Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
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.
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
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.
Loading the player reg...
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.
During the final week of July, the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Save America (OSA) protested in front of Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic with the goal of shutting it down. From July 1 through 31, Kentucky broadcast media aired 209 segments on the topic and overall featured a greater number of anti-abortion protesters than pro-choice advocates. Kentucky media also failed to provide context about the violent history and rhetoric of OSA, including group members’ violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE Act) during a protest in May.
A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs and broadcast morning shows and nightly newscasts found that discussions of voting rights and issues related to voting featured misinformation pushed by Republican lawmakers and were dominated by President Donald Trump’s false claims about voter fraud and noncitizen voting. Additionally, coverage also lacked discussions of gerrymandering, the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election, and laws on the state level to curb voting rights.
In the four months since The New York Times first reported that authorities in Chechnya “were arresting and killing gay men,” evening cable and evening broadcast news programming has virtually ignored the story. Between April 1 and July 31, there were only three significant mentions in total across six networks -- two news packages and one brief exchange -- about the ongoing human rights abuses.
On April 1, The New York Times reported that “Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men.” Citing independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the Times’ Andrew Kramer wrote that “men were detained ‘in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,’” and that “more than 100 gay men had been detained” so far. The report added that Novaya Gazeta “had the names of three murder victims, and suspected many others had died in extrajudicial killings,” and it noted that authorities posed “as men looking for dates” on social networking sites to lure in victims. Many gay men have fled the region as a result. The Times report quoted a spokesperson for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who denied the existence of gay people in Chechnya, calling the reports “absolute lies and disinformation.” “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” he said. Kadyrov has since been interviewed for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel by reporter David Scott, and according to The Washington Post, during the conversation, he “laugh[ed] dismissively at questions about the allegations” and said that gay men “are not people”:
In his interview with Scott, Kadyrov initially laughs dismissively at questions about the allegations. “Why did he come here?” he says to someone off camera. “What's the point of these questions?” But as Scott presses him, Kadyrov talks angrily about the reporters and activists who write about LGBT rights in Chechnya.
“They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people,” he says. “God damn them for what they are accusing us of. They will have to answer to the almighty for this.”
A Media Matters analysis of CNN's, MSNBC's, and Fox News’ weekday evening programming from 5-11 p.m. and ABC's, CBS', and NBC’s flagship evening news programs -- both weekend and weekday -- found virtual silence across the networks regarding the abuse of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. There were only three significant mentions of the story across all six networks between April 1 and July 31 and one short exchange in a broader discussion about the United States’ position on human rights around the world.
Over the last four months, CNN was the only cable network to air a full segment dedicated to the subject, as well as one brief exchange during a separate interview. A special April 24 evening edition of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper aired a package in which reporter Matthew Chance covered the subject. During the May 4 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, there was also a brief exchange between host Anderson Cooper and guest Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in which Cooper mentioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene and help protect gay people in the country. McCain did not comment on the atrocities in Chechnya specifically during the exchange.
Of the three broadcast flagship programs, there was no significant mention of Chechnya’s abuses on weekdays. On April 23, however, the Sunday edition of NBC Nightly News devoted a segment to the topic featuring reporter Lucy Kafanov.
During the segment on The Lead, host Jake Tapper noted that the story was not “getting enough attention,” and Matthew Chance reported that the journalist who broke the story was “fleeing the country” after she received threats for her reporting. He also said that at least five other reporters at her newspaper have been killed since 2000 “in mafia-style hits.” The package also featured video of a victim speaking out about what Chance described as “horrifying abuse,” detailing the torture by authorities:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They tied wires to my hand and put metal clippers on my ears to electrocute me. When they shock you, you jump high above the ground. [via Nexis]
NBC’s report also featured interviews with a victim of the abuse in Chechnya, as well as another journalist from Novaya Gazeta. The victim, who used a pseudonym, detailed being “dragged … out of a car,” beaten, and told that “gays shouldn’t exist in Chechnya.” NBC's Kafanov added that in addition to the reporting by Novaya Gazeta, the abuses had been corroborated by human rights groups.
Prominent world leaders have spoken out against the human rights abuses in Chechnya, including Merkel and newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron. Major human rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Amnesty International, and Outright International have also launched campaigns in support of LGBTQ Chechens. Despite this international condemnation -- and human rights groups’ calls for President Donald Trump to comment -- the president has not spoken publicly about the allegations or condemned Chechnya’s actions. It should be noted that newly appointed United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert have issued statements on the reports.
Chechnya’s brutal attacks against and murders of queer men in the region have become an international human rights issue, but the American public would not know that by watching the evening news. Though NBC's and CNN’s pieces provided solid reporting, one package on each network's evening programming over a four-month span is not enough, and the utter silence of ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and Fox News does a disservice to their viewers.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of CNN's, MSNBC's, and Fox News’ weekday 5-11 p.m. programming between April 1 and July 26 for mentions of the words “Chechnya” or “Chechen” or “Kadyrov” or “Russia” within 20 words of the terms “gay” or “LGBT” or “homosexual” or “lesbian” or “bisexual.” Media Matters also searched Nexis transcripts for those terms appearing on ABC's, CBS', and NBC’s nightly news programs ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, including the Saturday and Sunday editions of those shows. Media Matters also searched iQ media for those terms appearing on MSNBC’s 6 p.m. programming and the weekend broadcast news shows.
Mentions of those terms were included in the analysis if the human rights abuses of gay, bisexual, and queer men in Chechnya were mentioned as the stated topic of conversation or if there was significant discussion of the topic. “Significant discussion” is defined as a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people; passing mentions were not included in the analysis.
Immediately after Senate Republicans unveiled a new draft of their plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cable and broadcast newscasts framed reports about the bill around the challenges it faces in the legislative process, including vote counts and optics, rather than personal stories from those who would be most affected by the bill. However, the programs did use the opportunity to cover key changes to and consequences of the bill.
Senate Republicans on July 13 introduced a new draft of their bill to repeal and replace the ACA, which includes key changes surrounding health savings accounts and ways for insurers to offer more bare-bones policies. While the bill has changed a bit, the media coverage has largely stayed the same. Once again, media are continuing to focus on the process surrounding the bill and largely ignoring personal stories from those most affected. Unlike with previous coverage, cable and broadcast news did focus on the new changes in the bill and their potential consequences for Americans. MSNBC in particular provided more context and information about the bill than other networks.
During the July 13 newscasts, just hours after the new draft plan was introduced, broadcast news shows framed their coverage around the legislative process and optics of the bill. NBC’s Lester Holt introduced a report on the bill on NBC Nightly News by noting that “Republicans face a crucial battle for votes in their own party” over the bill. CBS’ Anthony Mason said the bill was “already in critical condition” on CBS Evening News because of the lack of Republican support. And ABC’s Mary Bruce framed her report on the new bill by pointing out that it faces “the same old problem: Can it get the votes to pass?”
Like previous coverage, broadcast newscasts largely neglected to offer personal anecdotes from people who would be most affected by the bill. One exception was CBS Evening News, which followed its coverage of the bill with a segment on how Kentuckians would be “hard hit” by its Medicaid cuts.
Network newscasts did do an exemplary job of highlighting the consequences of and new changes in this newest draft of the bill, however, including provisions that would allow “the return of skimpy junk insurance policies and discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions,” according to HuffPost, and expand the use of health savings accounts, which have been found to “primarily benefit the wealthy, the healthy, and the educated.”
Like broadcast newscasts, the 6 p.m. hour of cable news coverage framed the unveiling of the bill largely around vote counting and optics. Fox News’ Bret Baier introduced a panel discussion of the bill on Special Report by explaining that the GOP “can only afford to lose one more vote” to pass the bill. Earlier in the program, Baier set up a report on the bill by highlighting “the continued internal dissent” surrounding the bill. MSNBC’s Ali Velshi framed his discussion of the bill on MSNBC Live by saying that it “is hanging by a thread” in terms of votes. CNN’s Jim Acosta opened a segment on the bill by stating that Republicans are “increasingly optimistic about its prospects.” Acosta even conducted an interview with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and asked only about the prospects the bill would pass, not the actual policies it contains.
Like broadcast newscasts, cable coverage was also largely devoid of personal stories from those most affected. However, cable coverage did highlight several changes that are included in this draft of the bill and the consequences of the provisions. MSNBC, especially, excelled in this area, hosting Dr. Kavita Patel, medical director of Sibley Primary Care in Washington, D.C., who noted that this bill “does cause a death spiral … by allowing for insurance plans to sell … catastrophic insurance.”
MSNBC also hosted Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, who pointed out that the bill negatively impacts state budgets, like in Virginia.