The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ringing endorsement last week of Truvada, the "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection, presents news outlets with a prime opportunity to cover an historic development in the three-decade struggle against HIV/AIDS. So far, however, media organizations have largely ignored the story.
Truvada is a 10-year-old pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs. Taken daily, it prevents infection of HIV. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug back in July 2012, it hasn't exactly caught on; a September 2013 report by Gilead Sciences found that only 1,774 people had filled Truvada prescriptions from January 2011 through March 2013. Nearly half of users were women, even though gay men are the demographic group most at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Part of the reason Truvada has been slow to gain steam is, undoubtedly, the stigma attached to those who use it. Gay men who use the drug have been derided as "Truvada Whores," a term many users have sought to reclaim. Some HIV/AIDS advocates, including Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have cast doubt on Truvada's effectiveness, noting that it won't block infection unless users strictly adhere to taking it daily.
But advocates who hail Truvada as a watershed development in the struggle against HIV/AIDS got a huge boost on May 14, when the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called on doctors to prescribe the pill for patients deemed at risk of HIV/AIDS - men who have sex with men, heterosexuals with at-risk partners, anyone whose partners they know are infected, and those who use drugs or share needles.
As The New York Times noted, if doctors follow the CDC's advice, Truvada prescriptions would increase to an estimated 500,000 annually.
On May 15, the Times gave the CDC's historic report prime placement on its front page:
But the Times and The Washington Post were the only major newspapers outlets to cover the CDC's report:
A national coalition of organizations has signed a letter to four major broadcast network heads expressing their concern over the failure of broadcast evening news programs to note the public cost of low wages.
A recently released Media Matters report found that over the past year, evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS have been largely silent about the burden that low minimum wages place on the financial security of public safety net programs. The report found that from March 1, 2013, through March 10, 2014, the networks only mentioned the reliance of minimum wage workers on federal, state, and local anti-poverty programs such as food assistance and welfare programs eight times, with PBS providing the majority.
22 national organizations that advocate on behalf of the millions of workers that would benefit from a minimum wage increase wrote the heads of the broadcast networks to express their "deep concern" over coverage of "the impact of low minimum wages on hard-working Americans, their families, and our country":
When it comes to growing our economy and improving the livelihoods of workers, it's increasingly imperative that your evening news programs cover the cost of inaction. Because of low wages, many workers in the fast food industry alone -- many of whom make wages at or just above the current minimum wage -- are forced to rely on government assistance to the tune of almost $7 billion annually. Additionally, a recent analysis found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce necessary spending on food stamps by $4.6 billion annually.
Your evening news programs reach millions of Americans every night and frequently set the tone for how this issue is debated at the kitchen table, state legislatures, and the Halls of Congress. We urge you to correct this oversight and hope you will take greater action in the future to ensure that these programs tell the full story. We are happy to meet with you to discuss ways to make your minimum wage coverage more informative.
The full letter can be read below:
Despite mounting evidence that low minimum wages put pressure on government finances through the need for expanded safety net programs, over the past year, evening news programs on four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- have been largely silent about the public cost of low wages.
Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- between the U.S., Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. The nations involved in the talks account for nearly 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of the world's trade, but weekday evening television news broadcasts have largely ignored the topic.
A Media Matters analysis found that network nightly news coverage of climate change was tepid in 2013, despite growing scientific evidence that global warming is getting worse. By contrast, PBS aired nearly three times as much climate coverage as ABC World News, the worst offender.
PBS NewsHour aired more news coverage about climate change and interviewed more scientists on the issue than any other evening network news program in 2013. The scale and scope of coverage demonstrated the program's commitment to reporting on global warming, a pattern Media Matters first identified in 2012. The program broadcast 35 stories that at least mentioned climate change, far more than what ABC World News, NBC Nightly News or CBS Evening News chose to give its audiences. By comparison, the three other network nightly news programs aired a combined total of 49 stories that at least mentioned global warming.
Former NBC News president Lawrence Grossman is the latest veteran news chief to call on 60 Minutes to better explain why it allowed a story on the 2012 Benghazi attack that was based on the lies of a now discredited source to air.
Grossman, who headed NBC News from 1984 to 1988 and also served as PBS CEO for many years, said once CBS News discovered former British security contractor Dylan Davies had lied about being at the attack site they should have "jumped in with both feet, and hands and everything else."
