Just three weeks ago the Associated Press reported the Obama administration needed "something close to a miracle" in order to "meet its goal" of enrolling six million people into private health care plans via the Affordable Care Act before the looming April 1 deadline arrived.
The article's premise was telling in that it focused on what the political fallout would be if Obamacare sign-ups fell short. Noticeably absent was any analysis of what an Obamacare deadline success would look like or what the political implications would be. The scenario of success simply wasn't considered plausible or worth addressing.
Of course, we now know that as many as seven million people enrolled for private coverage through the exchanges established by Obama's health care law. Thanks to an amazing consumer surge in the month of March, the seven million mark, routinely thought of last year as completely unattainable, and often dismissed this year as not possible, was met.
And because of a provision of the Obamacare law, approximately three million young people have been added to their parents' private insurance plans. Meaning, more than 10 million people have used Obamacare to secure health coverage. The new law, noted the Los Angeles Times, "has spurred the largest expansion in health coverage in America in half a century." The paper reported, "At least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gotten health insurance since Obamacare started."
Take a look at this revealing chart from CNNMoney.com and what the future of health care coverage under Obamacare might look like:
Given all of that, where's the heated coverage of the miraculous Obamacare comeback? Aside from the Times and CNNMoney pieces, I'm hard pressed to find many recent media examples that laud the health care achievement with the same unrestrained vigor that the press employed for weeks and months depicting Obamacare as an historic failure and one that could ruin Obama's presidency, and perhaps even the Democratic Party. (Remember, Obamacare "may be Obama's Katrina, Iraq War.")
Is Obamacare now a model of government efficiency? It is not. The initial rollout, without qualification, was a failure. And lots of major hurdles still loom. But the remarkable success of the enrollment figures has clearly failed to produce the type of media response that Obamacare's remarkable failure ignited last year.
So the larger media coverage question is, has the press been wed for so long to the Republican-friendly narrative of a broken and doomed Obamacare system that journalists are refusing to adjust the storyline as crucial new facts emerge?
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson has a history of illegal behavior and controversial comments -- facts that were left out of mainstream print reporting on GOP candidates trying to win his favor last week.
The Republican Jewish Coalition met March 27-29 in Las Vegas, and the event was dubbed the "Adelson Primary" as GOP presidential hopefuls used the meeting to fawn over magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., a casino and resort operating firm, who reportedly spent nearly $150 million attempting to buy the 2012 election with donations to a super PAC aligned with Mitt Romney and other outside groups (including Karl Rove's American Crossroads). Before switching allegiance to Romney, Adelson had donated millions to Newt Gingrich. He has also given generously in the past to super PACs associated with a variety of Republican politicians, including Scott Walker, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, and Eric Cantor.
Hoping to benefit from Adelson's largesse, potential 2016 Republican candidates including Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush gathered at Adelson's casino to "kiss the ring."
While Republicans' efforts to court Adelson made big news in print media over the past week, none of the articles mentioning Adelson in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, or The Wall Street Journal mentioned that he has come under investigation for illegal business practices, including bribery, or his history of extreme remarks.
Newspaper coverage of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood lawsuits downplayed the possibility that the Supreme Court could expand the concept of corporate personhood when ruling on the cases, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage for birth control based on the owners' personal religious beliefs. Only 3 out of 24 articles on the case in five major U.S. newspapers mentioned the potential unpopular expansion of corporate rights in the headline or first sentence.
The New York Times repeated the unfounded claims from critics that Obama Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is "antigun," without adequately explaining how Vivek's views on firearms are mainstream within the medical community.
As Murthy's nomination for Surgeon General moves towards a vote in the Senate, which may now be delayed, the National Rifle Association and its allies in conservative media are advancing the false narrative that Murthy is "radical" and "anti-gun" because he views gun violence in the United States as a public health concern and supports allowing doctors to ask patients about gun ownership, among other gun safety measures.
In a March 14 article, the Times devoted significant space to attacks on Murthy while only briefly noting that his views reflect those of many Americans. The article noted that an NRA message to supporters claimed that Murthy is "President Obama's radically antigun nominee," and also mentioned that a Democratic senator had received letters from constituents "who say they are alarmed by what they believe are Dr. Murthy's antigun views."
It took until the 14th paragraph of the article to note that Vivek's views on firearms are "in step with where many Americans stand on gun control," and the article made no mention of the fact that Vivek's views on guns are in keeping with the medical community.
Bill O'Reilly is being ridiculed for comments last night suggesting that unlike President Obama, President Lincoln would never have appeared on a web comedy show. In addition to the inherent silliness of the comparison, according to a prominent Lincoln scholar, O'Reilly is also dead wrong.
Yesterday, comedy website Funny or Die released an episode of its Zach Galifianakis-hosted web series "Between Two Ferns" featuring President Obama, during which the president traded insults with the actor before encouraging people to visit the health care reform website.
Predictably, conservatives freaked out about the appearance, culminating in O'Reilly telling viewers that Lincoln would never have appeared on such a show. (O'Reilly co-authored a 2011 book on the Lincoln assassination.)
But historian Harold Holzer, whose Lincoln scholarship has been recognized by presidents of both parties, tells Media Matters that the former president had a great sense of humor and used a wide variety of methods to spread his message.
"I will tell you Abraham Lincoln would go on 'Between Two Ferns' in a second," said Holzer. "He went in the reeds, he played whatever was the most modern, the most cunning, the most unthinkable, unprecedented way to get his message across in a day when there were no press conferences, no culture for press conferences."
Holzer has authored, coauthored, or edited 46 books on Lincoln and the Civil War over 40 years of scholarship and has a new one, Lincoln and the Power of the Press, scheduled to be published by Simon and Schuster in October. He has also written more than 500 articles and chapters of more than 50 books on the topic.
Holzer is chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, after being appointed to the leadership of its predecessor organization by President Clinton in 2000. In 2008, President Bush awarded him the National Humanities Medal for bringing "new understanding of the many facets of Abraham Lincoln and his era."
According to Holzer, Obama's actions are in keeping with Lincoln's press tactics.
"How could you be angry with President Obama for taking his message to the widest audience, this is absolutely in the Lincoln tradition," said Holzer. "He used humor very well and was very tough, very manipulative with the press."
In a piece at Huffington Post responding to O'Reilly's claims, reporter Michael Calderone notes, "Lincoln was also a man who enjoyed telling off-color jokes, and his bawdy sense of humor attracted its share of press criticism."
When the State Department released its final Environmental Impact Statement, nearly all the headlines read the same: "Report Opens Way to Approval for Keystone Pipeline" and "State Dept. Keystone XL Would Have Little Impact On Climate Change." Yet after Reuters broke the news last week that the State Department was wrong in its predictions of greatly expanded rail capacity, undermining its claim of no climate impact, no major media outlet amplified the report.
In a report released late on Friday, January 31, the State Department concluded that Keystone XL was "unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas" based on the assumption that if the pipeline were not built, the equivalent amount of tar sands would instead be transported by rail. It was this finding that the media trumpeted, largely ignoring that buried in the analysis, the State Department for the first time acknowledged that under some studied scenarios, the project could have the equivalent climate impact of adding 5.7 million new cars to the road. The idea that the Keystone XL would not harm the climate led many to declare that President Barack Obama should approve the pipeline, even spurring MSNBC host Ed Schultz to call for approval (before later reversing his stance) and liberal commentator James Carville to predict that the pipeline would be built.
On March 5, Reuters added to skepticism that locking in infrastructure enabling tar sands extraction would have no climate impact, reporting that the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had significantly overestimated the amount of tar sands that would move by rail from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The draft EIS projected that about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) would be moved along this route by rail before the end of 2013. However, a Reuters analysis found that "even in December, when deliveries were near their highest for the year, that tally did not top 40,000 bpd" -- less than a quarter of the State Department's prediction. The final EIS removed any specific projections of movement by rail.
Not a single major media outlet has reported on Reuters' finding, according to a Media Matters search.* In fact, some continued to repeat the State Department's claim that Keystone XL could be replaced by rail without mentioning the report.
Much of the initial coverage of the State Department's final EIS left out that an investigation at the time was looking into whether the contractor that wrote the report for the State Department had a conflict of interest in part because it was a member of the pro-pipeline American Petroleum Institute (API). The investigation later concluded that it did not, but environmentalists still contended it was based on too low of a bar. In fact, API told reporters prior to the final EIS release that it received news from inside the State Department about the timing and conclusions of the report, allowing it to spin the findings to reporters beforehand.
The New York Times used the upcoming 2014 congressional elections to revive the lazy analysis that candidates who support stronger gun laws will be punished at the polls.
Since the 1994 election, the media -- often aided by flawed analysis from Democrats -- have baselessly claimed that an all-powerful National Rifle Association will motivate angry voters to defeat candidates who defy them.
This week the Times revived this tired claim when it suggested that the Democratic push for gun violence prevention is a political loser for the party:
Generally, however, the Democrats' Senate majority is at risk, which helps explain why the party has not tried to revive gun-safety legislation proposed after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. Few issues have hurt Democrats more among working-class white men over time.
While the Senate has not revived its gun-safety legislation after it failed to clear a procedural vote despite the support of 55 senators, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he plans to bring the bill back to the floor in 2014. Moreover, the Times' lazy analysis about the current political impact of stronger gun laws is simply unfounded.
Democratic Gun Policy Has Overwhelming Public Support. The policy that most Senate Democrats voted for in 2013 -- expanding the background check system to cover almost all gun sales - is incredibly popular with voters of all demographics, garnering support of up to 90 percent of respondents in several polls, even in deep red states. Even strong majorities of Republicans support the passage of the Senate bill.
Gun Safety Opponents Took A Political Hit After The Legislation Was Blocked. Senators of both parties who opposed the background check bill saw their political standing decline in the wake of their votes, including Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) -- who became "one of the most unpopular Senators in the country" after he told the mother of a victim of the Aurora theater shooting that he supported expanded background checks then voted against the bill -- along with Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). In each case, between 36 percent and 52 percent of voters said they'd be less likely to support their senator because of their vote.
Little Evidence Shows Guns Are An Electoral Loser For Democrats. While the myth that the NRA is capable of punishing Democrats who support stronger gun laws has been bandied about for two decades, a closer look at electoral results reveals that the group's impact is minimal. After reviewing the results of every House and Senate race in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010, Paul Waldman determined that both the NRA's endorsement and its spending has virtually no impact on congressional election results. And despite spending more than it ever had before in 2012, the NRA's chosen candidates were devastated. The NRA failed to achieve its main goal, the defeat of President Obama, and also backed the losing Senate candidate in six out of its top seven targeted races. Over two-thirds of House incumbents who lost their seats were endorsed by the NRA. One study found that less than one percent of $10,536,106 spent by an NRA political group went to races where the NRA-backed candidate won.
A Pro-Gun Safety Candidate Won Virginia's Governorship in 2013. The 2013 gubernatorial elections provided an excellent test case for the theory that support for sensible gun laws damages Democratic candidates. In Virginia, a quintessential swing state in the South, Democrat Terry McAuliffe ran on his support of expanded background checks and defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who opposed that policy. Guns were a major issue in the campaign, to the surprise of media observers who considered it a loser for McAuliffe -- shortly before the election, The Washington Post wrote of him, "For once, a Democrat is talking tough about gun control, as if daring the National Rifle Association to take him on." McAuliffe wasn't the only Virginia Democrat to win statewide while championing stronger gun laws. After Mark Herring was elected Virginia's Attorney General, his campaign manager attributed the victory to ignoring the conventional wisdom and running on Herring's "strong record and advocacy for sensible gun legislation." Both Democrats withstood hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending from the NRA.
CNN anchor and New York Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp was cursed with bad timing this week as she launched attacks on Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state. Pointing to current events surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Cupp wrote, "a new front is brewing that may bring Clinton's strategic judgment more directly into question: Russia." She added that if Clinton "thinks she's going to get off the hook for it, she's sadly mistaken." According to Cupp, the Russian troop movements demonstrate that Clinton's 2009 effort to reset U.S. relations with that nation were a failure that will damage any potential 2016 presidential run.
Why the bad timing?
The day before Cupp's column appeared detailing Clinton's would-be secretary of state "baggage," Pew Research published a poll showing a strong majority of Americans (67 percent) applaud Clinton's time as secretary of state. And when asked to identify the biggest positive of her long public career, the top response was Clinton's time as secretary. (Also, clear majorities of Americans peg her as being "tough," "honest," and "likable.")
So what Cupp sees as diplomatic "baggage," lots of Americans see it as part of Clinton's crowning accomplishment.
Cupp is hardly alone. Politico's Clinton beat writer, Maggie Haberman wrote that the Ukraine conflict "is another instance in which Clinton is tethered to the administration's decisions heading into 2016." Clinton is "tethered" to her time as secretary of state, Politico noted ominously, while a vast majority of Americans applaud Clinton's time as secretary of state. (And yes, the Pew poll was conducted after Russia invaded Ukraine.)
As the crisis in the Ukraine continues to play out, parts of the D.C. media's All News Is Bad News For Hillary brigade have rallied around the idea that even though Clinton is no longer secretary of state, the current conflict in Ukraine could damage her presidential aspiration because she used to be secretary of state.
More importantly, the Ukraine analysis is the exact opposite of the Beltway pundits' pronouncement last year as they praised current chief diplomat John Kerry after he reached an interim agreement with Iran to freeze its nuclear program. The media formula was simple: Good news that transpired after Clinton left the State Department was not her doing and she deserved no credit. Her efforts to build a sanctions regime that drove Iran to the bargaining table were ignored.
But apparently, the Ukraine crisis is her doing and she deserves the blame even though she left the administration last year. In other words, if Hillary runs for president all the things that didn't happen under her guidance at State will hurt her chances. And if she runs, all the things that happened while she wasn't at State will also hurt her. Under this rubric, all developments in international relations, whether good or bad for the United States, are bad news for Hillary Clinton.
Talk about a lose-lose for Hillary. And talk about trolling for bad news.
Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat depicted business owners who wish to discriminate against gay customers as the real victims in the debate over whether it should be permissible, as a recently vetoed Arizona bill would have authorized, for businesses to deny services to gay people on religious grounds.
In his March 2 column, Douthat conceded the inevitability of marriage equality, contending that once that debate is finished, the question will be whether marriage equality opponents will be able to express their "dissent" by, say, turning gay couples away from their businesses. Even as he urged his fellow Christian conservatives not to "call it persecution" if they're required to treat LGBT people equally, Douthat's entire column attempted to frame the fight for equal treatment as a matter of conservative victimization, rather than fundamental human dignity (emphasis added):
But there's another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business -- which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado.
Meanwhile, pressure would be brought to bear wherever the religious subculture brushed up against state power. Religious-affiliated adoption agencies would be closed if they declined to place children with same-sex couples. (This has happened in Massachusetts and Illinois.) Organizations and businesses that promoted the older definition of marriage would face constant procedural harassment, along the lines suggested by the mayors who battled with Chick-fil-A. And, eventually, religious schools and colleges would receive the same treatment as racist holdouts like Bob Jones University, losing access to public funds and seeing their tax-exempt status revoked.
I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities -- thousands of years' worth -- to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status -- this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.
But it's still important for the winning side to recognize its power. We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we're not having a negotiation. Instead, all that's left is the timing of the final victory -- and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.
Coverage of Social Security in three major national print outlets relied on reporting figures in raw numbers devoid of relevant context -- such as previous years' figures -- that could provide a more accurate picture of the program's finances. These findings, calculated since July 2013, are consistent with a previous Media Matters analysis of print media's coverage of Social Security.
The New York Times improved its standards for budget reporting over the past four months, providing readers with more adequate context to understand the size and scope of federal programs, budget deficits, and policy proposals.
On October 18, 2013, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan issued a statement affirming the paper's commitment to improving its numbers-based reporting. Sullivan's comments came in response to mounting criticism over how print media's reliance on reporting large numbers devoid of context often confuses and unintentionally misleads readers.
Ongoing Media Matters analysis of print media budget reporting standards confirms that the Times has begun to address these concerns, and now leads two other prominent print outlets -- The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal -- in providing context when reporting numbers.
The Times was less likely than other selected outlets to rely on raw numbers for budget reporting from October 19, 2013 -- the day after Sullivan's statement -- to February 14, 2014. The paper was also more likely than the other newspapers analyzed to provide relevant context. Furthermore, the Times was the most likely to present figures in percentage terms relative to the size of the budget or the size of the economy.*
These results show a deviation from past practices. Media Matters research through the first half of 2013 revealed that the Times relied on out-of-context raw numbers for nearly 67 percent of its reporting concerning the federal budget, the debt and deficit, and spending programs. This reflected roughly the average style of reporting among the three outlets examined.
Despite recent improvement, the paper still relies on out-of-context figures for a majority of its coverage. Sullivan acknowledged in her October 18 statement that "[i]t won't be easy to make these changes happen consistently" across the newspaper's entire staff, but that change is coming "and the sooner, the better."
Hopefully other major outlets follow suit.
Image via Flickr user Frank Sheehan using a Creative Commons License.
Three major national print outlets were more likely to report economic figures in terms of raw numbers devoid of relevant and necessary context, such as previous years' numbers or monthly figures that would give readers an accurate depiction of the economy. These findings, calculated since halfway through 2013, are consistent with a previous Media Matters analysis of print media.
The New York Times published a guilt-by-association attack on Hillary Clinton, attempting to connect a trade dispute over alleged steel dumping to the former secretary of state through unrelated philanthropic connections.
Citing a Commerce Department investigation into dumping allegations against Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian business leader, reporter Amy Chozick fixated on Pinchuk's relationship to the Clintons as if it were news to Times readers:
Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton have built a sprawling network of powerful friends around the globe, one that could aid Mrs. Clinton's chances were she to seek the presidency. But those relationships often come with intersecting interests and political complications; few people illustrate that more vividly than the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk.
But in 2008, the Times published a front-page story on Pinchuk which reported his relationship with former President Bill Clinton. The article also detailed that Pinchuk is one of the biggest non-American donors to the Clinton Foundation; that Clinton acknowledged the relationship and praised Pinchuk's philanthropy; that the former president spoke in Yalta advocating strengthening Ukraine's ties to the United States and Europe, a cause close to both men; and that Pinchuk attended a birthday party for Clinton (as well as one for former President George H. W. Bush).
Chozick's story does not acknowledge the prior Times account. Instead, it rehashes old details and attempts to tie them to the pending Commerce Department investigation. Yet Chozick offers no evidence to suggest that the Clintons are connected to that dispute in any way. On the contrary, she acknowledges that there is no evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton, or anybody in the government, has intervened in the trade dispute. Chozick wrote:
There is no evidence that Mr. Pinchuk or Mr. Schoen discussed anything other than the political crisis in Ukraine with the State Department, or that any United States officials tried to influence the trade case.
Hillary Clinton's recent statement that her "biggest regret is what happened in Benghazi" led to a media feeding frenzy who treated her statement as a groundbreaking revelation, while ignoring the fact that immediately following the attacks, Clinton accepted responsibility multiple times including during her testimony with the Senate and House committee.
Canadian pop star Justin Bieber drew media attention today for his arrest on charges of driving under the influence, driving with an expired license, and resisting arrest, with numerous outlets comparing his possible but unlikely deportation with that of the nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants deported under the Obama administration. But Bieber has little in common with the typical deportee and should not be used as an example for reforming the immigration system.
In a post on the case, The New York Times wrote that if Bieber "were poor, obscure and, say, Hispanic," "you'd expect him to be sitting in a holding cell awaiting a one-way trip out of the country." The post continued:
It's just worth pointing out that apart from the humor value of the traffic bust, which followed closely on the heels of Mr. Bieber's infamous neighbor-egging caper, it is in a small way emblematic of the capricious, unbalanced and racially charged way in which immigration policy is conceived and enforced in this country.
The Times added that the "answer is not to treat all immigrants equally badly and deport Mr. Bieber" but that it "is to stop pretending that deportation -- which punishes hard working people but not their employer-enablers -- is an effective tool for dealing with our immigration problems."
Even Fox News, not known for its warm and fuzzy feelings toward immigrants, commented that Bieber "now could be at risk of becoming one of the highest profile immigrants to ever get kicked out of the United States" if he is indeed convicted of those charges. Correspondent Anna Kooiman added: "What will the tweens do then?"
However Bieber, also under investigation on felony charges for vandalism, is hardly the typical face of the immigration reform system. While it's notable for media to debate the shortcomings of deportation policy in light of Bieber's arrest, his case has no overlap with the majority who are deported, many for lesser offenses.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bieber is in the country on an O-1 nonimmigrant visa, reserved for "the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements." (Though his citizenship was listed as "USA" on his arrest report, it was reportedly a "typo" and has since been corrected.)
The most current data from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the United States issued about 10,500 such visas to foreign nationals in 2012, with another 8,000 issued to their assistants and immediate family. This is out of nearly 9 million nonimmigrant visas issued in 2012. The largest percentage of O-1 visas went to British citizens: current notables include CNN host Piers Morgan and footballer David Beckham and his wife Victoria.