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  • Evening News Virtually Ignores Paul Ryan’s Medicare Privatization Plan

    MSNBC Only Outlet To Vet Ryan's Scheme To Gut The Social Safety Net

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Weekday evening programming on the largest cable and broadcast news outlets almost completely ignored a long-standing Medicare privatization scheme favored by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the days since he first resurrected the idea of radically reshaping the American health care system toward for-profit interests.

    During a November 10 interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ryan misleadingly claimed that due to mounting “fiscal pressures” created by the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress would be forced to engage with what Baier called “entitlement reform” sometime next year. Ryan falsely claimed that “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke” and that the popular health insurance system for American seniors will have to be changed as part of any legislation to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s health care reform legacy. From Special Report with Bret Baier:

    According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from November 10 to November 27, Ryan’s plan to privatize the nationwide, single-payer health care coverage currently enjoyed by millions of seniors has gone unmentioned on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. Ryan’s so-called “premium support” plan was briefly mentioned on the November 22 edition of PBS NewsHour when co-host Judy Woodruff pressed President-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as to whether Trump would accept Ryan’s privatization proposal. By comparison, during the same time period, MSNBC ran six prime-time segments exposing Ryan’s privatization agenda:

    According to a July 19 issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue “a proposal to gradually transform Medicare into a system of premium supports, building on proposals” adopted by Ryan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. These so-called “premium supports” would provide each Medicare beneficiary with a “voucher” that can be used for the purchase of private health insurance; they represent “a significant change from the current system” that pays health care providers directly for services rendered.

    In essence, Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and redirect hundreds of billions of tax dollars that currently go to doctors, hospitals, and other medical service providers through the costly private health insurance market.

    This startling scheme bears similarities to a failed 2005 attempt by the Bush administration to partially privatize Social Security. Democratic members of Congress are already aligning themselves against Ryan’s throwback plan to gut Medicare, and it’s not actually clear if Trump is supportive of the initiative, which he refused to fully endorse on the campaign trail.

    As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out last July, claims that Medicare is “nearing ‘bankruptcy’ are highly misleading,” and Ryan’s specific charge that Medicare is “broke” because of the ACA is completely wrong. President Obama’s health care reform law greatly improved Medicare’s long-term finances and extended the hospital insurance trust fund’s solvency by 11 years.

    The looming fight over the future of Medicare, which serves over 55 million beneficiaries and accounted for 15 percent of the entire federal budget in 2015, has been well-documented, but it has garnered almost no attention on major television news programs.

    Millions of Americans who rely on broadcast and cable evening news are completely unaware of the stakes in this health care policy fight. They are also unaware that Ryan’s privatization scheme would leave millions of retirees at the whims of the same private insurance market that right-wing media are currently attacking because of increased rates.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from November 10, 2016, through November 27, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any mention of “Medicare.”

  • 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.

  • Right-Wing Media Figures Conflate “Voter Fraud” With Voter Registration Inaccuracies

    Fox News Host: “That's Troubling. I Only Know Of One Person That Has Risen From The Dead, So 20, That's A Problem”

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & CAT DUFFY

    Right-wing media have baselessly stoked fears of widespread voter fraud based on out-of-date or inaccurate voter registration rolls to defend Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s claims that “dead people” and “illegal aliens” are voting. But in doing so they’ve falsely conflated possible registration fraud with the practice of in-person voter fraud; both types are rare, and the latter is virtually nonexistent.

  • Trump's Last Resort: Right-Wing Media Lies About Voter Fraud

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s baseless claim that the presidential election will be “rigged” because of widespread voter fraud is based on a series of myths that the right-wing media has pushed for years -- including the arguments that strict voter ID laws are needed to prevent voter fraud, that dead people are voting, and that there is widespread noncitizen voting.

  • 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.

