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  • Lessons from coverage of the Trump administration's attempt to block an undocumented teen's abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media widely covered the case of an undocumented minor whom the Trump administration tried to stop from having an abortion this month. While Fox News focused on a made-up story that taxpayers are funding abortions of illegal immigrants, several other news outlets provided comprehensive coverage about the implications of the case, thus identifying key facets of the Trump administration’s extreme push against the right to an abortion.

    On October 18, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow abortion access to an undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who is being held in federal custody in Texas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had argued that the government was not impeding Doe’s access to an abortion because, as Mother Jones reported, she was “free to return to her home country for the procedure.” But the DOJ appealed the ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which eventually ruled on October 24 that the government could not stop Doe from having an abortion. On October 25, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that Doe had successfully obtained an abortion.

    Doe was forced to jump through all of these legal hoops because, according to the ACLU, the Trump administration made a policy change in March 2017 that shelters could not take facilitate abortion access for minors in their care without “direction and approval” from the director of ORR, Scott Lloyd. The ACLU originally filed this lawsuit as a class action for all Jane Does in ORR’s custody who are seeking an abortion, and further litigation for the class is currently pending.

    Before the appeals court’s October 24 ruling, Vice News’ Antonia Hylton obtained an exclusive interview with Doe in which she emphasized her certainty about the decision to have an abortion.

    Beyond Vice News' interview, several media outlets highlighted crucial details of Doe’s case that will likely shape the course of abortion access as the Trump administration’s policies continue to follow an increasingly extreme trajectory. Here are four important points that media made about the case:

    HHS employs an anti-abortion extremist to look after undocumented minors

    Trump’s HHS is full of anti-abortion extremists like Charmaine Yoest, Teresa Manning, and Valerie Huber. But Doe’s case exposed another anti-abortion personality in the agency -- one who has direct control over the lives of pregnant minors in custody who may seek an abortion.

    During the October 20 edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow detailed the ways Scott Lloyd, the director of ORR, is pushing his anti-abortion agenda onto undocumented minors. According to Maddow, Lloyd “has argued forcefully” that anti-choice groups should not just focus on making abortion illegal in the U.S., but also on opposing the use of contraceptives. Maddow additionally pointed to allegations in Doe’s lawsuit that Lloyd “directed employees underneath him in his agency to tell girls’ parents about their pregnancies against the girls’ will" and that he had "directed federal employees to physically take girls to Christian counseling centers in Texas, so anti-abortion activists at those counseling centers could try to talk them out of having abortions.” Maddow concluded that Doe’s access to a doctor was “being blocked by an anti-abortion activist who somehow got this job that gave him the kind of personal individual control over women’s lives and bodies that he previously could have only dreamed about as an anti-abortion activist.”

    As Univision News’ Fernando Peinado further explained, Lloyd’s appointment to ORR “surprised many immigration activists and lawyers” since he has “little experience in immigration.” Peinado stated that Lloyd’s previous experience with refugees “was during his work as chief policy coordinator for the Knights of Columbus” -- a self-identified pro-life group that is popular with right-wing media -- where Lloyd worked with “Christian refugees and other minorities persecuted by the Islamic State in the Middle East.”

    BuzzFeed News’ Ema O’Connor linked Lloyd’s current actions with previous writings in which he said that access to contraceptives increases abortion rates; in reality, the opposite is true. Lloyd declared in an article for the National Catholic Register that “American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does.” Lloyd also rejected the idea of funding from the Title X family planning program supporting access to contraceptives because he argued that the “truckloads of condoms” purchased would fail and lead to more abortions.

    The immigration system in the US is “a harbinger of ... ‘anti-choice fanaticism’”

    Rewire immigration reporter Tina Vasquez reported that the anti-abortion agenda being promoted via the United States' immigration system didn’t start with the Trump administration; in fact, anti-abortion policies of the George W. Bush administration contributed to HHS’ current ability to deny abortion access to undocumented minors. Vasquez talked to Susan Hays, the legal director of a nonprofit called Jane’s Due Process that provides legal services in Texas to pregnant minors. Hays stated:

    Under Bush, social workers working with minors [in ORR shelters] could make legal decisions because the shelters had legal custody of the minors. But after two social workers helped an unaccompanied immigrant minor obtain an abortion, it really upset the Catholic-run shelter where they were employed and where the child was housed. … In response, Bush changed who has custody of minors.

    The change gave ORR legal custody of unaccompanied minors who cross the border. In March 2017, the Trump administration tweaked this policy to require minors to get the specific consent of the ORR director, leaving them subject to Lloyd’s rabid anti-abortion agenda. Vasquez noted that advocates say Doe’s case is a “harbinger of the ‘anti-choice fanaticism’ working its way into the immigration system since Trump’s presidential inauguration.”

    The Trump administration is using religion to deny people the right to an abortion

    The Trump administration recently made a sweeping change to the federal contraception mandate that enabled practically any business to claim either a religious or moral exception to providing contraceptives to its employees. Such actions suggest that the Trump administration will place the objectives of religious groups above the choices -- and constitutional rights -- of Americans.

    As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explained, the government’s obstruction of Doe’s planned abortion happened “because the federal government now believes it has a right to promulgate its own quasi-religious viewpoint” and to change “the law to subordinate [Doe’s] choices to government power.”

    According to Lithwick, lawyers for the DOJ relied on “a very sweeping view of facilitation” in their argument that they shouldn’t have to “facilitate” the abortion by saying they would be required to offer her post-procedure medical support -- the most elementary of obligations for a government to perform. Lithwick likens the argument to “claims we’ve been hearing in courts from religious objectors for years.” These religious objectors include the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby, who did not want to “facilitate” the coverage of birth control for their employees, or those arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood because of the inaccurate claim that “money is fungible” and thus taxpayers will be paying for abortions.

    The Trump administration’s use of religion to delay an abortion for Jane Doe caused her unnecessary anguish. As The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan reported, “By delaying her abortion, they subjected her to increased medical risks, dramatically increased costs, and the general physical discomfort of pregnancy for much longer than necessary. The mechanisms behind this fight are nothing but cruel.”

    This case is a “preview” of the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the abortion rights of the most vulnerable

    Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern used Doe’s case to explain the reality of a future without Roe v. Wade, which then-candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail he would try to overturn. Stern wrote, “If Roe goes, there will be thousands more Jane Does—detained women who would be denied access to abortion by their government. It is these detainees, then, who are on the front line of the abortion battle. That’s because it is their pregnancies that the state can most easily control.”

    Stern also highlighted the impact such precedent would have on another vulnerable community in the United States -- the incarcerated -- who are already sometimes denied abortions in federal and state prisons. As Stern explained, the process for getting a court order to have an abortion for someone in prison “is onerous and time-consuming, and officials can drag it out until the pregnancy is viable, rendering an abortion illegal.” Post-Roe, “without a constitutional right to abortion, all women in custody could be forced to carry pregnancies they do not want—then have their children taken away from them while they serve out their sentences or face deportation.”

  • Study: Trump's NFL comments got extensive cable coverage. The historic California wildfires didn't.

    Even when the NFL story was old and the fire story was new, Fox still gave more coverage to the Trump-triggered NFL narrative

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Prime-time cable news shows devoted more than three and a half times as much coverage to the NFL controversy that President Donald Trump stirred up as they did to historic wildfires in California, Media Matters found in an analysis of coverage the week after each incident began. Even when the NFL controversy was weeks old and the wildfires were at their peak, Fox News still devoted more than twice as much coverage to the Trump-sparked NFL story as to the fires.

    On September 22, Trump kicked off a national controversy when he criticized NFL players who kneeled during pre-game national anthems to protest racism and police brutality. During a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump mused, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” NFL players, coaches, and owners responded by staging more protests, and in subsequent days and weeks, Trump added fuel to the controversy by doubling down on his initial criticism and threatening to revoke the NFL’s non-profit status over the protests (even though the NFL had given up that non-profit status in 2015).

    Just over two weeks after Trump's initial comments about the protests, California experienced the deadliest wildfires in the state’s history. Beginning on October 8, wildfires spread across Northern California in what the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) dubbed the October Fire Siege. According to CAL FIRE, "there were 21 major wildfires that ... burned over 245,000 acres, ... forced 100,000 to evacuate, destroyed an estimated 6,900 structures," and killed 42 people. Estimates of the fires’ damage are as high as $6 billion, making them likely to rank among the most expensive natural disasters in California history.

    Though the fires were both deadly and economically devastating, the major cable news networks devoted three and a half times as much coverage to the Trump-triggered NFL controversy as they did to the wildfires on their prime-time, weekday shows during the week after each incident began. Media Matters analyzed the first full week of coverage after the NFL controversy kicked off and the first full week of coverage after the California wildfires began burning.

    From September 25 to September 29, prime-time cable news shows aired a combined 136 segments about the NFL controversy, with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News airing 62, 28, and 46 segments, respectively.

    By comparison, prime-time cable news shows devoted significantly less coverage to the California wildfires during the first week of coverage of the October Fire Siege. From October 9 to October 13, the prime-time cable shows aired a combined 38 segments on the fires, with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News airing 19, nine, and 10 segments, respectively. The NFL controversy got 358 percent more coverage -- more than three and a half times as much.

