HuffPost | Media Matters for America

HuffPost

Tags ››› HuffPost
  • Nearly all TV news networks failed to cover the Trump-Pence administration’s recent attacks on the LGBTQ community

    Recently proposed and finalized rules would codify discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care, housing, and adoption and foster care

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX PATERSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the span of three days, new reports revealed several proposed or potential rules coming from the Trump-Pence administration that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people -- particularly trans folks -- in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care. But in the week that followed, from May 22 to May 31, nearly all cable and broadcast TV news channels failed to cover these attacks on the LGBTQ community. Broadcast networks ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, as well as cable network MSNBC, did not mention the discriminatory rules at all, while CNN and Fox News covered them for a total of less than 11 minutes across 8 segments.

    The Trump-Pence administration is releasing discriminatory anti-LGBTQ proposals in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care

    Between May 22 and 24, news outlets reported on several rules coming out of the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) that would harm LGBTQ people, with a disproportionate impact on the trans community:

    • On May 22, HUD proposed a new rule that would allow “federally funded [homeless] shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men,” according to The Washington Post.
    • On May 24, HHS proposed a rule that would allow health care workers citing religious beliefs to discriminate against and deny care to LGBTQ patients.
    • Later on May 24, Axios reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s HHS plans to propose a new rule that would make it easier for federally funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents, among others, fulfilling a promise President Donald Trump made during this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.

    Broadcast and cable news discussed the proposed rules for less than 11 minutes across 8 segments

    Between May 22 and May 31, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX and cable news network MSNBC did not mention the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules at all. CNN spent 7.5 minutes covering the topics, and Fox News reported on them for roughly 3.5 minutes.

    CNN discussed the topics over the span of six segments, including during an interview with trans actor D’Lo about an advertisement featuring a father showing his transgender son how to shave. That segment was the only relevant coverage during the time period to feature an LGBTQ guest. Fox News covered the topics over two segments. One was an interview with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, in which he misleadingly framed the discriminatory rule as “being fair to everybody.”

    Print and digital media reported on all the three rules and contextualized the administration’s anti-LGBTQ agenda

    The failure of several broadcast and cable TV networks to report on the discriminatory rules was not reflected in print and digital media.

    Trans writer Katelyn Burns wrote two op-eds contextualizing the recent anti-LGBTQ attacks as part of Trump’s all-out assault on the transgender community. In Teen Vogue, she outlined how these policies could trigger suicidal ideation in trans youth, encourage unsupportive parents, and prevent young people from accessing medically necessary care. In The Washington Post, Burns called HHS’ proposed rule “the cruelest thing the Trump administration has done to trans people,” writing:

    For me, as a transgender person, this administration’s constant targeting of us is terrifying. It seems that there’s little they won’t do to making transitioning and living a dignified life as a transgender person impossible. Trump and his administration are clearly prioritizing the desires of religious conservatives who would like to see my existence rubbed out of society, and they’ve come this far so quickly with barely a blip of resistance.

    Digital outlets such as BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, and HuffPost also covered the rules, citing LGBTQ advocates and contextualizing the administration’s moves as part of a wider strategy to undermine LGBTQ equality across the country.

    These attacks have been championed by extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and will further marginalize already vulnerable people

    The Trump-Pence administration’s anti-LGBTQ policies have been fueled by influential right-wing organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), both of which have allies and alumni serving in positions across the federal government. For example, the right-wing HHS Office for Civil Rights, which is led by Roger Severino, is responsible for both the anti-LGBTQ health care rule and the reported upcoming adoption and foster care rule. Severino formerly served as the director of Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. Heritage has a long history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy and has increasingly targeted transgender people. Severino has made a career out of advocating against LGBTQ rights and was behind several other anti-LGBTQ actions from HHS. Severino’s newly announced principal advisor, Matt Bowman, is an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ advocate who has worked in HHS positions since 2017. He formerly worked with ADF for more than a decade.

    Ultimately, these latest attacks affect transgender people in areas in which they are already more likely to experience discrimination and hardships. HUD’s proposed rule to give federally funded homeless shelters a license to discriminate against transgender people will only further marginalize an already vulnerable community that faces alarming rates of homelessness. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), “one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness,” and up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

    The reported HHS rule to allow agencies to deny children adoption and foster care placements with same-sex couples will only limit opportunities for the more than 400,000 children currently in foster care. Despite the planned HHS rule, there is a robust body of evidence that shows children of same-sex couples fare no worse than other children.

    Further, the HHS rule to gut nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the administration’s most damaging attacks on the transgender community. Transgender patients already face denial of health care and discrimination in health care settings, and National Geographic has reported that transgender “people have disproportionately high rates of illness and death—in part due to widespread reluctance to seek out emergency treatment and even routine checkups over concerns about the quality of care.” Additionally, NCTE’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported that among respondents, “one-third (33%) of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender” in the previous year.

    Media has a responsibility to report on these devastating attacks against the LGBTQ community

    The insufficient reporting on cable and broadcast TV news about the recent attacks on the LGBTQ community plays into the Trump-Pence administration’s strategy of minimizing press coverage of extreme policies coming from federal agencies. The administration released one of the rules ahead of a holiday weekend, which decreased public awareness of the issues -- an approach it has also taken to bury climate change research.

    Moreover, media’s obsession with Trump’s tweets allow extreme anti-LGBTQ figures to push discriminatory policies with little notice. Reporting on the new HHS rule, Reuters’ Yasmeen Abutaleb and Joseph Tanfani wrote:

    One of the benefits of Trump’s Twitter approach is it creates headlines, and that’s what it’s intended to do, and underneath those headlines, everyone else in the administration can go about peacefully doing their job,” said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth and a longtime Pence friend. HHS has “released several very important, significant regulations that changed the nature of Obamacare, of healthcare, with very little coverage in the press.

    Though cable and broadcast TV news spent little time covering the administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ rules, there is no mistaking that these decisions will have sweeping impacts on queer and trans people. Media outlets have a responsibility to properly cover the administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights and to educate their audiences on the detrimental impacts these proposed rules will have on an already vulnerable community. Unfortunately, TV news failed both the queer community and their audience by barely reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ attacks.

    Methodology

    From May 24 to May 31, the week following the announcement of the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules, Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of broadcast and cable TV newscasts on ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and NBC News -- as well as the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. programming on Fox News and MSNBC -- for mentions of the words or variations of the words “LGBT,” “gay,” “transgender,” “gender identity,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “sexual orientation.” We also searched SnapStream for the same words appearing with the terms "child welfare," “reassignment,” “abortion,” “housing,” “shelter,” “adoption,” “foster care,” “Health and Human Services,” “Housing and Urban Development,” “HHS,” or “HUD” appearing on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for the same timeframe, as daytime coverage for MSNBC and Fox News is not available on Nexis.

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • Media highlight how to help people in states passing restrictive abortion laws

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law banning almost all abortions in the state, without exemptions for cases of rape or incest. Other states (including Missouri and Louisiana) are working to pass similarly draconian bans. Importantly, none of these bans have yet gone into effect, and abortion is still legal in every state in the U.S. Media have responded to their audiences’ desires to protect abortion access and support people living in these states -- what follows is a roundup of these outlets' advice.

