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  • Foreign media outlets keep showing how to cover politics in the age of Trump. Will U.S. outlets learn their lesson?

    Access journalism and softball interviews fail the American people. U.S.-based media need a reality check.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    “Trump returns to his dangerous lying about elections, makes up story about massive voter fraud he says has cost the Republicans victories...and falsely adds that you need a ‘voter ID’ to buy cereal,” Toronto Star Washington correspondent Daniel Dale tweeted about a recent interview between the president and The Daily Caller, an outlet Dale called “horrific.”

    Dale, who is known for his meticulous fact checks on Trump’s statements to the press and at rallies, was right: The interview with The Daily Caller was riddled with unchallenged errors and nonsensical statements. For instance, he lied about his border wall and about his attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He claimed that undocumented immigrants were voting in California and that Massachusetts residents had been bused into New Hampshire during the 2016 election, flipping the state to Hillary Clinton’s favor. He accused people of voting twice by putting on disguises and changing clothes and, as is almost always the case, he also peppered his responses with half-truths and exaggerations.

    Daily Caller editor Amber Athey responded to Dale’s criticism with a tweet of her own: “Why don't you let American outlets handle interviewing the president?”

    Maybe U.S. outlets, including mainstream organizations, simply aren’t up to the task of holding the powerful accountable.

    The Daily Caller has a conservative bent, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this was a friendly interview. After all, one of the two people conducting the site’s interview with Trump was “lib-owning” enthusiast Benny Johnson, a serial plagiarist and publisher of conspiracy theories.

    But it’s not just the Daily Callers, Fox Newses, and Breitbarts of the world that give members of the Trump administration and its surrogates a pass. Even the most mainstream, nonpartisan news outlets in the country often let the administration spread rumors and outright misinformation during interviews without follow-up.

    For example, take a look at Trump’s October interview with The Associated Press. At one point, an AP interviewer asked if Trump had any plans to pardon Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman. During his response, which trailed off into a comment on Russians who had been indicted for hacking Democratic National Committee emails, the president said, with absolutely zero proof or explanation, “Some of [the hackers] supported Hillary Clinton.” Rather than question him about this bombshell accusation, the interviewers moved on to their next subject: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s planned trip to Saudi Arabia. At another point in the interview, Trump repeated well-known lies about a law requiring the U.S. to separate undocumented children from their parents at the border and another about members of the military receiving a raise for the first time in 11 years. On both occasions, there was no pushback from the interviewers.

    Another example comes from Trump’s recent on-camera interview with Jonathan Swan and Jim VandeHei of Axios. During the outlet’s November 4 HBO special, Swan asked Trump about his campaign promise to end birthright citizenship, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment (emphasis added).

    DONALD TRUMP: You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order. Now, how ridiculous -- we're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end.

    But we’re not actually “the only country in the world” with birthright citizenship. While Axios does note on its website that there are, in fact, more than 30 other countries that offer birthright citizenship, people who saw the viral Youtube clip likely wouldn't know this, as neither Swan nor VandeHei corrected the false statement at the time. 

    Last week, a video of journalist Mehdi Hasan interviewing Trump campaign adviser Steven Rogers accumulated millions of views on social media. The video shows Hasan, who hosts UpFront and Head to Head on Al-Jazeera English and writes a column for The Intercept, asking a series of questions about: birthright citizenship, Trump’s claim that there were riots in California, and a frequent Trump lie about American Steel announcing plans to open new plants in the U.S. when it has done no such thing. Unlike the aforementioned examples of journalists passing on the opportunity to push back on false statements in real time, Hasan continued following up on the same issue until he got something resembling an honest answer out of Rogers.

    MEHDI HASAN: He said during the campaign that there’s six to seven steel facilities that are going to be opened up. There are no -- U.S. Steel has not announced any facilities. Why did he say they’ve announced new facilities? That’s a lie, isn’t it?

    STEVEN ROGERS: No, it isn’t, because there are a lot of companies opening up -- there are steel facilities that are going to be opening up or I think they actually, one opened up in Pennsylvania.

    HASAN: Sorry, Steven, that’s not what he said. I know it’s difficult for you. I know you want to try and defend him.

    ROGERS: No, it isn’t difficult for me.

    HASAN: Well OK, let me read the quote -- let me read the quote to you. “U.S. Steel just announced that they’re building six new steel mills.” That’s a very specific claim. U.S. Steel have not announced six new steel mills. They have said they’ve not announced six new steel mills mills. There’s no evidence of six new steel mills. He just made it up. And he repeated it. He didn’t just say it once.

    ROGERS: Look, I don’t know of what context these statements were made, but I can tell you this, the president of the United States has been very responsive to the American people, and the American people are doing well. Look, people can look at me and say, “Steve Rogers lied --”

    HASAN: The American people can be doing well, and the president can be a liar. There’s no contradiction between those two statements.

    ROGERS: I am not going to say the president of the United States is a liar. I’m not going to do that.

    HASAN: No, I know you’re not! But I’ve just put to you multiple lies, and you’ve not been able to respond to any of them.

    It’s not a matter of partisanship, either. In the past, Hasan has grilled Obama administration deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes over U.S. intervention in Syria and Obama adviser Derek Chollet on the former president’s foreign policy legacy. 

    It says a lot about the state of U.S. journalism that Hasan’s clip got attention for just being the type of interview journalists everywhere should be conducting.

    Journalist Mehdi Hasan Brilliantly Grills Trump Official On President’s Lies,” read one HuffPost headline. “Al Jazeera Host Pummels Trump Adviser With Examples of His Lies: ‘The President Lies Daily,’” read another over at Mediaite.

    In July, BBC journalist Emily Maitlis won similar praise after forgoing softball questions in favor of something a bit more substantive when interviewing former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. So used to friendly interviews, Spicer characterized the questions -- which included queries about the infamous Access Hollywood tape, Spicer’s lie about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, and about how he could both care about democracy and serve as the “agent” for a president who repeatedly lied -- as “extreme.” Maitlis told The New York Times, “That is what we do: We hold people accountable in robust interviews. It was not about me versus Sean Spicer at all.”

    In an exchange with me via Twitter direct messages, Hasan offered tips to journalists at U.S.-based outlets. On brushing off bad-faith accusations of bias and resisting the impulse to preserve access, Hasan borrows from a conservative catchphrase: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” He writes:

    If journalists are posing tough but factual questions, then who cares how conservatives -- or liberals, for that matter -- feel about that? U.S. conservatives, of course, have a long, tried-and-tested history of 'playing the ref' and pressuring media organizations to soften their coverage with bad-faith accusations of liberal bias.

    One way around this is for interviewers to establish reputations for being tough with politicians from across the spectrum. Only a handful of U.S. cable news interviewers do this -- Jake Tapper and Chris Wallace, off the top of my head. But they're still not tough enough -- especially with Trump administration officials and supporters who like to tell brazen lies live on air.

    But being a tough interviewer isn’t without its downsides. For instance, in June 2016, CNN’s Jake Tapper interviewed then-candidate Trump. Tapper grilled Trump about his comments that Judge Gonzalo Curiel -- who was presiding over a case involving Trump University -- had a conflict of interest in the case because his parents were Mexican immigrants and Trump wanted to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The interview, which aired during the June 5 edition of State of the Union with Jake Tapper, left Trump looking foolish and unable to defend his Curiel comments. The interview was hard-hitting. Trump has not given another interview to Tapper in the more than two years since.

    Hasan has thoughts about how journalists can avoid the access trap, but it involves a bit of teamwork. He wrote: “Unless all interviewers toughen up their act, it'll be very easy for politicians to pick and choose between tough and soft interviewers and decline requests from the former.” That is to say, journalists all need to up their games.

    He and his team on UpFront devote a lot of time to researching the people and issues they plan to discuss in advance. The team will watch past interviews the guest has done to see “what works and what doesn’t.” Importantly, they think realistically about how much ground an interview can or should cover in the time allotted. It’s an important question: Is it better to cover a dozen topics with zero follow-up questions, or does it make more sense to really drill down on three or four questions? The answer is probably the latter.

    “It's not rocket science: if you can't be bothered to prepare, to turn up for an interview equipped with relevant information, with facts and figures, don't be surprised if you're unable to hold an evasive guest to account,” writes Hasan. “Despite what Kellyanne Conway might want you to believe, facts are facts and facts still matter.”

    “Also: you're not there to make friends. You're there to speak truth to power. Don't be charmed, don't be bullied, don't be distracted. Focus,” he adds. “And if you let your guest get away with a brazen lie, in my view, you're complicit in the telling of that lie.”

    On-air interviews are rare opportunities for politicians to show how brave they really are. Voters should expect elected officials to take risks and to be able to defend their positions in unscripted environments.

    A good on-air interview can tell the voting public more than any debate or print interview ever could. Hasan explains:

    Interviews on television are one of the few times that a politician has his or her feet held to the fire in a sustained or coherent way. Print interviews tend to be softer, and done in private. TV debates between candidates tend to be an exchange of hackneyed and partisan talking points. A TV interview is an opportunity to perform a robust interrogation of a politician's views, positions, policies and statements. If it's not probing and challenging, what's the point of it? Why bother doing it?

    News consumers and voters should encourage politicians to take on the toughest interviewers they can find. Politicians who can’t explain and defend their policy positions are politicians who probably shouldn’t hold office at all. So long as interviewers are fair, fact-based, and focused on relevant issues, there’s no reason a tough interview isn’t also one that can win over both skeptics and supporters. Friendly interviews have their place, but they’re not especially helpful when it comes to giving voters the information they need to make informed choices about who they want representing them.

    Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect that presidents and other politicians will seek out the easiest, most slam-dunk interviews they can book. For instance, during the 2016 campaign, the Trump campaign forged an agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group to air exclusive (and exceptionally friendly) interviews with Trump.

    The 2016 election demonstrated not just that candidates were afraid to take the risk of engaging in difficult interviews, but also that journalists were afraid to offer them.

    A study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that during the 2016 presidential election, there wasn’t a whole lot of policy being discussed. According to the report, 42 percent of all election media reports were dedicated to horse race coverage, with 17 percent focused on controversies. Just 10 percent of all election coverage was centered on policy issues.

    Perhaps news and entertainment have become too intertwined, with too much focus on viewership and not nearly enough emphasis on what should be the primary goal of informing the American people. Infotainment simply does not make for an informed electorate, and it’s a shame that we live in a world where interviews like Hasan’s are the exception and not the rule.

  • How the Russian concept of "info-noise" can help American outlets cover Trump

    Substantive policy changes can -- and should -- be kept separate from statements that are merely inflammatory

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    “Infoshum” -- or “information noise” -- is a term that has recently gained attention in Russian-language media analysis. Pioneered by TV channel RTVI, the concept applies to meaningless, inflammatory news items and attempts to differentiate them from those with substance. American outlets covering President Donald Trump would serve their audiences better if they learned the difference.

    As independent Russian media analyst Oleg Kashin put it last month in a column for Republic.ru, “Infoshum is not fake news or post-truth” -- rather, it is news that draws on provocative statements, conjectures, or social media controversies to build stories designed for maximum clickability and minimum informativeness. Kashin’s take translates as: “For every piece of news that’s made of clear, intense, high-quality reporting work, ... there’s one for which success is virality for the sake of virality, and what used to be sent out in boring press releases is now mined and sold as a valuable exclusive.” To further illustrate the principle, Kashin used examples of journalists calling up Russian senators in the Duma who are known for making inflammatory comments and extracting “one detail that turns it into real anti-journalism” -- some sensational statement which then becomes a news story in its own right. Writing up provocative tweets by political figures elides even this faint journalistic effort.

    In the Trump era, it’s hard not to see the problem of infoshum as familiar and, these days, fundamental to the way American news outlets operate. Idle, inflammatory musings from the president are quickly spun into headlines. On October 30, Axios’s Jonathan Swan engaged in what Kashin might call “anti-journalism” by inducing Trump to assert, with characteristic truculence, that he planned to end birthright citizenship and then publishing Trump’s resultant vague comments about ending it, packaged uncritically as an “Exclusive.”

    Trump is an infoshum-dispatching machine -- he has a singular ability to signal-jam mainstream news sources by offering a constant stream of bizarre, bellicose statements designed to whet the appetites of click-hungry editors. And even when he hasn’t had Fox News airtime to put forth half-baked provocations, reporters themselves often engender such cycles of controversy with their questions; the president has never met an incendiary query that he didn’t like. Could liberal philanthropist George Soros be funding the migrant caravan? Sure. Banning birthright citizenship? We’re looking into it. As Deadspin editor David Roth put it in a recent piece, “Reporters shout something at Trump about a thing he said or did or his response to someone’s else response to something, and then he shouts that he did it because he felt like it or actually didn’t do it at all,” a ritual that repeats itself over and over again amid press scrums on the White House lawn. “If there is a purpose here,” Roth wrote, “it is the theater of it—the theater of Trump’s strange fey boorishness and the towering and obvious lies he tells.” The headlines generated by fragmented, aggressive statements during Trump’s freewheeling and infrequent press conferences are information-noise too; there is little to add beyond the easily verified fact that the president said something and that it had little substance but much fury. 

    Perhaps the ultimate example of Trumpian infoshum is the issue of the caravan -- a group of migrants headed toward the U.S. border seeking asylum -- which became a singular focus of Trump’s screeds leading up to the midterm elections. Trump’s aggressive anti-immigrant tweets and statements were dutifully picked up and accelerated by his loyalists at Fox News, and subsequently bled over into mainstream outlets where caravan coverage surged, as Media Matters’ Matt Gertz has illustrated. In this way, a partisan talking point thrummed into the national consciousness via an ongoing stream of info-noise issuing from the White House.

    RTVI contends with infoshum by siloing it in a separate section tagged as “noise,” reserved for stories that are thinly sourced and make inflammatory claims -- such as “The US is on the brink of a new civil war” or “Improvements in cell phones provokes the development of cancer.” While it’s tempting to cover presidential statements with gravitas that would preclude this treatment, Trump’s well-established penchant for furthering baseless conspiracy theories, inciting shallow but debasing cultural conflicts, and generally inducing a click-driven news cycle to gravitate in his sullen orbit means that such treatment is well-warranted. Absent material policy changes -- whose substance, consequences, and impacts on different communities should be reported on with appropriate seriousness -- most of Trump’s eruptions should be treated as exactly what they are: Noise.

  • Major media outlets dropped the ball last year on connecting climate change to hurricanes. Will they do better this year?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Major media outlets gave Hurricane Harvey plenty of attention when it hit Houston and surrounding areas just over a year ago, but too little of that coverage mentioned that climate change can make hurricanes more destructive and dangerous.

    A 2017 Media Matters study found that neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows from August 23 to September 7 that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey. An analysis by Public Citizen echoed that point, finding that many major newspapers and TV networks did not give the climate change connection appropriate coverage during their reporting on Harvey. Coverage of Hurricane Irma also fell short on incorporating climate science, and the media did a terrible job of covering Hurricane Maria at all, let alone how climate change might have affected the storm.

    Four months after Harvey hit, two groups of scientists published studies that connected the hurricane's record-breaking rainfall to climate change. Harvey had stalled out over the Houston region and dumped more than 60 inches of rain in some areas. One of the studies estimated that climate change made Harvey’s rainfall 15 percent heavier than it otherwise would have been, while the second offered a best estimate of nearly 38 percent. A third study published in May also connected the hurricane to global warming, concluding that "Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change."

    Scientists are now warning that Hurricane Florence could be affected by climate change in some of the same ways Harvey was, leading to massive amounts of rain over North Carolina and adjacent states.

    Will mainstream media do a better job of explaining the links between climate change and hurricanes this time around?

