The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ringing endorsement last week of Truvada, the "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection, presents news outlets with a prime opportunity to cover an historic development in the three-decade struggle against HIV/AIDS. So far, however, media organizations have largely ignored the story.
Truvada is a 10-year-old pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs. Taken daily, it prevents infection of HIV. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug back in July 2012, it hasn't exactly caught on; a September 2013 report by Gilead Sciences found that only 1,774 people had filled Truvada prescriptions from January 2011 through March 2013. Nearly half of users were women, even though gay men are the demographic group most at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Part of the reason Truvada has been slow to gain steam is, undoubtedly, the stigma attached to those who use it. Gay men who use the drug have been derided as "Truvada Whores," a term many users have sought to reclaim. Some HIV/AIDS advocates, including Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have cast doubt on Truvada's effectiveness, noting that it won't block infection unless users strictly adhere to taking it daily.
But advocates who hail Truvada as a watershed development in the struggle against HIV/AIDS got a huge boost on May 14, when the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called on doctors to prescribe the pill for patients deemed at risk of HIV/AIDS - men who have sex with men, heterosexuals with at-risk partners, anyone whose partners they know are infected, and those who use drugs or share needles.
As The New York Times noted, if doctors follow the CDC's advice, Truvada prescriptions would increase to an estimated 500,000 annually.
On May 15, the Times gave the CDC's historic report prime placement on its front page:
But the Times and The Washington Post were the only major newspapers outlets to cover the CDC's report:
Right on cue as Republicans roll out the House select committee on Benghazi, much of the Beltway media chatter centers on what a looming problem the new investigation poses for Hillary Clinton and her possible presidential run in 2016. The commentary follows more than on year of similar proclamations that ongoing Benghazi pursuits would do damage to President Obama's second term, which in turn could doom Democrats in the next two election cycles.
That conventional wisdom, of course, closely mirrors GOP talking points about a "scandal" whose central questions were long ago answered. And whose blockbuster claims were long ago debunked. ("Stand down" orders were definitely not given.) By playing along, the press is just furthering Republican goals of portraying Benghazi as a pending Democratic doomsday.
But is there any evidence journalists can point to support the conservative assumption that additional hearings and endless churning for Benghazi headlines by Republicans pose a political problem for Obama and Clinton? Or that the issue will still loom large on Election Day 2016, which is approximately 900 days away? (Note that when Americans vote in 2016, the Benghazi attack will have taken place more than 1,500 days earlier.)
Reporters like to quote Republican operatives, such as Tim Miller, executive director of the GOP opposition-research group America Rising, who claim Benghazi could cripple Clinton's campaign. But he's paid to say that. Where's the independent proof to back up that claim? Journalists rarely offer much. Instead they seem to rely on the assumption that the mere existence of hearings about an email about a memo about Sunday morning TV appearances is damaging. (ABC News: "Scandal City.")
But Clinton's large and unprecedented polling advantage with regards to the 2016 Democratic primary season represent proof Benghazi that hasn't damaged her electoral chances within the party. And polls pitting her in hypothetical match-ups with possible Republican contenders continue to show her with an overwhelming advantage. While her overall approval ratings have dipped as expected from their high as she's pivoted from secretary of state to a potential presidential candidate, she remains an incredibly popular political figure.
If you're looking for an actual example of a potential White House candidate whose standing completely crumbled in the wake of a legitimate scandal, look no further than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Following the revelations this winter of the New Jersey lane-closing controversy, Christie lost one-third of his national favorable rating, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling. And he's gone from the leading candidate in the GOP primary to the middle of the pack.
Some journalists point to a Pew Research poll this year, which showed 15 percent of respondents selected "Benghazi" when asked to name the most negative thing about Hillary's Clinton's career. That's proof, scribes suggest, that the terror attack and the controversy surrounding it has done damage to her reputation. Yet the same Pew poll found an overwhelming 67 percent of people approved of Clinton's performance as secretary of state; the position she held when the Benghazi attack took place.
Nonetheless, the GOP-fed narrative remains strong. "As much as she would like to escape the attack's long shadow, it will continue to dog Hillary Clinton," National Journal recently claimed, insisting the Benghazi controversy represents perhaps "the biggest thing" Clinton will have to deal with if she runs for president.
From the May 1 edition of ABC's ABC World News:
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ABC host George Stephanopoulos announced on This Week that talk radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham is the network's "newest contributor." On her syndicated radio program The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham has repeatedly engaged in inflammatory and hateful rhetoric, lobbing numerous attacks against everyone from President Obama to people who receive government assistance to her favorite target, immigrants.