  • Mainstream Outlets Have Not Covered A Major Nationwide Prison Strike

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    On September 9, inmates at prisons in at least 12 states began work stoppages and other protest actions to draw attention to unfair labor practices and living conditions in U.S. prisons. The actions have reportedly continued on a rolling basis in many prisons across the country for the last month, yet a Media Matters analysis found virtual media silence on the story.

    According to inmate organizers at the Holman Prison in Alabama, who have been leading prison labor actions since 2012 as the Free Alabama Movement, inmates in prisons across the country launched strikes on September 9. The strikes, which were primarily work stoppages but also included hunger striking and other forms of peaceful protest, began on the anniversary of the deadly 1971 Attica prison uprising, which began as a means to call attention to prison conditions. The actions were primarily meant to protest extremely low-wage or forced labor in prisons, though inmate organizers in some facilities chose to focus their actions on living conditions and overcrowding instead of or in addition to labor practices.

    Estimates from the organizers and allied groups suggest that more than 24,000 inmates in at least 12 states participated in strikes that day. Tracking mechanisms indicate that inmates in several prisons are still continuing acts of protest on a rolling basis, though activity is thought to be “apparently winding down.” These numbers -- if corroborated -- would make the September 9 actions the largest prison strike in U.S. history.

    Though it is difficult to know for sure, actions in some facilities appear to be getting results. In Alabama, the epicenter of strike organizing, guards joined the effort, launching an informal labor strike to highlight prison overcrowding -- conditions that make prisons less safe for both inmates and guards. And the U.S. Department of Justice launched a “possibly unprecedented” statewide investigation into conditions in Alabama prisons last week.

    Yet a search of Nexis transcripts from the major news networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- and National Public Radio for the last month has come up almost completely empty on coverage of the strikes, aside from a single 20-second mention during a run-through of headlines on NBC’s Today and a three-and-a-half-minute NPR Weekend Edition interview with the Marshall Project’s Beth Schwartzapfel.

    Traditional print media outlets did not appear to fare much better, according to a search of the same parameters; Media Matters found one article at The Wall Street Journal reporting on the initial days of the strikes.

    Media Matters found no mentions of prison strikes across the major media outlets available in Nexis from September 8 -- the day before the strikes began -- through October 10. Most coverage seemed to come from new media outlets, like BuzzFeed and Vice News, or left-leaning, sometimes niche outlets like The Marshall Project, Mother Jones, Democracy Now!, and The Intercept. Readers who do not rely on these specific types of sources for their news, instead turning to evening broadcasts or major print outlets like The New York Times, may not know the strikes happened at all.

    Media scholar and MIT professor Ethan Zuckerman explained why coverage of the strikes may be so difficult to find in a Medium post on September 10. Zuckerman, who studies “the distribution of attention in mainstream and new media” and how activists can leverage media coverage, wrote:

    It’s hard to tell what’s going on inside US prisons. While prisoners can reach out to reporters using the same channels they can use to contact friends or family members, journalists have very limited rights of access to prisons, and it would be challenging for an intrepid reporter to identify and contact inmates in prisons across a state, for instance, to determine where protests took place. Wardens have a great deal of discretion about answering reporters’ inquiries and can choose not to comment citing security concerns. Reporters who want to know what’s going on inside a prison sometimes resort to extraordinary measures, like becoming a prison guard to gain access. (Shane Bauer’s article on private prison company CCA is excellent, but the technique he used was not a new one — Ted Conover’s 2000 book Newjack is a masterpiece of the genre.)

    Because it’s so hard to report from prison — and, frankly, because news consumers haven’t demonstrated much demand for stories about prison conditions — very few media outlets have dedicated prison reporters. One expert estimates that there are fewer than half a dozen dedicated prisons reporters across the US, an insane number given that 2.4m Americans are incarcerated, roughly 1% of the nation’s population.

    Coverage of the prison strikes from progressive outlets often acknowledges the problems of reporting accurately on events occurring in prisons as well; many that cited any data on the strikes noted that the numbers were estimates provided by organizers. As Azzurra Crispino from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (an activist group helping to coordinate inmate organizing efforts) explained in an interview with WNYC’s On The Media, some reporters are trying to learn more: “It is the case that we have not seen as much media coverage as we would like, but I am getting a lot of emails and phone calls from journalists who are telling me, ‘I’m not seeing this on the mainstream media, but it’s all over my Facebook and my Twitter feed.’” Crispino also noted that violent riots tend to garner more media attention than the peaceful protests and strikes happening in most facilities. “I would ask the mainstream media: To what extent are you complicit in future violence, if it were to arise, if the message you are sending to prisoners is: if nobody dies, we’re not going to cover it?” she said.

    Another factor in the halted information flow is that state officials often declined to comment or offered competing narratives about what took place in individual facilities when reporters reached out. Officials in at least two states where inmates have recorded strike activity have publicly denied that any work stoppages occurred, and at least one inmate organizer says he is facing what The Intercept called “disciplinary action” for participating in a radio interview about the strikes.

    MIT’s Zuckerman argued that the September strikes are an example of a situation “in which readers can have power by calling attention to events in the world,” and that reader demand could spur “large media organizations” to leverage their resources and existing contacts “to provide a more detailed view of events.” He concluded:

    Perhaps the call for the nation’s largest prison strike has failed. Or perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a long action that will change incarceration as we know it. It’s a problem that we don’t — and can’t — know. A nation that imprisons 1% of its population has an obligation to know what’s happening to those 2.4 million people, and right now, we don’t know.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis for any mentions or variations of the term “prison” or “inmate” within 20 words of the term “strike” or “protest” from September 8, 2016, to October 10, 2016. The search included all available news transcripts for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and National Public Radio; articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today; and abstracts in The Wall Street JournalWall Street Journal results were also checked in Factiva. 

    Image at top from Flickr user Alicia, using a Creative Commons license. 

  • Journalists Call On Debate Moderators To Fact-Check Candidates

    Journalists: Debate Moderators Should “Be Well-Prepared Enough To Assert The Truth In Real Time”

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Prior to the first presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, journalists are advising the debate moderators to “Be well-prepared enough to assert the truth in real time,” and arguing that a moderator should not “abdicate” their “role as a truth-seeker and a journalist” because moderators “play a constructive and vital role” in presidential debates.

  • Media Host Trump Adviser Boris Epshteyn On Russia Without Disclosing His Business Ties

    ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Media outlets have been hosting Donald Trump senior adviser Boris Epshteyn, who has used the platform to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin from criticism and to claim that the Clintons, not Trump, have “been way too cozy with the Russians.” Outlets have failed to disclose during discussions about Russia that Epshteyn has financial ties to the former Soviet Union, which include consulting for “entities doing business in Eastern Europe” and moderating a Russian-sponsored conference on "investment opportunities in Moscow.” 

  • Census Report On Median Income, Poverty Gives Broadcast News A Chance To Prove Itself

    Generally Strong Coverage Of Census Data Shows TV News Outlets Can Still Cover The Economy Well When They Try

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    The major broadcast evening news programs each provided great examples of how network news can still be a source of concise and informative coverage on the economy this week when they covered new data releases from the Census Bureau.

    On September 13, the U.S. Census Bureau released annual updates to its ongoing reports on income and poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States. The reports revealed stunning positive news about the state of the American economy: a record-setting 5.2 percent increase in median household income from 2014 to 2015, median income at its highest point since before the Great Recession, a drop in the official poverty rate of 1.2 percentage points, more than 3.5 million Americans lifted out of poverty, a 1.3 percentage point drop in the uninsured rate, and roughly 4 million fewer uninsured Americans. In response to the data, Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that 2015 marked just the second year since 1988 “that brought simultaneous progress on poverty, median income, and health insurance.”