    There are some encouraging signs. A number of outlets have published or aired good pieces this week that explained the climate science around hurricanes, and some have also taken the Trump administration to task for rolling back climate protections while we are in peak hurricane season.

    NPR's Morning Edition on September 11 included a good segment by science reporter Rebecca Hersher reviewing some of the relevant research:

    Slow-moving storms like Harvey are getting more common. A study published earlier this year by [atmospheric scientist James] Kossin found that tropical cyclones around the world have slowed down 10 percent in the past 70 years.

    ...

    Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says global warming also affects the size and intensity of storms like Florence.

    Axios science editor Andrew Freedman wrote a strong piece on September 11 that explained, "There are several characteristics of the changing climate that are helping to increase the risks of damage from Hurricane Florence, even though global warming is not directly causing such a storm to spin up." His article included a quote from Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe:

    Hurricanes are absolutely being affected by our changing climate, in many ways. As the world warms, the rainfall associated with hurricanes is becoming more intense; they are getting stronger, on average; they are intensifying faster; they are moving more slowly; and, as sea level rises, the storm surge from these events can be more damaging.

    The Baltimore Sun published a hard-hitting editorial on September 11 that noted the influence of climate change on hurricanes and called out the Trump administration for undoing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions:

    While one can’t say Hurricane Florence is entirely a product of climate change (severe weather existed long before people started burning fossil fuels), it is safe to say that climate change is a major reason why Florence may be bigger and stronger and why there are likely to be more such monster storms in our future. Meanwhile, it’s also quite safe to say that President Donald Trump and his current set of minions, anonymous or on the record, are exceedingly disinterested in lifting a finger to do something about global warming.

    Already this year, the Trump EPA has rolled back limits on emissions on vehicles and coal-fired power plants, two major sources of greenhouse gases. [Weakening methane rules] completes the administration’s trifecta of climate ignorance. And doing so as the Southeast faces such an ominous threat rises above chutzpah into something Nero-like in its lack of caring for the possible suffering of Americans.

    The Washington Post also published a forceful editorial on September 11 titled "Another hurricane is about to batter our coast. Trump is complicit." It cited scientific research about climate change exacerbating hurricanes, and it criticized the Trump administration for its policies that will make climate change worse:

    With depressingly ironic timing, the Trump administration announced Tuesday a plan to roll back federal rules on methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is the main component in natural gas. Drillers and transporters of the fuel were supposed to be more careful about letting it waft into the atmosphere, which is nothing more than rank resource waste that also harms the environment. The Trump administration has now attacked all three pillars of President Barack Obama’s climate-change plan.

    As we watch how Hurricane Florence develops, we'll be looking for other outlets -- including ABC and NBC -- to put the storm in its proper context, reporting on climate science and the Trump team's efforts to undo climate protections.

  • Stop interviewing Steve Bannon

    How many “exclusives” can one discredited crank give?

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In late February, six months after he was unceremoniously fired from the White House, Steve Bannon sat down for a “wide-ranging and challenging conversation” with GQ, which wrote up the interview under the headline “Steve Bannon is hatching his comeback.” In early March, Bannon gave a “sprawling interview” to the New York Times about his “international mission” to “demolish [Europe’s] political establishment.” That same month he was a featured interviewee at a Financial Times Future of News conference.

    On April 4, Bannon gave an interview to Reuters about tariffs. Less than a week later, he gave another interview to the New York Times, also about tariffs. A couple of days after that, Bannon talked to The Washington Post about the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. On May 22, Bannon talked to the Post again ahead of a debate in Prague. The next day, Bannon gave an “exclusive” interview to the BBC about the Russia investigation.

    On June 1, he “spoke exclusively” to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria for a program the network hyped as “The Steve Bannon Interview.” Two weeks later, ABC’s Jon Karl went “one-on-one exclusively” with Bannon in what was billed as “his first Sunday morning show interview since leaving the White House.” Three days later, Bannon gave an interview to The National Interest. On July 8, he was interviewed by The Sunday Times. Ten days later, CNBC snagged an “exclusive interview” with Bannon. Two days after that, Bannon talked to The Daily Beast. A few days later, he talked to Reuters (again). Less than a week later, Politico interviewed Bannon about the Koch brothers.

    August 10: New York magazine. August 12: “a wide-ranging interview” with The Sunday Times (again). August 15: The New York Times (again). August 15: Politico (again). August 16: Axios.

    And tonight, Steve Bannon “will join anchor Ari Melber one-on-one for an exclusive television interview on MSNBC.”

    That’s at least 22 interviews over the course of six months (it’s entirely possible that I missed a few Bannon interviews while compiling this list, since he will talk to literally anyone). By now it seems reasonable to ask what, if anything, we stand to learn from this many-times discredited former White House official who is hanging out with far-right European extremists and whose most recent foray into U.S. politics was his failed attempt to elevate an accused child molester to the U.S. Senate.

    Back in March, I wrote that Bannon “is looking to prove once and for all that a whack job extremist -- no matter how disgraced or putrefied by white supremacist politics -- can still command the attention and respect of America’s elite.” Congrats, Steve: mission accomplished.

  • Fox & Friends ignores report that Trump pressured Sessions multiple times to "reclaim control of the Russia investigation"

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    President Donald Trump’s favorite morning cable program, Fox & Friends, is continuing its longstanding model of ignoring important reporting on potential legal troubles for the Trump administration. On June 1, the  show chose not to cover a new report from Axios that the president “pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reclaim control of the Russia investigation on at least four separate occasions.”

    On May 31, Axios’ Jonathan Swan reported that in “multiple conversations” with the attorney general, Trump “pressured” Sessions “to reclaim control of the Russia investigation” into possible coordination between the country and the Trump campaign. According to Swan, “The sustained pressure made several officials uncomfortable, because they viewed it as improper and worry that it could be politically and legally problematic.” The New York Times had reported two days earlier about one of those conversations, and the piece noted that special counsel Robert Mueller regarded Sessions as “a key witness in the investigation into whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry itself.”

    Indeed, multiple political and legal analysts have suggested that such a request would be further evidence of the president attempting to obstruct justice.

    But Trump’s favorite morning cable news program, Fox & Friends, has all but ignored the news. A Media Matters review found that on the morning of June 1, Fox & Friends did not mention Sessions or Trump’s multiple requests that he “unrecuse” himself from the investigation, which follows the show’s transparent and well-documented trend of all but ignoring negative reporting regarding the Trump administration.

  • Before he joined Trump, Bannon bragged he made Breitbart the home of the "alt-right." Now he's back.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and restored executive chairman of Breitbart.com, orchestrated and supported many of the worst elements of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Before, during, and after his direct involvement with Trump’s political ambitions, Bannon used his experience -- and his extensive and complicated financial connections to the far-right billionaire Mercer family -- to stoke the flames of nativist anger, encourage Trump’s most racist and misogynistic rhetoric, support far-right political candidates across the globe, and attack all perceived enemies of Trumpism, potentially including Trump himself.

  • Myths and facts to know ahead of Rick Perry's study on the electrical grid and renewable energy

    There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of the forthcoming study from the Department of Energy

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered his department to produce a study on whether the ongoing shift toward renewable energy is affecting the reliability of the electrical grid. A number of experts, clean-energy advocates, and politicians on both sides of the aisle believe the study is intended to be biased in favor of the coal and nuclear industries, which have been struggling in recent years.

    As journalists prepare to report on the study, which is expected to be released this month, there are some critical factors to consider:

    • The study leader worked for Koch-funded groups and has demonstrated bias against renewable energy;

    • wind and solar power are not major factors leading to the shuttering of coal and nuclear plants, according to energy experts and reports; and

    • numerous studies and grid experts have concluded that the electrical grid can incorporate increasing amounts of renewable energy and become more secure as a result, not less.

