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  • CPAC 2019 showcased dangerous and extreme anti-abortion rhetoric ahead of the 2020 elections

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    At the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Republicans and right-wing media figures abandoned any pretense of reality in their description of abortion procedures and instead fabricated increasingly unrealistic and sensationalized scenarios to fearmonger about so-called Democratic “murderers.”

    Though inaccurate anti-choice rhetoric is a staple of conservative commentary, right-wing media have spent the last few weeks in a frenzy -- first claiming that Democrats allegedly want to legalize abortions “up to birth,” and then moving on to the even more sensational claim that Democrats support “murder” during and even after birth. When Republicans and right-wing media figures hit the CPAC stage last week, some on Twitter expressed disbelief that the speakers promoted such obviously inaccurate language. However, the rhetoric on display at CPAC was merely the latest example of conservative and right-wing media figures deploying sensationalized language to fearmonger about abortion.

    Conservative outlets, and Fox News in particular, have been promoting inaccurate and extreme language about abortion for weeks, and President Donald Trump adopted those talking points in his 2019 State of the Union address. Trump and other Republicans are reportedly banking on using anti-abortion extremism to rally voters during the 2020 election -- a strategy that was seemingly tested on the CPAC stage.

    Here’s what Republicans and right-wing media are willfully ignoring about abortions -- particularly those performed later in pregnancy

    Right-wing media’s recent outrage centers on efforts by Democratic lawmakers in several states to ensure access to abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned or to remove unnecessary restrictions on abortion. Republicans seized on these measures to promote myths about abortions that happen later in pregnancy and to advance the inaccurate talking point that there are excessive numbers of so-called “born alive” abortions.

    In an attempt to address the nonexistent instances of abortions “after birth,” Republicans introduced and attempted to force a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act -- a bill anti-choice politicians touted as aiding so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. The bill ultimately failed to advance in the Senate, but it is part of a Republican strategy of “bringing back the issue of very late abortions, perhaps in the hope of energizing their base in advance of 2020” with the goal of getting “Democrats on record opposing it.” By forcing a vote on the legislation, Republicans and right-wing media can then spin opposing votes as evidence of Democrats’ supposed “extremism” on abortion rights.

    Similarly, right-wing media’s depictions of abortions happening up to the “moment of birth” do not conform to any medical procedure happening in the U.S. Abortions later in pregnancy are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons, and the people who anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often have to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy because of a nonviable fetus or due to their own great medical risk. In other instances, people need abortions later in pregnancy due to anti-choice restrictions on earlier access. In either case, if anti-abortion media really wanted to understand the people who have had abortions later in pregnancy, these outlets and commentators could read actual accounts rather than demonizing those individuals and feeding a manufactured right-wing media outrage cycle.

    The idea of abortions after birth or “born alive” abortions is also not based in any medical standard of care or practice, as Rewire.News reported in 2013. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    Here’s what Republicans and right-wing media figures said at CPAC about abortion

    • Trump: Democrats are embracing “extreme late-term abortion. ... In Virginia, the governor, a Democrat, stated that he would allow babies to be born -- to be born outside, he would wrap them, he would take care of them, then he’ll talk to the mother and the father as to what to be done. And if they didn't want the child, who was now outside of the womb -- long outside of the womb, they will execute the baby after birth. They will execute the baby after birth, and that's one that many people have neber even heard of or thought about. This is a radical agenda by the Democrats.” [YouTube, 3/2/19]

    • Vice President Mike Pence: "With Democrats standing for late-term abortion, infanticide, and a culture of death, I promise you: This president, this party, and this movement will always stand for the unborn. We will always defend the unalienable right to life." [Twitter, 3/1/19]
    • Donald Trump Jr.: “The post-term abortion issue ... anywhere else in the world, at any other point in time" would be “called murder. … This isn't woman's health care. If the baby is born, and it's alive, the woman is no longer at risk.” [Twitter, 3/1/19]
    • Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Abortions -- about a million a year -- through most of a pregnancy. That’s not enough. Abortion of babies in the womb -- not enough. Now we got to wait to terminate life after birth.” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    • Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: “By the way, it's not live-birth abortion. It's not infanticide. It is murder if you take the baby home and kill the baby at home, it's murder. The same thing is true at the hospital.” [Twitter, 2/28/19]

    • Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens: “We have a sick and twisted [New York Democratic] Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrating that you can rip fetuses -- you can rip infants and babies from their mother's wombs at nine months -- nine months. That's absolutely sickening what we're talking about here. And who is that going to impact the most? In New York City, for those of you who don’t know, more Black babies are aborted than born live.” [Periscope, 3/1/19]
    • Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Young Nance: "Sometimes the abortionist doesn't get the job done in the womb and a baby is able to survive and when she is born does she deserve life-saving treatment? We say absolutely yes! 44, 'The Dirty 44' said no." Nance’s invocation of the so-called “Dirty 44” was a reference to the 44 senators who voted against advancing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. [CBN News, 2/28/19]
    • Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson: For abortions later in pregnancy, “some people feel that it’s OK to murder that baby. And the level of barbarism that that requires -- I quite frankly don’t know how people can do it, quite frankly. … How many of those mothers end up psychologically damaged? They talk about they’re doing this for the health of the mother -- what about the mother’s mental health that she has to endure for the rest of her life?” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, claimed Democrats want to “extend abortion to the point when a baby -- when a mother is even in labor. In fact, extend that so-called ‘right’ to the baby’s birthday.” She also inaccurately alleged that Democrats’ mantra on abortion is “if you signed up for a dead baby, you’re going to get one, no matter what.” [Twitter, 2/28/19]

    • Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel: “It's not a late-term abortion; it's murder. … We need to speak about it in those terms.” [C-SPAN, 2/28/19]
    • Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, borrowed a talking point from colleague Sean Hannity: “These heathens are so inhumane and uncivilized that they proudly announce … that they allow the baby a ‘comfort zone’ while the mother is deciding whether the baby should live or die with an up or down like the emperor in the Roman Colosseum. … They call it reproductive health; I call it murder.” [YouTube, 3/2/19]

    • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk: “We are not going in the same direction as the Democrat Party. I don’t want to live in a country where it’s OK to execute a newborn child.” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    There are consequences for this kind of extreme, inaccurate, and vitriolic anti-abortion rhetoric

    Anti-abortion violence and harassment are real and ongoing threats in the United States. Eleven people have died as a result of anti-abortion violence since 1993. Numerous others have been injured, and still more have found themselves and even their families targeted with personalized harassment from abortion opponents -- a trend that has intensified in recent years. According to a report by the National Abortion Federation, rates of anti-abortion clinic protests in 2017 were already at the highest levels seen since the organization began tracking such incidents in 1977, and 2017 included “the first attempted bombing in many years.” In 2018, there were additional incidents of violence or threats against clinics reported in New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

    This isn’t the first time that right-wing media outlets have helped fan the flames of resentment against abortion providers, patients, and clinics with extremist language. Before an anti-abortion extremist murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had openly bullied Tiller on his program numerous times. According to Rolling Stone, “O’Reilly had waged an unflagging war against Tiller that did just about everything short of urging his followers to murder him.” O’Reilly repeatedly called the doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and said there was a “special place in hell for this guy.”

    In 2015, an anti-abortion extremist who killed three and injured nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, reportedly offered the phrase “no more baby parts” as an explanation for his actions. His comment seemingly referred to an oft-repeated right-wing media talking point based on deceptive videos from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The New Republic reported on the admitted shooter’s penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars, saying it shaped his paranoid and conspiratorial views about abortion and Planned Parenthood.

    In 2019, right-wing media’s extreme rhetoric on state measures protecting abortion rights has already sparked to harassment. After a video went viral of Del. Kathy Tran (D) speaking about an abortion measure she sponsored in Virginia, Tran told The Washington Post that “she and her family have received death threats through telephone messages, email and social media, leading to extra police protection for her and her family.” Tran also had to postpone a town hall meeting on February 2 because of “security and safety concerns” in the wake of the outrage ginned up by misrepresentation of her bill. ThinkProgress posted audio of a threatening message about the bill sent to the Democratic Party of Virginia and another clip of a racist tirade against Tran, telling her to “go back to Vietnam.” The state party’s communications director told ThinkProgress that “the party has also had to take additional security precautions” as a result of receiving such threats to its members.

    In February, The Virginian-Pilot reported that a man in Virginia was “charged with threatening to assault a U.S. official” because he allegedly threatened “to punch and shoot U.S. Sen. Mark Warner because of his stances on issues like abortion.” On March 4, another man was charged with arson for trying to burn down an empty Planned Parenthood clinic in Missouri in February. The FBI previously said it is investigating the latter incident as a possible hate crime, but it’s currently unclear whether these two events are linked to the recent extreme anti-abortion rhetoric from right-wing media figures.

    Inaccurate rhetoric about abortion from Republicans and right-wing media is dangerous and could lead to additional harassment and violence. Unfortunately, CPAC shows us it’s not likely to end anytime soon.

    Chenay Arberry contributed research to this article.

  • For the 2020 elections, Republicans are trying to insert anti-abortion talking points into mainstream outlets

    A recent vote on the so-called Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act seems designed to play into Republicans' 2020 strategy

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Senate Republicans recently pushed for a procedural vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act -- legislation intended to solve a nonexistent problem invented by anti-choice groups -- right-wing media falsely alleged that Democrats who voted against the bill were promoting “infanticide.” Some other media outlets have uncritically echoed these claims, repeating harmful and sensationalized characterizations of abortions and failing to address the misinformation promoted by Republicans as part of their 2020 election strategy.

    On February 25, the Senate failed to advance a bill that Republicans touted as aiding so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. In reality, experts have affirmed this rarely (if ever) happens and is instead a concept invented by anti-choice groups to spark fear. The push for the procedural vote came following a deluge of inaccurate and sensationalized right-wing media coverage manufactured to evoke outrage over state measures to protect abortion access in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media repeatedly and falsely characterized those state measures as allowing “infanticide.”

