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Do’s and don’ts for the moderators of the upcoming Democratic presidential debate in Florida
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
Recently proposed and finalized rules would codify discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care, housing, and adoption and foster care
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shootings across the country over Memorial Day weekend got minimal attention from cable news networks, amounting to less than two minutes of coverage over six days.
From Friday, May 24, until Monday, May 27, gun violence struck numerous cities across the country. While public mass shootings often capture the attention of national news media outlets, strings of one-off everyday shooting incidents, which account for the large majority of gun homicide, typically do not.
Among the violent incidents over Memorial Day weekend, multiple shootings left three dead and 16 others wounded in the St. Louis area; a shooting in Seattle injured a woman and her three children; and in New Orleans there were “at least five homicides, seven other shooting incidents in which 13 people were wounded, two armed robberies, two armed carjackings and a pair of suicides, all involving guns, from Friday night through early evening Sunday, authorities reported.” Additionally, a May 25 shooting at a block party in Chesapeake, VA, left one dead and nine injured, and Chicago saw at least 43 people shot, including five fatally, over the holiday weekend, on par with last year’s 39 people shot around the same time. In Chicago, local NBC affiliate covered the shootings on May 28 in a nearly two-minute segment that included recently elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to combat the violence.
In Washington, D.C., 20 people were shot between Friday afternoon and just after midnight on Tuesday, including a 9-year-old girl who was shot in the foot and a 15-year-old boy who was fatally shot.
From noon Friday, May 24, to midnight Wednesday, May 29, cable news networks covered the weekend of violence for only one minute and 20 seconds. On May 26, CNN covered the Chesapeake, VA, shooting in two different segments, for 13 seconds and 28 seconds each -- amounting to just 41 seconds total. On May 28, Fox News mentioned the gun violence in Chicago twice in the 9 a.m. hour, for a total of 39 seconds of coverage. MSNBC neglected to cover the shootings at all.
Chart by Melissa Joskow.
Cable news has struggled to cover mass shootings as well; while some mass shootings spur wall-to-wall coverage, others do not. For example, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News devoted a combined fewer than 45 minutes to an April 30 classroom shooting at University of North Carolina at Charlotte that left two dead and injured four more. When three separate mass shootings in Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana left a total of 14 people dead in January, cable news covered the violence for just over 40 minutes combined, focusing mainly on headline segments, which faded away within days. When mass shootings do receive television coverage, it often focuses on breaking news and updates and not conversations on how to address gun violence.
Gun suicides, which account for nearly two-thirds of shooting deaths, also receive comparatively little media attention. The number of U.S. gun deaths in 2017 rose to 39,733, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the deadliest year for gun violence in the U.S. on record.
Media Matters searched SnapStream for the words shot, shoot, kill, murder, gun violence, or wound from noon on May 24 until midnight on May 29. Repeat segments were not counted.
Segment is encouraging sign from cable news, which has ignored environmental justice for way too long
CNN’s New Day ran a segment on May 29 about how climate change and fossil fuel pollution disproportionately harm communities of color -- a critically important topic, but one that is usually neglected by cable news. The network’s chief climate correspondent, Bill Weir, went to Port Arthur, Texas, home to the nation’s largest oil refinery and site of some of the most cataclysmic flooding in American history, to listen to the cares and concerns of the people who live there. He found a community that felt ignored by the government in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Harvey and alarmed by the toxic pollutants spilling forth from the oil refinery that also provides much-needed jobs for local residents.
It is undeniable that minority and low-income communities suffer more from climate disasters and the processing and burning of fossil fuels than other Americans. African American and Latino communities in Texas and Puerto Rico are still struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. Researchers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a study in the American Journal of Public Health last year that found people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more air pollution than white people, with African Americans exposed to the most. Numerous other studies have shown the negative health effects of air pollution on minority and low-income communities.
People of color who are on the frontlines of climate change unfortunately receive far too little coverage in the corporate media. This New Day segment is a rare exception, and hopefully a signal that cable news networks will begin giving climate justice the sustained and substantive attention it deserves.
From the May 29 episode of CNN’s New Day:
JOHN BERMAN (HOST): Scientists do say climate change will eventually affect all of us. But here in the United States, minority communities are being disproportionately affected. CNN's chief climate correspondent Bill Weir tells us why.
BILL WEIR: It is the great paradox of the man-made climate crisis: The fuels that built the modern world are the same ones now destroying it. And while a dirty energy addiction will eventually affect everyone, the folks with the smallest carbon footprints are the ones who will feel the most pain.
HILTON KELLEY (FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY IN-POWER AND DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION): On one hand, I'm fighting to push these refineries to lower their emission levels, and they're fighting and pushing back, saying, “We can't lower it any more than what we've already done without shutting down and losing our business.” And then I have some of the residents coming to me saying, “Well, you know, what you're doing, you're going to push these industries away and we need these industries for our jobs, Hilton. Our livelihood depends on them. You know, we'll die quicker from starvation than we will pollution, so back off.”
WEIR: Hilton Kelley was born amid these sprawling refineries of Port Arthur, Texas, where the working poor live with a carbon-burning double whammy. The toxic air that comes with processing millions of barrels of oil a week, and the supercharged storms that increase in frequency and power with every barrel burned.
KELLEY: So we're getting a storm like every other year, every -- every three years or so. Not just a little storm, but storms that cause you to have to rebuild your house over and over and over again.
WEIR: For almost 20 years, he's been the kind of concerned citizen who grabs a camera when the toxic clouds get bad and has air quality officials on speed dial.
KELLEY: And they were like, “Well, what do you need to see it for and who are you again?”
WEIR: He has a stack of complaints and a few wins.
KELLEY: And we're constantly fighting those kind of battles. So, I'm forever the guard at this gate. And as you can see from my place right here, there goes the dragon right there.
WEIR: That's the dragon.
KELLEY: You're constantly watching it.
WEIR: What Hilton calls “the dragon” is actually the biggest oil refinery in America. And it is owned by a Saudi Arabian company that made $111 billion profit last year, almost twice as much as Apple. Meanwhile, their neighbor, who lives here, was driven out by the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey and, almost two years later, can't afford the repairs to move back in. This is why communities of color are worried that the gap between polluting haves and storm-surviving have-nots is only going to get wider. After Harvey flooded Motiva and other refineries, the Trump administration fast-tracked almost $4 billion to build storm barriers specifically to protect oil and gas facilities. But the predominantly Black Houston neighborhoods flooded by Harvey can't even get the government funding to upgrade their storm drains.
BRIDGETTE MURRAY (PRESIDENT, PLEASANTVILLE AREA SUPER NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL 57): Because she was on the back of the dredge site, as well as the water not being able to drain off, her house got about 4 feet of water.
WEIR: Is that right? Right here?
WEIR: Residents say they are invisible to disaster planners while insurance premiums skyrocket.
DR. ROBERT BULLARD (DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF URBAN PLANNING AND ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY): Those communities that get hit first, worst, and hardest should receive the aid, the assistance first. It shouldn't be in the back of the line. But right now it's the back of the line, back of the bus.
WEIR: And so a generation after the fight for civil rights, they now call for climate justice and they fight their dragons, one fire at a time. Bill Weir, CNN, Port Arthur, Texas.
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President Donald Trump said in an unannounced speech at the White House today that “I don’t do cover-ups,” despite ample examples to the contrary. Trump’s comments came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that House Democrats “believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.” Some national news outlets and political reporters uncritically repeated Trump’s false claim on Twitter as they reported his remarks.
Twitter accounts from major national news outlets, including The Hill, Reuters, CNN, and ABC News, and some political journalists such as CNN’s Manu Raju, The New York Times’ Peter Baker, and PBS’ Judy Woodruff repeated Trump’s claim without informing their audiences that it is false.
JUST IN: Pres. Trump responds to Speaker Pelosi's comment that he's engaged in a "cover-up."
— ABC News (@ABC) May 22, 2019
The outlets and journalists could have easily included the proper context in their tweets as The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker did:
"I don't do cover-ups," Trump says, making no mention of the hush money payments to a porn star and a Playmate to secure their silence about his affairs in the weeks before 2016 election https://t.co/ThzhWtDwKA
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) May 22, 2019
There are numerous examples of Trump covering up actions that might paint him in an unflattering light or put him in legal jeopardy, and the news outlets mentioned above have reported on them in the past. Just two such examples are special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings of multiple cases in which Trump attempted to obstruct his investigation, and Trump’s involvement in the false narrative that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting at the Trump Tower with several Russians was about adopting children, when it was actually about seeking “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The Hill, Reuters, CNN, and ABC News have reported on these issues.
Uncritically repeating Trump’s lies, falsehoods, and outright propaganda on social media is an ongoing problem for major news outlets. News organizations and journalists must include the context of the president’s lies when reporting on social media about what Trump and officials in his administration are saying, because failing to do so is irresponsible.
The law will likely be challenged before it takes effect
On May 15, Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law banning nearly all abortions in the state with no exceptions for rape and incest. While the law will likely be challenged before it takes effect, right-wing media and abortion opponents defended the lack of exceptions and celebrated it as a sign of Roe v. Wade’s end.
The Alabama law prohibits abortion with only limited exceptions for “serious health risk” to the life of the pregnant person or because of a “lethal” fetal anomaly. As CNN noted, before the law’s signing, Democrats in the state legislature had “re-introduced an amendment to exempt rape and incest victims, but the motion failed on an 11-21 vote.” In addition to allowing for few exceptions, the law would also it a felony “punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors” to perform an abortion. Given patients’ concerns about the immediate accessibility of abortion care, it is important to note that abortion is still legal in Alabama. As Vox’s Anna North noted, the law has been signed by the governor but “does not take effect for six months,” and there are already plans underway to challenge it in court.
As Republicans and right-wing media have repeatedly fearmongered about Democrats advocating for expanded abortion access and the codification of Roe’s protections at the state level, anti-choice politicians have pushed increasingly extreme anti-abortion bills -- likely as an attempt to capitalize on the opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe with conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch both now confirmed.
What right-wing media and abortion opponents ignore or attempt to downplay is that the impact of a post-Roe Alabama will be felt mostly by marginalized communities, including poor people and people of color, who may lack the resources to access abortion care by leaving the state. As Rolling Stone’s Alex Morris explained, this new ban -- and the disparities it would exacerbate -- adds to a health care landscape in Alabama where “over a quarter of mothers don’t receive adequate prenatal care and less than half the counties have a delivery room.” In addition, he noted that “not once but twice in the past five years,” Alabama “has ranked 50th in the country in infant mortality.”
Despite the celebrations of so-called "pro-life" figures, these terrible outcomes are likely to be more common if Alabama's law is allowed to take effect.
After President Donald Trump laughed at a suggestion made at his campaign rally that migrants crossing the border should be shot, CNN and MSNBC both aired a clip from HBO’s political satire Veep that appeared to trivialize the dangers of the president’s words that could potentially incite violence.
At a May 8 campaign rally in Panama City Beach, FL, Trump noted that Border Patrol agents are not allowed to use weapons to stop migrants and asked the rowdy crowd, “How do you stop these people?”
“Shoot them!” an attendee yelled, and the crowd laughed and cheered.
Trump also laughed before saying, "That's only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”
It's hard to tell what someone in the crowd yells at Trump, but immediately after talking about not using violence/weapons on immigrants, Trump laughs and says "only in the panhandle can you get away with that statement."
The crowd erupts. pic.twitter.com/SgQd2OH9ti
— jordan (@JordanUhl) May 9, 2019
While the president stopped short of explicitly supporting the suggestion to open fire on migrants at the border, The Washington Post noted, “His joking response raised concerns that he was tacitly encouraging extrajudicial killings and brutality against asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.” The May 8 rally comes less than a month after a border militia group calling itself the United Constitutional Patriots drew national attention for reportedly detaining “hundreds” of migrants, including several children, at gunpoint on the U.S.-Mexico border. The group’s leader was later arrested by the FBI on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. He had previously claimed that the group was training to assassinate prominent Democratic leaders. According to a police report obtained by The Young Turks, one militia member asked why the group was “just apprehending” migrants against their will “and not lining them up and shooting them,” adding, “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.” The police report was filed by a fellow militia member who felt he had witnessed “terroristic threats” among the group.
But some media coverage of the president's rally ignored this serious potential for violence against migrants. On CNN’s New Day, co-anchors John Berman and Alisyn Camerota aired the footage from Trump’s rally, immediately followed by a scene from HBO’s Veep, an American political satire that has drawn attention for its chaotic plotline that appears to be strikingly similar to the politics of today. In the clip, a presidential candidate is giving a speech when an attendee suggests that people should shoot immigrants, to which he seemingly agrees. When the clip finished, Berman laughed at the comparison, saying, “Veep was shot months ago and there’s almost no discernible difference between the events.”
From the May 9 edition of CNN’s New Day:
On MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber, host Ari Melber began his segment by quoting poet Oscar Wilde that, “life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” adding that this is “clearly the case on HBO’s hit political series Veep.” Melber then aired the same Veep clip and hosted the shows creators to discuss their method behind writing Veep. The 10-minute segment focused far more on Veep’s similarities to contemporary politics than on the harmful impact of Trump’s words.
From the May 9 edition of MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber:
Only three of 26 prime-time news programs on major networks covered the report
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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