Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was discussed on nightly network news shows for only 84 seconds since July 10
ABC, CBS, NBC nightly news shows devoted less than 10 minutes each to Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh
ABC, CBS, NBC nightly news shows devoted less than 10 minutes each to Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh
Pruitt's silly scandals got more attention than his weighty misdeeds and regulatory rollbacks
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
While we're all talking about EPA Chief Scott Pruitt's sleeping & eating habits, the agency continues to advance significant rulemaking.
Today's entry represents the 1st step in changing the way the EPA calculates the costs & benefits of its regulations. https://t.co/pBNeyrdVjc
— Jennifer A. Dlouhy (@jendlouhyhc) June 7, 2018
I would rather be writing about EPA policy--like how the EPA today moved to roll back the Clean Water protections it considered excessive from the Obama Administration. I really mean it. Thankfully our colleague @CoralMDavenport had a story on that too https://t.co/EEkD33nH6a
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) June 15, 2018
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Fox News, meanwhile, largely ignored controversies about Pruitt’s extravagant travel
In his first year as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as he did on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. During the same period, Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to controversies about Pruitt’s costly travel than the other major cable news outlets, CNN and MSNBC.
Pruitt’s preference for appearing on Fox News is part of a wider trend that extends across the Trump administration, with Fox News serving as the go-to network for administration officials. Fox News’ habit of ignoring unflattering news about Pruitt is also in line with the network’s tendency to ignore negative stories about President Donald Trump and his administration.
Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News 16 times in his first year at EPA. A previous Media Matters study examining Pruitt’s first six months after taking office on February 17, 2017, found that he appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. He continued that trend in his second six months in office, making four more appearances on Fox and only one additional appearance on a non-Fox outlet, CBS. In total, during his first year, he appeared 16 times on Fox and only seven times on the other networks combined.
Pruitt rarely faced tough questioning during his appearances on Fox, with the exception of two interviews by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. During most of Pruitt's Fox appearances, he advocated for and defended the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, though he also went on the network to defend his rollbacks of other Obama-era environmental protections.
The Fox program he appeared on most often was Fox & Friends, a show that wields agenda-setting influence with the president. Here are all of Pruitt's Fox News appearances from his first year at the EPA:
*The segment on Your World with Neil Cavuto on October 17 used footage from an interview Pruitt did earlier on the same day on the Fox Business Network program Cavuto: Coast to Coast.
Pruitt made just seven appearances on the other major cable and broadcast TV networks combined. In his first year leading the EPA, Pruitt made only seven appearances total on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. In the majority of these, he defended U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, as he did during his Fox appearances. In other cases, he broadly discussed his agenda and priorities and defended rollbacks of environmental regulations.
Here are Pruitt’s appearances on the major broadcast TV networks, CNN, and MSNBC during his first year:
On September 27, The Washington Post published an article about Pruitt taking “at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000.”
The story received extensive mainstream media coverage, including on other cable news networks. During the week after the story broke, from September 27 to October 3, CNN and MSNBC aired 32 and 31 segments on the controversy, respectively, often mentioning other cabinet members' high travel expenses as well. But Fox News aired just seven segments about Pruitt’s costly charter and military flights. In one Fox segment, on the September 29 episode of Your World with Neil Cavuto, correspondent John Roberts stated, “Scott Pruitt took four, maybe five charter flights. Those were all approved by the EPA Office of Ethics, and he has come up with a full explanation for those. … It's my belief that the other departments, Interior, Treasury, EPA, whatever, are allowed to do those private flights, as long as they have pre-approval for that.”
On February 11, 2018, The Washington Post again detailed Pruitt’s exorbitant spending in an article headlined “First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure.” The Post reported that Pruitt racked up $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs during one stretch in early June, and that figure did not include the additional travel costs for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail. CBS News reported two days later that Pruitt broke with a government policy that officials fly on U.S. airlines by traveling on the luxury Emirates airline on a return trip from Milan, Italy. The story gained further traction after the EPA changed its tune about whether Pruitt had a blanket waiver to travel first class and clarified what security threats justified Pruitt’s use of first-class travel.
Yet in the week following the Post’s article, from February 11 to February 17, Fox News did not mention the renewed controversy over Pruitt's travel costs even once.* CNN and MSNBC, by contrast, aired four and eight segments on his travel, respectively.
*Fox News did air two segments on the latest Pruitt travel controversy on the February 19 episode of Shepard Smith Reporting and the February 28 episode of Special Report with Bret Baier, but these segments were aired more than a week after the Post story and fell outside the one-year time frame of our study.
Pruitt’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network. On the cable business news channels, Pruitt again demonstrated a predilection for Fox, making eight appearances on Fox Business, while appearing only twice on competitor CNBC. Fox Business Network has exhibited strong pro-Trump leanings, as outlets including USA Today and Business Insider have reported.
Here are Pruitt's appearances on Fox Business shows:
Fox Business defended Pruitt by attacking a CNN report. After Pruitt gave numerous interviews to Fox Business, the network did Pruitt a favor. In October, it aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves Pruitt made to help a proposed mine in Alaska right after meeting with the CEO of the mining company pushing the project. The network aired four segments in two days that criticized CNN's story and defended the mine. On all four segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit the story, calling CNN's investigation a "smear," a "hit piece," and "dishonest reporting." (In January, Pruitt reversed his decision and reinstated restrictions on the mine project. Fox News did not report on this reversal.)
Pruitt frequently appeared on radio shows hosted by climate change deniers like Brian Kilmeade and Michael Savage. Media Matters' previous study on Pruitt's first six months in office found that he made half a dozen appearances on popular right-wing talk radio programs hosted by people who deny climate science. He continued that pattern in his second six months, making appearances on programs including The Rush Limbaugh Show (where he was interviewed by guest host and climate denier Mark Steyn), The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Savage Nation, The Brian Kilmeade Show, The David Webb Show, and Breitbart News Daily.
Pruitt's print and online interviews included some mainstream outlets. While Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing outlets when doing TV and radio, he granted interviews to a wider variety of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and online publications. Some of those interviews were with conservative outlets, including National Review, The Daily Caller, and The Daily Signal. Some were with the business press, like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. And some were with prominent mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today, Reuters, and The New York Times podcast The Daily.
Still, overall, Pruitt heavily favors conservative media when trying to push out his talking points. As Mother Jones recently reported in an in-depth profile of Pruitt, the EPA under his direction "has mostly focused on spreading its message through the right-wing media, talking frequently to Fox News and conservative radio hosts while dismissing less favorable coverage as fake."
Pruitt's preference for right-wing media is continuing into his second year at the EPA. In the 16 days since his one-year anniversary, he has given interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Daily Signal, and Fox News.
Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ Media to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA administrator on February 17, 2017, to February 17, 2018: “Pruitt,” “Pruett,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.
We also used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Pruitt’s travel controversies from September 27 to October 3 and from February 11, 2018, to February 17, 2018. We did not count instances of networks airing White House briefings that discussed these controversies.
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Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.
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CBS and PBS are the latest news outlets to cover reported incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct by one of their own employees -- and so far both networks are taking measures to send the right messages to staff and viewers.
On November 20, Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain detailed in a lengthy Washington Post investigation stories from eight women who say TV news host Charlie Rose “made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence, or groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas.” Yvette Vega, Rose’s executive producer for his PBS show, told the Post, “I should have stood up for [young women on the show]. I failed. It is crushing. I deeply regret not helping them.” Additional women shared stories of misconduct by Rose with Business Insider and The New York Times following the initial report.
Until today, Rose was the co-host of CBS This Morning and host of PBS’ Charlie Rose. He’s now been fired from both positions. Both outlets aired segments grappling with the reports against Rose within a few hours of the Post piece being published on Monday night.
CBS Evening News’ initial segment detailed the reports of Rose’s harassment and assault and shared a statement from CBS saying Rose was suspended.
For its part, PBS Newshour interviewed Carmon that evening about her piece, and she explained the hurdles she encountered in attempting to report the story in 2010, when she worked for Jezebel:
JUDY WOODRUFF (HOST): And how did you go about -- as we said, the story says this took place over a period of years. How did you go about confirming any of these allegations?
IRIN CARMON: Judy, I first became aware of this story in 2010, when I was a reporter at the website Jezebel. And I attempted to report on them, but unfortunately I hit walls. I was not able to confirm the story. People were not ready to talk, frankly. It occurred to me now, in the last few weeks, because of the amazing reporting that’s been done on sexual misconduct and abuse, that perhaps the women who were worried about retaliation, who were afraid of Mr. Rose’s power in the industry, of his wealthy friends, of his famous sit-down interviews with world leaders, that perhaps they were ready to talk.
On Tuesday morning, CBS This Morning began its broadcast with a more detailed report on the allegations of misconduct, this one featuring Post reporter Amy Brittain:
Co-hosts Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell reflected on the reported actions of their missing co-host, and each woman addressed viewers with remarkable candor:
NORAH O’DONNELL (CO-HOST): This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and, more generally, the safety of women. Let me be very clear: There is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive. And I’ve been doing a lot of listening, and I’m going to continue to do that. This I know is true: Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility. ...This has to end. This behavior is wrong. Period.
GAYLE KING (CO-HOST): I am not OK after reading that article in the Post. It was deeply disturbing, troubling, and painful for me to read. That said, I think we have to make this matter to women, the women who have spoken up, the women who have not spoken up because they’re afraid. I’m hoping that now they will take the step to speak out too, that this becomes a moment of truth. I’ve enjoyed a friendship and a partnership with Charlie for the past five years. I’ve held him in such high regard, and I’m really struggling because how do you -- what do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? How do you wrap your brain around that? I’m really grappling with that. That said, Charlie does not get a pass here. He doesn’t get a pass from anyone in this room.
The morning show also aired a third segment featuring nearly 10 minutes of conversation among highly accomplished women who had experienced workplace sexual harassment, including Rent The Runway’s Jennifer Hyman, Ellevest’s Sallie Krawcheck, Tribeca Enterprises’ Jane Rosenthal, Teen Vogue’s Elaine Welteroth, and gymnast Jessica Howard.
Within 24 hours, CBS had fired Rose; CBS News President David Rhodes said in an internal memo leaked to the press that Rose’s immediate termination was in part because CBS News was committed to a “safe, professional workplace.” The message about CBS News’ priorities for its staff and audience was clear:
Despite Charlie’s important journalistic contribution to our news division, there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organization, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace -- a supportive environment where people they can do this work. We need to be such a place.
I’ve often heard that things used to be different. And no one may be able to correct the past. But what may once have been accepted should not ever have been acceptable.
CBS News has reported on extraordinary revelations at other media companies this year and last. Our credibility in that reporting requires credibility managing basic standards of behavior. That is why we take these actions.
Though CBS’ public response to the piece has been noteworthy, it should be mentioned that the network reportedly knew about the Post's ongoing investigation into Rose's behavior for some time. The company's decision to wait until now to publicly address the issue suggests that its response has been triggered more by public exposure than anything else. And last month, another CBS employee was more quietly forced to resign amid sexual harassment reports detailing incidents said to have occurred as far back as 2009.
CBS is not the first outlet to grapple with workplace sexual harassment or misconduct happening in its own newsroom. Since the first New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein was published on October 5, investigative pieces and first-hand accounts published on social media have reported employees for sexual harassment at Vox Media, The Atlantic, NBC Universal and MSNBC, The New Republic, NPR, Mother Jones, Fox News, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, HuffPost, Vice, and now, The New York Times.
Some of these outlets, like NPR, have chosen to cover the reports extensively and consistently in a public moment of reckoning; others appear to have taken action but not publicly written about the harassment complaints.
The nation's most prominent news programs found little time to discuss gun policy and solutions to gun violence while covering the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, and what little discussion they did have disproportionately featured Republicans with ties to the gun industry.
Media Matters analyzed evening news shows and Sunday political talk shows on CBS, NBC, and ABC between October 2 and October 22 that included discussion of the October 1 Las Vegas, NV, massacre and found that conversations about how to solve gun violence -- via policy or other means -- were few in number and quickly tapered off in the days following the shooting. During the limited gun policy discussions, the shows hosted and quoted Republican officials who have received much more money from the gun lobby than their pro-gun-safety Democratic counterparts.
