John Harwood | Media Matters for America

John Harwood

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  • 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.

  • Journalists, Experts Agree Trump's Tax Reform Agenda Will Be Even Harder Than Repealing Obamacare

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    After President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) failed to garner enough support to pass legislation that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Trump declared he had moved on to refocus his legislative priorities on tax reform. In light of Trump’s inability to get the Republican-led Congress to vote with him on health care changes, which had been a major campaign promise of virtually every elected GOP official, journalists and experts are beginning to question if Trump is capable of wrangling his caucus to tackle substantive conservative tax reform proposals that have been stagnant for decades.

  • Journalists Mock Trump’s "Grievanceburg Address" At Gettysburg

    ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS & ALEX KAPLAN

    Journalists mocked Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s October 22 speech in Gettysburg, PA, which his campaign had said would outline his first 100 days in office if elected president and had compared to President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Reporters said the speech was more “like the Grievanceburg Address,” “a personal revenge tour,” and was full of “conspiracy theories & racial animus.”

  • Fox Mischaracterizes Clinton's Hacked Remarks To Claim She's Smearing Millennials

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Fox News is mischaracterizing remarks Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made at a private fundraiser in February, falsely claiming that she was mocking Bernie Sanders’ supporters as “broke and delusional.” In the audio of the remarks, which security officials believe was originally hacked by Russian government operatives and then later posted by the Washington Free Beacon, Clinton is highlighting the “sense of disappointment among young people in politics” and why they were driven to support Sanders.

  • Right-Wing Media Attack CNBC Moderator For Correctly Noting Rubio's Tax Plan Gives More To Top 1% Than Middle Class

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON, ALEX KAPLAN, BRENDAN KARET & ALEX MORASH

    During the October 28 Republican presidential debate hosted by CNBC, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) contested moderator John Harwood's statement that Rubio's tax reform plan disproportionately favors the rich over the middle class. Conservative news outlets rushed to defend Rubio, despite the fact that Harwood was correct.

  • Let's Hope CNBC Debate Moderators Hold GOP Candidates Accountable For Their Fantasy Tax Plans

    CNBC's John Harwood Criticized GOP Tax Plans For Pretending To Be "Populist" But Actually Favoring The Rich

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    One of the moderators of CNBC's October 28 Republican debate, John Harwood, called out several members of the GOP presidential candidate field in a New York Times article that debunked their attempts to frame major tax cuts for the wealthy as "populist" tax reform proposals. Will Harwood hold the candidates to the same standard during the live, televised debate?

  • The New York Times Highlights How "Populist" Republican Tax Plans Actually Benefit The Rich

    Upcoming GOP Debate Moderator: "Republican Candidates Have Shied Away From Economic Populism"

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    In an article for The New York Times, CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood criticized the field of Republican presidential candidates for unveiling so-called "populist" tax reform plans that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. Harwood will moderate the upcoming Republican presidential debate on October 28, which will focus on the economy.

  • NYT's Harwood equates CNN & MSNBC with Fox News; doesn't bother actually comparing them

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Under the header "If Fox is partisan, it is not alone," the New York Times' John Harwood suggests that other cable channels are "partisan," just like Fox. Why does Harwood think this? Because their audiences lean to the left:

    Fox News has attracted the most attention because of its "fair and balanced" challenge to its competitors and its success. But the audiences of its competitors have tilted sharply in the other direction.

    ...

    In audience surveys from August 2000 to March 2001, Fox News viewers tilted Republican by 44.6 percent to 36.1 percent. More narrowly - 41.4 percent to 39.4 percent - so did the audience for MSNBC. The audiences of CNN, Headline News, CNBC and Comedy Central leaned Democratic.

    By 2008-9, the network audiences tilted decisively, like Fox's. CNN viewers were more Democratic by 50.4 percent to 28.7 percent; MSNBC viewers were 53.6 percent to 27.3 percent Democratic; Headline News' 47.3 percent to 31.4 percent Democratic; CNBC's 46.9 percent to 32.5 percent Democratic; and Comedy Central's 47.1 to 28.8 percent Democratic.

