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

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

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What media got wrong in covering Pruitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How the media can do better in covering Wheeler

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

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

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

    There will be plenty to cover, like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -----

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

    Chart by Melissa Joskow. Research assistance by Kevin Kalhoefer.

  • Major broadcast TV networks mentioned climate change just once during two weeks of heat-wave coverage

    ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on the recent heat wave and only one noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Throughout the recent record-breaking heat wave that affected millions across the United States, major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat. Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.

    The recent heat wave was record-breaking and deadly

    From the last week of June into the second week of July, an intense heat wave moved across the U.S., going from the eastern and central parts of the country to the West Coast. A large area of high atmospheric pressure helped to create a massive and powerful heat dome, which migrated from New England to southern California. The heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures -- during its first week, 227 U.S. records were broken for highest temperature for particular days, and during the second week, at least six locations in southern California alone saw record-breaking highs. The heat wave killed at least five people in the U.S. and up to 70 people in Quebec, Canada.

    Climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves

    There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human-induced climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves. Heat domes like the one that caused this recent heat wave are becoming more intense and more common, scientists have found. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who has studied extreme weather patterns in California, said recent heat in California was unusual. “The overall trend over decades to more intense and more frequent heat waves is definitely a signal of global warming,” he told The New York Times. And according to Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, this recent heat wave was “the kind of thing you expect to see on a warming planet,” making it “easier to set a heat record.”

    Recent studies also reinforce this point. In March 2018, an analysis of heat wave patterns published in Nature Climate Change concluded that climate change will overtake natural variability as the main cause of heat waves in both the western U.S. and Great Lakes region by the 2030s. Nature Climate Change also published a study last summer that detailed how heat waves will occur more frequently in the future due to climate change. Camilo Mora, associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the 2017 study, said, “Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heat waves, and while models suggest that this is likely to continue to be bad, it could be much worse if emissions are not considerably reduced.”

    Broadcast networks almost completely ignored the links between climate change and heat waves

    Media Matters analyzed morning and nightly news coverage of the heat wave on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as on PBS NewsHour, over a 14-day period from June 27 through July 10, covering the entire duration of the heat wave.

    Neither ABC nor NBC mentioned that climate change influences heat waves. There were 32 segments or weathercasts on ABC and 59 segments or weathercasts on NBC that discussed the heat wave. None of them mentioned the link between climate change and extremely high temperatures.

    CBS aired one segment that discussed the connection between climate change and high heat. Out of 36 CBS segments that mentioned the heat wave, just one mentioned climate change. The July 3 episode of CBS This Morning featured a discussion with Lonnie Quinn, chief weathercaster for WCBS-TV in New York City, who stated that there is a “really good, strong understanding that there’s a correlation between climate change and extreme hot and extreme cold” and noted the significant increase since 1970 in the number of days above 100 degrees in Miami, FL, and Austin, TX. 

    PBS NewsHour aired two segments on the heat waves, one of which discussed climate change. In its July 7 NewsHour program, PBS devoted a segment to the heat wave and incorporated climate change into its reporting, noting, “Global temperatures reached extreme highs this past week, something scientists have been warning of as part of the effects of climate change.” The segment also noted that July is off to a record-breaking start in terms of high temperatures.

    Broadcast TV news has a track record of neglecting climate change in its reporting on extreme weather

    In 2017, news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC severely undercovered climate change’s real-life impacts on people and climate change’s effects on extreme weather events, Media Matters found in its latest annual study of broadcast coverage. Over a two-week period during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes.

    But there are positive trends in broadcast coverage. PBS continues to set the standard for quality news coverage of climate change, as it has in the past. And local meteorologists are increasingly incorporating discussions of climate change into their segments and forecasts. For example, on July 4 in Kansas City -- where there were two suspected heat-related deaths -- NBC affiliate KSHB discussed that climate change is expected to increase the number of extremely hot days in the future, using a dynamic map from climate science nonprofit Climate Central to make the point.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis, iQ media, and SnapStream for national news broadcasts that included a segment about the heat wave, using the search terms (heat OR "heat wave" OR "heat waves" OR heatwave OR heatwaves OR temperature OR temperatures OR hot). A second search adding the term AND (“climate change” OR “global warming”) was used to identify any segments on the heat wave that mentioned climate change. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts. Our analysis covered early morning news shows (ABC's America This Morning, CBS Morning News, and NBC's Early Today), morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), and nightly news programs (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) from June 27 through July 10.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.