    Support groups already doing work on the ground

    In every state working to pass restrictive new abortion bans, there are already organizations on the ground that have been working to protect abortion access, fight anti-choice laws, and support patients seeking abortions. These groups are best positioned to know and support the needs of patients in their communities, as InStyle explained:

    Abortion funds are organizations that help people pay for and access abortion care. This can include the cost of the procedure itself; transportation and lodging before, during, and after; funds to alleviate the financial pressure of taking off work, paying for childcare, and so forth. While some have started GoFundMe’s and the like to individually fundraise for people who need abortions, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There are many abortion funds and grassroots initiatives that already exist and need your help.

    Here are other suggestions: 

    • Glamour: “Here’s How You Can Help Women in States With Extreme Abortion Bans Right Now”

    In addition to supporting national organizations leading the fight to protect women's reproductive rights—like Planned Parenthood—there are many grassroots organizations helping women on the ground. Here are a few organizations to consider that are providing resources and access to local women looking to obtain abortions:

    The Yellowhammer Fund: Located in Alabama, the Yellowhammer Fund offers funding for women seeking treatment at one of Alabama's three remaining abortion clinics. The fund will also help with other barriers to access, such as travel or lodging.

    National Network of Abortion Funds: NNAF is a network of funds—including the Yellowhammer Fund—across 38 states that helps eliminate economic for low-income women looking to obtain an abortion. They work with funds everywhere from Georgia to Texas to Ohio.

    Magnolia Fund: A Georgia-based organization that provides resources to support the reproductive choices of women in the South, as well as to help defray the cost of abortion fees for women in Georgia.

    Access Reproductive Care—Southeast: ARC helps people in the South—in states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, or Tennessee—receive access to safe and affordable reproductive care by offering financial and logistical support. [Glamour, 5/15/19]

    • Teen Vogue: “Where to Donate and How to Help Keep Abortion Legal”

    Give your money and time to organizations that are led by women of color, who are most affected by abortion bans.

    Causes like Sister Song, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, National AsianPacific American Women’s Forum, and Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE), to name a few, are doing the vital work of centering on women of color, who are often the most endangered by abortion bans and restrictions to reproductive rights. [Teen Vogue, 5/17/19]

    • Complex: “How You Can Help Women Living in States Facing Extreme Abortion Bans”

    Donate directly in states most affected. While Planned Parenthood is a well-known abortion provider and an incredible organization, many women go to local clinics for their procedures. HuffPost published a list of clinics in each state, which included Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Kentucky, A-Z Women’s Center in Nevada, Capital Care Network in Ohio, and Alabama Women’s Center LLC. [Complex, 5/16/19]

    • HuffPost: “Here’s What You Can Do (Other Than A Sex Strike) To Fight Draconian Anti-Abortion Laws”

    Alabama has just three [abortion clinics]: the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives (fundraiser here), Reproductive Health Services of Montgomery and the West Alabama Women’s Center, both of which told HuffPost that those who wish to donate should give to the Yellowhammer Fund.

    If you have time you’d be willing to give, consider becoming a clinic escort. (If you’re in the Montgomery area, P.O.W.E.R. House is a great place to start.)

    You can find a clinic in your area through the National Abortion Federation. [HuffPost, 5/15/19]

    Don’t create “auntie networks” without talking to groups already facilitating abortion access

    Although it may be tempting to respond to the latest wave of anti-abortion legislation by creating new support groups, animated pro-choice supporters should defer to those organizations already working in these communities. The rise of so-called “auntie networks” are but one example of such a well-meaning but misguided attempt to help people seeking abortion care. As The Boston Globe explained, these networks are made up of volunteers who see themselves as “preparing for the possibility that abortion will be severely restricted” by “extending a hand and offering to open their doors to women who may find themselves in need of assistance.” In reality, as other outlets noted, these networks not only undermine groups that have been doing this work for decades, they are also potentially dangerous. As tempting as it may be for abortion rights supporters to get creative, the most helpful thing people can do is support existing organizations:

    • Truthout: "The 'Auntie Network' Already Exists"

    Yamani Hernandez is the executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a network of organizations across the United States and three other countries that are funding abortion and building power to fight for cultural and political change. Hernandez was among those who took to Twitter in recent days to point out that abortion funds provide the framework that is needed for these efforts, saying “we need folks to join not reinvent.” [Truthout, 5/19/19]

    • The Daily Dot: "Nonprofit groups express concern with pop-up abortion networks"

    The nonprofit groups are claiming that even if pop-ups are well-intentioned, they pose a safety risk to participants and divert much-needed resources from established organizations.

    The Midwest Access Coalition, for example, provides women with transportation, places to stay, medicine, and emotional support.

    “I would caution anyone from doing this, both for their own safety but first and foremost for the patient’s safety,” Marie Khan, director of operations for the Midwest Access Coalition, told the Daily Dot. “Advertising free housing on Reddit, Imgur, and Facebook is incredibly dangerous.” [The Daily Dot, 5/17/19]

    Share abortion stories, and help spread the word to combat abortion stigma

    As several outlets noted in the wake of Alabama’s anti-abortion bill, people can only help defend abortion access in their states if they know that it is threatened -- and if they understand the impacts of such harmful legislation. By having conversations online and in their own communities, people can share stories to reduce abortion stigma and express their concerns about these dangerous bills:

    • Well+Good: “Anti-abortion Legislation is About All of Us—Here’s How You Can Fight It.”

    You can advocate for abortion rights now without leaving your home state. (This Twitter thread provides suggestions based on your geographical location.) Start by circulating a message championing reproductive rights throughout social media, and to any acquaintances, relatives, or friends you may have in Alabama and Georgia. [Well+Good, 5/15/19]

    • Paper: “How to Help Women in States With Severe Abortion Bans”

    Abortion is one of the most divisive topics in the country right now, and one of if not the most highly stigmatized medical procedures a person can obtain. If you have the courage and privilege to speak out, on whatever platform you choose or among your own circles, please do. For many reasons, abortion (and reproductive health in general) is mired in misinformation, dogma and stigma. So educate yourself on the consequences of extreme abortion bans, which aren't going anywhere and may only get worse, and help the people around you understand them too. Don't panic and give up — look to the people who have been doing reproductive rights work for years, give them the resources (money and time) that they need, and wherever you can, amplify their work. [Paper, 5/15/19]

    • The Cut: “What You Can Do to Help Women in States With Extreme Abortion Bans”

    If you can’t donate to organizations or volunteer, you can still vocally condemn attacks on abortion rights, and speak to those around you who may not fully grasp the chilling effect these laws have.

    “Have the critical conversations with your family members and friends to activate them in the fight for abortion access and reproductive justice,” Quita Tinsley, the deputy director of ARC, told the Cut. “Being clear about our beliefs not only challenges stigma, but it also shows the people that have had abortions that they have allies and supporters in their community.” [The Cut, 5/17/19]

  • Must-read stories debunking right-wing media's attacks on later abortions

    Conservatives use misinformation and stigma to vilify people who have abortions later in pregnancy

    ››› ››› CHENAY ARBERRY

    Since the introduction of recent measures to protect abortion rights in several states, right-wing media have leveraged anti-choice misinformation to not only claim that abortions later in pregnancy are never necessary but to also vilify and shame people who have them. But reading the personal accounts from later abortion patients emphasizes the reality of their different experiences, debunking harmful conservative tropes depicting later abortions as shameful or medically unnecessary. Here are just a few examples of how right-wing media amplifies anti-choice talking points to stigmatize later abortions, and several must-read accounts from actual abortion patients to correct the record.

  • EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler attacks press ahead of Senate confirmation vote

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This post was updated on 2/5/19.

    Andrew Wheeler, acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency and nominee to fill the job permanently, has lashed out at the media repeatedly in the last few days. The EPA's press office sent out three press releases on February 1 and another one on February 5 that criticized media outlets for their reporting or discussion of either Wheeler or the EPA's activities.

    These latest attacks on journalists' work are not the first that the EPA press office has issued under Wheeler. In this, he's following in the footsteps of both his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, and his boss, President Donald Trump. 

    Wheeler testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at a confirmation hearing on January 16, and the committee voted along party lines to approve his nomination on February 5. Wheeler’s nomination will go before the full Senate soon.

    In the meantime, Wheeler is not happy about getting what he perceives to be negative press about him or the agency he's leading.

    The EPA's latest attacks on the media

    On Friday morning, the EPA sent out a press release with this headline: "Huffington Post Report Filled with Biased and Misleading Claims." The release criticized a HuffPost article that reported that Murray Energy, the coal company that Wheeler used to lobby for, has ended its lobbying contract with Wheeler's old firm. The article noted that many of the policy changes Murray Energy has wanted to see have already been implemented at the EPA.

    The EPA's press release listed a number of criticisms of the article, but it didn't demonstrate that the piece was incorrect. One complaint was that the article quoted someone from the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which the EPA dismissed as a "liberal interest group." Another bizarrely nitpicky gripe was about the grammatical construction of one sentence, which the EPA release claimed was intended to "trick the reader" into thinking Vice President Mike Pence was at a meeting with the head of Murray Energy. The sentence makes no such claim. HuffPost stands by its article.

    On Friday evening, the EPA sent out another press release attacking a media report, this one with the subject line "E&E Publishes Hogwash Misleading Story." It criticized another article about Wheeler's former lobbying firm. The article, published by E&E News, reported that a former lobbying colleague of Wheeler met repeatedly with EPA officials about sites contaminated with toxic waste. The article drew from a batch of internal EPA emails and calendars that were recently released in the wake of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club.

    The press release did not note any factual errors in the E&E article, but rather criticized two sections that it called "misleading." The release also made the petty and unrelated claim that E&E had previously issued a correction to a story it published about Wheeler last year; in fact, it was a clarification, not a correction. "Clicks are more important than facts for E&E News," the EPA press release charged -- even though E&E News is a firewalled subscription news service, not one that relies on attracting a broad public audience for its reporting. E&E News stands by its story.

    Also on Friday, the EPA published a press release attacking a comment made by a former Obama administration official on the Fox News program The Story with Martha MacCallum. Austan Goolsbee, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama, said on the show that the EPA is changing rules to allow power plants to "dump more mercury into our drinking water." The EPA charged in its press release that it was an "outlandishly false claim" and disputed it on narrow grounds, saying that the agency has not changed a key rule governing mercury emissions from power plants. But as recent opinion pieces in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times explained in wonky detail, the EPA has been taking steps that could lead to more mercury pollution. The Times piece summed the situation up: "Wheeler is inviting the coal industry to challenge the mercury rule in court."

    Then on Tuesday, the EPA press office issued an even more vituperative press release -- this one personally attacking a Politico reporter for an article she wrote headlined "Former Koch official runs EPA chemical research." She reported on how a former Koch Industries employee is now leading research that will help determine how the agency regulates PFAS chemicals that contaminate drinking water. EPA's press release was headlined "Politico Continues Misinformation Campaign on PFAS," and ended with a personal insult against the reporter: "It appears Annie Snider’s talents are best used for fundraising pieces for special interest groups rather than reporting any resemblance of the truth."

    Wheeler may be feeling especially threatened by reporting on PFAS because the issue could disrupt his Senate confirmation. On February 4, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) threatened to hold up Wheeler's nomination unless the agency sets strict new rules for two types of PFAS. And 20 senators, including two Republicans, sent Wheeler a letter on February 1 calling for drinking-water limits on those same two chemicals.

    Wheeler's press office attacked the media in 2018 too

    These attacks echo ones the EPA press office launched last fall. On October 30, it sent out a press release with the headline "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." The release didn't name any media outlets, but it asserted that "recent media reports have inaccurately misrepresented the actions taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" to address toxic air pollutants emitted by an industrial facility in Illinois.

    On November 1, the press office got more aggressive, sending out a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report." It attacked an article on CNN's website that reported on an EPA move that would allow states to emit more ozone pollution, which leads to smog. CNN stood by its story -- and rightly so. John Walke, a clean air expert at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, explained in a detailed Twitter thread that the EPA was "wrong about all seven" of its accusations against CNN.

    As more articles come out reporting on Wheeler's emails and calendars, thanks to that Sierra Club lawsuit, we could see the EPA sending out still more press releases attacking media outlets.

    -----

    Note: The EPA press release about the HuffPost article mentions Media Matters and claims that we are "affiliated" with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Media Matters founder David Brock once served on the board of CREW, but he is no longer affiliated with the group. Media Matters had no involvement in the HuffPost article.

  • EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler is gaming the media ahead of his confirmation hearing

    Wheeler is looking increasingly like Scott Pruitt in his dealings with the press

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Andrew Wheeler, nominated by President Donald Trump on January 9 to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is increasingly following the aggressive media playbook of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

    Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, assumed the role of acting EPA administrator in July, after Pruitt got himself booted. He has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations, a fact that has been well-reported. Less well-known is that Wheeler has also been following in Pruitt's footsteps in dealing with the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press team attacks journalists and media outlets

    The scandal-prone Pruitt had an extremely contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and even attacked them by name in press releases, among other antagonistic moves.

    When Wheeler took the helm, many reporters looked forward to a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences between the two EPA leaders in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in the last few months, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics used during the Pruitt era. An October 30 press release was headlined, "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report." From an E&E News article published in mid-November:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler may start feeling even more antagonistic toward the press in the coming months. On December 26, a federal judge ordered the EPA to release roughly 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and high-level political appointees at the agency, including Wheeler, after the Sierra Club sued to gain access to the records under the Freedom of Information Act. Similar records requests from the Sierra Club during Pruitt's tenure helped lead to his forced resignation; the group made the emails available to reporters, which led to the publication of many embarrassing articles about Pruitt.

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent, and those interviewers all went easy on him too.

    Wheeler is getting cozy with the right-wing Daily Caller

    Pruitt and his press office had a remarkably friendly relationship with The Daily Caller, a far-right online publication started by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, funded by Charles Koch, and sustained through sketchy tax dealings. During Pruitt's tenure, the EPA press office issued a policy statement by sending out a press release that pointed to an interview Pruitt gave to The Daily Caller, while the right-wing outlet frequently defended Pruitt against accusations of wrongdoing, sometimes with "scoops" and "exclusives" based on information that appeared to have been leaked to the outlet by EPA sources.