    This, it must be said, is inane. Harwood doesn't spend so much as a single word assessing or even mentioning the actual journalism of any of the channels in question. (There's a lot of that going around.) He just looks at their viewership, and concludes that the content of all the news channels is partisan.

    That is a ridiculous way to assess whether a cable channel is "partisan." ESPN's audience probably skews Republican, too. Is ESPN a "partisan" Republican channel? Of course not.

    Harwood also seems unaware of the possibility that the audiences at CNN and MSNBC are trending leftward for no reason other than that Fox is scooping up all the right wing viewers. If you assume a relatively finite universe of cable news viewers, CNN and MSNBC would see their viewership skew increasingly Democratic as Fox's skews Republican simply as a result of Republicans flocking to Fox.

    Finally: Let's say you had three cable news channels. One was a bit to the right of center, one was slightly more to the right of center, and the third was far to the right of center. What do you think their viewership might look like? One would have a very Republican audience, and the other two would probably have audiences that lean Democratic. And John Harwood would tell you those two right-of-center channels were "partisan" because their audiences were disproportionately Democratic.

    If you actually look at the content of what the three cable news channels broadcast, it's clear that there's no comparison between Fox News and its rivals.

  • John Harwood and the "liberal media" myth

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    While hosting MSNBC on Friday afternoon, John Harwood took a viewer question -- and, in his answer, provided a glimpse of the shallowness the mainstream media's attitudes about their own biases:

    Viewer Question: You grew up in Washington, DC, so some people would probably consider you an "insider." How do you maintain your objectivity when reporting on politics?

    John Harwood: Guilty as charged of being an insider. I did grow up inside the Beltway. Let me just say this about press bias and objectivity: The notion of liberal bias in the media is not a fantasy. It is a fact, if we're talking about the orientation of people who go into journalism. However, it's also true that conservatives whine about it too much, and it's less consequential than it's been in the past because people are more mindful of it, pay more attention, and try to make sure that their own biases and their own inclinations don't come across too clearly in their news reporting.

    Note, first of all, that the questioner didn't say anything about "liberal bias." She asked about Harwood's status as a Washington insider affecting his objectivity. Harwood didn't address that; not even glancingly. He just stipulated to "being an insider," then put the matter aside, betraying not so much as a hint of recognition that his insider status might affect how he views and reports on politics and policy.

    And, after blowing off the question about whether his insider status affects his reporting, Harwood answered a question that wasn't asked, about "the notion of liberal bias." That's how knee-jerk defensive reporters are about "liberal bias" -- they respond to such allegations even when they haven't been asked. Harwood dismisses conservative complaints as "whining" -- but his own defensiveness makes clear that whining has worked.

    And Harwood's response displayed a stunning lack of recognition of the difference between "the orientation of people who go into journalism" and the content of the news reports those people produce. John Harwood's own New York Times, for example, absolutely savaged Al Gore throughout the 2000 presidential campaign -- often inaccurately and typically unfairly -- while giving George W. Bush a free pass. Then there's Judith Miller and the Times' coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war. After those two failures -- each of historic proportions -- it is simply absurd for any Times reporter to reflexively assume that the key question about the media is whether it displays a liberal bias.

    And yet, that's exactly what reporters assume. They have internalized the conservative whining, and they have clearly not come to terms with the media's conduct during the most important events of the past two decades, from their treatment of the Clintons to the 2000 campaign and the Iraq war debate.

    For those who wonder why a few progressive media critics -- Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler, me -- insist on bringing up the 2000 campaign and other past examples of media failures over and over again: This is why. The fact that a New York Times reporter upon hearing a question about media objectivity immediately starts talking about liberal bias rather than apologizing for what his paper did to Al Gore shows that they really don't understand what has happened over the past two decades.

  • NY Times' Harwood quotes Palin's "palling around with terrorists" claim, but not Times' own reporting otherwise

    ››› ››› LAUREN AUERBACH

    The New York Times' John Harwood wrote that Gov. Sarah Palin "assert[ed] that" Sen. Barack Obama's "relationship with Bill Ayers, the onetime Weather Underground figure, constitutes 'palling around with terrorists.' " But Harwood did not mention that two days earlier, in an article that Palin herself referenced, the Times itself reported that "the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers."