USA Today

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  • The AHCA Is Even Worse Than You've Read

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    A Media Matters study of four major newspapers’ coverage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) after it was passed by the Republican-led House found a serious lack of reporting on detrimental effects of the bill. Analysis of the coverage revealed a dearth of reporting on the AHCA’s negative impact on access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment, women’s health care, special education funding, services for the elderly, and funding for rural hospitals.

  • Will Bret Stephens' Climate Denial Threaten The Integrity Of The NYT Opinion Section?

    The NY Times’ Climate Denial-Free Opinion Section Is Unique Among Major Newspapers, But Bret Stephens Could Change That

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    A Media Matters study conducted last year found that over a year-and-a-half period, The New York Times was the only one of four top U.S. newspapers that did not publish climate science denial and misinformation about climate change in its opinion pages. But the paper’s recent hire of Wall Street Journal columnist and climate denier Bret Stephens may tarnish the Times’ otherwise stellar record when it comes to covering climate change.

    On April 12, the Times announced that it was hiring Stephens as its newest columnist. The paper’s editorial page editor defended the decision, saying characterizations of Stephens as a climate denialist were “unfair” because “millions of people” agree with him (an argument that has rightly been criticized for presenting a false equivalency on the reality of climate change). In a statement to The Huffington Post regarding his hiring, Stephens described himself as “climate agnostic,” adding that it “seems to be the case” that “man-made carbon emissions” are “probably largely” causing the earth to warm (an understatement given that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists say human activity is the primary cause of global warming).

    But Stephens’ attempt to cast himself as occupying some sort of middle ground on climate change belies his lengthy record of outright climate denial in The Wall Street Journal, where he often made extreme comments about climate change, calling it a “sick-souled religion,” comparing those who accept and are concerned about global warming to “closet Stalinists,” and declaring in 2010 that “global warming is dead.” Stephens has also promoted the myth that climate scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970s and cited fiction writer Michael Crichton to discount the scientific consensus on global warming. And as recently as 2015, Stephens dismissed climate change as an “imaginary enemy.”

    Stephens’ hiring is especially worrying considering that a Media Matters study examining the opinion pages of four national newspapers -- the Times, the Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today -- found that the Times was the only one that avoided publishing climate science denial in its opinion pages. Notably, for the newspaper with the next-lowest amount of climate science denial, The Washington Post, all three instances of denial came from a single columnist: George Will.

    In addition to tarring the Times’ opinion pages, the paper’s hiring of Stephens could also mar the The New York Times’ stellar climate coverage. The Times has provided readers with explainers on the position of 2016 presidential candidates and current administration and elected officials on climate change, employed visual storytelling to detail on-the-ground climate impacts, chronicled local responses to climate change, and conducted an in-depth investigation of the troubled Kemper project in Mississippi to build a first-of-its-kind “clean coal” power plant.

    Just this week, the New York Times magazine devoted an issue to climate change that covered topics such as geoengineering, climate change-induced migration in regions around the world, the threat rising sea levels pose for coastal properties, and an increase in “the potential for viruses like Zika” due to climate change.

    And at a time where broadcast network coverage of climate change is seeing a drastic decline, the Times has been expanding its climate team. While announcing that Hannah Fairfield was joining the paper as the new climate editor in January, Times editors wrote, “No topic is more vital than climate change. … With Hannah’s appointment, we aim to build on what has already been dominant coverage of climate change and to establish The Times as a guide to readers on this most important issue.”

    Let’s just hope that Bret Stephens’ “agnosticism” doesn’t misguide those very same readers. 

  • Media Fall For And Reinforce Trump’s Spin On “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Multiple media outlets and figures uncritically reported on President Donald Trump’s planned executive order promoting policies that encourage the federal government to “buy American” and “hire American” wherever possible. These outlets and figures did not note that the executive order only calls for a review of current policy, and does not meaningfully change it, and some other outlets buried those crucial details in their reporting.

  • USA Today Report Raises New Questions About Stephen Bannon And The “Breitbart Embassy”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    White House senior adviser Stephen Bannon’s housing and financial arrangements are unusually complicated. Many reporters have attempted to tackle the intricate and conflicting network of connections between Bannon, the extreme-right Breitbart.com site that he used to run, far-right billionaires, a tangle of small companies and financial holdings, and President Donald Trump. USA Today’s new report on the Washington, D.C., town house near Capitol Hill known as the “Breitbart Embassy” hints at another set of potential conflicts of interest for the senior White House official.

    The “Breitbart Embassy” has been a D.C. staple since Breitbart (then a fringe conservative site) began operating out of the residential property in 2011. As early as 2013, the town house was described as then-Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon’s house -- though it’s actually owned by an Egyptian businessman and politician named Moustafa El-Gindy. Until recently, there have been conflicting reports on the nature of any official relationships between Breitbart or Bannon and the actual owner of the property, including the nature of any financial or leasing agreements among the different parties.

    Now that Breitbart executive Larry Solov has said Bannon “resigned” from Breitbart “via phone” (though offering no proof, yet, of this separation), USA Today’s Paul Singer investigated potential current or past conflicts of interest and legal liabilities associated with the use of the “Breitbart Embassy” property -- and his findings pose some additional conflict-of-interest questions.

    Is Bannon Still Living At The “Breitbart Embassy”?

    In 2014, a writer for Vice visited the house, which he later described as “a handsome living quarters for Bannon and other company brass” at Breitbart as well as a “workspace for the website's D.C. reporters.” An October 2015 profile in Bloomberg News -- which featured original quotes and photographs of Bannon in the house -- similarly described the property’s dual usage as a workspace and Bannon’s living quarters. A week after the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported that the town house "holds offices sometimes used" by Breitbart but "isn't typically the site of the media organization's day-to-day operations." However, Bannon "would often hold team meetings around its elegant dining table” and “reportedly uses the upper levels of the four-bedroom residence as his Washington crash pad.”

    In his article, Singer implied Bannon no longer lives in the home, but he couldn’t locate documentation to back up Bannon’s living situation. When he knocked on the door of the “Embassy,” a staffer for one of Bannon’s film companies who has also written for Breitbart answered.

    If Bannon was previously living in the space -- which he does not own -- was he paying rent to either the owner or to Breitbart as a subletter? Did he continue to either pay rent to the media outlet or live there on the outlet’s dime after he joined the Trump campaign or even the administration? Could he still be doing so today?

    Did Breitbart Lease The Residential Space For Commercial Reasons?

    Though the residential property is reportedly “still the official address of Breitbart’s Washington bureau,” a Breitbart spokesperson told Singer the site was “transitioning people out of the house” and, soon, into what Singer described as “a regular office in downtown D.C.” He also noted that “the Embassy is in a residential neighborhood where it is generally not legal to run an office.” Singer also spoke with a locally elected official familiar with zoning rules, who explained what commercial uses are allowed in such a residential space and noted that Breitbart’s uses “appear to violate” the rules: 

    Breitbart CEO Larry Solov told the Senate press gallery that the company has a soon-to-expire lease in the building for corporate housing, offices and entertainment. But zoning rules for the block do not allow commercial leases.

    “That area of Capitol Hill is zoned only for residential uses, with a very narrow set of ‘home occupation’ exceptions allowing a resident (as opposed to a rotating group of occasional visitors) to work as an in-home tailor, music tutor, doctor, or the like, or to run a small bed & breakfast,” said Mark Eckenwiler, longtime chair of the zoning committee for the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the city government unit for that area.

    The uses Solov described to the press gallery “appear to violate the D.C. zoning regulations applicable to that location,” Eckenwiler said. Since the lease is not public, it is impossible to know whether the terms meet the neighborhoods restrictions.

