Broadcast nightly news shows were silent on the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) landmark proposal that will empower Internet providers to control online content, a decision that could dramatically -- and devastatingly -- reshape the digital landscape and the principle of net neutrality.
On April 23, the FCC announced plans to propose new rules to allow companies to pay internet providers to speed up customers' access to their websites. As the Washington Post reported, the proposal "could give high-speed Internet providers more power on what content moves the fastest on the Web based on which firms pay the most." It's an open Internet rule that could wipe away net neutrality, the principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers.
Since the FCC announced the proposal, none of the broadcast nightly news shows - neither ABC, CBS, nor NBC - have acknowledged the move. This is not the first time evening broadcast shows neglected to give airtime to this topic; on January 14 when the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidated the FCC's requirement for net neutrality that lead to the new rule proposal, these same networks did not even acknowledge the ruling in their evening broadcasts.
It's a disappointing, but not surprising, omission. 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.
Giant corporations like Comcast win under the FCC's proposal, as Time explained:
Under the FCC's new plan, Internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T "would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers," according to an FCC spokesperson. The companies would also be prohibited from blocking or discriminating against online content, but they would be allowed to strike special deals with Internet companies like Netflix or Skype for preferential treatment, as long as they acted in a "commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis."
The dismantling of net neutrality laws will allow such corporations to promote their own content at the expense of smaller competitors. As PCWorld explained:
Net neutrality advocates fear that without rules in place, big companies like Netflix, Disney, and ESPN could gain advantage over competitors by paying ISPs to provide preferential treatment to their company's data. For example, YouTube might pay extra so that its videos load faster than Hulu's on the ISP's network.
We've already seen shades of What Could Happen in AT&T's Sponsored Data and Comcast's decision to have the Xfinity TV streaming app for the Xbox 360 not count against Comcast subscribers' data caps.
Comcast could soon be even larger. The NBC parent company is currently looking to merge with cable giant Time Warner Cable Inc., and could potentially gain control of one-third of the U.S. broadband market if the merger is approved. As OpenSecrets noted, both Comcast and Time Warner Cable are against net neutrality, and "spent about $19 million and $8 million on lobbying respectively last year," making them the sixth highest federal lobbying spender.
It's not only smaller companies, but the public that will be harmed by the FCC's ruling. The New York Times noted the warning by consumer advocates that "higher costs to content providers could be passed on to the public," and could stymie startup innovation. As Vox wrote:
Allowing big companies to pay for prioritized access to consumers flies in the face of the internet's egalitarian ideals, which allow anyone or any company free access to a vibrant market free of tolls or restrictions -- allow service providers like Comcast and AT&T to start creating artificial barriers to entry, and you make it harder for the next generation of college kids to start the next Facebook or Google.
The final decision from the FCC on net neutrality rules remains to be seen. But the failure of the nation's broadcast news to acknowledge the proposed rules suggests an allegiance closer to the interests of their corporate parents than to those of their public audience.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening network broadcast news on ABC, CBS, and NBC from April 23, 2014 through April 25, 2014. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: FCC, Federal Communications Commission, internet, or net neutrality.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams.
Conservatives are cheering S.E. Cupp's false claim that the gun safety coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has "crumbled" with its member mayors fleeing in droves.
Last week former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he plans to spend $50 million on gun safety efforts, in part through the new group Everytown for Gun Safety, an umbrella organization that merges MAIG and the grassroots organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America.
During an appearance on ABC's This Week, Cupp, a host for both CNN and Glenn Beck's network The Blaze, claimed that "Mayors Against Illegal Guns has crumbled because he duped mayors into thinking they were actually going to fight illegal guns. And when they all found out actually they were going after law abiding gun owners, they said that's not what I want to be a part of. His efforts are duplicitous and they're measurably failing." Cupp's remarks were subsequently trumpeted across the right-wing media.
In fact, MAIG currently counts as members "a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 current and former mayors from nearly every state." While some mayors have left the group over the years -- at times while seeking the Republican nomination for higher office -- MAIG's overall membership has dramatically increased in recent years, from 15 mayors at its founding to 450 members in 2009 to roughly 850 in January 2013 to its current level.
Likewise, Cupp's claim that the gun safety effort is "failing" ignores reality. While federal legislation received a majority vote in the Senate but was blocked by a filibuster last year, gun safety efforts resulted in major executive actions; legislative packages passed in New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, California, and Delaware, among others; and the appointment of the first permanent director of the ATF since 2006. Championing gun safety in a swing state and with the support of Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC, Terry McAuliffe and Mark Herring were elected governor and attorney general of Virginia.
Two Media Matters analyses suggest that over 85 percent of those quoted in the media about climate change are men. Several top women in the field denounced this disparity, noting that women will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
A review of a recent Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of the U.N. climate reports found that women made up less than 15 percent of interviewees. A look back at our analysis of broadcast coverage of climate change unearthed the same stark disparity: less than 14 percent of those quoted on the nightly news shows and Sunday shows in 2013 were women.
