Bret Stephens | Media Matters for America

Bret Stephens

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  • Bret Stephens' despicable Kavanaugh apologia

    The NY Times columnist is “grateful” for Trump’s bullying of Christine Blasey Ford

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The first sentence of Bret Stephens’ New York Times column this morning is a lie. “For the first time since Donald Trump entered the political fray, I find myself grateful that he’s in it,” Stephens wrote, explaining that he is “grateful because Trump has not backed down in the face of the slipperiness, hypocrisy and dangerous standard-setting deployed by opponents of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.”

    The idea here is that Stephens, ostensibly an implacable and principled #NeverTrump conservative, has been forced by the liberal response to credible allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh to do the unthinkable and rally behind Donald Trump. This is the “first time” this has happened, Stephens writes, which is supposed to give you an idea of just how perfidious the left’s conduct has been.

    This is a lie, and it’s an important lie because it exposes the dishonesty at the core of the tiny yet bafflingly influential cadre of #NeverTrump pundits. Back in May, after Trump announced the United States’ precipitous withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Stephens praised the president for standing up to Iran “apologists” and lauded his “courageous decision.” After Trump fired missiles into Syria as retribution for chemical attacks on civilians, Stephens saluted Trump and pressed the president (who he believes is mentally compromised) to unleash a full-scale war on the Assad regime.

    Stephens, like most #NeverTrump conservatives, makes a grand show of opposition to the president but the split second he sees Trump pursuing his preferred policies, the hand-wringing and monocle-dropping outrage are quickly supplanted by cheerleading.

    In today’s column, Stephens argues the left has forced him to support a president who mocks survivors of sexual assault, even though that mockery was “ugly and gratuitous.” Stephens is grateful for Trump’s response to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about Kavanaugh’s alleged assault because he’s “a big fat hammer fending off a razor-sharp dagger” of false sexual assault allegations.

    The first moment was a remark by a friend. “I’d rather be accused of murder,” he said, “than of sexual assault.” I feel the same way. One can think of excuses for killing a man; none for assaulting a woman. But if that’s true, so is this: Falsely accusing a person of sexual assault is nearly as despicable as sexual assault itself. It inflicts psychic, familial, reputational and professional harms that can last a lifetime. This is nothing to sneer at.

    The second moment, connected to the first: “Boo hoo hoo. Brett Kavanaugh is not a victim.” That’s the title of a column in the Los Angeles Times, which suggests that the possibility of Kavanaugh’s innocence is “infinitesimal.” Yet false allegations of rape, while relatively rare, are at least five times as common as false accusations of other types of crime, according to academic literature.

    This is some artless statistics-mangling on Stephens’ part. Saying false accusations of rape are “at least five times as common” as false accusations of other types of crimes deliberately elides the findings of the same study that the rate of false rape accusations is 5 percent. Calling this “relatively rare,” as Stephens does, vastly undersells the rarity. On top of that, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center cautions that “research shows that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of inconsistent definitions and protocols, or a weak understanding of sexual assault.”

    Stephens’ statistical gymnastics isn’t responsive to Ford’s testimony anyway, nor does it justify the president’s dark and vicious mockery of Ford. The whole column makes clear that Stephens cares far less about Ford’s words than he does the behavior of Democrats. All Stephens has to say about Ford’s testimony is that it was “not preposterous but is also largely uncorroborated.”

    Largely! Stephens betrays no interest in the 40-plus people claiming information about the allegations against Kavanaugh who’ve been rebuffed by the FBI. And he’s not at all concerned about the many former classmates and friends of Kavanaugh who’ve come forward to say the judge has been lying about his conduct in high school and college. Stephens wants to believe Kavanaugh, and he wants Kavanaugh confirmed. The main purpose of citing false rape statistics is to help him feel better about throwing his support behind Trump’s abominable conduct.

    And I’m guessing that Stephens needs that psychological coddling because what he’s doing now is precisely what he acidly critiqued other conservatives for doing prior to the 2016 election. “Mr. Trump’s unrelenting and apparently irrepressible bigotry, misogyny, bullying and conspiracy-mongering won’t keep Republican leaders from supporting him,” Stephens wrote in The Wall Street Journal the day before Trump’s election, “provided he mouth pieties about appointing more Scalias to the court or cutting corporate tax rates.” Stephens has come around to Trump’s irrepressible bullying and misogyny just as he is on the cusp of appointing another Scalia to the court.

    He’s still a good #NeverTrump conservative, though, because the liberals made him do that.

  • Media are misleadingly characterizing Brett Kavanaugh as “mainstream”

    Researchers found that Kavanaugh "is an uncommonly partisan judge" who "justified his decisions with conservative doctrines far more than his colleagues," particularly in the run-up to elections

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On July 9, President Donald Trump nominated conservative D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court in a move that would undoubtedly shift the court far to the right and out of step with the American people. Many media figures, though, have casted Kavanaugh as a centrist pick, citing his ties to former President George W. Bush and saying he is less conservative than other potential nominees.

    • MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called Kavanaugh “such a mainstream pick” and praised him for voicing opposition to indicting a sitting president, saying it “speaks to the content of the judge’s character” because it was written under a Democratic president.

    • CNN senior political analyst and occasional host John Avlon praised Trump’s choice as “not as far right” as many of the other options he had considered. After CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin disputed that characterization, fellow commentator David Gregory dug in, saying, “Any Republican would have made this selection.”

    • The New York Times published a July 9 opinion piece on its website written by a liberal friend and former law professor of Kavanaugh’s, which Fox News exploited as evidence of widespread bipartisan support for the nominee.

