Several months into the 2016 presidential campaign, the media is frequently failing to fact-check statements by presidential candidates denying the science of climate change. Seven major newspapers and wire services surveyed by Media Matters have thus far failed to indicate that candidates' statements conflict with the scientific consensus in approximately 43 percent of their coverage, while the major broadcast and cable news outlets other than MSNBC have failed to do so 75 percent of the time.
Many major media outlets reported that a new Environmental Protection Agency study found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking") has had "widespread" impacts on Americans' drinking water, but did not mention the EPA's explanation for why the study doesn't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The EPA study identified several "limiting factors," including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, which it said "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty."
From the May 21 edition of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes:
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Recent news reports on Republican presidential candidates' current support for pre-viability bans on abortion after 20 weeks have failed to mention that such bans are clearly unconstitutional, and have been repeatedly struck down as such by the courts.
It's no secret that the likely candidates for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination are extremely anti-choice. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was recently in the news for his sponsorship of "personhood" bills that would legally define life at conception, rendering abortion and some forms of birth control the criminal equivalent of murder -- perhaps even without exceptions for rape or incest. With less attention, Paul's potential primary opponents have also staked out far-right positions on American women's access to abortion, and recent reporting indicates their consensus position is coalescing around pre-viability 20-week abortion bans. In addition to Paul, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are all reportedly on board with these bans, despite the fact they flout decades of Supreme Court precedent protecting the constitutional right to abortion.
In reporting on these candidates' current lockstep for bans on abortion, however, mainstream media outlets are neglecting to mention that these 20-week measures are blatantly unconstitutional -- despite the fact that some of these same candidates repeatedly emphasize their fidelity to the "rule of law" and the U.S. Constitution.
In a recent article about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who has yet to officially announce his candidacy, The New York Times noted that Walker's newfound support for a 20-week abortion ban was a "shift in emphasis and tone," but never discussed the constitutional flaw in such bans. USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times omitted the same fact in their political coverage of Walker's position on reproductive rights, with the LA Times choosing to describe a 20-week ban in terms of a "sharper-edged tone" rather than the unconstitutional measure it is.
The trend culminated in an April 17 Politico article that called 20-week abortion bans the "new litmus test" for all Republican candidates. While Politico detailed how anti-choice groups are lobbying Republicans to "make 20-week abortion ban[s] a centerpiece of their campaigns," the article never once noted that those bans are unconstitutional.
Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.
Bjorn Lomborg has argued for more coal use abroad and fewer electric cars here in the U.S., both times contorting the facts to cast his position as a way to keep people from dying. In each instance, Lomborg cloaks his anti-environmental positions in supposed concern for public health, rather than addressing the canary in the coal mine: The fact that coal emissions contribute to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States.
In a February 19 USA Today column, Lomborg, the President of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a long-time electric car critic, asserted that we should "stop our green worship of the electric car," in part because it "surprisingly kills almost twice the number of people compared with regular gasoline cars." Lomborg was referring to a recent University of Minnesota study, which found that the pollution associated with electric vehicles powered by coal or "grid average" electricity result in more annual deaths than the pollution associated with vehicles run on conventional gasoline. Based on these findings, Lomborg concluded that "[i]nstead of focusing on electric cars, we should focus on making coal-fired power cleaner."
Of course, that wasn't the conclusion of the study Lomborg was citing. The University of Minnesota researchers instead emphasized that "electric vehicles (EVs) powered by electricity from natural gas or wind, water, or solar power are best for improving air quality, whereas vehicles powered by corn ethanol and EVs powered by coal are the worst." In other words, the solution is moving away from coal as quickly as possible, not scrapping electric cars.
Media are recycling old news that The Clinton Foundation accepts foreign donations when neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton hold political office to fearmonger over "ethical concerns" surrounding the donations, ignoring the fact that it is not unusual for foundations to receive foreign donations and that Clinton's record as Secretary of State makes clear that she was not politically influenced by previous donations to the Foundation.
