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Interviews with Graham-Cassidy supporters spread misinformation, devolve into misleading deflection
Republican senators took to the airwaves this week to shore up support for the so-called “Graham-Cassidy” health care bill, the latest GOP proposal that aims to dismantle much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a series of proposals adopted from previously failed legislation. The often contentious interviews frequently devolved into stonewalling and deflection when reporters pressed lawmakers for answers about the ways the legislation would affect tens of millions of Americans who rely on programs such as Medicaid, live with pre-existing medical conditions, or have gained coverage under the ACA.
Republican lawmakers have attempted to build support for the latest attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, which is in jeopardy of collapse amid reports that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is opposed to the bill, by once again recycling worn-out myths about the Obama-era health care reform law and spreading falsehoods about the proposed legislation. With Republicans set to appear on the Sunday morning political shows this weekend to build support for the bill, which many lawmakers seem to know little about, their refusal to engage in a factual debate about the legislation should be a red flag for the journalists conducting those interviews.
During September 20 appearances on CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) spread several falsehoods about the health care repeal legislation that bears his name. (He spread much of the same misinformation from the friendly confines of Fox News, where he was allowed to push his talking points completely unchallenged.) During his CNN and MSNBC appearances, Cassidy falsely claimed the proposal would result in more people getting health insurance coverage and asserted that the new bill protects the tens of millions of Americans living with pre-existing medical conditions. When CNN’s Chris Cuomo pressed Cassidy to provide proof of his claims, Cassidy pivoted to attack the ACA’s individual insurance mandate. And when MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle confronted him about coverage cuts for “low-income seniors, children, and people with disabilities,” Cassidy evaded the question while claiming that his bill would simply reroute money currently allocated to those groups through the existing Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP):
In reality, the Center for American Progress, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), and The Commonwealth Fund each reported that, according to previous estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Graham-Cassidy proposal to end private market health insurance tax credits, along with its severe cuts to Medicaid and rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, would result in 32 million people losing health insurance over the next decade. And as Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation explained to Axios, though the Graham-Cassidy bill would not repeal the ACA's rules about pre-existing conditions, "they might end up only existing on paper." That's because, as PolitiFact has also noted, the bill removes ACA protections against charging higher premiums to customers with existing medical problems and the language about pre-existing conditions "is vague and subject to broad interpretation.”
During a September 20 appearance on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) emphasized the supposed need to pass his health care agenda because “Obamacare is collapsing around us.” Graham also asserted that under the ACA, “access to health care is going down” nationwide:
Graham’s claim that the ACA “is collapsing” echoes years of conservative smears about the law, which exaggerate any hiccup in the implementation of ACA reforms as proof of an impending “death spiral.” In reality, the insurance marketplaces established by the law have stabilized considerably over the past year, and lingering issues are largely the result of Republican sabotage, not a failure of the ACA. Graham’s additional claim that the newest GOP bill is a solution to reduced health care access could not be further from the truth: The number of uninsured Americans reached an all-time low in 2016 before the Trump administration launched its efforts to dismantle the ACA and, as previously noted, Graham’s bill would strip insurance from millions of Americans.
During a September 19 interview on CNN’s New Day, bill co-sponsor Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) bemoaned health care reforms instituted by the ACA, which he called “Washington, D.C.’s one-size-fits-all model” for health care coverage. Johnson reiterated his support for the proposal in the Graham-Cassidy bill to convert ACA revenue into block grants to states, which he claimed would be “far more responsive to their citizens than Washington, D.C., will.” Co-host Alisyn Camerota largely let Johnson push his talking points unchecked, and she seemed more interested in Johnson’s plan to recruit additional Republican supporters than with the ways the legislation would affect millions of Americans:
Johnson approached his September 21 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with a similar strategy, stressing that Graham-Cassidy would help states be more responsive to their citizens and deflecting questions about concerns from several Republican governors that the bill’s Medicaid cuts will devastate low-income communities. When co-host Willie Geist pressed Johnson about whether some Medicaid recipients would be “denied coverage they have now” by Graham-Cassidy’s rollback of the program, Johnson again deflected those concerns and suggested the problem could be avoided if governors “manage their programs properly”:
In fact, according to CBPP, any proposal to convert federal Medicaid funding into a block grant system would inevitably lead to major funding cuts and program restrictions. CBPP estimated that millions of Americans would lose Medicaid coverage from the block grant system proposed by Graham-Cassidy, a concern shared by the bipartisan group of governors opposed to the bill.
