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  • 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.

  • These are the LGBTQ-related cases the Supreme Court could take up this term

    The Trump-Pence administration asked the Supreme Court to review trans military ban cases. There are several other LGBTQ-related cases it could decide to take up this session.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration has once again asked the Supreme Court to take up one of its policy priorities and bypass lower courts in what has been called an “unusual” move -- this time, to expedite a ruling on its proposed policy banning openly transgender service members from serving in the military. And that’s just one of several LGBTQ-related cases the Supreme Court could hear this session, with other topics including employment discrimination, trans-inclusive school facilities, and religious exemptions for businesses. Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom has connections to several of those cases.

    Though there has been media coverage of the trans military ban cases, several other important cases that may reach the high court fly under the media’s radar. Here's a look at LGBTQ-related cases that may be heard by the Supreme Court this term:

    Trans military ban

    Employment discrimination under Title VII

    Religious exemptions for businesses

    Trans-inclusive school facilities

    Trans military ban

    In July 2017, Trump announced on Twitter that he planned to ban transgender people from serving in the military, reversing a 2016 policy change by the Obama administration that allowed trans people to serve openly. In March, the Trump-Pence administration released its official policy. In developing the plan, the administration reportedly relied on a panel of “experts” that included the vehemently anti-trans activist Ryan T. Anderson and Tony Perkins, president of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council. There have been four lawsuits filed against the ban, and according to CNN, “District courts across the country have so far blocked the policy from going into effect. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in one challenge earlier this fall and the DC Circuit will hear arguments in early December.”

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked the Supreme Court to review three of the cases, bypassing lower courts: Doe v. Trump, Stockman v. Trump, and Karnoski v. Trump. According to The Advocate, Doe “is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit," and the other two are pending before the 9th Circuit. Neither appeals court has ruled on any of these cases, but the 9th Circuit has heard arguments in one challenge already.

    The Guardian reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s request “is the fourth time in recent months the administration has sought to bypass lower courts that have blocked some of its more controversial proposals and push the high court, which has a conservative majority, to weigh in quickly on a divisive issue.” The New York Times noted that the DOJ’s request for the Supreme Court to review the issue is unusual, as it “does not ordinarily intercede until at least one appeals court has considered an issue, and it typically awaits a disagreement among appeals courts before adding a case to its docket.” According to the Supreme Court’s rules, it should take up an issue “only upon a showing that the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination in this court.”

    Speaking to The Washington Post, several lawyers challenging the ban have “said there is no reason for the court to abandon its usual policy,” and according to The Daily Beast, if the Supreme Court does review the issue, it “would theoretically only be considering whether or not to lift the injunctions that have been placed on the rollout of the transgender troop ban” while the lower courts continue to debate the legality of the ban itself. However, there is also a chance that the high court could find a way to rule directly on the ban’s constitutionality.

    Employment discrimination under Title VII

    There are three cases that the Supreme Court could take up involving interpretations of workplace protections under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

    The primary debate around Title VII involves whether protections from sex discrimination also encompass sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly as the Supreme Court has already ruled that employers cannot discriminate based on gender stereotypes. In May 2017, Congress introduced the Equality Act, a bill that would explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act.

    In October 2017, the DOJ issued a memo that said (emphasis original), "Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status." Of the three Title VII cases that the Supreme Court might take up, one involves a trans woman who was fired for her gender identity, and the other two involve men who were fired for their sexual orientation.

    The first case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involves a transgender woman named Aimee Stephens, a funeral director who was fired after coming out to her longtime employer. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor based on Title VII protections, saying, “It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex” and that “discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

    The influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing the funeral home at the center of the case, and ADF’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to take up the case in July.

    In October, the DOJ filed a brief in support of the funeral home. It issued a similar brief in favor of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case decided last session. Solicitor General Noel Francisco signed the Harris Funeral Homes brief and argued in support of ADF’s client in Masterpiece Cakeshop. ADF had identified Francisco as one of its more than 3,200 allied attorneys in several press releases in 2016, but the group later claimed that this had been “our mistake” and that he was not in fact an allied attorney. ADF shows a distinct lack of transparency about who its allied attorneys are, and another group even filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine Francisco’s exact relationship with ADF.

    In a second case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, skydiving instructor Donald Zarda sued his employer Altitude Express for firing him in 2010 after he “told a female student that he was gay.” (Zarda died four years after he filed the suit.) The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor in February of this year, deciding that Title VII “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” Altitude Express and its lawyers petitioned the case to the Supreme Court in May.

