On MSNBC, a furloughed DHS worker says it's "disingenuous" to pretend the US isn't already funding border security
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Every year in January, anti-abortion groups and individuals gather in Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life -- a series of events protesting the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion in the United States. This year, the January 18 march will celebrate the theme “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science.” That theme echoes a common argument from anti-abortion groups that “medical and technological advancements continue to reaffirm the science behind the pro-life cause” including “that life begins at fertilization, or day one.”
Last year, media coverage of the March for Life demonstrated that some outlets were unable to handle the necessary fact-checking or provide the needed context about the extreme history of many anti-abortion groups, the deceptive science behind many of their claims, and the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies. This year, media can learn from these mistakes before the annual protest kicks off.
During the 2018 March for Life, there were several examples of outlets whitewashing anti-abortion groups and spokespeople by downplaying these organization’s long histories of extreme rhetoric and activism.
For example, leading up to the 2018 event, NPR highlighted two anti-abortion leaders -- Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Abby Johnson of And Then There Were None. In both reports, NPR failed to provide critical context about these anti-choice activists and the efforts of their organizations to oppose abortion access. In one piece, NPR asked Hawkins to comment on the status of various anti-choice movement priorities but failed to mention her long history of extreme comments about abortion, contraceptives, and more. These comments include her statement that certain forms of birth control should be illegal or are “carcinogenic” or “abortion-inducing,” as well as her claim that being an "abortion abolitionist" is "just like the slavery abolitionists." Similarly, NPR’s profile of Johnson and her organization focused on the group’s effort to “persuade as many [abortion clinic] workers as possible to leave the field.” Although NPR did note that the circumstances of Johnson’s departure from her own job at a clinic have been disputed by Planned Parenthood, the outlet did not substantively explain the details, which suggest there’s more to Johnson’s “conversion” story than meets the eye. NPR also didn’t explore the full spectrum of misinformation that Johnson regularly spreads about her former employer -- including the inaccurate claim that Planned Parenthood performs abortions on people who aren’t pregnant.
Johnson is scheduled to speak during this year’s March for Life rally -- giving outlets ample opportunity to fact-check her inaccurate claims. In addition to Johnson, outlets must also avoid downplaying the extremism of other right-wing media and anti-abortion figures scheduled to speak during the event. These figures include Fox News commentator Alveda King and The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, who will be recording an episode of his podcast before speaking at the rally on January 18.
During last year’s March for Life, outlets legitimized the false narrative of scientific support for anti-abortion policies by repeating unsubstantiated claims and manipulative terminology and by promoting so-called “scientific experts” without disclosing their ties to anti-choice organizations. For example, The Atlantic published an article the day before the 2018 March for Life quoting several representatives of the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) without noting that the group was founded by the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) specifically to produce research supporting the anti-choice movement. Perhaps more concerning than CLI’s origins, the group is still operated as part of SBA List -- filing federal 990 tax forms as “The Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund.” The Atlantic’s failure to identify CLI’s ties to the wider anti-abortion movement earned the outlet a place in Rewire.News’ 2018 “Hall of Shame” for inaccurate or deceptive reporting on reproductive rights. Other outlets such as CNN and The Birmingham News have also made the mistake of either downplaying or omitting CLI’s affiliations when citing the anti-abortion group in reporting.
Beyond failing to identify CLI’s anti-abortion affiliations in reporting, outlets have also continued to reiterate anti-abortion talking points and signal-boost partisan science. In March, The Associated Press published an article that repeated the discredited claim that there is a pathological link between having an abortion and developing “depression, anxiety and sleeping disorders.” In April, The Washington Post reported on a study that purported to show the effectiveness of a junk science anti-abortion procedure referred to as “abortion pill reversal,” but the journal that published the study was later forced to withdraw it after widely reported methodological concerns.
The consequences of allowing anti-abortion junk science to go unchecked can already be seen in several states’ anti-choice laws. The unscientific concept of fetal pain was influential in passing an anti-abortion bill in Missouri, even though many medical experts have disputed the validity of the studies and claims used to support such laws. In other states like Ohio and Iowa, anti-abortion lawmakers are promoting bans on abortion as early as six weeks (before many people know they’re pregnant), on the grounds that abortion should be illegal if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat. Already in 2019, Kentucky lawmakers have proposed a similar ban -- despite previous arguments from doctors that such policies actually do more harm than good.
Given the theme of this year’s march, media have a responsibility to accurately report on reproductive science and not to elevate pseudoscientific talking points from anti-abortion organizations without providing necessary context and pushback. In particular, media should:
During the 2018 March for Life, several outlets spread misinformation about the American public’s alleged support for anti-abortion policies by sharing polling data without proper context or analysis. For example, in an article about the anti-abortion policies promoted by President Donald Trump’s administration, Politico shared a poll commissioned by the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus to support the anti-choice argument that Americans want greater restrictions on abortion access. However, as MSNBC’s Irin Carmon has previous explained of the Knights of Columbus poll, a simple shift in phrasing or question style could substantially alter the findings:
You could ask Americans if they want Roe v. Wade overturned, as the Pew Research Center did in 2013, and learn that 63 percent want to see it stand. Or you could ask Americans to choose between two vague statements, like the recent poll the Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted for the Knights of Columbus, a group that opposes abortion. Asked to pick between “it is possible to have laws which protect both the health and well-being of a woman and the life of the unborn; or two, it is necessary for laws to choose to protect one and not the other,” 77 percent said it was possible to do everything. The policy implications of the first statement are unclear.
Further examining this phenomenon, Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained that “the public has diverse views on abortion” that cannot neatly be categorized or assessed. In another piece for Vox, Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at a public-opinion research firm, thoroughly explored how much of “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” For example, Undem wrote, even those “who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases” when polled about the legality of abortion expressed a higher level of support for abortion access when questioned about their “‘real life’ views on the issue”:
Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.
Additional polling by Undem’s firm, PerryUndem, has also found that most people believe that the decision to have an abortion should be made by a patient and their doctor (and, to a lesser extent, the larger medical community) -- and not by politicians.
There will be no shortage of claims during this year’s March for Life about the supposed popularity of anti-abortion positions. Given the theme of this year’s march, media should be prepared to provide audiences with the necessary context about polls, organizations, and anti-abortion media personalities included in their reporting about the march. Media must avoid oversimplifying public opinion polling or repeating inaccurate talking points in ways that uplift anti-choice misinformation.
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When it comes to a congresswoman cursing versus a congressman embracing white supremacy, cable news apparently believes the cursing deserves more coverage -- five times more coverage, to be exact.
On January 4, the day after Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) referred to President Donald Trump by saying “Impeach the motherfucker” during a reception with supporters, cable news outlets (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) spent over two and a half hours discussing the topic. In comparison, in the roughly 24 hours following the publication of Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) comments in The New York Times that showed him embracing white supremacy, cable news devoted just under 30 minutes of coverage to the congressman’s racism.
The discrepancy was the most glaring on Fox News, which devoted 52 minutes of coverage to Tlaib’s cursing and just 42 seconds to King’s comments about white supremacy. That’s over 74 times more coverage of Tlaib. Fox’s sole segment about King was framed as “Republican Congressman Steve King is fighting back against a New York Times article.”
CNN’s and MSNBC’s coverage was also skewed, though not nearly as much. CNN covered Tlaib’s comments for nearly an hour and five minutes while covering King’s comments for just about 15 minutes. MSNBC covered Tlaib cursing for the least amount of time, nearly 38 minutes, and covered King’s embrace of white supremacy for just over 14 minutes.
It isn't just the amount of coverage that shows a clear difference in how these stories were covered. The day after Tlaib cursed, congressional Democrats appearing on cable news were consistently asked for their response to her comment. While some Republicans have issued condemnations of King, cable news doesn’t have the same urgency in asking elected Republicans to respond to King’s comments.
The imbalance in coverage between these stories raises serious questions about just what stories cable news considers newsworthy and whether there’s a double standard in coverage of Democrats versus Republicans.
Media Matters reviewed transcripts in the video-streaming service SnapStream for mentions of “Steve King” from 8 a.m. January 10 to 9 a.m. January 11, 2019, (publication of the Times article seems to have occurred during the 8 a.m. hour, and researchers searched for comments about King through 9 a.m. the following day to cover the entirety of the morning shows) and for mentions of “Rashida” or “impeach” or spelling variations of “Tlaib” (including the common misspelling “Talib”) for all-day coverage on January 4, 2019, on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Only speech specifically about Steve King’s comments questioning why white nationalism and white supremacy are “offensive” and speech specifically about Rashida Tlaib’s impeach-Trump comment at a MoveOn.org event were timed.
In an interview with The New York Times published Thursday morning, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” TV news coverage of his remark that day was incredibly muted and often shied away from explicitly calling the comment racist; one show’s tweet merely called it “controversial.”
Update (1/13/19): The Sunday following King’s comments, only three of the five major Sunday political shows addressed the remarks: ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press. The anchors of those three shows each asked one congressional Republican guest about the comments in interviews, and CBS’ Margaret Brennan also discussed the comments with her panel later in the show. CNN’s State of the Union and Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday did not mention King’s comments at all.
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The Trump administration drew media criticism in February for a misleading claim that 10 terrorists were intercepted crossing the U.S.-Mexico border each day in 2017. The claim has now resurfaced as “almost 4,000 terrorists” throughout 2018. It is still misleading.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on the January 4 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends to defend President Donald Trump’s stance on the ongoing government shutdown. She told the hosts that a border wall is needed because “last year alone, there were nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border.
About an hour later, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley made the same claim on another Fox show, America’s Newsroom. Gidley said that there were “almost 4,000 terrorists, known or suspected, coming across the border” last year.
The White House’s claim of 4,000 terrorists invading through the southern border appears to be a rudimentary reframing of Vice President Mike Pence’s October statement that, in the 2017 fiscal year, “we apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day” trying to cross the southern border. (Eight months prior, Pence had said it was seven per day.) It seems Sanders and Gidley multiplied 10 terrorists by 365 days, then rounded the figure up to an even 4,000 for 2018. In recent days, congressional Republicans and prime-time host Sean Hannity have made similar claims on Fox.
Pence’s assertion was roundly debunked as a false claim last year. PolitiFact rated his initial claim “pants on fire” because the figure he referenced appeared to be for all points of entry to the country, not just the southern border. Similarly, The Washington Post said Pence’s later claim “quickly falls apart upon further inspection.” A Pence spokesperson also “tacitly” acknowledged to the Post that the vice president misstated the statistic.
On MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, national security reporter Julia Ainsley also noted that the White House “is likely rounding from this figure that we’ve heard from the administration before. ... What they’re taking that from is the number of all people who are stopped at all ports, especially airports.” Ainsley said that Sanders “seems to be rounding [the figure] and especially playing it off the border to make it seem as if these are people crossing the border to make the case for the president’s wall. When, in fact, we’re talking about airports where a wall wouldn’t do anything.”
Update (1/7/19): On January 6, Sanders appeared on Fox News Sunday to again push the myth that 4,000 suspected terrorists were attempting to cross the southern border. Sanders brought up the statistic after host Chris Wallace quoted the State Department’s statement that there is “no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.” When Sanders tried to bring up the statistic, Wallace said, "I know the statistic -- I didn’t know if you were gonna use it, but I studied up on this," and pointed out that “they're not coming across the southern border, Sarah; they’re coming and they are being stopped at airports.” Sanders ignored the factual basis of this claim, saying that terrorists “come by air, by land, and by sea.” In reality, zero immigrants have been arrested on terrorism charges while attempting to cross the southern border in recent years.
In a 6-hour period, CNN and MSNBC each spent nearly an hour discussing the op-ed
CNN and MSNBC spent a large portion of the first non-holiday day of 2019 talking about … Sen.-elect Mitt Romney (R-UT). Between 6 a.m. and noon on January 2, CNN and MSNBC each spent nearly an hour discussing Romney’s Washington Post op-ed criticizing President Donald Trump's character, while Fox News spent about 25 minutes on the subject. For those hoping the media would focus on the important issues facing Americans in 2019, the oversaturation of Romney coverage shows that getting their priorities straight might be a bigger hurdle for cable news than they expected.
