2014 Elections | Media Matters for America

2014 Elections

Tags ››› 2014 Elections
  • WSJ's Jason Riley Distorts FBI Report On Guns To Claim Obama Used It For Political Gain

    FBI Report Was About Active Shooter Situations, Not Mass Shootings

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley falsely claimed that the FBI misrepresented data on mass shootings to "help drive Democratic turnout" during the 2014 midterm elections. In fact, the report only contained data on "active shooter" situations, not mass shootings, and made that clear in the introduction, which stated, "This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings."

    In a June 9 editorial headlined, "Obama's Gun-Control Misfire," Riley wrote, "Last September the Obama administration produced an FBI report that said mass shooting attacks and deaths were up sharply -- by an average annual rate of about 16% between 2000 and 2013."

    But the 2014 FBI report, which focuses on 160 incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013, literally says it is not about "mass shootings," but rather a different phenomenon known as an "active shooter" situation. From the report's introduction (emphasis added):

    This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings, but rather a study of a specific type of shooting situation law enforcement and the public may face. Incidents identified in this study do not encompass all gun-related situations; therefore caution should be taken when using this information without placing it in context. Specifically, shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence--pervasive, long-tracked, criminal acts that could also affect the public--were not included in this study. In addition, other gun-related shootings were not included when those incidents appeared generally not to have put others in peril (e.g., the accidental discharge of a firearm in a school building or a person who chose to publicly commit suicide in a parking lot). The study does not encompass all mass killings or shootings in public places and therefore is limited in its scope. Nonetheless, it was undertaken to provide clarity and data of value to both law enforcement and citizens as they seek to stop these threats and save lives during active shooter incidents.

    The FBI defined an active shooter situation as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area," and found that such incidents occurred with increasing frequency over a 13-year period starting in 2000.

    In his opinion piece, Riley used his inaccurate reading of the report to claim that the Obama administration hoped to use the report to help Democrats win in the 2014 midterm elections and to advance its own gun safety agenda:

    The White House could not possibly have been more pleased with the media reaction to these findings, which were prominently featured by the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, the Washington Post and other major outlets. The FBI report landed six weeks before the midterm elections, and the administration was hoping that the gun-control issue would help drive Democratic turnout.


    Following the high-profile mass shootings in 2012 at a cinema in Aurora, Colo., and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the White House pushed hard for more gun-control legislation. Congress, which at the time included a Democratic-controlled Senate, refused to act. This surprised no one, including an administration well aware that additional gun controls wouldn't pass muster with enough members of the president's own party, let alone Republicans.

    But the administration also knew that the issue could potentially excite Democratic base voters in a year when the party was worried about turnout. Hence President Obama's vow in his 2014 State of the Union address "to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook."

    To attack the report's credibility, Riley cited criticism of it from discredited gun researcher John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Lott has a history of manipulating statistics and making false claims about guns to advance his pro-gun agenda, and he is the author of the well-known but thoroughly debunked "more guns, less crime" hypothesis. Lott, who is not considered a credible source for information about mass shootings, recently claimed Fox News is partnering with him to "start systematically publishing news stories about mass public shootings that have been stopped by concealed handgun permit holders." (According to an analysis of 62 mass shootings over a 30-year period by Mother Jones, no such cases exist.)

    Riley's false accusations are the latest in a series of outlandish and baseless criticisms of the Obama administration and gun laws. In a 2014 appearance on Fox News, he said "The administration already has enough race baiters, starting with the president continuing to Eric Holder, his attorney general." In 2013, he said controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense laws "[benefit], disproportionately, poor blacks," even though research has shown that killings defended with such laws are much more likely to be found justified when a white person killed a black person, rather than the reverse.

  • Spending Bill Coverage Ignores Hundreds Of Millions Invested By Financial Regulation Opponents


    Media coverage of an omnibus spending bill that rolled back key financial services regulations ignored the amount of money the financial services industry spent helping elect members of Congress in 2014. In fact, the industry lobbying to eliminate the regulation spent $436 million on federal candidates during the midterm elections.

  • Network News Silent On Climate Change In Election Coverage

    What Was Ignored: Candidates' Climate Denial Increases Amid Landmark Climate Reports And Record Temperatures

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    This year's midterm election campaigns were filled with promises to dismantle climate change policies, at a time when climate action is more important than ever. But even against the backdrop of record-breaking temperatures, recent landmark climate reports, and candidates denying climate change, the broadcast networks ignored the implications of climate change in their evening news coverage of the midterms.

    Media Matters analysis of broadcast networks' coverage of the midterm elections found that their nightly news programs glossed over policy issues. Moreover, the programs offered no discussion about climate change or how the candidates plan to address the issue.

    Here are several opportunities that the media could have used to bring climate change into their discussion of the midterm elections.

    Environmental issues were a top platform issue in this year's elections; environment and energy-related issues were the "third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements" according to an analysis from Kantar Media/CMAG, especially in battlegrounds states like Kentucky and West Virginia. The New York Times reported that the surge in energy and environmental ads "suggests the prominent role that the issues could play in the 2016 presidential race."

    Many of these ads included promises to dismantle environmental regulations and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A main target of conservative attacks has been the EPA's Clean Power Plan, a key piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which has been seen by foreign government leaders as an important step for reaching a global agreement on climate change. Dismantling the Climate Action Plan could have global ramifications and dissuade other countriesfrom taking action to curb emissions themselves.