    • A New York Times article described him as “often a moderating force.”

    • On CBS This Morning, Dan Senor, a Republican strategist and former colleague of Kavanaugh’s in the George W. Bush administration, said he’s “not some fire-brand right-winger” and argued that other Republicans also would have nominated him.

    • MSNBC political commentator Bret Stephens claimed that Kavanaugh is “within the broad mainstream of the American movement.”

    But data shows that Kavanaugh is “an uncommonly partisan judge” who has historically “tended to dissent more often along partisan lines than his peers,” according to research compiled by social scientists Elliott Ash and Daniel L. Chen. They also noted that Kavanaugh “justified his decisions with conservative doctrines far more than his colleagues” and that his right-leaning partisan decisions ramped up in the midst of presidential elections, “suggesting that he feels personally invested in national politics.” Additionally, Kavanaugh’s views on the environment, labor, LGBTQ discrimination, reproductive rights, gun safety, and immigration -- which are often out of step with those of the majority of Americans -- have won him the support of some of the most extreme factions, including extremist anti-LGBTQ groups and nativists like Ann Coulter and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

  • Bret Stephens and the #NeverTrump farce

    Trump’s Iran belligerence conveniently mutes Stephens’ concerns about his mental fitness

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    New York Times columnist Bret Stephens believes President Donald Trump is likely mentally ill. As a self-identified member of the bafflingly influential clique of #NeverTrump conservative columnists, Stephens has at various times expounded on Trump’s manifest unfitness for high office. In March 2017, he asked in a (since deleted) tweet: “When will Republicans acknowledge that the President of the United States is mentally ill?” When he deleted the tweet, he backed off ever so slightly from that position, writing that he’s “not a diagnostician,” but adding: “That something is deeply amiss, I have no doubt.”

    Last December, in a conversation with fellow Times columnist Gail Collins, Stephens said that he goes “back and forth” on the question of whether Trump is mentally ill, explaining that he’s “not expert enough to say at what point mental decline slides into senility or dementia, but there’s clearly been a decline.” He ventured that perhaps Trump has “narcissistic personality disorder” and that the president’s “frequently unhinged and spasmodic tweets suggests a guy who isn’t in control of himself.”

    That damning assessment of Trump’s faculties, however, doesn’t stop Stephens from trusting that the out-of-control and potentially mentally unwell president can nonetheless competently pursue policy goals Stephens happens to favor.

    Under the headline “A Courageous Trump Call on a Lousy Iran Deal,” Stephens writes today that Trump was “absolutely right” to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, “assuming, that is, serious thought has been given to what comes next.” After slogging through the rote right-wing criticisms of the deal and contradicting himself on the threat of Iranian nuclear enrichment, Stephens concludes that Trump’s withdrawal “will clarify the stakes for Tehran. Now we’ll see whether the administration is capable of following through.”

    Every indication thus far is that the administration has given precisely zero thought to what comes next. Trump pulled the rip cord and the White House is offering nothing but mealy-mouthed promises that everything will work out because a “better deal” can be made. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s decision was driven by his desire to fulfill a campaign promise and his “instincts to be a disrupter on the world stage.” Trump’s actions here more closely align with Stephens’ assessment of a president who acts without thinking and is driven primarily by the demands of his overriding egotism.

    But Stephens won’t say that. Instead, he calls Trump “courageous.” His analysis doesn’t grapple with what the administration is saying, what our European allies are saying, or the difficulties in negotiating a new diplomatic framework to replace the one Trump precipitously blew up. Stephens’ concerns about Trump’s mental fitness have conveniently evaporated because Stephens agrees that the Iran deal is bad. He just idly hopes that “serious thought has been given” to whatever policy will replace it.

    This is a feature of Stephens’ commentary and #NeverTrump posturing in general -- all the venting and sharp-tongue rebukes of the blundering and feeble-minded president disappear the moment #NeverTrump pundits spy an opportunity to advance their own interests. Just a month after Stephens called the president “mentally ill,” Trump fired his first salvo of Tomahawk missiles into Syria, prompting Stephens to urge the president he believed was mentally incompetent to launch a full-scale war against the Assad regime.

    Thus we have a curious situation in which a New York Times columnist feels that the president is too unstable to be trusted with a Twitter account, but is capable of renegotiating complex diplomatic frameworks and pursuing regime change in the Middle East

  • Yes, Kevin Williamson wanted to hang people who've had abortions. Don't let conservatives rewrite history.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This week, former National Review writer Kevin Williamson was fired by The Atlantic after 2014 audio proved that Williamson did, in fact, mean it when he said people who’ve had abortions should be hanged. In the resulting conservative meltdown, what right-wing outlets seemed desperate to do is have any conversation other than the one actually at hand. Instead, they chose to cry censorship, bemoan so-called liberal bias, and tried to rewrite history by saying Williamson was fired for holding a general anti-abortion stance.

    But this retelling is fundamentally untrue. Williamson wasn’t fired because he holds anti-abortion views. He was fired because he repeatedly, across multiple platforms, advocated for the criminalization and brutal execution of people seeking abortion care. And the fervor to distract from that truth would be truly astounding, if it wasn’t so eminently predictable. 

    When news of Williamson’s hiring first broke, a number of pundits across the ideological spectrum tripped over themselves to downplay and excuse his statements -- defending a so-called “provocateur” whose cherished turns of phrase include calling attacking transgender people as being “delusional,” and arguing that “it just simply is not the case that young black men are getting gunned down, unarmed, by police officers in any sort of significant numbers.” These writers -- including The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, who initially framed Williamson’s comment as an “objectionable tweet” -- argued that Williamson hadn’t really meant what he said about people who’ve had abortions being executed, and asked us to kindly calm down. “For heaven’s sake,” wrote The New York Times’ Bret Stephens, “it was a tweet.” Others, such as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum called the rightful outrage over Williamson’s hiring, “weird,” while National Review’s David French implored readers to just “give tolerance a chance.”

    Once Williamson’s meaning proved truly undeniable, leading to his firing, right-wing media outlets raced to reframe the conversation -- ignoring the substance of his remarks to instead cry wolf about perceived ideological intolerance. For example, The Federalist wrote that Williamson “was fired for his opinions on abortion” after “the usual suspects freaked out and proceeded to dig up old tweets and audio.” Washington Examiner published not one, but two, pieces arguing that Williamson was a victim in a larger ideological war. In another example, RedState argued that Williamson wasn’t fired because of his “fanciful views about legal consequences connected to abortion,“ but that he was “kicked out for refusing to back down in expressing that abortion is murder and should be viewed as such even in this current climate.” David French even asked where the respect for Williamson’s tolerance was as he is “the son of a teen mom, born shortly before Roe v. Wade, and narrowly escaped being aborted,” who would’ve been forced to share an office at The Atlantic with people who support abortion access.

    What these defenses, and even Goldberg’s original justification for hiring Williamson, ignore is that statements like Williamson’s send a clear message to the one-in-four women who’ve had abortions in the United States: that their lives do not matter, that they are criminal, and that they deserve (even in hypothetical terms) to be brutally executed for seeking constitutionally protected and sometimes life-saving medical care.

    Williamson wasn’t fired because he’s anti-abortion -- he was fired because he advocated for the brutal punishment of those who’ve have abortions. Even if you grant the premise that Williamson was merely expressing what could happen in a future without legal abortion, that he not only carved out an exception to his overall ambivalent stance on the death penalty for those who have abortions, but also advocated for a method that is considered too inhumane by almost all the states that currently employ capital punishment, takes his comments beyond mere speculation.

    As research from Media Matters has previously shown, the people who are often empowered to shape the conversation about abortion are overwhelmingly men. As a result, these conversations reflect not only an incomplete understanding but also treat abortion as some sort of hypothetical thought exercise or as a political bargaining chip, ignoring real impacts that lack of access has on the lives of real people.

    Furthermore, Williamson’s defense of capital punishment for those who’ve had abortions is extreme but not really that hypothetical. Already, policies at the state level punish people for attempting to access abortion care. As Irin Carmon wrote in 2016: “Just ask Purvi Patel, who is appealing a 30-year prison sentence for her conviction for feticide in Indiana,” or Anna Yocca, Rennie Gibbs, Jennie Lynn McCormack, or Jennifer Whalen. She continued that all these cases all demonstrate how “women have been prosecuted under current restrictions on abortion, at times with major felonies.” Just this week in Idaho, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Bob Nonini was forced to walk back comments that the Associated Press characterized as “women who get an abortion should be punished” including that “that the punishment should include the death penalty.” During the presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (before later backtracking) that he thought there should “be some form of punishment” for people who have abortions. As Robin Marty explained, although the right may claim that punishing people for abortion is merely an “extreme fringe” of the movement, there are already anti-abortion groups and candidates running on platforms incredibly similar to what Williamson advocates. 

    Williamson felt so strongly on this topic that he even confirmed at the time to an anti-abortion publication that he meant exactly what he said. Given that right-wing media outlets have regularly participated in or facilitated anti-abortion harassment, it’s not surprising to see a lack of concern about Williamson’s comments. Conservatives may be desperate to change the conversation, but the fact remains: advocating for the brutal execution of people who’ve had abortions isn’t provocative or tolerant -- it’s cruel.

  • Kevin Williamson also said on his podcast that people who’ve had abortions should be hanged

    Update: Williamson out at The Atlantic

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/5): After previously defending the hiring of former National Review writer Kevin Williamson as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced on April 5 that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s defense of his belief that those who have had abortions should be hanged -- made in a podcast uncovered by Media Matters yesterday -- “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”

    Original article below. 

    The Atlantic recently sparked outrage after hiring former National Review writer Kevin Williamson -- who notoriously argued that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide” with punishment including hanging. Although some have tried to make light of these comments, in reality, Williamson both defended and again promoted this belief during a September 2014 edition of his National Review podcast.

    Williamson has a long history of producing problematic articles and commentary on a variety of topics, including on abortion, transgender people, and immigrants. Several of Williamson’s defenders have downplayed his history emphasizing, in particular, that Williamson’s tweets on abortion should not be taken seriously. 

    For example, the National Review’s David French alleged that Williamson was being subjected to “the unbelievably tedious ‘gotcha’ exercise of angry progressives combing through” his articles and “attempting to define” him by pointing to “a few paragraphs, a sentence here or there, or an ill-considered tweet or two.” Similarly, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum wrote that although he found some of Williamson’s work problematic, he dismissed the severity of his comments on abortion, saying: “Lots of conservatives believe that abortion is murder. Williamson was willing to take this publicly to its logical endpoint -- that women who get abortions should be prosecuted for murder one -- but that act of folly is the only difference between him and every other right-wing pundit.” 

    As Slate reported, in a memo sent to staff at The Atlantic, even Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg argued that he didn’t think “taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice” and that he “would also prefer, all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change. I’ve done this before in reference to extreme tweeting.” This sentiment was echoed by The New York Timesmuch maligned columnist Bret Stephens who remarked in his column: “I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet.” 

    However, as Williamson himself explained in a September 2014 episode of his National Review podcast, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” he had no problem defending his view that he supported capital punishment for those who had an abortion and that what he “had in mind was hanging.” Notably, although Williamson did hedge saying that he was “kind of squishy on capital punishment in general” he was “absolutely willing to see abortion treated like regular homicide under the criminal code.”

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON (CO-HOST): And someone challenged me on my views on abortion, saying, “If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.” And I do support that, in fact, as I wrote, what I had in mind was hanging.

    [...]

    WILLIAMSON: My broader point here is, of course, that I am a -- as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general -- but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code, sure.

    Later in the same episode of the podcast, Williamson continued that when it came to punishment for those who had abortions, he “would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging” -- going so far as to say that he had “a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment” because “if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence. Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.”

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON (CO-HOST): But yeah, so when I was talking about, I would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging -- which kind of, as I said, I’m kind of squishy about capital punishment in general, but I’ve got a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment. I tend to think that things like lethal injection are a little too antiseptic --

    CHARLES C.W. COOKE (CO-HOST): Sure, if you’re going to do it.

    WILLIAMSON: -- quasi-medical -- yeah, if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence.

    COOKE: I absolutely agree.

    WILLIAMSON: Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.

    [...]

    WILLIAMSON: I think in some ways it’s worse than your typical murder. I mean, it’s absolutely premeditated --

    COOKE: It’s clinical.

    WILLIAMSON: --it’s clinical.

    COOKE: Literally.

    WILLIAMSON: Yes, it’s something that’s performed against the most vulnerable sort of people. And that’s the sort of thing we generally take into account in the sentencing of other murder cases. You know, murdering a four year old kid, is not the same as killing a 21-year-old guy.

  • The 10 most ridiculous things media figures said about climate change and the environment in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    1. Breitbart’s James Delingpole claimed 400 new scientific papers show global warming is a myth.

    Numerous studies have found near-unanimous scientific agreement on human-caused climate change, with perhaps the most well-known study on the matter finding that 97 percent of scientific papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agree that humans are behind it. And this year, a review of the 3 percent of papers that deny climate change found that they were all flawed. Nonetheless, Breitbart writer Delingpole claimed that 400 scientific papers published this year demonstrated that climate change is a “myth,” basing his article on a post on the denialist blog No Tricks Zone.The fact-checking website Snopes roundly debunked Delingpole’s article, giving it a “False” verdict after speaking with authors of some of the cited papers who said their work was grossly misinterpreted or misrepresented.

    2. The Daily Mail claimed government researchers “duped” world leaders with "manipulated global warming data."

    Daily Mail reporter David Rose alleged that climate scientists "rushed" to publish an "exaggerated" paper in an attempt to convince leaders to support the Paris agreement and spend billions to fight climate change. Rose, who has written his fair share of climate misinformation for the Mail, based his story on an “exclusive interview” with and a blog post by retired U.S. government scientist John Bates. The error-ridden article quickly made its way around right-wing media in outlets such as The Daily Caller, National Review, and Breitbart, and was even promoted by GOP members of the House science committee, including its chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The story’s claims also received “at least 752,300 shares, likes, comments, or other interactions on social media,” according to a Buzzfeed analysis. But the claims in the article were widely discredited by climate scientists, including Bates’ former colleagues and even Bates himself. The errors in the Mail’s article were so significant that the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., issued a ruling that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Daily Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand.

    3. Radio host Rush Limbaugh said he was "leery" of hurricane forecasts because they advance a "climate change agenda."

    As Hurricane Irma barrelled toward Florida, Limbaugh spun conspiracy theories and told his listeners that hurricane warnings are part of a scheme to benefit retailers, the media, and people like Al Gore who want to "advance this climate change agenda." Notably, Limbaugh didn’t have any skepticism about the danger Irma posed when it came to his own well-being, as he fled from his Florida home to Los Angeles before Irma made landfall. It's not the first time Limbaugh has spouted irresponsible conspiracy theories about hurricane forecasts. He was criticized last year for doing the same thing during Hurricane Matthew, earning himself a spot on the 2016 edition of this list.

    4. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued that because political operatives were wrong in predicting Hillary Clinton would win the election, people should be skeptical of climate science.

    After Trump’s election, The New York Times launched an ad campaign billing itself as the antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.” Shortly after that campaign, though, the Times hired Stephens as a columnist -- a serial misinformer who had called climate change a “sick-souled religion” during his time at The Wall Street Journal. In his inaugural column for the Times, Stephens encouraged skepticism of climate scientists and compared those who advocate climate action to Cold War-era authoritarians. Stephens’ column was short on actual facts and science; the one time he cited a scientific report, he got it wrong. The Times added a correction to the column, but numerous scientists pointed out that the correction wasn’t sufficient, and a number of scientists canceled their subscriptions over Stephens’ hiring, his problematic column, and the Times public editor’s dismissive defense of Stephens’ column. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt later cited Stephens' column to defend the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.

    5. Conservative media commentator Stephen Moore claimed that Trump created tens of thousands of coal jobs in the first few months of his presidency.

    Experts and journalists have repeatedly noted that President Donald Trump's campaign promise to bring back coal jobs is an empty one, since the decades-long decline in coal mining jobs has been driven much more by economic forces, such as increased automation and competition from natural gas and renewables, than by government regulations. But that didn’t stop Moore, a frequent Fox and CNN commentator and former Trump economic advisor, from proclaiming in op-eds in The Washington Times and Breitbart that Trump had already made good on his promise after just a few months in office. Moore cited jobs reports from March and April to claim that Trump had added tens of thousands of mining jobs, thereby restoring the coal industry. But Moore grossly misrepresented the data he cited, which actually included jobs in a number of sectors like oil and gas. Had Moore bothered to look at the actual coal mining jobs category, he would have seen that it had only grown by approximately 200 jobs through April, barely moving since Election Day.

    6. Radio host Hugh Hewitt recommended appointing Rush Limbaugh to a national commission to study climate change.

    In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hewitt proposed creating a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” But Hewitt’s proposal instantly lost all credibility when he suggested including Rush Limbaugh as one of the commission members. Limbaugh has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, promoted dangerous climate-related conspiracy theories, misrepresented research in an attempt to dispute that global warming is happening, and even criticized a TV show for portraying climate change as a reality.

    7. Fox hosts attacked a journalist and called him "stupid" for asking a Trump official about the links between hurricanes and climate change.

    2017 was a record year for hurricanes, as Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc along their respective paths. A number of climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes. While CNN and MSNBC frequently aired segments discussing the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, Fox News hosts almost exclusively covered the climate change-hurricane link by criticizing others who raised the issue. The September 11 episode of Fox's The Five, for example, featured a lengthy discussion in which hosts criticized CNN's Jim Acosta for asking Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert whether there's a link between climate change and powerful hurricanes. The hosts said that Acosta was “anti-science” and looked “stupid” and “dumb,” and they called his question was "politically opportunistic." Fox's Jesse Watters said concern about climate change stems from liberal “guilt” and a desire to control people’s lives. Likewise, on the radio show Breitbart News Daily, host Alex Marlow pushed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to deny the link between climate change and hurricanes, which Pruitt did, stating, “For opportunistic media to use events like this to, without basis or support, just to simply engage in a cause-and-effect type of discussion, and not focus upon the needs of people, I think is misplaced."

    8. Rush Limbaugh argued that the historic BP oil spill caused no environmental damage.

    Limbaugh cited an article in the right-wing Daily Caller headlined “Bacteria Are Eating Most Of The 2010 BP Oil Spill” and concluded, “The BP spill didn’t do any environmental [damage].” The Deepwater Horizon spill, which leaked oil for 87 days, was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in world history. Researchers have documented a wide array of negative environmental impacts from the disaster. For example, a 2016 study found that the BP spill may have caused irreversible damage to one of the Gulf shore’s most important ecosystems. The spill is believed to have killed tens of thousands animals in 2010, and for years afterward, dolphins and other animals in the area continued to die at higher-than-normal rates.

    9. Fox News’ Jesse Watters claimed, “No one is dying from climate change.”

    During a discussion about Al Gore’s warnings on climate change, Watters, a co-host of Fox News’ The Five, declared, “People are dying from terrorism. No one is dying from climate change.” Rush Limbaugh also made the same assertion this year. But an independent report commissioned by 20 governments in 2012 concluded that climate change already kills more people than terrorism, with an estimated 400,000 deaths linked to climate change each year.

    10. Radio host Alex Jones said it was "suspicious" that Hurricane Irma came along shortly before the release of a climate disaster movie.

    Jones briefly speculated about the possibility that Hurricane Irma was “geoengineered” or created by humans before stating, “Meanwhile, though, right on time with these superstorms, we have the new film Geoengineering (sic) 2017, coming soon on October 20. Oh, just a little bit more than a month or so after Irma is set to hit. Isn’t that just perfect timing? Like all these race war films they’ve been putting out. This is starting to get suspicious. Here it is, Geostorm.” The action movie Geostorm featured satellites that controlled the global climate. Jones' speculation about the film is just one of the countless conspiracy theories he has promoted over the years.

  • Bret Stephens and MSNBC’s hiring spree: The network keeps moving right

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: MSNBC and Greta Van Susteren have agreed to part ways.

    MSNBC is now a pasture for pseudo-intellectual conservatives. Climate denier and Iraq War booster Bret Stephens is just the latest right-wing hire at the network.

    In recent months NBC News Chairman Andy Lack has overseen a hiring spree of right-wing pundits and former Fox News personalities. The stable includes Hugh Hewitt, Megyn Kelly, Charlie Sykes, Greta Van Susteren, and George Will. They join other conservatives at the network: Elise Jordan, Steve Schmidt, Michael Steele, Rick Tyler, Nicolle Wallace, and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough. This is to say nothing of NBC News contributor and Trump apologist Mark Halperin; and given their frequent appearances, it may be just a matter of time until David Frum, a speechwriter for then-President George W. Bush, former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card, and neocon Bill Kristol join the network as well.

    Compared to CNN’s boorish Trumpists or the state media apparatchiks at Fox News, the common thread among MSNBC conservatives is a certain pretentious shine. They’re frequently just arguing that President Donald Trump is the wrong type of conservative, when in fact Trump is the apotheosis of everything conservatism has been careening toward for some time. (The exception is Hugh Hewitt, who is now just a huge Trump booster after vacillating during the campaign.) 

