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  • 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.

  • The morning after Florida shooting, elected GOP officials appeared on only one show: Fox & Friends

    No elected GOP officials appeared on morning shows on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, or CBS. Chris Cuomo: Republicans "wouldn’t even come on the damn show.”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    The morning after yet another deadly school shooting in the United States, Republican elected officials avoided all but one morning news show: Fox & Friends.

    Yesterday, a shooting at a Florida school left at least 17 students and adults dead. It was the 18th shooting at a school in the U.S. just this year. Today, Republican elected officials avoided ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC’s morning shows, opting to exclusively appear on Fox & Friends. Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) all appeared on Fox to discuss the shooting. Cruz attempted to explain the shooting by saying, “Evil is, sadly, always present” and complained that “the reaction of Democrats to any tragedy to is try to politicize it.” Rubio referred to the shooting as “an isolated instance” that resulted from “a perfect storm of circumstances.” And Scott told the Fox & Friends hosts that he was “mad” and asked, “How can this be going on in our society?” Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson also appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss the shooting.

    Meanwhile, no Republican elected officials appeared on any other broadcast and major cable news channel. CNN host Chris Cuomo noted that it was not for lack of trying, saying that Republicans “wouldn’t even come on the damn show” to talk about the shooting in Florida:

    In the aftermath of past mass shootings, Fox News has provided a platform for Second Amendment advocates to push misinformation about firearms while repeatedly asserting that the aftermath of a mass shooting is “not the time” to talk about policy solutions to address gun violence.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.

  • Cable and broadcast news ignored a huge story about FEMA malpractice in Puerto Rico

    This is just the latest in the media’s neglectful coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A New York Times report on February 6 revealed that a FEMA contract that called for 30 million meals to be sent to Puerto Rico resulted in only 50,000 meals actually delivered. The contract was awarded to a company with no history in large-scale disaster relief, the latest in a string of poor contracting decisions in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. Despite this, cable and broadcast news networks almost completely ignored the story, with only MSNBC and CBS even mentioning it, albeit briefly.

    According to the Timesreport, FEMA awarded an $156 million contract to a company called Tribute Contracting to provide 30 million meals to Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Tiffany Brown, the owner and only employee of the company, had “no experience in large-scale disaster relief,” and had “at least five canceled government contracts in her past.” The Times notes that “by the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000,” and the ones that were delivered were packaged incorrectly. FEMA eventually terminated the contract with Tribute.

    Months after Hurricane Maria made landfall in September, Puerto Rico remains in desperate need of assistance. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans still lacked electricity as of January 29, 20 percent of the island is still without running water, and there are countless infrastructural problems that have yet to be fixed. Puerto Rico’s recovery has been hampered by governmental incompetence, as well as several contracts with ill-equipped companies, one of which was also made by FEMA.

    Cable and broadcast news shows failed to adequately cover the latest setback for Puerto Rico. According to a Media Matters analysis, only MSNBC’s Morning Joe and CBS This Morning mentioned FEMA’s botched meals contract. CBS This Morning spent less than 30 seconds on the story, simply doing a quick headline read about the Times’ article. Morning Joe mentioned the story three times during its February 7 edition, devoting 3 minutes and 14 seconds to the topic. There was no coverage of the story on CNN, ABC, NBC, or Fox News.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    News networks’ failure to highlight FEMA’s ill-informed contract and the resulting loss in supplies for Puerto Ricans is unfortunately part of a larger pattern of networks ignoring the devastation and neglect of Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria made landfall.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “Puerto Rico” on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NBC, ABC, and CBS from February 6, when the Times story was published, until 1 p.m. on February 7.

  • Only one Sunday show talked to immigrants and DACA recipients

    While discussing Trump’s immigration proposal, only ABC’s This Week spoke with those directly impacted by it

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In discussions about President Donald Trump’s proposed immigration framework, ABC’s This Week was the only Sunday show that spoke to immigrants directly impacted by it. CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press only invited elected officials, members of the administration, and political pundits to discuss the issue.

    Trump’s proposal to lawmakers involves granting a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants including those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, undocumented immigrants who would’ve qualified for the protections but didn’t sign up for the program, and others newly eligible. In addition, the plan calls for $25 billion for a border wall and other border security, eliminates the diversity visa lottery, enables the administration to increase its deportation capacities, and radically rolls back family-based immigration, which would sharply cut legal immigration. The proposal has been criticized for its ties to white nationalist ideology.

    Only ABC’s This Week spoke to immigrants and DACA recipients who would be directly impacted by the plan:

    When it comes to immigration coverage, media have a history of ignoring the voices of those affected the most by immigration policies. In September, only a day after Trump rescinded DACA, less than 10 percent of guests invited to discuss the policy on cable news networks were DACA recipients. Networks have often helped mainstream anti-immigrant extremism by inviting on members of nativist groups and normalizing pejorative nativist buzzwords.

    As Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, told CNN’s Brian Stelter on the January 28 edition of Reliable Sources, the way audiences learn about “people outside of our own communities is through the media.” As a matter of good journalism, networks should make an effort to elevate voices less heard, especially in a conversation as important as immigration policy.

  • The attacks on Jane Fonda show who Megyn Kelly really is

    Megyn “Santa just is white” Kelly called Fonda “a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage” 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Megyn Kelly may be an NBC host now, but her January 22 monologue about actress Jane Fonda reveals how little Kelly has deviated from her signature Fox News diatribes.

    This morning, Kelly devoted a three-minute monologue to attacking Fonda, a former guest on her show, and largely focused on the actress’ radical anti-Vietnam War activism in the 1970s. Kelly’s monologue exhibited classic Fox News feigned outrage about a guest Kelly seemed to originally have no problem booking. “This is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. ... She has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive,” Kelly said.

    The attack on Fonda appeared to be in response to a comment Fonda made during an interview she and her Netflix costar Lily Tomlin did on Today last week. During the January 16 interview with anchors Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie, Fonda made a joking aside referencing her interview with Kelly last September in which Kelly had awkwardly asked Fonda about her past plastic surgery. At the time, Fonda had deflected the question and had instead discussed the film she was promoting. Fonda has since spoken about the embarrassing exchange several times, noting she would still return to the show if Kelly “comes around and learns her stuff.”

    NBC reportedly pays Kelly an annual salary of $18 million to host her hour of Today featuring interviews and monologues like the one this morning. She will be co-hosting the network’s State of the Union address coverage next week.

    During her time as a Fox News host, Kelly was known for delivering race-baiting and anti-feminist rants, including dismissing campus sexual assault, declaring a black teenage girl attacked by Texas police was “no saint,” and insisting that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were both white. A former Fox colleague reportedly told Yashar Ali that her monologue this morning “just shows that [Fox News] never made her do anything… this is who she is.”

    From the January 22 edition of NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today:

    MEGYN KELLY (HOST): Look, I gave her the chance to empower other women, young and old, on a subject which she purports to know well. And she rejected it. That’s OK. But I have no regrets about that question. Nor am I on the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not appropriate. After all, this is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. Look at her treatment of our military during the Vietnam War. Many of our veterans still call her “Hanoi Jane” thanks to her radio broadcast which attempted to shame American troops. She posed on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down our American pilots. She called our POWs hypocrites and liars, and referred to their torture as understandable. Even she had to apologize years later for that gun picture, but not for the rest of it. By the way, she still says she is not proud of America. So the moral indignation is a little much. She put her plastic surgery out there. She said she wanted to discuss the plight of older women in America. And honestly, she has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive.

  • Sunday shows barely mentioned the 2018 Women’s March

    The longest mention was a meager 20 seconds on NBC’s Meet The Press. Other shows were worse.

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Mobilus in Mobili / Creative Commons License via Flickr

    The day after the start of the second annual series of Women’s Marches all over the world, the major Sunday political talk shows were nearly silent on the historic protests, only briefly mentioning the topic across all five shows.

