Stephanie Ruhle | Media Matters for America

Stephanie Ruhle

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  • This is how TV news ought to be covering the death of net neutrality

    Don’t give in to the spin, stick to the facts, and provide viewers with some sense of the stakes

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: As expected, the commissioners of the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to rescind the net neutrality protections instituted by the agency in February 2015. Internet advocacy groups responded to the vote by announcing legal challenges.

    Broadcast and cable news programs have been largely silent on the topic of net neutrality in the weeks since the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicated its intention to rescind Obama-era consumer protections codifying a free and open internet. With the FCC set to begin deconstructing those regulations today, news coverage must provide viewers with enough context to make clear the stakes of this dramatic policy shift.

    The FCC’s commissioners, a majority of whom are Republican appointees, are expected to vote “along party lines to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules” during its December 14 meeting, marking “a huge victory for the big internet service providers” who have sought to dismantle the consumer protections governing how customers and content-providers interact online. According to a December 12 report from Reuters, three major net neutrality advocates -- Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and Free Press -- have given up attempting to convince Republican-appointed FCC commissioners to reconsider their decision and, with little reason to expect a legislative solution from an unproductive Republican majority in Congress, are “preparing to turn to litigation as a last resort.” Another major net neutrality advocacy group, the Internet Association -- which represents technology giants and content providers like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft -- is also weighing possible legal challenges to the FCC’s ruling, according to the report.

    The FCC’s Trump-appointed chairman, Ajit Pai, spent the days leading up to the December 14 vote doing a tour of friendly conservative media outlets to promote his anti-neutrality agenda without facing any pushback from consumer advocates and regulatory experts. Chairman Pai argued that his move to install a so-called “light touch” regulatory framework is just a return to the way the internet worked pre-2015, never mentioning that net neutrality was instituted that year in response to worries that the free and open internet Americans had come to rely on might soon disappear. (Pai’s right-wing media blitz neglected to mention his previous work on behalf of Verizon, one of the telecommunications conglomerates pushing to unwind net neutrality.)

    Broadcast and cable news programs, which Media Matters demonstrated have been conspicuously absent from net neutrality discussions, need to emphasize for their audience what is at stake in the ongoing net neutrality fight. Despite the overall inadequate coverage, there have been several examples over the past month demonstrating how news programs can inform viewers, advance the discussion, and give time to expert perspectives.

    On the December 13 edition of MSNBC Live, host Stephanie Ruhle brought on guest Jeff Jarvis who said that  rescinding net neutrality would “enable the oligopoly of cable and telephone” to control content on the internet while showcasing Pai's inconsistent approach to regulating the service providers he is aligned with and content producers who might not share his political perspective. Two weeks earlier, during the November 23 edition of MSNBC Live, host Ali Velshi and tech entrepreneur Michael Fertik engaged in a similarly fruitful discussion that provided viewers with specific examples of how telecommunications companies might take advantage of consumers in a world without mandatory net neutrality:

    During the November 26 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter and New York Times reporter David Gelles also delved into the net neutrality debate, and again stressed the ideological inconsistency of the Trump administration’s position. Gelles pointed out that Trump’s threat to block a proposed media merger by citing concerns about competition and consumer choice was directly at odds with his FCC chairman’s decision to entrust the same media titans as caretakers of the free and open internet:

    Consumer advocates have long been concerned that an internet unprotected by net neutrality could devolve into a maze of predatory and expensive consumer traps similar to what we see in countries without net neutrality, which do not provide consumers with the same protections Americans benefit from today. The Republican-led FCC has already demonstrated that it plans to use its time during the Trump era empowering corporate interests, fighting for right-wing pet priorities, and ignoring American consumers. Mainstream news outlets need to start making that story clear.

  • Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle unleash a torrential debunking of a GOP congressman's tax policy lies

    This is exactly how journalists need to treat the Republicans’ messaging nonsense on their giveaway to the rich

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    MSNBC hosts Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle thoroughly debunked conservative talking points about the Republican Party’s pro-corporate tax policy during an interview with an ill-prepared member of Congress, who was attempting to build support for his party’s proposed tax changes that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy.

    During the December 4 edition of MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, Velshi presented a detailed outline of the many ways in which Republican tax bills in the House and Senate will fall short of GOP promises and commitments. Velshi noted that numerous independent analyses have shown the GOP plans will add upwards of $1 trillion to the national debt, and pointed out that despite “huge changes made to our tax code … we’ve seen no observable shift to long-term growth rates in the last 150 years.” Velshi also pointed to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which found that none of the 42 leading economists surveyed believe the plans will be able to boost economic growth rates by enough to make up for lost revenue. He concluded the segment by pointing to a recently-released Goldman Sachs analysis of the Senate tax bill, which concluded that economic growth stemming from the tax bill will be lower than Republicans have claimed, and, as Velshi stated, “possibly even … negative” after a few years:

    Immediately after outlining all the problems in the GOP tax plans, MSNBC invited Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) on the program and gave him an opportunity to defend his party’s policy priorities. Stewart’s performance did not go as he might have anticipated, with co-hosts Velshi and Ruhle taking turns debunking GOP talking points and pillorying Stewart’s excuses for the tax plan.

