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  • It’s time for a reckoning for journalists who boosted false narratives about Donald Trump’s LGBTQ policy positions

    Audiences were repeatedly told that he was pro-LGBTQ. He’s been nothing but a nightmare.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s an understatement to say that LGBTQ rights in the U.S. haven’t exactly flourished under President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

    Upon taking office, Trump and his team ordered the removal of references to LGBTQ issues from a number of federal websites. By the second month, the departments of Education and Justice had officially rescinded Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students from discrimination. Six months in, Trump shocked the country by casually tweeting his intention to reinstitute a ban on trans people in the military and having the DOJ issue an updated interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 saying it is legal to fire someone for being gay or trans.

    Those are just a few examples of the many, many anti-LGBTQ actions that Trump has carried out since taking office. According to GLAAD, an LGBTQ media watchdog group, the Trump administration has launched 114 attacks on LGBTQ people thus far. Some actions are petty but not actively harmful, such as not officially proclaiming June to be LGBTQ Pride Month while still extending that recognition to Great Outdoors Month, National Homeownership Month, and National Ocean Month. However, other actions could put lives at risk, such as the appointment of anti-LGBTQ lawyers to lifetime federal judgeships and issuing rules allowing discrimination against trans people in public housing and health care.

    Some media outlets seemed caught off guard by the barrage of anti-LGBTQ actions. They shouldn’t have been.

    Last month, The Washington Post reported that the candidate “who cast himself as pro-LGBT” had become the community’s “worst enemy” in the eyes of activists and allies. And the Post was far from alone in reporting that Trump’s recent actions are a departure from his pro-LGBTQ campaign -- a campaign that never actually existed. These reports place blame on Trump for failing to make good on promises he never made. The truth is that too much of the press ignored what he said he would actually do.

    To understand where the narrative suggesting that Trump would be a pro-LGBTQ president originated, look back to his April 21, 2016, appearance on NBC’s Today.

    Co-host Willie Geist asked the candidate a viewer question from Twitter about specific ways he would be LGBTQ-inclusive as president and about a recently enacted North Carolina law that legalized discrimination against trans people and banned them from many public restrooms. Trump responded by saying that the law wasn’t worth the “economic punishment” brought on by backlash. Then co-host Matt Lauer followed up, asking Trump a question about whether he’d “be fine” with trans TV personality Caitlyn Jenner using the women’s restroom in Trump Tower.

    “That is correct,” answered Trump.

    Nothing in Trump’s answers actually addressed how he would be “inclusive” of LGBTQ people as president. In talking about the North Carolina law, he said that he opposed it because it was hurting businesses, not because it was hurting the people actually being discriminated against. This position in itself is a sort of middle ground between government-mandated anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the position of the Obama administration, which was that anti-LGBTQ discrimination should be illegal. And it would still be a step backward for LGBTQ rights. On the topic of Caitlyn Jenner, it was already New York City law that she had to be allowed to use the women’s restroom; Trump being “fine” with that was as unspectacular as if he’d said he was “fine” with cars stopping at red lights.

    As unremarkable as they were, both answers earned Trump some quick praise from mainstream journalists.

    An April 22, 2016, article in The New York Times headlined “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.” picked up where the Today interview left off. It cited a Trump blog post from a decade earlier congratulating Elton John and David Furnish on their civil partnership, his support for HIV/AIDS charities in the ’80s and ’90s, and his appearance alongside former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a video in which Giuliani dressed in drag as evidence that Trump “is far more accepting of sexual minorities than his party’s leaders have been.” In contrast, Trump’s opposition to marriage equality and his “recent alliances with social conservatives such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Pat Robertson” were treated as minor footnotes.

    That night on NBC Nightly News, correspondent Hallie Jackson said that “Trump is considered one of the more LGBT-friendly Republican candidates” and highlighted his Today Show comments. The April 24 edition of Meet The Press featured a segment on Trump’s Today Show comments and the reactions they provoked both from his primary challenger (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released an ad saying that Trump wasn’t anti-trans enough) as well as his likely general election opponent (the Hillary Clinton campaign pointed to the Today Show comments as an example of Trump’s inconsistency). During that segment, a banner appeared on screen reading: “Trump Campaign: More Accepting On ‘Bathroom Laws.’”

    Trump got additional positive coverage on the topic after the Pulse shooting, his speech at the Republican National Convention, and a moment at a rally when he held a gay pride flag.

    On June 14, 2016, Trump tweeted, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” The tweet was one of several empty platitudes Trump offered to LGBTQ Americans following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, and at first glance, it might look like a sign of support. Upon closer reading, it’s clear that when he said “fight for you,” he wasn’t referring to fighting for LGBTQ civil rights at home. Instead, Trump’s statement used the community as yet another justification for his anti-Muslim immigration proposals. In his first speech following the Pulse attack, Trump claimed that he was a “friend of women and the LGBT community” because unlike Clinton, he would not “allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country,” saying “they enslave women, and murder gays.”

    In response, ABC’s Jonathan Karl called Trump “the most pro-gay rights Republican presidential candidate that we have ever seen.” Politico’s Kyle Cheney framed the bizarre, uncomfortable speech following the Pulse nightclub massacre as evidence of a pro-LGBTQ position, writing that Trump brought a “welcoming tone toward LGBT Americans” and that “in Trump, pro-gay rights Republicans see a new hope.”

    Trump won kudos again the following month during his speech at the Republican National Convention, when he said, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” Again, this wasn’t a promise to support LGBTQ rights, but a promise to physically “protect” LGBTQ people from what he considered a “hateful foreign ideology” -- Islam.

    Following Trump’s convention speech, many mainstream journalists fell into the Trump-as-LGBTQ-ally trap, reinforcing the myth that he’d be good for LGBTQ people as a whole. Sometimes, as was the case in an Associated Press write-up headlined “Making GOP history, Trump vows to protect LGBTQ community,” important context (in this case, what he was suggesting when he said “protect”) was left out:

    With five letters, Donald Trump brushed off decades of Republican reluctance to voice full-throated support for gay rights — at least for a night.

    Trump’s call in his speech to the Republican National Convention for protecting the “LGBTQ community” was a watershed moment for the Republican Party — the first time the issue has been elevated in a GOP nomination address. Four years ago, Mitt Romney never uttered the word “gay,” much less the full acronym — standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning.

    But Trump, as if to drive the point home, said it not once, but twice.

    Nowhere in Trump’s convention speech -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- did he so much as mention “gay rights,” let alone “voice full-throated support” for them. You wouldn’t have gotten that impression from many journalists, though.

    Fox News’ John Roberts said Trump had “become a champion for the cause” of LGBTQ people. CBS News’ John Dickerson said, “It’s extraordinary the distance the Republican Party has traveled” on LGBTQ issues. On MSNBC, Mark Halperin said, “In the history of the Republican Party and gay rights, last night was one of the biggest days ever.”

    In October 2016, Trump stood on stage at a Colorado campaign stop and briefly held a Pride flag with the words “LGBTs for Trump” scrawled across the front, handed to him from the audience. While few would cite photos of Trump holding signs that say “Women for Trump” or “Blacks for Trump” as evidence that he would be good for women or people of color, the moment with the flag has been occasionally referenced as an example of his supposed support for LGBTQ people.

    All of this praise was based on a falsehood, and LGBTQ people are going to pay the price.

    One of the earliest signs that Trump would be an LGBTQ adversary came in December 2015, when the then-candidate went on record in support of the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would have codified a federal right to discriminate against LGBTQ people into law so long as it was done on the basis of one’s religious beliefs. The deceptively named bill was introduced that summer in response to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision as the best chance for anti-gay politicians to undermine the ruling’s effects at the federal level. If it had become law, it would have had devastating effects and wreaked havoc on state and local nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

    “If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signature and enactment,” Trump wrote in a response to the American Principles Project request that he make enacting FADA a priority within his hypothetical administration’s first 100 days. Though he stopped short of committing to it as his own priority, anti-LGBTQ activist Maggie Gallagher called his reply “big news and good news.”

    During the January 31, 2016, edition of Fox News’ Fox News Sunday, Trump reaffirmed that he still opposed marriage equality and would “strongly consider” appointing Supreme Court justices to reverse the court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a decision establishing the right for same-sex couples to marry. The following month, during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, Trump was asked whether evangelicals could trust him on “traditional marriage,” to which he immediately responded, “I think they can trust me. They can trust me on traditional marriage.” On Twitter, Trump called Ted Cruz a “liar” for suggesting that he and Marco Rubio secretly supported marriage equality.

    In April 2016, on the same day as his Today appearance, he walked back his mild opposition to North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law during an interview on Hannity. Stunningly, the walk-back wasn’t included in the New York Times article or NBC News segments that followed, which lauded him for his more moderate position. By July, he had come out in full support of the law.

    Even his supposedly pro-LGBTQ convention speech was a sham. As Sean Spicer would later reveal in his post-White House memoir, the inclusion of any mention of LGBTQ people at all in Trump’s convention speech was a concession made to convince one Republican National Committee delegate to remove his name from a “Never Trump” petition. The truth is that the 2016 Republican Party platform released during the convention was called the “most overtly anti-LGBTQ platform in history” by the Human Rights Campaign. Even Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo echoed that message, adding, “Opposition to marriage equality, nonsense about bathrooms, an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of ‘pray the gay away’ -- it's all in there.”

    Even if journalists didn’t see through the use of LGBTQ people as props in his speech to advance anti-immigration policies, it’s hard to understand how the narrative of Trump as an LGBTQ-inclusive candidate continued after he selected Mike Pence as his running mate and stood with the extremist policies outlined in the platform.

    Contrary to what the Times reported that April, there wasn’t any reason to believe anything “set him apart” in the Republican field. Sure, candidates like Cruz, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry were more overtly anti-LGBTQ, but practically speaking, they held nearly identical policy views. Even if there was space to argue that the other candidates were more clearly anti-LGBTQ than Trump, reporting that is misleading if it lacks the context that he’s still far from an ally.

    During an October 3, 2016, event with a veterans group, Trump was asked what he would do “about the social engineering and political correctness that’s been imposed upon our military,” a reference to Obama-era decisions around trans inclusion and women participating in combat.

    “We’re gonna get away from political correctness,” Trump responded. A Nexis search for TV news transcripts including the words “transgender” and “military” in the week following Trump’s statement turned up zero references to the comments.

    On July 26, 2017, he announced a ban on trans people serving “in any capacity in the U.S. military.” The decision appeared to come out of absolutely nowhere, but in fact, he was making good on a campaign promise.

    Trump has been a disaster for LGBTQ people in the U.S. As we approach the 2020 election, it is imperative that journalists shine an honest light on this issue.

    In May, the departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development announced new anti-trans policies and Axios reported on HHS’ intent to release a formal policy rolling back nondiscrimination rules in adoption, allowing federally funded adoption and foster agencies to refuse same-sex couples if they choose. Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of these administration moves and found that during a 10-day period while these policies were being reported on, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and cable news network MSNBC made no mention of these changes. CNN and Fox News devoted minimal coverage to the topic. These are major policies that will affect the lives of millions of Americans, but they barely made a blip on the TV news radar. If you weren’t specifically looking for news on the state of LGBTQ rights, you may not be aware of just how many ways those protections have changed for the worse during Trump’s administration.

    An alarming number of headlines still get the issue completely wrong -- and that doesn’t bode well for 2020 coverage. A recent article in The New York Times about a May 31 Trump tweet was headlined “Trump’s Celebration of L.G.B.T. Rights Is Met With Criticism.” In fact, he did not offer any “celebration of LGBT rights” in his tweet. That tweet lauded “the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great nation,” but it said nothing of legal rights or protections. Headlines overstating what was said or inferring messages not actually stated reflect a continuing naiveté in the press. Not only that, but the article itself advances one of the administration’s favorite falsehoods, quoting Kellyanne Conway as saying, “He’s the first president to start as president for approving of gay marriage.”

    In fact, a 60 Minutes interview people often point to when defending that comment simply features Trump saying marriage equality is settled law and that he’s “fine with that.” When specifically asked if he supported marriage equality, he responded that it was “irrelevant” what he thought. Those are not the words of someone who is “approving of gay marriage.”

    Based on sheer quantity of anti-LGBTQ policies and political appointments, Trump is, arguably, one of the worst presidents on LGBTQ rights in the country’s history. He may have no personal problem with gay people. He may say he’s “fine” with a gay person being married. He may sell “Pride”-themed merchandise on his website. He may collaborate with Peter Thiel or appoint Richard Grenell to an ambassadorship. He may even sputter out the letters “LGBTQ” from time to time. None of this has anything to do with LGBTQ civil rights or legal protections at home.

    After the Pulse attack in 2016, Trump said reporters should “ask the gays” about LGBTQ rights in majority-Muslim countries and whether his anti-Muslim policy proposals made him a friend of the community. As 2020 coverage gets going, news organizations should do exactly that: talk to the broader LGBTQ community.

    Yes, there will always be some gay and bisexual Trump supporters, some hard-core conservative trans people, and a handful of lesbian libertarians. Whenever the Trump administration takes action against the community, a common impulse is for journalists to seek these supporters out for comment. Rarely, however, are these the people hurt most by these individual policies, and giving them a disproportionately large platform only obscures the actual damage any given policy can cause. Their continued support for Trump and the Republican Party doesn’t cancel out what harm the party and its leader will do. Rather, their support is often just a sign that there are other issues they care about more than legal protections or civil rights. In other words, the existence of LGBTQ Trump supporters does not tell us anything about the administration’s hostility when it comes to policies specific to this community. Journalists must remember this.

    What Trump said in a 2000 interview or what charities he supported in the 1980s aren’t relevant to the lives of LGBTQ Americans. What matter are the policies being implemented, the judges appointed, and laws championed -- right now. A July 2016 Pew Research survey found that 40% of voters said LGBTQ issues were “very important” in determining who to vote for. By not informing the public about what Trump said he would do, the press failed. It’s time for journalists to accept that Trump was not nearly as pro-LGBTQ as he was made out to be in the press and to contemplate what role they played in building the myth that he ever was.

  • ABC News spent more time on royal baby in one week than on climate crisis in one year

    Archie is seventh in line to the throne but first in headlines

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS & TED MACDONALD

    A version of this post was originally published by Grist.

    Here's media misconduct in a nutshell: ABC’s World News Tonight spent more than seven minutes reporting on the birth of royal baby Archie in the week after he was born -- more time than the program spent covering climate change during the entire year of 2018.

    Other major TV news outlets in the U.S. have also severely under-reported on climate change and yet found plenty of time to note the arrival of Archie, son of Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. Archie is now seventh in line to the British throne, which means he'll be a permanent tabloid fixture but is unlikely to ever be a king.

    On May 6, the day Archie was born, the United Nations released a summary of a major new report warning that human destruction of the natural world, including through climate change, now threatens up to a million species with extinction. That's dire news for our species too, as it also threatens our water supplies, food security, and health. The destruction of ecosystems and species “means grave impacts on people around the world are now likely,” the report warned. Robert Watson, head of the group of scientists that produced the report, laid it on the line: “What’s at stake here is a liveable world.”

    Yes, this extinction crisis is grim news, and many people like a little light fare mixed in with their headlines -- a report on a royal baby, if you’re into that kind of thing, or a sports recap, or a segment on disgruntled Game of Thrones fans. But when the light fare takes over and the real news is shut out, that’s beyond lopsided. We’ve got a problem.

    Media Matters tracked broadcast news coverage on May 6 and found that ABC and NBC's nightly news programs failed to even mention the U.N. biodiversity report. They did, however, air two segments each on Archie. CBS was the only national broadcast network that ran a segment on the biodiversity report that night, and of course it ran one on the baby, too.

    The perverse priorities of TV newscasters became even more obvious in the following days. Archie stayed in the news. Biodiversity and climate change stayed out of it.

    By May 12, the three national broadcast networks' nightly news shows had spent a total of 17 minutes and 56 seconds on baby Archie. The extinction report and climate change garnered a total of one minute and 21 seconds -- all of it in that single CBS segment on May 6.

    ABC's World News Tonight devoted the most time to the royal baby: seven minutes and 14 seconds over the week. Compare that to the six minutes and three seconds the program spent on climate change during the entirety of 2018. ABC typically lags behind its competitors in time spent covering climate change, as Media Matters has previously documented. ABC has devoted less airtime to the climate crisis than CBS and NBC every year since 2013 -- even though CBS and NBC don't have great track records themselves. Lest you think the old broadcast dinosaurs don’t matter anymore, their flagship nightly news programs are still attracting an average of 25 million viewers a night, including more than 5 million between the ages of 25 and 52.

    Within hours of Archie's birth, Vice's Derek Mead published a post headlined "Who’s Going to Tell the Royal Baby That Our Planet Is Unequivocally Dying?" It concluded, "Royal baby aside, the most important news of the day, the decade, our lives, is this: We have pushed the planet far past its limits, and we ignore that at our existential peril."

    Mead joins a small but growing group of journalists and citizens demanding that our media step it up and cover climate change like the looming existential crisis it is. As Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope wrote last month for the Columbia Journalism Review, “If American journalism doesn’t get the climate story right—and soon—no other story will matter.” The Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, and The Guardian are launching a Covering Climate Now project to spur the media into action. The disproportionate hullabaloo over the royal baby, juxtaposed with the near silence over the extinction crisis, shows exactly why we need it.

    Imagine if mainstream media covered climate change with anything near the fervor of a royal wedding or a royal birth. Weeks of high-pitched pieces anticipating the release of new climate action plans. Minute-by-minute coverage dissecting every aspect of new scientific reports. Splashy, in-depth profiles of the people leading new climate movements. Homepages and front pages dominated by the climate crisis and climate solutions, day after day. If we can imagine it, can we make it happen?

    Methodology

    Media Matters analyzed coverage from May 6 to May 12 on the major broadcast networks' nightly news programs: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News. We identified segments mentioning the U.N. biodiversity assessment by searching iQ media and Nexis for the terms (nature OR biodiversity OR extinction OR extinct OR climate OR species OR planet) AND (report OR study). We identified segments mentioning climate change by searching for the terms (climate change OR global warming). We identified segments mentioning the royal baby by searching for the terms (baby OR Archie).

    Image and charts by Melissa Joskow.

    Update (5/22/19): This piece has been updated with a new chart on ABC's coverage of the royal baby vs. coverage of climate change. 

  • ABC, CBS, and NBC completely failed to mention climate change in coverage of major Midwest floods

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a bomb cyclone triggered historic floods that devastated large swaths of the Midwest, the major broadcast TV networks completely failed to explain how climate change influences such aberrant and extreme weather. Media Matters’ analysis of coverage on the networks’ morning and evening news programs and Sunday morning political shows found that ABC, CBS, and NBC did not mention climate change or global warming once during their combined 28 segments reporting on the floods.

    The bomb cyclone and floods were right in line with climate scientists' projections

    A bomb cyclone of “historic proportions” began raging across the Midwest on March 13. It unleashed a torrent of wind, snow, and rain that caused unprecedented flooding in Nebraska as well as floods in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, resulting in at least four deaths and $3 billion in losses. The floods destroyed hundreds of homes and affected millions of acres of farmland. Unfortunately, these disastrous outcomes align with the projections of climate scientists, a number of whom explained how climate change plays a role both in worsening events like bomb cyclones and in creating the conditions for flooding of the sort that followed in the storm's wake.

    As climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State told MSNBC, "As the oceans warm up, there’s more moisture that’s available to these storms to turn into record rainfall. That’s what we saw with this bomb cyclone that was drawing on warm, moist Gulf air that led to extreme amounts of precipitation, both rain and snow. The snow then melted, and we got this extreme flooding." Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research also noted that the bomb cyclone was carrying large amounts of moisture from the Pacific to the Midwest and told Reuters that climate change played "a strong supporting role" in the resulting floods.

    The bomb cyclone may also have been aided by a fluctuating jet stream. A study published in March 2018 found that a rapidly warming Arctic is linked to very wavy, slow jet stream patterns that are strongly correlated to an increase in extreme and aberrant winter weather events such as bomb cyclones and nor’easters. As Climate Nexus noted in the wake of the recent bomb cyclone, "The polar jet was extremely wavy across the northern hemisphere, and is consistent with the unusual jet stream behavior expected due to Arctic warming."

    The flooding that followed the bomb cyclone was caused by a complex confluence of events that were also in line with scientists' projections about the consequences of climate change. As climate reporter E.A. Crunden wrote for ThinkProgress:

    The historic flooding is the result of rain coupled with a considerable amount of pre-existing water on the ground. February brought a record-setting 30 inches of snow to the state, which locked in several inches of water. With eastern Nebraska’s rivers already higher than usual following the state’s fifth-wettest season in 124 years, the bomb cyclone unleashed a mountain of water, submerging parts of the region.

    ...

    Connecting any one weather event to climate change is often impossible or incredibly challenging, but experts say the flooding is indicative of larger climate impacts. According to the government’s National Climate Assessment (NCA) released last fall, the Midwest is likely to see an uptick in flooding associated with global warming.

    Broadcast networks completely ignored how climate change affects bomb cyclones and flooding

    Media Matters analyzed coverage of the Midwest flooding from March 18 to 25 on the morning and evening news programs and Sunday morning political shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC and found that none of their coverage mentioned climate change. During this period, ABC’s weekday morning and evening news programs ran 11 segments on the flooding, NBC's also ran 11, and CBS' ran six. None of the networks' Sunday political shows even mentioned the flooding.

    Some segments noted the unusual and historic nature of the Midwest floods, but they all did not connect the flooding to climate change.

    Other news outlets neglected flood and climate reporting too

    Cable news also fell down on the job. According to a Washington Post analysis, from March 15 to 19, the cable news networks covered both the Nebraska floods and climate change less than they covered President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about deceased Sen. John McCain and the feud between Trump and George Conway, the husband of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway.

    Newspapers and wire services did better than TV news in covering the floods and covering climate change, the Post found. Still, they were not exemplary either. The nonprofit End Climate Silence pointed out notable pieces about the flooding in The New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, The Washington Post, and other outlets that failed to mention climate change.

    Some TV journalists demonstrated how to incorporate climate change into flood coverage

    Here are two good examples of TV news segments that discussed climate change while covering floods. On MSNBC Live With Katy Tur on March 22, Tur hosted climate scientist Michael Mann to discuss a recent warning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that 200 million Americans are at risk of experiencing flooding this spring. Mann also described how climate change worsens events such as the recent bomb cyclone and Midwest flooding.

    And, on March 23, Soledad O’Brien hosted former Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel on her syndicated weekly show, Matter of Fact, to discuss the flooding in the Midwest and how climate change is making it more extreme.

    Media Matters has conducted study after study documenting the failure of corporate TV news outlets to connect extreme weather events to global warming and has highlighted their tendency to neglect potential solutions to the climate crisis. Broadcast networks often report on extreme and aberrant weather, but they also need to report on how climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. And they should report on possible solutions to climate-related problems before it’s too late.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ media for segments about the Midwest floods on national news broadcasts from March 18 through March 25, searching for the terms "flood,” “flooding," or "bomb cyclone." We then searched those segments for the keywords “climate," "warming," "emission(s)," "carbon," "CO2," or "greenhouse gas(es)." Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), nightly news programs (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News), and Sunday morning political shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press). We did not count brief mentions, teasers, or rebroadcasts.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2018

    ››› ››› TED MACDONALD & LISA HYMAS

    Broadcast TV news coverage of climate change plummeted 45 percent from 2017 to 2018, even as the climate crisis steadily worsened. The major news programs on the broadcast networks aired a combined total of just 142 minutes of climate coverage in 2018, or less than two and a half hours. Almost three-quarters of that coverage aired in just the last three months of the year. The networks did a particularly poor job of explaining how climate change exacerbates extreme weather; none of the networks' news reports on the major hurricanes of 2018 even mentioned climate change. The networks’ coverage was also lacking in diversity: Only 9 percent of the people featured in climate segments were people of color, and only 19 percent were women.

  • Media outlets uncritically push Trump’s anti-abortion lies while reporting on the State of the Union

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s presidency has created a requirement for outlets to hold themselves accountable for managing his often false and inflammatory rhetoric, by including context and accurate information about his statements directly in headlines and tweets, as well as supplying details in reports. Trump’s inaccurate claims about abortion during the 2019 State of the Union were a prime opportunity for media to provide important context -- an opportunity that some outlets missed, instead promoting Trump’s lies uncritically though headlines and social media.

    During his address, Trump repeated talking points from a scandal manufactured by right-wing media alleging that Democrats support state bills supposedly legalizing “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In his speech, Trump said that a law in New York "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth," claimed a Virginia bill would allow providers to "execute a baby after birth,"and called on Congress "to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children." In reality, Democratic legislators in New York recently passed legislation to codify Roe v. Wade's abortion protections at the state level, and Virginia Democrats introduced a bill to remove unnecessary barriers to abortion access, which has since been tabled.

    Right-wing media have responded with an avalanche of inaccurate coverage and extreme rhetoric, including saying that abortions later in pregnancy are “murders” and that Democrats were endorsing “infanticide.” To be clear, neither of these claims has any basis in reality. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare and often performed for medical necessity or due to access barriers created by anti-choice politicians. Right-wing media’s characterization of these abortion procedures as happening “at birth” -- or in some cases, allegedly after -- is simply wrong; according to medical professionals, such a scenario “does not occur.” Indeed, as patients who have had abortions later in pregnancy wrote in an open letter: “The stories we hear being told about later abortion in this national discussion are not our stories. They do not reflect our choices or experiences.”

    Here are the some of the outlets that reported Trump’s comments on abortion without providing this necessary context:

    • ABC’s World News Tonight [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • NBC News [Twitter, 2/5/19]
    • The New York Times [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • PBS NewsHour [Twitter, 2/5/19]

  • Solutions to climate change get short shrift on broadcast TV news

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Broadcast TV news typically does a poor job of covering climate change, but it does an even worse job of covering potential solutions to climate change and actions being taken to combat or prepare for the crisis. In 2017 and 2018, the major broadcast networks' nightly news and Sunday morning programs mentioned solutions and actions to address climate change in less than 19 percent of their climate coverage. This is a serious shortcoming, as research indicates that media coverage of solutions to climate change leads citizens to become more engaged and inclined to push for action.

    Broadcast networks covered solutions and responses to climate change in less than 19 percent of climate-related segments

    In 2017 and 2018, corporate broadcast networks' major news programs mentioned solutions or climate action in less than a fifth of their total climate coverage. From January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018, nightly news programs and Sunday morning shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 187 segments that covered climate change. Only 35 of those segments, or just under 19 percent, discussed potential solutions or efforts to address climate change.

    Media Matters analyzed segments on the three big networks' half-hour-long nightly news programs -- ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News -- and their hour-long Sunday morning news programs -- ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press.

    The majority of broadcast networks’ coverage of climate solutions came in response to Trump administration actions. On the three major networks' news programs, President Donald Trump drove more than half of the solutions-related climate coverage. Twenty out of the 35 segments that mentioned solutions to climate change did so in response to statements or actions from Trump or his administration, including his announcement about withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and his rollbacks of climate regulations.

    This finding is in line with previous research by Media Matters and others that found much media coverage of climate change in the last two years has been centered around Trump.

    Most solutions segments mentioned clean technology and/or climate action taken by cities, states, and other countries. Sixty-three percent of the segments on ABC, CBS, and NBC that addressed solutions made mention of the fact that cities, states, businesses, or countries other than the U.S. are continuing efforts to meet the goals of the Paris agreement or otherwise fighting climate change. Sixty percent mentioned the growth or promise of clean technology such as renewable energy. Many segments mentioned both types of solutions, as well as noting the Trump administration's actions.

    For example, CBS Evening News on November 12, 2017, covered the Trump administration’s efforts to promote fossil fuels at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. The segment also reported that many U.S. states and other entities are taking action on their own to uphold the Paris accord goals despite Trump's intention to pull the U.S. out of the agreement, and noted that wind and solar are spreading quickly and becoming cheaper than fossil fuels.

    A number of the three networks' segments touched on similar themes but in much less depth, giving only glancing mention to city or state action or to clean tech.

    One of the rare solutions segments that gave concentrated attention to a particular clean technology aired on NBC Nightly News on June 18, 2017, and chronicled a visit to a commercial facility in Switzerland that captures carbon dioxide.

    NBC’s Meet the Press aired the longest, most in-depth segment on climate solutions. The most amount of time devoted to discussing climate solutions in a single segment came on the December 30, 2018, episode of NBC’s Meet the Press -- the first-ever episode of a Sunday show entirely focused on climate change. It included an eight-minute roundtable discussion about different ways to address climate change, including carbon taxes and lawsuits against fossil fuel companies. Host Chuck Todd led the discussion with NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel, then-Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and three other experts.

    That same episode of Meet the Press also addressed solutions and climate action during Todd's opening segment and during interviews with outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I). Overall, this Meet the Press episode included four solutions segments -- 11 percent of the total number of solutions segments for 2017 and 2018. Without this one episode, coverage of climate action and solutions would have been even more dismal.

    All three major nightly news shows covered coral restoration as a way to combat damage done by climate change. ABC, CBS, and NBC ran few solutions segments that did not mention Trump, but all three networks' nightly news shows covered one particularly telegenic solution that had nothing to do with the president: scientists' efforts to restore coral reefs that have been severely damaged by warming of the oceans. In fact, CBS covered it twice. ABC's World News Tonight was the first with a segment that aired on June 1, 2017, about the cultivation in Hawaii of supercoral that can withstand global warming. CBS Evening News then ran segments on two consecutive nights, July 2 and 3, 2017, about coral restoration efforts off the coast of Florida. And on October 6, 2018, NBC Nightly News aired its own segment on marine biologists in Florida who are "growing corals resistant to climate change."

    PBS demonstrates how to do good coverage of climate action and solutions

    PBS has long outperformed the corporate broadcast networks on climate change coverage in general, and the same trend holds with coverage of climate solutions. In 2017 and 2018, PBS NewsHour, an hour-long program that airs on weeknights, discussed actions and responses to climate change in 33 segments. In contrast to the corporate networks whose solutions-related coverage focused largely on responses to the Trump administration, PBS’ solutions coverage was far more varied and in-depth, including segments on local climate action and adapting to climate-fueled extreme weather events.

    One good example of climate solutions coverage came on the May 30, 2018, edition of PBS NewsHour. The segment discussed a Virginia environmental organization’s efforts to educate children about rising sea levels caused by climate change and how to deal with them.

    Another strong solutions-focused segment aired during the December 17, 2018, episode of PBS NewsHour. It featured climate expert Nat Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund discussing the recent U.N. climate talks in Poland, what steps countries are taking to implement the Paris climate agreement, and positive developments in the renewable energy sector.

    PBS also has a special series that regularly reports on climate solutions: Its Peril and Promise segments focus on "stories of exciting new frontiers of scientific innovation in resilience, mitigation, and clean energy.

    Major newspapers also fail to adequately cover climate solutions

    A report by the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen found that the top newspapers in the U.S. also fall short on covering climate solutions. The group analyzed coverage of climate change in general in nine major papers in 2017 and then determined how many of the stories mentioning climate change also included variations of the words “solve,” "solution," or "mitigation." Using this more narrow definition of solutions coverage, it found that just 7 percent of climate articles in the major papers met the bar.