The October 27 segment featured Davies' heroic eyewitness account of the attacks, the same story he told in a book published by a CBS division. The network aired the story despite knowing that Davies had previously told his employer that he had never made it to the U.S. diplomatic compound on the night it was attacked. CBS finally retracted the story and apologized after learning that Davies had told the FBI the same story he had told his boss, but has not fully detailed how such a flawed story was broadcast.
Although 60 Minutes just this week revealed it was conducting an "journalistic review" of the story, Grossman stressed that the network should have been forthcoming sooner and should be providing more details about what the review will entail.
"I think CBS has an obligation now that the whole thing has been aired to let people know what they are doing to investigate exactly what happened," Grossman said in a November 14 phone interview. "How it came about and to be as specific and clear in what's going on with their examination of the matter."
Grossman added, "I think it's a big mistake for news divisions to be reluctant to apologize because the integrity of what they do is so important."
Grossman joins former ABC News President David Westin who told Huffington Post this week that "CBS made some big mistakes" and that the network should have acknowledged in their report that Davies had given a contradictory account to his employer.
A third former top network news executive, who requested anonymity, also weighed in, telling Media Matters, "The entire episode is worthy of more scrutiny and their apology was too thin. We expect better from a place like 60 Minutes."
Evening television news outlets have largely not reported on two important cases issued by the Supreme Court that rolled back workplace anti-discrimination law, despite the urgent call for congressional action issued by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dual dissents.
Ginsburg, in addition to being one of the most accomplished justices in history due to her trailblazing civil rights work, has also been a crucial participant in the dialogue between the Court and Congress over the scope of anti-discrimination law. Most famously, it was Ginsburg who successfully called upon Congress to act after the notorious Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007) decision, when the conservative majority twisted the intent of Title VII's protections against employment discrimination to make it easier to illegally pay women less than their colleagues.
When the five conservative justices once again attacked Title VII at the end of the Court's latest term and similarly dismissed long-standing law to make it harder for workers to protect themselves from sex and race discrimination, Ginsburg reprised her liberal dissent and asked Congress to undo the conservative damage to this vital component of the Civil Rights Act.
But a Media Matters search of Nexis transcripts since these two opinions were issued reveals that not only have most network and cable evening news programs completely ignored Ginsburg's plea to Congress to take corrective action and "restore the robust protections against workplace harassment the Court weakens" - similar to what legislators did in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 - they are not reporting on the two new Title VII decisions at all. PBS' The NewsHour was the sole exception, with a solitary mention.
While this most recent term will rightly be remembered in part for the important step forward the Court took in according the LGBT community with equal civil rights under law, it will also go down in history as a term where protections for other groups were rolled back, most significantly in the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Indeed, the Court's rightward jerk under Chief Justice John Roberts was even more apparent in the continuation of closely divided pro-business decisions that undermine regulations and law that guard against corporate abuse. As reported by NBCNews.com, "[i]n one measure of the strong term for corporations, the Chamber of Commerce was on the winning side for 14 of the 17 cases in which it filed briefs, and a perfect 8-0 in closely divided cases."
A day after yet another comprehensive fact-check poked holes into a study from the conservative Heritage Foundation on the costs of immigration reform, PBS' NewsHour aired a segment with the study's co-author in which it treated the report's conclusions as legitimate. But as experts and conservatives have noted, there is nothing remotely sound about the study's methodology, which renders its conclusion that reform would cost $6.3 trillion invalid.
On June 4, FactCheck.org published a definitive fact-check of the Heritage study that outlined several problems with the report's underlying assumptions, including the fact that the report is not an analysis of the bill currently being debated in the Senate.
FactCheck noted that one of the report's authors, Robert Rector, has admitted that "some aspects of the bill, such as increasing green cards or legal permanent residence visas for high-skill workers, would likely lower the cost projection." Other problems it identified included:
But on the June 5 edition of PBS' NewsHour, Rector's wild conclusions were treated with credibility. Host Ray Suarez introduced the discussion -- which also featured Center for American Progress visiting fellow Robert Lynch -- as a debate on the "contrasting views on what immigration reform would cost, and whether it would help or hurt the U.S. economy."
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman will appear on PBS' Charlie Rose on March 4, following weeks of their high-profile dispute over the proper policy response to two competing problems: historically high unemployment and historically high public debt.
After Scarborough hosted Krugman on the January 28 edition of Morning Joe, he wrote an op-ed for Politico that characterized Krugman as a solitary dovish voice on near-term debt. Over the ensuing weeks, the two sniped at one another, with Scarborough continuing his effort to marginalize Krugman, misrepresenting Krugman's colleagues in the process.
