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  • Yes, The New York Times dropped the ball on covering the rise of right-wing extremism

    Mainstream media failed to cover the rise of the far right because they're afraid of right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The original headline for Thursday’s episode of New York Times podcast The Daily inadvertently pointed out something many journalists of color have know for a while: The Times (and other mainstream outlets) dropped the ball in covering the rise of right-wing extremism, and they did so seemingly out of fear of right-wing media and conservatives.

    The Daily originally headlined Thursday’s episode “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism and How We Missed It.” In a lack of self-awareness, the podcast didn’t mean the “we,” as referring to the Times, as the episode was not an exercise of self-exploration to grapple with the paper’s role in failing to alert audiences to the threat from right-wing extremists. It was, instead, a discussion of a piece that Janet Reitman published in The New York Times Magazine on November 3, which detailed the ways in which U.S. law enforcement missed the rising threat.

    Following backlash on Twitter -- in which many journalists of color and racial justice activists pointed out that non-white communities certainly did not miss the rise of white supremacist violence -- the Times quietly changed the episode’s headline.

    But the paper did miss the rise of right-wing extremism.

    Take, for example, the way it covered right-wing extremism during Barack Obama’s presidency -- or rather, the way it didn’t cover it. A 2009 report on the resurgence and radicalization of right-wing extremists that the Department of Homeland Security distributed across government and law enforcement agencies -- which was prominently discussed during The Daily’s latest episode and in Reitman’s piece -- got almost no attention from news side of the Times in 2009.

    Right-wing media had responded to the report by fabricating a narrative that the Obama administration was targeting conservatives over political differences, effectively ignoring the insidious threat of white supremacist radicalization. Fox News’ Sean Hannity falsely claimed DHS was defining right-wing extremists as “people that maybe think we're not controlling our borders, people that have pro-life bumper stickers.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh asserted that the April 14 publication of the report had been timed to distract from April 15 anti-tax protests taking place around the country, sounding a lot like present-day right-wing media claiming right-wing violence is a “false flag” meant to distract. Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin called the report a “piece of crap” and claimed it was “a sweeping indictment of conservatives.” Then-CNN host Lou Dobbs and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough also joined in to attack the report.

    For its part, the Times either didn’t take the contents of the report seriously (evidence of a serious blindspot) or it cowered in fear of the hysterics fueled by right-wing media’s mischaracterization of the report.  The paper mentioned the report in only a handful of op-ed columns, by Charles Blow, Paul Krugman, and Frank Rich.

    What the paper did cover was then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s apology to veteran groups over the document, which had noted that returning veterans struggling to reintegrate at home could ‘lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone-wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.’” A 2009 Times blog also focused on reactions to the report and Napolitano’s apology rather than its substance.

    When it comes to covering radicalization and terrorism, mainstream media in general have either largely ignored right-wing extremism, or failed to contextualize its systematic threat when it manifests itself violently. But what do get plenty of coverage are attacks committed by Muslim individuals. President Donald Trump has helped fuel that bias, baselessly accusing media of not reporting terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims and putting out a list of attacks that omitted mentions of right-wing terrorism.

    Ensuring newsrooms better represent surrounding demographics could help address blind spots in mainstream media on issues including poisoned waterclimate change, and right-wing extremism that disproportionately affect non-white communities.

    But cowering to right-wing media pressure? Only growing a backbone can fix that.

  • NY TimesThe Daily can’t stop using an anti-abortion talking point about later abortions

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A recent episode of The New York Times’ podcast The Daily focused on Republicans’ invocation of so-called “partial-birth” abortion as an example of the type of social “wedge issues” that the party uses to drive support for their positions. In the episode, The Daily perpetuated anti-abortion misinformation by adopting the inaccurate frame that Democrats have taken an allegedly "extreme" position by supporting medically necessary later abortions -- which are distinct from the non-existent practice of "partial-birth" abortions. This wasn’t the first time The Daily inaccurately represented Democrats’ position on abortion as “extreme,” or used the conservative trope of “partial-birth” abortion as a dominant frame.