  • 2017 was a terrible year of climate disasters -- and too many media outlets failed to tell the story

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    From hurricanes to heat waves to wildfires and beyond, 2017 has been a terrifying year of disasters in the U.S. And too many media outlets have missed a key part of the story: These aren't just natural disasters; in many cases, they're climate disasters.

    Some wildfire coverage explored the climate angle, but much of it didn't

    Even before vicious wildfires tore through Southern California in December, the state had experienced its worst-ever wildfire season, which many scientists said was likely worsened by climate change.

    The Los Angeles Times did a good job of explaining the climate-wildfire link in a December 6 editorial titled "While Southern California battles its wildfires, we have to start preparing for our hotter, drier future." Fires have long been a part of California ecosystems, and many factors have played a role in making the Thomas Fire and other December blazes so destructive, the editorial board noted, but underlying all of that is the brutal fact of global warming: "What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires."

    Indeed, a number of scientific studies have linked climate change to increased wildfire risk in California. PBS's NewsHour aired a segment on December 13 that featured climate scientists explaining some of these links. "I think the science is pretty solid to indicate that wildfire risk is likely to increase in the future due to climate change," said scientist Radley Horton, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "I think exhibit A has to be the increase in temperature that we have observed. In California, we have seen about a 1.5-degree increase in temperature over the last century."

    Unfortunately, many media outlets have not been connecting the dots between climate change and wildfires the way the L.A. Times and PBS did.

    When huge fires raged through Montana and the Pacific Northwest this summer, and when fires tore through Northern California wine country in October, the major broadcast TV news programs and Sunday morning talk shows did not air a single segment discussing climate change in the context of those fires, Media Matters found. This despite the fact that scientists have determined that climate change is a major factor in forest fires in the western U.S.

    Media coverage of heat waves and hurricanes often fell short

    Beyond fires, many mainstream media outlets missed critical opportunities this year to discuss how other kinds of disasters are made worse by climate change.

    In June, parts of the southwestern U.S. baked in a record heat wave that brought temperatures up to 119 degrees in Phoenix, so hot that certain types of small planes couldn't get off the ground. The record temperatures coincided with publication of a comprehensive peer-reviewed study that found deadly heat waves are on the rise thanks to climate change. But major television network affiliates in Phoenix and Las Vegas completely failed to discuss how climate change exacerbates heat waves like the one the region was experiencing, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    News coverage of the impact of climate change on hurricanes has been sorely lacking this year, too. Even the unprecedented one-two-three punch of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wasn't enough to spur some key mainstream outlets to tell an increasingly obvious story.

    ABC and NBC both completely failed to bring up climate change during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, Media Matters found. So did the New York Post, one of the highest-circulation newspapers in the country, according to a report by Public Citizen. The Weather Channel, where many Americans turn when weather disasters loom, also failed to address the climate-hurricane connection during Harvey. Worse still, both Fox News and The Wall Street Journal ran more pieces that disputed a climate-hurricane link than pieces that acknowledged it. These findings by Media Matters and others inspired climate activists to launch a Twitter campaign calling on media to end the #climatesilence.

    TV news showed modest improvement at connecting the dots between climate change and hurricanes during Hurricane Irma, but still came up short. And when Maria hit, much of the mainstream media didn't even give adequate coverage to the storm itself or its aftermath, let alone the climate angle, as both Media Matters and MIT Media Lab researchers found.

    Climate change cannot be blamed for wholly causing any one individual weather disaster, but it effectively loads the dice in favor of abnormal and extreme weather, as climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues have explained.

    And after a weather event has occurred, scientists can analyze the extent to which climate change was a contributing factor. A new set of papers published this month found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events in 2016, including the year's record-breaking global heat. Some scientists have already done these kinds of attribution studies for 2017's hurricanes and found that climate change increased rainfall from Hurricane Harvey by between 15 and 38 percent.

    As the weather gets worse, we need our journalism to get better

    We all lost big in the climate-rigged dice game this year. There were so many record-setting extreme weather incidents and disasters in 2017 that it's hard to remember them all. Consider a few you might have forgotten:

    • The hottest World Series game in history took place in Los Angeles in late October, with temperatures hitting 103 degrees and staying there past 5 p.m.
    • Hurricane Ophelia traveled farther east than any major Atlantic hurricane on record, and so far north that it went off the storm-tracking maps generated by the National Weather Service. It caused severe damage in Ireland and Scotland even after it had been downgraded from hurricane status.
    • An unprecedented and devastating drought pummelled the Northern Plains states for seven months. It laid the groundwork for vicious wildfires.

