Two former network news presidents offered criticism following the revelation that a Fox News contributor had urged Gen. David Petraeus to run for president at the request of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
"That just isn't what a news guy does," said Michael Gartner, who served as NBC News president from 1988 to 1993. "Twenty years ago it wouldn't have been done. But that was a different era."
The critiques come in response to a December 4 report from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward that Fox News contributor K.T. McFarland, on instructions from Ailes, had urged Petraeus to run for president during a recorded 2011 interview in Afghanistan.
McFarland suggested that Ailes would leave Fox to work on Petraeus' campaign and that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch might "bankroll" the effort.
During the same interview with Petraeus, McFarland said of Ailes, "he loves you, and everybody at Fox loves you. So what I'm supposed to say directly from him to you, through me, is first of all, is there anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?"
Media critics have nonetheless responded harshly to the McFarland-Petraeus interview, with Dylan Byers at Politico writing that no other major news outlet would tolerate such behavior from their top executive, and Erik Wemple at the Post writing that it indicated "Fox News is corrupt."
David Westin, who served as ABC News president from 1997 to 2010, also offered concern about the exchange to Media Matters.
While Westin said he did not know the details of Ailes' direct involvement, and noted Ailes had told Bob Woodward his comments to MacFarland had been "more of a joke" than a serious request, Westin did offer criticism of such communications between news person and news subject.
"The report had someone from Fox News, now it was a contributor, not on staff, but a contributor, saying things to a subject of news coverage that normally a journalist wouldn't say," Westin said late December 4. "You need to keep some distance from the people you're covering and you don't want to be partial for them or against them either way, so what I read would be something that normally a journalist wouldn't do."
A study released on Monday found that the Great Barrier Reef's coral cover declined by 50% in the past 27 years, partially as a result of human activities. These dramatic findings have caught the attention of scientists, politicians and some media outlets -- even Fox News -- but have been ignored by ABC, NBC, MSNBC and several major newspapers.
Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science examined thousands of surveys of the area and found that the amount of seafloor covered with coral has decreased from 28% to 13.8% since 1985, with two-thirds of the decline occurring since 1998. They warned that if this trend continues, "coral cover could halve again by 2022."
The study attributed about half of this loss to intense tropical cyclones, which have caused significant damage to the central and southern parts of the reef and may become more intense as a result of climate change. Because coral reefs act as a protective buffer against tropical storms, this decline exacerbates the impact of storms on marine life and coastal communities.
Another major factor in reef decline is nutrient runoff from agriculture, which has led to "population explosions" of coral-consuming crown-of-thorns starfish along the edge of the reef. Rising ocean temperatures are also increasing the frequency and intensity of coral bleaching, which has had "major detrimental impacts" in the northern and central parts of the Great Barrier Reef. The researchers say this problem is "directly attributable to rising atmospheric greenhouse gases" and that "bleaching mortality will almost certainly increase" as temperatures continue to rise.
These threats -- combined with other problems like ocean acidification, overfishing, and coastal development -- have serious implications for the marine life that depends on the Great Barrier Reef and the millions of tourists who come to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
But ABC and NBC have yet to report on the reef's significant decline during their news broadcasts. Meanwhile, CBS, CNN and even Fox News covered the story, although CNN was the only network to explain on-air that human activity is contributing to the problem:
MSNBC, the Associated Press, USA TODAY, and The Wall Street Journal also did not cover the study.
Media outlets including the Associated Press and CNN are holding President Obama accountable for Mitt Romney's failure to lay out how he will pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts. But independent analysts have estimated that Romney's proposal would cut taxes by $5 trillion, with no specific plan to replace that revenue.
Did you hear that Barack Obama said something about wealth redistribution once? No, not that time. A different time, 14 years ago. Mitt Romney went on Fox News yesterday to talk about it, and now a slew of media outlets are quoting Romney contrasting himself with 1998-version Obama, saying he strongly disagrees with the very concept of wealth redistribution: "We believe in free people and free enterprise, not redistribution. The right course for America is to create growth, create wealth, not to redistribute wealth."
Romney's interviewer, Neil Cavuto, did nothing to challenge Romney on this, but that's really not surprising given that he's less a "journalist" and more a cheerleader for plutocracy. But a number of media outlets simply quoted Romney trashing "redistribution" without noting that Romney has boasted that his tax plan will "keep the current progressivity of the code." That is no different from saying: "My tax plan continues the current policy of wealth redistribution."
Here's Romney himself describing his own tax scheme to NBC's David Gregory on Meet the Press last week:
ROMNEY: Well, I can tell you that people at the high end, high income taxpayers, are going to have fewer deductions and exemptions. Those-- those numbers are going to come down. Otherwise, they'd get a tax break. And I want to make sure people understand, despite what the Democrats said at their convention. I am not reducing taxes on high income taxpayers. I'm bringing down the rate of taxation, but also bringing down deductions and exemptions at the high end so the revenues stay the same, the taxes people pay stay the same. Middle income people are going to get a break. But at the high end, the tax coming in stays the same.