    The co-hosts rebuffed Stewart’s repeated assertions that tax cuts for profitable corporations and wealthy individuals will boost economic growth (a 2012 Congressional Research Service study found no correlation between income tax rates and economic growth, and a 2014 study from the Brookings Institution argued the relationship between tax cuts and growth was “theoretically uncertain”), they corrected his false claim that the United States has the world’s highest corporate taxes (effective corporate rates are the same as other developed countries), and they called out his false claim that “the American people want us to do this” (the GOP tax plans are actually extremely unpopular). When Stewart claimed the GOP plans are effective in simplifying the tax code, Ruhle challenged him over and over to name a single corporate loophole that is being removed (he couldn’t), and both co-hosts stung Stewart over how Republican plans fail to address the so-called “carried interest” loophole, which helps extremely high-income individuals avoid paying taxes on some of their income.

    By the end of his nearly 11-minute grilling, Stewart was actually defending the discredited theory of “trickle-down economics” by name, which Velshi correctly noted was such a disaster in Kansas that the state’s Republican-dominated legislature had to abandon their conservative tax agenda.

    This takedown from Velshi and Ruhle is not the first time the MSNBC duo has discredited the GOP’s hollow economic message. Both Velshi and Ruhle have spent considerable time over the past several months pointing out that the Republican agenda favors wealthy individuals, profitable corporations, and the Trump family at the expense of lower- and middle-income Americans. This important work in correcting purposeful misinformation about the GOP's right-wing agenda is all the more important as Republican lawmakers prepare to enact tax policy changes that could affect millions of Americans for years to come.

  • CNN and MSNBC highlighted Trump's selective outrage about sexual assault while Fox News defended him

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    During the 11 a.m. hour of news shows on CNN and MSNBC, hosts highlighted President Donald Trump’s selective outrage about recent reports of sexual assault by politicians amid long-standing accusations against him. Meanwhile, Fox News used the same hour to defend Trump’s failure to comment on accusations against Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, despite the president’s statements about Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who is also facing a report of sexual harassment.

    After a report came out Thursday in which a woman said Franken sexually assaulted her and showed photographic proof, Trump was quick to condemn the Democrat, calling the photo of Franken groping the accuser “really bad” on Twitter. But both Trump and his press secretary have avoided commenting on the allegations against Moore, even though the White House has said Trump supports the Republican National Committee’s decision to pull financial support from Moore.

    While Fox News defended Trump’s silence on Moore, CNN and MSNBC, in particular, reminded their viewers of Trump’s own past reported behavior by detailing the numerous sexual assault reports that he faces, his repeated denial of the allegations, and his attacks on the women who have come forward. 

    From the November 17 edition of MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle:

    STEPHANIE RUHLE (CO-HOST): Now let's look back at some of the women who have come forward with allegations against President Trump leading up to the election. We'll start with former Miss Finland, Ninni Laaksonen, who told a Finnish newspaper that Trump groped her before an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman back in 2006. Then there's Jessica Drake. She said Trump invited her to his hotel room and tried to kiss her and her friends without permission. She claims he later offered her 10,000 bucks and a chance to use his private jet if she went to dinner with him. Karen Virginia said Trump walked up, grabbed her arm, and then touched the inside of her breast at the 1998 U.S. Open. Cathy Heller told The Guardian some 20 years ago Trump grabbed her, tried to kiss her, and grew angry when she twisted away. Summer Zervos claimed Trump groped her in 2007. She brought a defamation suit against him after he called her and other accusers "liars." Kristin Anderson described an incident to The Washington Post where a finger slid under her miniskirt, moved up her inner thigh, and touched her vagina through her underwear at a crowded Manhattan night spot in the '90s. She fled the area and turned to take a look at the man who did it. Anderson said she recognized him. It was Donald Trump. Jessica Leeds told The New York Times she was on a plane with Trump in the early '80s when he grabbed her breasts and reached his hand up her skirt. Rachel Crooks told The New York Times she was assaulted by Trump in an elevator in Trump Tower in 2005. Mindy McGillivray told The Palm Beach Post Trump groped her while she was attending a concert at Mar-a-Lago in 2003. Natasha Stoynoff wrote in People magazine that Trump pushed her against a wall and jammed his tongue down her throat at Mar-a-Lago in what is now seeming a busy 2005. Jennifer Murphy, another contestant on The Apprentice, told a fashion magazine Trump kissed her on the lips after a job interview in 2005. Yahoo News reported Cassandra Searles wrote in a Facebook comment that Trump grabbed her butt and invited her to his hotel room. Former Miss Utah Temple Taggart told The New York Times Trump kissed her directly on the lips the first time she met him back in '97. Jill Harth alleged in The New York Times Trump pushed her against a wall, tried to kiss her, put his hands up her skirt, and touched her crotch at a dinner one night.

    And, finally -- and I need to take a drink on this one, I'm so tired from all of these -- the multiple reports from beauty pageant contestants in a BuzzFeed article, including -- wait for it -- teen beauty pageant contestants -- alleging that Donald Trump had walked in on them while he was changing -- they were changing, excuse me. So how did the president respond to all of these allegations? Let's remember. All of them, a huge amount of allegations. He called some of them, quote, "vicious claims and totally and absolutely false" at a rally one month before the 2016 election. 

    From the November 17 edition of CNN's At This Hour with Kate Bolduan:

    KATE BOLDUAN (HOST): So can we get real for a moment? This is no longer a ‘Can you believe the president said that?’ kind of a moment. This has officially become a ‘The president doesn't get to do this’ moment. He doesn't get to question [Sen.] Al Franken [(D-MN)] and stay silent on Roy Moore. And no one should allow it. It's playing politics with a discussion that should rise above that. So no, Mr. President, join the full conversation going on around you, or don't -- you don't get to be part of any of it. Is the concern over there really about being dragged into the topic of sexual assault and harassment once again? Too bad. That should have been considered in how you responded to your accusers during the campaign. And that should have been considered before your campaign brought Bill Clinton's accusers to one of the presidential debates. So, too bad. You don't get to pick and choose when this issue matters and when it doesn't. You don't.

    From the November 17 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:

    JULIE BANDERAS (CO-HOST): OK, but, Katie, let's not forget, President Trump originally did support [Sen.] Luther Strange [(R-AL)] in the special election, while [Breitbart chairman] Steve Bannon backed [Republican Senate candidate Roy] Moore. And so far President Trump has refused to comment on Moore. But you have to understand that politics are going to play a role here. I mean, maybe he's waiting for, perhaps, the local GOP in Alabama to come up with another candidate. Could that be the reason why President Trump is trying to stay out of this? Because a lot is riding on the GOP not to screw it up in Alabama.

  • Fox News has ignored Whitefish’s $300 million no-bid contract to help restore power in Puerto Rico

    Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC have each aired 15 segments on the contract

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    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.

    Reports detail controversial $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy, a two-person Montana firm, to help restore power in Puerto Rico

    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."

    Whitefish Energy has connections to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Trump campaign donor

    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.

    Fox News has yet to cover Whitefish story, while Fox Business hosted Whitefish spokesman to defend the contract

    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 Business has a track record of uncritically providing a platform for companies to respond to negative press coverage.

    CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 30 segments on the Whitefish contract

    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.

  • MSNBC hosts offer a perfect cable news template for covering Trump’s tax cut charade

    Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle dismantle arguments that Trump plan will benefit the economy

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In response to the release of a new Republican tax proposal, three consecutive segments hosted by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle offered a perfect example of how cable news ought to cover President Donald Trump’s tax agenda.

    The September 27 edition of MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle opened with the co-hosts breaking down the entire Trump tax cut plan. Velshi argued that proposed income tax changes were “a little smoke and mirrors” and would have no “meaningful effect on prosperity” for most Americans, additionally explaining how Trump’s proposal to eliminate the estate and alternative minimum taxes -- which would result in massive tax giveaways to the Trump family -- “is a boon for the wealthy.”

    When Velshi explained Trump’s proposal to cut corporate tax rates, Ruhle interjected that Trump’s own companies (along with “law firms and hedge funds”) would benefit from the changes. Velshi concluded that the plan “overwhelmingly supports those who are higher earners” while Ruhle argued it is simply “disingenuous” to claim the middle class would benefit from Trump’s plan:

    The hosts then brought in CNBC correspondent John Harwood to discuss the tax plan, where he, too, stressed that the Trump plan “is simply not a tax proposal that is geared toward the middle class” and reminded viewers that Trump’s strategy resembles the failed tax cuts enacted by President George W. Bush. Obama administration press secretary Josh Earnest joined the conversation, concluding the segment by noting that none of Trump’s rally goers are motivated by reduced taxes for the rich and corporations:

    After thoroughly dismantling the Trump administration’s tax agenda, the program turned to conservative policy analyst Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), who also noted that the plan, as it stands today, would be unlikely to fulfill Trump’s promises of increased economic growth and would end up adding to federal budget deficits. At the end of the segment, Earnest once again noted the “internal inconsistency” at play when Trump, after recently arguing the rich don’t need a tax cut, proposes a plan that gives them one: