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Numerous studies have found near-unanimous scientific agreement on human-caused climate change, with perhaps the most well-known study on the matter finding that 97 percent of scientific papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agree that humans are behind it. And this year, a review of the 3 percent of papers that deny climate change found that they were all flawed. Nonetheless, Breitbart writer Delingpole claimed that 400 scientific papers published this year demonstrated that climate change is a “myth,” basing his article on a post on the denialist blog No Tricks Zone.The fact-checking website Snopes roundly debunked Delingpole’s article, giving it a “False” verdict after speaking with authors of some of the cited papers who said their work was grossly misinterpreted or misrepresented.
Daily Mail reporter David Rose alleged that climate scientists "rushed" to publish an "exaggerated" paper in an attempt to convince leaders to support the Paris agreement and spend billions to fight climate change. Rose, who has written his fair share of climate misinformation for the Mail, based his story on an “exclusive interview” with and a blog post by retired U.S. government scientist John Bates. The error-ridden article quickly made its way around right-wing media in outlets such as The Daily Caller, National Review, and Breitbart, and was even promoted by GOP members of the House science committee, including its chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The story’s claims also received “at least 752,300 shares, likes, comments, or other interactions on social media,” according to a Buzzfeed analysis. But the claims in the article were widely discredited by climate scientists, including Bates’ former colleagues and even Bates himself. The errors in the Mail’s article were so significant that the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., issued a ruling that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Daily Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand.
As Hurricane Irma barrelled toward Florida, Limbaugh spun conspiracy theories and told his listeners that hurricane warnings are part of a scheme to benefit retailers, the media, and people like Al Gore who want to "advance this climate change agenda." Notably, Limbaugh didn’t have any skepticism about the danger Irma posed when it came to his own well-being, as he fled from his Florida home to Los Angeles before Irma made landfall. It's not the first time Limbaugh has spouted irresponsible conspiracy theories about hurricane forecasts. He was criticized last year for doing the same thing during Hurricane Matthew, earning himself a spot on the 2016 edition of this list.
After Trump’s election, The New York Times launched an ad campaign billing itself as the antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.” Shortly after that campaign, though, the Times hired Stephens as a columnist -- a serial misinformer who had called climate change a “sick-souled religion” during his time at The Wall Street Journal. In his inaugural column for the Times, Stephens encouraged skepticism of climate scientists and compared those who advocate climate action to Cold War-era authoritarians. Stephens’ column was short on actual facts and science; the one time he cited a scientific report, he got it wrong. The Times added a correction to the column, but numerous scientists pointed out that the correction wasn’t sufficient, and a number of scientists canceled their subscriptions over Stephens’ hiring, his problematic column, and the Times public editor’s dismissive defense of Stephens’ column. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt later cited Stephens' column to defend the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.
Experts and journalists have repeatedly noted that President Donald Trump's campaign promise to bring back coal jobs is an empty one, since the decades-long decline in coal mining jobs has been driven much more by economic forces, such as increased automation and competition from natural gas and renewables, than by government regulations. But that didn’t stop Moore, a frequent Fox and CNN commentator and former Trump economic advisor, from proclaiming in op-eds in The Washington Times and Breitbart that Trump had already made good on his promise after just a few months in office. Moore cited jobs reports from March and April to claim that Trump had added tens of thousands of mining jobs, thereby restoring the coal industry. But Moore grossly misrepresented the data he cited, which actually included jobs in a number of sectors like oil and gas. Had Moore bothered to look at the actual coal mining jobs category, he would have seen that it had only grown by approximately 200 jobs through April, barely moving since Election Day.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hewitt proposed creating a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” But Hewitt’s proposal instantly lost all credibility when he suggested including Rush Limbaugh as one of the commission members. Limbaugh has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, promoted dangerous climate-related conspiracy theories, misrepresented research in an attempt to dispute that global warming is happening, and even criticized a TV show for portraying climate change as a reality.