    As USA Today recently put it, "From record flooding to disastrous wildfires, 2017 will go down as one of the USA's most catastrophic years ever for extreme, violent weather that disrupted the lives of millions of Americans."

    But that USA Today piece neglected to note the role climate change played in juicing up 2017's count of big disasters.

    Some news organizations consistently do a better job of reporting on climate change. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published strong reporting and good editorials and opinion pieces on the impact of climate change on disasters. CNN and MSNBC outperformed other TV news outlets in discussing how hurricanes Harvey and Irma were affected by climate change. In one recent segment, CNN invited climate scientist Michael Mann to explain the connection between climate change and hurricane intensity, offering a great model for other outlets:

    But those kinds of segments are all too rare. Many of the most influential mainstream media outlets need to do better at reporting on the connections scientists are finding between climate change and extreme weather. When a disaster hits, that's a prime opportunity to report on climate change, a topic that at other times might not seem newsy. When a long string of unprecedented disasters hit, as happened this year, that's even more of a call for media to tell the story of global warming.

    Good journalism is needed not just to help Americans understand the reality of climate change, but to inspire them to fight the problem by pushing for a rapid shift to cleaner energy, transport, and agriculture systems.

    Let's hope to see more climate-focused, science-driven journalism in 2018.

    -----

    Methodology: To search for broadcast television and Sunday show coverage of the Northwest and Northern California wildfires and climate change, Media Matters searched Nexis using the term (fire! OR wildfire!) w/30 (climate change OR global warming OR changing climate OR climate warm! OR warm! climate OR warm! planet OR warm! globe OR global temperatures OR rising temperatures OR hotter temperatures).

  • How CBS and PBS have reported on Charlie Rose's sexual misconduct

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    CBS and PBS are the latest news outlets to cover reported incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct by one of their own employees -- and so far both networks are taking measures to send the right messages to staff and viewers.

    On November 20, Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain detailed in a lengthy Washington Post investigation stories from eight women who say TV news host Charlie Rose “made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence, or groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas.” Yvette Vega, Rose’s executive producer for his PBS show, told the Post, “I should have stood up for [young women on the show]. I failed. It is crushing. I deeply regret not helping them.” Additional women shared stories of misconduct by Rose with Business Insider and The New York Times following the initial report.

    Until today, Rose was the co-host of CBS This Morning and host of PBS’ Charlie Rose. He’s now been fired from both positions. Both outlets aired segments grappling with the reports against Rose within a few hours of the Post piece being published on Monday night.

    CBS Evening News’ initial segment detailed the reports of Rose’s harassment and assault and shared a statement from CBS saying Rose was suspended.

    For its part, PBS Newshour interviewed Carmon that evening about her piece, and she  explained the hurdles she encountered in attempting to report the story in 2010, when she worked for Jezebel:

    JUDY WOODRUFF (HOST): And how did you go about -- as we said, the story says this took place over a period of years. How did you go about confirming any of these allegations?

    IRIN CARMON: Judy, I first became aware of this story in 2010, when I was a reporter at the website Jezebel. And I attempted to report on them, but unfortunately I hit walls. I was not able to confirm the story. People were not ready to talk, frankly. It occurred to me now, in the last few weeks, because of the amazing reporting that’s been done on sexual misconduct and abuse, that perhaps the women who were worried about retaliation, who were afraid of Mr. Rose’s power in the industry, of his wealthy friends, of his famous sit-down interviews with world leaders, that perhaps they were ready to talk.

    On Tuesday morning, CBS This Morning began its broadcast with a more detailed report on the allegations of misconduct, this one featuring Post reporter Amy Brittain:  

    Co-hosts Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell reflected on the reported actions of their missing co-host, and each woman addressed viewers with remarkable candor:

    NORAH O’DONNELL (CO-HOST): This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and, more generally, the safety of women. Let me be very clear: There is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive. And I’ve been doing a lot of listening, and I’m going to continue to do that. This I know is true: Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility. ...This has to end. This behavior is wrong. Period.

    [...]

    GAYLE KING (CO-HOST): I am not OK after reading that article in the Post. It was deeply disturbing, troubling, and painful for me to read. That said, I think we have to make this matter to women, the women who have spoken up, the women who have not spoken up because they’re afraid. I’m hoping that now they will take the step to speak out too, that this becomes a moment of truth. I’ve enjoyed a friendship and a partnership with Charlie for the past five years. I’ve held him in such high regard, and I’m really struggling because how do you -- what do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? How do you wrap your brain around that? I’m really grappling with that. That said, Charlie does not get a pass here. He doesn’t get a pass from anyone in this room.  

    The morning show also aired a third segment featuring nearly 10 minutes of conversation among highly accomplished women who had experienced workplace sexual harassment, including Rent The Runway’s Jennifer Hyman, Ellevest’s Sallie Krawcheck, Tribeca Enterprises’ Jane Rosenthal, Teen Vogue’s Elaine Welteroth, and gymnast Jessica Howard.

    Within 24 hours, CBS had fired Rose; CBS News President David Rhodes said in an internal memo leaked to the press that Rose’s immediate termination was in part because CBS News was committed to a “safe, professional workplace.” The message about CBS News’ priorities for its staff and audience was clear:

    Despite Charlie’s important journalistic contribution to our news division, there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organization, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace -- a supportive environment where people they can do this work. We need to be such a place.

    I’ve often heard that things used to be different. And no one may be able to correct the past. But what may once have been accepted should not ever have been acceptable.

    CBS News has reported on extraordinary revelations at other media companies this year and last. Our credibility in that reporting requires credibility managing basic standards of behavior. That is why we take these actions.

    Though CBS’ public response to the piece has been noteworthy, it should be mentioned that the network reportedly knew about the Post's ongoing investigation into Rose's behavior for some time. The company's decision to wait until now to publicly address the issue suggests that its response has been triggered more by public exposure than anything else. And last month, another CBS employee was more quietly forced to resign amid sexual harassment reports detailing incidents said to have occurred as far back as 2009.

    PBS quickly followed CBS in terminating its relationship with Rose, and Bloomberg, a broadcaster of Rose’s PBS show, also confirmed that it had ended its relationship with Rose.

    CBS is not the first outlet to grapple with workplace sexual harassment or misconduct happening in its own newsroom. Since the first New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein was published on October 5, investigative pieces and first-hand accounts published on social media have reported employees for sexual harassment at Vox Media, The Atlantic, NBC Universal and MSNBC, The New Republic, NPR, Mother Jones, Fox News, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, HuffPost, Vice, and now, The New York Times.

    Some of these outlets, like NPR, have chosen to cover the reports extensively and consistently in a public moment of reckoning; others appear to have taken action but not publicly written about the harassment complaints.

    And still others appear to have done nothing. Yet again.

  • Trump's repeal of the Clean Power Plan will cost lives, but TV news outlets are covering it as a political football

    Ditching limits on power plant emissions will lead to an estimated 3,600 more premature deaths each year

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A number of TV news outlets failed to cover the negative health impacts of the Trump administration's decision to repeal limits on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Of the major broadcast networks' morning and evening news shows, only ABC's World News Tonight mentioned how Americans' health could be affected by the move. On the major cable news networks, CNN overlooked the health angle and MSNBC addressed it in some segments, while most Fox News commentators discussed the repeal in approving or celebratory tones.

    Trump's repeal of the Clean Power Plan will have major health impacts

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that he would formally move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and on Tuesday he signed a proposed rule to get the process rolling. The Clean Power Plan was put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, imposing the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

    Pruitt's move will have serious, real-world impacts on Americans' health. According to Obama's EPA, not only would the Clean Power Plan have helped to fight climate change, but it would also have curbed a number of health problems and premature deaths. That's because when utilities reduce their emissions of climate-warming CO2 pollution, they also reduce other pollutants that cause soot and smog and directly harm human health. An EPA fact sheet from 2015 says the agency determined that the rule would prevent thousands of deaths and health-related problems each year:

    • 3,600 premature deaths
    • 1,700 heart attacks
    • 90,000 asthma attacks
    • 300,000 missed work days and school days

    Under Pruitt, however, those health improvements will be denied to Americans. Pruitt's EPA not only disputes the scientific agreement that humans are driving climate change; it also disputes the scientific agreement that particulate matter and other smog-forming pollutants are unsafe for humans at any level. The EPA's new proposed rule contends that there would be no health benefits to reducing air pollutants below levels currently required by Clean Air Act regulations.

    Pruitt's repeal will be particularly harmful to people of color and low-income Americans, as they suffer more than whiter, wealthier communities do from coal plant pollution. The Clean Power Plan included a number of environmental-justice provisions intended to help redress that inequity.