    Late last year, Wheeler revealed his own affinity for The Daily Caller. After he was criticized for spreading a false attack on the National Climate Assessment, a major government report on climate change, the EPA issued a press release that tried to defend Wheeler by directly citing a Daily Caller article. For its part, The Daily Caller regularly publishes articles defending Wheeler and the actions of his EPA.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and slams mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he has exhibited that preference in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account. Or at least he did until a few weeks ago, when Wheeler protected his account to hide his tweets from the public. (Wheeler still has a publicly viewable official Twitter account.) But journalists and activists had made note of many of the controversial tweets from his personal account before he deleted individual ones and then made the whole account private.

    The Daily Beast reported last year on one troubling tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler has amplified at least two tweets from Fox News' Brit Hume that bashed major newspapers. In December, Wheeler "liked" a Hume tweet that linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing The Washington Post for alleged anti-Trump bias. In October, he retweeted another Hume tweet that criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review.

    Wheeler has also "liked" a number of tweets from other right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and former NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman has reported on how Wheeler used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other unsavory views:

    [Wheeler] repeatedly engaged with incendiary, partisan content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years. The online activity included liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler is turning back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation hearing

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media in TV interviews and on Twitter, he has also given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers, wire services, and D.C. publications. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but then ramped back up in November around the time that Trump announced his intention to nominate Wheeler to permanently fill the top EPA spot. On November 16, Wheeler gave another interview to The New York Times, and then two weeks later sat for a live-streamed interview with The Washington Post. In December, he gave another interview to The Wall Street Journal and then one to The Hill.

    Granting interviews to major newspapers seems to be part of Wheeler's strategy to paint himself with a gloss of mainstream respectability before his Senate confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for January 16. Meanwhile, some of his more partisan views are now out of sight in that locked Twitter account, including insults lobbed at those very same newspapers. 

  • Climate change needs ever-increasing attention. It didn't get it from mainstream media in 2018.

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Images and charts by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    In 2018, the threat posed by climate change became all the more obvious. Disaster followed disaster, dire report followed dire report. But mainstream media coverage of climate change this year was business as usual, even as events around the globe were anything but.

    The summer brought us an apocalyptic stream of bizarre weather events that scientists said were worsened by climate change. Wildfires chased people into the sea in Greece, drove tens of thousands from their homes in California, and raged across Sweden as far north as the Arctic Circle. Heat waves swept coast to coast in the U.S., broke records all around the world, and killed dozens in spots as far-flung as Japan and Quebec. Hurricanes got turbocharged.

    The weird weather even seemed to be freaking out some climate scientists. “What we’re seeing today is making me, frankly, calibrate not only what my children will be living but what I will be living, what I am currently living,” Kim Cobb, a professor of earth and atmospheric science at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told The New York Times in early August. “We haven’t caught up to it. I haven’t caught up to it, personally.”

    While that Times piece reported on climate change as a driver of extreme weather, most U.S. mainstream media coverage of weather disasters over the summer left climate change out of the story. Media Matters found that TV news coverage of a heat wave in July, Hurricane Florence in September, and wildfires throughout the summer rarely mentioned climate change.

    You can see that omission in the following chart showing media coverage of climate change over the course of 2018; there was no marked increase during the summer months, despite the rash of destructive weather and wildfires. The chart, using data from the Media Cloud project, shows the number of articles that included the phrases "climate change" or "global warming" in 32 top online news sources in the U.S, ranging from The New York Times to Fox News to HuffPost, from January 1 of this year to December 16.

    The peak of climate coverage in 2018, according to the data above, came on October 8, the day after the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dramatic report on what the world is in for if we let the average global temperature rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But even though the release of that report triggered the year's peak, that doesn't mean there was enough high-profile coverage of the report. The majority of the top 50 U.S. newspapers didn't mention the report on their homepages on the morning of October 8, Media Matters found.

    The IPCC report warned us that we have only about a dozen years left to get our act together and prevent the worst consequences of climate change. If major news outlets had taken their own reporting on the IPCC's findings to heart, they would then have dramatically ramped up coverage of climate change from all angles -- the dangers it poses, the people who are hurt the most, the policies that could fight it, the strategies for adapting to changes already underway, the ways that it affects energy systems, health, national security, migration patterns, and so much more. Climate reporting would have shot up like a hockey-stick graph, with headlines at the top of homepages and front pages and newscasts every day. But it didn't. It gently settled back down toward the status quo.

    The second-biggest spike in coverage in 2018 came in the wake of another sobering scientific report, the National Climate Assessment, produced by more than 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies. The Trump administration tried to bury it by releasing it on Black Friday, but it got coverage anyway in the following days, including coverage of the amount of coverage. Not all of the attention was commendable; some reports incorporated nonsense from climate deniers. Still -- even with all of the articles on the assessment, good and bad, plus those on other studies and reports that came out over the next week -- coverage of climate change didn't surpass the October 8 peak. The warnings about climate change piled up high, but the media coverage stayed fairly level.

    To get a full picture of 2018 climate coverage, you actually need to look further back. Check out this graph showing climate change coverage over the last three years, from January 1, 2016, to December 16, 2018.

    See that huge spike in the middle? That's from June 1, 2017, when President Donald Trump announced that he intended to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. No other day in the last three years saw anywhere near that much coverage. When Trump stages an event related to climate change, the media snap to attention. The rest of the time it's like, "Climate what?"

    That aligns with what Media Matters found when we looked at climate coverage on broadcast TV news programs in 2017: Trump dominated the news segments about climate change. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, in the International Collective on Environment, Culture & Politics, reached a similar conclusion when they analyzed TV news coverage from November of this year: "In US television coverage of climate change or global warming in November 2018, ‘Trump’ was explicitly invoked over fourteen times more frequently than the words ‘science’ or ‘scientists’ together and nearly four times more frequently than the word ‘climate’ itself."

    The media should be chasing down stories on climate science, the people being affected by climate change, and responses and solutions to the problem. Instead, even when they report on climate change, they're still chasing Trump.

  • Ryan Zinke cozied up to right-wing media until the bitter end

    The departing interior secretary mimicked Trump's media strategy, including an allegiance to Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's long litany of scandals caught up with him on December 15, when President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Zinke would be leaving his post at the end of the year. According to reporting by The Washington Post, White House officials told Zinke that he had to resign or he’d be fired.

    Throughout his 21 months at the helm of the Interior Department, Zinke hewed closely to Trump's media playbook. Like his boss, Zinke heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing outlets, giving interviews to them far more often than to mainstream outlets. Also like Trump, Zinke lashed out at journalists and news organizations that reported on his ethics problems, making false claims and calling them "fake news."

    Zinke's Fox fixation

    During his first year in office, Zinke appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. As Media Matters reported earlier this year, he gave 13 interviews to Fox and just one interview each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS.

    Zinke's preference for Fox also extended to business networks: He gave seven interviews during his first year to the Fox Business Channel and just one to its chief competitor, CNBC.

