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  • Study: Major media outlets' Twitter accounts amplify false Trump claims on average 19 times a day

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Major media outlets failed to rebut President Donald Trump's misinformation 65% of the time in their tweets about his false or misleading comments, according to a Media Matters review. That means the outlets amplified Trump's misinformation more than 400 times over the three-week period of the study -- a rate of 19 per day.

    The data shows that news outlets are still failing to grapple with a major problem that media critics highlighted during the Trump transition: When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets, and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods.

    The way people consume information in the digital age makes the accuracy of a news outlet’s headlines and social media posts more important than ever, because research shows they are the only thing a majority of people actually read. But journalists are trained to treat a politician’s statements as intrinsically newsworthy, often quoting them without context in tweets and headlines and addressing whether the statement was accurate only in the body of the piece, if at all. When the politician’s statements are false, journalists who quote them in headlines and on social media without context end up amplifying the falsehoods.

    Anecdotally, it’s been clear for some time that journalists have not adjusted their practices for the Trump era in which, according to The Washington Post, the president has already made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims. In recent months, Media Matters has explored how news outlets have passively misinformed the public by passing along misinformation from Trump administration figures on topics like threats of violence against journalists, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, potential conflict with North Korea, Special Olympics funding, and whether the Obama administration was “spying” on Trump associates.

    But in order to assess the scope of the problem, Media Matters reviewed the more than 2,000 tweets that 32 Twitter feeds controlled by major news outlets sent about Trump comments from January 26, when legislation took effect that ended a lengthy federal shutdown and temporarily funded the government, through February 15, when Trump agreed to a longer extension of federal funding and declared a national emergency on the border.

    We coded all the tweets that referenced a Trump comment for whether it was false or misleading according to The Washington Post’s database, and if so, for whether the tweet had disputed the false or misleading claim. (Read the full methodology here.)

    It's important to keep in mind the narrowness of our scope: We reviewed how media outlets treated false claims only from the president, not from members of his administration who mimic his disregard for the truth. But even then, the results were striking, demonstrating that media outlets have a serious, ongoing problem dealing with passive misinformation.

    Key Takeaways:

    • 30% of the tweets by major media outlets’ Twitter accounts about Trump remarks referenced a false or misleading statement.

    • Nearly two-thirds of the time, the outlets did not dispute that misinformation.

    • That means the outlets amplified false or misleading Trump claims without disputing them 407 times over the three weeks of the study, an average of 19 times a day.

    • The extent to which outlets’ Twitter feeds passively spread Trump’s misinformation depended on the platform in which Trump made his comments. For example:

      • 92% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed when he was speaking at a press gaggle or pool spray.

      • 49% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed when outlets were responding to comments he made during formal speeches.

    • @TheHill was the worst actor and sent more than 40% of the tweets that pushed Trump’s misinformation without disputing it during our entire study.

     

    Passive misinformation is a problem for outlets across the board

    Trump makes false claims frequently, and the media outlet Twitter feeds we studied frequently repeat his lies.

    Media outlets put a great deal of focus on Trump’s comments -- roughly one out of every five tweets mentioning Trump was about a particular quote. We found that that content strategy leaves outlets vulnerable to passing on the president’s misinformation, as 30% of those Trump quotes contained a false or misleading claim.

    News outlets can report on Trump’s falsehoods without misleading their audience if they take the time to fact-check his statements within the body of their tweets. But we found that that isn’t happening consistently -- in nearly two-thirds of tweets referencing false or misleading Trump claims, the media outlets did not dispute Trump’s misinformation.

    All told, the Twitter feeds we studied promoted false or misleading Trump claims without disputing them in 407 tweets over a three-week period -- an average of 19 undisputed false claims published each day.

    When a tweet about a false or misleading Trump comment included a link -- which often indicates that the tweet’s text is the headline of the article found at that link -- the outlet failed to dispute the misinformation 56% of the time. We found a total of 258 such tweets.

    Media outlets performed even more poorly when they sent tweets about Trump claims that featured embedded video, a format often used to report on comments the president has just made. Outlets tweeting embedded video did not dispute false or misleading Trump comments 94% of the time. We found a total of 143 such tweets.

    Outlets passively spread Trump’s misinformation regardless of his platform

    Trump spews misinformation whenever he speaks or tweets. However, we found that media outlets responded to his misinformation differently depending on the venue where the president made his comments.

    • The Twitter feeds we followed performed the worst when Trump was speaking at a press gaggle or pool spray, passing along his false or misleading claims without disputing them 92% of the time -- a total of 61 tweets.

    • Seventy-three percent of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump made during an interview did not dispute the misinformation. There were a total of 38 such tweets over the course of the study.

    • Two-thirds of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump made during a press conference did not dispute the misinformation. This sample was very small, with only six such tweets.

    • Just over three-quarters of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump tweeted did not dispute the misinformation. We found 166 tweets that fit that category.

    • We found that outlets performed “best” when they were responding to claims Trump made during speeches. In those circumstances, only 49% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed, a total of 136 tweets.

    The State of the Union exception

    The data for Trump claims during speeches is likely skewed by the media’s performance during the State of the Union.

    In our March review of the tweets media outlets sent in the 24 hours following that event, we wrote that the State of the Union likely represented a high point for the news media’s performance in responding to Trump falsehoods in real time because the night’s prominence led news outlets to devote substantial resources to fact-checking that speech.

    That hypothesis was supported by the results of our broader study. In the 24 hours after the speech began, outlets disputed 53% of false Trump claims that they tweeted about, compared to only 27% during the remainder of the study. Notably, February 5, the date of the speech, and the day before, when outlets were preparing for the speech, were the only two days over the course of the study when the number of tweets disputing Trump’s misinformation exceeded tweets failing to dispute his claims.

    In particular, some of the outlets we praised for using extensive graphics to point out misleading elements during their coverage of Trump's State of the Union speech did substantially worse in responding to his misinformation over the remainder of the study. The New York Times’ main Twitter feed and politics feed disputed every misleading Trump comment they tweeted about during the 24 hours following the State of the Union, but they did so only 38% of the time over the rest of the period. Similarly, Politico’s feed disputed more than four out of five misleading Trump claims during our March State of the Union study but did so only 8% of the time before and afterward.

    The news outlets that spread the most passive misinformation

    The outlets we studied vary in how often they report on the president’s comments, how often they highlight Trump statements that are false, and how diligent they are in fact-checking those remarks. All of these factors affect how frequently they provide passive misinformation to their audiences on Twitter.

    The Twitter feed of The Hill, which has 3.25 million followers, was by far the worst offender we reviewed, producing more than 40 percent of the tweets that pushed Trump’s misinformation without context over the entire study. It promoted Trump’s falsehoods without disputing them 175 times -- an average of more than eight per day. These numbers are so high in part because the outlet tweets about Trump far more frequently than other outlets, generating about a quarter of the total data. That high volume led to the outlet tweeting about false or misleading Trump claims 200 times. The feed rarely disputes the Trump claims it tweets about, instead simply passing along the misinformation 88% of the time. The Hill also frequently resends the same tweet at regular intervals, not only amplifying his falsehoods, but also making it more likely that the misinformation will stick with its audience through the power of repetition.

    Several Twitter feeds controlled by ABC News that we reviewed also stood out, failing to fact-check the president’s misinformation 71% of the time. Many of these cases came when the feeds tweeted Trump quotes and embedded video without additional context during or immediately following Trump events.

    • ABC News’ main Twitter feed (14.3 million followers) sent 23 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 74% of the time.

    • The network’s politics feed (733,000 followers) sent 25 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 64% of the time.

    • The feed for its evening news broadcast, World News Tonight (1.35 million followers), sent 13 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation every single time.

    • The feed for its Sunday political talk show, This Week (166,000 followers), sent 21 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 64% of the time

    CBS News’ Twitter feeds also performed poorly, passing along the president’s falsehoods without disputing them 87% of the time. The network’s general feed (6.71 million followers) and the ones for its nightly news broadcast, CBS Evening News (304,000 followers), and Sunday political talk show, Face The Nation (473,000 followers), passed along Trump’s misinformation in 11, 13, and 16 tweets, respectively, failing to correct it 92%, 72%, and 100% of the time. Notably, the feeds for Face The Nation and CBS Evening News each quoted Trump in their tweets about him more than 41% of the time -- the highest rates of any feeds in our study. Considered together, that data means those two feeds are not only largely failing to assess whether the president's statements are accurate, but also using Trump's misinformation as their lens to cover his administration more than other outlets.

    Other media Twitter feeds we reviewed that sent 10 or more tweets passing on false or misleading Trump comments include MSNBC’s main feed (2.41 million followers, 11 such tweets, failing to dispute 55% of the time); NBC News’ main feed (6.52 million followers, 13 such tweets, failing to dispute 52% of the time); Politico (3.8 million followers, 14 such tweets, failing to dispute 58% of the time); and Roll Call (359,000 followers, 10 such tweets, failing to dispute 83% of the time).

    Notable exceptions

    Some feeds entirely avoided passing on Trump’s misinformation over the course of the study. NPR’s main feed, which tweeted only 20 times about Trump quotes, debunked the misinformation in all four false claims it tweeted about.

    Other Twitter feeds limited the exposure their audience had to Trump’s misinformation by minimizing their focus on Trump’s comments. For example, the feed for Meet The Press, the NBC News Sunday political talk show, failed to dispute Trump’s falsehoods 83% of the time. But it rarely tweeted about Trump comments, with such tweets making up only 9% of the outlet’s total tweets about Trump. CNN’s main Twitter feed similarly referenced Trump quotes in only 11% of the tweets about him, while doing somewhat better at fact-checking Trump, disputing his false claims 75% of the time.

    The Washington Post’s feed disputed Trump’s misinformation at the highest rate of any feed we studied that tweeted about 10 or more false Trump claims. Out of 37 tweets about false or misleading Trump claims, the outlet disputed the misinformation 33 times and failed four times, a success rate of 89%.

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed more than 54,000 tweets sent between 12 a.m. EST on January 26 and 12 a.m. EST on February 16 from the following Twitter feeds of U.S. wire services; major broadcast, cable, and radio networks; national newspapers; and Capitol Hill newspapers and digital outlets that cover Congress and the White House: @AP, @AP_Politics, @Reuters, @ReutersPolitics, @ABC, @ABCPolitics, @ABCWorldNews, @ThisWeekABC, @CBSEveningNews, @CBSNews, @FaceTheNation, @NBCNews, @NBCNightlyNews, @NBCPolitics, @CNN, @CNNPolitics, @FoxNews*, @BreakingNews, @MSNBC, @NPR, @nprpolitics, @nytpolitics, @nytimes @politico, @postpolitics, @washingtonpost, @WSJ, @USAToday, @latimes, @axios, @thehill, and @rollcall.

    We chose that time frame both because it involved a period of high-stakes political turmoil in which the information the public received was especially crucial, and because the president made public remarks at that time in a variety of ways, including the State of the Union, other speeches, press gaggles and pool sprays, interviews, a press conference, and innumerable tweets.

    Media Matters narrowed the universe down to the roughly 11,000 of those tweets that mentioned "Trump," and identified of that group more than 2,000 tweets that referenced a comment Trump had made. We then coded those tweets for whether they referenced a remark that’s included in The Washington Post Fact Checker’s database of false or misleading Trump claims. In such cases, we reviewed whether the outlets’ tweets had disputed the Trump claim. We reviewed the text and images embedded in the tweets, but did not review embedded videos.

    *@FoxNews did not tweet during the period of the study.

  • The Mueller probe is over. Now Fox News wants retaliatory investigations.

    In one day, Fox News aired 26 segments calling for investigations into those involved in the Mueller report and Trump's perceived enemies 

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER & ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The day after Attorney General William Barr released his summary letter on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, nearly half of Fox News’ segments on the Mueller probe mentioned the idea of future investigations into those involved in the probe -- as well as Trump’s perceived enemies.

    As the Mueller inquiry concluded, Fox News figures and others on the right began to ramp up calls for new or reopened investigations into Hillary Clinton, the FBI, and the Russia probe itself. President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), both pushed the idea of investigating the investigators on March 25, with Trump saying that some people involved in the probe “will certainly be looked at” and Graham promising to “try to find out” whether investigators’ actions were nefarious.

    Fox News aired 118 segments about the Mueller probe that day, and 58 of them -- 49 percent -- mentioned the possibility of future investigations against those involved in the probe or perceived to be against Trump; 26 of those segments featured someone specifically endorsing additional investigations.

    Anchors, hosts, and guests repeatedly discussed the possibility of investigating a whole slew of people who worked in the Obama administration. The list of people and organizations who Fox figures and guests felt should be targeted for investigation included Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the FBI, the Department of Justice, former FBI Director James Comey, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, DOJ official Bruce Ohr, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former CIA Director John Brennan, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, Fusion GPS, the Clinton Foundation, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and more.

    Statements noting Republicans’ desires to investigate the origins of the Mueller probe were common refrains on Fox News, with Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy asking viewers, “Is it time to investigate the investigators?” On Fox & Friends First, co-host Heather Childers asked, “Should the Obama administration, should Hillary Clinton now both be investigated?” Her guest, attorney Jenna Ellis, responded, “Absolutely.” On Fox & Friends, Fox contributor Mike Huckabee claimed there was an “attempted coup d’etat” while demanding that Republicans “counterpunch hard” by investigating the Justice Department and FBI.

    When Graham held a press conference to talk about future investigations, Fox News aired 20 minutes of it. Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum drilled her guest, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), on whether he’d support investigating “the origins of this investigation. What President Obama knew, what Loretta Lynch knew, what James Comey knew, what John Brennan knew.” Sean Hannity’s entire show basically revolved around discussing future investigations and the idea of a “day of reckoning” for Clinton and everyone else in the Obama administration.

    After years of complaining about what they saw as an unjust investigation into Trump, Fox News personalities are now, in their own words, counterpunching, and pushing for a multitude of “tit for tat” investigations -- something that even one Fox guest called “ridiculous.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Snapstream video database for Fox News Channel transcripts dated March 25, 2019, containing any variation of the term “investigate” on its own or any variation of “investigate” within close proximity of any of the following terms: “Brennan,” “Clapper,” “Schiff,” “Swalwell,” “Steele,” “Rice,” “Page,” “Strzok,” “McCabe,” “Clinton,” “Comey,” “Mueller,” “special counsel,” or any variation of “investigate.”

    We defined as segments discussions in which special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and related matters was the stated topic of discussion or in which at least two speakers in a multi-topic discussion discussed Mueller’s report with one another.

    We then coded each segment for whether 1) anyone mentioned the possibility that Mueller, others involved in Mueller’s investigation, or those perceived to be against Trump could also be investigated; or 2) anyone explicitly endorsed investigations of Mueller, others involved in Mueller’s investigation, or those perceived to be against Trump.

  • Study: How mainstream media Twitter accounts amplified Trump's false State of the Union claims

    Dozens of tweets from major outlets promoted Trump misinformation

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump offered a truly astounding boast during his last State of the Union speech. “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea," he claimed from the well of the House of Representatives, suggesting that only his own diplomatic skill had averted the deaths of millions.

    Media fact-checkers and foreign policy experts subsequently rebuked his obviously nonsensical assertion, pointing out that the United States had not been on the brink of war with North Korea before Trump took office. But in the hours after he made the bogus statement, the Twitter feeds of several major news outlets -- including USA Today, CBS News, NBC News, The Hill, CNN, ABC News, Reuters, MSNBC, and Los Angeles Times -- pushed it out to their audiences unchallenged.

    This failure was not anomalous.

    Thirteen major news outlet feeds sent a total of 49 tweets promoting a variety of false or misleading Trump comments in the 24 hours after Trump’s State of the Union began, according to a Media Matters review. By sharing the president's claims without debunking them, the outlets misled their followers when they could have enlightened them. And given the State of the Union’s prominence and the emphasis news outlets put that night on fact-checking, these results likely understate the overall problem.

    Journalists typically consider a president’s comments to be inherently newsworthy, and their practice of forwarding his words in this manner reflects that sensibility. But this president is different: Every journalist knows that Trump lies on a scale that is unprecedented in recent political history. He launched his political career with the birther lie about President Barack Obama, began his presidency with lies about the crowd size at his inauguration, and has only accelerated the pace of misinformation in the years since. The Washington Post’s fact-checking team reports that he has made 9,014 false or misleading claims during his presidency; the count of Toronto Star Washington bureau chief Daniel Dale stands at 4,445 false claims over that period.

    And yet, the press has not risen to meet the challenge of a president who lies all the time. Many news outlets are still in the habit of reporting on what Trump said in their headlines and tweets without questioning whether his remarks are accurate. This style of coverage misleads the audiences, as many readers don’t bother to investigate further. As Dale put it in a November op-ed, news outlets that “blast out the lies unnoted” benefit Trump, who “knows the lies will be broadcast unfiltered to tens of millions of people — by some of the very outlets he disparages as ‘fake news.’” This is especially a problem on Twitter, a platform where retweets can bring this misinformation into your timeline without context. 

    In order to begin to assess the scope of the problem, Media Matters reviewed more than 1,200 tweets sent by 25 Twitter accounts of major news outlets during the 24 hours after 9 p.m. EST on February 5 -- the hour in which Trump’s State of the Union speech began. We looked at the Twitter accounts of the major U.S. wire services; broadcast, cable, and radio networks; national newspapers; and the Capitol Hill newspapers and digital outlets that cover Congress and the White House.

    We compared all the tweets that referenced a Trump comment to The Washington Post’s database of false or misleading Trump quotes. While fact-checking is subjective and no list of false or misleading claims will be entirely comprehensive, the Post database provides a substantial comparison point for our purposes. For tweets that included false or misleading Trump quotes, we determined whether the tweet had disputed the false or misleading claim. (We did not include cases in which the news outlet had tweeted a video clip in which the president said something false or misleading and the outlet did not specifically highlight that falsehood; this also promotes misinformation but is outside the bounds of our study.)

    Our results show that many media outlets are still struggling to avoid promoting the president’s falsehoods. Thirteen of the 25 Twitter feeds that we reviewed tweeted at least one false or misleading comment by Trump without disputing it within the tweet.  

    Several news outlets’ Twitter feeds showed significant room for improvement. Notably:

    • @TheHill sent 17 tweets amplifying a false or misleading Trump claim without disputing it.
    • @ABC sent 12 tweets amplifying a false or misleading Trump claim without disputing it. 
    • @CNNPolitics sent four tweets amplifying a false or misleading Trump claim without disputing it.

    By contrast, the Twitter feeds of The Washington Post (@washingtonpost, @postpolitics), The New York Times (@nytimes, @nytpolitics), and National Public Radio (@npr, @nprpolitics) scrupulously debunked every single false or misleading Trump comment they tweeted about over the course of the study.

    The @latimes, @cnn, and @politico feeds disputed Trump's false or misleading claims in most but not all cases -- in four of five, seven of eight, and nine of 11 tweets, respectively.** 

    Other feeds we reviewed that tweeted at least one undisputed false or misleading Trump comment during the period of the study include @Axios, @CBSNews, @MSNBC, @NBCNews, @rollcall, @Reuters, and @USAToday.

    And several feeds, including @AP, @AP_Politics, @BreakingNews, @NBCPolitics, @ReutersPolitics, and @WSJ, did not tweet about any false Trump claims.

    These results likely reflect a high-water mark for the news media’s performance in responding to Trump falsehoods in real time. The State of the Union is a unique news event: an annual preplanned speech by the president that receives wall-to-wall coverage from the press. The night’s importance and its scheduled nature allows outlets to plan for additional fact-checking of the speech, and the fact that journalists receive embargoed copies of the president’s speech ahead of time makes it easier to do so.

    To their credit, outlets including the TimesNPR, LA Times, and Politico used extensive graphics to point out misleading elements during their coverage of Trump's speech: 

    But news outlets still sent dozens of tweets that shared Trump’s false or misleading claims. And on a less high-profile day, there’s every reason to think the results would be worse.

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed all tweets mentioning “Trump” between 9 p.m. EST on February 5 and 9 p.m. EST on February 6 from the following Twitter feeds of U.S. wire services; major broadcast, cable, and radio networks; national newspapers; and Capitol Hill newspapers and digital outlets that cover Congress and the White House: @ABC, @AP, @AP_Politics, @axios, @BreakingNews, @CBSNews, @CNN, @CNNPolitics, @FoxNews*, @latimes, @MSNBC, @NBCNews, @NBCPolitics, @NPR, @nprpolitics, @nytpolitics, @politico, @postpolitics, @Reuters, @ReutersPolitics, @rollcall, @thehill, @nytimes, @WSJ, @washingtonpost, @USAToday.

    Media Matters identified all tweets that were about a comment Trump had made. We then coded those tweets for whether they referenced a remark that’s included in the Washington Post Fact Checker’s list of false or misleading claims. In such cases, we reviewed whether the outlets’ tweets had disputed the Trump claim. We reviewed the text and images embedded in the tweets, but did not review embedded videos.

    *@FoxNews did not tweet during the period of the study.

    **Updated with additional information.

  • Fox News almost single-handedly manufactured anti-abortion outrage before Trump’s State of the Union

    Before the State of the Union, Fox News devoted over 6 and a half hours to inaccurately saying state abortion measures allow “infanticide”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & ROB SAVILLO


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News has responded to the recent state measures protecting abortion access in the only way the network knows how: with a barrage of inaccurate, bizarre, and sensationalized coverage. The network's coverage has driven misinformation about the realities of legal and medically necessary abortions later in pregnancy straight into President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, and Fox has continued this harmful narrative about abortion care beyond the speech.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law criminalizing abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to now allow abortions with the consent of a doctor “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” This law sparked a meltdown at Fox News, with hosts and guests decrying its allegedly “Hitlerian” nature. When a Virginia lawmaker’s comment about a pro-choice bill went viral, the Fox News spin machine went into overdrive, manufacturing a scandal about Democratic lawmakers pushing legislation that supposedly allows “infanticide.”

    Between January 22 and February 5 (before Trump's State of the Union speech):

    • Fox News discussed abortion in the context of the New York and Virginia measures for over six and a half hours.
    • CNN, in comparison, covered these topics for only about eight and a half minutes, while MSNBC’s coverage clocked in around four minutes.

    Between February 5 (after Trump's State of the Union speech) and February 6:

    • Fox News still led coverage on these issues, discussing abortion for around 13 minutes.
    • CNN and MSNBC covered it for approximately five and a half minutes and nine minutes, respectively.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Given Trump’s reliance on Fox News for his talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising that he would soon take cues from the network’s breathless coverage. Indeed, both before and during the State of the Union address, Trump repeated several inaccurate right-wing media talking points.

    The consequences of allowing Fox News to rile up viewers -- including the president -- into adopting inaccurate and extreme rhetoric about abortion cannot be overstated. Trump is already calling for legislation based on right-wing lies about abortion and reportedly planning to center abortion-related fearmongering in his 2020 election messaging. Beyond this, incidents of anti-abortion violence and harassment have been on the rise, driven in part by right-wing hyperbole about abortion providers and patients.

    Media have a responsibility to correct Trump’s -- and by extension, Fox News’ -- inaccurate and sensationalized arguments about abortion. If the current response to this manufactured Fox News misinformation cycle is any indication, other outlets have some work to do.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for any mentions of “abortion” in close proximity of “New York” or “Virginia” on Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC between 4 a.m. and midnight starting January 22 and ending February 6. (We included special post-State of the Union address coverage on February 5 and 6 that fell outside of this time range.)

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances in which either the New York or Virginia legislation or Trump’s comments about either legislation initiated a discussion about abortion. These included instances when abortion was the stated topic of discussion. We also timed as segments “substantive discussion,” which we defined as instances where two speakers discussed abortion with one another. For substantive discussion, we only timed the relevant speech. Segments included host monologues, news reports or packages, interviews, and guest panels. We did not include teasers for upcoming segments or passing mentions of abortion in segments about other topics. We did not include rebroadcasts.

  • Prime-time Fox shows have mentioned Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over 4 times more than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

    Sean Hannity alone mentioned Ocasio-Cortez more than all prime-time shows combined referenced McConnell

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO

    Since the beginning of this year, Fox News’ prime-time cable lineup -- Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle -- has obsessed over freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) while virtually ignoring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as he presided over the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

    Media Matters reviewed every mention of Ocasio-Cortez and McConnell in January and found that these three shows together mentioned Ocasio-Cortez 120 times and aired 27 segments focused on the congresswoman. By contrast, the shows mentioned McConnell only a combined 27 times and aired zero segments focused on the majority leader.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media are obsessed with Ocasio-Cortez. Vice reviewed conservative attacks on the congresswoman, concluding that “Ocasio-Cortez is a young woman of color from New York City who proudly identifies as a socialist -- perfect grist for the right-wing media mill.” Vanity Fair made a similar point about the conservative fixation with Ocasio-Cortez, and The Atlantic noted that “conservatives seem particularly intent on proving that her working-class background is fraudulent.”

    Media Matters has cataloged these right-wing media attacks again and again. We have reported on conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh comparing Ocasio-Cortez to Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot; Fox News host Bill Hemmer mocking Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal; The Ingraham Angle host Laura Ingraham deriding Ocasio-Cortez for having “minority privilege” on Ingraham’s podcast; and NRATV host Grant Stinchfield stating that Ocasio-Cortez “doesn’t have any mental capacity to actually reason.”

    In Fox News’ prime-time coverage of Ocasio-Cortez, host Sean Hannity was by far the most fixated: In January, he mentioned her by name 46 times -- that’s more than twice per show. No other person during Fox News’ prime time even came close. Behind Hannity was host Tucker Carlson with 16 mentions, then Ingraham with 12 mentions.

    In total, the three shows spent about one hour and 28 minutes in segments focused on Ocasio-Cortez. The Ingraham Angle devoted the most time, with just over 34 minutes of discussion. Hannity followed with approximately 33 minutes, and Tucker Carlson Tonight spent nearly 20 minutes on the congresswoman.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    But McConnell was hardly mentioned at all, and when he was, the mention was always in passing. Fox’s prime-time shows held no lengthy discussions about McConnell hiding on the sidelines during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Likewise, they had no discussions about the Senate majority leader’s derision at attempts to make voting easier or his remarks that making Election Day a holiday was an attempted Democratic “power grab.” Throughout the month, Ingraham mentioned McConnell by name just five times, Hannity mentioned him only three times, and Carlson made no mentions at all.

    Of the 27 total mentions of McConnell, six of them occurred when Fox aired a clip in which Ocasio-Cortez said McConnell’s name repeatedly. In the video, the congresswoman was asking, “Where’s Mitch?” which is more than can be said of Fox’s hosts.

    Ocasio-Cortez was commonly mentioned in segments about the “radical left,” “socialism on the rise,” and “progressives gone wild.” Hosts and guests on Fox’s prime-time shows pejoratively referred to her as a socialist, a radical, or both. Hannity once called her “O-scare-io-Cortez,” as if that was some kind of witty pun on her name.

    These segments criticized her support of a Green New Deal, derided her Medicare-for-all policy position, and mischaracterized her call for raising marginal tax rates -- even though majorities of Americans support all three. But they also spent time talking about her dance moves; one Ingraham Angle segment about the congresswoman was called, “The Days and Nights of AOC.”

    All the while, McConnell oversaw the longest government shutdown in U.S. history -- 35 days total -- which the Congressional Budget Office estimated cost the U.S. economy $11 billion.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for any mentions of “Ocasio-Cortez,” “Ocasio,” “Cortez,” “AOC,” or “McConnell” (including spelling variations) from January 2 to January 31, 2019, on Fox News Channel’s weeknight prime-time lineup: Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle. The network did not air new episodes of its prime-time shows on January 1 due to the holiday.

    We counted segments, which we defined as instances where Ocasio-Cortez or McConnell was the stated topic of discussion. We also coded "significant discussion" as a segment, which we defined as two speakers discussing Ocasio-Cortez or McConnell with one another. This definition includes host monologues, guest panels, or interviews that discussed or focused on either person. Only the relevant speech within each segment was timed.

    We also counted mentions, which we defined as each time Ocasio-Cortez or McConnell was specifically mentioned by name.

  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib cursing got 5 times more coverage on cable news than Rep. Steve King embracing white supremacy

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER, ROB SAVILLO & STEVE MORRIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    When it comes to a congresswoman cursing versus a congressman embracing white supremacy, cable news apparently believes the cursing deserves more coverage -- five times more coverage, to be exact.

    On January 4, the day after Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) referred to President Donald Trump by saying “Impeach the motherfucker” during a reception with supporters, cable news outlets (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) spent over two and a half hours discussing the topic. In comparison, in the roughly 24 hours following the publication of Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) comments in The New York Times that showed him embracing white supremacy, cable news devoted just under 30 minutes of coverage to the congressman’s racism.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The discrepancy was the most glaring on Fox News, which devoted 52 minutes of coverage to Tlaib’s cursing and just 42 seconds to King’s comments about white supremacy. That’s over 74 times more coverage of Tlaib. Fox’s sole segment about King was framed as “Republican Congressman Steve King is fighting back against a New York Times article.”

    CNN’s and MSNBC’s coverage was also skewed, though not nearly as much. CNN covered Tlaib’s comments for nearly an hour and five minutes while covering King’s comments for just about 15 minutes. MSNBC covered Tlaib cursing for the least amount of time, nearly 38 minutes, and covered King’s embrace of white supremacy for just over 14 minutes.

    It isn't just the amount of coverage that shows a clear difference in how these stories were covered. The day after Tlaib cursed, congressional Democrats appearing on cable news were consistently asked for their response to her comment. While some Republicans have issued condemnations of King, cable news doesn’t have the same urgency in asking elected Republicans to respond to King’s comments.  

    The imbalance in coverage between these stories raises serious questions about just what stories cable news considers newsworthy and whether there’s a double standard in coverage of Democrats versus Republicans.   

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed transcripts in the video-streaming service SnapStream for mentions of “Steve King” from 8 a.m. January 10 to 9 a.m. January 11, 2019, (publication of the Times article seems to have occurred during the 8 a.m. hour, and researchers searched for comments about King through 9 a.m. the following day to cover the entirety of the morning shows) and for mentions of “Rashida” or “impeach” or spelling variations of “Tlaib” (including the common misspelling “Talib”) for all-day coverage on January 4, 2019, on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Only speech specifically about Steve King’s comments questioning why white nationalism and white supremacy are “offensive” and speech specifically about Rashida Tlaib’s impeach-Trump comment at a MoveOn.org event were timed.

