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  • Trump EPA claims new power plant rule would improve health of minority and low-income communities. Don't believe it.

    Media are missing the environmental justice story behind Trump's Affordable Clean Energy rule

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On June 19, the Trump administration announced that it was officially replacing the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's 2015 policy for curbing carbon pollution from power plants, with a much weaker Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. The text of the new rule claims that it will “improve environmental justice communities’ health,” but recently published research found that in many states it could actually lead to increases in air pollution, which would have especially negative health effects on communities of color and low-income populations.

    The ACE rollout is a major environmental justice story, but that's being missed by most media outlets.

    Trump's power plant rule could increase air pollution in many states, hurting vulnerable communities

    The text of the ACE rule says it is not expected to have notable negative effects on minority and low-income communities, and in fact, it will have positive ones:

    The EPA believes that this action is unlikely to have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations, low-income populations and/or indigenous peoples ... The EPA believes that this action will achieve CO2 emission reductions resulting from implementation of these final guidelines, as well as ozone and PM2.5 emission reductions as a cobenefit, and will further improve environmental justice communities’ health as discussed in the [regulatory impact analysis].

    But recent scientific research calls this claim into question. A study published earlier this year by scientists from Harvard, Boston University, and other institutions found that the ACE rule could lead to increased emissions of the air pollutants sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in about 20 states. As E&E News explained when the study was released, “The proposed Affordable Clean Energy rule’s focus on cutting emissions through efficiency improvements could cause emissions to increase at 28 percent of regulated power plants, as more efficient plants run more frequently and states delay retirement of older, dirtier plants, according to the study.”

    At least one Trump official has acknowledged this. “A senior administration official … confirmed Wednesday that some plants may end up emitting more pollutants under the rule,” The Washington Post reported last week.

    The health effects could be notable, as study co-author Jonathan Buonocore told E&E: “These pollutants contribute to PM 2.5 [fine particles] and ozone, with health effects including increased risk of premature death, respiratory disease, heart attack and some neuro-cognitive diseases as well.” Fine particulate pollution is linked to tens of thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. each year, according to a separate study released this spring.

    When the ACE rule was proposed in August 2018, the EPA's own analysis estimated that it would result in 470 to 1,400 additional premature deaths a year by 2030 because of increased fine particulate pollution compared to expected pollution levels under Obama's Clean Power Plan.

    The negative ramifications of the ACE rule are likely to fall especially hard on vulnerable populations, as a disproportionate amount of harmful health effects from air pollution occur in low-income communities and communities of color. Last year, EPA scientists published a study that found that people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more air pollution than white people, with African Americans exposed to the most. A number of other studies have documented the outsized and negative health effects of air pollution on minority and low-income communities.

    The Trump administration argued that Obama's Clean Power Plan would have hurt people of color

    When the Trump EPA first proposed replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with the ACE rule last August, it tried to paint the policy shift as good for communities of color by arguing that the Clean Power Plan would have hurt them.

    Draft administration talking points from the release of the ACE proposal cited a thoroughly debunked and discredited 2015 study from an industry-funded front group, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), to claim that the Clean Power Plan “would increase Black poverty by 23 percent and Hispanic poverty by 26 percent” and would result in “cumulative job losses of 7 million for Blacks and nearly 12 million for Hispanics in 2035.” 

    The NBCC study's numerous flaws were exposed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, while flaws in other reports that the NBCC study had relied on were explained by PolitiFact, The Washington Post (twice), and the Union of Concerned Scientists again.

    Environmental justice advocates rejected the NBCC's claims. As Jalonne L. White-Newsome, then of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, wrote in 2015 after Obama's Clean Power Plan was finalized, “Despite continuous rhetoric from the Koch brothers’ network, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and others claiming that the CPP would hurt minority communities, we knew that if the final plan were crafted with equity in mind, it could be a huge win for low-income communities and communities of color.” She and other activists worked with Obama's EPA to create a plan that took environmental justice seriously.

    Environmental justice advocates blasted the Trump EPA's ACE power plant rule

    Proponents of environmental justice have consistently rejected the Trump administration's moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with the ACE rule.

    Alice Kaswan, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and an expert on environmental justice, critiqued the draft ACE rule after it was released last year:

    Ultimately, EPA's proposal fails to grapple with what matters to disadvantaged communities. Energy justice implicates not only the monthly bill, but access to new technologies, relief from pollution and its health consequences, and participation in a cleaner energy economy. The narrowly focused ACE fails to facilitate a clean energy transition that could benefit all Americans.

    And last week, GreenLatinos President & CEO Mark Magaña denounced the Trump administration's finalization of ACE:

    There is a good chance that those lives lost will come from Latinx or African American communities. The risks are too high when our communities are more exposed to air pollutants than white communities. We already know that Latinx children are 40% more likely to die from asthma than non-Latinx white children.

    By rolling back the Clean Power Plan, the EPA continues to abdicate its mission to protect human and environmental health. Instead, it works on behalf of the fossil fuel barons who have made deep inroads into the upper echelons of the Trump administration. In the end, the Affordable Clean Energy rule will increase the risks from climate change for everyone and particularly harm vulnerable communities around the country. That's a story media outlets ought to be telling.

  • Wash. Post fails to disclose that op-ed writer advocating military strikes against Iran is on the board of a major defense contractor

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Washington Post published an op-ed on Friday by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael G. Vickers in which he called for “limited U.S. military strikes” against Iran. But the newspaper failed to disclose that Vickers serves on the board of BAE Systems Inc., the American subsidiary of a major multinational defense contractor.

    BAE Systems published a press release in December 2015 saying that Vickers had “been appointed to its board of directors for a three-year term.” The company confirmed on June 24 that Vickers is still an active member of its board.

    But in Vickers' June 21 op-ed, the Post identified him only as “a former special forces officer and CIA operations officer” who “served as assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities (2007-2011) and undersecretary of defense for intelligence (2011-2015).” In the column, Vickers urged President Donald Trump to authorize military strikes against Iran, writing, “The Trump administration should respond to these recent attacks with strikes of its own on Iranian and Houthi air-defense assets, offensive missile systems and Revolutionary Guard Corps bases. A measured but firm response is what is required.”

    This isn’t the first time the Post has had disclosure issues with authors writing for its opinion section. Previously, the newspaper repeatedly published articles by opinion writer Ed Rogers about issues of interest to his lobbying firm’s clients without disclosing his financial conflicts of interest.

  • It’s time for a reckoning for journalists who boosted false narratives about Donald Trump’s LGBTQ policy positions

    Audiences were repeatedly told that he was pro-LGBTQ. He’s been nothing but a nightmare.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s an understatement to say that LGBTQ rights in the U.S. haven’t exactly flourished under President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

    Upon taking office, Trump and his team ordered the removal of references to LGBTQ issues from a number of federal websites. By the second month, the departments of Education and Justice had officially rescinded Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students from discrimination. Six months in, Trump shocked the country by casually tweeting his intention to reinstitute a ban on trans people in the military and having the DOJ issue an updated interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 saying it is legal to fire someone for being gay or trans.

    Those are just a few examples of the many, many anti-LGBTQ actions that Trump has carried out since taking office. According to GLAAD, an LGBTQ media watchdog group, the Trump administration has launched 114 attacks on LGBTQ people thus far. Some actions are petty but not actively harmful, such as not officially proclaiming June to be LGBTQ Pride Month while still extending that recognition to Great Outdoors Month, National Homeownership Month, and National Ocean Month. However, other actions could put lives at risk, such as the appointment of anti-LGBTQ lawyers to lifetime federal judgeships and issuing rules allowing discrimination against trans people in public housing and health care.

    Some media outlets seemed caught off guard by the barrage of anti-LGBTQ actions. They shouldn’t have been.

    Last month, The Washington Post reported that the candidate “who cast himself as pro-LGBT” had become the community’s “worst enemy” in the eyes of activists and allies. And the Post was far from alone in reporting that Trump’s recent actions are a departure from his pro-LGBTQ campaign -- a campaign that never actually existed. These reports place blame on Trump for failing to make good on promises he never made. The truth is that too much of the press ignored what he said he would actually do.

    To understand where the narrative suggesting that Trump would be a pro-LGBTQ president originated, look back to his April 21, 2016, appearance on NBC’s Today.

    Co-host Willie Geist asked the candidate a viewer question from Twitter about specific ways he would be LGBTQ-inclusive as president and about a recently enacted North Carolina law that legalized discrimination against trans people and banned them from many public restrooms. Trump responded by saying that the law wasn’t worth the “economic punishment” brought on by backlash. Then co-host Matt Lauer followed up, asking Trump a question about whether he’d “be fine” with trans TV personality Caitlyn Jenner using the women’s restroom in Trump Tower.

    “That is correct,” answered Trump.

    Nothing in Trump’s answers actually addressed how he would be “inclusive” of LGBTQ people as president. In talking about the North Carolina law, he said that he opposed it because it was hurting businesses, not because it was hurting the people actually being discriminated against. This position in itself is a sort of middle ground between government-mandated anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the position of the Obama administration, which was that anti-LGBTQ discrimination should be illegal. And it would still be a step backward for LGBTQ rights. On the topic of Caitlyn Jenner, it was already New York City law that she had to be allowed to use the women’s restroom; Trump being “fine” with that was as unspectacular as if he’d said he was “fine” with cars stopping at red lights.

    As unremarkable as they were, both answers earned Trump some quick praise from mainstream journalists.

    An April 22, 2016, article in The New York Times headlined “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.” picked up where the Today interview left off. It cited a Trump blog post from a decade earlier congratulating Elton John and David Furnish on their civil partnership, his support for HIV/AIDS charities in the ’80s and ’90s, and his appearance alongside former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a video in which Giuliani dressed in drag as evidence that Trump “is far more accepting of sexual minorities than his party’s leaders have been.” In contrast, Trump’s opposition to marriage equality and his “recent alliances with social conservatives such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Pat Robertson” were treated as minor footnotes.

    That night on NBC Nightly News, correspondent Hallie Jackson said that “Trump is considered one of the more LGBT-friendly Republican candidates” and highlighted his Today Show comments. The April 24 edition of Meet The Press featured a segment on Trump’s Today Show comments and the reactions they provoked both from his primary challenger (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released an ad saying that Trump wasn’t anti-trans enough) as well as his likely general election opponent (the Hillary Clinton campaign pointed to the Today Show comments as an example of Trump’s inconsistency). During that segment, a banner appeared on screen reading: “Trump Campaign: More Accepting On ‘Bathroom Laws.’”

