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  • Moderators should make climate change a big focus at the first primary debate. Here's how.

    Do’s and don’ts for the moderators of the upcoming Democratic presidential debate in Florida

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The leadership of the Democratic National Committee is so far refusing to hold a presidential primary debate focused on climate change, despite calls from 15 candidates and more than 200,000 voters. So at least for the first debate, set to take place over two nights on June 26 and 27, it will be up to the moderators to decide how much of a focus to put on the climate crisis. That could be a problem.

    In defending the decision, DNC chair Tom Perez wrote, "I have the utmost confidence that, based on our conversations with networks, climate change will be discussed early and often during our party’s primary debates." He explained, "I made clear to our media partners that the issue of climate change must be featured prominently in our debates. That didn’t happen in 2016 — and it was wrong."

    Perez is correct that the climate crisis should have gotten more attention the last time around. During the 2016 season presidential primary debates, only 1.5% of questions from moderators were about climate change, and nine out of 20 debates didn't feature any climate questions.

    But is he right that we can count on the networks’ moderators to do better -- much better -- this time?

    Here we offer do’s and don’ts to help moderators give the climate crisis the serious attention it deserves. The first debate, which is being hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo, will have five moderators: José Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow, and Chuck Todd.

    DO ask multiple questions about climate change and give all candidates a chance to weigh in

    The No. 1 task for moderators is to give the climate crisis much more attention than it’s received in past debates, which means not just asking about the topic one time but addressing it from multiple angles in multiple questions. 

    And as they ask those questions, the moderators need to give all candidates an opportunity to discuss the issue. This may be a challenge, as the two-night debate will include 20 candidates, 10 on stage at a time, but voters need to hear from all of them in order to make informed choices about who deserves their support.  

    DON'T frame climate change as a narrow political issue

    Too often, when generalist journalists ask questions related to climate change, they frame the issue through the narrow lens of horse-race politics. We've seen this happen repeatedly in recent months on the Sunday morning political shows -- including on NBC's Meet the Press, hosted by Chuck Todd, one of the moderators of the upcoming debate. 

    On the May 19 episode of the show, Todd brought up climate change during an interview with Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but his question was more about how to beat Trump than how to tackle the climate crisis:

    Well, let me start with something the vice president, former vice president, said yesterday. And it was a fascinating way -- he was talking about his climate change proposal. And he said, “If you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate proposal is,” it was, quote, “beat Trump.” You have said, if all the Democrats do is focus on Trump, you lose. Essentially, Biden is saying, no, no, no, no, no, it is all about Trump. Your reaction.

    Rachel Maddow, another moderator at the June 26-27 debate, shifted a climate conversation to electoral politics during a March 4 interview she conducted on her MSNBC show with Democratic presidential candidate and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. After Inslee spoke about his commitment to climate action, Maddow noted that climate change is important to Democratic primary voters, but then asked whether a climate-centric candidate can win over voters in coal-producing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and thus beat Trump.

    Instead of focusing so heavily on the race against Trump, the moderators should prompt candidates to explain the specifics of how they would tackle the climate crisis.

    DON’T downplay the seriousness of climate change as a topic

    Many mainstream political journalists do not consider the climate crisis to be a top-tier issue, and that dismissive attitude can come through in the questions they ask -- even when those questions involve climate change. 

    The Democratic presidential primary debate in November 2015, for example, featured one climate-related question, but it actually appeared to downplay the problem. After a lengthy discussion about ISIS and terrorism, moderator John Dickerson of CBS asked Sanders, “In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?” Sanders affirmed that he did, but voters didn’t learn much new from that exchange -- except that the moderator seemed to think it surprising that a presidential candidate could consider the climate crisis to be a massive national security threat. 

    DON’T reflexively change the subject away from climate change if a candidate brings it up

    In 2016 debates, candidates regularly raised the issue of climate change even when they weren't asked about it, but moderators then steered the discussions away from climate and back to other topics. This happened during the three presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The moderators asked the candidates no climate questions, but Clinton raised the issue herself in all three debates, and Trump raised it once, saying it wasn't as serious as the problem of nuclear weapons. On all of those occasions, moderators failed to engage and ask follow-up questions related to climate change.

    Todd also has a tendency to do this on Meet the Press. For example, during an April 14 interview with Inslee, Todd's first four questions for the governor were about immigration. Although Inslee twice pointed out that climate change is a factor pushing people to migrate, Todd pivoted the immigration conversation away from climate change. 

    At the debate later this month, moderators should take note when candidates bring up climate change and find good opportunities to ask them subsequent questions about it.

    DO ask specific questions about candidates’ plans and proposed solutions

    Voters need to hear about the solutions and policy approaches that candidates are endorsing to address the climate crisis, so it is important for moderators to ask specific and substantive questions. If moderators are short on ideas, they can look to the many suggestions coming from journalists and activists.

    The Tampa Bay Times offered some good questions in an editorial titled “Democratic presidential debates should highlight climate change”:

    How would the candidates change the nation’s energy mix? What federal support would they make available to states and cities to harden their transportation systems, utilities and other infrastructure? How would Washington expand mass transit nationwide to curtail automobile emissions? Is it finally time to create a national catastrophe fund as insurance against hurricanes and the other forms of extreme weather that have been hammering the Midwest?

    Six environmental and energy journalists posed potential debate questions in a recent piece published in the Columbia Journalism Review.

    While making the case for a dedicated climate debate, David Turnbull of the activist group Oil Change International published a list of 60 climate-related questions that moderators could ask.

    DO ask follow-up questions

    When moderators have asked climate questions in past debates, some candidates have tried to skate by with vague answers and platitudes about the importance of a clean environment. We saw this in a number of 2018 senator and governor debates.

    The solution is for moderators to ask follow-up questions and press candidates for more details and specifics. This has proved successful in some CNN town halls with Democratic presidential candidates this year. For example, during a February 18 town hall with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, an audience member asked her about the Green New Deal, and then moderator Don Lemon followed up with questions that elicited more specific answers.

    DO help voters understand the differences between candidates' climate plans and approaches

    Though the Democratic presidential contenders all say climate change is a serious crisis that needs to be addressed, they have diverse views on the best ways to do that. For example, the candidates have widely differing opinions on nuclear power, fracking, and fossil fuel exports, as The Washington Post has documented.

    R.L. Miller of the super PAC Climate Hawks Vote has started a list of questions that moderators could ask to help illuminate those policy differences.

    DO study up on climate science and policy

    Moderators should read up to make sure that they understand the basics of climate science and climate policy well enough to ask informed questions and spot any misinformation that may arise.

    This would be less of a concern if the DNC agreed to have a dedicated climate debate with moderators who are knowledgeable about the subject area. Journalists with a strong background in climate and energy reporting would be best positioned to ask intelligent questions and spotlight important areas of disagreement.

    DON’T let candidates get away with lies or distortions

    Chuck Todd should take this recommendation in particular to heart. During a discussion about climate change on Meet the Press in November of last year, one of Todd’s guests made an absurd claim about global temperatures dropping and Todd let it slide by with no pushback. He caught a lot of flak for that, and he tried to redeem himself a month later by hosting a Meet the Press episode dedicated entirely to informed discussion of climate change, so we can hope he’ll be quicker on the draw if any climate misinformation crops up in the coming debate.

    DO ask climate questions related to Florida

    The first Democratic debate this year will take place in Miami, which is visibly and obviously under extreme threat from climate change. The whole state of Florida is already being dramatically affected.

    Moderators should seize the opportunity to ask questions about climate-related challenges in Miami and in Florida more broadly, many of which would be relevant to other coastal communities in the U.S.

    They could start by considering questions that a bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors suggested ahead of presidential primary debates in 2016, including one on protecting coastal infrastructure.

    The editorial board of the Miami Herald recently suggested another topic:

    How climate change and the rising sea will impact South Florida more immediately and severely than many other parts of the country. Candidates should be prepared to detail short- and long-term solutions for their Florida audience, they should offer creative ideas that reveal they understand what’s at stake for us.

    The Tampa Bay Times, in its recent editorial calling for debates to focus on climate change, raised more Florida-centric topics worthy of discussion:

    Tidal flooding already pours into Miami even on sunny days. Miami Beach has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for new stormwater management systems to pump seawater from the neighborhoods. Red Tide and algae blooms are costing the fishing, restaurant and tourism industries tens of millions of dollars a year. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that residential properties in the state valued now at about $26 billion are at risk of chronic flooding by 2045. And the longer we wait for a fix, the more expensive it gets.

    And a final DO, this one for the public: Tell NBC and the moderators what climate questions you want to hear

    NBC is soliciting debate questions from the public via its website. Send in your suggestions.

    Tweet at the moderators with your climate questions: José Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow, and Chuck Todd. And get more traction for those tweets by using the hashtag #climatedebate.

  • Sunday morning political shows dropped the ball on climate change coverage in May -- again

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sunday morning political shows’ coverage of climate change stayed low in May, just as it had been in April. The five major shows aired a combined total of just two segments in May that included anything approaching substantive discussion of climate change. This continued a troubling trend of climate silence on the Sunday shows; three out of five of them did not air a substantive climate segment in either April or May.

    The most notable climate discussion in May occurred on the May 5 episode of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Guest host Jonathan Karl challenged the Trump administration’s positions on climate change during an interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Karl noted that Pompeo had previously said climate change was not a top five national security threat and then asked him how he would rank it. Pompeo gave a vague answer, so Karl pressed him further, noting a recent news report about the State Department’s efforts to remove language about climate change from an international statement on the Arctic. Karl concluded by asking Pompeo, “What are you doing specifically to address this threat, or do you not take it particularly seriously?”

    This was one of the most substantive Sunday show climate segments of 2019. Even though Pompeo dodged and changed the subject, the host attempted to hold the Trump administration accountable by asking informed, pointed questions about how climate change factors into policy decisions on national security and international agreements.

    The other relatively substantive climate segment aired on the May 19 episode of NBC’s Meet the Press, but the discussion of climate change was driven more by the guest than the host. NBC's Chuck Todd mentioned climate change during a question to Vermont senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, but it was narrowly framed through the lens of horse-race politics and not really about climate change at all.

    CHUCK TODD: Well, let me start with something the vice president, former vice president, said yesterday. And it was a fascinating way -- he was talking about his climate change proposal. And he said, “If you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate proposal is,” it was, quote, “beat Trump.” You have said, if all the Democrats do is focus on Trump, you lose. Essentially, Biden is saying, no, no, no, no, no, it is all about Trump. Your reaction.

    Sanders noted the importance of beating Trump, but he focused most of his answer on fighting climate change, saying that pushing Trump out of the White House is "not enough." Sanders said we need to “beat the fossil fuel industry,” “transform our energy system,” and make “massive investments in wind, solar, and so forth” because we have a “moral responsibility to make sure that our kids live, and our grandchildren live, in a healthy and habitable planet.” Todd did not then ask Sanders what specific steps he would take to make that happen, but instead pivoted to a question about Democratic Party inside baseball and whether Sanders could win in Pennsylvania.

    Sunday morning political shows on CBS, CNN, and Fox did not have a substantive climate discussion in April or May

    The recent climate silence from more than half of the Sunday morning political shows has been deafening in a year when there have been many pressing reasons to discuss climate change. Large swaths of the country have been devastated by extreme weather. Democratic voters have elevated climate change to a top-tier issue. Multiple presidential candidates have released plans to combat the climate crisis.

    And yet CNN’s State of the Union has not aired a substantive climate segment since March 31. Fox News Sunday’s last one was on March 17. And CBS’ Face the Nation went more than three months without a substantive climate discussion; the only two it has aired in 2019 came on February 24 and June 2.

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) spoke out about the dearth of major media reporting on climate change and the shallowness of the segments that have aired during a recent speech on the Senate floor. The speech was part of a concerted effort by the senator to push corporate media, especially the Sunday morning political shows, to offer more and better coverage of climate change. He released a scorecard on the shows’ May performance.

    June will also offer compelling reasons for the Sunday show hosts to discuss climate change. The Democratic Party is holding its first presidential primary debate June 26-27 in Miami, one of the areas in the country most at risk from climate change, and candidates and activists have been calling for a debate focused specifically on climate change. Disastrous flooding has been hitting the Great Plains and the Midwest. The corporate media should be reporting all the time on how we can address the existential crisis of climate change, but this month is as good a time as any for Sunday shows to start giving this issue the sustained and urgent coverage it deserves.

  • Nearly all TV news networks failed to cover the Trump-Pence administration’s recent attacks on the LGBTQ community

    Recently proposed and finalized rules would codify discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care, housing, and adoption and foster care

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX PATERSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the span of three days, new reports revealed several proposed or potential rules coming from the Trump-Pence administration that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people -- particularly trans folks -- in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care. But in the week that followed, from May 22 to May 31, nearly all cable and broadcast TV news channels failed to cover these attacks on the LGBTQ community. Broadcast networks ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, as well as cable network MSNBC, did not mention the discriminatory rules at all, while CNN and Fox News covered them for a total of less than 11 minutes across 8 segments.

    The Trump-Pence administration is releasing discriminatory anti-LGBTQ proposals in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care

    Between May 22 and 24, news outlets reported on several rules coming out of the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) that would harm LGBTQ people, with a disproportionate impact on the trans community:

    • On May 22, HUD proposed a new rule that would allow “federally funded [homeless] shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men,” according to The Washington Post.
    • On May 24, HHS proposed a rule that would allow health care workers citing religious beliefs to discriminate against and deny care to LGBTQ patients.
    • Later on May 24, Axios reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s HHS plans to propose a new rule that would make it easier for federally funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents, among others, fulfilling a promise President Donald Trump made during this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.

    Broadcast and cable news discussed the proposed rules for less than 11 minutes across 8 segments

    Between May 22 and May 31, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX and cable news network MSNBC did not mention the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules at all. CNN spent 7.5 minutes covering the topics, and Fox News reported on them for roughly 3.5 minutes.

    CNN discussed the topics over the span of six segments, including during an interview with trans actor D’Lo about an advertisement featuring a father showing his transgender son how to shave. That segment was the only relevant coverage during the time period to feature an LGBTQ guest. Fox News covered the topics over two segments. One was an interview with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, in which he misleadingly framed the discriminatory rule as “being fair to everybody.”

    Print and digital media reported on all the three rules and contextualized the administration’s anti-LGBTQ agenda

    The failure of several broadcast and cable TV networks to report on the discriminatory rules was not reflected in print and digital media.

    Trans writer Katelyn Burns wrote two op-eds contextualizing the recent anti-LGBTQ attacks as part of Trump’s all-out assault on the transgender community. In Teen Vogue, she outlined how these policies could trigger suicidal ideation in trans youth, encourage unsupportive parents, and prevent young people from accessing medically necessary care. In The Washington Post, Burns called HHS’ proposed rule “the cruelest thing the Trump administration has done to trans people,” writing:

    For me, as a transgender person, this administration’s constant targeting of us is terrifying. It seems that there’s little they won’t do to making transitioning and living a dignified life as a transgender person impossible. Trump and his administration are clearly prioritizing the desires of religious conservatives who would like to see my existence rubbed out of society, and they’ve come this far so quickly with barely a blip of resistance.

    Digital outlets such as BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, and HuffPost also covered the rules, citing LGBTQ advocates and contextualizing the administration’s moves as part of a wider strategy to undermine LGBTQ equality across the country.

    These attacks have been championed by extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and will further marginalize already vulnerable people

    The Trump-Pence administration’s anti-LGBTQ policies have been fueled by influential right-wing organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), both of which have allies and alumni serving in positions across the federal government. For example, the right-wing HHS Office for Civil Rights, which is led by Roger Severino, is responsible for both the anti-LGBTQ health care rule and the reported upcoming adoption and foster care rule. Severino formerly served as the director of Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. Heritage has a long history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy and has increasingly targeted transgender people. Severino has made a career out of advocating against LGBTQ rights and was behind several other anti-LGBTQ actions from HHS. Severino’s newly announced principal advisor, Matt Bowman, is an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ advocate who has worked in HHS positions since 2017. He formerly worked with ADF for more than a decade.

    Ultimately, these latest attacks affect transgender people in areas in which they are already more likely to experience discrimination and hardships. HUD’s proposed rule to give federally funded homeless shelters a license to discriminate against transgender people will only further marginalize an already vulnerable community that faces alarming rates of homelessness. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), “one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness,” and up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

    The reported HHS rule to allow agencies to deny children adoption and foster care placements with same-sex couples will only limit opportunities for the more than 400,000 children currently in foster care. Despite the planned HHS rule, there is a robust body of evidence that shows children of same-sex couples fare no worse than other children.

    Further, the HHS rule to gut nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the administration’s most damaging attacks on the transgender community. Transgender patients already face denial of health care and discrimination in health care settings, and National Geographic has reported that transgender “people have disproportionately high rates of illness and death—in part due to widespread reluctance to seek out emergency treatment and even routine checkups over concerns about the quality of care.” Additionally, NCTE’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported that among respondents, “one-third (33%) of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender” in the previous year.

    Media has a responsibility to report on these devastating attacks against the LGBTQ community

    The insufficient reporting on cable and broadcast TV news about the recent attacks on the LGBTQ community plays into the Trump-Pence administration’s strategy of minimizing press coverage of extreme policies coming from federal agencies. The administration released one of the rules ahead of a holiday weekend, which decreased public awareness of the issues -- an approach it has also taken to bury climate change research.

    Moreover, media’s obsession with Trump’s tweets allow extreme anti-LGBTQ figures to push discriminatory policies with little notice. Reporting on the new HHS rule, Reuters’ Yasmeen Abutaleb and Joseph Tanfani wrote:

    One of the benefits of Trump’s Twitter approach is it creates headlines, and that’s what it’s intended to do, and underneath those headlines, everyone else in the administration can go about peacefully doing their job,” said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth and a longtime Pence friend. HHS has “released several very important, significant regulations that changed the nature of Obamacare, of healthcare, with very little coverage in the press.

    Though cable and broadcast TV news spent little time covering the administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ rules, there is no mistaking that these decisions will have sweeping impacts on queer and trans people. Media outlets have a responsibility to properly cover the administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights and to educate their audiences on the detrimental impacts these proposed rules will have on an already vulnerable community. Unfortunately, TV news failed both the queer community and their audience by barely reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ attacks.

    Methodology

    From May 24 to May 31, the week following the announcement of the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules, Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of broadcast and cable TV newscasts on ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and NBC News -- as well as the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. programming on Fox News and MSNBC -- for mentions of the words or variations of the words “LGBT,” “gay,” “transgender,” “gender identity,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “sexual orientation.” We also searched SnapStream for the same words appearing with the terms "child welfare," “reassignment,” “abortion,” “housing,” “shelter,” “adoption,” “foster care,” “Health and Human Services,” “Housing and Urban Development,” “HHS,” or “HUD” appearing on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for the same timeframe, as daytime coverage for MSNBC and Fox News is not available on Nexis.

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • Sunday shows completely ignore evidence Trump administration's citizenship census question was meant to benefit white Republicans

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Last Thursday, a memo came to light suggesting that President Donald Trump’s administration added a citizenship question to the 2020 census to benefit “non-Hispanic whites” -- but every single Sunday political news show ignored it.

    The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to allow the Trump administration to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. Multiple states, cities, and rights groups are challenging the addition on multiple fronts, with many arguing that the question was added illegally and that it would undermine the accuracy of the census by potentially leading to an undercount.

    Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had insisted that the data from the question would “permit more effective enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act and would protect “minority population voting rights.” But on May 30, reports surfaced that “prominent Republican redistricting strategist” Thomas Hofeller “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition” of the question because it would be electorally advantageous for “Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites”:

    [Hofeller’s] files show that Hofeller concluded in a 2015 study that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and benefit white Republicans in redistricting. Hofeller then pushed the idea with the Trump administration in 2017, according to the lawyers’ letter to Furman.

    The evidence, first reported by the New York Times, contradicts sworn testimony by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s expert adviser A. Mark Neuman and senior Justice Department official John Gore, as well as other testimony by defendants, the letter said.

    The citizenship question, if added, could have major ramifications lasting well beyond 2020, resulting in “an uneven distribution of federal money” and tilting “the political landscape in favor of Republicans.” Despite the issue’s significance, according to a Media Matters search, the major Sunday political news shows -- Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, State of the Union, and Fox News Sunday -- didn’t mention the memo, the census, or the citizenship question during their June 2 shows.

    The citizenship question isn’t the only issue Sunday political news shows have recently ignored: Stories related to white nationalism, climate change, and possible presidential corruption have also gotten short shrift. Previous Media Matters studies have found that panels and guests on Sunday shows have been overwhelmingly conservative and white.

  • ABC News spent more time on royal baby in one week than on climate crisis in one year

    Archie is seventh in line to the throne but first in headlines

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS & TED MACDONALD

    A version of this post was originally published by Grist.

    Here's media misconduct in a nutshell: ABC’s World News Tonight spent more than seven minutes reporting on the birth of royal baby Archie in the week after he was born -- more time than the program spent covering climate change during the entire year of 2018.

    Other major TV news outlets in the U.S. have also severely under-reported on climate change and yet found plenty of time to note the arrival of Archie, son of Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. Archie is now seventh in line to the British throne, which means he'll be a permanent tabloid fixture but is unlikely to ever be a king.

    On May 6, the day Archie was born, the United Nations released a summary of a major new report warning that human destruction of the natural world, including through climate change, now threatens up to a million species with extinction. That's dire news for our species too, as it also threatens our water supplies, food security, and health. The destruction of ecosystems and species “means grave impacts on people around the world are now likely,” the report warned. Robert Watson, head of the group of scientists that produced the report, laid it on the line: “What’s at stake here is a liveable world.”

    Yes, this extinction crisis is grim news, and many people like a little light fare mixed in with their headlines -- a report on a royal baby, if you’re into that kind of thing, or a sports recap, or a segment on disgruntled Game of Thrones fans. But when the light fare takes over and the real news is shut out, that’s beyond lopsided. We’ve got a problem.

    Media Matters tracked broadcast news coverage on May 6 and found that ABC and NBC's nightly news programs failed to even mention the U.N. biodiversity report. They did, however, air two segments each on Archie. CBS was the only national broadcast network that ran a segment on the biodiversity report that night, and of course it ran one on the baby, too.

    The perverse priorities of TV newscasters became even more obvious in the following days. Archie stayed in the news. Biodiversity and climate change stayed out of it.

    By May 12, the three national broadcast networks' nightly news shows had spent a total of 17 minutes and 56 seconds on baby Archie. The extinction report and climate change garnered a total of one minute and 21 seconds -- all of it in that single CBS segment on May 6.

    ABC's World News Tonight devoted the most time to the royal baby: seven minutes and 14 seconds over the week. Compare that to the six minutes and three seconds the program spent on climate change during the entirety of 2018. ABC typically lags behind its competitors in time spent covering climate change, as Media Matters has previously documented. ABC has devoted less airtime to the climate crisis than CBS and NBC every year since 2013 -- even though CBS and NBC don't have great track records themselves. Lest you think the old broadcast dinosaurs don’t matter anymore, their flagship nightly news programs are still attracting an average of 25 million viewers a night, including more than 5 million between the ages of 25 and 52.

    Within hours of Archie's birth, Vice's Derek Mead published a post headlined "Who’s Going to Tell the Royal Baby That Our Planet Is Unequivocally Dying?" It concluded, "Royal baby aside, the most important news of the day, the decade, our lives, is this: We have pushed the planet far past its limits, and we ignore that at our existential peril."

    Mead joins a small but growing group of journalists and citizens demanding that our media step it up and cover climate change like the looming existential crisis it is. As Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope wrote last month for the Columbia Journalism Review, “If American journalism doesn’t get the climate story right—and soon—no other story will matter.” The Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, and The Guardian are launching a Covering Climate Now project to spur the media into action. The disproportionate hullabaloo over the royal baby, juxtaposed with the near silence over the extinction crisis, shows exactly why we need it.

    Imagine if mainstream media covered climate change with anything near the fervor of a royal wedding or a royal birth. Weeks of high-pitched pieces anticipating the release of new climate action plans. Minute-by-minute coverage dissecting every aspect of new scientific reports. Splashy, in-depth profiles of the people leading new climate movements. Homepages and front pages dominated by the climate crisis and climate solutions, day after day. If we can imagine it, can we make it happen?

    Methodology

    Media Matters analyzed coverage from May 6 to May 12 on the major broadcast networks' nightly news programs: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News. We identified segments mentioning the U.N. biodiversity assessment by searching iQ media and Nexis for the terms (nature OR biodiversity OR extinction OR extinct OR climate OR species OR planet) AND (report OR study). We identified segments mentioning climate change by searching for the terms (climate change OR global warming). We identified segments mentioning the royal baby by searching for the terms (baby OR Archie).

    Image and charts by Melissa Joskow.

    Update (5/22/19): This piece has been updated with a new chart on ABC's coverage of the royal baby vs. coverage of climate change. 

  • ABC, NBC, and MSNBC prime-time shows ignored landmark UN report on biodiversity

    Only three of 26 prime-time news programs on major networks covered the report

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The major broadcast and cable news networks largely neglected to cover a landmark United Nations report on a devastating decline in biodiversity. On the day the report was released, three of the networks -- ABC, NBC, and MSNBC -- aired no prime-time coverage of it, while the other three networks each aired one prime-time segment. Out of 26 total prime-time news programs on the networks, only three reported on the U.N. assessment.  

    Major U.N. report warns of extinction crisis that will have major impacts on humanity

    A summary report released by the U.N. on May 6 finds that about 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction due to expansive human development. The current extinction rate is “at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.” The global assessment, compiled by hundreds of experts with data drawn from thousands of studies, is the most comprehensive look yet at the rapid decline in planetary biodiversity. The report points to a number of human activities that are affecting biodiversity, including overfishing, poaching, farming, mining, logging, and polluting. Climate change is also playing a large role in fueling the biodiversity crisis. And the loss of biodiversity in turn threatens humans by endangering water and food supplies and heightening the risks from floods and hurricanes.

    The full report is set to be published later in 2019. But even with this summary, the authors show that the biodiversity and climate crises are directly intertwined, ultimately painting a grim picture about the state of our natural world.

    Only one of three broadcast nightly news shows covered the U.N. biodiversity assessment

    Media Matters analyzed the major broadcast networks' nightly news programs on May 6, as well as cable news coverage from 4 p.m. to midnight.

    On the broadcast networks, neither ABC's World News Tonight nor NBC Nightly News mentioned the U.N. biodiversity assessment. Significant segments on these networks instead focused on a Russian airplane fire, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen reporting to prison, and the birth of a royal baby in Britain. CBS Evening News was the only broadcast nightly news program to air a segment on the biodiversity report.

    It should come as no surprise that ABC's flagship news program failed to cover the report; the network's news shows consistently lag behind their broadcast competitors in covering climate change. In 2018, ABC aired less than 11 minutes of climate coverage on its nightly and Sunday morning news programs, far less than its counterparts. In fact, ABC has spent less time on climate coverage than CBS and NBC every year since 2013.

    On cable, MSNBC failed to mention the biodiversity report in its prime-time coverage

    None of the prime-time news shows on MSNBC on May 6 mentioned the U.N. biodiversity assessment. Much of the news coverage on the network that night focused on the Mueller report.

    The only prime-time cable shows to mention the global assessment were CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper and Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. Coverage on The Lead was straightforward, while Special Report's coverage was riddled with skepticism. Baier, who is billed as one of Fox's “news”-side reporters, began the segment by saying, “Many environmentalists are in a panic tonight over a new report,” but “as in all such cases, some humans say the report and the response are exaggerations.” The segment included commentary from industry-funded climate denier Marc Morano, who has no background in science. Morano downplayed the report and accused the U.N. of being a “self-interested lobbying organization.” (The Morano footage had run previously on another of Fox's “news”-side programs, Shepard Smith Reporting.)

    Overall, out of a total of 26 prime-time news shows aired on the major broadcast and cable networks on May 6, only three included coverage of the global assessment.

    By neglecting a major report about threats to life on Earth, TV networks are failing their viewers

    The extinction of threatened species will have serious human consequences. One takeaway from the U.N. assessment is the need to promote a better understanding of the fact that nature is the foundation for human development and all life on Earth. The media have a responsibility to help build an informed citizenry that understands the world it inhabits. By giving this report far too little attention, top TV networks have failed their audiences.

    Methodology

    Media Matters analyzed coverage on May 6 on the major broadcast networks' nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News) and on shows airing from 4 p.m. to midnight on the major cable news networks (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC). We identified segments on the U.N. biodiversity assessment by searching IQ Media and Nexis for the terms (nature OR biodiversity OR extinction OR extinct OR climate OR species OR planet) AND (report OR study).

  • Without a dedicated climate debate, moderators are likely to let Democratic candidates off the hook

    In the 2016 primary debates, only 1.5% of questions addressed climate change. In 2020, we need to do better.

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    Climate activists and some presidential candidates are calling on the Democratic National Committee to make climate change the sole focus of at least one of its 12 planned presidential primary debates. They argue that a climate-centric debate would help voters learn where the candidates stand on potential solutions, motivate candidates to articulate clear climate action plans, and ensure that debate moderators don't give climate short shrift as they have done in years past.

    Activists and voters are pushing to hear from candidates about climate change 

    Environmental and progressive groups including CREDO Action, 350 Action, Greenpeace USA, Sunrise, the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, and Daily Kos are circulating three petitions demanding a climate-focused debate. Together they have garnered more than 155,000 signatures so far.

    At least three Democratic presidential candidates have also called for a debate dedicated to climate change. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was the first, and he launched his own petition. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have also come out in support of the idea.

    Recent polling data bolsters these entreaties for a climate-focused debate. A CNN poll in late April found that Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters ranked climate change as their top issue: 96% said it was very or somewhat important for a president to support "aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change." A March Des Moines Register/CNN poll found that 80% of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa would like candidates to spend a lot of time talking about climate change, ranking it alongside health care at the top of issues they want to hear about. And a February poll sponsored by CAP Action Fund, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and the League of Conservation Voters also found that climate change is a top-tier concern for Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers in early voting states, with 84% wanting Democratic presidential candidates to act on the climate crisis and move the country completely to clean energy.

    Activists contend that voters' concerns about climate change won't be adequately addressed in the traditional debate format. A debate dedicated to climate change would drive candidates to clarify their climate platforms as well as explain how they will approach specific issues like environmental justice and a Just Transition.

    The CREDO petition argues that without a climate-focused debate, "news networks and other debate host organizations won't ask more than one or two token debate questions on climate change." The U.S. Youth Climate Strike petition makes a similar point: "With the magnitude of the oncoming climate crisis it's no longer sufficient to have a single token environmental question that 2020 candidates get to brush off with a soundbite. We need an entire debate on environmental policies."

    Activists' concerns about debate moderators neglecting climate change are borne out by Media Matters’ research.

    In 2016 debates, moderators rarely asked questions about climate change, let alone explored the issue in depth

    Moderators and panelists at past presidential debates have largely ignored climate change. Media Matters analyzed 20 presidential primary debates held during the 2016 election cycle and found that only 1.5% of the questions were about climate change -- a mere 22 questions out of 1,477. And during the three general election debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, moderators didn't pose a single climate question.

    The few questions that moderators and panelists did ask about climate change during primary debates tended to be shallow ones with no follow-up, resulting in uninformative exchanges. An example of this dynamic came during the November 2015 Democratic primary debate. After extensive discussion of ISIS and terrorism, CBS' John Dickerson asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), "In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?" Sanders responded, "Absolutely," and explained that climate change can exacerbate terrorism. But voters learned nothing new about Sanders' positions or proposals, and the whole setup of the question suggested a false choice between addressing terrorism or the climate crisis. Dickerson and his co-moderators didn't ask any other climate questions at that debate.

    In 2019, CNN candidate town halls have demonstrated the public’s interest in climate change

    The recent slate of CNN town halls with 2020 presidential contenders has shown the public’s desire for the candidates to discuss climate change and given a glimpse of what viewers could gain from a substantive debate focused on the topic. In 18 of the 20 candidate town halls CNN has held this year, an audience member asked a question about climate change. The moderators asked a follow-up question in only six of these instances.

    On the occasions when moderators did push for more specifics, it demonstrated the clarifying role that they can play in helping viewers better understand a candidate's position. For example, after fielding an audience question about the Green New Deal during her CNN town hall on February 18, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) responded, “We may not have agreements on exactly how it will work and when we can get it done,” before discussing climate policies she supports such as reentering the Paris accord and restoring Obama-era vehicle mileage standards. Moderator Don Lemon then asked Klobuchar a series of follow-up questions that pushed her to explain why she believes the goals of the Green New Deal are "aspirations" and why "compromises" will be needed.

    Former Rep. John Delaney’s (D-MD) March 10 CNN town hall offered another example of how moderators can help voters get a clearer sense of a candidate’s climate stances. An audience member asked Delaney what he and his family have done to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Delaney talked about his family’s use of renewables and energy-efficient systems and then discussed his support for a carbon tax and negative-emissions technologies. In a follow-up question, moderator Jake Tapper noted that Delaney had previously disparaged the Green New Deal and asked him to address people who support the resolution, which prompted Delaney to explain that he would instead pursue "realistic" and "bipartisan" solutions and not tie climate action to other policies like universal health care.

    Instances like this -- in which a moderator asks specific, substantive follow-up questions about climate change policy -- have been extremely rare in past years. This year, voters need to hear much more in-depth discussion of climate solutions.

    The science of climate change was clear during the 2016 election season, but now the threat is even more immediate and urgent, especially as the last year has brought us record extreme weather events, alarming climate reports from both the United Nations and the U.S. government, continued rollbacks of climate protections from the Trump administration, and a burgeoning youth movement demanding action. Moderators should ask about climate policy at every debate and follow up to make sure candidates don't skate by with superficial answers. On top of that, hosting a climate-focused debate would give voters the best opportunity to hear a substantive discussion of how candidates plan to lead on the existential crisis of our time.

  • CBS’ pro-Kirstjen Nielsen national security analyst has extensive DHS conflicts of interest

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During an appearance on CBS This Morning, CBS senior national security analyst Fran Townsend praised outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and suggested that DHS wasn’t to blame for the family separation policy. But the network didn’t disclose that Townsend’s company lobbies the government on DHS appropriations and that she is also the board chair of a company that been given DHS contracts.

    Townsend is a former DHS senior adviser for the Bush administration who served with Nielsen during that time (CBS noted that she knows Nielsen and has worked with her). Townsend was a vocal supporter of Nielsen’s nomination as DHS secretary and the White House sent out a release in 2017 highlighting her praise.

    Townsend defended the DHS secretary during today’s edition of CBS This Morning, stating that “she’s done her level best” and that she “worked tirelessly to, sort of, implement the president’s agenda. But it’s been a tough road. She’s had a difficult 16 months. She’s defended policies that she, at times, I think, was questioning. And so, look, she served well. I think it’s a relief for her to be able to get out and move on.”

    She also passed the buck on blame for the Trump administration’s horrific family separation policy, claiming that Nielsen has “repeatedly said, and it’s true, Congress does need to act if they don’t like the policy of the administration. Some of this can be blunted if they would simply update the law, allowing children to be returned to their country of origin just like we do with Mexico and Canada, for example, and sort of not have the problem of family separations." (The idea that the Trump administration isn’t to blame for the family separation policy is a repeated and false refrain from the administration and its allies.)

    But the network failed to disclose Townsend’s major financial conflicts of interest during her appearance.

    Townsend is the executive vice president of worldwide government, legal and business affairs for holding company MacAndrews & Forbes. The company’s portfolio includes AM General, which produces commercial and military vehicles such as the Humvee. MacAndrews & Forbes spent nearly $3 million on lobbying in 2018, including on matters related to the DHS.

    It recently lobbied both houses of Congress, the Executive Office of the President, and the Commerce Department regarding “Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, FY 2019, Customs Border Patrol vehicle issues,” according to its fourth quarter 2018 lobbying report. In the first and second quarter of 2018, the company directly lobbied DHS regarding a variety of issues, including DHS appropriations and “Customs Border Patrol vehicle issues.”

    Townsend is also the chair of the board for SAP National Security Services, a technology company that provides services for “the national security community,” including DHS.  

    SAP National Security Services’ most recent lobbying disclosure report states that it retains the firm Invariant LLC to “monitor defense and intelligence information technology funding and procurement policy issues” in Congress.

  • Sunday morning political shows cover climate change in March thanks to Democratic presidential hopefuls

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    Sunday morning political shows’ coverage of climate change in March was driven by Democratic presidential candidates, a number of whom are making climate change a key campaign issue. The five major Sunday shows aired a combined six segments in March that included substantive discussion of climate change, and all of them were interviews with 2020 hopefuls.

    The two most in-depth climate conversations came during interviews with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is focusing his presidential campaign around the need for climate action. Inslee appeared on the March 3 episode of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos and the March 10 episode of CNN’s State of the Union. On State of the Union, Inslee gave a detailed response to host Jake Tapper's question about the seriousness of his climate-focused candidacy, discussing the severity of the climate threat, how high climate change ranks among issues voters care about, and how climate issues intersect with other issues such as the economy, health care, and national security.

    JAKE TAPPER: So let's talk about climate change. First of all, what do you say to a Democratic voter who hears that your campaign is about climate change, and they think, “Oh, well, then he's not really serious about running for president, he's just trying to get an issue on the agenda”?

    JAY INSLEE: I would say several things. Number one, I would say that we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it. And we have got one shot. And that's the next administration. We have to have this be the primary, first, foremost, and paramount duty of the next administration, because the world's on fire. And we’ve got to act. And we got a climate denier in the White House. The second thing I would say is: If you care about climate change, you're not alone. A poll just came out in Iowa saying it's the top, number one priority, tied with health care. And the third is, this is not a single issue. It is all the issues. Look, if you care about the economy, the economy is now being ravaged by climate change. And the economic growth that we can have -- I’ve been on a tour looking at all the job creation going on, solar power in Iowa, batteries in Nevada, wind power in Washington. So, I have been on this tour, nationally, looking at what a tremendous job-creating opportunity this is. It's a health issue. It's asthma and infectious diseases. It's a national security issue. I met with Adm. [William] Fallon in Seattle, who talked about the Pentagon telling us what a national security threat it is and how we have Trump trying to tear up the intelligence report.

    Other Democratic presidential candidates who discussed climate change on Sunday shows last month included Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, IN. On the March 17 episode of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked him about the Green New Deal and Buttigieg responded by emphasizing the need to "act aggressively and immediately on climate."

    Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who is considering a run for president, appeared on the March 31 episode of State of the Union, where Tapper asked him about the Green New Deal's job guarantee. Moulton said the U.S. could fight climate change and strengthen the economy at the same time by putting people to work doing things like making buildings more energy-efficient.

    Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper both discussed climate change during appearances on NBC’s Meet the Press, even though host Chuck Todd didn’t ask them about the subject. During her March 17 interview, Klobuchar talked about the economic consequences of climate change and extreme weather, noting the role climate change played in the recent devastating flooding across the Midwest as well as in hurricanes and wildfires. On the March 31 episode of Meet the Press, Todd asked Hickenlooper how he would respond to critics of his fossil fuel ties, and Hickenlooper used the opportunity to talk about methane regulations he helped put in place in Colorado and the need for global action to tackle climate change.

    CBS' Face the Nation is the one major Sunday show that failed to air a single substantive discussion of climate change in March. It was the fourth month in a row that the show neglected to cover climate change.

    Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who is calling on the Sunday shows to give climate change more attention, released a scorecard on the shows' March performance:

    The number of segments that included substantive discussion of climate change was down a little in March compared to February, when many of the shows included conversations about the Green New Deal; there were six substantive segments in March versus seven in February. In January, the Sunday shows featured no substantive discussions of climate change.

    Altogether, the first quarter of 2019 featured much more climate coverage than the first quarter of 2018, in which the Sunday shows aired just a single episode that included notable discussion of climate change.

    But climate coverage in the first quarter of 2019 was actually down compared to the last quarter of 2018, when the Sunday shows discussed climate change in the wake of two major reports on climate science from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. government.

    In March, the shows missed opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations about climate change beyond interviews with Democratic presidential contenders. None of the shows' hosts asked questions about the historic and calamitous Midwest flooding that took place last month; Klobuchar is the only person who brought it up. The Sunday shows even failed to address the political maneuvering around the recent Senate vote on the Green New Deal, which is an odd omission for programs that are normally so focused on political fights and one-upmanship. The shows still have work to do to increase the quality and quantity of their climate coverage.

  • Sunday shows ignore report that Trump may have committed bank fraud

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sunday news shows of four of the major broadcast networks and CNN ignored new reporting from The Washington Post which detailed how President Donald Trump may have committed bank fraud.

    The Post reported on March 28 that congressional and New York investigators are examining whether Trump had used misleading documents called “Statements of Financial Condition,” in which he inflated his wealth or “omitted properties that carried big debts,” to fraudulently obtain loans from lenders or low premiums from insurers. The Post report revealed some details about how Trump lied about his properties and wealth in these statements:

    These documents sometimes ran up to 20 pages. They were full of numbers, laying out Trump’s properties, debts and multibillion-dollar net worth.

    But, for someone trying to get a true picture of Trump’s net worth, the documents were deeply flawed. Some simply omitted properties that carried big debts. Some assets were overvalued. And some key numbers were wrong.

    For instance, Trump’s financial statement for 2011 said he had 55 home lots to sell at his golf course in Southern California. Those lots would sell for $3 million or more, the statement said.

    But Trump had only 31 lots zoned and ready for sale at the course, according to city records. He claimed credit for 24 lots — and at least $72 million in future revenue — he didn’t have.

    He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres, when it really has about 1,200. He said Trump Tower has 68 stories. It has 58.

    These two investigations have stemmed from “testimony last month by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who told Congress that Trump had used these statements to inflate his wealth — and then sent them to his lenders and his insurers.” The Post also explained, “Trump is far from the first real estate developer to inflate his projects or wealth. But there are laws against defrauding insurers and lenders with false information.” It is also unclear if Trump will face any legal consequences.

    Yet none of the Sunday shows of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox Broadcasting Co., or CNN covered the story, according to a closed captioning search of mentions of Trump in the Grabien video database. Three of these shows invited senior Trump administration officials as guests but failed to bring up the ongoing investigations: Both ABC’s This Week and CNN’s State of the Union interviewed acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Fox’s Fox News Sunday talked to counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.

  • Major news organizations amplified Trump’s misinformation about Mueller's report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Twitter accounts of major national newspapers, cable, and broadcast news outlets spread -- without any context -- President Donald Trump's misinformation, outrageous characterizations of, and responses to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his Russia investigation.

    Over the course of more than six days since news broke on March 22 that Mueller had delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr, the Twitter accounts of major national print, digital, wire, cable, and broadcast news outlets sent at least 45 tweets which parroted misinformation from Trump, his administration, or his campaign. Many of these tweets included quotes from the president which contained false information about the Mueller report and/or lacked the necessary context to fully inform any news consumers who get their news only via social media posts. And then there were other tweets that didn't contain misinformation, but instead failed to provide context to Trump’s answer to reporters about the Mueller report. Examples of the most glaring failures of these major news organizations are embedded below:

    As Barr explained in a letter he wrote to Congress summarizing Mueller’s findings, the report “does not exonerate” the president on whether he obstructed justice. Nevertheless, Twitter accounts of The Hill, CNN, The Washington Post, Vox, ABC News, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC’s This Week, ABC Politics, NBC Politics, and Politico all repeated Trump’s false claim that the Mueller report is a “complete and total exoneration” of him.

    Barr’s letter also explained that Mueller’s report left “unresolved whether the president's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.” Yet The Hill sent the same tweet three times uncritically repeating Trump’s claim that the Mueller report showed “no obstruction.”

    Many news outlets embedded a brief snippet of Trump responding affirmatively to a question about whether Mueller “acted honorably,” but failed to give basic context that Trump spent the last year savaging Mueller’s reputation by criticizing him, his actions, and his team. NBC Nightly News, NBC News, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC News, ABC Politics, ABC’s This Week, MSNBC, NBC Politics, and NPR Politics all did this. The Hill tweeted Trump’s comment five times.

    Multiple news organizations also tweeted out Trump’s outrageous characterizations of Mueller’s investigation without any pushback. CBS News, The New York Times, and The Hill repeated Trump’s statement that the Mueller investigation was “an illegal takedown that failed.” CNN (twice), CNN's New Day, CNN Politics and MSNBC’s 11th Hour all repeated Trump’s quote that the Mueller investigation was an “attempted takeover of our government.”

    Parroting Trump’s misinformation is an ongoing problem with major news outlets; in the 24 hours after Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, 13 major news organizations wrote 49 tweets which promoted false or misleading comments from the president. It’s not enough for news organizations to fact-check and explain Trump’s comments in their articles. In this era of unprecedented lies from the president about virtually everything, news organizations must rethink how they draft their headlines and social media posts to make sure they include factual information in them.

    It is possible to report on Trump’s misinformation and also provide context in the limited space of headlines and tweets. Here are some examples of tweets in which outlets did just that, thus providing accurate information to their audiences:

  • ABC, CBS, and NBC completely failed to mention climate change in coverage of major Midwest floods

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a bomb cyclone triggered historic floods that devastated large swaths of the Midwest, the major broadcast TV networks completely failed to explain how climate change influences such aberrant and extreme weather. Media Matters’ analysis of coverage on the networks’ morning and evening news programs and Sunday morning political shows found that ABC, CBS, and NBC did not mention climate change or global warming once during their combined 28 segments reporting on the floods.

    The bomb cyclone and floods were right in line with climate scientists' projections

    A bomb cyclone of “historic proportions” began raging across the Midwest on March 13. It unleashed a torrent of wind, snow, and rain that caused unprecedented flooding in Nebraska as well as floods in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, resulting in at least four deaths and $3 billion in losses. The floods destroyed hundreds of homes and affected millions of acres of farmland. Unfortunately, these disastrous outcomes align with the projections of climate scientists, a number of whom explained how climate change plays a role both in worsening events like bomb cyclones and in creating the conditions for flooding of the sort that followed in the storm's wake.

    As climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State told MSNBC, "As the oceans warm up, there’s more moisture that’s available to these storms to turn into record rainfall. That’s what we saw with this bomb cyclone that was drawing on warm, moist Gulf air that led to extreme amounts of precipitation, both rain and snow. The snow then melted, and we got this extreme flooding." Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research also noted that the bomb cyclone was carrying large amounts of moisture from the Pacific to the Midwest and told Reuters that climate change played "a strong supporting role" in the resulting floods.

    The bomb cyclone may also have been aided by a fluctuating jet stream. A study published in March 2018 found that a rapidly warming Arctic is linked to very wavy, slow jet stream patterns that are strongly correlated to an increase in extreme and aberrant winter weather events such as bomb cyclones and nor’easters. As Climate Nexus noted in the wake of the recent bomb cyclone, "The polar jet was extremely wavy across the northern hemisphere, and is consistent with the unusual jet stream behavior expected due to Arctic warming."

    The flooding that followed the bomb cyclone was caused by a complex confluence of events that were also in line with scientists' projections about the consequences of climate change. As climate reporter E.A. Crunden wrote for ThinkProgress:

    The historic flooding is the result of rain coupled with a considerable amount of pre-existing water on the ground. February brought a record-setting 30 inches of snow to the state, which locked in several inches of water. With eastern Nebraska’s rivers already higher than usual following the state’s fifth-wettest season in 124 years, the bomb cyclone unleashed a mountain of water, submerging parts of the region.

    ...

    Connecting any one weather event to climate change is often impossible or incredibly challenging, but experts say the flooding is indicative of larger climate impacts. According to the government’s National Climate Assessment (NCA) released last fall, the Midwest is likely to see an uptick in flooding associated with global warming.

    Broadcast networks completely ignored how climate change affects bomb cyclones and flooding

    Media Matters analyzed coverage of the Midwest flooding from March 18 to 25 on the morning and evening news programs and Sunday morning political shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC and found that none of their coverage mentioned climate change. During this period, ABC’s weekday morning and evening news programs ran 11 segments on the flooding, NBC's also ran 11, and CBS' ran six. None of the networks' Sunday political shows even mentioned the flooding.

    Some segments noted the unusual and historic nature of the Midwest floods, but they all did not connect the flooding to climate change.

    Other news outlets neglected flood and climate reporting too

    Cable news also fell down on the job. According to a Washington Post analysis, from March 15 to 19, the cable news networks covered both the Nebraska floods and climate change less than they covered President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about deceased Sen. John McCain and the feud between Trump and George Conway, the husband of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway.

    Newspapers and wire services did better than TV news in covering the floods and covering climate change, the Post found. Still, they were not exemplary either. The nonprofit End Climate Silence pointed out notable pieces about the flooding in The New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, The Washington Post, and other outlets that failed to mention climate change.

    Some TV journalists demonstrated how to incorporate climate change into flood coverage

    Here are two good examples of TV news segments that discussed climate change while covering floods. On MSNBC Live With Katy Tur on March 22, Tur hosted climate scientist Michael Mann to discuss a recent warning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that 200 million Americans are at risk of experiencing flooding this spring. Mann also described how climate change worsens events such as the recent bomb cyclone and Midwest flooding.

    And, on March 23, Soledad O’Brien hosted former Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel on her syndicated weekly show, Matter of Fact, to discuss the flooding in the Midwest and how climate change is making it more extreme.

    Media Matters has conducted study after study documenting the failure of corporate TV news outlets to connect extreme weather events to global warming and has highlighted their tendency to neglect potential solutions to the climate crisis. Broadcast networks often report on extreme and aberrant weather, but they also need to report on how climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. And they should report on possible solutions to climate-related problems before it’s too late.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ media for segments about the Midwest floods on national news broadcasts from March 18 through March 25, searching for the terms "flood,” “flooding," or "bomb cyclone." We then searched those segments for the keywords “climate," "warming," "emission(s)," "carbon," "CO2," or "greenhouse gas(es)." Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), nightly news programs (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News), and Sunday morning political shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press). We did not count brief mentions, teasers, or rebroadcasts.

  • Network news ignores report that Trump wants reduced aid to Puerto Rico amid food-stamp crisis

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On March 25, The Washington Post reported that almost 1.3 million people in Puerto Rico are facing a new crisis after Congress failed to reauthorize additional food stamps that they had been receiving since the devastating Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September 2017. The Post also reported that President Donald Trump has privately complained about continuing government aid to Puerto Rico, asking top advisers how he can limit federal support. After the Post's report, CBS, ABC, and NBC nightly and morning news programs failed to report on Puerto Rico’s continued struggles -- as well as Trump’s callous disregard for the plight of struggling Puerto Ricans.

    According to the Post, “Congress missed the deadline for reauthorization” of additional food-stamp aid to Puerto Rico in March, meaning “about 43 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents are grappling with a sudden cut to a benefit they rely on for groceries and other essentials.” The island will again need the federal government’s help to “stave off drastic cuts to Medicaid … as well as for the disbursement of billions in hurricane relief aid that has not yet been turned over to the island.” The problems in Puerto Rico are compounded by its lack of statehood; as the article notes, “The island would not need Congress to step in to fund its food-stamp and Medicaid programs if it were a state. For states, the federal government has committed to funding those programs’ needs, whatever the cost and without needing to take a vote.”

    Despite Puerto Rico’s struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria, Trump last month “asked top advisers for ways to limit federal support from going to Puerto Rico, believing it is taking money that should be going to the mainland.” According to the article, “Trump sees the island as fundamentally broken and has told advisers that no amount of money will ever fix its systemic problems.” He has complained that “large swaths of the island never had power to begin with” and has “occasionally groused about how ungrateful political officials in Puerto Rico were for the administration’s help.” But as Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asserted, “the problems of Puerto Rico have a root-cause problem attached to it: We don’t have political power and are not treated as equal citizens.”

    Withholding federal aid from Puerto Rico out of contempt for the island has dire implications, yet CBS, ABC, and NBC have all failed to report on the distressing situation Puerto Ricans currently face -- as well as the disdain the president has consistently shown toward the island.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched the Nexis transcript database for mentions of “Puerto Rico” or “Hurricane Maria” from 7 a.m. EST on March 25 to 9 a.m. EST March 27 for CBS, NBC, and ABC. We found no mentions on any network.