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  • After officers shoot Stephon Clark 20 times, Fox News smears protesters and portrays police as the victims

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On March 18, police officers in Sacramento, CA, gunned down Stephon Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man and father of two, in his grandmother’s backyard, sparking protests and drawing nationwide media coverage. Fox News’ reporting on the shooting has almost entirely focused on the most disruptive protests, diminishing the message of the demonstrators while portraying them as intimidating and lawless. One Fox correspondent also said the reactions to Clark’s death could actually end up harming police officers, pointing to the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, as an example.

    Fox has a history of disparaging coverage of protesters -- even peaceful protesters -- particularly those protesting police brutality. The network will commonly exaggerate the disruption caused by protests and cherry-pick examples to misrepresent the overall movement. (The pattern, of course, doesn’t hold true if those protesters are white nationalist, anti-immigrant, or tea party protesters.)

    Mainstream media outlets allow activists’ voices to be heard and provide a well-rounded account of the protests

    An ABC affiliate spoke to protesters at a Sacramento City Council meeting, one of whom explained that the demonstrations are “the first step, and you want to have conversations with the people who can make the changes.” An ABC affiliate aired balanced footage of protesters yelling, but also sitting, speaking calmly, and supporting one another. The report emphasized that the protesters showed "solidarity" and that they were "sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers." They also spoke to one protester at the meeting who said, “I know there's good cops out there, you know, and I don’t believe all cops are bad. I think we have some issues that need to be changed, some systemic issues that need to be changed.”

    Other national cable news networks provided well-rounded depictions of the March 27 protests and allowed the protesters’ voices to be heard. MSNBC’s Joe Fryer described footage in his report as “Stephon Clark’s brother Stevante bursting into the council chambers” while “some in the crowd called for calm.” The MSNBC report showed clips of activists describing the pain in their community after the fatal shooting and included an interview with Clark’s grandmother. CNN correspondent Dan Simon highlighted the more chaotic aspects of the protests while also underscoring the “impactful moment” when activists voiced their discontent.

    CNN: “There was no violence and there were no arrests” at the protest outside the Sacramento Kings game. CNN’s coverage of the March 22 protest outside the Kings basketball game made clear that the team was supportive of the protests and mentioned that “there was no violence and there were no arrests.” The reporter also spoke to Stevante Clark, whose comments included, “We’re afraid. We’re afraid. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. I think that’s what hurts the most.”

    N.Y. Times highlighted comments from the Clark family’s lawyer, reporting that he “emphasized that in high-profile criminal cases when proven assailants are white … police officers showed restraint that is not afforded to black suspects.” The New York Times reported on comments made by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who will be representing the Clark family, who asked, “Why is that young black people and young brown people don’t get the same consideration” as white assailants do when they are pursued by police. The Times also published comments from a protester who said, “We run because we’re scared because they have the right to shoot us, they get away with it every day.”

    Fox’s coverage casts protesters as violent and unproductive

    Reporter describes March for Our Lives protesters as more peaceful than Clark protesters. Fox correspondent Alicia Acuna reported on Saturday that she “did not see instances where there was a lot of anger expressed” at the March for Our Lives and that protesters there “were relatively peaceful.” By contrast, Acuna commented, “That is far different from what they saw last night” in Sacramento, with the report cutting to video of protesters yelling while surrounded by police.

    Fox host Abby Huntsman: “Demonstrators in Sacramento showing no sign of calming down.” On March 24, a Fox & Friends headline report about protesters in Sacramento over the weekend focused on participants “confronting police officers and blocking drivers in traffic, some even becoming violent by breaking the window of a car.”

    Fox report focuses on critics of protests outside a Sacramento Kings game, including one man who hyped demonstrators as violent. Fox correspondent William LaJeunesse spoke to people attending a March 22 Sacramento Kings game who were temporarily blocked from entering the arena and who complained about the inconvenience imposed upon them by the protesters. One man commented, “The violence kind of muddles the message,” and LaJeunesse reported that one man was knocked unconscious.

    Fox & Friends sensationalized Sacramento City Hall protests, repeatedly playing footage of protesters jumping on tables. Fox & Friends' coverage of the March 27 demonstrations focused on footage of protesters yelling and standing on tables.

    Fox’s Jonathan Hunt: Protesters “have targeted the Sacramento Kings.” Fox co-host Sandra Smith introduced a report on the March 27 protests by commenting that the “protesters [were] standing on tables demanding answers.” She and correspondent Jonathan Hunt both reported that protesters also “targeted the Sacramento Kings.” In an earlier report, correspondent Trace Gallagher had mentioned that the Kings supported the protests, but Hunt failed to include that context in his coverage.

    A Fox correspondent compared Clark to Michael Brown, emphasizing that the officer who killed Brown “lost his job, got numerous death threats, and still lives in relative isolation.” After reporting on the facts surrounding Clark’s murder, Gallagher made a foreboding comparison between Clark and Michael Brown and seemed to portray  Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, as a victim.
  • Major US newspapers ignored the role of fake news in Italy's high-stakes general election

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A far-right party and an anti-establishment party that controls a fake news network won in major upsets in Italy’s general election on March 4 and are now vying to form a majority government. But major U.S. newspapers, some of which had previously covered the threat of fake news in Italy, entirely ignored the likely role fake news played in the election’s outcome.

