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.
A 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 June, August, 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.
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
The news media reminders arrive almost daily now: President Obama's approval rating is low and going lower. McClatchy Newspapers highlighted the "dropping approval ratings," while the Washington Post declared "President Obama's approval ratings have plunged to record lows." The Christian Science Monitor noted the numbers have "plummeted." The Washington Examiner stressed the president's approvals were "sinking to historic lows," while an Atlantic headlined announced, ""Obama's Sinking Approval Could Drag Democrats Down With Him."
The portrait being painted by an array of media artists is unmistakable: Obama's approval ratings are not only weak but they're going down, down, down.
But it's not true.
The part about Obama's "dropping" and "sinking" polling numbers simply isn't accurate, not matter how many times it's repeated inside the Beltway echo chamber.
Does the White House wish Obama's job approval rating was higher? I'm sure his advisers do. Does polling indicate that Democrats face the possibility of deep losses next week in the midterm elections? Yes. Does that mean the press should just make up narratives about the president's approval rating simply because it fits in, again, with anti-Obama spin that Republicans are pushing?
It does not.
According to the cumulative ratings posted daily at Real Clear Politics, which averages together an array of national polls to come up with Obama's composite job approval rating, the president's approval on January 1, 2014 stood at 42.6 percent. The president's approval rating on October 30, was 42 percent. So over the course of ten months, and based on more than one hundred poll results in 2014, Obama's approval rating declined less than one point.
I can safely say Obama is only president in U.S. history whose approval rating dropped a single digit over a ten-month stretch and it was described as having "plummeted."
Media personalities rushed to scandalize President Obama for saluting Marines while simultaneously holding a coffee cup, criticizing the move as disrespectful -- forgetting former President George W. Bush's habit of saluting service members while holding his dog.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
Media outlets are overlooking President Obama's consistent emphasis on eliminating the threat posed by the extremist group the Islamic State -- and the U.S. airstrikes against it -- to fixate on Obama's recent reference to shrinking the group's influence to a "manageable problem."
From the August 27 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Conservative media figures have wrongly accused Muslim groups and leaders of failing to denounce the violent acts of the terrorist group the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), despite the fact that numerous Muslim religious authorities, advocacy groups, and Imams have come together to denounce the Islamic State's un-Islamic crimes against humanity.
ABC News contributor and nationally syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham has established herself as one of the most stridently transphobic conservative media figures, repeatedly assailing parents who offer support and affirmation for their transgender children. But medical and child health experts condemn Ingraham's transphobic smears as "dangerous" and "ignorant."
During the August 6 edition of her radio show, Ingraham delivered a screed against parents who affirm and accommodate their transgender children, calling it "child abuse" to provide transgender youth with hormone therapy:
Her comments were roundly condemned, but they were just the latest in Ingraham's campaign against trans-supportive families. Ingraham has asserted that putting trans youth on hormone blockers could have "long term effects" that children will come to "regret." She's also claimed that medical caring supporting trans youth "push[es] kids into a box" and prevents them from potentially realizing that they aren't transgender.
But a number of experts in transgender and child health care deride Ingraham's comments as "dangerous," "ignorant," and wholly divorced from reality.
"When one speaks from ignorance, there is a good chance that they will say ignorant things. This could be no more true than for Laura Ingraham," said Diane Ehrensaft, a clinical psychologist and head of the University of California-San Francisco's Child and Adolescent Gender Center, in a statement to Equality Matters:
If we do nothing for these children, just let them be children, as Ingraham suggests, we are actually doing something, and that something is not good: we put them at risk for anxiety, depression, poor school performance, and later--drug abuse, self-harm, sexual acting out, suicidal thoughts, attempts, or completions... Ingraham repeats what so many in my own field, mental health, have done to significantly harm gender-nonconforming youth: dismiss what they are trying to tell us, blame the parents who are trying to support them, and deny them adequate care in one fell swoop... We might even consider the denial of the service a form of child abuse--there's a life jacket right there, we're watching, and we're letting the child drown.
Psychiatrist Jack Drescher, a member of the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5 Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders, echoed Ehrensaft's concern, stating that Ingraham is "staking out an opinion, but she's not talking about the actual situations that exist. The way she speaks is appealing to prejudice."
Thirty months after flaming out on the Republican primary campaign trail, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose aborted 2012 run logged a fifth-place finish in Iowa and a sixth-place showing in New Hampshire before being suspended, is suddenly enjoying a Beltway media resurgence. With the issue of America's border security and the influx of unaccompanied children generating headlines, Perry has been out front criticizing President Obama, and the governor's performance is earning raves.
"People love his ass" is what "one Republican operative close to Perry" told Buzzfeed (anonymously). On The McLaughlin Group this weekend, so many panelists sang Perry's praise ("shrewd," "winning," "absolutely terrific") that host John McLaughlin announced, "a star is born."
Time has been in full swoon mode lately, touting Perry as "swaggering," "handsome and folksy," and insisting he's "refreshed his message, retooled his workout routine and retrained his sights toward the national stage." Meanwhile CNN's Peter Hamby claimed Perry is "completely underrated" as a 2016 contender. Why? Because "other than Chris Christie, it's hard to think of another Republican candidate with the kind of charm and personal affability, and frankly just good political skills, that Rick Perry has."
Keep in mind, Perry recently compared gays to alcoholics (and then acknowledged he "stepped right in it"), and suggested that the Obama White House might somehow be "in on" the wave of immigrant refugees crossing the U.S. border. He also became something an punch line last week when this sourpuss photo of his meeting with Obama lit up Twitter:
As for the issue of border security, Fox News' own Brit Hume noted on Sunday, Perry's demand that the National Guard be sent to patrol the border doesn't make much sense since, by law, Guardsmen aren't allowed to apprehend any of the refugee children coming into the country. (Children who are turning themselves over to Border Patrol agents.)
Apparently none of that matters when the press coalesces around a preferred narrative: Perry is hot and perfectly positioned for 2016. (He won the week!)
Perry's soft press shouldn't surprise close observers of the Beltway press corps. It's part of a larger media double standard where Republican campaign trail losers now routinely get treated like winners. (Think: John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney). The trend also extends to Republican policy failures, like the discredited architects of the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq, who have been welcomed back onto the airwaves to pontificate about Iraq, despite the fact they got almost everything wrong about the invasion eleven years ago.
And no, the same courtesy is not extended to Democrats. John Kerry did not camp out on the Sunday talk shows after losing to President Bush in 2004 and become a sort of permanent, television White House critic, the way McCain did after getting trounced by Obama in 2008.
In a rush to sensationalize growing violence in Iraq at the hands of religious extremists, media have circulated dubiously sourced maps which purport to illustrate plans for a future Islamic caliphate that extends from Spain to the southern and easternmost reaches of India.
A Sunni Islamist militant group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) has torn through Iraq in recent weeks, violently capturing several cities and straining the Iraqi government's ability to respond. On June 29, according to the Wall Street Journal, ISIS "announced itself as a new Islamist 'caliphate' ... unilaterally declaring statehood and demanding allegiance from other Islamist groups."
In the wake of this news, media outlets from Fox News to ABC have issued reports on the militant group's future plans based on maps culled from Twitter to declare that ISIS is strategizing to take over swath of territory larger than the Roman Empire within the next five years -- a goal that would include, among other feats, conquering Spain, Portugal, Greece, and most or all of India. The maps resemble the geographic dominance of the historic caliphates that ended with the demise of the Ottoman Empire.
On June 3 ABC News published a map -- also cited by Breitbart.com -- which was "purportedly published" by ISIS and "widely shared on Twitter." According to ABC, the "terrifying" map was "published at the same time that ISIS announced the creation of a caliphate."
But ABC News didn't actually trace the image to ISIS, and instead relied on a tweet of the image from American Third Position (A3P). ABC didn't disclose that A3P is a white nationalist political party in the United States.
As iO9 pointed out, "This is one of those 'garbage in, garbage out' stories, since ABC News' source was Twitter." The outlet cited to analysis from Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who explained, "It's an old image put out by fans of the group ... There is nothing official about it nor is there some alleged 5-year plan."
Fox News reported the same day that a "chilling new map reveals the ISIS plan for world domination," displaying an expanded, translated map the network claimed was "released by ISIS" to lay out "its five-year plan." Several days ago the Daily Mail similarly highlighted the map as a "chilling five-year plan," as did The Blaze, the website of notorious caliphate fear monger Glenn Beck.
While Fox attributed the map to ISIS, the Daily Mail described it as having been "widely shared by ISIS supporters on social networks."
Despite the serious tone of their reports, neither the Daily Mail nor Fox News cited any experts to discuss how realistic it would be for ISIS to conquer a swath of land that envelops half of Africa and India and includes territory protected by NATO (Spain, Portugal).
From the June 29 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
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New evidence revealing the full context of Hillary Clinton's comment about the "truly well off" suggests that she was not trying to contrast herself from the ranks of the wealthy, as many in the media previously suggested.
On June 21, The Guardian reported pieces of an interview they had conducted with Clinton during the roll-out of her new memoir, Hard Choices:
America's glaring income inequality is certain to be a central bone of contention in the 2016 presidential election. But with her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
"But they don't see me as part of the problem," she protests, "because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work," she says, letting off another burst of laughter.
Numerous media outlets jumped on Clinton's comments, suggesting that in her statement "unlike a lot of people who are truly well off" Clinton was saying that she and President Clinton are not "truly well off." At times, media outlets even altered the quote to fit that impression, falsely reporting that Clinton had said they were "not truly well off." For example:
Business Insider: Hillary Clinton Says She Isn't 'Truly Well Off'
Washington Post: Hillary Clinton says she's unlike the 'truly well off'
Fox News: Clinton: I'm not 'truly well off'
As Media Matters' Eric Boehlert noted at the time, while Clinton's comments were somewhat unclear, "at least as good an interpretation of the quote is that Clinton included herself and her husband among the 'truly well off,' but was saying that unlike many of them, they pay ordinary income tax."
Indeed, the full transcript of Clinton's response supports this interpretation. Clinton immediately followed up the comment by noting, "We know how blessed we are." She went on to explain that the Clintons did not grow up rich and that her goal is to "create a level playing field" to ensure opportunity for all. Here's the transcript, posted by The Hill on June 26 (emphasis added):
QUESTION: Domestically, as you mentioned towards the end of the book, one of the key issues is inequality.
QUESTION: Presumably whoever runs in 2016 will be talking a lot about that. It's come up already, but I did want to - it's such a polar - another polarized issue. Can you be the right person, were you to decide to run, to raise an issue like that when - with your own huge personal wealth, which is something that people have already started sniping about? Is it possible to talk about that subject --
QUESTION: -- when people perceive you as part of the problem, not the solution?
CLINTON: But they don't see me as part of the problem because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names, and we have done it through dint of hard work. We know how blessed we are. We were neither of us raised with these kinds of opportunities, and we worked really hard for them. But all one has to do is look at my record going back to my time in college and law school to know not only where my heart is, but where my efforts have been. I want to create a level playing field so that once again, you can look a child in the eye and you can tell them the truth, whether they're born in a wealthy suburb or an inner city or a poor country community; you can point out the realistic possibility that they will have a better life. But here's what they must do: It's that wonderful combination of individual effort, but social support, mobility and opportunity on the other side of the equation. So I'm willing to have that debate with anybody.
Out-going House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) called conservative radio host Laura Ingraham's recent attacks on him "not a serious contribution to any public policy" and added that Ingraham's recent commentary, which included suggesting he be traded to the Taliban, "cheapens the debate."
On June 10, Cantor was defeated in a primary election by tea party Republican candidate David Brat. The surprising outcome was cheered by Ingraham and other conservative talk radio hosts who had backed Brat and attacked Cantor over his position on immigration reform.
In the lead up to Election Day, Ingraham -- also a contributor for Fox News and ABC News -- repeatedly touted Brat, urging listeners to vote for him and even appearing at Brat's campaign rallies. At one rally, Ingraham said she wished President Obama would have traded Cantor to Afghani militants instead of the five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay who were exchanged for captive soldier Bowe Bergdahl.
Cantor responded to Ingraham's Bergdahl dig on the June 15 edition of ABC's This Week, stating, "I would say that the suggestion that I should have been traded to the Taliban for Sergeant Bergdahl really is not a serious contribution to any public policy debate, and frankly I don't think that it reflects on the people who self-identify as tea partiers. I think they reject that kind of notion, and it's just not serious, and frankly it cheapens the debate."