We're going to take Romney's words at face value here, even though analysts across the board say the numbers in his plan don't add up. Romney wants to eliminate tax deductions and loopholes that "high income taxpayers" currently enjoy. That way, their tax burden stays the same, and Romney can afford to reduce the tax burden on "middle income people." That is wealth redistribution, plain and simple.
Indeed, Romney said as much himself in the same interview, claiming that his plan maintains the "progressivity" of the tax code:
ROMNEY: Well, because first of all I've got Princeton, Harvard, Wall Street Journal and AEI all saying actually that we can bring down the rates. And if we limit or eliminate some of the loopholes and deductions at the high end, we keep the current progressivity of the code and we get the same revenue coming into the government. And one marvelous thing we get is more growth of the economy. And my-- my-- my tax policy is designed to find a way to encourage more-- more hiring in this-- in this country. I'm-- I'm very concerned that we have 23 million people that are out of work or stopped looking for work or under-employed. And so everything I want to do with regards to taxation follows simple principles, which is bring our rates down to encourage growth, keep revenue up by limiting deductions and exemptions and make sure we don't put any bigger burden on middle income people. In fact, I want to lower the burden on middle income people.
So when he Romney says something like "the right course for America is to create growth, create wealth, not to redistribute wealth," someone should ask the Republican nominee if his own policies risk throwing the country off "the right course."
A Media Matters analysis finds that Fox News has aided Republican efforts to make Solyndra the face of clean energy in 2012 by incessantly covering it a year after the company declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have disproportionately hosted opponents of clean energy to discuss Solyndra, and uncritically repeated allegations that Solyndra's loan guarantee was politically motivated, even though a yearlong investigation has found no evidence to support the "crony capitalism" narrative.
Yesterday, after the Treasury Department announced that total public debt has surpassed $16 trillion, a number of media outlets quoted vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan attacking President Obama for not reducing said debt. "Of all the broken promises from President Obama, this is probably the worst one because this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," said Ryan in Iowa, stumping for Mitt Romney. That debt, however, didn't create itself. It's primarily the product of Bush-era policies that Paul Ryan voted to enact -- a fact that was lost in the coverage of Ryan attacking the debt he helped create.
Uncritical quotation of Ryan's debt attack abounds -- NBC, ABC, the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and so on. But as Ezra Klein pointed out during last week's Republican National Convention, which featured a prominently displayed debt clock in the convention hall, the majority of current debt can be laid at the feet of George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress of the early 2000s.
The specific Bush-era policies driving debt, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are the tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bailouts of Wall Street and Fannie and Freddie. Economic recovery measures put in place under Obama, i.e. the stimulus, play a comparatively miniscule part in the total debt picture.
Paul Ryan voted for the tax cuts. He voted for the wars. He voted for TARP. Every Bush-era policy that ballooned the debt to its current level got the Paul Ryan stamp of approval. And if press outlets are going to quote him saying "this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," they should note that this "threat" is partially of his own creation.
This evening, each of the three broadcast networks aired interviews they did today with vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan. Given the widespread criticism of Ryan's speech to the Republican national convention last night, you would expect the networks to use the opportunity to press Ryan on his many false and misleading attacks on President Obama identified by multiple fact-checking sites and news outlets. NBC and CBS did just that. ABC's Diane Sawyer, however, didn't ask about the speech at all, opting instead to quiz Ryan about childhood photos of himself, get his thoughts on the convention's national debt clock, and discuss his dislike of raisins.
Here's Sawyer's interview with Ryan. She did ask Ryan whether the campaign would offer more specifics on Romney's tax proposal, but the question was sandwiched between several layers of fluff.
By way of contrast, here's the portion of CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley's interview that aired tonight. In it, Pelley pressed Ryan on his claim last night that President Obama was responsible for the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, noting that Standard & Poor's, the agency that issued the downgrade, laid blame at the feet of Congressional Republicans.
On Wednesday, scientists announced that melting over the Greenland ice sheet has already "shattered the seasonal record" set in 2010, with four weeks left before the end of the melting season. Scientists say this record melting is driven by rising Arctic temperatures and could have serious consequences for the environment and coastal communities. But the major media outlets are once again failing to report on clear evidence that our climate is changing.
Professor Marco Tedesco, whose research was sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, examined satellite data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and found that Greenland has "experienced extreme melting in nearly every region" this year. He concluded: "With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a goliath year - the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979."
Tedesco looked at the extent and duration of melting to determine the "cumulative melting index," which measures the "strength" of the melting season. The following chart illustrates that by early August, Greenland's melting index was already higher than at any time in the past 30 years:
Tedesco attributed his findings to rising temperatures in the Arctic, noting that accelerated melting and ice sheet thinning are consistent with models of the effects of climate change. But, he added, "the difference is how quickly this seems to be happening."