    On January 20 and 21, one year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in hundreds of marches and other events in the U.S. and worldwide to unite to support women’s rights. The protests emphasized encouraging women to engage in the political process and expressing shared disdain for the oppressive policies of the Trump administration. According to Politico, there were an estimated 600,000 attendees at the Los Angeles march alone. One of the March’s main events, called #PowerToThePolls, took place in Las Vegas, NV, on January 21 and aimed to register one million voters.The Women’s March described the effort as targeting “swing states to register new voters, engage impacted communities, harness our collective energy to advocate for policies and candidates that reflect our values, and collaborate with our partners to elect more women and progressives candidates to office.”

    Despite the worldwide impact of the marches, the major Sunday political talk shows  -- which include CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday -- were nearly silent on the topic. These shows often set the tone and priorities for media coverage for the rest of the week.

    On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos briefly acknowledged the “Women’s Marches in hundreds of cities all across the country” in his opening monologue, and later in the show, panelist Karen Finney mentioned “all the people who were marching in the streets yesterday.” No one responded directly to her comments about the marches. On CBS’ Face The Nation, conservative outlet The Federalist’s publisher Ben Domenech noted the “pro-life March For Life that happens every year, followed by the Women’s March on the other side” while discussing Trump’s first year in office.

    The only significant discussion, defined as a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people, of the weekend’s marches was on NBC’s Meet the Press, where panelists remarked on the event in a meager 20-second exchange. Host Chuck Todd also mentioned the “hundreds of thousands of women march[ing] across the country protesting the president, many with an eye towards more women winning office this November” in his opening monologue.

    In 2017, CNN and MSNBC extensively covered the first annual Women’s March, while Fox News’ minimal coverage was criticized. That march was one of the largest protests in US. history.

  • 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.

  • Replacing a harasser with a highly qualified woman is a good start, but it isn’t enough 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In 2017, we saw the first wave of high-profile men lose their media jobs after they were publicly named for sexual harassment or abusive behavior. This phenomenon seems to be far from over, but the last few weeks have also marked a new phase of the so-called reckoning: the first concentrated round of successors. A few stand-out and obviously qualified women are now being given the overdue opportunity to step up -- but the ways their employers have treated their new roles signals there’s a lot more work to be done.

    Back in December, PBS announced it would fill Charlie Rose’s time slot with CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour’s show “on an interim basis.” Earlier this month, NBC formalized its replacement of Matt Lauer with longtime Today co-host Hoda Kotb, and CBS News co-anchor Alex Wagner was announced as a replacement for Mark Halperin in Showtime’s political documentary series The Circus. Yesterday, The New York Times formally announced it was appointing reporter Katie Rogers to its White House beat, which was vacated by Glenn Thrush.

    Simply replacing male harassers with qualified women is not nearly enough, though. The examples so far do not represent anything close to a cultural change, which is what’s needed to effectively address such a clearly systemic problem. For each of these accomplished women, their promotions or new gigs have been coupled with sexist indignities or caveats.

    Just hours after Hoda Kotb was announced as the new permanent Today co-anchor, Page Six reported that she would be making a significantly smaller salary than the serial abuser whose seat she would fill -- even as Kotb plans to continue co-hosting her additional fourth hour of the show, working literally more than Lauer.

    Others aren’t technically replacements at all. Katie Rogers was named the Times’ new White House correspondent after Glenn Thrush was removed from the beat. But Thrush was not fired, to be clear, and will apparently continue to report for the Times in a to-be-determined new role in late January following a brief suspension. And Christiane Amanpour isn’t taking over Charlie Rose’s eponymous PBS show (which he produced independently) or even hosting a new show for PBS that would adopt the same format. Instead, PBS is simply electing to air her current show, Amanpour, “on an interim basis,” during Rose’s old time slot. (Rose's other former employer, CBS, has now reportedly filled Rose's morning show seat with Sunday news anchor John Dickerson.) 

    These initial replacements were obvious choices to make and, in some cases, long overdue. But today’s context reeks of an opportunistic exploitation of the public female body by news corporations, and it cheapens the accomplishments of Kotb, Wagner, Rogers, and Amanpour, and others they represent. Indeed, some of these same women were asked to serve as the public faces for processing the offenses reportedly committed by their predecessors. As Doreen St. Felix wrote in The New Yorker on Lauer's firing, “It is no surprise that, to convey something like moral mooring to a vastly female audience, the networks rely on women anchors to break the public fall.”

    This icky feeling now can be summed up with a simple but telling act: The Hill, in promoting its write-up on Wagner’s new role on The Circus, tweeted, “Showtime’s ‘The Circus’ to replace Mark Halperin with female journalist.” The story was still about Halperin, after all, as it had always been; Wagner’s name or any of her myriad qualifications were less important than the convenient symbolism her body allowed media to neatly package into a few characters.

  • 2017 was a terrible year of climate disasters -- and too many media outlets failed to tell the story

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    From hurricanes to heat waves to wildfires and beyond, 2017 has been a terrifying year of disasters in the U.S. And too many media outlets have missed a key part of the story: These aren't just natural disasters; in many cases, they're climate disasters.

    Some wildfire coverage explored the climate angle, but much of it didn't

    Even before vicious wildfires tore through Southern California in December, the state had experienced its worst-ever wildfire season, which many scientists said was likely worsened by climate change.

    The Los Angeles Times did a good job of explaining the climate-wildfire link in a December 6 editorial titled "While Southern California battles its wildfires, we have to start preparing for our hotter, drier future." Fires have long been a part of California ecosystems, and many factors have played a role in making the Thomas Fire and other December blazes so destructive, the editorial board noted, but underlying all of that is the brutal fact of global warming: "What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires."

    Indeed, a number of scientific studies have linked climate change to increased wildfire risk in California. PBS's NewsHour aired a segment on December 13 that featured climate scientists explaining some of these links. "I think the science is pretty solid to indicate that wildfire risk is likely to increase in the future due to climate change," said scientist Radley Horton, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "I think exhibit A has to be the increase in temperature that we have observed. In California, we have seen about a 1.5-degree increase in temperature over the last century."

    Unfortunately, many media outlets have not been connecting the dots between climate change and wildfires the way the L.A. Times and PBS did.

    When huge fires raged through Montana and the Pacific Northwest this summer, and when fires tore through Northern California wine country in October, the major broadcast TV news programs and Sunday morning talk shows did not air a single segment discussing climate change in the context of those fires, Media Matters found. This despite the fact that scientists have determined that climate change is a major factor in forest fires in the western U.S.

    Media coverage of heat waves and hurricanes often fell short

    Beyond fires, many mainstream media outlets missed critical opportunities this year to discuss how other kinds of disasters are made worse by climate change.

    In June, parts of the southwestern U.S. baked in a record heat wave that brought temperatures up to 119 degrees in Phoenix, so hot that certain types of small planes couldn't get off the ground. The record temperatures coincided with publication of a comprehensive peer-reviewed study that found deadly heat waves are on the rise thanks to climate change. But major television network affiliates in Phoenix and Las Vegas completely failed to discuss how climate change exacerbates heat waves like the one the region was experiencing, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    News coverage of the impact of climate change on hurricanes has been sorely lacking this year, too. Even the unprecedented one-two-three punch of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wasn't enough to spur some key mainstream outlets to tell an increasingly obvious story.

    ABC and NBC both completely failed to bring up climate change during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, Media Matters found. So did the New York Post, one of the highest-circulation newspapers in the country, according to a report by Public Citizen. The Weather Channel, where many Americans turn when weather disasters loom, also failed to address the climate-hurricane connection during Harvey. Worse still, both Fox News and The Wall Street Journal ran more pieces that disputed a climate-hurricane link than pieces that acknowledged it. These findings by Media Matters and others inspired climate activists to launch a Twitter campaign calling on media to end the #climatesilence.

    TV news showed modest improvement at connecting the dots between climate change and hurricanes during Hurricane Irma, but still came up short. And when Maria hit, much of the mainstream media didn't even give adequate coverage to the storm itself or its aftermath, let alone the climate angle, as both Media Matters and MIT Media Lab researchers found.

    Climate change cannot be blamed for wholly causing any one individual weather disaster, but it effectively loads the dice in favor of abnormal and extreme weather, as climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues have explained.

    And after a weather event has occurred, scientists can analyze the extent to which climate change was a contributing factor. A new set of papers published this month found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events in 2016, including the year's record-breaking global heat. Some scientists have already done these kinds of attribution studies for 2017's hurricanes and found that climate change increased rainfall from Hurricane Harvey by between 15 and 38 percent.

    As the weather gets worse, we need our journalism to get better

    We all lost big in the climate-rigged dice game this year. There were so many record-setting extreme weather incidents and disasters in 2017 that it's hard to remember them all. Consider a few you might have forgotten:

    • The hottest World Series game in history took place in Los Angeles in late October, with temperatures hitting 103 degrees and staying there past 5 p.m.
    • Hurricane Ophelia traveled farther east than any major Atlantic hurricane on record, and so far north that it went off the storm-tracking maps generated by the National Weather Service. It caused severe damage in Ireland and Scotland even after it had been downgraded from hurricane status.
    • An unprecedented and devastating drought pummelled the Northern Plains states for seven months. It laid the groundwork for vicious wildfires.

    As USA Today recently put it, "From record flooding to disastrous wildfires, 2017 will go down as one of the USA's most catastrophic years ever for extreme, violent weather that disrupted the lives of millions of Americans."

    But that USA Today piece neglected to note the role climate change played in juicing up 2017's count of big disasters.

    Some news organizations consistently do a better job of reporting on climate change. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published strong reporting and good editorials and opinion pieces on the impact of climate change on disasters. CNN and MSNBC outperformed other TV news outlets in discussing how hurricanes Harvey and Irma were affected by climate change. In one recent segment, CNN invited climate scientist Michael Mann to explain the connection between climate change and hurricane intensity, offering a great model for other outlets:

    But those kinds of segments are all too rare. Many of the most influential mainstream media outlets need to do better at reporting on the connections scientists are finding between climate change and extreme weather. When a disaster hits, that's a prime opportunity to report on climate change, a topic that at other times might not seem newsy. When a long string of unprecedented disasters hit, as happened this year, that's even more of a call for media to tell the story of global warming.

    Good journalism is needed not just to help Americans understand the reality of climate change, but to inspire them to fight the problem by pushing for a rapid shift to cleaner energy, transport, and agriculture systems.

    Let's hope to see more climate-focused, science-driven journalism in 2018.

    -----

    Methodology: To search for broadcast television and Sunday show coverage of the Northwest and Northern California wildfires and climate change, Media Matters searched Nexis using the term (fire! OR wildfire!) w/30 (climate change OR global warming OR changing climate OR climate warm! OR warm! climate OR warm! planet OR warm! globe OR global temperatures OR rising temperatures OR hotter temperatures).

  • Net neutrality dies in silence as morning shows largely ignore FCC's vote

    The flagship morning news shows on broadcast and cable news covered net neutrality for less than four minutes combined

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today voted to repeal net neutrality rules, which will allow internet service providers to block or slow down service and access to websites, or charge fees for faster service.

    If you weren’t aware of this potentially monumental change that will significantly impact your internet access, that’s because the major news networks mostly haven’t been doing their jobs.

    Hours before today’s FCC repeal vote, the flagship morning news shows on the six major broadcast and cable news networks devoted an embarrassingly small amount of time to covering net neutrality. Relative silence from the major news networks on net neutrality is unfortunately nothing new, as Media Matters has previously documented.

    This morning, most of the morning news programs either completely ignored the impending move or cursorily mentioned it for a few seconds at a time. Among the cable news networks, Fox News’ Fox & Friends spent just 52 seconds on net neutrality. MSNBC’s Morning Joe and CNN's New Day did not cover the story at all. (It was covered for about half a minute on MSNBC's early morning show, First Look, and roughly one minute on CNN's early morning show, Early Start. After the conclusion of Morning Joe, MSNBC has been covering net neutrality in detail on MSNBC Live.)

    The broadcast networks also spent scant time on the issue: ABC’s Good Morning America devoted just 14 seconds to net neutrality and NBC’s Today didn’t mention it at all. CBS This Morning led the pack with two and a half minutes of coverage this morning, and was the only one of the flagship morning programs to run a full segment on the topic.

    Since November 28, cable news networks have mostly given net neutrality minimal coverage: approximately five minutes each on CNN and Fox News and almost 17 minutes on MSNBC, which has consistently devoted the most coverage to net neutrality in recent weeks. Broadcast networks have been mostly crickets, too. Since November 28, NBC has devoted about eight minutes to covering net neutrality while CBS has spent close to five minutes, and ABC has devoted just 14 seconds to the topic -- the brief mention on Good Morning America this morning.

    Since November 20, when news first broke about the planned repeal, the six networks have devoted a combined nearly one hour and 53 minutes to the story; although, MSNBC alone has accounted for more than one hour and three minutes of that total coverage time. The vast majority of the coverage occurred before November 28.

    Under Trump, the Republican-led FCC has already done significant damage to the local news landscape and paved the way for major corporate consolidation in media -- but repealing net neutrality seems to be its most unpopular action yet. A new survey found that 83 percent of Americans don’t approve of the FCC’s repeal proposal -- including 3 out of 4 Republicans. Even the FCC’s own chief technology officer warned against the move. And 18 attorneys general had called for a delay in the vote due to widespread fraudulent comments during the public comment period.

    That’s probably why chairman Ajit Pai’s media tour in the days before the net neutrality repeal has largely targeted conservative and far-right media that may provide a (marginally) more friendly audience. Since November 21, Pai has given four cable news interviews: two with Fox & Friends, one with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, and a fourth with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt at MSNBC. He did not give an interview to any of the three major broadcast networks. (Pai also seemingly promoted the repeal by appearing in an embarrassing video at The Daily Caller along with renowned plagiarist Benny Johnson and a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist.)

    It’s also why major news networks’ relative silence on such a deeply unpopular and hugely consequential action like the FCC’s repeal vote is a net benefit to the commission and to major corporations -- and keeps an informed public from fighting back.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Snapstream database of television video transcripts for any mentions of “net neutrality,” "Federal Communications Commission,” or “FCC” from November 20 through December 14, 2017 on ABC’s Good Morning AmericaWorld News Tonight with David Muir, and This Week with George Stephanopoulos; CBS’s This Morning, Evening News, and Face the Nation with John Dickerson; NBC’s Today, Nightly News with Lester Holt, and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd; and all-day programming (through 9am on December 14) on the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. We also searched the Nexis transcript database and the iQ Media transcript database for the same terms. Since November 23 was Thanksgiving, some networks altered their regularly scheduled programming on that day.

    We included any segment about FCC chair Ajit Pai’s proposal or the FCC vote scheduled for December 14 following Politico’s November 20 report on the proposal. We timed all such segments from start to finish, and excluded any breaks to other news or to commercials. We also included portions of multi-topic segments when two or more speakers discussed the FCC chair’s proposal or the scheduled vote on the proposal with one another. In those instances, we only timed the relevant discussion and not the entire segment. We excluded passing mentions of the proposal or its vote, and we excluded teasers of upcoming segments about the proposal or its vote.

    Note: This post has been updated to reflect that the FCC officially moved to repeal net neutrality rules in a 3-2 vote on December 14. 

    Rob Savillo contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.