Molly McKew explains how bots and pro-Trump trolls worked together to push #ReleaseTheMemo on social media
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Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC have each aired 15 segments on the contract
News reports have raised numerous questions about the $300 million contract that Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a relatively inexperienced then-two-person firm based in Montana, to rebuild power lines in Puerto Rico. Members of Congress from both parties have called for investigations into the contract. Mainstream media outlets, including MSNBC and CNN, have given the story widespread coverage, but as of midday on October 27, Fox News had yet to even mention the Whitefish contract.
E&E News first reported on Whitefish Energy Holdings’ contract with PREPA in stories on October 6 and October 9. E&E News revealed that PREPA decided not to take advantage of a mutual aid program among 1,100 electric companies that could have helped to quickly restore power on the island, where about 75 percent of residents still have no electricity. Instead, PREPA awarded a contract to the Montana-based firm, which at the time had only two full-time staffers. From the October 6 article:
The American Public Power Association, based in Washington, confirmed today that the troubled Puerto Rico public utility that serves more than 3 million people on the island has decided not to request assistance from the group of 1,100 U.S. electricity companies standing ready to help.
The association coordinates mutual aid disaster assistance for U.S. public power companies, which include the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). "The request for help was not activated," said group spokeswoman Meena Dayak. "We do have people who are ready to help."
Nearly 90 percent of Puerto Rico's electricity customers remain without power. Instead of activating a mutual aid arrangement that might have speeded up recovery time, the utility turned to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small contractor based in Montana, to coordinate outside help. The utility has given no explanation for that decision.
In the following days, Utility Dive, The Weather Channel, and Montana Public Radio also published stories on Whitefish’s questionable contract. On October 19, Whitefish put out a press release announcing that the contract was worth $300 million, which was followed by additional reports by The Associated Press and The Washington Post. The contract, which is nearly 300 times larger than Whitefish’s next-largest project and the largest restoration contract in Puerto Rico, granted Whitefish an initial payment of $3.7 million for “mobilization of personnel and equipment” and allows Whitefish to charge hourly rates for workers' time that NPR described as "eye-popping."
A leaked copy of the contract also revealed that it bars government agencies from auditing or reviewing “cost and profit elements” of the deal and prevents PREPA from making "any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work."
The Post reported on October 23 that Whitefish Energy is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, that Zinke and Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski know one another, and that Zinke’s son worked for the company during one summer. Post reporters wrote that “Zinke’s office said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico” and “Techmanski also said Zinke was not involved,” but they also reported that Techmanski had reached out to Zinke’s office after procuring the contract.
On October 24, Buzzfeed reported that Joe Colonnetta, the head of HBC Investments, one of Whitefish Energy’s major funding sources, had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, but stated, “It’s unclear whether Colonnetta, who did not respond to a request for comment, has specific connections to Whitefish, or whether his stake in Whitefish Energy is simply a business investment.”
The revelations about PREPA’s contract have attracted widespread media coverage, as have a Twitter spat between the company and the mayor of San Juan, and the connections between Whitefish and Zinke. In the wake of this press coverage, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for investigations into the contract.
Yet Fox News has remained silent about the controversial contract, even as the other major cable news networks have covered it extensively.
Media Matters reviewed cable news coverage of the Whitefish story from October 6, the date of the initial report on Whitefish’s contract, to noon ET of October 27 and found that Fox News had not aired a single segment on the story.
During that period, the Fox Business Network aired just two segments on the story. The network first mentioned the contract during a headline rundown on the October 25 episode of FBN:am, in which the hosts expressed surprise that a company of Whitefish’s size received such a large contract.
The second segment was on the October 27 episode of Mornings with Maria. Guest host Megan McDowell, Fox News correspondent Lea Gabrielle, and Republican strategist and former Trump surrogate Erin Elmore interviewed Whitefish spokesman Ken Luce. The five-and-a-half-minute interview included softball questions such as: “What do you say to these investigations? Are they warranted?”, “When did the company hire you?”, “What are the facts that you think aren’t being reported?”, and “How well and how is Whitefish financed for this?”
Fox News’ lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the other major cable networks’ extensive coverage of the controversial contract. Between October 6 and noon ET of October 27, CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 30 segments on the Whitefish story.
MSNBC aired 15 segments on Whitefish’s contract with PREPA, including an interview with Luce on the October 27 episode of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle that was much more hard-hitting than Fox Business' interview with Luce. Unlike the Fox Business hosts, anchor Ruhle asked Luce how Whitefish won the contract, as well as how Whitefish justifies contract provisions that bar government audits and that prohibit PREPA from making claims for delayed work, adding, “How does that serve the people of Puerto Rico and the American people?”