    Research suggests that media coverage of climate solutions can lead to more engagement from the public and less apathy

    A 2015 study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that media coverage of climate change can either lead citizens to “climate cynicism” or "help build more positive public engagement." When the media focus on political failures to address climate change, those stories can lead to public apathy and frustration. However, when media focus on “everyday heroes” who "take initiative or leadership to advance political action," those stories can have a more positive effect. Focus group participants who read solutions-focused stories demonstrated "much greater enthusiasm and optimism for political engagement." Study co-author Shane Gunster, a professor at Simon Fraser University, told Media Matters in 2015, "There is a strong desire for a different kind of news about climate change, which provides people with inspiring and compelling stories about how others just like them are becoming active and engaged in climate politics."

    Elizabeth Arnold, an environmental journalist and journalism professor at the University of Alaska, studied the role of the media in creating public disengagement on climate change and wrote a paper in 2018 for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center that makes the case for more coverage of solutions to climate-related problems. The premise of her paper was that “repetition of a narrow narrative that focuses exclusively on the impacts of climate change leaves the public with an overall sense of powerlessness.” She argued:

    If the role of the journalist is to seek the truth and report it, so that citizens will be informed and effective, reporting just the doom and gloom about climate change is insufficient. Calling attention to the impacts of climate change is essential if you are a journalist covering climate change. But if how people are responding, individually and collectively, is framed out, the whole story is not being told.

    Arnold quoted David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network:

    When too many people are aware of a problem but they don’t have a sense of what can be done, it leads them to opt out, tune out, and that’s bad for democracy. By showing that something is working in one place, it takes away the excuses for failure elsewhere, and increases the pressure on public officials.

    Arnold's paper also quoted Lauren Feldman of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, who suggested that climate journalism take some lessons from public health journalism:

    I think there is a model in public health. You tell a story about a crisis or a disease and you tell people what they can do to avert that crisis. A very similar approach can and should be taken with climate change. Here is a threat and here are some steps that you as an individual can take, and here is what the government is doing or and here is what industry is doing.

    In 2019 and beyond, broadcast TV networks need to do a better job of reporting on climate change solutions

    As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote in a year-end piece, "The story of 2018 was climate change." He argued that people should stop being "distracted by lesser matters" because "nothing else measures up to the rising toll and enormous dangers of climate change." Last year's devastating extreme weather and dire climate change reports brought that fact home. Yet mainstream media in 2018 failed to cover climate change with the increasing attention that it needs, and as this research shows, its coverage of climate solutions was even worse.

    In 2019 and beyond, broadcast TV news and the rest of the media must do a better job of telling the complete story of perhaps the greatest existential crisis of our time -- not just reporting on the doom and gloom of climate change, but also including the stories of hope and action that can galvanize the public to address climate change. The Washington Post kicked off the year the right way with a package explaining 11 policy solutions to combat climate change. We'd like to see a lot more stories like that.

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this report. Chart by Melissa Joskow.  

    Methodology

    Media Matters analyzed coverage from January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018, on nightly news shows -- ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour -- and Sunday morning news shows -- ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press. To identify segments that discussed climate change, we searched the Nexis database for transcripts that included the following terms: climate change, global warming, changing climate, climate warms, climate warming, warming climate, warmer climate, warming planet, warmer planet, warming globe, warmer globe, global temperatures, rising temperatures, hotter temperatures, climate science, climate scientist, Paris climate, climate accord, Paris accord, climate agreement, Paris agreement, and climate deal. Within the segments that discussed climate change, we identified ones that discussed solutions and responses to climate change by coding for segments that covered adaptation, mitigation, awareness-raising campaigns, renewable energy, clean technology, and climate action being taken by entities other than the U.S. government. Our analysis included any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention or definitive statement on climate change by a media figure, which we defined as a show's host, anchor, correspondent, or recurring guest panelist. Our analysis did not include instances in interviews during which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently engaged in discussion of climate change.

  • National broadcast TV news mentioned climate change in less than 4 percent of California wildfire coverage

    While ABC, CBS, and NBC again dropped the ball, local TV news programs in California brought up climate change numerous times during wildfire reporting

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This month’s catastrophic California wildfires garnered significant media coverage, with major national news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC airing more than 100 segments about the unfolding disasters. But Media Matters found that just 3.7 percent of those segments mentioned the link between climate change and worsening wildfires. That's a minuscule improvement over their coverage of Western wildfires this summer, when the networks incorporated climate change into less than 2 percent of their segments.

    On the local level, TV news programs on California stations included discussion of climate change in numerous segments about the ongoing wildfires. News shows on major TV network affiliates in the state’s three largest media markets aired 44 episodes that addressed how climate change exacerbates wildfires.

    Climate change is a critical factor contributing to the growing severity of wildfires in the United States, according to researchers. Scientists have documented an increase in both the number of large fires and the total area burned per year in the U.S. Fifteen of the 20 largest wildfires in California’s history have occurred since 2000, as rising temperatures in the West have lengthened wildfire season by several months. Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan’s environmental school, told The Associated Press that the increasing severity of fires is “much less due to bad management and is instead the result of our baking of our forests, woodlands and grasslands with ever-worsening climate change.”

    NBC mentioned climate change in just two segments, while ABC and CBS each made only one mention

    The three national broadcast TV networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- aired 107 segments about the California wildfires on their major morning and evening news programs from November 8 to 13. Only four of these, or 3.7 percent, included discussion of climate change. NBC aired two of the segments that mentioned climate change, while ABC and CBS aired one each.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Both of NBC’s climate change mentions came from weather anchor Al Roker on the November 12 episode of Today. During the show’s 7 a.m. hour, Roker discussed the factors that have made the fires so bad: “July was the hottest month ever recorded in California. That hot weather dries out the vegetation. They’ve had no rain to speak of really in the last three months. Parched conditions. And this is all due to climate change.” He noted that the annual number of large fires in the state has more than tripled since 1970, and that there have been six times as many acres burned per year on average since then. He made many of the same points in a later segment during the same episode. Here's the first segment:

    CBS’ climate change mention came on the November 11 episode of CBS This Morning, during a segment by WCBS New York weather anchor Lonnie Quinn. He said researchers believe that “both forest management and the changing climate play a role” in worsening wildfires. “California’s temperatures have increased 2 to even 3 degrees over the last century," he explained. "Making matters worse, there was a five-year drought from 2011 to 2016. That drought killed more than 129 million trees. That's just fuel for the current fires that are out there."

    ABC's coverage was the weakest, seeming to downplay the effect of climate change on the wildfires. On the November 10 episode of ABC’s Good Morning America, anchor Eva Pilgrim said to ABC senior meteorologist Rob Marciano, “It seems like these fires are getting worse and worse every year. Is this climate change? What’s the deal with all this?” Marciano responded, “This summer we saw excessive heat waves and drought in some cases, you can link a little bit of that to climate change. But this is a Santa Ana season, so this is not unusual to get winds blowing flames like this, and this is a dry season as well.”

    Even this fleeting mention of climate change is a slight improvement for ABC, which rarely brings up climate change at all in its coverage of extreme weather. During this past summer's dramatic wildfire season, ABC's coverage didn't mention climate change a single time, and the network made no mention of climate change earlier this year in its coverage of both a deadly heat wave and Hurricane Florence.

    CBS and NBC also did poorly when it came to incorporating climate change into their reporting on this summer’s wildfires in the Western U.S., even though they didn't completely strike out like ABC. From June 21 to September 21, the main morning and evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 471 segments discussing the wildfires, and only nine of them, or 1.9 percent, mentioned climate change -- six on CBS and three on NBC.

    California local news shows mentioned climate change numerous times in their wildfire coverage

    Media Matters also analyzed news coverage of the wildfires on local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in the three largest California media markets: Los Angeles, San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland, and Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto. From November 8 to 13, we found 44 news show episodes that mentioned climate change in relation to the wildfires -- 16 in Los Angeles, and 14 each in the Sacramento and San Francisco areas. Over half of these episodes featured a clip of California Gov. Jerry Brown blaming climate change for the destructiveness of the wildfires during a November 11 press conference.

    One example of such coverage came from Los Angeles’ KTTV Fox 11 noon news program on November 12. The segment was wholly focused on Brown's comments about climate change and wildfires:

    A more muddled example aired on Sacramento’s KXTV ABC 10 Morning Blend show. The segment discussed a tweet from President Donald Trump that blamed the fires on poor forest management. The hosts noted Brown's comments about climate change, then invited viewers to take a poll and vote for either forest management or climate change as the bigger contributor to the fires. Most of the poll takers selected forest management:

    Both of these segments would have been better if they had informed viewers of what scientists and other experts actually say: Climate change is a significant contributor, and, in the case of the current fires, forest management is not.

    Still, it's notable that many local news stations made a point of discussing climate change in the context of the fires. Local stations have a greater responsibility than national ones to report on the immediate dangers that wildfires pose to their community members, including evacuation orders and specific details about how fires spread. And yet this month in California, many local programs still found time to report on how climate change worsens wildfires. There's no excuse for national networks not to do the same.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ Media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered wildfires using the search terms wildfire(s), forest fire(s), or fire(s), and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming. Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) and nightly news shows (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News) from November 8-13. For local California coverage, we searched IQ Media for news shows between 4 a.m. and midnight on affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in the media markets of Los Angeles, San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland, and Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto.

  • STUDY: Broadcast news shows have covered the royal couple, Mega Millions, and Kanye more than health care policy in 2018

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In a year when American voters list health care as one of their top concerns in the upcoming midterm elections, broadcast evening news shows have failed to air a single substantive segment about the issue. They have, however, provided breathless coverage of the newest British royal couple, continuous updates on lottery jackpots, and even segments on rapper Kanye West’s bizarre visit to the Oval Office.

    Last week, Media Matters investigated coverage of health care policy and GOP-led efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News and failed to find a single substantive segment on the issue. Instead, the broadcast evening news shows this year have aired 45 segments on the relationship of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for a total of over one hour and 18 minutes, and that does not include special coverage of their wedding. The latest, record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot was covered in 13 segments for about 10 minutes in total. Each network also aired a segment on Kanye’s visit with President Donald Trump, which totaled six minutes. Substantive coverage of health care policy still stands at zero.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The night after our study released, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker filed a two-minutes-long news package on Nightly News that focused on the midterm elections as framed through the importance voters placed on health care. Welker’s piece did not focus on health care policy or GOP attacks on the ACA.