    Media Matters also compared coverage of the two different stories during the same week, October 9-13, starting one day after the wildfires began and 17 days after Trump’s first NFL comments. Even during this period, when the wildfires were most destructive and the NFL controversy was more than two weeks old, Fox News’ prime-time shows still devoted more than twice as many segments to the NFL controversy as they did to the fires -- 22 versus 10. CNN and MSNBC, however, both aired more segments about the wildfires during this week.

    Cable news’ tendency to focus on Trump's controversial comments and tweets rather than other news that directly affects viewers' lives is unfortunately nothing new  (The NFL players’ protests raise important concerns about racism and police brutality, but Trump’s outbursts did not help address those issues.). Cable news networks have been more than willing to sacrifice substantive news stories for anything Trump-related because coverage of the president and his contentious statements has brought them record profits and viewership numbers. But the fact that coverage of a Trump-triggered controversy going into its third week can still compete with and even exceed coverage of historically devastating wildfires puts a fine point on just how bad the problem is.

    Zachary Pleat, Alex Morash, and Rebecca Damante contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko. 

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of segments about the controversy around NFL protests and the October Fire Siege in California. To identify segments about the NFL controversy, we used the search term (NFL OR anthem OR kneel! OR pledge OR kaepernick OR stand! OR allegiance). To identify segments about the California wildfires, we used the search term (wildfire OR fire) AND (sonoma OR napa OR mendicino OR north bay OR california OR yuba OR solano OR butte OR lake county).

    We analyzed the prime-time, weekday news shows on the three major cable news networks, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. For CNN, we reviewed shows that air from 5 p.m. to midnight. For MSNBC and and Fox News, we reviewed shows that air from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (MSNBC’s 11 p.m. show, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, is not indexed in Nexis and so was excluded; Fox News airs a re-run of Tucker Carlson Tonight at 11 p.m., and our study did not count repeat airings of the show). Our time frame for analyzing coverage of the NFL controversy was September 25, three days after Trump’s initial comments, to September 29. Our time frame for analyzing coverage of the California wildfires was October 9, one day after the fires started, to October 13.

    We defined “segments” as instances where more than one individual discussed either topic during a panel discussion, or when a host or correspondent mentioned either topic as part of a news brief or headline rundown. Our analysis excluded teasers and passing mentions where a speaker mentioned either the NFL controversy or the California wildfires without any other speaker in the segment engaging.

  • STUDY: Voting rights coverage was dominated by Trump's lies and ignored systemic problems

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs and broadcast morning shows and nightly newscasts found that discussions of voting rights and issues related to voting featured misinformation pushed by Republican lawmakers and were dominated by President Donald Trump’s false claims about voter fraud and noncitizen voting. Additionally, coverage also lacked discussions of gerrymandering, the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election, and laws on the state level to curb voting rights.

  • STUDY: Prime-time cable news drowned out negative impacts of Senate health care bill in favor of covering process

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN, NICK FERNANDEZ, DINA RADTKE, NINA MAST & ROB SAVILLO

    When Republicans’ Senate health care bill looked like it was hurtling toward a vote two weeks ago, prime-time cable news largely neglected to cover several negative consequences of the bill and instead spent a disproportionate amount of time on the political process surrounding the legislation.

    Media Matters reviewed the two nights of cable news coverage -- from 5 to 11 p.m. -- between the release of the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) score of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2016 (BCRA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) announcement that the bill would be temporarily tabled until after congressional recess. We analyzed Nexis transcripts for individual statements -- defined as a single sentence -- about a wide range of reported negative impacts of the bill (including cuts to Medicaid funding, potential cuts to essential health benefits (EHBs), and a one-year freeze in federal funding for Planned Parenthood) and compared those to statements about the process surrounding the potential vote on the bill. We also reviewed coverage to see whether it included personal stories about people who would be impacted by the bill.

    During those two nights of coverage -- when media outlets were under the impression the bill was imminently coming up for a vote and potentially taking a major step toward becoming law -- process overwhelmed policy:

    • CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News made more than four times as many statements about process as they did about the negative impacts of the bill.

    • There were over 33 times more statements about process than personal stories of those who would be most affected by the law.

    • None of the three networks featured statements about potential cuts to mental health benefits, special education programs, or the negative impact of the proposed legislation on people with HIV.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    While the process surrounding the bill is a crucial part of the discussion (McConnell intentionally kept the drafting process secret and has been trying to rush the bill through the Senate), the extent to which process discussion eclipsed coverage of the impacts of the bill was staggering. On Fox News, the ratio between statements about process and statements about the negative impact of the bill was roughly 10-to-1, while on MSNBC and CNN, that ratio was nearly 5-to-1.

    Cable news made over 1,800 statements about process

    Over the two-day period, prime-time cable news made 1,835 statements about the process of passing the bill through the Senate. CNN made 792, Fox News made 274, and MSNBC made 769.

    There were no statements on any network about cuts to special education programs in public schools

    CNBC reported that out of approximately 11.2 million children in the U.S. who have special needs, “nearly 5 million rely on coverage from Medicaid and its Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.” The BCRA’s cuts to Medicaid, made by phasing out the ACA’s Medicaid expansion program, threaten the funding for this program. The Washington Post noted trepidation among school districts that say that in order “to fill the hole they anticipate would be left by the Republican push to restructure Medicaid, they would either have to cut those services or downsize general education programs that serve all students.” There were no statements made about these cuts on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

    There were no statements on any network about cuts to mental health treatment

    Cuts to Medicaid and a rollback on essential health benefits (EHBs) means that people with mental illness would be receiving “less coverage for more money,” according to HuffPost. As the Center for American Progress (CAP) noted, “The CBO’s prediction matches the reality of the pre-ACA insurance market,” when “a significant number of people did not have coverage for … mental health services.” There were no statements about these cuts on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

    MSNBC aired no statements about the one-year freeze on federal funds to Planned Parenthood

    The GOP Senate bill called for freezing federal funds to Planned Parenthood for one year, blocking access to family planning and related women’s health services that the clinics offer to millions of Americans. Defunding Planned Parenthood on a state level has had detrimental effects on public health. When Indiana shuttered five Planned Parenthood facilities -- at least one of which did not offer abortion services -- in 2015, the state experienced “an unprecedented HIV epidemic caused by intravenous drug use” due to a lack of access to preventative and testing measures. In Texas, after cuts to Planned Parenthood funding, fewer women “received contraceptive services, fewer use highly effective methods, some have had unintended pregnancies, and some have had abortions they would not have had if not for these policies." There were nine statements about this freeze on CNN and two on Fox News. There were no statements about it on MSNBC.

    There were no statements on any network about the detrimental impact on those with HIV

    Three members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) resigned in the wake of the proposed Senate bill. One of the former members, Scott Schoettes, told BuzzFeed News that the bill will “kill people” and force more Americans into bankruptcy due to high medical emergency costs. The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) condemned the bill, calling it “catastrophic for our nation’s health care system,” specifically by causing people living with or at risk of HIV and STDs to suffer and by impeding efforts to end the HIV and STD epidemics. There was no statement made about this impact on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

    Statements about increases in premiums for low-income people were scarce

    As CBS reported, the CBO found that “for low-income people ... ‘the premium for a silver plan would typically be a relatively high percent of income,’ while the deductible for a bronze plan ‘would be a significantly higher percentage of income. As a result, despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan.’” Vox noted that this would result in “making poor people pay more for less health insurance.” Additionally, The Washington Post pointed out that “by adjusting subsidy numbers and implementing policies that are projected to increase premiums, low-income people by and large end up with higher health-care costs.” There were seven statements made about these increases on CNN, one on Fox News, and five on MSNBC.

    Fox News and MSNBC did not mention potential cuts to essential health benefits

    The Senate bill “allows states to use a waiver to opt out of covering the essential health benefits package” that was put in place by the ACA, The Washington Post reported. The ACA provision requires insurers to cover things such as ambulatory care, hospital visits, and maternity care. Vox explained that in order for a state to opt out of a certain essential health benefit requirement under the ACA, it “has to show that its alternative plan would allow it to cover as many people, with coverage as generous, without increasing federal spending.” But the Senate bill “removes the guardrails that ensured state-based alternatives would offer strong coverage.” Without these standards, many patients “are likely to drop their coverage,” which, as one health care expert noted, would not serve to reduce costs because cost burden would shift entirely to the individuals who need the coverage. CNN made two statements about these cuts, and Fox News and MSNBC made zero.

    CNN and Fox News each aired only one statement about the Senate bill’s impact on patients with pre-existing conditions

    As The Atlantic pointed out, decreasing the requirements that a state must meet to waive coverage for essential health benefits would create a “backdoor way” to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Los Angeles Times columnist Jon Healey wrote that, while the bill does not “directly” remove coverage for pre-existing conditions, it “would leave” those with pre-existing conditions “open to indirect attack by state officials eager to cut insurance premiums the easy way: by allowing insurers to cater to the customers they really want to serve, which are the ones who don’t need healthcare.” As CAP’s Topher Spiro summed up, under the Senate bill, “coverage would be eviscerated for millions of people with preexisting conditions.” There was one statement about these impacts on CNN and one on Fox News, and there were seven on MSNBC.

