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  • Media Matters’ Sharon Kann talks about abortion stigma in media coverage on Hellbent podcast

    Kann says that good reporting on abortion is getting “drowned out” by “inaccurate, stigmatizing right-wing coverage"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On the April 26 edition of the Hellbent podcast, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann spoke with co-host Devon Handy about four topics: (1) The Atlantic’s firing of Kevin Williamson; (2) abortion coverage that often plays into abortion stigma and ignores the reality that abortion is a common health care procedure; (3) an upcoming Media Matters study showing that right-wing misinformation is crowding out good coverage on abortion; and (4) anti-abortion fake health clinics that have taken advantage of the fragmented media space.

    1. The Atlantic recently fired writer Kevin Williamson after Media Matters found audio of Williamson defending his previous comment that people who have abortions should be hanged. Handy and Kann also discussed Williamson’s opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, in which he lamented his supposed persecution. Kann said that he ignored the harm that violent rhetoric like his can cause to those who have had abortions:

    SHARON KANN: The ultimate point he made was that he was trying to be provocative, although he did admit sloppily, because he didn't think that people who support abortion access are willing to have, I think he said, a candid conversation about the reality. And we know that's not true. There are people telling their abortion stories and there are people reporting -- there are people doing good reporting on abortion and what it means to have an abortion in the United States.

    DEVON HANDY (CO-HOST): Right.

    KANN: And that he doesn't want to engage with those stories doesn't mean people aren't candidly engaging. And it doesn't mean that he gets to call for, or at least on multiple occasions suggest, that it's appropriate for them to be hanged.

    HANDY: Right. Right. And he's also made just a smorgasbord of awful, racist, sexist comments on a number of topics and then he has, like you said, this sort of gall to go on The Wall Street Journal and whine about how the Twitter mob came for him and how, and what I think he's getting at, which he doesn't necessarily specifically say it in this Wall Street Journal article, but he said that -- it seems that he's saying that white conservative men are the disadvantaged in the media landscape right now. So, do you think that's what he's saying? Does he really believe that? I mean, again you can't speak to him in particular. But I'm just a little confused by his whole premise.

    KANN: I mean, I think his premise kind of demonstrates what the markers to him are of, not just success, but of what it means to be held accountable or to experience -- I won’t call it oppression in his case, but to experience pushback on a viewpoint that you have.

    HANDY: Right.

    KANN: I think he has a line in that Wall Street Journal piece about how if you want to understand what ideas are truly, truly oppressed, truly put upon, like look at who's getting sponsorship from Google and getting South by Southwest panels. And his implication is that for a white conservative writer, they are experiencing oppression because they're not getting corporate sponsorships. Where, on the flip side, other people are hearing the types of rhetoric that -- I mean, even if we don't want to go so far to say that he believes this, the rhetoric that he's espousing -- and having a reaction of saying, I've had an abortion, and hearing that someone would call for me to be hanged, it feels like an actual type of oppression and it feels threatening. And so for him, and I think the people defending him along that same line, to be saying that a marker of oppression is not getting a sponsorship is kind of a stark opposition to what real markers of oppression would be.

    2. Kann also explained that Media Matters’ annual studies of coverage of abortion and reproductive health in evening cable news have found that discussions of abortion are often framed around politics or religion and that they ignore the reality that abortion is a “common ... health care experience”:

    HANDY: I feel like with something like abortion rights and reproductive health coverage, it is scientific in a lot of ways and it relies on a medical, scientific understanding. And do you think that that's actually part of the conversations that we're having or is it more emotional?

    KANN: I think that -- so it's actually interesting -- that's an interesting way of phrasing the question because we've actually looked at -- every year we do a study that looks at, not just who is having conversations about abortion in particular on prime-time cable news, but how that coverage is framed.

    HANDY: Right.

    KANN: And we do one of these every year. The most recent one we did last year found that more often when we're having conversations about abortion, at least in those prime-time sections, the conversations are framed almost entirely around abortion as a political issue or abortion as a matter of faith when in reality, like you said, it is a medical practice. It's a legal health care procedure. And you know, I don't think people are usually having the conversation in those kind of ways.

    HANDY: Why do you think that is?

    KANN: I think partly it's like what you said. I don't think outlets are doing all the work they should be doing to center conversations about abortion as something that is common and something that is a health care experience. And I think part of it is that you know, even when outlets have the best of intentions they're not always giving people all the information they need to understand why certain things are happening in conversations about abortion. So, for example, in our work a lot we think about this in terms of abortion stigma, where people can be trying to have a conversation about abortion or report on a new restriction or even a new piece of legislation meant to expand access to reproductive rights, and they might include a lot of phrasing about how abortion is inherently tragic or how it's a very difficult decision. And some people might experience it that way but to treat that as the universal implies there's something not normal about that health care experience.

    HANDY: Right.

    KANN: So I think that people are kind of interacting with it in those frames. And that's why we are having the frank, fair, and factual conversations about abortion I think we would like to see.

    3. Kann also previewed an in-the-works Media Matters study on abortion coverage that will demonstrate that right-wing and anti-abortion outlets are “talking more about abortion” and talking about it in such a way that good reporting on abortion is getting “drowned out” by “inaccurate, stigmatizing right-wing coverage”:

    HANDY: So, you have been writing about abortion rights and reproductive health for over two years. Have you seen a shift in how media covers these topics?

    KANN: I think -- that's a good question -- I think, I've seen more examples of individual reporters and even specific outlets that are going out of their way to center, not just narratives about abortion, but factual narratives about abortion that focus on the voices of people who have had them. And I find that really encouraging.

    HANDY: Wow.

    KANN: On the flip side, I've also seen, in particular for major outlets, sort of a failure to center those conversations. And I think, you know, I mentioned the study that we typically put out every year; we're about to put out our most recent edition of that forthcoming. And something that we've seen in that, and that I think bears across anecdotally a lot of what I've seen for the past two years, is that right-wing and anti-abortion outlets are just talking more about abortion. And they're talking about it at a volume that, I think even when we have good instances of reporting from like progressive outlets, it's getting kind of drowned out. And so there's almost a void of coverage that's being filled by inaccurate, stigmatizing right-wing coverage.

    HANDY: Right. Has there been a shift in particular since Trump has taken office?

    KANN: I think that there's more awareness since Trump has taken office. I think, because although a lot of the policies that the Trump administration is championing particularly in the context of abortion and reproductive rights are problematic in a lot of ways, I think they're more visible to people because they're operating at a national level. But I think it's also important to remember that a lot of the policies that they're championing are either things that have been operating at the state level for years or that the people now in positions of power have been trying to push at state levels or in anti-abortion organizations for years. So I think people are more aware -- I see a more general attentiveness and engagement with people. But I think it's that full context is also hopefully something people are taking from that.

    4. Kann and Handy also discussed anti-abortion fake health clinics and how a fragmented media landscape has led to those clinics pushing their own media platforms “independent of any external fact-checking or accountability”:

    HANDY: So what are the tools that people can use or what are the things that people can look for when looking for verified or, quote unquote, “good information” from any news source?

    KANN: Yeah, I mean, I think that is sort of the basics of vetting information and critical thinking are all sort of the short of the answer. I think folks should always pay attention to where they're sourcing their news from. In particular, you know, there are outlets or there are entities that try to present themselves as media outlets but that have none of the safeguards or none of the quality control than an actual news outlet would have. So making sure you understand what the outlet is and where they're sourcing from. Making sure that if something seems too good to be true or seems alarming that you can source it back to you know, either primary documents or another like in a -- hopefully like an outlet you recognize can back it up as well and just sort of making sure you're going through all those steps to ensure that the information you're getting is accurate.