    Trump got additional positive coverage on the topic after the Pulse shooting, his speech at the Republican National Convention, and a moment at a rally when he held a gay pride flag.

    On June 14, 2016, Trump tweeted, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” The tweet was one of several empty platitudes Trump offered to LGBTQ Americans following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, and at first glance, it might look like a sign of support. Upon closer reading, it’s clear that when he said “fight for you,” he wasn’t referring to fighting for LGBTQ civil rights at home. Instead, Trump’s statement used the community as yet another justification for his anti-Muslim immigration proposals. In his first speech following the Pulse attack, Trump claimed that he was a “friend of women and the LGBT community” because unlike Clinton, he would not “allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country,” saying “they enslave women, and murder gays.”

    In response, ABC’s Jonathan Karl called Trump “the most pro-gay rights Republican presidential candidate that we have ever seen.” Politico’s Kyle Cheney framed the bizarre, uncomfortable speech following the Pulse nightclub massacre as evidence of a pro-LGBTQ position, writing that Trump brought a “welcoming tone toward LGBT Americans” and that “in Trump, pro-gay rights Republicans see a new hope.”

    Trump won kudos again the following month during his speech at the Republican National Convention, when he said, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” Again, this wasn’t a promise to support LGBTQ rights, but a promise to physically “protect” LGBTQ people from what he considered a “hateful foreign ideology” -- Islam.

    Following Trump’s convention speech, many mainstream journalists fell into the Trump-as-LGBTQ-ally trap, reinforcing the myth that he’d be good for LGBTQ people as a whole. Sometimes, as was the case in an Associated Press write-up headlined “Making GOP history, Trump vows to protect LGBTQ community,” important context (in this case, what he was suggesting when he said “protect”) was left out:

    With five letters, Donald Trump brushed off decades of Republican reluctance to voice full-throated support for gay rights — at least for a night.

    Trump’s call in his speech to the Republican National Convention for protecting the “LGBTQ community” was a watershed moment for the Republican Party — the first time the issue has been elevated in a GOP nomination address. Four years ago, Mitt Romney never uttered the word “gay,” much less the full acronym — standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning.

    But Trump, as if to drive the point home, said it not once, but twice.

    Nowhere in Trump’s convention speech -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- did he so much as mention “gay rights,” let alone “voice full-throated support” for them. You wouldn’t have gotten that impression from many journalists, though.

    Fox News’ John Roberts said Trump had “become a champion for the cause” of LGBTQ people. CBS News’ John Dickerson said, “It’s extraordinary the distance the Republican Party has traveled” on LGBTQ issues. On MSNBC, Mark Halperin said, “In the history of the Republican Party and gay rights, last night was one of the biggest days ever.”

    In October 2016, Trump stood on stage at a Colorado campaign stop and briefly held a Pride flag with the words “LGBTs for Trump” scrawled across the front, handed to him from the audience. While few would cite photos of Trump holding signs that say “Women for Trump” or “Blacks for Trump” as evidence that he would be good for women or people of color, the moment with the flag has been occasionally referenced as an example of his supposed support for LGBTQ people.

    All of this praise was based on a falsehood, and LGBTQ people are going to pay the price.

    One of the earliest signs that Trump would be an LGBTQ adversary came in December 2015, when the then-candidate went on record in support of the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would have codified a federal right to discriminate against LGBTQ people into law so long as it was done on the basis of one’s religious beliefs. The deceptively named bill was introduced that summer in response to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision as the best chance for anti-gay politicians to undermine the ruling’s effects at the federal level. If it had become law, it would have had devastating effects and wreaked havoc on state and local nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

    “If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signature and enactment,” Trump wrote in a response to the American Principles Project request that he make enacting FADA a priority within his hypothetical administration’s first 100 days. Though he stopped short of committing to it as his own priority, anti-LGBTQ activist Maggie Gallagher called his reply “big news and good news.”

    During the January 31, 2016, edition of Fox News’ Fox News Sunday, Trump reaffirmed that he still opposed marriage equality and would “strongly consider” appointing Supreme Court justices to reverse the court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a decision establishing the right for same-sex couples to marry. The following month, during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, Trump was asked whether evangelicals could trust him on “traditional marriage,” to which he immediately responded, “I think they can trust me. They can trust me on traditional marriage.” On Twitter, Trump called Ted Cruz a “liar” for suggesting that he and Marco Rubio secretly supported marriage equality.

    In April 2016, on the same day as his Today appearance, he walked back his mild opposition to North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law during an interview on Hannity. Stunningly, the walk-back wasn’t included in the New York Times article or NBC News segments that followed, which lauded him for his more moderate position. By July, he had come out in full support of the law.

    Even his supposedly pro-LGBTQ convention speech was a sham. As Sean Spicer would later reveal in his post-White House memoir, the inclusion of any mention of LGBTQ people at all in Trump’s convention speech was a concession made to convince one Republican National Committee delegate to remove his name from a “Never Trump” petition. The truth is that the 2016 Republican Party platform released during the convention was called the “most overtly anti-LGBTQ platform in history” by the Human Rights Campaign. Even Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo echoed that message, adding, “Opposition to marriage equality, nonsense about bathrooms, an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of ‘pray the gay away’ -- it's all in there.”

    Even if journalists didn’t see through the use of LGBTQ people as props in his speech to advance anti-immigration policies, it’s hard to understand how the narrative of Trump as an LGBTQ-inclusive candidate continued after he selected Mike Pence as his running mate and stood with the extremist policies outlined in the platform.

    Contrary to what the Times reported that April, there wasn’t any reason to believe anything “set him apart” in the Republican field. Sure, candidates like Cruz, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry were more overtly anti-LGBTQ, but practically speaking, they held nearly identical policy views. Even if there was space to argue that the other candidates were more clearly anti-LGBTQ than Trump, reporting that is misleading if it lacks the context that he’s still far from an ally.

    During an October 3, 2016, event with a veterans group, Trump was asked what he would do “about the social engineering and political correctness that’s been imposed upon our military,” a reference to Obama-era decisions around trans inclusion and women participating in combat.

    “We’re gonna get away from political correctness,” Trump responded. A Nexis search for TV news transcripts including the words “transgender” and “military” in the week following Trump’s statement turned up zero references to the comments.

    On July 26, 2017, he announced a ban on trans people serving “in any capacity in the U.S. military.” The decision appeared to come out of absolutely nowhere, but in fact, he was making good on a campaign promise.

    Trump has been a disaster for LGBTQ people in the U.S. As we approach the 2020 election, it is imperative that journalists shine an honest light on this issue.

    In May, the departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development announced new anti-trans policies and Axios reported on HHS’ intent to release a formal policy rolling back nondiscrimination rules in adoption, allowing federally funded adoption and foster agencies to refuse same-sex couples if they choose. Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of these administration moves and found that during a 10-day period while these policies were being reported on, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and cable news network MSNBC made no mention of these changes. CNN and Fox News devoted minimal coverage to the topic. These are major policies that will affect the lives of millions of Americans, but they barely made a blip on the TV news radar. If you weren’t specifically looking for news on the state of LGBTQ rights, you may not be aware of just how many ways those protections have changed for the worse during Trump’s administration.

    An alarming number of headlines still get the issue completely wrong -- and that doesn’t bode well for 2020 coverage. A recent article in The New York Times about a May 31 Trump tweet was headlined “Trump’s Celebration of L.G.B.T. Rights Is Met With Criticism.” In fact, he did not offer any “celebration of LGBT rights” in his tweet. That tweet lauded “the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great nation,” but it said nothing of legal rights or protections. Headlines overstating what was said or inferring messages not actually stated reflect a continuing naiveté in the press. Not only that, but the article itself advances one of the administration’s favorite falsehoods, quoting Kellyanne Conway as saying, “He’s the first president to start as president for approving of gay marriage.”

    In fact, a 60 Minutes interview people often point to when defending that comment simply features Trump saying marriage equality is settled law and that he’s “fine with that.” When specifically asked if he supported marriage equality, he responded that it was “irrelevant” what he thought. Those are not the words of someone who is “approving of gay marriage.”

    Based on sheer quantity of anti-LGBTQ policies and political appointments, Trump is, arguably, one of the worst presidents on LGBTQ rights in the country’s history. He may have no personal problem with gay people. He may say he’s “fine” with a gay person being married. He may sell “Pride”-themed merchandise on his website. He may collaborate with Peter Thiel or appoint Richard Grenell to an ambassadorship. He may even sputter out the letters “LGBTQ” from time to time. None of this has anything to do with LGBTQ civil rights or legal protections at home.

    After the Pulse attack in 2016, Trump said reporters should “ask the gays” about LGBTQ rights in majority-Muslim countries and whether his anti-Muslim policy proposals made him a friend of the community. As 2020 coverage gets going, news organizations should do exactly that: talk to the broader LGBTQ community.

    Yes, there will always be some gay and bisexual Trump supporters, some hard-core conservative trans people, and a handful of lesbian libertarians. Whenever the Trump administration takes action against the community, a common impulse is for journalists to seek these supporters out for comment. Rarely, however, are these the people hurt most by these individual policies, and giving them a disproportionately large platform only obscures the actual damage any given policy can cause. Their continued support for Trump and the Republican Party doesn’t cancel out what harm the party and its leader will do. Rather, their support is often just a sign that there are other issues they care about more than legal protections or civil rights. In other words, the existence of LGBTQ Trump supporters does not tell us anything about the administration’s hostility when it comes to policies specific to this community. Journalists must remember this.

    What Trump said in a 2000 interview or what charities he supported in the 1980s aren’t relevant to the lives of LGBTQ Americans. What matter are the policies being implemented, the judges appointed, and laws championed -- right now. A July 2016 Pew Research survey found that 40% of voters said LGBTQ issues were “very important” in determining who to vote for. By not informing the public about what Trump said he would do, the press failed. It’s time for journalists to accept that Trump was not nearly as pro-LGBTQ as he was made out to be in the press and to contemplate what role they played in building the myth that he ever was.

  • Right-wing media melt down over Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's comments about pro-choice judges

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) spoke about her commitment to nominate only pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court if she became president, right-wing media responded by leveling personal attacks against Gillibrand and by alleging she was trying to censure abortion opponents.

    On June 10, The Des Moines Register asked Gillibrand about her proposal to nominate only those judges to the Supreme Court who would vow to uphold Roe v. Wade, questioning whether “imposing a litmus test” would be “seen as an encroachment on judicial independence.” Gillibrand responded:

    I think there’s some issues that have such moral clarity that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable. Imagine saying that it’s OK to appoint a judge who’s racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic. Telling -- asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America, I think that we are, we’ve -- I don’t think those are political issues anymore.

    And we believe in this country in the separation of church and state, and I respect the rights of every American to hold their religious beliefs true to themselves. But our country and our Constitution has always demanded that we have a separation of church and state. And all these efforts by President Trump and other ultra radical conservative judges and justices to impose their faith on Americans is contrary to our Constitution, and that’s what it is.

    And so, I believe that for all of these issues -- they are not issues that there is a fair other side. There is no moral equivalency when you come to racism. And I do not believe there is a moral equivalency when it comes to changing laws that deny women reproductive freedom.

    Gillibrand later reiterated her position during an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, explaining that her statement “had nothing to do with” the personal views of abortion opponents, but it was rather about the importance of appointing judges who support the “settled precedent” established in Roe. She concluded: “The question and my answer was specific to what kind of judges I would appoint.” Still, right-wing media responded with vitriol, saying that her comments were "shocking and stunning," that they were "just dumb and over the top," and that she was suggesting anti-choice people "should never be granted access to polite society." The meltdown is yet another example of right-wing media’s ongoing effort during the 2020 election cycle to characterize Democrats’ support for abortion rights as “extreme.”

    Right-wing media had a meltdown over Gillibrand’s comments

    • On Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, Fox News contributor Charlie Hurt said he didn’t know whether Gillibrand is “evil or ignorant,” but that he felt comparing anti-choice views with racist views was “just absolutely shocking and stunning.”
    • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs attacked Gillibrand, asking, “Has she taken complete leave of her remaining senses?”
    • On Fox Business’ Trish Regan Primetime, guest host Gregg Jarrett characterized Gillibrand’s comments as calling someone “a racist … if you happen to be pro-life.” He continued that this was “a stupid, idiotic comparison” and claimed her comments were “just dumb and over the top.” He concluded, “If you had any doubt that Kirsten Gillibrand is obtuse on her best day, she removed all doubt.”
    • On his program, Tucker Carlson claimed that Gillibrand was equating holding anti-abortion views as being “on par with racists, maybe even the Nazis.” Carlson’s guest Lila Rose, the founder and president of the anti-abortion group Live Action, said, “This idea that it's not even justified to have the pro-life position -- you're even a racist. I mean, that term is just thrown around today. But saying that you're even a racist to be pro-life -- half of America is pro-life.”
    • Fox host Sean Hannity named Gillibrand “Villain of the Day” because of her comments.
    • Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said on his No Spin News show that Gillibrand’s comments demonstrated that she was “a dangerous person” and “a demagogue.” He continued that “Gillibrand is basically saying as a sitting senator, all the pro-life people in America are not supposed to be heard. You shut up because you’re just like a racist. How vile is this? Now that should disqualify the woman from public office.”
    • National Review called Gillibrand’s comments “more sinister than pandering” and characterized them as “irresponsible, malicious rhetoric.”
    • The Washington Times claimed that Gillibrand was “demonizing millions of pro-life citizens” with her comments.
    • Townhall accused Gillibrand of being “desperate to score some political points amongst the progressive base in hopes of boosting her ranking from dead-last in the presidential primary.”

    Other outlets published opinion pieces echoing right-wing media’s attacks and allegations

    • Philip Boas, the editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic, claimed in an opinion piece that Gillibrand’s comments “revealed her authoritarian instincts.” He wrote:

    Gillibrand added that opposition to abortion should be regarded in the same way we regard racism. In other words, critics of abortion need to be banished from the public square. They need to be treated with all the loathing and disdain we reserve for racial bigots.

    They should never be granted access to polite society. Never hold corporate jobs. Never rise to any position of legitimate authority. They should be shunned and ignored and otherwise marginalized – made so radioactive that their views are no longer to be considered. Only condemned.

    And that especially goes for federal judges one suspects may harbor anti-abortion views.

    • Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post saying, “Few would accuse [Gillibrand] of seriousness in her presidential run.” He characterized Gillibrand’s comments as saying that, “pro-life people are not only wrong; they are bigoted theocrats who threaten democracy.”
    • In The Chicago Tribune, columnist John Kass summarized Gillibrand’s comments as her saying that “if you oppose abortion, then you’re equivalent to a racist” and that these views reflected the Democratic Party writ large because “her bigotry was met with silence. And silence is consent.” Kass also wrote, “In her world, babies don’t have rights. Even thinking of them as human would get in the way of politics that grant power to those who would end their lives.”
  • Moderators should make climate change a big focus at the first primary debate. Here's how.

    Do’s and don’ts for the moderators of the upcoming Democratic presidential debate in Florida

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The leadership of the Democratic National Committee is so far refusing to hold a presidential primary debate focused on climate change, despite calls from 15 candidates and more than 200,000 voters. So at least for the first debate, set to take place over two nights on June 26 and 27, it will be up to the moderators to decide how much of a focus to put on the climate crisis. That could be a problem.

    In defending the decision, DNC chair Tom Perez wrote, "I have the utmost confidence that, based on our conversations with networks, climate change will be discussed early and often during our party’s primary debates." He explained, "I made clear to our media partners that the issue of climate change must be featured prominently in our debates. That didn’t happen in 2016 — and it was wrong."

    Perez is correct that the climate crisis should have gotten more attention the last time around. During the 2016 season presidential primary debates, only 1.5% of questions from moderators were about climate change, and nine out of 20 debates didn't feature any climate questions.

    But is he right that we can count on the networks’ moderators to do better -- much better -- this time?

    Here we offer do’s and don’ts to help moderators give the climate crisis the serious attention it deserves. The first debate, which is being hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo, will have five moderators: José Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow, and Chuck Todd.

    DO ask multiple questions about climate change and give all candidates a chance to weigh in

    The No. 1 task for moderators is to give the climate crisis much more attention than it’s received in past debates, which means not just asking about the topic one time but addressing it from multiple angles in multiple questions. 

    And as they ask those questions, the moderators need to give all candidates an opportunity to discuss the issue. This may be a challenge, as the two-night debate will include 20 candidates, 10 on stage at a time, but voters need to hear from all of them in order to make informed choices about who deserves their support.  

    DON'T frame climate change as a narrow political issue

    Too often, when generalist journalists ask questions related to climate change, they frame the issue through the narrow lens of horse-race politics. We've seen this happen repeatedly in recent months on the Sunday morning political shows -- including on NBC's Meet the Press, hosted by Chuck Todd, one of the moderators of the upcoming debate. 

    On the May 19 episode of the show, Todd brought up climate change during an interview with Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but his question was more about how to beat Trump than how to tackle the climate crisis:

    Well, let me start with something the vice president, former vice president, said yesterday. And it was a fascinating way -- he was talking about his climate change proposal. And he said, “If you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate proposal is,” it was, quote, “beat Trump.” You have said, if all the Democrats do is focus on Trump, you lose. Essentially, Biden is saying, no, no, no, no, no, it is all about Trump. Your reaction.

    Rachel Maddow, another moderator at the June 26-27 debate, shifted a climate conversation to electoral politics during a March 4 interview she conducted on her MSNBC show with Democratic presidential candidate and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. After Inslee spoke about his commitment to climate action, Maddow noted that climate change is important to Democratic primary voters, but then asked whether a climate-centric candidate can win over voters in coal-producing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and thus beat Trump.

    Instead of focusing so heavily on the race against Trump, the moderators should prompt candidates to explain the specifics of how they would tackle the climate crisis.

    DON’T downplay the seriousness of climate change as a topic

    Many mainstream political journalists do not consider the climate crisis to be a top-tier issue, and that dismissive attitude can come through in the questions they ask -- even when those questions involve climate change. 

    The Democratic presidential primary debate in November 2015, for example, featured one climate-related question, but it actually appeared to downplay the problem. After a lengthy discussion about ISIS and terrorism, moderator John Dickerson of CBS asked Sanders, “In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?” Sanders affirmed that he did, but voters didn’t learn much new from that exchange -- except that the moderator seemed to think it surprising that a presidential candidate could consider the climate crisis to be a massive national security threat. 

    DON’T reflexively change the subject away from climate change if a candidate brings it up

    In 2016 debates, candidates regularly raised the issue of climate change even when they weren't asked about it, but moderators then steered the discussions away from climate and back to other topics. This happened during the three presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The moderators asked the candidates no climate questions, but Clinton raised the issue herself in all three debates, and Trump raised it once, saying it wasn't as serious as the problem of nuclear weapons. On all of those occasions, moderators failed to engage and ask follow-up questions related to climate change.

    Todd also has a tendency to do this on Meet the Press. For example, during an April 14 interview with Inslee, Todd's first four questions for the governor were about immigration. Although Inslee twice pointed out that climate change is a factor pushing people to migrate, Todd pivoted the immigration conversation away from climate change. 

    At the debate later this month, moderators should take note when candidates bring up climate change and find good opportunities to ask them subsequent questions about it.

    DO ask specific questions about candidates’ plans and proposed solutions

    Voters need to hear about the solutions and policy approaches that candidates are endorsing to address the climate crisis, so it is important for moderators to ask specific and substantive questions. If moderators are short on ideas, they can look to the many suggestions coming from journalists and activists.

    The Tampa Bay Times offered some good questions in an editorial titled “Democratic presidential debates should highlight climate change”:

    How would the candidates change the nation’s energy mix? What federal support would they make available to states and cities to harden their transportation systems, utilities and other infrastructure? How would Washington expand mass transit nationwide to curtail automobile emissions? Is it finally time to create a national catastrophe fund as insurance against hurricanes and the other forms of extreme weather that have been hammering the Midwest?

    Six environmental and energy journalists posed potential debate questions in a recent piece published in the Columbia Journalism Review.

    While making the case for a dedicated climate debate, David Turnbull of the activist group Oil Change International published a list of 60 climate-related questions that moderators could ask.