Both economic data and the consensus among economists support Krugman's side of the debate. Still, Scarborough has labeled the economist a 'debt denier,' and deflected fact-based criticism with jokes about "bloggers eating Cheetos" and "skewed graphs liberals make up on their mom's PowerPoint." Given that their debate has at times produced more heat than light, here are five things that host Charlie Rose must take care to include in his show tonight:
1. Debt Levels Are Stable For The Coming Decade.
The Congressional Budget Office says that the ratio of public debt to GDP will hold steady through the coming ten years, even without changes to current law:
The stable near-term debt outlook undermines the common claim of a "debt crisis" that requires immediate austerity.
2. Austerity Is Already Placing An Enormous Drag On Economic Growth.
Government consumption and investment has decreased nearly 5 percent over the past two years. Cuts have shrunk the public sector by a net 712,000 jobs not since the recession began, but since it ended in mid-2009. And the macroeconomic data are clear: the government's declining consumption is a drag on GDP growth.
3. A Wide Range Of Economists Agree With Krugman That Short-Term Deficits Are Not A Priority With Economic Output Lagging.
Scarborough's January op-ed in Politico claimed that "almost all mainstream economists" disagree with Krugman; this is not true, and an accurate representation of expert opinion would improve the conversation.
As Media Matters has shown, it is not just center and center-left economists like Richard Koo, Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Henry Aaron, Alan Blinder and Larry Summers who agree with Krugman that short-term deficit reduction is a bad idea with economic output so far behind its potential. It's also John Makin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, The Wall Street Journal's Rex Nutting, former Reagan budget adviser Bruce Bartlett, and others who Scarborough might count as natural allies. Makin's prescription for how we ought to run large deficits is anathema to progressives, of course, but economists across the spectrum agree that we can and should float just a few more years of large deficits, in order to grow the economy.
4. Economists Say The Best Way To Solve Long-Term Debt Issues Is To Invest In Growth Now, While Borrowing Is Cheap.
Economic growth is the key to managing the debt. It is unusually cheap for the government to borrow money right now to finance such growth -- in some cases interest rates are negative, meaning the markets are basically paying us to borrow from them. The CBO finds economic output is $1 trillion behind what it should be, which is why so many economists take Krugman's side in calling for fiscal stimulus. The first CBO report to account for the "fiscal cliff" tax deal reinforced this position, as Nutting wrote in The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch: "the CBO gently hinted that the government should run higher deficits for the next four years to boost economic growth and job creation, and then start reducing the deficit in earnest in 2017 when the economy is fully healed." Any conversation about fiscal policy that fails to note these facts is inherently misrepresentative.
5. President Obama And Congress Have Already Enacted $2.4 Trillion In Deficit Reduction Since The Start Of FY2011.
Although Scarborough blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for a slowdown in economic growth late last year, the reality is that the President and Congress have passed laws that reduce deficits by approximately $2,400,000,000,000 over the 10-year budget window.
The media frequently fail to acknowledge existing deficit reduction, but it is real and it is important to the ongoing conversation about fiscal policy.
Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
From the January 12 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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A wave of mass shootings have occurred over the past few years, often garnering extensive media coverage. Despite those tragic attacks and the roughly 30,000 deaths by firearms that occur every year, moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS' NewsHour failed to ask the presidential candidates about gun violence during the first presidential debate, the only forum specifically dedicated to domestic policy.
14 mass shootings have been committed over the past four years, according to an analysis by Mother Jones. These include recent tragedies that rocked the American public this year, such as the attack at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and an assault at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Last year, a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, nearly claimed the life of then-U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Nonetheless, in the first presidential debate for the 2012 election, Lehrer asked no questions on the topic of gun violence. This continues the troubling pattern established during the 2008 presidential debates, which similarly featured no discussion of the topic even in the wake of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech the previous year. Past presidential debates have featured this subject regularly: A Media Matters review found that in 1992, the second debate spent over six minutes on it; in 1996, the first debate gave it almost four minutes; in 2000, the second and third debates devoted more than 13 minutes combined; and in 2004, the third debate spent nearly three minutes on it.
In this presidential election cycle's only debate devoted solely to domestic issues, moderator and former PBS host Jim Lehrer did not ask the candidates what they would do to address gun violence in America. This silence comes in the wake of several high profile mass shootings and a high-profile campaign by survivors and advocates to push the candidates to detail their plans to deal with the issue.