Allison Chin, the former president of the Sierra Club, decried this gender gap in a statement to Media Matters:
The gender imbalance among those quoted on the climate crisis is striking, particularly since women around the world are more vulnerable to the dangers of climate disruption and among the most active in the movement for solutions. Globally, existing inequalities give women less access and less control over resources and make them more susceptible to the worst effects of extreme weather. The last thing the media should do is amplify that divide by only covering one set of perspectives.
Rebecca Lefton, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and an expert in international climate change policy and gender equality agreed, telling Media Matters that this is an environmental justice issue because "women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in developing countries." Indeed, studies show, for instance, that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of extreme weather disasters, some of which are exacerbated by climate change, in part because they are more likely to be poor. Lefton added, "Without women's voices we lose the perspective of half of the population and without women's participation, the transition to a cleaner economy will be slower."
The lack of women's voices in climate change conversations in the media is not due to a shortage of powerful women in climate policy and communications. U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, who is in charge of negotiating a global climate treaty, noted in March that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt." The last two heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is slated to come out with carbon pollution standards for future power plants, were both women -- current administrator Gina McCarthy and former administrator Lisa Jackson.
Media Matters has previously found that women make up only about a quarter of guests on the Sunday morning talk shows and weekday evening cable news segments on the economy. However, the gender gap on climate change conversations is even starker. One contributing factor may be that the climate sciences have experienced a "female brain drain," according to Scientific American, as have many other scientific fields. This "female brain drain" is also evident in the largely male leadership of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Women that do enter the field often face discrimination. Two prominent female climate scientists, Heidi Cullen and Katherine Hayhoe, have both been dismissed by Rush Limbaugh as "babe[s]." Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who is one of the stars of a new Showtime series on climate change, told E&E News that much of the internet harassment she receives focuses on her gender:
The final installment of the U.N.'s top climate report, which calls for prompt, extensive action to avoid calamitous impacts from climate change, garnered relatively little attention from the major print, cable and broadcast media outlets compared to the first installment. However, coverage of the third report rightfully gave far less space to those who cast doubt on the science.
Over the past year, broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC failed to mention the role of reduced taxes on the wealthy as a cause of inequality, despite the fact that economists view taxes as a primary driver of income gaps.
The Department of Energy's clean energy loan program helped fuel the achievements of electric car company Tesla Motors, yet the major broadcast, cable and print media only mentioned the loan in 20 percent of their coverage of Tesla in 2013 (and in only 7 percent of coverage of Nissan's best-selling electric car, the Leaf). Meanwhile, 84 percent of coverage of Fisker, an electric car company that declared bankruptcy, mentioned its federal loan. This skewed coverage may have misinformed the public about the overwhelmingly positive success rate of the program.
On national equal pay day, ABC's World News served as an example of how the media should be covering the gender wage gap, emphasizing the significant economic benefits of equal pay and simultaneously shooting down the right-wing media spin that dismisses the issue.
On April 8, President Obama signed two executive orders aimed at closing the gender wage gap, beginning with federal contractors. One executive order makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who discuss salaries. President Obama also signed an executive memorandum that "instructs the Labor Department to collect statistics on pay for men and women from such contractors." The president then called on Congress to pass legislation that would have much more impact.
April 8 also marked the observance of Equal Pay Day, an awareness campaign to educate the public about the pay discrepancy between working men and women in the United States. National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill says the date marks "the number of extra days into 2014 the average woman has to work to earn as much as her male counterpart did in 2013."
On the April 8 edition of World News, host Diane Sawyer and correspondent Mara Schiavocampo shined a light on the gender pay gap, lending the issue the emphasis it deserves by highlighting the significant beneficial impact closing the gap would have on women and the overall economy as well as the necessity of President Obama's executive orders.
Sawyer and Schiavocampo championed President Obama's executive order barring employer retaliation against employees that discuss salaries, and explained that this is necessary because "half of all workers say they are required to stay silent about their salary." Many women may not be aware of pay discrimination due to company policies that prohibit salary discussions -- a 2011 survey by the Institute for Women's Policy Research revealed that "[a]lmost half of all workers (48.4 percent) responded that they were either prohibited or strongly discouraged from discussing their earnings with colleagues."
Schiavocampo also deserves credit for highlighting the substantial effect closing the pay gap would have, noting that "if women could eliminate that pay gap, the average working woman could pay for more than a year's worth of food in California, 10 months of rent in Georgia, and more than 1,900 gallons of gas in Florida." Schiavocampo also pointed out that action such as Obama's executive order would allow "women to ask for more without fear of losing their jobs":
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the first quarter of 2014. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA and the minimum wage are causes of poor job growth.
CNN devoted less than two minutes to a report by top international climate experts, who warned of hunger problems, coastal flooding and other calamitous impacts if climate change is left unchecked. The network's coverage stands in stark contrast to other cable news networks, which devoted an average of over 22 minutes to the report, and broadcast nightly news programs, some of which led with the report.
A national coalition of organizations has signed a letter to four major broadcast network heads expressing their concern over the failure of broadcast evening news programs to note the public cost of low wages.
A recently released Media Matters report found that over the past year, evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS have been largely silent about the burden that low minimum wages place on the financial security of public safety net programs. The report found that from March 1, 2013, through March 10, 2014, the networks only mentioned the reliance of minimum wage workers on federal, state, and local anti-poverty programs such as food assistance and welfare programs eight times, with PBS providing the majority.
22 national organizations that advocate on behalf of the millions of workers that would benefit from a minimum wage increase wrote the heads of the broadcast networks to express their "deep concern" over coverage of "the impact of low minimum wages on hard-working Americans, their families, and our country":
When it comes to growing our economy and improving the livelihoods of workers, it's increasingly imperative that your evening news programs cover the cost of inaction. Because of low wages, many workers in the fast food industry alone -- many of whom make wages at or just above the current minimum wage -- are forced to rely on government assistance to the tune of almost $7 billion annually. Additionally, a recent analysis found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce necessary spending on food stamps by $4.6 billion annually.
Your evening news programs reach millions of Americans every night and frequently set the tone for how this issue is debated at the kitchen table, state legislatures, and the Halls of Congress. We urge you to correct this oversight and hope you will take greater action in the future to ensure that these programs tell the full story. We are happy to meet with you to discuss ways to make your minimum wage coverage more informative.
The full letter can be read below:
Despite mounting evidence that low minimum wages put pressure on government finances through the need for expanded safety net programs, over the past year, evening news programs on four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- have been largely silent about the public cost of low wages.
When the State Department released its final Environmental Impact Statement, nearly all the headlines read the same: "Report Opens Way to Approval for Keystone Pipeline" and "State Dept. Keystone XL Would Have Little Impact On Climate Change." Yet after Reuters broke the news last week that the State Department was wrong in its predictions of greatly expanded rail capacity, undermining its claim of no climate impact, no major media outlet amplified the report.
In a report released late on Friday, January 31, the State Department concluded that Keystone XL was "unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas" based on the assumption that if the pipeline were not built, the equivalent amount of tar sands would instead be transported by rail. It was this finding that the media trumpeted, largely ignoring that buried in the analysis, the State Department for the first time acknowledged that under some studied scenarios, the project could have the equivalent climate impact of adding 5.7 million new cars to the road. The idea that the Keystone XL would not harm the climate led many to declare that President Barack Obama should approve the pipeline, even spurring MSNBC host Ed Schultz to call for approval (before later reversing his stance) and liberal commentator James Carville to predict that the pipeline would be built.
On March 5, Reuters added to skepticism that locking in infrastructure enabling tar sands extraction would have no climate impact, reporting that the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had significantly overestimated the amount of tar sands that would move by rail from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The draft EIS projected that about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) would be moved along this route by rail before the end of 2013. However, a Reuters analysis found that "even in December, when deliveries were near their highest for the year, that tally did not top 40,000 bpd" -- less than a quarter of the State Department's prediction. The final EIS removed any specific projections of movement by rail.
Not a single major media outlet has reported on Reuters' finding, according to a Media Matters search.* In fact, some continued to repeat the State Department's claim that Keystone XL could be replaced by rail without mentioning the report.
Much of the initial coverage of the State Department's final EIS left out that an investigation at the time was looking into whether the contractor that wrote the report for the State Department had a conflict of interest in part because it was a member of the pro-pipeline American Petroleum Institute (API). The investigation later concluded that it did not, but environmentalists still contended it was based on too low of a bar. In fact, API told reporters prior to the final EIS release that it received news from inside the State Department about the timing and conclusions of the report, allowing it to spin the findings to reporters beforehand.
A massive spill of toxic coal ash in a North Carolina river on February 2 has been entirely ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC. The spill has led to a federal investigation and allegations that the state's Governor -- who worked for the corporation behind the spill and has received substantial campaign donations from it -- has been too lenient on the company, which was discovered to have spilled coal ash into the river again on February 18.
This week, all four major broadcast networks covered extreme weather and climate change on their Sunday morning political talk shows. Those programs have largely ignored global warming in recent years, making their effort to address the issue unusual and laudable. But several of the segments also demonstrated the vulnerability inherent in treating science as a political debate where both sides receive a platform to air their positions.
Major winter storms across the U.S. in the month of February, drought in California, and President Obama's call for a $1 billion climate change "resilience fund" sparked debates this week over the need for action against climate change. The science of global warming is settled: according to one survey, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that "humans are causing global warming." But the Sunday shows, because they are built on a model of showing political conflicts, have difficulty putting that fact in context.
ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press both featured debates between individuals who support and oppose the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, creating a false balance that could serve to confuse their viewers. Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, meanwhile, hosted a discussion in which no panelist stated that human-caused climate change is occurring while several claimed that it is not. CBS' Face the Nation, by contrast, featured an interview with a scientist who explained that "we know that climate change is happening and humans are contributing."
The broadcast Sunday shows devoted a paltry 27 minutes of coverage to climate change in 2013, according to a Media Matters study. Nearly 60 percent of that coverage came on Face the Nation; Meet the Press did not mention the issue all year. Face the Nation also featured the first interview of a scientist to discuss global warming by any of the programs in five years.
It's a good sign that the Sunday shows are addressing global warming, but treating it as just another political issue causes new complications.
Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."