Conservative media and their gun lobby allies often respond to mass shootings by saying that the immediate aftermath of the event is not the time to talk about solutions to gun violence. Overall coverage of the Las Vegas massacre appears to follow that advice, as the vast majority focused on breaking news and updates, with only 19 percent even mentioning gun policy and solutions. The entirety of the coverage -- including breaking news and updates on the incident, gun policy and solutions-oriented discussions, and non-gun-policy discussions related to the shooting -- was largely contained to the immediate aftermath of the shooting, with 83 percent taking place in the first week of the study period. As the drastic drop in coverage during our analysis indicates, there is no period “appropriately” removed from a high-profile incident of gun violence when a gun debate actually takes place. None of the segments analyzed from October 8 through the end of the study period on October 22 included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion.
As the country grapples with yet another horrific mass shooting following the November 5 church massacre in Sutherland Springs, TX, here are several key takeaways from our analysis of broadcast news coverage of the Las Vegas shooting:
CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, ABC’s World News Tonight, and the networks' Sunday political talk shows -- CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and ABC’s This Week -- ran a total of 140 segments on the shooting between October 2 and October 22. Forty-six segments were broadcast on the day after the shooting, October 2, when broadcasts networks extended their normal show hours to run additional segments. The shooting received heavy, but declining, coverage in subsequent days, and then briefly spiked on October 8 when segments on Sunday political talk shows helped to bring the total number for that day to 18.
After October 8, coverage fell off. Political talk shows on October 15 and October 22 included no segments on the shooting, and coverage on evening news programs tapered off.
Broken down by week, 83 percent of segments occurred during the initial week following the shooting (October 2-8), 12 percent came the following week (October 9-15), and 4 percent of segments occurred in the final week of the study (October 16-22).
Our analysis also sought to determine the substance of segments run on the shooting. While broadcast news programs’ stature gives them the authority to set an agenda for what topics will be covered long term, they do have limited time and must move forward with reporting on new topics. Given those constraints, we wanted to analyze how the programs used the time they had; to do so, we coded three common occurrences in segments: breaking news and updates on the Las Vegas shooting, gun policy discussions, and non-gun policy discussions.
The first category included reports on the facts of the shooting -- the who, what, when, where, and why -- and often included updates about the perpetrator, the victims, the timeline, and the weaponry that was used. Gun policy and solutions-oriented discussions typically included segments about the prospect of legislative action to address the massacre, but non-policy discussion of solutions to gun violence were also included. Finally, non-gun policy discussions included segments that discussed policy changes in the wake of the shooting that were unrelated to the regulation of firearms -- for example, segments that covered mental health policies or non-gun-related security screening measures to prevent mass shootings.
During the period when the shooting was receiving the most coverage, gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion was largely drowned out by other types of coverage. In the first five days of coverage following the shooting -- Monday, October 2, through Friday, October 6 -- segments were far more likely to focus on breaking news and updates than gun policy or solutions-oriented discussion. Given the later overall drop in coverage of all types on the shooting, this would have been the time to have a rigorous debate over policy and solutions. But that didn’t happen. During this week, 15 segments included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, while 85 contained breaking news or updates.
Of the 140 segments in the entire study period, 115 (82 percent) included breaking news or updates, 27 (19 percent) included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, and 16 (11 percent) included non-gun policy discussion. Some segments fell into more than one category, i.e. a segment that provided updates on the timeline of the shooting that also included discussion of legislative proposals to prevent further massacres.
Gun policy and solutions-oriented discussions spiked on the Sunday following the shooting, when all three Sunday shows included in the study ran multiple segments that met our criteria. That day featured 12 segments on gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, representing 44 percent of total segments meeting that criteria.
But then the discussion of what should change following the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history was over: Between October 9 and October 22, zero segments included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, a time period when the programming missed an opportunity to continue the conversation.
Of the 27 segments that included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, nearly half occurred on CBS. NBC and ABC accounted for the other 14 segments.