    Perry orders grid study that's widely viewed as intended to bolster the coal industry

    On April 14, Perry put out a memo calling for the Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct a 60-day study "to explore critical issues central to protecting the long-term reliability of the electric grid." The study is intended to assess "how certain policies are affecting, and potentially putting at risk, energy security and reliability," according to the memo. Though Perry’s memo didn't mention wind, solar, or renewable energy by name, it was widely understood to be referring to policies that have supported the development of renewable energy.

    Here's how Bloomberg explained it:

    U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is ordering a study of the U.S. electric grid, with an eye to examining whether policies that favor wind and solar energy are accelerating the retirement of coal and nuclear plants critical to ensuring steady, reliable power supplies.

    [...]

    Perry highlights concerns about the “erosion” of resources providing “baseload power” -- consistent, reliable electricity generated even when the sun isn’t shining and the winds aren’t blowing.

    [...]

    Perry’s effort suggests that the administration may be looking for other ways to keep coal plants online.

    As Jacques Leslie, a contributing opinion writer at the Los Angeles Times, put it in April, "Perry has already decided what the study should find: Its purpose is to buttress the Trump administration’s pro-fossil fuel policies."

    Chris Tomlinson, a business columnist for the Houston Chronicle, recently described the forthcoming study as "clearly a fait accompli," writing that "Perry ordered his own review of the grid to reach conclusions that suit the administration." Tomlinson explained: "Perry is looking for an excuse to override competitive electricity markets and force utilities to buy power from coal and nuclear plants."

    In late June, Perry gave his critics more ammunition with remarks he made at the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual conference, The Hill reported. While discussing the study, he said that "politically driven policies, driven primarily by a hostility to coal,” threaten “the reliability and the stability of the greatest electricity grid in the world." The Hill further reported that Perry told the conference he “doesn’t intend to give preference to renewable power, something he accused the Obama administration of doing.” Perry said, “I recognize the markets have had a role in the evolution of our energy mix. But no reasonable person can deny the thumb, or even the whole hand, if you will, has been put on the scale in favor of certain political outcomes.”

    In addition to a long record of fossil-fuel boosterism, Perry has a history of denying that climate change is caused by humans burning fossil fuels, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus. Perry reiterated this denial during a June 19 appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box, blaming climate change primarily on "the ocean waters and this environment that we live in” instead of carbon dioxide emitted through human activity.

    Study leader worked for Koch-funded groups and has demonstrated bias against renewable energy

    Perry selected Travis Fisher to lead the study, a political appointee who serves as a senior advisor in the DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. Fisher has a record of skepticism toward clean energy and favoritism toward fossil fuels, as documented by the Energy and Policy Institute, a nonprofit watchdog.

    Before joining the Trump administration, Fisher worked as an economist at the Institute for Energy Research and the American Energy Alliance, groups that are run by a former Koch Industries lobbyist and that received $3 million in donations from Koch-funded organizations in 2015. The Institute for Energy Research also received $50,000 from coal company Peabody Energy in 2015 and has been funded by ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute.

    While working at the Institute for Energy Research in 2015, Fisher wrote a report that argued wind and solar power threaten the reliability of the grid:

    The single greatest emerging threat to reliable electricity in the U.S. does not come from natural disturbances or human attacks. Rather, the host of bad policies now coming from the federal government—and, unfortunately, from many state governments—is creating far greater and more predictable problems with grid reliability.

    [...]

    Subsidies and mandates that force increased amounts of unreliable sources of electricity on the grid, such as wind and solar power, and undermine the normal operation of reliable power plants [...] create a much less reliable grid and increase the chances of a major blackout.

    Despite issuing these warnings, Fisher's 2015 report did not cite any examples of clean energy policies leading to blackouts.

    Fisher also wrote an op-ed in 2014 that argued wind and solar are "unreliable sources of power" and policies that promote them "undermine our electric system."

    Fisher isn't the only person involved with the study who has a biased background. Perry's memo calling for the study was addressed to his chief of staff, Brian McCormack, who until recently worked for the Edison Electric Institute, the primary trade group for the electric utility industry and an opponent of net-metering policies that encourage rooftop solar power. While at EEI, McCormack played a key role in fighting policies that promote renewable energy.

    Republican and Democratic politicians warn that the study is likely to be biased and lack credibility

    • Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, whose home state of Iowa has a robust wind power industry, sent a letter to Perry in May expressing serious doubts about the study. “I’m concerned that a hastily developed study, which appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability, will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources," he wrote. "In fact, at least one similar study has already been conducted by the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It's my understanding that study took two years to complete."

    • Seven Democratic members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent a letter to Perry in May saying, “This Study appears to be a thinly-disguised attempt to promote less economic electric generation technologies, such as coal and nuclear, at the expense of cost-competitive wind and solar power. … The Study, as you have framed it, appears to be intended to blame wind and solar power for the financial difficulties facing coal and nuclear electric generators and to suggest that renewable energy resources threaten the reliability of the grid."

    Coal groups support the review; clean energy industry groups are skeptical

    Industry trade groups appear to believe the study is likely to lean in favor of coal, as reflected in the coal lobby’s support for the inquiry and clean energy groups’ questions about how it's being conducted.  

    • A top coal lobbying group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, met twice with DOE officials to discuss the study "and came away hopeful about its results," The Hill reported in late June. “What DOE is doing is long overdue, and we’re very pleased with this right now,” said Paul Bailey, the group's president and CEO. “It looks like it will support the need for having a fleet of coal plants in the U.S.”

    • Luke Popovich, vice president for external relations at the National Association of Mining, wrote an op-ed for USA Today in May titled "Energy Department is right to study impact of U.S. power grid regulations." He praised Perry's call for the study, writing, "This is sensible policy."

    • Clean energy industry trade groups are worried that their perspectives will be left out of the study. In an April letter sent to Perry, three trade groups -- Advanced Energy Economy, the American Wind Energy Association, and the Solar Energy Industries Association -- pointed out that "solar and wind power, energy efficiency, energy storage, and advanced grid technologies ... have already been integrated smoothly into the electric power system in large and increasing amounts, as demonstrated in countless studies."

      The groups asked that the study be conducted through an inclusive, public process: "In light of the importance of this inquiry, we encourage you to follow standard practice and conduct the study in an open and transparent manner. When agencies prepare reports with policy recommendations that could affect entire industries and the millions of employees that work in them, such as the proposed one, it is customary for them to seek comments on a draft prior to the study being finalized."

    • The American Petroleum Institute, which represents producers of natural gas as well as oil, is also skeptical of the forthcoming study because it appears likely to promote coal and nuclear plants at the expense of gas. "Baseload is kind of a historical term. It's not really relevant to how electricity is produced today," Erica Bowman, chief economist at API, told the Houston Chronicle. "What you need is dispatchability ... and [coal and nuclear] are far slower when you compare them to a lot of the technology natural gas plants have."

      Writes the Chronicle, "That position places the oil and gas lobbying giants firmly on the side of the renewable energy industry, which has expressed concern Perry's study is nothing more than an attempt to prop up the coal sector."

    Renewable energy is not to blame for driving coal and nuclear plants out of business, according to reports and experts

    Perry called for the study to look into whether renewable energy threatens so-called "baseload" power plants. Wind and solar power are intermittent or variable, flowing into the grid when the wind blows and the sun shines, not 24/7. Perry expressed concern that government policies that encourage the development of renewable energy are leading to the closure of baseload plants that produce power around the clock, most of which are powered by coal and nuclear. Perry wrote in his memo that "federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others ... create acute and chronic problems for maintaining adequate baseload generation," implying that subsidies for wind and solar are hurting the coal and nuclear industries.

    But in fact, cheap natural gas is the main factor pushing coal and nuclear plants toward closure, not solar and wind, as many experts have noted.

    • A new report by Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm, reiterates that point. "Analysis Group finds it is market forces – primarily low-cost natural gas and flat demand for electricity – that are causing some coal and nuclear power plants to retire, and not state and federal policies supporting renewable energy development," says a press release from Advanced Energy Economy and the American Wind Energy Association. The two trade associations commissioned the report "in order to independently answer questions asked by Energy Secretary Rick Perry about the reliability and market rules of the U.S. electric power grid."