    DO ask follow-up questions

    When moderators have asked climate questions in past debates, some candidates have tried to skate by with vague answers and platitudes about the importance of a clean environment. We saw this in a number of 2018 senator and governor debates.

    The solution is for moderators to ask follow-up questions and press candidates for more details and specifics. This has proved successful in some CNN town halls with Democratic presidential candidates this year. For example, during a February 18 town hall with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, an audience member asked her about the Green New Deal, and then moderator Don Lemon followed up with questions that elicited more specific answers.

    DO help voters understand the differences between candidates' climate plans and approaches

    Though the Democratic presidential contenders all say climate change is a serious crisis that needs to be addressed, they have diverse views on the best ways to do that. For example, the candidates have widely differing opinions on nuclear power, fracking, and fossil fuel exports, as The Washington Post has documented.

    R.L. Miller of the super PAC Climate Hawks Vote has started a list of questions that moderators could ask to help illuminate those policy differences.

    DO study up on climate science and policy

    Moderators should read up to make sure that they understand the basics of climate science and climate policy well enough to ask informed questions and spot any misinformation that may arise.

    This would be less of a concern if the DNC agreed to have a dedicated climate debate with moderators who are knowledgeable about the subject area. Journalists with a strong background in climate and energy reporting would be best positioned to ask intelligent questions and spotlight important areas of disagreement.

    DON’T let candidates get away with lies or distortions

    Chuck Todd should take this recommendation in particular to heart. During a discussion about climate change on Meet the Press in November of last year, one of Todd’s guests made an absurd claim about global temperatures dropping and Todd let it slide by with no pushback. He caught a lot of flak for that, and he tried to redeem himself a month later by hosting a Meet the Press episode dedicated entirely to informed discussion of climate change, so we can hope he’ll be quicker on the draw if any climate misinformation crops up in the coming debate.

    DO ask climate questions related to Florida

    The first Democratic debate this year will take place in Miami, which is visibly and obviously under extreme threat from climate change. The whole state of Florida is already being dramatically affected.

    Moderators should seize the opportunity to ask questions about climate-related challenges in Miami and in Florida more broadly, many of which would be relevant to other coastal communities in the U.S.

    They could start by considering questions that a bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors suggested ahead of presidential primary debates in 2016, including one on protecting coastal infrastructure.

    The editorial board of the Miami Herald recently suggested another topic:

    How climate change and the rising sea will impact South Florida more immediately and severely than many other parts of the country. Candidates should be prepared to detail short- and long-term solutions for their Florida audience, they should offer creative ideas that reveal they understand what’s at stake for us.

    The Tampa Bay Times, in its recent editorial calling for debates to focus on climate change, raised more Florida-centric topics worthy of discussion:

    Tidal flooding already pours into Miami even on sunny days. Miami Beach has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for new stormwater management systems to pump seawater from the neighborhoods. Red Tide and algae blooms are costing the fishing, restaurant and tourism industries tens of millions of dollars a year. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that residential properties in the state valued now at about $26 billion are at risk of chronic flooding by 2045. And the longer we wait for a fix, the more expensive it gets.

    And a final DO, this one for the public: Tell NBC and the moderators what climate questions you want to hear

    NBC is soliciting debate questions from the public via its website. Send in your suggestions.

    Tweet at the moderators with your climate questions: José Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow, and Chuck Todd. And get more traction for those tweets by using the hashtag #climatedebate.

  • News organizations parrot Trump's false justifications for accepting foreign help in 2020 election

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Several national-level news organizations, including The New York Times, CBS News, Roll Call, and The Washington Post, repeated Trump’s false justifications for his widely criticized comment in an ABC News interview on June 12 that he would accept information from a foreign government about a 2020 Democratic rival. In the interview, he also falsely claimed that accepting information from foreign governments is identical to political opposition research and it is a routine practice: They all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”

    After Trump started getting criticized for his comments, he tweeted on June 13 several defenses of his remarks, equating accepting information as a candidate that a foreign government dug up to acting in his official capacity in routine meetings and discussions with foreign dignitaries. As Politico explained in an article about Trump's defenses: "Every president regularly communicates with other heads of state. Accepting negative information from a foreign agent about a campaign opponent is a different matter, however. It is a crime for a campaign to solicit or accept something of value from a foreign entity, which some lawyers say could apply to information." But several major news organizations repeated Trump’s false justifications through their Twitter accounts, misinforming their audiences about the grave nature of Trump’s admission.

    In contrast, NPR's and Politico's Twitter feeds made clear that Trump's claims in the interview were false:

  • Nearly all TV news networks failed to cover the Trump-Pence administration’s recent attacks on the LGBTQ community

    Recently proposed and finalized rules would codify discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care, housing, and adoption and foster care

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX PATERSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the span of three days, new reports revealed several proposed or potential rules coming from the Trump-Pence administration that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people -- particularly trans folks -- in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care. But in the week that followed, from May 22 to May 31, nearly all cable and broadcast TV news channels failed to cover these attacks on the LGBTQ community. Broadcast networks ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, as well as cable network MSNBC, did not mention the discriminatory rules at all, while CNN and Fox News covered them for a total of less than 11 minutes across 8 segments.

    The Trump-Pence administration is releasing discriminatory anti-LGBTQ proposals in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care

    Between May 22 and 24, news outlets reported on several rules coming out of the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) that would harm LGBTQ people, with a disproportionate impact on the trans community:

    • On May 22, HUD proposed a new rule that would allow “federally funded [homeless] shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men,” according to The Washington Post.
    • On May 24, HHS proposed a rule that would allow health care workers citing religious beliefs to discriminate against and deny care to LGBTQ patients.
    • Later on May 24, Axios reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s HHS plans to propose a new rule that would make it easier for federally funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents, among others, fulfilling a promise President Donald Trump made during this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.

    Broadcast and cable news discussed the proposed rules for less than 11 minutes across 8 segments

    Between May 22 and May 31, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX and cable news network MSNBC did not mention the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules at all. CNN spent 7.5 minutes covering the topics, and Fox News reported on them for roughly 3.5 minutes.

    CNN discussed the topics over the span of six segments, including during an interview with trans actor D’Lo about an advertisement featuring a father showing his transgender son how to shave. That segment was the only relevant coverage during the time period to feature an LGBTQ guest. Fox News covered the topics over two segments. One was an interview with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, in which he misleadingly framed the discriminatory rule as “being fair to everybody.”

    Print and digital media reported on all the three rules and contextualized the administration’s anti-LGBTQ agenda

    The failure of several broadcast and cable TV networks to report on the discriminatory rules was not reflected in print and digital media.

    Trans writer Katelyn Burns wrote two op-eds contextualizing the recent anti-LGBTQ attacks as part of Trump’s all-out assault on the transgender community. In Teen Vogue, she outlined how these policies could trigger suicidal ideation in trans youth, encourage unsupportive parents, and prevent young people from accessing medically necessary care. In The Washington Post, Burns called HHS’ proposed rule “the cruelest thing the Trump administration has done to trans people,” writing:

    For me, as a transgender person, this administration’s constant targeting of us is terrifying. It seems that there’s little they won’t do to making transitioning and living a dignified life as a transgender person impossible. Trump and his administration are clearly prioritizing the desires of religious conservatives who would like to see my existence rubbed out of society, and they’ve come this far so quickly with barely a blip of resistance.

    Digital outlets such as BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, and HuffPost also covered the rules, citing LGBTQ advocates and contextualizing the administration’s moves as part of a wider strategy to undermine LGBTQ equality across the country.

    These attacks have been championed by extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and will further marginalize already vulnerable people

    The Trump-Pence administration’s anti-LGBTQ policies have been fueled by influential right-wing organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), both of which have allies and alumni serving in positions across the federal government. For example, the right-wing HHS Office for Civil Rights, which is led by Roger Severino, is responsible for both the anti-LGBTQ health care rule and the reported upcoming adoption and foster care rule. Severino formerly served as the director of Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. Heritage has a long history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy and has increasingly targeted transgender people. Severino has made a career out of advocating against LGBTQ rights and was behind several other anti-LGBTQ actions from HHS. Severino’s newly announced principal advisor, Matt Bowman, is an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ advocate who has worked in HHS positions since 2017. He formerly worked with ADF for more than a decade.

    Ultimately, these latest attacks affect transgender people in areas in which they are already more likely to experience discrimination and hardships. HUD’s proposed rule to give federally funded homeless shelters a license to discriminate against transgender people will only further marginalize an already vulnerable community that faces alarming rates of homelessness. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), “one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness,” and up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

    The reported HHS rule to allow agencies to deny children adoption and foster care placements with same-sex couples will only limit opportunities for the more than 400,000 children currently in foster care. Despite the planned HHS rule, there is a robust body of evidence that shows children of same-sex couples fare no worse than other children.

    Further, the HHS rule to gut nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the administration’s most damaging attacks on the transgender community. Transgender patients already face denial of health care and discrimination in health care settings, and National Geographic has reported that transgender “people have disproportionately high rates of illness and death—in part due to widespread reluctance to seek out emergency treatment and even routine checkups over concerns about the quality of care.” Additionally, NCTE’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported that among respondents, “one-third (33%) of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender” in the previous year.

    Media has a responsibility to report on these devastating attacks against the LGBTQ community

    The insufficient reporting on cable and broadcast TV news about the recent attacks on the LGBTQ community plays into the Trump-Pence administration’s strategy of minimizing press coverage of extreme policies coming from federal agencies. The administration released one of the rules ahead of a holiday weekend, which decreased public awareness of the issues -- an approach it has also taken to bury climate change research.

    Moreover, media’s obsession with Trump’s tweets allow extreme anti-LGBTQ figures to push discriminatory policies with little notice. Reporting on the new HHS rule, Reuters’ Yasmeen Abutaleb and Joseph Tanfani wrote:

    One of the benefits of Trump’s Twitter approach is it creates headlines, and that’s what it’s intended to do, and underneath those headlines, everyone else in the administration can go about peacefully doing their job,” said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth and a longtime Pence friend. HHS has “released several very important, significant regulations that changed the nature of Obamacare, of healthcare, with very little coverage in the press.

    Though cable and broadcast TV news spent little time covering the administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ rules, there is no mistaking that these decisions will have sweeping impacts on queer and trans people. Media outlets have a responsibility to properly cover the administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights and to educate their audiences on the detrimental impacts these proposed rules will have on an already vulnerable community. Unfortunately, TV news failed both the queer community and their audience by barely reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ attacks.