    And all of the interviews Zinke gave to major TV outlets other than Fox or Fox Business happened before July 2017, when his ethical problems and scandals started getting significant media coverage. After that, Zinke retreated completely to the warm embrace of Fox for his national TV appearances. Zinke was especially partial to Trump's favorite show, Fox & Friends, where the embattled secretary of the interior received a consistently friendly reception and no hard questioning. (Fox & Friends was recently revealed to have been exceedingly accomodating to another Trump cabinet official, former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.)

    Rumors swirled after November’s midterm elections that Zinke would soon resign to avoid tough questioning and investigations of his many scandals from Democrats poised to take control of the House. Politico reported on November 8 that Zinke had already begun exploring other potential career opportunities, including trying to shop himself to Fox News: "Two [knowledgeable people] said Zinke has reached out to Fox to inquire about working at the conservative news channel as a contributor."

    Zinke denied the claims that he had approached Fox about a job, but he didn't distance himself from the network. When Fox News launched a new streaming service for "superfans," Fox Nation, in late November, Zinke appeared on it twice during its first week. He visited Mount Rushmore with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, and he sat for an interview with conservative commentator David Webb. He also gave an interview to Kilmeade on November 21 for Fox News Talk's Brian Kilmeade Radio Show.

    Zinke was back on regular old Fox News again on November 29, when Fox News @ Night host Shannon Bream gave him a friendly platform to attack his critics and dismiss the ethics investigations that have dogged him during his tenure at the Interior Department.

    Fox still frequently had Zinke’s back even when he wasn’t on the air; the network reported on his scandals less often and in less depth than CNN and MSNBC did. For example, Fox gave lighter coverage to a controversy over expensive travel Zinke made on the taxpayers' dime, and almost no coverage to a huge Puerto Rican contract given to the tiny firm of Whitefish Energy, which had with multiple ties to Zinke. 

    Zinke's interviews with other right-wing outlets

    Fox is far from the only right-wing media outlet that Zinke ran to when he wanted to get his talking points out. He gave interviews to nationally syndicated right-wing talk radio programs, such as his May 2017 appearance on The Hugh Hewitt Show, and to conservative talk radio programs in his home state, such as Montana Talks, where he appeared in October and November of this year. In June, he gave an interview to the conservative Washington Examiner.

    Zinke also made at least three appearances on Breitbart News radio shows this year, including interviews in May, August, and November. In the August appearance, Zinke claimed that “environmental terrorist groups” were responsible for major wildfires in the West because they had tried to block some logging on public lands. The Washington Post debunked that claim, noting that "fire scientists and forestry experts have said climate change is the main factor behind the problem." In the November appearance, Zinke denied that he's done anything wrong that would warrant the many investigations and scandals surrounding him. "The allegations against me are outrageous, they’re false. Everyone knows they’re false," he said.

    In late November, Zinke also gave another interview to David Webb -- this time for his Sirius XM radio program rather than his Fox Nation show.

    Zinke's attacks on the mainstream media

    Not only did Zinke generally avoid talking to mainstream outlets; he and his press office at the Department of Interior attacked those outlets.

    After Politico published an investigative story into an ethically questionable land deal Zinke had discussed with the chairman of Halliburton, Zinke went on the conservative talk radio show Voices of Montana and called the story's reporter "nefarious," saying, "This is exactly what's wrong with the press, and the president has it right. It's fake news. It's knowing, it's willing, to willingly promulgate fake news.” But the story was credible enough that the Interior Department's inspector general started an official investigation into Zinke's involvement in the deal and referred one of its probes to the Justice Department for further investigation.

    On October 16, The Hill reported that the Interior Department's acting inspector general, who had been overseeing a number of investigations into Zinke's actions, was going to be replaced by a political appointee, citing as its source an internal email written by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Two days later, the Interior Department denied the report, and though Carson had been the source of the allegedly inaccurate information, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift used the occasion to attack journalists: "This is a classic example of the media jumping to conclusions and reporting before all facts are known," she wrote in an official statement. It wasn't Swift's first attack on the media. In January, Swift disparaged a HuffPost article about Zinke failing to disclose owning shares in a gun company as "typical fake news" from the outlet.

    After Politico published its article in early November reporting that Zinke was shopping around for jobs as he prepared to leave the Trump administration, Zinke went on the Montana Talks radio show to bash the journalists who wrote the story and to criticize the media in general. From The Hill, which reported on the interview:

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took to a conservative talk show to slam reporting on his ethics scandals as “B.S.”

    “They're very angry, and truth doesn’t matter to these people anymore,” Zinke said of mainstream journalists, saying that President Trump “nearly [got] assaulted” by CNN’s Jim Acosta.

    “You know, it comes from the same liberal reporters that have lost their ability to tell the truth,” he continued.

    Zinke went on to say that some media organizations “have nothing better to do, the entire organizations are about attacking Zinke … so what happens is, they invent a story, they try to sell it, and it goes all the way up to the Washington Post, the New York Times, there’s truth to it. It’s just a series of allegations.”

    Despite his fiery denials, Zinke was indeed on his way out the door just a few weeks later.

  • House Republicans just let an anti-abortion group run a hearing on fetal tissue research

    The vice president of an anti-abortion organization didn't disclose his position in a congressional hearing over fetal tissue research

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The House oversight subcommittee on health care held a hearing on December 13 about “Alternatives to Fetal Tissue Research” that was largely driven by allegations from anti-abortion groups. The hearing not only recycled anti-choice misinformation and right-wing lies, but also failed to disclose the anti-choice ties of several key witnesses -- a fact that was magnified on social media by various anti-abortion organizations promoting the hearing.   

    Though it is often treated as an impartial research organization by other anti-choice groups, the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) is actually operated by the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. CLI was created by SBA List in 2011 and has remained part of the organization -- filing its federal 990 tax forms as the “Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund” and running Facebook ads for SBA List during the 2018 midterm elections. CLI’s anti-abortion work involves putting “expert testimony before legislatures across the U.S. on the reality of pain in the unborn” and helping anti-abortion fake health clinics with research to maximize their “outreach and effectiveness.”

    During the December 13 hearing, two of the three witnesses represented CLI -- but only one disclosed this anti-choice affiliation. While Tara Sander Lee was correctly identified as an associate scholar at CLI, her colleague David Prentice was not -- despite serving as the vice president and research director of CLI since 2015. This fact was omitted from panel testimony, Republican member questioning, and even social media promotion of the panel by CLI and its allies. During the hearing, Prentice was instead introduced and referred to as an advisory board member at the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center. SBA List's press release about the panel also omits Prentice's CLI affiliation, and regarding his advisory board member position it includes the disclaimer "Title is for identification purposes only." However, in an email to supporters about the hearing, SBA List wrote that the organization was "proud" to have had "two exceptional scholars from our research arm, Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI)" speak. 

    Although neither SBA List nor CLI disclosed Prentice’s affiliation on social media during the December 13 hearing, both organizations have previously done so for other presentations and media appearances. For example, during a November panel on fetal tissue research hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, SBA List tweeted a link to the discussion and identified Prentice as representing CLI. In October, CLI promoted a media appearance by Prentice, identifying him as “Our VP.” In 2016, SBA List promoted a media appearance by Prentice and correctly identified him as being affiliated with CLI. As the communications director for the ranking Democrat of the committee told ThinkProgress, "While not untoward, it is unusual and telling for one hearing to have two expert witnesses affiliated with the same research tank."

    Beyond the lack of disclosure around Prentice’s role with CLI, the December 13 hearing also recycled misinformation from a previous congressional hearing driven by a discredited anti-abortion organization. During a 2016 hearing by the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) introduced a consent form used by Planned Parenthood for the donation of fetal tissue for research. Hartzler focused on the form’s phrasing that researchers had found cures for certain diseases using fetal tissue to claim that the form was misleading and ultimately coerced people to donate by exerting “undue influence.” But her claim was based on an inaccurate reading of research guidelines.

    Prentice reintroduced the debunked consent form during his December 13 testimony, arguing that it was “misleading” to donors because it makes them “think there have been great strides made with fetal tissue.” This claim was repeated in a tweet by SBA List which credited the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress for obtaining the document.

    Unfortunately, the House oversight hearing provided only the latest example of what some experts have identified as “alternative science” sourced directly from right-wing media and anti-abortion extremists. President Donald Trump recently appointed CLI associate scholar Maureen Condic to serve a six-year term on the National Science Board, the governing body of the National Science Foundation that provides scientific support to Congress and the president. Condic has repeatedly testified to lawmakers in favor of 20-week abortion bans by inaccurately arguing that there is scientific evidence showing a fetus feels pain starting at eight weeks. After her appointment, researchers speculated that Condic was appointed specifically because of her work on the right-wing myth of fetal pain.

    Other anti-abortion groups have continued to push for legislation based on junk science and right-wing media lies -- like 20-week bans -- to restrict access to abortion and wider reproductive health care. Anti-abortion groups at the state and federal level have pushed for so-called “heartbeat” bills that would ban abortion around the six-week mark, before most people even know that they are pregnant. According to HuffPost, such bills “fundamentally misunderstand fetal development” in terms of what the heartbeat means for fetal viability. Anti-abortion groups also use faulty scientific justifications to advocate placing burdensome requirements on abortion providers to shut clinics down -- even after the Supreme Court ruled against some of those requirements in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

    Anti-abortion extremists have found ample footholds in the Trump administration, and the December 13 hearing showed that Congress is no different. Although it’s unsurprising that CLI members would continue to push their anti-abortion views while purporting to offer impartial scientific testimonies, they should at least be expected to fully disclose their roles with the organization to Congress and the public -- especially when the health care policies that they promote have such dire consequences.

  • Bernie Sanders is right: TV networks need to do a much better job of covering climate change

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Bernie Sanders thinks there's a problem with TV news coverage of climate change. “This is an issue of huge consequence and you would think that ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox would be talking about this every day, having the debate, ‘What do we do? Where do we go?’” he recently told HuffPost. “Clearly you aren’t seeing that debate.”

    Bernie Sanders is right.

    The Vermont senator and former presidential candidate is expected to highlight the media's shortcomings during a national town hall on climate change solutions that will be live-streamed on December 3 at 7 p.m. ET. As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman explained in an article about the town hall, Sanders may "challenge TV networks to cover a rapidly worsening crisis they’ve long ignored."

    Ignore it they have. Media Matters closely tracks TV coverage of climate change and consistently finds it lacking, both in quantity and in quality. Check out some of our findings from this year:

    • CNN, NBC, and of course Fox all featured climate deniers in their coverage of the recent National Climate Assessment report.
    • ABC, CBS, and NBC mentioned climate change in less than 4 percent of their coverage of the recent California wildfires, and in only 2 percent of their coverage of wildfires over the summer.

    • ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on a major heat wave that hit much of the U.S. this summer, and only one of those segments noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat.
       
    • Many major TV networks did a worse job of incorporating climate change into their hurricane coverage this year than they did last year. CBS, CNN, and MSNBC mentioned climate change less often during their coverage of Hurricane Florence in 2018 than they did during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. ABC did not mention climate change at all during its Florence coverage. This despite the fact that scientists released a groundbreaking study about climate change's impact on Florence before the hurricane even made landfall; it estimated that the storm's rainfall in the hardest-hit areas would be boosted more than 50 percent by climate change.  

    • Seventy-nine percent of the time that corporate broadcast networks devoted to climate change in 2017 focused on President Donald Trump. The networks gave vastly less coverage to the many ways that climate change affects people's lives through its impacts on things like extreme weather, public health, and national security.

    • ABC, CBS, and NBC aired only four total segments that discussed climate change in the context of extreme weather disasters that happened last year, including just two that mentioned climate change in the context of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria.
    • Election debates, which are usually moderated by journalists, too often neglect to address climate change. This year, moderators or panelists asked a question about climate change at only 29 percent of key debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races.

    Sanders is a long-time climate media activist

    Sanders has long advocated for increasing and improving media coverage of climate change.

    In 2014, Sanders joined eight other senators in sending a letter to the heads of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox that called for more attention to climate change:

    We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's “This Week,” NBC's “Meet the Press,” CBS's “Face the Nation,” and “Fox News Sunday.”

    The letter cited a Media Matters study that found the Sunday morning shows devoted a total of just 27 minutes to climate change coverage in 2013. Sanders explained why increasing the coverage is critical: “Sunday news shows are obviously important because they talk to millions of people, but they go beyond that by helping to define what the establishment considers to be important and what is often discussed during the rest of the week.”

    When he was running for president in 2016, Sanders made a number of appearances on Sunday shows, and he brought up the topic of climate change much more often than the shows' hosts did.

    Sanders' climate town hall will be live-streamed on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and it's being co-presented by a number of independent, progressive media outlets including The Young Turks, The Intercept, and The Nation. Will any major TV networks cover it?

  • What you need to know about EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler and the media

    Wheeler mimics Scott Pruitt's press strategy ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Note: An updated version of this post was published here on January 10, 2019. 

    Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump's soon-to-be nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is more like his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, than most people realize -- particularly when it comes to his interactions with the media.

    It's well-known that Wheeler, who took over as acting administrator of the EPA after Pruitt resigned in July, has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations. That was no surprise; Wheeler formerly worked as a lobbyist for coal, natural gas, chemical, and utility companies, and as an aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate's most recalcitrant climate denier.

    Wheeler does, however, have a reputation as a more behind-the-scenes, businesslike administrator than the scandal-plagued Pruitt. New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman recently described the acting EPA chief as having a "low-key, under-the-radar style, even as he has worked diligently and methodically to advance Mr. Trump’s deregulatory agenda."

    But Wheeler is now following in Pruitt's footsteps in many of his dealings with journalists and the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press office attacks journalists and media outlets

    Pruitt had a remarkably contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and attacked them by name in press releases, among other aggressive moves.

    When Wheeler took over, many reporters noticed and welcomed a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in recent weeks, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics employed during the Pruitt era. On October 30, it published a press release headlined "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report."

    From an E&E News article published last week:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    ...

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    ...

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair TV conglomerate. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and bashes mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he's exhibited that in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account.

    The Daily Beast's Scott Bixby reported earlier this year on one noteworthy example:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler recently retweeted Fox's Brit Hume when he criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review. Wheeler has also liked a number of tweets from right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman reported last month, Wheeler has also used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other troubling views:

    Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, repeatedly engaged with inflammatory content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years, including some in the past month.