2017 was a record year for hurricanes, as Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc along their respective paths. A number of climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes. While CNN and MSNBC frequently aired segments discussing the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, Fox News hosts almost exclusively covered the climate change-hurricane link by criticizing others who raised the issue. The September 11 episode of Fox's The Five, for example, featured a lengthy discussion in which hosts criticized CNN's Jim Acosta for asking Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert whether there's a link between climate change and powerful hurricanes. The hosts said that Acosta was “anti-science” and looked “stupid” and “dumb,” and they called his question was "politically opportunistic." Fox's Jesse Watters said concern about climate change stems from liberal “guilt” and a desire to control people’s lives. Likewise, on the radio show Breitbart News Daily, host Alex Marlow pushed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to deny the link between climate change and hurricanes, which Pruitt did, stating, “For opportunistic media to use events like this to, without basis or support, just to simply engage in a cause-and-effect type of discussion, and not focus upon the needs of people, I think is misplaced."
Limbaugh cited an article in the right-wing Daily Caller headlined “Bacteria Are Eating Most Of The 2010 BP Oil Spill” and concluded, “The BP spill didn’t do any environmental [damage].” The Deepwater Horizon spill, which leaked oil for 87 days, was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in world history. Researchers have documented a wide array of negative environmental impacts from the disaster. For example, a 2016 study found that the BP spill may have caused irreversible damage to one of the Gulf shore’s most important ecosystems. The spill is believed to have killed tens of thousands animals in 2010, and for years afterward, dolphins and other animals in the area continued to die at higher-than-normal rates.
During a discussion about Al Gore’s warnings on climate change, Watters, a co-host of Fox News’ The Five, declared, “People are dying from terrorism. No one is dying from climate change.” Rush Limbaugh also made the same assertion this year. But an independent report commissioned by 20 governments in 2012 concluded that climate change already kills more people than terrorism, with an estimated 400,000 deaths linked to climate change each year.
Jones briefly speculated about the possibility that Hurricane Irma was “geoengineered” or created by humans before stating, “Meanwhile, though, right on time with these superstorms, we have the new film Geoengineering (sic) 2017, coming soon on October 20. Oh, just a little bit more than a month or so after Irma is set to hit. Isn’t that just perfect timing? Like all these race war films they’ve been putting out. This is starting to get suspicious. Here it is, Geostorm.” The action movie Geostorm featured satellites that controlled the global climate. Jones' speculation about the film is just one of the countless conspiracy theories he has promoted over the years.
Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased for the second consecutive year in 2016, according to the latest FBI numbers. During this climate of bigotry, the right-wing media figures used their platforms to blatantly spread fear and misinformation, demonizing Muslims all over the world. Some explicitly called for American Muslims to be put in internment camps, while others denied the existence of Islamophobia in our schools (Islamophobia actually increased in 2016), and claimed that Muslim immigration means more terrorism (there's no connection).
Here is a glimpse of some of the most absurd things the right-wing media figures said about Muslims in 2017.
Evening programming on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC all devoted much more time to the allegations against Trump after The New York Times reported on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct
By and large, 2017 was a year of reckoning for men who have sexually harassed and assaulted women. But 2017 was also the year evening programming on cable news forgot about the women who said President Donald Trump sexually assaulted them.
Over the past year, we’ve seen powerful men lose their jobs and reputations after women and men came forward telling their stories of harassment and assault. One man whose reckoning has yet to come, however, is the president of the United States. By October 2016, at least 20 women had said then-candidate Trump engaged in sexual misconduct, including 12 nonconsensual physical encounters. The accusations largely came after a video clip emerged of Trump admitting to sexual assault in 2005.
A Media Matters analysis found that the stories these women told about Trump’s alleged -- and admitted -- sexual misconduct were largely forgotten by evening cable news hosts and guests in 2017, especially on Fox News. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of coverage came only after The New York Times initially reported on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment and assault, which precipitated a wave of coverage about dozens of men who now stand credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
This study found:
Between January 1 and December 15, 2017, evening Fox News programs spent a total of 37 minutes and 21 seconds on the women who said Trump assaulted or harassed them.
In contrast, CNN spent 2 hours, 53 minutes, and 22 seconds on the allegations, while MSNBC spent 2 hours and 16 minutes discussing them.
While many shows ignored and minimized the allegations against Trump, some of his most ardent defenders on Fox faced them head-on to merely dismiss them out of hand.
On the December 13 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham attempted to discredit the allegations against Trump, asking, “If someone accused of you something from 20 years ago and you denied it ... would it be fair for people to say, God, he’s accused?"