Here are 10 hateful moments from Ingraham in the past year:
1. Ingraham Used A Gunshot Sound Effect To Cut Off A Replay Of Rep. John Lewis' March On Washington Speech. During her coverage of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington in August 2013, Ingraham criticized the event and its speakers, saying the goal "was to co-opt the legacy of Martin Luther King into a modern-day liberal agenda." She then played a clip of a speech from Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, abruptly interrupting the playback of his comments with the sound of a loud gunshot. Following criticism of this sound effect, Ingraham defended her use of the gunshot sound, instead calling it a "blow up effect" and claiming that criticism of her using the sound effect on Lewis was an attempt "to crush free speech."
Cokie Roberts said she was surprised to hear women comprised less than 30 percent of guests last year on Sunday morning broadcast political talk shows like her former program, ABC's This Week. But she did not believe that disparity was a problem, stating, "there are plenty of women there."
According to data compiled by Media Matters, the four major broadcast Sunday shows hosted men at least 72 percent of the time in 2013, with women guests making up less than 30 percent on each program.
Those numbers haven't changed since Media Matters examined the programs in 2008. And women were even less likely to be chosen for the coveted solo newsmaker interviews, receiving no more than 15 percent of time devoted to such appearances.
"I didn't even notice it," Roberts said during an appearance at a bookstore in New Jersey Tuesday to promote her children's book, Founding Mothers, which is about the unsung women of early American history. "I'm surprised at that because there seem to be a lot more than there were when I started."
Asked if she believes it is a problem to have such a low ratio of women guests, Roberts, who co-anchored ABC's Sunday morning political talk show from 1996-2002 and has been a regular guest in the years since, sought to defend the process the shows used.
"It seems to me that the attempt is always to have a little of this, a little of that," she said. "Someone just has to balance whatever, whether it's a conservative slot that needs to be filled or a minority slot that needs to be filled. It's the luck of the draw how any given week goes."
Still, she said the gender gap had not been apparent to her.
"I haven't noticed it," she said. "I am surprised to have you even say it. It doesn't look that way to me. It is always better to have more women, but to me in thinking about the shows there are plenty of women there."
Below are charts showing the gender diversity on the four broadcast Sunday shows, as well as similar programs on CNN and MSNBC:
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol is now a contributor at ABC News, after a decade spent offering inaccurate predictions and baseless smears against Democrats on Fox News.
On the February 2 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos noted that Kristol was one of the network's newest contributors. Kristol announced back in August 2013 that he no longer had an exclusive contract with his previous employer, Fox News, and was now "free to inflict my insights on viewers of the other networks as well."
Kristol's decade of "insights" at Fox included inaccurate predictions about the Iraq War, saber-rattling for war with Iran, dismissing legitimate military scandals, and smearing Democrats. He was one of the worst of the media's Iraq War boosters, insisting that there was "almost no evidence" that "the Shia can't get along with the Sunni," and that "American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators."
He also claimed that military sexual assaults were a "pseudo-crisis," helped lead a smear campaign against then-nominee for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, dismissed the devastating effects of the recent government shutdown by claiming "no one no one is going to starve in Arkansas," and claimed that Hillary Clinton only won the 2008 New Hampshire primary because "she pretended to cry; the women liked it."
In a statement to Politico, executive producer of This Week Jonathan Greenberger said Kristol is "'an original thinker' that will make their team stronger."
Broadcast nightly news shows completely ignored the day's landmark court ruling striking down federal net neutrality regulations, an omission that deals a huge disservice to the public audience and a boon to the news outlets' parent corporations.
Net neutrality -- the principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers -- was dealt a serious blow the morning of January 14 when the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidated the Federal Communications Commission's requirement that providers offer equal access to online information, regardless of the source. Prior to the ruling, the FCC prevented internet providers from blocking (or slowing down access to) content in order to benefit their own business interests.
That evening, neither NBC, CBS, nor ABC acknowledged the ruling in their evening news broadcasts.
Here's why that's important -- NBC is owned by Comcast Corporation, which bills itself as the nation's largest high-speed Internet provider. CBS' parent company is CBS Corporation, which also owns multiple sports networks and Showtime, while ABC is part of The Walt Disney Company empire, also the owner of ESPN.
This is a huge conflict of interest for the broadcast news channels, as their parent corporations all have a vested interest in striking down net neutrality laws and promoting their own content at the expense of competitors that lack an advantage in size or Internet service. As PCWorld explained:
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
Broadcast evening news programs slanted coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by hyping negative aspects of the law's rollout while underplaying or not exploring positive changes to insurance coverage under the health care law, including the role that subsidies would play in making health care affordable. All three major broadcast networks aired more segments that took on a negative tone than a positive tone in October and November 2013, according to a Media Matters study.