A Media Matters review of several major newspapers found that their coverage of congressional efforts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been missing an essential component of the story: the hundreds of millions of dollars that the fossil fuel industry spent in the midterm elections to elect members of Congress who support Keystone XL and other aspects of the oil industry's agenda. Of the newspapers reviewed, only The New York Times tied congressional support for Keystone XL back to the fossil fuel industry's campaign contributions.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker debunked the claim that net neutrality protections could cost American consumers $15 billion in additional taxes and fees -- a favorite conservative argument against net neutrality and one parroted by multiple media outlets -- concluding the estimate contains "significant factual error[s] and/or obvious contradictions."
USA Today amplified a misleading op-ed claiming that proposed net neutrality regulations could cost consumers $15 billion in new user fees and taxes, a number that has been called into question by advocacy groups for faulty assumptions.
On December 12, USA Today ran an op-ed by Progressive Policy Institute's Hal Singer and Brookings Institute's Robert Litan promoting their conclusion that a vote by the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act could cost consumers "a whopping $15 billion in new user fees to consumer bills." The authors claimed that "[o]nce Internet access service is labeled a 'telecommunications service' under Title II, consumer broadband services could become subject to a whole host of new taxes and fees."
Singer and Litan admitted that "the Internet Tax Freedom Act pending in Congress might limit the impact of some of these taxes and fees" and that the FCC could limit service fees to consumers, but argued that such moves are unlikely and would not limit the impact of all fees.
The paper published the authors' claims despite the fact that their calculations have been criticized for relying on faulty assumptions. The nonpartisan open Internet advocacy group Free Press estimated that FCC limits and the Internet Freedom Act would reduce possible fees associated with net neutrality reclassification by nearly 75 percent, to $4 billion. The group called the notion that Internet reclassification would amount to more than $15 billion in new local, state, and federal taxes an unlikely "worst-case scenario" that fails to account for how net neutrality works in practice, as it ignores "the difference between services that cross state lines and those that exist entirely within one state":
Media coverage of an omnibus spending bill that rolled back key financial services regulations ignored the amount of money the financial services industry spent helping elect members of Congress in 2014. In fact, the industry lobbying to eliminate the regulation spent $436 million on federal candidates during the midterm elections.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it will delay its decision about the 2014 levels for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires oil refiners to blend renewable fuels into the nation's gasoline supply. The announcement has drawn criticism from opponents who want the EPA to lessen or eliminate the RFS, and the media are recycling debunked myths about the mandate. Here are the facts.
Mainstream media figures, following in the footsteps of conservative media, are trying to manufacture a scandal out of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent argument against trickle-down economics by stripping her comments of context to falsely cast them as a controversial gaffe or a flip-flop on previous statements about trade.
Conservative media outlets rushed to vilify Clinton's stance after she pushed for a minimum wage increase and warned against the myth that businesses create jobs through trickle-down economics at an October 24 campaign event for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley (D). Breitbart.com complained, "Clinton told the crowd ... not to listen to anybody who says that 'businesses create jobs,'" conservative radio host Howie Carr said the comments showed Clinton's "true moonbat colors," while FoxNews.com promoted the Washington Free Beacon's accusation that she said "businesses and corporations are not the job creators of America."
Mainstream media soon jumped on the bandwagon.
CNN host John King presented Clinton's comments as a fumble "a little reminiscent there of Mitt Romney saying corporations are people, too," and USA Today called the comments "An odd moment from Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail Friday - and one she may regret." In an article egregiously headlined, "Hillary Clinton No Longer Believes That Companies Create Jobs," Bloomberg's Jonathan Allen stripped away any context from Clinton's words in order to accuse her of having "flip-flopped on whether companies create jobs," because she has previously discussed the need to keep American companies competitive abroad.
Taken in context, Clinton's comments are almost entirely unremarkable -- and certainly don't conflict with the philosophy that trade can contribute to job growth, as Allen suggests. The full transcript of her remarks shows she was making the established observation that minimum wage increases can boost a sluggish economy by generating demand, and that tax breaks for the rich don't necessarily move companies to create jobs:
CLINTON: Don't let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. They always say that. I've been through this. My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s. I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what? Millions of jobs were created or paid better and more families were more secure. That's what we want to see here, and that's what we want to see across the country.