    In a third case, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Gerald Bostock sued after “he was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator for a Georgia county’s juvenile court system when his employer found out he is gay.” The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Bostock, saying that Title VII does not protect discrimination based on sexual orientation. In May, Bostock and his lawyer asked the Supreme Court to weigh in given a split in circuit courts’ rulings on the matter.

    The high court was originally expected to consider petitions to review the three Title VII cases on November 30, but it has since “delayed its timeline for considering whether to grant review.” According to Bloomberg Law, “The court’s next scheduled conference is Dec. 7, and it has no more conferences scheduled for December. The first conference of the new year is scheduled for Jan. 4.” If it does not grant review by mid-January, the court would not be able to hold oral arguments for any of the cases during the current term, which began in October.

    Religious exemptions for businesses

    In June, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of ADF’s client Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The decision did not indicate how the high court should rule on other similar cases or on the larger question of whether businesses can deny services to LGBTQ people but rather ruled that members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown “hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [Phillips’] objection.” This next session, however, the Supreme Court could make a broader ruling on a similar case.

    In Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the owners of the now-shuttered Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, a violation of the state’s nondiscrimination law. According to The Oregonian, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against the bakery owners and “upheld the order, and the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case earlier this year.” Their lawyers -- from the anti-LGBTQ legal group First Liberty Institute (previously known as Liberty Institute) -- filed a petition for Supreme Court review in September. At least four of those lawyers have connections to ADF: Kelly Shackelford, the president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, and Hiram Sasser have both been identified as ADF allied attorneys, and Michael Berry and Stephanie Taub both participated in ADF’s legal fellowship program.

    Trans-inclusive school facilities

    ADF has filed another petition asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on an LGBTQ-related issue in the Joel Doe v. Boyertown Area School District case. In that case, cisgender students represented by ADF sued their school district after Boyertown Area High School passed an inclusive policy that allows transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity. This differs from the high-profile Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board case, in which a trans student sued his school district for passing a discriminatory policy.

    The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Boyertown’s trans-inclusive policy and against ADF’s client in July, citing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which “prohibits discrimination ‘based on sex’ in federally funded educational programs.” ADF has also attempted to leverage Title IX in its arguments, saying that the school’s trans-inclusive policy would create a “hostile environment” in violation of Title IX because its cisgender clients would have to interact with trans students in school restrooms and locker rooms. ADF thus contended that cisgender students who feel “embarrassed and harassed” by being in the same restrooms as trans students would be discriminated against “on the basis of sex.”

    There are several potential outcomes if the Supreme Court does take up the case. The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen wrote that if the court ruled against the plaintiffs, it would likely decide “that local school districts like Boyertown cannot be barred from establishing transgender protections” rather than making a more sweeping decision “to affirm that all transgender students nationwide are protected under Title IX.” However, Allen noted the increasingly conservative makeup of the court and contemplated what could happen if it ruled in favor of ADF’s clients:

    There’s another outcome that has the potential to be catastrophic for a generation of transgender students: The Supreme Court—now with a conservative majority and two Trump picks—hears the case and agrees that transgender students cannot be protected by school policies. In the worst case, they agree that Title IX not only doesn’t protect transgender students, but actually requires schools to discriminate against them.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups are emboldened by the new Supreme Court make up

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, including ADF, have united around Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court, assuming he would champion their issues and cement the conservative majority on the court. Like the Trump-Pence administration, these groups have been emboldened to push for discriminatory policies in the courts, such as overturning protections against conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth. ADF and others like it also have unprecedented influence over the administration; the White House even briefed ADF President Michael Farris about the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation not long after U.S. senators received the FBI’s report. Farris and ADF argued twice before the Supreme Court during the last session, and ADF has played a role in more than 50 other cases before the high court.

    Additional research by Kayla Gogarty and Brianna January.

  • Sunday shows finally talk about climate change (but that doesn’t mean the coverage was good)

    After bombshell climate report, Sunday political talk shows bring on climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump administration tried to bury a major government report on climate change by releasing it on the day after Thanksgiving, but the bombshell report still received substantial media attention, including coverage on all five of the major Sunday morning political talk shows.

    The latest National Climate Assessment report -- a 1,600-page, congressionally mandated document produced by some 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies -- paints a dire picture of how climate change is already affecting the U.S. and how its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years. The report was expected to be released in early December, but three knowledgeable sources told The New York Times' Coral Davenport that "administration officials hoped to minimize the impact by making the assessment public on the afternoon of Black Friday, the big shopping day after the Thanksgiving holiday, thinking that Americans might be unlikely to be paying attention."

    But by publishing the report during a slow news period, the Trump team might have inadvertently caused it to get more media attention than it otherwise would have.

    Yesterday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press all included segments on the new report.

    That's more than the number of Sunday shows that covered another major climate report released in early October by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Only three of the Sunday shows -- This Week, Face the Nation, and State of the Union -- covered that IPCC report.

    Though the Sunday shows covered the new climate report, much of the coverage was poor

    Even though the five big Sunday shows covered the new National Climate Assessment, the quality of the coverage in many cases was downright poor. Some of the hosts invited climate deniers to discuss the report, failed to question them about their denial, and allowed guests to spout denialist talking points with little to no pushback, while other hosts spent only a little time on the report.

    The panel that NBC's Chuck Todd invited to discuss the climate report on NBC's Meet the Press included Danielle Pletka of the Koch-backed American Enterprise Institute, who asserted easily debunked nonsense about the last two years being the coldest in recent history. Todd also asked Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) about the report during an interview, without noting that Lee has questioned basic climate science.

    CNN's State of the Union hosted two climate deniers to discuss the National Climate Assessment: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and former senator and CNN contributor Rick Santorum. In response to host Dana Bash’s question about how climate change could harm agriculture in Iowa, Ernst engaged in lukewarm climate denial, stating, "We know that our climate is changing. Our climate always changes, and we see those ebb and flows through time." Meanwhile, Santorum praised the Trump administration’s attempt to bury the report and claimed that the scientists who produced it were “driven by money,” an assertion that was widely derided on social media.

    On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) to discuss the climate report’s findings. Sasse decried climate "alarmism," easily dodged Wallace's questions, and pivoted to arguing for further environmental deregulation.

    George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week addressed the report during an interview with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), but only spent about two minutes on it.

    Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation questioned NASA's Steven Clarke about the report, but the exchange about climate change was brief and came in the midst of a discussion about NASA's Mars probe. Still, it marked the first time in nearly three years that any of the broadcast Sunday shows included a scientist in a discussion about climate change; the last time a scientist appeared in a broadcast Sunday show climate segment was the December 13, 2015, episode of Face the Nation. Brennan also discussed the climate report with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

    The fact that most Sunday show hosts only briefly discussed the National Climate Assessment’s urgent findings -- rather than giving them more in-depth coverage with a panel of experts -- is right in line with trends Media Matters has documented in recent years. In the rare instances when Sunday shows address climate change, it is usually within a narrow political framework and includes a similarly narrow range of politicians and political pundits.

    The attempt by the Trump team to bury the report and keep information about climate change out of the public eye is also in line with observed trends. The White House has systematically removed climate change information from federal government websites, especially the site of the Environmental Protection Agency, and EPA officials last year told members of a scientific advisory committee that climate change would be de-emphasized by the administration.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

    Wheeler's EPA press office attacks journalists and media outlets

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

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

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

    From an E&E News article published last week:

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

    ...

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

    ...

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

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

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.

  • These anti-LGBTQ group alumni work in federal agencies that will interpret potential anti-trans definition of gender

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” according to an October 21 story in The New York Times. The definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- where numerous alumni and allies of major anti-LGBTQ groups currently work.

    According to the Times, the move is considered “the most drastic” yet in the administration’s onslaught against transgender rights, and “the new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition” of the trans community. The effort is being led by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Office for Civil Rights, whose director, Roger Severino, formerly worked for the right-wing Heritage Foundation alongside many other anti-LGBTQ staff who fill the Trump-Pence administration.

    The departments charged with enforcing Title IX are staffed with several alumni from anti-LGBTQ groups, including the extreme and influential Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Family Research Council (FRC). The following people with positions in the departments of Justice, Education, Labor, and HHS have ties to anti-LGBTQ groups:

    In addition to their former work at anti-LGBTQ groups, several of these agency staff have said or supported extreme anti-LGBTQ measures. DOJ's Kupec was a visible spokesperson for ADF and made numerous media appearances defending the group’s anti-LGBTQ work. HHS’ Royce has promoted the dangerous and ineffective practice of conversion therapy, saying that “the ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story” and that she had counseled “people who were in a homosexual lifestyle.” She contended then that they “generally found themselves in a desperate place” and “have tried to find fulfillment in ways that are against God’s principles,” using that claim to argue against same-sex marriage. Her former employer, FRC, has vehemently supported conversion therapy. Another HHS staffer, Bowman has said that advocates for same-sex marriage have an “appetite for McCarthyism” and compared them to thugs. Additionally, two other FRC alumni -- Charmaine Yoest and Teresa Manning -- temporarily worked for the Trump-Pence HHS. Yoest moved to a White House job, and Manning abruptly stepped down from the job.