    Methodology

    From May 24 to May 31, the week following the announcement of the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules, Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of broadcast and cable TV newscasts on ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and NBC News -- as well as the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. programming on Fox News and MSNBC -- for mentions of the words or variations of the words “LGBT,” “gay,” “transgender,” “gender identity,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “sexual orientation.” We also searched SnapStream for the same words appearing with the terms "child welfare," “reassignment,” “abortion,” “housing,” “shelter,” “adoption,” “foster care,” “Health and Human Services,” “Housing and Urban Development,” “HHS,” or “HUD” appearing on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for the same timeframe, as daytime coverage for MSNBC and Fox News is not available on Nexis.

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • Wash. Post called out for needlessly scandalizing Elizabeth Warren's past work in bankruptcy law

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On May 22, The Washington Post published an article detailing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) work as a lawyer while she was also teaching, drawing mostly upon information Warren provided on her website and supplemented with additional Post reporting. While the article contained valuable information about Warren’s past career, the Post was criticized for its framing of the story, which seemingly attempted to scandalize the compensation Warren received as a bankruptcy attorney.

    Warren’s campaign released a list of 56 cases that she had worked on, revealing undisclosed information about an aspect of her career that she doesn’t often discuss in public. Warren previously disclosed 13 cases she was involved in when, according to the Post, she “came under pressure from her Republican opponent and the news media to discuss her legal work” during her 2012 Senate campaign. The Post also independently found that “a wave of Warren’s legal work came in the early 2000s as manufacturing companies whose products contained asbestos were forced into bankruptcy by waves of personal injury claims.” The article also described Warren’s work consulting “for more than a dozen committees representing claimants and creditors in these cases, often in partnership with the law firm Caplin & Drysdale, for an hourly rate of $675.”

    Digging into candidates’ career history is important in educating voters about them ahead of a presidential election. However, many media, political, and other figures were critical of the article -- particularly the headline's focus on Warren’s fee of $675 per hour.

    Adam Serwer, The Atlantic​

    Soledad O’Brien, Starfish Media Group

    Jared Yates Sexton, political commentator

    Matthew Miller, MSNBC analyst

    Keith Ellison, Minnesota attorney general

    Brian Beutler, Crooked Media

    Jason Linkins, ThinkProgress

    Qasim Rashid, Virginia Senate District 28 candidate

    Josh Marshall, TPM

    Journalist Helen Kennedy

    Dan Baer, Colorado U.S. Senate candidate

    Ben White, Politico

    Bishop Talbert Swan, pastor

    Harry Litman, The Washington Post

    Parker Molloy, Media Matters

    Matt Fuller, HuffPost

    Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire News

    Journalist Tom Watson

    Podcast host Aaron Mahnke

  • Thanks to anti-abortion media, the latest congressional "tech censorship" hearing was particularly absurd

    Senate hearing about alleged censorship of anti-abortion movie Unplanned was another exercise in right-wing outrage-baiting

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During an April 10 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about the so-called “censorship” of conservative content by social media platforms, senators continually (and inaccurately) claimed Twitter's temporary suspension of an account associated with the anti-abortion movie Unplanned was evidence of wider bias. Although allegations of widespread conservative censorship by social media companies are inaccurate, the accusation itself is familiar among anti-abortion extremists, who have long deployed it as a tactic to rally supporters and raise funds.

    Soon after Unplanned’s release in March, a Twitter account associated with the movie was temporarily suspended and reactivated. The Hollywood Reporter explained that the movie’s account “was not suspended on purpose, but rather was linked to another account that had violated Twitter's rules.” Because of this, the Unplanned account was soon reactivated and its followers restored -- but not before right-wing media expressed outrage and alleged that the film had been “shadow banned” (a common and completely false conservative claim). Although Twitter’s FAQ clearly explains that follower and tweet counts “will be fully restored within 24 hours of reactivation,” right-wing and anti-abortion media continued to treat the incident as yet another example of censorship by tech companies.

    This is far from the first time that anti-abortion groups or outlets have alleged censorship to rile up supporters or solicit funds. Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in 2017 that Twitter was censoring her organization’s ads. In reality, the content remained on the platform -- Live Action simply wasn’t allowed to promote the ads as such because they violated several of Twitter’s content policies. In other instances, this tactic has been deployed by anti-abortion groups to lambast Google’s page rankings or allege widespread media bias against right-wing or anti-abortion views.

    Beyond riling up their supporters, this tactic is often deployed by anti-abortion groups to fundraise in the name of fighting back against alleged social media censorship. The anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List has leveraged similar allegations to sway voters and raise funds for specific campaigns. During the 2018 midterm elections, SBA List accused Facebook of removing its ads urging people to “vote pro-life.” Although Facebook actually disallowed the ads because the platform doesn’t “allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions,” SBA List framed the move as another example of censorship and urged supporters to “RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.”

    This Senate hearing is only the latest example of Republican lawmakers’ willingness to entertain inaccurate talking points claiming censorship of conservative views. In 2017, then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deployed this tactic to generate attention and garner support after announcing her run for retiring Sen. Bob Corker's (R-TN) seat, which she ultimately won. Blackburn referred to this incident during the April 10 hearing as well -- even receiving an apology from Twitter’s representative.

    Early in the hearing, while questioning witnesses from Facebook and Twitter, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) demanded to know why a 2017 tweet from SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser had allegedly been censored. Although the tweet was never actually removed from Twitter (and in fact remains up today), The Washington Post noted that the tweet had originally been rejected from paid promotion for violating that platform’s “health and pharmaceutical products and services policy.” During the hearing, Twitter’s witness affirmed that SBA List was generally “in good standing” for the purposes of advertising on the platform. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) also questioned why several of SBA List’s Facebook ads depicting premature babies in a medical setting were removed. Although the ads were ultimately allowed to run on the platform, Lee implied that they were initially flagged due to rampant liberal bias at Facebook -- an allegation the witness denied.

    During the hearing’s second session, Unplanned and SBA List were both given a platform to repeat talking points about the alleged censorship of anti-abortion content online. In his opening testimony, Unplanned co-director Chuck Konzelman claimed that the temporary suspension of the film’s Twitter account was “suspect” and credited right-wing media personalities such as Fox News host Shannon Bream and National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch for raising awareness of the incident. SBA List’s Vice President of Government Affairs Marilyn Musgrave testified that her organization had “been fighting censorship of our content for more than two years” alongside other anti-abortion organizations that she claimed had experienced similar difficulties.

    When conservatives have previously attempted to hold hearings investigating the so-called bias of tech platforms, the results have featured laughable conspiracy theories about liberals censoring conservative content. As this latest hearing demonstrated, anti-abortion and right-wing media will continue to falsely cry censorship to signal-boost their deceptive content, rile up supporters, and raise funds. Given this track record, perhaps the only thing more predictable than right-wing and anti-abortion media’s invocation of censorship to market Unplanned was Senate Republicans’ willingness to give a platform to such a transparent ploy in the first place.

  • Media outlets’ context-free headlines on AG Barr’s “spying” claim help fuel right-wing falsehoods

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Update (4/11/19): This piece has been updated to include additional examples. 

    Media outlets’ headlines are not telling the full story in reporting on Attorney General William Barr’s claim during a congressional hearing that he believes the FBI spied on the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. Later in the hearing, Barr walked back his claim -- which had given legitimacy to a prominent right-wing conspiracy theory -- but that was left out of news headlines about Barr’s testimony.

    While discussing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report during April 10 testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Barr said, “I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was ... adequately predicated.” The claim that President Donald Trump and his campaign were improperly surveilled by the FBI during the election is a prominent conservative media defense of Trump and a favorite narrative of right-wing conspiracy theorists -- even though there is no evidence it ever happened.

    Barr’s comment immediately made major news. But as attorney Luppe B. Luppen pointed out on Twitter, where he goes by @nycsouthpaw, Barr backed off his spying claim at the conclusion of the hearing:

    As Luppen noted, Barr’s initial claim dominated headlines at major news outlets:

    In addition to The Washington Post, New England Cable News, The New York Times, and CBS News -- the outlets referenced by Luppen -- other major outlets also credulously quoted Barr’s unsubstantiated claim. Here are some of the headlines that cited his initial allegation without noting that it was later walked back:

    Politico:

    The Associated Press:

    USA Today:

    NBC News:

    The Washington Post:

    The New York Times

    Los Angeles Times:

    NPR

    CBS News

    The Guardian

    Careless headlines like these give cover to serial misinformers. For example, Fox News host and Trump adviser Sean Hannity reacted to Barr’s spying claim at the hearing by saying on his radio show, “Now what really broke today that has both the media and Democrats freaking out is that the attorney general of the United States of America today confirmed, yes, that which we have been telling you is going on for a long time.”

  • Flawed media coverage of Mueller’s findings underscores the importance of good headlines

    Headlines play a fundamental role in our understanding of the world around us, which is why journalists need to get it right the first time

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow - Media Matters

    What makes a good headline? And for that matter, how do we define what “good” even means in such a context? Is a good headline one that informs the reader what to expect -- a sort of one-sentence summary? Or is it one that piques a reader’s curiosity, enticing them to click and share an article across their social media accounts?

    There’s no single, agreed-upon answer, but every news organization must -- knowingly or not -- find a balance between the two that works for them. But what happens when the latter comes at the expense of the former? One recent event makes for an interesting case study on the topic.

    On March 24, Attorney General William Barr released a four-page letter on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. In it, Barr wrote that he thought it was “in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize” its main conclusions. Barr went on to state that Mueller’s team had determined that there were “two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election,” but that “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign,” he wasn’t able to find that the Trump campaign accepted or acted on any of these offers. On the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr noted that Mueller did not reach a conclusion on the matter, and so Barr took it upon himself to decline to press charges.

    The letter was certainly favorable to Trump and his supporters, but it wasn’t as favorable as many stories' news headlines made it out to be.