    Does El-Gindy Maintain Residence At The “Embassy,” In Accordance With The Tax Deduction Requirements?

    As the USA Today report also notes, the Capitol Hill home is not technically Bannon’s -- it’s actually owned by an Egyptian politician and businessman named Moustafa El-Gindy. Washington, D.C.’s public records show that El-Gindy purchased the property in 2009 and appears to have been renting to Breitbart since 2011. As reported by BuzzFeed in August, El-Gindy told an Egyptian reporter he is “just a landlord” and that he rents the house because tourism has slowed in Egypt. But the article points out that El-Gindy may stay at the town house sometimes, and appears to get friendly coverage from Breitbart. He’s been quoted in Breitbart articles without any disclosure of his relationship to Bannon or the outlet at least four separate times.

    The nature of any type of lease between El-Gindy and Breitbart -- or Bannon himself, for that matter -- is not clear. Singer’s investigation adds an interesting wrinkle in the story:

    El-Gindy is receiving a homestead deduction on the property, a $72,000 tax credit that requires the owner to maintain residence in the building. He could not be located for comment on this story.

    In Washington, D.C., individuals qualify for this tax deduction if the property is their “permanent home” or if they own the property and consider it to be their “principal residence.” The Washington, D.C., Office of Tax and Revenue website indicates that violations of this tax rule could result in the property owner owing back taxes, interest, and a penalty to the district.

    There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the connections between Bannon, Breitbart, and El-Gindy -- maybe because the answers could point to questionable legal practices, tax violations, and conflicts of interest. 

  • Report: Breitbart Editor-Turned-Trump Official Is A "Sworn Member" Of "Nazi-Allied" Hungarian Group

    Sebastian Gorka Has Denied The Report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Jewish news publication The Forward reported that Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka is a “formal member” of the Vitézi Rend, a far-right nationalist Hungarian group that, according to the State Department, operated under the direction of Nazi Germany during World War II. Gorka, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump and former national security editor for “alt right” website Breitbart.com, denied that he was a member of the group when contacted by another publication.

    The Forward spoke to two leaders of the Vitézi Rend, Gyula Soltész and Kornél Pintér, who said Gorka is a sworn member of their organization. From the March 16 article:

    Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész -- a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus -- and Kornél Pintér -- a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.

    Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.

    “Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

    The Forward explained that the Vitézi Rend “is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist ‘criminal organizations’ with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.” Soltész also told BuzzFeed that Gorka is a current member of the Vitézi Rend. Gorka denied these ties to Tablet magazine, telling a reporter, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.” (Foward’s article described how Gorka has signed testimony submitted to Congress and other documents with a “v.,” which “is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend” after they have taken a sworn oath.)

    Tablet added that Gorka’s father was “a dedicated member of the anti-Communist underground, and had risked his life to organize the Hungarian resistance and deliver vital information about the Soviets to western intelligence agencies, including the MI6. He was eventually arrested, badly tortured, spent two years in solitary confinement and some more in forced labor in the coal mines before eventually escaping to England.”

    Back in February, foreign policy blog LobeLog confirmed with an expert that a medal Gorka had worn to an inaugural ball was from the Vitézi Rend. Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak defended Gorka in a February 14 article, calling claims about his connections to the Vitézi Rend a “smear” and defending the group by calling it “anti-communist.”

    USA Today reported that following Forward’s report, Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement that “Sebastian Gorka must resign -- and President Trump must make it happen,” and that the National Jewish Democratic Council also urged Trump to fire Gorka. BuzzFeed quoted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling the reports “deeply disturbing” and saying: “It’s shocking that with these revelations he’s not already fired by the president.” Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also told BuzzFeed that Gorka should resign or that Trump should fire him if the reports about his membership are further substantiated.