    HANDY: You know, it's kind of funny. As you were saying that I was thinking these outfits that present themselves as media outlets it's kind of like crisis pregnancy centers positioning themselves as health care providers for women who are seeking abortions. …

    KANN: Yeah, definitely.

    [...]

    HANDY: And that sort of parallel is very interesting that we're dealing with two things at once here.

    KANN: Yeah. I mean, I think that's something that we as Media Matters have done a decent amount of research and some content on our website about as well, which is that one of the most interesting evolutions I think we've seen is not just that crisis pregnancy centers, or these fake anti-abortion health clinics, aren't just operating to deceive people trying to come in, they're also, in some cases, operating media outlets and platforms independent of any external fact-checking or accountability --

    HANDY: Wow.

    KANN: -- because that is how they try to access -- get people to access their information and think they're credible. So it's not even just the centers themselves that operate in that deceptive way. They're starting to adopt these tactics as well.

  • Kevin Williamson says he was persecuted. Abortion providers and patients face much worse.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    What’s a would-be conservative provocateur to do after being fired for misleading his employer and arguing on multiple occasions that people who’ve had abortions should be hanged? If you’re former National Review writer Kevin Williamson, the answer is apparently pontificating in The Wall Street Journal about your perceived victimization at the hands of the unsophisticated masses and media elite alike, who just don’t respect your audacity to “tell people things they don’t want to hear.”

    In his April 20 Wall Street Journal article, Williamson argued that his “trollish and hostile” comments about hanging women who have abortions were meant as rhetorical strategy to highlight “the sloppy rhetoric of the abortion debate,” and not as “a public-policy recommendation.” He argued that his comments instead detracted from his intended purpose of discussing "the more meaningful questions about abortion," claiming that "there aren’t very many people on the pro-choice side ... who are ready to talk candidly about the reality of abortion.”

    Williamson’s idea that people are unwilling to have candid conversations about abortion tells us far more about Williamson and the state of right-wing punditry than about the nature of conversations about abortion among pro-choice advocates. Abortion rights advocates have emphasized the importance of empowering people to share their abortion experiences. In contrast, right-wing media have long demonized and vilified those who have abortions, describing the legal medical procedure as “sickening,” “grisly,” and on par with terrorism. In some instances, abortion providers are attacked as villains and compared to Nazis while those who have had later abortions are called “selfish and disgusting.” 

    Abortion is a common health care experience in the United States. But right-wing media outlets and personalities -- particularly those self-styled as edgy firebrands -- show little sign of candidly engaging on the topic in good faith. For example, in 2016, in response to a woman sharing her abortion story with The New York Times, The Daily Caller “edited” her narrative “for accuracy and clarity” and added stigmatizing language and ad hominem attacks in brackets. In 2014, Renee Bracey Sherman wrote about the litany of threatening “Facebook posts, messages, emails, and tweets” she received after authoring a piece about her abortion experience.

    For Williamson, victimization appears to mean suffering the slings and arrows of conservatives and liberals in “the Twitter mob,” or being denied “sponsorships from Google and Pepsi.” Meanwhile, abortion providers, patients, and clinics in the United States are consistently and openly subjected to targeted harassment and in some cases violence. According to data from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), targeted harassment of abortion providers and clinics rose in 2016 to the highest levels seen since NAF began tracking incidents in 1977, including “a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats.” Since 1993, attacks on abortion clinics and abortion providers have led to 11 deaths, including a 2015 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic that killed three and injured at least nine more.

    Already in 2018 there have been numerous reports of violence or threats against abortion clinics. In February, anti-abortion activist Luke Wiersma was “charged with sending a series of online death threats to Chicago-area abortion clinics,” and according to one report, Wiersma allegedly said that he would “do anything and everything to stop the unmitigated murders of fetuses” including “kill to stop these atrocities.” In another incident, in New Jersey, Marckles Alcius “deliberately crashed a stolen truck” into a Planned Parenthood clinic and “indicated to investigators after his arrest that the act was intentional and that he was willing to die.” These are hardly isolated incidents -- similar attacks or threats have also been recently reported in Illinois, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more.

    Beyond bemoaning his alleged victimization, Williamson also argued that his undoing was the result of “the rage-fueled tribalism of social media” and that “no one is very much interested in my actual views on abortion and capital punishment.”

    Actually, we’re very interested. And the one in four women who have had an abortion in the United States are even more so. Williamson and his cadre of right-wing allies will continue to attempt to reframe the conversation away from the substance of his remarks -- to make his firing about anything other than the ramifications of his own rancor. Williamson will continue to play the victim, but that doesn’t change the facts: He was not a conservative thought leader sacrificed at the altar of vindictive liberal bias and elitism. He casually and cruelly gave voice to the idea that people who’ve had abortions should be brutally murdered.

    Kevin Williamson isn’t the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy, or even an ill-informed “Twitter mob.” He’s only the victim of his own desire to provoke, no matter whom his argument may hurt -- and he’s learning what it’s like to be held accountable for his actions.

  • Don't believe the right-wing lie that auto fuel-economy standards make cars more dangerous

    WSJ and SFC also push false notion that strong fuel-economy standards kill people

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the heels of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s announcement this month that his agency will weaken the 2012 vehicle fuel-economy standards set by the Obama administration, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed celebrating the rollback and arguing that President Barack Obama's standards would have led to more vehicle crash fatalities. Other news outlets, both right-wing and mainstream, have also published pieces pushing the message that ambitious fuel-economy rules kill people. But it’s an unsupported claim based on decades-old data. More recent research has found that strengthening the standards can actually improve road safety and save lives.

    WSJ and other outlets push outdated claim that efficient, lightweight cars lead to more fatalities

    On April 2, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced his intention to revise the Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would have required new cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. In doing so, he ignored demands from many states, environmental groups , and consumer protection organizations to keep the Obama-era standards in place.

    Two days later, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled “Coffee Won’t Kill You, But CAFE Might,” written by Sam Kazman, who's identified under the piece as "general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute." The Journal failed to note that the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has funders with an economic interest in fuel-economy rules: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and auto companies like Ford and Volkswagen; the American Petroleum Institute and oil companies like ExxonMobil; and the Koch brothers

    "CAFE kills people by causing cars to be made smaller and lighter," Kazman asserted. To make this point, he relied on one study published in 1989 and another study from 2002 that analyzed 1993 data. Kazman wrote

    A 1989 Harvard-Brookings study estimated the death toll [from CAFE standards] at between 2,200 and 3,900 a year. Similarly, a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study estimated that CAFE had contributed to up to 2,600 fatalities in 1993. This was at a relatively lenient CAFE level of 27.5 miles per gallon. Under what the Obama administration had in store, CAFE would soon approach levels twice as stringent.

    After citing these outdated studies, Kazman tried to make the findings seem relevant today:

    Advocates of stringent standards claim that automotive technologies have advanced since that 1992 court ruling, making vehicle mass less significant. But the basic relationship between size and safety has not changed. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which closely monitors crashworthiness, still provides the same advice it has been giving for years: “Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer.”

    Other news outlets have also given industry-friendly voices a platform over the past two weeks to claim that CAFE standards boost fatalities, often citing the same outdated research and CEI staffers. These outlets include: the San Francisco Chronicle, which published an op-ed by CEI senior fellow Marlo Thomas; the Washington Examiner, The Epoch Times, and the Media Research Center, which published pieces by their own contributors; and conservative websites Townhall and CNSNews.com, which published versions of the same piece by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst at the oil industry-funded Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

    Latest research undermines claim that CAFE has increased road fatalities

    The National Academy of Sciences revised its view in 2015. The arguments from Kazman and others hinge on a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which analyzed deaths in 1993 -- a 16-year-old study based on 25-year-old data. Basing their claims on such dated information is highly questionable; automotive safety technology and design have advanced substantially in the past quarter century.