    As right-wing media continued to excoriate Democrats for allegedly supporting such measures, Republicans and anti-abortion groups posed the so-called “Born-Alive” bill as a different solution to the very same problem these groups had just manufactured to score political points. Vox's Anna North explained that Republicans pushed this vote despite knowing it would fail as part of a strategy of “bringing back the issue of very late abortions, perhaps in the hope of energizing their base in advance of 2020.” The real goal of the recent bill was “to get Democrats on record opposing it,” which Republicans and right-wing media will spin as evidence of Democrats’ supposed “extremism” on abortion rights. President Donald Trump telegraphed this strategy for Republicans when he alleged in the State of the Union address that Democrats want to pass laws allowing "a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth."

    In reality, the bill would be rather ineffective at addressing the alleged crisis of “abortion survivors” being pushed by right-wing media. Reproductive rights historian Mary Ziegler explained to Newsweek that “if the aim of the bill is to protect the lives of born infants, legislation already exists to serve that purpose” in the so-called “‘Born Alive Infants Protection Act’ of 2002.” The only differences, Ziegler said, are that the existing law “isn't abortion specific,” and “also doesn't have criminal penalties for doctors.”

    Although the new bill is an ineffective solution to right-wing media’s manufactured problem, it could be a highly effective tool for restricting access to health care and intimidating abortion providers. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    After the vote, right-wing media ran with the further sensationalized misinformation

    After right-wing media’s overwhelming outrage about proactive abortion protections in New York and Virginia, those outlets did not miss the opportunity provided by the Senate vote to push dangerous and extreme rhetoric about Democrats and to promote more misinformation about abortion.

    On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt falsely claimed Democratic senators -- particularly those running for president in 2020 -- “want to make the decision not to allow [a] child to survive.” TheBlaze wrote that “opponents to this bill are saying that the medical practitioner performing the abortion should be allowed to finish the job of killing the baby even if it is somehow born alive.” National Review said Democratic senators “revealed their belief that allowing unwanted infants to perish after birth constitutes a form of women’s health care.” The Washington Examiner asked: “With their stance on infanticide bill, do Democrats show a death wish?” The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh called NARAL Pro-Choice America “blood-drenched scumbags” for pointing out the various ways the bill would cause harm to patients and providers. Fox News host Laura Ingraham even took the opportunity to compare Planned Parenthood and “the left” to Adolf Hitler:

    Other media outlets uncritically adopted right-wing media’s problematic and inaccurate framing

    Although other outlets haven’t echoed Ingraham’s comparison of Democrats to Hitler, some media outlets have uncritically accepted or repeated right-wing talking points about the bill in headlines and on social media without providing necessary pushback or context:

    • Louisiana’s KALB News Channel 5 [Twitter, 2/26/19]

    • Arizona’s KVOA News 4 Tucson [Twitter, 2/26/19]

    Other media outlets framed the bill correctly as a political tactic by Republicans or as an attempt to regulate something that has no medical basis. Journalists should be aware that right-wing media are using misinformation about this Senate bill to convince voters -- and not only Republican ones -- to reject Democrats’ alleged “extremism” in the 2020 elections. When other outlets carelessly repeat anti-choice lies, it plays right into this deceptive and harmful strategy. Media have a responsibility when reporting on abortion to include context about the implications of such bills and to ensure that they aren’t serving as conduits for anti-choice fearmongering designed to influence the 2020 election.

  • Here's what you need to know about the climate denier who could head a new Trump climate panel

    William Happer argues that CO2 is good for us and climate scientists are like Nazis

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Media Matters / Melissa Joskow

    President Donald Trump may put climate-denying physicist William Happer at the head of a new Presidential Committee on Climate Security, according to a recent Washington Post article. The proposed panel would evaluate whether climate change poses a national security threat. (It does.) Happer, an emeritus professor at Princeton University and veteran of the George H.W. Bush administration, currently serves as Trump's deputy assistant for emerging technologies on the National Security Council.

    It’s not hard to understand why Trump would pick Happer to head his panel: He's a credentialed scientist who denies that carbon dioxide emissions are causing extensive global warming and has testified before Congress about the need for a government-mandated panel to review climate science, which he said is “far from 'settled.'” Though he's a physicist, Happer has never published any peer-reviewed research on climate change.

    Happer has multiple connections to the Koch brothers and fossil fuel companies. He served as adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, which was founded by Charles Koch, and has been affiliated with The Heartland Institute, a climate-denial group that has received funding from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. Happer was on the board of directors at the ExxonMobil-funded George Marshall Institute, and he co-founded its successor, the CO2 Coalition. He has also disclosed that Peabody Coal paid him to testify at a hearing of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

    A 2015 Greenpeace investigation exposed Happer’s willingness to work even more directly for fossil fuel companies. Corresponding over email with a Greenpeace staffer who was posing as an oil company consultant, Happer agreed to write about the alleged benefits of increased carbon emissions at the behest of a fictional Middle Eastern oil company and to not disclose the company's payment to his group, the CO2 Coalition.

    But Happer is no ordinary climate-denying, pay-for-play academic. His outrageous, false claims about climate science often include bizarre and inflammatory analogies. Here are a few of his most egregious comments.

    Happer compared climate scientists and activists to Nazis, fascists, and Salem witch trial judges

    Happer equated climate science with Nazi propaganda. In a 2009 interview with The Daily Princetonian, Happer asserted that climate scientists were spreading dehumanizing propaganda. He told the campus newspaper:

    This is George Orwell. This is the "Germans are the master race. The Jews are the scum of the earth." It’s that kind of propaganda.

    Happer compared the “demonization of carbon dioxide” to the demonization of Jews during the Holocaust. During a 2014 appearance on CNBC, Happer doubled down when he was asked about his 2009 comments to The Daily Princetonian:

    The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.

    He continued to make Nazi analogies, including one as recently as 2017. In an email cited in a Jezebel story, Happer wrote: 

    Demonization of CO2 and people like me who come to its defense is nothing to be proud of. It really differs little from the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies or ISIL slaughter of infidels.

    Happer said climate activism is like mass hysterias that have driven fascism, communism, and Prohibition. During a 2015 interview with Conversations That Matter, a webcast news show, Happer suggested that people concerned about climate change are in the grip of mass hysteria like those who drove the temperance movement in America and fascist and communist movements in Europe:

    It’s another one of these sort of mass hysterias that have gripped humanity since it began. In our country, in America, we had a sort of similar case of mass hysteria with Prohibition. There were a few cautious people who said, “Maybe, you know, Prohibition isn’t a good idea. You might increase organized crime, for example." Everything they said was right, and yet, you know, when the amendment for Prohibition was put to the vote, every state except one, Rhode Island, voted for Prohibition and not one of them intended to honor it. It was just what everybody else did. “How could you be in favor of demon rum?” You know, demon CO2. So these things happen. More sinister are these movements in Europe: the fascists, the communists. They were mass hysteria too.

    ...

    Any movement can be captured by thugs, and that’s what’s happened.

    Happer compared climate scientists to the judges who presided over the Salem witch trials. During a 2017 seminar given to chemistry students at UCLA, Happer referenced the Salem witch trials after a student asked him why he held views on climate change that are contrary to majority of the scientific community. According to the Daily Bruin, he said:

    At the Salem witch trials, every one of those judges had a Harvard degree. Scientific consensus is often wrong.

    Happer accused people of hyping climate change to "make a buck"

    Despite Happer's own well-documented financial ties to fossil fuel companies and interests, he has questioned the financial motives of people who are concerned about climate change. During a 2014 interview on Carolina Journal Radio, Happer explained that he thinks carbon began to be demonized as a pollutant because some people thought they could make money by doing so:

    I think it began to get legs in the '70s and '80s. There was an Academy of Science report in the '70s by [Jule] Charney, and then it got latched on by green politicians, Al Gore comes to mind, but there are many others. So people saw a way to make a buck in demonizing CO2, and that’s what’s happened.

    Happer argues that CO2 is not a pollutant, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary

    Happer’s long-espoused belief that increased CO2 in the atmosphere benefits humanity rather than harms it was neatly summarized in a 2012 opinion piece he published in The Wall Street Journal. He wrote:

    CO2 is not a pollutant. Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today. Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels, and because warming and other supposedly harmful effects of CO2 have been greatly exaggerated.

    In a 2017 interview with journalist Andrew Revkin, Happer insisted that there's no reason for "climate hysteria." Revkin asked him if he sees CO2 emissions as "a non-problem" and Happer replied:

    Absolutely. Not only a non-problem. I see the CO2 as good, you know. Let me be clear. I don’t think it’s a problem at all, I think it’s a good thing.

    In a 2018 video for Prager University, a right-wing propaganda outlet, Happer attacked climate science models as unpredictable while minimizing the role CO2 plays in global warming.

    Happer has no business leading a climate change panel

    Despite what Happer says, the science is clear: Human-caused CO2 emissions are the primary driver of climate change, climate change is already having negative effects in the U.S. and around the world, and its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years. This has been confirmed by recent major reports from teams of respected scientists at the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in the U.S. government.

    Happer’s eccentric and incorrect views on climate science should disqualify him from serving on the National Security Council, not to mention a White House panel on climate change. But as long as he provides Trump with cover to engage in climate denial and justify rollbacks of environmental protections, Happer will likely continue to have a loud voice in the Trump administration -- no matter how many ludicrous statements he utters.

  • Here are two big things that were wrong with climate change coverage in 2018  

    Major outlets reported too little on climate change driving extreme weather and too much on Trump, two analyses find

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Mainstream media are continuing two troubling trends in their coverage of climate change, a pair of new reports finds. In 2018, media outlets too often failed to connect extreme weather to climate change, according to an analysis from Public Citizen, a progressive consumer advocacy organization. And researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that when major outlets did cover climate change, their reporting was too focused on President Donald Trump.