And don't let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried. That has failed. That has failed rather spectacularly.
One of the things my husband says, when people say, what did you bring to Washington? He says, well I brought arithmetic. And part of it was he demonstrated why trickle down should be consigned to the trash bin of history. More tax cuts for the top and for companies that ship jobs over seas while taxpayers and voters are stuck paying the freight just doesn't add up. Now that kind of thinking might win you an award for outsourcing excellence, but Massachusetts can do better than that. Martha understands it. She knows you have to create jobs from everyone working together and taking the advantages of this great state and putting them to work.
Economic experts agree that job growth is tied to the economic security of the middle class.
U.S. economic growth has historically relied on consumer spending, and middle class consumers are "the true job creators," Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out. Right now, the U.S. economy is "demand-starved," as Economic Policy Institute's (EPI) Joshua Smith puts it. Steiglitz says that, of all the problems facing the U.S. economy, "The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth."
In a testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, economist Heather Boushey noted that "It is demand for goods and services, backed up by an ability to pay for them, which drives economic growth" and "The hollowing out of our middle class limits our nation's capacity to grow unless firms can find new customers."
UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich agrees that the problem in the U.S. economy is demand. "Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell," he writes, and places the blame on low paychecks and growing inequality: "The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping... Consumers can't and won't buy more." He says the key to job growth is "reigniting demand" by "putting more money in consumers' pockets." From The Huffington Post:
Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don't need more financial incentives. They're already sitting on a vast cash horde estimated to be upwards of $1.6 trillion. Besides, large and middle-sized companies are having no difficulty getting loans at bargain-basement rates, courtesy of the Fed.
In consequence, businesses are already spending as much as they can justify economically. Almost two-thirds of the measly growth in the economy so far this year has come from businesses rebuilding their inventories. But without more consumer spending, there's they won't spend more. A robust economy can't be built on inventory replacements.
The problem isn't on the supply side. It's on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell.
The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation.
Clinton's emphasis on the minimum wage is supported by economic experts as well. Reich says that raising the minimum wage is an effective way to generate the consumer demand that would spur job growth. It "would put money in the pockets of millions of low-wage workers who will spend it -- thereby giving working families and the overall economy a boost, and creating jobs." He also rejected critics' claims that giving low income-earners a raise hurts job growth: "When I was Labor Secretary in 1996 and we raised the minimum wage, business predicted millions of job losses; in fact, we had more job gains over the next four years than in any comparable period in American history."
EPI called the minimum wage a "critically important issue" that "would provide a modest stimulus to the entire economy, as increased wages would lead to increased consumer spending, which would contribute to GDP growth and modest employment gains" (emphasis added):
The immediate benefits of a minimum-wage increase are in the boosted earnings of the lowest-paid workers, but its positive effects would far exceed this extra income. Recent research reveals that, despite skeptics' claims, raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss. In fact, throughout the nation, a minimum-wage increase under current labor market conditions would create jobs. Like unemployment insurance benefits or tax breaks for low- and middle-income workers, raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of working families when they need it most, thereby augmenting their spending power. Economists generally recognize that low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to spend any extra earnings immediately on previously unaffordable basic needs or services.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by July 1, 2015, would give an additional $51.5 billion over the phase-in period to directly and indirectly affected workers, who would, in turn, spend those extra earnings. Indirectly affected workers--those earning close to, but still above, the proposed new minimum wage--would likely receive a boost in earnings due to the "spillover" effect (Shierholz 2009), giving them more to spend on necessities.
This projected rise in consumer spending is critical to any recovery, especially when weak consumer demand is one of the most significant factors holding back new hiring (Izzo 2011). Though the stimulus from a minimum-wage increase is smaller than the boost created by, for example, unemployment insurance benefits, it has the crucial advantage of not imposing costs on the public sector.
The economic benefits of a minimum wage increase are widely accepted. Over 600 economists signed a recent letter supporting an increase, arguing, "Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front."
While many national outlets are dismissing the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry as political payback, Texas journalists warn that such claims are misguided, incomplete, and the product of a "rush to judgment."
On August 15, news broke that Perry was being indicted for "abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant," both of which are felonies.
The charges relate to Perry's threatened and completed veto of $7.5 million in state funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit.
The case claims that the threat and veto were retaliation against Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat and the head of that unit, who ignored Perry's call for her to resign after she was convicted of drunk driving. At the time Lehmberg's unit was investigating corruption in a program Perry had heavily touted; if she had resigned, Perry would have appointed her replacement.
Following the announcement, a split has emerged among press covering the story. Much of the Lone Star State media has covered it as a valid legal proceeding and part of a greater picture of misconduct, while national media are treating Perry's indictment as mere politics.
The New York Times editorial board speculated that it "appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution." Liberal New York magazine reporter Jonathan Chait labeled the indictment "unbelievably ridiculous." A USA Today editorial dubbed it a "flimsy indictment," while The Wall Street Journal called it "prosecutorial abuse for partisan purposes."
But Texas journalists say many on the national level don't know the facts and context and are too quick to judge from afar.
"The national pundits -- and some of them are very thoughtful people -- tend to focus first and most easily on the politics," said Wayne Slater, a columnist at the Dallas Morning News. "How does this particular event help or hurt that candidate in the potential horse race? Many reporters in Texas know Perry and are much more familiar with the details in this case, the fact that these are Republicans investigating this and that Perry has a history of hardball politics in forcing people out. This is a much more nuanced story than some in the Beltway understand."
Slater adds, "Rick Perry is getting good press because he has been masterful in the way he has framed this as a matter of partisan politics. Instinctively political journalists and reporters and outlets at some distance understand that Perry is winning the politics at the moment and that his narrative of events really comports with their general sense of how things work, that politicians threaten people and coerce people."
Forrest Wilder, who is covering the story for the Texas Observer, noted in a recent piece that the criminal complaint against Perry filed in June 2013 by Texans for Public Justice was assigned to a Republican judge who then appointed a former prosecutor in the George H.W. Bush administration as special prosecutor. In comments to Media Matters, Wilder said the charges were something "we should take seriously."
The media heralded a report in early 2014, which claimed that building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change. Since then, multiple studies have found that same report to be flawed, but most mainstream media outlets have refused to give these studies coverage.
President Obama has stated that he would not approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada through the United States, if it "significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution." So when the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement concluding that the Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate change, the media touted State's findings as justification for the contentious pipeline's approval.
However, various studies have since called the State Department's report into question, finding specifically that their climate impact analysis is likely inaccurate. The agency's conclusion rests on the assumption that if the Keystone XL is not approved, the oil sands will simply be transported by rail instead. This may not be the case. According to Reuters, the State Department's predictions of increased rail capacity have been consistently wrong. Reuters broke the news in March that State's latest estimates of tar sands being transported by rail were overestimated by over 400 percent. But no* other major mainstream outlet reported on these findings, which undermined the claim that Keystone XL won't affect the climate - a meme many of these same outlets previously had amplified.
More recently, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that approving the Keystone XL could lead to carbon dioxide emissions four times greater than the State Department's highest estimates. Again, the findings were mostly ignored by top U.S. media outlets** -- with one notable exception. The Los Angeles Times amplified the study and its findings that State's analysis didn't account for the pipeline's impact on the global oil market, which would lead to far greater greenhouse gas emissions. The study authors projected that the pipeline will increase carbon emissions by up to 110 million metric tons due to increased global consumption, far overshooting State's projection of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons. The oil industry has dismissed this study based on the faulty argument that the oil will be shipped by rail anyways, which Associated Press reported -- without mentioning Reuters' contradictory findings.
The authors previously concluded in a similar study that approving the Keystone XL could "potentially counteract some of the flagship emission reduction policies of the U.S. government." How many more studies and reports need to be issued before the mainstream media corrects themselves on the climate impact of approving the Keystone XL pipeline?
*According to a LexisNexis search for "keystone" from March 5 to March 8 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
**According to a search of LexisNexis and internal video archives for "keystone" from August 8 to August 11 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
Image at the top of an oil sands site from Flickr user Pembina Institute with a Creative Commons license.