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  • How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief

    Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team/blue team” review of climate science that would attempt to cast doubt on well-established science and lend an outsize voice to fringe scientists. The idea spread from a climate-denying scientist to conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Wall Street Journal to Pruitt, and now more right-wing outlets are promoting it.

    How the “red team/blue team” idea spread

    John Christy, a fringe scientist and climate denier, proposed the creation of a “red team” in comments submitted to the EPA in 2014. His proposal was promoted by the denialist Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of organizations that “question global warming alarmism.” In his comments, Christy wrote:

    The EPA should constitute a “Red Team” of analysts, independent from the climate modeling industry, to judge the current state of knowledge, i.e. the current state of how much we know about the “why” of climate variations. Such an examination would provide transparency to the process and give confidence to the public that the agency values open examination of its methodology.

    In 2015, Christy again promoted the idea of the federal government funding a new “red team” that would review the climate science currently being produced by what he calls the “blue team.” The Daily Caller reported on Christy’s proposal in December 2015:

    Christy told the [Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness] he believes the attempt to study climate change objectively is thwarted by the federal funding process.

    Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, suggests Congress can fix the problem by directly funding independent “red team” programs.

    And in March of this year, Christy promoted the idea during a hearing held in the House Science Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a noted climate denier. Judith Curry, another scientist who’s been skeptical of the mainstream consensus on climate change, also testified in favor of the idea. The Washington Post reported on Christy and Curry’s testimony and the “red team” idea:

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    On April 20, the idea got more exposure when it was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who has a history of climate denial and served as undersecretary at the Energy Department under President Barack Obama for two years before resigning. Koonin called on the Trump administration “to convene a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.” He continued:

    The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations.

    As justification for such an exercise, Koonin claimed that the “public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.”

    Shortly after his op-ed was published, Koonin told Axios, “I can tell you that’s found some resonance within the administration. I’m just going to say people seem to be interested.”

    One of those people is Pruitt. In a radio interview on Breitbart News Daily on June 5, Pruitt expressed interest in the “red team/blue team” idea. From a Breitbart article about the interview:

    “What the American people deserve is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” [Pruitt] said. “There was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist, I believe, at NYU. He talked about the importance of having a Red Team of scientists and a Blue Team of scientists, and those scientists get into a room and ask, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What risk does it pose to health in the United States and the world, with respect to this issue of [carbon dioxide]?’”

    In the days after that interview, right-wing outlets picked up on the idea again. The Daily Caller reported that it “could upset the supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming.” Breitbart said the proposal “has naturally caused massive upset among the ivory towers of climate science academe” where researchers “aren’t at all used to having their dodgy theories exposed to serious scrutiny.” The right-wing website Daily Signal, the conservative blog Power Line, and the climate-denial blog Watts Up With That also highlighted Pruitt's interview and the red team proposal.

    Why the “red team/blue team” idea is wrongheaded

    In advocating for a “red team” review of climate science, Pruitt, Koonin, and right-wing media are glossing over the fact that climate science already has a method for testing assumptions and analyses: the peer-review system. Climate science papers submitted to respected journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field to assess their soundness and validity.

    As Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post in June, creating a red team to review climate science would constitute an act of false equivalence and lend, as the Post wrote, “more prominence to alternative ideas than they have earned in the refereed journal process.” Earlier, in March, he told the Post, “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

    The Post also quoted Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia, who called Koonin’s proposal a “gimmick,” saying, “This just feels to me a like another way to skirt the tried and true scientific process that has worked for years in our field and many others.”

    Climate science has already been litigated ad nauseum in mainstream forums. Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. And recent studies examining the robustness of that consensus have reaffirmed it; about 97 percent of publishing climate scientists concur.


    Via Skeptical Science

    Creating a “red team” could lead to scenarios like the one at a House science committee hearing in March, when climate scientist Michael Mann was outnumbered by fringe scientists and forced to be the sole representative of the scientific consensus on climate change. “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” Mann said in his opening testimony.

    The impact of major newspapers’ opinion pages

    Though fringe, right-wing media have played a substantial role in spreading the “red team/blue team” proposal and other denialist ideas, mainstream newspapers also bear some responsibility. When Pruitt referenced Koonin’s op-ed, it was the second time in less than a week that he had lifted an argument from the opinion pages of a major newspaper to cast doubt on established climate science. On June 2, standing at the podium of the White House press briefing room, Pruitt cited an error-riddled, denialist New York Times column by Bret Stephens in order to downplay “exaggerated” concerns about climate change.

    As a Media Matters study conducted last year demonstrated, climate denial remains a significant problem in the major newspapers. The world has just endured the three hottest years on record, and newspapers are still allowing their opinion pages to be used to deny climate change. That trend is all the more alarming now that the Trump administration is quickly adopting those denialist arguments.

  • How shameful and misleading Wash. Post reports on disability insurance could be the preamble for cuts

    "Mean-spirited" and "cartoonish" depictions of Social Security Disability Insurance are a disservice to millions of Americans

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Disability advocates hammered The Washington Post for its second misleading portrayal of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, saying it was a “mean-spirited” and “cartoonish” illustration of the struggles of those living with poverty in rural America. The second feature-length profile published by the Post has drawn consternation for its poverty-shaming, while also generating fears that these misleading depictions from mainstream news outlets could set the pretext for draconian budget cuts to programs that provide basic economic security to millions of Americans.

    The Post’s previous foray into coverage of SSDI recipients did not end well; Media Matters joined disability advocates in criticizing the paper’s “dystopian portrait” of the program and its enrollees and was later found to be replete with critical data errors. The piece promoted the same misleading talking points about the program that are commonly touted by right-wing media. Despite these concerns, the Post’s editorial board used the deeply flawed article as its proof for justifying unnecessary cuts to the SSDI program.

    The paper’s June 2 article in its series on disability coverage is just as misleading and problematic as the first. The article, titled “Generations, disabled,” attempts to chronicle the trials of a low-income Missouri family that relies on meager SSDI benefits. The article relied almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence drawn from the Tidwell family to buttress characterizations of SSDI and its recipients as succumbing to multi-generational dependence on federal assistance.

    The article earnestly focused on the fact that one or more members of four generations of Tidwells have received federal assistance and detailed their daily routines in a way that political scientist Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress (CAP) likened to the depictions of poverty and disability in Of Mice and Men. As CAP’s Rebecca Vallas pointed out in her damning review, “the article’s text makes no mention” of the fact “that disability often runs in families” and neglects to mention that disability benefits are “incredibly hard to get.”

    The Post seemed to depict generational disability as a cultural problem, but as Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic pointed out, the article never provided any data to prove this or demonstrate that multiple generations of a family receiving SSDI is evidence of them being undeserving. Vox correspondent Matthew Yglesias voiced even stronger criticism, labeling the article as “incredibly mean-spirited” and “smack[ing] of the worst kind of moral panic.”

    Issues with the Post’s story didn’t end there. In a June 5 column published by The Poynter Institute, journalist S.I. Rosenbaum added that the article misled readers by claiming to describe a family “on disability” without ever verifying that the Tidwell family are indeed all receiving benefits from SSDI, rather than other anti-poverty programs.

    The generally exploitative tone of the piece was not the primary problem with the Post’s return to the topic of disability. The biggest problem created by the piece is how it could be used by political interests seeking to implement deep cuts to the American social safety net.

    As Vallas pointed out in her response, by “pushing the nastiest of myths about Social Security disability benefits and the people who rely on them,” the Post set the pretext for budget cuts that will restrict access to the program. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities voiced the same concern, arguing that “reporting by anecdote runs the risk of fostering harmful policy changes” such as those already proposed by the Trump administration. Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) came to a similar conclusion, mocking the Post’s “poetic description” of farming jobs available in rural Missouri, which suggested that disability recipients simply refuse to work those jobs. Baker added that the United States actually has one of the least generous disability programs in the world, but countries with more generous programs are not suffering labor shortages:

    The obvious next segment in this series would have a Post reporter going to Germany or the Netherlands or some of the other countries that manages to have a larger percentage of their population working even though they have considerably more generous disability systems. The article can tell readers how they manage to structure their programs so that everyone doesn't quit their jobs and fake disability so that they can live off the government. For some reason, I don't think this is where the Post series is going.

