Evening network news shows have largely ignored the filibuster brinkmanship of Senate Republicans in blocking President Obama's judicial nominees, as well as the resulting vacancy crisis at the important D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considered the most important court in the country after the Supreme Court, in part because many of its judges go on to become justices, and in part because it is by far the most powerful appellate check on the federal government. Since it is required to examine challenges to a wide range of federal action - from environmental regulations to consumer protections to voting rights - it has the ability to uphold or strike down law on a national level.
However, as another victim of relentless Republican filibustering and the ensuing inability to hold up-or-down votes on the president's nominees to the federal courts, the D.C. Circuit currently has nearly 40 percent of its judgeships vacant. A Nexis search of evening network news shows in the past six months indicates that this problem has been ignored by ABC, CBS, and NBC.
From the March 24 edition of ABC News' This Week With George Stephanopoulos:
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Media figures have repeatedly forwarded the notion that the United States is currently facing a debt crisis. However, leaders of both parties agree there is no immediate crisis, and by focusing attention too heavily on deficit and debt reduction, the media distract from the more imminent problem of growth and jobs.
Throughout news coverage of recent budget negotiations, media figures have consistently framed discussions around the notion that the country faces a debt crisis, an assertion that is often presented uncritically and accepted as an indisputable fact. Since discussions are predicated on the assumption that a debt crisis exists, ensuing analysis of budget proposals is often solely focused on how far they go in reducing short term deficits and debt.
While media are convinced that a debt crisis exists, leaders of both parties have made explicit statements to the contrary. In a March 12 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Obama claimed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt," a statement that was immediately criticized by conservative media. When asked if he agreed with Obama's statement regarding debt on the March 17 edition of ABC's This Week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceded that there is no immediate crisis. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a similar admission on CBS' Face the Nation, saying "we do not have a debt crisis right now."
Furthermore, the media's focus on a "debt crisis" has necessarily steered the debate about budgets toward how the parties will sufficiently address short term deficits. Economists, meanwhile, have repeatedly argued that undue focus on deficits and debt distracts from the more pressing need for economic growth and reduced unemployment.
The bipartisan admission that there is no immediate debt crisis provides media with an opportunity to reframe their budget negotiations coverage around economic growth.
Video by Alan Pyke.
On the same day that Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) high profile filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency received widespread media attention, another filibuster that blocked confirmation for one of President Obama's nominees went completely unnoticed by the broadcast networks and cable news channels.
Paul's filibuster, which delved into serious questions about drone policy and national security, touched off a robust debate in the media. Paul's talking filibuster garnered extensive media attention the same day. According to a Nexis search, Paul was featured in at least 20 news segments Wednesday: 9 on CNN, 6 on Fox News, 4 on MSNBC, and 1 on NBC.
By contrast, not a single broadcast network or cable news channel reported on the silent filibuster of Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
President Obama first nominated Halligan to the DC appellate court in September 2010. Senate Republicans blocked her nomination via filibuster in December 2011. Obama renominated Halligan on January 3, but Republicans again blocked her nomination on Wednesday when 40 Senate Republicans rejected a motion that would allow her confirmation to proceed to an up-or-down vote.
As The Washington Post noted, this GOP obstruction came in the face of widespread support for Halligan in the legal community:
Against the distorted view of Ms. Halligan's record that Republicans have offered stand the endorsements of prominent legal minds both liberal and conservative, a unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association and a storied career in public service and private practice.
While Paul's rare example of a talking filibuster attracted widespread media coverage, silent filibusters have become increasingly common tools to block Obama's nominees.
A November 2012 report from the Alliance for Justice illustrated how Senators' use of the filibuster on judicial nominations has increased drastically during the Obama administration:
The strategy comes amid what the Center for American Progress has described as a judicial vacancy crisis in the federal courts system.
The contrast between the media's extensive coverage of Paul's filibuster and the one used to block Halligan rejection is a testimony to how common the silent filibuster is under the Obama administration, and why it's important for the media not to go quiet.
Now that the Obama administration and Congress are engaged in a debate over immigration policy, a Media Matters review of major news outlets has found that when it comes to immigration coverage, anti-immigrant commentator Mark Krikorian continues to be the media's preferred conservative voice. Krikorian heads the Center for Immigration Studies, a group associated with notorious nativist John Tanton and whose research has been called into question -- but these facts are routinely ignored in coverage of his remarks.
ABC News published a story which quoted several members of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) but failed to disclose the organization's ties to nativist John Tanton, who is affiliated with a designated hate group, and ignored the organization's well-established credibility problems.
On January 14, ABC News reported on a conference held by CIS, which attacked "legalization programs for undocumented immigrants":
Analysts from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank that advocates reduced immigration levels and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws, said today that legalization programs for undocumented immigrants typically lead to fraud and increased illegal immigration.
ABC provided a platform for CIS representatives to voice their opposition to a variety of proposed immigration measures, but ABC failed to provide background on CIS, despite the group's long history of anti-immigrant rhetoric, ties to nativist organizations, and lack of credibility.
The Center for Immigration Studies was started in 1985 by John Tanton, an anti-immigrant nativist with ties to other anti-immigrant organizations such as NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Southern Poverty Law Center-labeled hate group. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Although you'd never know it to read its materials, CIS was started in 1985 by a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton -- a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials. CIS' creation was part of a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at creating a set of complementary institutions to cultivate the nativist cause -- groups including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA. As is shown in Tanton's correspondence, lodged in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Tanton came up with the idea in the early 1980s for "a small think tank" that would "wage the war of ideas."
And while Tanton never actually ran CIS, his correspondence shows that as late as 1994, nine years after it was started, Tanton, who remains on FAIR's board of directors today, saw himself as setting the "proper roles for FAIR and CIS." He raised millions of dollars for the think tank and published the writings of top CIS officials in his racist journal, The Social Contract. He maneuvered a friend on to the board of CIS -- a man who shared his interest in eugenics and who attended events with Tanton where white nationalists gave presentations. Through it all, CIS pumped out study after study aimed at highlighting immigration's negative effects.
ABC also failed to note that CIS studies have also been the subject of frequent criticism. The Southern Poverty Law Center has previously called into question the group's findings, stating that CIS often reaches baseless conclusions which are "either false or virtually without any supporting evidence." The Center for New Community has also scrutinized CIS and even warned professional journalists that CIS is not a "credible voice in the debate on immigration."
One of ABC's sources, CIS executive director Mark Krikorian, has a history of making insensitive remarks about other ethnic groups. He has previously claimed that "Haiti's so screwed up because it wasn't colonized long enough," that foreign-nationals who aren't raised in the United States could become terrorists, and that Muslims are a "vicious people." In addition, Krikorian has stated that the United States should deny pregnant women entry to the U.S. because someone "visiting Disneyland" could give their child American citizenship (while referring to said child using the derogatory phrase "anchor baby"). None of Krikorian's past rhetoric was documented by ABC.
Unfortunately, ABC isn't the only major news outlet to treat CIS as a reasonable voice in the immigration debate. The nation's top seven newspapers cited CIS and other anti-immigrant groups over 250 times from January 2010 through June 2012. The New York Times cited the group several times despite publishing an exposé on the organizations unsavory ties with Tanton. NPR has also featured Krikorian as an alternative voice to Jose Antonio Vargas during an immigration debate, despite his harsh views on immigration.
A Media Matters analysis found that the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC largely ignored climate change in 2012, despite record-breaking temperatures and a series of extreme weather events in the U.S. By contrast, PBS NewsHour devoted almost twice as many segments to climate change as the other networks combined.
When the National Climatic Data Center announced Tuesday that 2012 was the hottest year in recorded history for the contiguous U.S., broadcast networks admirably devoted segments connecting the announcement to climate change. But for most of the year they turned a blind eye to climate change, even while reporting on its consequences. Together, the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC devoted only 12 segments to climate change in 2012. PBS' coverage stood out, with its nightly news program dedicating 23 segments to the issue:
PBS' coverage included interviews with 29 climate scientists -- more than ABC, CBS and NBC combined. In September, the program made the mistake of seeking false balance in its reporting, giving non-expert Anthony Watts a platform to cast doubt on the science of climate change. PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler later criticized the segment, noting that it is "wrong to create an artificial or false equivalence" between the views of climate "skeptics" and the established science. But in the majority of its coverage, PBS acknowledged the scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet and turned to climate experts to educate its audience on the causes and impacts of climate change.
The news shows of the major networks ABC, NBC, and CBS did not report on the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired after the House failed to reauthorize it by the close of the 112th Congress on Tuesday. The reauthorization of the law was blocked by House Republicans over provisions that extended domestic violence protection to immigrants, LGBT Americans, and Native Americans.
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.