    During The Daily’s October 24 episode, Times’ opinion columnist Jennifer Senior talked to Vin Weber -- a former Republican congressman -- about how it is necessary to “go back to the midterm election of 1994” to “understand the divisions that define this year’s midterms.” In particular, Senior and Weber pointed to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act as evidence of the kind of “wedge issues” both parties had come to rely on to energize voters -- and, in effect, to polarize them. Before the act was finally signed into law in 2003, Republicans made it an issue in the 1994 midterm elections and attempted to pass the bill in 1995. The act defined so-called “partial-birth” abortion as a procedure “in which the person performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery” -- despite no such procedure existing. By campaigning on the necessity of banning this imaginary procedure of anti-abortion groups’ own creation, Republicans were able to inaccurately paint Democrats as supporting an “extreme” position -- a phenomenon The Daily failed to fully contextualize for listeners.

    As NPR’s Julie Rovner wrote in 2006, “partial-birth abortion” is a term “first coined” in 1995 “by the National Right to Life Committee,” an anti-choice group whose legislative director admitted in a magazine interview that the term was created to “foster a growing opposition to abortion.” The term made its way into the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, and it is still used by right-wing media to both vilify those who have abortions, and to erroneously conflate the nonexistent practice with safe and legal forms of later abortion.

    The October 24 episode of The Daily followed a 2-part series that also looked at “partial-birth abortions” in a report on an anti-abortion Democrat in Missouri who attempted and ultimately failed to add anti-choice language to the state party’s platform. In that episode, reporter Sabrina Tavernise framed the plight of anti-abortion Democrats in the 1990s around the blowback they felt for supporting the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in opposition to most members of the party. By treating anti-choice Democrats as victims of an uncompromising party position on abortion, The Daily entrenched misinformation about so-called “partial-birth" abortion and repeated a favorite right-wing media talking point about the alleged extremism of the Democratic Party.

    The more recent episode was a slight improvement from the 2-part series, but still suffered from similar missteps. Senior, at least, correctly implied that “partial-birth abortions” is an invented term, saying that while it is in reference to a procedure called “intact dilation and extraction,” also called D&X, Republicans began to conflate it with the exaggerated concept of a "partial-birth" abortion. Singer also repeatedly identified the non-existent procedure as “so-called.” The most explicit pushback came from audio included from the 1995 debate on the bill, when then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) said on the Senate floor that “the name partial-birth abortion did not exist until someone who wanted to ban an abortion procedure made up this erroneous and inflammatory term.”

    Although Senior acknowledged the misleading nature of the term “partial-birth abortion,” the episode was still framed around Republicans’ political theater of using social “wedge issues” to rile up voters, rather than discussing the reality of abortion access or the specific situations in which someone may need to access medically necessary later abortion care. In doing so, The Daily failed to address how Republicans have wielded misinformation about abortion to sow division, and the negative health consequences people face as a result.

    In the episode, Senior mentioned that Republicans in 1994 used so-called “partial-birth abortions” to “induce extraordinary discomfort in Democrats,” and the resulting debate meant Republicans “forced Democrats to articulate a position on abortion at its most extreme, which then painted them into a corner." However, Senior did not discuss how this invented wedge issue did not represent even half of the abortions actually performed in the United States. In reality, the procedure implicated in the 1995 bill was about a small minority of abortion procedures conducted for specific medical reasons. The Guttmacher Institute found that only “slightly more than 1% of abortions are performed at 21 weeks or later” -- the point at which this procedure would be relevant.

    As Tara Haelle explained for Forbes, the “procedure is not conducted lightly,” but “nearly always when the fetus cannot live outside the womb and typically when the mother’s health is in danger, the fetus has a serious abnormality, or both.” Rolling Stone’s Bridgette Dunlap wrote that the procedure “was preferable” in these conditions and also “having one meant a patient who’d lost a wanted pregnancy could hold the fetus in her arms and say goodbye, which some would-be parents found comforting.” In 2016, Dr. Jennifer Gunter also wrote for HuffPost about some of the specific and very complex medical scenarios where a person might prefer to have a D&X procedure. People have later abortions for a variety of personal and medical reasons, which is why it's important to listen to the experiences of those who have had them, rather than stigmatizing them based on right-wing misinformation.

    The Daily did not address this reality -- or the consequences of abortion care in Missouri becoming increasingly difficult to access. Instead, the episode was framed around Republicans’ political grandstanding about abortion to paint Democrats as “extreme” on so-called “wedge issues” like abortion. In the 1990s, anti-abortion advocates created the term “partial-birth abortion” to fearmonger and to paint all Democrats with an extremist brush. By failing to dive into the context and debunk long-standing lies about abortion, The Daily ignored the material consequences of losing access to this necessary form of health care and perpetuated anti-abortion talking points and right-wing misinformation.

  • 5 things NY TimesThe Daily got wrong about abortion and Missouri's fight for reproductive justice

    What The Daily missed in a recent report about Missouri Democrats’ adoption -- and rejection -- of an anti-choice amendment

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The New York Times’ podcast The Daily claims to inform listeners about “the biggest stories of our time,” but in a recent two-part series about an anti-choice amendment to the Missouri Democratic Party platform, the coverage emphasized anti-abortion talking points, including misinformation about so-called “partial-birth abortion” and the alleged “extremism” of Democrats' views on abortion. Perhaps most concerningly, The Daily failed to contextualize the precarious nature of abortion rights in Missouri -- which currently has only one operational abortion clinic.

    In June 2018, the Missouri Democratic Party adopted language into its platform seeking to “welcome into our ranks all Missourians who may hold differing positions on” abortion. The inclusion of this language was fraught from the start. As Riverfront Times reported, the amendment “was emailed to members one day before a scheduled vote on a new platform — and the vote ended up taking place on a day that many party activists had already committed to being at immigration protests.” In August, the party voted unanimously to remove the language from its platform and instead adopted language supporting “a woman’s right to choose.”

    The Daily's two-part series covering this story focused on Joan Barry, a former Democratic Representative for the Missouri House who introduced the controversial language. The episodes were hosted by the Times’ Sabrina Tavernise, who also wrote an article detailing Barry’s attempt to add the language. Tavernise painted Barry as suffering under the weight of a political system deeply divided about abortion at the national level. But in emphasizing national views about abortion, particularly in the political context, Tavernise obscured how hard pro-choice advocates are fighting to maintain abortion rights in Missouri. Instead, the story gave anti-abortion misinformation a high-profile platform and sanitized the consequences of losing access to abortion care in Missouri. Here are five things The Daily got wrong about abortion, and in particular, abortion access in Missouri:

    1. Treating “partial-birth abortion” as a real thing

    During the two-part series, Tavernise argued that anti-abortion Democrats are fleeing the Democratic Party, both nationally and in Missouri. As evidence of this trend, Tavernise pointed to conversations around an attempt to pass the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1995. Although the bill was vetoed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, it ultimately became law under President George W. Bush in 2003, and was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2007 in Gonzales v. Carhart. The language of this law entrenched the false idea of so-called “partial-birth” abortion, despite no such procedure existing -- a linguistic trap that The Daily fell into often when covering the Missouri dispute.

    In attempting to explain “partial-birth” abortion, The Daily relied on the description from the 1995 bill: “an abortion in which the person performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery.” The Daily then talked to Lou Riggs -- who is currently running as a Republican for the Missouri House -- who described “partial-birth” abortion as something “Dr. Mengele on his worst day in the Nazi death camp did not conceive of” performing.

    But “partial-birth” abortions are not real. As NPR reported in 2006, “‘partial-birth’ is not a medical term. It’s a political one” that was invented by anti-abortion extremists to incite feelings of disgust and stigma about abortion. As explained by NPR’s Julie Rovner, “partial-birth” abortion is a misleading reference to the previously used later-term abortion procedure known as a “‘dilation and extraction,’ or D&X.” Rovner continued that the term “was first coined” in 1995 “by the National Right to Life Committee,” an anti-choice group that admitted in a magazine interview that it created the term to “foster a growing opposition to abortion.” The term made its way to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1995, and it is still used by right-wing media to both vilify those who have abortions and to erroneously conflate the nonexistent practice with safe and legal forms of later abortion.

    Rather than exploring any of this, The Daily centered its reporting on anti-choice Democrats who adopted a common right-wing talking point pushed for years by anti-abortion extremists. In doing so, The Daily did not explain how this inaccurate understanding of “partial-birth” abortion manufactured tensions in the Democratic Party -- and ignored the consequences of allowing this misconception to be repeated, unchecked to this day.

    2. Saying Democrats have become too "extreme" on abortion

    Throughout the two-part series, Tavernise erroneously painted the national Democratic Party as moving from a moderate position on abortion to one that is more extreme -- ignoring popular support for abortion access. For example, Tavernise explained that after Clinton vetoed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1996, “Democrats could no longer be pro-life; they had to pick a side. It was impossible to be in the middle.” She lamented that “local politics” had been replaced by “big national issues, like the question of abortion, the question of Roe v. Wade” which “only exacerbated Democrats’ difficulties in places like Missouri. It’s only made things worse.”

    Framing the Democratic stance on abortion as “extreme” has long been a popular tactic in right-wing media and even among some more mainstream outlets. In Media Matters’ annual study of evening cable news coverage, Fox News dominated discussions about abortion in prime time with inaccurate statements about the so-called extreme abortion procedures allegedly supported by the left, but CNN and MSNBC also succumbed to this talking point far too often. For example, during Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) run-off race against Roy Moore in Alabama, all three outlets portrayed Jones as “extreme” for opposing a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.

    Calling Democrats’ views of abortion “extreme” is a vast mischaracterization of their positions, and misrepresents broader public opinion. As a recent Pew Research poll found, “a 58% majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are relatively unchanged in the past few years.” Suggestions that Democrats should compromise or tone down their support for abortion are also unsupported by data. As the polling firm PerryUndem found, “Just 8 percent of Democrats would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes abortion,” but “31 percent of Republicans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.” Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem, told Vox, “By going after the 8 percent of Democrats who want a candidate who opposes abortion, the party risks losing the 71 percent of Democratic voters who want their candidates to support abortion rights.”

    Beyond raw numbers, support for these allegedly “extreme” positions is grounded in the recognition that these types of abortions are done for a variety of personal and medical reasons and that those who need access to this vital form of health care should not be vilified.

    3. Portraying the anti-abortion Democrat they talked to as a centrist on abortion

    The Daily also extensively discussed Barry’s reasons for introducing the anti-choice amendment, including that she “felt the party no longer tolerated views like hers” and that the party had “drifted too far left on abortion” and “developed this hard edge with this activist language” that made her feel “excluded, looked down upon.” Tavernise explained that Barry felt adding the language “would be a real contribution” and “would mean more people would feel welcome” to the party. The Daily framed Barry as a sympathetic character who “took it hard” when the amendment was pulled. Tavernise called her “a good soldier,” for the party, and suggested that in spite of all her hard work she had only ended up with "people wanting her out.” Tavernise also said Barry “felt really misunderstood. Being pro-life didn’t mean she wanted to take choice away. It didn’t mean she wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

    Setting aside anti-abortion organizations’ celebrations that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court spells the end of Roe, The Daily also failed to mention that Barry wanted to include language in the platform expressing support for the criminalization of abortion. As Rewire.News’ Ally Boguhn reported, “During the platform committee’s deliberations, Barry attempted to include anti-choice language regarding ‘life from conception until natural death,’ which ultimately did not make it into the platform.” As Boguhn explained, “Such phrasing uses so-called personhood rhetoric that, if implemented into law, could criminalize abortion and some forms of contraception.”

    Boguhn also outlined how Barry supported various anti-choice restrictions during her time in the Missouri House of Representatives. In 2001, “Barry introduced a so-called informed consent bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period and mandating that doctors inform patients of risks associated with abortion,” a mandate that stemmed from an inaccurate anti-abortion talking point. She also “sponsored a ‘partial-birth abortion’ ban” and “co-sponsored another ‘informed consent’ bill to require a waiting period for patients seeking a medication abortion.”

    Tavernise shouldn’t have relied on Barry’s assurances that she didn’t really want to end Roe. Instead, The Daily should have looked at Barry’s record of chipping away at abortion access while in the Missouri House and, in particular, her clear intention to criminalize abortion during the platform fight.

    4. Omitting the legitimate reasons why pro-choice Democrats wanted the language removed

    While Tavernise focused on Barry and her convictions about the platform language, there was little discussion about why other members of the committee were upset and voted to eliminate the anti-choice provisions. While Tavernise did talk to some pro-choice advocates on the committee, she did not give them much room to explain their position or dispute the harmful premise of Barry’s agenda. Instead, Tavernise framed them as merely “angry” with the decision or having “a furious reaction” because they “were pissed,” while failing to discuss why they were mad. Rather than discuss the misinformation behind Barry’s proposed language, or the tangible harms that the anti-choice amendment would have on Missourians, Part 1 ends on a dramatic cliffhanger with Barry’s daughter warning her mother to “get some mace or something” -- as if Barry would be under physical attack for proposing the language.

    The Daily’s invocation of the "violent left" as a plot device plays into a rhetorical strategy commonly used by right-wing media and abortion opponents to suppress valid opposition to their harmful policies. For example, during anti-Kavanaugh protests prior to his confirmation, The Daily Signal called protesters “vicious mobs.” Meanwhile, the anti-abortion organization Priests for Life wrote that the “deeper roots of the rage and hysteria of the anti Kavanaugh protestors” stemmed from “the repressed grief of women who experienced abortion loss” -- another right-wing media myth about abortion.

    Aside from the vote about the language being held on a day that many committee members had a prior engagement, The Daily also failed to consider the legitimate reasons many opposed Barry’s extreme additions. After the episodes aired, one of the pro-choice committee members interviewed by Tavernise -- co-founder and co-director of Reproaction Pamela Merritt -- wrote a blog post arguing that while Tavernise’s written article was “solid. … The podcast is slanted, and it seems that they want to cast the prolife Dem as a victim and all the rest of us as unreasonable.”

    Merritt also outlined some additional points about why she wanted the language removed:

    Access to abortion is not some insignificant wedge issue that politicians can chose whether or not to champion based on how they think their district feels about it. Reproductive healthcare is key to every single progressive issue Democratic claim to champion, so failing to support the full spectrum of services indicates a fundamental lack of understanding how policy works.

    There can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. The ability to control whether or not you get pregnant, whether to carry a pregnancy to term, and the spacing between children is a big fucking deal. It means the difference between being able to make ends meet or not, being able to get an advanced degree or attend college/training or not. For some people, it is the difference between life or death. I’m passionate about access because IT FUCKING MATTERS.

    ...

    You can’t claim to stand with Black women and then dismiss our leadership, ignore our demands, and support policies that promote reproductive oppression.

    And you can’t say a platform is pro-choice if it includes language stating that the party will welcome people who do not support abortion access and see their presence as a strength.

    5. Failing to contextualize the dire state of abortion access in Missouri and the consequences of losing abortion care

    In the podcast, Tavernise decried that “local politics” have been replaced by “big national issues, like the question of abortion, the question of Roe v. Wade, the question of [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh.” This framing dangerously ignored how these “big national issues” are very much a part of “local politics,” especially given the precarious state of abortion access in Missouri.

    Missouri currently has only one abortion provider in a state with more than 6 million people -- and Gov. Mike Parsons (R) recently signed a state budget blocking Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. Missouri already has a plethora of abortion restrictions, including a requirement that women receive “state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion,” and a 72-hour waiting period. Missouri’s legislature has an appetite for even further abortion restrictions -- Republican state Rep. Mike Moon told The Associated Press this year that the “time is right” to pass an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution.

