Conservative media outlets both nationally and in California are campaigning against Gov. Jerry Brown's nominees for the state judiciary, attacking their political leanings and complaining about their "race, gender, or sexual orientation," in a baseless effort to suggest the nominees are unqualified and selected "strictly for reasons of affirmative action."
The recent round of attacks were given a national platform in a November 26 Wall Street Journal editorial, which, while questioning the lack of judicial experience of some of Brown's nominees, largely focused on whether the ideological leanings of Brown's nominees are similar to his own. The California Supreme Court was previously dominated by judges appointed under Republican governors, but Brown's picks, Journal columnist Allysia Finley complained, "have tilted the court left."
California media were more specific, and honed in on whether the nominees were from "the right racial groups," as San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer Marshall Kilduff put it. Ignoring the fact that multiple high court jurists had not previously served as judges before their appointments (such as current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and former Chief Justice and California governor Earl Warren), Kilduff also criticized Brown's nominees for a lack of experience with "sleepy jurors." But as The Los Angeles Times reported, Brown has no flat rule against trial or appellate experience with respect to his nominees -- similar to his choice for the San-Francisco-based appeals court, "Brown's picks for the Los Angeles-based appeals court were all sitting judges, suggesting he considers bench experience valuable."
The criticism of Brown's attempts to diversify the bench got uglier, however, after the Journal weighed in. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a Los Angeles legal newspaper, recently ran a column from Roger M. Grace, flatly concluding Brown's nominees were "bereft of credentials," and were "apt to be named ... strictly for reasons of affirmative action":
Surely, race should not be, ever, a factor in choosing judges.
It simply doesn't relate to a person's capacity to serve in a judicial role.
Yet, the reality is that to Jerry Brown, being a non-white is a huge plus for a seeker of a judgeship.
And so we return to young [Lamar Baker, former US Deputy Assistant Attorney General]. He is almost certain to be appointed to the state's intermediate appellate court--and would probably be under consideration for the Supreme Court were there any more vacancies. He, like [former U.S. deputy attorney general and current California Supreme Court nominee Leondra] Kruger, is an African American.
He has all the qualities that Brown is looking for in a justice.
And what he lacks -- the know-how and wisdom that can only be derived from experience -- is of no concern to the man once known as "Governor Moonbeam."
He's not called that anymore. But the lunar influences on him are as strong as ever they were.
Also apt to be named to the appeals court, strictly for reasons of affirmative action, is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin. He's openly gay. That, and his law degree from Harvard, are probably enough to cinch an appointment -- unless the governor views him as being too old (he's 55) or holds against him his judicial experience.
From what I've seen, Lavin is a result-oriented jurist, lacking in intellectual honesty. But that sort of thing would, of course, be of no interest to Brown.
A Media Matters analysis of major U.S. newspapers reporting on the alleged "war on coal" found that newspapers provided one-sided coverage of the issue and seldom mentioned the coal industry's negative environmental and health impacts or its efforts to fight regulations. Out of 223 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year mentioning the phrase "war on coal," more than half failed to mention underlying issues that account for the coal industry's decline and the need for regulations. Further, less than 10 percent of articles mentioned harm caused by the coal industry or how the coal industry is fighting against regulations aimed at protecting miners and reducing pollution.
A Media Matters analysis found that California's largest-circulating newspapers are increasingly mentioning how climate change is worsening the state's wildfires. California has faced an extremely early and severe fire season in 2014, in line with climate research showing that over the last four decades, fires have grown millions of acres larger and the fire season has extended by about three months on average.
Chevron is now running a local "news" website in a California city where it caused a massive, toxic fire in 2012, continuing a disturbing history of using propaganda disguised as news to promote its corporate efforts.
Chevron launched the Richmond Standard in January 2014 and promotes it as a community news site covering Richmond, Ca., where the company's Chevron Richmond refinery has been located since 1902.
While it discloses that it is owned by Chevron Richmond, the site purports to "provide Richmond residents with important information about what's going on in the community."
The stories that populate Richmond Standard -- posted by former Bay Area newspaper reporter Mike Aldax -- largely avoid any in-depth or investigative reporting. Recent articles include things like highlighting McDonald's offering free small coffees to customers.
The site enters murkier ethical territory in its occasional coverage of corporate parent Chevron. One section is apparently devoted to the company's position on issues, dubbed, "Chevron Speaks."
There are only two articles on "Chevron Speaks." The first announced that the Richmond Standard would be "dedicated to shining a light on the positive things that are going on in the community." The second, from February of this year, targeted an allegedly "misleading" article in an alternative weekly that was critical of Chevron's planned refinery modernization project.
