Fox Host Says U.S. Colleges Are "Literally Corrupting People's Minds ... And Turning Them Into Jihadists"
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After President-elect Donald Trump annouced he would nominate billionaire conservative activist and megadonor Betsy DeVos as education secretary, Politico highlighted civil rights groups’ deep concern about LGBTQ student equality under a DeVos Department of Education. While the DeVos family has a “long history” of supporting anti-LGBTQ causes, Betsy DeVos’ personal stance on LGBTQ student equality is unclear.
On November 23, news reports confirmed that Trump named conservative megadonor DeVos as his nominee to head the Department of Education under his administration. DeVos is part of the “ultra-rich, ultra-conservative” DeVos family -- which routinely bankrolls education privatization, anti-choice, and anti-union causes nationwide -- and her education advocacy work is an epicenter of the right-wing corporate “education reform” echo chamber. The DeVos family also has a long record of donating to anti-LGBTQ causes and organizations, including giving more than $6.7 million to the anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family since 1998. Focus on the Family promotes the harmful and discredited practice of so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy and has accused anti-bullying programs in schools of “promoting homosexuality.”
Politico spotlighted those donations in a November 25 article detailing concerns about DeVos’ potential to dismantle the Obama administration’s protections for LGBTQ students. Those protections include urging schools to extend anti-bullying policies to LGBTQ students, allow LGBTQ student groups on campus, and protect transgender students’ right to use facilities that match their gender identity.
While the DeVos family’s opposition to LGBTQ equality is well-documented, Stephanie White of Equality Michigan told Politico that she believes Betsy DeVos’ personal views aren’t “accurately reflected by her family’s past donations” and said she hopes that DeVos will protect LGBTQ students. Politico also interviewed Eliza Byard, executive director for the LGBTQ student advocacy group GLSEN, who pointed out that DeVos’ support for school vouchers threatens at-risk LGBTQ students by undercutting federal civil rights enforcement and draining public funds from traditional public schools.
Notably, DeVos did not respond to a request for comment for Politico’s story. Given the critical importance of nondiscrimination and anti-bullying protections for LGBTQ students, journalists should continue to push DeVos to articulate her views on LGBTQ student equality.
From the November 25 Politico article:
Civil rights groups say they're “deeply concerned" that the extension of civil rights protections to gay and transgender students by President Barack Obama’s Education Department will be dismantled by Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the department.
They note the DeVos family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to groups that push “conversion therapy” — raising questions about how, if at all, she would address discrimination against gay and transgender students.
Advocates point to one DeVos relationship that they say gives them hope for how she may approach LGBT issues: Greg McNeilly, a political adviser to DeVos and the chief operating officer of the DeVos family’s company Windquest Group, is gay and was one of the first to marry his same-sex partner in Michigan after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. McNeilly declined to comment for this story.
Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, said she believes that with McNeilly as an influence, DeVos’ views on LGBT issues have evolved. She noted that DeVos doesn’t speak out against gay rights, and even called on Dave Agema, a Michigan Republican National Committee member, to step down from the RNC in 2014 after making comments highly critical of gays.
Still, the DeVos family has a long history of supporting groups that espouse anti-gay rights views.
DeVos and her husband have given hundreds of thousands to Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group whose founder called the battle against LGBT rights a "second civil war," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group has also pushed so-called “conversion therapy” — discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation — according to the Human Rights Campaign.
DeVos’ ties to a group that pushes “conversion therapy” is “most alarming,” and DeVos needs to clarify her stance on the practice, Griffin said.
Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, a group that advocates for LGBT rights in education, said her concerns extend beyond what DeVos might do with the Office for Civil Rights. She contends that DeVos’ support for measures such as school vouchers undercut civil rights enforcement and drain public funds from public schools.
Sunday morning political shows barely addressed -- or completely ignored -- the recent settlement in the class-action fraud lawsuit against Trump University and President-elect Donald Trump. In doing so, these outlets are continuing a pattern by broadcast and cable news of ignoring important revelations about Trump’s business and charitable practices.
On November 18, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle the class-action fraud lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump University in which the defendants alleged, according to the Los Angeles Times, that Trump “defrauded customers into thinking they would learn real estate secrets from professors he had ‘handpicked.’ The students said they learned little and instead were subjected to hard-sell tactics urging them to spend thousands of dollars on classes.”
As NBC reported, “The settlement likely means that Trump will avoid becoming possibly the first sitting president to testify in open court.” The New York Times called the settlement “a remarkable concession” for Trump, “who derides legal settlements and has mocked fellow businessmen who agree to them.” The Times also pointed out that the settlement is a “significant reversal from Mr. Trump, who had steadfastly rejected the allegations and vowed to fight the lawsuits,” and that he “doubled down” on that response when “political opponents pressed him on the claims during the campaign, saying he would eventually reopen Trump University.”
Despite the unusual nature of a president-elect settling a multimillion-dollar fraud lawsuit, the November 20 editions of the Sunday morning political talk shows -- including ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- barely covered the settlement. Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday did not mention the settlement at all, while This Week, State of the Union, and Meet the Press spent a combined total of merely four minutes and eight seconds on the news.
Media Matters searched Nexis and Snapstream for mentions of Trump University or Trump U. on the November 20 editions of ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press. Mentions were coded and timed for length on Snapstream.
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President-elect Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits alleging his for-profit business Trump University used aggressive sales tactics and unqualified instructors to scam students. Throughout the lawsuit’s litigation, right-wing news outlets helped shield Trump University from criticism by enabling Trump to lie about the institution and aiding his racist attacks on the judge overseeing the case.
After George Mason University’s assistant admissions director spoke out on his Facebook page against the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBTQ extremist group, and said that he was “worried” about the future given the election of Donald Trump, right-wing media jumped at the opportunity to mischaracterize his statement and condemn him for speaking out for his beliefs.
After Donald Trump was declared president-elect, George Mason University senior director of admissions Andrew Bunting posted publicly on his Facebook page that he was “worried,” linking to a November 9 blog post by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which is lead by Brian Brown. Brown is also currently the president of World Congress of Families, the anti-LGBTQ hate group that has worked internationally to use the doctrine of the “natural family” to “build support for laws that criminalize homosexuality and abortion,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. NOM has a long history of attacking LGBTQ people, relying on lies to promote its agenda, and promoting policies that encourage anti-LGBTQ violence.
The blog Bunting linked to, titled “The Plan,” outlined all of the goals that the organization planned to work with Trump’s administration to achieve, including: reversing marriage equality, targeting “gender identity” directives, and passing anti-LGBTQ legislation like the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would codify anti-LGBTQ discrimination and hate speech into law. Additionally, NOM declared its intention to reverse policies of the Obama administration that they claim “seek to coerce other countries into accepting same-sex 'marriage' as a condition of receiving US assistance and aid.” The blog continued, “It is fundamentally wrong for a president to become a lobbyist for the LGBTQ agenda.” Bunting concluded that if you agreed with NOM, you are “a worthless piece of trash.”
Bunting’s Facebook posts were originally reported on by MRCTV, a conservative online platform helmed by Media Research Center, which mischaracterized his statements as regarding “conservatives” broadly. The author also noted that Bunting worked at a gay bar, “In addition to working at GMU, Bunting appears to work at a gay bar called Cobalt. Photos on his Instagram account show him dressed provocatively while saying he is at the bar every ‘4th and 5th Saturday.’” Shortly after the MRCTV post came out, Townhall, another conservative website, published an article mischaracterizing Bunting’s post by saying:
College administrators everywhere are having a really difficult time accepting Donald Trump's White House victory, but the admissions director at George Mason University just lost it. On his Facebook page, Andrew Bunting declared conservatives, Trump voters and anyone who dares to disagree with his progressive ideology are "worthless pieces of trash."
After the story made the rounds on right-wing media sites, Bill O’Reilly reported on the post during the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly similarly mischaracterized the statement made by Bunting in a conversation with Washington Examiner contributor Lisa Boothe, and the segment culminated in calls for his dismissal. From The O’Reilly Factor:
BILL O'REILLY (HOST): If you are a student, and you're applying to George Mason University, you have to write an essay. I mean, you have to tell the people about yourself. And if you hold a certain belief system, maybe that will be included in your essay. And one of the admissions deciders is telling you, “if you don't agree with me you are a worthless piece of you know what?” Come on? How can he possibly do his job?
LISA BOOTHE: He can't. And that's the big problem here. And this is why he should be let go. Because his job is supposed to be objective with the admissions process. And clearly he is anything but. And, I think the university needs to take it one step further and do a review of the applications process to ensure that no students and previous applicants -- that they were not discriminated against based off of their political ideology or Christian beliefs. Because the statement that this individual made on his Facebook post was related to gay marriage, and was actually -- cited something from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled groups like the Family Research Council hate groups.
O'REILLY: So, well, I want to get this right. So, you would fire him outright? He’s done, if you were the chancellor?
BOOTHE: Yes. And I think he needs emotional therapy puppies. Maybe he needs to attend a cry-in. But yeah, I think he should be let go.
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Yiannopoulos: “Never Feel Bad For Mocking A Transgender Person.”
Breitbart News published the text of a slur-filled speech given by “alt-right” mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of Delaware on October 24.
The “alt-right” website Breitbart News posted the full transcript of an October 24 speech given by senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of Delaware, which was also filmed and made available online. Breitbart is known for being anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant, as well as for its inflammatory click-bait headlines. Additionally, Breitbart News provides a platform for Yiannopoulos to lash out at political correctness, peddle misogyny, and promote white nationalism.
Prior to the event, promotional posters featuring anti-trans statements were posted on University of Delaware’s campus but eventually taken down. Yiannopoulos’ speech was a slur-filled diatribe that relied on recycled right-wing attacks on diversity and political correctness and was rife with misinformation -- using the debunked “bathroom predator” myth, relying on junk science from discredited professionals, and clumsily trying to conflate identifying as transgender with having rare mental health disorders. Yiannopoulos also selectively cited a Williams Institute report about suicide, pointing to the high rates of suicide in the trans community as a sign of mental illness. He omitted the study’s conclusion: elevated suicide attempts among transgender people were correlated with experiencing anti-trans bias, such as discrimination and harassment.
Yiannopoulos relied heavily on slurs as a substitute for a cohesive argument. Reprinted from Breitbart (emphasis added):
Of course many trannies, or those that make up their own new gender, are not actually retarded. But they are deeply mentally damaged, and they are failed by a liberal establishment obsessed with making them feel good about themselves.[...]Although I may seem cruel to trannies, I say all of this because i recognize they are vulnerable and at-risk, and are treated as pawns by the liberal establishment eager to use them to push thought control on the rest of us.[...]I will close with this advice. Never feel bad for mocking a transgender person. It is our job to point out their absurdity, to not make the problem worse by pretending they are normal. Much like fat-shaming, if our mockery drives them to get the help they need, we may save their life.Remember that your target isn’t someone suffering with this condition. It is the media. It is the people turning a psychiatric condition into an aspirational lifestyle choice.[...]I do it because nothing else is working. I do it because America and the rest of the west is sleepwalking into one of the cruellest mistreatments of a small but vulnerable slice of the population.My words don’t hurt anyone. But subjecting children to hormone therapy and mutilating their genitals does.
Presidential debate season is officially over, and critical policy questions that directly impact millions of Americans remain unasked just 19 days before the election.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump met last night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the final presidential debate, which was likely the last chance for the candidates to discuss specific policy issues face-to-face before November 8. Just as in the previous two presidential debates this year, moderator Chris Wallace chose to focus questions on a handful of familiar topics. Even within the context of six pre-announced debate topics, Wallace could have asked questions on major policy issues that deserve thoughtful and substantive prime-time discussion from the presidential candidates, like affordable health care, climate change, or tax plans.
But that didn’t happen. When debate discussions did manage to turn to policy specifics on critical topics like reproductive rights or gun violence prevention, Wallace didn’t ask necessary follow-up questions or offer clarifications on the facts. (Prior to the debate, Wallace announced his intention to be a debate timekeeper rather than fact-checker.)
All in all, last night’s debate largely covered the same ground as the previous two debates, both in topics discussed and in tone. If any of the three debates had focused more aggressively on what’s truly at stake -- what voters have said they wanted asked, what people actually believe is most important for their own families and communities -- the questions in this debate cycle would have looked very different. And the answers could speak for themselves.
Let’s explore just how hard the moderators dropped the ball.
This year, the United States began the process of resettling its first climate refugees. A bipartisan group of top military experts warned that climate change presents a “strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security and international security.” While Clinton wants to build on President Obama’s climate change accomplishments, Trump wants to “cancel” the historic Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency -- and he’s even called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
Several tragic mass shootings -- including the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL, in June -- have shaken the nation since the beginning of the election season. Gun deaths in the United States, both in instances of mass shootings and in more common day-to-day violence, vastly outnumber gun deaths in other Western democracies -- so much so that the American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis. And Americans are overwhelmingly ready for lawmakers to take action. Seventy-two percent of voters say gun policy is “very important” in determining their vote this year, and an astonishing 90 percent of voters -- representing both Democrats and Republicans -- think that strengthening background check requirements for firearm purchases is a good place to start, as does Clinton. Trump recently told the National Rifle Association -- which has endorsed him -- that he opposes expanding background checks.
Moderators failed to ask a single question about specific policies for gun violence prevention in the first two presidential debates, and they failed to ask a question about background check policies specifically in any debate. In the final debate, Wallace asked about gun policies in the context of the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision about the scope of the Second Amendment, but he failed to follow up when Trump skirted questions about the case and about his specific positions on several gun policies like his opposition to an assault weapons ban and his oft-repeated false claim that "gun-free" zones are responsible for public mass shootings. The entire exchange lasted just under five minutes.
Though seven in 10 Americans support legal abortion and one in three American women report having had an abortion procedure, states have enacted 288 anti-choice laws since 2010. These laws are creating a crisis by preventing women from low-income families -- many already parents who are struggling to keep families afloat -- from receiving the health care services they need. Some evidence even suggests greater numbers of women are contemplating dangerous self-induced abortions due to a lack of access to care. Trump has espoused support for these types of restrictive laws, and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), wants to “send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”
But moderators did not ask a question about the candidates’ stances on reproductive rights until the final debate -- when Chris Wallace asked about Roe v. Wade. Again, Trump repeatedly lied about abortion policy, and the misinformation was left hanging as Wallace pivoted to a new topic after about five minutes of discussion.
How about tax policies? Tax rates are a critical issue that directly affect all Americans, and the candidates’ respective tax policy proposals could not differ more. Clinton’s plan would benefit low- and middle-income families most and hike tax rates only for the wealthiest earners and for corporations. Trump’s plan has been called “a multitrillion-dollar gift to the rich” that “screws the middle class,” and has been panned even by conservative economists and The Wall Street Journal. One analysis concluded that Clinton’s plan “trims deficits,” while Trump’s plan could add $6.2 trillion to the national debt. These numbers directly impact the short-term and long-term financial health of families and communities, and 84 percent of voters say the economy is “very important” in deciding their vote in 2016.
Substantive questions about the candidates’ specific tax plans were missing from the debates, though Trump still managed to lie about his tax proposals on several occasions. When the candidates mentioned their tax plans briefly in the final debate when asked about the economy, Wallace again lived up to his promise not to fact-check.
A record number of anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and LGBT students face significantly more violence than their peers, but the debates did not include a single question about policy positions related to LGBT equality.
About 70 percent of today’s college graduates leave school with student loans, and more than 43 million Americans currently have student debt. This economic squeeze is changing how Americans plan their families, buy homes, and spend their money. Clinton has responded by making college affordability a signature issue of her campaign, while Trump’s newly described plan could “explode the student debt crisis.” Neither candidate was asked to address this issue either.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world -- we account for 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Inmate organizers recently launched what could be the nation’s largest prison strike to draw attention to deplorable prison conditions. The majority of Americans want to see changes to a federal prison system they believe is “too large, too expensive, and too often incarcerating the wrong people.” Moderators didn’t ask about criminal justice reform policies at all.
The presidential debates instead largely focused on statements made on the campaign trail, whichever offensive comments Trump had made most recently, and -- again, always -- Hillary Clinton’s email use as secretary of state. Viewers might now know a lot about these topics -- or at least what each candidate has to say about them -- while still having very little information on the candidates’ starkly contrasting policy positions on issues with direct and immediate consequences to citizens’ daily lives.
Americans relied on moderators to raise the questions they think about every day, to help them understand how the next president can help ensure that their families are safe, secure, and set up to thrive. It’s a shame the debates did not deliver.
The National Center for Transgender Equality urged Fox News host Chris Wallace to address the “critical issue” of transgender equality when he moderates the third and final presidential debate on October 19. Despite the unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced into statehouses, moderators at the general-election vice presidential and presidential debates have so far failed to ask a single question on LGBT equality.
The ongoing fight against LGBT nondiscrimination protections has been in the spotlight at the local, state, and national levels. This year saw an unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures, high-profile lawsuits from several states against federal policy guidance over transgender student equality, and adoption of North Carolina’s widely condemned HB 2, which, among other things, requires transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates.
During the primary season, debate moderators failed to ask Democratic candidates a single question related to LGBT equality in any of the nine debates. Moderators asked Republican candidates several questions related to LGBT issues, including what their thoughts are on Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples; how they would feel about collaborating with a gay-friendly corporate board; and whether “gay marriage dissenters have rights.” Both general-election presidential debates so far, as well as the vice presidential debate, have omitted questions on LGBT equality.
In response to the lack of attention given to LGBT equality during the debates, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality sent moderator Wallace a letter on October 18 urging him to pose a question about transgender students’ rights to access appropriate bathrooms. The letter points to a model question proposed to the Open Debate Coalition by the mother of a transgender 12-year-old girl:
In advance of the second presidential debate, the Open Debate Coalition allowed members of the public to submit questions for the moderators to consider. Amy, the mother of a transgender 12-year-old, submitted the following question: “What would you say to a trans kid forced to use a separate rest room in school?” She went on to write, “My 12 year-old daughter is transgender. She just started middle school, where she has to either use the boys’ restroom or a separate one, making her a target for teasing and bullying, or worse.” Over 6,000 people voted for Amy’s question, demonstrating that this issue is important for far more people than just the transgender community.
As you prepare your questions, we urge you to consider including this crucial issue. We also ask you, of course, to treat these issues with the respect and dignity that we and our families deserve, without repeating the baseless scare tactics used by those who oppose our rights. In particular, if you ask a question about transgender people using the restrooms that match our gender, please take care to frame them as a matter of necessity and not as a matter of choice.
Methodology: Media Matters searched transcripts of two presidential and one vice presidential debate, as well as nine Democratic and twelve Republican primary debates for the 2016 election cycle provided by the Washington Post for the search terms “LGBT,” "gay," “lesbian,” “bisexual,” "transgender," "sexual orientation," and "gender identity."
Private corporations, lobbyists, and a national group connected to major dark-money, anti-teachers-union donors are major contributors to a campaign supporting a state education proposal that is fiercely opposed by teachers and parents, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
A proposed amendment to the Georgia state constitution -- Amendment 1 -- would allow the state to take over schools that are deemed “failing” and create an “Opportunity School District,” a move proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal and opposed by public educators and parents. As the Journal-Constitution explained, the amendment would “enable an appointee of the governor to seize ‘chronically failing’ schools and the local tax dollars that support them. Those schools would either be shuttered, run directly by a new statewide district or converted to charter schools under independent management.”
Amendment 1, which will be on state ballots in November, has attracted millions in funding from groups in support and in opposition of the proposal, including substantial funding from national teachers unions for an advertising campaign opposing the measure.
Teachers groups and the state PTA have spoken out against Amendment 1, explaining that its passage could eliminate local control by school boards and community members -- particularly in black and Latino communities -- and could shift tax dollars to private charter management companies or other groups that are subject to less oversight. As the Journal-Constitution reported, the National Education Association has spent heavily on a campaign opposing the amendment representing 35,000 Georgia teachers who are among its ranks.
But the identities of donors bankrolling the advertisements in support of the proposed amendment -- as part of an organization called Opportunity For All Georgia Students -- were purposely concealed using a group set up by supporters of Gov. Nathan Deal. The group, Georgia Leads, is categorized as a “social welfare” group with a 501(c)(4) tax status, and as such is not required to disclose its donors. Of the four donors contributing a total of $1.22 million to the campaign in support of Amendment 1, Georgia Leads contributed the most substantial amount -- $810,000.
On Friday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an investigative report revealing some of Georgia Leads’ donors -- and the biggest names were private corporations and lobbying firms (emphasis added):
The biggest donor to the pro-OSD amendment this year — as of Sept. 30 — was Georgia Leads Inc., a fund set up to push Deal’s agenda. Georgia Leads had put $850,000 into Opportunity for All Georgia Students as of the end of September.
While Georgia Leads doesn’t disclose donors, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than $250,000 in contributions to the group by reviewing expenditure listings by companies and political action committees who file reports with the state ethics commission. All the donors have big stakes in legislation at the state Capitol, including AT&T, the retail store lobby, McGuireWoods (one of the best-connected lobbying firms at the Statehouse), Hospital Corporation of America, beer distributors and bank lobbyists.
The investigation also identified the national group 50CAN as another major donor to the pro-Amendment 1 campaign, second only to Georgia Leads. 50CAN is affiliated with a dark-money-fueled echo chamber pushing conservative, anti-union policies under the guise of “education reform,” and has supported past Georgia initiatives to open up schools to private competition, as well as similar Opportunity School District-type initiatives in other states. It is affiliated with a number of other national groups that received dark-money funding from anti-teachers-union private donors.
Graphic created by Sarah Wasko.
A recent Media Matters analysis found an overall lack of substantial discussions about college affordability issues on evening cable news programs. Notably, nearly a quarter of the total time spent discussing topics related to college affordability across all three major cable networks over the course of a year came from MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. Hardball’s discussions about topics such as rising college costs and student debt burdens illustrate what may have been the driving force for a vast majority of the limited conversations the study found across all networks -- a tie-in with the current presidential election.
In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed a year of evening cable news programming on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC and found that, together, all three networks devoted just under 2 hours and 22 minutes in 56 segments, in total, to discussing college affordability issues over the course of the year. Fox News’ and MSNBC’s evening news programs each spent a little under an hour discussing these topics (24 and 23 segments, respectively), and CNN devoted just under 35 minutes, or nine segments.
MSNBC’s Hardball single-handedly accounted for just over a quarter of the total number of qualifying segments in this study and nearly half an hour of total discussion time.
Why did Hardball account for such a large proportion of the total substantial discussion in Media Matters’ analysis? One finding suggests it was an election-year phenomenon: All 15 of the Hardball segments included in the study feature at least one guest discussing a specific presidential candidate’s record, stances, or policy proposals related to college affordability. Although host Chris Matthews’ questions or assertions about candidates’ stances often only grazed the surface, they show that cable news programs are capable of providing more in-depth coverage on college affordability when the interests of the host, guests, and the public converge.
In many of these segments, Matthews introduced the topic by asking guests -- often strategists or campaign surrogates -- to explain higher education policy differences between the two then-Democratic presidential hopefuls: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Discussions of these differences frequently focused on political strategy and voter appeal as much as on the details of the proposals.
Though many of these exchanges were brief or limited in scope, Matthews’ questions about Sanders’ and/or Clinton’s policy proposals demonstrate that evening cable news has the capacity to provide detailed, policy-focused discussions under the right circumstances: when guests are eager to talk about the issue, hosts are prepared to ask questions, and viewers have demonstrated a desire for more information.
The presidential race appears to have dictated these particular circumstances for the year studied. In fact, the majority of qualifying guests on each of the three cable networks specifically talked about at least one presidential candidate’s record or views on a college affordability issue -- or they were themselves a candidate at the time of their appearance.
When considering only those guests who spoke substantially about college affordability topics (many guests were participants in multitopic discussions, but did not speak specifically about college affordability), that number jumps even higher. Nearly 90 percent of guests who discussed college costs, student loans, or impacts of the national student debt burden also mentioned a specific presidential candidate’s record or stances on these issues.
With so many of the college affordability discussions on evening cable news closely tied to the presidential election, it’s unclear what will happen to those (already limited) conversations after November.
Image created by Sarah Wasko. Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
Evening cable news programs rarely discuss college affordability issues, and they even more rarely feature guests who present relevant expertise or recent personal experiences in these discussions. In a recent analysis of evening cable news programming, Media Matters found an overall apparent lack of student or borrower guests participating in these conversations, while the majority of guests were white, male, and 35 or older. Though Fox News programs featured the most student guests, the network’s discussions of college affordability were limited and they often allowed older, white hosts and guests to push outdated math about college costs and dismiss the experiences of students who are struggling to afford higher education.
In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed an entire year of evening cable news programming and found that Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC together spent just 2 hours and 22 minutes -- 56 total segments -- airing substantial discussion of topics related to college affordability. Of the 56 segments, almost half (24) were aired on Fox News. Of the 127 total guests participating in these segments across all three networks, eight were identified as current students -- all appearing in segments on Fox.
Considering the overall lack of interviews and panels discussing college affordability across all the networks, including four segments with eight student guests throughout a year of programming is not a significant accomplishment. All three networks ought to be including more guests who can share recent, personal experiences with paying for higher education in conversations about college costs or student debt. Two Fox News evening programs -- On The Record with Greta Van Susteren and Hannity -- took this initial step by featuring student guests, but the discussions were still largely dictated by the hosts.
And Fox’s comparatively better inclusion of student guests in college affordability discussions did not yield more substantive discussions.
On The Record featured a total of seven college students in discussions of student debt or college affordability, across three panel segments. The stated topic of all three segments was the millennial vote, yet each featured some exchanges about college affordability issues. In two of the segments, host Greta Van Susteren asked Democrat student guests if they were planning to vote based on their desire for “free” college. In the third segment, Van Susteren asked student guests, “Who do [millennials] blame for the student loan problem? ... Republicans or Democrats?” And later she asked which party the guests believed would help alleviate student loan debts. The guests -- all of whom explained that they were planning to vote for Republican candidates in the 2016 election -- all declined to “blame” a single party or to conclude that only one party could provide solutions. Together, as defined by the Media Matters analysis, substantial discussion of college affordability in these three segments totaled eight minutes.
In another segment, Fox News’ Hannity featured a 37-second exchange in which a young viewer asked in a video message what host Sean Hannity would do to “help students like me who are going to be in crippling debt after graduation.” Hannity advised students to forego attending a “big-name school” in favor of a (supposedly) more affordable option, then concluded that “of course, working hard never hurt anybody.”
Meanwhile, other Fox News evening programs -- although they included ostensible firsthand experiences -- were responsible for some of the most misleading and dismissive segments in our analysis. In discussions on The O’Reilly Factor and The Kelly File, Fox figures pushed claims that students could afford higher education in 2016 if they simply “work for it,” citing their own experiences attending college 24 to 45 years ago when it was still practical to afford tuition through part-time work.
On The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly and Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade discussed Fox colleague Neil Cavuto’s daytime interview with a student activist guest about the Million Student March. Kilmeade began the discussion by diminishing student concerns about affordable loan payments, then pivoted to listing the cost of tuition at several private, four-year colleges and suggesting that if students are accepted to those schools but cannot afford the sticker price, “Guess what? Maybe you can’t go. You have to go to a college that you can afford, and you work your way up.” Kelly cited her own college experience, arguing, “I took out loans. I paid them back. That’s how it works in this country.” Kilmeade agreed, saying, “It’s unbelievable.” Throughout the segment, Kelly repeatedly mocked student protesters, suggesting they were asking for “the one percenters to pay for your life,” and asking, “Why do they even have to buy a crib? It’s unfair.”
In 1992, when Kelly graduated from college, the average sticker price (tuition, fees, room, and board) for a full year of full-time attendance at a private research university like her alma mater was $17,572, which amounts to $30,166 in 2016 when adjusted for inflation. For Kilmeade, who graduated in 1986, it was $11,034, or $24,248 in 2016 inflation-adjusted dollars. Today, both schools cost more than twice what they did when Kelly and Kilmeade were students -- attending Kelly’s alma mater as a full-time student costs $63,344. For Kilmeade’s alma mater, the figure is $49,582. These numbers do not include transportation, books, or health insurance, among other additional costs.
On The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly blamed students for incurring student debt by choosing to attend “Harvard,” arguing that students ought to attend state universities or community colleges where tuition is more “reasonable.” Schools in the New York state system, according to O’Reilly, cost “a bit, but it’s not punitive.” Fox News analyst Kirsten Powers attempted to explain that rising costs can be prohibitive for students from low-income families and that his argument reinforces a “class system where only certain people can go to college.” O’Reilly responded, “The argument can be made that -- and millions of Americans have done it -- that you can get a good education, but you must work for it.” O’Reilly asked Powers, “Why do they think they’re owed all this by the government? What is that mentality? I don’t get that. I never took a penny from the government.” The discussion then devolved into O’Reilly claiming that child hunger was a “myth.”
In another segment from April, O’Reilly disparaged young people who supported free public college tuition -- at the time, a policy proposal from then-Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- explaining that he had “never taken anything from anybody in [his] life.” O’Reilly dismissed attempts from economist Austan Goolsbee to point out how college costs have risen significantly since O’Reilly was a student. O’Reilly focused instead on his mid-career graduate school attendance at Harvard University in the 1990s (years after he became a nationally recognized media figure) to attempt to rebut Goolsbee, rather than drawing the more appropriate and even less compelling analogy to his undergraduate college experience decades earlier.
O’Reilly graduated college in 1971, when the average sticker price for a full year of full-time attendance at a private liberal arts college like his alma mater was $2,599, or $15,456 in 2016 dollars when adjusted for inflation. Today the cost for the first year of full-time attendance at the same school -- which, again, does not include many estimated additional costs associated with attending college -- is $49,860.
Images created by Sarah Wasko.
Evening cable news programs rarely discuss college affordability issues, and when they do, they even more rarely feature guests who present relevant, recent personal experiences. In a recent analysis of evening cable news programming, Media Matters found an apparent lack of student or borrower guests participating in these cable news conversations relating to college affordability, while the majority of guests were white, male, and 35 or older. By limiting the demographic diversity of guests, media are shutting out the voices of those most affected by these issues.
In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed an entire year of evening cable news programming and found that Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC together spent just 2 hours and 22 minutes airing substantial discussion of topics related to college affordability. In those discussions, networks invited disproportionately white, male guests who were 35 or older. Among 127 total guests participating in these discussions, just 6 percent were identified as current students and only 2 percent discussed their own current or recent experiences borrowing money to pay for college. In short, the voices dominating evening cable news seem to not be those of the individuals most affected by today’s skyrocketing college costs or unmanageable student loan burdens. By inviting fewer women, young people, people of color, students, and borrowers, to participate in these segments, networks are limiting the substance of college affordability discussions and depriving viewers of an accurate picture of college costs and student debt.
Across all three networks, 58 percent of guests participating in discussions about college affordability were men. However, research shows that women are more likely to take out student loans than men, and that women need college degrees to access employment opportunities more than men do. The gender pay gap also makes getting out of debt all the more difficult for women, in particular for black and Hispanic women, even as women dedicate a higher percentage of their earnings toward paying off that debt.
Seventy-three percent of cable evening news guests discussing college affordability topics were white. Twenty percent of guests were black, 6 percent were Hispanic, and 4 percent were Asian-American. (Two percent of guests were coded for an undetermined race, and multiracial guests were coded for multiple races or ethnicities as applicable.)
Yet black and Hispanic students, borrowers, and families experience the financial strain of attending college more acutely at every step in the process -- from the initial decision about what type of higher education to pursue, to borrowing and making loan payments, to struggling for financial security decades after college attendance. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to attend schools with fewer resources for financial aid, while black and low-income students, in particular, are more likely to take out loans to pay for school and to have higher loan balances. Greater financial strain while attending college can also lead black and Hispanic students to drop out at higher rates, which in turn impacts their ability to find employment and pay down even small amounts of debt.
More than three-quarters of cable evening news guests discussing college affordability were 35 or older -- and 40 percent were 51 or older (of those guests whose ages were publicly available). Across all three networks, only 6 percent of guests discussing college affordability issues were identified as students, and only 2 percent -- three guests across all networks for the entire year studied -- discussed their own personal or recent experiences borrowing to pay for higher education.
Though it is possible that more guests are currently paying off student or parent education loans or perhaps are enrolled in college currently than were coded in Media Matters’ analysis, those guests didn’t talk about such experiences during their appearances. Overwhelmingly, the discussions of topics like rising college costs, borrowing to pay for school, and student loan burdens did not include guests sharing relevant, first-hand experiences paying for college in recent years.
Yet study after study highlights the “many crises of student loans,” detailing how today’s complex system of higher education and the debt-based system most use to pay for it are shutting out low-income students, veterans, and other groups of Americans who are often already marginalized in media coverage, and leaving those who attend college but do not earn degrees and students who attend for-profit colleges even further behind. Perhaps greater overall representation of students and borrowers -- or better, students or borrowers from specific groups that are feeling the financial squeeze of student debt most -- would give evening cable news viewers a more complete understanding of how college affordability policy proposals might work and who they might affect.
A July poll from Pew Research Center found that 66 percent of registered voters say education is a “very important” issue for their 2016 presidential vote, and 84 percent said the same about the economy. Rising college costs and the impacts of student debt burdens are significant issues that fall in the intersection of the two topics. Evidence shows student debt can impact personal wealth, delay homeownership, affect personal decisions to marry or start a family, and that it has “cripple[d] retail sales growth.”
Student debt’s impacts on the long-term financial well-being of borrowers are reverberating throughout the economy, and they are likely felt more acutely by those individuals with the most unmanageable debt burdens. But a viewer who relies on evening cable news programming to understand the causes and impacts of the student debt crisis, or to learn about possible solutions, might not know that at all.
Images created by Sarah Wasko.