As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
Reuters is purporting to examine how scientists are "struggling" to reconcile short-term temperature variation with long-term climate change, but fails to quote any scientists about the issue.
In an article titled "Climate scientists struggle to explain warming slowdown" that is being promoted by the Drudge Report, Reuters claimed that short-term temperature variability "has exposed gaps" in scientists' understanding of climate change. However, the article didn't quote a single scientist about the temperature trends, instead talking to environmental contrarian and business school professor Bjorn Lomborg and economist Richard Tol, considered a conservative estimator of climate damages, to sow doubt about the quality of climate science (Reuters quoted Dr. Paul Holland, a British Antarctic Survey scientist, about a separate topic at the end of the report).
Perhaps due to this, Reuters characterized the time period since 2000 as a "pause in warming," without mentioning that it included the warmest decade on record or that each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record.
This map from NASA illustrates the temperature anomaly (or amount above the 1951-1980 average) between 2000 and 2009:
Media are touting the claim from Rep. Paul Ryan's new budget plan that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline would create nearly 140,000 jobs, but that figure comes from exaggerating a heavily criticized, industry-funded analysis.
Reuters uncritically repeated the Ryan budget's assertion that constructing Keystone XL would create "20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs." Fox News host Sean Hannity later claimed the pipeline would create "nearly 140,000 jobs," while promoting the Ryan budget, which would likely raise taxes on the middle class:
But that number comes from inflating an analysis funded by TransCanada, the company trying to build the pipeline. That study, which has been called "dead wrong," "meaningless," and "flawed and poorly documented" by independent analysts, claimed that Keystone XL would create "118,000 person-years of employment." In other words, if one person holds a job for two years, that is counted as two "person-years of employment." And as a TransCanada spokesman eventually clarified to Huffington Post reporter Tom Zeller, the 118,000 figure already includes the 20,000 direct construction and manufacturing job-years that TransCanada claims will be created. Those numbers are also now outdated, as they included jobs associated with the southern portion of the pipeline, which is already under construction.
Independent analyses have found that the pipeline would create far fewer jobs. A 2011 report by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute found that the TransCanada estimate ignored the potential economic consequences of the pipeline -- which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf coast oil refineries primarily for export -- including the possibility of a spill. A State Department analysis found that the pipeline would create less than 4,000 construction jobs for the 1- to 2-year construction period, and only 35 permanent jobs. In total, that study found that Keystone XL would create 42,100 direct, indirect and induced average annual jobs during the 1- to 2-year construction period. As their exaggerated jobs claims have been exposed, conservative media have struggled to stay on the same page about how many jobs the pipeline would create:
Reuters is running the headline: "More US coal plants to retire due to green rules-study." But the group that authored the study says the additional expected retirements are "Due To Low Natural Gas Prices," not Environmental Protection Agency rules.
Economists at the Brattle Group project in a new report that "59 GW to 77 GW (for lenient versus strict [regulatory] scenarios, respectively) of coal plant capacity are likely to retire" by 2016 -- more than previously forecast. But as David Roberts at Grist first noted, the report attributed this change primarily to "changing market conditions, not environmental rule revisions, which have trended toward more lenient requirements and schedules."
The Chicago Tribune and Scientific American are running the Reuters report with versions of its inaccurate headline. And Roberts noted that another mainstream media outlet is making this mistake: a Christian Science Monitor guest blog titled "Study: EPA regulations squelch US coal industry." (UPDATE 10/10/12: The Christian Science Monitor has removed this post, redirecting readers to an article from September that noted "some experts" say coal plant closures are "coming less from the Obama administration than from natural gas.")
These inaccurate reports feed into the conservative myth that long overdue clean air and water regulations constitute a "war on coal," even though many experts say that the primary reason for declining coal generation is the low price of natural gas.
UPDATE (8/24/12): Reuters revised its report to say: "The White House faulted Romney's plan for relying too heavily on fossil fuels," without noting the implications for climate change. The new version does not include Romney advisor Oren Cass's false claim that wind industry "growth has slowed."