    HHS’ suggested language defines sex “as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with,” which defies medical consensus and the lived experiences of trans and gender-nonconforming people all over the world. Vox’s German Lopez described how the proposal would affect the everyday lives of transgender Americans:

    The proposal would effectively erase protections for trans people, who identify with a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth, from federal civil rights laws — ensuring that the laws do not prohibit discrimination against trans people in any setting, including the workplace, housing, schools, and health care.

    Furthermore, the Human Rights Campaign’s Charlotte Clymer outlined other examples of severe consequences that could result in the administration’s “severely restrictive and narrow definition of sex”:

    • Same-sex couples and their families could be turned away from emergency shelters

    • A transgender person could have their insurance deny them coverage for transition related care

    • A gay man could be harassed about being gay at a job skills training

    • An elderly same-sex couple could be denied in home meal service

    • A transgender woman could be turned away from a hospital for a broken ankle

    Additional research by Kayla Gogarty.

  • Mainstream media are trying to spin Nikki Haley as a moderate

    During her tenure at the UN, she advocated and defended extremist policies 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the October 9 announcement of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s resignation, mainstream media figures and organizations were quick to sing her praises and label her a “moderating voice” within the administration. In reality, Haley’s tenure at the U.N. was marked by the U.S. adopting extreme policies, which Haley advocated and defended.

    The day Haley resigned, The New York Times tweeted that her departure left “the administration with one less moderate Republican voice.” Meanwhile, on CNN, political commentator Chris Cillizza and anchor Jim Sciutto both said she was -- or was seen as -- a “moderating influence,” and the network’s global affairs analyst, David Rohde, also called her “sort of a moderating voice.” Network host Brooke Baldwin said, “I’m wondering who then becomes that strong -- that push-back voice in this administration once she leaves?”

    It was a similar story on MSNBC, where political contributor Ben Rhodes, a former Obama official, argued that Haley “comes from a more conventional Republican approach to foreign policy that stands up to Vladimir Putin, that wants to be tough on Russia, that wants to promote democracy and human rights around the world.” MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell called Haley “moderate” multiple times, claiming that she was “one of the administration’s last moderate Republican voices.” Similarly, NBC political reporter Josh Lederman commended Haley as someone who could  “talk about ... issues in a way that sort of softened them” and claimed she could make Trump’s policies more “palatable” to “more moderate people.” Others went further in their praise. MSNBC’s Charlie Sykes called Haley “one of the stars of this administration,” and Chris Matthews compared her to President John Kennedy, saying “we spot leaders” by their “courage to get ahead of the crowd” and “act in a way that leads the way.”

    Despite mainstream figures’ efforts to frame Haley as a moderate, her record is filled with instances of her embracing extreme policies:

    • During her tenure as U.N. ambassador, Haley defended the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement now signed by every other county in the world.

    • She led the country’s withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, an organization The New York Times calls “the world’s most important human rights body.” Haley called the organization “so corrupt.” Every country in the world participates in UNHRC meetings and deliberations with the exceptions of Iran, North Korea, Eritrea, and now the United States.

    • Haley defended the administration’s decision to gut funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the U.N.’s pivotal assistance program for Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Millions of Palestinians rely on UNWRA for health care, education, and basic resources, like food.

    • She applauded the Trump administration’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal as the  “absolutely … right decision.” The exit rankled American allies, many of whom chose to remain in the deal.

    Mainstream media figures have ignored this evidence that Haley allowed and encouraged American extremism and bullying, instead casting her as a maverick within the administration. Their interest in finding someone within the administration to label “moderate” is another example of the mainstream media’s fetish for normalizing Trump-ism.

    Tyler Monroe and Gabby Miller contributed research to this piece.

  • Fox News largely ignored a major new climate change report

    Fox's one substantial segment on the U.N. report featured right-wing arguments against taking dramatic action

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A new landmark report from a United Nations scientific panel warns that humanity is rapidly running out of time to take the unprecedented action needed to prevent horrific impacts from climate change. The report, released on Sunday night at 9 p.m. EDT by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was covered by a number of major media outlets the following day. CNN reported, "A sobering major report on climate change warns that we could be careening toward catastrophe." The New York Times noted that the report "paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought." The BBC reported, "It's the final call, say scientists, the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures."

    But Fox News aired very little coverage of the report on Monday.

    In morning coverage, Fox skipped the climate report but found time to criticize Taylor Swift

    Fox did not air a single segment that mentioned the U.N. report in its coverage from 4 a.m to noon EST on Monday. In contrast, CNN spent more than seven and a half minutes on the report over that period, and MSNBC spent more than four and a half minutes.

