Anderson Cooper | Media Matters for America

Anderson Cooper

Tags ››› Anderson Cooper
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and our warped discourse on taxation

    Media coverage of tax policy privileges GOP extremism while marginalizing progressives

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s been several days since CBS News tweeted out a clip of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) floating a 70 percent marginal tax rate on income over $10 million to finance a Green New Deal program, and her comments are still generating news stories, commentary, and bluntly dishonest attacks from the right. It’s unusual to see such a media frenzy surrounding a proposal from a newly elected member of the House. But the glut of coverage has provided a needed lesson in how media discourse on taxes is heavily distorted by conservative policy priorities and right-wing political messaging.

    For decades, we’ve been told that tax cuts of any stripe are good, popular, and a political winner. Tax hikes, on the other hand, are presumed to be a political non-starter and something to tiptoe around. The Republican Party obviously bears primary responsibility for this: Anti-tax extremism is a mainstream Republican position, and most GOP politicians will eagerly sign a pledge to never vote to raise taxes. The United States is a low-tax country both by historical and international standards, and yet we’re constantly told that taxes are too high and that economic prosperity can be realized only with still another round of tax cuts.

    One consequence of this dynamic is a persistent double standard that treats Republican tax extremism as de rigueur while Democratic proposals to hike taxes on the rich are met with shock, incredulity, and the knee-jerk assumption of political radioactivity. Anderson Cooper’s immediate reaction to Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks was to call them “a radical agenda compared to the way politics is done right now.” Political analysts like CNN’s David Gregory said Ocasio-Cortez wants to “really soak the rich with the idea that that’s ultimately going to help the economy” and that “it’s out of sync with a lot of Americans.”

    The assumption that any public discussion of tax increases is politically toxic for Democrats is baked in even though polling shows that strong majorities of Americans believe that the wealthy don’t pay enough in taxes. (The Republican position of slashing taxes for the rich and businesses, meanwhile, is deeply unpopular.) Jacked-up rates on the super wealthy is a historically moderate policy that would help reduce income inequality, which has ballooned since the Reagan era. In spite of all this, pundits and reporters default to treating tax rhetoric like Ocasio-Cortez’s as extreme and unpopular.

    This mode of thinking is helped along in part by the fact that Democrats in general don’t aggressively make the case for sharply increasing taxes on America’s ultrarich. But mainly it is perpetuated by bad-faith conservatives who lie and deliberately misunderstand tax policy.

    Ocasio-Cortez’s explanation of her thinking on tax policy included a breakdown of the basics of progressive taxation. “Your tax rate, you know, let's say, from zero to $75,000 may be 10 percent or 15 percent, et cetera,” she said. “But once you get to, like, the tippy tops -- on your 10 millionth dollar -- sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That doesn't mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.”

    My guess is that she included this explanation as a means of inoculating herself against scurrilous accusations that she was proposing a 70 percent rate on all income. Either way, that’s exactly what happened.

    Grover Norquist, anti-tax propagandist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, posted a deliberately obtuse tweet arguing that “slavery is when your owner takes 100% of your production” and “Ocasio-Cortez wants 70%.” Sean Hannity (who is very concerned that rich people be able to buy their luxury seacraft of choice) complained that Ocasio-Cortez “wants a 70 percent federal tax rate for the rich” and warned that “would mean no businesses, no wealthy individual would ever invest, spend money, create jobs in a place where they are taking $0.70 or $0.80 of every dollar.”

    A top-ranking House Republican got in on the disinformation as well:

    It feels safe to assume that all these people know how progressive taxation works and understand what a marginal tax rate is. Even if they don’t, the person they attacked spelled it out for them in basic terms. They’re all just pretending to be ignorant in order to whip up anti-tax sentiment.

    The critical thing to understand about this poisonous dynamic is that it will persist so long as figures like Hannity and Norquist remain the loudest voices in the room and are given the space to dishonestly frame any talk of tax increases as extreme and politically damaging for the left. These cretins aren’t going to stop lying, which means if progressives want to change the media discourse on taxation then they'll have to set ambitious policy goals and make unflinching, affirmative cases for them.

  • The media are still talking about the National Climate Assessment, and for that we can thank climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Right-wingers' efforts to derail media coverage of the National Climate Assessment backfired not once but twice.

    First, the Trump administration tried to bury the National Climate Assessment by releasing it on Black Friday, but that tactic bombed. It turns out that "Trump tries to bury a new climate report" is a much sexier headline than "Scientists release a new climate report."

    Then, climate deniers fanned out on TV networks to spread lies and deceptive talking about the report, but they got far more criticism than they expected, and that criticism kept climate change in the news.

    Overall the report got loads of media coverage in the days after it was released. The quality was decidedly mixed -- some of it was good, some of it was awful -- but the good coverage appears to have outweighed the bad.

    The good

    At least 140 newspapers around the country featured the National Climate Assessment on their front pages the morning after it was released, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That included not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have strong teams of climate reporters, but also smaller papers all around the U.S., including 20 of them in California. A number of the papers highlighted the ways that climate change is hitting their regions, like the Portland Press Herald in Maine:

    MSNBC aired some strong segments. In one, host Ali Velshi mocked President Donald Trump's claim that his “gut” told him the report is wrong. He then interviewed climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a co-author of the assessment, who explained the report's findings and how scientists arrived at them. 

    CNN served up some highly problematic coverage -- more on that below -- but it also did some good interviews with climate scientists about the report, as well as three senators who are serious about addressing the climate crisis. And CNN took a novel approach to real-time fact-checking when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about the report during a press briefing. The network showed live video of Sanders, but paired it alongside a text bar labeled "Facts First" that corrected some of her false claims:

    All of the Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the report on the weekend after it was released. It was the first time in 2018 that every one of them addressed climate change on the same day. They rarely cover climate change at all.

    The bad

    Unfortunately, we would have been better off without some of that Sunday show coverage -- particularly the segments that gave airtime to rabid climate deniers. One of the worst ran on NBC's Meet the Press and featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers. She trotted out a favorite climate denier line -- "I'm not a scientist" -- and then proceeded to spout pure nonsense about how the globe is getting cooler.

    Egregious drivel about climate change also cropped up on CNN's State of the Union, which asked not one but two climate deniers to weigh in on the report. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) offered bland, lukewarm climate denial: "Our climate always changes and we see those ebb-and-flows through time." Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) one-upped Ernst by going all in for scalding-hot climate denial, praising the Trump team’s attempt to bury the report and claiming that the scientists who wrote it were “driven by the money":

    Santorum was roundly mocked on Twitter for making such a completely bogus claim. You might have thought that this would discourage other climate deniers from following suit, or at least discourage CNN from giving them a platform. You would have been wrong.

    The following Monday, CNN hosted two more right-wingers who made the same ridiculous claim that climate scientists were in it for the money: Tom DeLay, who resigned as Republican House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, and Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving “economist” who's worked for Koch-funded groups.

    The next day, on Tuesday morning, CNN seemed like it might be trying to redeem itself. It ran one segment in which CNN political analyst John Avlon fact-checked and thoroughly debunked the claim that scientists are getting rich by studying climate change, and another in which climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained that she and the other co-authors of the National Climate Assessment were paid "zero dollars" for their efforts.

    But a few hours later, the bonkers claims were back. CNN yet again invited both Santorum and Moore to repeat the warmed-over lie that scientists are driven by a multi-billion-dollar climate change industry that has manufactured a false crisis. Santorum presented this ludicrous falsehood and many others in a panel discussion on Anderson Cooper 360°. Cooper had interviewed Hayhoe for that same episode, but her interview got bumped and was only posted online, while the segment with Santorum’s false claims aired during prime time.

    Oh, and CNN also failed to note that Santorum, Moore, and DeLay have all received copious amounts of cash themselves from the fossil fuel industry.

    The backlash

    Other media outlets bashed CNN and NBC for featuring climate deniers, and that led to still more coverage of climate change and the National Climate Assessment, most of which was good.

    The New York Times published a fact-checking piece titled, "The Baseless Claim That Climate Scientists Are ‘Driven’ by Money," which cited and debunked statements made by Santorum and DeLay. PunditFact, a project of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, looked into Pletka's claims and labeled them "false."

    New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg published a story titled "News Networks Fall Short on Climate Story as Dolphins Die on the Beach," which highlighted the false claims made by Pletka and Santorum and put them in the context of climate change impacts in Florida. The Washington Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted out Rutenberg's story.

    Climate scientist Hayhoe published an op-ed in The Washington Post that debunked the myths propagated on CNN by Santorum and DeLay, among others.

    WNYC's On the Media hosted yours truly in a discussion about coverage of the National Climate Assessment, including the problem of featuring climate deniers on air.

    Politico's Morning Media daily newsletter, written by media reporter Michael Calderone, highlighted problems with press coverage of the National Climate Assessment on four different occasions after the report came out.

    ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd was just one of many influential media figures who tweeted their disapproval of segments that featured climate deniers:

    The fact that some members of the media screwed up their coverage so royally meant that other members of the media kept reporting on the story longer than they might have otherwise.

    Fox opts for footwear coverage

    Meanwhile, the folks over at Trump's favorite network were living in their own universe, as usual. Fox News gave the National Climate Assessment very little airtime. A few straight-news segments covered it, but the most popular Fox shows didn't. CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out that on the day of the report's release, Fox spent more time discussing the shoes of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) than it did discussing climate change.

    Considering what Fox's top personalities would have been likely to say about the report had they bothered to cover it, it's probably just as well that they stayed mum.

  • Conservatives are lying about the migrant caravan to scare people into voting for Republicans

    Blog ››› ››› LEANNE NARAMORE

    Just two weeks ahead of the midterm elections, right-wing media figures and President Donald Trump are spreading lies about the migrant caravan, falsely claiming that the caravan has been infiltrated by radical terrorists and is on its way to invade and destroy the U.S. These lies are designed purely to scare people into voting for Republicans in the midterms; any honest reporting on this situation must be framed around that fact. Here are some good examples so far, via CNN, MSNBC, and Shepard Smith on Fox News:

  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.