hypocritical," depicting her as a "Christian catching hell" because of her religious beliefs.
The interview itself, conducted by Channel 12 anchor Lin Sue Cooney, similarly painted Herrod as a victim of "hate" from LGBT activists. The segment, which highlighted Herrod's Christian faith and upbringing, described her work as "protecting traditional values":
But Channel 12's description of Herrod's work glossed over the extremism that motivates her and her organization's anti-LGBT work.
From the October 12 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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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.
The media heralded a report in early 2014, which claimed that building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change. Since then, multiple studies have found that same report to be flawed, but most mainstream media outlets have refused to give these studies coverage.
President Obama has stated that he would not approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada through the United States, if it "significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution." So when the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement concluding that the Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate change, the media touted State's findings as justification for the contentious pipeline's approval.
However, various studies have since called the State Department's report into question, finding specifically that their climate impact analysis is likely inaccurate. The agency's conclusion rests on the assumption that if the Keystone XL is not approved, the oil sands will simply be transported by rail instead. This may not be the case. According to Reuters, the State Department's predictions of increased rail capacity have been consistently wrong. Reuters broke the news in March that State's latest estimates of tar sands being transported by rail were overestimated by over 400 percent. But no* other major mainstream outlet reported on these findings, which undermined the claim that Keystone XL won't affect the climate - a meme many of these same outlets previously had amplified.
More recently, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that approving the Keystone XL could lead to carbon dioxide emissions four times greater than the State Department's highest estimates. Again, the findings were mostly ignored by top U.S. media outlets** -- with one notable exception. The Los Angeles Times amplified the study and its findings that State's analysis didn't account for the pipeline's impact on the global oil market, which would lead to far greater greenhouse gas emissions. The study authors projected that the pipeline will increase carbon emissions by up to 110 million metric tons due to increased global consumption, far overshooting State's projection of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons. The oil industry has dismissed this study based on the faulty argument that the oil will be shipped by rail anyways, which Associated Press reported -- without mentioning Reuters' contradictory findings.
The authors previously concluded in a similar study that approving the Keystone XL could "potentially counteract some of the flagship emission reduction policies of the U.S. government." How many more studies and reports need to be issued before the mainstream media corrects themselves on the climate impact of approving the Keystone XL pipeline?
*According to a LexisNexis search for "keystone" from March 5 to March 8 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
**According to a search of LexisNexis and internal video archives for "keystone" from August 8 to August 11 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
Image at the top of an oil sands site from Flickr user Pembina Institute with a Creative Commons license.
The globe recently experienced the hottest June on record, fitting in with the trend of global warming. Yet several top media outlets reported on the announcement without mentioning climate change at all.
2014 has been a record-breaking year for global temperatures. On July 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced that the average global temperature for the month of June was the hottest experienced for 134 years of records. This finding follows the hottest May on record, the hottest March to June period on record, and the third hottest first half of the year on record. The average ocean surface temperatures for the month of June were the warmest on record for any month of the year. NOAA's climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt explained succinctly to the Associated Press -- the only top U.S. print source* that reported on the findings in the context of global warming -- stating that the planet is in the "steroid era of the climate system." Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck added: "This is what global warming looks like."
But if you consume mainstream media, you likely missed this context. CBS, NBC, MSNBC, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal,** and The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang all covered the announcement without mentioning its key context: global warming, driven by human activities, is making hotter temperatures the norm.
The July 21 edition of ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer was the only broadcast network program to report on the record in the context of global warming, introducing it as "a new statistic for arguments about climate change," and going on to discuss extreme weather events currently happening across the United States: