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Television news largely missed reporting on Republican Senate leaders’ secretive drafting of its version of American Health Care Act (AHCA) that could radically alter health care for millions of Americans. New research from Media Matters has found that the five major newspapers almost completely ignored the GOP Senate leadership’s back room dealmaking on their front pages -- having a combined total of only two front page stories during a two-week period.
On June 16, Vox asked eight Republican senators to explain their party’s prospective bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But the senators couldn’t “answer simple and critical questions” on their own bill. Vox Senior Editor Sarah Kliff pointed out on June 15 that “the Senate is running a remarkably closed process” to hide the bill; it has not released a draft to the public, has held no committee hearings, and has had no speeches “defending the policy provisions of the bill” on the Senate floor. The New York Times reported, also on June 15, that the “remarkable” secrecy around the bill has raised alarm with senators in both parties:
“They’re ashamed of the bill,” the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said. “If they liked the bill, they’d have brass bands marching down the middle of small-town America saying what a great bill it is. But they know it isn’t.”
Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, offered a hint of the same frustration felt by Democrats seeking more information about the bill.
“I come from a manufacturing background,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’ve solved a lot of problems. It starts with information. Seems like around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn’t seem to be necessarily the most effective process.”
The day Vox and the Times reported on the GOP senators’ unprecedented secrecy surrounding the bill, Media Matters released a report documenting the insufficient amount of weekday coverage on broadcast and cable news dedicated to the Senate health care bill from June 1 to June 14. Media Matters reported that the big three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) dedicated a fraction of their airtime -- roughly three minutes across all three networks -- to the Senate deliberations out of 15 total hours of scheduled weekday programming. The performance of cable news channels was not much better, as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News provided just under two combined hours of coverage to the Senate bill out of 150 hours of scheduled weekday programming.
Television news’ lack of coverage would help the Republican Party move the legislative process forward on this bill without a public debate that would highlight the real human cost of such legislation. Media Matters research also found that in addition to television channels falling flat, print media did not fair much better either on covering the the Senate health care bill.
An analysis of five major newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- showed that though newspapers did provide more in-depth coverage than television news, those papers almost completely ignored the issue on the front page. In fact, Media Matters did not identify a single front page story on the Republican Senate’s health care bill in the Times, USA Today, or the LA Times from June 1-14 and only identified one front page story each in the Post and the Journal. On June 19, ThinkProgess reported on this lack of front page coverage (which had continued beyond June 14) and noted that it was also a problem with local papers in areas that supported President Donald Trump -- areas which ThinkProgress noted would be “hit hardest by Trumpcare.”
In total, Media Matters identified 29 print edition news articles in these five major national newspapers that discussed the Senate health care bill from June 1 through June 14. Of these five outlets, the Post and the Times provided the most total coverage -- the Post published 11 articles on eight different days, and the Times published nine articles on seven different days. The Journal was third with six pieces published on five separate days. The Los Angeles Times published just two articles on two separate days, and Media Matters only identified one article in USA Today.
The GOP is counting on media’s silence and right-wing media myths to push a train wreck of a health care bill that would strip health care from tens of millions to slash taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Right-wing media have repeatedly assisted the GOP with claims that ACA is in a “death spiral” and have attempted to discredit the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office after its report found that up to 24 million people would lose health insurance under the AHCA. Right-wing media have even tried to pacify millions of Americans that would lose access to insurance by absurdly telling them to just go to the emergency room. As Talk Poverty’s Jeremy Slevin pointed out, “It is the responsibility of the press to draw out the contents of the Senate’s health care bill—before it is too late.”
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of print editions of the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post from June 1, 2017, through June 14, 2017. We identified and reviewed all non-editorial print content that included any of the following keywords: health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or affordable care act or cbo within 20 words of the word Senate.
Media Matters conducted a Factiva search of print editions of The Wall Street Journal from June 1, 2017, through June 14, 2017. health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or affordable care act or cbo within 10 words of the word Senate (the maximum distance allowed by Factiva).
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Evening broadcast and cable news coverage since June 1 has largely neglected ongoing Republican deliberations in the Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with major news networks devoting a fraction of their airtime to the prospective legislation. The sparse coverage also frequently overlooked the Republican Party’s unprecedented secrecy about its draft legislation, which Senate leaders plan to vote on before the end of the month without any input from outside experts, their Democratic colleagues, or the public.
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Dangerous moves to unravel post-crisis financial protections cannot break through the Trump scandal bubble
On the same day former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate intelligence committee, the House voted to rip financial protections from millions of American consumers. The scant attention major news programs on the largest cable and broadcast outlets gave this crucial piece of legislation in the lead up to its passage highlights how little time major media outlets have dedicated to covering the Republican Party’s radical policy agenda amid the scandals emanating from the White House.
On June 8, the Republican-led House passed the Financial Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs (CHOICE) Act -- or simply, the “Choice Act” -- which would gut many of the consumer protections enshrined in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. The Choice Act targets a series of reforms designed to prevent taxpayers from being forced to bail out “too big to fail” institutions in the midst of another financial crisis similar to what happened in 2008. It also weakens the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a watchdog institution set up by former President Barack Obama’s administration to protect American consumers.
According to a synopsis published by Vox, the Choice Act would “eviscerate” reforms designed to “make a repeat of the 2008 [financial crisis] scenario less likely.” The reforms established new processes for the orderly liquidation of large financial institutions and implemented extra supervision and scrutiny for firms that pose systemic risk to the financial system. The legislation also sharply curtails the CFPB, which, as Mic explained, would make it easier for consumers to be abused by financial institutions. The CFPB and its director are seen as one of the few checks on Wall Street left in the federal government, and have been subjected to constant attack from right-wing media outlets and conservative politicians.
Print and online news outlets such as the Associated Press, Business Insider, CNNMoney, The Hill, and ThinkProgress have covered the Choice Act fairly comprehensively, but the sweeping legislative changes it would implement barely broke through on TV. According to a Media Matters analysis, in the five weeks since the Choice Act advanced from the Financial Services Committee to a final floor vote in the House, the legislation has been mentioned just seven times during weekday prime-time cable news programs. It drew just one mention during weekday broadcast evening news programs:
The Choice Act got in under the radar even though a coalition of 20 state attorneys general, numerous independent advocacy groups, and a wide array of experts opposed it. In a blogpost for Economic Policy Institute, economists Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz explained that the problems with the Choice Act go far beyond its unnecessary repeal of consumer protections enshrined in Dodd-Frank, and Ed Mierzwinski of the Public Interest Research Group criticized aspects of the law that would rescind protections available to military veterans and servicemembers. Financial regulatory expert Aaron Klein of The Brookings Institution wrote a column for Fortune slamming the Choice Act for limiting consumer access to information. The Southern Poverty Law Center also hit the legislation, decrying it for weakening oversight on predatory lenders who exploit low-income communities around the country.
Rather than covering the Republican agenda to roll back consumer financial protections -- which Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has labeled his party’s “crown jewel” -- major national media outlets have been almost entirely consumed by the hastening pace of developments in investigations of possible collusion between Trump’s political team and the Russian government. The investigation coincided almost perfectly with Choice Act deliberations: Comey’s May 3 testimony before the Senate dominated news coverage for days, his shocking May 9 firing dominated the news for weeks, and his June 8 testimony -- on the same day the Choice Act was passed -- generated so much attention it was compared to major sporting events. Indeed, the truly damning characterizations Comey made of Trump under oath may influence the public’s perceptions of the White House for the remainder of the Trump administration.
This is not the first time discussions about the GOP’s policy agenda have been overwhelmed by media coverage of the Trump administration’s scandals. In March, when the White House was rolling out potentially ruinous economic policy proposals, media attention was fixated instead on Trump’s false accusation that Obama had illegally wiretapped him. Though extensive media coverage is warranted for the Trump-Russia saga and other scandals surrounding the administration, the actions of Congress should not be allowed to proceed virtually unnoticed when so much is at stake.
Chart by Sarah Wasko
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of broadcast evening news and cable prime-time (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from May 4, 2017, through June 9, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Dodd Frank or Dodd-Frank or Choice Act or CFPB or (financial w/10 regulation!).
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The White House’s rollout of its so-called “infrastructure week” agenda demonstrated once again that President Donald Trump and his staff are interested in policy discussions only insofar as they can generate short-term media narratives. The infrastructure scheme that the Trump team is pushing falls far short of the substantive approach necessary to address America's infrastructure needs and stands in stark contrast to plans outlined by progressive advocates. The Trump plan seems designed to curry headlines rather than spur a serious media conversation about infrastructure.
On June 5, the White House released a vague six-page infrastructure outline touting the Trump administration’s goal to invest “at least $1 trillion in total infrastructure spending” over the next decade along with numerous other initiatives. A close reading of the plan, coupled with the White House’s budget request for the 2018 fiscal year, shows that it is not actually a plan to invest $1 trillion in our nation’s roads, bridges, and other vital infrastructure. Instead, it is a proposed $200 billion tax giveaway to developers and construction contractors, which the administration hopes would spur additional private sector investment of up to $1 trillion.
Aside from a controversial side project that would break up and privatize the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic control systems, which has encountered pushback from both the head of the FAA and from Trump’s own transportation secretary, the Trump infrastructure agenda included few specific policies. Most major media outlets saw the “infrastructure week” gambit for what it was, a transparent attempt to distract media attention away from the looming congressional testimony of former FBI Director James Comey.
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has hastily rolled out an incomplete economic agenda in hopes of distracting the press from the challenges it’s facing. In late April, as the administration neared its 100th day in office with no major legislative accomplishments, the White House rolled out a comically incomplete one-page tax plan that was pilloried in the press. The plan called for “a radical reordering” of tax policy that The New York Times projected “would significantly benefit the wealthy.” The hastily drafted tax plan was described as “a frantic last push” for a policy victory after what media observers had dubbed “100 days of failure.”
By all accounts, the White House’s head fake on infrastructure failed, in part because the president couldn’t keep himself on message. But the attempt to again use vitally important domestic policy debates as a ploy to manipulate media attention underlines a telling problem with the Trump White House. The administration’s approach to economic policy seems to be little more than a media game -- a shame given the extent of necessary investments and reforms needed nationwide.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the United States faces a $2 trillion spending shortfall over the next decade to make necessary upgrades to its D+ rated infrastructure. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has a plan to make precisely those investments, and another plan floated earlier this year by Senate Democrats would bridge at least part of the funding gap. By comparison, the White House’s contribution to this substantive infrastructure debate is a flimsy and exaggerated series of tax cuts and controversial public-private partnerships that bear a closer resemblance to trickle-down economics than to infrastructure policy.
The “infrastructure week” gimmick failed to create the headlines the administration wanted, and the White House has reportedly put little effort into turning its agenda into viable legislation. Millions of Americans stand to benefit from actual investments in public infrastructure, and those millions of people deserve more from the White House than fleeting attempts to gin up good press.
Don’t be fooled: Trump’s “$1 trillion” infrastructure agenda is actually just a $200 billion tax giveaway
President Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail today promoting his infrastructure agenda, which the White House has falsely labeled as a $1 trillion plan to stimulate the economy and upgrade American infrastructure. Media outlets should avoid accepting the administration’s characterization of its scheme, which falls short of its already inadequate price tag and would saddle Americans with additional tolls and user fees.
On June 7, Trump is scheduled to appear at a rally in Cincinnati, OH, where he will promote his plan for American public infrastructure. The White House has billed its infrastructure agenda as a $1 trillion plan to upgrade and revitalize failing public works around the country. But, as The Associated Press (AP) and CNN reported, the plan outlined in Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 just called for $200 billion in tax cuts spread over nine years meant to “leverage $1 trillion worth of construction.” The plan would establish a nationwide system of so-called “public-private partnerships” -- sometimes referred to as P3s -- that could impose new cost burdens on taxpayers. An article in The New York Times outlined how P3s “may result in near-term savings” but “there is little hard evidence that they perform better over time.” Eventually, taxpayers end up paying for infrastructure via taxes or tolls whether it is controlled by the government or leased to a private for-profit firm. A June 7 column in Politico went into even more details of the potential pitfalls of Trump’s pursuit of a public-private partnership model:
The government can reap huge benefits from public-private partnerships—but only if they are structured correctly. All too often, though, government officials lack the knowledge and experience necessary to negotiate good deals, ultimately costing taxpayers millions, if not billions, of dollars. In their attacks, Democrats may be misusing the word “privatization” when describing Trump’s infrastructure plan but the risks they describe are very real.
Other than the pitfalls of public-private partnerships inherent to Trump’s plan, it is also woefully inadequate to address the needs of public infrastructure in the 21st century. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), public infrastructure in the United States earned a D+ grade in 2017 and is in need of over $2 trillion of new investments over the next decade. Even in the best-case scenario, Trump’s plan would fall far short of these necessary investments -- and as some Democratic lawmakers have pointed out, Trump is actually cutting more from existing infrastructure programs than he plans to spend on tax cuts for new infrastructure. In contrast to Trump, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) does have a plan to make up for the roughly $2 trillion infrastructure funding gap, which it believes would create millions of new jobs and meet America’s infrastructure needs. The CPC proposal released last month stresses the need to “prioritize public investment over corporate giveaways” while addressing the need to “prioritize racial and gender equity and environmental justice” while stoking economic growth.
Far from being a $1 trillion plan to inject desperately needed federal investments into ailing public works, the Trump plan is little more than trickle-down economics loaded with tax giveaways for business and it is inadequate at best. Media coverage of his proposal needs to reflect those facts and would benefit from including expert perspectives and opposing views to better inform the infrastructure debate.
"Mean-spirited" and "cartoonish" depictions of Social Security Disability Insurance are a disservice to millions of Americans
Disability advocates hammered The Washington Post for its second misleading portrayal of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, saying it was a “mean-spirited” and “cartoonish” illustration of the struggles of those living with poverty in rural America. The second feature-length profile published by the Post has drawn consternation for its poverty-shaming, while also generating fears that these misleading depictions from mainstream news outlets could set the pretext for draconian budget cuts to programs that provide basic economic security to millions of Americans.
The Post’s previous foray into coverage of SSDI recipients did not end well; Media Matters joined disability advocates in criticizing the paper’s “dystopian portrait” of the program and its enrollees and was later found to be replete with critical data errors. The piece promoted the same misleading talking points about the program that are commonly touted by right-wing media. Despite these concerns, the Post’s editorial board used the deeply flawed article as its proof for justifying unnecessary cuts to the SSDI program.
The paper’s June 2 article in its series on disability coverage is just as misleading and problematic as the first. The article, titled “Generations, disabled,” attempts to chronicle the trials of a low-income Missouri family that relies on meager SSDI benefits. The article relied almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence drawn from the Tidwell family to buttress characterizations of SSDI and its recipients as succumbing to multi-generational dependence on federal assistance.
The article earnestly focused on the fact that one or more members of four generations of Tidwells have received federal assistance and detailed their daily routines in a way that political scientist Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress (CAP) likened to the depictions of poverty and disability in Of Mice and Men. As CAP’s Rebecca Vallas pointed out in her damning review, “the article’s text makes no mention” of the fact “that disability often runs in families” and neglects to mention that disability benefits are “incredibly hard to get.”
The Post seemed to depict generational disability as a cultural problem, but as Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic pointed out, the article never provided any data to prove this or demonstrate that multiple generations of a family receiving SSDI is evidence of them being undeserving. Vox correspondent Matthew Yglesias voiced even stronger criticism, labeling the article as “incredibly mean-spirited” and “smack[ing] of the worst kind of moral panic.”
Issues with the Post’s story didn’t end there. In a June 5 column published by The Poynter Institute, journalist S.I. Rosenbaum added that the article misled readers by claiming to describe a family “on disability” without ever verifying that the Tidwell family are indeed all receiving benefits from SSDI, rather than other anti-poverty programs.
The generally exploitative tone of the piece was not the primary problem with the Post’s return to the topic of disability. The biggest problem created by the piece is how it could be used by political interests seeking to implement deep cuts to the American social safety net.
As Vallas pointed out in her response, by “pushing the nastiest of myths about Social Security disability benefits and the people who rely on them,” the Post set the pretext for budget cuts that will restrict access to the program. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities voiced the same concern, arguing that “reporting by anecdote runs the risk of fostering harmful policy changes” such as those already proposed by the Trump administration. Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) came to a similar conclusion, mocking the Post’s “poetic description” of farming jobs available in rural Missouri, which suggested that disability recipients simply refuse to work those jobs. Baker added that the United States actually has one of the least generous disability programs in the world, but countries with more generous programs are not suffering labor shortages:
The obvious next segment in this series would have a Post reporter going to Germany or the Netherlands or some of the other countries that manages to have a larger percentage of their population working even though they have considerably more generous disability systems. The article can tell readers how they manage to structure their programs so that everyone doesn't quit their jobs and fake disability so that they can live off the government. For some reason, I don't think this is where the Post series is going.
We have already seen a Post report on SSDI result in the paper’s editorial board calling for unnecessary cuts to the program in a way eerily reminiscent to Fox News’ campaign against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which immediately resulted in Republican-authored legislation in Congress slashing the program and eventually trickled down to GOP-led state houses. The Trump administration is already targeting Social Security’s disability program for budget cuts next year and media outlets have largely failed to hold the president accountable for an obviously broken campaign promise to safeguard Social Security. The American people would be well-served if, rather than publishing more dehumanizing portrayals of disability recipients, the Post and other news outlets contextualize the hardship millions of Americans would face if SSDI and other vital programs are subjected to new cuts and restrictions.
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News outlets, experts, and health care advocates blasted President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal that would rip health care away from millions while eliminating key HIV prevention and research programs. If enacted, these cuts would have a disproportionately devastating impact on members of the LGBTQ community, who rely more heavily on Medicaid than the general public does and face higher rates of HIV infection.
Outcries continue to grow in response to Trump’s federal budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year. The proposal faced immediate criticism for its unrealistic revenue projections and was branded by critics as a “repugnant grab bag” of cuts to vital anti-poverty and public health programs to pay for part of a massive tax cut for top earners. The latest criticism of Trump’s budget comes from public health experts and LGBTQ media, which are pointing out that its cuts to Medicaid, coupled with harsh reductions in funding of HIV treatment, prevention, and research add up to a reprehensible swipe at the LGBTQ community.
Cuts to Medicaid would disproportionately affect the LGBTQ community, which faces higher levels of poverty than the public at large. On May 28, NBC Out reported that Trump’s budget would hit the LGBTQ community in several ways. Stephen Forssell, director of George Washington University’s graduate program in LGBTQ health policy, explained that Medicaid is “hugely important” for LGBTQ Americans, who are more likely than others to rely on the program:
Medicaid is "hugely important" for the LGBTQ community," (sic) Gruberg told NBC Out, noting that 18 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have Medicaid compared to 8 percent of non-LGBTQ people.
Gruberg also noted that Medicaid is the "largest source of coverage for people with HIV in the U.S.," adding that "a $1.4 trillion cut to Medicaid over 10 years will be detrimental to the ability of people living with HIV to get the health care they need to survive."
HIV funding is of great concern for the LGBTQ community and faces steep cuts in the White House’s budget. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) outlined that the fiscal year 2018 budget would include a $59 million reduction to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, including eliminating all its funding for LGBTQ and minority education and HIV prevention. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS program funds health care services for individuals living with HIV as well as public service education programs about the virus. The program is named after an HIV activist who fought for the program’s enactment before tragically passing away just months before it was authorized after battling the virus.
On May 31, the Washington Blade highlighted the funding cuts to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program and an additional $186 million in proposed cuts to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) work on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Doug Wirth, CEO of the nonprofit Amida Care, called Trump’s budget proposal a “cruel and callous attack” on those living with HIV. Advocacy groups argued that the funding cuts would lead to “more suffering” for those living with HIV, and the AIDS Institute criticized the White House’s “severe cuts” while noting that the 19 percent cut to the CDC’s HIV prevention program would set back efforts to eliminate the virus.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, gay and bisexual men represent 2 percent of the American population but make up 56 percent of all Americans living with HIV and 55 percent of all HIV-related deaths in the U.S. The CDC reported that while HIV diagnoses have declined overall in recent years, diagnoses have increased among gay and bisexual men. The CDC found that much of the increase was among men of color and even projected that one out of every two black gay and bisexual men would become infected with the virus during their lives. Currently, gay and bisexual men make up 67 percent of all new HIV infections:
Trump’s cuts to HIV programs are eerily reminiscent of cuts Vice President Mike Pence imposed on Indiana during his tenure as governor. Pence followed through on right-wing media’s obsession with defunding Planned Parenthood and cut funding to the health care provider ostensibly to reduce abortions, but in doing so actually shut down access to the only HIV testing centers available to many Indiana residents and may have inadvertently caused an HIV epidemic in rural parts of the state. Pence has a long history of supporting right-wing media causes against the LGBTQ community and during the 2016 presidential campaign was called out by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for statements he made while serving in Congress.
Trump campaigned as an alleged ally of the LGBTQ community, but community leaders recently slammed his “shameful” refusal to sign a proclamation declaring June LGBTQ Pride month, ending an eight-year tradition. The Trump administration also faced pushback after it announced it would not allow Americans to self-identify as LGBTQ in the 2020 national census.
President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement with bogus and easily discredited talking points that have long been touted by right-wing media. Outlets covering Trump’s decision to shirk American climate commitments should avoid repeating the White House’s misinformation.
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