Media Matters also analyzed the people news programs hosted and quoted in discussing the shooting. Among gun policy and solutions-oriented discussions featuring members of Congress, 63 percent of individuals quoted or hosted were Republicans:
These segments typically focused on questions about banning or otherwise regulating bump fire stocks -- a firearm device the Las Vegas gunman used to rapidly accelerate his gunfire. Based on a review of transcripts, it is likely that the overrepresentation of Republican lawmakers was due to reports that Republicans were open to regulating the devices, a concession rarely seen from Republicans on gun policy.
But since those initial reports on Republicans’ supposed willingness to take action, the waters have become significantly muddied. Republicans have the numbers in Congress to quickly move legislation banning the devices, but they have chosen not to do so. (A hearing that will include testimony on bump fire stocks will take place this week, but that is no guarantee legislation will pass or even be advanced.) House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) made statements on October 11 that further cast doubt on the idea that Republicans are serious about passing bump fire legislation. During a press conference that day, Ryan advanced the position of the National Rifle Association, which is that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) should regulate bump fire stocks. (Ryan received $171,977 from the gun lobby during the 2016 election cycle, more than double any other U.S. representative.) The ATF, however, does not have the authority to regulate the devices because it hasn’t been granted the agency by Congress. Ryan and the NRA’s position is really just a gambit that allows them to appear conciliatory in the face of public outcry while actually preserving the status quo.
Ryan’s claims were just a portion of several developments that could have warranted further segments on gun policy, but as previously noted, segments that included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion were nonexistent after October 8.
Beyond Ryan, every Republican who came up in the study had received money from the gun lobby for the 2016 and/or 2018 election cycles, with the exception of Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who has backed some gun safety laws. Those members were: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (LA) ($24,550), Sen. John Thune (SD) ($32,460), Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) ($4,500), Sen. Bill Cassidy (LA) ($4,700), Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) ($8,085), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL) ($7,900), and Rep. Scott Taylor (VA) ($2,000). In total, Republicans who appeared, or were quoted, on shows in the study received nearly $300,000 from the gun lobby over the last two election cycles. Among Democrats who appeared on the shows monitored in the study, just one, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), received money ($18,165) from gun safety groups in 2016 or 2018
Beyond not adequately discussing gun policy, the shows also failed to invite guests with expertise on the issue during the period of our analysis. The shows examined hosted just one gun violence researcher -- Dr. Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research -- during the study period.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for CBS Evening News, Face the Nation, NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press, World News Tonight, This Week between the dates of October 2 and October 22 for the terms “gun” or “firearm” or “shooting” or “domestic violence” or “suicide” or the word “accident” within five words of the word “gun” or “hate crime” or “officer involved” or “police shooting” or “shot” or “massacre” or “Las Vegas.” We counted segments that fit our criteria, omitting teasers and headlines.
We downloaded transcripts for these search results and analyzed them. To determine what the substance of segments on gun violence was, we split segments into three categories. The first category is segments that reported on the facts of the shooting -- the who, what, when, where details, including but not limited to reports on victims, perpetrators, how the shooting was carried out, the location of the shooting, and what firearms were used in the shooting. Second, we coded for segments that included policy or solutions-based discussion. The final substance category we coded for was non-gun-related policy discussions during segments that we coded as coverage of the Las Vegas shooting, such as when mental health policy was discussed.
For segments that included policy or solutions-based discussion, we coded members of Congress by their party affiliation when they were hosted as guests or quoted on the topic. Segments that quoted members of Congress discussing only news updates about the shooting were not included in this count. We also coded for guests' professional affiliations during policy segments.
The crisis has been mentioned merely three times in the past seven weeks
The Myanmar government’s military forces are conducting ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population -- an ethnic and religious minority in Myanmar -- through systematic violence and expulsion. Facing murder, rape, and now famine, hundreds of thousands have fled the country in recent months. Prime-time cable news and broadcast evening newscasts, however, have been reluctant to cover what the U.N. is calling a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
National newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as Time magazine and NPR have reported extensively on the state-sponsored “clearance operations” with in-depth analyses and multimedia features devoted to the state-sponsored violence, but broadcast evening newscasts and prime-time cable news shows have been nearly silent on the issue. In a period of nearly two months following a government crackdown and subsequent mass flight of Rohingya from Myanmar into Bangladesh, evening news referenced the crisis a mere three times: in two reports by Fox News and one from ABC’s World News Tonight.
