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  • Anti-LGBTQ group Heritage Foundation has hosted four anti-trans panels so far in 2019

    Panelists included “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” and anti-trans medical professionals who pushed flawed research and advocated for conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has railed against LGBTQ equality for decades, hosted its fourth anti-transgender panel of the year on April 8. Each of the four panels focused on a different aspect of trans equality, such as comprehensive nondiscrimination measures, affirming medical care for transgender youth, trans inclusion in international policy, and trans participation in athletics. The panels also featured biased anti-trans figures -- whom Heritage characterized as subject experts -- who pushed right-wing narratives about transgender people.

    Heritage’s surge in anti-transgender events and its increased attempts to shape public discourse about trans rights come at a strategic time as Congress considers expanding federal civil rights laws to include critical protections for trans folks. The Equality Act, introduced on March 13, would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination protections in “employment, housing, public accomodations,” and other areas. The measure was quickly met with opposition and fearmongering from extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media. Heritage’s panels echoed many of the anti-trans talking points pushed by these groups and outlets.

    Heritage hosted a panel of TERFs to advocate against the Equality Act

    On January 28, the vehemently anti-LGBTQ activist Ryan T. Anderson hosted so-called "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs) and self-proclaimed liberals in a panel focused on railing against the inclusion of gender identity in the Equality Act. TERFs refer to themselves as “gender-critical” or “radical feminists”; they generally do not associate themselves with the term TERFs, but they are anti-trans activists who have historically opposed trans-inclusive measures and denied trans identities.

    One of the panelists, adjunct lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco Hacsi Horvath, says he formerly identified as transgender. During the panel, he encouraged the audience to misgender trans folks -- an act that is considered harassment and that can stigmatize trans people, lower their self-esteem, and erase and invalidate their identities.

    Another panelist, Julia Beck, appeared on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight after participating in the Heritage panel and pushed the same anti-trans points about the Equality Act. Beck was removed from Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission in 2018 after other members became aware of her anti-trans animus.

    The two other panelists, Kara Dansky and Jennifer Chavez, are board members of the TERF organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), which has supported the clients of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom in an ongoing court case that seeks to dismantle a trans-inclusive policy at a Pennsylvania high school.

    Heritage hosted a side event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women against including “gender identity” in international resolutions

    On March 20, Heritage co-hosted another anti-trans panel: a “side event” with the Permanent Observer Mission to the Holy See at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The U.N. CSW is “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” During the panel, participants claimed that “gender ideology” -- a “theory drummed up by hard-right religious activists, who present it as a gay- and feminist-led movement out to upend the traditional family and the natural order of society” -- is a threat to women’s rights around the world.

    One panelist, Dr. Monique Robles, who brought a veneer of credibility to the panel as a medical doctor who focuses on pediatric care, pushed the unvalidated hypothesis of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). The theory posits that trans teens are coming out as such due to “social contagion,” and a study promoting the concept was reevaluated and corrected following complaints about its research and methodology. The correction noted that the study only “serves to develop hypotheses” and that the concept has not been validated. Robles also seemingly praised the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, remarking:

    A better treatment option would be to address the underlying mental health issues and concerns that are likely leading to these children in adolescence to identify as transgender or gender diverse. There are therapists who are taking on the role as compassionate companions and are spending time with their patients and their parents working through histories, experiences, and addressing the whole of the individual. In this form of therapy, the body, mind, and soul can be brought together in a unified manner in which they were created.

    Panelist Emilie Kao, director of Heritage's Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society, argued that including “gender identity” in international policy and in U.N. resolutions is a threat to the progress of women’s equality. She said, “If the word ‘woman’ can be redefined to mean everyone, then it will change or even erase the true meaning of woman in international human rights law, in economic development efforts, and in efforts to increase access to social protection systems.” Framing transgender rights as at odds with women’s rights is a tactic conservatives have increasingly employed that also mirrors talking points from TERFs.

    Heritage’s Anderson continued that trend, also claiming trans rights are detriments to women's equality, safety, and privacy. Another panelist, Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Catholic Women’s Forum, echoed these sentiments and claimed that affirming trans identities has a “dehumanizing effect on women, where women are no longer acknowledged as persons” and that “the result is that real women are being displaced.”

    Heritage hosted a panel advocating against affirming the gender identities of transgender youth

    On March 28, Anderson hosted a third anti-trans panel, titled "The Medical Harms of Hormonal and Surgical Interventions for Gender Dysphoric Children,” featuring medical professionals who used flawed research to fearmonger about and attack trans-affirming medical care. These claims are in direct opposition to the positions of leading medical associations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, which "agree that gender-affirming care are the most effective treatment for gender dysphoria,” according to CNN.

    During the panel, “ex-trans” activist Walt Heyer, a darling of anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media, railed against affirming trans identities, calling it “child abuse,” “destructive,” and “damaging.” He also encouraged the use of conversion therapy for transgender people.

    Other panelists included Dr. Michael K. Laidlaw, a vocal anti-trans advocate who has also been featured in right-wing outlets, and a mother of a trans child who wished to remain anonymous, who they called “Elaine.” Elaine is also a member of a new anti-trans advocacy group for parents of trans children called The Kelsey Coalition. During the panel, Elaine criticized laws that protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and Laidlaw advocated against the use of puberty blockers, calling them “a chemical conversion therapy.” Puberty blockers “are medicines that prevent puberty from happening” in order to help transgender youths’ bodies “better reflect who [they] are.” Studies have shown that they are effective and safe and recommend their use on transgender youth who decide to use them with the help of medical providers.

    Heritage hosted a panel advocating against including transgender athletes in gender-segregated sports

    For its fourth anti-trans panel in 2019, Heritage co-hosted an event on April 8 with anti-LGBTQ group Concerned Women For America, which seeks to “bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.” The panel advocated against allowing trans athletes to compete in gender-segregated sports that align with their gender identity. Heritage’s Kao hosted the panel, opening by reciting a quote that the Equality Act would be “the end of women’s sports.”

    The panel began with a video featuring panelist Bianca Stanescu’s daughter, a student athlete who lost a track meet that made headlines when two trans athletes earned top prizes. Right-wing media, including Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, have touted this story as a reason to not allow transgender athletes to compete in gender-segregated sports. Media Matters’ Parker Molloy previously wrote about how figures like Carlson regularly seize on local stories like this to fuel the identity politics-driven culture war, and Heritage has similarly focused on this rare incident (transgender athletes are not dominating sports on a wide scale) to justify widespread discrimination.

    Another panelist, National Review’s Madeleine Kearns, repeatedly misgendered trans athletes and showed pictures of trans athletes before and after affirming medical care to fearmonger about their physical abilities. There is ongoing debate on the standards for trans inclusion in athletics, much of which is led by the International Olympic Committee. In 2016, the IOC updated guidelines on transgender athletes, leaving “no restriction for a trans man … to compete against men” and removing “the need for women to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to compete.” IOC has several restrictions for transgender women to compete in the Olympics, including demonstrating a certain level of testosterone for at least one year, and it is continuing to fund research into this area. As Outsports noted, “Despite the guidelines, no publicly out trans athlete has competed in the Olympics. Ever.” This stands in contrast to right-wing claims that trans athletes are dominating their field due to competitive advantages.

    A third panelist, Jennifer S. Bryson, is the founder of a sports advocacy organization called Let All Play that argues against pride jerseys celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month on sports teams. Bryson criticized the pride jerseys issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation and said requiring players to wear the jerseys was “a form of coerced speech requiring players to wear a political symbol.” She went on to call transgender people “a threat to soccer itself for girls and women,” adding that “the U.S. Soccer Federation should not require players to wear a symbol of a movement that is trying to harm soccer.”

    Additionally, Concerned Women for America’s Doreen Denny announced during the panel that the organization has partnered with TERF group WoLF to lobby against the Equality Act even though they “disagree on many things.” Denny also misgendered trans athletes during the panel and at one point corrected herself to intentionally misgender a female athlete after using the correct pronoun the first time, saying, “She has taken -- he, excuse me.”

    The four 2019 panels represent an alarming spike in Heritage’s anti-trans advocacy

    Heritage’s panels are just one aspect of its work against trans equality. Heritage’s Anderson organized an anti-trans conference reportedly attended by 250 attendees at the Franciscan University of Steubenville from April 4 to 5. The conference was called “Transgender Moment: A Natural Law Response to Gender Ideology,” and it focused on so-called “corruption and flawed science driving an increase in gender ‘transitioning’ and ‘reassignments’” and compared transgender equality to the dystopian novel 1984.

    Additionally, Heritage’s Monica Burke penned an April 10 anti-trans op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, and the group’s work this year has been consistently picked up and parroted by several right-wing and evangelical media outlets. And though mainstream and queer outlets have written about Heritage’s January 28 TERF panel, the right-wing has dominated coverage of the rest of the anti-trans panels.

    Despite its record, Heritage somehow enjoys some mainstream credibility. Earlier this month, Google disbanded its Artificial Intelligence ethics board after “little over a week” because it selected Heritage President Kay Coles James as one of its board members. Google employees and others protested her inclusion because of her and Heritage’s positions against trans equality.

    Though the Heritage Foundation’s practice of hosting anti-trans advocates and pushing anti-trans narratives is not new, the frequency and breadth of its events this year are alarming. Heritage’s attempt to shape public discourse on the Equality Act and the transgender community is another example of the right’s attempt to position trans rights as counter to those of women and to fracture the LGBTQ movement by excluding trans folks from it. Such groups deploy a similar "divide and conquer" strategy to create a false dichotomy between people of faith and LGBTQ rights, despite the fact that most faith groups support LGBTQ inclusion.

  • Fox Corp. board member Paul Ryan has been the subject of fawning praise from Fox News

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, announced on March 19 that former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) will serve on its board of directors. Ryan had been the recipient of fawning praise from Fox News personalities in the past for his right-wing budget proposals and his selection by Mitt Romney as his vice presidential pick for the 2012 presidential election.

  • 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.

  • Here are some of the dumbest right-wing media takes on the Green New Deal

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a Green New Deal resolution on Thursday -- a framework for what they intend to include in detailed legislation down the line. Ocasio-Cortez's office also released a less formal summary and answers to frequently asked questions about the plan.

    Right-wing media figures and outlets -- who've been freaking out over the Green New Deal and Ocasio-Cortez in general over the last couple of months -- swiftly went on the attack, insulting Ocasio-Cortez's intelligence and employing misinformation, mockery, and straight-up climate denial to argue against the plan.

    Many of the attackers appear not to have actually read the 14-page resolution. Instead, they focused on the FAQ document and mischaracterized it, so Ocasio-Cortez's office removed it from her website and said they'll post a better version later, but it's still available in other places online. [Update, 2/11/19: In a February 9 Twitter thread, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff explained that “an early draft of a FAQ that was clearly unfinished and that doesn’t represent the GND resolution got published to the website by mistake.”]

    Here's a sampling of comments and arguments from right-wing media.

    Right-wing media made unhinged claims that the Green New Deal would destroy civilization

    MSNBC contributor Hugh Hewitt waxed melodramatic while discussing the Green New Deal on his radio program on February 8: "It is not socialism; it is communism, it is fascism, it is despotism."

    Sean Hannity went on an extended rant on his Fox show Hannity on February 7:

    History is riddled with the roadkill and the misery and of many versions of socialism, almost always ending the same way: false promises, broken promises, failure, poverty, misery among the people. This is a real, serious threat to our way of life.

    Ocasio-Cortez and others put forth one of the most dangerous, impractical, misguided, economically guaranteed-to-be-devastating plans ever championed by any American politician.

    All aboard, the poverty express is coming.

    Fox's Laura Ingraham said the Green New Deal would result in a "hellscape." Fox's Tucker Carlson said, "It's literally insane and anti-American." Watch these and other lowlights:

    Right-wing media attacked Ocasio-Cortez's intelligence

    Ocasio-Cortez introduced the legislation jointly with longtime lawmaker Markey, who has served in Congress since 1976 and co-authored major climate legislation that passed the House in 2009. But in attacking the measure, conservative commentators focused almost exclusively on Ocasio-Cortez, calling her "immature" and an "idiot."

    Ben Stein, an actor, political commentator, and climate denier who frequently appears on Fox programs, offered sexist insults about Ocasio-Cortez during Fox Business Network's Cavuto Coast to Coast on February 7:

    The fact that we listen to her is just amazing. The fact that we pay attention to anything she says is just amazing. I mean, she doesn't know her ass from her elbow about investments and the return on investments. Why do we even listen to her? I mean, she’s charming and she’s very good-looking, but why do we even listen to her?

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade and climate-denying blogger Marc Morano took turns ratcheting up the insults during a segment on Fox & Friends on February 8:

    BRIAN KILMEADE: Why would you stand behind a deal like this when it is -- looks like something that was put out by a 10th-grader?

    MARC MORANO: Actually, 10th is being very, very generous.

    KILMEADE: Let's go seventh.

    MORANO: I would go as low as third grade.

    Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the right-wing Daily Wire, attacked Ocasio-Cortez in a tweet:

    Shapiro elaborated on this theme in a blog post at The Daily Wire titled "AOC's Green New Deal Proposal Is One Of The Stupidest Documents Ever Written":

    Whoever wrote the proposal is, to put it kindly, dense. Idiotic. Moronic.

    How bad is the Green New Deal paper? Putting aside the fact that, as written, it would receive a C+ in any high school English class, it essentially articulates a magical world in which the skies rain chocolate, the world is powered by unicorn farts, and AOC dances through the gumdrop meadows to Lisztomania.

    My two-year-old son could come up with a better, more realistic proposal than this one.

    David Harsanyi, a climate denier and senior editor at the conservative online magazine The Federalist, played on similar themes during an appearance on Fox's The Ingraham Angle:

    Right-wing media spread misinformation about the Green New Deal

    Conservative media figures propagated a number of falsehoods about the Green New Deal. Here are a few:

    They say the plan would ban cars. It wouldn't: Madison Gesiotto, a columnist for The Hill and a member of the Trump campaign's advisory board, suggested in a tweet that the Green New Deal would require Americans to give up their cars. In fact, the resolution calls for "investment in … zero-emissions vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing," not the banning of vehicles.

    They say the plan would ban airplanes. It wouldn't: Longtime climate denier Rush Limbaugh claimed on his radio show on February 7, "They want to phase out air travel in 10 years." Fox & Friends hosts made the same claim on February 8, including Ainsley Earhardt, who said, "No more airplanes. Airplanes are -- exactly, you have to take a train now." In fact, the resolution makes no mention of airplanes or air travel. The FAQ acknowledges that it's likely not feasible to phase out traditional airplanes within a decade, so it calls for "build[ing] out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary." The Green New Deal aims to give people a cleaner option than flying, but it doesn't call for the elimination of flying.

    They say the plan would ban meat. It wouldn't: Morano said during his February 8 appearance on Fox & Friends that the plan calls for "banning meat." In fact, the resolution makes no mention whatsoever of meat. In contrast, it calls for "working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including ... by supporting family farming [and] by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health." The FAQ mentions just one potential meat source, "farting cows," but says it doesn't appear feasible to get rid of them within 10 years.

    Right-wing media mocked the Green New Deal

    Many of the conservative critiques were short on substance, long on silliness and scorn.

    Fox personality Laura Ingraham suggested the Green New Deal would send the country back to the time of the Flintstones and the Stone Age:

    Climate-denying blogger Steve Milloy called the plan "bedwetting":

    Breitbart's Joel Pollak disingenuously accuses the plan of being "homophobic and transphobic."

    Note: the legislation fails to mention — even once — the historic oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. This is a homophobic and transphobic document.

    Right-wing media displayed their climate denial while criticizing the Green New Deal

    In many cases, right-wing media figures failed to acknowledge that the Green New Deal is so ambitious because it's trying to address an incredibly serious and deadly threat: climate change. The hosts of Fox & Friends, for example, neglected to mention climate change at all during an extended rant on February 8.

    But in some cases, the conservative commentators put their climate denial on full display, making clear that part of the reason they disdain the Green New Deal is because they don't believe climate change is even happening.

    Limbaugh launched into a climate-denying diatribe during his Green New Deal segment on February 7:

    It is a crime what has been done to these kids. It is literally a crime the way they have been propagandized from the moment they started watching television, from early childhood. They literally believe this planet is under destruction as we sit here today and that human beings in the United States of America are responsible for it, primarily Republicans, and they’re calling for drastic action.

    Breitbart's Pollak explicitly contradicted climate science in his Green New Deal blog post:

    The “Green New Deal” begins by asserting “human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century” — far beyond the “consensus” that humans have some significant impact on global temperature.

    It goes on to declare that “a changing climate is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life” — all speculative claims that even scientists who endorse anthropogenic global warming (AGW) are hesitant to endorse.

    In fact, climate scientists have been very clear that climate change is human-caused, it is exacerbating extreme weather, and we have a small window in which to dramatically overhaul our energy, transportation, and agriculture systems if we want to avoid the worst impacts. But if you deny that climate change is a problem, then of course an ambitious plan to address it is going to be anathema.

  • Solutions to climate change get short shrift on broadcast TV news

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Broadcast TV news typically does a poor job of covering climate change, but it does an even worse job of covering potential solutions to climate change and actions being taken to combat or prepare for the crisis. In 2017 and 2018, the major broadcast networks' nightly news and Sunday morning programs mentioned solutions and actions to address climate change in less than 19 percent of their climate coverage. This is a serious shortcoming, as research indicates that media coverage of solutions to climate change leads citizens to become more engaged and inclined to push for action.

    Broadcast networks covered solutions and responses to climate change in less than 19 percent of climate-related segments

    In 2017 and 2018, corporate broadcast networks' major news programs mentioned solutions or climate action in less than a fifth of their total climate coverage. From January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018, nightly news programs and Sunday morning shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 187 segments that covered climate change. Only 35 of those segments, or just under 19 percent, discussed potential solutions or efforts to address climate change.

    Media Matters analyzed segments on the three big networks' half-hour-long nightly news programs -- ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News -- and their hour-long Sunday morning news programs -- ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press.

    The majority of broadcast networks’ coverage of climate solutions came in response to Trump administration actions. On the three major networks' news programs, President Donald Trump drove more than half of the solutions-related climate coverage. Twenty out of the 35 segments that mentioned solutions to climate change did so in response to statements or actions from Trump or his administration, including his announcement about withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and his rollbacks of climate regulations.

    This finding is in line with previous research by Media Matters and others that found much media coverage of climate change in the last two years has been centered around Trump.

    Most solutions segments mentioned clean technology and/or climate action taken by cities, states, and other countries. Sixty-three percent of the segments on ABC, CBS, and NBC that addressed solutions made mention of the fact that cities, states, businesses, or countries other than the U.S. are continuing efforts to meet the goals of the Paris agreement or otherwise fighting climate change. Sixty percent mentioned the growth or promise of clean technology such as renewable energy. Many segments mentioned both types of solutions, as well as noting the Trump administration's actions.

    For example, CBS Evening News on November 12, 2017, covered the Trump administration’s efforts to promote fossil fuels at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. The segment also reported that many U.S. states and other entities are taking action on their own to uphold the Paris accord goals despite Trump's intention to pull the U.S. out of the agreement, and noted that wind and solar are spreading quickly and becoming cheaper than fossil fuels.

    A number of the three networks' segments touched on similar themes but in much less depth, giving only glancing mention to city or state action or to clean tech.

    One of the rare solutions segments that gave concentrated attention to a particular clean technology aired on NBC Nightly News on June 18, 2017, and chronicled a visit to a commercial facility in Switzerland that captures carbon dioxide.

    NBC’s Meet the Press aired the longest, most in-depth segment on climate solutions. The most amount of time devoted to discussing climate solutions in a single segment came on the December 30, 2018, episode of NBC’s Meet the Press -- the first-ever episode of a Sunday show entirely focused on climate change. It included an eight-minute roundtable discussion about different ways to address climate change, including carbon taxes and lawsuits against fossil fuel companies. Host Chuck Todd led the discussion with NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel, then-Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and three other experts.

    That same episode of Meet the Press also addressed solutions and climate action during Todd's opening segment and during interviews with outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I). Overall, this Meet the Press episode included four solutions segments -- 11 percent of the total number of solutions segments for 2017 and 2018. Without this one episode, coverage of climate action and solutions would have been even more dismal.

    All three major nightly news shows covered coral restoration as a way to combat damage done by climate change. ABC, CBS, and NBC ran few solutions segments that did not mention Trump, but all three networks' nightly news shows covered one particularly telegenic solution that had nothing to do with the president: scientists' efforts to restore coral reefs that have been severely damaged by warming of the oceans. In fact, CBS covered it twice. ABC's World News Tonight was the first with a segment that aired on June 1, 2017, about the cultivation in Hawaii of supercoral that can withstand global warming. CBS Evening News then ran segments on two consecutive nights, July 2 and 3, 2017, about coral restoration efforts off the coast of Florida. And on October 6, 2018, NBC Nightly News aired its own segment on marine biologists in Florida who are "growing corals resistant to climate change."

    PBS demonstrates how to do good coverage of climate action and solutions

    PBS has long outperformed the corporate broadcast networks on climate change coverage in general, and the same trend holds with coverage of climate solutions. In 2017 and 2018, PBS NewsHour, an hour-long program that airs on weeknights, discussed actions and responses to climate change in 33 segments. In contrast to the corporate networks whose solutions-related coverage focused largely on responses to the Trump administration, PBS’ solutions coverage was far more varied and in-depth, including segments on local climate action and adapting to climate-fueled extreme weather events.

    One good example of climate solutions coverage came on the May 30, 2018, edition of PBS NewsHour. The segment discussed a Virginia environmental organization’s efforts to educate children about rising sea levels caused by climate change and how to deal with them.

    Another strong solutions-focused segment aired during the December 17, 2018, episode of PBS NewsHour. It featured climate expert Nat Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund discussing the recent U.N. climate talks in Poland, what steps countries are taking to implement the Paris climate agreement, and positive developments in the renewable energy sector.

    PBS also has a special series that regularly reports on climate solutions: Its Peril and Promise segments focus on "stories of exciting new frontiers of scientific innovation in resilience, mitigation, and clean energy.

    Major newspapers also fail to adequately cover climate solutions

    A report by the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen found that the top newspapers in the U.S. also fall short on covering climate solutions. The group analyzed coverage of climate change in general in nine major papers in 2017 and then determined how many of the stories mentioning climate change also included variations of the words “solve,” "solution," or "mitigation." Using this more narrow definition of solutions coverage, it found that just 7 percent of climate articles in the major papers met the bar.

    Research suggests that media coverage of climate solutions can lead to more engagement from the public and less apathy

    A 2015 study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that media coverage of climate change can either lead citizens to “climate cynicism” or "help build more positive public engagement." When the media focus on political failures to address climate change, those stories can lead to public apathy and frustration. However, when media focus on “everyday heroes” who "take initiative or leadership to advance political action," those stories can have a more positive effect. Focus group participants who read solutions-focused stories demonstrated "much greater enthusiasm and optimism for political engagement." Study co-author Shane Gunster, a professor at Simon Fraser University, told Media Matters in 2015, "There is a strong desire for a different kind of news about climate change, which provides people with inspiring and compelling stories about how others just like them are becoming active and engaged in climate politics."

    Elizabeth Arnold, an environmental journalist and journalism professor at the University of Alaska, studied the role of the media in creating public disengagement on climate change and wrote a paper in 2018 for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center that makes the case for more coverage of solutions to climate-related problems. The premise of her paper was that “repetition of a narrow narrative that focuses exclusively on the impacts of climate change leaves the public with an overall sense of powerlessness.” She argued:

    If the role of the journalist is to seek the truth and report it, so that citizens will be informed and effective, reporting just the doom and gloom about climate change is insufficient. Calling attention to the impacts of climate change is essential if you are a journalist covering climate change. But if how people are responding, individually and collectively, is framed out, the whole story is not being told.

    Arnold quoted David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network:

    When too many people are aware of a problem but they don’t have a sense of what can be done, it leads them to opt out, tune out, and that’s bad for democracy. By showing that something is working in one place, it takes away the excuses for failure elsewhere, and increases the pressure on public officials.

    Arnold's paper also quoted Lauren Feldman of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, who suggested that climate journalism take some lessons from public health journalism:

    I think there is a model in public health. You tell a story about a crisis or a disease and you tell people what they can do to avert that crisis. A very similar approach can and should be taken with climate change. Here is a threat and here are some steps that you as an individual can take, and here is what the government is doing or and here is what industry is doing.

    In 2019 and beyond, broadcast TV networks need to do a better job of reporting on climate change solutions

    As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote in a year-end piece, "The story of 2018 was climate change." He argued that people should stop being "distracted by lesser matters" because "nothing else measures up to the rising toll and enormous dangers of climate change." Last year's devastating extreme weather and dire climate change reports brought that fact home. Yet mainstream media in 2018 failed to cover climate change with the increasing attention that it needs, and as this research shows, its coverage of climate solutions was even worse.

    In 2019 and beyond, broadcast TV news and the rest of the media must do a better job of telling the complete story of perhaps the greatest existential crisis of our time -- not just reporting on the doom and gloom of climate change, but also including the stories of hope and action that can galvanize the public to address climate change. The Washington Post kicked off the year the right way with a package explaining 11 policy solutions to combat climate change. We'd like to see a lot more stories like that.

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this report. Chart by Melissa Joskow.  

    Methodology

    Media Matters analyzed coverage from January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018, on nightly news shows -- ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour -- and Sunday morning news shows -- ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press. To identify segments that discussed climate change, we searched the Nexis database for transcripts that included the following terms: climate change, global warming, changing climate, climate warms, climate warming, warming climate, warmer climate, warming planet, warmer planet, warming globe, warmer globe, global temperatures, rising temperatures, hotter temperatures, climate science, climate scientist, Paris climate, climate accord, Paris accord, climate agreement, Paris agreement, and climate deal. Within the segments that discussed climate change, we identified ones that discussed solutions and responses to climate change by coding for segments that covered adaptation, mitigation, awareness-raising campaigns, renewable energy, clean technology, and climate action being taken by entities other than the U.S. government. Our analysis included any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention or definitive statement on climate change by a media figure, which we defined as a show's host, anchor, correspondent, or recurring guest panelist. Our analysis did not include instances in interviews during which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently engaged in discussion of climate change.

  • Bernie Sanders is right: TV networks need to do a much better job of covering climate change

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Bernie Sanders thinks there's a problem with TV news coverage of climate change. “This is an issue of huge consequence and you would think that ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox would be talking about this every day, having the debate, ‘What do we do? Where do we go?’” he recently told HuffPost. “Clearly you aren’t seeing that debate.”

    Bernie Sanders is right.

    The Vermont senator and former presidential candidate is expected to highlight the media's shortcomings during a national town hall on climate change solutions that will be live-streamed on December 3 at 7 p.m. ET. As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman explained in an article about the town hall, Sanders may "challenge TV networks to cover a rapidly worsening crisis they’ve long ignored."

    Ignore it they have. Media Matters closely tracks TV coverage of climate change and consistently finds it lacking, both in quantity and in quality. Check out some of our findings from this year:

    • CNN, NBC, and of course Fox all featured climate deniers in their coverage of the recent National Climate Assessment report.
    • ABC, CBS, and NBC mentioned climate change in less than 4 percent of their coverage of the recent California wildfires, and in only 2 percent of their coverage of wildfires over the summer.

    • ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on a major heat wave that hit much of the U.S. this summer, and only one of those segments noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat.
       
    • Many major TV networks did a worse job of incorporating climate change into their hurricane coverage this year than they did last year. CBS, CNN, and MSNBC mentioned climate change less often during their coverage of Hurricane Florence in 2018 than they did during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. ABC did not mention climate change at all during its Florence coverage. This despite the fact that scientists released a groundbreaking study about climate change's impact on Florence before the hurricane even made landfall; it estimated that the storm's rainfall in the hardest-hit areas would be boosted more than 50 percent by climate change.  

    • Seventy-nine percent of the time that corporate broadcast networks devoted to climate change in 2017 focused on President Donald Trump. The networks gave vastly less coverage to the many ways that climate change affects people's lives through its impacts on things like extreme weather, public health, and national security.

    • ABC, CBS, and NBC aired only four total segments that discussed climate change in the context of extreme weather disasters that happened last year, including just two that mentioned climate change in the context of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria.
    • Election debates, which are usually moderated by journalists, too often neglect to address climate change. This year, moderators or panelists asked a question about climate change at only 29 percent of key debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races.

    Sanders is a long-time climate media activist

    Sanders has long advocated for increasing and improving media coverage of climate change.

    In 2014, Sanders joined eight other senators in sending a letter to the heads of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox that called for more attention to climate change:

    We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's “This Week,” NBC's “Meet the Press,” CBS's “Face the Nation,” and “Fox News Sunday.”

    The letter cited a Media Matters study that found the Sunday morning shows devoted a total of just 27 minutes to climate change coverage in 2013. Sanders explained why increasing the coverage is critical: “Sunday news shows are obviously important because they talk to millions of people, but they go beyond that by helping to define what the establishment considers to be important and what is often discussed during the rest of the week.”

    When he was running for president in 2016, Sanders made a number of appearances on Sunday shows, and he brought up the topic of climate change much more often than the shows' hosts did.

    Sanders' climate town hall will be live-streamed on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and it's being co-presented by a number of independent, progressive media outlets including The Young Turks, The Intercept, and The Nation. Will any major TV networks cover it?

  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.

  • USA Today publishes still more climate misinformation, denying a link between climate change and hurricanes

    The paper ran two pieces by climate deniers in two days, despite a previous pledge not to publish climate denial

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    On September 13, USA Today's editorial page published a piece that denied the settled science of climate change, despite the page's editor pledging earlier this year, "We won’t run pieces that deny the reality of human-induced climate change."

    On September 14, the paper doubled down, running a longer op-ed by another climate denier, Roy Spencer, who argued, "If humans have any influence on hurricanes at all, it probably won’t be evident for many decades to come."

    Spencer's piece was chock-full of misinformation. As numerous climate scientists have explained this week, climate change is increasing the destructive power of hurricanes.

    Climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, told Media Matters, "There is not a single sentence in that piece, near as I can tell, that is factually defensible. Roy Spencer is an equal opportunity science denier. He denies evolution and he denies climate change."

    Indeed, Spencer has disputed the theory of evolution in his writings and in public testimony, including telling a congressional committee in 2013, "Evolutionary theory is mostly religion.”

    Spencer also has a long history of climate denial. His website claims, "The extra carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere is not enough to cause the observed warming over the last 100 years." Spencer has gone on The Rush Limbaugh Show and Fox News to spread misinformation about climate change.

    In addition to being employed as a scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, Spencer is a senior fellow at the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a member of the group's advisory board. The Cornwall Alliance is committed to climate denial, claiming, "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming."

    Climate scientists dispute Spencer's arguments

    Three climate scientists contacted by Media Matters disputed the central claim in Spencer's USA Today piece.

    Mann just published an op-ed in the Guardian that lays out the clear links between human-caused climate change and more devastating hurricanes, including Florence. Last year, he co-authored a piece in Scientific American on the same topic. Mann has also been doing media appearances this week to explain the science connecting climate change and stronger hurricanes.

    Scott Mandia, professor of Earth and space sciences at Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, pointed out that Spencer neglected to mention sea level rise in his piece, one of the most clear ways that climate change leads to more damaging hurricanes. Mandia explained in an email:

    ALL coastal storms are now worse due to sea level rise caused by human activities that are warming the climate. A warmer climate means more ice melt, which adds water to our oceans. Warmer water expands and thus rises upward. A double-whammy for sea level rise.

    Imagine a basketball hoop ten feet above the floor and consider a dunk to be a storm over-topping a sea wall or other barrier. Now imagine humans have caused that floor to rise by a foot. It is much easier to dunk a basketball now. More flooding just like we saw in Sandy, Harvey, Maria, Florence and EVERY hurricane from now onward.

    Do not be fooled by Roy Spencer's misdirection. He cannot deny human-caused sea level rise and that is why he chose not to mention it to USA Today's readers.

    Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, also explained how climate change affects hurricanes. Trenberth was lead author on a study published in May that determined, “[Hurricane] Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change.”

    "Hurricanes are natural, but climate change is supercharging them!" Trenberth wrote in an email to Media Matters. His comments:

    Human-caused increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere produced an energy imbalance and its partitioning between atmospheric, ocean, cryosphere and land heat reservoirs govern how the global climate evolves. Most of the imbalance, over 90%, goes into the ocean and accordingly ocean heat content (OHC) provides a primary indicator of climate change, along with sea level rise. 2017 was the warmest year on record for the global OHC down to 2000 m depth and the latest quarter (April to June) is the hottest on record. The heat fuels storms of all sorts and contributes to very heavy rain events and flooding.

    Hurricanes are natural, but climate change is supercharging them! The observed increases of upper OHC support higher sea surface temperatures and atmospheric moisture, and fuels tropical storms to become more intense, bigger and longer lasting, thereby increasing their potential for damage. Sea level is also steadily rising, increasing risks from coastal storm surges.

    While USA Today chose to elevate the perspective of a notorious climate denier, other papers made the more responsible choice to invite well-informed scientists and experts to explain the ways climate change exacerbates hurricanes -- like The Washington Post, which ran a strong op-ed by meteorologist Eric Holthaus.

    Holthaus ended his piece by saying, "It is a time for courageous action." Trenberth echoed that sentiment in his comments to Media Matters, emphasizing that we can and should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the future impacts of climate change:

    The damage and loss of life from such storms does not have to be disastrous, however, if there is adequate preparation. We have the options of stopping or slowing climate change from humans, and/or adapting to and planning for the consequences, but we are not doing enough of either!

    If outlets like USA Today educated people about the real dangers of climate change, instead of propagating climate denial, more Americans might be inspired to demand and implement real climate solutions.

  • How should media cover Andrew Wheeler? Take a lesson from coverage of Scott Pruitt

    Pruitt's silly scandals got more attention than his weighty misdeeds and regulatory rollbacks

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Andrew Wheeler, new acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has gotten a soft reception from the media during his first couple of weeks on the job. The honeymoon phase needs to end now.

    Wheeler is benefiting from comparisons to his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who was flamboyantly corrupt and unprecedentedly adversarial toward the press. Wheeler keeps a lower profile than Pruitt and has given interviews to mainstream journalists instead of insulting them, so his different style has generated positive pieces and headlines.

    But being more sober and civil than Pruitt is a very low bar to jump over. Wheeler doesn't deserve praise for clearing it.

    Wheeler received glowing press just for saying he would listen to EPA employees. “When it comes to leadership, you can’t lead unless you listen,” he said during his first address to agency staff on July 11. That quote was featured in the headlines and introductions of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post by reporters who had done some of the most aggressive coverage of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory rollbacks.

    But, as Mother Jones reporter Rebecca Leber pointed out, Pruitt had used the exact same line during his first address to agency staff in February 2017: “You can’t lead unless you listen.”

    This is a stark example of how journalists have been quick to paint Wheeler as a departure from Pruitt even when he's doing exactly what Pruitt did.

    The media need to stop focusing on the minor stylistic differences between Wheeler and Pruitt and start homing in on substance. The new EPA chief has already implemented his first major rollback of an environmental protection. Wheeler, a former lobbyist for a coal company, signed a final rule that will make it easier for power plants to dump toxic coal ash in ways that could pollute groundwater. And Wheeler has pledged to carry forward the rest of Pruitt's agenda.

    What media got wrong in covering Pruitt

    So how should the media be covering Wheeler? To help answer that question, take a look back at how they covered Pruitt.

    Journalists at many outlets did excellent reporting on a wide range of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory moves, particularly the teams covering the EPA at The Washington Post and The New York Times. The problem was that only some of that good original reporting got amplified by other media outlets and ultimately seen by wide audiences, and too often it was the least important stories that got the most attention.

    Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of Pruitt during a period in June in which a number of EPA regulatory rollbacks and Pruitt scandals were revealed.

    For each of the following stories, we looked at how much coverage major prime-time TV news programs devoted to it in the week after it was first reported:

    • Rollback: The EPA decided not to examine air, water, or ground contaminants when determining the health and safety risks of potentially toxic chemicals, as The New York Times reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA took the first step toward changing the way it calculates the economic costs and benefits of regulations, with an eye toward making regulations appear more expensive, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA put forth a detailed plan to scale back a major Obama-era regulation on water pollution, as The New York Times reported on June 14.
    • Substantive scandal: Pruitt had close ties with a coal baron and big GOP donor, Joseph Craft. Craft got Pruitt good basketball tickets, while Pruitt made policy moves that benefited Craft's company, as The New York Times reported on June 2.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt spent $1,560 on 12 customized fountain pens emblazoned with the EPA seal and Pruitt’s signature, as The Washington Post reported on June 1.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt had an EPA aide try to obtain a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, as The Associated Press reported on June 4.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt used his EPA security detail to help him find fancy lotion at Ritz-Carlton hotels, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.

    The first four stories -- the ones involving policy changes likely to lead to more pollution -- got markedly less attention on TV news than the scandals surrounding Pruitt's bizarre personal misbehavior.

    How the media can do better in covering Wheeler

    Pruitt getting the boot opens up an opportunity for journalists to do a better job covering the EPA, as Wheeler seems unlikely to suck up all the oxygen by making goofy moves like buying tactical pants” or using sirens to speed to his favorite restaurant.

    Last month, some reporters on the EPA beat expressed frustration that Pruitt’s scandals were serving as distractions:

    Now they’ll have more time to chase stories about serious ethics questions at EPA and, most importantly, the regulatory rollbacks that could make Americans sick and kill us.

    There will be plenty to cover, like:

    • Wheeler’s ties to industry: He, too, has a long-established, cozy relationship with a coal baron. And he has lobbied for natural gas, chemical, uranium, nuclear, and utility interests, so we could see him cultivating close ties to those industries.
    • Wheeler’s rollbacks that benefit industry: He has already made a major policy move that serves the interests of coal and utility companies, as mentioned above, and he’s poised to take heat off automakers by rolling back auto fuel-efficiency rules and trying to revoke California's authority to set tough standards for pollution from cars and trucks.
    • Wheeler’s ethically questionable decisions: He kept on two top EPA aides who have ethics problems, as HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman recently reported. Green groups are digging for more potential missteps.

    During Wheeler's reign at the EPA -- which could last years -- reporters will need to stop comparing him to his predecessor and instead bird-dog the agency's deregulatory moves and dig for the ethics and corruption stories that aren't as ridiculous and simple as those Pruitt routinely offered up. We're counting on journalists assigned to the national environment beat to do just that.

    But here's the potentially trickier part: After original reporting comes out on Wheeler's actions, other journalists and commentators and TV news producers will need to amplify those stories, writing articles and producing segments that will get the news in the public eye. Will they do it now that the EPA is no longer run by an absurd character with a proclivity for dramatic self-sabotage? 

    While Pruitt’s silly scandals were a distraction for some media outlets, they were a lure for others, drawing their eyes to an agency they might not cover often or in-depth. For instance, Vanity Fair -- not traditionally a source of EPA news -- published numerous pieces that highlighted Pruitt's scandals and also noted the more important fact that he'd been gutting regulations and suppressing science.

    We need Vanity Fair to keep it up during the Wheeler era, and we need NBC Nightly News and CNN's Situation Room and so many others to join in.

    Quiet deregulation and allegiance to industry are easy to ignore in the loud, lewd age of Trump, but everyday Americans who eat, drink, and breathe can't afford for the media to miss the most important stories about the EPA.

    -----

    Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for prime-time (5 p.m. through midnight) programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, as well as the broadcast network nightly news programs: ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour. We examined a week’s worth of coverage for the seven stories in the first bullet-pointed list above. We identified and reviewed all segments that were captured by searching for the words Pruitt, EPA, or Environmental Protection Agency within 50 words of cost, benefit, calculate, calculation, economic, chemical, health, safety, toxic, water, pollute, pollution, rollback, regulate, regulation, rule, policy, pen, jewelry, mattress, Trump Hotel, lotion, moisturizer, moisturizing, dry cleaning, security, scandal, ethics, or ethical.

    Chart by Melissa Joskow. Research assistance by Kevin Kalhoefer.

  • As Trump separates migrant families and 1,500 kids are missing, three Sunday shows ignored immigration entirely

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ

    Sunday shows largely ignored America’s treatment of migrant children, even as new reports and outrage on social media show a growing humanitarian crisis.

    In April, a top official with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told Congress that HHS had lost track of 1,475 unaccompanied minors who were detained at the US-Mexico border. This news has raised concerns that HHS has not taken the proper precautions to protect these migrant children in government custody from abuse and human trafficking. An ACLU report this week revealed that immigrant children suffer “pervasive abuse” while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Following the ACLU report, these missing migrant children got new attention from  a social media campaign #WhereAreTheChildren.

    One target of this social media campaign is the Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from parents when migrant families and asylum seekers attempt to pass through the southern border -- a policy which Trump recently called "horrible" and blamed Democrats for. Earlier in May, Attorney Jeff Sessions announced “zero tolerance” separation policies which are believed to cause detrimental effects on migrant children. Families separated at the border face significant challenges in contacting each other. The Arizona Daily Star told the story of a mother who “covered her eyes with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks” as she wondered if she would ever see her children again.”  

    Despite all of this, only three of the five Sunday shows, ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Fox News' Sunday With Chris Wallace, and NBC’s Meet the Press failed to discuss immigration whatsoever. CBS's Face the Nation did discuss the Trump administration’s separation policies with Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mark Meadows, and briefly mentioned them again during a panel discussion.

    The only Sunday show to mention the missing children was CNN’s State of the Union during a roundtable discussion. During the show, CNN contributor Rick Santorum called news of the missing children “hyperbole to try to create an issue."

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Scott Pruitt's EPA

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of controversies during Pruitt's time in office

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & EVLONDO COOPER

    This post was updated on 4/24/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    The Trump presidency has been called the most unethical in modern history, with its scandals continuously dominating the news cycle. And the questionable ethical behavior extends far beyond the White House to cabinet members and the departments and agencies they oversee, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Journalists covering the EPA have unearthed a litany of scandals, conflicts of interest, extravagant expenditures, and ethically dubious actions involving administrator Scott Pruitt and other politically appointed officials. Here is an overview of the reporting on ethical scandals at Pruitt’s EPA, starting a week after he was sworn in and continuing up to the present:

    February 24, 2017, KOKH: Pruitt lied to senators about his use of a private email account. An investigation by Oklahoma City Fox affiliate KOKH revealed that Pruitt lied during his Senate confirmation hearing when he said he did not use a private email account to conduct official business while he was attorney general of Oklahoma, a finding later confirmed by the office of the attorney general. The Oklahoma Bar Association subsequently opened an investigation into the matter, which could lead to Pruitt being disbarred in the state of Oklahoma.

    May 17, 2017, ThinkProgress: An EPA appointee appeared to violate Trump's ethics order on lobbyists. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to Pruitt on May 16 noting that EPA appointee Elizabeth “Tate” Bennett had lobbied both the Senate and the House on EPA regulations as recently as 2016 -- an apparent violation of Trump’s ethics executive order barring former lobbyists from participating in any government matter related to their past lobbying within two years of their appointment.

    June 16, 2017, Bloomberg: Pruitt met with oil executives at Trump’s D.C. hotel, then backed away from a regulation on oil companies. On March 22, Pruitt met with oil executives who sit on the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors, and less than three weeks later, the EPA announced that it was reconsidering a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to control methane leaks. The meeting took place at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., which Time has called a “dealmaker’s paradise” for “lobbyists and insiders.”

    August 28, 2017, E&E News: Pruitt gave a Superfund job to a failed banker whose bank had given loans to Pruitt. In May, Pruitt appointed Albert “Kell” Kelly to head a task force on the EPA’s Superfund program, even though Kelly had been fined $125,000 by federal banking regulators and banned for life from banking activity because of misdeeds committed when he was CEO of Oklahoma-based SpiritBank. Kelly had no previous experience working on environmental issues and, as ThinkProgress reported in February 2018, he had a financial stake in Phillips 66, an oil company that the EPA had deemed responsible for contaminating areas in Louisiana and Oregon. In previous years, Kelly’s bank had given a loan to Pruitt to purchase a share in a minor league baseball team and provided acquisition financing when the team was sold. The bank had also provided three mortgage loans to Pruitt and his wife, as The Intercept reported in December.

    September 20, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt's security team drew staff away from criminal investigations. Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail -- the first-ever round-the-clock protection detail for an EPA administrator -- required triple the manpower of his predecessors' security teams and pulled in special agents who would have otherwise spend their time investigating environmental crimes.

    September 26, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent about $43,000 on a private soundproof booth, violating federal spending law. The Post reported on September 26 that the EPA spent nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in Pruitt’s office, even though there was another such booth on a different floor at EPA headquarters. No previous EPA administrators had such a setup, the Post reported. On March 14, the Post reported that the EPA also spent more than $18,000 on prep work required before the private phone booth could be installed, which put its total cost “closer to $43,000.” On April 16, a Government Accountability Office report found that Pruitt’s use of agency funds for the booth violated federal rules. Agency heads are required to notify Congress in advance when office improvement expenditures exceed $5,000. Two days later, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that his office is investigating Pruitt’s spending on the booth.

    September 27, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $58,000 on charter and military flights. Pruitt took at least four noncommerical and military flights that together cost taxpayers more than $58,000. The most expensive of these was a $36,000 flight on a military jet from Ohio, where Pruitt had joined Trump at an event promoting an infrastructure plan, to New York, where Pruitt then set off on a trip to Italy.

    October 24, 2017, CNN: Pruitt met with a mining CEO, then immediately started clearing the way for his proposed mine. In May, Pruitt sat down with the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, the company seeking to build the controversial Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. Just hours after that meeting, he directed the EPA to withdraw an Obama-era proposal to protect the ecologically rich area from certain mining activities. (In January 2018, Pruitt reversed his decision without explanation.)

    December 12, 2017, Wash. Examiner: Pruitt made a costly trip to Morocco to promote natural gas. In December, Pruitt flew to Morocco to promote natural gas exports during talks with Moroccan officials, as first reported by The Washington Examiner. E&E reported that the trip cost nearly $40,000, according to an EPA employee. The Washington Post reported, “The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that the EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

    December 15, 2017, Mother Jones/NY Times: The EPA hired a GOP opposition research firm whose VP had investigated EPA employees. Mother Jones reported that the EPA awarded a $120,000 contract to Definers Corp., a Republican PR firm specializing in opposition research and finding damaging information on individuals, to do what the firm describes as "war room"-style media monitoring. According to The New York Times, Definers Vice President Allan Blutstein had submitted at least 40 Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA targeting employees that he deemed “resistance" figures critical of Pruitt or the Trump administration. After the contract was exposed, the EPA canceled it.

    February 11, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $90,000 on first-class flights and other travel in a single week. During a stretch in early June, Pruitt racked up at least $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs, including first-class, business-class, and military flights. The figure did not include the cost of Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail accompanying him on those trips. One first-class flight was for an overnight trip to New York, where Pruitt made two media appearances to praise Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. According to the Post, “[EPA] records show that wherever Pruitt’s schedule takes him, he often flies first or business class, citing unspecified security concerns.” The Associated Press later reported that, for travel where Pruitt had to foot the bill himself, the EPA head flew coach, according to an EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt’s security spending. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Trey Gowdy (R-SC), demanded documentation and explanation for Pruitt’s first- and business-class work travel, but Pruitt missed the chairman’s March 6 deadline to turn over documents. As of April 11, the EPA still hadn’t provided all requested documents, so Gowdy sent Pruitt another letter demanding the information. Later reporting by The Associated Press found that Pruitt flew coach when taxpayers were not footing the bill.

    February 13, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt flew luxury business class on a foreign airline. Pruitt broke with government rules requiring employees to fly on U.S. carriers. He got a waiver to return home from Milan, Italy, in June on Emirates Airline in what CBS described as “one of the world’s most luxurious business class cabins.”

    February 15, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt met with trucking executives, then preserved a loophole to benefit their company. In May, Pruitt met with executives from Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a company that sells big-rig trucks with retrofitted diesel engines. They were seeking to preserve a loophole that exempted Fitzgerald’s trucks from emission rules. Pruitt announced in November that he would provide the exemption, citing a Fitzgerald-funded Tennessee Tech study that found the company’s trucks emitted no more pollution than trucks with modern emissions systems. But just days after Pruitt made his announcement, EPA staffers published findings that Fitzgerald trucks emit 43 to 55 times as much air pollution as new trucks. And after The New York Times reported on the story, Tennessee Tech's president disavowed the Fitzgerald-funded study and asked the EPA to disregard it. The EPA responded by claiming to the Times that it "did not rely upon the study," even though Pruitt had cited it in making his announcement about the exemption. In April, four Republican senators and 10 Republican House members sent Pruitt a letter asking him to close the loophole.

    February 26, 2018, Politico: The EPA has been hit with a record number of anti-secrecy lawsuits. A Politico analysis found that the EPA has “experienced a huge surge in open records lawsuits since President Donald Trump took office” and that 2017 was “the busiest calendar year by far for open-records cases brought against EPA, according to data stretching back to 1992.” A separate analysis by the Project on Government Oversight found that the EPA has been especially slow in resolving Freedom of Information Act requests.

    March 5, 2018, E&E News/AP: An EPA public affairs official was given the OK to do outside media consulting. John Konkus, a top political aide to Pruitt who works in the EPA's public affairs office, was granted permission to work as a media consultant outside of his agency work. In August, when the arrangement was approved, Konkus had “two likely clients” for his outside work and anticipated adding more in the next six months. The EPA has not disclosed who those clients were. Konkus, a former Trump campaign aide, had been put in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that the EPA distributes annually -- an "unusual" arrangement, as The Washington Post reported in September. According to the Post, "Konkus has told staff that he is on the lookout for 'the double C-word' — climate change — and repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

    March 6, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA awarded a bug-sweeping contract to a business associate of Pruitt’s head of security. The head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, advised EPA officials to hire his business associate for a contract to conduct a sweep of Pruitt’s office for concealed listening devices, a source told The Washington Post. Perrotta’s move prompted Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to ask the EPA for documentation that Perrotta obeyed federal conflict-of-interest rules.

    March 8, 2018, AP: Almost half of EPA political appointees have strong industry ties. An analysis conducted by The Associated Press found that “nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate. Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.”

    March 8, 2018, The New Republic: Pruitt appointed the vice president of a polluting company to the EPA’s environmental justice advisory council. On March 7, Pruitt announced the addition of eight new members to the agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, one of whom was Michael Tilchin, a vice president of CH2M Hill, a big engineering firm. The New Republic reported that since February 2017, CH2M Hill’s work at the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear weapons production facility in Washington state, “has sparked at least three accidental releases of plutonium dust, which emits alpha radiation—'the worst kind of radiation to get inside your body,’ according to KING-TV, the Seattle-based news station that’s been investigating the incidents.” Dozens of workers at the site have tested positive for internal plutonium contamination in the wake of the releases.

    March 28, 2018, Politico: EPA signs research agreement with firm tied to GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. In March of 2017, Pruitt met with executives from Water-Gen, a technology firm based in Israel, at the behest of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and Pruitt had a second meeting with a Water-Gen executive in May. In January of this year, the EPA agreed to study Water-Gen's technology, an “atmospheric water generator” that the company claims can pull drinkable water out of the air and thereby provide clean water in remote areas with poor infrastructure. The meeting came to light after activists sued the EPA and forced the agency to produce Pruitt’s calendar. Important details about the arrangement, including Adelson’s relationship with the company, are still unknown.

    March 28, 2018, HuffPost: EPA gave employees talking points based on Pruitt’s lukewarm climate denial. Staffers at the EPA received an email on March 27 from the Office of Public Affairs with a list of eight approved talking points about climate change, echoing lines that Pruitt likes to use when discussing the topic. Point No. 5 is one the administrator has repeated often: "Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue."

    March 29, 2018, ABC News/Bloomberg: Pruitt paid below-market rent for a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. For the first half of 2017, Pruitt lived at a prime Capitol Hill address in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, wife of energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart. ABC News reported that, instead of contracting with a real estate broker, Pruitt worked directly with Steven Hart to arrange the $50-a-night rental agreement, with rent having to be paid only for the nights Pruitt stayed in the unit. ABC also reported that Pruitt's daughter used a second room in the condo from May to August, in apparent violation of the lease agreement. The EPA reimbursed the condo association $2,460 after Pruitt’s security team kicked in the door, mistakenly believing his safety was in jeopardy. While Pruitt was living in the condo, and paying well below market rate, the EPA gave its approval for expansion of the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline, directly benefiting Enbridge Inc., a client of Hart’s lobbying firm, according to The New York Times. Also, Steven Hart “was personally representing a natural gas company, an airline giant, and a major manufacturer that had business before the agency at the time he was also renting out a room to Pruitt,” according to The Daily Beast, and the Harts have donated to Pruitt's political campaigns since 2010. After the condo story broke, EPA’s top ethics watchdog said that he didn’t have all the information he needed when he initially determined that Pruitt’s rental arrangement did not violate federal rules, and the federal government’s top ethics official sent a letter to the EPA expressing concern over Pruitt’s living arrangements, travel, and reports that Pruitt retaliated against officials questioning his spending. And on April 21, The Hill reported that Pruitt met with Steven Hart last year on behalf a client, an executive linked to Smithfield Foods, according to a newly filed disclosure from Hart's firm. Hart and Smithfield contend that the meeting was about philanthropy and did not constitute lobbying, but the disclosure still appears to contradict Hart’s earlier statement that he had not lobbied the EPA during 2017 and 2018 as well as Pruitt’s earlier claim that “Hart has no clients that have business before this agency.”

    March 29, 2018, The Intercept: Nominee to head Superfund program is lawyer with long record of defending polluting companies. Pruitt has repeatedly claimed that he wants to prioritize the EPA Superfund program, which cleans up sites contaminated by industry. But Trump’s nominee to oversee the Superfund program, Peter Wright, seems unlikely to help the cause. As The Intercept reported, "For the last quarter-century, he has defended companies responsible for some of the biggest of these industrial disasters, including Dow Chemical, where he has worked for more than 18 years, and Monsanto, where he worked for seven years before that." Nonetheless, Pruitt enthusiastically endorsed Wright's nomination. 

    March 30, 2018, CNN: Taxpayers paid for Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail during his personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. Pruitt’s security team accompanied him on trips home to Oklahoma as well as on a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, according to a letter that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and shared with CNN.

    April 2, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA staff looked into the possibility of leasing a private jet for Pruitt’s travel. Pruitt’s aides contacted NetJets, a company that leases private planes, about "leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis" to accommodate Pruitt’s travel needs. After receiving NetJets’ quote of about $100,000 a month, senior officials objected and the plan was abandoned.

    April 3, 2018, The Atlantic: The White House told Pruitt he could not give two of his closest aides a pay raise, but he used a loophole to do it anyway. In March, Pruitt sought permission from the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office for substantial pay increases for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. The White House said no. Pruitt then exploited a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase Greenwalt’s salary from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s salary from $86,460 to $114,590.

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt may have violated ethics rules by having his aide research housing arrangements for his family. Millan Hupp, whose salary Pruitt boosted by 33 percent against the White House’s wishes, did considerable legwork to help Pruitt and his wife find a home last summer. This may have been an ethics violation, as federal officials are barred from having their staff do personal tasks for them, according to ethics experts. 

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt abused a little-known loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire loyalists and ex-lobbyists. In 1977, Congress passed an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act allowing the EPA to hire expert personnel without Senate or White House approval. The section was added to ensure the agency could hire the staff it needed to protect public health, but Pruitt broke from tradition and used the provision to “bring in former lobbyists along with young spokesmen and schedulers,” according to The Washington Post. Pruitt’s controversial hires included loyalists from his home state of Oklahoma, former industry lobbyists such as Nancy Beck, and James Hewitt, the son of radio host and MSNBC personality Hugh Hewitt -- one of Pruitt's most ardent public defenders. The Post reported that "ethics experts say hiring lobbyists through the provision breaks with some of Trump’s ethics rules."

    April 5, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt asked to use vehicle siren during non-emergency, reassigned staffer who objected. Several weeks after taking his position as head of the EPA, Pruitt was stuck in D.C. traffic and asked to use his vehicle's lights and sirens to get to an official appointment more quickly, sources told CBS News. According to CBS, “The lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies. Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt's detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.”

    April 5, 2018, ABC News: EPA improperly paid for repair to Pruitt's condo door, congresswoman says. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s budget, took issue with the EPA using agency funds to repair a door in Pruitt’s condo after members of his security detail broke it down when they believed a napping Pruitt was unresponsive. “I know that Congress appropriates money for the EPA to protect human health and the environment – not for repairs to the administrator's residence,” McCollum wrote in a letter to the EPA.

    April 5, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt reassigned and demoted EPA officials who questioned his spending. Four career EPA employees and one Trump administration political appointee were demoted or reassigned after they confronted Pruitt and expressed concerns over his excessive spending on furniture, travel, and his security detail.

    April 5, 2018, Salon: Pruitt was involved in a questionable real estate deal while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. Documents obtained by the nonprofit watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that in 2011, Pruitt, then-attorney general of Oklahoma, and his wife flipped a Tulsa home for a $70,000 profit after buying it just days before a court ruled that it had been fraudulently transferred. Kevin Hern, a major campaign donor to Pruitt, bought the house through a dummy corporation. According to Salon, “Evidence suggests that Pruitt planned the quick turnaround on the property in advance.”

    April 5 and 6, 2018, Politico/Politico: Pruitt was late paying his rent and “overstayed his welcome” at the lobbyist-linked condo. Pruitt was sometimes slow in paying rent to his lobbyist landlords. He also stayed in the condo longer than initially agreed. The original $50-a-night rental agreement was supposed to be for just six weeks, but Pruitt ended up using the condo for about six months. Politico reported, “The couple, Vicki and Steve Hart, became so frustrated by their lingering tenant that they eventually pushed him out and changed their locks.”

    April 6 and 9, 2018, Wash. Post/The Atlantic: Doubts cast on Pruitt’s claim that he did not approve controversial pay raises. During an April 4 interview with Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, Pruitt claimed that he did not approve controversial pay raises for his aides Greenwalt and Hupp and had learned about the raises only when the media first reported on them. But on April 6, the Post reported that two EPA officials and a White House official “told The Post that the administrator instructed staff to award substantial pay boosts to both women.” Additionally, administration officials told The Atlantic that an email exchange between Greenwalt and EPA human resources “suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise.” The day after The Atlantic’s article came out, EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson took responsibility for the pay raises, issuing a statement reading, “Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me.”

    April 10, 2018, Wash. Post/Politico: EPA staffers questioned the justification for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, and one was then fired. Sens. Whitehouse and Carper sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee calling for a congressional inquiry into Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail. In their letter, the senators cited several internal EPA documents that questioned the rationale for Pruitt’s detail, highlighting in particular a February 14 assessment by the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security that concluded that the justification for Pruitt’s security detail (emphasis in original) “DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant ‘threat specific’ information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the Administrator.” Politico reported that one of the EPA career officials who drafted the assessment, Mario Caraballo, was removed from his post on April 10. On the same day, The New York Times also reported that the EPA “has been examining posts on Twitter and other social media about Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, to justify his extraordinary and costly security measures.” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times that the EPA may have violated federal law if the agency was aggressively monitoring Pruitt’s critics.

    April 10, 2018, HuffPost: As EPA head, Pruitt has met with dozens of his former campaign donors. An analysis conducted by the nonprofit MapLight found that Pruitt “has met with more than three dozen organizations that donated to his past campaigns and political committees in the last year,” HuffPost reported. “The donors include major oil and gas companies, electricity providers, coal producers, and conservative think tanks. At least 14 of the meetings were with organizations from Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as attorney general from 2011-16.”

    April 12, 2018, Politico Pro/Mother Jones: EPA staff were concerned about Pruitt’s misleading statements on emissions standards. Emails obtained by Greenpeace via the Freedom of Information Act showed that EPA experts were worried about Pruitt spreading “troubling” and “inaccurate” information in his justification for rolling back Obama-era auto emissions standards. Agency staffers pointed out multiple inaccuracies in Pruitt’s March 20 USA Today op-ed, including Pruitt’s claim that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards “have pushed manufacturing and jobs to Mexico” -- a claim contradicted by the EPA’s own analysis and many other reports. To support his argument, Pruitt cited an analysis written by an author with no background in CAFE from the now-defunct National Center for Policy Analysis.

    April 12, 2018, NY Times: Lawmakers demand information about Pruitt's travel habits and luxury hotel stays. Five Democratic lawmakers sent Pruitt a letter seeking documents related to additional spending abuses after their staff members met with Pruitt’s dismissed former chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski. According to the letter, Chmielewski revealed that Pruitt insisted on staying in luxury hotels priced above allowable limits and pressed for flights on airlines not listed on the government’s approved list so that he could earn more frequent flier miles. Chmielewski also told congressional investigators that Pruitt would direct staff to schedule trips for him to fly back home to Oklahoma and desired locations, telling them, “Find me something to do.”

    April 12, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt used four different email addresses at EPA. Pruitt has used four different email accounts during his time as EPA administrator, according to an agency official and a letter sent by Sens. Merkley and Carper to the EPA's inspector general. Pruitt’s use of multiple email accounts has prompted “concerns among agency lawyers that the EPA has not disclosed all the documents it would normally release to the public under federal records requests,” according to the Post. On April 17, the Post reported that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) will examine whether Pruitt is fully complying with public records requests.

    April 17, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt upgraded to larger vehicle with bulletproof seat covers. In June last year, Pruitt upgraded his official vehicle to a larger, more high-end Chevy Suburban equipped with bullet-resistant seat covers. Federal records show that the Suburban cost $10,200 to lease for the first year and that the lease included an extra $300 a month worth of additional upgrades.         

    April 18, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt faces multiple investigations into his ethics and use of taxpayer money. Pruitt is the subject of multiple investigations by the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the House Oversight Committee, a Times guide to Pruitt’s investigations revealed. The newest investigation, examining Pruitt’s use of his security detail during personal trips to the Rose Bowl, Disneyland, and basketball games, “brings the number of investigations into Mr. Pruitt’s use of taxpayer money and possible ethics violations to 10,” the Times reported.

    April 19, 2018, Reuters: EPA spent $45,000 to fly aides to Australia in advance of a Pruitt trip that was later canceled. Pruitt sent two aides and three security agents on business-class flights to Australia last August, at a cost of about $45,000, to do advance work for a trip the administrator planned to take, EPA officials told Reuters. The trip was canceled when Pruitt decided to travel instead to Texas to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It has not been rescheduled.

    April 21, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt’s partners in ethically questionable behavior in Oklahoma now work for him at EPA. New York Times reporters examined Pruitt’s career in Oklahoma and identified multiple instances of excessive spending and ethics lapses, noting that “many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.” The article focused on Pruitt's purchase of a lobbyist-owned home in Oklahoma City when Pruitt was a state senator. According to real estate and other public records, Pruitt purchased the home “at a steep discount of about $100,000” from its prior price through a shell company formed with his business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Pruitt did not disclose the house in his financial disclosure forms at the time, “a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules,” according to the Times. Years later, when he was the state's attorney general, Pruitt awarded more than $600,000 worth of state contracts to Wagner’s law firm from 2011 to 2017. Another business associate, Albert Kelly, led the bank that issued the mortgage for the home. After taking the reins at the EPA, Pruitt gave high-ranking positions within the agency to both Wagner and Kelly.

  • The mainstream media missed big climate stories while getting played by Trump

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    The media spent a ton of time in 2017 puzzling over whether Donald Trump thinks climate change is real. That was a ton of time wasted. His stance has long been clear, thanks to more than a hundred tweets and loads of comments dismissing or denying climate change.

    The fact that Trump has called global warming a "hoax" was mentioned in nearly a quarter of all segments about climate change on the nightly news and Sunday morning programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC in 2017 -- and in more than a third of those instances, the networks didn't push back by affirming that human-driven climate change is a reality. Network journalists did numerous interviews asking Trump administration officials for clarity on the president's stance. And outlets from Time to CNN cited the hoax claim and tried to make sense of Trump's nonsensical climate views.

    This misfire by mainstream media follows on the heels of a different sort of failure in 2016. That year, broadcast networks spent way too little time on climate change overall and completely failed to report during the campaign on what a Trump win would mean for climate change.

    Now the networks are covering climate change but squandering too much of that coverage in trying to read Trump's Fox-addled mind and divine whether he accepts climate science. That's crowding out reporting on other, more critical climate-related news, from how the Trump administration is aggressively dismantling climate protections to how climate change makes hurricanes and wildfires more dangerous.

    It’s bad enough that outlets waste all this time on old news about Trump’s climate views. What makes it even worse is that they too often get the story wrong.

    Consider this example: Last June, Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, did the rounds on TV news to defend her boss' decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. When asked to clarify Trump's views on climate change, she said more than once that he "believes the climate is changing” and "he believes pollutants are part of that equation."

    Haley was employing Republicans' favorite obfuscation technique on climate change -- what savvy observers call "lukewarm" climate denial. The obfuscators try to sound reasonable by admitting that the climate is changing, but then get all squishy about why it's changing or how it will play out or what we could possibly do about it. (In fact, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of climate change, a fact that U.S. government experts again confirmed just three months ago.) You’d think that journalists who've been covering national politics would be thoroughly familiar with this gambit by now. Trump nominees made liberal use of it during confirmation hearings last year, and other Republicans have been employing it for longer still.

    But ABC News completely fumbled the story. Splashing the words "BREAKING NEWS" and "CLIMATE CHANGE FLIP" across the screen, ABC's World News Tonight made Haley's comments seem like big deal in a June 3 segment:

    Anchor Tom Llamas reported that her remarks represented a "dramatic switch" and "major concession" with "the administration saying the president does believe that the climate is changing." Correspondent Gloria Riviera described Haley's remarks as "a stunning reversal."

    There was no reversal. There was just a stunning incident of ABC falling for Trump administration spin.

    Other networks and outlets have made similar mistakes, failing to properly identify the Trump team's lukewarm climate denial and put comments in context. Like when The Associated Press declared, "Trump changes his tune on climate change," though in fact he had done no such thing, as Grist pointed out at the time.

    Instead of continuing to fixate on (and misreport) Trump's personal views about climate change, journalists should be taking the story to the next level with more reporting on the consequences of having a president who disregards climate science and opposes climate action. Those consequences include: policies that encourage dirty energy instead of clean energy; less innovation; fewer jobs in renewables and energy efficiency; diminished national security; more destructive storms and dangerous wildfires, and communities that are less prepared to cope with them.

    Topics like these got dramatically less coverage last year than they deserved, at least in part because so much climate reporting was centered on Trump. A new Media Matters analysis found that when corporate broadcast TV news programs reported on climate change last year, they spent 79 percent of the time on statements or actions by the Trump administration -- and even that included little coverage of efforts to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other climate regulations. Issues like how climate change affects the economy or public health got even less attention. And in a year when hurricanes and other forms of extreme weather hammered the U.S., the networks hardly ever mentioned climate change in their coverage of those disasters.

    Rather than trying to analyze Trump's well-established refusal to accept climate science, media should be telling stories of how climate change is happening here and now, how it’s affecting real people, and how the EPA and other agencies are ripping up climate regulations. When they chase Trump around and let him set the agenda, the hoax is on all of us.

  • Local Arizona TV news failed to inform viewers about Joe Arpaio's extremist history

    The disgraced former sheriff recently announced he is running for Senate

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On January 9, former Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced a run for Senate, seeking to replace Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who is not running for re-election. Arpaio’s candidacy will undoubtedly be accompanied by controversy, given his long track record of incredible cruelty, racism, and extremism, as well as his clear failings as a sheriff and his criminal conviction for violating a court order regarding his racial profiling of suspected immigrants. But following Arpaio’s announcement, Arizona news programs failed to inform the voters of just how unfit Arpaio is to hold high office.

    Media Matters reviewed the local 10 p.m. newscasts of nine stations in Yuma, Phoenix, and Tucson between January 9, when Arpaio announced his candidacy, and January 12. The results of the study reveal that the stations largely failed to report on Arpaio’s history of bigotry and abuse, with some not noting his connections to extremists and birtherism. Media Matters found:

    • One Tucson station failed to inform its viewers that Arpaio has been convicted of criminal contempt of court;
    • Three Phoenix stations, one Tucson station, and one Yuma station noted Arpaio’s conviction, but failed to link it to racial profiling;
    • No 10 p.m. local newscast in Phoenix, Tucson, or Yuma reported on Arpaio’s history of inmate abuse, his failure to investigate sex crimes, or his connections to extremists; and
    • Only two stations, ABC15 Arizona’s  and NBC’s 12 News explained Arpaio’s connections to birtherism in their 10 p.m. newscasts.

    Arpaio’s record as a sheriff is littered with ineptitude and lawlessness. He has a long history of treating prisoners in a “humiliating and inhumane” way, especially at his outdoor Tent City jail, which “stood within a larger jail compound” near Phoenix and has been repeatedly referred to as a “concentration camp.” Inmates at the jail were forced to live in searing temperatures of up to 141 degrees and fed rotten food, and female inmates were “denied basic sanitary items.” Arpaio used webcams to broadcast scenes from the jail including a feed “that showed female inmates using a toilet,” and singled out inmates of color for some of the most brutal abuse.

    Outside of Tent City, Arpaio showed incredible disdain for victims of abuse and flouted the law himself. During his tenure as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arpaio’s department failed to properly investigate hundreds of sex crimes between 2005 and 2007, many of which involved children. In one city, El Mirage, Arpaio, who has described himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” neglected to follow through on at least 32 reported child molestations, “with victims as young as two,” even when “suspects were known in all but six cases.” In 2017, Arpaio himself was convicted of criminal contempt of court for deliberately violating a court order to stop his department’s racial profiling. President Donald Trump later pardoned him.

    Arpaio’s commitment to systemic discrimination should come as no surprise to anyone with knowledge of his long history of racism and bigotry. Arpaio was an early pusher of birtherism, the baseless conspiracy theory which Trump also pushed, that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

    Arpaio has also developed close ties to extremists and conspiracy theorists. Shortly before Trump pardoned him, Arpaio thanked conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for getting his story to the president. (Jones has claimed that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was an “inside job.”) And after he received the pardon, Arpaio gave an interview to a publication that denies the Holocaust and is edited by a 9/11 truther.

    But Media Matters' review of the local 10 p.m. newscasts in Yuma, Phoenix, and Tucson found that the local TV news coverage largely failed to report on these past misdeeds.

    One station, NBC’s News 4 Tucson, failed to note Arpaio’s criminal conviction in its coverage of his announcement:
    Newscasts of several other stations noted Arpaio’s conviction, or Trump’s pardon, in their coverage of his announcement, but failed to connect his conviction to racial profiling:

    Phoenix’s ABC15 News at 10

    Phoenix’s CBS 5 News at 10:
    Phoenix’s FOX 10 News at 10pm:
    Tucson’s ABC KGUN 9 noted that Arpaio’s conviction was related to an “immigration case,” but did not mention the connection to racial profiling:
    Yuma’s NBC affiliate KYMA noted in its nightly news that Arpaio is known for targeting “suspected undocumented immigrants,” and connected his conviction to “immigration related arrests,” but still failed to note that Arpaio conducted racial profiling:

    The 10 p.m. newscasts of Yuma’s KSWT CBS 13, Tucson’s CBS affiliate KOLD and NBC’s 12 News in Phoenix did note that Arpaio’s conviction was related to racial profiling or mentioned his history of profiling, but none of these stations reported on his history of inmate abuse, his failure to investigate sex crimes, or his connections to extremists. Two stations, Phoenix’s ABC15 News and Phoenix’s NBC 12 News, did discuss Arpaio’s promotion of birtherism, but they noted Arpaio’s connection to the racist conspiracy theory only after he appeared on CNN on January 10 and reasserted his belief in it.

  • Fox News guest makes incorrect claims about Native Americans being hurt by national monuments

    MSNBC, in contrast, invites Native American leaders to speak for themselves

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    A guest on Fox News made inaccurate claims when he said Native Americans have been hurt by national monument designations in southern Utah, and his Fox interviewer failed to question or push back against his claims.

    Boyd Matheson, president of the conservative, Utah-based Sutherland Institute, was interviewed by host Shannon Bream on Fox News @ Night on December 4:

    BOYD MATHESON: Grazing goes down with these big national monuments. Ranchers are hurt, farmers are hurt. The local Navajo tribes are really hurt because they're not able to access these lands which they use not only for their wood to heat their homes and gathering herbs and berries and doing their spiritual traditions there on the mountain. So it's an important day. This was critical. We got involved in this whole process because those voices weren't being heard.

    The segment aired a few hours after President Donald Trump signed proclamations to dramatically shrink two national monuments in southern Utah -- the Bears Ears National Monument, which was established by President Barack Obama at the end of 2016, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Both designations were made under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was intended to protect Native American ruins and artifacts.

    Matheson was flat-out wrong to say that national monument protections prevent Native Americans from gathering herbs, foods, or wood on the land. Obama's proclamation establishing Bears Ears calls for the federal government to "provide access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses ... including collection of medicines, berries and other vegetation, forest products, and firewood for personal noncommercial use." Some Native Americans endorsed the creation of Bears Ears specifically because they saw it as a way to protect their rights to hunt and gather on the land.

    Matheson was also wrong to suggest that Native American communities broadly supported Trump's move to shrink the monuments and roll back protections from about 2 million acres. Some members of the Navajo Nation backed Trump, including a few who were present at the signing ceremony. But Bears Ears has been widely endorsed by Native Americans, many of whom consider the area sacred. The monument was created in response to a proposal from a coalition of five Native American tribes in the region, including the Navajo Nation. The coalition pushed for years to get Bears Ears protected, with the backing of an additional 25 tribes.

    Now the Native American coalition is outraged over Trump's rollback and intends to fight it in court.

    MSNBC does a better job

    Contrast that Fox segment -- which featured a white man pretending to represent Native American views and misrepresenting the impacts of Trump's action on tribes -- with coverage on MSNBC in the wake of Trump's move.

    MSNBC host Ali Velshi conducted substantive interviews with three Native American leaders, all of whom opposed shrinking the monuments: Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee; Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation; and Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation.

    Chapoose was interviewed by Velshi on MSNBC Live with Katy Tur:

    SHAUN CHAPOOSE: I sat and listened to the president's speech, and what is interesting is nowhere in that discussion do we as Native Americans even take any recognition as far as protecting our rights. People forget, we were the first residents of the state of Utah, long before it was a state. And the areas in question have historical artifacts, they have graveyards, they have all kinds of things which are sacred to not just my tribe but all the tribes in the state of Utah and outside the state of Utah.

    Nez and Branch were guests on MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi:

    JONATHAN NEZ: It's a sad day in Indian country. It’s a sad day for Americans to where the president says that the law of the land, and Antiquities Act is the law of the land, but he is overstepping his own authority by doing this type of action, and it's quite saddening to see this happen today here in the state of Utah. But for us, we hold that area as [a] historic place.

    [...]

    ETHEL BRANCH: [Trump] is completely missing, completely misunderstanding, what an Indian nation is and is ignoring the fact that we are sovereigns, we're governments, and we expect to be engaged on a nation-to-nation basis, and we have treaties, federal law, federal statutes, federal common law that define that relationship and there's absolutely no understanding of that from the actions we've seen from both President Trump, as well as [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke. They think that talking to one Native American person, one Navajo person, constitutes consultation with the Navajo Nation, and they're both gravely mistaken. We have our own tribal laws that define who can speak on behalf of our nation and we want those laws to be respected.

    This would be a good time to reiterate a key lesson from Journalism 101: Don't let a white man speak on behalf of Native Americans or any other communities of color. It's a lesson Fox has long neglected.