On the September 19 edition of MSNBC’s MTP Daily, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) falsely claimed that Medicaid had “failed” as a result of ACA reforms and argued that the program insuring low-income Americans is unpopular with patients. (Host Katy Tur, however, correctly noted that Medicaid is extremely popular.) Barrasso also asserted that “this bill protects everyone with a pre-existing condition” and smeared ACA patient protections requiring insurance plans to cover essential health benefits (EHBs), which protect consumers from inadequate plans. When Tur pressed him to provide support for his claims, Barrasso simply talked over her repeated inquiries while reiterating the same talking points:
On the September 20 edition of CNN Newsroom, Barrasso had a less contentious interview with co-hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow, during which he spread even more misinformation about the Graham-Cassidy plan. Barrasso bizarrely claimed that Graham-Cassidy would not kick millions of people off their plans, but would instead empower millions to drop coverage with “the free choice they have as Americans.” He also falsely claimed the Graham-Cassidy bill would result in states “get[ting] more money to deal with” the health care needs of their own residents. A September 20 report from Avalere Health, however, has revealed that the bill would actually “reduce federal funding to states by $215 billion” through 2026, by $489 billion through 2027 when block grants for Medicaid run out, and by a staggering $4 trillion through 2036. In the end, Graham-Cassidy would redistribute billions of dollars from states that enacted ACA provisions to those (like Wyoming) that refused to do so:
Media Matters research coordinator Julie Alderman contributed to this research
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Donald Trump and the presidential election dominated news coverage in 2016. But talking heads still found plenty of time to make jaw-dropping comments about climate change, energy, and the environment. This year’s list of ridiculous claims includes a dangerous conspiracy theory about Hurricane Matthew, over-the-top worship of fracking and coal, and absurd victim-blaming around the Flint water crisis. Here is our list of the 15 most ridiculous things that media figures said about climate, energy, and environmental issues in 2016.
1. Rush Limbaugh And Matt Drudge Peddled A Reckless Conspiracy Theory Downplaying The Threat From Hurricane Matthew. Shortly before Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the U.S., Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating the hurricane’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change. On The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh accused the National Hurricane Center of "playing games" with hurricane forecasting and added, “It's in the interest of the left to have destructive hurricanes because then they can blame it on climate change, which they can desperately continue trying to sell.”
Limbaugh doubled down on this theory the next day, telling his audience, “There’s politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes.”
Drudge, the curator of the widely read Drudge Report website, promoted the conspiracy as well, suggesting that federal officials were exaggerating the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew “to make [an] exaggerated point on climate.”
Drudge also used his website to persuade Southeast residents not to take the storm seriously, with a banner “STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!” and additional headlines “IT’S A 4?” and “RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY...”.
Climate scientist Michael Mann explained that people "could die because of the misinformation that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge are putting out there," and two actual hurricane experts provided a point-by-point rebuttal of Drudge’s claims. But that did nothing to dissuade Drudge, who refused to give up on the conspiracy theory.
2. Fox News Blamed The Flint Water Crisis On Climate Change Policies, "PC Stuff,” And Even Flint Residents Themselves. National media outlets largely ignored the water crisis in Flint, MI, as it unfolded over almost two years, but when the story did finally make national headlines, Fox News pundits were quick to pin the blame on anyone and anything other than the Republican governor of Michigan.
On Fox & Friends, host Heather Nauert and guest Mark Aesch suggested that “misplaced priorities,” including climate change and “PC stuff,” allowed the water crisis to happen:
And on The Kelly File, Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt placed blame on Flint residents themselves, saying that the "people of Flint should have been protesting in the streets" after noticing that their water was poisoned. Stirewalt also blamed Flint parents for giving their children contaminated water, declaring: "If you were pouring water into a cup for your child and it stunk and it smelled like sulfur and it was rotten, would you give that to your child? No, you'd revolt, you'd march in the street." In addition to being offensive, Stirewalt’s comments were premised on a falsehood; Flint residents did in fact repeatedly protest throughout the year to demand safe drinking water for their families.
3. CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Claimed Trump EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt “Hasn’t Denied Global Warming.” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is a climate science denier who has refused to accept the clear consensus of the scientific community that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are primarily responsible for global warming. Yet according to CNN New Day anchor Alisyn Camerota, Pruitt simply “sees nuance” and “hasn’t denied global warming.” Camerota falsely claimed that Pruitt only disputes climate “predictions” and “forecasts,” when in fact he has also denied that global warming is human-caused, and even Camerota's premise that climate models are unreliable is incorrect. As Camerota wrongly absolved Pruitt of climate denial, CNN’s on-screen text read: “Climate Change Denier Scott Pruitt To Lead EPA.” Co-anchor Chris Cuomo also pushed back on Camerota, stating that Pruitt “says it’s ‘far from settled.’ That means he’s not accepting the science.”
Camerota badly butchered climate science, but it's noteworthy she was even discussing the issue given CNN’s spotty track record. In April, a Media Matters analysis found that CNN aired almost five times as much oil industry advertising as climate change-related coverage in the one-week periods following the announcements that 2015 was the hottest year on record and February 2016 was the most abnormally hot month on record. And in one segment later in the year where CNN did cover climate change, CNN Newsroom host Carol Costello speculated, “Are we just talking about this and people's eyes are glazing over?”
4. MSNBC's Mike Barnicle: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson "Is A Huge Green Guy.” Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies. Exxon is currently under investigation in several states for possibly violating state laws by deceiving shareholders and the public about climate change, while Tillerson himself has misinformed about climate science and mocked renewable energy. Yet according to Mike Barnicle, a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “Rex Tillerson is a huge green guy.” And alas, no, we don't think he was comparing Tillerson to the Jolly Green Giant or the Incredible Hulk.
5. Disregarding Everything Trump Has Said And Done On The Subject, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough Claimed “I Just Know” Trump Believes In Climate Science. On Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough defended Trump after it was announced he had selected Pruitt, a climate science denier, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scarborough -- who along with co-host Mika Brzezinski has repeatedly carried water for Trump -- insisted, “I just know” that Trump “has to believe” in climate science.
Scarborough’s comments followed a wave of TV coverage about how Trump had supposedly “reversed course” on climate change, which was based on a New York Times interview in which Trump said he has an “open mind” about the Paris climate agreement and that “there is some connectivity” between human activities and climate change. But few of these reports addressed any of the substantive reasons that such a reversal was highly unlikely, such as his transition team’s plan to abandon the Obama administration’s landmark climate policy, indications that he will dismantle NASA’s climate research program, and his appointment of fossil fuel industry allies as transition team advisers -- not to mention the full context of Trump’s remarks to the Times.
6. Trump Adviser Stephen Moore: Being Against Fracking “Is Like Being Against A Cure For Cancer.” While discussing his new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy on C-SPAN2's Book TV, conservative economist and Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore stated that opposing fracking “is like being against a cure for cancer” because it is “one of the great seismic technological breakthroughs” that is “giving us huge amounts of energy at very low prices.” Never mind that many of the chemicals involved in fracking have actually been linked to cancer.
7. Stephen Moore: “We Have The Cleanest Coal In The World.” Moore’s preposterous praise for fossil fuels wasn’t just confined to fracking. On Fox Business’ Varney & Co., he declared that the U.S. has “the cleanest coal in the world.” That statement is quite difficult to square with the fact that “Coal combustion contributes to four of the top five leading causes of death in the U.S.—heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases—according to Physicians for Social Responsibility,” as Climate Nexus has noted.
Pro-coal propaganda also found a home on Fox Business’ sister network, Fox News, where The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted that “coal is a moral substance. Where coal reaches, people live longer, happier lives.”
8. Breitbart’s James Delingpole: Climate Change Is “The Greatest-Ever Conspiracy Against The Taxpayer.” In an article promoting a speech he gave to the World Taxpayers’ Associations in Berlin, Breitbart’s James Delingpole wrote: “Climate change is the biggest scam in the history of the world – a $1.5 trillion-a-year conspiracy against the taxpayer, every cent, penny and centime of which ends in the pockets of the wrong kind of people.” In the speech itself, Delingpole similarly claimed that “the global warming industry” is “a fraud; a sham; a conspiracy against the taxpayer.”