    Among major broadcast networks, only ABC mentioned the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan, while CBS and NBC ignored them

    Media Matters analyzed morning and nighttime news shows on October 9 and 10 on ABC, CBS, and NBC, plus PBS NewsHour. ABC was the sole corporate broadcast network to note the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan in coverage of the plan’s repeal, and it did so in only a brief mention. During a headline rundown on the October 9 episode of World News Tonight with David Muir, Muir reported, “The 2015 Clean Power Plan aimed to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent and save 3,600 lives a year.”

    In contrast, neither CBS nor NBC made any reference to what the repeal would mean for public health. NBC covered the repeal once, on the October 10 episode of NBC Nightly News, while CBS covered it twice, on the October 9 episode of CBS Evening News and the October 10 episode of CBS This Morning.

    PBS NewsHour briefly mentioned the health angle during a lengthy segment on the plan's repeal on October 10 that featured interviews with Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama, and coal company CEO Robert Murray. PBS correspondent John Yang did not bring up the health implications of the repeal, but McCarthy mentioned them when she said that Pruitt's move “will limit the kind of protections you will get for public health and take a significant bite out of our ability to address climate change and keep our kids’ future safe.”

    MSNBC reported on the health impacts of the Clean Power Plan repeal three times, while CNN did not mention them at all

    Of the major cable networks, MSNBC provided the best TV news coverage of the health implications of the Clean Power Plan repeal. Media Matters analyzed cable news from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on October 9 and October 10 and found that MSNBC aired eight segments on the repeal, three of which mentioned human health. On the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, NBC correspondent Anne Thompson explained that “doctors are very concerned, because if you increase the amount of coal-fired power, that means you’re putting more particulates in the air, and if that happens, that means you’re going to see more asthma attacks, more days missed in school and work from various illnesses, and more premature deaths.” Another October 10 edition of MSNBC Live featured an interview with Laura Kellogg, an American Lung Association volunteer and mother of children with asthma, who discussed how the plan’s repeal would harm children living close to coal plants. And the same day on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Melvin asked guest Mustafa Ali, former head of EPA's environmental justice program, about the health impacts of the repeal and gave Ali a chance to discuss the premature deaths and asthma attacks that are expected to result.

    (The remaining five MSNBC segments on the plan's repeal, which didn't mention its public health consequences, aired on the October 9 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, the October 10 edition of MTP Daily, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live, and the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, which featured two segments on the repeal.)

    CNN, on the other hand, did not discuss the health effects during any of its four segments that mentioned the Clean Power Plan repeal on October 9 and 10. Two of those segments aired on New Day on October 10, while one ran on Inside Politics on October 10 and one on At This Hour on October 9.

    Much of Fox News' coverage praised the repeal, but two segments did mention health effects

    Fox News aired seven segments covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and made four additional mentions while reading headlines. Much of the tone of Fox’s coverage was celebratory. Twice on the October 9 edition of Fox & Friends and once on the October 10 edition of the show, Jillian Mele presented the repeal as President Donald Trump delivering on a campaign promise to his base. On October 10, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade introduced an interview with a former coal worker by saying, “Yesterday the Trump administration kept another campaign promise because Hillary Clinton didn't win, even though no one told her yet, to end the war on coal and help American families.” Sandra Smith also covered the repeal as Trump keeping a campaign promise on the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom, and the next day she asked Fox contributor Karl Rove whether it can “be seen as a big win for this administration.” Rove responded, "Well, it’s a big win,” adding that Trump needed legislative victories as well.

    Special Report was the outlier on Fox News, citing information on health effects of the repeal in two segments. During the show’s October 9 report, correspondent Griff Jenkins read a quote from the Sierra Club noting that the Clean Power Plan would “prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year.” And on October 10, during an interview with Pruitt, host Bret Baier read a statement from former EPA Administrator Carol Browner that noted the health impacts of the move and asked Pruitt to respond to the statement.

    (The additional Fox News segments and mentions on the repeal were on the October 9 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum and the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom during the 9 a.m. hour and the 10 a.m. hour.)

    The media failed to adequately report on the Clean Power Plan in past years too

    When the Obama administration finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015, many mainstream media outlets neglected to cover the public health implications, as Media Matters noted at the time.