    Although Kavanaugh’s threat as a potential fifth vote to overturn Roe is briefly mentioned in both of The Daily’s episodes, neither one mentions that Missouri currently has both an anti-choice legislature and an anti-choice governor with no protections in place, leaving the state’s abortion rights “at the highest risk of loss if Roe is overturned” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Missouri is one of seven states classified by the Guttmacher Institute as having “laws that express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe.” Planned Parenthood described Missouri as one of 20 states “poised to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.” Far from Tavernise’s concern that all politics have become national, there is plenty of abortion-related legislation in Missouri -- and plenty of material consequences for the Missourians who are denied abortion access thanks to anti-choice lawmakers and advocates such as Barry.

    As anti-abortion advocates no longer demur about Kavanaugh’s likely role in overturning Roe, The Daily’s coverage of the fight for reproductive justice in Missouri failed to present an accurate picture of what’s at stake. Instead, The Daily presented a sanitized view of an anti-abortion extremist, relied on anti-abortion talking points, and ignored the concerns of pro-choice advocates about the true consequences of losing access to abortion in the state and across the country.

  • The top 6 tricks Scott Pruitt uses to outfox the media

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt might just be the most ruthlessly effective member of the Trump administration -- much to the ire of environmental activists, who recently launched a #BootPruitt campaign. One of Pruitt's trademark strategies is trying to tightly control media coverage of himself and his agency, a way to tamp down criticism of his industry-friendly agenda and extreme rollbacks of environmental protections.

    Pruitt has lost control of the media narrative in the past week, as numerous outlets have reported on his snowballing ethics scandals. But if he keeps his job -- there are reports that President Trump still has his back -- you can expect him to double down on his media machinations.

    Here are the key ways Pruitt manipulates and hampers the press:

    1. Pruitt goes to right-wing news outlets to push his messages out

    During his first year as head of the EPA, Pruitt appeared on Fox News, Trump's favorite network, 16 times -- more than twice as often as he appeared on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. Fox hosts and interviewers tend to lob softballs at him and gloss over his numerous controversies and scandals.

    Pruitt gives interviews to other conservative outlets, too, from Breitbart News Daily to The Rush Limbaugh Show to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Last month, Pruitt went on conservative talk-radio shows to spread misleading talking points as he attempted to defend his extravagant travel spending.

    And when Pruitt announced a plan in March to severely restrict the kinds of scientific data that can be used in policymaking -- a change decried by scientists, environmentalists, and public health advocates -- he gave an exclusive interview to conservative news site The Daily Caller about it. The resulting article painted the shift in a positive light, of course.

    2. Pruitt gives interviews to generalists instead of environmental reporters

    Pruitt grants some interviews to mainstream news outlets, but when he does it's often with political reporters or generalists instead of reporters on the environmental beat who would know the right tough questions to ask.

    For instance, in February, Pruitt appeared on The New York Times' podcast The Daily. The interview was largely light and fluffy, letting Pruitt spout his talking points with little pushback, including a false claim that Congress would have to change the law in order for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. After the interview, it fell to Times environmental reporter Coral Davenport to point out that the Supreme Court had already granted authority to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Too bad she wasn't the one who conducted the interview. The following week, when another Times environmental reporter, Lisa Friedman, asked for a comment from Pruitt for a piece on his views on climate science, an EPA spokesperson instead referred her to the interview with The Daily.

    The EPA administrator sat for another soft interview with a Washington Post political reporter that was published in the Post's political newsletter The Daily 202. The resulting piece quoted Pruitt defending his enforcement record -- “I don't hang with polluters; I prosecute them" -- and praising Trump for his "tremendous ideas."

    Contrast that with what happened when Pruitt gave a rare interview to two Post reporters, Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, who've been doggedly covering his agency. They produced a substantive article on how Pruitt has been shifting the EPA to serve the interests of regulated companies; quotes from Pruitt in the piece are interspersed with quotes from experts and with reporting on Pruitt's moves to roll back environmental protections and enforcement.

    3. Pruitt's EPA withholds basic information from the press and the public

    Under Pruitt, the EPA has become extraordinarily secretive.