  • MSNBC's and CNN's focus on Romney's Trump op-ed shows how little the media has learned

    In a 6-hour period, CNN and MSNBC each spent nearly an hour discussing the op-ed

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER & ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    CNN and MSNBC spent a large portion of the first non-holiday day of 2019 talking about … Sen.-elect Mitt Romney (R-UT). Between 6 a.m. and noon on January 2, CNN and MSNBC each spent nearly an hour discussing Romney’s Washington Post op-ed criticizing President Donald Trump's character, while Fox News spent about 25 minutes on the subject. For those hoping the media would focus on the important issues facing Americans in 2019, the oversaturation of Romney coverage shows that getting their priorities straight might be a bigger hurdle for cable news than they expected.

    On January 1, the Post published an anti-Trump op-ed in which Romney noted that “on balance, [Trump’s] conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

    The cable morning news shows -- on CNN and MSNBC especially -- were quick to jump on the topic the following day. CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe each spent just over half an hour discussing Romney’s op-ed -- one-sixth of their total three-hour airtime (without even accounting for commercial breaks). Fox & Friends spent 12 minutes on the topic.

     

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In total, CNN spent roughly 57 minutes discussing Romney’s op-ed, MSNBC spent almost 51 minutes, and Fox News spent approximately 25 minutes on the topic during the six-hour period Media Matters examined.

    That is an exceeding amount of coverage for an op-ed from an incoming senator, even when that senator is Mitt Romney. This isn’t to say that the op-ed isn’t newsworthy at all, but given that Romney and Trump have been squabbling back and forth for years, it’s not particularly notable. And if Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is any indication, being a Republican senator critical of Trump oftentimes amounts to a lot of talk and no action. As 2019 begins and coverage ramps up for the 2020 presidential election, it’s important that cable news re-examines its priorities and focuses on the issues and policy topics that matter to Americans -- not the insults and meaningless fights between politicians vying for their attention.

  • Cable and broadcast news have virtually failed to discuss the ACA open-enrollment period

    Embarrassingly, Fox News devoted the most coverage to the topic, with just under 14 minutes total in two months

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO

    The open-enrollment period to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov will end in less than two weeks on December 15, but if you rely on TV news you may not even know that the enrollment period began November 1. The three major cable news networks and the three broadcast news networks together have given the open-enrollment period embarrassingly scant coverage in the last two months -- a meager 16 1/2 minutes in total from October 3 to December 3, according to a Media Matters review.

    Key findings:

    • In a roughly two-month period, cable and broadcast news networks provided just 16 1/2 minutes of coverage of the ACA enrollment period.
    • CNN and MSNBC mentioned the open-enrollment period for less than two minutes combined.
    • ABC and NBC failed to cover the enrollment period, and CBS devoted just about one minute.
    Perhaps the most notable aspect of this very limited reporting is where it did show up: Fox News covered the open-enrollment period the most, with almost 14 minutes total. It was also the only network to host discussion-based segments framed around the enrollment. (A November 1 discussion on Fox’s Outnumbered Overtime with Fox News medical correspondent Marc Siegel and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) touched on various aspects of the ACA, and another discussion on November 30’s Fox & Friends First with Nan Hayworth of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum focused on lower enrollment numbers for 2019.)

    That Fox provided the most coverage of the enrollment period is troubling on its own; the network has a history of providing misleading and outright false coverage of the ACA as a part of a larger effort by right-wing media to discredit the health care law. Recently, the network allowed Republican politicians to lie about their positions on insurance coverage protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, misled in its coverage of President Donald Trump’s administration ending subsidies that make health care plans on the exchanges affordable, and aired misleading charts about enrollment numbers. Not to mention the network’s record of airing misleading human interest stories, false narratives, and unending refrains that the ACA is “failing.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In addition to the two segments featuring longer discussions of the ACA, Fox also ran three news briefs on November 1 announcing the open-enrollment period. CBS ran two news briefs announcing the enrollment period that same day, which amounted to roughly one minute of airtime.

    No other network aired a segment about the enrollment period. CNN and MSNBC only mentioned the enrollment period in passing for less than one minute each, while ABC and NBC did not mention it at all. No cable news or broadcast news network aired an advance announcement of the enrollment period; all coverage in the 29 days before the November 1 enrollment start date was mere passing mentions amounting to about one and a half minutes.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking poll, only 24 percent of non-group enrollees ages 18-64 (those who are uninsured or who purchase their own individual insurance) knew about the December 15 deadline for open enrollment. The percentage of non-group enrollees who did not know about the deadline at all increased from 53 percent in October 2017 to 61 percent last month.

    Since taking office, the Trump administration has shortened the open-enrollment period by half, from 12 weeks to six. Previously, enrollment was open from November 1 to January 31, but bowing to pressure from health insurers, Trump set a cutoff of December 15.

    This smaller sign-up window is not the only assault on enrollment numbers. The Trump administration has also scheduled 60 hours of downtime for the HealthCare.gov website for scheduled maintenance every Sunday from midnight to noon during the enrolment period (except for the last Sunday), has reduced funding for enrollment groups that work to sign up Americans in states that don’t run their own exchanges by as much as 92 percent, and has slashed funding for its advertising by 90 percent.