    • A recent report by the free-market think tank R Street refutes the idea that coal and nuclear are needed to maintain a reliable grid. “Concern over baseload retirements often masks an underlying preference for certain fuel types, namely coal and nuclear. Criticism of baseload retirements often ignores that nonbaseload resources can meet baseload demand reliably … and that new dependable resources have replaced retiring generators,” the report concludes.

    • Ben Fowke, president and CEO of large utility company Xcel Energy, told The Wall Street Journal in July that wind and solar are not responsible for the closure of coal and nuclear plants.

    Utility and grid experts say the grid can incorporate more renewables and be more secure as a result

    • For a period on February 12 of this year, wind provided a record 52.1 percent of the electricity to the grid in the Southwest Power Pool's service region, which spans 14 states. Bruce Rew, vice president of operations for the Southwest Power Pool, said, "Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability. Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent wind penetration. It's not even our ceiling."

    • Colette Honorable, an outgoing commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said in late June that large amounts of renewable energy have been successfully integrated into regional grids around the U.S. and have “absolutely not” harmed grid reliability. “I have seen no problems with reliability,” she said during remarks at the the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual conference. “Bring on more renewables.”

    • Ed Smeloff -- managing director at the nonprofit Vote Solar, who previously worked at SunPower Corp., the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District -- wrote an op-ed for The Hill in June arguing that renewable energy and clean technology "can make the electric grid more resilient and reliable," not less. "DOE studies have already shown that much more renewable energy can reliably be added to the grid. If the federal government calls for policies that protect 'baseload' resources from market forces, the results will be higher electric bills, slower domestic economic growth and, critically, a less secure electric power system," he wrote.

    • Don Furman, director of the Fix the Grid Coalition and a former executive at the utility PacifiCorp, told Media Matters by email, “A reliable, carbon-free grid based on renewable energy is not only possible, it is economically feasible. It will take time for an orderly transition, and we will need policies to help people impacted by the move away from coal. But we absolutely can do it, starting now.”

    • According to Axios, Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, said on May 24 at the annual conference of the American Wind Energy Association, "I don't think 5 or 10 years ago I'd be comfortable telling you we could not sacrifice reliability when we're going to have 35% of our energy come from wind. I'm telling you, I'm very comfortable with that today."

    • David Hochschild, a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency, and David Olsen, a member of the California Independent System Operator Board of Governors, which runs the state’s electric grid, argued in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that clean energy makes the grid more stable:

    In California, which has installed more clean energy than any other state, there have been no threats to the reliability of the electric grid caused by renewables. Instead, the three biggest threats to our grid over the last 20 years came from market manipulation (Enron et al, during the 2001 energy crisis), a nuclear plant failure (San Onofre, 2012) and the largest natural gas leak in history (Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, 2015). Rather than create these emergencies, renewable energy was part of the solution and continued to operate reliably and prevented these events from becoming worse.

    […]

    In August 2011, when a heat wave in Texas shut down 20 natural gas plants, it was wind power that kept the electric grid operator from having to black out areas of the state. In Iowa, wind power now provides 37 percent of the state’s electricity with no reduction in reliability.

    Numerous studies, including ones from DOE, have found that the grid can incorporate more clean energy and improve reliability in the process

    In 2016, renewable energy sources provided 15 percent of U.S. electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nearly 6 percent came from wind energy and about 1 percent came from solar energy. Many studies have concluded that the grid can handle considerably higher percentages.

    In fact, a leaked early draft of the very study Perry has commissioned reached the conclusion that the electrical grid is now more reliable than it was in the past even though it is handling more wind and solar power. According to Bloomberg, a draft written by career staff at the Department of Energy concluded, "The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards." But the draft report is currently being reviewed by department leaders and is expected to read somewhat differently by the time it is officially released. "Those statements as written are not in the current draft," a DOE spokesperson told Bloomberg.

    Previous studies reached conclusions similar to those of DOE career staff:

    • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is funded and overseen by the Department of Energy, found that the grid could handle 80 percent renewable power by 2050. The lab assessed the question of grid reliability in a four-volume 2012 study: "The central conclusion of the analysis is that renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the United States." This study, whose authors described it as "the most comprehensive analysis of high-penetration renewable electricity of the continental United States to date," is the one Grassley said had taken two years to complete.

    • Other studies from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory also found that the grid can accommodate much more renewable energy than it does now. The Solar Energy Industries Association summarized them in a recent briefing paper:

    Multiple studies from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have shown that the existing grid can handle high penetrations of renewable energy without compromising reliability and performance. In their Western Wind and Solar Integration Study and Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study NREL finds that both the existing western and eastern electric grids can accommodate upwards of 30% of solar and wind power without requiring extensive infrastructure investments.
    [...]
    Phase three of the [western grid] study demonstrated that reliability of the western grid can be maintained at high renewable penetration rates in the face of large system disturbance (such as the loss of a fossil plant).
    • A 2016 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that “widespread distribution of renewables would help address the intermittency problem by covering a wider swath of land and taking advantage of weather conditions over a larger area,” as Climate Nexus explained.

    • The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a not-for-profit regulatory authority, released a report last month that found the U.S. power grid has been successfully incorporating renewable energy. Midwest Energy News summarized the report: "NERC’s own findings suggest that — for now, at least — the nation’s power system has been largely successful in adapting to new technologies, shifting policies and fickle market forces."

    • Studies by grid operators have found that reliability can be maintained with higher proportions of renewables. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "The authorities responsible for operating the nation’s power grid — regional transmission organizations and independent system operators — have all published or participated in studies evaluating how increased renewable energy supplies would affect the electricity system. These studies have overwhelmingly shown that higher levels of renewable energy can be achieved regionally without affecting the reliability of electricity supplies."

      The Solar Energy Industries Association summarized some of these studies:

    The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages the largest amount of solar resources in the country, finds that the state will have no issues in maintaining reliability in hitting its 33% renewables target by 2020. PJM, which operates much of the eastern grid in the U.S., found in a 2014 study that they would not encounter reliability issues with 30% of their energy coming from solar and wind.
    In a separate study, CAISO found that solar photovoltaic power plants, when equipped with commercially available inverter technology, can offer “electric reliability services similar, or in some cases superior to, conventional power plants." Likewise, Concentrating Solar Power plants (CSP), which produce electricity by using the sun to heat boilers and push turbines, are easily paired with thermal energy storage and provide a host of grid benefits that allow them to function similar to any fossil fuel plant.
    • Studies by independent groups have also found that much more renewable energy can be accommodated on the grid. A new study by The Brattle Group, an economic consulting firm, found that “no single technology or fuel type is needed to keep the lights on” around the clock. According to a press release from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which commissioned the study, "The nation’s electricity grid operators are increasingly turning to more flexible resources and low-cost renewable energy options like wind and solar, rendering outdated the notion that 'baseload' generating plants are required to reliably power America’s homes and businesses."

      The Brattle study also reviewed "a number of other studies of grid operations and planning across the country," the Natural Resources Defense Council noted. "These studies uniformly highlight the increasing value of system flexibility. For example, an analysis of the California electricity system from Astrape Consulting found that as flexibility increases, reliability improves and both production costs and emissions decrease. An analysis of New Mexico grid operations reached a similar conclusion, finding that future blackouts are more likely to be driven by a lack of system operational flexibility."

      An earlier study by The Brattle Group, published in 2015, presented case studies on Colorado and Texas and determined that "integrating variable renewable energy at penetration levels of 10-20% on average and at times above 50% — i.e., high relative to the current levels in most of the United States — is possible. … While infrastructure changes will likely be necessary in the longer term, the shorter-term integration challenges in many cases can be addressed with modest operational changes." The study was commissioned by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, the educational affiliate of the trade group Advanced Energy Economy.