    In their March 25 front page headlines, none of the five largest daily newspapers in the U.S. (USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, New York Post, and Los Angeles Times) noted that the conclusion was coming from Barr and not Mueller himself. While I personally think that some sort of attribution to Barr belonged in the headline itself -- the Chicago Tribune got it right with a headline reading: “AG: NO RUSSIA CONSPIRACY” -- it’s maybe fair to chalk that up to nitpicking. In one of the few places Barr’s letter did quote directly from Mueller, he wrote, “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” While perhaps a bit oversimplified, the imprecise wording was not as damaging as some other mistakes outlets made in covering the end of Mueller's investigation.

    Other examples of misleading headlines were more troubling, thanks to their use of words like “no proof” or “no evidence.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s March 25 front page boldly states that there was “NO EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY.” This goes beyond anything Barr wrote in his letter. As CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, “One thing we know with certainty is that Mueller is not bringing a criminal case based on the collusion set of issues. But that doesn’t mean there’s no evidence of collusion. It only means there’s not a prosecutable case. There’s a world of difference between ‘no evidence’ and not enough evidence to bring an actual case.”

    The Inquirer wasn’t alone either, as similar narratives were being shared across social media and in online articles. CNN tweeted, “President Trump claims vindication after Mueller finds no evidence of collusion.” (CNN would later edit this headline to more accurately read, “Trump claims vindication after Mueller does not establish collusion.”) Politico reporter Darren Samuelsohn wrote, “Mueller finds no evidence of Trump-Russia conspiracy.” The Wrap, The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, Bloomberg, ABC’s The View, and NBC’s Meet the Press shared similar messages. The claim was also included in articles by The Associated Press and The New York Times, among other news organizations.

    Both Toobin and Lawfare’s Ben Wittes pointed out the problems with this “no evidence” messaging in Wemple’s piece. Wittes noted that such framing “may turn out to be a lucky guess, but it is not supported by the current record.” Wemple also quoted guidance sent out to journalists on the Post’s national desk about the issue:

    It is not accurate to say that Mueller found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump associates and Russia. Barr’s memo states that Mueller did not “find” or “establish” a criminal conspiracy — meaning whatever evidence the special counsel found, it did not rise to the level of that legal standard.

    On April 3, The New York Times reported that some members of Mueller’s team were pushing back on some of conclusions drawn from Barr’s letter, arguing that he glossed over portions of the report that painted Trump in a bad light. Just days earlier, on March 29, Barr clarified that his March 24 letter wasn’t actually intended to be a “summary” of Mueller’s report at all.

    While none of this is to suggest that Mueller’s findings differ from Barr’s in any sort of legal sense, the narrative published in the letter’s immediate aftermath was a bit simpler and more exculpatory than reality may dictate. (And this is to say nothing of the numerous outlets that amplified Trump's false claim that the Mueller report was a "complete and total exoneration” of him.) Unfortunately, correcting that narrative may be more difficult than simply publishing an updated article.

    Does subtle misinformation in headlines really matter? One study suggests it can have a big effect on a reader’s comprehension of articles themselves.

    Responding to the Times’ new reporting, BBC anchor Katty Kay tweeted that Democrats risk looking “like sore losers” if they continue to pursue investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Her tweet was widely panned, but she wasn’t entirely wrong.

    A 2014 report published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology explored the role headlines had on what readers take away from articles in both opinion and reported journalism. The researchers behind the report, titled “The effects of subtle misinformation in news headlines,” concluded that “misleading headlines affect readers’ memory, their inferential reasoning and behavioral intentions.”

    One of the study’s most interesting findings was just how resilient headline misinformation can be, even when explicitly corrected within the article itself:

    Correcting the misinformation conveyed by a misleading headline is a difficult task. Particularly in cases of non-obvious misdirection, readers may not be aware of an inconsistency, and may thus not initiate any corrective updating. By contrast, if a headline is perceived as inappropriate, people may be able to correct its influence on their understanding of the article, although this correctional effort itself may withdraw resources from mnemonic processing of the article and may thus impair memory. In sum, these effects further corroborate the notion that misinformation tends to influence people’s memory and reasoning continuously despite corrections.

    This is to say that even in the best case scenario, in which someone reads both the original and updated articles on a story all the way through, bits of the early narrative -- such as claims that there was “no evidence” -- will linger long after it’s been corrected. Kay was right to say that the public narrative around the Mueller report may, indeed, have already been formed. What Kay’s tweet ignored, however, is what role journalists like herself played in creating it.

    Responsible publications have an obligation to factor in the importance of a piece of news when calibrating the balance between accuracy and clickability.

    The more serious a story is, the more deliberative the headline-writing process should be. Condensing a four-page letter, itself the product of a nearly 400-page report, into a single sentence is an impossible task. Even so, it’s the responsibility of journalism to advance the public understanding of an issue, not muddy it. This lesson goes beyond Trump and Russia, speaking to a need to restore trust in the press. Gray areas -- such as whether it’s fair to say “no evidence,” in this case -- make for difficult editing decisions, but they’ll ultimately benefit both the public and press if made correctly.

  • Right-wing media can't stop mis-citing a 2013 abortion study -- and other outlets are repeating the error

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As part of the escalating rhetoric surrounding abortions later in pregnancy, right-wing media and anti-abortion media have consistently -- and erroneously -- pointed to a 2013 study from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health as a piece of “gotcha” evidence allegedly disproving arguments about the dangers of restricting later abortion access. The study doesn't support the purported argument about the frequency of later abortions; that hasn't stopped anti-abortion groups (which repeatedly argue that being "pro-life is pro-science") from touting it -- nor has it stopped other outlets from uncritically allowing or repeating these assertions.

    In 2013, Diana Greene Foster and Katrina Kimport authored a study published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (though it is sometimes inaccurately cited as a study by the Guttmacher Institute, a disclaimer at the bottom clarifies that “the views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute”). This study examined the potential impact of legislation banning abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and attempted to assess the reasons why someone would choose to have an abortion around that time period.

    This January, as state legislatures in New York and Virginia began considering measures to protect abortion access or to remove unnecessary anti-choice barriers, right-wing media continually cited this 2013 study out of context to allege that Democrats had an extreme position on later abortion access. In particular, anti-abortion and right-wing media have cherry-picked language from the introduction of the 2013 study as proof that third-trimester abortions are not performed due to fetal abnormalities or dangers to the life of the pregnant person. In reality, that is not the time period analyzed by the study and those reasons for seeking an abortion were explicitly excluded from its scope.

    The crux of this disingenuous allegation relies on a misinterpretation of a sentence in the study’s introduction stating that “data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” Right-wing and anti-abortion media have taken this sentence as evidence that few, if any, people seek abortion care in the third trimester due to fetal abnormalities or dangers to the life of the pregnant person. There are several issues with this interpretation.

    First, as the study’s co-author Foster confirmed on Twitter, the study “was about abortions at 20 weeks up to the end of the second trimester [around 27 weeks]. It has no relevance to third trimester abortions.” She continued, “My article was intended to increase understanding of the circumstances of women who have abortions after 20 weeks and within the second trimester,” however, “that doesn’t mean that women seeking abortions in the third trimester are just like those in the second trimester.” In addition to focusing on abortions in the second trimester, the 2013 study also explicitly excluded people who had abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality or dangers to the pregnant person’s life from the analysis altogether. As the authors wrote: “Our study has several important limitations. Our data are limited by the exclusion of women who sought later abortions on grounds of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

    Despite this, abortion opponents have alleged the study’s findings about common reasons why people seek abortion care -- “they were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous” -- were all evidence that pro-choice advocates’ claims about the medical necessity of access to third-trimester abortion care were inaccurate. In reality, there are many personal and medical reasons people choose to have abortions in the second and third trimester. As Foster further clarified to Rewire.News after a 2018 congressional report inaccurately referenced the study, “I wouldn’t state that fetal anomaly and life endangerment are a small minority of later abortions because nobody has statistics on this.”

    While right-wing media and anti-choice advocates have erroneously cited this study before, faux outrage spun up in reaction to state abortion measures spurred an uptick in the mischaracterizations and misuse of this study -- mischaracterizations that are now spurring inaccurate coverage from other outlets.

    After New York and Virginia’s abortion measures, anti-abortion and right-wing media cited the 2013 study to counter arguments about the necessity of later abortion access

    • Anti-abortion advocate Abby Johnson wrote in Townhall that the 2013 study showed “the most common reasons why women chose abortion late-term” and claimed that it refuted pro-choice claims that people need to be “able to terminate so late in their pregnancies because of fetal abnormalities.”
    • In February, Hillary Clinton tweeted that abortions later in pregnancy occur “almost always” because a pregnant person’s “health or life is at risk, or the pregnancy is no longer viable.” Townhall’s Lauretta Brown disagreed, claiming that “the Guttmacher Institute cited a study from 2013 that found ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’”
    • In a series of posts, National Review writers cited the 2013 study to question the necessity of Virginia’s abortion measure. The most explicit example came from senior writer David French, who opined:

    So, why do these babies die? The Guttmacher Institute has looked at the reasons for late-term abortion, and the reasons are chilling. First, the top-line finding is clear: “[D]ata suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

    Interestingly, even in some of the anecdotes chosen by Guttmacher, the women describe their decision to have a late-term abortion as “easy” or “very easy.” They didn’t find out they were pregnant until later in the pregnancy, didn’t want the child, and aborted it. Their only challenge was raising the money or finding the clinic. The thought that they were killing a viable infant — a person who would could be raised in a loving home if the mother didn’t want her child — apparently doesn’t factor into their decision-making. It’s treated as casually as an early-term abortion.

    This is the reality of late-term abortion in America.

