This year saw clean energy technologies become cost-competitive with fossil fuels and gain prominence worldwide. The fossil fuel industry, desperate to stymie clean energy's continuing expansion, enlisted conservative media to do their bidding and attack clean technologies in every shape and form. From stoking fears about public transit being a form of "government control," to providing one-sided stories falsely predicting clean energy's downfall, here are the media's six most absurd attacks on clean energy this year.
1. 60 Minutes Produces "Poor Piece Of Journalism" To Attack Clean Energy
In January, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report titled, "The Cleantech Crash," which attempted to label clean energy a "dirty word." The report was widely criticized by reporters, government officials, and clean energy advocates alike for offering a one-sided look at renewable energy and narrowly focusing on a few failures while ignoring the majority of clean energy's success. Two of the guests interviewed in the report later criticized it for selectively airing their comments to provide an overly negative portrait of the industy and for "fail[ing] to do the most elementary fact checking and source qualification."
Further, the report made no mention of climate change, which as energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out is "the whole point of cleantech, after all: using the promise of technology and innovation to try to wean our economy off of fossil fuels."
In 2014, conservative media outlets and personalities routinely crossed ethical boundaries. Media Matters looks back at some of the worst media scandals of the year.
The ethical mess that was Fox News in 2014 is perhaps best embodied by Scott Brown, the former senator turned Fox News contributor turned Senate candidate (again) turned Fox News contributor (again).
During his original run for the Senate in 2009 and early 2010, Brown could reliably count on Fox News for fawning coverage -- including hosts playing on-air with a shirtless Scott Brown "action figure."
After Brown lost his 2012 re-election bid to Elizabeth Warren (despite Fox's best efforts to smear Warren), the network quickly hired him as a contributor, celebrating the "out of the box thinking" Brown would bring to the channel. Within weeks of his hiring, it was obvious that Brown and Fox were teaming up to help set Brown up for the next act of his political career.
During his appearances in 2013, Brown was repeatedly asked about his potential candidacy for New Hampshire's U.S. Senate seat, afforded an opportunity to opine on a range of potential campaign issues, and given a chance to inoculate himself against the inevitable carpetbagger criticism he would face in trying to run for office in New Hampshire after previously serving as a U.S. senator representing Massachusetts.
In 2014, Brown seemed to carefully delay formal declaration of his candidacy in order to avoid being suspended by Fox News. The network, which eventually cut ties with him in March, gave Brown a platform to attack his eventual opponent, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and continue to hone his messaging to Fox's massive audience.
Fox's attempts to get Brown back into the Senate didn't end with his contract. The network produced and aired a documentary featuring Bret Baier, its chief news anchor, called Live Free or Die: Obamacare in New Hampshire. Brown's team found it so favorable that it repeatedly screened it for voters in the state, including in an event hosted at their campaign headquarters.
Fox News helpfully re-aired the special both nights on the weekend before the election, but it wasn't enough to help carry Brown across the finish line, as he lost his Senate bid.
Two weeks later, Fox News hired him back.
Conservative media haven't had the best luck in recent years when choosing which fringe protests or figures to elevate into the national conversation, often mistakenly tying themselves to extremism and bizarre conspiracy theories. In 2013, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Drudge, and other conservatives helped promote a rally of truckers planning to clog the Beltway to protest the government. The protest -- which eventually fizzled -- turned out to have been organized in part by someone who thinks President Obama and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person.
This year, conservatives threw their weight behind a Nevada rancher fighting against the federal government over grazing fees, only to be burned when he was videotaped giving his thoughts on "the Negro." 2014 also featured an unhinged conspiracy about President Obama trying (and apparently failing) to spark a domestic Ebola outbreak and a staggering amount of outlandish comments from Fox News contributor Allen West.
Media Matters looks back at the year on the fringe.
Nothing captures the absurdity and insincerity of conservative media quite like Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Media Matters takes a look back at Stewart and Colbert's best takedowns of 2014.
As a polar vortex entombed much of the nation in freezing temperatures in January, right-wing media went into high gear trying to exploit the weather event as evidence that global warming is a myth. Scientists disagree with this claim, and as Time's Bryan Walsh noted, "not only does the cold spell not disprove climate change, it may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely."
Jon Stewart nipped the narrative in the bud on the January 6 edition of The Daily Show.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly interviewed President Obama before the NFL's Super Bowl XLVIII and used the opportunity to rattle through a series of questions about the many phony scandals ginned up by his network over the previous months.
On the February 4 edition of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart defended Obama's combative response to some of O'Reilly's questions, noting that it's true that Fox News promotes and generates scandals for the sole purpose of undermining his presidency.
"That is exactly what Fox does every day," said Stewart. "With the exception of the one hour every two weeks where John Stossel exposes how homeless people are scamming the system."
In late February, Bill O'Reilly joined a chorus of conservative media figures launching sexist attacks against Hillary Clinton, suggesting her gender would somehow disqualify her from serving as President of the United States. "There's got to be some downside to having a woman president, right?" asked O'Reilly.
Stephen Colbert agreed on the March 5 edition of The Colbert Report, satirically noting that the election of a female president like Clinton would almost inevitably spark a chain of global reactions culminating in an Afghan invasion of America, shark attacks and the complete demise of the nation.
Right-wing media turned its attention to Nevada in April, when rancher Cliven Bundy orchestrated an armed stand-off with federal law enforcement officials trying to enforce millions of dollars in court judgments against him. Sean Hannity and others ran to the rancher's defense, holding him up as a champion against big government.
The Daily Show's Jon Stewart tried to wrap his head around the movement, noting that Bundy was in violation of the law and Hannity in particular purports to be a vigilant advocate for the rule of law -- when it suits him.
Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined aspiring Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at the Kentucky Derby in May, prompting questions about the influence Murdoch's media empire -- including Fox News -- could play in boosting Paul's political aspirations.
On the May 6 edition of The Colbert Report, Colbert congratulated Paul on catching Murdoch's eye, but warned that the mogul might still be "playing the field" when it comes to 2016.
In June, the Obama administration negotiated the release of America's last remaining U.S. service member being held behind enemy lines -- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Conservatives rushed to scandalize the event and smear Bergdahl as a deserter, going so far as to suggest his father's long beard made him look like a Muslim, and thus in their minds was more likely to share a hatred for America with his son.
On the June 9 edition of The Daily Show, Stewart lambasted Fox News' obsession with the beard, pointing out the obvious -- "Not all Muslims have beards, and not all people with beards are Muslims."
In July, the influx of undocumented minors fleeing violence in Central America by way of the U.S.-Mexico border had grown into a humanitarian crisis. Right-wing media used the problem to criticize Obama anytime he was seen enjoying a leisure activity. One of the loudest complaints was that the president was photographed playing pool in Colorado when he should have been, according to conservatives, touring the Texas border.
His actions were even worse than previously attempts to destroy America, Colbert explained on July 15. Obama was now "slacking off at destroying America." Colbert went on: "It's clear what's going on here. The president has senioritis."
On August 9, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson, MO police officer. His death sparked outrage and protests across the country against police brutality and systemic discrimination against young, black men. Yet conservative media leaped to demonize Brown, blaming him for his death and staunchly denying the fact that law enforcement treats African-Americans with any less respect than they do whites.
Stewart called them out on The Daily Show, asking "Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people?" Citing the fact that white Fox hosts expressed more outrage over the imaginary 'War on Christmas' than they have over the existence of racism, Stewart argued: "Imagine that if instead of having to suffer the indignity of [the War on Christmas], imagine that instead of that, on a pretty consistent basis, you can't get a cab, even though you're a neurosurgeon, because you're black."
Footage of Obama saluting Marines with a cup in his hand as he exited Marine One elicited horror from right-wing media, who feigned shock at the "disrespectful" and "degrading" salute. Hannity accused Obama of having "complete disrespect for the men in women in uniform" and asked, "Would President Bush ever do that?"
Of course, several photos exist of Bush saluting troops while cradling his Scottish Terrier, Barney, in his arms. Stewart blasted Hannity for his "cognitive dissonance" on September 25, answering his question about Bush: "Would President Bush ever salute the troops with a cup of coffee in his hand? And the answer is no. Because his hands were too filled with dog."
Conservative media stood up as defenders of street harassment in October, building off their frequent denial of gender inequality to lecture women on being appreciative of catcalling and harassment. Fox's The Five, for instance, justified catcalls by arguing that men "mean it in a nice way" or in admiration of a woman's youth.
The Daily Show exposed the ridiculousness of such mentality on October 2, imaging a world where women gush over "competing in a beauty pageant on the way to work every day."
In November, Obama took executive action to prioritize the deportations of dangerous undocumented immigrants and grant certain other immigrants the right to stay and work in the U.S. The plan was met with cries of "tyranny" and "Emperor Obama" from right-wing media figures, who accused the president of issuing "executive amnesty."
Colbert mocked the hyperbole on the November 20 edition of The Colbert Report, playing Halloween horror music and declaring, "My great grandfather did not come here from Ireland to see this country overrun by immigrants":
When Eric Garner was killed after Staten Island police placed him in a chokehold, medical examiners ruled his death a homicide. But in December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him, reigniting protests around the country over racial discrimination in law enforcement. Garner's last words, "I Can't Breathe," became a rallying cry for justice -- and a target for conservative media. Fox News went to great lengths to defend the police and criminalize Garner, accusing those who highlighted systemic racism as disrespectful to law enforcement.
Stewart went on the offensive following the grand jury decision, refuting conservative's refrain that the criminal justice system is applied equally to all races:
The politicization surrounding the killing of two New York Police Department officers over the weekend was amazingly swift. Fox News led the right-wing media charge, immediately claiming Democratic elected officials were somehow responsible for the gun rampage, which began in Baltimore when Ismaaiyl Brinsley allegedly shot his ex-girlfriend, and extended to Brooklyn when the mentally troubled shooter assassinated two police officers, before killing himself on a city subway platform.
On Fox, hosts and guests were sure who was to blame for the tragedy; not the gunman necessarily, but political and community leaders like President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Bill de Blasio and MSNBC's Al Sharpton. Why? Because the men, to varying degrees, have spoken out about the troubled relationship between law enforcement and the black community, and raised concerns about two recent high-profile cases, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, in which unarmed black men were killed, and police officers responsible were not indicted.
Against that backdrop of civil protest, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told Fox News, "I personally feel that Mayor de Blasio, Sharpton and others like them, they actually have blood on their hands."
"Let's talk about the president as well," responded Fox's Jeanine Pirro, suggesting Obama and Mayor de Blasio were to blame. "The two of them have undoubtedly created racial tensions that worsens, not betters the situation for law enforcement."
Appearing on Fox News, former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani insisted the message from recent Obama "propaganda" was that "everybody should hate the cops." (No such Obama "propaganda" actually exists.)
The coverage of the Brooklyn killings on Fox News has leaned heavily on assigning a larger cultural and political blame. Yet in stark contrast, as Media Matters has documented, Fox News has routinely paid very little attention to breaking news stories that feature right-wing, or anti-government, gunmen who target law enforcement officials as a way to deliver their warped political messages.
And critically, when they have touched on those deadly attacks, Fox talkers have stressed that it's not fair to blame politics. Note that in 2013, after racist skinhead Michael Page started killing worshipers at an Oak Creek, WI., Sikh temple, and then murdered a police officer, Fox's Andrea Tantaros stressed that the killing spree was an isolated event that didn't have any larger implications. "How do you stop a lunatic?" she asked. "This is not a political issue."
At Fox, that has been the pattern: These kind of deadly right-wing attacks are treated as isolated incidents that are mostly void of politics. Instead, the perpetrators are portrayed as lone gunmen (and women) who do not represent any cultural or political movement.
Following intense legislative fights over gun safety legislation in 2013, the fight over gun policy exploded into the cultural world in 2014. And in that sphere, the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby are losing.
The NRA is losing because it's forced to defend -- lest it offend its most hardcore activists -- gun extremists who openly carry assault weapons into shops and restaurants as a form of political protest. The gun industry, and the NRA by proxy, is losing as mainstream America begins to recognize the gun industry's trade group is less focused on hunting and sporting and more devoted to backing the NRA's extreme no-compromise agenda. The NRA is losing because commentary offered by two new projects that hope to reach out to minorities, women, and young people is so bizarre that it limits rather than expands the gun group's brand. And the NRA is losing because its most recognizable celebrity backer, board member Ted Nugent, has become a political liability, even for conservative Republicans.
Gun safety group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America won several victories while advocates for the open carrying of firearms further damaged their brand in 2014, as a series of retailers and restaurants made it clear that guns were not welcome in their stores.
2014 saw the explosion of a tactic by open carry advocates to bring firearms into retail stores in order to make a political statement. In many states, openly carrying firearms, including even assault weapons, is legal and does not require a permit.
The purported goal of open carry activists is to create a cultural shift where Americans will feel comfortable with the presence of handguns and assault weapons in public life. These advocates, however, have been poor ambassadors for their cause due to their use of intimidating tactics and their expression of extremist views about guns and the Second Amendment. (A high-profile member of Open Carry Texas is alleged to have shot to death her husband and stepdaughter this month, while the leader of another Texas open carry group has called for violent revolution and written that the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead was "a [sic] open carry kind of day.")
A successful 2013 campaign by Moms Demand Action that culminated in Starbucks asking patrons to leave their guns at home set the stage for victories in 2014.
Moms Demand Action tracked where open carry demonstrators staged events and mobilized their supporters to pressure those retailers to disallow the open carrying of firearms in their stores. The gun safety group also helped to promote shocking images of assault-weapon toting men posing in popular chain stores which frequently circulated in social media.
By the end of May, Moms Demand Action convinced Sonic, Chili's, and Chipotle to ask customers to leave their guns at home. These victories caused grumbling in the gun rights movement, with prominent gun blogger blogger Bob Owens calling Texas open carry activists "[t]he most effective gun control group in the United States."
The open carry movement also turned into a major headache for the National Rifle Association. On May 30, the NRA issued a lengthy statement on its lobbying website criticizing the open carrying of long guns in public as "downright weird" and arguing that the practice could scare the public and therefore was "counterproductive for the gun owning community." After a Mother Jones article brought the statement widespread attention, gun rights activists revolted against the NRA.
On June 3, the NRA entered damage control mode and apologized for the statement. During an appearance on the NRA's radio show Cam & Company, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox called the statement "a mistake" that "shouldn't have happened." According to Cox, the official position of the NRA is that the gun group "unapologetically and unflinchingly supports the right of self-defense and what that means is that our members and our supporters have a right to carry a firearm in any place they have a legal right to be."
The NRA may have appeased some of its hardcore members with that statement, but in doing so the group was forced to adopt a position far outside of the American mainstream.
A month after the NRA dustup, Moms Demand Action scored a major victory. After delivering nearly 400,000 petition signatures to Target, the group announced an agreement by the big box retailer to ask its customers to not bring firearms into stores nationwide.
Moms Demand Action's advocacy on open carry continues in several areas, the most prominent of which is a campaign asking the Kroger grocery store chain to ask customers to leave their guns at home.
"[W]hen they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."
This single phrase has followed George Will for the last six months. The syndicated conservative columnist, considered by many a thoughtful intellectual rather than a bomb-thrower, severely damaged his brand when he wrote a June 2014 column dismissing efforts on college campuses to combat the epidemic of sexual assault and suggesting that women who say they were raped receive "privileges." The column has sparked hundreds to protest his public appearances, challenges from U.S. Senators and women's rights groups, and the dropping of his column from a major newspaper.
Will's 2014 misinformation was not limited to attacking and dismissing rape victims. Throughout the year, Will failed to disclose several major conflicts of interest in his columns, and his tangled relationship with political entities backed by Charles and David Koch was cited by the outgoing ethics chair of the Society of Professional Journalists as the kind of conflict journalists should disclose in their writing. His history as a prominent denier of climate change also helped further undermine his credibility, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition demanding the Washington Post stop printing the science misinformation he and others regularly push in its pages.
Will has written a column for the Post since 1974, which is syndicated in over 450 papers. He started his career as a Republican Senate staff member and speech writer before moving into the ranks of the conservative press, contributing to The American Spectator and working as the Washington editor for the National Review for a time. He has become a fixture in the right-wing think tank infrastructure, serving as a board member of the Bradley Foundation, which funds conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Federalist Society. But Will was always careful to keep one foot in the mainstream -- in addition to his Post column, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977, he served as an ABC News commentator for three decades and was even a featured interview in several Ken Burns documentaries.
Yet late last year, he left ABC to join Fox News as a political contributor, cementing his increasingly conservative and counterfactual tendencies. Some of his politics -- such as his longstanding climate change denial -- seemed to fit in at the network. But at the time, Media Matters wondered if an association with Fox's more angry and crude fare would ruin the brand of the staid conservative pontificator, shifting his erudite elitism towards the hard-edged style of misinformation for which Fox is better known. Will's accomplishments in 2014 revealed our suspicions were well-founded.
Media Matters isn't the only organization to recognize the damage Will's commentary did to the discourse this year. When PolitiFact awarded its 2014 Lie of Year to "exaggerations about Ebola," they cited Will as a prime example. Will used his Fox News platform to spread lies about the disease, falsely claiming that it could be "spread through the air." As PolitiFact noted:
Will's claim that Ebola could spread through the air via a cough or sneeze shows how solid science got misconstrued. The conservative commentator suggested a thought shift about how the virus could spread. In reality, Will simply misunderstood scientists' consistent, albeit technical explanation.
Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit and diarrhea. Coughing and sneezing are not symptoms.
Will has a long history of pushing misinformation, but it finally caught up with him in 2014, tarnishing the reputation as a public intellectual he had spent decades cultivating. He started the year one of the most respected members of the conservative media elite, and ended it with hundreds protesting his speeches. For this reason, Media Matters recognizes George Will as the 2014 Misinformer of the Year.
Past recipients include CBS News (2013), Rush Limbaugh (2012), Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. (2011), Sarah Palin (2010), Glenn Beck (2009), Sean Hannity (2008), ABC (2006), Chris Matthews (2005), and Bill O'Reilly (2004).
Cleveland.com, the news portal for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group (NOMG), is grossly misrepresenting an ordinance that would protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, falsely claiming the measure will open public restrooms to both genders.
The Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would close a loophole in the city's non-discrimination law that currently allows places of public accommodations to deny transgender people access to restrooms and other facilities.
The ordinance would bring Cleveland's non-discrimination law in line with those of dozens of other major cities - including nearby Columbus -- by essentially removing an exemption in current public accommodations law which allows businesses to refuse bathroom access to transgender people based on their gender identity. That exemption reads:
(g) Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish unlawful discrimination based on actual or perceived gender identity or expression due to the denial of access to bathrooms, showers, locker rooms or dressing facilities, provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available;
Removing the loophole is a common sense solution aimed at alleviating the discrimination and violence that transgender people often face when using restrooms that don't correspond with their gender identity.
But Cleveland.com has repeatedly mischaracterized the ordinance in its reporting, claiming that the measure will open all restrooms up to both sexes.
The research group whose misleading poll question was heavily touted by the media to suggest "growing public support for gun rights" has acknowledged that the question was flawed.
Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey that asked respondents whether it is more important to "control gun ownership" or to "protect the right of Americans to own guns." The poll showed increased support for the gun rights answer and a drop in support for regulating guns. The results were reported by numerous media outlets, especially by the conservative press.
But academics from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research criticized the poll question in statements to Media Matters, saying that the query forces respondents to choose between two options that are not mutually exclusive and pointing out that polls consistently show broad public backing for specific gun regulations, such as expanding the background check system to make it more difficult for felons and the mentally ill to obtain weapons.
"Pew's question presents one side emphasizing the protection of individual rights versus restricting gun ownership. The question's implicit and incorrect assumption is that regulations of gun sales infringe on gun owners' rights and control their ability to own guns," the Center's director Daniel Webster explained. "The reality is that the vast majority of gun laws restrict the ability of criminals and other dangerous people to get guns and place minimal burdens on potential gun purchasers such as undergoing a background check. Such policies enjoy overwhelming public support."
Carroll Doherty, Pew's director of political research, has now reportedly "acknowledged the flaw" in the question. Mother Jones reported:
Carroll Doherty, PEW's director of political research, acknowledged the flaw. "Is it a perfect question? Probably not," he told Mother Jones. "This is in no way intended to say there's not support for background checks and some measures aimed at specific policies either [in Congress] or in the states. Mr. Webster is right to put it in context."
Doherty told Mother Jones that Pew "has asked that same question in surveys since 1993, with the aim of tracking general public sentiment on gun policy over time."
Conservative media are praising Pennsylvania's fracking industry in order to criticize New York's recently announced ban on hydraulic fracturing, without mentioning the health impacts that it has had on Pennsylvania's drinking water and communities.
On December 17, New York became the first state in the country to officially ban the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration came alongside a long-awaited health study on fracking in New York state, which found "significant public health risks" associated with the process. Cuomo officials also stated that allowing fracking would bring "far lower" economic benefits to the state "than originally forecast."
In response, conservative media have been holding up the economy in Pennsylvania -- where fracking has been in practice for decades -- to question the Cuomo administration's decision. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Caller touted statistics from the American Petroleum Institute, which claimed Wednesday that Pennsylvania's fracking industry has generated $2.1 billion in state taxes that have allegedly supported new roads, bridges, and parks. And on the December 17 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, correspondent Eric Shawn reported, "[Fracking] has been allowed in Pennsylvania and helped that state's troubled economy enormously." Co-host Heather Nauert agreed, lamenting, "When you go upstate in New York you see just how badly the jobs are needed up there":
But Pennsylvania may actually be more of a testament to why New York's health concerns surrounding fracking are warranted. Oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania's water supply over 200 times since 2007, according to an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and a recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the state's drinking water is at risk from poor wastewater disposal practices. One Pennsylvania town, Dimock, has been dubbed "Ground Zero" in the battle over fracking's safety by NPR. The town has seen particularly high rates of water contamination, with a methane leak causing a resident's backyard water well to explode, tossing aside a concrete slab weighing several thousand pounds in one instance.