The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ringing endorsement last week of Truvada, the "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection, presents news outlets with a prime opportunity to cover an historic development in the three-decade struggle against HIV/AIDS. So far, however, media organizations have largely ignored the story.
Truvada is a 10-year-old pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs. Taken daily, it prevents infection of HIV. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug back in July 2012, it hasn't exactly caught on; a September 2013 report by Gilead Sciences found that only 1,774 people had filled Truvada prescriptions from January 2011 through March 2013. Nearly half of users were women, even though gay men are the demographic group most at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Part of the reason Truvada has been slow to gain steam is, undoubtedly, the stigma attached to those who use it. Gay men who use the drug have been derided as "Truvada Whores," a term many users have sought to reclaim. Some HIV/AIDS advocates, including Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have cast doubt on Truvada's effectiveness, noting that it won't block infection unless users strictly adhere to taking it daily.
But advocates who hail Truvada as a watershed development in the struggle against HIV/AIDS got a huge boost on May 14, when the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called on doctors to prescribe the pill for patients deemed at risk of HIV/AIDS - men who have sex with men, heterosexuals with at-risk partners, anyone whose partners they know are infected, and those who use drugs or share needles.
As The New York Times noted, if doctors follow the CDC's advice, Truvada prescriptions would increase to an estimated 500,000 annually.
On May 15, the Times gave the CDC's historic report prime placement on its front page:
But the Times and The Washington Post were the only major newspapers outlets to cover the CDC's report:
As the newspaper world scrambles to figure out why New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson was forced out this week, her ouster has drawn attention to another mystery: Why are there so few women running America's largest newspapers?
With Abramson's departure, only two of the top 25 circulation daily papers in the U.S. -- as listed by the Alliance for Audited Media -- have women as their top editors. Newsday's Debbie Henley and the Houston Chronicle's Nancy Barnes are the exception rather than the rule.
And with Abramson gone, replaced by Dean Baquet -- the paper's first African-American executive editor -- none of the top 10 daily papers have a woman at the helm. That's unusual since at least half of those papers have seen female newsroom leadership in recent decades.
Along with the Times, the New York Daily News, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today were led by women during the past 15 years.
Among the remaining top 25 daily papers, at least eight had women as the top newsroom bosses during the same time span. Today, only two, Barnes and Henley.
"There was this time where there were quite a few of us. It was a nice list," said Ann Marie Lipinski, who was editor of the Chicago Tribune for seven years before resigning in 2007 and being replaced by a man, Gerould Kern. "One by one, all for varying reasons, most of that group just dissipated. I can't tell you what all of that means, each story is very different. The sum of it is a fairly depressing lack of female leadership in major newsrooms."
Susan Goldberg, a former top editor at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the San Jose Mercury News, said, "it's terrible that half of the jobs aren't filled by women. There certainly are tons of qualified women who are ready and able to lead newsrooms, whether those are print or online newsrooms."
Goldberg, who recently became the first female editor-in-chief of National Geographic magazine, said things were on the rise for women editors, but the trend has reversed. "We made progress for a while, then it seemed to plateau," she said. "Then the [financial] upheaval in the industry came and that may be part of it. There have not been the line of women to replace the ones who left. I'm sorry to see that there hasn't been a deeper bench of women who can step into these roles when they are vacated."
Melanie Sill, former editor of The Sacramento (CA.) Bee and the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., called the trend "definitely something to be concerned about."
"It is something that I have wondered about," added Sill, now executive editor of Southern California Public Radio. "It is part of a larger reverse trend in diversity in news in general. We've lost some ground in terms of ethnic and gender diversity."
A Washington Post columnist claimed that there is "no solution" to global warming in an op-ed that itself included -- and buried -- a possible solution to mitigate climate change. The damage done by advancing the defeatist claim that nothing can be done about climate change may make it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This year has brought one landmark climate report after another, each stating with more certainty than ever that the cost of inaction against climate change will be far greater than the cost of mitigating catastrophe. The National Climate Assessment found that unchecked global warming will affect every region of the country and cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars. The report also found that it's not too late to implement greenhouse gas reduction policies to avoid this scenario. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the findings that climate change is having "sweeping effects" on every continent, and made the case for "immediate mitigation" in a subsequent report, providing hundreds of different pathways for countries to take in order to avoid the worst effects. The American Association for the Advancement of Science published an explainer on the current state of climate science, stating that "The sooner we act [on climate change], the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do."
Yet in a May 12 op-ed, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson brazenly declared that "we have no solution" to climate disruption. He suggested for every report on global warming to come with a "disclaimer" that "we now lack the technologies to stop it," despite the fact that the reports he detailed in his op-ed actually found that these resources already exist.
The "reality" Samuelson provides, that global emissions are currently projected to increase nearly 50 percent by 2040, mostly from fossil fuels, should warrant an even stronger case for action. The longer the world waits to take action on climate change, the costlier it will be -- up to $1.9 trillion in the U.S. alone, according to an analysis by Tufts University. In other words, Samuelson's "solution" -- to do nothing -- would end up costing the economy more in the long-run.
Just because one U.S. policy may not be sufficient to negate global climate change does not make an action "futile." Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist and writer for The Guardian and Skeptical Science, analogized Samuelson's argument to "saying that somebody who's obese shouldn't stop eating deep fried Twinkies, because by itself that's not sufficient to lose 100 pounds" in an email to Media Matters. Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman has also spoken out against this logic in the New York Times:
What about the argument that unilateral U.S. action won't work, because China is the real problem? It's true that we're no longer No. 1 in greenhouse gases -- but we're still a strong No. 2. Furthermore, U.S. action on climate is a necessary first step toward a broader international agreement, which will surely include sanctions on countries that don't participate.
The most obvious idea is a carbon tax to help finance government and stimulate energy-saving technologies and new forms of non-carbon energy. If these technologies went global, the gap between rich and poor countries would narrow.
So why is Samuelson claiming that a "central truth for public policy" is that "we have no solution?" Solutions exist, as he himself admitted later in the column. But the longer they are delayed, the worse the problem will become, especially if global warming worsens past a potential tipping point. Providing solutions to global warming in the media is essential for closing the "science-action gap" and creating change. Without knowing the solutions, the Washington Post's readers are more likely to reject the threat of climate disruption. Framing climate change as a solution-less problem may create a scenario where that's true.
Photo at top via Flickr user Takver with a Creative Commons license.
Washington Post columnist George Will dedicated his most recent column to bashing citizens uncomfortable with forced participation in Christian prayer before they can petition town officials, characterizing both the Jewish and atheist plaintiff in the Supreme Court's recent decision on the constitutionality of state-sponsored prayer as "flimsy people" with "thin skins."
The suit, Town of Greece v. Galloway, was filed by two residents of Greece -- a small town in upstate New York -- who objected to their town officials' decade-long practice of inviting almost exclusively Christian clergy to deliver at times extremely sectarian prayers before the start of town meetings. On May 6, the Supreme Court's conservative justices held that the Christian prayer regularly invoked at town meetings before residents could engage their local officials in town business did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In the majority's view, the prayers were appropriate because "although most of the prayer givers were Christian, this fact reflected only the predominantly Christian identity of the town's congregations." In their dissent, the liberal justices noted that although "legislative prayers" have been held to be a ceremonial exception to the First Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of religion, the Town of Greece crossed the constitutional line by embedding Christian prayers as the bar citizens must cross before they can engage their representatives.
In his Washington Post column, Will celebrated the majority's reinterpretation of what constitutes permissible "legislative prayers." He also took the opportunity to gratuitously slam the "prickly plaintiffs" for bringing the case at all, falsely pretending the concerns of religious minorities are the same as those of "militantly aggravated secularists."
From Will's May 7 column (emphasis added):
Three decades have passed since the court last ruled on the matter of prayers during government meetings. In 1983, the court held:
"The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country. From colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom."
Since then, however, many Americans have become more irritable and litigious and less neighborly. Also, there are many more nonbelievers. And the court has made establishment-clause jurisprudence more labyrinthine with nuances such as the "endorsement test": What government behavior touching religion would a reasonable observer see as endorsing -- or disapproving -- a particular religion or religiosity generally?
The majority held that ceremonial prayer -- an encouragement to gravity and sobriety -- is not harmful to the plaintiffs, who felt somehow coerced when present at public prayers, and who said such prayers are necessarily divisive. The court should have told them: If you feel coerced, you are flimsy people, and it is a choice -- an unattractive one -- to feel divided from your neighbors by their affection for brief and mild occasional expressions of religiosity.
Taking offense has become America's national pastime; being theatrically offended supposedly signifies the exquisitely refined moral delicacy of people who feel entitled to pass through life without encountering ideas or practices that annoy them. As the number of nonbelievers grows -- about 20 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, as are one-third of adults under the age of 30 -- so does the itch to litigate believers into submission to secular sensibilities.