Of the two reports by Fox News, one, which appeared on the September 21 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, exploited the ethnic cleansing to scandalize Hillary Clinton’s past support for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi -- Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader who has drawn criticism for her failure to denounce the recent violence -- and to praise the response from President Donald Trump’s administration. The other Fox News report, which appeared on the October 10 edition of Special Report, was a 20-second segment in which host Bret Baier garbled the word “Rohingya” and focused on Pope Francis’ response to the violence.
CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and evening prime-time programming on MSNBC and CNN completely ignored the humanitarian disaster taking place in Myanmar. While CNN International devoted almost 50 segments to the expulsion of Rohingya, none of these reports were re-aired during CNN’s evening programming. Moreover, most reports of Rohingya erasure on CNN International occurred on CNN Newsroom, a program that airs between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.
While the Trump administration has called for the Myanmar military to cease its campaign against the Rohingya, U.S. officials have stopped short of encouraging a formal resolution condemning the violence or imposing targeted sanctions against the military’s leaders. Additionally, the United States still funds military cooperation with Myanmar. And the Trump administration has placed a ban on refugees from around the world and plans to cap refugee admissions over the next year at 45,000 -- the lowest limit ever. Last year, refugees to the United States from Myanmar, including Rohingya, outpaced arrivals from Syria, a nation that has been embroiled in a civil war for over six years that has displaced millions
Activists say they are being censored, and local journalists say they are putting their lives on the line in order to expose Myanmar’s crimes against humanity. Cable and broadcast news networks have an opportunity and responsibility to lift up voices of the Rohingya, whose plight is only becoming more desperate amid the news cycle’s continued silence.
Dayanita Ramesh and Miles Le / Media Matters
Media Matters used Nexis to search transcripts from ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News and weekday programming between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from August 24 to October 16, 2017, for mentions of one or more of the following terms: Rohingya, Burma, Myanmar, or Bangladesh. Reports of flooding across South Asia were not included.
Ditching limits on power plant emissions will lead to an estimated 3,600 more premature deaths each year
A number of TV news outlets failed to cover the negative health impacts of the Trump administration's decision to repeal limits on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Of the major broadcast networks' morning and evening news shows, only ABC's World News Tonight mentioned how Americans' health could be affected by the move. On the major cable news networks, CNN overlooked the health angle and MSNBC addressed it in some segments, while most Fox News commentators discussed the repeal in approving or celebratory tones.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that he would formally move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and on Tuesday he signed a proposed rule to get the process rolling. The Clean Power Plan was put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, imposing the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Pruitt's move will have serious, real-world impacts on Americans' health. According to Obama's EPA, not only would the Clean Power Plan have helped to fight climate change, but it would also have curbed a number of health problems and premature deaths. That's because when utilities reduce their emissions of climate-warming CO2 pollution, they also reduce other pollutants that cause soot and smog and directly harm human health. An EPA fact sheet from 2015 says the agency determined that the rule would prevent thousands of deaths and health-related problems each year:
Under Pruitt, however, those health improvements will be denied to Americans. Pruitt's EPA not only disputes the scientific agreement that humans are driving climate change; it also disputes the scientific agreement that particulate matter and other smog-forming pollutants are unsafe for humans at any level. The EPA's new proposed rule contends that there would be no health benefits to reducing air pollutants below levels currently required by Clean Air Act regulations.
Pruitt's repeal will be particularly harmful to people of color and low-income Americans, as they suffer more than whiter, wealthier communities do from coal plant pollution. The Clean Power Plan included a number of environmental-justice provisions intended to help redress that inequity.
Media Matters analyzed morning and nighttime news shows on October 9 and 10 on ABC, CBS, and NBC, plus PBS NewsHour. ABC was the sole corporate broadcast network to note the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan in coverage of the plan’s repeal, and it did so in only a brief mention. During a headline rundown on the October 9 episode of World News Tonight with David Muir, Muir reported, “The 2015 Clean Power Plan aimed to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent and save 3,600 lives a year.”