And on the November 16 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity alleged that the women who spoke out against Trump said they were “taken out of context purposely by The New York Times.”
The vast majority of the reporting on the accusations made against Trump on evening cable news took place after The New York Times reported on October 5 about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment and assault. The so-called “Harvey effect” spurred women to come forward to discuss their experiences of sexual violence. In turn, the reporting on Weinstein also appeared to create an opening for cable news to bring up the allegations made against the president. In the nine months before The New York Times reported on Weinstein, evening cable news spent less than an hour discussing the allegations made against Trump. However, in about 2 1/2 months after the Times reported on Weinstein, evening cable news devoted nearly five hours to reporting on the accusations against Trump.
For many survivors across the country, it’s nearly impossible to forget that 20 women have reported sexual harassment and assault committed by our president, who has admitted to such behavior. Cable news shouldn’t forget about it, either.
Media Matters searched Nexis for mentions of “Trump” within 50 words of all permutations of “assault,” “rape,” “harass,” “grope,” “grab,” “sexual,” or “allege” that took place on evening ( 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News between January 1 and December 15, 2017. For inclusion in this study, segments had to feature a significant discussion of the allegations made against Trump.
We defined a “significant discussion” as one of the following:
a segment where the allegations against Trump were the stated topic of discussion;
a segment in which two or more speakers discussed the allegations; or
a host monologue during which the allegations were the stated topic of discussion.
Qualifying segments were then timed using iQ media. Repeated segments were not counted. Teasers for upcoming segments were also not counted.
* Due to substantial reorganization of Fox News’ programming during the study period, programs that were either added or removed from the network during the study period are marked with an asterisk.
On December 12, Alabama voters elected Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate -- ending a 25-year streak in which Democrats were unable to win a single seat in the state. Jones’ victory put to rest weeks of media hand-wringing and speculation about what would be more offensive to Alabamians: Republican candidate Roy Moore’s reported sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was in his 30s or Jones’ allegedly “extreme” position on abortion.
In November, The Washington Post reported multiple women’s accounts of experiencing inappropriate conduct from Moore when they were in their teens, including one account of Moore pursuing a 14-year old girl. A few days later, another woman reported that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. In response, Moore largely avoided granting interviews to media, with the exception of a few friendly outlets such as Breitbart and One American News Network. To counteract these reports, right-wing outlets began leveraging what they claimed were Jones’ “extreme” views on abortion access against allegations of wrongdoing against Moore.
In reality, as Jones has explained, he supports upholding current Alabama law, which allows patients to seek an abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions for “medical necessity” beyond that point. During a September 27 interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Jones stated that he was “a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body.” Despite this, many outlets not only adopted right-wing media’s inaccurate spin that Jones’ stance was “extreme,” but also went on to claim that Jones’ support for abortion access would ultimately cost him the election.
From early in the campaign, right-wing media consistently pushed the talking point that Jones’ position on abortion access was “extreme.” For example, during the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Jesse Watters described Alabama voters as having to decide between Moore, who “may have done inappropriate things with young girls 40 years ago,” and Jones, who he claimed supported so-called “‘partial-birth’ abortion” (a procedure that doesn’t exist but was invented by anti-abortion groups to shame those seeking abortions). In another example, Fox’s Marc Thiessen tried to equate Moore’s predatory behavior and Jones’ stance on abortion by calling them “two extremes.” Beyond this, Fox hosts and contributors alike leveraged a variety of inaccurate claims about Jones’ position on abortion -- saying he was for “abortion on demand,” claiming he was “a person who supports abortion at every level,” or parroting that he supported “abortion through all nine months” of pregnancy. In a particularly ill-fated exchange on the night of the election, Fox's Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume predicted that Jones' support for abortion would be his undoing:
Unfortunately, rather than debunking such obvious anti-choice talking points, some outlets instead adopted this right-wing spin about Jones.
During a November 27 discussion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough claimed that Democrats would be better off if they had run “somebody who were, let’s say, conservative to moderate on abortion … but with Democrats on 99 percent of the other issues.” The following day, a panel on Morning Joe continued this line of argument with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan stating that adopting an anti-abortion viewpoint “would have taken Doug Jones easily over the finish line.” Beyond Jordan’s claims, during the same discussion MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki also promoted the right-wing argument that Jones supported “no restrictions on abortion at all.”
On CNN, contributor Stephen Moore also adopted the right-wing spin about Jones, arguing that he supported “partial-birth abortion, which a lot of people in Alabama think is tantamount to murder.” While at The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis speculated that Alabama voters may not be able to cast a vote for Jones because of his “extreme position on what many see as a definitive life or death issue.” Lewis concluded that Jones “would be in a much better position” to win if his views about abortion weren’t “so radical.”
As election day drew nearer, other outlets continued to run with the argument that not only was Jones’ position “extreme,” but that it would also cost him the election. For example, The Boston Globe claimed that for Alabama voters, Jones’ stance was “a deal-breaker” and that if Moore was “running against a Democrat less doctrinaire on abortion, the revelations about Moore’s pursuit of young girls would likely have sunk his campaign.” NPR reported on December 8 that “for some Alabama voters, supporting abortion rights may be a sin worse than some of the sexual misdeeds Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore has been accused of.” On the night of the election, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said that he’d been told that “if Doug Jones loses, it will be a one word answer: Abortion.”
This is far from the first time that media have gotten carried away with the argument that support for abortion access costs votes or elections for Democratic or progressive candidates. In early 2017, The New York Times published an op-ed titled, “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party” -- kicking off wave of responses rebutting the false dichotomy that Democrats must sacrifice reproductive rights to win voters.
As HuffPost reported on December 4, however, there was ample reason to believe that Jones’ support for abortion access wouldn’t be a hindrance. According to polling performed by Clarity Campaign Labs, “Abortion wasn’t really in the top couple issue” when likely Republican voters explained why they wouldn’t support Jones over Moore.
Hannity and now the rest of Fox evening programming are on a mission to discredit the Russia probe. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and now the rest of Fox’s evening lineup, are actively working to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A Media Matters analysis found:
Trump's lawyer and frequent guest on Hannity's shows calls for special counsel to investigate DOJ official connected to Russia probe. After Fox News reported on December 11 that "A senior Justice Department official demoted last week for concealing his meetings with the men behind the anti-Trump 'dossier' had even closer ties to Fusion GPS," President Donald Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told Axios that the Department of Justice and FBI "cannot ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests." Sekulow added, "These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate." [FoxNews.com, 12/11/17; Axios, 12/12/17; Media Matters, 9/13/17; Twitter, 12/12/17]
Sean Hannity and his guests have called for Mueller’s firing, resignation or recusal, or attacked his legitimacy 79 times. Since the investigation began on May 17, Hannity and his guests have questioned Mueller's appointment or called for Mueller to remove himself or for his firing 79 times. Hannity has questioned Mueller's legitimacy or demanded Mueller’s firing, resignation, or recusal 44 times. Guests of his Fox show, Hannity, who have attacked Mueller in a similar fashion include former Secret Service agent and conspiracy theorist Dan Bongino and Fox legal analyst and ardent defender of President Donald Trump Gregg Jarrett.
Hannity and his guests brought up alleged “conflicts of interest” 364 times. Since May 17, Hannity and his guests have made 364 statements alleging that Mueller and/or his team have a “conflict of interest” that would prevent him from fairly conducting the probe. Of those statements, Hannity himself made 294.
Two of Hannity’s most frequently cited “conflicts of interest” are not really conflicts. Of the 294 statements that Hannity made about the alleged “conflicts of interest,” two of the most popular so-called conflicts, cited a combined 173 times, are not actually conflicts at all:
On 115 occasions, Hannity claimed that Mueller’s team was compromised or had conflicts of interest because it included several investigators who had previously donated to Democrats. As a group of political science professors wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “According to the Justice Department’s own rules, campaign donations do not create a conflict of interest.”
On 58 occasions, Hannity suggested that Mueller has a conflict of interest because of his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey. But, as The Associated Press (AP) pointed out, Mueller and Comey are “not known to be especially close friends.” Additionally, “legal experts say whatever connection they do have doesn't come close to meriting Mueller's removal as special counsel.”
Hannity and his guests used a variety of other talking points and canards to discredit the investigation and Mueller:
On 43 occasions, Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt.” Of those statements, Hannity made 41. Trump has been reportedly obsessed with this characterization since June.
On 32 occasions, Hannity and his guests suggested that the investigation was a political attack on Trump, his administration, and potentially even the Trump family. Hannity himself claimed that Mueller’s investigation was an attack on Trump 17 times.
Just since November 4, Hannity and his guests claimed on 51 occasions that Mueller and his investigators harbored anti-Trump sentiments. Hannity himself made 35 of these statements. (This variable was only coded for between December 4 and December 8).
In the first week of December, hosts and guests on other Fox evening programs followed Hannity and attacked Mueller's legitimacy, or called on Mueller to remove himself or be fired 27 times. From December 4 to December 8, Fox News hosts and guests on evening shows joined Hannity and commented that Mueller should never have been appointed, should now resign, recuse himself, or be fired 27 times. Most of these statements occurred on Hannity, but also appeared on other shows as well:
In that same time frame, Mueller and/or his team’s alleged “conflicts of interest” were brought up 151 times. Fox hosts and guests made 151 statements during the first week of December asserting that Mueller and/or his team have “conflicts of interest.” On 63 occasions, Fox guests and hosts claimed the “conflicts of interest” existed because of campaign donations. On nine occasions, Fox guests and hosts claimed “conflicts of interest” because of Mueller's relationship with Comey. Other instances vaguely charged Mueller of having conflicts without specifics or evidence.
On 158 occasions, Mueller and/or his team was accused of being “anti-Trump.” Hosts and guests on Fox evening programs accused Mueller and/or members of his team of being “anti-Trump” 158 times.
On 22 occasions, Fox evening hosts and guests called the investigation an attack on Trump, his presidency, and his family. Hosts and guests claimed 22 times that Mueller’s investigative team was out to get Trump, at one point referring to the investigation as a “scam.”
On 23 occasions, Mueller’s investigation was called a “witch hunt.” Fox hosts and guests referred to Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” 23 times throughout the first week of December. While most occurred on Hannity, two statements also occurred on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
In the first week of December, Hannity far outpaced other Fox evening shows in attempting to discredit Mueller and the investigation. While other evening programs on Fox worked to discredit the Mueller investigation and the special counsel himself, Hannity was far and away the most aggressive about it during the week-long time period.
Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of Fox News’ Hannity between May 17 and December 8 mentioning the words “Mueller” or “special counsel.” Transcripts were then coded for statements -- which in this study we defined as a sentence -- which included the following:
calls for Mueller to resign or recuse himself or calls that he be fired, or suggestions that he never should have been appointed as special counsel;
suggestions that Mueller and/or his team have a conflict of interest with the investigation;
mentions of Mueller’s investigators who had previously donated to Democratic lawmakers;
mentions of Mueller’s alleged friendship and relationship with Comey;
claims that the investigation is a political attack on Trump, his administration, or his family;
suggestions that the investigation is a “witch hunt”;
attempts to link Mueller to Uranium One deal; and
Media Matters also searched Nexis for mentions of “Mueller” or “special counsel” from December 4 to 8 on Fox News between 5 and 11 p.m., including the following programs: The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Story with Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Ingraham Angle. Transcripts were coded for the same variables.
Transcripts were reviewed by two independent coders and differences were then reconciled.
This study includes data from a previous study published on November 21.
CORRECTION: This study previously referred to the official referenced by Sekulow as an FBI official. In fact, he was a senior DOJ official and part of the Criminal Division.
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On November 29, a jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant who was accused of murdering Kate Steinle in San Francisco, not guilty. Fox News had previously pointed to the case to push for anti-immigrant legislation, cast immigrants as dangerous, and vindicate President Donald Trump’s racist attacks on immigrants.
After reports surfaced that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted and harassed several teenagers when he was in his 30s, right-wing media outlets rushed to characterize Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as supporting “partial-birth” abortions, abortions up to the moment of birth, or so-called “late-term” abortions. Other outlets have adopted the right-wing media spin, claiming Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama voters.
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Even when the NFL story was old and the fire story was new, Fox still gave more coverage to the Trump-triggered NFL narrative
Prime-time cable news shows devoted more than three and a half times as much coverage to the NFL controversy that President Donald Trump stirred up as they did to historic wildfires in California, Media Matters found in an analysis of coverage the week after each incident began. Even when the NFL controversy was weeks old and the wildfires were at their peak, Fox News still devoted more than twice as much coverage to the Trump-sparked NFL story as to the fires.
On September 22, Trump kicked off a national controversy when he criticized NFL players who kneeled during pre-game national anthems to protest racism and police brutality. During a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump mused, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” NFL players, coaches, and owners responded by staging more protests, and in subsequent days and weeks, Trump added fuel to the controversy by doubling down on his initial criticism and threatening to revoke the NFL’s non-profit status over the protests (even though the NFL had given up that non-profit status in 2015).
Just over two weeks after Trump's initial comments about the protests, California experienced the deadliest wildfires in the state’s history. Beginning on October 8, wildfires spread across Northern California in what the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) dubbed the October Fire Siege. According to CAL FIRE, "there were 21 major wildfires that ... burned over 245,000 acres, ... forced 100,000 to evacuate, destroyed an estimated 6,900 structures," and killed 42 people. Estimates of the fires’ damage are as high as $6 billion, making them likely to rank among the most expensive natural disasters in California history.
Though the fires were both deadly and economically devastating, the major cable news networks devoted three and a half times as much coverage to the Trump-triggered NFL controversy as they did to the wildfires on their prime-time, weekday shows during the week after each incident began. Media Matters analyzed the first full week of coverage after the NFL controversy kicked off and the first full week of coverage after the California wildfires began burning.
From September 25 to September 29, prime-time cable news shows aired a combined 136 segments about the NFL controversy, with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News airing 62, 28, and 46 segments, respectively.
By comparison, prime-time cable news shows devoted significantly less coverage to the California wildfires during the first week of coverage of the October Fire Siege. From October 9 to October 13, the prime-time cable shows aired a combined 38 segments on the fires, with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News airing 19, nine, and 10 segments, respectively. The NFL controversy got 358 percent more coverage -- more than three and a half times as much.
Media Matters also compared coverage of the two different stories during the same week, October 9-13, starting one day after the wildfires began and 17 days after Trump’s first NFL comments. Even during this period, when the wildfires were most destructive and the NFL controversy was more than two weeks old, Fox News’ prime-time shows still devoted more than twice as many segments to the NFL controversy as they did to the fires -- 22 versus 10. CNN and MSNBC, however, both aired more segments about the wildfires during this week.
Cable news’ tendency to focus on Trump's controversial comments and tweets rather than other news that directly affects viewers' lives is unfortunately nothing new (The NFL players’ protests raise important concerns about racism and police brutality, but Trump’s outbursts did not help address those issues.). Cable news networks have been more than willing to sacrifice substantive news stories for anything Trump-related because coverage of the president and his contentious statements has brought them record profits and viewership numbers. But the fact that coverage of a Trump-triggered controversy going into its third week can still compete with and even exceed coverage of historically devastating wildfires puts a fine point on just how bad the problem is.
Zachary Pleat, Alex Morash, and Rebecca Damante contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.
Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of segments about the controversy around NFL protests and the October Fire Siege in California. To identify segments about the NFL controversy, we used the search term (NFL OR anthem OR kneel! OR pledge OR kaepernick OR stand! OR allegiance). To identify segments about the California wildfires, we used the search term (wildfire OR fire) AND (sonoma OR napa OR mendicino OR north bay OR california OR yuba OR solano OR butte OR lake county).
We analyzed the prime-time, weekday news shows on the three major cable news networks, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. For CNN, we reviewed shows that air from 5 p.m. to midnight. For MSNBC and and Fox News, we reviewed shows that air from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (MSNBC’s 11 p.m. show, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, is not indexed in Nexis and so was excluded; Fox News airs a re-run of Tucker Carlson Tonight at 11 p.m., and our study did not count repeat airings of the show). Our time frame for analyzing coverage of the NFL controversy was September 25, three days after Trump’s initial comments, to September 29. Our time frame for analyzing coverage of the California wildfires was October 9, one day after the fires started, to October 13.
We defined “segments” as instances where more than one individual discussed either topic during a panel discussion, or when a host or correspondent mentioned either topic as part of a news brief or headline rundown. Our analysis excluded teasers and passing mentions where a speaker mentioned either the NFL controversy or the California wildfires without any other speaker in the segment engaging.
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