    As a result of these Trump administration policies, advocates predicted a decline in enrollment in the health care exchanges. Sign-ups for 2018 were down to 11.8 million from 12.2 million the year before, and sign-ups for this enrollment period are on track to be even lower.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for mentions of “enrollment” within close proximity of “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “health care,” “healthcare,” “Obama care,” or “Obamacare” from October 3 (the earliest transcripts were still available) to December 3, 2018, on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from 4 a.m. through midnight and on ABC’s, CBS’, and NBC’s early morning shows, morning shows, evening shows, and Sunday morning political talk shows.

    We timed and coded any passing mention, teaser, news brief, or news segment mentioning or discussing the open-enrollment period. For passing mentions, we only timed the relevant speech. For teasers and segments, we timed them in their entirety.

  • STUDY: Broadcast news shows have covered the royal couple, Mega Millions, and Kanye more than health care policy in 2018

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In a year when American voters list health care as one of their top concerns in the upcoming midterm elections, broadcast evening news shows have failed to air a single substantive segment about the issue. They have, however, provided breathless coverage of the newest British royal couple, continuous updates on lottery jackpots, and even segments on rapper Kanye West’s bizarre visit to the Oval Office.

    Last week, Media Matters investigated coverage of health care policy and GOP-led efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News and failed to find a single substantive segment on the issue. Instead, the broadcast evening news shows this year have aired 45 segments on the relationship of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for a total of over one hour and 18 minutes, and that does not include special coverage of their wedding. The latest, record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot was covered in 13 segments for about 10 minutes in total. Each network also aired a segment on Kanye’s visit with President Donald Trump, which totaled six minutes. Substantive coverage of health care policy still stands at zero.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The night after our study released, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker filed a two-minutes-long news package on Nightly News that focused on the midterm elections as framed through the importance voters placed on health care. Welker’s piece did not focus on health care policy or GOP attacks on the ACA.

    But her piece did give a pass to Republicans now campaigning on protections for pre-existing conditions that they not only vowed to undo but also worked to eliminate. The piece quoted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as an example of Republicans who once “railed against all aspects of Obamacare” and now want to keep “key portions like coverage for pre-existing conditions.” But Cruz has said, as recently as June, that he believes the Justice Department’s position that pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional is “reasonable” and has voiced his support of the Texas-led lawsuit against the ACA that challenges the legality of the entire law. Let’s not forget that Cruz once spoke for over 21 hours straight on the Senate floor against the ACA, and that Republicans in the House voted 54 times to repeal the ACA in the first few years after its passage.

    As we approach Election Day, broadcast news shows continue to underserve their audiences of millions by failing to substantively cover this critical issue.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 23, 2018.

    We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, pre-existing conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.

    For other topics covered between January 1 and October 23, 2018, we searched for mentions of: “Prince Harry,” “Meghan Markle,” or the term “royal” within close proximity to “Harry,” “Meghan,” “couple,” “wedding,” or “baby” for segments on the royal couple; “Mega Millions” or “Powerball” for segments on the lotteries; and “Kanye” for segments on Kanye’s visit to the Oval Office. As with health care policy, we determined segments by whether the aforementioned terms were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts and did not include passing mentions of the aforementioned topics in the results.

  • STUDY: Broadcast evening news shows have ignored health care in 2018

    The nightly news shows haven’t aired a single substantive segment about health care policy this year

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The flagship evening news shows on the three broadcast networks have not aired a single substantive segment on health care policy in 2018. They have ignored Republican efforts to sabotage health care policy despite voters consistently calling health care a top issue as the midterm elections approach.

    The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is under assault, but you wouldn’t know that if you turned into ABC’s World News, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News. The 2018 midterms are less than three weeks away, and health care has been a top issue cited in polls over and over again this year. But so far, the flagship broadcast evening news shows -- which attract millions of viewers each night -- have failed to air even one substantive segment on the GOP-led attacks on the ACA.

    A key provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2017, undermined a major component of the ACA by reducing the penalty for not having health insurance to zero. Since then, Republicans and the Trump administration have made repeated efforts to sabotage health care policy in 2018. On February 26, a coalition of 20 states -- led by Republican attorneys general Ken Paxton of Texas and Brad Schimel of Wisconsin -- filed suit against the federal government claiming that the ACA was now unconstitutional since the new tax law had effectively removed the penalty for not having any insurance.

    On June 7, the Trump administration declined to continue defending the ACA against the lawsuit. In a brief from the Justice Department, the administration argued that the elimination of the tax penalty for non-coverage meant that the prior Supreme Court ruling that upheld the individual mandate no longer applied. The Justice Department not only claimed that the section of the ACA regarding the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but went further by arguing that the provision protecting Americans with preexisting conditions is also unconstitutional.

    Most recently, the administration has been pushing short-term, limited duration plans and “association health plans” designed to offer lower-priced coverage by skirting the protections afforded by the ACA, such as requiring insurers to cover those with preexisting conditions. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that while such plans are about one-fifth of the cost of some of the least expensive ACA-subsidized plans, they may come with greater out-of-pocket costs, yearly or lifetime coverage limits, no maternity coverage, and limited prescription drug or mental health coverage (if they had any such coverage at all).

    But little of this critical information made it to viewers of the broadcast evening news shows despite health care being such an important issue for voters this election cycle. Ignoring this subject does a disservice to the American public.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 18, 2018.

    We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, preexisting conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.