    • The New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat cited the 2013 study on Twitter to claim “most third-trimester abortions are not performed for reasons of fetal or maternal health.”
    • The Federalist’s David Harsanyi:

    • The Federalist also published several articles incorrectly citing the 2013 study. Ben Domenech wrote that those “seeking 3rd trimester abortions” are not doing so “because of the non-viability of the fetus or fetal abnormalities.” Instead, he claimed, “A 2013 Guttmacher study – no friend of anti-abortion activists – found this was not the case at all.” In another article, Kenny Xu wrote that the 2013 study allegedly “revealed that out of 272 women surveyed who had received an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, none of them received it for any kind of clinical endangerment to the health of the mother.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh incorrectly cited the study and then tweeted about how it was further evidence that so-called “pro-aborts” are “damned dishonest” and “everything they say is a lie”:

    • Breitbart published two articles using the study to allege that “research does not support the common pro-abortion-rights narrative that late-term abortions are performed primarily in cases of ‘severe deformities’ or when the unborn baby is determined ‘non-viable,’” and to claim that it “found that ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’”
    • Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, tweeted that the “pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute” refuted pro-choice advocates’ “claims about ‘tragic’ circumstances of most/all late abortions” involving fetal abnormalities or the health of the pregnant person, again citing the 2013 study.
    • Micaiah Bilger of the anti-abortion media outlet LifeNews.com:

    • Bilger repeated this claim in an article for LifeNews.com, writing, “The truth is that many late-term abortions are elective.” The assertion was repeated in another LifeNews.com article and on the outlet’s Twitter account:

    • Anti-abortion group Live Action published a piece citing the study as evidence that pro-choice advocates were misrepresenting why people have abortions later in pregnancy:

    Abortion supporters will claim, “No one’s going to abort so late in pregnancy unless there’s something wrong with her or the ‘fetus’!” They’re wrong about that. A Guttmacher study points out the reasons why women seek “later” abortions — to use their terminology — and it’s not for the reasons they publicly claim. Instead researchers found that most “were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous.”

    No mention of the mother’s life or health being at risk, or of a fetal anomaly.

    • The Washington Examiner published a “fact check” of a CNN article about abortions later in pregnancy. However, the Examiner’s so-called “fact check” cited the 2013 study to allege that most people do not seek later abortions due to fetal abnormality or risks to the health of the pregnant person. An additional Examiner article said that the 2013 study actually showed “most late abortions are elective, and done for socio-economic reasons.”
    • Americans United For Life’s Catherine Glenn Foster used the 2013 study incorrectly in a thread on Twitter:

    A major anti-abortion movement “research” organization often uses this study erroneously to support inaccurate conclusions

    The Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) is the research arm of the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, and attempts to brand its members as impartial scientific experts, when in reality the organization has an explicit mission to oppose abortion access. Unfortunately, while right-wing media and anti-abortion groups often cite CLI to support inaccurate claims about abortion, other outlets sometimes rely on them without sufficient context or disclosure about the organization’s ideological purpose. CLI has adopted an inaccurate reading of the 2013 study to support anti-abortion positions, using it in both a “report” and “fact sheet” on their website. Although in each instance, CLI included a note that the 2013 study does have “significant” limitations, such as excluding those participants seeking an abortion for health risks or fetal abnormalities, both documents still inaccurately conclude that the study is an effective bludgeon for refuting arguments about the reasons people have abortions later in pregnancy.

    However, CLI’s Twitter account did not mention the potential “limitations” of the 2013 study, and instead repeatedly promoted it to further the popular misinterpretations of the findings:

    Other outlets have allowed anti-abortion advocates to erroneously cite this study

    As the hyperbolic “controversy” over the measures in New York and Virginia unfolded, The Atlantic and The Washington Post both gave right-wing misinformation about the 2013 study an uncritical platform in each outlet’s opinion section.

    The Atlantic published a piece by National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis in which she wrote, “Research from the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute contradicts the claims that abortions after 20 weeks are most often necessary in heart-wrenching medical emergencies. One study summarized the available data as suggesting that ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’” A note on the piece stated that it was “updated to clarify that the claim quoted from the Guttmacher Institute study came from its survey of existing research, and was not a finding made by the study itself,” but failed to address DeSanctis’ inaccurate primary claim that she had mockingly pushed on Twitter as well:

    Similarly, The Washington Post published an opinion piece by Bethany Mandel, where she said that “according to research from the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Guttmacher Institute, ‘data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’” Mandel also continued promoting this claim on Twitter:

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media will continue to erroneously cite this 2013 study, and it will likely be rehashed by anti-abortion lawmakers in any number of reports or hearings. Other outlets have a responsibility not to repeat this inaccurate characterization of the study -- or else they're helping abortion opponents spread further misinformation with potentially dire consequences.

  • Climate silence was the big problem in 2018. In 2019, we've got new challenges.

    Fox News is distorting the national dialogue about the Green New Deal just as it's getting going

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published by Grist.

    Climate change coverage in much of the mainstream media was abysmally low in 2018. It's been tilting upward in the first quarter of 2019, thanks in large part to the Green New Deal. The ascending trend is a positive development overall -- it's about time media started paying more attention to the existential crisis of our time! -- and yet some of the coverage has been weak, and some has been a total mess.

    Climate change was pitifully undercovered in 2018

    Media Matters found that climate coverage on the national broadcast TV networks in 2018 plunged 45 percent from 2017 levels -- and it's not like coverage in 2017 was anything to brag about. In 2018, the major nightly news and Sunday morning political shows on the national broadcast networks spent a combined total of just 142 minutes on climate change, and almost a third of that came from a single climate-focused episode of NBC's Meet the Press on December 30. Without that one show, 2018's coverage would have fallen 64 percent from the previous year -- an astonishing decline when you consider the horrific extreme weather last year, the harrowing climate science reports released by the United Nations and 13 U.S. government agencies, the Trump administration's ongoing assault on climate protections, and the ever-increasing urgency of the climate crisis.

    Analyses of other media trends in 2018 also pinpointed shortcomings. The watchdog group Public Citizen examined coverage of extreme weather events in a number of U.S. newspapers, online sources, and cable and broadcast TV networks last year and found that "the proportion of pieces that mentioned climate change was disappointingly low." Just 7 percent of stories about hurricanes incorporated climate change, while the figures were higher for other kinds of weather disasters, but still not as high as we need them to be.

    Many of the journalists who served as moderators in 2018 midterm election debates neglected climate change too. Only 29 percent of key debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races included a question about climate change.

    But the 2018 midterm election ultimately triggered a change in climate coverage and in the broader national conversation about the need for climate action -- because it brought us AOC.

    So far in 2019, climate change is getting a little more media attention

    President Donald Trump drove climate coverage (or the lack of it) in the last couple of years, but so far in 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has taken over the driver's seat.

    When she and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced their Green New Deal resolution on February 7, they kicked off a firestorm of climate coverage. Whether you love the Green New Deal, hate it, or want to quibble over its specifics, you can't deny that it's spurring more discussion of climate policy than the U.S. has ever seen. 

    The Green New Deal inspired The Washington Post to dedicate five consecutive days of editorials to substantive discussion of a comprehensive climate plan (handily compiled into one online piece). It got the major Sunday morning political shows talking about climate change with more fervor than they did during most of last year. It prompted an unusual amount of prime-time cable climate coverage. It sparked MSNBC's Chris Hayes to host a special event with Ocasio-Cortez -- after he said last year that climate coverage was a "palpable ratings killer." And it propelled young Americans to march in the streets and confront their senators, thereby pushing their messages into the press.  

    The Green New Deal has even motivated a handful of Republican members of Congress to cough up some of their own ideas for addressing aspects of the climate crisis, as The Washington Post recently noted, sparking still more media coverage of climate policy. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) went on NPR's All Things Considered to tout his plan for advanced nuclear power, natural gas, carbon capture, and other greener technologies (and he took the opportunity to bash the Green New Deal). Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was interviewed by Vice about his forthcoming proposal to spur "innovation" in some of the same areas as Alexander's plan (Gaetz bashed the Green New Deal too). The GOP proposals are not big or comprehensive, as McClatchy DC pointed out; milquetoast would be a kind way to describe them. Same with some new Democratic climate proposals such as the Climate Action Now Act. Suggestions from industry lobbyists are even weaker. But they're all putting climate solutions in the news.

    Presidential hopeful Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state, is also helping by making climate change the central issue in his campaign. He emphasized the need to fight climate change on two of the major Sunday morning political shows in March -- ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos and CNN's State of the Nation -- as well as on Fox & Friends, Trump's favorite show. The other Democratic presidential candidates are also talking up the importance of climate change and in many cases endorsing the broad outlines of the Green New Deal, taking cues not just from Ocasio-Cortez but from Democratic voters, who rank climate change among the very top issues that they want candidates to talk about, and from voters across the spectrum, who overwhelmingly say they're worried about global warming. Given all that, we're likely to see debate moderators this year and next ask political candidates more questions about climate change than they did in 2016 or 2018.

    So the quantity of coverage is up, but how about the quality?

    Some of the climate coverage we've seen so far this year been informative and constructive. See: The Washington Post's editorial series and Chris Hayes' special with Ocasio-Cortez. Some of it has been superficial. See: Beltway pundits. And some of it has been a mess of lies, mockery, and fearmongering. See: Almost everything on Fox News.

    When the major networks' Sunday morning political shows discussed the Green New Deal the weekend after the resolution was unveiled, "most of the discussion was superficial and narrowly focused on whether the Green New Deal will cause intra-party fighting among Democrats or end up benefiting Republicans, not on whether its policy ideas are good approaches for fighting climate change," as Media Matters' Evlondo Cooper pointed out.

    Carlos Maza at Vox looked at a broader selection of TV coverage and found the same thing, as he described in a video:

    I have watched hours of segments about the Green New Deal and none of them actually explained how it might work. Instead, they focus on the politics. Is it gonna pass? Does Pelosi like it? What did Trump tweet about it? Everything except: Is it a good idea?

    This kind of narrow, horse race-style coverage of policy proposals is one of the climate-coverage pitfalls we need to be on the watch for in 2019.

    Another problem is that some coverage of the Green New Deal doesn't even mention climate change. More than half of Fox News' segments on the plan in the days after it was released didn't include any discussion of climate change. Fox personalities and guests often talked about the proposal as though it were a pointless scheme to oppress the masses, not a plan to address a major looming threat. CNN and MSNBC weren't nearly that bad, of course, but they also ran segments that failed to bring up climate change and discussed the Green New Deal as a political football. When the Green New Deal was voted on in the Senate in March, we again saw Fox News talking heads discuss it without mentioning climate change.

    One of the biggest problems with coverage of the Green New Deal is that there's a lot more of it on Fox and other right-wing outlets than on mainstream and left-leaning outlets -- and in many cases, Fox and its ilk are straight-up lying. From February 7 to 11, Fox aired more than three times as many segments about the Green New Deal as CNN and MSNBC combined. With their heavy coverage and repetition of misinformation -- like completely bogus claims about sky-high costs -- right-wing media are distorting the national dialogue just as it's getting going.