    Also, the 2002 NAS study included an appendix with a dissent by two of the report’s authors who argued, “The relationship between fuel economy and highway safety is complex, ambiguous, poorly understood, and not measurable by any known means at the present time.” As such, the two wrote, the study's conclusions on safety were “overly simplistic and at least partially incorrect.”

    Kazman and his fellow CAFE critics also ignored how the government adjusted rules to improve safety after the 2002 study was released, and they neglected to mention a more recent 2015 National Research Council study. The 2002 NAS study recommended tying fuel-economy goals to vehicle attributes such as weight, and the federal government implemented these recommendations in 2009. By 2015, researchers concluded that these changes had yielded appreciable benefits to highway safety.

    As a February 12, 2018, Bloomberg article explained:

    The [2002 NAS] study recommended several changes to the efficiency regulations, including basing fuel economy on an attribute such as vehicle weight. That would mitigate an incentive for automakers to sell smaller, fuel-sipping cars to offset sales of gas-guzzling trucks.

    That change was made in 2009, when NHTSA [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] began tying fuel economy targets to a vehicle’s "footprint," the area between an automobile’s four wheels.

    In 2015, the academy released a new study that concluded the change to a footprint measurement had satisfied many of its safety concerns.

    From a press release describing the 2015 study conducted by the National Research Council, the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences: “Manufacturers are likely to make cars lighter in their efforts to improve fuel economy. The most current studies support the argument that making vehicles lighter, while keeping their footprints constant, will have a beneficial effect on safety for society as a whole, especially if the greatest weight reductions come from the heaviest vehicles, the report says.” Still, researchers recommended that NHTSA monitor and mitigate safety risks as automakers transition to lighter cars.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supported Obama's CAFE rules. Kazman also cited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as he tried to argue that Obama-era fuel-economy rules were dangerous. But a spokesperson for the institute, Russ Rader, said that it supported the Obama plan. "The Obama-era changes to the rules, essentially using a sliding scale for fuel economy improvements by vehicle footprint, addressed safety concerns that IIHS raised in the past," Rader told Bloomberg in February. 

    A 2017 study found that CAFE standards can cut down on deaths. Research released last year found that fuel-economy standards could actually decrease fatalities. The 2017 study on pre-Obama CAFE standards, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that "on net CAFE reduced fatalities.” The Washington Post summed it up with this headline: "Scientists just debunked one of the biggest arguments against fuel economy standards for cars." The Post article explains how lighter cars might lead to fewer deaths:

    Say you observe a crash between two SUVs, both around the same size. If you downsize one of those vehicles to a Smart car, the chance of its passengers being injured or killed may increase. On the other hand, if you downsize both vehicles, the overall risk of fatality might actually become smaller than it was to begin with.

    The researchers argue that, in the past, critics have only examined the effects of reducing an individual vehicle’s weight and not the standards’ overall effects on all vehicles in circulation — an important distinction.

    […]

    “I think one of the findings of this study is that these [safety] concerns have been drummed up as the reason to get rid of this standard,” [study coauthor Kevin] Roth said. “We’re essentially showing that these concerns are probably overblown.”

    Another coauthor of the study said that the safety benefits on their own are a good argument for maintaining fuel-economy standards, even without considering environmental benefits.

    Because the science underpinning vehicle efficiency and safety is complex, industry-aligned organizations such as CEI are able to cherry-pick and manipulate specific data to meet their predetermined conclusions. For those who want to obtain a comprehensive understanding of vehicle efficiency standards and their myriad benefits, there are many useful resources, including a 2012 report jointly produced by the EPA and NHTSA, which details how the agencies took safety into account as they formulated the CAFE standards that the Trump administration intends to roll back.

  • Oklahoma’s largest newspaper blamed Democrats for a Republican problem with abortion

    The editorial board said the failure of an ACA stabilization bill was because Democrats want "abortion on demand"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Recently, Oklahoma has attracted attention from extreme anti-abortion groups because Dan Fisher -- a Republican gubernatorial candidate -- has been very vocal about his desire to “abolish abortion” and his belief that courts should ignore Roe v. Wade. On the heels of that news, the editorial board of a local newspaper tapped into the same well of anti-abortion sentiment to forward an inaccurate assessment of the effort by Congress to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.

    On March 28, the editorial board of The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in Oklahoma, ran an editorial laying the blame on Democrats and their “insistence on unfettered abortion rights” for Congress’ failure to pass an Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium stabilization bill. However, the debate in Congress was actually over the inclusion of language in the bill that would have expanded the Hyde Amendment -- which prohibits the use of federal funds to provide for abortions -- to stop private insurers selling over the ACA exchange from covering abortion as well. In simple terms, Republicans wanted the language included (a change from the status quo), and Democrats did not.

    Even though Republicans were pushing for a more restrictive version of the Hyde Amendment, the editorial board said that blame for the bill's failure should at least partially rest with Democrats. The outlet argued that “Democrats' claims of surprise are hard to buy” because “iterations” of the Hyde Amendment “have existed in various forms “in health-related legislation since 1976.” In addition to misrepresenting the nature of Democrats’ opposition, the editorial board also promoted the right-wing myth that Democrats support “abortion on demand.”

    The Oklahoman wasn’t alone in its inaccurate framing of Democrats’ stance on abortion rights and how it impacted the ACA stabilization bill. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal similarly blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure, writing that “the left has abandoned the idea that abortion is a personal choice and now regards it a self-evident right that everyone must subsidize.” The Wall Street Journal also recently published an opinion piece from Cardinal Timothy Dolan in which he claimed the Democratic Party had alienated Catholics in pursuit of “the most radical abortion license in the country.”

    However, as reported by Politico, the inclusion of the expanded Hyde Amendment language would have curtailed coverage for abortion from private insurers in the marketplaces -- a meaningful distinction that The Oklahoman and others failed to unpack. Indeed, Democrats said their objection wasn’t to the inclusion of any Hyde language, but that the language in question “would significantly expand federal funding restrictions on abortion” because “any insurance plan that covered abortion wouldn’t be able to get federal funds from Obamacare, or worse, insurers in some states wouldn’t be allowed to sell any individual market health plan that covers abortion.”

    In other words, as HuffPost concluded, the proposal would have made it “almost certain no insurer offering coverage to individuals would include abortion coverage.” Under the ACA’s current structure, the Hyde Amendment restrictions are not violated because insurers that want to provide abortion coverage do so through “separate spending accounts, filled only with premiums they have received directly from individuals.” Contrary to the framing used by The Oklahoman and others that the Democrats played spoiler, Politico also reported that when “Democrats offered language similar to what was in the Affordable Care Act,” Republicans rejected this offer. Instead, Republicans demanded “permanent Hyde Amendment language” in the bill that would also apply to private insurers.

    It should be noted that, while the Democrats weren't objecting to the Hyde Amendment as it currently exists, the law is actually an extremely harmful policy that, as the Center for American Progress noted, has “a disproportionate impact on low-income women, young women, and women of color.” It leads to “poor health outcomes” and “contributes to a culture rife with abortion stigma.” It’s also not even popular with voters.

    Rather than discuss any of this, the editorial board of The Oklahoman oversimplified the debate in order to place blame on Democrats and allege that their position on abortion was extreme.

  • Major US newspapers ignored the role of fake news in Italy's high-stakes general election

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A far-right party and an anti-establishment party that controls a fake news network won in major upsets in Italy’s general election on March 4 and are now vying to form a majority government. But major U.S. newspapers, some of which had previously covered the threat of fake news in Italy, entirely ignored the likely role fake news played in the election’s outcome.

    Researchers in Italy noted the increasingly alarming role of fake news after Italy’s 2013 election. But the country began paying closer attention to the problem after BuzzFeed and Italian newspaper La Stampa exposed anti-establishment party 5-Star Movement’s foundational role in a network of blogs and social media accounts spreading fake news, conspiracy theories, and Russian propaganda. In November 2017, a year after its original report, BuzzFeed reported on another network spreading hyperpartisan misinformation on Facebook, this one run by “an entrepreneur in Rome with links to a secretive Italian Catholic association.” That same month, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asked social media companies, particularly Facebook, to “help us have a clean electoral campaign. The quality of the democracy in Italy today depends on a response to these issues.” In January 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations summarized the threat of fake news and Russian-backed misinformation in Italy (page 137 of the report) and called on the U.S. government to cooperate with Italy on addressing the issue.

    Despite warnings from the U.S. and Italian governments, investigative reporting from media outlets and, in the case of The New York Times and The Washington Post, major newspapers’ own reporting on the role of fake news in Italian elections, these papers failed to acknowledge the possible links between far-right misinformation campaigns and the March 4 election outcome that was aligned with their message.

    According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage on Italy’s election day and the following two days, major U.S. newspapers including the Post, the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today engaged in zero significant discussions of the threat of fake news in the Italian election. Two passing mentions of “conspiracy theories” in the Times' op-ed section were the closest the outlet came to discussing the role of fake news.

    The failure of these major outlets to connect widely reported, far-right, election-oriented fake news to far-right electoral outcomes raises serious concerns over their ability to inform readers about the threat of fake news for democracies around the world.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Italy” and “election” in the print editions of The Washington Post, USA Today, and The New York Times on March 4 through March 6, 2018. We used Factiva for The Wall Street Journal. We searched the resulting 26 articles for mentions of “news,” “media,” “fake,” “misinformation,” “conspiracy,” and “Russia.”

  • Fox and CBS' Sunday political shows ignored reports of former RNC finance chair Steve Wynn's sexual misconduct

    Blog ››› ››› SANAM MALIK

    The Sunday shows on Fox Broadcasting Co. and CBS failed to mention new allegations of sexual misconduct against casino mogul and former finance chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) Steve Wynn.

    On January 26, The Wall Street Journal reported on allegations of sexual misconduct by Wynn from dozens of his employees and others at Wynn Resorts spanning decades. According to the Journal, people who have worked at for Wynn “described him pressuring employees to perform sex acts.” In one case, Wynn paid a $7.5 million settlement to a manicurist who “told a colleague Mr. Wynn had forced her to have sex.”

    Wynn, who President Donald Trump has called “a great friend,” has “donated millions to Republicans” and became the RNC’s finance chair after the 2016 election. He has also donated far smaller amounts to some Democrats in the past. Wynn resigned from his position at the RNC following these reports.

    Despite the serious nature of the allegations and the growing attention to sexual misconduct issues in the workplace brought by the #MeToo campaign, the January 28 editions of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation ignored the reports altogether.

  • Climate journalism focuses too much on Trump and not enough on extreme weather, new reports find

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Two new studies highlight different troubling trends in climate change reporting. First, a disproportionate amount of climate journalism in 2017 was focused on the Trump administration's actions and statements, meaning that other climate stories got less coverage than they warranted. Second, media last year consistently failed to explain how events such as extreme weather are connected to climate change.

    A research group at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the International Collective on Environment, Culture and Politics (ICE CaPs), produced the findings that illustrate how much climate coverage has been driven by President Donald Trump. It examined coverage last year in five major American newspapers: The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. In the 4,117 stories in those papers that mentioned "climate change" or "global warming," the word “Trump” appeared 19,184 times -- an average of nearly 4.7 times per article. 


    Credit: Boykoff, M., Andrews, K., Daly, M., Katzung, J., Luedecke, G., Maldonado, C. and Nacu-Schmidt, A. (2018) A Review of Media Coverage of Climate Change and Global Warming in 2017, Media and Climate Change Observatory, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado

    The researchers argued that Trump-centric coverage can crowd out other reporting on climate change: “Media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold.”

    Public Citizen, a non-profit organization that advocates for consumer rights, took a different approach in examining climate coverage in 2017. It searched a wide array of U.S. newspapers and TV and radio news programs for stories on extreme weather and pest-borne illness and then checked whether those stories mentioned climate change. The vast majority did not. At the high end, 33 percent of pieces on record heat included the words "climate change" or "global warming." At the low end, just 4 percent of pieces discussing Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, or Nate mentioned climate change. Or, in other words, 96 percent of stories about 2017’s historic hurricane season did not note the role of climate change in making hurricanes more damaging.

    Public Citizen's findings align with studies done by Media Matters last year that found TV news outlets repeatedly failed to report on how climate change is linked to more intense hurricanes, heat waves, and wildfires.

    These two new alarming reports bolster the argument that we need better reporting on climate change. It is natural that Trump’s statements and actions as president will drive some climate journalism, particularly because his administration is unraveling a wide variety of climate protections. But too often the focus is on Trump himself instead of the ways his administration's moves will affect millions of Americans and others around the world. And the inordinate attention given to even Trump's minor utterances and tweets displaces national discourse around important aspects of climate change, such as its impact on extreme weather.

    No matter what latest Trump scandal plays out on cable news or the front pages of newspapers, climate reporters still need to focus on how climate change is happening in the real world and how climate policy affects real people. In 2017, there were too many underreported or unreported climate stories. Will 2018 be any better?  

  • The 10 most ridiculous things media figures said about climate change and the environment in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    1. Breitbart’s James Delingpole claimed 400 new scientific papers show global warming is a myth.

    Numerous studies have found near-unanimous scientific agreement on human-caused climate change, with perhaps the most well-known study on the matter finding that 97 percent of scientific papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agree that humans are behind it. And this year, a review of the 3 percent of papers that deny climate change found that they were all flawed. Nonetheless, Breitbart writer Delingpole claimed that 400 scientific papers published this year demonstrated that climate change is a “myth,” basing his article on a post on the denialist blog No Tricks Zone.The fact-checking website Snopes roundly debunked Delingpole’s article, giving it a “False” verdict after speaking with authors of some of the cited papers who said their work was grossly misinterpreted or misrepresented.

    2. The Daily Mail claimed government researchers “duped” world leaders with "manipulated global warming data."

    Daily Mail reporter David Rose alleged that climate scientists "rushed" to publish an "exaggerated" paper in an attempt to convince leaders to support the Paris agreement and spend billions to fight climate change. Rose, who has written his fair share of climate misinformation for the Mail, based his story on an “exclusive interview” with and a blog post by retired U.S. government scientist John Bates. The error-ridden article quickly made its way around right-wing media in outlets such as The Daily Caller, National Review, and Breitbart, and was even promoted by GOP members of the House science committee, including its chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The story’s claims also received “at least 752,300 shares, likes, comments, or other interactions on social media,” according to a Buzzfeed analysis. But the claims in the article were widely discredited by climate scientists, including Bates’ former colleagues and even Bates himself. The errors in the Mail’s article were so significant that the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., issued a ruling that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Daily Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand.

    3. Radio host Rush Limbaugh said he was "leery" of hurricane forecasts because they advance a "climate change agenda."

    As Hurricane Irma barrelled toward Florida, Limbaugh spun conspiracy theories and told his listeners that hurricane warnings are part of a scheme to benefit retailers, the media, and people like Al Gore who want to "advance this climate change agenda." Notably, Limbaugh didn’t have any skepticism about the danger Irma posed when it came to his own well-being, as he fled from his Florida home to Los Angeles before Irma made landfall. It's not the first time Limbaugh has spouted irresponsible conspiracy theories about hurricane forecasts. He was criticized last year for doing the same thing during Hurricane Matthew, earning himself a spot on the 2016 edition of this list.

    4. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued that because political operatives were wrong in predicting Hillary Clinton would win the election, people should be skeptical of climate science.

    After Trump’s election, The New York Times launched an ad campaign billing itself as the antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.” Shortly after that campaign, though, the Times hired Stephens as a columnist -- a serial misinformer who had called climate change a “sick-souled religion” during his time at The Wall Street Journal. In his inaugural column for the Times, Stephens encouraged skepticism of climate scientists and compared those who advocate climate action to Cold War-era authoritarians. Stephens’ column was short on actual facts and science; the one time he cited a scientific report, he got it wrong. The Times added a correction to the column, but numerous scientists pointed out that the correction wasn’t sufficient, and a number of scientists canceled their subscriptions over Stephens’ hiring, his problematic column, and the Times public editor’s dismissive defense of Stephens’ column. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt later cited Stephens' column to defend the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.

    5. Conservative media commentator Stephen Moore claimed that Trump created tens of thousands of coal jobs in the first few months of his presidency.

    Experts and journalists have repeatedly noted that President Donald Trump's campaign promise to bring back coal jobs is an empty one, since the decades-long decline in coal mining jobs has been driven much more by economic forces, such as increased automation and competition from natural gas and renewables, than by government regulations. But that didn’t stop Moore, a frequent Fox and CNN commentator and former Trump economic advisor, from proclaiming in op-eds in The Washington Times and Breitbart that Trump had already made good on his promise after just a few months in office. Moore cited jobs reports from March and April to claim that Trump had added tens of thousands of mining jobs, thereby restoring the coal industry. But Moore grossly misrepresented the data he cited, which actually included jobs in a number of sectors like oil and gas. Had Moore bothered to look at the actual coal mining jobs category, he would have seen that it had only grown by approximately 200 jobs through April, barely moving since Election Day.

    6. Radio host Hugh Hewitt recommended appointing Rush Limbaugh to a national commission to study climate change.

    In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hewitt proposed creating a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” But Hewitt’s proposal instantly lost all credibility when he suggested including Rush Limbaugh as one of the commission members. Limbaugh has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, promoted dangerous climate-related conspiracy theories, misrepresented research in an attempt to dispute that global warming is happening, and even criticized a TV show for portraying climate change as a reality.

    7. Fox hosts attacked a journalist and called him "stupid" for asking a Trump official about the links between hurricanes and climate change.

    2017 was a record year for hurricanes, as Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc along their respective paths. A number of climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes. While CNN and MSNBC frequently aired segments discussing the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, Fox News hosts almost exclusively covered the climate change-hurricane link by criticizing others who raised the issue. The September 11 episode of Fox's The Five, for example, featured a lengthy discussion in which hosts criticized CNN's Jim Acosta for asking Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert whether there's a link between climate change and powerful hurricanes. The hosts said that Acosta was “anti-science” and looked “stupid” and “dumb,” and they called his question was "politically opportunistic." Fox's Jesse Watters said concern about climate change stems from liberal “guilt” and a desire to control people’s lives. Likewise, on the radio show Breitbart News Daily, host Alex Marlow pushed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to deny the link between climate change and hurricanes, which Pruitt did, stating, “For opportunistic media to use events like this to, without basis or support, just to simply engage in a cause-and-effect type of discussion, and not focus upon the needs of people, I think is misplaced."

    8. Rush Limbaugh argued that the historic BP oil spill caused no environmental damage.

    Limbaugh cited an article in the right-wing Daily Caller headlined “Bacteria Are Eating Most Of The 2010 BP Oil Spill” and concluded, “The BP spill didn’t do any environmental [damage].” The Deepwater Horizon spill, which leaked oil for 87 days, was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in world history. Researchers have documented a wide array of negative environmental impacts from the disaster. For example, a 2016 study found that the BP spill may have caused irreversible damage to one of the Gulf shore’s most important ecosystems. The spill is believed to have killed tens of thousands animals in 2010, and for years afterward, dolphins and other animals in the area continued to die at higher-than-normal rates.

    9. Fox News’ Jesse Watters claimed, “No one is dying from climate change.”

    During a discussion about Al Gore’s warnings on climate change, Watters, a co-host of Fox News’ The Five, declared, “People are dying from terrorism. No one is dying from climate change.” Rush Limbaugh also made the same assertion this year. But an independent report commissioned by 20 governments in 2012 concluded that climate change already kills more people than terrorism, with an estimated 400,000 deaths linked to climate change each year.

    10. Radio host Alex Jones said it was "suspicious" that Hurricane Irma came along shortly before the release of a climate disaster movie.

    Jones briefly speculated about the possibility that Hurricane Irma was “geoengineered” or created by humans before stating, “Meanwhile, though, right on time with these superstorms, we have the new film Geoengineering (sic) 2017, coming soon on October 20. Oh, just a little bit more than a month or so after Irma is set to hit. Isn’t that just perfect timing? Like all these race war films they’ve been putting out. This is starting to get suspicious. Here it is, Geostorm.” The action movie Geostorm featured satellites that controlled the global climate. Jones' speculation about the film is just one of the countless conspiracy theories he has promoted over the years.

  • How right-wing media are laying the groundwork for an assault on voting rights in 2018

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    For years, right-wing media have systematically attacked voting rights in America. In 2017 especially, right-wing media continued to push falsehoods and flawed talking points in an attempt to justify voter suppression, and with the support of the Trump administration are laying the groundwork for a renewed assault on the right to vote.

    Right-wing media have long excelled at pushing misleading talking points and myths, no matter how stale, about voting. And since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder dismantled part of the seminal Voting Rights Act, these falsehoods have been used by lawmakers in support of discriminatory policies to disenfranchise voters at a dangerous pace.

    This year was no exception. Following the results of special elections in which Democrats overperformed and exceeded expectations, right-wing media once again turned to a series of myths and talking points parroted by Republicans. Whether intentional or not, this misinformation will likely be used by GOP lawmakers and anti-voting activists to make it harder for everyone to cast a ballot in 2018.

    Voter fraud in Alabama

    Following the surprising victory of Sen.-elect Doug Jones, a Democrat, in Alabama, right-wing and far-right media cried voter fraud in an attempt to discredit the results.

    While voting took place and shortly thereafter, several fake news and so-called “satirical” websites attempted to claim that voter fraud had taken place. Perhaps the most successful myth promoted by fake news websites, pro-Trump Twitter trolls, and far-right conspiracy outlets was a video claiming to show that a man admitted people had committed voter fraud by coming in from out-of-state to vote for Jones.

    What the unidentified Jones supporter actually said was not as much an unlikely admission of illegality but clearly a likely reference to the coordinated attempt to canvass and assist voter registration and voting. He told FOX10 News in Alabama:

    We came here all the way from different parts of the country as part of our fellowship, and all of us pitched in to vote and canvas together, and we got our boy elected.

    As Splinter News pointed out, the man’s comment was “casual and seemingly innocuous,” and not an admission of voter fraud. Nevertheless, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, announced on December 18 that he planned to launch an investigation into potential voter fraud in the election based on that video, even though he reportedly admitted that the state doesn’t have any evidence of voter fraud and the young supporter could have been “play[ing] a canvassing roll (sic)” or “was part of a process that went out and tried to register voters.”

    For years, politicians have used the specter of “voter fraud” as grounds not only to implement discriminatory voter ID laws, but also to launch chilling investigations designed to depress future voting efforts. Alabama voter fraud claims from the far-right and conspiracy theorists may be just helping these efforts come to fruition even faster.

    Voter ID laws in Alabama

    One of the most recycled hot takes to come out of the Alabama special election came from Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley, who cited high Democratic turnout numbers to dismiss criticism over voter ID laws. Riley wrote in a December 19 op-ed:

    Democratic Party officials and media elites insist that asking people to prove their identities before voting effectively disenfranchises minorities, but most Americans understand the importance of ballot integrity. And if such laws make it too difficult for blacks to cast a ballot, what explains the Obamalike minority turnout for Mr. Jones, given that Alabama implemented one of the country’s toughest voter ID requirements in 2014?

    Scaremongers liken voter ID laws to the literacy tests and violence used to intimidate black voters under Jim Crow. But what happened last week in Alabama is not uncommon. Strict voter ID laws were passed in Georgia and Indiana more than a decade ago, and in 2008 the Supreme Court concluded that they are reasonable and constitutional. Subsequently, minority turnout increased not only within both states but also compared with other states that lack voter ID laws. Similarly, black voter registration and turnout remained level in Texas and went up in North Carolina after those states implemented voter ID mandates.

    Riley is wrong for several reasons.

    The first is that many people did have trouble voting in the election due to the onerous voter ID requirements in Alabama. Voters in Mobile told AL.com that they were “referred to a clerk rather than being allowed to immediately vote” if their addresses on their driver licenses didn’t match the ones of their voter registration. According to Courthouse News, poll watchers with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund “found voters running into trouble casting their ballots” due to the state’s voter ID law. Additionally, ThinkProgress reported that black Alabamians were forced to cast provisional ballots due to inconsistencies between IDs and voter rolls.

    The second is that Riley’s argument about high turnout proving a lack of voter suppression has been used in other states before -- and when it has, it’s been found to be ridiculous. Sundeep Iyer, formerly of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, pointed out years ago that those who claim that higher-than-expected turnout rates excuse voter ID need "a simple statistics lesson.” As election law expert Justin Levitt told TalkingPointsMemo, “It’s called the correlation-causation fallacy, and anybody who’s had statistics for a week can talk to you about it.”

    (It’s also not inconceivable that the racist rhetoric and fondness for slavery expressed by Jones’ opponent, Republican Roy Moore, may have spurred turnout among African-Americans in Alabama to a degree that even voter suppression couldn’t depress.)

    Study after study has found stringent voter ID laws negatively affect minority voters when implemented. But Riley’s argument is simplistic and convenient enough for anti-voting advocates and lawmakers to apparently never cease repeating it in order to support these laws.

    Felon voting in Virginia

    Meanwhile, after a surprise win for Democrats in Virginia, Fox News host Tucker Carlson used the results to attack a policy implemented by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, to restore voting rights to convicted felons. After Democrat Shelly Simonds defeated a Republican incumbent by a one-vote margin for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates (thereby creating a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the legislative body) in a race that was later deemed a tie, Carlson blamed McAuliffe’s move to re-enfranchise convicted felons for Simonds’ victory and the ensuing power shift in the House of Delegates:

    But winning an election by one vote means that everything from felon re-enfranchisement to an on-time bus could change the course of a race.

    Carlson’s comments cannot be taken in good faith. Carlson is joining a chorus in conservative media decrying and fearmongering over felon re-enfranchisement in an attempt to deter lawmakers from following McAuliffe’s lead and allowing American citizens to vote

    While all of these recent attacks have been made for years, they must be taken even more seriously now. With a cooperative administration in place -- not to mention a continuous loop between conservative media and the White House -- these attacks over the right to vote have a real chance of taking hold and informing law and policy. As the 2018 midterms get closer and closer, these attacks could be devastatingly effective, and potentially leave a real-life stain on our democracy.

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

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Media coverage of heat waves and hurricanes often fell short

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -----

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

  • Media ignore Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s other extremist belief: climate change denial

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Roy Moore, Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, has drawn media attention for his extreme and dangerous views on homosexuality, birtherism, and the role of Christianity in government (even though much of the coverage has been inadequate and misleadingly framed). But one of his extreme positions has received almost no major media attention at all: his absolute denial of climate science.

    Media Matters has found that, from the time Moore announced his candidacy on April 26 to October 31, the major broadcast evening news shows, prime-time cable news programs, and national newspapers have all neglected to report on Moore's views on climate change, one of the most significant issues he would face if elected to the U.S. Senate. Over the same period, four of the top five largest-circulation newspapers in Alabama also failed to report on Moore and climate change.

    The Montgomery Advertiser is the outlier: The Alabama newspaper asked Moore's campaign about climate change but didn't receive an answer. In July, the paper ran an article about climate change and the Senate race, reporting that "Moore’s campaign declined to answer questions on the subject." In August, the Advertiser again reported that Moore "declined to answer questions on the issue."

    Both Advertiser articles refer to Moore's campaign website, which lists a brief position on energy but makes no mention of the climate: "To gain independence from foreign oil, we need to foster development of our own natural resources involving nuclear, solar, wind, and fossil fuels. Coal mining and oil drilling should be encouraged, subject only to reasonable regulations."

    However, despite his recent reticence on the subject, Moore has made his climate denial clear in the past. In 2009, he published an op-ed about climate change on fringe website WorldNetDaily, as HuffPost’s Alexander C. Kaufman recently pointed out. From the WND op-ed:

    Not only is there no constitutional authority for Congress to regulate carbon emissions, but the premise of “global warming” and “climate change” upon which such environmental theories are based does not have the support of a scientific consensus.

    [...]

    Not only do scientists disagree on “global warming,” but there is little hard evidence that carbon emissions cause changes to the global climate.  

    This is an extreme manifestation of climate science denial, and it’s outright false.

    Moore -- who identifies as a Southern Baptist and addressed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors' Conference in 2005 -- has a denialist position on climate change science that aligns with the Convention’s stance, as do his positions on same-sex marriage and displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings. In 2007, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution on global warming that cast doubt on climate science and opposed climate action: 

    WHEREAS, Many scientists reject the idea of catastrophic human-induced global warming;

    [...]

    RESOLVED, That we consider proposals to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions based on a maximum acceptable global temperature goal to be very dangerous, since attempts to meet the goal could lead to a succession of mandates of deeper cuts in emissions, which may have no appreciable effect if humans are not the principal cause of global warming, and could lead to major economic hardships on a worldwide scale;

    And in December 2016, as Kaufman reported, 12 former Southern Baptist Convention presidents joined other evangelical leaders in signing a letter in support of Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency, defending Pruitt's call for "a continuing debate" on climate science.

    Mainstream media have a history of inadequate reporting on climate change, especially during political campaigns. But global warming is expected to have serious negative effects on Alabama including more severe drought, sea-level rise, and increased dangerous heat days, and many national and international leaders have called climate change one of the greatest challenges of our time.

    In order to provide a full, fair picture of the Alabama Senate race and Moore’s fitness to be a senator, media should report on his climate denial in addition to his other extreme and disturbing beliefs. And there's a clear contrast to draw, as Moore’s Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, has made addressing climate change a key part of his platform.

    Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of print and television outlets using the search terms “Roy Moore” and “climate change” or “global warming.” Our search covered the time period between April 26, 2017, the date Roy Moore announced his candidacy, and October 31, 2017. For television, we searched transcripts of the broadcast evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC and transcripts of prime-time, weekday programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. For print coverage, we searched pieces published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Birmingham News, Press-Register (Mobile), The Huntsville Times, The Tuscaloosa News, and Montgomery Advertiser. We also searched Factiva for pieces published in The Wall Street Journal.
     

  • What men's rights activists and other "anti-feminist" men have in common with white supremacists

    It's not just Breitbart.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    The "Men's Rights Movement" (MRM) regularly overlaps with and reinforces white supremacy and the “alt-right” through a shared belief that dominant groups in society -- men and whites, respectively -- are actually oppressed. Along with other "anti-feminist" activists, this misogynist coalition seeks to force its regressive viewpoint on the rest of society, from movie releases to federal education policy. From online harassment to deadly violence, the MRM and its activists are an immediate and growing threat.

  • Hate groups from across extremist ideologies are joining forces to discredit their hate group designation

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right hate groups across extremist ideologies have united to attack and discredit their hate group designation by Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in an attempt to regain legitimacy and rehab their images. Many hate groups have attempted to delegitimize the SPLC’s hate group label over the years, but their efforts have dramatically ramped up in 2017 in reaction to a series of escalating events including SPLC designating anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and anti-immigrant group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) hate groups and media outlets accurately labeling these organizations as such in their reporting.

    Who’s who, and why are they hate groups?

    Alliance Defending Freedom

    Family Research Council

    Liberty Counsel

    Federation for American Immigration Reform

    Center for Immigration Studies

    Act! for America

    Timeline

    Who’s who, and why are they hate groups?

    Alliance Defending Freedom

    The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and, according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), it “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” ADF operates on $48 million-plus annual budget and has what it refers to as a “powerful global network” of over 3,100 ADF-trained “allied attorneys.” SPLC designated ADF a hate group because ADF’s leaders and its affiliated lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” ADF’s influence is widespread. It has played a role in dozens of Supreme Court cases, including regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues; it has special advisory status at the United Nations; it has at least 55 affiliated lawyers serving in influential government positions at the state and federal levels; and it has infiltrated local school boards across the country.

    ADF formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws which called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF has also worked to criminalize gay sex abroad, including in Jamaica, Belize, and India, and is leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth. One ADF attorney peddled the myth that Matthew Shepard’s violent murder in 1998 was not an anti-gay hate crime. SPLC designated ADF a hate group on February 15, but it wasn’t till early June that ADF started challenging the designation, attacking Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, for penning an op-ed about groups like ADF that “bullying LGBTQ children.” Since then, ADF and its allies have successfully pressured the nonprofit database GuideStar to reverse its decision of putting the SPLC hate group label on 46 nonprofit groups on its website. In a series of media appearances, ADF has also relentlessly attacked ABC and NBC for accurately labeling it a hate group in news reports regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech at an ADF event.

    Family Research Council

    The Family Research Council (FRC) is another anti-LGBTQ hate group that wields significant influence in the current administration; its senior fellow, Ken Blackwell, was officially appointed to President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which critics have called a voter suppression effort. FRC President Tony Perkins embraced and endorsed Trump as a candidate during the presidential election cycle (and met with him at the White House earlier this month). And at least four people, including Blackwell, who are affiliated with FRC were a part of Trump’s transition team. FRC has a budget of tens of millions of dollars and promotes the idea “that people can and should try to change their sexual orientation” or “just not act on it.” According to SPLC’s extremist file, FRC “often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science” in order to “denigrate LGBT people.” FRC’s official position is that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” and “is by definition unnatural.” Former FRC Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes,” and various FRC representatives and publications have repeatedly compared homosexuality to pedophilia. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that LGBTQ youth suicide rates would drop if the teenagers were “discourage[d] from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual” and urged others “not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality.” In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, Sprigg also said that the United States should “outlaw gay behavior.” In 2011, the FRC called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them, and it suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans,” citing the AIDS crisis as an example.

    FRC has fought against its hate group designation since SPLC gave it the label in 2010. In that same year, the group launched a “Start Debating, Stop Hating” campaign in response to the label, which it called “slanderous.” FRC also took out a full-page ad in Politico as part of the campaign. After a gunman shot a security guard at FRC headquarters in 2012, Perkins blamed SPLC’s “reckless rhetoric” for the shooting and asserted that the shooter was “given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations” such as the SPLC. More recently, FRC joined other hate groups in sending a letter to GuideStar’s president demanding that he remove the hate group labels from its database and praised GuideStar when it decided to do so. FRC also led the “#SPLCexposed” hashtag campaign on Twitter, which attempted to delegitimize the hate group label and drew a number of hate groups to the campaign.

    Liberty Counsel

    Liberty Counsel is an anti-LGBTQ hate group founded by Mat Staver, former dean of Liberty University School of Law, that “shares a close affiliation with Liberty University,” according to SPLC. Staver has called LGBTQ History Month a "sexual assault on our children," repeatedly warned that the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage would trigger a revolution and civil war, and claimed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people will result in the "death of some individuals."

    Liberty Counsel also famously represented Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in litigation after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same and opposite-sex couples in 2015; Talking Points Memo reported that Staver “compared Davis’ plight to that of Jews in Nazi Germany” during a radio interview. Staver has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.” Liberty Counsel has called gay sex “harmful sexual behavior” and pushed the myth that LGBTQ people “can change.” Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said that LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” Barber has also called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay.

    Staver signed the letter that asked GuideStar to remove hate group designations and accused SPLC of using the label as part of its “aggressive political agenda.” On June 28, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against GuideStar, saying it and SPLC “are intent on destroying pro-family organizations,” and accused GuideStar’s CEO of “using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda.” Liberty Counsel’s blog post on the subject also linked to the personal Twitter account of the CEO and his wife. GuideStar’s decision to remove hate group labels was reportedly in part because of “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.”

    Federation for American Immigration Reform / Immigration Reform Law Institute

    The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a lobbying hate group founded by white nationalist John Tanton. Tanton is currently editor and publisher of the quarterly journal The Social Contract, which, according to SPLC, has “claimed that multiculturalists are trying to replace ‘successful Euro-American culture’ with ‘dysfunctional Third World cultures.’" During his time at FAIR, Tanton wrote a series of memos that warned of a “Latin onslaught” and “depicted Hispanics as hyperactive breeders,” which caused many high-level conservatives to flee his orbit. FAIR has ties to a number of other extremists, including white supremacists Peter Brimelow and Jared Taylor and Holocaust denier Kevin MacDonald.

    Tanton currently sits on FAIR’s board but has retired from the limelight. He was replaced by current President Dan Stein, who frequently appears in right-wing and mainstream media to promote anti-immigrant policies and smear immigrants. In one such interview, Stein claimed that “many [immigrants] hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for.” Stein has defended Tanton and, according to SPLC, “celebrated a new ‘disdain’ in the media and among intellectuals for ‘the political agenda of those who openly attack the contributions of Western Civilization.’"

    In 2009, FAIR published a report titled “A Guide to Understanding the Tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center in the Immigration Debate,” which smeared SPLC as a discredited entity and claimed that journalists have an unfavorable view of the organization. Since then, FAIR has attacked SPLC on Twitter. Dale Wilcox, president and general counsel of FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Legal Institute (IRLI), signed the letter calling on GuideStar to remove its hate group labels. Wilcox also wrote an op-ed in Breitbart titled “Why the Mainstream Media Must Stop Citing ‘Anti-Hate’-Crusader Southern Poverty Law Center,” and his group has attacked GuideStar on Twitter for including the SPLC’s hate group labels.

