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  • Sunday shows' climate coverage in 2017 included few women, fewer minorities, and zero scientists

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sunday news shows in 2017 largely excluded minorities and women, and completely excluded scientists and climate journalists, from discussions about climate change, a Media Matters analysis finds. This exclusion continues a multi-year trend on the shows.

    Media Matters analyzed guest appearances during broadcast network Sunday morning shows’ coverage of climate change in 2017. We reviewed segments on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and FOX Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday.

    Although Sunday news shows often set the media and political agenda for the week, it is not only politicians, pundits, and other media figures who take their cues from them. The Sunday shows attracted a combined audience of more than 11 million viewers in the last quarter of 2017. With their wide viewership and political prestige, Sunday news shows play a crucial role in determining which issues and voices are included in the national dialogue.

    Key findings:

    • Only 13 percent of guests featured during climate-related segments in 2017 were minorities -- four out of 31 guests total. That's a slight improvement over 2016, when Sunday shows featured only one minority guest in climate discussions.
    • No scientists or climate journalists were featured in Sunday news shows’ 2017 climate coverage. It was the second consecutive year scientists and climate journalists were excluded.
    • Trump administration officials made up 35 percent of the Sunday show guests who discussed climate change in 2017.
    • Sunday news shows did air more coverage of climate change in 2017 than in 2016. In 2017, the four shows had 25 segments that addressed climate change, featuring 31 guests. In 2016, they aired just 10 climate-related segments that featured 10 guests.

    Minorities made up just 13 percent of Sunday news show guests discussing climate change in 2017

    Of the 31 guests featured during climate-related segments, only four were minorities. This is marginally better than in 2016 and 2015; during each of those years, minorities were only 10 percent of all Sunday show guests included in climate discussions.

    According to U.S. Census data, 39 percent of the U.S. population is nonwhite, so the Sunday news shows are failing to accurately represent the diversity of the American populace.

    In 2017, the four minority guests who participated in climate change discussions on Sunday shows were Republican political consultant Alex Castellanos on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley on Face the Nation, former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) on Fox News Sunday, and Heather McGhee, president of the liberal think tank Demos, on Meet the Press. Castellanos is Cuban-American, Haley is Indian-American, and both Edwards and McGhee are African-American.

    Even when minorities were included in climate-related segments, the discussions were not particularly substantive. During his June 4 appearance on This Week, Castellanos justified President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, while Haley used her June 4 interview on Face the Nation to provide cover for Trump’s climate denial and his administration’s harmful environmental agenda. Edwards’ July 9 conversation on Fox News Sunday briefly mentioned Trump's decision to withdraw from Paris.

    Only McGhee, who appeared on the June 4 episode of Meet the Press, was able to engage in a relatively substantive conversation. In a back-and-forth with conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt, she argued that the fossil fuel industry is driving Republican climate denial and that we need to transition to clean energy solutions such as solar power.

    Women were 29 percent of Sunday show guests in climate-related segments in 2017

    Just 9 of 31 guests who appeared on the Sunday shows to discuss climate change were women. NBC had the most female guests, with three, while ABC, CBS, and FOX each had two women guests. Though an improvement from both 2016, when no women were featured in climate-related segments, and 2015, when 17 percent were women, the trend of males dominating Sunday news shows continues, in spite of the fact that females are 51 percent of the population.

    For the second consecutive year, Sunday news shows failed to feature a single scientist in a climate-related segment

    Sunday news shows in 2017 and 2016 did not include any scientists in their climate coverage. The last time a scientist appeared in a Sunday show climate segment was the December 13, 2015, episode of Face the Nation

    Sunday shows also excluded journalists who focus on climate change and the environment. The eight media figures who took part in climate-related discussions were political journalists or generalists, which contributed to climate change being discussed within a narrow political framework. Nation Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, during her June 4 appearance on This Week, was a rare example of a media figure who broadened a climate discussion. During an exchange about the Paris accord, she pointed out that mayors, governors, and business figures remain committed to the accord, and she called out the pervasive influence of fossil-fuel money in American politics.

    Trump administration officials made up more than a third of guests in climate segments in 2017

    Sunday news shows’ climate coverage focused almost exclusively on actions and statements by the Trump administration, as Media Matters found in its recent study of broadcast TV news coverage. That myopia was driven, at least in part, by guest lineups that leaned heavily on the Trump administration. Thirty-five percent of the guests who participated in the Sunday shows' climate conversations served in the Trump administration. This is a notable increase from the percentage of Obama administration guests who were featured in 2016 (10 percent) and 2015 (13 percent).

    Sunday shows continue to leave out the voices that need to be heard most in discussions about climate change

    Too little airtime was given to segments of the American populace that are most worried about and affected by climate change, and to those scientists who are most knowledgeable about it.

    Polling shows that nonwhites in the U.S. are more concerned about climate change than whites and more likely to say they feel its impacts. A 2015 poll of African Americans found that 60 percent ranked global warming as a serious issue, and 67 percent said that actions should be taken to reduce the threat of global warming. And a 2017 survey found that 78 percent of Latinos were worried about global warming, compared to 56 percent of non-Latinos, and that 53 percent of Latinos said they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, while only 39 percent of non-Latinos said the same. 