    Sean McElwee of the progressive think tank Data for Progress explained how this is playing out in a recent New York Times op-ed:

    According to data shared with The Times from Navigator, a progressive polling project, 37 percent of Republican viewers of Fox News had heard “a lot” about the Green New Deal, compared with 14 percent of all registered voters.

    When asked simply, “Based on what you know, do you support or oppose the Green New Deal?,” 22 percent of respondents are in support, 29 percent are opposed and 49 percent are not sure. But 74 percent of Fox-viewing Republicans oppose the Green New Deal (65 percent strongly), and only 21 percent have not formed an opinion. 

    He concludes that "the Republican propaganda machine has already reshaped the narrative."

    We don't expect Fox to improve (some news outlets are beyond redemption), but mainstream and left-leaning news organizations can do better. They need to cover the Green New Deal and climate change more often to provide a counterweight to the bunk coming from the right. And they should cover it not as a political story (who "won" the day when Mitch McConnell held a stunt vote on the Green New Deal?), but with substantive reporting and discussion about how to implement climate policies that are fair, effective, and commensurate with the enormous size of the problem.

  • ABC, CBS, and NBC completely failed to mention climate change in coverage of major Midwest floods

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a bomb cyclone triggered historic floods that devastated large swaths of the Midwest, the major broadcast TV networks completely failed to explain how climate change influences such aberrant and extreme weather. Media Matters’ analysis of coverage on the networks’ morning and evening news programs and Sunday morning political shows found that ABC, CBS, and NBC did not mention climate change or global warming once during their combined 28 segments reporting on the floods.

    The bomb cyclone and floods were right in line with climate scientists' projections

    A bomb cyclone of “historic proportions” began raging across the Midwest on March 13. It unleashed a torrent of wind, snow, and rain that caused unprecedented flooding in Nebraska as well as floods in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, resulting in at least four deaths and $3 billion in losses. The floods destroyed hundreds of homes and affected millions of acres of farmland. Unfortunately, these disastrous outcomes align with the projections of climate scientists, a number of whom explained how climate change plays a role both in worsening events like bomb cyclones and in creating the conditions for flooding of the sort that followed in the storm's wake.

    As climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State told MSNBC, "As the oceans warm up, there’s more moisture that’s available to these storms to turn into record rainfall. That’s what we saw with this bomb cyclone that was drawing on warm, moist Gulf air that led to extreme amounts of precipitation, both rain and snow. The snow then melted, and we got this extreme flooding." Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research also noted that the bomb cyclone was carrying large amounts of moisture from the Pacific to the Midwest and told Reuters that climate change played "a strong supporting role" in the resulting floods.

    The bomb cyclone may also have been aided by a fluctuating jet stream. A study published in March 2018 found that a rapidly warming Arctic is linked to very wavy, slow jet stream patterns that are strongly correlated to an increase in extreme and aberrant winter weather events such as bomb cyclones and nor’easters. As Climate Nexus noted in the wake of the recent bomb cyclone, "The polar jet was extremely wavy across the northern hemisphere, and is consistent with the unusual jet stream behavior expected due to Arctic warming."

    The flooding that followed the bomb cyclone was caused by a complex confluence of events that were also in line with scientists' projections about the consequences of climate change. As climate reporter E.A. Crunden wrote for ThinkProgress:

    The historic flooding is the result of rain coupled with a considerable amount of pre-existing water on the ground. February brought a record-setting 30 inches of snow to the state, which locked in several inches of water. With eastern Nebraska’s rivers already higher than usual following the state’s fifth-wettest season in 124 years, the bomb cyclone unleashed a mountain of water, submerging parts of the region.

    ...

    Connecting any one weather event to climate change is often impossible or incredibly challenging, but experts say the flooding is indicative of larger climate impacts. According to the government’s National Climate Assessment (NCA) released last fall, the Midwest is likely to see an uptick in flooding associated with global warming.

    Broadcast networks completely ignored how climate change affects bomb cyclones and flooding

    Media Matters analyzed coverage of the Midwest flooding from March 18 to 25 on the morning and evening news programs and Sunday morning political shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC and found that none of their coverage mentioned climate change. During this period, ABC’s weekday morning and evening news programs ran 11 segments on the flooding, NBC's also ran 11, and CBS' ran six. None of the networks' Sunday political shows even mentioned the flooding.

    Some segments noted the unusual and historic nature of the Midwest floods, but they all did not connect the flooding to climate change.

    Other news outlets neglected flood and climate reporting too

    Cable news also fell down on the job. According to a Washington Post analysis, from March 15 to 19, the cable news networks covered both the Nebraska floods and climate change less than they covered President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about deceased Sen. John McCain and the feud between Trump and George Conway, the husband of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway.

    Newspapers and wire services did better than TV news in covering the floods and covering climate change, the Post found. Still, they were not exemplary either. The nonprofit End Climate Silence pointed out notable pieces about the flooding in The New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, The Washington Post, and other outlets that failed to mention climate change.

    Some TV journalists demonstrated how to incorporate climate change into flood coverage

    Here are two good examples of TV news segments that discussed climate change while covering floods. On MSNBC Live With Katy Tur on March 22, Tur hosted climate scientist Michael Mann to discuss a recent warning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that 200 million Americans are at risk of experiencing flooding this spring. Mann also described how climate change worsens events such as the recent bomb cyclone and Midwest flooding.

    And, on March 23, Soledad O’Brien hosted former Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel on her syndicated weekly show, Matter of Fact, to discuss the flooding in the Midwest and how climate change is making it more extreme.

    Media Matters has conducted study after study documenting the failure of corporate TV news outlets to connect extreme weather events to global warming and has highlighted their tendency to neglect potential solutions to the climate crisis. Broadcast networks often report on extreme and aberrant weather, but they also need to report on how climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. And they should report on possible solutions to climate-related problems before it’s too late.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ media for segments about the Midwest floods on national news broadcasts from March 18 through March 25, searching for the terms "flood,” “flooding," or "bomb cyclone." We then searched those segments for the keywords “climate," "warming," "emission(s)," "carbon," "CO2," or "greenhouse gas(es)." Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), nightly news programs (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News), and Sunday morning political shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press). We did not count brief mentions, teasers, or rebroadcasts.

  • For the 2020 elections, Republicans are trying to insert anti-abortion talking points into mainstream outlets

    A recent vote on the so-called Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act seems designed to play into Republicans' 2020 strategy

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Senate Republicans recently pushed for a procedural vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act -- legislation intended to solve a nonexistent problem invented by anti-choice groups -- right-wing media falsely alleged that Democrats who voted against the bill were promoting “infanticide.” Some other media outlets have uncritically echoed these claims, repeating harmful and sensationalized characterizations of abortions and failing to address the misinformation promoted by Republicans as part of their 2020 election strategy.

    On February 25, the Senate failed to advance a bill that Republicans touted as aiding so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. In reality, experts have affirmed this rarely (if ever) happens and is instead a concept invented by anti-choice groups to spark fear. The push for the procedural vote came following a deluge of inaccurate and sensationalized right-wing media coverage manufactured to evoke outrage over state measures to protect abortion access in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media repeatedly and falsely characterized those state measures as allowing “infanticide.”

    As right-wing media continued to excoriate Democrats for allegedly supporting such measures, Republicans and anti-abortion groups posed the so-called “Born-Alive” bill as a different solution to the very same problem these groups had just manufactured to score political points. Vox's Anna North explained that Republicans pushed this vote despite knowing it would fail as part of a strategy of “bringing back the issue of very late abortions, perhaps in the hope of energizing their base in advance of 2020.” The real goal of the recent bill was “to get Democrats on record opposing it,” which Republicans and right-wing media will spin as evidence of Democrats’ supposed “extremism” on abortion rights. President Donald Trump telegraphed this strategy for Republicans when he alleged in the State of the Union address that Democrats want to pass laws allowing "a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth."

    In reality, the bill would be rather ineffective at addressing the alleged crisis of “abortion survivors” being pushed by right-wing media. Reproductive rights historian Mary Ziegler explained to Newsweek that “if the aim of the bill is to protect the lives of born infants, legislation already exists to serve that purpose” in the so-called “‘Born Alive Infants Protection Act’ of 2002.” The only differences, Ziegler said, are that the existing law “isn't abortion specific,” and “also doesn't have criminal penalties for doctors.”

    Although the new bill is an ineffective solution to right-wing media’s manufactured problem, it could be a highly effective tool for restricting access to health care and intimidating abortion providers. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    After the vote, right-wing media ran with the further sensationalized misinformation

    After right-wing media’s overwhelming outrage about proactive abortion protections in New York and Virginia, those outlets did not miss the opportunity provided by the Senate vote to push dangerous and extreme rhetoric about Democrats and to promote more misinformation about abortion.

    On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt falsely claimed Democratic senators -- particularly those running for president in 2020 -- “want to make the decision not to allow [a] child to survive.” TheBlaze wrote that “opponents to this bill are saying that the medical practitioner performing the abortion should be allowed to finish the job of killing the baby even if it is somehow born alive.” National Review said Democratic senators “revealed their belief that allowing unwanted infants to perish after birth constitutes a form of women’s health care.” The Washington Examiner asked: “With their stance on infanticide bill, do Democrats show a death wish?” The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh called NARAL Pro-Choice America “blood-drenched scumbags” for pointing out the various ways the bill would cause harm to patients and providers. Fox News host Laura Ingraham even took the opportunity to compare Planned Parenthood and “the left” to Adolf Hitler:

    Other media outlets uncritically adopted right-wing media’s problematic and inaccurate framing

    Although other outlets haven’t echoed Ingraham’s comparison of Democrats to Hitler, some media outlets have uncritically accepted or repeated right-wing talking points about the bill in headlines and on social media without providing necessary pushback or context:

    • Louisiana’s KALB News Channel 5 [Twitter, 2/26/19]

    • Arizona’s KVOA News 4 Tucson [Twitter, 2/26/19]

    Other media outlets framed the bill correctly as a political tactic by Republicans or as an attempt to regulate something that has no medical basis. Journalists should be aware that right-wing media are using misinformation about this Senate bill to convince voters -- and not only Republican ones -- to reject Democrats’ alleged “extremism” in the 2020 elections. When other outlets carelessly repeat anti-choice lies, it plays right into this deceptive and harmful strategy. Media have a responsibility when reporting on abortion to include context about the implications of such bills and to ensure that they aren’t serving as conduits for anti-choice fearmongering designed to influence the 2020 election.