But Chevron's corporate spin isn't restricted to the "Chevron Speaks" section. Another page titled "Community Views" claims to give readers a place to submit their own content. The only posting mentioning Chevron quotes from a local union member's remarks at a town meeting offering support for Chevron's refinery modernization project. The post includes glowing praise of Chevron's impact in the community:
It's my job as community activist to say to you, our city leaders, that Chevron is a participant not just a provider. They provide for nonprofits all over this community. And also they are the main player of Richmond. Without Chevron we'd be like Vallejo - broke. So can't we all just get along? If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. Our community is tired of falling for anything.
Other stories invoking Chevron include a post from February which apparently sought to assuage potential concerns about clouds hanging over the local Chevron refinery. The post explained that the clouds were "only steam," and cited a Chevron employee laying out how the clouds were "similar to what you might see coming out of a tea kettle."
Another highlights a "much-anticipated" environmental impact report about the company's refinery modernization project and cites a Chevron spokesperson to claim that the "project is a win-win for Chevron and the community."
Mike Aldax's news credibility is questionable. While he spent several years in journalism as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and other local publications, he is writing Richmond Standard posts as an employee of Singer Associates, a prominent Bay Area public relations firm.
A 60 Minutes segment claiming that federal government efforts to encourage clean tech -- the production and use of alternative energy sources and more efficient technology -- have failed drew some harsh disagreement among reporters covering the energy beat who say the negative report ignored many successes and focused too narrowly on a few unsuccessful companies.
Correspondent Lesley Stahl concluded in the January 5 piece that while stimulus spending including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program was invested in the industry, "instead of breakthroughs, the [clean tech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops."
Stahl's segment has drawn criticism from observers who have noted that 60 Minutes focused on Solyndra and a handful of other failed companies whose loans made up a tiny fraction of federal loans and ignored the clean tech breakthroughs and the explosive growth in the sector that have occurred.
The report was only the latest in a series of 60 Minutes reports that have been subject to stinging critiques in recent months. The program has been excoriated by media observers and accused of "check[ing] its journalistic skepticism at the door" by The New York Times.
Journalists who cover the same energy industries took issue with the clean tech report in interviews with Media Matters, noting that it did not take into account the long-term development needs of clean energy and the many ongoing successes.
"I thought it was a pretty poor piece of journalism, frankly," said David Baker, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering clean tech and energy. "There are areas of this field that are hurting, but there are others that are doing very, very well."
Baker added that 60 Minutes' error begins with its conception of the story: "The problem really begins when you just talk about clean tech as one thing - it is a bunch of things and a lot of it is energy generation and energy use. In a report like this where you look at clean tech in general, you have difficulty because it is not the same for each sector."
"The other biggest problem with the CBS story is it looked at some of the flops and really seemed to turn a blind eye to the success," he continued. "That is one of the most fundamental mistakes Lesley Stahl and her producers make."
Baker pointed to several west coast examples of successes, including the recently created California Solar Ranch, the largest solar plant in the nation that went online late last year.
"We are going to have a huge amount of power going on the grid from solar," Baker explained. "Some of those projects were funded in part through the Department of Energy loan program, the same one that funded Solyndra."
As some of the most destructive wildfires in history ravage the Southwest, major newspapers in the area have documented the way climate change makes blazes more likely less than half as often as national newspapers.
Recent fires have taken a massive toll as the hottest, driest parts of the U.S. become even hotter and drier. In Arizona, 19 firefighters perished in the worst American wildfire disaster in decades, a quick-moving inferno that destroyed a small town. Months ago, fire season began early in California, and it has since been called the state's worst ever. Colorado recently experienced the most destructive wildfire in its history, bringing the total area set aflame this season within the state to about 180 square miles, larger than the area of Barbados. New Mexico and Utah have lately faced "unprecedented" and "potentially explosive" fires, respectively.
Fires like these must be sparked (by anything from lightning to a stray rifle shot), but research indicates that climate change, and the extreme heat and drought conditions it propagates in the Southwest, boosts the chances that they will happen and cause significant damage. Indeed, seven out of nine fire scientists contacted by Media Matters as part of a 2012 study agreed that journalists should detail the role of climate change in worsening risk when they report on such fires.
As wildfires swept through southern California over the past week, experts warned that the state is in for an especially dangerous wildfire season due to unusually hot and dry conditions. But in their coverage of the fires, several of California's major newspapers have entirely ignored how climate change has increased wildfire risks in the region.
California's wildfire season kicked off early this year, with record temperatures, heavy winds and ongoing drought conditions fueling fires across the state that have threatened thousands of homes and businesses. California has already experienced 680 wildfires this year -- about 200 more than average for this period -- and the National Interagency Fire Service is predicting "above normal" potential for significant fires in northern and southern California this season. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing for a higher number of significant fires across the West.
Climate experts warn that rising global temperatures are already leading to more frequent and more severe wildfires and longer fire seasons in the Southwest, calling large fires like those in California "the new normal." But several major print outlets in California have failed to make this connection, even after Governor Jerry Brown noted the link Monday.
The San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and U-T San Diego have not mentioned climate change while reporting on the recent fires. These papers also printed several stories from the Associated Press, none of which mentioned climate change. By contrast, the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times mentioned climate change in 33 percent and 27 percent of coverage, respectively.
A wide swath of media figures have cited economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's January 2010 finding that a country's economic growth becomes impaired when its debt level exceeds 90 percent of gross domestic product. But the Reinhart-Rogoff paper is premised on an Excel error, revealed when other researchers reviewed the data underlying the commonly-cited debt-to-GDP threshold claim.
Austerity proponents, such as House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), frequently claim that a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent signals economic doom, using Reinhart and Rogoff's work as leverage for imposing sharp cuts that economists agree would do serious harm to economic growth. Media coverage of budget and economic policy throughout the past three years has also repeated that claim, often without a direct connection to the Reinhart-Rogoff work from which the notion derives.
But that work, arguably the lynchpin of the case for imposing austerity in order to deliver economic growth, is crippled by basic errors, as the Roosevelt Institute's Mike Konczal explains:
From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.
In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. [...]
So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]." Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.
Rogoff and Reinhart responded to the criticism, which has since been criticized as a weak rebuttal. But now that those numbers are known to be wrong, the litany of media outlets which have cited them have an opportunity to reexamine their coverage of the austerity premise. Print media, notably The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have frequently reproduced the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis in covering budget and economic policy. Television and radio media have made frequent use of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper, including prominent mentions on NPR, CNN, and Fox Business.
The Reinhart-Rogoff threshold has long been challenged by fellow economists, such as former Federal Reserve economist Joseph Gagnon, Paul Krugman, and Josh Bivens and John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, on the grounds that it gets the directionality of causation exactly wrong. These and other economists argue that high debt levels are a consequence of prolonged weak GDP growth, rather than its cause.
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker notes, however, the newly discovered errors obviate these more intricate economist responses to Reinhart-Rogoff: "we need not concern ourselves with any arguments this complicated. The basic R&R story was simply the result of them getting their own numbers wrong."
Now that the Obama administration and Congress are engaged in a debate over immigration policy, a Media Matters review of major news outlets has found that when it comes to immigration coverage, anti-immigrant commentator Mark Krikorian continues to be the media's preferred conservative voice. Krikorian heads the Center for Immigration Studies, a group associated with notorious nativist John Tanton and whose research has been called into question -- but these facts are routinely ignored in coverage of his remarks.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported today:
Drummond Pike, the CEO of the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation -- which was the target of an assassination attempt by Groveland resident Byron Williams last summer -- has sent a letter to a dozen top Fox News advertisers, urging them to pull all their ads from the cable news network. Check out his letter here.
The connection? Pike cites jailhouse interviews with Williams like this one, where Williams says "I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn't for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind."
"The next 'assassin' may succeed, and if so, there will be blood on many hands. The choice is yours. Please join my call to do the right thing in this regard and put Fox News at arm's length from your company by halting your advertising with them," Pike writes.
A San Francisco Chronicle article reported the false claim that $4.19 billion of President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan "would go to the liberal housing activist group ACORN." In fact, the bill does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding.
Since President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring that the Pentagon's detention facilities at Guantánamo be closed within a year, numerous media figures and outlets have repeated or failed to challenge the claim that 61 former detainees held there have returned to the battlefield. In fact, the figure, which comes from the Pentagon, includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having "return[ed] to the fight."
In articles about the presidential candidates' responses to the economic crisis, several media outlets reported that the McCain campaign has attacked Sen. Barack Obama for what it says are his ties to lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, without noting that several senior McCain campaign aides have lobbied for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or both.
Numerous print media outlets uncritically reported Gov. Sarah Palin's claim that Sen. Barack Obama "is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform -- not even in the state senate," without noting that Obama has played key roles in the passage of reform legislation at both the federal and state levels, including a bill that McCain co-sponsored and thanked Obama for his work on.
Reporting that Sen. John McCain "had to defend his [May 29] comments that U.S. troops are down to 'presurge level,' " the San Francisco Chronicle did not point out that McCain's statement was false. As The Washington Post noted, there are about 155,000 troops in Iraq, well above the 130,000 there before the increase. Further, in reporting that McCain "insisted he hadn't misspoken," the Chronicle did not point out that, in addition to his false statement about troop levels in Iraq, he also "misspoke" by misstating what he had initially said.