Breitbart, which was until recent months run by Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon, has frequently denied climate change and viciously attacked climate scientists. Delingpole, in particular, has described climate scientists as “talentless lowlifes” and referred to climate advocates as “eco Nazis,” “eco fascists,” and “scum-sucking slime balls.” Bannon has criticized Pope Francis for succumbing to “hysteria” about climate change; The Washington Post has written about how Bannon influenced Trump’s views on the issue during his time at Breitbart.
9. Fox Report On Law Gas Prices: “Put The Tesla In The Garage And Break Out The Hummer.” Just 10 days after Trump was elected president, Fox News began giving him credit for low gas prices, the latest proof of the network’s blatant double standard when it comes to covering gas prices under Republican and Democratic presidents. But simply shilling for Trump was apparently not enough for Fox Business reporter Jeff Flock, who provided the slanted gas prices report on Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters. At the conclusion of the report, Flock also displayed a brazen lack of concern about climate change, declaring: “I would say put the Tesla in the garage and break out the Hummer.”
10. Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel Instructed Viewers To “Trust” A Climate Science-Denying Fossil Fuel Front Group. In a video interview posted on The Wall Street Journal’s website, Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel instructed viewers who are “confused about the science surrounding climate change” to “trust” Rod Nichols, chairman of a climate science-denying fossil fuel front group known as the CO2 Coalition. During the interview, Nichols denied that human activities such as burning oil and coal are responsible for recent global warming, claiming that “climate change has been going on for hundreds of millions of years,” “there is not going to be any catastrophic climate change,” and “CO2 will be good for the world.” Kissel asked Nichols, “Why don't we hear more viewpoints like the ones that your coalition represents,” and concluded that the CO2 Coalition’s research papers are “terrific.”
The Wall Street Journal has made a habit of “trusting” climate science deniers like Nichols -- or at least repeating their false claims about climate science. A recent Media Matters analysis of climate-related opinion pieces found that the Journal far outpaced other major newspapers in climate science misinformation, publishing 31 opinion pieces that featured climate denial or other scientifically inaccurate claims about climate change over a year-and-a-half period.
11. Fox Host Clayton Morris: Rubio's Climate Science Denial At Presidential Debate Was An "Articulate Moment.” During a Fox News discussion of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s performance at a CNN presidential debate, Fox and Friends co-host Clayton Morris described Rubio’s claim that the climate is “always” changing -- a common talking point among climate science deniers -- as “a really articulate moment.”
While Morris’ endorsement of Rubio’s climate denial as “articulate” is particularly striking, a 2015 Media Matters analysis found that media frequently failed to fact-check GOP presidential candidates’ climate change denial.
12. Fox Hosts Mocked Leonardo DiCaprio's Oscar Speech On Climate Change: "Focus On Something Else Other Than The Weather.” When actor Leonardo DiCaprio took home the Oscar for best actor for his role in The Revenant, the hosts of Fox News’ The Five and Fox and Friends mocked DiCaprio for devoting much of his acceptance speech to making the case for climate change action. On The Five, co-host Jesse Watters declared, “So the guy finally gets an Academy Award and he's talking about the weather. What's going on here?” Co-host Eric Bolling helpfully added, “Focus on something else other than the weather.”
That wasn’t the only time in 2016 that DiCaprio was caught in Fox News’ crosshairs for having the nerve to talk about climate change. Later in the year, The Five aired footage from an event in which President Obama criticized congressional climate deniers and DiCaprio said, “The scientific consensus is in, and the argument is now over. If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or in science, or empirical truths, and therefore in my humble opinion should not be allowed to hold public office.” The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld then responded by likening criticism of climate science deniers to religious extremism, saying: “You have to wonder about a belief system that doesn't want any challenges, that doesn't want any of their theories to be questioned. This -- what he is talking about is radical Islam of science. He is actually turning science into a religion.”
13. Fox’s Meghan McCain: "The Liberal Hysteria Over Climate Change Was So Overblown That Now People Have A Hard Time Even Believing It.” Rather than criticize conservatives or Republicans who frequently deny climate science, Fox News host Meghan Mccain blamed liberals for public confusion about climate change, declaring on Fox News' Outnumbered that “the liberal hysteria over climate change was so overblown that now people have a hard time even believing it and believing that it's something that's justified.” McCain, who also mocked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for campaigning on the issue with Al Gore, added, “I do think there are signs we should look at, but if Al Gore, if you take his word for it, there's a big flood that's going to come in and wipe us all away in five minutes.”
14. Fox’s Steve Doocy: Obama’s Monument Designation Was Done To “Appease Environmental Terrorists.” On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy declared that President Obama’s designation of the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean was “done to appease environmental terrorists.” Not so shockingly, Doocy and his co-hosts did not comment when their guest, Deadliest Catch’s Keith Colburn, acknowledged that "increased water temperatures" from climate change are impacting fisheries across the United States.
15. Fox Hosts Flipped Out About Portland Public Schools Decision To Stop Teaching Climate Denial To Children. In May, the Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution “aimed at eliminating doubt of climate change and its causes in schools.” But while climate science denial may no longer be taught in Portland public schools, it still has a place on Fox News, as the hosts of Outnumbered demonstrated in their flippant response to the resolution.
Co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery said the Portland schools decision is “so anti-scientific,” adding, “There are still scientists, believe it or not, out there who say, ‘No, we still have to look at the data.’ And it's impossible to predict how the climate is going to change over hundreds or thousands of years.” Co-host Jesse Waters remarked, “So getting out of the ice age, how did the Earth warm up after the ice age? There were no humans there with cars and factories.” He also stated, “It gets hot, it gets cold, this spring has been freezing. It's not getting warmer, it seems like it's getting colder. Am I wrong?”
But Fox News pundits aren’t just defenders of teaching climate science denial; they’re also partially to blame for it, according to researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU). Last year, the SMU researchers released a study that found some children's textbooks that depict the reality of human-caused climate change with uncertainty are influenced by a climate science knowledge gap that finds its roots partly in conservative media misinformation. In particular, the SMU researchers pointed to previous research that showed Fox has disproportionately interviewed climate science deniers and that its viewers are more likely to be climate science deniers themselves.
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Following House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) announcement that he would no longer defend or campaign with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, right-wing media figures harshly criticized him and other Republicans, calling them “weasels,” and “weak, feckless, timid, spineless” Republicans.
As the first presidential debate approaches, media figures across the political spectrum are actively lowering the bar for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, both by setting lower standards themselves and by pushing the lower-standard narrative. Yet at the same time, many media figures are acknowledging that the press is employing a double standard in its treatment of Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Memo to the media: You cannot have it both ways on the double standard applied to presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
After NBC’s Commander in Chief Forum, reporters and pundits proclaimed that media have held the two presidential nominees to different standards of knowledge and conduct, yet these media figures have also perpetuated the double standard by excusing Trump’s behavior and applauding him any time he shows a veneer of conventionality.
Numerous media figures criticized Matt Lauer, host of the September 7 forum, for employing different questioning toward Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Lauer allowed Trump to lie about opposing the Iraq war, yet he used eight of his first nine questions for Clinton to grill her over her emails. Several media figures said Lauer’s line of questioning embodied the “double standard” that reporters across the board use to analyze the two candidates.
Despite all this commentary, media figures have consistently perpetuated the double standard, holding Trump to a lower bar than they do Clinton in terms of behavioral and ethical conduct -- and in measures of veracity. Most recently, when a report came out that Trump paid a fine to the IRS for making an illegal $25,000 donation to the 2013 re-election campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, broadcast news networks devoted a third as much as time to the matter as they provided to a flawed Associated Press story on the Clinton Foundation that proved no ethics breaches.
Media figures have previously repeatedly pardoned Trump’s widely criticized rhetoric, policy flip-flops, and divisive comments because he’s “not a politician” and is “learning as he goes”:
Media have also absurdly applauded Trump any time he has appeared to assume even the slightest veneer of conventional, tempered behavior:
Now that political media have admitted their own shortcomings in the cautionary tale of Lauer, will they level the playing field between Clinton and Trump?
Researcher Tyler Cherry contributed research to this post.
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Media are attempting to scandalize a report from The Associated Press that revealed that “[m]ore than half the people outside the government who met with now-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money ... to the Clinton Foundation,” calling the report “breathtaking” and “disturbing,” because it “looks bad,” and the “optics” and “perceptions” are problematic, despite the fact that their programs also note that “it wasn’t illegal,” and there was no quid pro quo. The focus on the “optics” of the situation rather than the facts has led some in media to criticize the reporting, and explain that “consumers of the media [should] think twice about whether or not the narrative” media are pushing “fits ALL of the facts.”
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Media Note Cruz “Body Slammed” Trump’s Convention And “Ruined” The Night
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.
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