    Indeed, federal research finds that human-induced climate change “will have the largest health impact on vulnerable populations including … some communities of color, limited English proficiency and immigrant groups, Indigenous peoples,” and others. We saw signs of this last year, with hurricanes Harvey and Maria having particularly harsh impacts on African-American and Latino communities.

    Polls also indicate that American women are more worried about climate change than men. According to a 2015 survey, 69 percent of women in the U.S. are concerned that climate change will affect them personally, compared to only 48 percent of men.

    The complete exclusion of scientists is also egregious considering that they are often uniquely positioned to understand and explain climate trends. More than two-thirds of Americans -- 67 percent -- want climate scientists to play a major role in policy decisions related to climate change, according to a 2016 survey, and 64 percent of Americans think climate scientists have a fair or strong understanding of the best ways to address climate change.

    Considering all of this, it is incumbent on the Sunday news shows to not only provide their viewers with more substantive climate coverage, but also to include a much broader array of voices in their discussions about climate change impacts and solutions.

    Charts by Sarah Wasko.

    Methodology

    This report analyzes coverage of climate change between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017, on four Sunday news shows: ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and FOX Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday. Guest appearances for all four programs were coded for gender, ethnicity, and whether guests were media figures, administration officials, elected officials, scientists, or other.

    To identify news segments that discussed climate change, we searched for the following terms in Nexis: climate change, global warming, changing climate, climate warms, climate warming, warming climate, warmer climate, warming planet, warmer planet, warming globe, warmer globe, global temperatures, rising temperatures, hotter temperatures, climate science, and climate scientist. In addition, we counted all segments about the Paris climate accord as climate change segments, since the purpose of the accord is to address climate change. To identify segments on the Paris accord, we ran the following search in Nexis: paris climate, climate accord, paris accord, climate agreement, paris agreement, and climate deal.

    Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript or a definitive statement by a media figure) about climate change impacts or actions. The study did not include instances in which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently addressed climate change. We defined media figures as hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists. Because Sunday shows often feature wide-ranging discussions on multiple topics, we considered only the relevant portions of such conversations. 

  • The mainstream media missed big climate stories while getting played by Trump

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    The media spent a ton of time in 2017 puzzling over whether Donald Trump thinks climate change is real. That was a ton of time wasted. His stance has long been clear, thanks to more than a hundred tweets and loads of comments dismissing or denying climate change.

    The fact that Trump has called global warming a "hoax" was mentioned in nearly a quarter of all segments about climate change on the nightly news and Sunday morning programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC in 2017 -- and in more than a third of those instances, the networks didn't push back by affirming that human-driven climate change is a reality. Network journalists did numerous interviews asking Trump administration officials for clarity on the president's stance. And outlets from Time to CNN cited the hoax claim and tried to make sense of Trump's nonsensical climate views.

    This misfire by mainstream media follows on the heels of a different sort of failure in 2016. That year, broadcast networks spent way too little time on climate change overall and completely failed to report during the campaign on what a Trump win would mean for climate change.

    Now the networks are covering climate change but squandering too much of that coverage in trying to read Trump's Fox-addled mind and divine whether he accepts climate science. That's crowding out reporting on other, more critical climate-related news, from how the Trump administration is aggressively dismantling climate protections to how climate change makes hurricanes and wildfires more dangerous.

    It’s bad enough that outlets waste all this time on old news about Trump’s climate views. What makes it even worse is that they too often get the story wrong.

    Consider this example: Last June, Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, did the rounds on TV news to defend her boss' decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. When asked to clarify Trump's views on climate change, she said more than once that he "believes the climate is changing” and "he believes pollutants are part of that equation."

    Haley was employing Republicans' favorite obfuscation technique on climate change -- what savvy observers call "lukewarm" climate denial. The obfuscators try to sound reasonable by admitting that the climate is changing, but then get all squishy about why it's changing or how it will play out or what we could possibly do about it. (In fact, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of climate change, a fact that U.S. government experts again confirmed just three months ago.) You’d think that journalists who've been covering national politics would be thoroughly familiar with this gambit by now. Trump nominees made liberal use of it during confirmation hearings last year, and other Republicans have been employing it for longer still.

    But ABC News completely fumbled the story. Splashing the words "BREAKING NEWS" and "CLIMATE CHANGE FLIP" across the screen, ABC's World News Tonight made Haley's comments seem like big deal in a June 3 segment:

    Anchor Tom Llamas reported that her remarks represented a "dramatic switch" and "major concession" with "the administration saying the president does believe that the climate is changing." Correspondent Gloria Riviera described Haley's remarks as "a stunning reversal."

    There was no reversal. There was just a stunning incident of ABC falling for Trump administration spin.

    Other networks and outlets have made similar mistakes, failing to properly identify the Trump team's lukewarm climate denial and put comments in context. Like when The Associated Press declared, "Trump changes his tune on climate change," though in fact he had done no such thing, as Grist pointed out at the time.

    Instead of continuing to fixate on (and misreport) Trump's personal views about climate change, journalists should be taking the story to the next level with more reporting on the consequences of having a president who disregards climate science and opposes climate action. Those consequences include: policies that encourage dirty energy instead of clean energy; less innovation; fewer jobs in renewables and energy efficiency; diminished national security; more destructive storms and dangerous wildfires, and communities that are less prepared to cope with them.

    Topics like these got dramatically less coverage last year than they deserved, at least in part because so much climate reporting was centered on Trump. A new Media Matters analysis found that when corporate broadcast TV news programs reported on climate change last year, they spent 79 percent of the time on statements or actions by the Trump administration -- and even that included little coverage of efforts to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other climate regulations. Issues like how climate change affects the economy or public health got even less attention. And in a year when hurricanes and other forms of extreme weather hammered the U.S., the networks hardly ever mentioned climate change in their coverage of those disasters.

    Rather than trying to analyze Trump's well-established refusal to accept climate science, media should be telling stories of how climate change is happening here and now, how it’s affecting real people, and how the EPA and other agencies are ripping up climate regulations. When they chase Trump around and let him set the agenda, the hoax is on all of us.

  • Trump parties with a birther who floated protecting schools from mass shooters with armed drones 

    Wayne Allyn Root spent a “magical evening” with Trump, alongside Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, from whom Trump already echoed a talking point

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On February 17, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL that left at least 17 students and adults dead, far-right Trump supporter, birther, and conspiracy theorist Wayne Allyn Root tweeted at President Trump that it is “time to consider armed drones at every school in USA”:

    Hours later, Root tweeted about the “amazing night” he had with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

    Wayne Allyn Root is a talk show host and columnist for the Sheldon Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review-Journal who regularly pushes bizarre conspiracy theories. He helped spread fabricated reports of Puerto Rican truck drivers striking in the wake of Hurricane Maria in an attempt to make Trump look bad, claimed that Trump was “being victimized” by violence at his campaign rallies (and claimed media was blaming the victim), and fabricated a Seinfeld quote to attack President Obama, whom he called the “Marxist-in-Chief” and swore was a “foreign exchange student” at Columbia University. Root also pushes racist viewpoints. He claimed that “there’s no difference in when you call someone old versus when you call someone the N-word” and dismissed the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA as “paid actors & infiltrators hired by Soros.” 

    Regarding mass shootings, Root is no better: he claimed a real estate developer’s fine was a bigger story than the Parkland shooting and has repeatedly blamed the Las Vegas massacre on ISIS and/or antifa

    Joining Trump and Root at the “magical evening” at Mar-a-Lago was Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera. As CNN’s Brian Stelter noted on Reliable Sources, Rivera appeared on Fox News on Saturday morning to suggest that the FBI missed tips about the Parkland shooter because of an obsession with the Russia probe. Stelter pointed out that, according to The Washington Post, Rivera “had dinner with President Trump,” and that at 11:00 that same night, Trump tweeted the claim Rivera had shared earlier on Fox News. The claim is, of course, “nonsensical,” as Stelter explained:

    It's clear the president is feeling the heat of Robert Mueller's special counsel, and he's lashing out, implying that the FBI might have failed to stop the shooting because it's too obsessed with Russia. Let's be clear: The president is insulting your intelligence. Let's pull up FBI.gov, it says right there, "The FBI employs 35,000 people." 

    There are a small number of FBI agents working on the Mueller probe, but they have nothing to do with the investigation of tips like the one that was missed before the Parkland shooting.

  • “No collusion”? Not quite…

    Donald Trump and his conservative media allies throw themselves a little premature celebration

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Today the Justice Department announced the indictment of 13 Russian individuals accused of breaking a whole panoply of laws as part of the Russian effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The indictment itself is a hell of read -- it details a sophisticated and multilayered operation spanning several years that waged information warfare as part of a conspiracy to sow discord and chaos within the American political system. The Russians stole identities, created fake social media accounts, staged protests, bought political ads, and attempted to coordinate with political groups within the U.S.

    “By early to mid-2016,” the indictment reads, the Russian defendants’ “operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” Some of the defendants, the indictment notes, “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

    For Trump’s most slavish defenders in the conservative press, one little word in that passage -- “unwitting” -- is prompting a good deal of celebration. It proves, they argue, that no one in the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia in the 2016 election, and that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is a farce that needs to be shut down.

    Sean Hannity tweeted “No collusion” and linked to an article on his website with the blaring headline: “NO COLLUSION: Mueller Indictment Says TRUMP CAMPAIGN Unaware of Russian Meddling.” Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton tweeted: “Big Mueller indictment of Russians confirms ‘unwitting’ involvement of Trump campaign with disguised Russian operatives. No collusion. Shut it down.”

    Republicans are also eagerly jumping on this line of argument. The White House put out a statement saying the special counsel’s investigation indicates “there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia.” During an appearance on Fox News, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said, “Today marks the day that the Democrats’ Russia collusion conspiracy theory unraveled.”