    At the same time, the reality of climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The globe just experienced the hottest JuneAugust, and September on record, as well as the warmest six-month stretch ever recorded.

    Just days before the elections, the United Nations' climate panel released the culmination of their five-year effort to synthesize climate science in a report concluding that the world needs to take action and completely phase out fossil fuels by 2100 to avoid the "irreversible"effects of man-made climate change.

    Yet several GOP candidates waffled on the issue of climate change, or even backtracked to global warming denial. Denial of climate science has become something of a litmus test for Republican politicians, and in order to deflect questions about their belief in climate change, candidates have repeated the refrain: "I'm not a scientist."

    A plurality of Americans agree that climate change is happening and support government effort to curb emissions, but now that the Senate has flipped, the nation's current efforts to address climate change are at risk.

    The broadcast nightly news programs have an alarming trend of paltry climate change coverage. Their coverage of the midterm elections fits in with this trend --instead of focusing on climate issues, the networks devoted much of their midterm coverage to President Obama's low favorability ratings.

  • With Midterms In The Rear-View, Fox No Longer Terrified Of Ebola

    ››› ››› LIS POWER

    Fox News pivoted its stance on the public health threat posed by Ebola after leading the charge in media stoking fears about the disease in the weeks prior to the midterm elections. The network is now downplaying the urgency of increasing funding for Ebola research and relief efforts while criticizing President Obama's request of a multi-billion dollar Ebola emergency appropriation from Congress.

  • Fox News: Prison Reform Supporters Must Have Been Tricked


    Scott and Nauert

    Fox News hosts Jon Scott and Heather Nauert suggested that California voters did not know what they were doing when they passed a ballot measure that will reduce criminal penalties and address unconstitutional overcrowding in the state's prisons.

    On November 4, Californians voted to pass Proposition 47, known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. As the Huffington Post reported, the measure would downgrade "nonviolent felonies like shoplifting and drug possession" to misdemeanors, an act that would lead to about "40,000 fewer felony convictions" and save the state "hundreds of millions of dollars on prisons" annually.

    On the November 6 edition of Happening Now, hosts Heather Nauert and Jon Scott hosted a panel that included the author of Proposition 47 to discuss what the legislation would mean for California. Nauert suggested that those who voted for measure may not have known what they were doing. Asking "if the people who voted for that proposition knew what it was really all about," Nauert called its title "misleading" while Scott mused that "you do have to wonder" about it since "everybody wants safe schools and neighborhoods... but do they know what they were really voting for?":

    But Fox's assessment of voters' inability to grasp what they were voting for ignores the wide-margin by which the measure passed. Capturing 58 percent of the vote, Proposition 47 proved widely popular with Californians at the ballot box.

    Moreover, the new law will bring the California justice system in compliance with its constitutional obligations. In 2011, the Supreme Court ordered California officials to reduce its prison population, which had grown to unconstitutionally high levels after the state enacted a "three-strikes law" in 1994 that forces judges to sentence repeat offenders to prison for life. Writing for the majority, conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy determined that California's prison system resulted in "needless suffering and death" as a result of "serious constitutional violations." Kennedy continued:

    Overcrowding has overtaken the limited resources of prison staff; imposed demands well beyond the capacity of medical and mental health facilities; and created unsanitary and unsafe conditions that make progress in the provision of care difficult or impossible to achieve. The overcrowding is the "primary cause of the violation of a Federal right," specifically the severe and unlawful mistreatment of prisoners through grossly inadequate provision of medical and mental health care.

    California lawmakers were still struggling to address "severe overcrowding" in the state's prison system earlier this year, but Proposition 47 is one step towards getting the state in line with the Supreme Court's order while still ensuring that violent offenders remain in prison.

    Nauert and Scott's comments are just the latest Fox attack on voters. The network has previously suggested that young women shouldn't vote, that young people should stay away from polls "if they don't know the issues," and that Americans should have to pass citizenship tests before gaining the right to vote.

  • Frank Luntz, Who Reportedly Shepherded The GOP Plan To Beat Obama, Calls For Bipartisanship

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Frank LuntzRepublican pollster and CBS News political analyst Frank Luntz wrote in a New York Times op-ed that in the wake of the 2014 elections Republicans and Democrats should work together to pass "common-sense solutions." But Luntz's call for bipartisanship is absurd considering his reported responsibility for some of the partisan gridlock he is currently lamenting. On the night of President Obama's first inauguration, Luntz reportedly convened a meeting of GOP leaders to discuss how they could obstruct the president's agenda in order to win future elections.

    In a November 6 op-ed, Luntz warned Republicans to "stop blustering and fighting" and urged the parties to work together because Americans want "progress" and "don't care about Democratic solutions or Republican solutions":

    Americans despair of the pointless posturing, empty promises and bad policies that result. Show that you are more concerned with people than politics. Don't be afraid to work with your opponents if it means achieving real results. Democrats and Republicans disagree on a lot, but there are also opportunities of real national importance, like national security and passing the trans-Atlantic trade deal.

    Aside from a small activist constituency, Americans are not looking for another fight over same-sex marriage or abortion. This isn't to say that voters want their leaders to co-opt their convictions. People are simply tired of identity politics that pit men against women, black against white, wealthy against poor. More than ever, they want leadership that brings us together.

    This isn't about pride of ownership regarding American progress; this is about progress, period. Americans don't care about Democratic solutions or Republican solutions. They just want common-sense solutions that make everyday life just a little bit easier. But they can't get their houses in order until Washington gets its own house in order.