    Center for Immigration Studies

    Tanton also founded FAIR’s sister organization, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). SPLC labeled CIS a hate group in 2017 for peddling work by discredited white nationalists and eugenicists. CIS works as the research arm of what SPLC has dubbed “the nativist lobby,” the anti-immigrant lobbying effort spearheaded by groups Tanton founded, including FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA. CIS frequently publishes skewed research meant to denigrate immigrants and promote anti-immigration policies, claiming, for example, that immigrants are taking jobs away from native-born Americans and disproportionately using welfare benefits.

    CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian has actively disputed the hate group label by defending white nationalists and eugenicist pseudoscience. In an op-ed in The Washington Post in March, Krikorian complained that the SPLC “made a hate figure of John Tanton” and downplayed a CIS contributor’s assertion that Hispanic immigrants may never “reach IQ parity with whites” as merely “contentious.” He also called the “hate group” label “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.” Krikorian and other CIS employees have repeatedly sought to smear SPLC, and Krikorian has used his platform to attack GuideStar for using SPLC’s hate group labels.

    ACT for America

    ACT for America has transformed into “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” according to SPLC, which labels it a hate group. The group’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has been fearmongering that Muslim immigrants and refugees from the Middle East have transformed Europe into “Eurabia” and has declared that a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” ACT often organizes conferences that convene anti-Muslim leaders and groups, including Frank Gaffney, head of hate group the Center for Security Policy. In 2008, ACT launched a campaign called Stop Shariah Now to fearmonger about Sharia “creeping” into western culture and, according to SPLC, “worked closely” with Gaffney “to push anti-Shariah legislation at the state level.”

    Gabriel has attacked SPLC as biased against conservatives, and she was also one of the hate group leaders who signed the letter blasting GuideStar for using SPLC’s hate group labels. She has also penned her own letter to GuideStar defending her group and other hate groups.

    Timeline:

    February 15: SPLC included ADF and CIS in its list of active hate groups in 2016. ADF did not immediately respond.

    March 17: The Washington Post published an op-ed by CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, who condemned the SPLC list and wrote that the “blacklist” was “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.”

    April 18: After more than two months, ADF issued a statement in which it responded to the SPLC designation by not responding to it: “ADF doesn't have time to respond to organizations who do nothing more than call names, create division and incite violence across the country in order to raise money."

    May 15: Judy Shepard, the mother of 22-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was killed in anti-gay homicide, wrote an op-ed in Time magazine about “multimillion-dollar ‘hate groups’” such as ADF “bullying LGBTQ children” in an attempt to ban transgender people from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity.

    May 17: The Federalist published an attack on SPLC’s hate group designation, comparing it to the “burn book” from the movie Mean Girls. The post accused SPLC of using the hate group label “to manipulate the lives of others, smear reputations, control personal relationships, and reap the spoils,” as well as calling it an attempt to “control all speech.” Numerous hate group representatives, including Krikorian, and accounts tweeted out the story. In fact, retweeting this story became one of ADF’s first official attacks on SPLC’s designation.

    June 7: Time magazine updated Shepard’s op-ed with a response from ADF defending its work and bringing up her son’s death:

    True hate is animosity toward others, and it often takes the form of violence. Sadly, Ms. Shepard knows what that is. She lost her son to senseless violence. We at ADF condemn all such manifestations of true hate. They have no place in our society. We remain steadfast in affirming basic human rights and dignity through debate, dialogue, and principled advocacy.

    June 8: Nonprofit database GuideStar flagged 46 nonprofits designated as hate groups by SPLC as such on its website.

    June 9: ADF published a full response to Shepard’s op-ed on its blog, which more forcibly attacked Shepard and accused her of “name-calling and slander” and spreading a “lie.” The post also spread myths about transgender people and said that allowing them to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity “compromises the privacy and dignity of young students who do not want to share overnight facilities, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms with the opposite sex.”

    June 21: Hate groups united to pen a letter to GuideStar asking the nonprofit to remove the hate group labels, writing that the designation is “a political weapon targeting people it deems to be its political enemies” and calling SPLC’s list of hate groups “ad hoc, partisan, and agenda-driven.” Co-signers of the letter included representatives from IRLI, FRC, Liberty Counsel, ACT for America, ADF, and numerous others.

    June 21: On the day the hate groups sent the letter to GuideStar, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by The Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier attacking GuideStar and accusing the SPLC of “besmirching mainstream groups like the FRC.” Bier has appeared on FRC President Tony Perkins’ radio show. In the op-ed, Bier asserted that “SPLC’s work arguably contributes to the climate of hate it abhors” and lamented that journalists are citing SPLC’s designation.

    June 23: GuideStar removed the hate group labels from its website, citing “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.” Hate groups including FAIR and FRC celebrated the decision.

    June 26: A Washington Post report on GuideStar’s reversal quoted a number of hate groups sharing talking points about the designation, including that it was linked to the shooting at FRC and “the recent shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.” The report highlighted the hate groups’ letter accusing the designation of being “partisan” and wrote that Christians “said they’d been targeted as hateful for opposing same-sex marriage.”

    June 27: Vice published a profile about ADF “stealthily seizing power in the nation's public school systems,” its “unmistakable effort to make schools hostile to queer students,” and its hate group designation. ADF refused to speak to Vice for the article.

    June 28: Politico magazine published a lengthy article questioning whether SPLC’s hate group designation is “overstepping its bounds.” The article specifically lent credibility to hate groups CIS, which the report noted has “been invited to testify before Congress more than 100 times,” and FRC, which it called “one of the country’s largest and most established Christian conservative advocacy groups.” The right-wing Media Research Center highlighted the piece on its website the same day it was published.

    June 28: Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against GuideStar, saying it and SPLC “are intent on destroying pro-family organizations” and accused GuideStar’s CEO of “using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda.” Liberty Counsel’s blog post on the subject also linked to the personal Twitter account of the CEO and his wife.

    July 11: Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a closed-door speech to ADF at its “Summit on Religious Liberty” in California.

    July 12: ABC and NBC reported on the fallout from Sessions’ speech to ADF and noted SPLC’s “hate group” designation for the group.

    July 13: ADF demanded a retraction and apology from ABC for its report, calling it “defamatory” and “journalistic malpractice.”

    July 13: Sessions’ speech, which the Department of Justice refused to release, was leaked to anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist. In the speech, Sessions compared the so-called battle for “religious freedom” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.

    July 14: ADF began an aggressive media strategy, with its representatives appearing on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson Tonight to attack the SPLC and attempt to discredit ABC and NBC. ADF’s representatives either repeated the “journalistic malpractice” line during the interview or called the outlets’ reporting “unethical” or “fake news.” Meanwhile, right-wing media also rushed to ADF’s defense.

    July 16: FRC also launched a counteroffensive against the hate group designation aiming to “expose” the SPLC as “a left wing smear group who has become exactly what they set out to fight, spreading hate and putting targets on people's backs.” FRC urged supporters to use the hashtag #SPLCexposed. Hate groups such as white nationalist website VDARE, ACT for America, CIS, and FAIR, or their representatives, all joined FRC on Twitter using the hashtag.

    July 19: The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Edwin Meese, who has worked with FRC and other groups, calling ADF “a respected civil-rights law firm.” In the op-ed, Meese also repeated ADF’s “journalistic malpractice” charge against ABC and NBC for giving “credence to the SPLC’s recklessly defamatory hate list” in their reporting. Meese wrote that their reporting “is a prime reason” for Americans’ distrust of the media and called on reporters to “stop spreading malignant propaganda.”

    July 19: Forbes published an op-ed by Brian Miller of the Center for Individual Rights attacking ABC and NBC’s use of the “hate group” label and arguing that the use of the label was an attempt to “shut down conversation.” Miller concluded that “the very security that is necessary for diverse people to contribute to our social fabric” is at stake “in our climate of heated rhetoric.”