Every year roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence. In early 2011, a gunman used a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine to kill six people and wound 13 others, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, at a town hall event held by the congresswoman. This year has featured prominent mass shootings at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Some in the media have distorted polling to claim that Americans are largely satisfied with gun laws. But other surveys show that large majorities of Americans support a wide array of specific laws that would bolster gun violence prevention, including requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check and banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons.
Seeking to increase public discussion of an issue the American people have said they care about, the Brady Campaign asked Lehrer to ask the candidates to address the issue during this evening's debate, while Mayors Against Illegal Guns produced an ad featuring Aurora shooting survivor Stephen Barton telling viewers, "when you watch the presidential debates, ask yourself who has a plan to stop gun violence."
Thanks to Lehrer, Americans are no closer to an answer on that question.
Despite hundreds of thousands of petitions asking for a question on climate change, former PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer did not ask the candidates what they would do to address manmade global warming as moderator of the first presidential debate. Even more stunning, Lehrer did not ask a single question about the environment or energy issues.
Lehrer, who currently serves as NewsHour's executive editor, said at the outset of the debate that he wanted to focus on "specifics." Yet while both President Obama and Mitt Romney brought up energy issues frequently, the moderator never pressed them on distortions made on these issues. And neither Lehrer nor the candidates raised climate change, which was discussed in each of the last three sets of presidential debates. In both 2000 and in 2008, the debates featured specific questions on climate change, and Republican and Democratic candidates each acknowledged the issue.
Last week, groups including the League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation delivered more than 160,000 petitions to Lehrer urging him to ask Obama and Romney "how they will confront the greatest challenge of our generation -- climate change."
Their calls came amid increasing criticism of Obama and Romney for remaining largely silent on climate change, even as polling shows that a majority of undecided voters will weigh candidates' climate positions when they cast their ballots.
Just last month, NewsHour drew fire for turning to climate change contrarian Anthony Watts, a meteorologist, as a counterpoint to the scientific consensus on climate change. NewsHour did not disclose Watts' connection to the Heartland Institute, which is partly funded by corporations with an interest in obscuring climate science. Soon after, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler acknowledged that the segment "was not the PBS NewsHour's finest 10 minutes" and said he found it "stunning" that Watts had been picked instead of "a university-accredited scientist to provide 'balance.'" But it remained to be seen whether PBS would re-commit itself to informing its audience and holding politicians accountable for the problems of the day. Tonight's debate indicated that PBS has not taken the criticism it has received seriously. Indeed, shortly after closing remarks, Watts gloated on his blog that climate was not mentioned.
Last week, PBS admirably acknowledged several mistakes after airing a segment on climate change that "balanced" scientists who acknowledge the problem with a weatherman who continues to dispute the temperature record. The problems with that particular segment have been addressed, but the tricky issue of navigating climate misinformation remains.
Ideally, journalists would never need to mention untruths. Why report on myths about science when you may be inadvertently causing your audience to remember and believe them?
But we live in an era of what Grist's David Roberts has called "post-truth politics." It would be strange to report on the politics of climate change without acknowledging that many elected Republicans continue to deny it. The trick is to not leave your audience similarly confused.
This is not easy, and it helps to be a specialist -- or to become one. But there's a few basic rules of thumb, many of which are informed by SkepticalScience's straightforward and well-researched Debunking Handbook.
For stories on climate science, as opposed to climate solutions, there needs to be a focus on the facts. That means, as environmental journalist Bud Ward wrote, manmade global warming should simply be taken as a "given." The evidence for manmade climate change has only grown stronger, yet 66 percent of Americans incorrectly think that "there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." Stories that "balance" mainstream scientists that specialize in the issue with contrarians add to this confusion. Unless you're setting out to debunk common climate science myths, why seek out the few contrarians at all?
But if and when there comes the need to quote Rep. Jim Inhofe or the Heartland Institute, journalists should keep in mind that their audience will probably trust anything they air. So they need to give their audience a warning when they are about to be told false information, and be prepared to challenge the common myths.
They'll also need to explain why these claims are false, not just state that they are. These explanations will be most effective if they come from unexpected sources: the conservatives, evangelicals, and Republican representatives, advisors and scientists that acknowledge the risks of climate change. Sometimes the best explanations don't involve any words: seeing is believing. And by disclosing any industry connections these sources may have, you'll allow your audience to decide if they have ulterior motives for propagating misleading information.