    Of course, the indictment doesn’t demonstrate that at all, and the Justice Department was very careful in how it addressed the issue of American involvement in the Russian election conspiracy. In fact, everyone celebrating the exoneration of Trump very well may be spiking the football on the 25-yard line.

    Conservatives from Hannity and the RNC on down are conveniently ignoring the fact that this is just one indictment from an investigation that is still ongoing. The indictment indicates that Trump-associated political operatives were unwitting participants in this specific series of alleged criminal activities. It does not say that the illegal actions it describes encompass the entirety of the Russian election-meddling campaign. There very well may be more indictments on the way, and they could be related to known instances of Russian interference that today’s indictment didn’t touch on at all: the hacking of the DNC’s emails, the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting, etc.

    During his press conference announcing today’s indictment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was extremely careful and unfailingly precise in how he described the involvement by Americans in the alleged Russian criminal conspiracy. “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said (emphasis added). When asked what relationship Trump campaign officials had to the Russian conspiracy, Rosenstein again applied the same precise language. “There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge.”

    And that’s to say nothing of the possibility that Trump-associated people could still be charged with other crimes discovered in the course of Mueller’s investigation: money laundering, obstruction, fraud, etc. Mueller is reportedly on the verge of flipping another senior Trump campaign official, which certainly indicates that Trumpworld could still be in for a whole lot of legal trouble.

    Of course, no one has any real concrete idea of what will happen. Well, no one except Robert Mueller and his team, who are still investigating. Regardless, the president hopped onto Twitter this afternoon to join the (possibly premature) celebration and proudly transmit the fact that Russia’s “anti-US campaign” -- the existence of which he’d refused to acknowledge up to this point -- got rolling long before he even became a presidential candidate:

    So, Trump is touting as good news the fact that Russia’s election interference campaign didn’t start with him, but rather identified his candidacy as an asset to be exploited. One starts to think that the president and his allies don’t really think too far in advance before they begin celebrating.

  • The right-wing roots of Trump’s "Blue Apron" SNAP attack

    The outrageous SNAP proposal in President Trump’s new budget is built upon decades of conservative lies about welfare

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump White House’s newly proposed budget is (like all White House budget proposals) more of a political document than anything else. It has no actual bearing on how the government will spend its money, and Congress will almost certainly ignore it. But that’s not to say it is entirely devoid of value -- the White House uses the annual budget proposal to act out its fantasies and give us a little glimpse at the ideologies motivating the administration’s policy preferences.

    One of those ideologies, as conveyed by the White House’s vision for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, expresses insane and horrifying contempt for low-income Americans. And while the policy the administration has proposed is extreme, it fits in squarely with longstanding conservative efforts to stigmatize and shame recipients of government assistance.

    One of the administration’s supposed cost-saving measures is “a bold new approach to administering SNAP.” The way the program currently works, SNAP-eligible households are provided a monthly benefit based on income level in the form of a debit card, which can be used to purchase grocery items. Some restrictions apply (no alcohol, tobacco, or pet food, for example), but SNAP recipients have wide latitude in what foods they can purchase and where they can shop.

    The Trump administration wants to change all of this by forcing most SNAP recipients to receive half their monthly benefit in the form of “a USDA Foods package, which would include items such as shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish.” The Republican White House wants to choose which foods SNAP recipients eat, and it wants to control how they receive their food each month -- so much for “small government” conservatism abolishing the “nanny state.” Through means left utterly unexplained, the Trump administration argues that this new system (which will require massive bureaucratic build-up alongside the establishment of food-delivery infrastructure) will somehow be cheaper and more efficient than simply transferring money to a debit card. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney laughably spun this proposal to send low-income Americans a monthly box of canned goods and peanut butter as "a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash."

    This idea is so absurd, impractical, and wildly paternalistic that people can’t really believe that the White House is actually proposing it. Politico reports this morning that “the idea that USDA would provide millions of low-income people packages of food on a national scale has not been floated by conservative think tanks, promoted by industry, or sought by previous administrations.” It was “so out of left field,” Politico notes, “that some anti-hunger advocates initially thought it was a joke.”

    The proposal didn’t come out of nowhere, though. It’s an escalation of existing right-wing efforts to use SNAP as a means to control the behavior of its recipients. These efforts are rooted in a mythology -- eagerly promoted and disseminated by conservative media -- that SNAP is rife with fraud and that SNAP beneficiaries, by virtue of their status as welfare recipients, lack the moral character to make good decisions on their own.

    Right-wing demonization of welfare recipients stretches back decades, from Newt Gingrich’s high-profile efforts in the 1990s to shame low-income teen mothers to Ronald Reagan popularizing the “welfare queen” slur back in 1976. The running theme of these attacks on the poor is that there exists an epidemic of undeserving welfare recipients who abuse their benefits. That’s a myth, but it carries a potent political message that blends racial and economic resentment with small-government agitation.

    When it comes to SNAP, the most common complaint made by conservatives is that recipients are using their benefit to purchase inappropriate foods: “luxury” comestibles like seafood and steak, or junk food like candy bars and energy drinks. This line of attack got a huge boost in 2013 when Fox News put together a special news report called “The Great Food Stamp Binge.” The program -- hosted by Special Report anchor Bret Baier -- spotlighted an unemployed surfer in California who proudly used his SNAP benefit to buy sushi and lobster. Baier dubbed him “the new face of food stamps,” and the program pointedly asked why there isn’t “at least some stigma” attached to SNAP recipients, who used to be called “losers.”

    It was a farcical piece of propaganda that actively shunned any sort of data or reporting in order to create a caricature of SNAP recipients as lazy, undeserving parasites on the public. SNAP actually has extremely low rates of fraud and abuse, and “the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

    The news program was wildly popular with Republicans. Fox News distributed tapes of the “The Great Food Stamp Binge” on Capitol Hill, and the SNAP-abusing unemployed surfer became the mascot for the congressional GOP’s efforts to gut funding for nutritional assistance programs. Since then, various state governments have taken up measures intended to restrict which foods SNAP recipients can purchase.

    In 2015, Wisconsin Republicans passed a bill banning SNAP recipients from purchasing crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other shellfish, citing “anecdotal and perceived abuses.” A Republican state senator from New York proposed legislation to cut off SNAP users from “luxury food items” like lobster and steak, while the Missouri GOP sought to ban “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.” The reality that all of these proposals ignore is that SNAP recipients are not blowing their benefits on “luxury” foods.

    The Trump administration’s proposal derives from the same idea that SNAP recipients can’t be trusted and will necessarily misuse their benefit. Rather than banning certain foods, the White House is proposing to force SNAP beneficiaries to eat an approved list of low-cost foods while simultaneously limiting the amount of benefit they have to spend. It’s gross paternalism lightly disguised with absurd promises about efficiency and cost-savings. And it fits right in with the broader right-wing argument that receipt of government assistance is morally suspect and recipients should be penalized through stigma and controlled through loss of choice.

  • Sinclair solicits contributions for an election fight while running a nationwide segment supporting Trump's military parade

    Sinclair edges ever closer to full-blown state media

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcast Group‘s secretive campaign to transform local news stations into Trump propaganda machines is becoming all the more difficult to ignore -- both behind the scenes and on air.  

    On February 1, TV news trade outlet FTVLive first reported that Sinclair’s political action committee (PAC) had sent a letter to executive-level employees (including many station news directors) encouraging them to donate to the PAC. The letter, which FTVLive published in full, says the PAC “supports candidates for Congress who can influence the future of broadcasting.” It also praises Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) head Ajit Pai, and worries that Congress may attempt to derail Pai’s pro-Sinclair agenda. The letter says, “Since the change in administration last year, we now have an FCC Chairman who appreciates the important role of local broadcasting enough to launch a number of politically unpopular deregulatory initiatives necessary to ensure the future of our industry.”  

    What that vague sentence actually means is: Pai has spearheaded several FCC actions that all seem, incidentally, to benefit Sinclair more than anyone else. The rapid deregulation of the local broadcast industry under Pai’s leadership essentially permits Sinclair to have news control in an unprecedented number of local media markets across the country, in major cities and battleground states. It does nothing short of pave the way for Trump’s reelection.

    And if any lawmakers dare to challenge the FCC in its blatant regulatory overhaul, Sinclair PAC aims to be ready for an election fight -- ethics be damned.

    The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi spoke to experts about the PAC solicitation, and they seemed pretty shocked by the overt partisanship of making such a request of news directors:

    Major TV news outlets such as ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and NBC say they prohibit their journalists from contributing to political parties, candidates or causes, and don’t ask them to chip in to the company’s PAC. The prohibition is aimed at eliminating the perception of partisanship by journalists.

    Given that tradition, Sinclair’s policy “violates every standard of conduct that has existed in newsrooms for the past 40 or 50 years,” said Lewis Friedland, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin and a former TV news producer. “I’ve never seen anything like this. They certainly have the right to do it, but it’s blatantly unethical.”

    By contributing money to Sinclair’s lobbying efforts, he said, news directors would be tacitly supporting the company’s agenda, potentially raising doubts about impartiality and independence when reporting on issues such as city or state legislative debates about deregulation. “It would cause people to ask whether they’re being fair and balanced in their coverage,” he said.

    [...]

    In addition to breaking with journalistic tradition, the company’s request could put its news directors in an untenable position, said Mark Feldstein, a professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland. Despite Sinclair’s official reassurances, said Feldstein, a former local and network TV reporter, some news directors might feel that opting out would be perceived by their superiors as an act of disloyalty.

    Days after reports revealed this “blatantly unethical” behind-the-scenes strategy at Sinclair, its chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn produced yet another “must-run” segment that can only be described as propaganda.

    The “must-run” practice is itself questionable: Sinclair has been requiring all its local news stations to air Epshteyn’s “commentary” segments, essentially feeding audiences thinly veiled pro-Trump missives mixed in with local news stories, weather, and sports. 

    In a Bottom Line with Boris segment posted on February 12, Epshteyn argues that the dictator-style “military parade” floated by Trump last week could be a needed “morale boost" and “well worth” its estimated $21 million price tag to “promote national unity and strength.”

    Epshteyn -- a former Trump aide -- has starred in segments veering dangerously close to state media before; he routinely defends pretty much every action Trump takes and has relished the opportunity to attack media or individuals he views as too critical of the president. Thirsting for a Trumpian “military parade” is, in some ways, the next logical step.

  • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has become fully “red-pilled” by an 8chan conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It was concerning enough when in January 2018, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue encouraged followers to look into the allegations of an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board. Now, it appears that Operation Rescue, with its history of violent rhetoric and harassment, has become fully converted and is seeking to cultivate anti-abortion followers into believers in a far-right conspiracy theory.

    Headed by longtime extremists Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.” Operation Rescue initially signaled that they’d been “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by the “alt-right” to refer to an ideological conversion to “seeing the world as it really is” -- in a January 7 press release, in which the group signal-boosted a series of posts from a far-right community on 8chan.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to engage in discussions anonymously. This has made such communities hotbeds of racist commentary, misogyny, and politically motivated harassment campaigns, in addition to serving as fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. As Mother Jones’ Mariah Blake explained, “men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol” -- a trend that has turned such sites into what Vox’s Aja Romano called a “gateway drug” that leads people into the “alt-right.” 

    In the January 7 release, Operation Rescue focused on an 8chan conspiracy theory called “The Storm” in which a user who refers to himself as “Q” claims to be a “high-level government insider” secretly sharing clues to “inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has expanded to encompass all types of events, ranging from a fire at Trump Tower to a train accident involving Republican members of Congress. Most recently, followers of The Storm have joined a campaign calling for the release of a four-page classified memo drafted by House intelligence committee Republicans that allegedly shows illicit behavior by the FBI and Justice Department during the early phases of investigating connections between Trump associates and Russia -- a campaign organized around the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. According to The Daily Beast, right-wing figures as well as online message board communities “have since turned the hashtag into a rallying cry, imploring fans to tweet the hashtag.” On February 2, the President Donald Trump authorized the release of the memo, despite explicit warnings from the FBI about the veracity of its contents.

    In the January 7 press release, Operation Rescue acknowledged that "Q" is a conspiracy theorist -- or at least inspires conspiracy theories. Since then, the social media activity of the group and its leadership indicates that they’ve gone full Sean Hannity. Between January 7 and February 12, both Sullenger’s Twitter account and the official Operation Rescue account have increased their engagements with accounts promoting #ReleaseTheMemo and related hashtags (#Qanon, #TheGreatAwakening, #FollowTheWhiteRabbit). In the past month alone, Sullenger’s changed her account handle to “CherylS sez #ReleaseTheMemo” and followed a number of right-wing media personalities’ accounts, including Alex Jones, Jerome Corsi, Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sara Carter.

    Since January 2018, Sullenger and Operation Rescue’s social media accounts have demonstrated a precipitous slide into full-embrace of The Storm and #ReleaseTheMemo:

    Cheryl Sullenger

    • January 10 -- Sullenger tweeted a National Review article and included the hashtag #Qanon.

    • January 16 & 17 -- Operation Rescue sent a press release, calling on followers to participate in the “Mother of All Tweet Storms.” According to the release, followers of The Storm were “asked to create memes that express truths that have been misreported or ignored by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and call them out for their dishonest reporting.” Operation Rescue characterized the event as “a tweet war of Biblical proportions with folks joined together in a concerted effort to break through to the masses with the truth about governmental corruption, human trafficking, and even Planned Parenthood.” The Operation Rescue Twitter account then spent the better part of January 17 tweeting a variety of memes attacking Planned Parenthood and promoting hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 22 -- Sullenger tweeted #ReleaseTheMemo and included a screenshot from Fox News’ Hannity, in which host Sean Hannity was talking about it. Hannity has been an active promoter of so-called “deep state” conspiracy theories.

    • January 24 -- Sullenger reacted to news that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is leaving the organization sometime in 2018, by tweeting multiple memes of Richards depicted in prison with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. The official Operation Rescue account also tweeted a press release about Richards’ departure using the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #FollowtheWhiteRabbit. Sullenger also tweeted a link to a YouTube video about #Qanon, calling it, “Must watch!” In addition to Sullenger’s Twitter activity, the Operation Rescue account also liked a tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 27 -- Sullenger retweeted a Jerome Corsi tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo, featuring a story from far-right blog The Gateway Pundit about Hannity and the memo. Sullenger additionally tweeted an explainer video about The Storm, writing, “#TheStorm is real. #ReleaseTheMemo.” Sullenger also tweeted @realDonaldTrump, asking him to read the memo during the State of the Union address because “Americans need to know the #truth.” Meanwhile, The Operation Rescue account liked a tweet about #GreatAwakening and #QAnon.

    • January 28 -- Sullenger attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) -- a frequent right-wing target -- on Twitter, citing a clip from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. This tweet included the hashtags #GreatAwakening and #ReleaseTheMemo. In addition to her own tweet, Sullenger also retweeted content from Jerome Corsi and Hannity about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 29 -- Sullenger quote-tweeted a claim from Corsi about the memo, writing that she would not “be happy until we can all see the memo with our own eyes.” In addition, Sullenger also tweeted about the resignations of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’Connell from their positions -- linking each to #ReleaseTheMemo. Notably, Sullenger shared an image from an account (@Thomas1774Paine) about the memo supposedly being delivered to the White House -- writing in a public post on her Facebook that “we are on the brink of history!” The Operation Rescue Twitter account retweeted a user, @LadyStephC, calling the memo “the tip of the iceberg” and including a number of hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 31 -- After a train crash involving Republican members of Congress, Sullenger retweeted a conspiracy theory from Corsi that suggested the accident was part of a “deep state” plot to stop the Republicans from releasing the memo.

    • February 1 -- Sullenger tweeted several memes linked to the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, suggesting that if the memo is released some Democratic politicians will go to jail. Another meme that she tweeted showed "Q" as a revolutionary standing up to the "deep state" and implied the only way Americans would be "free" is by following him. Sullenger retweeted “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec, in addition to tweeting a screenshot of an 8chan message board comment (allegedly from “Q”) and including the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon.

    • February 2 & 3 -- Retweeting a comment from Trump’s Twitter account about opposition research firm Fusion GPS, Sullenger argued that the same firm had “issued fake ‘forensic analysis’” in order to “cover up [Planned Parenthood]'s illegal baby parts trafficking” -- referring to a debunked allegation from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. In her tweet, Sullenger included the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #ThesePeopleAreSick. Sullenger also retweeted right-wing media personality Mark Levin. After the release of the disputed memo, Sullenger retweeted several of Corsi's tweets hyping allegations of widespread wrongdoing by government entities. On February 3, Sullenger retweeted Trump claiming that the memo "totally vindicates" him.

    • February 4 -- Sullenger tweeted a video alleging that Super Bowl LII attendees were at risk of being targeted by terrorists, commenting, "Better safe than sorry!" For good measure, Sullenger also tweeted a Life News article about Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards calling her "evil" and using the hashtags #LockHerUp, #AbortionIsMurder, and #GreatAwakening. 

    • February 5 -- Retweeting an account that previously shared screenshots from 8chan, Sullenger commented that both Clinton and Planned Parenthood "both must pay for crimes." Sullenger also shared a press release published by Operation Rescue further connecting the memo to the organization's typical talking points about Planned Parenthood. 

    Troy Newman

    Throughout much of this timeline, the social media accounts of Troy Newman did not engage as often with topics related to The Storm, #ReleaseTheMemo, or even right-wing media personalities. However, on January 31, a public post on Newman’s Facebook page directed followers to what appears to be a conspiracy theory blog for a man named Jim Stone.

    The site seems to house blog posts about a number of conspiracy theories, including one about an alleged plot by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smuggle a gun into the State of the Union and assassinate Trump:

    Among other extreme conspiracy theories, Stone claimed the January 31 train accident occurred because Republican members of Congress had “received death threats over the memo, and were heading to a safe place when they were stopped by a staged ‘accident’”:

    Perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all: "If Trump gets killed, they can produce a fake Trump and have him say whatever they need him to say in real time." The blog continued that this technology had been used "with Hillary [Clinton] during the campaign" and that it was "critical information you cannot skip seeing": 

    After the memo was released on February 2, Newman tweeted and posted on Facebook, wondering if it was "too early to call this an attempted coup" against Trump. 

    One thing is certain: If Sullenger and other members of Operation Rescue have been fully “red-pilled,” they are not only exposing their audience to a wellspring of conspiracy theories, but also potentially becoming further radicalized themselves. And if exposure to rapidly misogynist online communities is truly a “gateway drug,” as Romano warned, the cross-pollination between these 8chan conspiracy theorists and anti-abortion extremists is an incredibly dangerous prospect.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Devin Nunes are feeding the Fox News conspiracy pipeline

    Congressional Republicans team up with a credulous right-wing media to undermine the FBI’s Trump investigation

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The crusade by the Republican Party and its media allies to discredit the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump and his campaign is a fantastically dishonest and propagandistic farce, and the whole effort is conducted with transparent bad faith while grotesquely masquerading as an exercise in good-government oversight. The mechanism driving this disinformation campaign is a pipeline of bullshit that originates with Republicans in Congress, flows directly through Fox News, and sometimes ends up spilling out all over the president’s Twitter feed.

    To date, there have been two high-profile congressional sources for the “scandals” that have powered conservative media coverage of the FBI’s Trump investigation: Senate homeland security committee chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) and House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA). Both have been repeatedly caught lying and ginning up controversy where there is none, and both have had phenomenal success in propagating falsehoods through conservative media outlets that don’t care whether what they report is true or not.

    Late last month, Johnson went on Fox News to talk about “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI” as evidenced by a text message conversation between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that referenced a “secret society” -- presumably a cabal of powerful individuals plotting to illegitimately tar Trump’s presidency. The “secret society” talking point quickly permeated conservative media and became a focal point of outrage.

    A couple of days later, the truth about the “secret society” text came out -- it was an obvious joke between the two officials. There was no secret society, and Johnson backpedaled by acknowledging the “real possibility” that the supposedly nefarious text message he’d highlighted as proof of a conspiracy just days earlier might, in fact, be nothing more than a gag.

    Just a couple of weeks after that, Johnson was at it again. His committee released an “interim report” on the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton email scandal that once again highlighted specific texts between Strzok and Page. Among them was a September 2, 2016, text from Page regarding the creation of talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey. Page wrote that then-President Barack Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing.” According to the report, “This text raises additional questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.”

    Fueled by a credulous Fox News write-up of Johnson’s report, the text message shot like an electrical current through the conservative media, which leaped on Johnson’s suggestion that Obama might have meddled with the FBI’s investigation into Clinton. The president himself got in on the dissemination, tweeting that the “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS” not long after his favorite Fox News morning program ran a segment on the report.

    And, once again, it all turned out to be false. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the text was referring to a briefing on Russian election interference, not a Clinton matter. The FBI’s Clinton investigation was closed by the time Page sent the text.

    Devin Nunes’ contributions to the fog of disinformation include last year’s “unmasking” fiasco, in which Nunes -- acting on information fed to him by the Trump White House -- wrongly accused Obama national security officials of inappropriately exposing  the identities of Trump aides captured on wiretaps. More recently, Nunes wrote a report that all but accused the FBI of illicitly obtaining a warrant to surveil a former Trump aide. The report’s key contention -- that the FBI hid the political origins of some of the evidence in its warrant application -- was quickly debunked.

    In each of these examples, the lies spread rapidly and had ample time to become entrenched as part of a conservative media narrative before the facts undermining them could be established. Claims that former Obama officials inappropriately “unmasked” Trump associates and that an anti-Trump “secret society” exists within the FBI formed the bases of countless Fox News prime time monologues before they were debunked. After the truth came out, the lies were either quietly shelved (per a Nexis search, Sean Hannity mentioned the “secret society” in three straight Fox News shows after Johnson highlighted it on January 23, but hasn’t brought it up since) or kept alive as nefarious-sounding buzzwords (casual, unelaborated references to “unmasking” still come up regularly in Hannity rants).

    The presence and power of the conservative echo chamber means that Republicans in Congress like Johnson and Nunes don’t really have to care when the obvious lies they’re peddling get debunked. They have a receptive audience for whatever conspiratorial claim they can manufacture, and they can be confident that they’ll face no factual challenge to their nonsense so long as they limit their media appearances to Fox News and other conservative safe spaces.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

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

  • Fox & Friends didn't discuss Trump aide Rob Porter's history of reported domestic abuse but mentioned Obama 18 times

    Fox News' evening shows also virtually ignored the allegations against Porter

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Fox & Friends didn't mention that a top White House aide has abruptly resigned amid allegations of physical domestic abuse, but found time to attack former President Barack Obama by name about various pseudo-scandals at length.

    Rob Porter, a top White House aide with direct access to President Donald Trump, resigned abruptly on February 7 amid allegations of years of domestic abuse, including physical violence, from two ex-wives. After the allegations were first reported by the Daily Mail, CNN interviewed both women, who detailed years of physical and emotional abuse in their respective marriages over a ten-year period, including punching, choking, and throwing fits of rage.

    White House chief of staff John Kelly initially released a statement of support for Porter, calling him “a man of true integrity and honor” (in a new statement, he condemned the abuse); shortly after, media began reporting that Kelly had prior knowledge of the abuse allegations, which were part of why Porter was denied his FBI security clearance. Since the story broke, a third, unnamed woman who currently works in the federal government and previously dated Porter has said she suffered "repeated abuse" by him as recently as 2016. Though he has resigned, Porter denied all allegations, calling them "outrageous" and "simply false."

    From the time the story broke on Wednesday through 9 a.m. Thursday, Fox mentioned Porter’s name ten times over four shows (seven of the mentions occurred in just two reports). Fox first covered the allegations only after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was pressed on the allegations in the February 7 White House briefing. Fox’s prime-time shows did not mention Porter at all aside from a brief report on the 6 p.m. hour. Fox & Friends the following morning also didn't mention Porter.

    While Fox & Friends didn’t find time to report on the resignation of a top aide close to Trump stemming from domestic abuse allegations, the show hosts did mention former President Barack Obama by name 18 times in relation to various contrived scandals, including Uranium One and the private text messages of two FBI employees.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Porter" on Fox News between February 6 and February 9, 2018 and "Obama" on the February 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends. Pronouns "he," "his," and "him" were excluded. Mentions of Porter by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders during the live airing of the press briefing were also excluded.