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  • Maine media undercut the narrative that opposition to Susan Collins' Kavanaugh vote is all harassment

    National media portray Sen. Susan Collins as besieged by harassment regarding her vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The truth is more complicated. 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has been under pressure to vote against President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh -- but if you were to listen only to national media, you’d be missing the big picture. Major media outlets are reporting that Collins has been harassed, but they’re sharing little about what local Maine media and Collins’ own constituents are saying.

    Kavanaugh is the least popular Supreme Court nominee in decades. Even before his largely uninspiring performance in last week’s confirmation hearings (which Collins herself remarked could be “a major problem”), Maine outlets were frequently highlighting the stakes involved in Collins’ confirmation vote, as well as the serious concerns of her constituents about Kavanaugh. Indeed, several polls reported that Collins’ refusal to reject Kavanaugh could cost her re-election.

    There have been numerous stories from Maine outlets focusing on the opposition from Collins’ constituents to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. As Maine Public Radio reported, over “230 Maine lawyers are urging Senator Susan Collins to vote against Brett Kavanaugh's appointment” because of their concerns about his “record on reproductive rights, the affordable care act, and his partisan record.” Multiple women have written letters to local papers to share their abortion stories and implore Collins to vote no. As Mollie Barnathan wrote for the Bangor Daily News: “Maine’s women and families need leaders who understand it isn’t their place to play judge and jury for women. Ensuring every woman has access to family planning services requires every U.S. senator, and especially Susan Collins, to stand up and vote no on Kavanaugh’s nomination.”

    However, rather than talking about any of this, national media have tuned out the voices of Collins’ own constituents in favor of an overgeneralized narrative about harassment. On September 11, NBC News reported that Collins’ office has received a number of threatening and angry messages. The New York Times noted that even Collins’ staff has been on the receiving end of this harassment.

    I want to be very clear: Nobody should be threatening Susan Collins or her staff. This behavior is unacceptable and nobody should endorse it. However, for media to suggest that these comments alone are somehow representative of what the vast majority of activists and constituents are doing to persuade Collins before this essential vote is irresponsible. As NARAL Pro-Choice America noted in a statement, there are many Mainers “peacefully participating in the democratic process and urging Senator Susan Collins to vote against Brett Kavanaugh.”

    National media have struggled to cover the fight over Kavanaugh’s potential confirmation from the beginning. As activists across the country consistently worked to oppose Kavanaugh, many outlets reported that his confirmation was inevitable, or that few, if any, activists were involved in the fight against him. This narrative was false. Additionally, nightly broadcast news programs devoted only 10 minutes each to conversations about Kavanaugh in the days after his nomination was announced. And many outlets downplayed the hearings despite their many newsworthy moments.

    And now, as right-wing media begin to seize on Collins’ legitimate worries about harassment, the very real energy and voices of her constituents will be further obfuscated.

    This seemingly savvy messaging tactic -- running to national media to share stories of harassment -- may work. But her constituents know the difference. And they, along with Maine media, don’t appear ready to let Susan Collins off the hook if she votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.

  • 13 critical moments of Brett Kavanaugh's Senate hearing

    Many media outlets downplayed the hearings, but they were full of newsworthy moments

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The two days of public questioning of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have featured explosive, important, and revealing moments -- at least when Democrats were asking the questions. However, the public may have missed these instances because the evening news shows on three major cable news channels and broadcast networks paid insufficient attention to the hearing, breaking off from it hours early or devoting more coverage to dysfunction in the Trump administration.

    According to some media reports, Republicans were confident that the hearings would go smoothly and that efforts of Kavanaugh’s opponents “failed to get serious traction” before the hearings began. Perhaps that’s because in the lead-up to the hearing, the network evening news shows barely even mentioned Kavanaugh’s name, and as the hearing continues, they are focusing much more coverage on the latest revelation of chaos in the Trump White House. And let’s not forget that Associated Press wire stories about the Supreme Court nominee in the first six weeks since Kavanaugh’s nomination featured about 50 percent more pro-Kavanaugh voices than anti-Kavanaugh voices. News organizations have been treating Kavanaugh’s nomination as an inevitable confirmation -- but some revelatory exchanges from the hearing should change that.

    Here are some of the most illuminating moments you may have missed:

    Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) repeatedly questioned Kavanaugh on his use of documents stolen from Democratic staffers when Kavanaugh worked on judicial nominations for the George W. Bush White House. He further explored whether Kavanaugh’s claim that he didn’t know the documents were stolen is believable:

    Leahy also questioned Kavanaugh over President Donald Trump’s insistence he has “the absolute right” to pardon himself of any crime:

    Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) rattled Kavanaugh by asking him whether he'd ever discussed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with anyone working at the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, which was founded by Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz:

    Harris questioned Kavanaugh on reproductive rights and pressed him to name any laws that allow the government to regulate male bodies. He could not:

    Harris also explained to Kavanaugh that a phrase he used in an op-ed, “racial spoils system,” is “commonly used by white supremacists”:

    Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) exposed that Kavanaugh “disparaged the Native Hawaiian community” in an op-ed he wrote:

    Hirono highlighted Kavanaugh’s relationship to disgraced former Judge Alex Kozinski, whose behavior, according to Hirono, was “so notorious that professors began to warn female students not to apply for clerkships with him.” She questioned whether Kavanaugh knew of Kozinski’s sexual misconduct. He said he did not:

    Hirono also brought attention to Kavanaugh’s attempt to erect an unnecessary barrier to a minor immigrant obtaining an abortion:

    Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he hoped Kavanaugh would ask for his own hearing to be suspended in light of Republicans withholding a massive amount of documents related to Kavanaugh’s history:

    Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) challenged the farcical claim by the Republican majority that 42,000 documents released the evening before the hearing could be reviewed before the hearing started:

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) highlighted the role of right-wing and corporate dark money behind Kavanaugh’s nomination:

    During one of the few interesting exchanges involving a Republican senator, Kavanaugh indicated his belief that birth control medications are “abortion-inducing drugs” while being questioned by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):

    Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) eviscerated Kavanaugh for his dodges on giving his view on Roe v. Wade:

    Unfortunately, cable news viewers missed several of these moments as the channels instead covered other topics. On September 5, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all skipped at least five full hours of questioning. And on September 6, CNN and MSNBC stopped most of their live coverage of Kavanaugh even earlier. The media’s apathy over all the scandals and controversies surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination and confirmation process must end.

  • White House chaos is overshadowing broadcast news coverage of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Senate is currently in the middle of weeklong hearings to vet President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh’s appointment could redefine the court for decades to come, but coverage of his hearings on the CBS, NBC, and ABC morning and evening news programs has been drowned out by Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House and an anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times by a “senior official in the Trump administration.” Both portray an administration in utter chaos, which isn’t exactly breaking news.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Since the first day of hearings ended, broadcast evening and morning news shows have spent over twice the amount of time on the White House’s chaos as on Kavanaugh. Since Tuesday night, broadcast news shows have discussed Kavanaugh for just under 42 minutes while they have discussed Woodward’s book and the Times op-ed for one hour and 35 minutes.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Tuesday, Republicans pushed forward with hearings for Kavanaugh despite objections from Democrats over thousands of his documents that were not released or made available to the public. Tuesday was also the day that excerpts from Woodward’s book Fear were released. As The Washington Post put it in a headline, “Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency.” Wednesday, Kavanaugh again faced questioning on Capitol Hill, with the hearings lasting well into the evening. Wednesday afternoon, The New York Times published an anonymous opinion piece by a “senior official in the Trump administration.” Titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” it said some in the administration “have vowed to thwart parts of [Trump’s] agenda.”

    While Woodward’s book and the op-ed are certainly newsworthy to an extent, the overarching point of these pieces -- Trump is out of control -- was already widely accepted. In fact, many responded to the news by noting that it really wasn’t anything new and that they weren’t surprised.

    Problematic and lacking coverage of Kavanaugh has been an ongoing issue; it’s past time to start paying attention.

  • The state-by-state impact of overturning Roe with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court

    Right-wing media claim that letting states regulate abortion isn’t a threat for reproductive rights -- it is.

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, right-wing media downplayed the impact that Kavanaugh -- who has a stamp of approval from the conservative Federalist Society -- would have on abortion rights in the United States. Some media outlets and figures claimed that if Roe v. Wade was overturned, it would merely return abortion regulation “to the states” and have a minimal impact on abortion rights. Here’s a state-by-state guide to what a world without Roe would look like, as reported in the media, if and when Kavanaugh casts the deciding vote.

  • Chuck Todd said Fox News is responsible for plummeting trust in the press. He's right.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    NBC host Chuck Todd said Sunday that Fox News is responsible for the dramatic decline in public trust in journalists over the past two decades. He’s absolutely right, and that network’s corrosive influence on the public debate is endangering our democracy.

    Over the past few decades, public confidence in the press has declined steadily, with Republicans driving the stomach-turning plummet:

    On Meet the Press, CBN News’ David Brody argued that President Donald Trump benefits from the low marks the mainstream media receive from the public, highlighting a recent survey that found 62 percent of Americans think the news is biased. Todd responded by putting the blame squarely on Fox.

    “The conservative echo chamber created that environment,” Todd said. “It has been a tactic and a tool of the Roger Ailes-created echo chamber. So let’s not pretend it’s not anything other than that.” He later added that the conservative critique of a biased media “was a campaign tactic,” not an argument “based in much fact.”

    Todd is exactly right. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple notes, Fox built the largest following in cable news by turning the purported bias of other media outlets into a central plank of the network’s platform, labeling itself “Fair and Balanced” in contrast to the rest of the press. Ailes, a former advisor to three Republican presidents, sought to build power for his party by denouncing his competitors and convincing conservatives not to trust them. He succeeded -- so well that even some at Fox itself are unnerved.

    Fox’s propagandists constantly tell their audience that other outlets are irretrievably liberal and, in recent days, vehemently opposed to Trump, seizing on their errors as evidence of conspiracies and on their failures as evidence of bad faith. Fox and Trump use the same methods to the same ends, undermining the press to condition their supporters not to trust anyone else.

    Today’s edition of Fox & Friends, the network’s propagandistic morning show, is a case in point: On stories big and small, the hosts provided an undercurrent of contempt for their colleagues at other outlets. The program’s take on the president’s former lawyer accusing Trump of conspiring in crimes was that the president is “under attack” from the media, running over the caption “The President Vs. The Press.” A segment on Trump’s polling numbers featured a jab about former President Barack Obama having received “a lot of hype, … a lot of support from the media.” “Reporter fails at getting [golfer Tiger] Woods to bash Trump” was a real chyron that aired on national television.

    Hour after hour, day in and day out, a right-wing cable news channel bathes its audience members in conservative messages and warns them that anything less is liberal claptrap. The result is an alternative reality for Fox viewers, into which critical facts cannot penetrate. It’s a good sign that Todd is pointing out that dynamic -- there’s no way to end Fox’s hold without admitting that it exists.

  • Brett Kavanaugh will threaten Roe. Susan Collins needs to stop buying right-wing media's excuses.

    Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion rights, and by suggesting otherwise, Sen. Susan Collins “is grossly misleading her constituents”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle continue to plead guilty to a variety of crimes -- some potentially implicating the president himself. Yet, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) recently told reporters that she sees no reason to delay the confirmation hearings of Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, even though he may have to rule on the president’s legal troubles one day. In particular, after meeting with Kavanaugh, Collins issued a statement saying she was unconcerned about his stance on Roe v. Wade because he told her he thinks Roe is “settled precedent.” Kavanaugh’s assurances mean nothing. And this isn't the first time Collins has fallen for the right-wing media talking point that Roe is safe because it’s “settled precedent.”

    Kavanaugh is the seventh Supreme Court nominee that Collins has considered since she became a senator. During this time, she has voted to confirm Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Trump's first nominee Neil Gorsuch. After meeting with him, Collins said in her statement that Kavanaugh “expressed agreement with Chief Justice Roberts’ confirmation hearing statement that Roe is settled precedent and entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis.”

    But as University of Washington lecturer Scott Lemieux wrote for NBC News, “Roberts’s claim, now echoed by Kavanaugh, that Roe was settled precedent is technically true, but not very meaningful.” Lemieux continued:

    Roberts also correctly observed that the Court is not always bound by its own precedents, and the criteria he outlined for deciding when overruling a precedent is appropriate did not rule out the overruling of Roe.

    And, at his confirmation hearings, Justice Samuel Alito said similar things to Roberts, asserting that Roewas (sic) a precedent entitled to “respect” but stopping well short of saying that it shouldn’t be overruled.

    To say that Roe is an important precedent, or even a “settled” precedent, is merely stating a truism that does not in itself tell us anything about how a Supreme Court justice will rule on that precedent. What matters more than Roberts’s or Kavanuagh’s (sic) words are their actions, and they suggest that pro-life groups are right to be thrilled with the nomination of Kavanaugh if he agrees with them.

    According to Lemieux, Collins’ position on Kavanaugh demonstrates that “opponents of legal abortion who supported Trump and Kavanaugh know exactly what they’re doing and what they’re getting in Kavanaugh” -- just as they did with other conservative judicial nominees -- and to suggest otherwise means “Collins is grossly misleading her constituents.”

    New York magazine also noted: “The most important thing to keep in mind in parsing this carefully constructed assurance Kavanaugh offered to Collins is the broader context of Kavanaugh’s nomination (and before him, that of Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch): the iron determination of Republicans since at least the George W. Bush administration to atone for the GOP-appointed justices — the longest-lasting being Anthony Kennedy — who supported abortion rights.” Therefore, the article continued, “It would be shocking if this process and the politics behind it produced a justice who looked at SCOTUS precedents on abortion and pronounced them unassailable.”

    Independent of Collins’ own record of supporting conservative nominees who are hostile to abortion rights, her justification of supporting Kavanaugh because he allegedly believes Roe is “settled law” also echos right-wing media talking points. Since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June 2018, right-wing media oscillated between blithely assuring viewers that there was no threat to abortion access and arguing that Roe was “bad” law that deserved to be overturned. For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz similarly claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Meanwhile, conservative media figures such as Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro and the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo have explicitly argued that Kavanaugh would follow precedent with regards to Roe.

    Collins may be falling for obvious right-wing media talking points, but even a casual look at the facts indicates it is misleading to suggest that Kavanaugh wouldn’t threaten abortion rights if given the chance. For example, Kavanaugh issued a dissenting opinion in a 2017 case, arguing that an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen who was in federal custody should not be allowed to obtain an abortion. In addition, for those like Collins who may still be holding onto the illusion that calling Roe “settled law” means anything, one need look no further than Kavanaugh’s praise for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe v. Wade to understand how he might rule on abortion rights if confirmed.

    Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have made crystal clear their intentions to reshape the judiciary to overturn Roe or otherwise make abortion less accessible. There’s no reason for Susan Collins to be falling for the right-wing media talking point about Roe being “settled law” this time around -- and if recent polling is to be believed, her refusal to face the facts about Kavanaugh could cost her reelection.

  • Indiana’s WTHR expertly called out anti-abortion harassment after an extremist group’s protest

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the midst of a week of protests organized by anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America (OSA), Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR produced a stellar segment calling out OSA’s extreme tactics while also highlighting the history of anti-abortion violence and harassment more broadly.

    OSA has made a habit of organizing protests across the country, targeting abortion providers, patients, and clinics. In 2017, the group organized events in Kentucky and Indiana. Beyond protesting outside of clinics in the states they visit, OSA members have also spent years targeting individual abortion providers at home -- circulating flyers around providers’ neighborhoods with identifying information and inflammatory language. During OSA’s 2017 Indiana event, group members not only shared these flyers but also attempted to protest outside the home of a Planned Parenthood employee -- embarrassingly ending up at the wrong location. Despite the frequency with which OSA deploys such tactics, as well as the extremism of its actions, local media have previously downplayed the severity of these protests.

    But during WTHR’s July 25 segment, reporter David MacAnally and his colleagues Andrea Morehead and John Stehr highlighted the extreme rhetoric OSA used and fact-checked a claim from a spokesperson that these tactics posed no threat to providers. They also provided greater context about the severity of anti-abortion violence. This is not the first or likely the last time that OSA will target Indiana abortion providers -- here are lessons that other media should take from WTHR on how to cover the extremist group and its actions:

    Don’t allow OSA or other anti-abortion extremists to downplay the severity of their actions

    Although OSA claims to be nonviolent -- a sentiment a spokesperson echoed in the WTHR report -- the organization has a long history of engaging in harassment, using violent rhetoric, and even associating with violent anti-abortion extremists. MacAnally’s report focused on but one example of OSA’s tactics: its circulation of threatening flyers in Indiana with the names and home addresses of Planned Parenthood doctors -- a tactic the group has employed many times.

    During his July 25 report, MacAnally highlighted the extreme rhetoric deployed by OSA and fact-checked a claim by a local OSA spokesperson that the tactic posed no threat to providers. With the identifying information obscured, MacAnally noted that OSA’s flyer included claims that the providers “murdered children” and encouraged recipients to join OSA in prayer that the providers “repent to killing preborn children.”

    At one point, MacAnally spoke with Aletheia Church pastor and OSA local partner Derin Stidd, who dismissed fears of violence against providers, stating that he wasn’t “particularly concerned” because the tactic was “done often.” Rather than letting Stidd’s characterization remain unchecked, MaAnally debunked the claim, explaining, “Nationally, though, shooters have tracked abortion doctors to their homes and offices and murdered them.”

    Make clear the severity and frequency of anti-abortion violence and harassment

    After MacAnally contextualized OSA’s attempts to downplay anti-abortion harassment, WTHR anchors Morehead and Stehr provided additional reporting on the long history of violence by anti-abortion activists against abortion providers -- making the stakes of OSA’s actions crystal clear. As Morehead explained, “Adding to the concern over this mailer is the history of violence against doctors, or even clinics, that provide abortion services.” She noted that in 1998, a “sniper killed [abortion provider] Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home,” that an anti-abortion extremist killed Dr. George Tiller in 2009, and that Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was attacked in 2015, leaving “three people … dead.”

    MacAnally’s and Morehead’s accounts of anti-abortion violence and harassment provide a much-needed rebuttal to common excuses offered by anti-abortion extremists when questioned about their methods. In reality, anti-abortion violence and harassment pose an increasing threat to providers, patients, and clinics, and -- as recent data from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) demonstrates -- this trend shows little sign of abating. Already in 2018, there have been numerous reports of violence or threats against clinics, with incidents reported in Illinois, New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more.

    While MacAnally did note that OSA participants “signed a nonviolence agreement,” other comments made by the group illustrate its definition of “nonviolence” is likely very narrow. For example, as James Farrar, another pastor at the Aletheia Church, told The Indianapolis Star, the flyers were “intended to let the neighborhood know that someone in their neighborhood makes their living by killing children” in the hopes they “would generate pressure from neighbors like an awareness campaign, so people realize that these people are living right around you.” Although this action in itself is not violent, it's more than clear that OSA’s goal is to harass, demonize, and alienate abortion providers -- regardless of the consequences.

    On August 11 and 12, OSA will be joining like-minded anti-abortion extremists in Spokane, WA, to “liberate America from the blood guiltiness that is savaging our nation.” Media in Spokane, and any future cities where OSA holds protests, would be well-served by following in WHTR’s footsteps when covering the group’s tactics.

  • 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.

  • Don't buy right-wing media's gaslighting: Brett Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion access

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, right-wing media have attempted to downplay the odds that, if confirmed, Kavanaugh would cast a deciding vote on abortion rights. In reality, Kavanaugh’s background demonstrates that he will most likely be key to overturning or further gutting Roe v. Wade -- and such an outcome would have devastating consequences for abortion access in the United States.

    On July 9, Trump nominated D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy left after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in late June. Kavanaugh’s name was included on a list put out by the White House that was “preapproved by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.” According to New York magazine, this list was “extremely important to Trump’s relationship with the conservative movement and particularly with conservative Christian leaders.” Subsequently, anti-abortion groups praised Kavanaugh’s nomination as an opportunity to finally overturn Roe v. Wade and put an end legal abortion. And despite right-wing media’s gaslighting, Kavanaugh's record demonstrates that he will likely do just that.

    Kavanaugh’s record on abortion suggests he’ll gladly overturn Roe or further curtail abortion rights

    In 2017, Kavanaugh dissented in a case involving an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen (called Jane Doe) who was in federal custody and wanted to have an abortion. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement was prohibiting Doe from leaving the facility to have an abortion because the agency did not want to “facilitate” the practice.

    • As BuzzFeed News’ Zoe Tillman explained, Kavanaugh said in his dissent that the original order stopping the abortion was “in line with Supreme Court cases that said the government could have an interest in ‘favoring fetal life’” and “that it was not an ‘undue burden’ for the US government to say it wouldn’t ‘facilitate’ abortions for teens in custody.”
    • ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser further argued that “Kavanaugh’s approach” in the case, which would have required Doe to obtain a sponsor in the United States, “very well could have let the Trump administration run out the clock until she could no longer obtain a legal abortion” if the search lasted past Texas’ 20-week cut-off after which abortions are impermissible.

    Beyond the substance of his opinion in the Jane Doe case, others have pointed to Kavanaugh’s reliance on “coded language” as evidence of his underlying intentions about abortion rights.

    • HuffPost’s Laura Bassett pointed out that in his decision, Kavanaugh used “coded language that’s only ever employed by anti-abortion activists” by referring to “abortion on demand.”
    • NBC’s Heidi Przybyla also noted that “code” words like “abortion on demand” are “widely understood to be a signal for … views on Roe.” This language also mirrors that used frequently by right-wing media to fearmonger about abortion and to spread misinformation.

    Kavanaugh’s decision in Doe’s case, as well as his previous comments on abortion-related matters, also demonstrate that he might leave Roe on the books while still obliterating abortion rights.

    • As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explained, Kavanaugh has already proved that “he can pretend to adhere to Roe while hollowing out its core holding” as evidenced by his finding that the Trump administration did not place an “undue burden” on Doe’s ability to obtain an abortion.
    • Kavanaugh also praised former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe during a speech in 2017 -- which Rewire.News’ Jessica Mason Pieklo noted made sense, given that Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe and Kavanaugh’s dissent in the Jane Doe case both “fundamentally den[y] reproductive autonomy all while purporting to be respecting the bounds of the law.”

    Here’s what abortion access will probably look like with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court

    Even before Kavanaugh was officially nominated, right-wing media were already claiming that a Trump-nominated justice wouldn’t be that bad for abortion access. However, with Kavanaugh on the court, a decision gutting or overturning of Roe is likely and would have devastating consequences.

    Although some (including Trump) have argued that overturning Roe will only return abortion regulations “back to the states,” this would functionally outlaw abortion across large parts of the country.

    • As the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Amy Myrick told Kaiser Health News’ Julie Rovner, “We think there are 22 states likely to ban abortion without Roe” due to “a combination of factors, including existing laws and regulations on the books and the positions of the governors and state legislatures.”
    • Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School, wrote for The New York Times that returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free rein.

    Independent of how abortion is regulated, economic and logistical barriers that already impede access will only grow worse in a world without Roe. As Carole Joffe, a professor in the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at the University of California, San Francisco, explained:

    Geographic areas without access to abortion place an extreme burden on the disproportionate number of abortion patients who are poor (50 percent are below the official poverty line and another 25 percent are classified as low income). Besides having to pay for the procedure, they need the funds to pay for lodging (some states have waiting periods of 24 hours or more, necessitating overnight stays), child care (about 60 percent of abortion patients are already parents) and of course for the travel itself. And this journey also involves confronting one or more days of lost wages as well.

    • Historian Rickie Solinger wrote for Vox that people seeking abortions “will be forced to flout the law to achieve personal dignity and safety,” but those “with economic resources will continue to have more options and access than others.”

    Regardless of state regulations, conservatives have recently attempted to push federal regulation on abortion. As author and lecturer Scott Lemieux explained for Vox, “a Republican government with slightly larger Senate majorities than it has now would be able to pass national abortion regulations” that could outright or effectively ban abortion.

    Yet right-wing media are acting like Kavanaugh’s nomination is not a big deal for abortion access and attacking those who are concerned as “overreacting”

    Despite the threat that Kavanaugh poses to abortion rights, right-wing media have been busy gaslighting viewers in an apparent attempt to paint Kavanaugh as a “moderate” or otherwise suggest he wouldn’t overturn Roe:

    • Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich said on Fox News’ Outnumbered she was not “as a woman … worried about” Roe being overturned or losing access to contraceptives, and called such fears “scare tactics.”
    • Fox News contributor Byron York claimed on America’s Newsroom that because Kavanaugh “talked a lot about the role of women in his life” and “has two daughters,” he wouldn’t pose a threat to women’s rights.
    • Fox News host Brit Hume said on Tucker Carlson Tonight that “if Roe v. Wade were reversed, it would not mean that abortion would become illegal across this country.” He argued that saying otherwise “is hysterical and overstated.”
    • The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland wrote that “overturning Roe v. Wade will not criminalize abortion,” but instead would mean that “the question of abortion, and any limits on abortions, would return to the states and in most cases the legislative branch.”
    • The Wrap reported that Fox News host Jeanine Pirro said that she thinks Kavanaugh “will follow precedent” in any decision impacting Roe v. Wade.
    • On Fox News Channel’s Hannity, host Sean Hannity mentioned the “fearmongering has already begun” around Kavanaugh’s nomination. Fox’s Gregg Jarrett agreed, saying that “the left is already conjuring up the hysteria, claiming that this means abortion will be outlawed in America,” which he called a “lie perpetuated by the left.”
    • The Heritage Foundation’s John Malcolm said on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight that Democrats were “trotting out, as they always do, scare tactics with respect to Roe versus Wade.”
    • American Constitution Union’s Matt Schlapp told Stuart Varney on Fox Business Network’s Varney & Company that “most conservatives and constitutionalists believe” that without Roe, abortion regulation “goes to the states,” which he claimed was just a continuation of what is “already happening” with abortion regulations.
    • On Fox News Channel’s The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino downplayed Trump’s promise during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would appoint “pro-life justices” as only “shorthand” used “during the campaign” and that he “can’t actually ask any nominee … how they would rule on a specific issue.”
    • During a segment on Fox News Channel’s Your World with Neil Cavuto, the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, who also serves as Trump’s judicial nominations adviser, pointed to a book Kavanaugh wrote about the principle of stare decisis -- the idea that Supreme Court’s previous rulings should be followed -- and said that Kavanaugh’s record shows “he does believe that the courts need to consider precedent.”
    • Responding to a clip of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) talking about the danger Kavanaugh poses for women’s rights, Fox News host Laura Ingraham said, “So, Brett Kavanaugh is essentially -- we’re supposed to believe … -- standing at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic and barring women from going in.” Guest Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) argued that if there was a concern about women’s rights, “how about protecting a woman when she’s in the womb as an infant?”
    • On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch characterized concerns about abortion access as advocates claiming that Kavanaugh’s nomination “means that women by some magical force field are going to be prevented from going and seeking health care.” She continued that “abortion is not health care, nor is it a constitutional right.”
  • Major broadcast TV networks mentioned climate change just once during two weeks of heat-wave coverage

    ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on the recent heat wave and only one noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Throughout the recent record-breaking heat wave that affected millions across the United States, major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat. Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.

    The recent heat wave was record-breaking and deadly

    From the last week of June into the second week of July, an intense heat wave moved across the U.S., going from the eastern and central parts of the country to the West Coast. A large area of high atmospheric pressure helped to create a massive and powerful heat dome, which migrated from New England to southern California. The heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures -- during its first week, 227 U.S. records were broken for highest temperature for particular days, and during the second week, at least six locations in southern California alone saw record-breaking highs. The heat wave killed at least five people in the U.S. and up to 70 people in Quebec, Canada.

    Climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves

    There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human-induced climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves. Heat domes like the one that caused this recent heat wave are becoming more intense and more common, scientists have found. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who has studied extreme weather patterns in California, said recent heat in California was unusual. “The overall trend over decades to more intense and more frequent heat waves is definitely a signal of global warming,” he told The New York Times. And according to Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, this recent heat wave was “the kind of thing you expect to see on a warming planet,” making it “easier to set a heat record.”

    Recent studies also reinforce this point. In March 2018, an analysis of heat wave patterns published in Nature Climate Change concluded that climate change will overtake natural variability as the main cause of heat waves in both the western U.S. and Great Lakes region by the 2030s. Nature Climate Change also published a study last summer that detailed how heat waves will occur more frequently in the future due to climate change. Camilo Mora, associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the 2017 study, said, “Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heat waves, and while models suggest that this is likely to continue to be bad, it could be much worse if emissions are not considerably reduced.”

    Broadcast networks almost completely ignored the links between climate change and heat waves

    Media Matters analyzed morning and nightly news coverage of the heat wave on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as on PBS NewsHour, over a 14-day period from June 27 through July 10, covering the entire duration of the heat wave.

    Neither ABC nor NBC mentioned that climate change influences heat waves. There were 32 segments or weathercasts on ABC and 59 segments or weathercasts on NBC that discussed the heat wave. None of them mentioned the link between climate change and extremely high temperatures.

    CBS aired one segment that discussed the connection between climate change and high heat. Out of 36 CBS segments that mentioned the heat wave, just one mentioned climate change. The July 3 episode of CBS This Morning featured a discussion with Lonnie Quinn, chief weathercaster for WCBS-TV in New York City, who stated that there is a “really good, strong understanding that there’s a correlation between climate change and extreme hot and extreme cold” and noted the significant increase since 1970 in the number of days above 100 degrees in Miami, FL, and Austin, TX. 

    PBS NewsHour aired two segments on the heat waves, one of which discussed climate change. In its July 7 NewsHour program, PBS devoted a segment to the heat wave and incorporated climate change into its reporting, noting, “Global temperatures reached extreme highs this past week, something scientists have been warning of as part of the effects of climate change.” The segment also noted that July is off to a record-breaking start in terms of high temperatures.

    Broadcast TV news has a track record of neglecting climate change in its reporting on extreme weather

    In 2017, news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC severely undercovered climate change’s real-life impacts on people and climate change’s effects on extreme weather events, Media Matters found in its latest annual study of broadcast coverage. Over a two-week period during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes.

    But there are positive trends in broadcast coverage. PBS continues to set the standard for quality news coverage of climate change, as it has in the past. And local meteorologists are increasingly incorporating discussions of climate change into their segments and forecasts. For example, on July 4 in Kansas City -- where there were two suspected heat-related deaths -- NBC affiliate KSHB discussed that climate change is expected to increase the number of extremely hot days in the future, using a dynamic map from climate science nonprofit Climate Central to make the point.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis, iQ media, and SnapStream for national news broadcasts that included a segment about the heat wave, using the search terms (heat OR "heat wave" OR "heat waves" OR heatwave OR heatwaves OR temperature OR temperatures OR hot). A second search adding the term AND (“climate change” OR “global warming”) was used to identify any segments on the heat wave that mentioned climate change. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts. Our analysis covered early morning news shows (ABC's America This Morning, CBS Morning News, and NBC's Early Today), morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), and nightly news programs (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) from June 27 through July 10.

  • Right-wing media attempt to distract from family separation policy by attacking abortion rights instead

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the border, some self-described “pro-life” organizations and media figures have failed to denounce this policy. Others, though, have seemingly attempted to distract from the outrage about the policy by making outlandish and inaccurate comparisons to abortion.

    • Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh said the outrage over the Trump’s administration policy was a “manufactured crisis” and pointed to Democratic support for Planned Parenthood as a sign of hypocrisy. Limbaugh said, “You want to talk about separating families, look no further than the abortion mills of Planned Parenthood.”
    • On the June 18 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Liz Wheeler, host of One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, dismissed the focus on Trump’s policy during the June 13 edition of her show, saying, “If you care so much about exploited and abused children, where’s your outrage about the 1 million unborn children who are aborted every single year in our country?” Wheeler then pivoted to discussing a made-up story about Planned Parenthood, asking, “Where is your outrage that Democrats in Congress refuse to call for an investigation into this pattern of Planned Parenthood covering up the sexual abuse of children?”
    • On NBC’s Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, defended the policy by alluding to abortion saying that “nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms, from their mothers’ wombs, frankly, but we have to make sure that [Department of Homeland Security] laws are understood.”
    • On Westword One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children.” He went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet Life News responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by saying that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”

    • An article on CRTV’s Louder with Crowder website claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois attacked U2's Bono for supporting legalized abortion access in Ireland while criticizing Trump's policy of separating families at the border.

    • Yahoo! Lifestyle picked up the framing from anti-abortion outlets in an article headlined “Planned Parenthood called hypocritical for protesting Trump's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy.” The article highlighted several anti-abortion tweets suggesting that abortion is worse than the Trump administration’s policy.

    Anti-abortion organizations, politicians, and media figures also adopted this farcical comparison on social media

  • Media failed on climate and extreme weather coverage last year. Will they do better in 2018?

    Al Roker gives us reason to be a bit optimistic

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Everyone knows that the U.S. got gobsmacked by hurricanes last year. But if you rely on mainstream media for your news, you might not know that climate change had anything to do with it.

    In 2017, the major broadcast TV news programs mentioned climate change only two times total during their coverage of the record-breaking hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. The climate-hurricane link came up once on CBS, once on NBC, and not at all during ABC's coverage of the storms, Media Matters found. All in all, major TV news programs, radio news programs, and newspapers mentioned climate change in just 4 percent of their stories about last year’s big hurricanes, according to research by Public Citizen. Many major media outlets also neglected to weave climate change into their reporting on 2017's heat waves and wildfires

    Will coverage in 2018 be any better?

    Al Roker has given us reason to feel slightly optimistic. Last week, Roker, the weather forecaster on NBC's Today show, demonstrated one good way to put an extreme weather event into proper context. While discussing the devastating flooding that recently hit Ellicott City, MD, he explained that heavy downpours have become more common in recent decades thanks to climate change, using a map and data from the research group Climate Central:

    As we roll into summer -- the start of the season for hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and heat waves -- that's just the kind of connect-the-dots reporting we need.

    The New York Times helped set the scene with its recent map-heavy feature on places in the U.S. that have been hit repeatedly by extreme weather. "Climate change is making some kinds of disasters more frequent," the piece explained, and "scientists also contend that climate change is expected to lead to stronger, wetter hurricanes."

    But it's one thing to report on how climate change worsens weather disasters in general, as the Times did in that piece. It's another thing to report on climate change while covering a specific storm or wildfire, as Roker did -- and many journalists still seem to be squeamish about it. They shouldn't be; science has their back. In addition to what we know about the general links between climate change and extreme weather, there's a growing area of climate research, called attribution science, that measures the extent to which climate change has made individual weather events more intense or destructive.

    Consider the research that's been done on Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 60 inches of rain on the Houston area this past August. Just four months after the storm, two groups of scientists published attribution studies about it: One study estimated that climate change made Harvey's rainfall 15 percent heavier than it would have been otherwise, while another offered a best estimate of 38 percent.

    Broadcast TV news programs did not report on this research when it came out, but they should have. And the next time a major hurricane looms or makes landfall, media outlets should make note of these and other studies that attribute hurricane intensity to climate change. Scientists can't make these types of attribution analyses in real time (at least not yet), but their research on past storms can help put current and future storms in context.

    Of course, in order to incorporate climate change into hurricane reporting, journalists have to be reporting on hurricanes in the first place. They failed miserably at this basic task when it came to Hurricane Maria and its devastation of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Maria got markedly less media coverage than hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to analyses by FiveThirtyEight and researchers from the MIT Media Lab. The weekend after Maria made landfall, the five major Sunday morning political talk shows cumulatively spent less than a minute on the storm. And just last week, when a major new study estimated that Maria led to approximately 5,000 deaths in Puerto Rico, as opposed to the government's official death count of 64, cable news gave 16 times more coverage to Roseanne Barr's racist tweet and her canceled TV show than to the study.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hurricane Maria overwhelmingly harmed people of color -- Puerto Rico's population is 99 percent Latino and the U.S. Virgin Islands' population is 98 percent Black or African-American -- so it's hard not to see race as a factor in the undercoverage of the storm. The authors of the MIT Media analysis attributed the lack of coverage to a “cultural gap” and suggested that more minorities working in media might have alleviated the problem. Not only are minorities less likely to be employed in newsrooms; they're also less likely to be included in media discussions of climate change.

    The lack of reporting on Maria sets a scary precedent, as climate disasters are expected to hurt minority and low-income communities more than whiter, wealthier ones. Unless mainstream media step up their game, the people hurt the most by climate change will be covered the least.

    Ultimately, we need the media to help all people understand that climate change is not some distant phenomenon that might affect their grandkids or people in faraway parts of the world. Only 45 percent of Americans believe climate change will pose a serious threat to them during their lifetimes, according to a recent Gallup poll. That means the majority of Americans still don't get it.

    When journalists report on the science that connects climate change to harsher storms and more extreme weather events, they help people understand climate change at a more visceral level. It's happening here, now, today, to all of us. That's the story that needs to be told.

  • Sunday shows ignore Puerto Rico amid new study that nearly 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Following a new study estimating that almost 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, Sunday news shows completely ignored the devastation and death toll that is 72 times higher than the government’s official number of 64.

    Written up by the Washington Post, a May 29 Harvard University study “estimates that at least 4,645 deaths can be linked to the hurricane and its immediate aftermath,” and noted that “health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impact.”

    If the Harvard study is accurate, Maria will be the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Thousands are still waiting for power. It is already estimated to and have caused $90 billion in damages in Puerto Rico alone. The devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Hurricanes Irma and Maria has caused billions more in damage. And 2018 Hurricane season is officially underway as of June 1.  

    Despite this less than a week old study, 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 all silent on the subject.

    MSNBC’s AM Joy and CNN’s Reliable Sources both noted the discrepancy between coverage of Hurricane Maria’s devastation, and Roseanne Barr’s racist and anti-Semitic tweets that resulted in her eponymous show being canceled.

    CNN’s New Day Sunday highlighted the Harvard study’s reported death toll and noted Puerto Rico is “still recovering” and that “11,000 residents still do not have power” as the country enters the official 2018 hurricane season.

    The media has routinely ignored the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, dating back to just one week after the storm made landfall when these Sunday shows covered the devastation for less than a minute. Cable news quickly turned away from Puerto Rico following the hurricane as well. The day the Harvard study was released, cable news gave it 30 minutes of coverage that was drowned out by ten hours spent on Roseanne.