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  • Here are two big things that were wrong with climate change coverage in 2018  

    Major outlets reported too little on climate change driving extreme weather and too much on Trump, two analyses find

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Mainstream media are continuing two troubling trends in their coverage of climate change, a pair of new reports finds. In 2018, media outlets too often failed to connect extreme weather to climate change, according to an analysis from Public Citizen, a progressive consumer advocacy organization. And researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that when major outlets did cover climate change, their reporting was too focused on President Donald Trump.

    Public Citizen reviewed coverage of extreme weather events in 50 top U.S. newspapers, 32 online news sources, and major broadcast and cable television networks, analyzing how often that coverage made mention of climate change. Climate scientists have found that global warming is tied to more intense heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, as well as aberrant weather events like polar vortexes. But Public Citizen found that many news stories neglected to explain this connection:

    On the whole, the proportion of [extreme weather] pieces that mentioned climate change was disappointingly low. There was no climate-related form of extreme weather that the media connected to climate change in more than 35 percent of pieces. That high-water mark comes from articles discussing record drought. Extreme heat fared similarly, with 34 percent of pieces mentioning climate change. For hurricanes, the rate was just 7 percent.

    Public Citizen’s report notes that coverage of climate change's role in extreme weather was better in 2018 than in 2017, but many outlets continued to miss the mark. 

    When it came to reporting on heat waves, newspapers and TV networks both showed improvement -- they mentioned climate change more often in their heat-wave stories in 2018 than in 2017 -- but not nearly enough. Thirty-three percent of newspaper articles about record or extreme heat connected it to climate change, up from 28 percent in 2017. Television news programs made the connection in 22 percent of their segments, compared to 10 percent in 2017. (A Media Matters analysis of broadcast coverage of a record-breaking heat wave in North America last summer found even worse performance.)

    Coverage of wildfires also improved slightly in 2018, according to Public Citizen’s report. Top newspapers mentioned climate change in 29 percent of wildfire stories last year, compared to 19 percent in 2017. The online news outlets mentioned climate change in 28 percent of wildfire stories in 2018, up from 22 in 2017. And television networks connected wildfires to climate change in 21 percent of their segments last year, compared to 8 percent in 2017. Again, Media Matters documented even worse performance from broadcast TV news in connecting climate change to wildfires that happened last summer and in early November.

    Similar patterns emerged in reporting on other extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, flooding, and hurricanes: There was slight improvement, but as Public Citizen sums it up, "major news outlets fell short." 

    Researchers at CU-Boulder's International Collective on Environment, Culture & Politics documented a different problem with climate coverage in the U.S.: an obsessive focus on Trump. The collective's Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO), which tracks media coverage in dozens of countries, produced a report summarizing its findings from 2018. In the U.S., MeCCO monitored five major newspapers and six major TV networks.

    According to the research group, “Throughout the year (as in 2017) there has been continued prominence of news from US outlets on climate change or global warming associated with Donald J. Trump.” It found that the word “Trump” was used an average of nearly 4.5 times in each story about climate change, just slightly less than 2017’s average of 4.7 times. In fact, Trump was mentioned more than twice as often as the words "science," "scientific," or "scientist(s)." The result of this Trump-centric reporting was that “media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold,” according to MeCCO’s analysis. (Media Matters reached similar conclusions about climate journalism’s overemphasis on Trump in 2017 and 2018.)

    There were some bright spots in climate coverage in 2018. Public Citizen highlighted an editorial collaboration in Florida called The Invading Sea -- involving the Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post, the Sun-Sentinel, and public radio station WLRN -- that aims to increase awareness of sea-level rise and galvanize action to address it. The Public Citizen report also recognized great reporting by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

    Despite these positive developments, the two reports show that news outlets need to improve their climate journalism in 2019. They should stop chasing Trump's every tweet and instead provide sustained, substantive reporting that explains the nature of the climate challenge, connects extreme weather events to climate research, and amplifies solutions to climate-related problems.

  • Fox News dominated prime-time cable coverage of the Green New Deal

    Fox covered the plan far more than CNN and MSNBC, and often failed to even mention climate change

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD

    From February 7 to February 11, Fox News aired 34 segments on the Green New Deal on its prime-time shows, according to a Media Matters analysis. This was more than triple the combined number of segments aired by its cable news counterparts: MSNBC and CNN aired eight and three segments, respectively. Just 14 of Fox's segments on the Green New Deal mentioned climate change, less than half. By contrast, MSNBC and CNN did a better job of explaining that the Green New Deal is designed to address climate change; MSNBC discussed climate change in five of its eight segments, and CNN discussed it in two of its three segments.

    Fox aired far more prime-time Green New Deal segments than MSNBC or CNN

    From February 7, when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released the Green New Deal resolution, through February 11, Fox News aired 34 segments discussing the Green New Deal on its weekday and weekend prime-time shows airing between 5 p.m. and midnight. February 7 and February 8 saw the most Fox coverage -- the network aired 19 prime-time segments on those two days. Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity led the Fox prime-time shows in the number of Green New Deal segments, airing seven and five segments, respectively.

    Across this same time period, MSNBC aired eight prime-time segments on the Green New Deal. Five of these aired on February 7, the day the resolution was introduced, including an interview with Ocasio-Cortez on MTP Daily and an interview with Markey on All In with Chris Hayes.  

    CNN, meanwhile, aired only three Green New Deal segments on its prime-time shows from February 7 to February 11. One segment came on the February 7 episode of Erin Burnett OutFront, which included an interview with Markey. Another segment aired on the February 9 episode of The Van Jones Show, and a third on CNN Newsroom on February 10.

    Most of Fox’s segments on the Green New Deal either ignored climate change or mocked it

    The text of the Green New Deal resolution makes clear that it is intended to fight climate change. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey both emphasized the urgent need to combat the climate crisis at their February 7 press conference unveiling the resolution. And Ocasio-Cortez explained in an interview with NPR earlier that day that the Green New Deal is so ambitious because the climate crisis is such an enormous threat: "Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us.”

    But the majority of Fox News segments on the Green New Deal didn't even mention climate change, often ignoring the entire reason that Ocasio-Cortez and Markey had proposed such a sweeping plan in the first place. In contrast, MSNBC and CNN discussed climate change in most of their segments on the Green New Deal.

    Fox News mentioned climate change in just 41 percent of its prime-time segments on the Green New Deal. Out of the 34 segments that Fox aired about the Green New Deal, only 14 included the words "climate" or "global warming." Most segments omitted the reasoning behind the resolution and merely discussed it out of context as an onerous, oppressive policy proposal. Two of the Fox segments that failed to mention climate change instead claimed that the Green New Deal was just a pretext for implementing a radical left-wing agenda -- a theme that was popular in right-wing media even before the resolution was released.

    Even in cases when Fox figures did bring up climate change during a segment on the Green New Deal, they often downplayed the issue. In six of Fox's 13 segments that mentioned climate change, a host or guest made a dismissive or skeptical remark about the problem. For example, the February 7 episode of The Ingraham Angle featured a well-informed guest who discussed the climate challenge, but host Laura Ingraham followed up her comments by saying, "Well, it's pretty cold right now in Minnesota, but that's just a snapshot. I mean it's been a brutal winter.”

    And on the February 7 episode of Hannity, host Sean Hannity simultaneously misstated activists’ claims about climate change and downplayed the climate threat, then made ludicrous claims about how the Green New Deal would bring about the downfall of America: “They claim that the world was going to end in 12 years because of climate change, which is, of course, is not true. Now, green energy, this new deal, will destroy America, our economy as we know it.”

    MSNBC mentioned climate change in more than half of its prime-time Green New Deal segments. Five out of MSNBC’s eight segments on the Green New Deal discussed the plan in the context of climate change, and two of these were the segments that featured interviews with the resolution's co-sponsors, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey. During his appearance on All In with Chris Hayes on February 7, Markey was particularly clear about the need to act now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change:

    SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): By the year 2100, we're going to have lost tens of trillions of dollars to the damage which is going to be created by climate change to our country. And a stitch in time will save nine. If we invest now, we'll be able to avoid the worst, most catastrophic consequences. Otherwise the price that’s going to be paid is going to be in the tens of trillions in our country, and that will just be a footnote compared to the rest of the world.

    Another segment on All In with Chris Hayes deserves mention. Hayes described the need for a dramatic response to the climate crisis and explained why right-wing criticism of the Green New Deal is so off-base:

    CHRIS HAYES (HOST): As you watch the continued right-wing caterwauling about the Green New Deal, here's what to keep in mind, particularly as all kinds of denialists and cranks talk about what is and is not serious. The bar for entry into the conversation for seriousness in said conversation is some framework, some proposal to reduce U.S. carbon emissions from human sources by almost half -- 45 percent -- from 2010 levels by 2030. That's 11 years from now. Half of emissions. That's what the international panel on climate change says has to happen globally to avoid the worst effects of climate change. And those effects of climate change, they are happening, and they are getting more visible and more present every day.

    CNN discussed climate change in two of its three prime-time segments about the Green New Deal. While CNN ran fewer segments on the Green New Deal than the other cable news channels, it did a better job of foregrounding climate change in the segments that it did air.

    On the February 7 episode of Erin Burnett OutFront, CNN correspondent Miguel Marquez explained the reasoning of the Green New Deal's backers: "Viewing climate change as an existential threat to the entire world, fire, drought, rising sea levels, increasingly violent storms, famine, and mass migrations is what we face, they warn, if radical change isn't embraced now."

    And on the February 9 episode of The Van Jones Show, host Van Jones explained how Green New Deal supporters see climate change affecting the economy and inequality:

    VAN JONES (HOST): They point out the cost of inaction could mean we don't have a planet to live on. They also point out the program could be paid for by tax hikes on the super wealthy and cutting spending elsewhere. Their goal is not just to reduce carbon emissions but also to stimulate the job market, reduce inequality, and boost the economy in low-income areas that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

    Fox continues to lie, fearmonger, and relentlessly mock the Green New Deal

    Fox News spread misinformation about the Green New Deal before the resolution was introduced, and it has continued to do so since it was released. Fox has aired a number of segments that lied about what’s in the Green New Deal resolution, tried to paint the resolution as an instance of alleged Democratic extremism, and downplayed the serious need to tackle climate change. One example of this comes from Sean Hannity on the February 11 episode of Hannity.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): We'll start with New Jersey Sen. Spartacus, Cory Booker, comparing the Green New Deal to going to the moon and defeating the Nazis. And Booker is talking about Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's bizarre, horrific new piece of legislation. Let's see. That would plan the end of consumption of fossil fuels in 10 years. By the way, the planet is going to die in 12 years. What is the point? And, by the way, and seriously, don't write off Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and her grandiose and disastrous plans. She is merely just saying and acting on what Democrats really believe but try and hide from you. Look at all of those Democrats now coming out in support of this, this Green New Deal which calls for no more oil, no more gas, no more fossil fuels of any kind. Not even any nuclear energy. And it doesn't stop there. This bill that would eliminate airplanes, gas-powered automobiles and trucks, gas-powered ovens and stoves. By the way, if you like steak -- no more cows, too much flatulence. They emit CO2 emissions. No more cows. You better load up on the steak and put in a freezer.

    The resolution, of course, does not call for the elimination of airplanes, cows, or nuclear energy -- it doesn't mention these things at all. Hannity misrepresented lines from an informal FAQ document that has since been retracted. But Hannity continued to push these bombastic, false talking points even after it was reported that the FAQ did not represent the actual Green New Deal resolution.

    Another example comes from President Donald Trump himself on this same episode of Hannity. The show aired live footage of Trump speaking at a rally in El Paso, TX, where he said:

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Last week, they introduced a massive government takeover that would destroy our incredible economic gains. They introduced the so-called Green New Deal. It sounds like a high school term paper that got a low mark. It would shut down American energy, which I don't think the people in Texas are going to be happy with that. It would shut down a little thing called air travel. How do you take a train to Europe? You know, this crazy senator from Hawaii. They said, do you like it? Yes, I like it very much. Oh, really, how are we getting to Hawaii on a train? She didn't think about that one, but she's thinking about it. She will figure it out. They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home, and put millions of Americans out of work, spend $100 trillion -- which, by the way, there's no such thing as a $100 trillion.

    Trump constantly lies, so it is no surprise that he would make false statements about trains to Europe, a $100 trillion price tag, and a Hawaii senator -- and no surprise that Fox would air his comments without correction.

    Another ridiculous example came from frequent Fox talking head Dan Bongino on the February 9 episode of Justice with Judge Jeanine:

    DAN BONGINO: Are there going to be cow assassination squads now? I mean, you are going to have to give your cow Beano to cure up their gastrointestinal issues? To prevent an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez death squad or something?

    More cow jokes came from right-wing commentator Mark Steyn on the February 7 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    MARK STEYN: Well, the AOC plan strikingly pledges to get rid of most forms of transportation and, indeed, cows. So you can give up your Chevy Suburban and take your cow to work. The cow actually is more devastating to the environment than the Chevy Suburban. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's document actually says that she is committed to ridding America of flatulent cows and airplanes. I always take a flatulent cow on an airplane as my emotional support animal. It means that 20 minutes out of LAX, you've got the whole first class compartment all to yourself and nobody is in there. But the Europeans actually tried this and they basically -- the Irish were going to impose a tax of 13 euros per cow and the Danes were going to impose a tax of 80 euros per cow because apparently a Danish Holstein is six times as flatulent as an Irish Hereford. So in theory, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is on to something that you could, as the Europeans considered, actually have a flatulence offset regime. Obviously, you would need a secretary of flatulence in the Cabinet that you would actually -- Vermont, for example, has a lot of Holsteins there, the black and white cows that look like the governor of Virginia with only half his makeup on -- and you can take, you could take those, Vermont would be able to trade its flatulence to Washington, D.C., where it could hang like a giant cloud over Congress.

    These examples show that Fox News will go to great lengths to avoid having good-faith discussions about tackling climate change and instead paint any ambitious climate proposal as absurd and a sign of supposed Democratic extremism. That makes it especially unfortunate that Fox is the cable network that's covering the Green New Deal the most on its prime-time shows.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis and IQ Media search for mentions of "green new deal" in programs that aired on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between 5 p.m. and midnight from February 7 to February 11. We then searched within those transcripts for mentions of “climate” or "global warming." We counted any segments that were devoted to the Green New Deal or made substantial mention of it. We did not count teasers, passing mentions, or rebroadcasts.

    Image and chart by Melissa Joskow of Media Matters.

  • Major Sunday shows discuss climate change and Green New Deal, but through narrow lens of political horse race

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    All five major Sunday morning political shows touched on the Green New Deal on February 10 -- the first time in 2019 that any of the programs have addressed climate change with more than a passing mention. But most of the discussion was superficial and narrowly focused on whether the Green New Deal will cause intra-party fighting among Democrats or end up benefiting Republicans, not on whether its policy ideas are good approaches for fighting climate change.

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a Green New Deal resolution on Thursday, outlining an aggressive plan for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. within a decade.

    NBC's Meet the Press featured a conversation about the Green New Deal with a panel of guests. Host Chuck Todd kicked it off by briefly outlining the plan's big goals and then asking Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, “Is this a healthy debate [for the Democratic Party] that's happening right now?" In a follow-up comment to David Brody, chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Todd said, “Obviously the president's team sees a reelection opening." The panel discussion on the show largely focused on which party could benefit from consideration of the Green New Deal. Only MSNBC host Katy Tur talked about the dire climate impacts the Green New Deal is designed to mitigate:

    The U.N. said we have 12 years before complete disaster. You talk to the representative of the Marshall Islands, and he's calling it what could amount to genocide if we allow things to go as they are. The reports aren't just, "Hey, it's going to get bad." The reports are, "People will die. Millions and million, and millions of people will die." And I think that there is an appetite among voters out there, especially Democratic voters and potentially swing voters, to say, "Hey, let's do something about this now because it's, it’s going to affect our future." And there's real economic damage that can happen as well. Billions of dollars in economic damage from crops to deaths, to losing oceanfront homes and businesses in, over the next century.

    On CNN's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper brought up the Green New Deal twice. His interview with Peter Buttigieg, Democratic presidential hopeful and mayor of South Bend, IN, included a substantive exchange on the plan and on climate impacts. Tapper briefly mentioned the Green New Deal’s broad aims, questioned Buttigieg about how it could affect his constituents and industry in the Midwest, and asked if he endorsed it. Buttigieg affirmed his support for the general framework of the Green New Deal, specifically “the idea that we need to race toward that goal and that we should do it in a way that enhances the economic justice and the level of economic opportunity in our country.” Buttigieg also noted that action is needed because extreme weather is already hurting Americans. Later in the show, during an interview with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tapper noted that Murphy was a Green New Deal co-sponsor before saying, “Independent senator Angus King of Maine as well as Obama's former energy secretary Ernest Moniz say they don't think that this plan is realistic.” Murphy responded, “It's absolutely realistic and I frankly think we need to set our sights high.” Murphy emphasized the reason why bold steps are required: "Global warming is an existential threat to the planet."

    Fox News Sunday included two segments that discussed the Green New Deal, but host Chris Wallace seemed less interested in how it would address climate change and more interested in whether it could be labeled “socialist.” During a discussion with a panel of guests, Wallace listed some of the plan’s policy goals before asking former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), “Couldn't you call it socialist?” In a follow-up question to Edwards, Wallace lumped the Green New Deal in with other progressive policy proposals such as free college tuition and a guaranteed jobs plan, asking her again, “Couldn't you argue that's pretty radical and possibly socialist?” During a separate interview with Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Wallace asked if President Donald Trump views the Green New Deal as “the view of a wing of the [Democratic] party or does he think that's the prevailing opinion of Democratic leaders?”

    Both ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos and CBS' Face the Nation just made passing mentions of the Green New Deal. This Week host Stephanopoulos directed a comment about Trump’s sarcastic tweet about the Green New Deal to ABC News contributor Chris Christie, but Christie didn't address the topic. Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan didn’t bring up the Green New Deal herself, but one of her guests, National Review Senior Editor Jonah Goldberg, referenced it in passing to claim that it could harm the Democrats politically.

    Sunday’s Green New Deal coverage did not include any guests who voiced climate denial, which is an improvement over the last time all of the major shows covered climate change, on November 25, after release of the National Climate Assessment. But this time around, none of the shows hosted guests with particular expertise in climate change to discuss the plan, like climate scientists or environmental journalists. This is an unfortunate, long-running trend: The Sunday shows rarely feature climate experts.

    The Green New Deal is sparking Sunday show discussion of climate policy, which we've seen very little of in recent years. (And it’s freaking out conservatives and right-wing media figures.) But the coverage needs to get better. Media outlets have a responsibility to move discussions of climate-related issues like the Green New Deal beyond superficial horse-race coverage and into real substance. That means acknowledging that the Green New Deal is not merely a political ploy; it is an effort backed by a broad array of environmental groups, environmental justice organizations, and unions, as well as high-profile Democratic politicians, to comprehensively address the climate crisis. Sunday shows should be fostering discussion of whether the Green New Deal is the right approach to deal with climate change, not whether it will help one side or another score quick political points.

  • 8 must-read fact checks debunking Trump’s abortion lies from his State of the Union address

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    President Donald Trump used his 2019 State of the Union address to promote right-wing media lies about state measures protecting abortion access. While media outlets struggled at times to properly contextualize and refute Trump’s misinformation, some outlets held Trump accountable by debunking his false, anti-choice statements and providing their audiences with accurate information about abortion.

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

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

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

    Methodology

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

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

  • Cable and network news largely ignore rollback of CFPB protections against payday lenders

    ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News all failed to cover the proposed rule change

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On February 6, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) under President Donald Trump announced a proposal to weaken an Obama-era rule designed to protect consumers from predatory payday lenders. Despite this move’s implications for consumers, network and cable news almost entirely ignored the rule change.

    The Obama-era rule, which had set August 19, 2019, as a deadline for the payday lenders to start complying with its provisions, “was the first significant federal effort to regulate payday lenders and took more than five years to develop.” Part of its provisions would require payday lenders to verify potential borrowers' income and debts when deciding whether they could afford a high-interest loan, thus protecting vulnerable consumers from predatory lenders. Advocates of these provisions argue that “ability-to-repay requirements protect borrowers from getting caught in loans with exorbitant interest rates,” which can exceed 300 percent.

    The latest proposal by the CFPB would eliminate the ability-to-repay requirements and delay implementation of the rule until 2020. This change would be a huge win for payday lenders, who lobbied lawmakers to block the rule last year. When those efforts failed, payday lenders “turned their attention to convincing the CFPB, now under the leadership of a Trump appointee, to change course.”

    The proposal is the latest step in the Trump administration’s efforts to remake the CFPB, which was created after the 2008 global financial crisis in an attempt to protect consumers. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, argued, “This proposal essentially sends a message to predatory payday lenders that they may continue to harm vulnerable communities without penalty.” Richard Cordray, the CFPB’s former director who was in charge of finalizing the rule, described the rollback as “a bad move that will hurt the hardest-hit consumers,” adding, “It should be and will be subject to a stiff legal challenge.”

    Network and cable news almost entirely ignored the CFPB’s proposed rollback, which will be open to public comment for 90 days, despite its potential to affect millions of borrowers. The only significant coverage occurred on MSNBC’s MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle in a segment that lasted over seven minutes and emphasized the detrimental impact the rollback will likely have on consumers.

    MSNBC and NBC also featured two brief headline segments covering the topic on their early morning shows that each lasted less than 30 seconds. There has been no other coverage on MSNBC or NBC. CNN, Fox News, ABC, and CBS have not covered the story at all.

    UPDATE (2/8): After noon on February 7, MSNBC ran two more segments covering the CFPB proposal. On MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, host Stephanie Ruhle again presented the facts in a segment that lasted over six minutes and featured New York University business professor Scott Galloway. The following hour, on MSNBC Live with Katy Tur, Katy Tur hosted former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich to discuss the damaging impact this rule will have on consumers in a segment that lasted a little over one minute.   

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "CFPB," "consumer protections," "consumer financial," "roll back," "payday," "community financial services," "CFSA," and "Kraninger" on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC, and CBS from February 6 to noon on February 7.

  • Media outlets uncritically push Trump’s anti-abortion lies while reporting on the State of the Union

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s presidency has created a requirement for outlets to hold themselves accountable for managing his often false and inflammatory rhetoric, by including context and accurate information about his statements directly in headlines and tweets, as well as supplying details in reports. Trump’s inaccurate claims about abortion during the 2019 State of the Union were a prime opportunity for media to provide important context -- an opportunity that some outlets missed, instead promoting Trump’s lies uncritically though headlines and social media.

    During his address, Trump repeated talking points from a scandal manufactured by right-wing media alleging that Democrats support state bills supposedly legalizing “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In his speech, Trump said that a law in New York "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth," claimed a Virginia bill would allow providers to "execute a baby after birth,"and called on Congress "to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children." In reality, Democratic legislators in New York recently passed legislation to codify Roe v. Wade's abortion protections at the state level, and Virginia Democrats introduced a bill to remove unnecessary barriers to abortion access, which has since been tabled.

    Right-wing media have responded with an avalanche of inaccurate coverage and extreme rhetoric, including saying that abortions later in pregnancy are “murders” and that Democrats were endorsing “infanticide.” To be clear, neither of these claims has any basis in reality. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare and often performed for medical necessity or due to access barriers created by anti-choice politicians. Right-wing media’s characterization of these abortion procedures as happening “at birth” -- or in some cases, allegedly after -- is simply wrong; according to medical professionals, such a scenario “does not occur.” Indeed, as patients who have had abortions later in pregnancy wrote in an open letter: “The stories we hear being told about later abortion in this national discussion are not our stories. They do not reflect our choices or experiences.”

    Here are the some of the outlets that reported Trump’s comments on abortion without providing this necessary context:

    • ABC’s World News Tonight [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • NBC News [Twitter, 2/5/19]
    • The New York Times [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • PBS NewsHour [Twitter, 2/5/19]

  • EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler attacks press ahead of Senate confirmation vote

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This post was updated on 2/5/19.

    Andrew Wheeler, acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency and nominee to fill the job permanently, has lashed out at the media repeatedly in the last few days. The EPA's press office sent out three press releases on February 1 and another one on February 5 that criticized media outlets for their reporting or discussion of either Wheeler or the EPA's activities.

    These latest attacks on journalists' work are not the first that the EPA press office has issued under Wheeler. In this, he's following in the footsteps of both his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, and his boss, President Donald Trump. 

    Wheeler testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at a confirmation hearing on January 16, and the committee voted along party lines to approve his nomination on February 5. Wheeler’s nomination will go before the full Senate soon.

    In the meantime, Wheeler is not happy about getting what he perceives to be negative press about him or the agency he's leading.

    The EPA's latest attacks on the media

    On Friday morning, the EPA sent out a press release with this headline: "Huffington Post Report Filled with Biased and Misleading Claims." The release criticized a HuffPost article that reported that Murray Energy, the coal company that Wheeler used to lobby for, has ended its lobbying contract with Wheeler's old firm. The article noted that many of the policy changes Murray Energy has wanted to see have already been implemented at the EPA.

    The EPA's press release listed a number of criticisms of the article, but it didn't demonstrate that the piece was incorrect. One complaint was that the article quoted someone from the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which the EPA dismissed as a "liberal interest group." Another bizarrely nitpicky gripe was about the grammatical construction of one sentence, which the EPA release claimed was intended to "trick the reader" into thinking Vice President Mike Pence was at a meeting with the head of Murray Energy. The sentence makes no such claim. HuffPost stands by its article.

    On Friday evening, the EPA sent out another press release attacking a media report, this one with the subject line "E&E Publishes Hogwash Misleading Story." It criticized another article about Wheeler's former lobbying firm. The article, published by E&E News, reported that a former lobbying colleague of Wheeler met repeatedly with EPA officials about sites contaminated with toxic waste. The article drew from a batch of internal EPA emails and calendars that were recently released in the wake of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club.

    The press release did not note any factual errors in the E&E article, but rather criticized two sections that it called "misleading." The release also made the petty and unrelated claim that E&E had previously issued a correction to a story it published about Wheeler last year; in fact, it was a clarification, not a correction. "Clicks are more important than facts for E&E News," the EPA press release charged -- even though E&E News is a firewalled subscription news service, not one that relies on attracting a broad public audience for its reporting. E&E News stands by its story.

    Also on Friday, the EPA published a press release attacking a comment made by a former Obama administration official on the Fox News program The Story with Martha MacCallum. Austan Goolsbee, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama, said on the show that the EPA is changing rules to allow power plants to "dump more mercury into our drinking water." The EPA charged in its press release that it was an "outlandishly false claim" and disputed it on narrow grounds, saying that the agency has not changed a key rule governing mercury emissions from power plants. But as recent opinion pieces in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times explained in wonky detail, the EPA has been taking steps that could lead to more mercury pollution. The Times piece summed the situation up: "Wheeler is inviting the coal industry to challenge the mercury rule in court."

    Then on Tuesday, the EPA press office issued an even more vituperative press release -- this one personally attacking a Politico reporter for an article she wrote headlined "Former Koch official runs EPA chemical research." She reported on how a former Koch Industries employee is now leading research that will help determine how the agency regulates PFAS chemicals that contaminate drinking water. EPA's press release was headlined "Politico Continues Misinformation Campaign on PFAS," and ended with a personal insult against the reporter: "It appears Annie Snider’s talents are best used for fundraising pieces for special interest groups rather than reporting any resemblance of the truth."

    Wheeler may be feeling especially threatened by reporting on PFAS because the issue could disrupt his Senate confirmation. On February 4, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) threatened to hold up Wheeler's nomination unless the agency sets strict new rules for two types of PFAS. And 20 senators, including two Republicans, sent Wheeler a letter on February 1 calling for drinking-water limits on those same two chemicals.

    Wheeler's press office attacked the media in 2018 too

    These attacks echo ones the EPA press office launched last fall. On October 30, it sent out a press release with the headline "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." The release didn't name any media outlets, but it asserted that "recent media reports have inaccurately misrepresented the actions taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" to address toxic air pollutants emitted by an industrial facility in Illinois.

    On November 1, the press office got more aggressive, sending out a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report." It attacked an article on CNN's website that reported on an EPA move that would allow states to emit more ozone pollution, which leads to smog. CNN stood by its story -- and rightly so. John Walke, a clean air expert at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, explained in a detailed Twitter thread that the EPA was "wrong about all seven" of its accusations against CNN.

    As more articles come out reporting on Wheeler's emails and calendars, thanks to that Sierra Club lawsuit, we could see the EPA sending out still more press releases attacking media outlets.

    -----

    Note: The EPA press release about the HuffPost article mentions Media Matters and claims that we are "affiliated" with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Media Matters founder David Brock once served on the board of CREW, but he is no longer affiliated with the group. Media Matters had no involvement in the HuffPost article.

  • CNN panel falsely claims that Democrats haven’t offered a plan on border security

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE

    Less than one week after CNN reported on a border security proposal by Democratic leadership, a CNN host and panelist falsely claimed that Democrats “haven’t offered any kind of plan whatsoever” on border security. The Democrats’ proposal includes 1,000 new U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers; “new imaging technology at land ports of entry to scan for drugs, weapons, and contraband”; “increased resources and technology at mail-processing facilities to intercept opioids and fentanyl”; and the “expansion of Air and Marine Operations on the border and in US waters.” The proposal, which describes the treatment of migrants in U.S. detention as a "humanitarian crisis" and "the only real crisis at the border," would also involve the "bolstering of CBP’s resources in handling detained migrants apprehended at the border.”

    From the February 4 edition of CNN’s Inside Politics:

    ANNIE LINSKEY (WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL REPORTER): There also is some polling though, that Republicans have lost ground on the border, which I found quite interesting. The Washington Post did a poll earlier in the last few days that showed Democrats, amazingly, had a slight edge among -- Americans believe that Democrats have a slight edge on how they would handle immigration, which is something that Democrats traditionally have had been down by nine points. So there is quite a lot of turmoil right now on that issue, and I think that you're right, that the president is going to want us to recapture it because it would be quite concerning to see Democrats, suddenly -- especially since they haven't offered any kind of plan whatsoever, but if Americans are beginning to think, “Wow, Democrats might do a better job.”

    DANA BASH (GUEST HOST): You know, you mentioned the Democrats haven't offered a plan. That's a really important point and it has gotten a little bit lost in the fact that there was such a robust political fight over on the president's terms, on what he wants. And if it had gone on longer, perhaps more discussion would have happened over, “Well, what are the Democrats offering?”

    Previously:

    CNN panel compares Medicare for all policy proposals to Trump’s wall and GOP “repeal-and-replace slogan”

    CNN anchor suggests "bold" policies like Medicare for all might pull Democrats "too far to the left"

    CNN host tells Democratic lawmaker that not giving in to Trump's border wall demand is "just not working"

  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse launches a scorecard to track Sunday news shows’ climate coverage

    Whitehouse: “Our broadcasters hold a special responsibility to inform the public on the most pressing challenges facing the American people”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is calling on the Sunday morning news shows to significantly improve their coverage of climate change. On February 1, he announced the launch of a monthly scorecard to monitor the shows' climate coverage, with the goal of prodding them to do better. 

    The inaugural scorecard his office put out, based on data from Media Matters, illustrates the problem: None of the five major Sunday shows aired substantive segments on climate change in January of this year. In total, there were just four passing mentions of the topic on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press.

    Whitehouse's office issued a press release highlighting findings from a recent Media Matters analysis of major Sunday shows' climate coverage in 2018, which found that less than 6 percent of their episodes last year featured significant discussion of climate change. The analysis also found a decline from 2017 to 2018 in the number of segments on the Sunday shows that discussed climate change. 

    The press release included a quote from Whitehouse:

    Our broadcasters hold a special responsibility to inform the public on the most pressing challenges facing the American people. With each passing day, the climate crisis grows more dire and our government’s response to that crisis more urgent. That is why this report is so troubling. It shows some of our most important voices in the national media falling silent on climate change at precisely the wrong moment.

    The press release called attention to one bright spot last year: an entire episode of Meet the Press in December that was dedicated to discussion of climate change and pointedly excluded climate deniers. But the release noted that “climate change coverage made up a tiny fraction of Sunday shows’ programming in 2018”; very few episodes featured any significant discussion of the issue. 

    Percentage of Shows' Episodes Including Climate Change

    ABC’s This Week: 3.8% (2 out of 52 episodes)
    CBS’ Face the Nation: 9.8% (5 out of 51 episodes)
    CNN’s State of the Union: 3.8% (2 out of 52 episodes)
    Fox News Sunday: 7.7% (4 out of 52 episodes)
    NBC’s Meet the Press: 4.1% (2 out of 49 episodes)

    Whitehouse, a leading advocate for climate action and a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has a long record of calling on media to improve reporting on climate change. 

  • Howard Schultz’s cable news fantasy campaign

    The billionaire “centrist” has a powerful constituency in America’s green rooms

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Howard Schultz might be running for president and nobody knows why. No one asked him to run for president, and there was no existing political movement to recruit the billionaire former Starbucks CEO into a presidential campaign. The Schultz 2020 experiment just materialized out of nothingness, and in its short, cursed existence it has commanded outsized media attention despite the fact that pretty much everyone seems to hate it.

    Since he teased his potential candidacy, Schultz has been interviewed on 60 Minutes, Morning Joe, The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and various other high-wattage news programs. Though he hasn’t articulated a single policy, big-name columnists have bestowed their imprimatur upon the would-be candidate and he’s being credited by political analysts with “driv[ing] a sustained debate on both policy and politics.” Meanwhile, Fox News is having a love affair with Schultz and the prospect that he’d assist Donald Trump’s re-election by splitting the Democratic vote.

    There are two factors sustaining Schultz’s media blitz. The first and most obvious is that he’s a rich guy, and when a rich guy makes a splashy announcement -- no matter how misguided and self-serving it is -- the unwritten rules stipulate that he must be given credulous media attention.

    The second factor is Schultz’s embrace of the “centrist independent” mantle. The idea of a presidential candidate who floats serenely above the interparty squabbling of D.C. while uniting the country with an ideologically neutral platform is a fantasy, but it is a fantasy that holds deep influence among cable news pundits and other media figures. To the extent that Howard Schultz has a constituency, it exists largely in America’s green rooms.

    Schultz’s 2020 trial balloon is just the most recent misguided attempt by intensely deluded wealthy people to manufacture a centrist political movement out of nothing. Back in 2006, the Unity08 movement sprang up with the goal of nominating a bipartisan presidential ticket that would run on a platform chosen by online delegates. It couldn’t attract any real support and fizzled out after its founders joined a campaign to draft former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg into the presidential race (that campaign also failed).

    2010 saw the creation of No Labels, a well-funded but determinedly useless “centrist” organization that promises to end “fighting” but also practices clandestine partisan warfare. The 2012 election cycle bore witness to the Americans Elect catastrophe, in which $35 million of hedge-fund money was spent on a cockamamie scheme to break up the two-party system with an online presidential primary (no candidate reached the minimum threshold of support).

    The consistent failure of these third-party centrist movements doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm for third-party centrism among political pundits. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman gave his full-throated endorsement to Americans Elect. In 2016, Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed proposing the creation of a new political party -- The Innovation Party -- that would “disrupt” American politics by making Mark Zuckerberg president. After Donald Trump was elected president, David Brooks wrote in The New York Times that “the most important caucus formation” in Trump’s Washington “will be in the ideological center” as envisioned by No Labels.

    Pundit enthusiasm for third-party centrism persists despite the fact that “centrism” has no appeal and no natural constituency. The fatal mistake all these centrist wishcasters make is in assuming that public frustration with left-right political gridlock will automatically translate into enthusiasm for someone who stands up and says, “That’s not me!” The centrist ethos is consistently defined by what it isn’t; groups like No Labels go to absurd lengths to show everyone that they’re neither “left” nor “right,” and in the process they reveal that they don’t actually stand for anything.

    And the centrist “agenda,” to the extent that it exists, is divorced from practical concerns that motivate voters. Schultz hasn’t proposed any detailed policies of his own, but he is singularly concerned about the national debt and has attacked Democratic proposals for health care and education as unaffordable. (Democratic candidates have also said they’ll increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for their programs, but Schultz opposes that, too.) Schultz’s whole pseudo-campaign has thus far consisted primarily of telling voters that Democrats are too extreme while mouthing vague slogans about unity.

    This drivel plays well with the pundit class, which will extend to Schultz the presumption of viability for no reason beyond his wealth and self-identification as a centrist. Asked about the left-wing backlash to Schultz’s potential candidacy, CNN’s Michael Smerconish declared himself “dumbfounded” and said: “Here’s a guy who tweets and then says, ‘I love America and I want to run for president -- I think -- as a centrist independent.’ Why aren’t we thanking him?” Schultz has been publicly exploring a candidacy for a handful of days and in that time hasn’t actually done anything to warrant gratitude from anybody, but that’s immaterial to pundits who see in him the independent centrist of their many-times-unrealized dreams.

  • There were three mass shootings last week that left fourteen dead, but cable news barely covered them

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    In the span of only a few days last week, three shooters killed a total of 14 people in three separate mass shootings in Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana -- but you might not have heard about these incidents at all if you watched cable news. The shootings were barely discussed on the major cable networks, and the minimal coverage quickly faded away within days.

    On January 23, five women were killed in a SunTrust bank in Sebring, FL, after a 21-year-old gunman walked in and reportedly “shot every person he encountered.” The gunman then called the police himself and surrendered to a SWAT team after a brief standoff. He is now charged with five counts of capital murder for the deaths of Ana Piñon-Williams, Marisol Lopez, Cynthia Lee Watson, and two other victims who have not been named.

    In the days following the public mass shooting, cable news devoted scant coverage beyond mentioning the incident in headlines. From January 23-26, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC together covered the shooting for just over 20 minutes, including reading headlines and short teasers. The majority of the coverage occurred the day immediately after the incident. Fox News devoted about 12 minutes in total to the shooting, followed by CNN with just over 7 minutes, and MSNBC with only 22 seconds.

    The next day, January 24, a gunman in Rockmart, GA, killed four people -- Helen Rose Mitchell, Jaequnn Davis, Arkeyla Perry, and Dadrian Cummings -- and injured one more before fleeing to Indianapolis, IN, where he was taken into custody. The Polk County coroner said it was the worst crime experienced by the local community and compared the shootings to an “execution.”

    All three major cable networks ignored the Georgia mass shooting entirely.  

    Only two days later, on January 26, another 21-year-old gunman fatally shot his parents, Elizabeth and Keith Theriot, in Ascension Parish, LA. The gunman then drove 30 miles northeast to Livingston Parish and allegedly fatally shot his girlfriend, Summer Ernest, along with her father, Billy Ernest, and brother, Tanner Ernest. A manhunt ensued before he was apprehended in Richmond County, Virginia on January 27. The Ascension Parish sheriff called the pair of shootings “one of the worst domestic violence incidents I’ve seen in quite a while.”        

    Yet the major cable news networks devoted similarly little coverage to the Louisiana shootings beyond immediate breaking news headlines. All together, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC again spent just over 20 minutes covering the incident, including reading headlines and short teasers, in the the three-day window following the shootings. From January 26-29, CNN gave the incident just over 11 minutes of coverage, followed by Fox with a little more than 9 minutes, and MSNBC with only 24 seconds.

    While both CNN and Fox did mention the sheriff’s statement that the shootings were considered “domestic violence incidents,” none of the minimal coverage of the Louisiana shootings provided viewers with any context about the well-documented links between easy access to firearms, domestic violence, and mass shootings. Here are some of the relevant facts they could have mentioned:

    • In the United States, one in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner, and “nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused.”
    • One study published in 2016 found that among women living in the United States at the time, “about 4.5 million have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun and nearly 1 million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.”
    • According to Everytown for Gun Safety, in more than half of U.S. mass shootings from 2009 through 2016, “the perpetrator also shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.”
    • A 2016 Associated Press analysis of FBI data concluded that “an average of 760 Americans were killed with guns annually by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners between 2006 and 2014.”
    • Access to firearms only increases the likelihood that intimate partner violence will end with a woman dead.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched SnapStreamHD for “shoot” OR “shot” OR “gunman” OR “kill” or “Florida” OR “Sebring” OR “SunTrust” after January 22. All mentions of the shooting were timed, including teasers, headlines, and full segments.  

    Media Matters searched SnapStreamHD for “shoot” OR “shot” OR “gunman” OR “kill” OR “Rockmart” OR “Georgia” OR “Indianapolis” OR “Polk County.” All mentions of the shooting were timed, including teasers, headlines, and full segments.

    Media Matters searched SnapStreamHD for “shoot” OR “shot” OR “gunman” OR “kill” OR “Louisiana” OR “Virginia” OR “Livingston” OR “Ascension” after January 25. All mentions of the shooting were timed, including teasers, headlines, and full segments.