    But her piece did give a pass to Republicans now campaigning on protections for pre-existing conditions that they not only vowed to undo but also worked to eliminate. The piece quoted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as an example of Republicans who once “railed against all aspects of Obamacare” and now want to keep “key portions like coverage for pre-existing conditions.” But Cruz has said, as recently as June, that he believes the Justice Department’s position that pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional is “reasonable” and has voiced his support of the Texas-led lawsuit against the ACA that challenges the legality of the entire law. Let’s not forget that Cruz once spoke for over 21 hours straight on the Senate floor against the ACA, and that Republicans in the House voted 54 times to repeal the ACA in the first few years after its passage.

    As we approach Election Day, broadcast news shows continue to underserve their audiences of millions by failing to substantively cover this critical issue.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 23, 2018.

    We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, pre-existing conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.

    For other topics covered between January 1 and October 23, 2018, we searched for mentions of: “Prince Harry,” “Meghan Markle,” or the term “royal” within close proximity to “Harry,” “Meghan,” “couple,” “wedding,” or “baby” for segments on the royal couple; “Mega Millions” or “Powerball” for segments on the lotteries; and “Kanye” for segments on Kanye’s visit to the Oval Office. As with health care policy, we determined segments by whether the aforementioned terms were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts and did not include passing mentions of the aforementioned topics in the results.

  • STUDY: Broadcast evening news shows have ignored health care in 2018

    The nightly news shows haven’t aired a single substantive segment about health care policy this year

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The flagship evening news shows on the three broadcast networks have not aired a single substantive segment on health care policy in 2018. They have ignored Republican efforts to sabotage health care policy despite voters consistently calling health care a top issue as the midterm elections approach.

    The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is under assault, but you wouldn’t know that if you turned into ABC’s World News, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News. The 2018 midterms are less than three weeks away, and health care has been a top issue cited in polls over and over again this year. But so far, the flagship broadcast evening news shows -- which attract millions of viewers each night -- have failed to air even one substantive segment on the GOP-led attacks on the ACA.

    A key provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2017, undermined a major component of the ACA by reducing the penalty for not having health insurance to zero. Since then, Republicans and the Trump administration have made repeated efforts to sabotage health care policy in 2018. On February 26, a coalition of 20 states -- led by Republican attorneys general Ken Paxton of Texas and Brad Schimel of Wisconsin -- filed suit against the federal government claiming that the ACA was now unconstitutional since the new tax law had effectively removed the penalty for not having any insurance.

    On June 7, the Trump administration declined to continue defending the ACA against the lawsuit. In a brief from the Justice Department, the administration argued that the elimination of the tax penalty for non-coverage meant that the prior Supreme Court ruling that upheld the individual mandate no longer applied. The Justice Department not only claimed that the section of the ACA regarding the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but went further by arguing that the provision protecting Americans with preexisting conditions is also unconstitutional.

    Most recently, the administration has been pushing short-term, limited duration plans and “association health plans” designed to offer lower-priced coverage by skirting the protections afforded by the ACA, such as requiring insurers to cover those with preexisting conditions. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that while such plans are about one-fifth of the cost of some of the least expensive ACA-subsidized plans, they may come with greater out-of-pocket costs, yearly or lifetime coverage limits, no maternity coverage, and limited prescription drug or mental health coverage (if they had any such coverage at all).

    But little of this critical information made it to viewers of the broadcast evening news shows despite health care being such an important issue for voters this election cycle. Ignoring this subject does a disservice to the American public.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 18, 2018.

    We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, preexisting conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.

  • ABC, CBS, and NBC largely failed to connect climate change to extreme wildfires this summer

    Major broadcast networks mentioned climate change in just 2 percent of wildfire reports, ignoring science that links climate change to more intense fires

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As wildfires raged in the Western U.S. this summer, the major broadcast TV networks largely failed to explain how climate change influences such fires, mentioning climate change in less than 2 percent of their reports on the fires. Media Matters analysis of coverage on the networks’ morning and evening news shows found that ABC made no mention at all of climate change during its 172 segments reporting on wildfires, while CBS brought up climate change in only six of its 183 segments that mentioned wildfires, and NBC discussed climate change in only three of its 116 wildfire segments.

    Major wildfires burn in Western U.S., part of a pattern that scientists attribute to climate change

    Wildfires have ravaged huge swaths of the Western U.S. this year. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fires had burned over 7.7 million acres of land as of September 28 -- nearly 1.8 million acres more than the 10-year year-to-date average from 2008-2017. The most destructive wildfires blazed in California, and they were some of the worst on record. The Ranch Fire, part of the massive Mendocino Complex, in August became the largest single fire in California history, while the Carr Fire was one of the deadliest, killing seven people. Five of the 10 most destructive fires in the state’s history happened in just the last three years. The 2018 wildfire season is still ongoing, with blazes active in 12 states.

    Destructive wildfires have not been limited to the U.S. -- they also burned through parts of Europe this summer. In Greece, nearly 100 people were killed by wildfires outside of Athens. In Sweden, scorching temperatures contributed to over 50 fires, including some inside the Arctic Circle, and forced evacuations. As of late July, the number of European fires in 2018 was up 40 percent on average.

    Numerous scientific studies have found that human-caused climate change has exacerbated both the frequency and duration of wildfires. Other variables affected by climate change, such as extreme heat and drought, are also increasing the risk for longer and more intense wildfires. “To dismiss the role of climate change on these fires is simply incorrect,” Michael F. Wehner, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told The New York Times. And Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, told The Independent in July that the longer fire season in California is related to climate change:

    What we’re seeing over the last few years in terms of the wildfire season in California … [is] very consistent with the historical trends in terms of increasing temperatures, increasing dryness, and increasing wildfire risk. They’re also very consistent with what we can expect in the future as global warming continues.

    California’s recent Climate Change Assessment estimated that the average acreage burned across the state annually will rise by 77 percent by the end of the century. Some firefighters, including the director of California's firefighting department, have also pointed to climate change as a factor making the blazes worse.

    Major broadcast TV networks neglect to connect the dots between wildfires and climate change

    The broadcast networks devoted a lot of coverage to wildfires this summer, but very little of it discussed climate change. A Media Matters analysis of the ABC, CBS, and NBC morning and evening news shows over the summer, from June 21 to September 21, showed that out of 471 segments discussing the wildfires, only nine of them, or 1.9 percent, mentioned climate change.
     


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    ABC completely ignored climate change during its wildfire coverage. ABC aired a total of 172 segments that discussed wildfires on its morning and evening news shows this summer, including 89 news reports or in-depth segments, 57 weather reports, and 26 news headline rundowns -- and not one of them mentioned climate change. That makes ABC the worst-performing network at incorporating climate change into its reporting on the fires, which is in line with the network's recent history. In June, ABC was the only major broadcast network to make no mention of climate change in relation to the deadly heat wave that affected much of the U.S. And in August, ABC was the only major network that did not mention climate change during its coverage of Hurricane Florence, just as it failed to mention climate change during coverage of Hurricane Harvey last year.

    CBS and NBC mentioned climate change in roughly 3 percent of their segments on wildfires. CBS' morning and evening news shows aired a total of 183 segments reporting on wildfires, including 84 news reports or in-depth segments, 14 weather reports, and 85 news headline rundowns. Only six of the 183, or 3.3 percent, mentioned climate change. NBC ran a total of 116 wildfire segments, of which 73 were news reports or in-depth segments, 22 were weather reports, and 21 were news headline rundowns. Only three of the 116, or 2.6 percent, included discussion of climate change.

    Sunday shows on the major broadcast networks made no mention of the wildfires. Thirty-eight combined episodes of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press aired from June 21 to September 21, and not one of them mentioned the wildfires, let alone the ways that climate change influences such fires. This is sadly consistent with the Sunday shows' lack of coverage of past disasters exacerbated by climate change. Last year, the weekend after Hurricane Maria made landfall and knocked out power to 3.5 million Americans, the five major Sunday political talk shows dedicated less than one minute to coverage of the storm and its effects.

    Networks' climate change mentions in wildfire coverage almost all occurred in August, more than a month after their summer coverage of wildfires began in earnest. CBS aired its first wildfire segment of the summer on June 24, but it didn't mention climate change in such a segment until August 1 -- over one month later. NBC ran its first summer wildfire segment on June 25, but didn't incorporate climate change into any such segments until July 28. By that point, the Carr Fire had already killed five people, and by August 1, 16 of the largest wildfires in California were burning an area larger than Los Angeles.

    CBS' first mentions of climate change in the context of wildfires were brief and not particularly informative. The August 1 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News featured Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman saying, “I don't care where you stand on your opinion of global warming. There's something changing, and we're seeing fires that have never happened in this area before.” Mendocino County was the site of the massive Mendocino Complex fire, which was not fully contained until September 18.

    CBS’ next mentions of climate change as it relates to wildfires occured on the August 4 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News. Both shows aired segments on a European heat wave that featured Time magazine climate reporter Justin Worland, who said, “Human fingerprints are all over this particular heat wave.” The segments reported that wildfires in Europe were being fueled by hot and dry conditions, blaming the region's “unusually hot air on warming Arctic temperatures due to greenhouse gases.”

    CBS' other mentions of climate change in wildfire segments came during the August 7 episode of CBS This Morning. Reporter John Blackstone noted President Donald Trump’s inaccurate claim that wildfires were worsened by California’s water policy, and contrasted it with the view from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that “the true problem is climate change.” Later on in the episode, anchor Gayle King pointed out that 15 of the 20 largest fires in California have happened since 2000, and noted, "State fire officials say that is a direct result of climate change."

    Two of NBC’s wildfire reports that incorporated climate change featured climate scientist Michael Mann, who was interviewed for segments that aired on August 7 and August 8. On the August 7 episode of NBC Nightly News, Mann said, “You take epic drought, you combine it with high temperatures, you've got all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires”:

    PBS NewsHour incorporated climate change into 16 percent of its wildfire coverage. Public broadcaster PBS has typically produced more quality coverage of climate change than its corporate counterparts, and its reporting this summer continued that trend. Out of 25 segments about the wildfires that aired on PBS NewsHour on weekdays from June 21 through September 21, four discussed climate change. On the July 27 episode of NewsHour, Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams noted that forests are “where we really see a strong link between climate change and increased fire.” On August 7, correspondent Nick Schifrin said, “Hotter weather attributed to climate change drives more severe conditions that authorities say residents cannot ignore.”

    And on August 6, NewsHour devoted almost six and a half minutes to discussing how climate change makes wildfires more extreme, including more than four minutes interviewing Mann on the topic. This was the most in-depth segment on climate change and wildfires on any broadcast network:

    Newspapers did better than corporate broadcasters at connecting wildfires to climate change, but they still fell short, Public Citizen found. A recent report by the nonprofit group Public Citizen analyzed both newspaper and TV coverage of the wildfires during 15 days this summer, from July 23 to August 7. It found that less than 13 percent of wildfire articles in the 50 highest-circulation U.S. newspapers mentioned climate change. The New York Times, The Sacramento Bee, and the Los Angeles Times published the most articles connecting climate change and the wildfires.

    A local TV network showed the right way to weave climate change into wildfire coverage. Sometimes local TV stations -- whose viewers are more likely to be immediately affected by fires -- do a better job of reporting on the climate/wildfire connection than national networks. For example, Salt Lake City’s ABC affiliate KTVX aired a segment on its August 9 Good Morning Utah show about how climate change affects the length of wildfire season:

    A recent poll points to the need for more and better media coverage of climate change. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University in mid-August found that a slim majority of American voters believed climate change was worsening the California wildfires. But that means almost half of voters didn't understand the connection -- including 71 percent of Republicans. The media can help fill that knowledge gap.

    Much has already been said this year about the need for journalists to report on how climate change influences extreme weather events like wildfires. But we also need outlets to discuss responses and solutions to the climate crisis, so that Americans understand the need to mobilize as a society to fight climate change and shift quickly to clean energy.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ Media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered wildfires using the search terms wildfire(s) or fire(s), and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming or greenhouse gas(es). Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), nightly news shows (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, plus weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour), and Sunday morning shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press) from June 21 through September 21.

    News headline rundowns included mentions of the wildfires within announcements of top stories of the day. Weather reports included mentions of the wildfires within a meteorologist’s report or a general discussion of weather. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts.

  • National TV news is still failing to properly incorporate climate change into hurricane coverage

    ABC did not mention climate at all during Florence, while CBS, PBS, CNN, and MSNBC did worse than last year during Harvey

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A Media Matters analysis of Hurricane Florence broadcast news coverage from September 7-19 found that ABC failed to air a single segment that mentioned the links between climate change and hurricanes like Florence, while NBC aired one segment and CBS aired two. PBS NewsHour also aired two. A review of weekday, prime-time coverage of Florence on the three major cable news networks found that MSNBC ran four segments that mentioned climate change in the context of hurricanes, and CNN ran two. Fox aired six segments, but these either downplayed or outright dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes. Overall, coverage was down from a year ago: The majority of the networks mentioned the connections between hurricanes and climate change in fewer segments than they did while covering Hurricane Harvey last year.

    Florence brought historic levels of rainfall and destruction to the Carolinas. Scientists say that climate change worsened these effects.

    After making landfall over North Carolina on September 14, Hurricane Florence dumped record amounts of rainfall over the region. Swansboro, N.C., had over 30 inches of rain, which broke the previous record of 24 inches set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. South Carolina’s record for most rain in a single spot was also broken, as over 18 inches of rain fell in Marion. Additionally, Florence brought tides to record levels. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the tide gauge at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., surged to more than four feet above normal, breaking the previous record by over a foot.

    At least 44 deaths have been attributed to Florence. The storm unleashed significant flooding that has affected thousands of people, with several river gauges either near or above record levels. Florence has created a massive environmental crisis as well -- hog waste and coal ash have leaked into flood waters, and Duke Energy now fears that coal ash may be leaking into the Cape Fear River, which is the source of drinking water for more than 60,000 people. And as with most hurricanes, lower-income and minority communities are suffering the brunt of its destruction.

    Scientists say that climate change is exacerbating some of the worst effects of hurricanes like Florence. Climate scientist Jennifer Francis of the Rutgers Climate Institute told Bloomberg:

    Warming oceans, a more rapidly warming arctic, melting ice sheets are all contributing in various way to conditions like what we’re observing now. ... It’s favoring slow moving weather patterns, more intense tropical storms and heavier downpours. And they’re all more likely as we continue to warm the Earth.

    Regarding heavier downpours, there is a growing body of work linking wetter storms to climate change. NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory notes, “Tropical cyclone rainfall rates will likely increase in the future due to anthropogenic warming and accompanying increase in atmospheric moisture content.” In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s record-breaking rainfall, two studies concluded that climate change increased the amount of rainfall that Harvey dumped by estimates of 15 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Before Florence made landfall, a first of its kind pre-attribution study estimated that the storm's “rainfall will be significantly increased by over 50% in the heaviest precipitating parts of the storm.”

    Florence’s record storm surge was also likely worsened by climate change. According to atmospheric scientist Marshall Shepard:

    We do have higher sea level because of climate change. So whenever we have these types of storms, you’re probably dealing with a more significant storm surge because of that than you would perhaps 100 years ago.

    Broadcast networks: ABC completely dropped the ball in explaining how climate change affects hurricanes, while CBS and NBC did a little better

    Media Matters analyzed the morning, nightly, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from September 7-19.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    CBS and PBS each aired fewer segments on the links between climate change and hurricanes than they did last year during coverage of Harvey. In 2017, as Hurricane Harvey menaced parts of Texas, Media Matters tracked the number of TV news segments about the hurricane that mentioned climate change. Harvey, like Florence, was the first major hurricane of the year to make landfall in the continental U.S. In comparing last year's Harvey coverage to this year's Florence coverage, we found that networks overall did a worse job of drawing links between climate change and hurricanes this year.

    During its Harvey coverage, CBS aired three segments discussing the ways that climate change influences hurricanes, but it aired just two such segments during Hurricane Florence coverage. NBC was the only network that improved its coverage: Last year, it aired zero segments mentioning the climate-hurricane connection in the context of Harvey while this year it aired one during its Florence coverage. ABC failed to air any segments mentioning climate change during coverage of either Harvey or Florence. We also analyzed weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour and found that its coverage had declined: Last year, the show aired three segments about Harvey that discussed climate change. This year, it aired only two such segments about Florence. 

    ABC was the only network that did not mention climate change in its coverage of Florence at all. ABC's failure on this score was not surprising, as the network has a history of neglecting climate change. Earlier this year, it was the only major broadcast network to make no mention of climate change in relation to the deadly heat wave that affected much of the U.S., and it spent less time last year reporting on climate change on its nightly and Sunday shows than did CBS and NBC.

    CBS aired just two segments that addressed the effects of climate change on hurricanes. Both of the segments, which ran during the September 15 episode of CBS This Morning, included strong analysis. The first mentioned Hurricane Florence in the broader context of the Global Climate Action Summit, which took place in San Francisco from September 12-14. CBS correspondent John Blackstone noted, “For activists here, Hurricane Florence provided an example of the kind of extreme weather scientists have predicted would come more often in a warming world.” The second segment immediately followed the first, and featured meteorologist Jeff Berardelli discussing how climate change can influence hurricanes:

    NBC aired just one segment that reported on the links between climate change and hurricanes. In a good segment on the September 15 episode of Today, NBC correspondent Harry Smith spoke with Adam Sobel, an atmospheric science professor at Columbia University, and Rob Freudenberg, an environmental planning expert, about how climate change affects hurricanes. Sobel said, “What we know certainly about climate change and hurricanes is that because of higher sea-level rise, the risk from storm-surge flooding is going up. And we know with a high degree of confidence that rainfall from these storms is also increasing.”

    PBS NewsHour aired only two segments that connected climate change to hurricanes. Both segments featured strong analysis from climate scientists. On the September 14 episode of PBS NewsHour, Columbia University climate scientist Radley Horton discussed how there is a “very clear link” between climate change and hurricanes. On the September 19 episode of PBS NewsHour, science correspondent Miles O’Brien looked at the science behind hurricanes, and featured several climate scientists. One of them was the University of Wisconsin’s James Kossin, who recently published a study about how tropical cyclones are slowing down due to anthropogenic warming.

    Prime-time cable: CNN and MSNBC mentioned climate change less often during Florence coverage than they did last year during Harvey

    We also analyzed prime-time, weekday shows on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from September 7-19. CNN and MSNBC both aired fewer segments that discussed climate change in the context of hurricanes than they did during Hurricane Harvey. Fox aired the same number as last year, but its coverage was even more dismissive of climate science now than it was in 2017.

    CNN aired two segments that discussed the links between climate change and hurricanes, down from five such segments that ran during Harvey coverage. Both of the climate mentions occured on September 11, when CNN commentators only briefly raised the topic during broader discussions. CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein mentioned on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer that hurricanes are influenced by the changing climate, while CNN Political Commentator Van Jones made a similar point on Cuomo Prime Time.

    MSNBC aired four segments that discussed the links between climate change and hurricanes, down from five that ran during Harvey coverage. The September 13 episode of All In With Chris Hayes featured a substantive and informative segment with meteorologist Eric Holthaus -- the best of the prime-time cable segments we analyzed. Holthaus began the discussion by stating, “Florence is a huge hurricane. I mean, this is one of the largest hurricanes that we've ever seen in the Atlantic. And you can't really talk about this without talking about climate change.” He explained that intense rain and storm surge fueled by climate change were major components of the storm. The other MSNBC mentions of climate change occurred in the context of broader discussions: one more on the September 13 All In episode; one on the September 13 episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews; and one on the September 11 episode of The Beat with Ari Melber.

    Fox News aired six segments that mentioned climate change in its Florence coverage, but all of them were dismissive of the issue. That's slightly worse than last year during Harvey, when Fox also aired six such segments, only five of which were dismissive of the links between climate change and hurricanes.

    Of Fox’s six segments that mentioned climate change this year, two featured well-known climate deniers who disputed any connections between climate change and hurricanes: The September 13 episode of Hannity included commentary from meteorologist Joe Bastardi, and the September 14 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight featured meteorologist Roy Spencer. In the other four Fox segments, hosts took aim at a Washington Post editorial that called President Trump complicit in extreme weather because his administration has been rolling back climate protections. Three of these attacks came from Sean Hannity -- on September 12, 13, and 14 -- and the fourth from Greg Gutfeld on September 12.

    Methodology

    Media Matters ran the search terms "(Hurricane! OR Florence) AND (climate OR warming OR emission! OR carbon OR CO2 OR greenhouse gas!)" in Nexis to identify segments between September 7 and September 19 that mentioned both the hurricane and climate change. On the broadcast networks, we examined the morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour. For CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, we examined the networks’ prime-time shows that air on weekdays from 5-11 p.m.

  • How should media cover Andrew Wheeler? Take a lesson from coverage of Scott Pruitt

    Pruitt's silly scandals got more attention than his weighty misdeeds and regulatory rollbacks

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Andrew Wheeler, new acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has gotten a soft reception from the media during his first couple of weeks on the job. The honeymoon phase needs to end now.

    Wheeler is benefiting from comparisons to his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who was flamboyantly corrupt and unprecedentedly adversarial toward the press. Wheeler keeps a lower profile than Pruitt and has given interviews to mainstream journalists instead of insulting them, so his different style has generated positive pieces and headlines.

    But being more sober and civil than Pruitt is a very low bar to jump over. Wheeler doesn't deserve praise for clearing it.

    Wheeler received glowing press just for saying he would listen to EPA employees. “When it comes to leadership, you can’t lead unless you listen,” he said during his first address to agency staff on July 11. That quote was featured in the headlines and introductions of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post by reporters who had done some of the most aggressive coverage of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory rollbacks.

    But, as Mother Jones reporter Rebecca Leber pointed out, Pruitt had used the exact same line during his first address to agency staff in February 2017: “You can’t lead unless you listen.”

    This is a stark example of how journalists have been quick to paint Wheeler as a departure from Pruitt even when he's doing exactly what Pruitt did.

    The media need to stop focusing on the minor stylistic differences between Wheeler and Pruitt and start homing in on substance. The new EPA chief has already implemented his first major rollback of an environmental protection. Wheeler, a former lobbyist for a coal company, signed a final rule that will make it easier for power plants to dump toxic coal ash in ways that could pollute groundwater. And Wheeler has pledged to carry forward the rest of Pruitt's agenda.

    What media got wrong in covering Pruitt

    So how should the media be covering Wheeler? To help answer that question, take a look back at how they covered Pruitt.

    Journalists at many outlets did excellent reporting on a wide range of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory moves, particularly the teams covering the EPA at The Washington Post and The New York Times. The problem was that only some of that good original reporting got amplified by other media outlets and ultimately seen by wide audiences, and too often it was the least important stories that got the most attention.

    Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of Pruitt during a period in June in which a number of EPA regulatory rollbacks and Pruitt scandals were revealed.

    For each of the following stories, we looked at how much coverage major prime-time TV news programs devoted to it in the week after it was first reported:

    • Rollback: The EPA decided not to examine air, water, or ground contaminants when determining the health and safety risks of potentially toxic chemicals, as The New York Times reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA took the first step toward changing the way it calculates the economic costs and benefits of regulations, with an eye toward making regulations appear more expensive, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA put forth a detailed plan to scale back a major Obama-era regulation on water pollution, as The New York Times reported on June 14.
    • Substantive scandal: Pruitt had close ties with a coal baron and big GOP donor, Joseph Craft. Craft got Pruitt good basketball tickets, while Pruitt made policy moves that benefited Craft's company, as The New York Times reported on June 2.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt spent $1,560 on 12 customized fountain pens emblazoned with the EPA seal and Pruitt’s signature, as The Washington Post reported on June 1.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt had an EPA aide try to obtain a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, as The Associated Press reported on June 4.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt used his EPA security detail to help him find fancy lotion at Ritz-Carlton hotels, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.

    The first four stories -- the ones involving policy changes likely to lead to more pollution -- got markedly less attention on TV news than the scandals surrounding Pruitt's bizarre personal misbehavior.

    How the media can do better in covering Wheeler

    Pruitt getting the boot opens up an opportunity for journalists to do a better job covering the EPA, as Wheeler seems unlikely to suck up all the oxygen by making goofy moves like buying tactical pants” or using sirens to speed to his favorite restaurant.

    Last month, some reporters on the EPA beat expressed frustration that Pruitt’s scandals were serving as distractions:

    Now they’ll have more time to chase stories about serious ethics questions at EPA and, most importantly, the regulatory rollbacks that could make Americans sick and kill us.

    There will be plenty to cover, like:

    • Wheeler’s ties to industry: He, too, has a long-established, cozy relationship with a coal baron. And he has lobbied for natural gas, chemical, uranium, nuclear, and utility interests, so we could see him cultivating close ties to those industries.
    • Wheeler’s rollbacks that benefit industry: He has already made a major policy move that serves the interests of coal and utility companies, as mentioned above, and he’s poised to take heat off automakers by rolling back auto fuel-efficiency rules and trying to revoke California's authority to set tough standards for pollution from cars and trucks.
    • Wheeler’s ethically questionable decisions: He kept on two top EPA aides who have ethics problems, as HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman recently reported. Green groups are digging for more potential missteps.

    During Wheeler's reign at the EPA -- which could last years -- reporters will need to stop comparing him to his predecessor and instead bird-dog the agency's deregulatory moves and dig for the ethics and corruption stories that aren't as ridiculous and simple as those Pruitt routinely offered up. We're counting on journalists assigned to the national environment beat to do just that.

    But here's the potentially trickier part: After original reporting comes out on Wheeler's actions, other journalists and commentators and TV news producers will need to amplify those stories, writing articles and producing segments that will get the news in the public eye. Will they do it now that the EPA is no longer run by an absurd character with a proclivity for dramatic self-sabotage? 

    While Pruitt’s silly scandals were a distraction for some media outlets, they were a lure for others, drawing their eyes to an agency they might not cover often or in-depth. For instance, Vanity Fair -- not traditionally a source of EPA news -- published numerous pieces that highlighted Pruitt's scandals and also noted the more important fact that he'd been gutting regulations and suppressing science.

    We need Vanity Fair to keep it up during the Wheeler era, and we need NBC Nightly News and CNN's Situation Room and so many others to join in.

    Quiet deregulation and allegiance to industry are easy to ignore in the loud, lewd age of Trump, but everyday Americans who eat, drink, and breathe can't afford for the media to miss the most important stories about the EPA.

    -----

    Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for prime-time (5 p.m. through midnight) programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, as well as the broadcast network nightly news programs: ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour. We examined a week’s worth of coverage for the seven stories in the first bullet-pointed list above. We identified and reviewed all segments that were captured by searching for the words Pruitt, EPA, or Environmental Protection Agency within 50 words of cost, benefit, calculate, calculation, economic, chemical, health, safety, toxic, water, pollute, pollution, rollback, regulate, regulation, rule, policy, pen, jewelry, mattress, Trump Hotel, lotion, moisturizer, moisturizing, dry cleaning, security, scandal, ethics, or ethical.

    Chart by Melissa Joskow. Research assistance by Kevin Kalhoefer.

  • Major broadcast TV networks mentioned climate change just once during two weeks of heat-wave coverage

    ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on the recent heat wave and only one noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Throughout the recent record-breaking heat wave that affected millions across the United States, major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat. Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.

    The recent heat wave was record-breaking and deadly

    From the last week of June into the second week of July, an intense heat wave moved across the U.S., going from the eastern and central parts of the country to the West Coast. A large area of high atmospheric pressure helped to create a massive and powerful heat dome, which migrated from New England to southern California. The heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures -- during its first week, 227 U.S. records were broken for highest temperature for particular days, and during the second week, at least six locations in southern California alone saw record-breaking highs. The heat wave killed at least five people in the U.S. and up to 70 people in Quebec, Canada.

    Climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves

    There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human-induced climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves. Heat domes like the one that caused this recent heat wave are becoming more intense and more common, scientists have found. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who has studied extreme weather patterns in California, said recent heat in California was unusual. “The overall trend over decades to more intense and more frequent heat waves is definitely a signal of global warming,” he told The New York Times. And according to Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, this recent heat wave was “the kind of thing you expect to see on a warming planet,” making it “easier to set a heat record.”

    Recent studies also reinforce this point. In March 2018, an analysis of heat wave patterns published in Nature Climate Change concluded that climate change will overtake natural variability as the main cause of heat waves in both the western U.S. and Great Lakes region by the 2030s. Nature Climate Change also published a study last summer that detailed how heat waves will occur more frequently in the future due to climate change. Camilo Mora, associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the 2017 study, said, “Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heat waves, and while models suggest that this is likely to continue to be bad, it could be much worse if emissions are not considerably reduced.”

    Broadcast networks almost completely ignored the links between climate change and heat waves

    Media Matters analyzed morning and nightly news coverage of the heat wave on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as on PBS NewsHour, over a 14-day period from June 27 through July 10, covering the entire duration of the heat wave.

    Neither ABC nor NBC mentioned that climate change influences heat waves. There were 32 segments or weathercasts on ABC and 59 segments or weathercasts on NBC that discussed the heat wave. None of them mentioned the link between climate change and extremely high temperatures.

    CBS aired one segment that discussed the connection between climate change and high heat. Out of 36 CBS segments that mentioned the heat wave, just one mentioned climate change. The July 3 episode of CBS This Morning featured a discussion with Lonnie Quinn, chief weathercaster for WCBS-TV in New York City, who stated that there is a “really good, strong understanding that there’s a correlation between climate change and extreme hot and extreme cold” and noted the significant increase since 1970 in the number of days above 100 degrees in Miami, FL, and Austin, TX. 

    PBS NewsHour aired two segments on the heat waves, one of which discussed climate change. In its July 7 NewsHour program, PBS devoted a segment to the heat wave and incorporated climate change into its reporting, noting, “Global temperatures reached extreme highs this past week, something scientists have been warning of as part of the effects of climate change.” The segment also noted that July is off to a record-breaking start in terms of high temperatures.

    Broadcast TV news has a track record of neglecting climate change in its reporting on extreme weather

    In 2017, news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC severely undercovered climate change’s real-life impacts on people and climate change’s effects on extreme weather events, Media Matters found in its latest annual study of broadcast coverage. Over a two-week period during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes.

    But there are positive trends in broadcast coverage. PBS continues to set the standard for quality news coverage of climate change, as it has in the past. And local meteorologists are increasingly incorporating discussions of climate change into their segments and forecasts. For example, on July 4 in Kansas City -- where there were two suspected heat-related deaths -- NBC affiliate KSHB discussed that climate change is expected to increase the number of extremely hot days in the future, using a dynamic map from climate science nonprofit Climate Central to make the point.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis, iQ media, and SnapStream for national news broadcasts that included a segment about the heat wave, using the search terms (heat OR "heat wave" OR "heat waves" OR heatwave OR heatwaves OR temperature OR temperatures OR hot). A second search adding the term AND (“climate change” OR “global warming”) was used to identify any segments on the heat wave that mentioned climate change. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts. Our analysis covered early morning news shows (ABC's America This Morning, CBS Morning News, and NBC's Early Today), morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), and nightly news programs (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) from June 27 through July 10.

  • Scott Pruitt's EPA has cozy relationship with Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon

    Under Pruitt, EPA feeds tips to right-wing outlets, gets fawning coverage

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency has developed a remarkably cozy relationship with two conservative outlets: The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon.

    While many other news outlets have been aggressively covering the myriad scandals dogging Pruitt, The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon have gone above and beyond to defend Pruitt from charges of unethical behavior and try to discredit sources of damaging information, often by using mysteriously obtained internal EPA documents. Pruitt has also given exclusive interviews to The Daily Caller and used it as a platform for issuing policy announcements. In essence, The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon are serving as de facto press offices for the EPA.

    This follows a pattern Media Matters has documented of Pruitt giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets and receiving favorable coverage from them. We found that in his first year at EPA, Pruitt gave more than twice as many interviews to Fox News as to the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, and Fox gave significantly less coverage to Pruitt's scandals than did other cable news channels.  

    Mainstream reporters and outlets, in contrast, have been repeatedly attacked and stymied by Pruitt's EPA. The New York Times recently revealed that the agency categorizes media outlets as “friendly” or “unfriendly” and selectively chooses to talk to reporters who it believes will provide positive, uncritical coverage.

    Wash. Free Beacon cited EPA internal documents to concoct misleading defenses of Pruitt’s travel scandals

    After numerous news stories emerged about Pruitt’s exorbitant travel costs, the Free Beacon ran a March 21 article headlined “Obama EPA Administrators Spent Eight Times More Than Pruitt on International Travel.” The article cited “internal EPA documents provided to the Washington Free Beacon” -- which, according to Emily Atkin of The New Republic, came from EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox. The Free Beacon reported that the documents “reveal Obama administration EPA administrators jet setting cost taxpayers roughly $1 million. The EPA has spent $124,000 for Pruitt and his security detail to travel to the G-7 summit in Italy and a trip to Morocco.” But Atkin pointed out the many ways in which the comparison is “laughably inadequate" or "shockingly dishonest” -- including the fact that it compares one year of Pruitt's travel to eight years of his predecessors' travel and ignores domestic travel, which in Pruitt's case has included numerous first-class flights.

    The Free Beacon again defended Pruitt’s travel after a May 7 Daily Beast article described his June 2017 trip to Italy as more focused on tourism than business, based on his recently released schedule. On May 9, the Free Beacon disputed that charge, stating, “New details of Scott Pruitt's trip to Italy to attend the G-7 summit last summer undermine media reports painting the Environmental Protection Agency administrator's trip as a lavish tourist vacation. … Pruitt's schedule, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, reveals the four-day trip was heavy on business dealings.”

    The May 9 Free Beacon article also addressed reports about Pruitt meeting during the trip with Australian Cardinal George Pell, a climate denier who was facing sexaul abuse allegations at the time and was subsequently charged. The Free Beacon claimed that Pruitt had only met with Pell “incidentally” and knew nothing about the charges. But New York Times reporter Eric Lipton called those claims “wrong” and pointed out that EPA staff began planning for the dinner with Pell in May 2017 and were aware that Pell was under investigation when they vetted the meeting.   

    None of these articles in the Washington Free Beacon noted how the publication obtained internal EPA documents, nor did any of the similar articles published in The Daily Caller. Mainstream news outlets, in contrast, typically note how they obtain such documents.

    Daily Caller and Wash. Free Beacon published attacks against former EPA staffer who told Congress of Pruitt’s unethical conduct

    Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign staffer, served as a politically appointed deputy chief of staff to Pruitt until he was placed on administrative leave without pay and eventually fired from the agency in March 2018, after raising concerns about Pruitt’s lavish spending. In April 2018, Chmielewski met with Democratic lawmakers’ staff and appeared on ABC's World News Tonight to detail a wide range of ethical abuses by Pruitt.

    Both The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon published articles that aimed to discredit Chmielewski by citing another former EPA staffer, anonymous sources, and EPA documents.

    Shortly after Chmielewski presented his allegations of wasteful spending and unethical behavior to lawmakers’ staff, The Daily Caller published an April 23 article headlined, “SOURCES: Most Of What EPA’s Leaker Told Dems About Scott Pruitt Is ‘False,’” which cited “sources familiar with EPA’s inner-workings” and quoted an anonymous source saying of Chmielewski’s claims, “more than 60 percent is false, the other 40 percent is information he distorted.”

    On May 7, Pruitt’s former security chief, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, gave his first interview since resigning from the EPA to The Daily Caller. According to multiple reports, Perrotta played an important role in justifying much of the EPA chief’s exorbitant spending. In the interview, Perrotta dismissed the barrage of negative stories about Pruitt as the product of a few “disgruntled employees,” and singled out Chmielewski in particular for criticism, accusing him of retaliating against the EPA over pay-related issues and spreading “false” information. The next week, on May 14, The Daily Caller published portions of a memo that Perrotta wrote in January detailing two phone calls he had with Chmielewski. According to The Daily Caller, the memo showed that “Chmielewski threatened to ‘retaliate’ against Administrator Scott Pruitt and others over a pay dispute.”

    The Washington Free Beacon took aim at Chmielewski in an April 27 article that accused him of inflating his military service on his résumé and “benefi[ting] from the same EPA hiring authority that he said EPA officials had used to dole out raises to two top Pruitt aides, according to knowledgeable sources and EPA documents.” The Free Beacon followed up with a May 7 article that cited “several administration officials and two people who worked with [Chmielewski] on the campaign” to claim that Chmielewski had “a long history of run-ins with law enforcement, including a warning from a Secret Service detail, debt problems and other red flags that could have sunk his mandatory background check.” The New York Times had previously reported that Chmielewski was placed on administrative leave without pay after he and others confronted Pruitt about his unusually large spending, according to “two of the people with knowledge of the situation.” But the Free Beacon instead claimed that Chmielewski was forced out of the EPA because of questions about his background and an occasional inability of EPA staff to locate him while he was assumed to be doing advance work.

    Daily Caller cited EPA statements, emails, and anonymous sources to dispute damning reporting

    The Daily Caller has frequently tried to rebut negative stories about Pruitt and his staff by citing EPA emails, anonymous sources, and statements from EPA spokespeople that did not appear in other outlets. Here are a few that Media Matters has identified in recent weeks:

    • April 19: After The Associated Press published an article, “EPA chief sat in coach when not flying on taxpayer’s dime,” The Daily Caller ran a piece criticizing the headline and quoting an EPA statement that did not appear in any other media reports. The Daily Caller article and the EPA statement both accused AP of downplaying the fact that the flights in question took place on Southwest Airlines, which does not have first-class seats.

    • April 27: During a congressional hearing on April 26, Pruitt appeared to admit to lawmakers that he knew about at least one of two pay raises approved for his staffers when he stated that he had delegated authority to give the raises -- an apparent contradiction of his previous statement that he was unaware of the pay raises. The day after the hearing, The Daily Caller claimed to have a scoop: “An EPA memo obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation shows Pruitt delegated personnel authority to Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson more than one year ago, not around the time of the controversial raises. … Based on the document and Pruitt’s testimony, he was not saying he gave Jackson authority to grant the two raises in question.” The Daily Caller article failed to address the fact that Pruitt gave differing answers about his knowledge of the raises, and neglects to mention that internal emails suggest and three administration officials have stated that Pruitt personally approved at least one of the controversial pay raises.

    • May 8: Following reports by The Washington Post and E&E News about an EPA memo used to justify Pruitt’s first-class travel, The Daily Caller attempted to discredit the reports by quoting two unnamed sources. It wrote, “the memo is not signed, and is addressed to Gail Davis, EPA’s travel coordinator. Two sources said Pruitt would have needed approval from Jeanne Conklin, the acting controller in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, to fly first class.”

    • May 8: The Daily Caller cited EPA emails as it pushed back against Democratic claims that Pruitt wanted to establish a new agency office in his hometown of Tulsa, OK. It wrote, “The Daily Caller News Foundation reviewed emails that show Pruitt asked EPA officials to find a place ‘where he could work’ when he was home in Oklahoma," but didn't ask them to open a new EPA office.

    • May 11: The Daily Caller cited an EPA email as it disputed a New York Times article that claimed Pruitt’s security head Perrotta drank beers with Patrick Sullivan, the assistant inspector general who oversees investigations at the EPA. The Daily Caller wrote, “An email casts doubt on a key detail of The New York Times’s profile on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s former head of security — a detail that impugned the impartiality of a top official in the EPA inspector general’s office. … An email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation provides more evidence that Perrotta and Sullivan did not drink at a bar together across the street from EPA offices.” The Times later corrected its story and reported that Perrotta and Sullivan did not drink beers together.  

    • May 14: The Daily Caller cited EPA emails to push back against reports that Pruitt requested a 24/7 security detail starting on his first day at the EPA. It wrote, “The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained emails that show EPA officials discussed options to enhance Pruitt’s security before the Senate confirmed him. In fact, a member of President Donald Trump’s ‘beachhead’ team at EPA requested beefed up security for Pruitt as a precautionary measure.”

    Pruitt unveiled major policy announcements in Daily Caller

    Media Matters has previously documented how Pruitt turns to conservative and right-wing outlets when he wants to unveil news. Pruitt’s earliest announcements of his planned "red team/blue team" exercise to debate climate science were in June 2017 on The Savage Nation and Breitbart News Daily.

    It’s no surprise then that Pruitt’s EPA has often used The Daily Caller to announce major policy changes at the agency. In March, Pruitt gave an exclusive interview to The Daily Caller to announce a plan to severely restrict the type of scientific data the agency can use for policymaking, which could undermine clean air regulations. Instead of giving other reporters information about the plan, the EPA sent out a press release that linked to the The Daily Caller article.

    Other announcements first reported in The Daily Caller included plans to drop a requirement for new power plants to have carbon-capture technology, the submission of a proposal to roll back the Waters of the United States rule, and the "evolution" of the "red team/blue team" exercise.

    UPDATE (5/22): The EPA barred The Associated Press, CNN, and E&E News from attending a national summit on harmful water contaminants convened by Scott Pruitt. The AP reported that one of its reporters asked to speak to an EPA public affairs person after being denied entry and was then grabbed by the shoulders and shoved forcibly out of the building by security. In a statement, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said, “This was simply an issue of the room reaching capacity” -- though reporters noted there were empty seats in the room. He continued: “We were able to accommodate 10 news outlets and provided a livestream for those we could not accommodate.” One of those reporters in attendance was The Daily Caller’s Jason Hopkins, who claimed to have witnessed the episode with the AP reporter and disputed that the reporter was “‘forcibly’ grabbed.” But a CNN photographer's account of the events supports the AP’s report.