Matthew Dowd | Media Matters for America

Matthew Dowd

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

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

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

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

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

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

    The good

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

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

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

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

    The bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The backlash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Fox opts for footwear coverage

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

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

  • CNN's Reliable Sources Highlights The Problem Of Media Rallying Behind Trump's Missile Strikes

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    CNN media reporter Brian Stelter defied mainstream media’s unabashedly fawning coverage of President Donald Trump after he ordered a missile strike on a Syrian airbase thought to have deployed a chemical weapons attack against Syrian rebel forces that killed and injured many civilians, including children.

    During the April 9 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, Stelter highlighted major media outlets’ largely one-sided reaction to news about the strike and urged for more diversity in commentary. Stelter noted that “too often skeptical voices are marginalized” and “drowned out by the beating of war drums” when presidents launch military strikes. From the the April 9 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources:

    Stelter encouraged major media to self-reflect on Trump’s missile strike and advocated hosting more diverse perspectives about military operations, saying “there are hawks and there are doves” and that it is important to hear every opinion on the military actions. Contrary to Stelter’s call for reflection, much of the coverage of the missile strike was dominated by praise from voices like Time magazine’s Michael Duffy and sparse on moments of analysis and criticism from voices like ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, a former aide to President George W. Bush who split with the administration over the Iraq War. Rather than provide the public with a balanced discussion of actions in Syria, cable news producers featured a disproportionate amount of commentators that called for further military action.

    In spite of consistently negative news coverage of the Trump administration, major media outlets have tended to band together to defend and praise military actions Trump takes as “presidential.” Weeks before the Syrian missile strikes, media went full bore in praising Trump after he shamelessly used the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL as a prop during his speech before a joint session of Congress to diffuse public concerns about a botched raid in Yemen that left many civilians dead, including an 8-year old American girl, and “yielded no significant intelligence.” In his analysis of Trump’s speech, liberal CNN commentator Van Jones went as far to declare Trump “became president of the United States in that moment. Period.”

    Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert told MSNBC host Joy Reid that, when covering Trump, media are “desperate to present him as normal” so they “don't have to acknowledge how radical he is,” and likened this coverage to the reckless reporting during the Iraq War, which was used to win public support for military action.

    It is grossly irresponsible for media outlets to praise the president for military operations and advocate for war without offering audiences equal doses of skepticism and opposition. One-sided coverage can oversimplify complex geopolitics and dissuade the public from participating in the balanced discourse matters of national security deserve.

  • Broadcast News Widely Covers Anthony Weiner Story, Ignores Abuse Accusations Against Trump Campaign CEO

    Wash. Post, NY Times Also Give More Prominence To Weiner Saga In Print Than Abuse Allegations Against Trump Campaign CEO

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Broadcast network news programs devoted significantly more time to lewd behavior from Anthony Weiner, the husband of an aide to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, than to allegations that Donald Trump's campaign CEO engaged in domestic violence and workplace sexual harassment. The outlets treated the Weiner story as a major campaign issue even though Weiner is playing no direct role in the Clinton campaign.

    Politico reported on August 25 that Trump’s campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, “was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness following an incident with his then-wife in 1996.” The charges were later dropped, but the police report says that Bannon’s wife claimed that he “pulled at her neck and wrist during an altercation over their finances, and an officer reported witnessing red marks on her neck and wrist to bolster her account.” BuzzFeed on August 29 reported that Bannon had also been accused of sexual harassment by a co-worker while working as an investment banker in the 1990s. 

    On August 29, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, announced that she was separating from Weiner following reports that he had sent lewd photos of himself to another woman.

    One might think media would focus more on the Bannon story, which involves allegations of criminality against the CEO of a presidential campaign, than on the dissolution of the marriage of a candidate's aide. That was not the case.

    ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted more than half an hour of coverage to the Weiner-Abedin story -- roughly 10 minutes for each network -- according to a Media Matters review of their morning and evening news shows (NBC’s Today and Nightly News, ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, and CBS’ CBS This Morning and Evening News) on August 26, August 29, and the morning of August 30. Those same programs devoted only 39 seconds in total to covering either of the Bannon stories, with all of that coverage coming from Good Morning America.

    Two of the nation’s leading newspapers for national political coverage, The New York Times and The Washington Post, similarly gave the Weiner-Abedin story more emphasis in their print editions. Both papers devoted 1,400-word front page articles to their separation. By contrast, the Times placed its August 26 story on Bannon’s alleged abuse on page 13, along with a portion of a page 10 August 27 piece and a single sentence of a page 1 August 27 piece. The Post devoted a large portion of a page A04 article on August 27 to the allegation. Neither paper covered the sexual harassment allegation in their respective print editions.

    Not only was the amount of coverage uneven, but in its coverage the broadcast news shows repeatedly framed the Abedin-Weiner story as something that could harm Clinton’s campaign as well as recall for voters Clinton’s own marital problems, a frame that wasn’t applied to the Bannon story. 

    NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell on Today claimed “of course” there would be political fallout for Clinton, connecting the Abedin story to Clinton not having a press conference and suggesting that it would remind voters “about Hillary Clinton's own choices 20 years ago, 19 years ago,” an apparent reference to Clinton’s decision not to leave her husband after he had an affair.

    CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell on Evening News said it was “about the last thing Hillary Clinton's campaign needed, a scandal involving the husband of her top aide Huma Abedin.” O’Donnell also asked CBS political director John Dickerson if the story “change[d]” things for Clinton and her campaign. 

    ABC correspondent Cecilia Vega on Good Morning America noted that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attempted to turn the separation “into a political attack,” adding that Trump “is not holding back, so is the Clinton campaign worried that this will be a distraction for them?” ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd also claimed the story “is a problem for the Hillary campaign” because “independents out there look at it and say, ‘Do we really want to go back to all this again?’”

    The Times and the Post’s coverage made the same connection. The Times alleged the Weiner story “threatens to remind voters about the troubles in the Clintons’ own marriage over the decades” and “evokes the debates that erupted over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of the [Monica] Lewinsky affair.” The Post also pointed to “a different ending to the parallel between Bill and Hillary Clinton and each wife’s public embarrassment by the sexual indiscretions of her politician husband.”

    The only mention of either Bannon story on broadcast news shows was during Good Morning America’s August 26 edition, which treated Bannon’s alleged spousal abuse as a passing issue. ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl briefly stated that the domestic violence allegation could cause “more turmoil ahead for the Trump campaign CEO,” but he didn't mention any impact on the overall campaign or Trump specifically. ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos also briefly brought up the domestic violence allegations with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to ask if Trump was “aware of [the allegation], is he OK with it,” to which Conway claimed ignorance and Stephanopoulos quickly moved on. 

    The coverage of Bannon’s alleged abuse in the Times and the Post​, while given less prominence than its Weiner-Abedin coverage, did mention a potential negative impact to Trump’s campaign. The Times claimed that while Bannon’s appointment was “part of an effort to reset a candidacy that has stumbled with minority and female voters,” Bannon “brings to the post his own bumpy background that includes misdemeanor charges of domestic violence.” In an article the next day, the Times noted the abuse allegation has “created distractions for Mr. Trump’s campaign and raised questions about [Trump’s] management style.” The Post also made the same case in an article that same day. However, none of this coverage, in broadcast or print, noted that the Bannon allegations came on the heels of other women claiming Trump had sexually harassed them in the workplace.

  • Media Stunned As Cruz's Non-Endorsement Tears Apart RNC Convention: “What A Disaster”

    Media Note Cruz “Body Slammed” Trump’s Convention And “Ruined” The Night

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY, NICK FERNANDEZ & BRENDAN KARET

    Media figures expressed disbelief over Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) refusal to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, calling him a “sore loser” who “ruined” the night.