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  • Media failed on climate and extreme weather coverage last year. Will they do better in 2018?

    Al Roker gives us reason to be a bit optimistic

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Everyone knows that the U.S. got gobsmacked by hurricanes last year. But if you rely on mainstream media for your news, you might not know that climate change had anything to do with it.

    In 2017, the major broadcast TV news programs mentioned climate change only two times total during their coverage of the record-breaking hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. The climate-hurricane link came up once on CBS, once on NBC, and not at all during ABC's coverage of the storms, Media Matters found. All in all, major TV news programs, radio news programs, and newspapers mentioned climate change in just 4 percent of their stories about last year’s big hurricanes, according to research by Public Citizen. Many major media outlets also neglected to weave climate change into their reporting on 2017's heat waves and wildfires

    Will coverage in 2018 be any better?

    Al Roker has given us reason to feel slightly optimistic. Last week, Roker, the weather forecaster on NBC's Today show, demonstrated one good way to put an extreme weather event into proper context. While discussing the devastating flooding that recently hit Ellicott City, MD, he explained that heavy downpours have become more common in recent decades thanks to climate change, using a map and data from the research group Climate Central:

    As we roll into summer -- the start of the season for hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and heat waves -- that's just the kind of connect-the-dots reporting we need.

    The New York Times helped set the scene with its recent map-heavy feature on places in the U.S. that have been hit repeatedly by extreme weather. "Climate change is making some kinds of disasters more frequent," the piece explained, and "scientists also contend that climate change is expected to lead to stronger, wetter hurricanes."

    But it's one thing to report on how climate change worsens weather disasters in general, as the Times did in that piece. It's another thing to report on climate change while covering a specific storm or wildfire, as Roker did -- and many journalists still seem to be squeamish about it. They shouldn't be; science has their back. In addition to what we know about the general links between climate change and extreme weather, there's a growing area of climate research, called attribution science, that measures the extent to which climate change has made individual weather events more intense or destructive.

    Consider the research that's been done on Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 60 inches of rain on the Houston area this past August. Just four months after the storm, two groups of scientists published attribution studies about it: One study estimated that climate change made Harvey's rainfall 15 percent heavier than it would have been otherwise, while another offered a best estimate of 38 percent.

    Broadcast TV news programs did not report on this research when it came out, but they should have. And the next time a major hurricane looms or makes landfall, media outlets should make note of these and other studies that attribute hurricane intensity to climate change. Scientists can't make these types of attribution analyses in real time (at least not yet), but their research on past storms can help put current and future storms in context.

    Of course, in order to incorporate climate change into hurricane reporting, journalists have to be reporting on hurricanes in the first place. They failed miserably at this basic task when it came to Hurricane Maria and its devastation of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Maria got markedly less media coverage than hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to analyses by FiveThirtyEight and researchers from the MIT Media Lab. The weekend after Maria made landfall, the five major Sunday morning political talk shows cumulatively spent less than a minute on the storm. And just last week, when a major new study estimated that Maria led to approximately 5,000 deaths in Puerto Rico, as opposed to the government's official death count of 64, cable news gave 16 times more coverage to Roseanne Barr's racist tweet and her canceled TV show than to the study.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hurricane Maria overwhelmingly harmed people of color -- Puerto Rico's population is 99 percent Latino and the U.S. Virgin Islands' population is 98 percent Black or African-American -- so it's hard not to see race as a factor in the undercoverage of the storm. The authors of the MIT Media analysis attributed the lack of coverage to a “cultural gap” and suggested that more minorities working in media might have alleviated the problem. Not only are minorities less likely to be employed in newsrooms; they're also less likely to be included in media discussions of climate change.

    The lack of reporting on Maria sets a scary precedent, as climate disasters are expected to hurt minority and low-income communities more than whiter, wealthier ones. Unless mainstream media step up their game, the people hurt the most by climate change will be covered the least.

    Ultimately, we need the media to help all people understand that climate change is not some distant phenomenon that might affect their grandkids or people in faraway parts of the world. Only 45 percent of Americans believe climate change will pose a serious threat to them during their lifetimes, according to a recent Gallup poll. That means the majority of Americans still don't get it.

    When journalists report on the science that connects climate change to harsher storms and more extreme weather events, they help people understand climate change at a more visceral level. It's happening here, now, today, to all of us. That's the story that needs to be told.

  • Sunday shows ignore Puerto Rico amid new study that nearly 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Following a new study estimating that almost 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, Sunday news shows completely ignored the devastation and death toll that is 72 times higher than the government’s official number of 64.

    Written up by the Washington Post, a May 29 Harvard University study “estimates that at least 4,645 deaths can be linked to the hurricane and its immediate aftermath,” and noted that “health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impact.”

    If the Harvard study is accurate, Maria will be the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Thousands are still waiting for power. It is already estimated to and have caused $90 billion in damages in Puerto Rico alone. The devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Hurricanes Irma and Maria has caused billions more in damage. And 2018 Hurricane season is officially underway as of June 1.  

    Despite this less than a week old study, the major Sunday political talk shows -- which include CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday -- were all silent on the subject.

    MSNBC’s AM Joy and CNN’s Reliable Sources both noted the discrepancy between coverage of Hurricane Maria’s devastation, and Roseanne Barr’s racist and anti-Semitic tweets that resulted in her eponymous show being canceled.

    CNN’s New Day Sunday highlighted the Harvard study’s reported death toll and noted Puerto Rico is “still recovering” and that “11,000 residents still do not have power” as the country enters the official 2018 hurricane season.

    The media has routinely ignored the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, dating back to just one week after the storm made landfall when these Sunday shows covered the devastation for less than a minute. Cable news quickly turned away from Puerto Rico following the hurricane as well. The day the Harvard study was released, cable news gave it 30 minutes of coverage that was drowned out by ten hours spent on Roseanne.

  • Study finds that Hurricane Maria killed thousands more than the government claims. Media need to do better for Puerto Rico.

    Harvard study finds actual death toll is at least 72 times higher than the official count

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & KATIE SULLIVAN

    On May 29, The Washington Post reported on a new Harvard study concluding that “at least 4,645 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and its devastation across Puerto Rico last year,” which is approximately 72 times higher than the government’s official death toll of 64. 

    According to the Post article, the Harvard study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that “health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impacts” across the island, including “some communities [that] were entirely cut off for weeks amid road closures and communications failures.” A BuzzFeed write-up of the same study explained that, while at least “4,645 more people died in the final months of 2017” than in previous years, researchers adjusted their estimate up to 5,740 hurricane-related deaths to account for “people who lived alone and died as a result of the storm” and were thus not reported in the study’s survey. 

    If Harvard’s death toll estimate is accurate, Hurricane Maria was the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history and the deadliest in 117 years.

    And yet, even as U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico continued to die in 2017, media quickly dropped their focus on the crisis. The first Sunday after the storm, the five major political talk shows cumulatively dedicated less than one minute to coverage. And the overall coverage of the crisis sharply declined after President Donald Trump visited the U.S. territory on October 3; a Media Matters study found that prime-time cable news coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery plummeted after that date. 

    As the mismanaged recovery continued, media largely talked about the ongoing crisis only when a major scandal was reported, and even then the coverage was negligible and quickly faded. 

    Media should publicize the results of the Harvard study and the woefully inaccurate official death toll, demanding an explanation for how the government hid the magnitude of the casualties. And as the next hurricane season approaches, we need to pay attention to the people who live in Puerto Rico and demand accountability from the government.

  • Politico details Pruitt's seeming quid pro quo relationship with MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt met with lawyers seeking to prioritize the cleanup of a water district in Orange County, CA, at the behest of MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt, one of Pruitt’s staunchest media defenders, according to a Politico story published May 7. The lawyers worked for the same firm, Larson O'Brien, as Hewitt. “Six weeks after that meeting, ... the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address,” Politico reported. Media Matters has noted Hewitt’s full-throated defense of Pruitt amid a litany of scandals and controversies, including his exorbitant travel and ethically dubious condo lease, on MSNBC and his radio show, which Pruitt has appeared on at least a dozen times, according to Hewitt. The story also noted that Hewitt’s son James works in the EPA’s press shop. The Washington Post had reported in April that Pruitt used an obscure provision in a water-safety law to hire James, among others.

    From Politico:

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt placed a polluted California area on his personal priority list of Superfund sites targeted for “immediate and intense” action after conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting between him and lawyers for the water district that was seeking federal help to clean up the polluted Orange County site.

    [...]

    In many cases, the people whose advice Pruitt is heeding could be useful supporters for him in a future race for U.S. senator or president. They include GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who — as POLITICO reported in March — persuaded Pruitt last year to take a meeting with an Israeli water purification company called Water-Gen that later won a research deal with the EPA.

    Hewitt, a resident of Orange County whose son James works in EPA’s press office, emailed Pruitt in September to set up a meeting between the administrator and the law firm Larson O’Brien, which employs Hewitt and represents the Orange County Water District. Pruitt had been planning to meet with the lawyers in California a month earlier, but cancelled the trip to undergo knee surgery.

    “I’ll join if the Administrator would like me too or can catch up later at a dinner,” Hewitt wrote in his Sept. 18 message. Hewitt added that the issues surrounding the Superfund site were “Greek to me but a big deal in my home county.”

    Pruitt’s aides responded within minutes and quickly confirmed an Oct. 18 meeting for the lawyers and a project director.

    Six weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 8, the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address. A month later, Pruitt proposed listing the site on EPA’s National Priorities List, a move that could make it eligible for long-term federal cleanup funding from the federal government if the responsible polluters cannot be identified and forced to pay for its remediation.

    Since then, Hewitt has been a robust defender of Pruitt, dismissing his recent controversies as “nonsense scandals” on MSNBC in early April and saying his detractors were “just trying to stop the deregulation effort.”

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of the interior secretary’s scandals and controversies

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is being investigated for multiple scandals involving potential Hatch Act violations, excessive travel expenditures, and apparent coziness with industries he’s entrusted to regulate. Under his leadership, the Department of Interior (DOI) has been credibly accused of doing the bidding of dirty energy lobbyists, misappropriating government resources, discriminating against Native American employees, and censoring scientific reports. Even in an administration that may be the most unethical in modern history, Zinke’s corruption and managerial ineptness stand out. 

    Journalists have been dogged in documenting questionable ethical behavior at DOI during Zinke’s 14 months at the head of the department. The following is an overview of original reporting on scandals and controversies at Zinke’s DOI:

    July 26, 2017, Anchorage Daily News: Zinke threatened to pull support for projects in Alaska after Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted “no” on Obamacare repeal. On July 26, Zinke called both of Alaska's senators, Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), to inform them that Murkowski’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act jeopardized administration support for projects in Alaska, including expanding oil drilling. Sullivan called Zinke’s message “troubling,” and Murkowski told E&E News, "It was a difficult call." The DOI's inspector general opened an investigation into the incident, then dropped it in late August. The Government Accountability Office is still looking into the matter, and it's drafting a legal opinion on whether Zinke threatened the senators, CNN reported this April.

    September 28, 2017, Politico/Wash. Post: Zinke gave a speech to a hockey team owned by a campaign donor, then chartered a $12,000 flight home. Zinke traveled to Las Vegas on June 26 to give a motivational speech to a hockey team at the behest of team owner Bill Foley. After the speech, Zinke flew on a charter flight that cost taxpayers over $12,000 to an airport near his Montana home, aboard a plane owned by oil and gas executives. An inspector general report released on April 16, 2018, found that Zinke and his aides failed to relay important details about the trip to ethics officers, including Foley’s role as one of Zinke’s largest campaign contributors and the fact that the speech was unrelated to Zinke's work as interior secretary. According to Politico, Foley donated $7,800 to Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign, while employees and political action committees associated with his financial services company donated another $166,860. The inspector general also found that the $12,000 charter flight "could have been avoided.” The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s speech violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits employees of the executive branch from engaging in partisan politics.

    October 5, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s participation in a Republican fundraiser in the Virgin Islands possibly violated the Hatch Act. During what DOI labeled an official trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Zinke attended a fundraiser for the Virgin Islands Republican Party on April 1, 2017. Donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a picture with him. After concerns were raised, the Virgin Islands Republican Party reimbursed taxpayers for the trip. But Zinke’s prominence at the political fundraiser still may have violated the Hatch Act according to complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, government watchdog organization.

    November 20, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s wife used Interior staff and resources to coordinate her travel with her husband’s. Lola Zinke relied on DOI staff to ensure her travel arrangements allowed her to accompany the interior secretary during some of his official events and trips, including ones to California, Alaska, Norway, and Greenland. "While the department says Lola Zinke paid her own way, the records show Interior used staff time to coordinate some of her activities while traveling with her husband," Politico reported. One ethics expert called that "an ethically gray area." Some ethics watchdogs are also concerned that Lola Zinke is using her access to high-level events to further her own political career; she is campaign chair for a Republican Senate candidate and has worked on the Trump campaign and transition teams. The DOI's inspector general tried to investigate whether these actions and other travel arrangements by Ryan Zinke constituted an abuse or misuse of government resources, but the investigation was stymied “by absent or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability,” according to a memo released on November 15.

    December 7, 2017, Politico: Zinke spent $14,000 on helicopter rides so he could attend a swearing-in and ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence. Zinke put taxpayers on the hook for a pair of helicopter trips that blurred the line between his professional and personal obligations. On June 21, he attended the swearing-in of his congressional replacement, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), then took an $8,000 helicopter ride to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia. In July, Zinke took a $6,250 round-trip helicopter flight from Washington, D.C., to Yorktown, VA, to guarantee he was back in time to go horseback riding with Pence and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). The inspector general’s office declined to confirm an investigation into these specific helicopter rides, but spokesperson Nancy DiPaolo told CNN on December 8, "We are taking a comprehensive look at the secretary's travel since he took office.”

    December 29, 2017, Newsweek: Zinke spent almost $40,000 in wildfire preparedness funds for a helicopter tour of Nevada. Days after firefighters managed to largely contain the Whittier Fire in California, Zinke used nearly $40,000 from wildfire preparedness funds to pay for a helicopter tour of Nevada on July 30 that did not include any visits to fire zones. DOI initially told Newsweek the tour was “in full compliance of all federal regulations.” But after Newsweek provided Interior officials with documentation showing the tour was paid for with funds “earmarked for such uses as worker pay and to purchase equipment,” DOI admitted the helicopter tour “was charged to the account in error” and said it would pay for the ride from “a more appropriate account.”

    January 22, 2018, HuffPost: Zinke failed to disclose his shares in a firearms company and signed orders that could have benefitted the firearms industry. As nominee for interior secretary, Zinke neglected to inform the Office of Government Ethics that he retained 1,000 shares in PROOF Research, a rifle and weapons-parts manufacturer founded in Zinke’s hometown. Cabinet appointees are required to disclose all assets worth $1,000 or more. Although there is some dispute about the value of Zinke’s shares, HuffPost notes that Zinke’s long relationship with the company may have given it special access at Interior. Zinke provided consulting services to PROOF in 2011-12. As interior secretary, he met with PROOF CEO Larry Murphy and a company lobbyist about a month after he was confirmed. Zinke also enacted policy changes -- such as rescinding the ban on lead ammunition and expanding hunting access at wildlife refuges -- that might have benefitted the firearms industry.

    February 1, 2018, Politico: Interior appeared to cave to pressure from MGM to stonewall a casino proposal backed by two Native American tribes. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes received indications from Interior officials last May that the department would clear the way for the tribes to build a casino in Connecticut, about 12 miles from MGM Resorts International’s nearly $1 billion casino complex in Massachusetts. But MGM launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to convince Interior’s political appointees to change course, including outreach to Zinke via multiple meetings and phone calls with two Nevada Republican lawmakers closely allied with MGM. MGM lobbyists were invited by Zinke for a social visit two weeks before the agency was to decide on the tribes’ request. MGM lobbyists also met with Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose former firm also lobbies for MGM. Bernhardt signed an ethics agreement barring him from “participating in matters involving his former employer,” according to a recent ThinkProgress story. On September 15, DOI informed the tribes that it would delay its decision, even though federal law requires it to decide yes or no within 45 days. Records obtained by Politico show that “career staffers were circulating what they labeled 'approval' letters just 48 hours before their political bosses reversed course and refused to either OK or reject the tribes’ application.” The DOI's inspector general has opened an investigation into the incident.

    March 9, 2018, AP: Interior planned to spend nearly $139,000 to upgrade Zinke’s office doors. Interior officials approved a contract to renovate “three sets of double doors in the secretary’s office, including two doors that open onto a corner balcony with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the National Mall,” The Associated Press reported. Though Zinke scoffed at questions about the excessive price of the doors renovation during a Senate hearing on March 13, two days later he told the House Committee on Natural Resources that he negotiated the price down to $75,000. Despite this, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent Zinke a letter on March 22 asking for a briefing “on the need to replace the doors and provide details on the acquisition process, bidding and receipts,” per Reuters.

    March 11, 2018, USA Today: Zinke’s trip to Pennsylvania to announce $56 million in grants during a close campaign may have violated the Hatch Act. Toward the end of a tight campaign for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, Zinke went to nearby East Bethlehem to announce $56 million in grants to clean up abandoned mining sites in the area. The entire event, “had the feel of a hastily arranged news conference/town hall meeting/political opportunity,” according to the local Observer-Reporter. While Saccone was among the politicians present, his challenger did not attend. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s trip was designed to benefit Saccone politically.

    March 15, 2018, AP: Zinke stacks wildlife-trade advisory board with trophy hunters. Zinke appointed trophy hunters, including some with direct ties to the Trump family, to an advisory board tasked with rewriting federal rules to allow the importation of body parts from slain African elephants, lions, and rhinos. The Associated Press reported, “A coalition of more than 20 environmental and animal welfare groups objected that the one-sided makeup of the council could violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires government boards to be balanced in terms of points of view and not improperly influenced by special interests.” Most board members belong to hunting clubs or the National Rifle Association, and one member co-owns a private hunting reserve with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. The Trump administration officially lifted a ban on importing elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia on March 1. 

    March 21, 2018, Politico: Zinke had a security detail during his two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey. Ryan and Lola Zinke’s two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey to celebrate their 25-year wedding anniversary also included a security detail, according to records obtained by Politico. Besides these bare facts, the public still does not know important details about this arrangement including “exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip,” Politico reported.

    March 27, 2018, Politico: Florida’s offshore drilling exemption may have been intended to benefit Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate campaign. On January 4, 2018, Zinke announced a controversial proposal to allow offshore drilling in many new coastal areas, including off the coasts of Florida. Five days later, Zinke exempted Florida from the expanded drilling after a supposedly spur-of-the-moment encounter in the Tallahassee airport with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. But records reviewed by Politico in March “showed that top officials from the offices of both Scott and the Interior secretary were in regular contact for several days leading up to the sudden announcement, contradicting the supposed spontaneous event that portrayed Scott as protecting Florida's environment.” According to The Washington Post, “The whole episode seems to have been designed to demonstrate Mr. Scott’s power and influence, by having him appear to summon the interior secretary to his state and bring him to heel in an afternoon.” Scott announced his Senate candidacy on April 9, 2018. The next day, CNN reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s Florida announcement violated the Hatch Act.

    March 28, 2018, TPM: Zinke’s mass reassignment of career Interior employees may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws. Last July, Zinke initiated the reassignment of 35 Senior Executive Service members at DOI, of which 27 were ultimately transferred. Many were told to “either accept a new placement on the other side of the country or in a role unrelated to their background, or leave the agency,” according to Talking Points Memo. The DOI’s inspector general concluded the reassignments occurred “without a written plan or clear criteria, and without consulting with the departmental leadership,” which created the perception that staff were reassigned for “political or punitive reasons.” Because a third of those reassigned are Native American, DOI may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as its own Indian Preference rules, as TPM later reported. Zinke has reportedly told senior staff that diversity is not important. After a congressional hearing in March, he was also accused of racial insensitivity for responding “Oh, konnichiwa” to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) after she shared the experience of two of her grandfathers who were held in internment camps during World War II.

    April 6, 2018, Reveal: National Park Service deletes climate change from months-delayed report on sea-level rise. “National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge,” according to an investigation conducted by The Center for Investigative Reporting and published on its Reveal website. The Department of Interior oversees the National Parks Service. Cat Hawkins, the head of the National Park Service’s climate change response program, made the deletions, in possible violation of Interior rules prohibiting political appointees from influencing scientific and scholarly activities. The report was also delayed for 10 months, which hindered park managers’ ability to access the latest research about how to mitigate the effects of extreme weather and sea-level rise on their parks. Zinke told the House Committee on Natural Resources in March, “I didn’t change a paragraph — a comma — in any document and I never would.” But Senate and House Democrats have called for DOI's inspector general to investigate the matter in light of Reveal’s reporting.

    April 16, 2018, HuffPost: Oil industry rep uses perch on DOI advisory group to push “wish list” of regulatory rollbacks. Under Zinke, advisory groups at DOI have been packed with industry representatives who want looser regulations. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a lobbying group that represents 300 oil and gas companies chairs one such group, which is tasked with recommending how Zinke should manage federal lands for fossil fuel development. The group's recommendations, which included regulatory rollbacks that had been on WEA's wish list for years, was initially drafted by Tripp Parks, WEA’s head of government affairs. According to HuffPost, “A document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that Parks created the draft recommendations one day before Sgamma circulated them to committee members overseeing the working group." As the Sierra Club’s legal director told HuffPost, “It’s a very clear instance of regulatory capture.”

  • Former Sinclair TV reporter: “Anything that went against anything that corporate wanted was just shot down.”

    Veteran reporter Suri Crowe details to BuzzFeed how Sinclair management insisted on false balance in news stories about climate and guns

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Sinclair reporter Suri Crowe provided BuzzFeed with a detailed account of how Sinclair Broadcast Group’s far-right agenda has affected local news coverage of stories from climate change to gun safety.

    Sinclair is the largest TV station owner and operator in the country, with about 190 stations, including affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, that reach approximately 38 percent of American homes. The conservative media company is awaiting final approval of its $3.9 billion bid to buy Tribune Media, which owns 42 TV stations, including in the major markets of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

    Media Matters has documented Sinclair’s rapid growth and its alliance with the Trump campaign and administration. If Sinclair completes its planned purchase of Tribune, the company’s right-wing bias and disregard for journalistic ethics could inform what 72 percent of American households see on their local news. Its reach is already so pervasive, Media Matters created a tool to inform viewers about the stations near them that Sinclair now owns or could soon acquire.

    Sinclair takes an aggressive approach to ensuring local viewers are exposed to the company’s agenda, Media Matters has found. It forces local stations to air corporate-mandated “must-runs,” which include segments from the company’s chief political analyst, and former aide to President Donald Trump, Boris Epshteyn.

    Crowe’s account to BuzzFeed about her time at WSET-TV, an ABC-affiliated station owned by Sinclair, provides an in-depth look at how local station operators can undermine or quash stories that run counter to the conservative ideological agenda of the company’s owners and executives. 

    Beginning in 2015, the veteran reporter was reprimanded by news directors who insisted her stories on climate change and gun legislation include more “balance.” Crowe, who won a Virginias Associated Press Broadcasters award in 2016, was ultimately forced out of her job in 2017.

    From BuzzFeed:

    Sinclair Broadcast Group executives reprimanded and ultimately ousted a local news reporter who refused to seed doubt about man-made climate change and “balance” her stories in a more conservative direction.

    [...]

    In one 2015 instance, the former news director of WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, Len Stevens, criticized reporter Suri Crowe because she “clearly laid out the argument that human activities cause global warming, but had nothing from the side that questions the science behind such claims and points to more natural causes for such warming.”

    [...]

    Crowe told BuzzFeed News that before the October 2015 climate change segment aired, she was ordered by Stevens to include Donald Trump’s opinion on the matter. “When I instructed you to balance the story, by including some of [the] other argument, you insisted there was no need to add such balance to the story,” he wrote in her Jan. 22, 2016, performance review.

    A veteran reporter who has worked at news stations in Texas and Virginia, Crowe said she viewed the story as environmental — not two-sided or political. “I was always covering the flu. I don’t remember a time when for balance I went out to a group of 20 people who are nutjobs that say flu shots kill,” she told BuzzFeed News. The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and humans are largely to blame, but Crowe ultimately read the updated, “balanced” script on air. “That was the moment where I realized how things were going to go there,” she said.

    [...]

    “Your story on proposed gun legislation was not balanced,” Stevens wrote in Crowe’s performance review. “You wrote of the proposed gun restrictions, ‘Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not to those in charge of passing new gun laws.’ And that tone is carried throughout the story. Another line: ‘Several polls show the majority of Virginians are in favor of tighter restrictions on gun purchases... But Republican lawmakers in Richmond... won’t go for it.’”

    On another gun story about the state attorney general’s decision to revoke a reciprocity agreement with other states for concealed carry permits, Stevens wrote that the sum total Crowe offered the other side was a single sentence: “The NRA on the other hand released a statement condemning the attorney general’s decision.” Stevens added that Crowe “had access to the press release sent by the NRA, yet included nothing from the actual statement... This kind of approach damages our reputation as a fair and balanced news organization.”

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more than on the other major TV networks combined

    Like other Trump officials, Zinke heavily favors the president's favorite network

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, Media Matters has found. And for the last nine-plus months, as Zinke has been increasingly dogged by scandals, he has not given interviews to any major channels other than Fox networks.

    In exhibiting a clear preference for Fox News during his 13-plus months in office, Zinke is following the same pattern as many of President Donald Trump’s other cabinet officials and top aides, including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

    Zinke has gotten soft treatment on Fox News. During his interviews, the network's hosts and journalists rarely asked about his scandals. Instead of confronting him with tough questions, they let him peddle Trump administration talking points and trumpet brand-burnishing policies such as “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.” 

    Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times and other major networks three times since he took office

    Zinke gave 13 interviews to Fox News and one each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS. From March 1, 2017, when Zinke was sworn in, to April 17, 2018, Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times. He granted only one on-air interview apiece to the other major cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC. On broadcast TV, Zinke appeared only on CBS; he gave no interviews to ABC or NBC.

    Zinke appeared most often on Fox & Friends, a show that shapes Trump’s decision-making. Here are all of Zinke's appearances on Fox News during his time as interior secretary:

    Fox & Friends’ interviews with Zinke were good examples of how he was treated across the network. When the hosts were not feting him for his Navy Seal service or lauding him for enacting Trump's deregulatory agenda, they allowed Zinke’s statements on policy to go unchallenged. Zinke's September 20 appearance on Fox & Friends stands out for its breeziness. Host Brian Kilmeade accompanied Zinke on a tour of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and neglected to ask the secretary about a controversial recommendation Zinke had made just days earlier to shrink four national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on major networks other than Fox:

    On cable business news networks, Zinke appeared on Fox Business seven times and CNBC once

    Zinke’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network, which he has appeared on seven times, compared to once on rival CNBC. Fox Business, like Fox News, regularly echoes Trump administration talking points and attacks the administration's perceived enemies. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs even has the ear of the president, who has invited Dobbs to participate in senior-level meetings via phone.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on Fox Business programs:

    Zinke's sole appearance on CNBC was on Squawk Box on June 29, 2017

    Zinke appeared only on Fox News and Fox Business after becoming embroiled in scandals

    Zinke started getting a notable amount of bad press last summer after an article published on July 26 revealed that he tried to strong-arm Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) into voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Since then, Zinke, like Pruitt and others in Trump's cabinet, has been at the center of numerous scandals involving excessive travel expenses, favors for donors, and undisclosed financial ties to companies that could benefit from his agency’s decisions.

    All of the TV interviews Zinke did with networks other than Fox or Fox Business happened prior to July 26, 2017, after which point his controversies began generating significant media attention.

    Once scandals cropped up, Zinke retreated fully to his safe space. For more than nine months now, Zinke has not granted a single interview to any major TV network other than Fox News or Fox Business.

    Fox News covered a key Zinke travel scandal less than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 28, The Washington Post and Politico reported that Zinke spent more than $12,000 of taxpayer funds to charter a flight from Las Vegas to near his Montana home on a plane owned by oil and gas executives. Commercial flights between the airports run daily and cost as little as $300, the Post reported. Zinke's jaunt was widely reported across cable news the week after the story broke, but more widely on MSNBC and CNN than on Fox.

    From September 28 to October 4, MSNBC ran 27 segments that mentioned Zinke’s travel, while CNN ran 23. The networks' hosts, correspondents, and guests usually brought up Zinke’s travel scandal during wider conversations that included mention of other cabinet members' extravagant travel.

    During the same period, Fox News ran 12 segments about Zinke’s travel -- roughly half as many as each of the other cable news networks. Most of Fox's mentions of Zinke's travel were news alerts restating basic facts from the Post article. When Fox News hosts and correspondents discussed the story on air, they usually downplayed or excused the scandal. For example, on America’s News Headquarters on September 29, White House Correspondent John Roberts said that Zinke was “taking The Washington Post to task” before airing Zinke’s defense for taking private flights. Later in the show, host Sandra Smith remarked, “Zinke makes a fair point,” and noted that he got approval for other controversial flights he took on government planes.

    On April 16, 2018, the Interior Department’s (DOI) inspector general released a report that found Zinke's $12,375 charter flight "could have been avoided." Zinke took the chartered flight so he would have time in his schedule to give a motivational speech to a hockey team owned by a major donor to Zinke's former congressional campaign. The speech did not mention Zinke's work at the Department of Interior. The inspector general’s report concluded, "If ethics officials had known Zinke’s speech would have no nexus to the DOI, they likely would not have approved this as an official event, thus eliminating the need for a chartered flight. Moreover, had ethics officials been made aware that the Golden Knights’ owner had been a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaign, it might have prompted further review and discussion."

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ media to find Zinke’s on-air TV appearances from the date he was sworn in as secretary of the interior on March 1, 2017, to April 17, 2018: “Zinke OR Zinky OR Interior Secretary OR Secretary of the Interior OR Secretary of Interior.” We used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Zinke’s travel controversy from September 28 to October 4, 2017.

  • Fox & Friends has spent less than two minutes covering Scott Pruitt’s scandals this week

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News’ morning show Fox & Friends continues to cover up the growing number of scandals plaguing Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, giving the story less than two minutes of coverage throughout the week.

    Pruitt’s ethics problems have been steadily mounting in his short time as EPA administrator. In the past couple of weeks, it was revealed that the EPA head paid a below-market price to rent a condominium co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, had his taxpayer-funded 24/7 security detail accompany him on personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, looked into leasing a private jet for an exorbitant cost, exploited a loophole to bypass the White House’s rejection of massive pay raises for two close aides, may have violated ethics rules by having his staff carry out personal tasks for him, and abused a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire loyalists and ex-lobbyists. And just yesterday, news broke that Pruitt reassigned or demoted at least four officials who raised concerns about his behavior, had not provided ethics officials with the full details of his living arrangement, and lied about his landlord's lobbyist husband having clients with business before the EPA.

    The new reports have thrust Pruitt into the spotlight, but Fox & Friends did not mention Pruitt once on Friday. The morning show granted just one minute and 53 seconds of coverage to Pruitt’s ethics scandals from April 2 to April 6, relegating the story mostly to short headlines segments.

    Notably, the day after Fox News aired a wide-ranging interview with Pruitt, Fox & Friends spent a mere minute and a half covering the story while rival networks covered the interview extensively throughout the day.

    Today, a day after news broke of more scandals, President Donald Trump’s favorite morning show ignored the story entirely, opting instead to attack rapper Jay-Z for his comments on racial justice and recycle Trump’s lies about immigrants voting. Fox & Friends even interviewed two Trump administration officials, Mercedes Schlapp and Peter Navarro, and failed to ask them about Pruitt. In fact, throughout the week, six Trump administration officials appeared on Fox & Friends; none of them were asked to comment on Pruitt’s likely ethics violations.

  • The top 6 tricks Scott Pruitt uses to outfox the media

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt might just be the most ruthlessly effective member of the Trump administration -- much to the ire of environmental activists, who recently launched a #BootPruitt campaign. One of Pruitt's trademark strategies is trying to tightly control media coverage of himself and his agency, a way to tamp down criticism of his industry-friendly agenda and extreme rollbacks of environmental protections.

    Pruitt has lost control of the media narrative in the past week, as numerous outlets have reported on his snowballing ethics scandals. But if he keeps his job -- there are reports that President Trump still has his back -- you can expect him to double down on his media machinations.

    Here are the key ways Pruitt manipulates and hampers the press:

    1. Pruitt goes to right-wing news outlets to push his messages out

    During his first year as head of the EPA, Pruitt appeared on Fox News, Trump's favorite network, 16 times -- more than twice as often as he appeared on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. Fox hosts and interviewers tend to lob softballs at him and gloss over his numerous controversies and scandals.

    Pruitt gives interviews to other conservative outlets, too, from Breitbart News Daily to The Rush Limbaugh Show to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Last month, Pruitt went on conservative talk-radio shows to spread misleading talking points as he attempted to defend his extravagant travel spending.

    And when Pruitt announced a plan in March to severely restrict the kinds of scientific data that can be used in policymaking -- a change decried by scientists, environmentalists, and public health advocates -- he gave an exclusive interview to conservative news site The Daily Caller about it. The resulting article painted the shift in a positive light, of course.

    2. Pruitt gives interviews to generalists instead of environmental reporters

    Pruitt grants some interviews to mainstream news outlets, but when he does it's often with political reporters or generalists instead of reporters on the environmental beat who would know the right tough questions to ask.

    For instance, in February, Pruitt appeared on The New York Times' podcast The Daily. The interview was largely light and fluffy, letting Pruitt spout his talking points with little pushback, including a false claim that Congress would have to change the law in order for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. After the interview, it fell to Times environmental reporter Coral Davenport to point out that the Supreme Court had already granted authority to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Too bad she wasn't the one who conducted the interview. The following week, when another Times environmental reporter, Lisa Friedman, asked for a comment from Pruitt for a piece on his views on climate science, an EPA spokesperson instead referred her to the interview with The Daily.

    The EPA administrator sat for another soft interview with a Washington Post political reporter that was published in the Post's political newsletter The Daily 202. The resulting piece quoted Pruitt defending his enforcement record -- “I don't hang with polluters; I prosecute them" -- and praising Trump for his "tremendous ideas."

    Contrast that with what happened when Pruitt gave a rare interview to two Post reporters, Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, who've been doggedly covering his agency. They produced a substantive article on how Pruitt has been shifting the EPA to serve the interests of regulated companies; quotes from Pruitt in the piece are interspersed with quotes from experts and with reporting on Pruitt's moves to roll back environmental protections and enforcement.

    3. Pruitt's EPA withholds basic information from the press and the public

    Under Pruitt, the EPA has become extraordinarily secretive.

    Unlike previous EPA administrators, Pruitt has refused to publicly release his full schedule in anything close to real time. The EPA has barred reporters from attending events where Pruitt speaks, even threatening to call the police to remove them. Most recently, on April 3, the EPA blocked numerous journalists from attending his announcement about the loosening of auto fuel economy standards, enabling Pruitt to avoid hard questions.

    It's so hard to get information out of the agency that the Society of Environmental Journalists sent the EPA public affairs office a letter in January asking for such fundamental things as open press briefings, responses to reporters' inquiries, and distribution of press releases to everyone who requests them.

    As New York Times reporter Friedman said in October, "Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA. It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”

    It's no surprise, then, that Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the agency have soared under Pruitt.

    4. Pruitt's EPA sends reporters articles by climate deniers instead of useful information

    Over the last month, the EPA has sent out at least four "press releases" that did nothing more than promote articles or opinion pieces by right-wing figures that painted Pruitt in a positive light, as ThinkProgress reported.

    The most eye-popping press release was headlined "The Hill: Scott Pruitt is leading the EPA toward greatness." It pointed to a fawning opinion piece co-written by the head of the Heartland Institute, a notorious climate-denial think tank.

    But perhaps the most vexing to reporters was a press release that promoted the aforementioned Daily Caller article on Pruitt restricting the EPA’s use of scientific data. The agency sent it out in lieu of an informative press release and otherwise refused to answer reporters' questions about the action. This prompted the National Association of Science Writers to send a letter of protest to the head of the EPA press office, calling on her to "take steps immediately to prevent this unprofessional and unethical behavior from occurring again." The Society of Environmental Journalists followed up with a similar letter of its own.

    5. Pruitt repeats disingenuous, misleading talking points

    Unlike his boss, Pruitt is disciplined and on-message. In interviews, he turns again and again to the same tightly scripted talking points, many of which are misleading.

    Like this one: "We've seen an 18 percent reduction in our CO2 footprint from 2000 to 2014. We're at pre-1994 levels," Pruitt told Fox News Sunday in June, while defending Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. It's one of Pruitt's favorite lines. He's repeated it ad nauseum during his 13 months at the EPA.

    When he spouts this statistic, Pruitt is essentially bragging that the U.S. has already done a lot to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That might sound good on the surface, but Pruitt's claim is misleading -- he ignores the fact that emissions went down in part because of Obama-era policies that Pruitt and others in the Trump administration are now undoing. It's also just a really weird thing to boast about if you're a climate denier like Pruitt.

    Does Pruitt actually think it's a good thing that the U.S. reduced carbon dioxide emissions? Does that mean he acknowledges that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant? Does he then think it would be good for the U.S. to continue reducing CO2 emissions? Is he aware that CO2 emissions are projected to rise this year?

    These are follow-up questions that an interviewer who's knowledgeable about climate change might ask, but so far we haven't seen any such pushback. No wonder Pruitt keeps repeating the line.

    6. Pruitt's EPA retaliates against journalists

    Under Pruitt, the EPA's press office has taken the unprecedented step of personally attacking reporters whose work the leadership dislikes. In September, the office issued a press release bashing Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker over a story he co-wrote. "Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey," the release read. "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." The EPA then dropped Biesecker from its email press list.

    The agency's press office has also attacked New York Times reporter Eric Lipton, who's done deep-dive investigative reporting into Pruitt's EPA. In August, the office put out a press release that accused him of reporting "false facts." In October, Liz Bowman, head of the EPA's Office of Public Affairs, gave a snarky reply after Lipton requested information on agency actions, accusing Lipton of having a "continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

    The bottom line: Why Pruitt’s media manipulation matters

    When Pruitt gets more positive media coverage for himself and the EPA, or at least less negative coverage, it can sway public opinion in favor of his right-wing agenda and make it easier for him to continue eviscerating environmental protections. His successes then help him curry favor with oil companies, the Koch network, and other monied interests that could fund a future Pruitt campaign for senator, governor, or even president. After all, the EPA administrator is notoriously ambitious.

    If Pruitt does ascend higher, you can expect to see a lot more anti-regulatory fervor and a lot more media manipulation and maltreatment.

  • MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt dismisses the scandal over Scott Pruitt's condo rental

    Hewitt, whose son was hired by Pruitt as a press secretary, has been a staunch defender of the EPA chief

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/4): Scott Pruitt hired Hugh Hewitt's son, James Hewitt, as a press secretary at the EPA by exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act -- a move that ethics experts have criticized, according to The Washington Post. Pruitt used this same loophole to make other hires, and to give raises to two aides against the wishes of the White House. Hewitt's son previously worked at Dezenhall Resources Ltd., a public relations firm that has run campaigns attacking environmental groups including Greenpeace. Hugh Hewitt mounted another defense of Pruitt on his radio show on April 4, dismissing the scandals surrounding the EPA chief as "nonsense."

    Original article below.

    Over the past few days, MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt has defended EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rental of a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, falsely claiming that Pruitt paid market rate for the condo and dismissing ethical concerns many experts have raised about the arrangement. Hewitt’s defense of the rental arrangement is in line with his track record of defending Pruitt from criticism.

    Hewitt defended Pruitt’s ethically dubious $50-a-night lease

    On March 30, ABC News reported that Pruitt had “worked directly with a top energy lobbyist, and without a real estate broker, to set up a $50-a-night rental room in a prime Capitol Hill building co-owned by the lobbyist’s wife during his first six months in Washington.” Under the arrangement, Pruitt paid to rent out one bedroom only on the nights he spent at the condo, even though no other renters stayed in the unit when he was out of town.

    On April 1, Hewitt took to Twitter to defend Pruitt’s leasing setup as “quite common” and dismiss it as a “non-story.”

    Hewitt also claimed that the condo was rented to Pruitt at market rate during a Twitter argument with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle and Republican political consultant Matthew Dowd:

    On April 2, Hewitt appeared on MSNBC Live to claim that Pruitt’s condo lease was appropriate and that criticism of the arrangement was politically motivated: “It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing. I think this is really about policy, Stephanie, as we talked about on Twitter, and I think it’s about the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act]. Specifically, people on the left are upset with Scott Pruitt over the Clean Power Plan, which he repealed; the Waters of the United States [WOTUS], which he repealed; the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards today, which he put up for repeal. He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy on WOTUS and on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”

    Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental was well below market rate for similar units

    Pruitt paid $6,100 over the duration of his six-month stay in the Capitol Hill condo, roughly $1,000 a month. The rate was well below what Pruitt paid for similar housing after he left the condo, as The Washington Post reported:

    After leaving the Capitol Hill condo co-owned by Vicki Hart in July, Pruitt moved to a one-bedroom apartment in an upscale complex in the U Street neighborhood, according to an official with knowledge of the move. One-bedroom units in the building run about $3,000 to $3,500 monthly.

    Several months later, he moved again, signing another lease in a new luxury apartment complex back on Capitol Hill. One-bedroom apartments in the building, which is owned by a large development company, start at about $3,100 per month and go to nearly $4,500.

    ABC News also revealed that Pruitt’s daughter stayed in the second bedroom in the condo for the duration of her White House internship from May to August, during which time Pruitt should have been paying a two-bedroom rate.

    As The Associated Press reported, “Current rental listings for two-bedroom apartments in the [Capitol Hill] neighborhood show they typically go for far more than what Pruitt paid. A two bedroom townhome on the same block as the one leased by Pruitt was advertised for rent on Monday at $3,750 a month. Another two-bedroom unit on the next block was advertised as available for $4,740 a month.”

    Numerous ethics experts have questioned Pruitt’s condo lease

    Despite Hewitt’s assertion that Pruitt’s leasing arrangement was aboveboard, a number of ethics experts expressed concern over Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental.

    Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics, said of Pruitt’s lease, “I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency. That’s why there is a gift rule.”

    After the EPA issued a retroactive ethics approval for Pruitt’s rental arrangement on Friday, Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the ruling “highly unusual” and questioned the logic of the agency's opinion, ABC reported.

    On the March 31 episode of CNN’s New Day Saturday, Water Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said the lease was a gift and the EPA’s ethics ruling left “unanswered questions,” and he debunked many of the EPA’s explanations:

    CHRISTI PAUL (ANCHOR): Now, again, an EPA official told CNN the ethics counsel reviewed this living arrangement, that the ethics issue was not one because he paid rent, they say, and that the landlord was considered a friend and by law, quote, "does not ban federal employees from receiving a gift from a friend." Do you give any credence to those conclusions?

    WALTER SHAUB (CNN CONTRIBUTOR): No, that's silly. And in fact, the EPA released a memo yesterday that was dated yesterday. Pruitt did not go to the EPA ethics office and get advice in advance as to whether this was appropriate. This story broke, and then the EPA tried to come up with a post hoc rationalization, and the rationalization is preposterous.

    They don't actually rely on the alleged friendship, and they really can't because the lobbyist told the press yesterday that they're merely casual friends. That would not meet the standard for an exception of the gift rule based on very close personal relationships where you get a gift under circumstances that it's absolutely clear that the gift was solely motivated by the relationship.

    But the justification they tried to offer which just has about everybody in Washington who's ever looked for an apartment chuckling is the idea that it's perfectly normal in this town to get a prime location -- and this house really is that, it’s right next to the House/Senate office building on Capitol Hill, for $50 a night -- and the owner will hold the house open for you for the -- any night that you don't use it. He won't rent it to anybody else, but you only have to pay for the nights that you actually stay there at well below market rate. There's no doubt that this is a gift and that this is below market rate, and so, the EPA's justification doesn't wash.

    On April 2, The New York Times reported that the EPA signed off on a pipeline project linked to the lobbyist whose wife owned the condo, raising questions about whether there was a connection between the agency’s action and the condo rental. From the Times article:

    Government ethics experts said that the correlation between the E.P.A.’s action and Mr. Pruitt’s lease arrangement — he was renting from the wife of the head of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen — illustrates why such ties to industry players can generate questions for public officials: Even if no specific favors were asked for or granted, it can create an appearance of a conflict.

    “Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision,” said Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

    Hewitt has a history of defending the EPA administrator

    Hewitt’s defense of Pruitt's rental arrangement is just the latest instance of the radio host and MSNBC personality dismissing the EPA administrator’s scandals (of which there are many).   

    For example, after news broke last year about Pruitt spending $58,000 on charter and military flights, Hewitt defended that expense on the September 29 episode of MTP Daily:

    HUGH HEWITT: I want to push back on Pruitt, and -- I don’t know Zinke yet -- but I've studied everything about Pruitt because I'm interested in the EPA and my son works there.

    Those four trips, all preapproved by the [EPA's Office of General Counsel]. He was going to the bottom of Oklahoma in one of them to meet with stakeholders that President Obama never cared about: small farmers, small plot holders, wetland people. It was the Waters of the United States Rule rollback. By all means, throw some attention on that.

    Earlier that day, Hewitt also defended Pruitt on his radio show, arguing that efforts to condemn Pruitt for his travel are “a dry hole.”

    And in March of this year, after additional stories broke about Pruitt’s expensive travel habits, Hewitt attributed criticism of Pruitt’s travel to an “anti-Trump” bias in the media.

    Additionally, when Pruitt received some of his most negative press coverage of 2017, after he denied the scientific consensus on human-made climate change on CNBC, Hewitt provided cover for Pruitt by having him on his radio show and declaring, "I know you are not a climate denier."

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to make a comeback. It's time to talk about his long reported history of sexual harassment and groping.

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has a long list of sexual misconduct allegations against him, wants to raise his public profile as a climate activist. He made headlines last week when, during an interview with Politico, he threatened to sue oil companies “for knowingly killing people all over the world” by selling a product that contributes to climate change. What didn’t make headlines, though, was that Politico also asked Schwarzenegger about past behavior that "some women" had "called offensive," a reference to charges of groping, sexual humiliation, and harassment made against Schwarzenegger in previous years.

    The accusations against Schwarzenegger, many of which were aired during his 2003 gubernatorial campaign, are similar to accusations that have come out against other high-profile men in the #MeToo era, including charges of nonconsensual groping and verbal harassment. Schwarzenegger also reportedly benefited from a "catch-and-kill" nondisclosure agreement drawn up by the publisher of the National Enquirer, the same kind of agreement that helped Donald Trump avoid the exposure of an alleged extramarital affair.

    Here's an overview of Schwarzenegger's history of alleged sexual misconduct and harassment:

    2003: Sixteen women came forward with allegations of groping or sexual humiliation by Schwarzenegger, the LA Times reported

    On October 2, 2003 -- five days before the recall election in which Californians elected Schwarzenegger as governor -- the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy investigative article that detailed sexual harassment allegations against Schwarzenegger:

    Six women who came into contact with Arnold Schwarzenegger on movie sets, in studio offices and in other settings over the last three decades say he touched them in a sexual manner without their consent.

    In interviews with The Times, three of the women described their surprise and discomfort when Schwarzenegger grabbed their breasts. A fourth said he reached under her skirt and gripped her buttocks.

    A fifth woman said Schwarzenegger groped her and tried to remove her bathing suit in a hotel elevator. A sixth said Schwarzenegger pulled her onto his lap and asked whether a certain sexual act had ever been performed on her.

    According to the women's accounts, one of the incidents occurred in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, two in the 1990s and one in 2000.

    "Did he rape me? No," said one woman, who described a 1980 encounter in which she said Schwarzenegger touched her breast. "Did he humiliate me? You bet he did."

    The LA Times story also cited a 2001 article published in Premiere magazine in which another woman accused Schwarzenegger of inappropriately touching her breast and other people recalled incidents of groping and harassment.

    Schwarzenegger's campaign spokesperson told the LA Times that the candidate had not engaged in improper conduct toward women.

    On the day the LA Times article came out, Schwarzenegger himself told a crowd of supporters that "a lot" of what was reported was "not true," but admitted that he had "behaved badly sometimes" and apologized:

    I know that the people of California can see through these trash politics. Yes. And let me tell you something -- a lot of those, what you see in the stories is not true. But at the same time, I have to tell you, I always say that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. That is true. So I want to say to you, yes, I have behaved badly sometimes. Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful. But now I recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize, because this is not what I tried to do.

    In the days after the initial LA Times story was published, more women spoke out, making for a total of 16 women coming forward before the election with allegations that they had been groped or sexually humiliated by Schwarzenegger.

    One of the women named in the Premiere story and the initial LA Times story, Anna Richardson, filed a libel suit against Schwarzenegger and two of his aides in 2004. After Richardson alleged that Schwarzenegger groped her, Schwarzenegger's staff told the LA Times that she had encouraged the behavior, a claim that Richardson said damaged her reputation. The suit was settled out of court in 2006.

    2005: The publisher of the National Enquirer paid a woman to keep silent about an alleged affair with Schwarzenegger that began when she was 16

    The LA Times reported that American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, promised to pay $20,000 in 2003 to a woman who allegedly had a seven-year affair with Schwarzenegger in exchange for the woman signing a confidentiality agreement that blocked her from talking about it to any other media outlets. The National Enquirer had published a story about the affair two years earlier, in 2001, in which it claimed that the woman was 16 years old when the affair began. But after the confidentiality agreement was signed, American Media never followed up with the woman or gave her the opportunity to tell her story.

    The confidentiality agreement was signed two days after Schwarzenegger announced his intention to run for governor, during a period when Schwarzenegger and American Media were negotiating a multimillion-dollar consulting deal that would have Schwarzenegger serve as executive editor for bodybuilding and fitness magazines owned by the company.

    This is the same kind of "catch-and-kill" arrangement -- in which a company buys a story so as to prevent its release -- that American Media used to silence a woman who had an affair with Trump, as The New Yorker reported in February 2018. The New Yorker story named Schwarzenegger as another person involved in American Media's catch-and-kill arrangements.

    LA Times columnist Steve Lopez summed up the paper's story about Schwarzenegger and American Media in an August 12, 2005, piece:

    My colleagues Peter Nicholas and Carla Hall report that while Schwarzenegger was running for governor and negotiating a multimillion-dollar contract to shill for muscle magazines owned by the company that publishes the National Enquirer, the same outfit was paying Arnold's alleged former "masseuse" $20,000 not to go running her mouth.

    2016: Schwarzenegger said he would not vote for Trump after the Access Hollywood tape came out, but he still partnered with Trump on Celebrity Apprentice

    On October 8, 2016, the day The Washington Post revealed that Donald Trump had been caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women, Schwarzenegger posted a statement on Twitter announcing that he would not be voting for the Republican candidate and calling on fellow Republicans to "choose your country over your party."

    But Schwarzenegger still went forward with plans to replace Trump on NBC's reality show Celebrity Apprentice, and he defended Trump for retaining an executive producer title on the show after he became president.

    2017: Common Cause canceled plans to give an award to Schwarzenegger after being pressured by activists

    The good-government nonprofit Common Cause had planned to honor Schwarzenegger on December 1, 2017, with an award for work he did as governor to combat gerrymandering. But activists started a MoveOn.org petition demanding that the group not give the award to a "serial harasser," arguing, "By honoring Arnold Common Cause is enabling harassers and silencing victims."

    Common Cause then reversed course and announced that it would not give an award to the former governor.

    2018: Schwarzenegger praised the #MeToo movement and touted the benefits of sexual harassment awareness classes during his Politico interview

    On March 11, 2018, Schwarzenegger sat down for a live, hour-long interview at the SXSW Conference in Austin, TX, with Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere. Five minutes of the interview were about sexual misconduct allegations against Schwarzenegger and about the #MeToo movement. Here's a transcript of those five minutes:

    EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: I want to ask you about maybe a little bit less of a comfortable topic. We've been talking about your time as governor. When you were running initially in 2003 -- this was 15 years ago, right -- towards the end of the campaign there were some women who spoke out about behavior of yours that they called offensive. You apologized for it and said you didn't mean to offend. But obviously, not only is it 15 years ago but it's the last six months have really changed the conversation that we're having about what's going on. What is the difference between that moment and now?

    ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think that first of all the movement, if you're talking about the #MeToo movement, it is about time. I think it's fantastic. I think that women have been used and abused and treated horribly for too long. And I think that now all of the elements came together to create this movement and that now finally puts the spotlight on this issue and I hope that a lot of people learn from that. And I remember that when I -- for instance, when this happened to me, just before the election, with the groping charges, I realized you know, even though you say this was very politically motivated, it was just the day before, two days before the election and all this stuff. But the fact of the matter is you got to take these things seriously because you got to look at it and say, OK, I made mistakes, and I have to apologize. And this is why the first thing that I did when I became governor was that we had a sexual harassment class. Because I said to myself, this is extremely important of an issue, and now we’re representing the people of California, so no one should get into this kind of trouble, no one. And so we had these people come in as experts. And it was really the most unbelievable education. And I recommend for anyone that is confused about this issue, after all of these complaints that women have, and the outcry of women, I would suggest to everyone, if you're still confused about it, that women are treated the right way, to go in to take one of those classes. Because when we took this class and the guy walked in -- it was two women and two guys that were holding this class -- and they said, let me just open up and just say very simply, if a woman comes through this door, and you, governor, say to her, "I love your beautiful red dress," she can take this as sexual harassment.

    DOVERE: Has it made you rethink your own--

    SCHWARZENEGGER: And so here's the important thing. Then he said, but, if you go at the same breath and say to the man, "I like your green tie," he says then it wouldn't be. So there were so many subtle kind of things that you needed to know that you would make mistakes. And the entire time that we were in office we never had one single problem because we had those sexual harassment classes on an ongoing basis. And just educate everyone.

    DOVERE: Has it made you rethink your own things that you did, even in the last couple months?

    SCHWARZENEGGER: No. I just think that we make mistakes, we don't take it seriously, but then when you then really think about it, you say to yourself, yeah, maybe there was I went too far. You know if you do sex scenes in a movie, you know scenes in bed, if you're in the gymnasium and you teach someone how to train and you maybe touch them in an inappropriate way -- whatever it is, you realize you've got to be very sensitive about it and you've got to think the way women feel, and if they feel uncomfortable, then you did not do the right thing and you've got to be sensitive about that. And so--

    DOVERE: Is the problem--

    SCHWARZENEGGER: It just made me think totally differently. And then when the whole spotlight came about, and the spotlight was put on this issue, you know, I could, I said to myself, you know, finally, because I think it is really good that now the spotlight is on it. And it is no different than the spotlight was on it like on equality in America, you know in the '60s, or if it is about the environmental issues, where you talk and talk and talk about it but then finally it clicks and people realize. I mean, for how long have I thrown things out of the window when I was a kid and then eventually the spotlight was put on it and it made you feel bad that you're doing the wrong thing and now you start thinking about it and you never do it again. So I think this is going to put the spotlight on it to such an extent that guys are going to think twice about it to make those mistakes. And I think that everyone should take a sexual harassment class because we've got to go and not ever do those kind of things.

    DOVERE: Is the problem worse in politics or in Hollywood?

    SCHWARZENEGGER: I think it is across the board. I think it is nothing with Hollywood, it is nothing with politics. It can be somebody in the factory, it can be in the military. It can be anywhere, this abuse and this kind of where guys flex their muscles and use their power in order to get certain things. And I just don't think it is right, and I think this is why it's good that women are letting their voice be heard.