A massive spill of toxic coal ash in a North Carolina river on February 2 has been entirely ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC. The spill has led to a federal investigation and allegations that the state's Governor -- who worked for the corporation behind the spill and has received substantial campaign donations from it -- has been too lenient on the company, which was discovered to have spilled coal ash into the river again on February 18.
This week, all four major broadcast networks covered extreme weather and climate change on their Sunday morning political talk shows. Those programs have largely ignored global warming in recent years, making their effort to address the issue unusual and laudable. But several of the segments also demonstrated the vulnerability inherent in treating science as a political debate where both sides receive a platform to air their positions.
Major winter storms across the U.S. in the month of February, drought in California, and President Obama's call for a $1 billion climate change "resilience fund" sparked debates this week over the need for action against climate change. The science of global warming is settled: according to one survey, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that "humans are causing global warming." But the Sunday shows, because they are built on a model of showing political conflicts, have difficulty putting that fact in context.
ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press both featured debates between individuals who support and oppose the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, creating a false balance that could serve to confuse their viewers. Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, meanwhile, hosted a discussion in which no panelist stated that human-caused climate change is occurring while several claimed that it is not. CBS' Face the Nation, by contrast, featured an interview with a scientist who explained that "we know that climate change is happening and humans are contributing."
The broadcast Sunday shows devoted a paltry 27 minutes of coverage to climate change in 2013, according to a Media Matters study. Nearly 60 percent of that coverage came on Face the Nation; Meet the Press did not mention the issue all year. Face the Nation also featured the first interview of a scientist to discuss global warming by any of the programs in five years.
It's a good sign that the Sunday shows are addressing global warming, but treating it as just another political issue causes new complications.
Republicans and conservatives were hosted more often than Democrats and progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning political talk shows. Fox News Sunday was particularly slanted toward the right while ABC's This Week was the only program to feature as many progressives as conservatives.
Two dozen women leaders and organizations have signed a letter to the six network and cable news heads expressing their concern for the lack of gender diversity on Sunday morning political talk shows.
A Media Matters report found that in 2013, men made up more than 70 percent of the guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, and CNN's State of the Union. Only MSNBC's Up and Melissa Harris-Perry reached near parity, with women making up 44 percent of total guests. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time. The top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews were all men. Media Matters also found that gender diversity has not improved on the broadcast political talk shows in the past five years.
The heads of 24 organizations which advocate for women and women's representation in media wrote to the Presidents and Chairs of the broadcast and cable networks, expressing "deep concern" for the lack of diversity and urging them to take action to ensure the morning political talk shows "more accurately reflect the demographics of our diverse nation":
With male guests vastly outnumbering female guests on Sunday morning broadcasts, women lose out in shaping the national discourse, and your viewers miss important points of view.
There are qualified women to speak on issues affecting all Americans, including national security, economic growth, climate change, education and many others. But when it comes to reproductive health, equal pay, and other subjects disproportionately affecting women, it becomes increasingly imperative that Sunday political talk shows reflect our democracy. This is particularly important since these shows frequently set the tone for how these topics are covered later in the week.
The full letter can be read below.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on the broadcast and CNN Sunday morning talk shows in 2013. Melissa Harris-Perry continued to be the most ethnically diverse program.
Want to know if women's representation in media is improving? Here's one indication it's not: the percentage of female guests on the Sunday morning broadcast political talk shows is the same as it was five years ago.
According to a Media Matters analysis, male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday broadcast political talk shows in 2013, with women making up only 25 percent of all guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time on the same programs. In fact, the top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews in 2013 were all men.
This vast underrepresentation of women on political talk shows that often set the agenda is disheartening -- but the number appears even worse when looked at over time.
Female guests made up only 24 percent of guests on the Sunday morning broadcast shows back in 2008 according to Media Matters' data, an insignificant change over the past five years.
One reason for this may be that the pool of potential guests for these shows has also not gotten significantly more diverse over the past five years. The most common guests were in 2013 were journalists and pundits, a profession which is overwhelmingly male. Newsroom diversity has been stagnant for over a decade, with the percentage of women in newsrooms never exceeding 38 percent.
The second most common profession among guests in 2013 on those programs were politicians. According to the Nation Women's Political Caucus, in 2013 women made up only 18.3 percent of Congress, a (shockingly low) number which was not much of an improvement from 2008, when women were 17 percent of Congress.
The lack of diversity in newsrooms and Congress, however, does not entirely excuse the broadcast shows from consistently failing to invite women to the table. In 2013, MSNBC managed to have women make up 44 percent of guests on their Sunday morning political talk shows, with Melissa Harris-Perry (which debuted in 2012) leading in gender diversity by hosting women 47 percent of the time. Broadcast political talk shows have a lot of catching up to do to ensure women have equal participation in our national media.
Let's hope it doesn't take another five years.
Charts by Oliver Willis.
Male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday morning broadcast and CNN political talk shows in 2013, according to a Media Matters review. MSNBC's programs gave women a significantly greater opportunity to voice their opinions.
A Media Matters review of the Sunday morning political talk shows finds that white males largely dominated the guest lists in 2013. MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry and Up with Steve Kornacki achieved greater ethnic and gender diversity than the broadcast shows or CNN's State of the Union. Overall, conservatives outnumbered progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning shows.
A Media Matters analysis reveals that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX picked up in 2013 over the previous year, but remained lower than a 2009 high. Furthermore, while one Sunday show interviewed scientists about climate change, distinguishing itself as the first such program to do so in five years, these shows continued to rely largely on media figures and Republicans to dictate the conversation around global warming.
In response to Senate Democrats invoking the so-called "nuclear option," right-wing media advanced a number of myths not only about filibuster reform, but about the qualifications of President Obama's nominees who have languished in the confirmation process. What right-wing media have ignored is that Democrats used the "nuclear option" only after unprecedented GOP obstruction prevented Obama's judicial and executive nominees from receiving an up-or-down vote.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
In the first nine months of 2013, white men dominated the guest lists on the broadcast network Sunday shows and CNN's State of the Union. MSNBC was the only network achieving notable diversity in its guests, particularly on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Republicans and conservatives are hosted significantly more on the broadcast Sunday shows than Democrats and progressives.
On September 16, the day of the Navy Yard gun massacre in Washington, D.C, White House spokesman Jay Carney took questions from assembled journalists when CNN's Jim Acosta asked about the shooting rampage, where a gunman killed 12 people.
"Navy Yard, Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, Fort Hood," Acosta said, ticking off a list of recent mass shootings in the United States. "Is the President concerned that his administration will be marked by an inability to resolve this issue of mass shootings?"
Huh? Obama's to blame for not stopping mass shootings?
The fact is that following last December's gun massacre at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut, and after becoming the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win election and reelection with 51 percent of the vote or more, Obama made gun violence a top legislative priority. "Obama and Biden gave more than 30 speeches, interviews and online chats, oftentimes with families of gun victims at their side," according to McClatchy newspapers.
First Lady Michelle Obama became actively involved in the gun legislation push. The president personally reached out to Republican members of Congress to press his case, as well as meeting with families from the Newtown shooting, while Obama's political organization, Organizing for Action, held rallies and vigils nationwide to build momentum for legislative action.
In the end, none of it mattered because the vast majority of Republicans refused to support the proposed background check bill, just as the vast majority of Republicans have refused to support virtually any White House initiative since 2009. As Congressional historians Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann recently noted, "Persuasion matters if the people you are trying to persuade have any inclination to go along, or any attachment to the concept of compromise." (Republicans do not.)
What made the gun bill's defeat so shocking was it came in the wake of the haunting school slaying. Plus, according to many polls, more than 90 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, the central facet of the failed legislation. Yet Republicans threatened a filibuster and refused to allow the bill to proceed.