On January 1, the Post published an anti-Trump op-ed in which Romney noted that “on balance, [Trump’s] conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
The cable morning news shows -- on CNN and MSNBC especially -- were quick to jump on the topic the following day. CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe each spent just over half an hour discussing Romney’s op-ed -- one-sixth of their total three-hour airtime (without even accounting for commercial breaks). Fox & Friends spent 12 minutes on the topic.
In total, CNN spent roughly 57 minutes discussing Romney’s op-ed, MSNBC spent almost 51 minutes, and Fox News spent approximately 25 minutes on the topic during the six-hour period Media Matters examined.
That is an exceeding amount of coverage for an op-ed from an incoming senator, even when that senator is Mitt Romney. This isn’t to say that the op-ed isn’t newsworthy at all, but given that Romney and Trump have been squabbling back and forth for years, it’s not particularly notable. And if Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is any indication, being a Republican senator critical of Trump oftentimes amounts to a lot of talk and no action. As 2019 begins and coverage ramps up for the 2020 presidential election, it’s important that cable news re-examines its priorities and focuses on the issues and policy topics that matter to Americans -- not the insults and meaningless fights between politicians vying for their attention.
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The departing interior secretary mimicked Trump's media strategy, including an allegiance to Fox News
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's long litany of scandals caught up with him on December 15, when President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Zinke would be leaving his post at the end of the year. According to reporting by The Washington Post, White House officials told Zinke that he had to resign or he’d be fired.
Throughout his 21 months at the helm of the Interior Department, Zinke hewed closely to Trump's media playbook. Like his boss, Zinke heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing outlets, giving interviews to them far more often than to mainstream outlets. Also like Trump, Zinke lashed out at journalists and news organizations that reported on his ethics problems, making false claims and calling them "fake news."
During his first year in office, Zinke appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. As Media Matters reported earlier this year, he gave 13 interviews to Fox and just one interview each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS.
Zinke's preference for Fox also extended to business networks: He gave seven interviews during his first year to the Fox Business Channel and just one to its chief competitor, CNBC.
And all of the interviews Zinke gave to major TV outlets other than Fox or Fox Business happened before July 2017, when his ethical problems and scandals started getting significant media coverage. After that, Zinke retreated completely to the warm embrace of Fox for his national TV appearances. Zinke was especially partial to Trump's favorite show, Fox & Friends, where the embattled secretary of the interior received a consistently friendly reception and no hard questioning. (Fox & Friends was recently revealed to have been exceedingly accomodating to another Trump cabinet official, former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.)
Rumors swirled after November’s midterm elections that Zinke would soon resign to avoid tough questioning and investigations of his many scandals from Democrats poised to take control of the House. Politico reported on November 8 that Zinke had already begun exploring other potential career opportunities, including trying to shop himself to Fox News: "Two [knowledgeable people] said Zinke has reached out to Fox to inquire about working at the conservative news channel as a contributor."
Zinke denied the claims that he had approached Fox about a job, but he didn't distance himself from the network. When Fox News launched a new streaming service for "superfans," Fox Nation, in late November, Zinke appeared on it twice during its first week. He visited Mount Rushmore with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, and he sat for an interview with conservative commentator David Webb. He also gave an interview to Kilmeade on November 21 for Fox News Talk's Brian Kilmeade Radio Show.
Zinke was back on regular old Fox News again on November 29, when Fox News @ Night host Shannon Bream gave him a friendly platform to attack his critics and dismiss the ethics investigations that have dogged him during his tenure at the Interior Department.
Fox still frequently had Zinke’s back even when he wasn’t on the air; the network reported on his scandals less often and in less depth than CNN and MSNBC did. For example, Fox gave lighter coverage to a controversy over expensive travel Zinke made on the taxpayers' dime, and almost no coverage to a huge Puerto Rican contract given to the tiny firm of Whitefish Energy, which had with multiple ties to Zinke.
Fox is far from the only right-wing media outlet that Zinke ran to when he wanted to get his talking points out. He gave interviews to nationally syndicated right-wing talk radio programs, such as his May 2017 appearance on The Hugh Hewitt Show, and to conservative talk radio programs in his home state, such as Montana Talks, where he appeared in October and November of this year. In June, he gave an interview to the conservative Washington Examiner.
Zinke also made at least three appearances on Breitbart News radio shows this year, including interviews in May, August, and November. In the August appearance, Zinke claimed that “environmental terrorist groups” were responsible for major wildfires in the West because they had tried to block some logging on public lands. The Washington Post debunked that claim, noting that "fire scientists and forestry experts have said climate change is the main factor behind the problem." In the November appearance, Zinke denied that he's done anything wrong that would warrant the many investigations and scandals surrounding him. "The allegations against me are outrageous, they’re false. Everyone knows they’re false," he said.
In late November, Zinke also gave another interview to David Webb -- this time for his Sirius XM radio program rather than his Fox Nation show.
Not only did Zinke generally avoid talking to mainstream outlets; he and his press office at the Department of Interior attacked those outlets.
After Politico published an investigative story into an ethically questionable land deal Zinke had discussed with the chairman of Halliburton, Zinke went on the conservative talk radio show Voices of Montana and called the story's reporter "nefarious," saying, "This is exactly what's wrong with the press, and the president has it right. It's fake news. It's knowing, it's willing, to willingly promulgate fake news.” But the story was credible enough that the Interior Department's inspector general started an official investigation into Zinke's involvement in the deal and referred one of its probes to the Justice Department for further investigation.
On October 16, The Hill reported that the Interior Department's acting inspector general, who had been overseeing a number of investigations into Zinke's actions, was going to be replaced by a political appointee, citing as its source an internal email written by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Two days later, the Interior Department denied the report, and though Carson had been the source of the allegedly inaccurate information, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift used the occasion to attack journalists: "This is a classic example of the media jumping to conclusions and reporting before all facts are known," she wrote in an official statement. It wasn't Swift's first attack on the media. In January, Swift disparaged a HuffPost article about Zinke failing to disclose owning shares in a gun company as "typical fake news" from the outlet.
After Politico published its article in early November reporting that Zinke was shopping around for jobs as he prepared to leave the Trump administration, Zinke went on the Montana Talks radio show to bash the journalists who wrote the story and to criticize the media in general. From The Hill, which reported on the interview:
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took to a conservative talk show to slam reporting on his ethics scandals as “B.S.”
“They're very angry, and truth doesn’t matter to these people anymore,” Zinke said of mainstream journalists, saying that President Trump “nearly [got] assaulted” by CNN’s Jim Acosta.
“You know, it comes from the same liberal reporters that have lost their ability to tell the truth,” he continued.
Zinke went on to say that some media organizations “have nothing better to do, the entire organizations are about attacking Zinke … so what happens is, they invent a story, they try to sell it, and it goes all the way up to the Washington Post, the New York Times, there’s truth to it. It’s just a series of allegations.”
Despite his fiery denials, Zinke was indeed on his way out the door just a few weeks later.
Embarrassingly, Fox News devoted the most coverage to the topic, with just under 14 minutes total in two months
The open-enrollment period to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov will end in less than two weeks on December 15, but if you rely on TV news you may not even know that the enrollment period began November 1. The three major cable news networks and the three broadcast news networks together have given the open-enrollment period embarrassingly scant coverage in the last two months -- a meager 16 1/2 minutes in total from October 3 to December 3, according to a Media Matters review.
That Fox provided the most coverage of the enrollment period is troubling on its own; the network has a history of providing misleading and outright false coverage of the ACA as a part of a larger effort by right-wing media to discredit the health care law. Recently, the network allowed Republican politicians to lie about their positions on insurance coverage protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, misled in its coverage of President Donald Trump’s administration ending subsidies that make health care plans on the exchanges affordable, and aired misleading charts about enrollment numbers. Not to mention the network’s record of airing misleading human interest stories, false narratives, and unending refrains that the ACA is “failing.”
In addition to the two segments featuring longer discussions of the ACA, Fox also ran three news briefs on November 1 announcing the open-enrollment period. CBS ran two news briefs announcing the enrollment period that same day, which amounted to roughly one minute of airtime.
No other network aired a segment about the enrollment period. CNN and MSNBC only mentioned the enrollment period in passing for less than one minute each, while ABC and NBC did not mention it at all. No cable news or broadcast news network aired an advance announcement of the enrollment period; all coverage in the 29 days before the November 1 enrollment start date was mere passing mentions amounting to about one and a half minutes.
In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking poll, only 24 percent of non-group enrollees ages 18-64 (those who are uninsured or who purchase their own individual insurance) knew about the December 15 deadline for open enrollment. The percentage of non-group enrollees who did not know about the deadline at all increased from 53 percent in October 2017 to 61 percent last month.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has shortened the open-enrollment period by half, from 12 weeks to six. Previously, enrollment was open from November 1 to January 31, but bowing to pressure from health insurers, Trump set a cutoff of December 15.
This smaller sign-up window is not the only assault on enrollment numbers. The Trump administration has also scheduled 60 hours of downtime for the HealthCare.gov website for scheduled maintenance every Sunday from midnight to noon during the enrolment period (except for the last Sunday), has reduced funding for enrollment groups that work to sign up Americans in states that don’t run their own exchanges by as much as 92 percent, and has slashed funding for its advertising by 90 percent.
As a result of these Trump administration policies, advocates predicted a decline in enrollment in the health care exchanges. Sign-ups for 2018 were down to 11.8 million from 12.2 million the year before, and sign-ups for this enrollment period are on track to be even lower.
Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for mentions of “enrollment” within close proximity of “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “health care,” “healthcare,” “Obama care,” or “Obamacare” from October 3 (the earliest transcripts were still available) to December 3, 2018, on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from 4 a.m. through midnight and on ABC’s, CBS’, and NBC’s early morning shows, morning shows, evening shows, and Sunday morning political talk shows.
We timed and coded any passing mention, teaser, news brief, or news segment mentioning or discussing the open-enrollment period. For passing mentions, we only timed the relevant speech. For teasers and segments, we timed them in their entirety.
A version of this post was originally published on Grist.
Right-wingers' efforts to derail media coverage of the National Climate Assessment backfired not once but twice.
First, the Trump administration tried to bury the National Climate Assessment by releasing it on Black Friday, but that tactic bombed. It turns out that "Trump tries to bury a new climate report" is a much sexier headline than "Scientists release a new climate report."
Then, climate deniers fanned out on TV networks to spread lies and deceptive talking about the report, but they got far more criticism than they expected, and that criticism kept climate change in the news.
Overall the report got loads of media coverage in the days after it was released. The quality was decidedly mixed -- some of it was good, some of it was awful -- but the good coverage appears to have outweighed the bad.
At least 140 newspapers around the country featured the National Climate Assessment on their front pages the morning after it was released, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That included not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have strong teams of climate reporters, but also smaller papers all around the U.S., including 20 of them in California. A number of the papers highlighted the ways that climate change is hitting their regions, like the Portland Press Herald in Maine:
If the release of the climate change report really was timed to bury the news, it backfired badly. It’s on the front page everywhere today. We stripped it across A1 with a second story about Northeast/Gulf of Maine impact. Because this is the most important issue of our time. pic.twitter.com/hZELULzawR
— Steve Greenlee (@SteveGreenlee) November 24, 2018
MSNBC aired some strong segments. In one, host Ali Velshi mocked President Donald Trump's claim that his “gut” told him the report is wrong. He then interviewed climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a co-author of the assessment, who explained the report's findings and how scientists arrived at them.
CNN served up some highly problematic coverage -- more on that below -- but it also did some good interviews with climate scientists about the report, as well as three senators who are serious about addressing the climate crisis. And CNN took a novel approach to real-time fact-checking when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about the report during a press briefing. The network showed live video of Sanders, but paired it alongside a text bar labeled "Facts First" that corrected some of her false claims:
CNN is airing the briefing -- but this "facts first" side panel seems like a new idea pic.twitter.com/xzZOIbFTFQ
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) November 27, 2018
All of the Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the report on the weekend after it was released. It was the first time in 2018 that every one of them addressed climate change on the same day. They rarely cover climate change at all.
Unfortunately, we would have been better off without some of that Sunday show coverage -- particularly the segments that gave airtime to rabid climate deniers. One of the worst ran on NBC's Meet the Press and featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers. She trotted out a favorite climate denier line -- "I'm not a scientist" -- and then proceeded to spout pure nonsense about how the globe is getting cooler.
Right-wing panelist on Meet the Press on climate change: "I'm not a scientist ... We need to also recognize we had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that." pic.twitter.com/OLPUZOpoKR
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) November 25, 2018
Egregious drivel about climate change also cropped up on CNN's State of the Union, which asked not one but two climate deniers to weigh in on the report. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) offered bland, lukewarm climate denial: "Our climate always changes and we see those ebb-and-flows through time." Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) one-upped Ernst by going all in for scalding-hot climate denial, praising the Trump team’s attempt to bury the report and claiming that the scientists who wrote it were “driven by the money":
CNN's Rick Santorum praises Trump administration trying to bury report on climate change: "A lot of these scientists are driven by the money" pic.twitter.com/ndwpkQHUxH
— Media Matters (@mmfa) November 25, 2018
Santorum was roundly mocked on Twitter for making such a completely bogus claim. You might have thought that this would discourage other climate deniers from following suit, or at least discourage CNN from giving them a platform. You would have been wrong.
The following Monday, CNN hosted two more right-wingers who made the same ridiculous claim that climate scientists were in it for the money: Tom DeLay, who resigned as Republican House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, and Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving “economist” who's worked for Koch-funded groups.
The next day, on Tuesday morning, CNN seemed like it might be trying to redeem itself. It ran one segment in which CNN political analyst John Avlon fact-checked and thoroughly debunked the claim that scientists are getting rich by studying climate change, and another in which climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained that she and the other co-authors of the National Climate Assessment were paid "zero dollars" for their efforts.
But a few hours later, the bonkers claims were back. CNN yet again invited both Santorum and Moore to repeat the warmed-over lie that scientists are driven by a multi-billion-dollar climate change industry that has manufactured a false crisis. Santorum presented this ludicrous falsehood and many others in a panel discussion on Anderson Cooper 360°. Cooper had interviewed Hayhoe for that same episode, but her interview got bumped and was only posted online, while the segment with Santorum’s false claims aired during prime time.
Oh, and CNN also failed to note that Santorum, Moore, and DeLay have all received copious amounts of cash themselves from the fossil fuel industry.
Other media outlets bashed CNN and NBC for featuring climate deniers, and that led to still more coverage of climate change and the National Climate Assessment, most of which was good.
The New York Times published a fact-checking piece titled, "The Baseless Claim That Climate Scientists Are ‘Driven’ by Money," which cited and debunked statements made by Santorum and DeLay. PunditFact, a project of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, looked into Pletka's claims and labeled them "false."
New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg published a story titled "News Networks Fall Short on Climate Story as Dolphins Die on the Beach," which highlighted the false claims made by Pletka and Santorum and put them in the context of climate change impacts in Florida. The Washington Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted out Rutenberg's story.
Climate scientist Hayhoe published an op-ed in The Washington Post that debunked the myths propagated on CNN by Santorum and DeLay, among others.
WNYC's On the Media hosted yours truly in a discussion about coverage of the National Climate Assessment, including the problem of featuring climate deniers on air.
Politico's Morning Media daily newsletter, written by media reporter Michael Calderone, highlighted problems with press coverage of the National Climate Assessment on four different occasions after the report came out.
ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd was just one of many influential media figures who tweeted their disapproval of segments that featured climate deniers:
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) November 25, 2018
The fact that some members of the media screwed up their coverage so royally meant that other members of the media kept reporting on the story longer than they might have otherwise.
Meanwhile, the folks over at Trump's favorite network were living in their own universe, as usual. Fox News gave the National Climate Assessment very little airtime. A few straight-news segments covered it, but the most popular Fox shows didn't. CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out that on the day of the report's release, Fox spent more time discussing the shoes of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) than it did discussing climate change.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 25, 2018
Considering what Fox's top personalities would have been likely to say about the report had they bothered to cover it, it's probably just as well that they stayed mum.
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:
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?
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