    Print and online coverage of the Census data was overwhelmingly positive, with CNNMoney writer Tami Luhby and Washington Post contributor Paul Waldman both noting that the data undermine a key (albeit, “false”) talking point frequently used by Republicans: that there has been wage stagnation, and President Obama is to blame.

    Just as importantly, the positive coverage continued during the September 13 editions of major nightly broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, which collectively draw more than 20 million daily viewers. Only ABC failed to note all three of the key Census data findings -- the increase in median income, the drop in poverty, and the drop in the uninsured rate -- during its reporting.

    As is often the case, PBS NewsHour offered the most in-depth and detailed discussion of the Census reports. Correspondent Lisa Desjardins spent just under three minutes detailing the data and discussing its possible political ramifications and effect on the upcoming election. The segment even included some cautionary notes, including reasons that some Americans have not seen a boost in take-home pay despite the surge in median earnings and some potential problems faced by customers on the private insurance market.

    Next in terms of quality of coverage were CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, both of which discussed all of the key takeaways from the data. CBS anchor Scott Pelley said the Census reports were “great news” and stood as proof that “more Americans are cashing in on the recovery.” NBC anchor Lester Holt added that “middle class incomes had their fastest rate of growth ever recorded” and “incomes increased across all racial groups.”

    ABC’s World News spent the least amount of time on the topic, mentioning the Census data as just part of a discussion about the stock market, but anchor David Muir still noted that the 5.2 percent median income increase was “the largest rise in nearly 50 years.”

    The individual segments might not seem like cause for celebration, but, according to recent Media Matters analyses of broadcast news coverage, each segment should serve as an example of how these programs can adequately discuss the economy.

    Overall coverage of the economy fell considerably from the first to second quarter of 2016, as the major networks focused more of their limited time on horse-race political coverage detached from the economic issues that actually drive voter behavior. Coverage of economic inequality and poverty also decreased from the first to second quarter of the year overall -- only ABC and CBS focused more attention on those crucial subjects from April through June than they had in the first three months of the year:

    Unfortunately, throughout the first half of the year, major news outlets have been focusing less and less attention on the economy, creating a void that can easily be filled with misinformation. As broadcast and cable outlets retreated from covering the economy, misleading and biased stories emanating from Fox News and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accounted for a higher proportion of coverage.

    Broadcast evening news shows face considerable challenges in trimming segments down to fit abbreviated commercial schedules, but their coverage on September 13 demonstrated that the flagship programs can still balance brevity and substance when they try.

  • STUDY: Networks Focus Less On Poverty As Coverage Of Inequality Drops

    PBS Sets Itself Apart From Broadcast Outlets On Inequality And Poverty, Fox News Remains Major Source Of Misleading Coverage

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    In the second quarter of 2016, prime-time and evening weekday news programs on the largest broadcast and cable outlets dedicated significantly less time to economic inequality and poverty than they had in the first quarter of the year. The weekday drop-off was led by CNN and MSNBC, which dramatically reduced their programming on inequality. PBS remained the gold standard among broadcast outlets in terms of covering inequality and poverty, while Fox News remained a prevalent source of misinformation on the same topics.

  • TV News Misses Golden Opportunity To Recognize Title IX During Rio Olympics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    As thousands of athletes from around the world descended on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this summer to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, broadcast and cable news programming missed a golden opportunity to discuss the incredible legacy of the legislative reform largely responsible for the growth and success of women’s sports in the United States and around the world -- Title IX.

    One of the biggest stories coming out of the 2016 Summer Olympics was the sheer dominance of American athletes in general, and American women in particular. American swimmer Katie Ledecky and gymnast Simone Biles finished the games with four gold medals each (and five medals overall) and, at just 19 years old, they both are widely considered the most dominant athletes in their respective sports. Meanwhile, as the United States men’s basketball team struggled before coalescing in the gold medal match, the American women’s team blasted every opponent en route to a sixth consecutive Olympic championship.