      A 2014 study by the International Energy Agency found, in the words of the Solar Energy Industries Association, that "most countries can achieve high grid reliability at renewable penetration rates of 25 – 40%."

    Climate Nexus has rounded up additional studies with similar findings.

    Grid operators have the technology and know-how to improve reliability while incorporating more renewables

    Experts point to many strategies and technologies that can be used to handle an increasing proportion of clean energy on the grid.

    The Washington Post noted a couple of them:

    Perry’s memo did not mention energy storage, which as it proliferates, is expected to help integrate more renewable energy onto the grid. For instance, batteries could store some of the energy generated by large solar arrays during the day, deploying that energy at night, effectively making solar into something a lot more like a "baseload" power source.

    [...]

    More and more, electricity markets are purchasing the lack of electricity use as a commodity, as “demand response” options, in which companies lower their energy use at times of peak demand to reduce burdens on the grid, proliferate.

    Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, listed more approaches grid operators could use in a blog post: "Coordination of demand response, electric vehicle charging, and simple upgrades such as thermostats and efficient lighting reduce the stress on the grid, directly and immediately improving reliability. The utility industry has great potential to improve this sort of interaction with consumers, as well as the game-changing possibilities of battery energy storage."

    The nonprofit group Climate Nexus outlined a number of additional strategies:

    Grid operators have an array of tools to deal with variability. Among these tools are accurate weather forecasting, sophisticated controls for renewable generators, flexible balancing of other resources like natural gas, utility-scale energy storage, and transmission lines to move power to areas of high demand. Changes in the wholesale market that allow for better scheduling of power plants and sharing of reserve margins across wide geographical areas could also reduce curtailment.

    Climate Nexus also noted, "The challenges renewables pose to the national power grid are minor compared to the larger systemic problems of aging infrastructure, susceptibility to weather-related outages and an overreliance on fossil fuels."

    And the group pointed out that incorporating more renewable energy into the U.S. electrical system provides numerous other benefits as well, including human health protections, job growth, electricity cost savings, and a more stable climate.

  • How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief

    Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team/blue team” review of climate science that would attempt to cast doubt on well-established science and lend an outsize voice to fringe scientists. The idea spread from a climate-denying scientist to conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Wall Street Journal to Pruitt, and now more right-wing outlets are promoting it.

    How the “red team/blue team” idea spread

    John Christy, a fringe scientist and climate denier, proposed the creation of a “red team” in comments submitted to the EPA in 2014. His proposal was promoted by the denialist Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of organizations that “question global warming alarmism.” In his comments, Christy wrote:

    The EPA should constitute a “Red Team” of analysts, independent from the climate modeling industry, to judge the current state of knowledge, i.e. the current state of how much we know about the “why” of climate variations. Such an examination would provide transparency to the process and give confidence to the public that the agency values open examination of its methodology.

    In 2015, Christy again promoted the idea of the federal government funding a new “red team” that would review the climate science currently being produced by what he calls the “blue team.” The Daily Caller reported on Christy’s proposal in December 2015:

    Christy told the [Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness] he believes the attempt to study climate change objectively is thwarted by the federal funding process.

    Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, suggests Congress can fix the problem by directly funding independent “red team” programs.

    And in March of this year, Christy promoted the idea during a hearing held in the House Science Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a noted climate denier. Judith Curry, another scientist who’s been skeptical of the mainstream consensus on climate change, also testified in favor of the idea. The Washington Post reported on Christy and Curry’s testimony and the “red team” idea:

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    On April 20, the idea got more exposure when it was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who has a history of climate denial and served as undersecretary at the Energy Department under President Barack Obama for two years before resigning. Koonin called on the Trump administration “to convene a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.” He continued:

    The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations.

    As justification for such an exercise, Koonin claimed that the “public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.”

    Shortly after his op-ed was published, Koonin told Axios, “I can tell you that’s found some resonance within the administration. I’m just going to say people seem to be interested.”

    One of those people is Pruitt. In a radio interview on Breitbart News Daily on June 5, Pruitt expressed interest in the “red team/blue team” idea. From a Breitbart article about the interview:

    “What the American people deserve is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” [Pruitt] said. “There was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist, I believe, at NYU. He talked about the importance of having a Red Team of scientists and a Blue Team of scientists, and those scientists get into a room and ask, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What risk does it pose to health in the United States and the world, with respect to this issue of [carbon dioxide]?’”

    In the days after that interview, right-wing outlets picked up on the idea again. The Daily Caller reported that it “could upset the supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming.” Breitbart said the proposal “has naturally caused massive upset among the ivory towers of climate science academe” where researchers “aren’t at all used to having their dodgy theories exposed to serious scrutiny.” The right-wing website Daily Signal, the conservative blog Power Line, and the climate-denial blog Watts Up With That also highlighted Pruitt's interview and the red team proposal.

    Why the “red team/blue team” idea is wrongheaded

    In advocating for a “red team” review of climate science, Pruitt, Koonin, and right-wing media are glossing over the fact that climate science already has a method for testing assumptions and analyses: the peer-review system. Climate science papers submitted to respected journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field to assess their soundness and validity.

    As Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post in June, creating a red team to review climate science would constitute an act of false equivalence and lend, as the Post wrote, “more prominence to alternative ideas than they have earned in the refereed journal process.” Earlier, in March, he told the Post, “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

    The Post also quoted Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia, who called Koonin’s proposal a “gimmick,” saying, “This just feels to me a like another way to skirt the tried and true scientific process that has worked for years in our field and many others.”

    Climate science has already been litigated ad nauseum in mainstream forums. Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. And recent studies examining the robustness of that consensus have reaffirmed it; about 97 percent of publishing climate scientists concur.


    Via Skeptical Science

    Creating a “red team” could lead to scenarios like the one at a House science committee hearing in March, when climate scientist Michael Mann was outnumbered by fringe scientists and forced to be the sole representative of the scientific consensus on climate change. “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” Mann said in his opening testimony.

    The impact of major newspapers’ opinion pages

    Though fringe, right-wing media have played a substantial role in spreading the “red team/blue team” proposal and other denialist ideas, mainstream newspapers also bear some responsibility. When Pruitt referenced Koonin’s op-ed, it was the second time in less than a week that he had lifted an argument from the opinion pages of a major newspaper to cast doubt on established climate science. On June 2, standing at the podium of the White House press briefing room, Pruitt cited an error-riddled, denialist New York Times column by Bret Stephens in order to downplay “exaggerated” concerns about climate change.

    As a Media Matters study conducted last year demonstrated, climate denial remains a significant problem in the major newspapers. The world has just endured the three hottest years on record, and newspapers are still allowing their opinion pages to be used to deny climate change. That trend is all the more alarming now that the Trump administration is quickly adopting those denialist arguments.

  • EPA reportedly helped Paris agreement opponents place op-eds in newspapers

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & LISA HYMAS

    President Donald Trump has decided to exit the Paris climate agreement, according to Axios. The news site also reported that the Scott Pruitt-led Environmental Protection Agency has been “quietly working” with opponents of the agreement to help them place op-eds in newspapers. Media Matters identified a number of anti-Paris agreement op-eds that have been published in papers around the U.S. in recent weeks, spreading misinformation about the expected economic impacts of the agreement, the commitment of developing countries to cutting emissions, and climate science in general.

  • Media fell for Trump's spin that cutting Social Security isn't really a cut to Social Security

    Trump promised not to touch Social Security during the campaign, but some reporters reframed that broken promise for him

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A number of usually reliable reporters were duped by White House spin that President Donald Trump’s draconian budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 to slash spending for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was not a violation of his major campaign pledge to protect Social Security from cuts.

    During his June 16, 2015, announcement to run for president, Trump clearly and unequivocally promised that if he was elected, he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Trump’s campaign declaration fit previous statements he made in the run-up to his announcement, wherein he claimed he was “the only [Republican] who won’t cut Social Security” and stated “I am going to save Social Security without any cuts.” Trump even hit then-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for copying his call to safeguard Social Security with “no cuts” and later reiterated his promise to “save” the program while attacking former presidential candidate and current member of Trump’s cabinet Ben Carson:

    After Trump’s repeated statements that he would not cut Social Security, the White House’s decision to include significant cuts to SSDI in its 2018 budget request represents a broken campaign promise. Some journalists -- including Washington Post reporter Philip Bump, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, and NBC News reporter Benjy Sarlin -- caught on to what was actually being proposed, and Vox’s Dylan Matthews stated that these cuts clearly break “a crucial campaign promise.” Yet, despite this, several other journalists fell for the White House’s misleading spin.

    In the midst of an otherwise brutal recap of Trump’s budget, HuffPost reporter Arthur Delaney claimed “the document mostly honors Trump’s unorthodox campaign promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare” before actually quoting Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, as he expounded on proposed cuts to “disability insurance.”* In her write-up of the budget that detailed the profound impact it will have on low-income communities, New York Times reporter Yamiche Alcindor noted that Trump “would cut access to disability payments through Social Security” but casually added “the main function of Social Security — retirement income — would flow unimpeded.” New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis included similar misleading language in her report on the budget, arguing, “The blueprint also steers clear of changing Social Security’s retirement program or Medicare” and promoting the administration’s claim that Trump’s promise to protect “retirement” was intact.

    Washington Post reporters Damian Paletta and Robert Costa also fell for the White House’s misdirection gambit, writing of the president’s campaign rhetoric: “Trump insisted that they could not cut retirement benefits for Social Security.” NPR reporter Scott Horsley also detailed the “significant cuts to social safety net programs” while promoting the Trump administration’s spin that the campaign promise was merely to “preserve” the “Social Security retirement program.” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan managed to write a review of Trump’s budget that committed both sins; first claiming that the Trump budget fulfilled “his campaign promise” not to touch Social Security and later claiming that it merely would not affect retirees**:

    ORIGINAL: President Trump's 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won't reform Social Security or Medicare — in line with his campaign promise — but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs. A source with direct knowledge tells me the Trump budget will save $1.7 trillion on the mandatory side over the next ten years.

    CURRENT: President Trump's 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won't cut Social Security payments to retirees or Medicare, but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs. A source with direct knowledge tells me the Trump budget will save $1.7 trillion on the mandatory side over the next ten years.

    *The HuffPost report was corrected after pressure from readers and disability advocates to include the word “mostly.” The original post did not include that conditional language and incorrectly stated “the document honors Trump’s unorthodox campaign promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare.”

    **The Axios report was changed after its initial publication but no editor’s note or correction was added to indicate the revision. Media Matters had criticized the original language of the article in a May 22 blog.

  • It’s Not Just Trump: Republicans Constantly Lying About Health Care Means Reporters Face A Growing Challenge

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    As the Beltway press scrambles to keep pace with the White House’s shifting explanations as to why President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey -- explanations that seem built on a laundry list of daily deceptions -- journalists are now fighting a multiple-front war versus the Republican crusade to embrace fabrications as a rule.

    The erratic new president has unleashed a torrent of lies in the place of public policy discussion, but the serial mendacity on the right is hardly limited to Trump. That means journalists face a growing challenge in trying to ferret out the facts.

    After voting to pass a sweeping health care bill with no formal cost assessment, which hadn’t been marked up in policy committees, and which hadn’t even been read by all members of Congress, Republicans have been on an extraordinary public relations campaign to support the controversial legislation.

    The push is extraordinary because Republican officials, led by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, are aggressively fabricating claims about the bill that’s now pending before the Senate. In a Trump era of endless firsts, this is likely the first time we’ve seen a major American political party try to pass a landmark social policy initiative by categorically misstating almost every key claim about the bill.   

    No, the House bill does not protect people with pre-existing conditions. It does not protect older Americans from increased insurance costs. It does not mean everyone will be charged the same for insurance. The bill wasn’tbipartisan.” And it does not allow “for every single person to get the access to the kind of coverage that they want,” as Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price claims.

    If it did those things, the bill wouldn’t be controversial, would it? So instead, Republicans are committed to selling a fantasy version of the House bill -- and hoping the press doesn’t call them out on it.

    “What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort,” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.”

    This represents a dangerous new age in American politics. If Republicans succeed by lying about their health care plan, there’s no telling what the next target of GOP fabrications will be.

    Right now, the future does not look promising because while some journalists and opinion writers, including those quoted above, are rightfully pointing out the GOP lies, others are routinely treating Republican health care lies as merely assertions in a larger he said/he said partisan debate.

    As Brian Beutler noted at The New Republic:

    To that end, these Republicans are counting on the reporters who interview them, and the news outlets that report on AHCA, to either not grasp finer points of health policy or to feel inhibited from disputing lies, so that the lies get transmitted to the public uncorrected.

    Indeed, if Republicans don’t get called out for trafficking in fabrications, what’s the incentive for them to stop? If the press treats the GOP’s systematic lying as nothing more than partisan spin, there’s little downside to the strategy.

    On Twitter, some observers have highlighted news organizations guilty of privileging GOP health care lies:

    And:

    Note that it wasn’t just Axios’ Twitter feed that failed. In its write-up of Ryan’s TV appearance, Axios simply regurgitated the Republican’s false claims about health care and provided readers with no context about how many central untruths he was peddling.

    Meanwhile, look at this feel-good New York Times headline that followed Ryan’s TV appearance and ask yourself, why would Republicans start telling the truth if lying produces headlines like this?

    House Health Care Bill Is ‘Us Keeping Our Promises,’ Paul Ryan Says

    And note how The Associated Press struggled while covering Secretary Price’s recent illogical claim that a proposed $880 billion cut in Medicaid funding to states over 10 years would actually help states provide better health care (emphasis added):

    CBO's analysis highlighted an $880 billion cut to Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, which Price sought to cast as a way to give states more leeway to experiment with the program. The Obama-era law expanded Medicaid with extra payments to 31 states to cover more people. The House bill halts the expansion, in addition to cutting federal spending on the program.

    But Price insisted Sunday, "There are no cuts to the Medicaid program," adding that resources were being apportioned "in a way that allows states greater flexibility."

    Basically, Price was claiming up is down, and AP did its best to let him get away with it.

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed a previous version of the bill passed by the House, the $880 billion in Medicaid cuts would translate into 14 million people losing Medicaid coverage.

    After pressing Price during a recent interview on his central contradiction about Medicaid (i.e. big cuts make it better!), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell seemed a bit exasperated: “I think a lot of people wonder how taking more than $800 billion out of something is going to put more resources in it.”

    It was good that Mitchell compelled Price to answer, but how did NBC News then treat Price’s nonsensical Meet the Press appearance? It rewarded him by repeating his health care lies in a headline:  “HHS Sec. Tom Price: 'Nobody Will Be Worse Off Financially' Under GOP Health Plan.”

    And the lede of that article:

    No one will be adversely affected by the Republicans' new health care bill once it's enacted and more people would be covered, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

    Politico did something similar for comments from Ryan: “Ryan: GOP Health Care Bill Not Only Good Policy, But Good Politics.”

    For the GOP, that’s mission accomplished. And somewhere, Trump is smiling.

    The good news is there’s still plenty of time for reporters to accurately describe how Republicans are trying to sell health care via baldfaced lies.

    In Friday’s Washington Post, Dave Weigel did just that. He wrote a straightforward report about how Republicans, pressed at town hall meetings to defend the GOP’s bill, have unfurled “a series of flat misstatements and contradictions about what’s actually in the bill.”

    Today, Republicans are unapologetic about spreading health care fabrications. More journalists should simply document that fact.  

  • After Breitbart Attacked An Author For Criticizing Trump, A Horde Of "Alt-Right" Trolls Harassed Her

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    A slew of online trolls attacked Rosa Brooks for an article she wrote in Foreign Policy discussing possible consequences of Donald Trump’s historically abnormal presidency.