    Public Citizen reviewed coverage of extreme weather events in 50 top U.S. newspapers, 32 online news sources, and major broadcast and cable television networks, analyzing how often that coverage made mention of climate change. Climate scientists have found that global warming is tied to more intense heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, as well as aberrant weather events like polar vortexes. But Public Citizen found that many news stories neglected to explain this connection:

    On the whole, the proportion of [extreme weather] pieces that mentioned climate change was disappointingly low. There was no climate-related form of extreme weather that the media connected to climate change in more than 35 percent of pieces. That high-water mark comes from articles discussing record drought. Extreme heat fared similarly, with 34 percent of pieces mentioning climate change. For hurricanes, the rate was just 7 percent.

    Public Citizen’s report notes that coverage of climate change's role in extreme weather was better in 2018 than in 2017, but many outlets continued to miss the mark. 

    When it came to reporting on heat waves, newspapers and TV networks both showed improvement -- they mentioned climate change more often in their heat-wave stories in 2018 than in 2017 -- but not nearly enough. Thirty-three percent of newspaper articles about record or extreme heat connected it to climate change, up from 28 percent in 2017. Television news programs made the connection in 22 percent of their segments, compared to 10 percent in 2017. (A Media Matters analysis of broadcast coverage of a record-breaking heat wave in North America last summer found even worse performance.)

    Coverage of wildfires also improved slightly in 2018, according to Public Citizen’s report. Top newspapers mentioned climate change in 29 percent of wildfire stories last year, compared to 19 percent in 2017. The online news outlets mentioned climate change in 28 percent of wildfire stories in 2018, up from 22 in 2017. And television networks connected wildfires to climate change in 21 percent of their segments last year, compared to 8 percent in 2017. Again, Media Matters documented even worse performance from broadcast TV news in connecting climate change to wildfires that happened last summer and in early November.

    Similar patterns emerged in reporting on other extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, flooding, and hurricanes: There was slight improvement, but as Public Citizen sums it up, "major news outlets fell short." 

    Researchers at CU-Boulder's International Collective on Environment, Culture & Politics documented a different problem with climate coverage in the U.S.: an obsessive focus on Trump. The collective's Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO), which tracks media coverage in dozens of countries, produced a report summarizing its findings from 2018. In the U.S., MeCCO monitored five major newspapers and six major TV networks.

    According to the research group, “Throughout the year (as in 2017) there has been continued prominence of news from US outlets on climate change or global warming associated with Donald J. Trump.” It found that the word “Trump” was used an average of nearly 4.5 times in each story about climate change, just slightly less than 2017’s average of 4.7 times. In fact, Trump was mentioned more than twice as often as the words "science," "scientific," or "scientist(s)." The result of this Trump-centric reporting was that “media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold,” according to MeCCO’s analysis. (Media Matters reached similar conclusions about climate journalism’s overemphasis on Trump in 2017 and 2018.)

    There were some bright spots in climate coverage in 2018. Public Citizen highlighted an editorial collaboration in Florida called The Invading Sea -- involving the Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post, the Sun-Sentinel, and public radio station WLRN -- that aims to increase awareness of sea-level rise and galvanize action to address it. The Public Citizen report also recognized great reporting by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

    Despite these positive developments, the two reports show that news outlets need to improve their climate journalism in 2019. They should stop chasing Trump's every tweet and instead provide sustained, substantive reporting that explains the nature of the climate challenge, connects extreme weather events to climate research, and amplifies solutions to climate-related problems.

  • Wash. Post health care newsletter repeats right-wing spin on abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Following an avalanche of right-wing media coverage attacking Democratic efforts to protect abortion access at the state level, more mainstream outlets have begun to pick up and promote this anti-choice misinformation. A recent notable example comes from The Washington Post’s health care newsletter, The Health 202, which pushed right-wing misinformation about state abortion measures, medical procedures for abortions later in pregnancy, and Democrats' support for abortion rights.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law that criminalized abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to allow abortions “when the fetus is not viable” or when there is a risk to the health of the pregnant person. Legislators in Virginia also introduced (and have since tabled) a bill in January that would eliminate some restrictions on abortion care, including reducing the number of doctors required to consent for a patient’s third-trimester abortion from three to one -- removing a medically unnecessary barrier to access.

    Right-wing media responded to these measures with a deluge of inaccurate coverage and extreme rhetoric, including claims that Democrats were endorsing “infanticide.” Right-wing media fearmongering has no basis in reality, but that didn’t stop President Donald Trump from repeating this fictitious talking point in his 2019 State of the Union address and at a recent rally in Texas, where he inaccurately characterized the Virginia measure as allowing providers to “execute the baby” after birth.

    Given the dangers of such extreme rhetoric for abortion providers and clinics, it’s important that media outlets not repeat these lies as if they were facts. But some outlets outside of the right-wing echo chamber did just that, repeating anti-abortion talking points and right-wing misinformation from the president’s State of the Union speech or promoting Trump’s lies in headlines and on social media without providing necessary context or refutation. Here’s how The Health 202 once again served as a conduit for right-wing and anti-abortion media's misinformation:

    The Health 202 newsletter did not push back on the right-wing lie that the New York and Virginia measures allow “infanticide”

    In the February 12 edition of the newsletter, The Health 202 repeated anti-choice allegations that the state measures would “allow the procedure up to the point of birth" and noted that Republicans are "characterizing those measures as permitting infanticide.” The Health 202 also uncritically quoted Trump’s State of the Union claim that the New York law would permit “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” an inaccurate talking point Trump previously made during a 2016 presidential debate and repeated to The Daily Caller in an interview before his 2019 address.

    Abortion “moments before birth” or those that could be called “infanticide” are not medical procedures that actually happen. As Forbes’ Tara Haelle explained in 2016, people who have abortions later in pregnancy “are seeking them before a pregnancy reaches full term but often and unfortunately after they have discovered in the second or third trimester some problem with the fetus or danger to the mother.” Personal accounts of third-trimester abortions (which occur after roughly 28 weeks of pregnancy) include stories of ending wanted pregnancies and making painful decisions about quality of life. Other accounts speak of the negative impact that anti-choice restrictions have on the ability to access an abortion, causing unnecessary and dangerous delays in receiving care.

    The Health 202 also inaccurately claimed that there is a lack of support for allowing access to later abortions

    The Health 202 also framed the manufactured right-wing controversy around state abortion measures as a “tricky” issue for Democrats ahead of the 2020 election because “Republicans see a political opening as, they argue, some states have passed laws out of sync with most Americans.” The newsletter also characterized third-trimester abortion as “a procedure that, while exceedingly rare, is nonetheless opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americans,” and further alleged that Democrats’ support for abortion is in opposition to “views held by the public, which generally supports abortion rights in the early but not late part of a woman's pregnancy.”

    In reality, accurate polling on abortion has always been notoriously difficult, and support for both abortion rights and anti-choice restrictions is heavily dependent on how certain questions are asked. As Tresa Undem, founder and partner at the public opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures used to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue, but getting reliable polling on abortion requires asking questions “in a more real and accurate way” that takes into account “how people actually experience abortion.”

    In other words, audiences report greater support for abortion access when polls use real-life examples. Specifically, polls show a drastic drop in support for later abortion bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study on the Zika virus found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus, “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” As Hart Research Associates found, “Once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them."

    The newsletter repeated right-wing media’s characterization of Democrats as extreme for supporting access to abortions later in pregnancy

    The February 12 edition of The Health 202 is framed around the right-wing media narrative that Democrats are “out of step with voters on [abortion] ahead of the 2020 elections.” To support this claim, The Health 202 relied on anti-choice misinformation and generalized polling on abortion detailed above.

    Right-wing media and even mainstream outlets continue to push the narrative that Democrats’ “extreme” views on abortions will cause them to lose voters. However, these claims not only mischaracterize those pushing for state abortion measures, but they also misrepresent broader public opinion. Suggestions that Democratic leaders should compromise or tone down their support for abortion rights are also unsupported by data. As PerryUndem found, “Just 8 percent of Democrats would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes abortion,” but “31 percent of Republicans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.” Undem told Vox, “By going after the 8 percent of Democrats who want a candidate who opposes abortion, the party risks losing the 71 percent of Democratic voters who want their candidates to support abortion rights.”

    The Health 202 failed to provide the full context on a story related to the New York law that right-wing media have been circulating to inaccurately fearmonger about state abortion measures

    In addition to repeating right-wing talking points, the February 12 edition of The Health 202 also fearmongered about a New York murder case being used to attack the state’s new abortion law. The newsletter mentioned that “an abortion charge was dropped in Queens against a man accused of fatally stabbing his 14-weeks-pregnant girlfriend,” which “reignited criticism by abortion foes who said the measure would eliminate criminal penalties for pregnancies lost due to violence.” The newsletter linked to a tweet from Dennis Poust, the director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, who said, “Thanks to the” new abortion law, “it’s open season on pregnant women in New York,” echoing comments about the case from national anti-abortion groups.

    This story has received plentiful coverage from right-wing media, but The Health 202 repeated it without providing the full context required to understand the specifics of the case or how it is being weaponized to spread misinformation about abortion. For example, The New York Timescoverage of the case clarified that “physical attacks that end pregnancies can be prosecuted as first-degree assault,” which carries a longer prison sentence than the charge of “unlawful abortion” under the old law. In addition, the Times reported that “Daniel R. Alonso, the former chief assistant prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said in an interview on Sunday that charging” the suspect with committing an unlawful abortion “would not have affected [a] potential sentence for murder, which supersedes an assault charge.” The Times also wrote that “Prosecutors rarely used the charge” before the enactment of the New York law “because it did not add anything to the prosecution of a case,” discrediting right-wing media’s weaponization of the case against New York’s new abortion protections.

    Once again, The Health 202 allowed right-wing media to frame the story through selective inclusion of quotes

    The Health 202 quoted at length from right-wing figures, all of whom perpetuated the right-wing narrative that Democrats are “extreme” on abortion. While the newsletter did feature quotes from three Democratic 2020 presidential candidates, it did not include any from the doctors, medical experts, or pro-choice advocates mentioned in the original reporting the newsletter linked to, who could have provided better context and more accurate framing of this important issue.

    This isn’t the first time The Health 202 has relied on selective quotes to carry water for anti-abortion and right-wing media talking points. The Health 202 has previously featured imbalanced coverage of abortion-related issues, giving anti-abortion groups an uncritical platform to spread misinformation outside of the right-wing media bubble. In some cases, anti-abortion groups have even touted their inclusion and prominent placement in The Health 202 as evidence that anti-abortion viewpoints are garnering wider mainstream media credibility and attention -- using the publication to give otherwise inaccurate commentary about abortion a veneer of credibility.

    As anti-abortion groups and right-wing media ramp up their efforts ahead of the 2020 elections, media outlets should not be serving as conduits for faulty rhetoric and inaccurate right-wing talking points.

  • Media outlets uncritically push Trump’s anti-abortion lies while reporting on the State of the Union

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s presidency has created a requirement for outlets to hold themselves accountable for managing his often false and inflammatory rhetoric, by including context and accurate information about his statements directly in headlines and tweets, as well as supplying details in reports. Trump’s inaccurate claims about abortion during the 2019 State of the Union were a prime opportunity for media to provide important context -- an opportunity that some outlets missed, instead promoting Trump’s lies uncritically though headlines and social media.

    During his address, Trump repeated talking points from a scandal manufactured by right-wing media alleging that Democrats support state bills supposedly legalizing “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In his speech, Trump said that a law in New York "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth," claimed a Virginia bill would allow providers to "execute a baby after birth,"and called on Congress "to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children." In reality, Democratic legislators in New York recently passed legislation to codify Roe v. Wade's abortion protections at the state level, and Virginia Democrats introduced a bill to remove unnecessary barriers to abortion access, which has since been tabled.

    Right-wing media have responded with an avalanche of inaccurate coverage and extreme rhetoric, including saying that abortions later in pregnancy are “murders” and that Democrats were endorsing “infanticide.” To be clear, neither of these claims has any basis in reality. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare and often performed for medical necessity or due to access barriers created by anti-choice politicians. Right-wing media’s characterization of these abortion procedures as happening “at birth” -- or in some cases, allegedly after -- is simply wrong; according to medical professionals, such a scenario “does not occur.” Indeed, as patients who have had abortions later in pregnancy wrote in an open letter: “The stories we hear being told about later abortion in this national discussion are not our stories. They do not reflect our choices or experiences.”

    Here are the some of the outlets that reported Trump’s comments on abortion without providing this necessary context:

    • ABC’s World News Tonight [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • NBC News [Twitter, 2/5/19]
    • The New York Times [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • PBS NewsHour [Twitter, 2/5/19]

  • 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. 

  • NY Times and AP botched their Trump fact checks with logical leaps.

    Punditry doesn’t have a place in fact-checking.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    “Fact-checkers prepare for their version of the Super Bowl,” said Jake Tapper, hours before President Donald Trump would take over network airwaves around the country for a speech urging Congress to approve funding for a border wall, one of his core campaign promises.

    The short speech, read from a teleprompter in the Oval Office, showed a different side of Trump. Straying from his tactic of peppering his words with wild exaggerations, ad-libs, and lies, he spoke like a more conventional politician. That is to say that yes, he still lied -- a lot -- but he incorporated some facts into those lies, referencing semirelated data to support his argument. If it was fact-checkers’ Super Bowl, it wasn’t a terribly exciting game. There were a few highlights, however.

    Toronto Star Washington Bureau Chief Daniel Dale is known for his quick and thorough fact checks of Trump’s rally speeches, tweets, and other public statements. In a recap of the address posted Tuesday night, Dale laid out a few of the immediate factual issues spotted within the speech:

    Among other things, Trump falsely claimed Democrats had asked him to build a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall (an alternative he came up with himself), falsely claimed a wall would be “indirectly” funded through his revised NAFTA deal (which has not been approved by Congress and could not fund a wall), falsely said Democrats would not pony up for “border security” (they have offered to pay for various security measures, just not a wall), and misleadingly suggested a wall would be a significant obstacle to smuggled heroin (most of which comes through legal ports of entry).

    Trump used a series of figures to make his argument that the country is facing a “humanitarian crisis” that can be solved only by building, among other things, a wall along the southern border of the U.S. The issue was that those numbers didn’t actually support the argument being made.

    For instance, he claimed, “Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.” That’s true, but according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the majority of those drugs are being trafficked through existing ports of entry and not areas that would be affected by the creation of a wall. Fact-checking that statement requires nuance, and for the most part, the fact-checkers at news organizations like the The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others did the claim justice in not rating it outright true or false.

    Other statements, however, were more clear-cut, like when Trump claimed, “The wall will also be paid for, indirectly, by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.” The trade deal hasn’t yet been ratified by Congress, and there’s no wall-repayment fund or mechanism in place. The claim is false, as was his statement that the wall will be made out of steel and not concrete “at the request of Democrats.” The party’s opposition to the structure has nothing to do with building materials, but with its existence itself. Once again, fact-checkers were, generally speaking, straightforward in the response to these claims.

    In fact-checking the response from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, however, journalists took liberties in determining what can be checked.

    At 10:20 p.m.  Eastern Standard Time, the New York Times Twitter account posted a “fact check” of one of Schumer’s statements. Schumer said, “No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage.”

    On its face, this statement, offering Schumer’s opinion on what a president should or should not do, isn’t exactly something one can verify. The Times seemingly took issue with the claim that “millions” of Americans would be hurt by the shutdown, but that is very clearly an accurate statement. There are roughly 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown, but when you factor in their families, as well as local economies and people who rely on government services that could be disrupted during an extended shutdown period, the number very easily reaches into the millions -- much of which the paper acknowledges in its "fact check." Even so, the Times rated the claim as “This needs context.”

    Roughly an hour later, the Associated Press Politics account tweeted that Democratic lawmakers blaming Trump for the shutdown aren’t being entirely truthful because the shutdown could come to an end if they would cave to his demands.

    During a December 11 meeting with Schumer and Pelosi, Trump took full responsibility for a potential shutdown, saying that he was “proud to shut down the government for border security,” and adding, “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down — I’m not going to blame you for it.” Even at the time, the Democratic leaders had been clear on their position: They would not put forward a package that included funding for Trump’s wall. To say “it takes two to tango” without acknowledging that Trump had already taken full responsibility (which he later tried to walk back) for the shutdown, or noting that both chambers of Congress were in Republican control when the government shut down, is factually wrong. More than that, it’s an editorialization, something that really doesn’t have a place in fact checks.

    In a statement to Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple, an Associated Press spokesperson clarified that the tweet was meant to highlight that "Democrats have refused to accede to President Trump's demands." It's not really clear whether that's any better.

    Editorialization and fact-checking’s unclear mission pose threats to the genre of fact-checking.

    In an ideal world, fact checks would probably simply be part of standard journalism and not a subgenre unto themselves. Fact checks can have benefit as standalone works, but too often they stray from the dry, straightforward approach that makes a good fact check easy to digest in a few quick glances. “It takes two to tango” probably doesn’t have a place in the fact-checking lexicon, if we’re all being honest with ourselves.

    “The fact-checking genre is fine and useful in certain circumstances but it is *woefully* under-theorized as an undertaking, which leads it into all kinds of weird, shoddy, and dubious territory,” tweeted MSNBC host Chris Hayes following the speech.

    Dale responded, suggesting that things like the AP and Times “checks” may be fine if published under a different label:

    I think this particular issue could be addressed with better labeling - calling these ones something else. Like, it’s useful for the AP or others to explain the facts of this dispute, helping people understand the blame game. But that’s just not a “fact check.”

    Fact-check people should ask, “is this a strict assertion of fact?” And then fact-check the Yes ones, and then if they still want to delve into the No ones, it should be under a different heading. I agree it’s bad when they try to “fact-check” subjective claims.

    In a 2013 column in the Columbia Journalism Review, Brendan Nyhan warned of fact-checkers whose personal political ideologies turn their work from a demonstration of proof into outright punditry. Nyhan’s article highlighted the messiness of the process and the importance of being able to separate the semantic from the factual and of eschewing unnecessary adjectives. “Factchecking is an inherently subjective enterprise; the divide between fact and opinion is often messy and difficult to parse,” he writes.

  • Media coverage of the 2016 election was a disaster. In the new year, reporters should resolve to do better.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    For all the recent focus on the social media campaigns Russia waged during the 2016 election, it’s surprising that more attention hasn’t been paid to what was arguably a much more effective aspect of the influence operation: the hacking and release of Democratic National Committee emails.

    In one high-profile 2016 media postmortem, The New York Times came to a startling conclusion. “Every major publication, including The Times, published multiple stories citing the D.N.C. and [Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta emails posted by WikiLeaks, becoming a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence,” the paper wrote.

    In fact, the emails were a media obsession, driven by bad habits the press has adopted in recent years. As coverage of the 2020 campaign begins, we look back at what went wrong in 2016 and how reporters can resolve to do better in the new year.


    During the final five weeks of the 2016 campaign, evening and prime-time cable news aired nearly 250 segments about the DNC and Podesta emails. Broadcast TV news didn’t fare so well, either, running 25 segments. Five of the country’s top newspapers (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post) published a combined 96 articles on the topic during that same span. Though President Donald Trump insists that the emails had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election -- which isn’t exactly quantifiable either way -- it’s worth noting that he thought they were enough of a selling point that he mentioned them 164 times during the final month of the campaign.

    Writing at The Week in November 2016, Lili Loofbourow explained how Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were able to “hijack” U.S. media by extending the email news cycle for weeks on end:

    If you're in possession of sensitive documents you want to leak, and you want to inflict maximal damage on a candidate, the recipe for injuring their campaign is obvious: Don't let the "wound" close. Keep dripping out emails, knowing perfectly well that a) the media will report that a new batch of emails has been leaked, and b) that very few people will actually take the trouble to read them, but will notice that time is not healing the thing, and the bleeding continues, cycle after cycle after cycle.

    The damage, however, was extraordinary. WikiLeaks' slow-release approach forced journalists to cover each batch as new "revelations," even when there wasn't much to actually cover. Having learned through bitter experience that few Americans would bother to actually read them, WikiLeaks sprinkled emails into the news cycle and gave Americans the impression of a campaign wound so deep it couldn't heal. While Donald Trump rapid-cycled through scandals that seemed not to stick because they were so quickly displaced by fresh ones, "the emails" lingered in the public eye.

    The only reason Assange’s curated, slow-burn release strategy worked to its intended effect was that American media were eager to lap up the new information, reporting the anodyne as well as the legitimately newsworthy. This created a cloud of suggested scandal which hovered through Election Day.

    If news organizations fail to honestly evaluate their flaws and implement changes ahead of 2020, they’ll be responsible for the spread of more misinformation.

    Self-criticism is difficult, but it is also necessary. On December 15, 2016, two days after the aforementioned Times report, the paper published another article on the emails, but this one collected quotes from editors across the country defending the coverage.

    New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet is quoted:

    “I get the argument that the standards should be different if the stuff is stolen and that should influence the decision,’’ he said in an interview. “But in the end, I think that we have an obligation to report what we can about important people and important events. There’s just no question that the email exchanges inside the Democratic Party were newsworthy.”

    Setting aside the question of whether it’s ethical to publish information illegally obtained by a hostile foreign power -- there are certainly strong arguments to be made on both sides -- there’s the bigger question of how media should cover that material and what qualifies as newsworthy. Sometimes a risotto recipe is just a risotto recipe, you know?

    In the case of the DNC emails, the mere existence of leaked emails was treated as a scandal in itself. For the most part, the emails were the kinds of things you might find if you could scroll through any large organization’s communications: petty arguments, office politics, the airing of personal grievances, and so on. While some revealed small-scale scandals, such as Democratic strategist Donna Brazile sharing topics to be covered at a CNN town hall with the Clinton campaign, most of it just didn’t live up to the hype -- and oh, there was a lot of hype.

    On Twitter, WikiLeaks would often publish out-of-context information intended to make it seem as though something nefarious was happening behind the scenes at the DNC. Yes, the emails were real, but they often didn’t say what WikiLeaks suggested they did. 

    Hindsight is always 20/20, at least eventually.

    In July 2018, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple checked back in on the subject of email coverage, interviewing news outlets about “whether they regretted reporting on the email leaks.” With a bit more distance from the election, there was room for a more honest and less defensive evaluation from media executives. One quote from his article that caught my eye came from the Times’ Baquet. The contrast between this and his December 2016 opinion was stark. Here’s what he said (emphasis mine):

    First off, we didn’t know then what we know now. Obviously the origins of the emails are a far bigger story than what was contained in them. But we didn’t know that at the time.

    The stories that came from the emails were newsworthy. Not only Donna Brazile’s question sharing, but the details of Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street, speeches she had declined to make public. Imagine if we had chosen not to publish those emails at the time, interesting details about a presidential candidate in the middle of an election. That would have been a political act. Of course one cringes reading the details of the indictment. But one of the imperfections of journalism is that you have to publish based on what you know at the time.

    Baquet’s acknowledgement is important, but it still doesn’t suggest that he’d have done anything different at the time, leaving me wondering what will happen during future elections -- especially given the state of the media industry today.

    The press serves an important role in democracy, but industry conditions have made that increasingly difficult.

    While the handling of hacked emails was probably the most glaring mistake in 2016 election coverage, it was far from the only shortcoming in political media. For that, we may have the industry and its business model to blame.

    According to Pew Research, more than one-third of U.S. newspapers laid off journalists between January 2017 and April 2018. In that same span, nearly one-quarter of the top digital news organizations did the same. Between 2008 and 2017, total newsroom employment has ticked down 23 percent, from 114,000 to 88,000 employees nationwide. It’s an industry in crisis, facing mounting struggles when it comes to monetizing its work. Staying afloat increasingly relies on traffic driven by social media, which means trying to game the various algorithms. Those algorithms tend to reward the emotionally charged and sensational, but not necessarily the true. As they adapted to survive, news outlets developed some extremely bad habits. Let’s resolve to break them now, especially as 2020 election coverage begins.

    To break bad habits, we must first acknowledge what they are. Below, I’ve listed a few examples of common mistakes that journalists and news consumers alike should be able to easily identify:

    • Leave outrage bait behind. If the only reason you’re saying something is that you think you’ll get a reaction out of others, or if you have to pull something so far out of context that it doesn’t even resemble the truth, you’re not really saying much at all.
    • Avoid bad polling. If you ever see a poll that just happens to confirm your beliefs a little too much, take a second and look at the methodology. Who was polled? What was the polling method? Is it an outlier? How were the questions phrased? Bad polling goes hand-in-hand with the previous point about outrage bait. For instance, a recent poll suggested that there are people clamoring for a “gender-neutral Santa.” You may be shocked to learn that’s not the case, and that a single survey offered a multiple choice question about how you would modify Santa if you had to “modernize” him (such as giving him an iPhone, tattoos, making him skinnier, restyling his hair, and so on). There were also headlines claiming a poll shows 40 percent of college students are anti-free speech, and pieces about a bizarre poll that might not actually exist showing Kid Rock leading in a hypothetical election against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
    • Bring back boring (and accurate) headlines. You have 280 characters on Twitter -- use them! The overwhelming majority of people who see a tweet or a headline will not click on it, but they may remember what it said. That’s why it’s so important to add necessary context. If you have to mislead readers to increase the number of clicks you receive, you’re probably not telling a very interesting story to begin with.
    • Avoid rhetorical empty calories. If you find yourself using ambiguous buzzwords like “political correctness” or “identity politics,” consider swapping in another word or phrase to help make your point more clear to your audience. NPR recently combined bad polling and rhetorical empty calories when it asked respondents whether they consider political correctness a problem. Without defining the term, which is almost always used in a negative connotation, people unsurprisingly responded that yes, they did think political correctness was an issue.
    • Not every local story or minor controversy needs to be blown up into a national news story. Did a couple of radio stations decide not to play “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in December? Sure. Is that a sign of some gigantic national trend worthy of our anger and outrage? Absolutely not. Keep an eye out for “trend” stories that seem to be based on just a handful of incidents.
    • Remember that pundits aren’t representative of all people. People who get paid to talk about politics on TV (or at least invited to do so on a regular basis) tend to be there because they are, first and foremost, at least somewhat entertaining to watch. After all, what’s the fun in watching two people discuss the nuances of policy when you could draw more viewers by broadcasting a nightly shouting match between two people on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum?
    • Conduct challenging, even confrontational, interviews. Reporters are tuned into political media, but a lot of readers might not be. Catching a clip of a congressional candidate on the local news or listening to someone explain the details of a policy proposal on a Sunday morning talk show might be some of the only background consumers get, so make it count! If someone tells a lie, correct them; if the interviewee veers off topic, steer the conversation back as quickly as you can.

    One month after the 2016 election, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center released an analysis of campaign coverage. For people actually interested in learning about policy differences between candidates, the findings were especially disappointing. Forty-two percent of news stories from mid-August onward were dedicated to horserace-style coverage and punditry, and 17 percent centered on controversies. Just 10 percent were about policy, 4 percent on personal traits, and 3 percent devoted to the candidates’ leadership and experience qualifications.

    “The car wreck that was the 2016 election had many drivers. Journalists were not alone in the car, but their fingerprints were all over the wheel,” reads one of the report’s most memorable lines. That needs to change.

  • 2018 was marked by anti-abortion extremism, lies, and harassment

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion figures and right-wing media continued to push misinformation about reproductive health in 2018 and tried to insert abortion into nearly every major news story -- no matter how tenuous the connection. The past year also included ample efforts by anti-choice groups to influence federal policy under President Donald Trump, as well as several anti-abortion acts of harassment and violence. Here are some lowlights of anti-abortion extremism this year:

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media attempted to distract from various news stories by drawing inaccurate comparisons to or blaming abortion

    As the Trump presidency entered its second year, right-wing and anti-abortion media attempted to deflect from the administration’s various crises by drawing ridiculous comparisons to reproductive rights or blaming abortion.

    Parkland shooting and the gun-control debate


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • After a February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan compared the debate around gun violence prevention policies to calls from the anti-abortion movement to restrict access to abortions after 20 weeks. Noonan argued that lawmakers should “trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure. In both cases the lives of children would be saved.”
    • LifeNews.com’s Steven Ertelt tweeted:
    • During a February 22 appearance on Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, Townhall's Guy Benson talked about the supposed media bias of outlets reporting on the NRA’s political donations but not covering donations from Planned Parenthood’s political arm.
    • Writing for Townhall, conservative blogger Erick Erickson also compared Planned Parenthood to the NRA, saying that “elite opinion makers in America champion Planned Parenthood, which actually does kill thousands of children each year, while savaging the National Rifle Association, which has never killed a child and whose members have actually saved others' lives.”
    • On the March 1 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson asked Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), “What would drive a 19-year-old to want to murder strangers?” In response, Duffy partly blamed abortion, saying, “We dehumanize life in those video games and in those movies, and with abortion.”
    • During the March 2 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham claimed that people should be angier about Planned Parenthood performing abortions than about the role that the NRA plays in facilitating easier access to firearms. Ingraham stated, “If we're going to judge people based on an organization’s blood spilled, well, I hope Planned Parenthood is going to lose all of its partnerships or affiliations given the fact that we have about 57 million babies who never got to see the light of day.”
    • During the March 4 edition of Fox News’ Fox and Friends Weekend, conservative radio host Kathy Barnette said that although the Parkland shooter “killed 17 little souls on that day, but Planned Parenthood kills over 800 babies on a daily basis, and where is the moral outrage on that?”

    Family separation policy


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • On the June 18 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the U.S. border, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted:
    • On Westwood One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children” after Trump’s family separation policy went into effect. Levin went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by alleging that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”
    • An article on the website for CRTV’s Louder with Crowder claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor posted this since-deleted tweet:

    Confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • On September 16, The Washington Post published an exclusive interview with Christine Blasey Ford, sharing her previously anonymous account of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. On September 17, Erick Erickson wrote a post claiming that "the left" was amplifying her account as a tactic to keep abortion legal: “This entire thing is about the right to kill kids, not about the veracity of the accusation.” He continued, “The left is perfectly willing to destroy a man's reputation in order to keep destroying children,” adding that Democrats would use an “uncorroborated, single sourced, 35 year old claim … to protect the right to kill girls in utero.”
    • During the September 17 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson made a similar argument, claiming that Ford’s report came out only because Kavanaugh would likely be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade?” he asked. “Of course it wouldn't have. … Whatever the story is, it's not about protecting women. Don't buy that spin.”
    • From the Washington Examiner:

    • Micaiah Bilger, who writes for anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com, tweeted at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund account: “If allegations are enough to disqualify someone from something, shouldn't all the allegations against you, Planned Parenthood, disqualify you from getting half a billion of our tax dollars every year?”
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue tweeted a link to a bizarre website that claimed Ford’s account was politically motivated because of the potential impact Kavanaugh’s confirmation would have on the production of a so-called abortion pill. This is a false claim attempting to conflate her research for a pharmaceutical company that developed mifepristone to treat hyperglycemia related to Cushing's syndrome with pills used in medication abortions:
    • On Fox & Friends, Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera said that Ford’s motivation was “all about abortion” because “Kavanaugh is a pro-life guy and this is what it's all about.”
    • Right-wing site RedState argued: “The whole reason Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in the crosshairs of a sexual assault allegation ... is because the left is 100 percent focused on making sure their ability to abort children and profit from it goes uninterrupted.”
    • Religious news site The Stream wrote, “The anti-Kavanaughs — i.e. the Left, the Democrats — could not care less whether he’s innocent or guilty.” Rather, “this is about abortion. It’s about the larger sexual ideology as well, but abortion first and foremost,” because “abortion is both sacrament and god” to those groups.

    Some right-wing media and anti-abortion groups pushed extremist narratives or engaged in harassment

    Harassment, extremism, and violence are not new tactics to the anti-abortion movement. But 2018 featured some particularly notable instances when anti-abortion groups and right-wing media engaged in perpetuating harmful misinformation, conspiracy theories, and extreme narratives about abortion, or fueled anti-abortion harassment:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • In January, the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue started signal-boosting a series of posts targeting Planned Parenthood originating from a far-right message board on 8chan as the organization began delving into the QAnon conspiracy theory. The group leaders Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter having served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- further slid into full embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory over the course of the year.
    • The founders of a group connected to Operation Rescue, Abortion Free New Mexico, also started promoting QAnon-related conspiracies, which the outlet New Mexico Political Report called “a concerning shift in focus and organizing, contradicting their stated goals of non-violence and inclusive outreach.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • In March, National Review writer Kevin Williamson was hired by The Atlantic even though Williamson had previously expressed misogynistic and homophobic viewpoints. Among these was his statement that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.” After initially defending Williamson’s hiring as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced in April that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s doubling down on his argument that those who have had abortions should be hanged -- made in a podcast uncovered by Media Matters the day before Williamson’s firing -- “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”
    • On June 1, right-wing outlet Infowars livestreamed a protest at a Planned Parenthood clinic the day after the anniversary of the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. This stunt continued a long line of right-wing media fostering or encouraging anti-abortion harassment, including the 2015 Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter who had a penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars.
    • In November, right-wing media and anti-abortion figures had a tantrum over what they called a "horrible new ad” attributed to Planned Parenthood -- despite the so-called ad actually being a 2015 video from a political action committee, not Planned Parenthood. However, as conservative figures continued to express disgust, people on social media started to make threats of violence against the health care organization citing shares of the 2015 video online.

    Right-wing media celebrated the Supreme Court giving a boost to anti-abortion fake health clinics

    Fake health clinics (also known as anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers) engage in deception and manipulation in their advertising and interactions with clients with the goal of stopping that person from accessing an abortion. This year, fake health clinics were front and center at the Supreme Court in a case called National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the NIFLA, stopping the implementation of a California law designed to deter some of the manipulative practices of these fake health clinics. Right-wing media celebrated the decision as a “win” for free speech:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • National Review’s editors lamented that the vote was only 5-4, writing that it “should not have been a narrow one,” and that the closeness occurred because “four of the Court’s justices were so hell-bent on promoting the manufactured right to abortion that they were prepared to jettison” the right to free speech. The editors called the California law “an obvious and malicious violation of the First Amendment” and argued that it was “perhaps the best example of the rapidly growing extremism of the abortion-rights movement.”
    • National Review's Alexandra DeSanctis:
    • The Catholic Association’s Andrea Picciotti-Bayer wrote an op-ed for Fox News arguing that the decision “vindicates women and the pregnancy centers who help them” because “the most important service found at a pregnancy center is caring.”
    • In a Newsmax article titled “SCOTUS Gives America a Free Speech, Pro-Life Birthday Gift,” Priests for Life National Director Frank Pavone celebrated the NIFLA decision as “a victory to the fundamental rights which America promised to guarantee at its inception.”
    • Alliance Defending Freedom’s Jessica Prol Smith wrote for The Federalist that "even Americans who call themselves ‘pro choice’ can celebrate this court’s decision to protect authentic options and protect freedom for a woman to choose motherhood.”

    Anti-abortion groups continued to push misinformation about abortion and to allege that they were being censored to rally support and raise money

    Anti-abortion groups continued to promote misinformation on reproductive rights and to use claims that they were being censored by social media companies and news outlets as a tactic to rally support and raise money:


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • In honor of the annual anti-abortion rally the March for Life, right-wing outlets published several articles claiming that the anti-choice movement has science on its side. For example, Fox News’ opinion page published an article by Lauren DeBellis Appell about the March for Life that praised the anti-abortion movement and said it was “winning” in the United States because of technological advancements, including ultrasounds. Christianity Today similarly quoted Denise Harle, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, as saying that “science and technology are on our side” specifically in the context of the myth that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. As The Atlantic noted in a January 18 piece, the anti-abortion movement’s embrace of science could be seen as a “dramatic reversal” because “pro-choice activists have long claimed science for their own side.” Demonstrating support for this view among anti-abortion groups, the January 18 article was picked up by organizations such as the March for Life, Democrats for Life, and the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The March for Life rally adopted the idea that “pro-life is pro-science” as part of its official theme for 2019.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSiteNews, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSiteNews pleaded to its readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.
    • Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress in April 2018, anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then asked supporters to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites!”
    • On October 24, SBA List tweeted that Facebook was “censoring” the organization because it had pulled two of its 2018 midterm elections ads which urged people to “vote pro-life” and to oppose a candidate who allegedly “supports painful late-term abortions.” After the ads were pulled, the group sent out a fundraising email asking people to “Please RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.” SBA List also tweeted that “deleting these ads just weeks before the midterm elections advances the pro-abortion argument" and again claimed that “censoring a #prolife ad that respectfully exposes the brutality of late abortions” meant that Facebook was “publicly taking a stand that they SUPPORT painful late-term abortions of VIABLE children.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights, but the network’s coverage was wrong 77 percent of the time about four common abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures.
    • On One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler frequently alleged that liberals were ignoring right-wing anti-abortion conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood misusing federal funds, supposedly promoting abortion for profit, or engaging in the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors.

    Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services continued to be a hot bed for anti-abortion groups and misinformation

    Last year, Media Matters documented how Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was filled with appointees promoting anti-choice “alternative science” about contraception and abortion. While some of those people have moved to other areas of the administration or just moved on, Trump’s HHS has continued to employ and promote the work of anti-abortion movement darlings in 2018:

    • In January, Politico reported that people like Roger Severino, the head of the Office of Civil Rights in HHS, and Shannon Royce, the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, are part of “a small cadre of politically prominent religious activists inside” HHS who “have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care — a strategy that's taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise.” Royce used to be chief of staff and chief operations officer at the anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council and had previously promoted harmful “ex-gay” conversion therapy.
    • Scott Lloyd became known for denying abortion care to unaccompanied immigrant teens in his custody as the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lloyd left his position at ORR in November, but he still works with HHS as part of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives and is also planning to write an anti-abortion book. Before his move, Lloyd had reportedly inquired whether a teenager in HHS custody could have her abortion “reversed,” an anti-abortion scam that is not based in science. According to The New York Times, Lloyd also kept a weekly spreadsheet of the “unaccompanied minors who have asked” for an abortion, with information about “how far along” their pregnancy was during his time at ORR. Lloyd was also responsible for slowing down the release of detained children under Trump’s family separation policy as he decided “to personally review requests” for “hundreds of kids.” This resulted in detained children spending “extra time in the jail-like facilities, which have been associated with far more allegations of abuse and mistreatment than the shelters and homestays that hold most of the children in ORR custody.”
    • In May 2018, Diana Foley became deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs, which oversees the Title X family planning program. As Rewire.News noted, Foley had “served as the president and CEO of Life Network, which, according to its website, promotes ‘life-affirming alternatives to abortion’ and operates two anti-choice clinics.” Beyond this, Foley had also given a 2016 presentation in which she expressed support for the discredited idea that people pathologically experience emotional and physical difficulties as a direct result of having an abortion.
    • In 2018, Steven Valentine became the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. As Rewire.News reported, Valentine served as SBA List’s interim legislative director where he actively worked to draft and pass anti-abortion legislation. His brother Billy Valentine still works for SBA List as the organization’s vice president of public policy.
    • Before Matthew Bowman became deputy general counsel at HHS in 2018, he worked for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as part of the organization’s team “litigating some of ADF’s most prominent religious imposition cases.” Rewire.News wrote that during these cases, “Bowman repeatedly promoted the false claim that intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives cause abortions. His distaste for ensuring access to contraceptives extended to writing a January 2015 post for the conservative site TownHall.com with the headline: ‘How the contraception mandate may spread measles.’”

