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A version of this post was originally published on Grist.
The media spent a ton of time in 2017 puzzling over whether Donald Trump thinks climate change is real. That was a ton of time wasted. His stance has long been clear, thanks to more than a hundred tweets and loads of comments dismissing or denying climate change.
The fact that Trump has called global warming a "hoax" was mentioned in nearly a quarter of all segments about climate change on the nightly news and Sunday morning programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC in 2017 -- and in more than a third of those instances, the networks didn't push back by affirming that human-driven climate change is a reality. Network journalists did numerous interviews asking Trump administration officials for clarity on the president's stance. And outlets from Time to CNN cited the hoax claim and tried to make sense of Trump's nonsensical climate views.
This misfire by mainstream media follows on the heels of a different sort of failure in 2016. That year, broadcast networks spent way too little time on climate change overall and completely failed to report during the campaign on what a Trump win would mean for climate change.
Now the networks are covering climate change but squandering too much of that coverage in trying to read Trump's Fox-addled mind and divine whether he accepts climate science. That's crowding out reporting on other, more critical climate-related news, from how the Trump administration is aggressively dismantling climate protections to how climate change makes hurricanes and wildfires more dangerous.
It’s bad enough that outlets waste all this time on old news about Trump’s climate views. What makes it even worse is that they too often get the story wrong.
Consider this example: Last June, Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, did the rounds on TV news to defend her boss' decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. When asked to clarify Trump's views on climate change, she said more than once that he "believes the climate is changing” and "he believes pollutants are part of that equation."
Haley was employing Republicans' favorite obfuscation technique on climate change -- what savvy observers call "lukewarm" climate denial. The obfuscators try to sound reasonable by admitting that the climate is changing, but then get all squishy about why it's changing or how it will play out or what we could possibly do about it. (In fact, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of climate change, a fact that U.S. government experts again confirmed just three months ago.) You’d think that journalists who've been covering national politics would be thoroughly familiar with this gambit by now. Trump nominees made liberal use of it during confirmation hearings last year, and other Republicans have been employing it for longer still.
But ABC News completely fumbled the story. Splashing the words "BREAKING NEWS" and "CLIMATE CHANGE FLIP" across the screen, ABC's World News Tonight made Haley's comments seem like big deal in a June 3 segment:
Anchor Tom Llamas reported that her remarks represented a "dramatic switch" and "major concession" with "the administration saying the president does believe that the climate is changing." Correspondent Gloria Riviera described Haley's remarks as "a stunning reversal."
There was no reversal. There was just a stunning incident of ABC falling for Trump administration spin.
Other networks and outlets have made similar mistakes, failing to properly identify the Trump team's lukewarm climate denial and put comments in context. Like when The Associated Press declared, "Trump changes his tune on climate change," though in fact he had done no such thing, as Grist pointed out at the time.
Instead of continuing to fixate on (and misreport) Trump's personal views about climate change, journalists should be taking the story to the next level with more reporting on the consequences of having a president who disregards climate science and opposes climate action. Those consequences include: policies that encourage dirty energy instead of clean energy; less innovation; fewer jobs in renewables and energy efficiency; diminished national security; more destructive storms and dangerous wildfires, and communities that are less prepared to cope with them.
Topics like these got dramatically less coverage last year than they deserved, at least in part because so much climate reporting was centered on Trump. A new Media Matters analysis found that when corporate broadcast TV news programs reported on climate change last year, they spent 79 percent of the time on statements or actions by the Trump administration -- and even that included little coverage of efforts to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other climate regulations. Issues like how climate change affects the economy or public health got even less attention. And in a year when hurricanes and other forms of extreme weather hammered the U.S., the networks hardly ever mentioned climate change in their coverage of those disasters.
Rather than trying to analyze Trump's well-established refusal to accept climate science, media should be telling stories of how climate change is happening here and now, how it’s affecting real people, and how the EPA and other agencies are ripping up climate regulations. When they chase Trump around and let him set the agenda, the hoax is on all of us.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an extensive history of attacking the media, and his campaign and supporters have joined in the fight throughout the election. The nominee, his surrogates, and his supporters have called media outlets and reporters across the spectrum “dishonest,” “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time,” and until recently, the campaign had a media blacklist of outlets that weren’t allowed into campaign events.
ABC’s Tom Llamas failed to fact-check Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s lies that his father loaned him a “small amount of money” to start his business and that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s statement that the loan from Trump’s father was actually $14 million was “wrong.” Indeed, “Clinton is right about Trump’s … $14 million loan,” according to Politico.
During the September 26 presidential debate, Clinton claimed that Trump “started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father.” Trump responded that Clinton was wrong, saying, “My father gave me a very small loan in 1975 and I built it into a company that's worth many, many billions of dollars.”
A real-time Politico fact check found Clinton’s claim to be true. Politico linked to The Wall Street Journal, which “tracked down a 1985 casino-license disclosure that showed Trump’s father lent him $14 million.”
Yet when Llamas interviewed Trump after the debate, he let Trump falsely claim that “the number [that Clinton said during the debate] was actually the wrong number”:
TOM LLAMAS: Mr. Trump, [Hillary Clinton] attacked that loan you got, received from your father and then she also attacked some of the things you said about women. Do you feel that was fair for this presidential debate or were those cheap shots?
DONALD TRUMP: I thought it was very cheap. You know, first of all, my father gave me a very small amount of money, relative to what I built. I built a massive company and a great company. But I learned so much from my father. I learned tremendous from my father Fred, who was my best friend. But the number was actually the wrong number, number one, and number two -- and it wasn't -- even that wasn't a big number compared to what I did. But I thought that was fair, except the number was wrong.
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.
In reporting on the moderators for the 2016 presidential debates, La Opinión pointed out that the selection for the “political show of the century” includes “zero Latinos” “despite immigrants and Mexicans in particular becoming a central theme of the campaign” and noted the ways a Latino moderator would have been “very positive” for both the Latino community and the debate.
The September 7 article reported that “in the diverse panel of the five selected journalists there are women, an Asian[-American], an African-American … and zero Latinos” and highlighted the backlash this selection inspired among prominent Latinos in the media such as the president of Univision Randy Falco, who “sent a letter to the [Commission of Presidential Debates] indicating his ‘disappointment’ with the lack of Latinos.” The article highlighted Falco’s disapproval with the commission’s failure to take into account “demographic patterns and the important role that Latinos play in the economy and socially” and quoted others who underscored the significance of lifting up Latino journalists.
This “disappointing” moderator selection comes after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump launched his most recent attempt to shield himself from scrutiny by conditioning the moderator selection with unfounded predictions of bias. Trump has been critical of Latinos for possible bias, citing his promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border as a reason that could compromise the neutrality a judge of Hispanic heritage. Translated from the September 7 article in La Opinión:
There are some who say that it is not a relevant criterion in the selection of moderators for the important presidential debates, but the truth is that in the diverse panel of the five selected journalists there are women, an Asian, an African-American … and zero Latinos.
In a little more than two weeks, the world will watch for the first time the presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off on the same stage in the first of three presidential debates that are promising to become the “political show of the century.”
Nonetheless, and despite immigrants and Mexicans in particular becoming a central theme of the campaign, mainly that of Republican [presidential nominee] Trump, none of the debates will be moderated by a journalist of Latino origin.
By that calculation, there are two women, one African-American (Holt is part Jamaican), and one Asian[-American]. [There are] [z]ero Latinos or Mexican blood or from any other place in Latin America.
The decision was not taken generously by the president of Univision Randy Falco who sent a letter to the commission indicating his “disappointment” with the lack of Latinos in the debate panels. Falco pointed out in the letter that “taking into account the demographic patterns and the important role that Latinos play in the economy and socially in this nation.”
Falco accused the commission of “abdicating its responsibility to represent the largest and most influential communities in the country.”
Stephen Nuño, associate professor of political science at Northern Arizona University, said that the presidential debates are something “very symbolic and important” in the electoral contest. “I think the most disappointing part is that it seems like the representation of minorities and women is not taken into account as one of the parameters.”
During the multiple debates that took place in the primaries, there were few Latinos asking questions, like José Diaz Balart, who represented Telemundo in its sister channel NBC’s debate and a debate organized by a Spanish-language network, Univision, of the democratic candidates, but not of Republicans.
[Jorge] Ramos, of Univision, recently said that there are many Latino journalists on television that could have done the honors besides him, including his colleague María Elena Salinas, Díaz Balart, of Telemundo, Tom Llamas y Cecilia Vega of ABC or María Hinojosa of NPR.
From the August 31 edition of ABC's World News Tonight with David Muir:
JONATHAN KARL: Today, standing next to the president of Mexico, Donald Trump ditched a year's worth of tough talk.
DONALD TRUMP: This has been a tremendous honor and I call you a friend.
KARL: That's a huge departure from day one of his campaign.
TRUMP: They are not our friend, believe me.
KARL: Accusing Mexico of funneling undocumented immigrants across the border.
TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they aren't sending their best. They are bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists.
KARL: Today, I asked Trump if he stands by those words. Mr. Trump, over the course of this campaign, do you regret some of the things that you have said about Mexico or Mexicans and want to take them back?
TRUMP: A lot of the things I said are very strong, but we have to be strong. We have to say what's happening. There is crime, as you know, there is a lot of crime and there are lot of problems. I really believe that the president and I will solve those problems.
KARL: And what of Trump's signature campaign promise? We all know by now who Trump wants to foot the bill.
KARL: Today I asked both men about that. And the wall? Is it a non-starter? Is there any chance Mexico pays for the wall?
TRUMP: We did discuss the wall, we did not discuss payment of the wall. That'll be for a later date. This was a very preliminary meeting.
KARL: President Enrique Peña Nieto extended the invitation to visit Mexico to Trump and Hillary Clinton just last Friday. Trump's decision to accept was a total surprise. When we touched down, his schedule was still up in the air. It's been a whirlwind. We didn't know until about midnight last night that Donald Trump would bring the presidential campaign here to Mexico City. Trump's harsh words have made him a pariah here in Mexico. Over the past year, protesters have burned him in effigy. Trump pinatas doing a brisk business. Peña Nieto himself has compared Trump to Hitler and Mussolini. But today, he soft-pedaled too, emphasizing that Mexico will cooperate with whomever wins the election.
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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.
For months, media have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was beginning to “pivot” to become a more “serious-sounding candidate” whenever he appeared to begin using “a more subdued tone” or briefly refrained from insulting his opponents.
Broadcast nightly and morning news shows on major networks mentioned or showed a video released by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign featuring former Trump University students defending and praising the real estate seminar business in the wake of ongoing fraud lawsuits. However, the shows failed to mention in their coverage of the video that these former students have undisclosed personal and business ties to Trump.
Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.
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