Significant steps have been taken in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the past several years, but media coverage of the issue all too often fixates on stories that sensationalize the spread of the disease and even encourage the criminalization of people with HIV.
A new Equality Matters report examining evening cable news coverage of HIV/AIDS stories found that cable news networks largely ignored some of the most significant developments in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2013:
But even while news outlets have ignored major progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, many continue to highlight crime stories that sensationalize the spread of HIV. A look at CNN's evening coverage of HIV/AIDS stories in 2013, for example, reveals that, after the story of a baby who's HIV was in remission after early antiretroviral drug treatment, the network's top two HIV/AIDS topics were about a Missouri man who knowingly infected sex partners with the virus and an Oklahoma dentist whose unsanitary equipment may have infected patients:
Sensationalist news coverage, especially when it comes at the expense of serious reporting on the fight against HIV/AIDS, has real and damaging consequences for people living with the disease. As the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD notes, stories like the case of the Missouri man are used "to justify salacious and vilifying coverage that perpetuate stereotypes against HIV+ and LGBT communities":
This story directly relates to the matter of treating people who have HIV as criminals, while overlooking many of the realities with which such people struggle, like stigma and fear. Many media outlets have effectively reinforced the very issues they fail to acknowledge.
Rather than inform the public of the realities of living with HIV/AIDS, these kinds of stories encourage panic and further stigmatize an already marginalized community, which in turn worsens the problem of attempting to combat the spread of HIV.
Fox News gave Republican senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton (AK) the royal treatment, giving airtime to his latest campaign ad and inviting him on for a softball interview with host Eric Bolling, who failed to challenge Cotton on his faulty assertions that the Affordable Care Act is "failing" for the people of Arkansas.
Filling in for Neil Cavuto, Fox's Bolling took the reins of Fox's 4 p.m. show Your World and invited Cotton on the program for the second time this month. The Fox host aired the entirety of the senate candidate's latest campaign ad, then proceeded to ask a series of open-ended questions, many loaded with an anti-Democratic premise.
"I read somewhere where Senator Pryor said that he would vote for Obamacare if he had to do it all over again," Bolling said. "You want to comment on that?" Bolling then allowed Cotton the opportunity to attack the health care law as a "failure" without noting for Cotton or viewers that Obamacare is working for the people of Arkansas.
Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson is trading on his medical reputation to ride a wave of media hype, but upon closer examination, many of his views are contradictory or emulate the uninformed chatter of a right-wing radio shock jock.
Carson rose to prominence in the conservative media last year for a speech attacking the Affordable Care Act at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Obama. After that, he was hired by Fox News, became a regular on the conservative speaking circuit, joined Newt Gingrich's dubious political action committee, and launched an online magazine in coordination with the Washington Times (where he also writes an opinion column).
Despite major developments in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and research in 2013, cable evening news shows devoted scant time to covering developments in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2013. The lack of coverage of HIV/AIDS stories has continued into the first quarter of 2014.
A Mississippi bill that will severely limit access to reproductive health is being promoted by conservative lawmakers using misleading arguments that mirror those pushed by right-wing media outlets.
In 2012, Mississippi passed House Bill 1390, legislation that would require all physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the law, stating, "To further protect patient safety in the event of a complication during the procedure, this bill also requires the physician to have staff and admitting privileges at a local hospital." The governor's spokesman noted that Bryant felt the law was "an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women."
Rep. Sam Mims, HB 1390's sponsor, said in a CNN interview that the purpose of the law is "to make sure that women who are receiving these abortions are receiving abortions by a professional physician who is certified," and that "If something goes wrong, which it might -- we hope it doesn't, but it could -- that physician could follow the patient to a local hospital. That's the intent. And what happens afterwards, we'll have to see what happens." In a May 8, 2012 blog, the Mississippi Republican Party wrote "HB 1390 will require all physicians performing in abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital; a necessity to protect life in case of an emergency during an abortion."
In July of that year, however, the law was partially blocked by a federal judge after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit alleging that the law is unconstitutional. The law made headlines again in 2014 as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether to uphold the injunction.
Talking Points Memo argued that, despite the governor's purported concern for women's health, the law has more to do with restricting reproductive access than it does with women's health, arguing that medical organizations oppose requiring admitting privileges and pointing to Bryant's history of anti-choice advocacy. Diane Derzis, the owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization, agreed, telling Politico, "These people hide behind words like 'safety,' 'women's health,' 'concern' and 'compassion.' "
But the same could be said for choice opponents in the right-wing media, who frequently couch their anti-choice activism as concern over women's health.
From the April 18 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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The Fox-led campaign to pressure GOP governors to decline the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion has left 5.7 million people uninsured who could have gained coverage under the law.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states could decide whether to expand Medicaid eligibility to all adults living below 133 percent of the federal poverty line, under a provision of the ACA which would provide federal funding for the expansion.
Immediately following the ruling, Fox News began a campaign to convince Republican governors to turn down the funding and refuse to expand the program. On July 2, 2012, Fox & Friends praised Florida governor Rick Scott for turning down Medicaid expansion. The same day, then-Fox News contributor Sarah Palin appeared on On the Record and said she "would like to see governors be tough and opt out" of the expansion":
PALIN: Many, many states are not going to be able to afford expansion of Medicaid and these exchanges that are going to try to be forced down states' throats through "ObamaCare." I would like to see governors be tough and opt out of this and exert our 10th Amendment rights and tell President Obama, who does not understand the Constitution -- he even being a constitutional lecturer and supposed scholar in our Constitution, not understanding and probably never reading or absorbing the 10th Amendment to understand that states have rights.
Fox continued to demagogue the program long after the Supreme Court's decision, misleading on its costs, falsely claiming it would bankrupt states, and ultimately blaming the ACA for the coverage gap that resulted from the very expansion refusal it advocated.
The decision not to expand Medicaid is not without consequences. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 19 states are not moving forward with expansion, while five more are engaging in debate, but have not made a decision. Today, the White House revealed the human costs of the campaign to demonize Medicaid: (emphasis added)
From the April 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Conservative media ran dishonest headlines suggesting that the Obama administration is attempting to reduce minority births when it is actually trying to reduce teenage pregnancies.
In an April 16 post, the Daily Caller selectively pulled language from a CDC program in order to suggest that the Obama administration was trying to reduce births among minorities. In a post with the headline "Obama program aims to reduce 'births' among blacks, Latinos," the Daily Caller claimed that "President Barack Obama is attempting to lower the rate of 'births' - and separately pregnancies - among blacks and Latinos."
Fox Nation used the same misleading language while hyping the Daily Caller's post, posting an excerpt under the headline "Obama Program Aims To Reduce 'Births' Among Blacks, Latinos":
Both headlines, and the Daily Caller's description, are incredibly dishonest. The Obama administration is not trying to reduce minority births, but the rate of teen pregnancies in minority communities. In fact, the CDC material that the Daily Caller links to is titled "Teen Pregnancy Prevention 2010-2015." The CDC page makes it clear that the program is intended to reduce the rate of pregnancy among minorities between the ages of 15 and 19:
The purpose of this program is to demonstrate the effectiveness of innovative, multicomponent, communitywide initiatives in reducing rates of teen pregnancy and births in communities with the highest rates, with a focus on reaching African American and Latino/Hispanic youth aged 15-19 years. A communitywide model is an intervention implemented in defined communities (specified geographic area) applying a common approach with different strategies. Communitywide approaches will be tailored to the specified community, and will include broad-based strategies that reach a majority of youth in the community (i.e., through communication strategies and media campaigns); and intensive strategies reaching youth most in need of prevention programming (i.e., through implementation of evidence-based programs and improved links to services).
The Daily Caller also attacked the CDC by manufacturing outrage over the fact that the organization does not differentiate between "births" and "pregnancies." But using both terms when discussing teen pregnancy is a common practice widely used across their own literature outside of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative in order to analyze and discuss teen pregnancy rates and outcomes, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' literature on teen pregnancy.
Right-wing media outlets are trying to gin up outrage over a change in how the U.S. Census Bureau reports insurance status, claiming the agency is making an adjustment to deliberately hide the effects of the Affordable Care Act. But the change will still measure the impact of the ACA's first year, and the new system will provide better tools for tracking insurance status.
Fox News attempted to discredit a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated lower costs for the Affordable Care Act, while it also embraced a dubious survey claiming that health care premiums are skyrocketing.
On the April 14 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto brought on Fox contributor and serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey in order to baselessly attack the CBO's latest projections, which show that the ACA will cost $104 billion less over 10 years than previously projected and that premiums for the most popular plans under ACA are expected to rise only "slightly" for 2015. McCaughey unleashed a series of already debunked lies about the health care law. After Cavuto called the CBO's savings estimates "deceiving," Mccaughey agreed and denied there would be any savings,asserting that it is actually "a cost-shifting":
CAVUTO: So what is the CBO looking at? It's limiting it to what they expect it to be, that millions more will sign up under these exchanges, and I guess because of subsidies and special breaks see their premium increases actually stabilize. Do you buy that?