    A reporter for Talking Points Memo later tweeted a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, which stated "If true, [Gorka] needs to renounce his membership immediately and disavow their exclusionary message of hate. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, it is essential for Mr. Gorka to make clear that he rejects the policies of far-right and nativist organizations such as Vitézi Rend and Jobbik, which have a long history of stoking anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary."

    Before he was hired by the Trump administration, Gorka worked for Breitbart.com as a national security editor and was a paid adviser to the Trump campaign. In the past he has used anti-Muslim rhetoric and backed conspiracy theories. For example, after the Washington National Cathedral hosted an event with two Muslim groups in 2014, Gorka wrote an article for Breitbart.com with the headline “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns National Cathedral In DC," arguing that “if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim (sic) land. Forever.” Gorka also defended Trump’s false campaign claim that former President Barack Obama was the “founder of ISIS,” saying he “is absolutely right” if he meant the Obama administration “facilitated the growth of ISIS.”

  • Major Publications Fail To Identify Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups In Transgender Policy Coverage

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Major news outlets have failed to label the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council -- groups praising President Donald Trump’s repeal of nondiscrimination protections for transgender students -- as anti-LGBTQ hate groups. This failure is part of a larger trend of major news outlets failing to properly identify anti-LGBTQ hate groups or acknowledge their extremism.

  • Front Page Headlines Fall For Trump’s Press Conference Trap

    ››› ››› LIS POWER

    Following a press conference featuring many questions about ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign was in frequent communication with Russia, front page newspaper headlines the next day hyped “ringmaster Don” and his assertion that he “inherited a mess” while de-emphasizing unanswered questions and new reporting about the Flynn and Russia controversies.

  • Mainstream Media Echoes Pro-Trump Fringe, Credit Trump For New GM Jobs That Were “Planned For Months”

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    General Motors (GM) announced a $1 billion investment in US jobs and factories that it stressed at the time was “part of the normal process” and had “been planned for months.” Nonetheless, several major media outlets gave credit to Trump in either their headlines or first few paragraphs, downplaying that the decision was previously planned. Many pro-Trump outlets earlier did the same or framed the decision entirely as a Trump-influenced effort, some by referencing a tweet Trump wrote in early January in which he threatened a “big border tax” if GM sells Mexican-made cars in the United States.

  • The Media Keep Failing To Publish Accurate Headlines About Trump: An Updated List

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Before and since the election, media outlets have repeatedly failed to write headlines that adequately contextualize President Donald Trump’s lies. Simply echoing his statements normalizes his behavior and can spread disinformation, particularly given the high proportion of people who read only headlines. Below is an ongoing list documenting the media’s failure to contextualize Trump’s actions in headlines and sometimes on social media. Some of the initial versions were subsequently altered (and these are marked with an asterisk), but many of the updates still failed to adequately contextualize Trump’s remarks.

  • Headlines Tout Trump’s False Claim That Intel Briefing “Was Delayed,” Omitting Intelligence Community’s Pushback

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Multiple outlets pushed President-elect Donald Trump’s false claim on Tuesday, January 3, that an intelligence briefing had been “delayed until Friday” because officials “needed” extra time “to build a case” regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. While some outlets noted in their headlines that intelligence officials have said that there was never a briefing scheduled for January 3, many others simply framed their headlines around Trump’s false claim that the briefing had been “delayed.”

  • House Benghazi Committee Shuts Down After Spending $7.8 Million Taxpayers Dollars In A Media Fueled Witch Hunt 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After two and a half years, the House Benghazi Committee has ended their right-wing media endorsed attempt to blame Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration for the deaths of four Americans during the 2012 attack on a temporary diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.

    The House Select Committee on Benghazi was created in May 2014 “to form a 12-member committee to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the 2012 attacks” after Fox News’ unrelenting coverage of the attack for two years despite a review by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and an independent report by the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) found no wrongdoing by the administration.

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the focal point of conservative media smears when the committee revealed that Clinton had been using a private email server during her time at the State Department. Right-wing media relentlessly attacked Clinton on the private server, repeatedly claiming released emails revealed Benghazi “smoking gun[s].” They didn’t.. Adding to the political nature of the committee was admissions by Republicans that the purpose of the investigation was to damage the likely Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton.

    After more than two years and $7.8 million dollars, the House Benghazi Committee shutdown. USA Today reported that while the House Benghazi Committee “accused the government of incompetence at various levels … the [final] report did not single out wrongdoing by then secretary of state Hillary Clinton.” And while Republicans on the committee called the investigation and the report a “‘final, definitive accounting’” of the attack, Democrats “contended all along that the committee was a political effort to taint Clinton”:

    WASHINGTON — The special congressional investigation into the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi is officially over now that the panel filed its final report the day before the House adjourned for the year.

    The Select Committee on Benghazi initially released its findings in June but remained in place for months afterward trying to declassify supporting documents like emails and interview transcripts for public release.

    The final report, not including dissenting views from committee Democrats, clocks in at more than 322,000 words. It was added to the official House record without fanfare on Dec. 7 by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel’s chairman.

    The panel, which spent more than $7.8 million over two and a half years, disbanded at the end of the 114th Congress, before a new Congress begins in January.

    [...]

    Democrats contended all along that the committee was a political effort to taint Clinton, an allegation that got some traction when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News that because of the committee, "her numbers are dropping."

    The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said Monday that the final report was a “desperate rehash.”

    “Republicans voted on this partisan report five months ago, but delayed filing it and completing the committee until after the election,” Cummings said. “Republicans promised a process that was fair and bipartisan, but the American people got exactly the opposite.”

  • USA Today’s Climate Denial Problem Isn’t Going Away

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    As has become its custom, USA Today provided its readers with another dose of false balance about the science of climate change on December 11. This time, the newspaper paired an editorial criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s environmental cabinet nominations with an op-ed praising Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt while falsely disputing that human activities are driving global warming and that climate models are able to predict future warming.

    This marks at least the third time that USA Today has published climate science misinformation on its opinion pages since September, when a Media Matters study found 12 percent of USA Today’s climate-related opinion pieces over an 18-month period contained scientifically inaccurate claims.

    The December 11 USA Today editorial, which the newspaper describes as “our view,” stated that there is “a disconnect” between Trump’s seemingly open-minded words about climate change and “Trump's actions in putting forth a slate of climate change skeptics for key administration jobs.” It also referred to Pruitt, who is currently the attorney general of Oklahoma, as Trump’s “most troubling” cabinet nominee. Alongside the editorial, USA Today published an op-ed, which the newspaper refers to as an “opposing view,” by Hoover Institution research fellow David R. Henderson, who declared that Pruitt is “the right choice” to lead the EPA.

    There is no harm in USA Today providing two different perspectives about a major cabinet nominee. But it becomes a significant problem when one of those perspectives is based on egregious falsehoods about the science of man-made climate change.

    In his op-ed, Henderson repeated the myth that Pruitt is not a climate change “denier,” asserting that Pruitt is instead a “skeptic” of climate change. But the term “skeptic,” which USA Today also used in its editorial, should not apply to Pruitt, a politician who has refused to accept the consensus of the world’s leading scientific institutions that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are the main cause of global warming. As the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has explained, true skepticism "promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason," which is different from "political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong."

    While Henderson’s description of Pruitt is a problem in and of itself, his reasoning for it is far worse because it is premised on distorting climate science. To back up his description of Pruitt as a so-called “skeptic,” Henderson peddled the twin falsehoods that scientists are unsure of “mankind’s effect on the climate” and that climate models “are simply not well enough developed” to confidently predict future global warming. From the op-ed:

    Critics have called him a climate change denier. He’s not. He’s a climate change skeptic. There’s a big difference.

    It makes no sense to deny that the climate is changing. The climate is always changing. The real issue is what mankind’s effect on the climate is. Specifically, can we be sure that, say, a 20 parts per million increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause a discernible increase in the Earth’s temperature? We can’t. Some climate models that were created some years ago predicted a temperature that is substantially higher than the actual temperature we observe. The models are simply not well enough developed to give us much confidence.

    Although I have never met the man, Scott Pruitt seems to understand this.

    Contrary to Henderson’s claim that the role of “mankind” in climate change is unclear, NASA says, “Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the 'greenhouse effect.’” And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has similarly stated, "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” The IPCC defines "extremely likely" as having 95-100 percent probability, which is on par with the level of certainty scientists have that cigarettes are deadly.

    It’s unclear why Henderson chose to discuss a hypothetical 20 parts per million (ppm) increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; atmospheric CO2 levels have increased by that amount in just the last eight years. Former NASA scientist James Hansen has argued that atmospheric CO2 will need to be reduced to 350 ppm to maintain a hospitable climate for human civilization, while Pennsylvania State climate scientist Michael Mann has said that CO2 concentrations must be kept below 405 ppm to avoid the dangerous threshold of two degrees Celsius of warming since the pre-industrial period. When the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere recently surpassed 400 ppm, a wide array of scientists explained why it was a “troubling milestone.”  

    Henderson’s attack on the reliability of climate models is also inaccurate. As The Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli has noted, the 2014 IPCC report showed that “observed global surface temperature changes have been within the range of climate model simulations,” and a 2015 study that accounts for the discrepancy between air and sea surface temperatures “shows that the models were even more accurate than previously thought.”

    Finally, Henderson’s claim that the “climate is always changing” is a favorite trope of climate science deniers, even though it is a logical fallacy to suggest that natural changes to the climate in the past mean that the current changes to the climate cannot be explained by human activities. 

    Simply put, USA Today’s climate denial problem isn’t going away, and it’s high time the newspaper do something about it.

  • Major Newspapers Fail To Grasp Severity Of Putting Andy Puzder In Charge Of Labor Department

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Initial reporting on the president-elect’s selection of fast-food CEO Andy Puzder to replace Tom Perez as the next secretary of labor depicted Puzder as a “vocal” critic of Obama administration policies while failing to note the conservative media-fueled inaccuracies that inform the incoming secretary’s anti-worker views.

    On December 8, The Wall Street Journal was first to report that President-elect Donald Trump planned to name Puzder -- the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger chains -- as the incoming labor secretary in his administration. The Journal’s report, and subsequent reporting from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today, focused mostly on Puzder’s opposition to specific economic initiatives from the Obama administration -- raising the minimum wage, expanding overtime protections, and extending the scope of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- while failing to mention that Puzder’s arguments against each have been widely discredited:

    • The Journal reported that Puzder is a “vocal advocate for cutting back regulations,” which he claims “have stifled growth in the restaurant industry,” and concluded with the acknowledgment that Puzder has used the Journal’s own opinion pages to discuss “topics such as the negative effects of President Obama’s health-care law and of broad increase in minimum wage.”
    • The Times noted that Puzder believes “large minimum wage increases hurt small business and lead to job loss among low-skilled workers,” adding that he believes the ACA created a so-called “restaurant recession” by reducing disposable incomes that American workers would otherwise “spend dining out.”
    • The LA Times claimed that Puzder opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour “because he thinks that would cost many low-wage workers their jobs,” and quoted a Forbes op-ed published by Puzder on May 18 that alleged the Obama administration had created an “extensive regulatory maze” with overtime and health care reforms that drive up labor costs and “reduced opportunities, bonuses, benefits, perks and promotions” for workers.
    • USA Today’s synopsis was much less extensive, merely labeling Puzder as “a major critic of what he calls unnecessary federal regulations, including a proposed hike in the federal minimum wage” before moving on to other rumored Trump appointments.

    Despite amplifying Puzder’s criticism of progressive economic policies, none of the outlets saw fit to mention that his arguments are wrong.

    First, Obama-era regulations have not “stifled growth in the restaurant industry” or created a “restaurant recession.” According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the restaurant industry is up more than 20 percent since Obama took office in January 2009:

    Second, while it is true that Puzder is an ardent opponent of increased minimum wages -- he once argued that modest wage increases actually encourage low-wage workers to game the system so they can stay in poverty -- it is important to note that his arguments are unfounded. Puzder and other right-wing media personalities have waged a campaign of misinformation against raising the minimum wage, claiming that it hurts businesses and kills jobs. In reality, reliable professional studies of the minimum wage consistently find a negligible relationship between the minimum wage and employment activity.

    As is the case with Puzder’s opposition to living wages, the incoming labor secretary’s antagonism toward the ACA is also not based in facts. Right-wing media outlets and allied politicians have spent years claiming that President Obama’s signature health care reform law is hurting the economy and stymieing the job market despite all evidence to the contrary. In reality, Obamacare has reduced the uninsured rate to historic lows, has reduced medical debt and benefited public health outcomes while strengthening the economic security of low-income families.

    Finally, Puzder’s opposition to expanded overtime protections amounts to little more than retooled talking points generated by right-wing media. Conservative media outlets opposed President Obama’s proposed overtime expansion before they even knew the details, claiming it threatened to undermine American work ethic and turn the country into Greece. Puzder’s claim that a “regulatory maze,” which includes overtime expansion, has “reduced opportunities, bonuses, benefits, perks and promotions” ignores the obvious economic benefits of paying millions of American workers for the hours they actually work and that the overtime threshold “has the advantage of simplicity” that makes it efficient for employers to implement.

    Media Matters outlined the many ways media should approach his troubled relationship with the truth. If coverage today is any indication, major outlets still have a lot to learn.

  • WSJ Op-Ed Rehashes Discredited Evidence To Fearmonger About Noncitizen Voting

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    The Wall Street Journal opinion page provided a platform for serial misinformers -- citing discredited research -- to falsely suggest that a large number of noncitizens voted in the 2016 election. The evidence used by the authors, who have made careers out of pushing misleading claims to advocate for laws that would result in voter suppression, has been criticized by academics and flies in the face of data showing no evidence that noncitizens have voted in recent U.S. elections in any significant numbers.

    In a November 30 op-ed, Hans von Spakovsky, a National Review contributor and a current senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and John Fund, a columnist for National Review, asserted that “there is a real chance that significant numbers of noncitizens and others are indeed voting illegally, perhaps enough to make up the margin in some elections.” The authors declare that “the honor system doesn’t work” and that “there are people—like those caught voting illegally—who are willing to exploit these weaknesses that damage election integrity.”

    The evidence von Spakovsky and Fund cite to back up their claim is seriously misleading, is methodologically flawed, and has been debunked by experts. Von Spakovsky and Fund point to one “2012 study from the Pew Center on the States estimating that one out of every eight voter registrations is inaccurate, out-of-date or duplicate.” But as USA Today pointed out in a write-up of the study, “experts say there's no evidence that the [registration] errors lead to fraud on Election Day.” The article quoted David Becker, the director of Pew’s election initiatives, warning that “‘the perception of the possibility of fraud drives hyper-partisan policymaking.’”

    The authors also cited a 2014 study that “used extensive survey data to estimate that 6.4% of the nation’s noncitizens voted in 2008 and that 2.2% voted in 2010.” That study was endlessly hyped by right-wing media, but Brian Schaffner, a political scientist who was “a member of the team that produces the datasets upon which that study was based,” wrote, “I can say unequivocally that this research is not only wrong, it is irresponsible social science and should never have been published in the first place. There is no evidence that non-citizens have voted in recent U.S. elections.” Another expert, Michael Tesler, pointed out that the study had “methodological challenges” that rendered its conclusions "tenuous at best.”

    The authors additionally cited a Heritage Foundation report that they call “a list of more than 700 recent convictions for voter fraud” to dispute “academics who claim that voter fraud is vanishingly rare.” However, as FactCheck.org noted, the report found "less than a dozen individual cases of noncitizens convicted of registering or actually voting since 2000," and USA Today found that the report, which is “based largely on news clippings and news releases,” contains “only a handful of allegations of voter impersonation that voter ID could have prevented.”

    In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt found only 31 credible allegations of in-person voter fraud among the more than 1 billion votes cast in "general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014."

    Von Spakovsky and Fund’s reliance on discredited research is no surprise, given their history of pushing misinformation about voting. Von Spakovsky, who has been featured on Fox News and on National Review for years, has demonstrated an unending willingness to distort the truth in the service of restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws. Von Spakovsky, in particular, has repeatedly overstated the prevalence of in-person voter fraud and continues to push for voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minority communities and suppress legal voters. At National Review, he also characterized the modern civil rights movement as "indistinguishable" from "segregationists." Even former President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Dick Thornburgh accused von Spakovsky of being “wrong on both the facts and the law.”

  • Major Outlets Downplay The Fact That Trump’s New Chief Strategist Ran An Anti-Semitic White Nationalist Website

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Major newspapers are ignoring or burying Steve Bannon’s ties to white nationalism and anti-Semitism when reporting on his appointment as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor. By burying or dismissing the information, media are failing to provide their audiences with essential background on one of Trump’s most influential advisers.

    On November 13, Trump released a statement announcing that Bannon, who previously ran the white nationalist “alt-right” website Breitbart News, would serve as his chief strategist and senior counselor. The same statement noted that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus would become Trump’s chief of staff. While White House chief of staff is typically the most senior position in the White House, the press release named Bannon first and described the two as “equal partners” in the Trump administration.

    Major newspapers either downplayed or entirely ignored Bannon’s connections to white nationalism and his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Politico, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today made no mention of Bannon’s racist history in articles on his new position. Other outlets, including The Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, noted his ties to white nationalism and the “alt-right,” but not for several paragraphs. Rather than describe his connections to anti-Semitism and explain that he ran a white nationalist website, the articles refer to him as a “right-wing media provocateur,” a “rabble-rousing conservative media figure,” and a “flame-throwing media mogul.” All of these descriptors whitewash Bannon’s extremism.

    In addition, none of the headlines for the aforementioned pieces included any indication of Bannon’s extremist views or ties. As The Washington Post noted, studies found that “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.” By omitting Bannon’s white nationalist and anti-Semitic ties from headlines, newspapers are blinding the majority of Americans to the troubling background of one of Trump's most influential advisers.

    Politico: 

    The Wall Street Journal

    USA Today:

    The Associated Press

    Reuters

    The New York Times

    The Washington Post: 

    Bannon, who served as the CEO of Trump’s campaign, previously ran the unabashedly white nationalist and anti-Semitic website Breitbart News. During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Bannon bragged that Breitbart News had become home to the “alt-right” -- which is merely a racist code word for white nationalists. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News has featured racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBT rhetoric. The site recently made a “noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas -- all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right,’” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Before he died, Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart himself reportedly called Bannon “the Leni Riefenstahl of the tea party movement,” referring to the Nazi filmmaker.

    Bannon has his own history of alleged anti-Semitism. As CNN’s Jake Tapper noted on Twitter, Bannon’s ex-wife swore in court that “he said he doesn’t like Jews” and didn’t want his children to go to school with Jews. Esquire politics contributor Charles Pierce wrote that hiring Bannon “is exactly the same as hiring David Duke,” a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

    By ignoring or downplaying Bannon’s extremist history, major newspapers are not giving their readers the essential background information they deserve on a man who is soon to be one of the most influential people in politics.