    Researchers in Italy noted the increasingly alarming role of fake news after Italy’s 2013 election. But the country began paying closer attention to the problem after BuzzFeed and Italian newspaper La Stampa exposed anti-establishment party 5-Star Movement’s foundational role in a network of blogs and social media accounts spreading fake news, conspiracy theories, and Russian propaganda. In November 2017, a year after its original report, BuzzFeed reported on another network spreading hyperpartisan misinformation on Facebook, this one run by “an entrepreneur in Rome with links to a secretive Italian Catholic association.” That same month, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asked social media companies, particularly Facebook, to “help us have a clean electoral campaign. The quality of the democracy in Italy today depends on a response to these issues.” In January 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations summarized the threat of fake news and Russian-backed misinformation in Italy (page 137 of the report) and called on the U.S. government to cooperate with Italy on addressing the issue.

    Despite warnings from the U.S. and Italian governments, investigative reporting from media outlets and, in the case of The New York Times and The Washington Post, major newspapers’ own reporting on the role of fake news in Italian elections, these papers failed to acknowledge the possible links between far-right misinformation campaigns and the March 4 election outcome that was aligned with their message.

    According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage on Italy’s election day and the following two days, major U.S. newspapers including the Post, the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today engaged in zero significant discussions of the threat of fake news in the Italian election. Two passing mentions of “conspiracy theories” in the Times' op-ed section were the closest the outlet came to discussing the role of fake news.

    The failure of these major outlets to connect widely reported, far-right, election-oriented fake news to far-right electoral outcomes raises serious concerns over their ability to inform readers about the threat of fake news for democracies around the world.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Italy” and “election” in the print editions of The Washington Post, USA Today, and The New York Times on March 4 through March 6, 2018. We used Factiva for The Wall Street Journal. We searched the resulting 26 articles for mentions of “news,” “media,” “fake,” “misinformation,” “conspiracy,” and “Russia.”

  • NY Times election coverage in 2018 and 2020 will be as bad as it was in 2016

    New politics editor Patrick Healy epitomizes the worst of the paper's presidential campaign reporting

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In a foreboding sign for New York Times readers, the paper has named one of the pillars of its 2016 campaign coverage to oversee its political coverage leading into the crucial 2018 and 2020 elections. The paper drew criticism during and following the 2016 presidential campaign for too often providing false equivalence between the candidates and focusing on the politics of personality rather than policy.

    The Times editors announced Patrick Healy as the paper’s new politics editor in a March 5 memo. He will be responsible for “building a team for the midterms and the looming 2020 presidential election” in order to cover the “epic battle” ahead.

    At the Times, Healy has alternated between political reporting -- including extensive coverage of Hillary Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns -- and stints on the paper’s culture desk. His resume includes drawing false equivalencies between Clinton and Donald Trump, obsessively fixating on Hillary and Bill Clinton’s relationship, and coining the sexist term “the Clinton Cackle” to describe Hillary Clinton’s laugh.

    I know what you’re thinking. Media Matters is criticizing the Times for its coverage of Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election again. Yes, we are. And it annoys me too.

    We extensively chronicled the inaccurate, sexist, gossipy, and disproportionate criticism that journalists at major news outlets, particularly at the Times, provided Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. At times, that work drew groans and sneers from those who viewed us as Clinton shills.

    But toward the end of the campaign, other journalists and pundits began pointing out deep flaws in the coverage of the race. And in the months since Trump was elected, researchers published studies at Harvard University and Columbia Journalism Review that detailed how excessive coverage by the Times and other outlets of relatively minor issues surrounding the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server created a false impression that those issues were equivalent to Trump’s panoply of scandals, while also drowning out discussion of policy differences between the candidates.

    Meanwhile, as women came forward alleging sexual misconduct by leading lights of political journalism, a new conversation began about how sexism in journalism impacted coverage of Clinton during the election.

    Frankly, I’d love nothing more than not to revisit the media’s coverage of the 2016 election. The Clinton era in American politics is over (Hannity's nightly show aside), and I’d just as soon move on to covering new topics. But it's impossible to do so when the newspaper of record remains convinced that it did nothing wrong during that campaign, setting itself up to repeat the same mistakes.

    The paper’s editors “seem to resist the very idea that they have anything to re-examine in their approach to the 2016 campaign,” The Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote in September. Other Times moves since the election indicate that the paper’s leaders are concerned only with criticism from conservatives.

    The promotion of Healy -- whose political reporting at the paper has revolved around Clinton -- suggests that the paper is completely comfortable with its coverage of the 2016 election and its treatment of the former secretary of state.

    A review of Healy’s work reveals evidence of nearly every criticism one can imagine being made of the Times’ coverage.

    False equivalence? Read Healy’s contributions to the Timesobsessive coverage of Clinton’s email server in the waning days of the campaign. “In just six days,” two researchers wrote in Columbia Journalism Review after reviewing the paper’s coverage, “The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.”

    Casual sexism? Healy started a media whirlwind when he launched the term “the Clinton Cackle” with an over 900-word account on her laugh, writing that Clinton appeared to deploy her chuckle in a “particularly calculated” manner. By coining a “pretty damn gender-specific” term, journalist Rachel Sklar wrote, Healy had produced “a hit piece masquerading as analysis.”

    Gossipy trash? Check out Healy’s 2,000-word investigation (for which he spoke to “some 50 people”) into how many days the Clintons spent together over a 17-month period, complete with a reference to a “tabloid photograph” Healy suggested pointed to a Bill Clinton affair. Healy later acknowledged that the amount of time they spend together is “pretty similar” to that of other congressional families. And the Times public editor wrote that the part of the story referencing the tabloid photo belonged “in the trash can.”

    Favorable misreading of Trump? Healy’s widely-panned (and subsequently rewritten) report presented a Trump speech in Mexico as “an audacious attempt ... to remake his image on the divisive issue of immigration,” leading the paper’s public editor to investigate why so many readers thought the piece “looked like a significant misportrayal of events.”

    Bizarre optics obsession? Peruse Healy’s take on Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. The paper’s public editor criticized Healy’s piece for its “jarring, sexualized top” in an article titled “A Convention Speech, Not a Bodice Ripper.”

    Banal “both-sides” reporting? Try his story on the candidates’ transparency around health records. Its premise was that both “have been more secretive and selective than many recent presidential nominees in providing up-to-date details about their personal health,” even though the piece acknowledged Clinton had provided significantly more information.

    Focus on personality over policy? Columbia Journalism Review literally described one Healy piece as “so high school.”

    Stenography? Healy’s most recent piece on Trump featured him calling the then-president elect, asking his reaction to actor Meryl Streep’s criticism for mocking a Times reporter’s disability, then writing up Trump’s denial rather than pointing out Trump was lying.

    I could go on and on. And apparently I have to, because the Times is woefully uninterested in interrogating where its coverage has gone wrong in the past and trying to improve it as the 2018 congressional race moves forward and the 2020 presidential elections loom.

  • Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox more than twice as often as other major TV networks combined in his first year at EPA

    Fox News, meanwhile, largely ignored controversies about Pruitt’s extravagant travel

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In his first year as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as he did on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. During the same period, Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to controversies about Pruitt’s costly travel than the other major cable news outlets, CNN and MSNBC.

    Pruitt’s preference for appearing on Fox News is part of a wider trend that extends across the Trump administration, with Fox News serving as the go-to network for administration officials. Fox News’ habit of ignoring unflattering news about Pruitt is also in line with the network’s tendency to ignore negative stories about President Donald Trump and his administration.

    In first year as EPA head, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as on the other major networks combined

    Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News 16 times in his first year at EPA. A previous Media Matters study examining Pruitt’s first six months after taking office on February 17, 2017, found that he appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. He continued that trend in his second six months in office, making four more appearances on Fox and only one additional appearance on a non-Fox outlet, CBS. In total, during his first year, he appeared 16 times on Fox and only seven times on the other networks combined.

    Pruitt rarely faced tough questioning during his appearances on Fox, with the exception of two interviews by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. During most of Pruitt's Fox appearances, he advocated for and defended the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, though he also went on the network to defend his rollbacks of other Obama-era environmental protections.

    The Fox program he appeared on most often was Fox & Friends, a show that wields agenda-setting influence with the president. Here are all of Pruitt's Fox News appearances from his first year at the EPA:

    *The segment on Your World with Neil Cavuto on October 17 used footage from an interview Pruitt did earlier on the same day on the Fox Business Network program Cavuto: Coast to Coast.

    Pruitt made just seven appearances on the other major cable and broadcast TV networks combined. In his first year leading the EPA, Pruitt made only seven appearances total on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. In the majority of these, he defended U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, as he did during his Fox appearances. In other cases, he broadly discussed his agenda and priorities and defended rollbacks of environmental regulations.

    Here are Pruitt’s appearances on the major broadcast TV networks, CNN, and MSNBC during his first year:  

    • Two on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on March 26 and June 4.
    • One on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on February 28.
    • One on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on June 1.
    • One on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4.
    • One on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on June 6.
    • One on CBS Evening News on January 17.

    Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to Pruitt’s controversial use of taxpayer money than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 27, The Washington Post published an article about Pruitt taking “at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000.”

    The story received extensive mainstream media coverage, including on other cable news networks. During the week after the story broke, from September 27 to October 3, CNN and MSNBC aired 32 and 31 segments on the controversy, respectively, often mentioning other cabinet members' high travel expenses as well. But Fox News aired just seven segments about Pruitt’s costly charter and military flights. In one Fox segment, on the September 29 episode of Your World with Neil Cavuto, correspondent John Roberts stated, “Scott Pruitt took four, maybe five charter flights. Those were all approved by the EPA Office of Ethics, and he has come up with a full explanation for those. … It's my belief that the other departments, Interior, Treasury, EPA, whatever, are allowed to do those private flights, as long as they have pre-approval for that.”