    Coverage of the Clean Power Plan was even more lacking last year. Then-candidate Trump promised to repeal the Clean Power Plan during his campaign, but broadcast news programs gave little attention to that pledge or to the plan itself last year, Media Matters found in an analysis of 2016 coverage. Ultimately, broadcast news failed to adequately inform viewers and voters before the election about what a Trump presidency would mean for environmental policy. Now we're seeing the Trump administration working to roll back more than 50 environmental protections.

    TV news outlets’ shortcomings this week in covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan are just part of a longer pattern of insufficient coverage.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Pruitt,” “Clean Power Plan," "EPA," "Environmental Protection Agency," "carbon," "emissions," "regulation,” and "rule.” We examined coverage on October 9, the day Pruitt announced his intention to repeal the rule, and October 10, the day he formally proposed the repeal. For broadcast networks, we examined the morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour. For cable news, we examined coverage from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

    Zachary Pleat contributed to this report.

  • Gillespie and Northam should be asked about abortion in the next Virginia gubernatorial debate

    Candidates in 2013 were asked about abortion. Moderators in 2017 must do the same.

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE & SHARON KANN

    In the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie have faced off in two debates -- neither of which has included a question about their positions on abortion. On October 9, Northman and Gillespie will participate in a third debate, moderated by NBC affiliate WCYB anchor Paul Johnson and featuring reporter Carmen Forman as a panelist. Given Gillespie’s known extremism on abortion and reproductive rights, Johnson and Forman have a responsibility to ask both candidates about their views on the issue. 

  • The next Virginia governor could ban abortion, so debate moderators must ask about it

    Republican nominee Ed Gillespie previously said he "would like to see abortion be banned"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On September 19, Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie will meet for their second of three debates ahead of the November 7 election. As the race between these two candidates becomes tighter, debate moderators have a responsibility to ask Gillespie about his extreme position on abortion.

    New polls show that the race between Gillespie and Northam has narrowed: One poll shows the candidates tied while another has Northam with a 5-point lead, but within the margin of error. Debates often serve as the first real encounters voters have with candidates, making the platform an essential opportunity for moderators to highlight the contrast between the candidates’ positions. Thus, moderators for the two remaining debates must ask questions that highlight the differences between Gillespie and Northam’s positions -- particularly Gillespie’s dangerous stance on abortion access.

    Earlier this year, while at a forum for potential Republican gubernatorial nominees, Gillespie told the crowd, “I would like to see abortion be banned because I think it is a taking of an innocent human life.” Gillespie also expressed support for defunding Planned Parenthood and banning all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, despite the lack of a constitutional basis for such a policy. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List also supports Gillespie and plans to run digital ads for him before the election. In contrast, Northam has argued that abortion should remain a medical decision for the person seeking an abortion, earning him the support of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

    As the 2016 presidential debates showed, asking candidates about their positions on key issues such as abortion rights is essential. Last year, moderators failed to ask the presidential candidates about their stances on abortion until the final debate, at which point then-Republican nominee Donald Trump falsely claimed that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported letting abortion providers “take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.”

    At the Republican gubernatorial candidates forum, the moderator explicitly asked Gillespie about whether the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade -- exposing his extreme position that abortion should be banned. During the first gubernatorial debate, however, debate moderator Judy Woodruff, anchor of PBS NewsHour, did not ask the candidates a single question about abortion or reproductive rights.

    Given Woodruff’s omission, NBC’s Chuck Todd, who will serve as the moderator for the second debate, must press Gillespie about his comments on abortion. Restrictions on abortion access largely happen at the state level, taking the form of unnecessary laws that delay and stop access to abortion. In Virginia, people seeking an abortion already must undergo mandatory counseling and then wait 24 hours to have the procedure. Gillespie’s desire "to see abortion be banned" is extreme, and it's up to moderators to hold him accountable while voters are watching.

  • STUDY: ABC and NBC drop the ball on covering the impact of climate change on hurricanes

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    A Media Matters analysis of Hurricane Harvey broadcast coverage from August 23 to September 7 found that neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey, while CBS and PBS NewsHour each aired three. A review of prime-time coverage of Harvey on the three major cable news networks found that Fox aired six segments that mentioned climate change, but most of them dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes, while CNN and MSNBC each aired five segments that legitimately discussed the link.

  • So far, ABC and NBC are failing to note the link between Harvey and climate change

    Of the three major networks, only CBS has discussed the relationship between climate change and Harvey.

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Of the three major broadcast networks, CBS is the only one that discussed climate change’s role in exacerbating Hurricane Harvey’s impacts, while ABC and NBC have overlooked climate change in their coverage of Harvey so far. 

    Since it made landfall last Friday, Harvey, which has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, has brought massive devastation to southeast Texas. By Tuesday, Harvey had already become the most extreme rain event in U.S. history. The storm brought so much rainfall that the National Weather Service had to add new colors to its weather maps to represent Harvey’s deluge. An early estimate of the storm’s cost stands at $190 billion, which would make it the nation’s “costliest natural disaster.”

    A number of climate scientists have commented on the ways climate change intensifies storms like Harvey. While climate change did not cause Harvey, according to scientists, it made such extreme weather events “more likely to occur.” And Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, said of Harvey: “The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm. It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway—but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”

    CBS was the only major network to discuss this connection, which came up during an interview with physicist Michio Kaku on the August 26 episode of CBS This Morning and an interview with environmental engineering professor Jim Blackburn that aired on both the August 30 episode of CBS Evening News and the August 31 episode of CBS Morning News. Additionally, the August 30 episode of PBS NewsHour featured a segment in which correspondent Miles O’Brien interviewed climate scientists and experts about the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. These experts explained that climate change both warms waters, which fuels hurricanes like Harvey, and increases moisture in the air, which leads to more rainfall. ABC and NBC, however, have ignored the relationship between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey.

    Conversely, CNN and MSNBC have both aired multiple segments on Harvey’s climate connection, including interviews with meteorologists Jason Samenow and Paul Douglas, who explained the climate science behind Harvey on the August 30 episode of CNN’s New Day and the August 26 episode of MSNBC Live, respectively.

    The major broadcast networks’ nightly news shows air for just half an hour each day compared to their 24-hour cable news counterparts, and thus far, they have focused their reports on updates related to Harvey and ongoing rescue operations. But the broadcast networks have a history of ignoring climate change’s impact on major storms. For instance, when a storm that brought record-breaking rainfall struck Louisiana last year, PBS was the only network that aired a segment detailing climate change’s connection to extreme rainfall.

    Given the magnitude of Harvey’s destruction, some journalists have been making forceful calls for a discussion about climate change. Naomi Klein wrote an article in The Intercept headlined “Harvey Didn’t Come Out of the Blue. Now is the Time to Talk About Climate Change,” and Eric Holthaus wrote in Politico, “If we don’t talk about the climate context of Harvey, we won’t be able to prevent future disasters and get to work on that better future.” Let’s hope that when the immediate danger of Harvey passes, broadcast networks will start having that conversation.

    Correction: This post originally stated that CBS had run just one segment on the connection between climate change and Hurricane Harvey. A subsequent search found two other such segments that CBS aired in which the impact of climate change is mentioned. The term "climate change" was not mentioned in the transcript, but it was included in Nexis' "subject" category. Media Matters regrets the error.

  • TV news missed an opportunity to report on unprecedented Senate health care legislation

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Evening broadcast and cable news coverage since June 1 has largely neglected ongoing Republican deliberations in the Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with major news networks devoting a fraction of their airtime to the prospective legislation. The sparse coverage also frequently overlooked the Republican Party’s unprecedented secrecy about its draft legislation, which Senate leaders plan to vote on before the end of the month without any input from outside experts, their Democratic colleagues, or the public.

  • Lost in the Trump chaos: House Republicans vote to gut financial protections

    Dangerous moves to unravel post-crisis financial protections cannot break through the Trump scandal bubble

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the same day former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate intelligence committee, the House voted to rip financial protections from millions of American consumers. The scant attention major news programs on the largest cable and broadcast outlets gave this crucial piece of legislation in the lead up to its passage highlights how little time major media outlets have dedicated to covering the Republican Party’s radical policy agenda amid the scandals emanating from the White House.

    On June 8, the Republican-led House passed the Financial Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs (CHOICE) Act -- or simply, the “Choice Act” -- which would gut many of the consumer protections enshrined in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. The Choice Act targets a series of reforms designed to prevent taxpayers from being forced to bail out “too big to fail” institutions in the midst of another financial crisis similar to what happened in 2008. It also weakens the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a watchdog institution set up by former President Barack Obama’s administration to protect American consumers.