    The previously-unreported interactions include liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler now turns back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation fight

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media when he does TV interviews, he has given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers and wire services. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave substantive interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but Wheeler now appears to be ramping it back up -- just as he's about to begin the process of trying to earn Senate confirmation.

    On November 16, hours before Trump announced that he would nominate Wheeler to officially fill the top EPA spot, Wheeler sat down for an interview with New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman. And Wheeler is scheduled to do a live-streamed interview with Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin on November 28.

    Wheeler may want to present himself as a mainstream moderate rather than a right-wing partisan as he tries to win over senators, and turning to major mainstream newspapers could be part of his strategy. But that would also present an opportunity for environmental journalists to ask tough questions and push him off his well-rehearsed talking points before confirmation hearings begin. We'll be looking to Eilperin to kick that process off next week.  

  • White supremacists directly linked to pro-Trump media figure Jack Posobiec. Here’s what you need to know about him.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Jack Posobiec, a conspiracy theorist and consummate pro-Trump media figure who often boasts of his access to the White House and other MAGA celebrities, worked as recently as 2017 with white supremacists who advocate for violence. Posobiec has a long record of extremism and ratfucking: He was an outspoken advocate of the “alt-right,” published a book with the help of an “alt-right” figure, and pushed all kinds of smears and misinformation for political gain.

    Posobiec reportedly had links to Jeffrey and Edward Clark, two white supremacist brothers. Jeffrey Clark was arrested by federal authorities in Washington, D.C., for gun charges after relatives contacted authorities about his support for last month’s mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue. As reported by HuffPost, Posobiec teamed up with the brothers in 2017 to film documentary footage; a source provided an image of Posobiec alongside the brothers. HuffPost also reported that anti-fascist researcher Laura Sennett said Jeffrey Clark had told her Posobiec both knew of his Nazi beliefs and was sympathetic to them.

    Posobiec is currently a host for One America News Network, a right-wing news outlet that specializes in sycophantic coverage of President Donald Trump and conspiracy theories. He previously worked for far-right Canadian outlet Rebel Media. Posobiec achieved his standing in the MAGA media universe by embracing the “alt-right”​ and its public figures during the 2016 presidential election and, like many other grifters, eventually rebranding as a member of the “New Right” after the extremism of the “alt-right” made associating with it too toxic.

    Despite his continued efforts to sanitize his role in spreading the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, Posobiec repeatedly broadcast to his social media followers and to Infowars audiences the baseless claim that a D.C. pizza restaurant served as a front for a child trafficking ring, showed up at the pizza parlor himself to “investigate,” and then claimed that the arrest of a gunman who also showed up at the pizzeria was a “false flag.”

    Posobiec’s ratfucking record includes spreading forged documents tied to Russia purporting to be then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s emails; planting a “Rape Melania” sign at an anti-Trump protest to smear activists; and doxxing one of the women who reported that she was sexually assaulted as a minor by defeated Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Posobiec was an administrator in a racist Facebook group that promoted Republican candidates and pushed far-right conspiracy theories.

    He has built his brand by promoting attention-grabbing stunts that masquerade as activism, such as disrupting a theater presentation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that he deemed to promote political violence, filing a civil rights lawsuit over all-female screenings of Wonder Woman, and trolling a congressional press conference on net neutrality to demand that Democratic senators disavow “satanic” internet pornography. He also gleefully participated in an online harassment campaign that resulted in CNN journalist Andrew Kaczynski receiving death threats.

    Posobiec has ridden every controversy and subsequent media coverage to increase his visibility and online followers. He’s used that branding for political access and promotion of his personal business endeavors, which include his self-congratulatory book about the movement that took Trump to victory, and his most recent book, published with the help of with “alt-right” figure Theodore Beale, who writes under the pseudonym Vox Day. Posobiec promoted this book by linking to Vox Day’s website, a depository of white supremacist grievances.

    Posobiec’s clout in the MAGA social universe has risen high enough to earn him a retweet from Trump himself (when Posobiec wrote an accusatory tweet aimed at the media for focusing too much on the 2017 white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA) and allow him access to the White House. He used temporary White House press credentials in May 2017 to push the debunked conspiracy theory that former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered for leaking DNC emails.

    In his role as OANN correspondent, Posobiec regularly showcases his access to pro-Trump celebrities (including Donald Trump Jr.) and his presence at White House and Trump Hotel social functions. Meanwhile, he’s used his OANN platform to hype smears from the defendant in the Seth Rich lawsuit, as well amplify the wild conspiracy theory known as QAnon, giving virulent far-right troll Microchip a platform and taking his word at face value that he is the anonymous poster known as Q. Microchip is an anonymous and prolific user of Gab -- the social media site known for being “haven for white supremacists” -- where he constantly posts white supremacist grievances and anti-Semitic and racial slurs and invites followers to “fuck shit up” legally by pushing and spreading the misinformation campaign QAnon.

    It is clear that Posobiec’s history of extremism, peddling of conspiracy theories, and ties to white supremacists are not a problem for the network that employs him, nor for the pro-Trump universe that has enabled his professional career. In that universe, misinformation and extremism are not deal breakers. They’re assets.

  • 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.

  • Media should stop treating Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as inevitable

    Activists and concerned citizens are fired up and engaged in the fight against Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & MILES LE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Ever since President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill retiring Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court seat, media outlets have continually downplayed the energy and activism of those working to oppose this far-right nominee’s confirmation, treating it as a fait accompli.

    Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination on July 9, 2018, a week and a half after Justice Anthony Kennedy disclosed that he would be retiring from the Supreme Court (he officially retired July 31). Despite Kavanaugh’s record as “an uncommonly partisan judge” with troubling views on the environment, labor, LGBTQ discrimination, abortion rights, gun safety, immigration, and more, many media figures portrayed him as a centrist pick who is “within the broad mainstream” and “not as far right” as other options Trump considered.

    In addition, many outlets have treated his confirmation as inevitable. For example, The Washington Post and The New York Times argued that activists weren’t engaged in the fight to stop Kavanaugh. As the Post wrote, “Democrats have all but acknowledged that they are unable to stop the Senate from confirming Trump nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court this fall,” while the Times blamed everything from upcoming midterm elections to activists’ inability to compete with “an almost daily barrage of other Trump administration actions” for the perceived lack of energy. New York magazine similarly argued that “the resistance to Kavanaugh has remained on a low flame, failing to boil over into the righteous fury that characterized the battle over Obamacare repeal last summer.”

    However, as Rewire.News’ Katelyn Burns reported, “Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court is not inevitable.” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund told Burns, “A veneer of inevitability has been the actual strategy that the people backing Kavanaugh have used,” but activists are “countering that and saying, ‘No way.'” HuffPost guest writer Robert Creamer similarly argued that treating Kavanaugh’s nomination as inevitable “plays right into the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hopes to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Creamer pointed to Kavanaugh’s extremely narrow path to confirmation -- with Republicans having “a tiny effective majority of 50 to 49 in the Senate” -- as well as his incredibly low approval numbers, and the “unprecedented nationwide campaign to resist” his confirmation, as evidence that the fight against Kavanaugh is far from over. As Teen Vogue columnist Lauren Duca wrote: “When you subscribe to the myth of inevitability, you confirm it as reality, and for anyone who gives a sh*t about equality and/or democracy, that is simply not an option.”