McCAUGHEY: Well, no, I don't buy that. I think the insurance company executives know exactly what they're talking about, and they're worried about the public pushback from these huge premium hikes ahead. That's only part of the bad news. You're also going to see a million people or more default. In other words, they've paid their first premium, but when they discover what it really means to pay a three or five thousand dollar deductible on their plan, they go to their doctor again and again and have to pay full freight even though they're paying their premium, they're going to stop paying their premium.
Another big problem ahead is the 25 to 30 million people who currently get on the job coverage who are going to lose it in the coming months when their employers realize that they're not going to be able to renew those old plans and they're stuck between the very costly Obamacare plans or sending their workers and their families onto the exchanges. And finally, you're going to hear a lot of desperation from cancer patients when they discover these Obamacare exchange plans won't let them go to any specialty cancer hospitals, even though the data show that, for example, women with ovarian cancer live longer when they're treated at a high-volume cancer hospital.
CAVUTO: But the argument that the CBO is raising that all those problems notwithstanding -- they're big ones, it's like saying "Outside that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?" -- they're still going to see premiums for those in these exchanges go down. But what I did look at in the CBO study, it's all dependent on these special write-offs and allowances and subsidies that those in a certain income group get to give you what seems like a deceiving savings.
McCAUGHEY: That's right, and I'ts really not a savings, Neil. It's just a cost-shifting.
In contrast to Fox's attack on the CBO report, earlier in the day it uncritically promoted a discredited Morgan Stanley survey claiming "rate acceleration" in ACA premiums. Correspondent Jim Angle appeared on both Fox's Happening Now and The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson to hype fears that fit into the channel's narrative that Obamacare will causes insurance premiums to soar. However, the report Angle cited has been discredited for its absence of methodology and small survey sample. Even Fox News' sister organization, Fox Business, pointed out problematic elements of the study, noting that "some states had only one broker respond to the Morgan Stanley survey so the results may not be reliable."
Fox News' willingness to dismiss a report from the respected and nonpartisan CBO while embracing a flawed study is just the latest effort in Fox News' struggling crusade to discredit the ACA by stoking fears of negative impact.
In the five years since President Obama's health care reform plan -- which became the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- was first introduced, the right-wing media has waged a continuous campaign to attack the law through misinformation, deception, and outright lies.
From the April 11 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Right-wing media responded to news that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning by lobbing personal attacks against the secretary and demonizing health care reform.
In response to Media Matters' documentation that a group pushing climate change denial has also rejected the known health impacts of tobacco and secondhand smoke, Fox News is suggesting that secondhand smoke is not dangerous.
On the April 9 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent Doug McKelway pointed to a report by the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which was written in an attempt to debunk the United Nations' recent consensus report, to claim that "a torrent of new data is poking very large holes" in climate science. In an accompanying article at FoxNews.com, McKelway responded to a Media Matters blog post documenting that the group behind the report, the Heartland Institute, has previously denied the health impacts of tobacco, by claiming that the "Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study":
The NIPCC ["Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change"] report was immediately assailed by administration supporters. The website Media Matters reported that the NIPCC study was published by the conservative Heartland Institute, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke. (In fact, Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which found "no statistically significant relationship between lung cancer and exposure to passive smoke.")
Media Matters had actually pointed out that the Heartland Institute once claimed that smoking "fewer than seven cigarettes a day" -- not just secondhand smoke -- was not bad for you, while simultaneously being funded by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. Regardless, secondhand smoke is unequivocally dangerous and causally linked to cancers including lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association, and the Centers for Disease Control. McKelway cherry-picked one study that found no statistically significant link between secondhand smoke and cancer but did find a trend of "borderline statistical significance" among women who had lived with a smoker for 30 years or more. Meta-analyses have previously found that the "abundance of evidence ... overwhelmingly support the existence of a causal relationship between passive smoking and lung cancer." The Environmental Protection Agency states that it does not claim that "minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk," but that nonetheless secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in U.S. nonsmokers:
The evidence is clear and consistent: secondhand smoke is a cause of lung cancer in adults who don't smoke. EPA has never claimed that minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk. Even though the lung cancer risk from secondhand smoke is relatively small compared to the risk from direct smoking, unlike a smoker who chooses to smoke, the nonsmoker's risk is often involuntary. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke varies tremendously among exposed individuals. For those who must live or work in close proximity to one or more smokers, the risk would certainly be greater than for those less exposed.
EPA estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the U.S.; of these, the estimate is 800 from exposure to secondhand smoke at home and 2,200 from exposure in work or social situations.