The final installment of the U.N.'s top climate report, which calls for prompt, extensive action to avoid calamitous impacts from climate change, garnered relatively little attention from the major print, cable and broadcast media outlets compared to the first installment. However, coverage of the third report rightfully gave far less space to those who cast doubt on the science.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza baselessly criticized former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun safety efforts, claiming without evidence that Bloomberg's "persona could hurt" the campaign.
Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year "building a nationwide grass-roots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence," The New York Times reported. Republican and Democratic officials, including President Bush's secretary of homeland security and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sit on the board of Bloomberg's new group, Everytown for Gun Safety, as do several prominent survivors and family members of victims of gun violence.
Responding to the news, Cillizza criticized Bloomberg for allegedly making himself "the face of his new gun violence push." Cillizza wrote that Bloomberg "doesn't fully grasp how he is viewed by many people outside of major cities and the Northeast," who supposedly see the former Mayor as "the living, breathing symbol of the sort of nanny government they loathe."
It's true that Bloomberg has been harshly criticized by conservative media outlets for his work as mayor of New York City. But Cillizza errs in conflating this "conservative vitriol" from critics like Michelle Malkin -- hard-right types who will never support a gun safety agenda -- with the views of the people Bloomberg "needs to convince."
As Cillizza himself notes, polling data doesn't bear out the contention that there's a massive wave of anti-Bloomberg sentiment. According to the 2013 poll Cillizza cites, roughly equal numbers of Americans view the former New York City mayor favorably or unfavorably, while slightly fewer haven't heard of him or have no opinion. Other polls likewise show no massive anti-Bloomberg movement of the type Cillizza suggests.
Cillizza claims Bloomberg's persona impedes his efforts with the Republican-leaning women Bloomberg "needs to convince" for his efforts to be successful. But he provides no evidence that a sizable number of those women see Bloomberg unfavorably -- or that any block of swing voters, moderates, or independents do so. Indeed, the proposals Bloomberg supports, such as universal background checks on firearms purchases, have overwhelming public support.
Cillizza's case study for the supposed opposition also doesn't hold up. He writes:
The more groups opposed to gun control are able to cast the effort to pass measures that would tighten said laws as the efforts of a New York City billionaire bent on telling you how to live your life, the less effective the effort will be. Look at how badly Virginias reacted when Bloomberg ran stings in the Commonwealth in 2007 and when he made comments in 2012 about how so many guns used in New York City came from Virginia. People don't like others telling them how to handle their business -- especially if that person is a billionaire New York City resident who wants to regulate things like sugar in soda.
Cillizza leaves out what happened in Virginia in 2013, when pro-gun safety candidates backed by millions in election spending from Bloomberg-supported groups were elected as the state's governor and attorney general. Either the people of Virginia weren't as opposed to Bloomberg as Cillizza thinks, or their opinion of him didn't matter as much as Cillizza thinks.
The Department of Energy's clean energy loan program helped fuel the achievements of electric car company Tesla Motors, yet the major broadcast, cable and print media only mentioned the loan in 20 percent of their coverage of Tesla in 2013 (and in only 7 percent of coverage of Nissan's best-selling electric car, the Leaf). Meanwhile, 84 percent of coverage of Fisker, an electric car company that declared bankruptcy, mentioned its federal loan. This skewed coverage may have misinformed the public about the overwhelmingly positive success rate of the program.
Media reports on the Senate vote to renew long-term unemployment benefits established a false contrast between providing a safety net for unemployed Americans and policies designed to create jobs. In fact, experts note that unemployment benefits boost job creation and economic growth.
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.
Right-wing media are working to muddy the significant legal distinction between religious, nonprofit corporations and secular, for-profit corporations in response to recent Supreme Court arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, in which Hobby Lobby argues that secular, for-profit corporations should receive an unprecedented religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act's "contraception mandate."
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.
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.
Maureen Dowd wants to feel young again.
Already looking ahead to the 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Times columnist wrote on Sunday that elections are supposed to make you feel "young and excited." But Dowd fretted that that's just not possible if Hillary Clinton is one of the nominees.
Dowd insisted it was the prospect of a Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush battle that drove her to distraction: "The looming prospect of another Clinton-Bush race makes us feel fatigued," she wrote. But as the column made clear, it was Hillary who caused the pundit the most grief, especially the prospect of "dredging up memories of a presidency that was eight years of turbulence."
It's a familiar press refrain. The Los Angeles Times recently wondered if "lingering fatigue from the serial melodramas of Bill Clinton's administration" would hurt Hillary's possible presidential chances. And The New Yorker's 's Jill Lepore suggested documents recently released by the Clinton presidential library would reignite old "concerns" about Hillary's "unethical" behavior.
Please note the pundit-voter disconnect.
"Democrats appear overwhelmingly eager for a Clinton candidacy," as the New York Times noted last week in an piece analyzing the results of a new poll. But D.C. pundits and Beltway media insiders are another story. Unconcerned with the desires of voters who traditionally pick leaders based on who they think will make America a safe and prosperous place to live, pundits fret more about "fatigue," as if would-be candidates are stars on a long-running television series.
The irony is that if anyone's creating Clinton fatigue this year, it's the same journalists who claim she's already played out. For the week of February 10-16, the three all-news cable channels aired more than 400 minutes of Hillary coverage, according to Mediaite. And here's a sampling of the Times' recent Clinton coverage from just a recent three-day window:
So yes, I can see why some journalists are complaining about fatigue. The odd part? They're the ones firmly committed to relentlessly covering someone who hasn't announced whether she'll run for president, and for an election that won't be held for more than 900 days. Journalists are complaining about a Beltway ailment that they alone can cure: Stop acting like there's a presidential election in three months.
Clinton Fatigue, heal thyself.
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin falsely claimed an Obama administration push to expand opportunities for young men of color was unconstitutional and discriminatory, comparing it to the failed Arizona "Jim Crow" bill which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gay couples.
President Obama announced on February 27 a $200 million, five-year initiative called "My Brother's Keeper," which intends to expand opportunities for young, at-risk men of color, ensuring they have access to health, nutrition, high-quality early education, and job opportunities, while partnering with police and local communities to reduce violence. The president will sign an order establishing an interagency task force to assess existing federal programs and recommend areas which can be expanded and improved upon, but as The New York Times reported, the initiative will rely "little on the government," and instead will largely come from the business community and nonprofits.
In her Post blog the following day, Rubin falsely characterized this push as a "federal program" which would discriminate against white men, claiming it was potentially unconstitutional and attacking the administration for using "victimhood as a political weapon" to divide the country:
The problem with hyping gender and racial differences is not simply the increased resentment and divisiveness it creates but also that it uses victimhood as a political weapon. Pretty soon words like "discrimination" lose meaning. It seems you are either for an inclusive society -- devoted to diminishing racial, ethnic, religious and other distinctions -- or you're not.
Like the Arizona anti-gay law, no good can come from a program that divides up the population by these categories.
The proposed Arizona legislation, which failed this week after Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the measure because it could result in "negative consequences," would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay people on religious grounds. The bill was so extreme that even multiple Fox News personalities compared it to Jim Crow laws in the racist South, noting it was "profoundly unconstitutional" and "potentially dangerous."
My Brother's Keeper, on the other hand, is not a law which could codify segregation and endorse impermissibly discriminatory practices. In fact, Rubin's criticism of the program as "flat-out unconstitutional" manages to mangle both her source and constitutional law. Rubin exaggerated a National Review Online blog, which was far more careful than her description conveyed -- likely in recognition of the fact that race-conscious law is not and has never been automatically illegal. If state action uses race as a criteria and someone sues, a court must first carefully scrutinize the government's reasons and only then decide whether the program is constitutional. It's not even clear that the government "task force" for this partnership controls the funding and administration of these private programs, making the reference to its constitutionality and the Fourteenth Amendment likely irrelevant.
Despite Rubin's fear mongering about a discriminatory society, My Brother's Keeper merely seeks to improve opportunities for young Americans -- Americans who have historically been the victims of discrimination. As the Times reported, the president's inspiration for the initiative came from the national conversation about race, and the statistical reality that young black men are still disadvantaged in this country:
Mr. Obama said the idea for My Brother's Keeper occurred to him in the aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager whose death two years ago sparked a roiling national debate about race and class. He called the challenge of ensuring success for young men of color a "moral issue for our country" as he ticked off the statistics: black boys who are more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read, and almost certain to encounter the criminal justice system as either a perpetrator or a victim.
"We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is," Mr. Obama told an audience of business leaders, politicians, philanthropists, young black men from a Chicago support program, and Mr. Martin's parents. "It's like a cultural backdrop for us in movies, in television. We just assume, of course it's going to be like that."
"These statistics should break our hearts," he added. "And they should compel us to act."
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.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker dismissed sexual assault legislation requiring that consent be present at all times during a sexual encounter.
In her February 21 column, Parker weighed in on the firestorm surrounding Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto's suggestion that both parties are equally to blame in sexual assault cases where both the victim and attacker are intoxicated. Parker wrote that Taranto's argument was "inartful," and concluded that because of their stronger "physicality," "it is for men to not take advantage of women who are bereft of their faculties, no matter the state of their own."
Despite her conclusion, Parker nonetheless lamented "one of the problems with gender issues," wherein "someone always takes things too far, making ridiculous what should be treated with scientific precision." As if to prove her own point, Parker made that observation after seemingly dismissing legislation requiring that "yes needs to be persistent throughout" a sexual encounter:
What got Taranto going was a New York Times article about bystander intervention in campus rape. Basically, if a drunk guy is getting aggressive with a girl, you're supposed to stop him. What was once simple citizenship is now innovative behavior modification. Elsewhere the zeitgeist was buzzing about proposed legislation in California that would codify the terms of consent in sexual relations among college students. Saying "yes" apparently isn't good enough. Now yes needs to be persistent throughout the act.
The comic possibilities are nearly irresistible, but my survival instinct prompts me to exercise restraint. Herein lies one of the problems with gender issues. Someone always takes things too far, making ridiculous what should be treated with scientific precision.
The California legislation in question was introduced earlier this month. According to The Sacramento Bee, it would put "the responsibility on a person who wants to engage in sexual activity to ensure that he or she has explicit consent from a partner." Despite the "comic possibilities" Parker sees, the language of the legislation seems non-controversial:
Consent must be present throughout sexual activity, and at any time, a participant can communicate that he or she no longer consents to continuing the sexual activity. If there is confusion as to whether a person has consented or continues to consent to sexual activity, it is essential that the participants stop the activity until the confusion can be clearly resolved.
Slate's Amanda Marcotte has explained why affirmative consent standards are important:
Women should not be assumed to be consenting to sex unless they say otherwise in blunt language, especially since research shows that most people tend to refuse to go along with activities, sexual or otherwise, with demurring language instead of blunt refusals.
That doesn't mean that the law would require partners to draft a contract before having sex, but it would mean that a rapist would have a harder time pretending that he didn't understand what it meant when a woman repeatedly asked to go home and refused to kiss him back and wiggled away when he tried to take off her clothes, all because she broadcast her refusals politely instead of yelling "no" at him.
The Washington Post announced that Alison Coglianese would be its new reader representative. The appointment of Coglianese appears to show that the Post's policy of eliminating an independent critique ofthe paper's coverage is its new standard, despite criticism and warnings from previous ombudsmen for the publication.
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.