In contrast, neither CBS nor NBC made any reference to what the repeal would mean for public health. NBC covered the repeal once, on the October 10 episode of NBC Nightly News, while CBS covered it twice, on the October 9 episode of CBS Evening News and the October 10 episode of CBS This Morning.
PBS NewsHour briefly mentioned the health angle during a lengthy segment on the plan's repeal on October 10 that featured interviews with Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama, and coal company CEO Robert Murray. PBS correspondent John Yang did not bring up the health implications of the repeal, but McCarthy mentioned them when she said that Pruitt's move “will limit the kind of protections you will get for public health and take a significant bite out of our ability to address climate change and keep our kids’ future safe.”
Of the major cable networks, MSNBC provided the best TV news coverage of the health implications of the Clean Power Plan repeal. Media Matters analyzed cable news from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on October 9 and October 10 and found that MSNBC aired eight segments on the repeal, three of which mentioned human health. On the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, NBC correspondent Anne Thompson explained that “doctors are very concerned, because if you increase the amount of coal-fired power, that means you’re putting more particulates in the air, and if that happens, that means you’re going to see more asthma attacks, more days missed in school and work from various illnesses, and more premature deaths.” Another October 10 edition of MSNBC Live featured an interview with Laura Kellogg, an American Lung Association volunteer and mother of children with asthma, who discussed how the plan’s repeal would harm children living close to coal plants. And the same day on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Melvin asked guest Mustafa Ali, former head of EPA's environmental justice program, about the health impacts of the repeal and gave Ali a chance to discuss the premature deaths and asthma attacks that are expected to result.
(The remaining five MSNBC segments on the plan's repeal, which didn't mention its public health consequences, aired on the October 9 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, the October 10 edition of MTP Daily, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live, and the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, which featured two segments on the repeal.)
CNN, on the other hand, did not discuss the health effects during any of its four segments that mentioned the Clean Power Plan repeal on October 9 and 10. Two of those segments aired on New Day on October 10, while one ran on Inside Politics on October 10 and one on At This Hour on October 9.
Fox News aired seven segments covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and made four additional mentions while reading headlines. Much of the tone of Fox’s coverage was celebratory. Twice on the October 9 edition of Fox & Friends and once on the October 10 edition of the show, Jillian Mele presented the repeal as President Donald Trump delivering on a campaign promise to his base. On October 10, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade introduced an interview with a former coal worker by saying, “Yesterday the Trump administration kept another campaign promise because Hillary Clinton didn't win, even though no one told her yet, to end the war on coal and help American families.” Sandra Smith also covered the repeal as Trump keeping a campaign promise on the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom, and the next day she asked Fox contributor Karl Rove whether it can “be seen as a big win for this administration.” Rove responded, "Well, it’s a big win,” adding that Trump needed legislative victories as well.
Special Report was the outlier on Fox News, citing information on health effects of the repeal in two segments. During the show’s October 9 report, correspondent Griff Jenkins read a quote from the Sierra Club noting that the Clean Power Plan would “prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year.” And on October 10, during an interview with Pruitt, host Bret Baier read a statement from former EPA Administrator Carol Browner that noted the health impacts of the move and asked Pruitt to respond to the statement.
(The additional Fox News segments and mentions on the repeal were on the October 9 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum and the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom during the 9 a.m. hour and the 10 a.m. hour.)
When the Obama administration finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015, many mainstream media outlets neglected to cover the public health implications, as Media Matters noted at the time.
Coverage of the Clean Power Plan was even more lacking last year. Then-candidate Trump promised to repeal the Clean Power Plan during his campaign, but broadcast news programs gave little attention to that pledge or to the plan itself last year, Media Matters found in an analysis of 2016 coverage. Ultimately, broadcast news failed to adequately inform viewers and voters before the election about what a Trump presidency would mean for environmental policy. Now we're seeing the Trump administration working to roll back more than 50 environmental protections.
TV news outlets’ shortcomings this week in covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan are just part of a longer pattern of insufficient coverage.
Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Pruitt,” “Clean Power Plan," "EPA," "Environmental Protection Agency," "carbon," "emissions," "regulation,” and "rule.” We examined coverage on October 9, the day Pruitt announced his intention to repeal the rule, and October 10, the day he formally proposed the repeal. For broadcast networks, we examined the morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour. For cable news, we examined coverage from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Zachary Pleat contributed to this report.