    According to a synopsis published by Vox, the Choice Act would “eviscerate” reforms designed to “make a repeat of the 2008 [financial crisis] scenario less likely.” The reforms established new processes for the orderly liquidation of large financial institutions and implemented extra supervision and scrutiny for firms that pose systemic risk to the financial system. The legislation also sharply curtails the CFPB, which, as Mic explained, would make it easier for consumers to be abused by financial institutions. The CFPB and its director are seen as one of the few checks on Wall Street left in the federal government, and have been subjected to constant attack from right-wing media outlets and conservative politicians.

    Print and online news outlets such as the Associated Press, Business Insider, CNNMoney, The Hill, and ThinkProgress have covered the Choice Act fairly comprehensively, but the sweeping legislative changes it would implement barely broke through on TV. According to a Media Matters analysis, in the five weeks since the Choice Act advanced from the Financial Services Committee to a final floor vote in the House, the legislation has been mentioned just seven times during weekday prime-time cable news programs. It drew just one mention during weekday broadcast evening news programs:

    The Choice Act got in under the radar even though a coalition of 20 state attorneys general, numerous independent advocacy groups, and a wide array of experts opposed it. In a blogpost for Economic Policy Institute, economists Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz explained that the problems with the Choice Act go far beyond its unnecessary repeal of consumer protections enshrined in Dodd-Frank, and Ed Mierzwinski of the Public Interest Research Group criticized aspects of the law that would rescind protections available to military veterans and servicemembers. Financial regulatory expert Aaron Klein of The Brookings Institution wrote a column for Fortune slamming the Choice Act for limiting consumer access to information. The Southern Poverty Law Center also hit the legislation, decrying it for weakening oversight on predatory lenders who exploit low-income communities around the country.

    Rather than covering the Republican agenda to roll back consumer financial protections -- which Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has labeled his party’s “crown jewel” -- major national media outlets have been almost entirely consumed by the hastening pace of developments in investigations of possible collusion between Trump’s political team and the Russian government. The investigation coincided almost perfectly with Choice Act deliberations: Comey’s May 3 testimony before the Senate dominated news coverage for days, his shocking May 9 firing dominated the news for weeks, and his June 8 testimony -- on the same day the Choice Act was passed -- generated so much attention it was compared to major sporting events. Indeed, the truly damning characterizations Comey made of Trump under oath may influence the public’s perceptions of the White House for the remainder of the Trump administration.

    This is not the first time discussions about the GOP’s policy agenda have been overwhelmed by media coverage of the Trump administration’s scandals. In March, when the White House was rolling out potentially ruinous economic policy proposals, media attention was fixated instead on Trump’s false accusation that Obama had illegally wiretapped him. Though extensive media coverage is warranted for the Trump-Russia saga and other scandals surrounding the administration, the actions of Congress should not be allowed to proceed virtually unnoticed when so much is at stake.

    Chart by Sarah Wasko

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of broadcast evening news and cable prime-time (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from May 4, 2017, through June 9, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Dodd Frank or Dodd-Frank or Choice Act or CFPB or (financial w/10 regulation!).

  • Trump's media allies want him to fire special counsel Mueller - and he may be listening

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    President Donald Trump appears to be listening to right-wing media’s calls to fire Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who was appointed as special counsel in the investigation of Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

    The same day that Newsmax CEO and Trump ally Chris Ruddy was seen leaving the West Wing, he appeared on PBS Newshour saying that the president is “considering perhaps terminating the special counsel.”

    Ruddy’s announcement comes after conservative media figures called for Trump to end the investigation and fire special counsel Mueller. On Fox News Sunday, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich attacked Mueller, claiming his investigation will “be a witch hunt” and saying Congress should “abolish” the special counsel. Other conservatives argued that the president has the legal authority to fire Mueller, citing his close friendship with ousted former FBI Director James Comey.  

    Fox News host Sean Hannity devoted an entire segment of his show to attempting to “expose” Mueller’s friendship with Comey, arguing that their friendship shows not only that the special counsel should be fired, but also that the entire investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia should be shut down immediately:

    UPDATE: On the June 13 edition of CBS This Morning, Gingrich announced that Trump had called him the night before to discuss Mueller, saying, Trump "called me because I have been very clear about the fact that Mueller, hiring four Democrats, -- his first four attorneys are all Democrats, one of them worked for the Clinton Foundation. He apparently couldn't find a single pro-Trump attorney to hire, and I just think that that's a rigged game. And I think it's a mistake to pretend this is going to be a neutral investigation." Gingrich added, "In this kind of environment, I don't give the benefit of the doubt to somebody who can only hire Democrats who claims that we ought to trust him."