Today Mitt Romney unveiled an energy plan that he claims will enable North America to achieve energy independence by 2020 by expanding domestic oil and gas production. Reuters' Steve Holland was quick to report on Romney's lofty aspirations, but he left out several key details in the process.
Although Romney advertises his plan as a "comprehensive energy strategy," it focuses almost exclusively on developing fossil fuel resources. His proposal would expand offshore oil leasing, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and allow states to control drilling on more federal lands, all while weakening environmental protections. If these policies are enacted, they could have serious consequences for our air, water and climate.
But the Reuters report glossed over these repercussions, saying only:
Romney's energy policies are heavily tilted toward increased production of carbon-based resources, oil, gas and coal, that environmentalists blame for global warming.
Holland was wrong to attribute these concerns solely to "environmentalists" when the vast majority of the world's leading climate scientists and major scientific bodies affirm that human activity is driving climate change. It is this kind of rhetoric from the media that leads many Americans to wrongly believe that manmade climate change is still a matter of scientific debate.
On renewable energy, Holland noted that Romney opposes the production tax credit for wind power, but overlooked the impact of this stance on the growing U.S. wind industry. He uncritically quoted Romney advisor Oren Cass's claim that "the wind industry has lost 10,000 jobs and growth has slowed." In fact, the production tax credit has spurred enormous growth in the wind industry and enabled wind power to be competitive with natural gas. According to the Department of Energy, total U.S. wind capacity recently passed the 50-gigawatt mark -- enough to power 12 million homes annually -- and accounted for 32 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity added in 2011. But despite the tax credit's success, Congress has repeatedly allowed it to lapse, halting the industry's progress in the U.S. Wind manufacturers are already announcing layoffs because of the uncertainty surrounding the production tax credit, and the American Wind Energy Association estimates that up to 37,000 jobs could be lost if it is allowed to expire at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Romney's plan maintains tax breaks for oil companies, which have disproportionately benefited from permanent subsidies for decades. According to a 2011 study from venture capital firm DBL Investors on inflation-adjusted energy subsidy spending, "federal commitment to [oil and gas] was five times greater than the federal commitment to renewables during the first 15 years of each subsidies' life." But the Reuters article makes no mention of Romney's preferential tax treatment for oil companies.
Media outlets are reporting that Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his vice presidential running mate will shift the election debate to deficit reduction. But economists argue that creating jobs, and not cutting the deficit, should be the current economic priority for policymakers.
This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the hottest month on record for the contiguous U.S. and that so far this year is the warmest on record. Scientists say that this record heat is partially driven by manmade climate change, yet Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CBS Evening News, and USA TODAY did not mention climate change at all in their reports on NOAA's announcement.
These heat extremes are occurring in the context of rising global temperatures, which the vast majority of scientists agree are driven by greenhouse gas emissions. As the National Research Council explained, extensive climate research indicates that heat waves will become "more intense, more frequent, and longer-lasting" in the United States and around the globe as a result of human-induced climate change.
But not everyone in the media failed to mention these facts. The Associated Press' Seth Borenstein spoke to climate scientists, who noted that July's record heat alone would not be evidence of climate change, but that the broader pattern of record breaking heat shows global warming at work:
Not once in the past twelve months has President Obama logged a seven-day stretch where his positive press coverage outweighed the negative, according to Pew Research analysis. And based on recent media trends, that streak is in no danger of being broken as the Beltway press continues to pile on the Democratic president with routinely negative and increasingly misleading coverage, while at the same time giving his Republican rival a pass.
Whether it's in response to the right wing's incessant whining about unfair campaign coverage, or the product of the media's innate desire to create a close, competitive (and marketable) presidential contest to market, the resulting storyline is clear: Obama's faltering!
From a late-May Politico campaign analysis piece ("Obama Stumbles Out of the Gate") that read like it had been cribbed from a Karl Rove column the previous week ("Obama's Campaign Is Off to a Rocky Start"), to the recent congestion of sound-alike refrains, the "liberal media's" narrative has become set in stone and conservatives must be pleased since it echoes their own anti-Obama message.
There's nothing wrong with chronicling the ups and downs of campaigns. And nobody's suggesting the Obama re-election run hasn't had stumbles. All of them do. (Although note, Obama's Gallup approval rating has remained constant in the high-40s for a few months now, and even climbed to 50 percent last week.) But the feverish, one-sided coverage in recent weeks signals that a clear, GOP-leaning script has been adopted by the Beltway media. And yes, it makes a mockery out of the tired chant of a left-wing newsroom bias.
No surprisingly, the current wave of coverage is cresting on some shoddy journalism. (See fabricated oral sex jokes and botched Bill Clinton reporting.) Just look at the remarkably lazy and dishonest handling of Obama's comment about private sector job growth being "fine." The coverage represents a sterling example of how the press has had its thumb on the scale this spring.
As anti-immigrant legislation has flooded state houses from coast to coast over the past two years -- culminating most notably with the Supreme Court's review of Arizona's controversial SB 1070 -- the nation's print media have given voice to the anti-immigrant special interest groups cheerleading (and in some cases orchestrating) these initiatives. Many of these groups have ties to white nationalist organizations and racists, and at least one has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These extremist ties have not prevented the nation's most respected newspapers, as well as the Associated Press and Reuters, from citing the institutions as authorities on the immigration debate.
In fact, a Media Matters analysis of news coverage since SB 1070's introduction in January 2010 has discovered that the nation's top five newspapers (New York Times, L.A. Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post), the Associated Press, and Reuters have cited these groups over 250 times. Over that period, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia, among other states, have introduced strict immigration bills that -- by their introduction alone -- have been met with a measure of success.
If print media plays a part in shaping public opinion, isn't it fair to ask whether the normalization of these extremist groups in the pages of America's daily papers has advantaged the ability of anti-immigrant measures to reach fruition?
For details on the methodology and other information in the Media Matters report, click here.
Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, was introduced in January 2010. Since then, in their coverage of immigration issues America's top five newspapers and the Associated Press and Reuters newswires have cited anti-immigrant organizations with ties to white supremacists and racists -- including one that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center -- over 250 times.
The president of the White House Correspondents Association criticized Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro for repeatedly interrupting President Obama today during an event, calling it "discourteous" and "not the way reporters who cover the White House conduct themselves."
Caren Bohan, a Reuters White House correspondent and current WHCA president, made the comments in a phone interview with Media Matters this afternoon.
"It was discourteous and it's not the way reporters who cover the White House conduct themselves," Bohan said in the interview. "I've covered a number of events where the president has spoken and there are times when we need to shout a question to him. But typically reporters wait until he has finished speaking."
Bohan also said that Munro is an associate member of the WHCA, not a regular member.
According to the WHCA website, an associate member "must be employed on the editorial staff of a newspaper, magazine, wire service, radio, TV, cable TV or other broadcast organization or newsgathering organization that reports on the White House. Associate members may not vote or hold elective office."
Asked if Munro's membership would be affected by this incident, Bohan said such decisions are up to the WHCA executive board.
Three former WHCA presidents, meanwhile, also weighed in on the situation.
Ed Chen, a former Bloomberg White House correspondent and WHCA president during the 2009-2010 term, said in an email that Munro: "Betrays a shocking disrespect for the office. He owes the president a written apology." Chen also described it as "Rude. Forgot the manners he must have been taught once upon a time."
Ron Hutcheson, a former McClatchy White House correspondent and WHCA president in 2004-2005, stated: "Aggressive journalism serves our democracy. Rudeness serves no useful purpose. This was rudeness."
C-SPAN host and political editor Steve Scully, a former WHCA board member and former president, told Media Matters that Munro's actions were unusual.