As the calendar races towards 2014, and Congressional members log their final few days in session while facing daunting deadlines for a long list of pressing and unfinished initiatives, the press has been busy chronicling the futility, assigning collective blame, and giving the president permanent failing marks.
According to historians, 2013 is on track to become the least productive single legislative year in modern American history. And it's not even close. In 1995, 88 laws were passed, setting the previous low-water mark. This year, it's doubtful 70 will make it to the president's desk. (And lots of the bills that have passed are ceremonial or rather trivial in nature.) The press is not happy about the trend.
"The paltry number of bills Congress has passed into law this year paints a vivid picture of just how bad the gridlock has been for lawmakers," announced NBC. The Wall Street Journal noted this year's session has been "long on partisanship, indecision and brinkmanship." USA Today bemoaned the inability "to find common ground." And the Los Angeles Times pointed to "partisan dysfunction" as the main Congressional culprit.
See? "Congress" remains in the grips of "gridlock" and "brinkmanship." Congress just can't find "common ground" and suffers from serious "dysfunction."
So that's why immigration reform, the farm bill, a budget deal, unemployment benefit extensions, workplace discrimination legislation, and the defense spending bill haven't been passed or dealt with yet? And that's why the government was shutdown for 16 days in October?
Wrong. The current Congress obliterated all previous records for diminished output because the Republican Party, and especially those in the Republican-run House, purposefully bottled up as many initiatives as possible and unleashed "procedural sabotage." (They even obstructed disaster relief aid for victim of Hurricane Sandy.)
Yet eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are equally responsible for so little getting accomplished, the press gives Republicans a pass for their purposeful dysfunction.
By the way, are you also experiencing media flashbacks to the government shutdown, which the Republican Party proudly engineered by reneging on a budget deal they had agreed to with the last-minute demand that Obama essentially repeal his signature legislative accomplishment of his first term, the Affordable Care Act? Back then, the one-sided shutdown maneuver was nearly universally portrayed as bipartisan "Washington dysfunction at its absolute worst" (ABC News), a "partisan logjam" (Wall Street Journal), and a "fiscal stalemate" (The Hill).
Yet today, even as some Republican members brag about how little they've allowed Congress to accomplish, even as a plurality of voters says the GOP's top priority is to cause trouble for the president, while a majority blame Republicans for the lack of productivity in Washington, the press still prefers to portray the Capitol Hill standstill as bipartisan "gridlock."
Because, of course, both sides are always to blame.
Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe just days before the looming deadline for a federal government shutdown, Politico's Mike Allen was assessing the politics of the controversy and predicting which Beltway players would get tagged with the blame for the intentional legislative debacle. Despite the fact that Republicans were refusing to fund the government if the White House balked at the demand to essentially repeal its 2010 health care law, Allen suggested President Obama would be the real political loser.
Why Obama? Because he's more famous than the GOP congressional leaders whose actions are causing the impasse.
"A lot of people in the country don't know John Boehner. There's no one in the world who doesn't know Barack Obama," Allen explained. "So when Washington is not working, it's going off the rails in a very visible way, a way that is vivid and touches people, that's not good ultimately for the president."
That's an awfully tenuous path to blame Obama for the Republicans' proudly obstructionist strategy to stop funding the government.
Yet so it goes within portions of the Beltway press corps who are straining to include Democrats in the shutdown blame game; to make sure "both sides" are targeted for tsk-tsk scoldings about "Washington dysfunction," and that the Republicans' truly radical nature remains casually ignored. This media act is getting old. And this media act may be emboldening the Republicans' extreme behavior.
Note that unlike the government shutdowns during the Clinton administration, this one was not prompted by a budgetary disagreement between the two parties. It was provoked by the GOP's unheard of demand that in order to vote for government spending they agree is necessary, the White House had to strip away funding for its health care law. Also note that the looming showdown over the debt ceiling represents another orchestrated crisis in which the GOP is making unprecedented demands on the president in exchange for their votes for a policy they say they support. Both cases illustrate the folly of trying to blame the White House for failing to engage with Republicans, who have embraced a path of purposefully unsolvable confrontations.
What's been clear for years is that the press clings to its preferred storyline: When Republicans obstruct Obama's agenda, the president's to blame for not changing the GOP's unprecedented behavior. In other words, "both sides" are to blame for the GOP's radical actions and the epic gridlock it produces.
The media lesson for Republicans? There's very little political downside to pushing extremism if the press is going to give the party a pass.
Benghazi witness Gregory Hicks used an ABC interview to push discredited myths about the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya that have been refuted by military officials and by his own testimony.