    Many of these hires have direct, intimate connections to Bush, the most disastrous president in decades. Card, Frum, Jordan, and Wallace worked in the Bush administration, and Stephens, Kristol, Will, Scarborough, and Hewitt were all huge cheerleaders for the Iraq War. And that history matters. Two major media institutions, including a newspaper of record, are now paying Stephens essentially just to troll liberals with climate denial and to push America towards a war with Iran.

    You can separate Lack’s hiring spree into two buckets: pundits and brands. Neither offer much value in the long run. In this media environment, opinions are cheap (including mine!). Everyone has one and most of them stink. There’s no long-term return on opinions (and no lack of people wanting to get on TV to share theirs).

    Adding brands like Megyn Kelly or Greta Van Susteren is equally pointless. It’s no wonder that both of these shows have failed. There’s simply no audience for them outside the Fox News bubble. Particularly with Kelly, NBC News executives seem completely unaware that her entire show at Fox News was built around racial dog-whistling (with occasional moments of bucking the party line).

    Also, as Ryan Grim noted, it is the progressive shows that Lack hasn’t touched that are succeeding the most.

    Rather than spending all this money on right-wing pundits and big names, the true value-add for news networks now is reliable and aggressive journalism. That’s hard to do. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. But it’s ultimately what will define NBC News and MSNBC.

  • How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief

    Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team/blue team” review of climate science that would attempt to cast doubt on well-established science and lend an outsize voice to fringe scientists. The idea spread from a climate-denying scientist to conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Wall Street Journal to Pruitt, and now more right-wing outlets are promoting it.

    How the “red team/blue team” idea spread

    John Christy, a fringe scientist and climate denier, proposed the creation of a “red team” in comments submitted to the EPA in 2014. His proposal was promoted by the denialist Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of organizations that “question global warming alarmism.” In his comments, Christy wrote:

    The EPA should constitute a “Red Team” of analysts, independent from the climate modeling industry, to judge the current state of knowledge, i.e. the current state of how much we know about the “why” of climate variations. Such an examination would provide transparency to the process and give confidence to the public that the agency values open examination of its methodology.

    In 2015, Christy again promoted the idea of the federal government funding a new “red team” that would review the climate science currently being produced by what he calls the “blue team.” The Daily Caller reported on Christy’s proposal in December 2015:

    Christy told the [Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness] he believes the attempt to study climate change objectively is thwarted by the federal funding process.

    Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, suggests Congress can fix the problem by directly funding independent “red team” programs.

    And in March of this year, Christy promoted the idea during a hearing held in the House Science Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a noted climate denier. Judith Curry, another scientist who’s been skeptical of the mainstream consensus on climate change, also testified in favor of the idea. The Washington Post reported on Christy and Curry’s testimony and the “red team” idea:

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    On April 20, the idea got more exposure when it was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who has a history of climate denial and served as undersecretary at the Energy Department under President Barack Obama for two years before resigning. Koonin called on the Trump administration “to convene a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.” He continued:

    The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations.

    As justification for such an exercise, Koonin claimed that the “public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.”

    Shortly after his op-ed was published, Koonin told Axios, “I can tell you that’s found some resonance within the administration. I’m just going to say people seem to be interested.”

    One of those people is Pruitt. In a radio interview on Breitbart News Daily on June 5, Pruitt expressed interest in the “red team/blue team” idea. From a Breitbart article about the interview:

    “What the American people deserve is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” [Pruitt] said. “There was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist, I believe, at NYU. He talked about the importance of having a Red Team of scientists and a Blue Team of scientists, and those scientists get into a room and ask, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What risk does it pose to health in the United States and the world, with respect to this issue of [carbon dioxide]?’”

    In the days after that interview, right-wing outlets picked up on the idea again. The Daily Caller reported that it “could upset the supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming.” Breitbart said the proposal “has naturally caused massive upset among the ivory towers of climate science academe” where researchers “aren’t at all used to having their dodgy theories exposed to serious scrutiny.” The right-wing website Daily Signal, the conservative blog Power Line, and the climate-denial blog Watts Up With That also highlighted Pruitt's interview and the red team proposal.

    Why the “red team/blue team” idea is wrongheaded

    In advocating for a “red team” review of climate science, Pruitt, Koonin, and right-wing media are glossing over the fact that climate science already has a method for testing assumptions and analyses: the peer-review system. Climate science papers submitted to respected journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field to assess their soundness and validity.

    As Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post in June, creating a red team to review climate science would constitute an act of false equivalence and lend, as the Post wrote, “more prominence to alternative ideas than they have earned in the refereed journal process.” Earlier, in March, he told the Post, “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

    The Post also quoted Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia, who called Koonin’s proposal a “gimmick,” saying, “This just feels to me a like another way to skirt the tried and true scientific process that has worked for years in our field and many others.”

    Climate science has already been litigated ad nauseum in mainstream forums. Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. And recent studies examining the robustness of that consensus have reaffirmed it; about 97 percent of publishing climate scientists concur.


    Via Skeptical Science

    Creating a “red team” could lead to scenarios like the one at a House science committee hearing in March, when climate scientist Michael Mann was outnumbered by fringe scientists and forced to be the sole representative of the scientific consensus on climate change. “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” Mann said in his opening testimony.

    The impact of major newspapers’ opinion pages

    Though fringe, right-wing media have played a substantial role in spreading the “red team/blue team” proposal and other denialist ideas, mainstream newspapers also bear some responsibility. When Pruitt referenced Koonin’s op-ed, it was the second time in less than a week that he had lifted an argument from the opinion pages of a major newspaper to cast doubt on established climate science. On June 2, standing at the podium of the White House press briefing room, Pruitt cited an error-riddled, denialist New York Times column by Bret Stephens in order to downplay “exaggerated” concerns about climate change.

    As a Media Matters study conducted last year demonstrated, climate denial remains a significant problem in the major newspapers. The world has just endured the three hottest years on record, and newspapers are still allowing their opinion pages to be used to deny climate change. That trend is all the more alarming now that the Trump administration is quickly adopting those denialist arguments.

  • Four ways the NY Times has undermined its own climate coverage

    The paper gave ammunition to the Trump administration to deny climate science and defend dropping out of the Paris agreement

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    The New York Times has done some stellar reporting on climate change, and it’s poised to do more thanks to its recent creation of a dedicated climate team. See, for instance, its impressive ongoing series on how climate change is affecting major cities, and another recent multimedia series on the melting of Antarctica.

    But the paper has made serious missteps in recent days and weeks, some of which have bolstered the White House’s case for climate denial and for dropping out of the Paris climate agreement. Here are four problems that deserve to be called out:

    1. Letting Bret Stephens spread climate denial, which was seized on by Scott Pruitt

    The New York Times hired conservative climate denier Bret Stephens as an op-ed columnist in April, and his first column was a factually compromised and misleading attack on climate science. Its publication provoked widespread condemnation of the Times and Stephens in late April.

    Then the column got a new round of attention late last week, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. On June 2, the day after Trump’s announcement, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended the move from the podium in the White House briefing room, and cited Stephens' column to make the case that climate science is unsettled:

    I don’t know if you saw this article or not, but the “Climate of Complete Certainty” by Bret Stephens that was in The New York Times talked about -- and I’ll just read a quote, because I thought it was a very important quote from this article. “Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the IPCC knows that, while the modest 0.85 degrees Celsius warming of the earth that has occurred since 1880, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. Isn’t (sic) to acknowledge it honestly.”

    Pruitt actually misquoted the column, omitting Stephens’ acknowledgement that there has been “indisputable ... human influence” on the warming of the earth since 1880. But nonetheless, Pruitt left the impression that The New York Times supported his fringe views.

    As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz put it, “It’s a disaster for a paper that sold itself to readers as a bulwark against the new president, then turned around and hired a prominent climate change skeptic.”

    2. Ignoring the fact that Pruitt seized on Stephens’ climate denial

    In an article about Trump’s views on climate change, New York Times reporter Peter Baker noted that Pruitt had questioned climate science during his remarks at the White House, but Baker neglected to mention that the EPA chief had used a New York Times column as a main piece of supporting evidence for his claims.

    3. Publishing a misleading story on small-business owners’ views on Paris, which was seized on by Pruitt

    On June 2, The New York Times published an article by Landon Thomas Jr. titled “Small Businesses Cheer ‘New Sheriff in Town’ After Climate Pact Exit.” Thomas claimed, “While multinational corporations such as Disney, Goldman Sachs and IBM have opposed the president’s decision to walk away from the international climate agreement, many small companies around the country were cheering him on, embracing the choice as a tough-minded business move that made good on Mr. Trump’s commitment to put America’s commercial interests first.”

    The article ignored the fact that hundreds of small businesses had publicly called for remaining in the Paris agreement, and it quoted no small-business owners who supported the deal. Small-business supporters weren’t that hard to find, even in red states. NPR's Morning Edition featured one, Fhebe Lane, who runs a store in a conservative Texas coal town. A Trump voter, Lane said she was concerned about the climate getting hotter and thought limiting emissions was a good idea.

    Thomas’ article also drew criticism for quoting some of the same pro-Trump voices he had cited in a previous piece, as Media Matters has noted. Boston Globe writer Michael Cohen pointed out that the article was “remarkably similar” to a piece Thomas wrote three months earlier; Cohen and others noted that the same two people “are quoted in both articles extolling Mr. Trump’s virtues” and “their positive words about Trump are used as evidence that small business owners are behind the president.”

    But Pruitt, for one, liked the article. He quoted it during an appearance on ABC’s This Week on June 4:

    Even The New York Times had an article, I think, within the last couple of days that talked about small business celebrating, euphoria, with respect to the president’s decision.

    4. Blaming the Democrats alongside the Koch brothers for GOP climate denial

    New York Times reporters Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton published a mostly well-reported article on widespread Republican refusal to accept climate science. But the story contained a ridiculous claim that “Democratic hubris” was partly to blame:

    The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation.

    While the article laid out plenty of evidence that the Koch brothers had affected elected Republicans’ views, it did not make any kind of convincing case that Democrats had.

    Talking Points Memo Editor Josh Marshall characterized the “Democratic hubris” line as “half of what is imbecilic in contemporary political journalism”:

    As New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, who wrote a book on the Koch brothers, noted in a post on June 5, Republican climate denial and the rejection of the Paris agreement are clear and direct consequences of the Kochs and other rich fossil fuel barons pouring money into the political scene. “It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history,” she wrote.

    Democrats, hubristic or not, can’t claim credit for that.

    Whither the Times?

    “The paper has lost its way,” Think Progress’ Joe Romm wrote in a post criticizing the Davenport/Lipton article and other pieces published by the Times. “A shocking number of recent articles reveal a paper that’s begun to embrace false balance, giving equal time to both climate misinformers and actual climate experts, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus.”

    Still, many journalists at The New York Times are pulling in the right direction. Columnist David Leonhardt gently disputed the “Democratic hubris” argument in a piece on June 5. A number of Times journalists expressed their displeasure with Stephens’ first column. And the climate team keeps doing great work. Let’s hope their side wins the tug-of-war.

  • The Bret Stephens climate saga reaches its logical conclusion

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, whose climate skepticism has been widely criticized by journalists and progressives but defended by the paper, has now been cited from the White House briefing room in defense of the president’s decision to pull out of an international climate accord.

    It’s a disaster for a paper that sold itself to readers as a bulwark against the new president, then turned around and hired a prominent climate change skeptic.

    As I’ve noted, the Times sold subscriptions in the days following President Donald Trump’s election by marketing the paper as an antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.”

    But the paper took that money from new subscribers seeking critical reporting on Trump and his policies and announced on April 12 that it had hired Stephens, a Wall Street Journal columnist who had, among other things, called the scientific consensus around global warming a “sick-souled religion” whose adherents share the methods of “closet Stalinists.”

    The paper’s editors and some of its journalists sneered at progressives who complained that the Times has sold them a bill of goods by bringing on board someone with views that tarnish the Timesotherwise stellar record on climate change.

    Two weeks later, Stephen authored his first piece for the Times. Titled “Climate of Complete Certainty,” it  compares those who believe action should be taken to halt the consequences of climate change to Cold War-era Polish authoritarians. The piece included a single “fact” about climate change in service of the notion that while “modest” warming “is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.”

    Stephens’ analysis was shredded by embarrassed Times journalists, reporters outside the paper, climate scientists, and angry subscribers. The paper’s top editors stood up for him, with Times editorial page editor James Bennet defending the column as necessary to “promoting the free exchange of ideas.”

    Within a handful of days, the paper issued a correction regarding that sole “fact” included in the piece.

    Which brings us to today, when, at a White House press briefing the day after Trump announced that he was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, read from Stephens’ “very important” piece. According to Pruitt, it served as evidence supporting Trump’s decision in the face of criticism from “climate exaggerators.”

    Notably, Pruitt excised the portion of the quote in which Stephens writes that “human influence on that warming” is “indisputable.”

    What an embarrassment for the Times. It’s too bad that the paper lacks a competent public editor to examine whether the “free exchange of ideas” was worth it.

  • MSNBC’s Scarborough Helps NY Times’ Bret Stephens Rehabilitate His Climate Denialism

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough attempted to help New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens rehabilitate his climate denialism by presenting him as a climate pragmatist.

    The Times hired Stephens, a former Wall Street Journal columnist, to “bring a new perspective to bear on the news,” despite his long-standing record promoting conservative misinformation on foreign policy, sexual assault and climate change. On April 29, the Times published Stephens’ first column, “Climate of Complete Certainty,” which was criticized for containing multiple errors, “unfair comparisons,” “straw men,” “logical fallacies,” and “lazy” and “disingenuous arguments.” Climate experts published an open letter calling for the Times to issue a substantial correction to the many fallacies in Stephens’ column and urged people to petition the paper to stop publishing misinformation about climate science.    

    On the May 8 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough described the criticism Stephens’ column received as an “uproar,” claiming that Stephens was merely arguing “that there still is a debate on the best way forward and how extreme [climate change] is.” But as Slate’s Susan Matthews argued, “the goal of [Stephens’] column is not to help readers learn how to reason with people who are skeptical about climate change. Instead, the column reinforces the idea that those people might have a point. …  [I]t is a dog whistle to people who feel confused about climate change. It’s nothing more than textbook denialism.”

    Stephens also defended his column by claiming that he represents a view “that goes beyond the Cambridge, Manhattan, Washington, D.C., corridor.” But recent polls have found that a majority of Americans are concerned about global warming and believe action should be taken to address it.

    MIKA BRZEZINSKI (CO-HOST): Joining us now, columnist for The New York Times Bret Stephens.

    JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): He’s a troublemaker.

    BRZEZINSKI: Yes he is. I’m reading his latest piece.

    SCARBOROUGH: Bret, what’s your problem? You got to the Times and you’re making trouble. What's going on?

    BRET STEPHENS: They love me.

    SCARBOROUGH: The kids love you in the streets. Serious question, though. Obviously a lot of controversy because you said you believe in climate change, you believe it's man-made, in fact, but we need to figure out the best way forward. That there still is a debate on the best way forward and how extreme it is. Caused a huge uproar, obviously, for people that don't know, caused a huge uproar. How have the Times editors been? How’s the management been towards you?

    STEPHENS: The Times has been terrific. Everyone on the masthead, all of the senior editors have been supportive. Look, they brought me in because I offer a different view, and I think they brought me in also because they know that the Twitter-verse is not -- doesn't represent the entire range of opinion among Times readers.

    SCARBOROUGH: Thank God.

    STEPHENS: So there was a lot of anger on Twitter and in social media and maybe among a certain demographic, but I think there's also a view that you need a representative sample that goes beyond the Cambridge, Manhattan, Washington, D.C., corridor.

    SCARBOROUGH: Because, after all, it's a national newspaper. It is the national newspaper, along with The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and if we’ve let anybody out -- and The Washington Post of course. But I'm curious, you had said before that your concerns, you said this to the editors, was that you were going to be the conservative flavor of the month. And you were worried they got you simply because you were a never-Trumper.

    STEPHENS: Yeah, and in fact they were very reassuring on that point. I think they wanted -- they were clear that that’s -- and I said to them, look, I don't want to be just the conservative you like because of my Trump views. And they were clear that that’s not what they were -- that they wanted me on board for that.

    SCARBOROUGH: They hired you in spite of that.