"Anytime the president is delivering remarks from The White House, there has been a long standing tradition for the POTUS to make his statements, almost always followed by questions by the press corps," Scully said in an email. "It was indeed unusual for the president to be interrupted by a reporter during the middle of his remarks and clearly it caught President Obama off-guard, simply because it doesn't happen that often."
Steve Thomma, a current McClatchy White House correspondent who has been on the beat since the Clinton administration, called Munro's behavior "counterproductive."
"I think it's possible to be civil and persistent, they don't have to be mutually exclusive. You don't have to yell. There is nothing wrong with asking a question, but there is nothing wrong with waiting until the president finishes a statement," he said. "It seems counterproductive. If you are really trying to get an answer, you can wait. He might have answered it. I would not interrupt the president's statement to ask a question."
Veteran investigative reporters are objecting to claims that a string of stories about internal national security operations are the result of a White House problem with leaks, saying such journalism is just the usual in-depth investigative reporting.
One Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist described the stories as the result of "classic investigative reporting" and said the reporters involved "don't do their work by sucking up to politicians."
Among the stories being cited are The New York Times' uncovering of a U.S. cyberattack targeting Iran's nuclear program and the Obama administration's secret "kill list" for its campaign of drone strikes.
The cyberattack story, by the Times' David Sanger, has drawn much of the attention, with information for that article coming from research Sanger did for his recent book, Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power.
Despite the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder last Friday directed two federal prosecutors to open investigations into the issue, many conservatives continue to agitate for a special prosecutor to look into the potential leaks.
But longtime investigative journalists tell Media Matters the recent stories under scrutiny were just good investigative reporting and mark no major change in White House security.
"This is normal," said Walter Pincus, the veteran Washington Post investigative reporter. "The thing that is most normal about it is that look at Sanger's stuff, somebody's writing a book, Bob [Woodward] does it all the time. If you're writing a book and nothing is going to appear the next day and you keep going back and back and take a little bit here and a little bit there, that's how you put these things together."
Dana Priest, Pincus' colleague at the Post and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for her own investigative journalism, agreed.
"That is what this looks like, classic investigative reporting," Priest said in an interview. "Talk about the reporters who are on these stories, they are all veteran investigative reporters. They don't do their work by sucking up to politicians in the hopes they will leak them some things. They do the investigative work. I don't know if people outside understand that."
Reporting on emails selectively released by House Republicans, numerous media outlets falsely claimed the documents show Obama donor George Kaiser -- whose family foundation invested in Solyndra -- discussing Solyndra's federal loan with the White House, with Fox going even further to claim "quid pro quo." In fact, the emails occurred after Solyndra had already received the loan guarantee and do not indicate that Kaiser discussed the loan with the White House.
Citing a study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas industry trade group, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry claimed he could create over a million jobs by expanding domestic fossil fuel production. That estimate is based on highly dubious assumptions, but several news outlets have uncritically repeated it.
Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, did what so many news media outlets have proven unable or unwilling to do, and actually scrutinized API's numbers. He concluded that they are "unrealistic":
The numbers that Perry and Romney are offering for job creation in the energy sector are unrealistic. They assume that they will be reversing deeply anti-industry Obama policies that don't actually exist (which is not to say that the Obama policies have no flaws), ignore real constraints at the state level, and don't fully account for market dynamics. Five hundred thousand is a reasonable upper limit for the number of jobs that a new policy might create by 2030, of which 130,000 or so might actually be in oil and gas. Taking into account market dynamics could lower those numbers further.
The Washington Post also recently reported that that "only a third of the 1.4 million positions created would go to people working directly for the petroleum industry." API's job creation estimate includes "a seldom-used category known as 'induced jobs' that API says covers everything from valets to day-care providers, from librarians to rocket scientists," according to the Post. The article added that energy economist Philip Verleger said "The API is the best there is at lying with statistics."
Yet according to a Nexis search, several news outlets simply repeated Rick Perry's claim that his energy plan could produce more than one million jobs.