MSNBC also aired a segment on the October 24 episode of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson that featured one of the authors of the October 23 Washington Post story, Aaron Davis, who explained, “Whitefish Energy … has never done anything quite on this scale, or even remotely close to this scale. And now they have, according to the company yesterday, 280 employees and subcontractors working in Puerto Rico. Now compare that to the day after Hurricane Irma came through Florida, and there were 16,000 utility workers who were at the border of Florida waiting to come in under a mutual aid agreement. We don’t think it could have been that many waiting on a boat ready to get into Puerto Rico, but there could have been, according to many people we talked to, thousands. And there wasn’t.”
CNN also aired 15 segments that mentioned Whitefish's contract, including a report on the October 25 episode of CNN Newsroom in which correspondent Rene Marsh discussed the details of the contract and noted similarities between statements issued by Whitefish and Zinke’s office.
CNN also ran an on-the-ground report by correspondent Bill Weir that first aired on the October 19 episode The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer -- and was aired on the network seven additional times -- that featured a brief interview in which Weir asked Techmanski how his company won the contract and who initiated the contact between Whitefish and PREPA.
UPDATE: After the original timeframe of the study and publication, Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier aired a brief report on the Whitefish story on October 27 that focused on the White House and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's claims to have had "nothing to do with" Whitefish being awarded the contract to help rebuild the electrical grid in Puerto Rico. Fox News Tonight also aired a segment on the story late the same night.
Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “Whitefish” or “white fish” in coverage (4 a.m. to midnight ET) on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business Network from October 6, the date of the initial story on Whitefish’s contract, to noon of October 27. The interview that first aired on CNN’s Situation Room was subsequently aired seven more times and was counted as eight segments.
Ditching limits on power plant emissions will lead to an estimated 3,600 more premature deaths each year
A number of TV news outlets failed to cover the negative health impacts of the Trump administration's decision to repeal limits on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Of the major broadcast networks' morning and evening news shows, only ABC's World News Tonight mentioned how Americans' health could be affected by the move. On the major cable news networks, CNN overlooked the health angle and MSNBC addressed it in some segments, while most Fox News commentators discussed the repeal in approving or celebratory tones.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that he would formally move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and on Tuesday he signed a proposed rule to get the process rolling. The Clean Power Plan was put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, imposing the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Pruitt's move will have serious, real-world impacts on Americans' health. According to Obama's EPA, not only would the Clean Power Plan have helped to fight climate change, but it would also have curbed a number of health problems and premature deaths. That's because when utilities reduce their emissions of climate-warming CO2 pollution, they also reduce other pollutants that cause soot and smog and directly harm human health. An EPA fact sheet from 2015 says the agency determined that the rule would prevent thousands of deaths and health-related problems each year:
Under Pruitt, however, those health improvements will be denied to Americans. Pruitt's EPA not only disputes the scientific agreement that humans are driving climate change; it also disputes the scientific agreement that particulate matter and other smog-forming pollutants are unsafe for humans at any level. The EPA's new proposed rule contends that there would be no health benefits to reducing air pollutants below levels currently required by Clean Air Act regulations.
Pruitt's repeal will be particularly harmful to people of color and low-income Americans, as they suffer more than whiter, wealthier communities do from coal plant pollution. The Clean Power Plan included a number of environmental-justice provisions intended to help redress that inequity.
Media Matters analyzed morning and nighttime news shows on October 9 and 10 on ABC, CBS, and NBC, plus PBS NewsHour. ABC was the sole corporate broadcast network to note the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan in coverage of the plan’s repeal, and it did so in only a brief mention. During a headline rundown on the October 9 episode of World News Tonight with David Muir, Muir reported, “The 2015 Clean Power Plan aimed to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent and save 3,600 lives a year.”
In contrast, neither CBS nor NBC made any reference to what the repeal would mean for public health. NBC covered the repeal once, on the October 10 episode of NBC Nightly News, while CBS covered it twice, on the October 9 episode of CBS Evening News and the October 10 episode of CBS This Morning.
PBS NewsHour briefly mentioned the health angle during a lengthy segment on the plan's repeal on October 10 that featured interviews with Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama, and coal company CEO Robert Murray. PBS correspondent John Yang did not bring up the health implications of the repeal, but McCarthy mentioned them when she said that Pruitt's move “will limit the kind of protections you will get for public health and take a significant bite out of our ability to address climate change and keep our kids’ future safe.”
Of the major cable networks, MSNBC provided the best TV news coverage of the health implications of the Clean Power Plan repeal. Media Matters analyzed cable news from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on October 9 and October 10 and found that MSNBC aired eight segments on the repeal, three of which mentioned human health. On the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, NBC correspondent Anne Thompson explained that “doctors are very concerned, because if you increase the amount of coal-fired power, that means you’re putting more particulates in the air, and if that happens, that means you’re going to see more asthma attacks, more days missed in school and work from various illnesses, and more premature deaths.” Another October 10 edition of MSNBC Live featured an interview with Laura Kellogg, an American Lung Association volunteer and mother of children with asthma, who discussed how the plan’s repeal would harm children living close to coal plants. And the same day on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Melvin asked guest Mustafa Ali, former head of EPA's environmental justice program, about the health impacts of the repeal and gave Ali a chance to discuss the premature deaths and asthma attacks that are expected to result.
(The remaining five MSNBC segments on the plan's repeal, which didn't mention its public health consequences, aired on the October 9 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, the October 10 edition of MTP Daily, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live, and the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, which featured two segments on the repeal.)
CNN, on the other hand, did not discuss the health effects during any of its four segments that mentioned the Clean Power Plan repeal on October 9 and 10. Two of those segments aired on New Day on October 10, while one ran on Inside Politics on October 10 and one on At This Hour on October 9.
Fox News aired seven segments covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and made four additional mentions while reading headlines. Much of the tone of Fox’s coverage was celebratory. Twice on the October 9 edition of Fox & Friends and once on the October 10 edition of the show, Jillian Mele presented the repeal as President Donald Trump delivering on a campaign promise to his base. On October 10, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade introduced an interview with a former coal worker by saying, “Yesterday the Trump administration kept another campaign promise because Hillary Clinton didn't win, even though no one told her yet, to end the war on coal and help American families.” Sandra Smith also covered the repeal as Trump keeping a campaign promise on the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom, and the next day she asked Fox contributor Karl Rove whether it can “be seen as a big win for this administration.” Rove responded, "Well, it’s a big win,” adding that Trump needed legislative victories as well.
Special Report was the outlier on Fox News, citing information on health effects of the repeal in two segments. During the show’s October 9 report, correspondent Griff Jenkins read a quote from the Sierra Club noting that the Clean Power Plan would “prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year.” And on October 10, during an interview with Pruitt, host Bret Baier read a statement from former EPA Administrator Carol Browner that noted the health impacts of the move and asked Pruitt to respond to the statement.
(The additional Fox News segments and mentions on the repeal were on the October 9 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum and the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom during the 9 a.m. hour and the 10 a.m. hour.)
When the Obama administration finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015, many mainstream media outlets neglected to cover the public health implications, as Media Matters noted at the time.
Coverage of the Clean Power Plan was even more lacking last year. Then-candidate Trump promised to repeal the Clean Power Plan during his campaign, but broadcast news programs gave little attention to that pledge or to the plan itself last year, Media Matters found in an analysis of 2016 coverage. Ultimately, broadcast news failed to adequately inform viewers and voters before the election about what a Trump presidency would mean for environmental policy. Now we're seeing the Trump administration working to roll back more than 50 environmental protections.
TV news outlets’ shortcomings this week in covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan are just part of a longer pattern of insufficient coverage.
Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Pruitt,” “Clean Power Plan," "EPA," "Environmental Protection Agency," "carbon," "emissions," "regulation,” and "rule.” We examined coverage on October 9, the day Pruitt announced his intention to repeal the rule, and October 10, the day he formally proposed the repeal. For broadcast networks, we examined the morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour. For cable news, we examined coverage from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Zachary Pleat contributed to this report.
Following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would reverse the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), right-wing media rushed to praise Trump’s actions by stereotyping DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” as criminals and gang members. They also falsely claimed that the program constitutes a form of “amnesty,” that DACA recipients take jobs from native-born Americans, that the program is unconstitutional, and that President Barack Obama did not take any action to pass comprehensive immigration reform during his tenure.
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After President Donald Trump used his 2017 CPAC speech to attack the media, journalists responded, calling his statements on the media were “chilling” and unamerican.
NBC Nightly News’ White House correspondent Hallie Jackson whitewashed CPAC’s promotion of “alt-right” nationalism by uncritically reporting that CPAC attempted to distance itself from white nationalist Richard Spencer, ignoring CPACs speaking invitations to “alt-right” provocateurs Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos.
In a February 23 report, Jackson described Stephen Bannon as “the power behind the populist brand” promoted by President Trump and argued that CPAC was filled with “talk of economic nationalism” by Bannon and other CPAC speakers. Jackson claimed that CPAC had “no tolerance for a different kind of nationalism … the white nationalism popularized by Richard Spencer, who was kicked out today”:
LESTER HOLT (HOST): Just outside the nation's capitol, members of the Trump administration dominated the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, ahead of the president's appearance tomorrow. On stage today, a rare public appearance by Steve Bannon, the architect of the Trump campaign, who has quietly worked behind the scenes as the president’s chief strategist. Today, however, he spoke out. NBC News White House correspondent Hallie Jackson has details.
HALLIE JACKSON: Today, a Trump team take over at a conservative conference, and stepping out of shadows of the West Wing, one of the president's most trusted advisors in a rare public appearance.
STEPHEN BANNON: I want to thank you for finally inviting me to CPAC. JACKSON: That's controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon, the power behind the populist brand that propelled Donald Trump to victory.
JACKSON: For all the talk of economic nationalism on stage, no tolerance for a different kind of nationalism off it, the white nationalism popularized by Richard Spencer, who was kicked out today. CPAC organizers explicitly denouncing the fringe movement he helps lead.
DAN SCHNEIDER: They are anti-semites, they are racists, they are sexists. They are not an extension of the conservatism.
But CPAC was filled with far right zealots who have promoted “alt-right” ideology. Steve Bannon, the former executive chair for Breitbart.com, had a prominent speech at the conference despite Breitbart’s history of promoting white-nationalists. Bannon even said during his time as executive chair that Breitbart.com had become “the platform for the alt-right” under his leadership.
CPAC also invited former Breitbart.com editor Milo Yiannopoulos as a keynote speaker at the conference, before disinviting Yiannopoulos when videos emerged showing Yiannopoulos justifying the sexual abuse of a minor by an adult. Yiannopoulos himself described Richard Spencer and other white nationalists as “dangerously bright,” and ACU's Matt Schlapp promoted Yiannopoulos’ keynote speech by tweeting “We think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”
After Roger Stone was banned from appearing on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN for nearly a year because of his wildly unreliable claims and offensive behavior, NBC News appeared to reverse its decision, hosting the former adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign for two appearances, one on MSNBC and one on NBC, despite his pattern of spouting bigotry and lies and pushing conspiracy theories.
On February 16, NBC’s morning show, Today, hosted Stone to discuss renewed allegations that Trump aides, including Stone himself, had regular contact with Russian officials during the campaign. Stone is a racist, misogynist conspiracy theorist who is reportedly being investigated by the FBI for possible illegal dealings with Russia.
Stone's disreputable past and history of making false claims (such as his conspiracy theories that the Clintons are “plausibly responsible” for the deaths of about 40 people, the Bush family “tried to kill” Ronald Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy) were not mentioned in the Today interview. Nor were his January suggestions that former CIA Director John Brennan is a "Saudi mole" and that he has proved that Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) father "was working side by side with Lee Harvey Oswald" as a CIA operative.
Instead, Stone “categorically, positively, … absolutely” denied the allegations of his collusion with Russian officials on behalf of Trump to co-hosts Matt Lauer and Hallie Jackson. Later in the day during a rambling press conference, Trump referenced Stone's denials to attack "the failing New York Times."
Since the allegations were first reported by The New York Times on January 19, Stone has gone on the Russian-owned RT to defend Russian officials from allegations that they were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) ("The entire notion that the Russians hacked this election and did so in order to affect the result is a falsehood, is a canard"), and appeared on the show of fellow conspiracy theorist and Trump supporter Alex Jones to attack the role of Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff as "an enormous mistake."
Stone is also currently promoting a new book about the Trump campaign. His previous books, columns, and research have been widely dismissed as “discredited,” “Pants on Fire” false, and/or plagiarized.
Stone had previously claimed that he was in communication with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and had tweeted that it would be Hillary Clinton’s then-campaign chairman John Podesta’s “time in the barrel” shortly before the release of his hacked emails, a pattern of leaks that was repeatedly associated with Russian intelligence efforts.
The night before Stone appeared on Today, MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes also hosted him. Hayes noted that Stone had been banned from the network “because of numerous incredibly offensive, bigoted, and objectionable tweets,” but that he was interviewing Stone because he was “once again in the middle of the news” -- a reference to the fact that Trump’s inner circle has been implicated in the investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Shortly after the MSNBC interview aired, Stone took to Twitter to call CNN's Ana Navarro a "stupid bitch" for her comments on former national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn's recent resignation, which occurred after it was revealed that Flynn possibly lied about contacts he had with Russian officials in the transition to the Trump presidency.
Stone previously attacked numerous NBC personalities with racist and vile taunts. He tweeted that MSNBC host Al Sharpton is a "professional negro" who ate fried chicken, NBC's Tom Brokaw is "senile," and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is "Rachel the muff-diver." Stone also wrote that former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly -- now with NBC -- has a "nice set of cans.” He twice offered a cash reward to anyone who "punches out" MSNBC host Chris Matthews. Stone later deleted most of those tweets.
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During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.
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