During the September 8 edition of This Week, Former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks described his experience and the aftermath of the Benghazi attack with host George Stephanopoulos. Hicks used the interview to accuse the State Department of retaliating against him for his testimony during a House Oversight Committee hearing on May 8. After Stephanopoulos asked Hicks whether he felt he was being punished for his testimony, he responded, "Yes, I feel that I have been punished. ... I don't know why I was punished" and "shunted aside."
But Hicks was not punished for speaking out. Stephanopoulos read from a State Department letter which explained that "The State Department has not punished Mr. Hicks in any way" and his departure from Libya "was entirely unrelated to any statements" he made about Benghazi.
In fact, Hicks' claim about being punished contradicts his previous testimony about not returning to his assignment in Libya. During his testimony at a May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing, Hicks explained that "my family really didn't want me to go back. ... So I voluntarily curtailed" returning to Libya. From Hicks' sworn testimony (emphasis added):
REP. SCOTT DESJARLAIS (R-TN): So when you came back to the United States, were you planning on going back to Libya?
MR. HICKS: I was. I fully intended to do so.
REP. DESJARLAIS: And what do you think happened?
MR. HICKS: Based on the criticism that I received, I felt that if I went back, I would never be comfortable working there. And in addition, my family really didn't want me to go back. We'd endured a year of separation when I was in Afghanistan 2006 and 2007. That was the overriding factor. So I voluntarily curtailed -- I accepted an offer of what's called a no-fault curtailment. That means that there's -- there would be no criticism of my departure of post, no negative repercussions. And in fact Ambassador Pope, when he made the offer to everyone in Tripoli when he arrived -- I mean Charge Pope -- when he arrived, he indicated that people could expect that they would get a good onward assignment out of that.
ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer stated that "the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow" to the Head Start program -- by implementing the automatic spending cuts commonly known as the sequester -- before noting that "critics say" the cuts could have been avoided. While Sawyer did note that the cuts were linked to sequestration, she framed them as an action taken by the Obama administration while failing to highlight the responsibility Republicans in Congress share or mentioning the White House's long standing offers first to avert sequestration and now to replace it.
On August 18, The Washington Post reported that as many as 57,000 children lost access to Head Start's health, nutrition, and early education programs due to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. While covering that story, Sawyer claimed on ABC World News' August 19 broadcast that "an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program head start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education."
SAWYER: And now back here at home an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program Head Start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education. Word tonight: the administration says the sequester forced cuts, but critics say there may have been another way. And tonight 57,000 children are facing the possibility they will no longer get educational support.
Sawyer appeared to lay blame squarely on the Obama administration's shoulders, or at least ignored the responsibility held by Republicans. Sawyer reported that "critics say there may have been another way," but in fact, Obama offered another way with a plan to avert sequestration. Republicans refused to budge on a deal and some even said the cuts were necessary. Once sequestration hit, Obama called on Congress to replace it with a more balanced approach. The president has also been an advocate of early childhood education and even mentioned it in his 2013 State of the Union.
ABC's coverage was brief -- a common problem in the media's sequestration reporting that Media Matters has previously noted -- but left out critical context that gave the appearance of laying the blame on Obama.
The Republican National Committee voted this morning to ban NBC News and CNN from hosting GOP primary debates in 2016. On paper, the vote was to protest plans by NBC and CNN to produce, respectively, a miniseries and a documentary on Hillary Clinton. But there's a whole lot more undergirding this move to exclude these outlets from the Republican debates. The long-standing animus toward the "liberal media" among conservatives has morphed into outright paranoia, and it came to a head during the 2012 campaign when George Stephanopoulos asked a debate question about contraception.
Here's what happened. Rick Santorum talked about contraception a lot during his 2012 presidential campaign. He railed against "the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea" in an October 2011 interview with an evangelical blog. He told NBC's Today on December 29 that contraception "leads to lot of sexually transmitted diseases, it leads to a lot of unplanned pregnancies." On January 2, 2012, just a few days before participating in a Republican debate co-hosted by ABC News, Santorum was asked by then-ABC reporter Jake Tapper about his belief that states should be able to ban contraception. "The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that," Santorum said.
Then, at the ABC/Yahoo News debate on January 7, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney if he shared Santorum's belief "that states have the right to ban contraception." Romney responded: "George, this is an unusual topic that you're raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can't imagine a state banning contraception." Shortly afterward, all hell broke loose.
From all corners of the conservative media came accusations that George Stephanopoulos, in asking about contraception, had "coordinated" with Team Obama to lure the Republican candidates into some sort of trap on birth control. Much of the speculation was driven by Dick Morris, which should have been a pretty big red flag in terms of reliability. The theory rested on the assumption that the contraception issue just came out of nowhere, which, of course, is not true -- Santorum was asked about it just five days before the debate by one of Stephanopoulos' colleagues.
From the August 11 edition of ABC's This Week:
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