The Washington Post minimized the climate impact of Keystone XL in a misleading chart. But a comparable chart that illustrates a key rationale the Post uses to advocate building the pipeline -- its supposed job creation potential -- shows how misguided that argument is.
On May 5, the Post's Wonkblog ran an article that included a chart comparing the additional carbon pollution that would result from moving tar sands through the pipeline (as opposed to conventional oil) to the overall carbon pollution in the U.S. economy. However, the Post made an error similar to one that prompted the New York Times to issue a correction, noting that the proper comparison would be to the total emissions from the pipeline (150 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent, or Co2-e, not 18.7 million as originally reported). So in actuality Keystone XL amounts to a little less than 3 percent of the entire U.S. economy's carbon pollution, not less than 1 percent.
A similar pie chart of the argument that Post editorials and Keystone XL advocates often refer to when lobbying for the pipeline -- job creation -- shows that Keystone XL jobs would actually represent less than 1 one-hundredth of a percent of the U.S. economy. A February 5 editorial from the Post argued that: "The real downside to rejecting the project concerns jobs (construction would create at least several thousand), relations with Canada and the message that arbitrary decision-making would send to investors and other nations."
However, the State Department estimated that Keystone XL will produce only 3,900 construction jobs if construction occurred over a one-year period and 1,950 if construction took two years, resulting in only about 35 permanent jobs after construction. That is microscopic in comparison to 145,669,000 jobs, the most recently reported total number of jobs in the United States.
This is not the first time that the Post has advocated for Keystone XL while trivializing its environmental impact. The Post published a January 2013 editorial that trumpeted the inevitability of extracting oil from the Canadian tar sands and brushed aside criticism borne out of climate change concerns, because "[s]upply would make it to demand, one way or another." The May 5 Post article made the same claim, asserting that: "[T]he tar sands are going to get developed -- and those 18.7 million tons of carbon released into the atmosphere -- regardless of whether Keystone gets built or not." However, reports have indicated that moving oil by rail will not be able to replace the capacity of Keystone XL.
The article concludes that Keystone XL should not be disputed because "Keystone amounts to a little over one tenth of U.S. cow flatulence" - again using the misleading 18.7 million figure. Unmentioned? The White House is indeed taking action to address methane emissions from cattle.
Two Media Matters analyses suggest that over 85 percent of those quoted in the media about climate change are men. Several top women in the field denounced this disparity, noting that women will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
A review of a recent Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of the U.N. climate reports found that women made up less than 15 percent of interviewees. A look back at our analysis of broadcast coverage of climate change unearthed the same stark disparity: less than 14 percent of those quoted on the nightly news shows and Sunday shows in 2013 were women.
Allison Chin, the former president of the Sierra Club, decried this gender gap in a statement to Media Matters:
The gender imbalance among those quoted on the climate crisis is striking, particularly since women around the world are more vulnerable to the dangers of climate disruption and among the most active in the movement for solutions. Globally, existing inequalities give women less access and less control over resources and make them more susceptible to the worst effects of extreme weather. The last thing the media should do is amplify that divide by only covering one set of perspectives.
Rebecca Lefton, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and an expert in international climate change policy and gender equality agreed, telling Media Matters that this is an environmental justice issue because "women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in developing countries." Indeed, studies show, for instance, that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of extreme weather disasters, some of which are exacerbated by climate change, in part because they are more likely to be poor. Lefton added, "Without women's voices we lose the perspective of half of the population and without women's participation, the transition to a cleaner economy will be slower."
The lack of women's voices in climate change conversations in the media is not due to a shortage of powerful women in climate policy and communications. U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, who is in charge of negotiating a global climate treaty, noted in March that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt." The last two heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is slated to come out with carbon pollution standards for future power plants, were both women -- current administrator Gina McCarthy and former administrator Lisa Jackson.
Media Matters has previously found that women make up only about a quarter of guests on the Sunday morning talk shows and weekday evening cable news segments on the economy. However, the gender gap on climate change conversations is even starker. One contributing factor may be that the climate sciences have experienced a "female brain drain," according to Scientific American, as have many other scientific fields. This "female brain drain" is also evident in the largely male leadership of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Women that do enter the field often face discrimination. Two prominent female climate scientists, Heidi Cullen and Katherine Hayhoe, have both been dismissed by Rush Limbaugh as "babe[s]." Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who is one of the stars of a new Showtime series on climate change, told E&E News that much of the internet harassment she receives focuses on her gender:
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.