    Fox News didn’t mention cuts in funding for substance abuse treatment

    Time reported that if the Senate bill’s proposed changes to state essential health benefits waivers were implemented, “insurers may not continue to cover … out or inpatient substance use disorder services.” And while the BCRA “offer[s] $2 billion in funding to help combat the ongoing opioid epidemic,” lawmakers and activists for addressing substance use disorders have said that “much more money is needed”; one health economics professor told Mother Jones that the opioid epidemic funding allocation is merely “a joke.” Mother Jones also pointed out that slashes to Medicaid, which is “the largest payer for addiction services across the country,” would be “crippling,” particularly “for many of the communities that voted Trump into office.” CNN made 13 statements about these cuts, and MSNBC made nine. Fox made none. 

    Fox News made just two statements about the bill's major tax cut for the most wealthy

    PBS reported that under the Senate bill, the wealthiest Americans will receive an average annual tax cut of nearly $52,000, according to analysis by the Tax Policy Center. The bill would repeal the Obama-era tax on wealthy investors, as well as repeal a Medicare payroll tax on high-income families. There were 20 statements about these tax cuts on CNN, two on Fox News, and 22 on MSNBC.

    Cable news aired only a handful of statements about the bill's potential to reinstate lifetime caps on coverage

    NPR reported that the Senate bill “could even bring back lifetime caps on how much an insurer would pay for such services for a particular patient.” According to an estimate by CAP, “About 20 million people with employer-based coverage would face lifetime limits on coverage.” There was one statement about these caps made on CNN and there were five on MSNBC. There were no statements made on Fox News.

    Fox News made only four statements about cuts to Medicaid

    The CBO report projected that the Senate health care bill would cut $772 billion in federal money from Medicaid over a 10-year period. Between 14 and 15 million people would reportedly lose their health insurance under this drastic cut. According to CAP, under the Senate bill, “many states would face serious funding shortages for their Medicaid programs.” There were 58 statements about these cuts on CNN, four on Fox News, and 54 on MSNBC.

    Fox News made only 15 statements reporting that millions more would be uninsured under the Senate bill

    According to the CBO report, under the Senate bill, the number of people without health insurance would increase by 22 million over the next 10 years. There were 66 statements made about the increase in uninsured people on CNN, 15 on Fox News, and 67 on MSNBC.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched news transcripts in the Nexis database on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the following programs: CNN’s The Situation Room, Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360, and the 10 p.m. hour of CNN Tonight; Fox News’ The Fox News Specialists, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Story with Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, and Hannity; and MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, For the Record with Greta Van Susteren, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. We searched for any of the following terms in the body of the text: health care, Better Care Reconciliation Act, BCRA, Senate health, GOP health, Republican health, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obama care, or Obamacare.

    Segments were included in the study if the Better Care Reconciliation Act was the stated topic of discussion or if two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the BCRA with one another. If a speaker mentioned the BCRA in a multitopic segment and no other speaker in that segment engaged with the comment, then it was excluded from the analysis as a passing mention. All teasers of upcoming segments about the BCRA were also excluded from the analysis.

    For each segment we included in the study, two researchers independently coded the number of statements -- defined as a single sentence -- that included:

    1. Mentions of a personal narrative that contextualized how the BCRA would impact the subject of the narrative.

    1. Mentions of the process, e.g., how the bill would pass, how members of the Senate would or would not vote, how Senators would negotiate for votes, the optics of the bill, and anything that could influence a Senator’s vote for or against the BCRA.

    1. Mentions of the following negative impacts of the BCRA:

    • Mentions of cuts to Medicaid.

    • Mentions of the increase in premiums or out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans.

    • Mentions of the potential elimination of essential health benefits.

    • Mentions of the impact of persons with pre-existing conditions.

    • Mentions of potential cuts to mental health care.

    • Mentions of cuts to substance abuse treatment.

    • Mentions of how cuts to Medicaid would impact special education programs in schools.

    • Mentions of cuts to Planned Parenthood.

    • Mentions of the impact of the BCRA on persons with HIV.

    • Mentions that the BCRA would provide significate tax cuts to wealthy or high-income Americans.

    • Mentions that the BCRA would allow insurers to reinstate lifetime caps.

    • Mentions of the reduction of the total number of insured Americans.

  • The Vindication Of Rachel Maddow

    Journalists Panned Her Report On Trump’s Tax Returns, But It Produced The Best Evidence Trump’s Tax Proposal Boosts His Own Bottom Line

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Under pressure to show some sign -- any sign -- that President Donald Trump’s administration hasn’t squandered its first 100 days in office, the White House yesterday released a one-page collection of bullet points billed as a tax plan.

    There are many unanswered questions relevant to the 200-word proposal -- among them whether the massive tax cuts it proposes, channeled mostly to corporations and the wealthy, would be temporary or permanent; whether the tax cuts would be paid for, and how; and how much the proposal would cost. Top administration officials making the rounds on the morning news shows say they don’t know how the plan would affect the budget deficit and can’t guarantee that it wouldn’t raise the taxes of the middle class.

    One thing seems clear, however: If this proposal becomes law, the Trump family will be the big winners.

    As The New York Times’ Neil Irwin noted after detailing the proposal:

    It is striking how many of the categories listed above affect the president and his family. He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on ''pass-through'' companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free.

    We don’t know precisely how much Trump will benefit from the policies he supports because he refuses to release his tax returns, breaking decades of precedent and taking a hammer to an important political norm that curbs political corruption. And so as Irwin demonstrates, Trump’s “leaked 2005 tax return” provides the best available evidence of the impact Trump’s proposal will have on his own wallet.

    For that, we have MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and The Daily Beast’s David Cay Johnston to thank. It is a vindication for Maddow in particular, who was widely criticized by political reporters for the way in which she revealed documents that none of them had been able to obtain.

    Six weeks ago, Maddow set the political world on fire with a single tweet issued fewer than 90 minutes before her show began:

    After journalists and political commentators spent nearly an hour burning up Twitter with theories about what precisely Maddow had uncovered, she revealed that her show was going to feature the president’s 1040 form from 2005, which Johnston had obtained.  

    When her show began, Maddow did not open with the contents of the document. Instead, she used her first segment to provide context, detailing the long saga of Trump’s unwillingness to reveal his tax returns and the evidence about his income that had been made public thus far. Only after returning from a commercial did she and Johnston reveal what they had learned: Trump had paid a mere $5.3 million in income taxes -- a rate of less than 4 percent on an income of more than $150 million -- but had to pay $31 million more under the alternative minimum tax, which he had proposed eliminating during the campaign.

    And the political press went wild. Not because they had learned new information about the president’s taxes that he had kept from the public in unprecedented fashion. Not because the tantalizing scraps that Maddow and Johnston had unveiled suggest that Trump’s interest in keeping his returns secret is at least in part because they reveal how much he would benefit from policies he supports.

    No, the press freaked out because reporters had to wait for 20 minutes on a weeknight and watch a cable news program to hear a scoop none of them had been able to get over the previous 20 months, and because the actual content of that scoop didn’t match whatever they were expecting.

    In real time, political media Twitter exploded with criticism for the MSNBC host. Afterward, the critique from journalists seemed to overwhelm the actual news the show had produced.

    Maddow had used “a windup that some fellow journalists, eager for any bombshells, found exceedingly lengthy,” according to the Times. She had “disappoint[ed] many in the political-media establishment with a report that was widely characterized as overhyped,” CNN reported. Her program was a “cynical, self-defeating spectacle.” She “bur[ied] the lede,” having “talked . . . and talked . . . and talked” for what “felt like an eternity.” She had made a “big-time blunder” and her “bombshell” had “fizzled.”

    Poynter.org chief media writer James Warren was one of Maddow’s few defenders on style, excoriating the press for its “mix of impatience and internet-fueled craving for instant gratification” in the face of a garden-variety effort by a media outlet to ensure the largest possible audience for its scoop. As to the revelation’s content, as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted, “The president wants to abolish the part of the tax code that stings him the hardest. In what news world is that not a bombshell?”

    With the White House’s release of a tax proposal that eliminates that part of the tax code, Maddow’s bombshell is more important than ever. But don’t expect to see apologies any time soon -- even news reports that detail how the 2005 1040 shows how Trump would benefit from the proposal don’t give Maddow any credit for unveiling it.

    This post has been updated for clarity.

    Images by Sarah Wasko.

  • STUDY: How Cable News Keeps Getting It Wrong About Abortion And Reproductive Rights

    Evening Cable News Can’t Seem To Talk About Abortion Without Relying On Men And Anti-Choice Myths

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that discussions of abortion, reproductive rights, and reproductive health were heavily dependent on male speakers and anti-choice misinformation. In particular, Media Matters found that men were participants in 60 percent of conversations about abortion and reproductive rights, and that 64 percent of statements about abortion that aired during this time period were inaccurate.

  • TV News Coverage Of Trump’s Policies Overwhelmed By His Wiretapping Lie

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Broadcast and cable news coverage of ruinous economic policies rolled out by the White House last week was overwhelmed by the president’s false accusation that his predecessor illegally wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

    On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that up to 24 million Americans would lose access to health insurance over the next 10 years if the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare goes into effect. On that same day, the Trump administration unveiled an overlooked executive order that encourages cabinet secretaries and agency directors to create a plan to completely reshape a federal bureaucracy of over 2.8 million employees. And on March 16, the Trump administration unveiled its budget outline for the 2018 fiscal year, featuring proposed “massive cuts” to nondefense spending. The proposed cuts, which would offset an increase in spending on military programs and a border wall, would hit almost every facet of the federal government, but they would come down particularly hard on funding for small programs including Meals on Wheels, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS.

    Yet according to Media Matters research, from March 13 to 17, President Donald Trump’s false wiretap claim dominated TV news coverage, overshadowing discussion of these important policy moves. While Trump’s lie certainly merits extensive media coverage, it’s also crucial to share details of his policymaking with the public.

    Trump ignited a media firestorm in early March when he repeatedly accused former President Barack Obama of illegally wiretapping him in the midst of last year's election. Right-wing media, led by Fox News, sprang to his defense even though the president offered no evidence to support his claim. Meanwhile, legitimate reporters exposed the bizarre accusation’s source as “the right-wing fever swamps” of fringe media and reported that it was pushed by a Russian state-sponsored news network. During March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey put Trump’s wiretapping lie to rest, telling the committee, “I have no information that supports those tweets.”

    Yet nearly two weeks after Trump initially made the claim, his smear of Obama still had such an influence on television news coverage that it overshadowed every other discussion about Trump’s policy agenda last week. Media Matters identified 226 segments from March 13 through 17 that focused on Trump during evening programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. Of those segments, 64 focused on Trump’s wiretapping allegations -- a figure that dwarfed every other major issue Media Matters identified. Coverage of Trump’s health care plan came in a distant second place, with 37 segments, and stories related to the portion of Trump’s 2005 tax returns obtained by Rachel Maddow ranked third (26 segments). Trump’s proposed budget outline was discussed in just 14 segments, and his executive order to reshape the federal workforce registered just four mentions.

    With television news forced to dissect and debunk Trump’s outrageous claims, coverage of pressing economic issues was eclipsed. Coverage of the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- which health care experts have said would be particularly harmful to low-income Americans, seniors, and people dealing with illnesses -- could not overtake that of Trump’s wiretapping tweet, even with the Trump administration attempting to smear the CBO numbers in the press. The executive order, which was described by CNN reporter Stephen Collinson as part of Trump’s larger goal to “dismember government one dollar at a time,” barely registered in news coverage at all. And Trump’s budget cuts, which would decimate social safety net programs, were discussed 14 times during evening news coverage on March 16 and 17, while Trump’s lie about wiretapping was discussed 35 times on those two days.

    Trump’s promotion of a discredited lie accusing his predecessor of illegal conduct while in office merits extensive media coverage, but the policies he has enacted or plans to enact can be just as destructive as the misinformation he spreads. Media cannot afford to let Trump's misleading claims dominate the news cycle, drowning out crucial coverage of the pain his policies may cause the United States.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening news programming (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as the major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, from March 13, 2017, through March 17, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Trump or executive order or federal government or federal employ! or federal worker or federal workers or civil service or government workers or government worker or federal government or budget.

    The following programs were included in the data: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS' Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS' NewsHour, as well as CNN's The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News' Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity, and MSNBC's For The Record, Hardball, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval. This survey includes CNN’s second live hour of Anderson Cooper 360 during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot.

    For this study, Media Matters included only those segments that contained substantial discussions of Donald Trump. We defined a "substantial discussion" as any segment where a host dedicates a monologue, or portion of a monologue, to Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States, or any segment where two or more guests discuss Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted when they first aired in the 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. survey window.

  • STUDY: Women’s Voices Marginalized In 2016 News Coverage Of Foreign Affairs And National Security

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Women accounted for just one-quarter of total guests discussing foreign affairs and national security in 2016 during prime-time programming on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and on the five major Sunday political talk shows. This stark disparity between women and men is actually a slight improvement over previously established trends for 2015 and 2014, but more work remains to be done to better include perspectives from women. Over the last 3 years, Media Matters has partnered with Foreign Policy Interrupted to expose and address gender disparities in news coverage of foreign affairs and national security.

  • STUDY: Cable And Broadcast Coverage Of The Economy Spiked After The Election

    Representation Of Economists Remained High In Fourth Quarter As Surprising Election Result Forced Outlets To Scramble For Explanations

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    The final quarter of 2016 saw an increase in cable and broadcast news coverage of the economy from the prior three-month period. Yet the proportion of economic coverage that focused on economic inequality decreased sharply as attacks on progressive economic policies rose. Fox News led the charge in attacking progressive policies and health care reform throughout the fourth quarter of the year, while the leading defender of progressive initiatives, MSNBC, aired most of its economic coverage after Election Day. The relative proportion of economists booked as guests during economic news segments remained higher than in years past but dropped as a percentage from the third to fourth quarters of 2016. The proportional representation of women in cable and broadcast evening news discussions of the economy reached a record, but dispiriting, high in the fourth quarter at a mere 30 percent of all guests.

  • Prime-Time Cable Largely Excluded Town Hall Attendees From "Resistance Recess" Interviews

    Talking Heads Drown Out Personal Stories Of Americans Threatened By Obamacare Repeal

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Cable news outlets dedicated considerable attention to the “Resistance Recess” that swept through congressional town hall meetings over the past week, as tens of thousands of Americans voiced their fear and disapproval of Republican plans to dismantle health care reform, among other issues. Yet evening and prime-time coverage of the grass-roots groundswell largely failed to include perspectives from those attendees opposed to efforts to roll back reforms.

    The week of February 18-26 marked the first congressional recess period of 2017 and created an ideal opportunity for American voters concerned with the trajectory of their government to directly petition elected officials face to face. Americans capitalized on this opportunity by flooding in-district town hall events across the country demanding that representatives on both sides of the aisle stand up to President Trump’s radical agenda. Among attendees’ demands was that elected officials present viable solutions to further the cause of health care reform beyond merely “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    Cable news outlets used the town hall turmoil as the basis for 53 evening and prime-time news segments from the start of the recess period through February 27 discussing how the demonstrations might affect the future of health care reform in the United States. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these discussions failed to include input from people voicing disapproval with Republican plans to repeal or significantly alter the ACA at those town halls. Media Matters identified 88 guests during evening and prime-time cable programming related to the town halls -- mostly reporters and political pundits. Only three of the 88 guests were town hall attendees affected by the outcome of this health care debate.

    The February 27 edition of MSNBC’s All In did feature an impassioned interview with cancer survivor and Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, who, though not identified as a town hall participant, outlined how the ACA granted her access to what would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive life-saving treatments. All three of the actual town hall attendees were featured in two segments aired during the February 22 edition of MSNBC’s For the Record, which featured constituents who attended town halls hosted by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). In the first segment, an Arkansas constituent named Suzie Bell, who co-founded a rural free health clinic, questioned why Cotton wanted to restrict access for the patients she serves. In the next segment, Louisiana constituents Laura Kelley and Shawon Bernard expressed the collective “frustration” of fellow attendees about a laundry list of issues, including the future of the ACA:

    MSNBC featured the most guests (46) and the most segments (29) focused on the town halls, but only two segments featured the three aforementioned town hall attendees. CNN featured 30 guests across 18 segments, but no town hall attendees in prime-time. Fox News lagged far behind the competition, featuring just 12 guests during 6 segments discussing the town hall protests and also failed to include any attendees.

    CNN's failure to book any town hall attendees during evening or prime-time slots is particularly perplexing given that the network did interview town hall attendees outside of the influential prime-time window. On the February 22 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Brooke Baldwin interviewed Rose Perkins, whose dressing down of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at a town hall the day before had already become a viral sensation. Meanwhile, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon interviewed Kati McFarland, a young woman who credits the ACA with keeping her alive despite her chronic, life-threatening illness and whose heartfelt plea to Cotton created an uproar. But the piece didn’t air until 12:19 a.m. on Saturday, February 25. (McFarland was also interviewed by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi during daytime programming on February 23.)

    The nationwide coalition of demonstrators, which progressive groups like MoveOn.org have dubbed the “Resistance Recess,” found many Republican members of Congress unprepared to face tough questions. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that many constituents stand to lose their health insurance or see their premiums soar if Trump and the GOP succeed in gutting the ACA. Rather than simply reporting on the abstract optics of these demonstrations, media outlets need to focus on the human beings who dedicated their time to safeguard legislation that benefits millions of Americans every day.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis and SnapStream search of transcripts of cable evening and prime-time (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from February 18 through February 27, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: affordable care act or aca or obamacare or healthcare or health care or protester or demonstrator or townhall or town hall.

    The following programs were included in the data: The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, Hardball, For the Record, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

  • What The Media Ignore When They Call Gorsuch "Mainstream"

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Some media have called President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, District Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, “relatively mainstream.” But this label is misleading -- if Trump’s nominee is a “mainstream” conservative judge, it is only because conservative legal thought has shifted to the far right, as The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse explained. That shift is also reflected in the extreme anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ “originalist” decisions Gorsuch has issued, which have radical impacts that some in the media have downplayed.