    According to The New York Times, the United States brought home 121 medals from Rio, far outpacing China (70) and Great Britain (67) for first place, and became the first nation in 40 years to lead all nations in each medal category: gold, silver, and bronze. As was the case in 2012, more than half of that total medal haul (61) was won by American women, whose unparalleled athletic success would have been unlikely without the unique progressive legacy of the Title IX provision in federal education policy, which prevents sex discrimination in federally funded programs like school sports. From the Times:

    The United States is one of the few countries to embed sports within the public education system. And equal access to sports for women comes with legal protections, gained with the education amendment known as Title IX in 1972 and the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act in 1978.

    About one of every two American girls participates in sports in high school. Of the 213 American medalists in individual and team sports in Rio, according to the [United States Olympic Committee], nearly 85 percent participated in university-funded sports.

    “Those things don’t exist elsewhere in the world,” said Donna Lopiano, a former executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “We have the largest base of athletic development. Our women are going to dominate, not only because of their legal rights but because women in other parts of the world are discriminated against.”

    Broadcast And Cable News Ignored Importance Of Title IX Despite Flood Of Olympic Coverage

    A Media Matters review of broadcast evening news coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, as well as cable evening and prime-time coverage on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between the days of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics revealed only two substantive mentions of Title IX as it relates to current or former American or international Olympians. A similar lack of interest was on display on the major Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC.**

    A review of available Nexis transcripts from August 5 through August 21 returned 259 results mentioning the Olympics in Rio, including just two references to Title IX’s role in encouraging and supporting female athletes and women’s sports: NBC Nightly News and PBS NewsHour each mentioned the legislation during Olympic segments on August 18 and August 19, respectively. By contrast, there were dozens of mentions of American swimmer Ryan Lochte’s infamous and unsubstantiated story of being robbed at gunpoint outside a Rio gas station.

    Major print outlets including like The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today gave Title IX special attention in 2016, but their television counterparts once again dropped the ball. Title IX was also conspicuously absent from print and television coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics, according to a February 2014 Media Matters analysis.

    Title IX’s Global Legacy At The Olympic Games

    As noted above, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which was authored by Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) and Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) and signed into law by President Richard Nixon, has left an indelible mark on women's sports over the past 44 years. But American women aren't the only beneficiaries of the legislation; Title IX’s prohibition against gender discrimination at most educational institutions is a major contributing factor in making American universities a magnet for athletes from around the world.

    Stanford University, the most successful athletic institution in the world this year in terms of Olympic medals, produced a number of American women medalists -- including burgeoning swimming stars Ledecky, Maya DiRado, and Simone Manuel. It also produced Greek pole vault gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi. If not for Ledecky, the most successful women’s swimmer of the summer would have been Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, an alumna of the University of Southern California. (Controversial Russian swimmer and two-time silver medalist Yulia Efimova, though not an alumna of the school, is coached by Southern Cal head coach Dave Salo.) Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller, an alumna of the University of Georgia, edged out former Southern Cal sprinter Allyson Felix to win gold in the women’s 400-meter. Canadian swimmer Chantal van Landeghem, another Georgia alum, took home a bronze medal in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay alongside teammate and Ohio State University graduate Michelle Williams. Canadian track and field star Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who won a bronze medal in the heptathlon, attended the University of Oregon.

    This is just a snapshot of the Title IX impact that was on display at the 2016 Summer Olympics, but broadcast and cable news almost completely ignored the success story, despite offering a torrent of Olympic-centered stories and features.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening and prime-time (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and network broadcast news (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS) from August 5, 2016, through August 21, 2016. Media Matters also reviewed Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC during the same time period. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: olympics or rio or title nine or title 9 or title ix.

    The following programs were included in the data: World News Tonight, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS Evening News, Face the Nation, NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press**, PBS NewsHour, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, The Five, Special Report, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, MTP Daily, With All Due Respect, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

    **NBCUniversal pre-empted Meet the Press on August 14 and August 21 to air exclusive coverage of the Olympics on NBC.