After incessantly covering the bankruptcy of Solyndra, the television media has largely overlooked the failure of a Massachusetts solar company championed by then-Governor Mitt Romney. The major cable and broadcast networks have failed to point out Romney's flip-flop on government clean energy investments, which he supported in Massachusetts and which enjoyed bipartisan support before the GOP turned Solyndra into a political punch line.
Mitt Romney has made Solyndra a central part of his campaign message, calling it a symbol of "crony capitalism" even though an extensive investigation has turned up "no evidence of wrongdoing." Earlier this month, Romney made a campaign stop at Solyndra's headquarters to lambaste the Obama administration's investments in clean energy. Many news outlets covered the event without mentioning that Romney made similar investments in renewable energy companies as Governor of Massachusetts.
Shortly after taking office in January 2003, Romney held a press conference at Konarka Technologies to award the company a $1.5 million loan as part of a new Green Energy Fund. Romney predicted the state-backed venture capital fund would "become a major economic springboard for the Commonwealth by focusing on job creation in the renewable energy sector." Since then, three of the twelve companies supported by the Green Energy Fund have gone bankrupt or been sold at a loss.
Konarka Technologies declared bankruptcy on June 1 -- the day after Romney's press conference at Solyndra. Since then, the major cable (CNN, MSNBC, Fox) and broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) networks have discussed Konarka only four times, for a total of about 15 minutes.* By contrast, the same networks spent over ten hours covering Solyndra in the weeks following its bankruptcy announcement.
Konarka's failure does not detract from the overall success of Massachusetts' green energy investments, most of which "continue to thrive" according to William Osborn, a general partner at the Green Energy Fund. Osborn told the Associated Press that the program anticipated some failures given the inherent risk associated with these investments:
Osborn said the loss of three companies out of a dozen isn't unusual in the venture capital world, which inherently involves some risk. He defended the decision to invest in Konarka, saying that in 2003 it was impossible to foresee the scale of investment that China would place on solar manufacturing -- the same pressure that officials at Solyndra cited as a key reason for its failure.
Similarly, Congress set aside ample funds to cover any losses from the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program, anticipating that not all investments would be successful -- a point that was largely overlooked by mainstream news outlets. And despite the media's attempt to paint this program as a failure, only 2 out of 26 loan guarantee recipients have filed for bankruptcy, and the majority of the loans are low-risk. As Grist noted, the loan program's failure rate is far lower than that of private venture capital investments in clean energy.
The jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning showed that 115,000 jobs were created in April, and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 percent. Reacting to the report on Fox & Friends, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called it "very, very disappointing" and said: "We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery."
Romney's comments were reported by ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others. In each instance, these outlets simply quoted Romney's target for job growth of 500,000-plus per month.
Some context is sorely needed here.
Since 1939, monthly job growth has exceeded 500,000 a grand total of sixteen times, according to BLS. It's happened only five times since the end of the Eisenhower administration: March 1978, April 1978, September 1983, September 1997, and May 2010.
To put that in perspective, monthly job growth that exceeds 500,000 happens with roughly the same frequency as perfect games in baseball, of which there have been 19 since 1900. (Not an exact comparison, of course, but it illustrates the infrequency.)
The vanishing rarity of such explosive job creation should have been mentioned when reporting Romney's call for sustained growth at that rate.
From the April 29 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
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A Media Matters report released this week found that broadcast news coverage of climate change has dropped significantly since 2009, despite a series of key developments in climate science and politics.
Last year, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX spent a total of only 47 minutes discussing climate change. The same networks spent more than twice as much time covering Donald Trump's presidential ambitions and his fruitless investigation into President Obama's birth certificate.
For more on broadcast coverage of climate change, check out the full study here.
A Media Matters analysis shows that as a whole, news coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline between August 1 and December 31 favored pipeline proponents. Although the project would create few long-term employment opportunities, the pipeline was primarily portrayed as a jobs issue. Pro-pipeline voices were quoted more frequently than those opposed, and dubious industry estimates of job creation were uncritically repeated 5 times more often than they were questioned. Meanwhile, concerns about the State Department's review process and potential environmental consequences were often overlooked, particularly by television outlets.
Last week, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that hinders enforcement of federal light bulb efficiency standards that were signed into law by President Bush in 2007. Conservative media have repeatedly misled consumers about the standards, and now ABC's flagship nightly news program is adding to the misinformation.
On ABC World News, Diane Sawyer called the measure "a small victory ... for those who like their light bulbs the old-fashioned way." Jonathan Karl suggested that the "light bulb ban" would require consumers to buy "new bulbs [that] are funny looking, dimmer and more expensive."
Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a summary report on the risks posed by climate disasters. The report says climate change will likely worsen certain extreme weather events like heat waves, floods, droughts and storms.
This could be costly for the U.S., which has already experienced a record number of weather disasters this year, resulting in economic costs of almost $50 billion. The report discusses strategies for reducing vulnerability to extreme weather events.
The panel's findings have been reported by every major print outlet in the U.S., but have been almost entirely ignored by the television news media, including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC and CBS. The only mention of the U.N. report on a major TV news outlet was a segment on NBC Nightly News.