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The show emphasized the "innocent students wrongly punished" without noting how rare false allegations are
On September 7, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans to begin dismantling Obama-era protections for survivors of campus sexual assault, seemingly building her case on a common right-wing media argument that so-called “false allegations” are rampant on college campuses across America. Viewers who watched CBS Evening News' exclusive interview with DeVos, however, were provided with little to no context about the inaccurate nature of these claims.
In her speech, DeVos talked about the lives of "falsely accused students" who she said were "a victim of a lack of due process." DeVos argued that these students had to cope with having their hopes “dashed” and their futures “lost.” In focusing overwhelmingly on the "lives of the accused," DeVos reinforced right-wing media talking points about the frequency of false sexual assault allegations.
DeVos also shared her plan to open a public “notice-and-comment” period about campus sexual assault regulations and indicated her intention to invalidate protections for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. As Inside Higher Ed noted, previous case law had “established sexual violence as an issue of gender-based discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972”; the guidance instituted during Barack Obama's presidency served as an instruction to “higher ed institutions to do more to meet those obligations.”
When reporting on the Obama-era guidance and DeVos’ proposed changes, however, CBS Evening News focused on right-wing media talking points that overstate the frequency of false allegations, despite an abundance of evidence of their rarity. During the September 7 segment, CBS’ Jan Crawford claimed that the guidance had disadvantaged those accused of sexual assault or harassment and ultimately created “another class of victims: innocent students wrongly punished.” Although Crawford couched this claim in the language of “opponents say,” she did not offer any evidence for such an allegation nor did she mention that statistics in fact demonstrate the rarity of false allegations.
False reports are exceptionally rare -- representing between 2 and 10 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.”
Nevertheless, CBS was content to rely on DeVos’ implications, which reflect years of inaccurate right-wing media talking points about sexual assault and harassment. Right-wing media have spent years attacking the credibility of survivors and misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment cases. Right-wing figures have disputed the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” and claimed sexual assault survivors occupy a “coveted status.” These outlets have even gone so far as to suggest that feminism encourages sexual assault and that attempts to address the issue harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although right-wing media have most consistently made such claims, other outlets have been similarly guilty of sympathetically highlighting past accomplishments of the accused or worrying about the costs to their lives and careers.
While DeVos did not explicitly roll back the Obama-era guidance in her speech, her assumption of common right-wing media misinformation as truth, as well as her receptiveness to positions of extremists -- both within and outside her administration -- sends a clear and dangerous signal. For example, in July, DeVos planned a series of meetings with a number of extreme men’s rights groups, many of whom have a history of lobbying to roll back legal protections for survivors and openly attacking survivors of assault.
When not seeking input from these groups, DeVos can rely on the department’s Office of Civil Rights head, Candice Jackson, to supply inflammatory and inaccurate guidance about sexual assault. Jackson has previously garnered attention for her comments that women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual misconduct were “fake victims,” as well as a statement to The New York Times that “90 percent” of sexual assault allegations occur because the individuals were “both drunk” or “months later” the woman “just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’” Although Jackson later apologized for these comments, the fact remains: These are the opinions DeVos has courted in her quest to upend how campuses investigate sexual assault.
CBS Evening News had an exclusive interview with DeVos after the announcement. Rather than fact-check her claims or even note the consequences her decision would have for sexual assault survivors, CBS decided to help DeVos spread the harmful misconception that the unheard voices in the fight against campus sexual assault were those of the “falsely accused.” As the National Women’s Law Center explained, DeVos’ announcement may appear “merely procedural,” but in reality it is “a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault” because it “signals a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug.”
A Media Matters analysis of Hurricane Harvey broadcast coverage from August 23 to September 7 found that 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 like Harvey, while CBS and PBS NewsHour each aired three. A review of prime-time coverage of Harvey on the three major cable news networks found that Fox aired six segments that mentioned climate change, but most of them dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes, while CNN and MSNBC each aired five segments that legitimately discussed the link.