    On February 11, 2018, The Washington Post again detailed Pruitt’s exorbitant spending in an article headlined “First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure.” The Post reported that Pruitt racked up $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs during one stretch in early June, and that figure did not include the additional travel costs for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail. CBS News reported two days later that Pruitt broke with a government policy that officials fly on U.S. airlines by traveling on the luxury Emirates airline on a return trip from Milan, Italy. The story gained further traction after the EPA changed its tune about whether Pruitt had a blanket waiver to travel first class and clarified what security threats justified Pruitt’s use of first-class travel.

    Yet in the week following the Post’s article, from February 11 to February 17, Fox News did not mention the renewed controversy over Pruitt's travel costs even once.* CNN and MSNBC, by contrast, aired four and eight segments on his travel, respectively.

    *Fox News did air two segments on the latest Pruitt travel controversy on the February 19 episode of Shepard Smith Reporting and the February 28 episode of Special Report with Bret Baier, but these segments were aired more than a week after the Post story and fell outside the one-year time frame of our study.  

    On business news networks, Pruitt appeared on Fox Business four times as often as on CNBC

    Pruitt’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network. On the cable business news channels, Pruitt again demonstrated a predilection for Fox, making eight appearances on Fox Business, while appearing only twice on competitor CNBC. Fox Business Network has exhibited strong pro-Trump leanings, as outlets including USA Today and Business Insider have reported.

    Here are Pruitt's appearances on Fox Business shows:

    Fox Business defended Pruitt by attacking a CNN report. After Pruitt gave numerous interviews to Fox Business, the network did Pruitt a favor. In October, it aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves Pruitt made to help a proposed mine in Alaska right after meeting with the CEO of the mining company pushing the project. The network aired four segments in two days that criticized CNN's story and defended the mine. On all four segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit the story, calling CNN's investigation a "smear," a "hit piece," and "dishonest reporting." (In January, Pruitt reversed his decision and reinstated restrictions on the mine project. Fox News did not report on this reversal.)

    Pruitt gave numerous interviews to right-wing radio programs and a variety of print outlets

    Pruitt frequently appeared on radio shows hosted by climate change deniers like Brian Kilmeade and Michael Savage. Media Matters' previous study on Pruitt's first six months in office found that he made half a dozen appearances on popular right-wing talk radio programs hosted by people who deny climate science. He continued that pattern in his second six months, making appearances on programs including The Rush Limbaugh Show (where he was interviewed by guest host and climate denier Mark Steyn), The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Savage Nation, The Brian Kilmeade Show, The David Webb Show, and Breitbart News Daily.

    Pruitt's print and online interviews included some mainstream outlets. While Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing outlets when doing TV and radio, he granted interviews to a wider variety of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and online publications. Some of those interviews were with conservative outlets, including National Review, The Daily Caller, and The Daily Signal. Some were with the business press, like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. And some were with prominent mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today, Reuters, and The New York Times podcast The Daily.  

    Still, overall, Pruitt heavily favors conservative media when trying to push out his talking points. As Mother Jones recently reported in an in-depth profile of Pruitt, the EPA under his direction "has mostly focused on spreading its message through the right-wing media, talking frequently to Fox News and conservative radio hosts while dismissing less favorable coverage as fake."

    Pruitt's preference for right-wing media is continuing into his second year at the EPA. In the 16 days since his one-year anniversary, he has given interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Daily Signal, and Fox News.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ Media to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA administrator on February 17, 2017, to February 17, 2018: “Pruitt,” “Pruett,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.

    We also used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Pruitt’s travel controversies from September 27 to October 3 and from February 11, 2018, to February 17, 2018. We did not count instances of networks airing White House briefings that discussed these controversies.

  • Trump's "shithole" comments are racist. Everyone needs to just say that.

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump did something racist again. At what point will some media outlets just say that? 

    On January 11, The Washington Post first reported that in a meeting with lawmakers about immigration, when discussing "protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal," Trump said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump reportedly added that he’d rather have more immigrants from countries like Norway.

    That is a racist statement, and Trump said that because he is racist.

    It’s far from the first overtly racist comment Trump has made in his life or even in his presidency.

    In fact, an undeniable shadow of racial animus hangs over Trump's every action, whether it’s playing footsie with white nationalists or denying black people housing access, picking public fights with black athletes and pundits and public figures or questioning President Barack Obama’s place of birth, calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists or calling for the death penalty for a group of innocent black and Latino teenagers.

    News outlets may hesitate to ascribe racist motivations to an individual, even if so many of their readers can see it clearly. That’s a bit understandable -- but describing concrete, individual actions and statements doesn’t require the same sort of divination.

    Yet some print outlets seem, still, to only feel comfortable calling Trump’s actions racist in the opinion section, or including words or sentiments from third parties that are more comfortable calling racist things racist (like many of their colleagues on mainstream cable news, finally) .

    At this point, major national papers are left to perform bizarre word acrobatics to avoid just saying it themselves. The reporting on Trump’s “shithole” remarks is the latest example.

    • In its report about the "shithole" remark itself, the Post wrote that Trump used “racially incendiary language” and described him as having a “long-standing tendency to make racially charged remarks.”
    • The New York Times wrote that Trump used “disparaging words” and “vulgar language” about the countries in “the latest example of his penchant for racially tinged remarks denigrating immigrants.”
    • USA Today said Trump used “a crude description” because he “reportedly grew frustrated.”
    • The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump made “vulgar comments” during a “back-and-forth” on immigration.

    What more horrifying things does Trump need to do or say that would actually be labeled racist in a report? Judging from what’s been sugar-coated so far, I hope we never know the answer.

  • 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.

  • Following a bombshell report, Fox News is desperately clinging to their alternate reality about the Russia investigation

    While a NYT report reveals the real impetus of the Russia investigation, Fox is running with the unfounded conjecture of fake news, pro-Trump trolls, and Republican congressmen

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    In a continuation of the network’s pattern of sycophantic defenses of the president, Fox News hosts dismissed reporting from The New York Times that provided new details about what sparked the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, muddying the waters by pushing baseless conjecture espoused by pro-Trump internet trolls and fake news websites alike.

    A December 30, 2017 report by The New York Times explained that a conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat at a bar prompted FBI officials in June 2016 to investigate the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. The report disrupted a well-established far-right and right-wing media claim that the investigation was prompted solely on information provided in a partially unverified opposition research dossier produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, noting:

    The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?

    It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

    In a January 2 New York Times op-ed three days after the December 30 report, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that funded the dossier, echoed the Times’ earlier reporting, writing that rather than the Steele dossier being the major impetus for the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling, their sources told them “the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had [already] received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.”

    But in a segment responding to the the op-ed today, the panel of Fox News’ Outnumbered didn’t even mention Papadopoulos’ name. Instead the panel members deflected from the revelations by launching baseless claims, including the notion that Fusion GPS exerted influence on the FBI and that the “fake report” (which has in fact been at least partially verified) was used to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump, itself a fallacy promoted by Breitbart. From the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

    MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): Fox News has reported that Fusion GPS was being paid by a Kremlin-linked law firm at the same time that it was digging for dirt on then-candidate Trump. And human rights activists have accused Fusion GPS of secretly working for the Russians. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is here.

    JASON CHAFFETZ: I did I read that op-ed from Fusion GPS. First of all, if they want to maximize openness and transparency, there is nothing, nothing that holds back Fusion GPS from releasing all the documents and all the financial transactions.You have the House intelligence committee having to issues subpoenas in order to get that information.

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): That's a great point.

    CHAFFETZ: But today they could release all of that information if they want. So, don't blame the House intelligence committee. It is against the law to go out and hire a foreign national to engage in these activities during the campaign. So, they potentially broke the law there. You have Marc Elias who was general counsel for the DNC. Hillary Clinton is involved in this. You’ve got the Podesta group involved in this. There is some really nefarious things, and you have a top official at the FBI whose wife works at Fusion GPS at the same time that they're doing an investigation, so don't call it a fake investigation. Let's get all the truth out there. That's what [South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey] Gowdy and [California Republican Congressman Devin] Nunes and everybody is after.

    [...]

    KATIE PAVLICH (CO-HOST): They have a responsibility on their end to the American people now because they are so involved and because they did have influence in the FBI based on the dossier. And again we have people connect to the dossier also connected to the Department of Justice under President Obama. And those are questions that are unanswered and that deserve answers to the American people.

    [...]

    FRANCIS: I think what people in the audience should remember and probably what you care about a lot is this idea that when originally we gave the government special powers to collect data, to listen in on your phone calls, it was a time when we were all frightened and still are about terror, about national security. The warning at the time was that in the end, this FISA warrant, this whole idea could be used to listen in on political opponents and become a political weapon. In this case, it looks like that's very much what happened, that a fake report was used to get a FISA warrant to spy on a political opponent. That's a very dangerous thing in this country. And that's what I think we should be chasing down and focused on.

    Pro-Trump media outlets have long attempted to discredit the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government, and Trump’s defenders on Fox have spent months baselessly claiming that the FBI used the dossier as sole evidence to get a FISA warrant to surveil and investigate Trump and members of his presidential campaign. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro even suggested that FBI and the Department of Justice officials should be jailed for their implication in this alleged conspiracy.

    Following The New York Times’ December 30 report, right-wing media figures attempted to discredit the story by downplaying Papadopoulos’ influence, attacking the article’s anonymous sourcing, and castigating the reporting as distraction from the Mueller investigation that the network has deemed a “witch hunt.” Other right-wing outlets like Red State, the National Review, as well as other pro-Trump media outlets, fake news websites, and internet trolls have levied similar attacks in attempts to discredit the story.

  • Media keep calling the GOP's corporate tax bill a "win" for Trump

    The extraordinarily unpopular bill is built on lies and ignores what we know about economics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump and his Republican congressional allies are enjoying a round of praise from media commentators for finally getting a legislative “win” on the board as their tax bill closes in on passage before the end of the year. The budget-busting corporate giveaway will enrich the superwealthy and do little for Americans who have to work for a living.

    Republicans finally unveiled the finished version of their tax legislation last Friday evening, and -- despite the public having just days to absorb its 1,097 pages -- both chambers of Congress plan to vote on the bill before the end of the week. If everything goes according to plan, the president will sign the bill into law just in time for members to head home for the holidays.

    After a year plagued by self-destructive outbursts, failed policy changes, unprecedented legal troubles, embarrassing scandals, humiliating legislative defeats, and nationwide political upheaval, many in the press are framing the GOP tax proposal as a crucial “win” for Trump and his party.

    On the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom, co-host Poppy Harlow wondered how anyone could argue the past year “hasn’t been a win for the president on some big fronts,” given a handful of recent accomplishments, including the new tax bill. Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns agreed with Harlow’s assessment while noting that such favorable framing fits “the way that the White House has been messaging their own achievements”:

    During an earlier segment on CNN’s New Day, guest A.B. Stoddard suggested that the Republican tax bill, which the Economic Policy Institute has labeled “a scam,” could count as “a great boon for Republicans” and “a win on the board,” if the bill actually fulfilled its over the top promises. (It won’t.) Commentary framing the expected party-line vote as a major victory for the GOP also cropped up in The Associated Press, Politico, The Hill, and The New York Times. Reporters have seemingly gone out of their way to pat Republicans on the back for endorsing legislation so historically unpopular it registers significantly less support than some previous tax hikes:


    FiveThirtyEight.com

    In a December 15 video, Eric Schoenberg of the activist group Patriotic Millionaires explained how the GOP tax bill overwhelming favors wealthy people like him (and the Trump family) while doing little for lower- and middle-class people. Trump and the Republicans continue falsely claiming that the bill will spur business development, boost wages, and stoke renewed economic growth, but the message is such a fantasy even Fox News had to admit there was nothing to it. Previous studies from the Congressional Research Service and the Brookings Institution have demonstrated little relationship between tax cuts for the wealthy and invigorated economic activity, which Trump and the GOP have promised will result from this tax bill.

    The bill permanently cuts taxes for corporations while giving only modest, temporary relief for working people. It loosens tax structures affecting the wealthiest Americans while threatening funds for Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and other initiatives that guarantee basic economic security to low-income families. The bill promises to add another $1.5 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade despite years of hysteria about Obama-era revenue shortfalls. The bill also senselessly repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which will likely result in millions of Americans dropping out of the insurance market.

    Rather than praising the Republican Party for ending a remarkably unproductive year by managing to cobble together a tax giveaway to the super rich, journalists should report on what is actually in the bill. Trump and the GOP have definitely enjoyed some "wins" this year, but reporters need to point out that the Republican Party's successes have often resulted in pain and suffering for millions of Americans.

  • The New York Times’ Nazi sympathizer flop

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The New York Times drew harsh criticism this weekend for reporter Richard Fausset’s profile of Tony Hovater, a 29-year-old Ohioan described as “the Nazi sympathizer next door” who co-founded the Traditional Worker Party, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a white nationalist group that advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems.” Journalists from other outlets criticized the piece for “normaliz[ing] Neo-Nazism,” devoting too much attention to the subject’s banality (his wedding registry and restaurant choices are repeatedly referenced) and not enough to his evil. The Times’ national editor wrote in a response to the feedback that he “regret[ted] the degree to which the piece offended so many readers” but largely defended it as an effort the staff had “agonized over” and one that was forthright about the subject’s bigotry.

    But in a separate Times Insider piece, Fausset himself acknowledged the “hole at the heart” of his story: “Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?” Fausset wrote that he was unable to answer this question after visiting Ohio to interview Hovater, and spoke to the white supremacist again by phone after an editor flagged the problem with an early draft of the story. After that follow-up conversation failed to resolve the issue, the Times nonetheless published the story. “Even if I had called Mr. Hovater yet again,” Fausset concludes, “I’m not sure it would have answered the question.”

    Fausset has inadvertently put his finger on the reason so many journalists viewed his piece as a failure rather than a triumph. There is a persistent assumption undergirding both the story and the reporter’s explanation that the best way to investigate Hovater’s ideology and his pathway to extremism is by asking him about it. An interview can be an important tool for bringing light to radicalism. But absent important context provided by other reportorial methods, reporters may end up providing extremists a platform to spew their hate, or producing a profile with limited news value. By focusing so narrowly on Hovator’s words, the Times missed out on a much richer story.

    Right-wing extremists frequently use alternative media platforms like YouTube to push their messages to supporters and would-be converts, providing an invaluable archive for reporters seeking to understand them. In the profile, Fausset briefly mentioned a “podcast conversation” between Hovator and Traditional Worker Party co-founder Matthew Heimbach about their purported recent success in converting “normal people” to their ideology. But that is the piece’s only mention of the content of the podcast, a curious gap. Angus Johnson, a professor at City University of New York, reviewed two episodes of the show after the Times story’s publication and came away with several conclusions he described as missing from the profile, most notably that Hovator and Heimbach are “hoping for and working toward a Nazi takeover of the US.”

    Social media provides another way to get insights into the mindset of an extremist, as a dense online ecosystem has played a key role in the rise of the far-right in recent years. But outside of a brief mention of the online message board 4chan (a community frequented by far-right trolls and extremists) and a description of a single Facebook meme Hovator posted, Fausset largely ignores the possibility that the internet played a role in the white nationalist’s radicalization. Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel, who writes frequently on the intersection of social media and right-wing extremism, reviewed Hovator’s posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and concluded that the influence of the online far-right “can be seen throughout his social media presence.”

    When Fausset hit a wall and was unable to report out why Hovator became a white nationalist based on Hovator’s own words, he could have tried to get at the story by interviewing other people around him. “Perhaps Hovater himself wasn’t the best authority on his own radicalization,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted yesterday. “Perhaps family members would have been more forthcoming on the matter, or former classmates, neighbors — someone else.” Wemple pointed to several recent profiles that demonstrate the importance of consulting multiple sources in reporting out a story like this.

    Given the complex, interconnected web of white nationalist activity, reporters who don’t regularly deal with the subject would be wise to consult experts who spend large portions of their time focusing on it. But the profile’s sole reference to a specialist was about the relative numbers of Traditionalist Worker Party members and those who identify as “alt-right.”

    It’s possible that the Times did all this legwork and simply decided that a deeper look at Hovator’s past words, deeds, and associates was not worth including. If so, that was a mistake, and the Times’ readers are the poorer for it.

    To be fair to the Times, the paper is not the only major media outlet to draw opprobrium for faulty coverage of the radical right -- or even the only one to do so over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. NPR issued a correction on Saturday to a report on right-wing troll Mike Cernovich. The report had included the false claim that Cernovich had never specifically mentioned the name of the Washington, D.C., pizzeria that he and other conspiracy theorists had falsely suggested was the site of a child trafficking ring backed by associates of Bill and Hillary Clinton. The correction followed criticism from Vic Berger, a video editor and satirist who diligently follows Cernovich’s actions and who had posted a video on Twitter showing Cernovich mentioning the pizzeria by name. CBS and NBC have also produced similarly flawed reports on far-right figures this year.

    The far-right is a complicated subject, and reporters who dip into that world can quickly get lost or spun. The web of players is sizable, their affiliations and grudges complex and opaque, the sheer volume of content they produce staggering. Adding to the problem, “alt-right” and white nationalist figures engage in constant, complex disinformation and trolling campaigns that can leave reporters dizzy.

    One solution to this problem is assigning reporters beats that include dedicated coverage of the far-right. That dedicated focus will give them the time to more fully examine and understand the complex ecosystem, allowing them to develop expertise.

    But failing that, reporters working stories on this beat would be wise to take Wemple’s advice: “The best way to avoid normalizing white nationalists is to report about their deeds, their friends, their families and their beliefs, and to not give up after an unsatisfactory phone call.”

  • CBS Evening News failed viewers in its DeVos interview on sexual assault protections 

    The show emphasized the "innocent students wrongly punished" without noting how rare false allegations are 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On September 7, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans to begin dismantling Obama-era protections for survivors of campus sexual assault, seemingly building her case on a common right-wing media argument that so-called “false allegations” are rampant on college campuses across America. Viewers who watched CBS Evening News' exclusive interview with DeVos, however, were provided with little to no context about the inaccurate nature of these claims. 

    In her speech, DeVos talked about the lives of "falsely accused students" who she said were "a victim of a lack of due process." DeVos argued that these students had to cope with having their hopes “dashed” and their futures “lost.” In focusing overwhelmingly on the "lives of the accused," DeVos reinforced right-wing media talking points about the frequency of false sexual assault allegations.

    DeVos also shared her plan to open a public “notice-and-comment” period about campus sexual assault regulations and indicated her intention to invalidate protections for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. As Inside Higher Ed noted, previous case law had “established sexual violence as an issue of gender-based discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972”; the guidance instituted during Barack Obama's presidency served as an instruction to “higher ed institutions to do more to meet those obligations.”

    When reporting on the Obama-era guidance and DeVos’ proposed changes, however, CBS Evening News focused on right-wing media talking points that overstate the frequency of false allegations, despite an abundance of evidence of their rarity. During the September 7 segment, CBS’ Jan Crawford claimed that the guidance had disadvantaged those accused of sexual assault or harassment and ultimately created “another class of victims: innocent students wrongly punished.” Although Crawford couched this claim in the language of “opponents say,” she did not offer any evidence for such an allegation nor did she mention that statistics in fact demonstrate the rarity of false allegations.

    False reports are exceptionally rare -- representing between 2 and 10 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.”

    Nevertheless, CBS was content to rely on DeVos’ implications, which reflect years of inaccurate right-wing media talking points about sexual assault and harassment. Right-wing media have spent years attacking the credibility of survivors and misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment cases. Right-wing figures have disputed the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” and claimed sexual assault survivors occupy a “coveted status.” These outlets have even gone so far as to suggest that feminism encourages sexual assault and that attempts to address the issue harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although right-wing media have most consistently made such claims, other outlets have been similarly guilty of sympathetically highlighting past accomplishments of the accused or worrying about the costs to their lives and careers. 

    While DeVos did not explicitly roll back the Obama-era guidance in her speech, her assumption of common right-wing media misinformation as truth, as well as her receptiveness to positions of extremists -- both within and outside her administration -- sends a clear and dangerous signal. For example, in July, DeVos planned a series of meetings with a number of extreme men’s rights groups, many of whom have a history of lobbying to roll back legal protections for survivors and openly attacking survivors of assault.

    When not seeking input from these groups, DeVos can rely on the department’s Office of Civil Rights head, Candice Jackson, to supply inflammatory and inaccurate guidance about sexual assault. Jackson has previously garnered attention for her comments that women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual misconduct were “fake victims,” as well as a statement to The New York Times that “90 percent” of sexual assault allegations occur because the individuals were “both drunk” or “months later” the woman “just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’” Although Jackson later apologized for these comments, the fact remains: These are the opinions DeVos has courted in her quest to upend how campuses investigate sexual assault.

    CBS Evening News had an exclusive interview with DeVos after the announcement. Rather than fact-check her claims or even note the consequences her decision would have for sexual assault survivors, CBS decided to help DeVos spread the harmful misconception that the unheard voices in the fight against campus sexual assault were those of the “falsely accused.” As the National Women’s Law Center explained, DeVos’ announcement may appear “merely procedural,” but in reality it is “a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault” because it “signals a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug.”

  • Press group slams "blatantly irresponsible" NRA for releasing videos that "may incite violence against journalists"

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    A trade group representing publishers including The New York Times, The Associated Press, 21st Century Fox, and dozens of other major news outlets sent a letter to the National Rifle Association (NRA), slamming the gun organization’s “incendiary language” against the media and calling their actions “un-American.”

    Through its online news outlet NRATV, the gun group has launched a series of attacks against the New York Times in recent months with videos featuring NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. In the video, which was released in April but resurfaced in recent weeks and caused controversy, Loesch said to the Times staff: “Consider this the shot across your proverbial bow. We are going to fisk the The New York Times and find out just what ‘deep and rich’ means to this old gray hag, this untrustworthy, dishonest rag that has subsisted on the welfare of mediocrity for one, two, three, more decades. We're going to laser-focus on your so-called ‘honest pursuit of truth.’ In short, we're coming for you.”

    On September 5, Digital Content Next called out the NRA's videos in a letter addressed to Loesch, stating that while it is her right to express “disagreement” with the Times and other publications, “it is our right to suggest in the strongest terms that your behavior is blatantly irresponsible” and that it is “un-American to threaten journalists.” A CNN.com article about the letter noted that the NRA “has increasingly criticized media outlets” and that experts believe this is being done “to motivate existing members and recruit new members”:

    A trade group that represents The New York Times, the Associated Press and other major publishers is calling out the NRA, accusing the gun rights group of crossing a line and threatening journalists.

    "We were taken aback by your recent criticism of The New York Times," the group Digital Content Next wrote in a letter to NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch on Tuesday.

    In a viral video last month, Loesch harshly attacked the Times as an "untrustworthy, dishonest rag." She said her video was a "shot across your proverbial bow."

    "We're going to laser-focus on your so-called honest pursuit of truth," Loesch said. "In short: We're coming for you."

    The video received ample attention in conservative media circles. Fox News said the NRA was "targeting" the Times.

    [...]

    Without a Democratic president in power to be a focus of its messaging, the NRA has increasingly criticized media outlets like The Times. Analysts have speculated that the group is doing so to motivate existing members and recruit new members.

    Michael Luo, editor of NewYorker.com, wrote last month that Loesch's web videos are "strikingly bellicose even by the standards of the association."

    Launched in October 2016 as a rebranding of NRA News, NRATV has frequently attacked journalists, showed disregard for the concept of a free press, and spread blatantly false pro-Trump propaganda.

    In July, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield released a video accusing The Washington Post of playing a “role in the organized anarchy of the violent left,” and claimed the Post's reporting has done “more damage to our country with a keyboard than every NRA member combined has ever done with a firearm.”

    In previous comments on his NRATV show, Stinchfield has called critical reporting on Trump and his transition team “anti-patriotic” and a plot by the media to “destroy our republic” and claimed that reporting on allegations of sexual assault against Trump was part of “the mainstream media’s assault against freedom and the Constitution.”

    Loesch also caused controversy this summer for narrating another video released on NRATV in which she claimed the left uses the media “to assassinate real news” and that “the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” Vox.com called the video “chilling” and the Washington Post called it “an ad designed to provoke fear, if not incite violence.” 

  • For months, pundits have called Trump a populist, but his policies have been about giveaways to the rich

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Several media outlets are suggesting that President Donald Trump’s August 30 speech calling for tax reform was a “populist pitch,” and dozens of media figures and outlets have been calling the president a “populist” since his inauguration. A closer examination of Trump’s policies, however, show a pattern of decisions that will create devastating impacts on Americans, particularly low-income residents, while providing handouts to corporations and the wealthiest citizens.