    We have already seen a Post report on SSDI result in the paper’s editorial board calling for unnecessary cuts to the program in a way eerily reminiscent to Fox News’ campaign against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which immediately resulted in Republican-authored legislation in Congress slashing the program and eventually trickled down to GOP-led state houses. The Trump administration is already targeting Social Security’s disability program for budget cuts next year and media outlets have largely failed to hold the president accountable for an obviously broken campaign promise to safeguard Social Security. The American people would be well-served if, rather than publishing more dehumanizing portrayals of disability recipients, the Post and other news outlets contextualize the hardship millions of Americans would face if SSDI and other vital programs are subjected to new cuts and restrictions.

  • Right-wing media continue to push myth that Trump can get a better deal than Paris

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    via flickr creative commons user neurotic_buddha

    Within hours of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and negotiate a better deal, other world leaders made it clear that renegotiation is not an option. But right-wing media and the administration are continuing to push the fanciful notion that Trump can negotiate a more favorable pact.

    Trump claims Paris was a bad deal and he can get a better one

    When Trump made his announcement on June 1 -- a move cheered by many in conservative media -- he said he intended to renegotiate:

    [T]he United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord … but but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an -- really entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we're getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair. And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine.

    The White House talking points about the decision stress the idea that the Paris accord was a bad deal for the U.S. -- bad in all caps, lest you miss the point:

    The Paris Accord is a BAD deal for Americans. … The deal was negotiated BADLY.

    Right-wing media push bad-deal/good-deal frame

    This frame -- that Paris is a bad deal and Trump can get a good deal -- had been pushed by right-wing media in the days leading up to his decision, and the claim continued to make the rounds after the announcement was made, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

    On May 30, David Bossie -- a former deputy campaign manager for Trump and a Fox News contributor who is being considered for a role in the White House -- went on Fox News Radio and called for the Trump administration to renegotiate the Paris deal:

    My recommendation is: You get out of Paris, you get out of the Paris treaty, you get out right now, and then you let Scott Pruitt, your EPA administrator, who is very good and a great negotiator, go out and negotiate new deals, deals that are good for America and the rest of the world combined.

    On June 1, before Trump made his announcement, Stuart Varney of Fox Business' Varney & Co. argued that former President Obama did a terrible job negotiating the Paris deal and Trump could do much better:

    The Obama team gave virtually everything away -- our money and our jobs -- and received only vague promises of future good behavior. In my opinion, it was a lousy deal. So maybe our president will do the same as he did with NAFTA -- that is, threaten to withdraw, then negotiate a better deal. … He did, after all, write the book The Art of the Deal.

    And Fox Business tweeted out the point too:

    During Trump's speech, Breitbart's Curt Schilling tweeted out his approval of the president's plan to renegotiate the deal:

    Nobody wants to renegotiate with the U.S.

    But other world leaders are not interested in sitting down at the table with the U.S. again, as they quickly made clear.

    Shortly after Trump's announcement, the leaders of France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement refuting the notion that the Paris deal is up for renegotiation:

    We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.

    And a group of ministers from 24 nations -- known as the High Ambition Coalition, which pushed to make the Paris agreement as strong as possible -- also threw cold water on the idea of renegotiating:

    Our commitment to the Paris Agreement is unshakeable. We have every reason to fight for its full implementation.

    “Apparently the White House has no understanding of how an international treaty works," said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who led the negotiation process leading up to the Paris agreement. "There is no such thing as withdrawing and then negotiating.”

    And the current secretariat of the UNFCCC also put out a statement saying that the agreement "cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party."

    Bloomberg summed up the situation in headline: "Everyone But Donald Trump Is Standing By the Paris Climate Agreement."

    Right-wing media still insist Trump can negotiate a better deal

    Even after world leaders made their opposition to renegotiation crystal clear, right-wing media continued to push the myth that the president could get a new and improved deal.

    "One of the [things] I'm looking forward to, and I've seen some of: Donald Trump's ability to renegotiate a better deal and better positioning for the United States of America," said Eboni Williams, a co-host of The Fox News Specialists, on June 2.

    "If the Paris accord was actually meant to save the environment, the globalists would be happy to renegotiate the deal with President Trump," wrote Kit Daniels at Infowars on June 3.

    Administration officials also went on Fox News to keep pushing the "better deal" idea.

    Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox & Friends on June 2, "You also heard [Trump] leave the door open to renegotiating a better arrangement, to maybe re-entering the Paris accord under new terms and new conditions. … In withdrawing from the Paris accord, and in offering to renegotiate it in a way that is more fair, more equitable to our economy and every economy in the world, again you see President Donald Trump is being leader of the free world." Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt did not push back on that assertion.

    And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went on Fox News' America's Newsroom on June 2 to defend Trump's move: "It was a bad deal. I think the president has said he’s going to renegotiate it, offer to renegotiate it. … If we're going to sit down, let's make sure the agreement has shared burden." Fox host Bill Hemmer neglected to point out that other countries have said they will not sit down to renegotiate the deal with the Trump administration.

    Informed commentators mock renegotiation claims

    New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, speaking on The New Yorker's "Politics and More" podcast on June 2, slapped down the renegotiation idea: "When Trump says, 'I'm going to negotiate a better deal,' well that's a lie, that's just not possible."

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a key role in negotiating the Paris agreement, was even more forceful on this point during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press on June 4:

    When Donald Trump says, well, we're going to negotiate a better deal, you know, he's going to go out and find a better deal? That's like O.J. Simpson saying he's going to go out and find the real killer. Everybody knows he isn't going to do that.

    The U.S. already had a favorable deal

    Even if other countries were willing to sit back down at the table, it's highly unlikely the U.S. would get a better deal. That's because the U.S. already got a favorable deal when the Paris agreement was negotiated in 2015.

    The Paris deal "is more fair to the U.S. than previous agreements because it includes all the major economies of the world, not just the rich countries, so both developed countries and developing countries have skin in the game," Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School's Environmental Law and Policy Program, told The Washington Post after Trump made his announcement.

    "Paris already gives countries tremendous flexibility, and no penalties," Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told the Post.

    The Obama administration had wanted to take part in the agreement, but it knew that a climate treaty couldn't get ratified by the U.S. Senate. So the entire global community bent over backward to accommodate the U.S. political system -- crafting a nonbinding accord that's looser than a treaty and making action pledges voluntary with no enforcement mechanisms. 

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said before the negotiations that a good agreement would be “binding,” but she and other like-minded leaders gave in to the U.S. on this point.

    As The Guardian reported just after the Paris negotiations took place in December 2015, "Under US insistence, the 31-page agreement was explicitly crafted to exclude emissions reductions targets and finance from the legally binding parts of the deal. … The other exclusion zone was any clause in the agreement that would expose the US to liability and compensation claims for causing climate change."

    Ultimately, many world leaders and climate advocates thought the U.S. got too good of deal -- so good that the resulting agreement was disappointingly weak.

    From The Guardian: "The US – and European – position was a huge disappointment for the low-lying and small island states, which argued they needed recognition that their countries could pay the ultimate price for climate change in terms of land loss and migration."

    “The United States has hindered ambition," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., said in December 2015. "Using the world’s atmosphere and the suffering of the vulnerable as a guide, the United States is failing -- by a long shot -- to do what climate science and justice demand. This holds true for the United States' greenhouse gas reduction pledge, its provision of funds for developing countries to take climate action and its obstruction of progress on loss and damage.”

    Despite the United States' successful effort to water down the Paris agreement, other countries, both rich and poor, still stepped up to the plate with meaningful action pledges. As The Economist noted just after Trump made his announcement, "All [of the Paris agreement's] signatories—which is to say, every country except Syria, Nicaragua and now America—have undertaken to reduce emissions against business-as-usual targets." This despite the fact that many of those countries have contributed very little to the problem of climate change, while the U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history, as The New York Times pointed out.

    So now other countries are moving forward without the U.S. The Europeans are planning to work more closely with China and India. The leaders of France and India have announced that they're going to cooperate jointly on fighting climate change. Instead of getting a better deal, the U.S. is cut out of the dealmaking.

  • Right-wing media cheer Trump withdrawing United States from the Paris climate agreement

    Business leaders and experts agree decision to pull out of agreement “would harm every American” and "devastate [America’s] international credibility"

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures cheered President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris climate agreement, which sought to reduce international greenhouse gas emissions. But experts and business leaders condemned the decision, calling the move a “historic mistake” and “a gratuitous thumb in everyone’s eye.”

  • “Mind control,” “shadow government,” and Seth Rich: Sean Hannity’s history of pushing conspiracy theories

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News host Sean Hannity attracted widespread condemnation for pushing conspiracy theories about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, but it wasn’t his first time promoting or entertaining such wild claims on air. From claiming that the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick protested the national anthem because he “may have converted to Islam” to implying that former President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, here are some examples of Hannity embracing conspiracy theories.

  • Here are the oil and coal companies, Fortune 500 corporations, and Republicans who want to stay in the Paris agreement

    ExxonMobil, Apple, Google, and hundreds of other firms support the climate pact, as do some GOP members of Congress

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    With President Donald Trump reportedly poised to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, right-wing media are encouraging the move by misleading about the accord. They're claiming that it is a job killer and “anti-Western,” that it would lead to "economic devastation," and that it amounts to an "international regulatory scheme.”

    But leaving the Paris agreement would go against the overwhelming will of the U.S. business sector, not to mention the American public and the global community. Many of the most powerful corporations and institutional investors in the United States are calling on Trump to stay in the pact, as are some of his fellow Republicans. Dropping out of the global climate accord will satisfy only a handful of coal and mining interests and Trump's most ideological aides and backers.

    Oil and coal companies that support Paris agreement

    ExxonMobil, the nation's biggest oil company, is in favor of the Paris agreement. The firm's CEO, Darren Woods, sent Trump a personal letter urging him to keep the U.S. in the agreement. Woods' predecessor, Rex Tillerson, now secretary of state, has also argued for remaining in the climate deal.

    Other major oil companies that want the U.S. to stay in the agreement include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. Many oil companies believe a concerted push for climate action will give them the opportunity to sell more natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) than coal when burned to produce electricity (though leaks in natural gas drilling and transport infrastructure can neutralize that climate advantage).

    Even one major coal company, Cloud Peak Energy, is asking Trump to stay in the accord. "By remaining in the Paris Agreement, albeit with a much different pledge on emissions, you can help shape a more rational international approach to climate policy," Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall wrote Trump in a letter. Marshall argued that remaining in the Paris agreement could encourage support for technologies that reduce and capture CO2 emissions from coal plants. Two other coal companies, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, have not publicly called for staying in Paris, but they have reportedly told administration officials that they would not object to remaining.

    Fortune 500 corporations that support Paris agreement

    At least 69 Fortune 500 companies have voiced support for the Paris accord.

    Twenty-five large U.S. companies, including digital powerhouses Apple, Facebook, and Google, recently ran full-page ads in major newspapers urging Trump to remain in the climate accord. "Continued U.S. participation in the agreement benefits U.S. businesses and the U.S. economy in many ways," they wrote in the ad, including by "strengthening competitiveness," "creating jobs, markets and growth," and "reducing business risks."

    Separately, more than 1,000 companies, big and small, signed a letter calling for the U.S. to “realize the Paris Agreement’s commitment of a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.” Altogether, businesses backing the Paris climate agreement represent more than $3.7 trillion in annual revenues and employ nearly 8.6 million workers, according to Ceres.

    Here are some of the Fortune 500 companies that signed onto the ads or letter or have otherwise expressed support for Paris:

    Amazon
    Apple
    Bank of America
    Berkshire Hathaway
    Campbell Soup
    Citigroup
    Dow Chemical
    DuPont
    eBay
    Facebook
    Gap
    General Mills
    General Motors
    General Electric
    Goldman Sachs
    Google
    The Hartford
    HP
    Hilton
    Intel
    Johnson & Johnson
    Kellogg
    Microsoft
    Monsanto
    Morgan Stanley
    Nike
    NRG Energy
    PG&E
    Salesforce
    Staples
    Starbucks
    Symantec
    Walmart
    Wells Fargo

    Major institutional investors that support Paris agreement

    More than 280 institutional investors that together manage more than $17 trillion in assets, including Allianz Global Investors, CalPERS, and HSBC Global Asset Management, recently signed a letter emphasizing their strong support for the Paris agreement. "The implementation of effective climate policy mechanisms and the regular monitoring of outcomes is vital for investors to make well-informed investment decisions that can also better support governments in delivering their national commitments and priorities," they wrote.

    Republicans who support Paris agreement

    More than a dozen Republicans in Congress support staying in the climate deal.

    Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who advised Trump on energy issues during the campaign, has been outspoken in calling for the U.S. to remain in the pact. He and eight other Republican representatives sent Trump a letter in April asking him to stay in the agreement but withdraw the country's emissions-cutting pledge and replace it with a weaker one. "The U.S. should use its seat at the Paris table to defend and promote our commercial interests, including our manufacturing and fossil fuel sectors,” they wrote. “Our engagement must prevent the development of harmful policies which undermine economic growth and energy security here and abroad.”

    Other Republicans have voiced support for the Paris deal without calling for rolling back U.S. emissions-cutting goals. Said Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, "Given the trillions of dollars in cleaner energy investments and countless good-paying American jobs that would result from remaining in the Paris Agreement, I again urge President Trump to make sure our country keeps its commitment to lead.”

    Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina recently argued that Trump should not take the country out of Paris: "If he does withdraw, that would be a definitive statement from the president that he believes climate change is a hoax," Graham said on CNN's State of the Union. "It would be taken as a statement that climate change is not a problem; is not real. So that would be bad for the party, bad for the country."

    George P. Shultz, who served as secretary of state under Ronald Reagan and secretary of the treasury under Richard Nixon, recently co-authored a New York Times op-ed titled "The Business Case for the Paris Climate Accord." And three Republicans who headed up the Environmental Protection Agency during GOP administrations recently argued in a Washington Post op-ed that joining the international effort to fight climate change, via the Paris agreement, is the prudent path forward, adding, "With no seeming clue as to what’s going on, the president seems to have cast our lot with a small coterie of climate skeptics and their industry allies rather than trying to better understand the impact of increased greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere. His policy of willful ignorance is a bet-the-house approach that is destructive of responsible government."

    The Trump administration, too, has members who have been arguing for remaining in the climate deal, including Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, economic adviser Gary Cohn, and the president's daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner have also called for staying in but renegotiating or changing the standards of the agreement.

    Widespread support for the Paris agreement across the board

    As Media Matters noted last week, a number of newspapers, from The New York Times to USA Today to The Virginian-Pilot, have run editorials calling on Trump to keep the U.S. in the Paris deal. More than two-thirds of American voters support staying in the accord, according to a recent survey. And nearly every nation on Earth -- 195 in total -- signed on to the agreement. The only exceptions are Syria and Nicaragua.

    Pulling the U.S. out of the Paris deal would not only isolate the country from the international community, but also isolate the Trump administration from the business community. For a president who claims to be all about jobs and the economy, it's an unwise move.

  • The role of journalism in exposing a culture of violence at Rikers Island

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NINA MAST

    After years of investigations into a culture of violence, abuse, and neglect for human life at Rikers Island prison complex, correction officials’ attempts to cover it up, and the failures of New York City’s elected officials to implement real reforms, Rikers prison is set to be closed in the next 10 years. Here, we document some of the crucial investigative journalism and storytelling by The Village Voice, The New Yorker, and The New York Times that helped expose the extent of the horrors at one of the worst prisons in America.

  • Experts point out Trump’s budget “just doesn’t add up”

    White House budget proposal bases its revenue numbers on unrealistically high economic growth projections

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Experts and journalists have pointed out that President Donald Trump’s budget numbers for the 2018 fiscal year do not add up, as they rely on unrealistic growth expectations. Nonpartisan experts say the gap between the White House’s estimates and the Congressional Budget Office’s is “the largest on record.”

    On May 23, the White House released its full budget proposal, which not only calls for kicking millions of working- and middle-class Americans off vital public assistance programs to make room for gigantic tax cuts for top income earners, but also bases its tax revenue projections on expected annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 3 percent by 2020. While right-wing media commentators have repeatedly defended trickle-down economic fantasies that predict unlikely levels of economic growth because of tax cuts for the rich, assuming such growth when determining revenue projections for the federal budget hides the true cost of Trump’s devastating budget plans.

    Experts and journalists quickly noted the absurdity of Trump’s projections in their coverage of the budget request. In a Washington Post blog, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, an economist at Harvard University, called the logic of Trump’s growth assumptions “simply ludicrous” and compared it to believing in the tooth fairy. On the May 23 edition of MSNBC Live, economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), told host Ali Velshi that Trump’s budget “does not add up at all” while noting that economic growth “is a function of the growth of the labor supply,” and that’s going to slow as the country grows older. Bernstein compared the chances of Trump’s projections coming true to the chances of a kitchen appliance coming to life to sing and dance, concluding that it is reckless for budget numbers to be “based on on these kinds of fairy tales”:

    On May 23, Vox correspondent Matt Yglesias pointed out that for anyone over 35, annual growth of 3 percent “doesn’t sound outlandish” because it is reminiscent of GDP growth during the 1990s. But Yglesias noted that if the United States did manage today to replicate 1990s-level growth in the labor force, productivity, and capital investment, “even under that rosy scenario” the growth rate would not hit 3 percent:

    In a May 24 column for Vox, economist and former Obama adviser Jason Furman explained in even more detail why 3 percent economic growth was “extremely unlikely,” with a specific focus on the slowing growth of the labor force. Furman also noted that the American economy is already growing faster than other advanced economies around the world, which have struggled to keep pace.

    As FiveThirtyEights Ben Casselman explained, the reason this level of growth is not currently attainable is that during the 1990s, the U.S. saw “rapid growth in its labor force and rapid gains in the productivity of that labor force.” By comparison, the baby boom generation today is retiring, not entering the workforce, which slows labor force growth, and “growth in productivity has slowed to a crawl” as electronic and internet-based technologies from the 1990s have matured.

    On May 24, The Washington Post’s Ana Swanson also looked at how realistic Trump’s growth projections would be with regard to labor force growth after Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters that much of the growth could come from getting the 6 million Americans marginally attached to the workforce to be fully employed. Yet, as Swanson noted, adding 6 million workers to the 160 million Americans already in the labor force would generate only 2 percent growth.

    Trump’s budget projections were not just debunked for lacking numbers based in reality; CBPP pointed out the historic gap between the White House’s economic growth projections and those of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). According to a May 22 CBPP blog post, Trump’s budget proposal projects $3 trillion less in deficit accumulation using its 3 percent growth model than it would using the CBO’s less optimistic economic forecasting. The difference is even more striking because, as CBPP pointed out, the gap between the White House’s proposal and CBO forecasting is “the largest on record”:

  • Some of the best media take downs of Trump’s “repugnant grab bag” of a budget

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    On May 23, President Donald Trump released his vision for the fiscal year 2018 federal budget titled, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” which called for deep cuts to Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), student loan assistance, and anti-poverty programs geared toward working- and middle-class Americans while providing gargantuan tax cuts for top income earners and increasing military spending. As details of the budget began to surface in the lead up to the announcement, Media Matters identified some of the best take downs from journalists and experts hammering the proposal for its “ruthless” cuts.

  • Media fell for Trump's spin that cutting Social Security isn't really a cut to Social Security

    Trump promised not to touch Social Security during the campaign, but some reporters reframed that broken promise for him

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A number of usually reliable reporters were duped by White House spin that President Donald Trump’s draconian budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 to slash spending for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was not a violation of his major campaign pledge to protect Social Security from cuts.

    During his June 16, 2015, announcement to run for president, Trump clearly and unequivocally promised that if he was elected, he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Trump’s campaign declaration fit previous statements he made in the run-up to his announcement, wherein he claimed he was “the only [Republican] who won’t cut Social Security” and stated “I am going to save Social Security without any cuts.” Trump even hit then-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for copying his call to safeguard Social Security with “no cuts” and later reiterated his promise to “save” the program while attacking former presidential candidate and current member of Trump’s cabinet Ben Carson:

    After Trump’s repeated statements that he would not cut Social Security, the White House’s decision to include significant cuts to SSDI in its 2018 budget request represents a broken campaign promise. Some journalists -- including Washington Post reporter Philip Bump, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, and NBC News reporter Benjy Sarlin -- caught on to what was actually being proposed, and Vox’s Dylan Matthews stated that these cuts clearly break “a crucial campaign promise.” Yet, despite this, several other journalists fell for the White House’s misleading spin.

    In the midst of an otherwise brutal recap of Trump’s budget, HuffPost reporter Arthur Delaney claimed “the document mostly honors Trump’s unorthodox campaign promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare” before actually quoting Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, as he expounded on proposed cuts to “disability insurance.”* In her write-up of the budget that detailed the profound impact it will have on low-income communities, New York Times reporter Yamiche Alcindor noted that Trump “would cut access to disability payments through Social Security” but casually added “the main function of Social Security — retirement income — would flow unimpeded.” New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis included similar misleading language in her report on the budget, arguing, “The blueprint also steers clear of changing Social Security’s retirement program or Medicare” and promoting the administration’s claim that Trump’s promise to protect “retirement” was intact.

    Washington Post reporters Damian Paletta and Robert Costa also fell for the White House’s misdirection gambit, writing of the president’s campaign rhetoric: “Trump insisted that they could not cut retirement benefits for Social Security.” NPR reporter Scott Horsley also detailed the “significant cuts to social safety net programs” while promoting the Trump administration’s spin that the campaign promise was merely to “preserve” the “Social Security retirement program.” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan managed to write a review of Trump’s budget that committed both sins; first claiming that the Trump budget fulfilled “his campaign promise” not to touch Social Security and later claiming that it merely would not affect retirees**:

    ORIGINAL: President Trump's 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won't reform Social Security or Medicare — in line with his campaign promise — but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs. A source with direct knowledge tells me the Trump budget will save $1.7 trillion on the mandatory side over the next ten years.

    CURRENT: President Trump's 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won't cut Social Security payments to retirees or Medicare, but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs. A source with direct knowledge tells me the Trump budget will save $1.7 trillion on the mandatory side over the next ten years.

    *The HuffPost report was corrected after pressure from readers and disability advocates to include the word “mostly.” The original post did not include that conditional language and incorrectly stated “the document honors Trump’s unorthodox campaign promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare.”

    **The Axios report was changed after its initial publication but no editor’s note or correction was added to indicate the revision. Media Matters had criticized the original language of the article in a May 22 blog.