    Outlets may not be reporting on the vast amount of activist energy against Kavanaugh, but people are fired up and making their feelings known:

    Kavanaugh's confirmation isn't inevitable -- he's got the lowest approval ratings of any Supreme Court nominee in decades, in addition to an extreme record on a number of consequential topics. The hearings to confirm Kavanaugh start soon. And media shouldn’t erase or ignore the very real opposition to his confirmation that’s on display across the country.

  • How should media cover Andrew Wheeler? Take a lesson from coverage of Scott Pruitt

    Pruitt's silly scandals got more attention than his weighty misdeeds and regulatory rollbacks

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Andrew Wheeler, new acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has gotten a soft reception from the media during his first couple of weeks on the job. The honeymoon phase needs to end now.

    Wheeler is benefiting from comparisons to his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who was flamboyantly corrupt and unprecedentedly adversarial toward the press. Wheeler keeps a lower profile than Pruitt and has given interviews to mainstream journalists instead of insulting them, so his different style has generated positive pieces and headlines.

    But being more sober and civil than Pruitt is a very low bar to jump over. Wheeler doesn't deserve praise for clearing it.

    Wheeler received glowing press just for saying he would listen to EPA employees. “When it comes to leadership, you can’t lead unless you listen,” he said during his first address to agency staff on July 11. That quote was featured in the headlines and introductions of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post by reporters who had done some of the most aggressive coverage of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory rollbacks.

    But, as Mother Jones reporter Rebecca Leber pointed out, Pruitt had used the exact same line during his first address to agency staff in February 2017: “You can’t lead unless you listen.”

    This is a stark example of how journalists have been quick to paint Wheeler as a departure from Pruitt even when he's doing exactly what Pruitt did.

    The media need to stop focusing on the minor stylistic differences between Wheeler and Pruitt and start homing in on substance. The new EPA chief has already implemented his first major rollback of an environmental protection. Wheeler, a former lobbyist for a coal company, signed a final rule that will make it easier for power plants to dump toxic coal ash in ways that could pollute groundwater. And Wheeler has pledged to carry forward the rest of Pruitt's agenda.

    What media got wrong in covering Pruitt

    So how should the media be covering Wheeler? To help answer that question, take a look back at how they covered Pruitt.

    Journalists at many outlets did excellent reporting on a wide range of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory moves, particularly the teams covering the EPA at The Washington Post and The New York Times. The problem was that only some of that good original reporting got amplified by other media outlets and ultimately seen by wide audiences, and too often it was the least important stories that got the most attention.

    Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of Pruitt during a period in June in which a number of EPA regulatory rollbacks and Pruitt scandals were revealed.

    For each of the following stories, we looked at how much coverage major prime-time TV news programs devoted to it in the week after it was first reported:

    • Rollback: The EPA decided not to examine air, water, or ground contaminants when determining the health and safety risks of potentially toxic chemicals, as The New York Times reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA took the first step toward changing the way it calculates the economic costs and benefits of regulations, with an eye toward making regulations appear more expensive, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA put forth a detailed plan to scale back a major Obama-era regulation on water pollution, as The New York Times reported on June 14.
    • Substantive scandal: Pruitt had close ties with a coal baron and big GOP donor, Joseph Craft. Craft got Pruitt good basketball tickets, while Pruitt made policy moves that benefited Craft's company, as The New York Times reported on June 2.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt spent $1,560 on 12 customized fountain pens emblazoned with the EPA seal and Pruitt’s signature, as The Washington Post reported on June 1.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt had an EPA aide try to obtain a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, as The Associated Press reported on June 4.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt used his EPA security detail to help him find fancy lotion at Ritz-Carlton hotels, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.

    The first four stories -- the ones involving policy changes likely to lead to more pollution -- got markedly less attention on TV news than the scandals surrounding Pruitt's bizarre personal misbehavior.

    How the media can do better in covering Wheeler

    Pruitt getting the boot opens up an opportunity for journalists to do a better job covering the EPA, as Wheeler seems unlikely to suck up all the oxygen by making goofy moves like buying tactical pants” or using sirens to speed to his favorite restaurant.

    Last month, some reporters on the EPA beat expressed frustration that Pruitt’s scandals were serving as distractions:

    Now they’ll have more time to chase stories about serious ethics questions at EPA and, most importantly, the regulatory rollbacks that could make Americans sick and kill us.

    There will be plenty to cover, like:

    • Wheeler’s ties to industry: He, too, has a long-established, cozy relationship with a coal baron. And he has lobbied for natural gas, chemical, uranium, nuclear, and utility interests, so we could see him cultivating close ties to those industries.
    • Wheeler’s rollbacks that benefit industry: He has already made a major policy move that serves the interests of coal and utility companies, as mentioned above, and he’s poised to take heat off automakers by rolling back auto fuel-efficiency rules and trying to revoke California's authority to set tough standards for pollution from cars and trucks.
    • Wheeler’s ethically questionable decisions: He kept on two top EPA aides who have ethics problems, as HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman recently reported. Green groups are digging for more potential missteps.

    During Wheeler's reign at the EPA -- which could last years -- reporters will need to stop comparing him to his predecessor and instead bird-dog the agency's deregulatory moves and dig for the ethics and corruption stories that aren't as ridiculous and simple as those Pruitt routinely offered up. We're counting on journalists assigned to the national environment beat to do just that.

    But here's the potentially trickier part: After original reporting comes out on Wheeler's actions, other journalists and commentators and TV news producers will need to amplify those stories, writing articles and producing segments that will get the news in the public eye. Will they do it now that the EPA is no longer run by an absurd character with a proclivity for dramatic self-sabotage? 

    While Pruitt’s silly scandals were a distraction for some media outlets, they were a lure for others, drawing their eyes to an agency they might not cover often or in-depth. For instance, Vanity Fair -- not traditionally a source of EPA news -- published numerous pieces that highlighted Pruitt's scandals and also noted the more important fact that he'd been gutting regulations and suppressing science.

    We need Vanity Fair to keep it up during the Wheeler era, and we need NBC Nightly News and CNN's Situation Room and so many others to join in.

    Quiet deregulation and allegiance to industry are easy to ignore in the loud, lewd age of Trump, but everyday Americans who eat, drink, and breathe can't afford for the media to miss the most important stories about the EPA.

    -----

    Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for prime-time (5 p.m. through midnight) programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, as well as the broadcast network nightly news programs: ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour. We examined a week’s worth of coverage for the seven stories in the first bullet-pointed list above. We identified and reviewed all segments that were captured by searching for the words Pruitt, EPA, or Environmental Protection Agency within 50 words of cost, benefit, calculate, calculation, economic, chemical, health, safety, toxic, water, pollute, pollution, rollback, regulate, regulation, rule, policy, pen, jewelry, mattress, Trump Hotel, lotion, moisturizer, moisturizing, dry cleaning, security, scandal, ethics, or ethical.

    Chart by Melissa Joskow. Research assistance by Kevin Kalhoefer.