    Anti-abortion violence and harassment continued against abortion providers and clinics

    Every year, the National Abortion Federation releases a report documenting the previous years’ incidents of anti-abortion harassment and violence against providers, patients, and clinics. This year’s report found that “trespassing more than tripled, death threats/threats of harm nearly doubled, and incidents of obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to more than 1,700 in 2017. We also continued to see an increase in targeted hate mail/harassing phone calls, and clinic invasions, and had the first attempted bombing in many years.” The harassment of abortion providers, clinics, and supporters continued in 2018:


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • In February, a man crashed a stolen vehicle into a Planned Parenthood in New Jersey “injuring a pregnant woman and two others.” According to prosecutors, the man had begun “researching the locations of Planned Parenthood clinics more than a year before.” He was later charged with terrorism, but pleaded not guilty.
    • Flip Benham, the former head of anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America, was arrested in North Carolina and “charged with communicating threats” outside of a clinic in Charlotte, according to The Charlotte Observer.
    • In March, a man in West Virginia was “charged with making threats on Facebook against the Pittsburgh office of Planned Parenthood,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before the alleged threats, he had written on Facebook “that his girlfriend got an abortion against his wishes in 2010. He said he found out who the clinicians were who aborted his child and said he knew five houses where he could steal an AR-15.”
    • A man suspected of setting off a series of bombs in Austin, TX, was reported to have “previously wrote online that he was opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.”
    • A Planned Parenthood in San Diego was vandalized twice in six weeks.
    • In April, a man who crashed his car into barriers outside of a Planned Parenthood in Seattle was “charged for the assault and the damage but not for targeting the provider of women’s health services,” though he told police in an interview, “Damn right … I blew up Planned Parenthood...Blew Planned Parenthood the fuck up.”
    • A man in New Hampshire pleaded guilty “to leaving a 9 mm bullet at a Beverly medical office where his girlfriend had just terminated a pregnancy.” He told police, “I left the bullet there because they killed my baby."
    • A Planned Parenthood clinic in California closed because a partner organization “received ‘hostile communications’ from anti-Planned Parenthood activists.”
    • Abortion clinics in California and Iowa sustained property damage from targeted actions. In July, a Planned Parenthood in California was set on fire and caused “moderate damage” before being put out. In September, a man was arrested “after allegedly grabbing a log and throwing it at a window of an abortion clinic” in Iowa.
    • A man who was a “self-proclaimed misogynist,” according to BuzzFeed News, killed two women at a yoga studio in Florida in November. In a series of videos he had posted in the years before the attack, “he said that he resented having to subsidize as a taxpayer ‘the casual sex lives of slutty girls’ through the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions.”
    • In December, a man was charged with threatening “to murder a United States official” after he left death threats in a voicemail with an unidentified female U.S. Senator’s office. According to Newsweek, the man “became ‘very angry’ after watching online video clips of the senator discussing reproductive rights and criticizing Trump.”
  • 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.

  • The media are still talking about the National Climate Assessment, and for that we can thank climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Right-wingers' efforts to derail media coverage of the National Climate Assessment backfired not once but twice.

    First, the Trump administration tried to bury the National Climate Assessment by releasing it on Black Friday, but that tactic bombed. It turns out that "Trump tries to bury a new climate report" is a much sexier headline than "Scientists release a new climate report."

    Then, climate deniers fanned out on TV networks to spread lies and deceptive talking about the report, but they got far more criticism than they expected, and that criticism kept climate change in the news.

    Overall the report got loads of media coverage in the days after it was released. The quality was decidedly mixed -- some of it was good, some of it was awful -- but the good coverage appears to have outweighed the bad.

    The good

    At least 140 newspapers around the country featured the National Climate Assessment on their front pages the morning after it was released, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That included not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have strong teams of climate reporters, but also smaller papers all around the U.S., including 20 of them in California. A number of the papers highlighted the ways that climate change is hitting their regions, like the Portland Press Herald in Maine:

    MSNBC aired some strong segments. In one, host Ali Velshi mocked President Donald Trump's claim that his “gut” told him the report is wrong. He then interviewed climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a co-author of the assessment, who explained the report's findings and how scientists arrived at them. 

    CNN served up some highly problematic coverage -- more on that below -- but it also did some good interviews with climate scientists about the report, as well as three senators who are serious about addressing the climate crisis. And CNN took a novel approach to real-time fact-checking when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about the report during a press briefing. The network showed live video of Sanders, but paired it alongside a text bar labeled "Facts First" that corrected some of her false claims:

    All of the Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the report on the weekend after it was released. It was the first time in 2018 that every one of them addressed climate change on the same day. They rarely cover climate change at all.

    The bad

    Unfortunately, we would have been better off without some of that Sunday show coverage -- particularly the segments that gave airtime to rabid climate deniers. One of the worst ran on NBC's Meet the Press and featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers. She trotted out a favorite climate denier line -- "I'm not a scientist" -- and then proceeded to spout pure nonsense about how the globe is getting cooler.

    Egregious drivel about climate change also cropped up on CNN's State of the Union, which asked not one but two climate deniers to weigh in on the report. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) offered bland, lukewarm climate denial: "Our climate always changes and we see those ebb-and-flows through time." Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) one-upped Ernst by going all in for scalding-hot climate denial, praising the Trump team’s attempt to bury the report and claiming that the scientists who wrote it were “driven by the money":

    Santorum was roundly mocked on Twitter for making such a completely bogus claim. You might have thought that this would discourage other climate deniers from following suit, or at least discourage CNN from giving them a platform. You would have been wrong.

    The following Monday, CNN hosted two more right-wingers who made the same ridiculous claim that climate scientists were in it for the money: Tom DeLay, who resigned as Republican House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, and Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving “economist” who's worked for Koch-funded groups.

    The next day, on Tuesday morning, CNN seemed like it might be trying to redeem itself. It ran one segment in which CNN political analyst John Avlon fact-checked and thoroughly debunked the claim that scientists are getting rich by studying climate change, and another in which climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained that she and the other co-authors of the National Climate Assessment were paid "zero dollars" for their efforts.

    But a few hours later, the bonkers claims were back. CNN yet again invited both Santorum and Moore to repeat the warmed-over lie that scientists are driven by a multi-billion-dollar climate change industry that has manufactured a false crisis. Santorum presented this ludicrous falsehood and many others in a panel discussion on Anderson Cooper 360°. Cooper had interviewed Hayhoe for that same episode, but her interview got bumped and was only posted online, while the segment with Santorum’s false claims aired during prime time.

    Oh, and CNN also failed to note that Santorum, Moore, and DeLay have all received copious amounts of cash themselves from the fossil fuel industry.

    The backlash

    Other media outlets bashed CNN and NBC for featuring climate deniers, and that led to still more coverage of climate change and the National Climate Assessment, most of which was good.

    The New York Times published a fact-checking piece titled, "The Baseless Claim That Climate Scientists Are ‘Driven’ by Money," which cited and debunked statements made by Santorum and DeLay. PunditFact, a project of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, looked into Pletka's claims and labeled them "false."

    New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg published a story titled "News Networks Fall Short on Climate Story as Dolphins Die on the Beach," which highlighted the false claims made by Pletka and Santorum and put them in the context of climate change impacts in Florida. The Washington Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted out Rutenberg's story.

    Climate scientist Hayhoe published an op-ed in The Washington Post that debunked the myths propagated on CNN by Santorum and DeLay, among others.

    WNYC's On the Media hosted yours truly in a discussion about coverage of the National Climate Assessment, including the problem of featuring climate deniers on air.

    Politico's Morning Media daily newsletter, written by media reporter Michael Calderone, highlighted problems with press coverage of the National Climate Assessment on four different occasions after the report came out.

    ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd was just one of many influential media figures who tweeted their disapproval of segments that featured climate deniers:

    The fact that some members of the media screwed up their coverage so royally meant that other members of the media kept reporting on the story longer than they might have otherwise.

    Fox opts for footwear coverage

    Meanwhile, the folks over at Trump's favorite network were living in their own universe, as usual. Fox News gave the National Climate Assessment very little airtime. A few straight-news segments covered it, but the most popular Fox shows didn't. CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out that on the day of the report's release, Fox spent more time discussing the shoes of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) than it did discussing climate change.

    Considering what Fox's top personalities would have been likely to say about the report had they bothered to cover it, it's probably just as well that they stayed mum.

  • On WNYC's On the Media, Lisa Hymas explains what the press got right and wrong in covering the National Climate Assessment

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Lisa Hymas, director of Media Matters' climate and energy program, went on On the Media to discuss coverage of the National Climate Assessment -- the good coverage as well as the problems that cropped up on the Sunday morning political talk shows and CNN.

    From the November 30 edition of WNYC's On the Media:

    BROOKE GLADSTONE (HOST): So the National Climate Assessment dropped on Black Friday.

    LISA HYMAS: It looked like a pathetically blatant attempt by the Trump administration to keep it out of the public eye. But it didn't work.

    A lot of the print media did better than TV. The New York Times and The Washington Post, they have really strong climate teams; they did great coverage. But you saw it in smaller papers all around the country. The Columbia Journalism Review found that at least 140 newspapers around the country put it on their front pages. That includes places like The Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald, 20 different papers in California. And many of those papers also looked at the local impacts. The Portland Press Herald in Maine, they had a big story about the national implications, but they also, on their print front page, had a big story about the impacts in New England, specifically.

    But I think TV was a mixed bag: Sometimes the coverage was good, and sometimes it was not. And in cases where the coverage is poor, we probably would have been better off without it.

    GLADSTONE: You said that Sunday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. We're talking about ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press -- they all had segments. The most talked-about one on Sunday was probably on Meet the Press.

    HYMAS: Yes. NBC's Meet the Press featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that's supported by the Koch brothers. She used a favorite climate denier line ...

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    DANIELLE PLETKA (SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE): I'm not a scientist. I look at this as a citizen, and I see it, so I understand it. On the other hand, we need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures, that we've had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that because it's not part of the agenda.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: No. Climate scientists have been very clear that the global climate has consistently been warming, and the hottest years have been the most recent ones.

    GLADSTONE: Yeah. NOAA said that 2015, ’16, and ’17 were the warmest on record, but 2017 was only the third-warmest.

    HYMAS: I don't really find that comforting. You know, if you're not a scientist, you ought to listen to scientists. To say, "I'm not a scientist, but I don't believe this," that's nonsense.

    I mean, one thing that was frustrating about this last episode of Meet the Press: Host Chuck Todd later in the same show interviewed Tom Steyer, who got his start as an activist by focusing on climate change, and Todd didn't ask him anything about the report. The focus was just on the 2020 presidential race.

    GLADSTONE: Let's look at how Fox News handled the report on the day it was released. Here's CNN's Brian Stelter with a recap.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    BRIAN STELTER (CNN MEDIA CORRESPONDENT): The network actually spent more time talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's shoes on Friday. Now to be fair, the networks' newscasts did air several segments about climate change, about the crisis, on Saturday. But on the president's favorite talk shows, nada, not a word.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace also did not invite a climate scientist on to discuss the report. He spoke with Republican Senator of Nebraska Ben Sasse, who dodged the topic of climate action and spoke vaguely about the need for innovation.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    SASSE: Because you can't legislate or regulate your way into the past. We have to innovate our way into the future. And right now you don't hear a lot of the people who put climate as their No. 1 issue, you don't hear a lot of them offering constructive, innovative solutions for the future. It's usually just a lot of alarmism.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: You know, notably, Fox's big-name personalities didn't dig in on the report at all. They just stayed focused on their pet issues. So you had Sean Hannity, this past week, ranting about Hillary Clinton's supposed scandals and crimes. I mean, he's still doing that more than two years after she lost the presidential election. And you had Lou Dobbs scaremongering about the migrant caravan. And the Russia investigation is a witch hunt -- that got a lot of coverage this past week, but the climate report didn't.

    GLADSTONE: Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation did speak to a scientist about the report, NASA's Steven Clarke, but that exchange was very brief, and it was buried in a segment that was almost entirely about NASA's Mars probe.

    HYMAS: Yes. So, on the one hand, I was glad to see that Face the Nation actually asked a scientist about the climate report. We track how often the Sunday shows incorporate or talk to scientists when they're discussing climate change, and it's been almost three years since any Sunday show has asked a scientist about climate change.

    GLADSTONE: What? Seriously?

    HYMAS: Yes, the last time was in December of 2015. It was also on Face the Nation.

    GLADSTONE: So many opportunities. So many national conferences, so many elections, so many extreme weather incidents, and nothing?

    HYMAS: There are climate scientists who are really good public speakers and who do a really great job of explaining the science in terms that normal people can understand, but they don't get the airtime.

    GLADSTONE: I think the winner of the week's booby prize, though, would probably be CNN.

    HYMAS: I think that's true. Rick Santorum was on CNN claiming that scientists are in it for the money.

    [AUDIO CLIP]

    RICK SANTORUM (FORMER SENATOR): If there was no climate change, we'd have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive ...

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: The next day, we saw Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader.

    [AUDIO CLIP]

    TOM DELAY (FORMER REPRESENTATIVE): The report is nothing more than a rehash of age-old, 10- to 20-year assumptions made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: He's the disgraced former House majority leader who had to resign after he was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy. Why is this guy qualified to discuss a scientific report about climate change? We saw Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving economist, making the same ridiculous claim on CNN.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    STEPHEN MOORE: Billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: Then on Tuesday morning, John Avlon did a good segment on CNN where he completely debunked this notion that there's a big climate-industrial complex and that scientists are just doing it to get rich.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    JOHN AVLON (CNN POLITICAL ANALYST): Now, that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection. In fact, one of the scientists who worked on the climate change report, Katharine Hayhoe, confirms that she and her colleagues were paid, quote, “zero dollars” for their work and could easily make 10 times their salaries by working for something like Big Oil.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: But, later that same day on Tuesday, just hours after Avlon's fact-checking segment ran, CNN again had on Stephen Moore to make that same claim. And what was so frustrating about CNN having these climate deniers on to make ridiculous claims is they didn't disclose the fact that Rick Santorum and Tom Delay, when they were in Congress, they got more than $700,000 each from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions. Stephen Moore works for a number of groups that are funded by the Koch brothers. Last month, Stephen Moore gave a speech to the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. These things were not disclosed, but those men were allowed to accuse scientists of being in it for the money.

    GLADSTONE: Why does CNN pay people like Rick Santorum to lie to the public it's supposed to be serving?

    HYMAS: I will never understand why CNN pays Rick Santorum.

    Cable TV likes to have conflict, and they like to have sparks fly. But there’s much better ways you can do it, even if you do want the conflict. I mean, it's absurd, in 2018, for a discussion about climate change to include someone who contends that we're actually in a period of global cooling. Get people who all recognize the challenge of climate change but propose different responses and solutions to it. There are plenty of conservatives who propose carbon taxes. Let's see them discuss and debate people who are proposing a highly progressive Green New Deal, or a carbon-fee-and-dividend approach. There's a lot to debate. It just doesn't have to be a denier against someone who accepts the reality of climate change.

  • Bret Stephens’ 2018 midterm analysis is quietly getting worse

    The NY Times updates Stephens’ bad post-election column to make it even wronger

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the aftermath of election night 2018, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote a column arguing that the Democrats had kind of blown it. Under the headline “The Midterm Results Are a Warning to the Democrats,” Stephens argued that the Democrats’ electoral haul was “meh” and evidence that “while ‘the Resistance’ is good at generating lots of votes, it hasn’t figured out how to turn the votes into seats.”

    It was, on its face, a curious argument, given that the Democrats had wrested control of the House of Representatives, snagged a healthy number of governorships, flipped hundreds of state legislative seats, and triggered a down-ballot political “earthquake” in Texas.

    But Stephens brought numbers to back up his assertion. Here’s how his column read the day it was published (via Internet Archive):

    The 28-seat swing that gave Democrats control of the House wasn’t even half the 63 seats Republicans won in 2010. Yet even that shellacking (to use Barack Obama’s word) did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate (the result in Arizona isn’t clear at this writing) was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.

    There are many problems with that analysis, but the most significant among them is the number 28. At the time Stephens wrote this column, votes were still being tallied and many close races remained uncalled. That 28 was the lower boundary of the Democratic gains. Now we know that the Democrats have actually picked up 40 seats -- a tally that is about 43 percent higher than the number Stephens based his insta-analysis on.

    Since then, the Times has quietly updated Stephens’ column to reflect the growing number of Democratic pickups, but the analysis on which it’s based remains glaringly static. Here’s how the updated version reads, as of this moment:

    A 37-seat swing gave Democrats control of the House—a definite gain, but still less than the 63 seats Republicans won in 2011. Yet even that shellacking (to use Barack Obama’s word) did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate (the result in Arizona isn’t clear at this writing) was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.

    The 28 jumped up to a (still low) 37, and the “wasn’t even half” has been disappeared. But the “non-wave election” diagnosis remains preserved in amber. With each update to the number of flipped seats, Stephens’ already bad analysis just gets worse.

    What we see here are two distinct flavors of bad punditry.

    The first is an issue of confirmation bias. Prior to the election, Stephens had already concluded that the Democrats had squandered their opportunity. In his October 12 column “Democrats Are Blowing It, Again,” Stephens wrote that House Republicans “now have at least a fighting chance of holding on to a majority despite the widely anticipated blue wave,” hanging his argument on a 10-day window of not-terrible polling for GOP candidates in battleground districts. A few days before the election, Stephens wrote that “Democrats should be walking away with the midterms. That they are not is because they have consistently underestimated the president’s political gifts, while missing the deeper threat his presidency represents.”

    When the actual voting results badly undermined Stephens’ preformed conclusion, he tortured that inconvenient reality into a shape that roughly conformed to what he had already decided was true.

    The second is the temptation and perceived need to provide instant, authoritative analysis of still-uncertain outcomes. Stephens was hardly alone in this failing -- early on election night, cable news was awash in dour, speculative takes about how the Democrats were going to come up short, causing attendant panic and depression among liberals on Twitter. By the time Stephens’ column was published, Democrats had taken the House but several races (including many toss-ups in California that would end up going to the Democrats) had yet to be called. The Democrats’ 40th pickup was called just two days ago.

    The still more serious problem that flows from both of these issues is that pundits who fail in these ways are hardly ever held to account, and thus self-serving, half-baked analyses keep showing up in op-ed pages and on cable news. For Bret Stephens, “accountability” takes the form of quiet changes to his column that leave its conclusions intact even as it gets more wrong with each update.