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Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong
A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.
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After reports surfaced that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted and harassed several teenagers when he was in his 30s, right-wing media outlets rushed to characterize Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as supporting “partial-birth” abortions, abortions up to the moment of birth, or so-called “late-term” abortions. Other outlets have adopted the right-wing media spin, claiming Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama voters.
Even when the NFL story was old and the fire story was new, Fox still gave more coverage to the Trump-triggered NFL narrative
Prime-time cable news shows devoted more than three and a half times as much coverage to the NFL controversy that President Donald Trump stirred up as they did to historic wildfires in California, Media Matters found in an analysis of coverage the week after each incident began. Even when the NFL controversy was weeks old and the wildfires were at their peak, Fox News still devoted more than twice as much coverage to the Trump-sparked NFL story as to the fires.
On September 22, Trump kicked off a national controversy when he criticized NFL players who kneeled during pre-game national anthems to protest racism and police brutality. During a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump mused, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” NFL players, coaches, and owners responded by staging more protests, and in subsequent days and weeks, Trump added fuel to the controversy by doubling down on his initial criticism and threatening to revoke the NFL’s non-profit status over the protests (even though the NFL had given up that non-profit status in 2015).
Just over two weeks after Trump's initial comments about the protests, California experienced the deadliest wildfires in the state’s history. Beginning on October 8, wildfires spread across Northern California in what the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) dubbed the October Fire Siege. According to CAL FIRE, "there were 21 major wildfires that ... burned over 245,000 acres, ... forced 100,000 to evacuate, destroyed an estimated 6,900 structures," and killed 42 people. Estimates of the fires’ damage are as high as $6 billion, making them likely to rank among the most expensive natural disasters in California history.
Though the fires were both deadly and economically devastating, the major cable news networks devoted three and a half times as much coverage to the Trump-triggered NFL controversy as they did to the wildfires on their prime-time, weekday shows during the week after each incident began. Media Matters analyzed the first full week of coverage after the NFL controversy kicked off and the first full week of coverage after the California wildfires began burning.
From September 25 to September 29, prime-time cable news shows aired a combined 136 segments about the NFL controversy, with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News airing 62, 28, and 46 segments, respectively.
By comparison, prime-time cable news shows devoted significantly less coverage to the California wildfires during the first week of coverage of the October Fire Siege. From October 9 to October 13, the prime-time cable shows aired a combined 38 segments on the fires, with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News airing 19, nine, and 10 segments, respectively. The NFL controversy got 358 percent more coverage -- more than three and a half times as much.
Media Matters also compared coverage of the two different stories during the same week, October 9-13, starting one day after the wildfires began and 17 days after Trump’s first NFL comments. Even during this period, when the wildfires were most destructive and the NFL controversy was more than two weeks old, Fox News’ prime-time shows still devoted more than twice as many segments to the NFL controversy as they did to the fires -- 22 versus 10. CNN and MSNBC, however, both aired more segments about the wildfires during this week.
Cable news’ tendency to focus on Trump's controversial comments and tweets rather than other news that directly affects viewers' lives is unfortunately nothing new (The NFL players’ protests raise important concerns about racism and police brutality, but Trump’s outbursts did not help address those issues.). Cable news networks have been more than willing to sacrifice substantive news stories for anything Trump-related because coverage of the president and his contentious statements has brought them record profits and viewership numbers. But the fact that coverage of a Trump-triggered controversy going into its third week can still compete with and even exceed coverage of historically devastating wildfires puts a fine point on just how bad the problem is.
Zachary Pleat, Alex Morash, and Rebecca Damante contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.
Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of segments about the controversy around NFL protests and the October Fire Siege in California. To identify segments about the NFL controversy, we used the search term (NFL OR anthem OR kneel! OR pledge OR kaepernick OR stand! OR allegiance). To identify segments about the California wildfires, we used the search term (wildfire OR fire) AND (sonoma OR napa OR mendicino OR north bay OR california OR yuba OR solano OR butte OR lake county).
We analyzed the prime-time, weekday news shows on the three major cable news networks, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. For CNN, we reviewed shows that air from 5 p.m. to midnight. For MSNBC and and Fox News, we reviewed shows that air from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (MSNBC’s 11 p.m. show, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, is not indexed in Nexis and so was excluded; Fox News airs a re-run of Tucker Carlson Tonight at 11 p.m., and our study did not count repeat airings of the show). Our time frame for analyzing coverage of the NFL controversy was September 25, three days after Trump’s initial comments, to September 29. Our time frame for analyzing coverage of the California wildfires was October 9, one day after the fires started, to October 13.
We defined “segments” as instances where more than one individual discussed either topic during a panel discussion, or when a host or correspondent mentioned either topic as part of a news brief or headline rundown. Our analysis excluded teasers and passing mentions where a speaker mentioned either the NFL controversy or the California wildfires without any other speaker in the segment engaging.
Ditching limits on power plant emissions will lead to an estimated 3,600 more premature deaths each year
A number of TV news outlets failed to cover the negative health impacts of the Trump administration's decision to repeal limits on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Of the major broadcast networks' morning and evening news shows, only ABC's World News Tonight mentioned how Americans' health could be affected by the move. On the major cable news networks, CNN overlooked the health angle and MSNBC addressed it in some segments, while most Fox News commentators discussed the repeal in approving or celebratory tones.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that he would formally move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and on Tuesday he signed a proposed rule to get the process rolling. The Clean Power Plan was put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, imposing the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Pruitt's move will have serious, real-world impacts on Americans' health. According to Obama's EPA, not only would the Clean Power Plan have helped to fight climate change, but it would also have curbed a number of health problems and premature deaths. That's because when utilities reduce their emissions of climate-warming CO2 pollution, they also reduce other pollutants that cause soot and smog and directly harm human health. An EPA fact sheet from 2015 says the agency determined that the rule would prevent thousands of deaths and health-related problems each year:
Under Pruitt, however, those health improvements will be denied to Americans. Pruitt's EPA not only disputes the scientific agreement that humans are driving climate change; it also disputes the scientific agreement that particulate matter and other smog-forming pollutants are unsafe for humans at any level. The EPA's new proposed rule contends that there would be no health benefits to reducing air pollutants below levels currently required by Clean Air Act regulations.
Pruitt's repeal will be particularly harmful to people of color and low-income Americans, as they suffer more than whiter, wealthier communities do from coal plant pollution. The Clean Power Plan included a number of environmental-justice provisions intended to help redress that inequity.
Media Matters analyzed morning and nighttime news shows on October 9 and 10 on ABC, CBS, and NBC, plus PBS NewsHour. ABC was the sole corporate broadcast network to note the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan in coverage of the plan’s repeal, and it did so in only a brief mention. During a headline rundown on the October 9 episode of World News Tonight with David Muir, Muir reported, “The 2015 Clean Power Plan aimed to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent and save 3,600 lives a year.”
In contrast, neither CBS nor NBC made any reference to what the repeal would mean for public health. NBC covered the repeal once, on the October 10 episode of NBC Nightly News, while CBS covered it twice, on the October 9 episode of CBS Evening News and the October 10 episode of CBS This Morning.
PBS NewsHour briefly mentioned the health angle during a lengthy segment on the plan's repeal on October 10 that featured interviews with Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama, and coal company CEO Robert Murray. PBS correspondent John Yang did not bring up the health implications of the repeal, but McCarthy mentioned them when she said that Pruitt's move “will limit the kind of protections you will get for public health and take a significant bite out of our ability to address climate change and keep our kids’ future safe.”
Of the major cable networks, MSNBC provided the best TV news coverage of the health implications of the Clean Power Plan repeal. Media Matters analyzed cable news from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on October 9 and October 10 and found that MSNBC aired eight segments on the repeal, three of which mentioned human health. On the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, NBC correspondent Anne Thompson explained that “doctors are very concerned, because if you increase the amount of coal-fired power, that means you’re putting more particulates in the air, and if that happens, that means you’re going to see more asthma attacks, more days missed in school and work from various illnesses, and more premature deaths.” Another October 10 edition of MSNBC Live featured an interview with Laura Kellogg, an American Lung Association volunteer and mother of children with asthma, who discussed how the plan’s repeal would harm children living close to coal plants. And the same day on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Melvin asked guest Mustafa Ali, former head of EPA's environmental justice program, about the health impacts of the repeal and gave Ali a chance to discuss the premature deaths and asthma attacks that are expected to result.
(The remaining five MSNBC segments on the plan's repeal, which didn't mention its public health consequences, aired on the October 9 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, the October 10 edition of MTP Daily, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live, and the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, which featured two segments on the repeal.)
CNN, on the other hand, did not discuss the health effects during any of its four segments that mentioned the Clean Power Plan repeal on October 9 and 10. Two of those segments aired on New Day on October 10, while one ran on Inside Politics on October 10 and one on At This Hour on October 9.
Fox News aired seven segments covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and made four additional mentions while reading headlines. Much of the tone of Fox’s coverage was celebratory. Twice on the October 9 edition of Fox & Friends and once on the October 10 edition of the show, Jillian Mele presented the repeal as President Donald Trump delivering on a campaign promise to his base. On October 10, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade introduced an interview with a former coal worker by saying, “Yesterday the Trump administration kept another campaign promise because Hillary Clinton didn't win, even though no one told her yet, to end the war on coal and help American families.” Sandra Smith also covered the repeal as Trump keeping a campaign promise on the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom, and the next day she asked Fox contributor Karl Rove whether it can “be seen as a big win for this administration.” Rove responded, "Well, it’s a big win,” adding that Trump needed legislative victories as well.
Special Report was the outlier on Fox News, citing information on health effects of the repeal in two segments. During the show’s October 9 report, correspondent Griff Jenkins read a quote from the Sierra Club noting that the Clean Power Plan would “prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year.” And on October 10, during an interview with Pruitt, host Bret Baier read a statement from former EPA Administrator Carol Browner that noted the health impacts of the move and asked Pruitt to respond to the statement.
(The additional Fox News segments and mentions on the repeal were on the October 9 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum and the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom during the 9 a.m. hour and the 10 a.m. hour.)
When the Obama administration finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015, many mainstream media outlets neglected to cover the public health implications, as Media Matters noted at the time.
Coverage of the Clean Power Plan was even more lacking last year. Then-candidate Trump promised to repeal the Clean Power Plan during his campaign, but broadcast news programs gave little attention to that pledge or to the plan itself last year, Media Matters found in an analysis of 2016 coverage. Ultimately, broadcast news failed to adequately inform viewers and voters before the election about what a Trump presidency would mean for environmental policy. Now we're seeing the Trump administration working to roll back more than 50 environmental protections.
TV news outlets’ shortcomings this week in covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan are just part of a longer pattern of insufficient coverage.
Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Pruitt,” “Clean Power Plan," "EPA," "Environmental Protection Agency," "carbon," "emissions," "regulation,” and "rule.” We examined coverage on October 9, the day Pruitt announced his intention to repeal the rule, and October 10, the day he formally proposed the repeal. For broadcast networks, we examined the morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour. For cable news, we examined coverage from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Zachary Pleat contributed to this report.
Interviews with Graham-Cassidy supporters spread misinformation, devolve into misleading deflection
Republican senators took to the airwaves this week to shore up support for the so-called “Graham-Cassidy” health care bill, the latest GOP proposal that aims to dismantle much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a series of proposals adopted from previously failed legislation. The often contentious interviews frequently devolved into stonewalling and deflection when reporters pressed lawmakers for answers about the ways the legislation would affect tens of millions of Americans who rely on programs such as Medicaid, live with pre-existing medical conditions, or have gained coverage under the ACA.
Republican lawmakers have attempted to build support for the latest attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, which is in jeopardy of collapse amid reports that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is opposed to the bill, by once again recycling worn-out myths about the Obama-era health care reform law and spreading falsehoods about the proposed legislation. With Republicans set to appear on the Sunday morning political shows this weekend to build support for the bill, which many lawmakers seem to know little about, their refusal to engage in a factual debate about the legislation should be a red flag for the journalists conducting those interviews.
During September 20 appearances on CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) spread several falsehoods about the health care repeal legislation that bears his name. (He spread much of the same misinformation from the friendly confines of Fox News, where he was allowed to push his talking points completely unchallenged.) During his CNN and MSNBC appearances, Cassidy falsely claimed the proposal would result in more people getting health insurance coverage and asserted that the new bill protects the tens of millions of Americans living with pre-existing medical conditions. When CNN’s Chris Cuomo pressed Cassidy to provide proof of his claims, Cassidy pivoted to attack the ACA’s individual insurance mandate. And when MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle confronted him about coverage cuts for “low-income seniors, children, and people with disabilities,” Cassidy evaded the question while claiming that his bill would simply reroute money currently allocated to those groups through the existing Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP):
In reality, the Center for American Progress, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), and The Commonwealth Fund each reported that, according to previous estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Graham-Cassidy proposal to end private market health insurance tax credits, along with its severe cuts to Medicaid and rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, would result in 32 million people losing health insurance over the next decade. And as Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation explained to Axios, though the Graham-Cassidy bill would not repeal the ACA's rules about pre-existing conditions, "they might end up only existing on paper." That's because, as PolitiFact has also noted, the bill removes ACA protections against charging higher premiums to customers with existing medical problems and the language about pre-existing conditions "is vague and subject to broad interpretation.”
During a September 20 appearance on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) emphasized the supposed need to pass his health care agenda because “Obamacare is collapsing around us.” Graham also asserted that under the ACA, “access to health care is going down” nationwide:
Graham’s claim that the ACA “is collapsing” echoes years of conservative smears about the law, which exaggerate any hiccup in the implementation of ACA reforms as proof of an impending “death spiral.” In reality, the insurance marketplaces established by the law have stabilized considerably over the past year, and lingering issues are largely the result of Republican sabotage, not a failure of the ACA. Graham’s additional claim that the newest GOP bill is a solution to reduced health care access could not be further from the truth: The number of uninsured Americans reached an all-time low in 2016 before the Trump administration launched its efforts to dismantle the ACA and, as previously noted, Graham’s bill would strip insurance from millions of Americans.
During a September 19 interview on CNN’s New Day, bill co-sponsor Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) bemoaned health care reforms instituted by the ACA, which he called “Washington, D.C.’s one-size-fits-all model” for health care coverage. Johnson reiterated his support for the proposal in the Graham-Cassidy bill to convert ACA revenue into block grants to states, which he claimed would be “far more responsive to their citizens than Washington, D.C., will.” Co-host Alisyn Camerota largely let Johnson push his talking points unchecked, and she seemed more interested in Johnson’s plan to recruit additional Republican supporters than with the ways the legislation would affect millions of Americans:
Johnson approached his September 21 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with a similar strategy, stressing that Graham-Cassidy would help states be more responsive to their citizens and deflecting questions about concerns from several Republican governors that the bill’s Medicaid cuts will devastate low-income communities. When co-host Willie Geist pressed Johnson about whether some Medicaid recipients would be “denied coverage they have now” by Graham-Cassidy’s rollback of the program, Johnson again deflected those concerns and suggested the problem could be avoided if governors “manage their programs properly”:
In fact, according to CBPP, any proposal to convert federal Medicaid funding into a block grant system would inevitably lead to major funding cuts and program restrictions. CBPP estimated that millions of Americans would lose Medicaid coverage from the block grant system proposed by Graham-Cassidy, a concern shared by the bipartisan group of governors opposed to the bill.
On the September 19 edition of MSNBC’s MTP Daily, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) falsely claimed that Medicaid had “failed” as a result of ACA reforms and argued that the program insuring low-income Americans is unpopular with patients. (Host Katy Tur, however, correctly noted that Medicaid is extremely popular.) Barrasso also asserted that “this bill protects everyone with a pre-existing condition” and smeared ACA patient protections requiring insurance plans to cover essential health benefits (EHBs), which protect consumers from inadequate plans. When Tur pressed him to provide support for his claims, Barrasso simply talked over her repeated inquiries while reiterating the same talking points:
On the September 20 edition of CNN Newsroom, Barrasso had a less contentious interview with co-hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow, during which he spread even more misinformation about the Graham-Cassidy plan. Barrasso bizarrely claimed that Graham-Cassidy would not kick millions of people off their plans, but would instead empower millions to drop coverage with “the free choice they have as Americans.” He also falsely claimed the Graham-Cassidy bill would result in states “get[ting] more money to deal with” the health care needs of their own residents. A September 20 report from Avalere Health, however, has revealed that the bill would actually “reduce federal funding to states by $215 billion” through 2026, by $489 billion through 2027 when block grants for Medicaid run out, and by a staggering $4 trillion through 2036. In the end, Graham-Cassidy would redistribute billions of dollars from states that enacted ACA provisions to those (like Wyoming) that refused to do so:
Media Matters research coordinator Julie Alderman contributed to this research
NBC finally addressed connection in Irma coverage, after failing during Harvey, while ABC made only a cursory mention
After failing to note the impact of climate change on hurricanes in their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, ABC and NBC both discussed the link while covering Irma, Media Matters has found in a new analysis of coverage of the more recent storm. But NBC did a better job: It ran a segment that featured a scientist explaining the climate-hurricane connection, while ABC’s sole mention of climate change was cursory and failed to provide viewers with much information.
Media Matters also analyzed weekday prime-time cable news coverage of Irma and found that Fox News continued its pattern of dismissing climate change, while MSNBC provided extensive coverage of the link between climate change and hurricanes.
This new analysis of Irma coverage builds on a recent Media Matters study that looked at broadcast and cable news coverage of Hurricane Harvey.
Climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes like Harvey and Irma: Rising sea levels lead to worse storm surges; warmer temperatures increase the amount of moisture in the atmosphere and lead to more rainfall; and warmer ocean waters make the storms more intense.
Media Matters found that during Hurricane Harvey coverage from August 23 to September 7, ABC and NBC completely failed to discuss the link between climate change and hurricanes on any of their morning, nightly, or Sunday news shows. NBC did notably better during its coverage of Hurricane Irma, while ABC made only slight improvement, according to a new analysis of coverage from September 4 -- two days before Irma reached Puerto Rico -- to September 13.
On September 9, an NBC Nightly News segment featured an interview with Oscar Schofield, chair of the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, who explained, “The ocean is going to continue to warm, and the predictions from a lot of the climate scientists are that we're going to get more and more of these extreme events.” On that same day's episode of NBC's Today, correspondent Kerry Sanders introduced a segment about sea level rise by saying, “Whether you accept or don't what scientists say that global warming is raising our world's oceans, there's an undeniable fact here on Miami Beach: They’ve had to raise the sidewalks and roads … [because] much of Miami Beach goes under water.”
On the other hand, ABC’s sole mention of climate change during Irma coverage was brief and uninformative. After ABC meteorologist Ginger Zee answered viewer questions about Irma on the September 11 episode of Good Morning America, host George Stephanopoulos said, “I want to throw out one more question, because a lot of people look at these two back-to-back hurricanes -- two powerful hurricanes back-to-back -- and think there must be some connection to climate change.” Zee responded, “And I think it’s irresponsible not to talk about the warmth of the earth, and you have to get that," but then she went on to another subject and said nothing about how climate change influences storms.
In Irma coverage on the other broadcast networks, CBS aired two segments discussing the impact of climate change on hurricanes on CBS This Morning, while PBS aired none (though it did discuss how climate change worsens storm surges in a September 4 segment on flooding in Bangladesh on PBS NewsHour). During their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, CBS and PBS each aired three segments highlighting climate change’s impact on hurricanes.
Media Matters’ analysis of Hurricane Harvey coverage on the major cable networks’ prime-time weekday shows found that MSNBC and CNN each aired five segments noting climate change’s impact on hurricanes. A follow-up analysis of the prime-time cable news networks’ Hurricane Irma coverage found that MSNBC aired more segments discussing the climate-hurricane link and CNN aired fewer.
From September 4 to September 13, MSNBC aired 13 prime-time segments that discussed climate change’s impact on hurricanes, in some cases including multiple discussions of climate change in a one-hour block. For instance, on September 8, the 8 p.m. broadcast of MSNBC Live on featured three segments in which host Chris Hayes brought up climate change with guests, and the 10 p.m. broadcast featured two instances of host Ali Velshi raising the topic of climate change. MSNBC hosts also brought up the climate-hurricane link on the September 6 and September 11 episodes of All In with Chris Hayes; the September 7, September 8, and September 13 episodes of Hardball with Chris Matthews; the September 13 episode of The Beat with Ari Melber; and the September 8 and September 12 episodes of MTP Daily.
CNN's prime-time weekday Irma coverage featured two segments about the relationship between climate change and hurricanes from September 4 to September 13. Erin Burnett discussed the Trump administration’s refusal to talk about climate change in the wake of the hurricanes on the September 13 episode of Erin Burnett OutFront. The same topic came up on the September 12 episode of CNN Tonight during Don Lemon’s interview with Bob Inglis of RepublicEN and climate denier Myron Ebell, who dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes by citing an overblown statistic about the lack of major hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. since 2005.
Fox News' prime-time Irma coverage included four mentions of climate change, but they were not informative. The network's hosts discussed the climate-hurricane link the same way they did during Harvey coverage: by criticizing those who raised the issue. The September 11 and September 13 episodes of Fox's The Five both featured lengthy discussions in which hosts accused people who brought up climate change’s impact on Hurricane Irma of behaving inappropriately, saying that they were making claims based on “anecdotal evidence,” acting out of liberal “guilt,” and attempting to shame people. The five-minute group rant on the September 11 episode ended with co-host Dana Perino claiming that actress Jennifer Lawrence had blamed Donald Trump for the hurricanes -- a mischaracterization of her actual statement. Fox ran another misleading segment about Lawrence’s comments on the September 8 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to The Daily Beast, Lawrence’s comments also came up on four other occasions during Fox's weekend coverage of Irma.
Fox's final prime-time mention of the link between climate change and Hurricane Irma came during the September 13 episode of The Story with Martha MacCullum, in which MacCullum said “things got political” during a celebrity telethon for hurricane relief when Stevie Wonder brought up climate change.
Media Matters ran the search terms “Irma AND (climate OR warming OR emission! OR carbon OR CO2 OR greenhouse gas!)” in Nexis and searched for “climate change” and “global warming” in SnapStream to identify segments between September 4 and September 13 that mentioned both the hurricane and climate change.
On the broadcast networks, we examined the morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour, the only PBS program archived in Nexis. For CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, we examined the networks’ prime-time shows that air on weekdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
We counted instances of network hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists mentioning climate change but excluded instances when other guests brought up climate change unprompted.
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Several times over the past week, cable news hosts reported that Republicans had rejected invitations to appear on their shows to defend or discuss President Donald Trump and his reaction to the August 12 violence in Charlottesville, VA. The president failed to initially condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis responsible for the violence, and later in the week he insisted that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs and broadcast morning shows and nightly newscasts found that discussions of voting rights and issues related to voting featured misinformation pushed by Republican lawmakers and were dominated by President Donald Trump’s false claims about voter fraud and noncitizen voting. Additionally, coverage also lacked discussions of gerrymandering, the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election, and laws on the state level to curb voting rights.
During last week’s health care “vote-a-rama,” prime-time cable news coverage largely neglected the voices of activists, despite their crucial role in helping to block Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Media Matters reviewed four nights of cable news coverage -- from 5 to 11 p.m. -- between when the “motion to proceed” was passed (which opened debate on possible plans to overturn the ACA) and the GOP “skinny repeal” bill was defeated in the Senate. During those four nights of coverage, cable news programs largely failed to include the perspectives of activists, and both CNN and Fox News disregarded these voices altogether:
CNN and Fox News did not host a single activist over four nights of health care coverage
MSNBC hosted five activists during the same time period, but they accounted for less than 10 percent of its prime-time guests included in discussions about health care.
Throughout Republican efforts to overturn the ACA, cable news repeatedly failed to offer diverse voices. Guests in conversations about health care were predominately white male pundits, while African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and women -- all of whom stand to lose disproportionately if the ACA is overturned -- received far less screen time.
Additionally, cable news programs often ignored the personal stories of those that would be most affected by Republican health care policies, choosing to focus on the legislative process, at the expense of the human cost of the GOP’s repeated actions to undo the ACA. As Senate Republicans searched for a way to overturn former President Barack Obama’s signature health care act last week, cable coverage continued to erase the voices of those most intimately involved in the health care debate. CNN and Fox News failed to include a single activist amongst the combined 97 guest appearances on the channels during discussions of health care, and while MSNBC did host five activists, they made up less than 10 percent of the network's total guests hosted during prime-time to discuss health care.
While this isn't the first time cable news failed to seek out the voices of activists, their disregard for activists' voices is shocking considering the influential role they have played throughout the health care battle. Employees and volunteers for organizations like MoveOn, ADAPT, and Planned Parenthood organized health care rallies across the country, and helped organize tens of thousands of calls to House and Senate offices on behalf of the ACA. Activists also kept constant pressure on elected officials, staging all-night protests in lawmakers' offices, and showing up to elected officials’ town hall meetings and other public appearances. Activists played a crucial role in pressuring Senators to vote no on repeal and replace bills, and in keeping public attention on health care in midst of numerous distractions, like the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Activists deserve credit for their role in the health care battle, and comprehensive news coverage needs to include their voices.
Media Matters searched Nexis for mentions of “health care,” “the Affordable Care Act,” “Obamacare,” “Republican health,” “GOP health,” “the Better Care Reconciliation Act,” or “BRCA” on prime-time cable news between July 25 (after the Senate passed the motion to proceed to debate) and July 28 (after the failure of “skinny repeal”). Segments were coded if they included a significant discussion of the Republican health care bill. “Significant discussion” was defined as at least two speakers in the segment engaging on the topic with one another. Guests that partook in discussions that included a “significant discussion” about health care were included in this study. Guests were considered “activists” if they were affiliated with a group actively working against GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Prime-time cable news refers to CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC weekday programming between 5 and 11 p.m.
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In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.
After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.
Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.
Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”
In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”
And Trump wasn’t alone.
Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)
Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.
Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.
Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).
CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).
On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.
The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.
USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.
As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”
Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”
The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:
I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.
The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”
Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).
Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.
For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.
We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.
For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”