As Carney patiently explained to Acosta, his question about the political inability to resolve the issue of mass shootings was probably better put to Republican senators, 91 percent of whom voted against the background check bill, and to the larger Republican Party which made universally clear in the wake of Sandy Hook that it would block any attempt by Obama and Democrats to tighten gun laws in America, no matter how many mass shootings unfold on our television screens.
Viewed in a larger context, the strange CNN question revealed more about the state of the Beltway media than it did about Obama's "inability to resolve" gun rampages. It was telling that a reporter sought to assign blame to the person trying to fix the problem of mass shootings, and not to the people standing in the way of that attempt.
A Beltway media truth: The failed gun vote, engineered by obstructionist Republicans, highlights Obama's political shortcomings. A second Beltway media truth: The blocked gun vote reveals little about the state of today's GOP.
This Week allowed a false Republican talking point created by right-wing media -- that Warren Buffett criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- to go unchallenged after it was repeated by Rep Tom Graves (R-GA). ABC did not inform its audience that the out of context comment was from 2010 and was not made in reference to the health care law. Buffet publicly re-stated his support of the law as a result of the controversy.
Guest host Jonathan Karl asked Graves to react to a Wall Street Journal editorial that criticized the House Republican plan to defund the ACA. Graves responded by quoting sources critical of the law, including the claim that "Warren Buffett says stop it now, start over":
But Buffett's comments were made in 2010 and were not directed at the ACA.
Graves' mistake comes directly from the right-wing media's dishonest reporting. Despite the fact that Buffett made those comments in 2010, right-wing outlets, such as The Weekly Standard reported on them as though they had been made recently, claiming "You know things are bad for President Obama when even Warren Buffett has soured on Obamacare."
After discovering that the quote was made in 2010, the Standard updated their post but still claimed the comments showed that Buffett "has opposed Obamacare since even before it was passed." But Buffett was never criticizing the law, he was expressing concern about growing health care costs and urging reform. As New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait pointed out:
Benghazi witness Gregory Hicks used an ABC interview to push discredited myths about the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya that have been refuted by military officials and by his own testimony.
During the September 8 edition of This Week, Former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks described his experience and the aftermath of the Benghazi attack with host George Stephanopoulos. Hicks used the interview to accuse the State Department of retaliating against him for his testimony during a House Oversight Committee hearing on May 8. After Stephanopoulos asked Hicks whether he felt he was being punished for his testimony, he responded, "Yes, I feel that I have been punished. ... I don't know why I was punished" and "shunted aside."
But Hicks was not punished for speaking out. Stephanopoulos read from a State Department letter which explained that "The State Department has not punished Mr. Hicks in any way" and his departure from Libya "was entirely unrelated to any statements" he made about Benghazi.
In fact, Hicks' claim about being punished contradicts his previous testimony about not returning to his assignment in Libya. During his testimony at a May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing, Hicks explained that "my family really didn't want me to go back. ... So I voluntarily curtailed" returning to Libya. From Hicks' sworn testimony (emphasis added):
REP. SCOTT DESJARLAIS (R-TN): So when you came back to the United States, were you planning on going back to Libya?
MR. HICKS: I was. I fully intended to do so.
REP. DESJARLAIS: And what do you think happened?
MR. HICKS: Based on the criticism that I received, I felt that if I went back, I would never be comfortable working there. And in addition, my family really didn't want me to go back. We'd endured a year of separation when I was in Afghanistan 2006 and 2007. That was the overriding factor. So I voluntarily curtailed -- I accepted an offer of what's called a no-fault curtailment. That means that there's -- there would be no criticism of my departure of post, no negative repercussions. And in fact Ambassador Pope, when he made the offer to everyone in Tripoli when he arrived -- I mean Charge Pope -- when he arrived, he indicated that people could expect that they would get a good onward assignment out of that.