    Unlike previous EPA administrators, Pruitt has refused to publicly release his full schedule in anything close to real time. The EPA has barred reporters from attending events where Pruitt speaks, even threatening to call the police to remove them. Most recently, on April 3, the EPA blocked numerous journalists from attending his announcement about the loosening of auto fuel economy standards, enabling Pruitt to avoid hard questions.

    It's so hard to get information out of the agency that the Society of Environmental Journalists sent the EPA public affairs office a letter in January asking for such fundamental things as open press briefings, responses to reporters' inquiries, and distribution of press releases to everyone who requests them.

    As New York Times reporter Friedman said in October, "Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA. It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”

    It's no surprise, then, that Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the agency have soared under Pruitt.

    4. Pruitt's EPA sends reporters articles by climate deniers instead of useful information

    Over the last month, the EPA has sent out at least four "press releases" that did nothing more than promote articles or opinion pieces by right-wing figures that painted Pruitt in a positive light, as ThinkProgress reported.

    The most eye-popping press release was headlined "The Hill: Scott Pruitt is leading the EPA toward greatness." It pointed to a fawning opinion piece co-written by the head of the Heartland Institute, a notorious climate-denial think tank.

    But perhaps the most vexing to reporters was a press release that promoted the aforementioned Daily Caller article on Pruitt restricting the EPA’s use of scientific data. The agency sent it out in lieu of an informative press release and otherwise refused to answer reporters' questions about the action. This prompted the National Association of Science Writers to send a letter of protest to the head of the EPA press office, calling on her to "take steps immediately to prevent this unprofessional and unethical behavior from occurring again." The Society of Environmental Journalists followed up with a similar letter of its own.

    5. Pruitt repeats disingenuous, misleading talking points

    Unlike his boss, Pruitt is disciplined and on-message. In interviews, he turns again and again to the same tightly scripted talking points, many of which are misleading.

    Like this one: "We've seen an 18 percent reduction in our CO2 footprint from 2000 to 2014. We're at pre-1994 levels," Pruitt told Fox News Sunday in June, while defending Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. It's one of Pruitt's favorite lines. He's repeated it ad nauseum during his 13 months at the EPA.

    When he spouts this statistic, Pruitt is essentially bragging that the U.S. has already done a lot to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That might sound good on the surface, but Pruitt's claim is misleading -- he ignores the fact that emissions went down in part because of Obama-era policies that Pruitt and others in the Trump administration are now undoing. It's also just a really weird thing to boast about if you're a climate denier like Pruitt.

    Does Pruitt actually think it's a good thing that the U.S. reduced carbon dioxide emissions? Does that mean he acknowledges that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant? Does he then think it would be good for the U.S. to continue reducing CO2 emissions? Is he aware that CO2 emissions are projected to rise this year?

    These are follow-up questions that an interviewer who's knowledgeable about climate change might ask, but so far we haven't seen any such pushback. No wonder Pruitt keeps repeating the line.

    6. Pruitt's EPA retaliates against journalists

    Under Pruitt, the EPA's press office has taken the unprecedented step of personally attacking reporters whose work the leadership dislikes. In September, the office issued a press release bashing Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker over a story he co-wrote. "Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey," the release read. "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." The EPA then dropped Biesecker from its email press list.

    The agency's press office has also attacked New York Times reporter Eric Lipton, who's done deep-dive investigative reporting into Pruitt's EPA. In August, the office put out a press release that accused him of reporting "false facts." In October, Liz Bowman, head of the EPA's Office of Public Affairs, gave a snarky reply after Lipton requested information on agency actions, accusing Lipton of having a "continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

    The bottom line: Why Pruitt’s media manipulation matters

    When Pruitt gets more positive media coverage for himself and the EPA, or at least less negative coverage, it can sway public opinion in favor of his right-wing agenda and make it easier for him to continue eviscerating environmental protections. His successes then help him curry favor with oil companies, the Koch network, and other monied interests that could fund a future Pruitt campaign for senator, governor, or even president. After all, the EPA administrator is notoriously ambitious.

    If Pruitt does ascend higher, you can expect to see a lot more anti-regulatory fervor and a lot more media manipulation and maltreatment.

  • Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox more than twice as often as other major TV networks combined in his first year at EPA

    Fox News, meanwhile, largely ignored controversies about Pruitt’s extravagant travel

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    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.

    In first year as EPA head, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as on the other major networks combined

    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:  

    • Two on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on March 26 and June 4.
    • One on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on February 28.
    • One on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on June 1.
    • One on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4.
    • One on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on June 6.
    • One on CBS Evening News on January 17.

    Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to Pruitt’s controversial use of taxpayer money than CNN and MSNBC

    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.  

    On business news networks, Pruitt appeared on Fox Business four times as often as on CNBC

    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 gave numerous interviews to right-wing radio programs and a variety of print outlets

    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.

    Methodology

    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.

  • Fox Apologized For Misreporting On TSA -- Will The Daily?

    Blog ››› ››› SEAN EASTER

    On Tuesday, Fox & Friends ran a segment about a new portable DNA analyzer soon to begin testing by the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The facts are these: The analyzer is entering preliminary testing, and it will be used in situations where DNA analyses are legal and authorized, such as establishing familial relationships in refugee cases. A document that details USCIS policies clearly explains that all such tests are completely voluntary. The TSA will not be involved in the testing the device, and has no intention to explore DNA testing.

    None of that stopped Fox & Friends from pushing the completely concocted falsehood that the TSA will test passengers' DNA at airport security checkpoints. Co-host Steve Doocy teased the segment by saying, "And if you thought you thought pat-downs were bad, just wait. Now the TSA wants your DNA." In the segment, co-host Gretchen Carlson said the government claimed it would "build a database of terrorists and ... profile." On-screen graphics during the segment were particularly egregious, containing phrases such as, "New TSA Device Will Check Genes," "TSA Will Check Passengers' DNA Results," and "DNA Swap At Airports; 'Genetic Patdown' Device To Be Introduced."

    Another misleading story about the same device appeared in the February 26 edition of the News Corp. iPad newspaper The Daily. Where the Fox & Friends segment was brazenly false, The Daily article simply fearmongered that the DNA analyzers could be abused. The text of the article did not mention the TSA -- although the URL does -- but the article led by discussing airport scanners: "Airport scanners already get under your clothes, but federal officials aren't stopping there: They want to get inside your genes, too." The implication of the headline presentation is, let's just say, explicitly clear:

    The Daily image

  • Murdoch's Daily Takes Digs At Palin

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS

    Paging Roger Ailes... Boss Rupert Murdoch's newest pet project -- the tablet-only Daily -- seems to have made digs at Fox News contributor Sarah Palin part of its much-speculated-about editorial voice.

    A Saturday rundown of potential Republican presidential nominees said of Palin:

    The former vice presidential candidate's strengths -- her cult-like appeal to anti-elitist tea-partiers, her fundraising prowess -- are still vastly outweighed by her countless liabilities. For instance, try to pin her down on an issue of any gravity or complexity (the war in Iraq, say, or health care policy) and, political coaching be damned, you'll still get a meandering rant that sounds like it was cobbled together with some kind of Reagan-themed magnetic poetry set.

    Days earlier, Daily op-ed columnist Michael Maiello wrote that Palin "really just doesn't have a grasp of recent history," citing her response to President Obama's Sputnik reference in the State of the Union address:

    Former half-term Alaska governor and failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is deeply concerned that President Obama has learned the wrong lesson from Russia's successful 1957 launch of Sputnik. It wasn't an advance that in turn motivated the United States, she suggested, but a failure: "Yeah, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union." I could suppose she means that Russia flew too high, Icarus-like, and was brought low as its wings were melted by the heat of its outsized ambitions. But I'd be wrong. She really just doesn't have a grasp of recent history.

    We're still deciphering what Murdoch meant when he said The Daily's editorial stance would be "very patriotic," though for the moment, it doesn't seem to include knee-jerk support for Palin.