    Before we get to the harassment, it is worth first briefly considering the important point she was making. Brooks, a professor at Georgetown Law who also has served as a senior adviser to the State Department, used the January 30 article to consider various ways Trump’s presidency could end. After discussing the 2020 election, impeachment, and the 25th Amendment, Brooks briefly considered the possibility of a coup in the event that Trump gives an order that is not just imprudent but actually illegal and wildly destructive:

    What would top U.S. military leaders do if given an order that struck them as not merely ill-advised, but dangerously unhinged? An order that wasn’t along the lines of “Prepare a plan to invade Iraq if Congress authorizes it based on questionable intelligence,” but “Prepare to invade Mexico tomorrow!” or “Start rounding up Muslim Americans and sending them to Guantánamo!” or “I’m going to teach China a lesson — with nukes!”

    It’s impossible to say, of course. The prospect of American military leaders responding to a presidential order with open defiance is frightening — but so, too, is the prospect of military obedience to an insane order. After all, military officers swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not the president. For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president: “No, sir. We’re not doing that,” to thunderous applause from the New York Times editorial board.

    These illegal-order scenarios Brooks mentions have been discussed in regard to Trump in the past year. Brooks chose these over-the-top examples because they involve patently unconstitutional, and thus illegal, orders. This topic is of interest to her: Brooks herself wrote a piece in The Washington Post a year ago discussing whether the military would follow illegal orders issued by a then-potential President Trump.

    Military leaders, pundits, and everyday Americans have not just a responsibility to ponder the possibility of Trump giving such an order, but a duty. Famously litigated at Nuremberg, the issue of how to handle illegal orders from leaders has also been an issue in the United States, going back to the first Adams administration; a Vietnam case reaffirmed that members of the military follow illegal orders on their own accord. Duke political science professor Peter Feaver explained this reality during the campaign in regard to Trump’s promises to bring back torture and also “take out” the families of terrorists:

    Both of these proposed policies are clear violations of the law. Civilian deaths that occur as collateral damage incidental to strikes aimed at legitimate targets are always avoided but sometimes an unfortunate part of lawful warfare; Trump is talking about deliberately targeting the family members as a matter of policy. I do not know of a single law expert who would say this is legal.

    ...

    Given that it would be illegal orders, General Hayden is absolutely correct: not only would the senior military leaders refuse to follow those orders, they would be legally and professionally bound to refuse those orders. Democratic civil-military relations theory further requires that they refuse these orders. Refusing these orders would not be a coup. It would be reinforcing the rule of law and healthy civil-military relations.

    Put more bluntly: Trump has promised to give illegal orders. Every member of the military is supposed to refuse to follow illegal orders. Trump has begun his presidency by doing the very things his apologists during the campaign assured us that he would not do.

    Which finally brings us back to Rosa Brooks and her thoughts about what the military should do should it be presented with illegal orders.

    When first released, Brooks’ column got the kind of reaction you would expect, with many praising it as an interesting read and a few criticizing it. It was also briefly mentioned near the end of a Breitbart column defending Trump adviser Stephen Bannon on January 31. But perhaps correctly assuming that its audience does not read past the headlines, on February 2, Breitbart wrote up Brooks’ column again, using the headline “Ex-Obama Officials Suggests ‘Military Coup’ Against Trump.” This time, the post spread quickly among right-wing fringe propaganda outlets and fake news purveyors: Infowars, Gateway Pundit, Pamela Geller, 8chan, Angry Patriot, Mad World News, Eagle Rising, Conservative 101, America’s Freedom Fighters, Natural News, Epoch Times, UFP News, ENH Live, The Washington Feed, Conservative Tribune, Mario Murillo Ministries (whose piece was shared by Trump ally Wayne Allyn Root), Infowars (again), Ammoland Shooting Sports News, Personal Liberty, PJ Media, Before It’s News, and The Political Insider. The story also spread to right-wing outlets like The Blaze and The Washington Times, which attacked her column but did not even bother to hyperlink to it. Neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer also joined in, saying that “the increasing insolence of American Jewry in their brazen calls to kill, overthrow and illegally undermine the election of President Trump must be crushed.” The story was also picked up by Russian state outlets RT and Sputnik.

    Brooks described what happened once these posts started:

    Within a few hours, the alt-right internet was on fire. The trickle of critical email messages turned into a gush, then a geyser, and the polite emails of the first few days were quickly displaced by obscenity-laced screeds, many in all capital letters. My Twitter feed filled up with trolls.

    ...

    By mid-afternoon, I was getting death threats. “I AM GOING TO CUT YOUR HEAD OFF………BITCH!” screamed one email. Other correspondents threatened to hang me, shoot me, deport me, imprison me, and/or get me fired (this last one seemed a bit anti-climactic). The dean of Georgetown Law, where I teach, got nasty emails about me. The Georgetown University president’s office received a voicemail from someone threatening to shoot me. New America, the think tank where I am a fellow, got a similar influx of nasty calls and messages. “You’re a fucking cunt! Piece of shit whore!” read a typical missive.

    My correspondents were united on the matter of my crimes (treason, sedition, inciting insurrection, etc.). The only issue that appeared to confound and divide them was the vexing question of just what kind of undesirable I was. Several decided, based presumably on my first name, that I was Latina and proposed that I be forcibly sent to the other side of the soon-to-be-built Trump border wall. Others, presumably conflating me with African-American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, asserted that I would never have gotten hired if it weren’t for race-based affirmative action. The anti-Semitic rants flowed in, too: A website called the Daily Stormer noted darkly that I am “the daughter of the infamous communist Barbara Ehrenreich and the Jew John Ehrenreich,” and I got an anonymous phone call from someone who informed me, in a chillingly pleasant tone, that he supported a military coup “to kill all the Jews.”

    My experience is not unusual. Anyone who attracts the attention of the alt-right is in for a rough ride.

    As Brooks notes, this type of harassment by the “alt-right” is all too familiar. As I wrote in December:

    Harassment is a deeply entrenched aspect of the “alt-right” community. It came to prominence with Gamergate, and then there was a wretched, bigoted campaign against black actress Leslie Jones. “Alt-right” figure Milo Yiannopoulos has now taken his harassment tactics with him on a college tour. Another example is the recent smear campaign against satirist Vic Berger by “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich. Cernovich is no stranger to such tactics, having bragged previously about his ability to game Google to get other outlets to pick up on his smears, spreading the lies to more false headlines and more viewers. Comedian and producer Tim Heidecker has also spoken out about abuse he has received, including death-threats, as a result of "alt-right" criticism.

    Since then, we’ve seen harassment campaigns launched against a journalist who tied a white supremacist to white supremacy, a college professor who sarcastically tweeted about “white genocide”, undocumented immigrants who use social media, and progressive author Lindy West.

    Now that Trump and former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon are in the Oval Office, the “alt-right” sees its chance to break through to mainstream America. The movement’s adherents are huge fans of new Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson. Rape-promoting white nationalist Mike Cernovich was given a show on Right-Side Broadcasting Network, which has simulcast on Trump’s own Facebook page. Breitbart is starting to hire people from mainstream outlets.

    And yet, Breitbart is still situating itself at the center of these sorts of unconscionable attacks. Will it get away with that? If it does, it’s easy to see how: Since he was first appointed to lead Trump’s presidential campaign, mainstream figures have repeatedly shied away from tying Bannon to Breitbart’s enabling of white supremacy. Mike Allen, a former Politico reporter who recently founded a new media venture called Axios, lavished praise on Breitbart during an appearance on the latter’s radio show. As Breitbart now tries to move into continental Europe, these problems are more salient than ever.

    If Trump does give an illegal order to deport all Muslim-Americans, reinstate torture, invade Mexico, or even start a nuclear holocaust, the survival of humanity may come down to where the individuals in charge of executing it get their news.

    Image by Sarah Wasko