    While Fox couldn't spare a moment from its morning lineup for climate catastrophe, the network dedicated more than nine minutes to pop star Taylor Swift's Instagram post endorsing two Democratic candidates in Tennessee and encouraging people to register to vote. Fox hosts and guests criticized Swift's post and argued that she didn't know enough to weigh in on politics.

    In prime-time coverage, Fox skipped the climate report but found time to criticize Indigenous People's Day

    Fox's nightly prime-time shows on Monday also completely neglected to mention the report.

    Host Tucker Carlson did make a mention of pollution, but he meant the pollution of the public sphere by liberal ideas. Guest Cesar Vargas, an immigration attorney, greeted Carlson with, "Happy Indigenous Peoples Day." Carlson responded, "Don't pollute the show with that nonsense. It's Columbus Day, pal, come on."

    Carlson also made time to read lyrics from John Mayer's song "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and call toxic masculinity "some made-up, dumb feminist term."

    Fox covered the climate report just twice on Monday

    During Fox's "Special Report With Bret Baier" on Monday evening, host Baier spent about 30 seconds during a news rundown giving a straightforward overview of the report.

    "Shepard Smith Reporting" on Monday afternoon spent about two and a half minutes on the report, kicking off with Smith saying, "Climate change is real, the situation is urgent, and time is running out. That's the new warning from a landmark United Nations report." But Smith's summary of the report was followed by Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher using right-wing talking points to argue against taking the dramatic action that scientists say is needed:

    Gallagher: Even outside scientists who acknowledge that something has to be done to prevent the planet from warming say the goal laid out by the United Nations is really unreasonable because it would mean draconian cuts in emissions and dramatic changes in the way that we use energy, meaning extremely high gas prices, a lot more regulations, and putting governments right in the middle of decisions on how people utilize their private property. As you noted, the authors say that these goals really are a long shot. The conservative Cato Institute called some of the conclusions absurd. But former Vice President Al Gore praises the report, says he believes technology is the answer but we need to rely on solutions available today.

    Fox has spent years downplaying and mocking climate change

  • Majority of top U.S. newspapers fail to mention landmark climate change report on their homepages

    After new U.N. IPCC climate report comes out, only 22 of the top 50 U.S. newspapers' homepages made note of it

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A United Nations scientific panel released a major new climate change report on the night of October 7, warning of dire consequences if world governments don’t take unprecedented and dramatic steps in the next decade to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. The next morning, the majority of top U.S. newspapers failed to mention the report on their homepages.

    IPCC report warns that fast, sweeping action is necessary to fight climate change

    At 9 p.m. EDT on October 7, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its long-awaited special report about what will happen if the average global temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and what would be required to prevent such a rise. The average temperature has already risen 1 degree C worldwide, and we will see dramatic and deadly impacts if it rises 2 degrees or more, which is now considered extremely likely. The IPCC report was requested by world leaders as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The report emphasizes the need for unprecedented action in the coming years to prevent the worst effects of climate change, and warns of the dire impacts if humanity fails to take that action.

    The majority of top U.S. newspapers neglected to cover the IPCC report on their homepages

    Between 9 a.m. and noon EDT on October 8, Media Matters analyzed the homepages of the top 50 U.S. newspapers as ranked by average Sunday circulation. Twenty-eight of the papers did not mention the report on their homepages at all:

    Of the above newspapers, 10 serve cities that are listed among the "25 U.S. Cities Most Affected by Climate Change" in a 2015 weather.com report: Baltimore, Buffalo, Columbus, Denver, Louisville, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, and St. Paul.

    Other major newspapers in cities heavily affected by climate change also failed to highlight the IPCC report. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Nevada, did not note the report on its homepage. Las Vegas is ranked third in the weather.com list. The Miami Herald also did not mention the IPCC report on its homepage, though it did link to an article about how the risk of sea-level rise threatens real estate prices. Miami will be particularly affected by sea-level rise; a study published last year in the journal Nature concluded that rising seas as a result of climate change could cause more than 2.5 million Miami residents to flee the city.

    Only 22 of the top 50 U.S. newspapers mentioned the IPCC report on their homepages

    These are the papers that linked from their homepages to articles about the IPCC report:

    A few of the newspapers featured the IPCC report prominently on their homepages, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but most of homepage mentions of the report were just headlines. Here's how the Star Tribune featured the report: 

    Methodology: Media Matters searched for the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” “IPCC,” “report,” and “scientist” on the homepages of the top 50 highest-circulation U.S. newspapers between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. EST on October 8. The list of newspapers was taken from the recent Pew Research Center report State of the News Media.