As wildfires swept through southern California over the past week, experts warned that the state is in for an especially dangerous wildfire season due to unusually hot and dry conditions. But in their coverage of the fires, several of California's major newspapers have entirely ignored how climate change has increased wildfire risks in the region.
California's wildfire season kicked off early this year, with record temperatures, heavy winds and ongoing drought conditions fueling fires across the state that have threatened thousands of homes and businesses. California has already experienced 680 wildfires this year -- about 200 more than average for this period -- and the National Interagency Fire Service is predicting "above normal" potential for significant fires in northern and southern California this season. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing for a higher number of significant fires across the West.
Climate experts warn that rising global temperatures are already leading to more frequent and more severe wildfires and longer fire seasons in the Southwest, calling large fires like those in California "the new normal." But several major print outlets in California have failed to make this connection, even after Governor Jerry Brown noted the link Monday.
The San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and U-T San Diego have not mentioned climate change while reporting on the recent fires. These papers also printed several stories from the Associated Press, none of which mentioned climate change. By contrast, the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times mentioned climate change in 33 percent and 27 percent of coverage, respectively.
As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
As the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens today, some in the press have been caught up in a swoon over the former president.
Pundits from the center and the avowed left called on critics to re-examine the former president as a "good man with a good heart," while those on the right declare that "Bush is Back." Political analysts are compiling lists of "The 7 best moments of George W. Bush's presidency" and highlighting polls indicating that Bush is more popular now than he was in office. And Fox News has pulled out all the stops, lining up their Bush-administration-officials-turned-Fox-employees to sing the former president's praises.
Presidential historians and veteran reporters who covered the Bush White House are speaking out, saying that reporting on the Bush library and legacy should put his failures in their proper context.
The academics point out that while some of Bush's defenders in the press have said that the Bush legacy is a question for history, historians largely pan his tenure. And the veteran reporters who covered Bush's presidency urge that coverage of the presidential library provide a complete accounting of his tenure in office, including its many missteps.
"The press needs to take a really cold-eyed look at the circumstances ... look at the state of the country and world on Jan. 20, 2001 and eight years later," said Ed Chen, former Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg correspondent who covered the White House from 1999 to 2010. "Were mistakes made? Sure, the whole WMD fiasco ... it sure has a long way to go for anything close to a full rehabilitation."
Chen later added, "Of the three [presidents] that I covered, we have to put Bush at the bottom."
Several top presidential historians echoed Chen's low-ranking view, noting a week of positive coverage cannot erase that.
"Right now he's ranked as one of the lower presidents because of the War in Iraq and the economy tanking so he's got a long way to go to get rehabilitated," said Douglas Brinkley, a top presidential historian and author. "It is a long revisionist road up from the bottom for George W. Bush. He is ranked toward the bottom rung of presidents."
Indeed, surveys of historians regularly find Bush ranked among the worst of U.S. presidents.
Having toured the new library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Brinkley described it as having a "compassionate conservative motif" for Bush, adding, "I was surprised how much wall space was given to AIDS in Africa, marine conservation, No Child Left Behind. I got the feeling that the Bush crowd was trying to paint their president as more of a centrist than many people feel."
But Brinkley stressed that whatever positive image is being attempted this week cannot rewrite his presidency.
"I don't think it matters two weeks from now, it is a building opening and people tend to be jubilant," he said. "It's the beginning of revisionism of a presidency."
The Associated Press is making an unsupported claim that the Obama administration knew electric automaker Fisker was missing milestones required for its loan guarantee well before it froze the loan in mid-2011 by taking newly obtained documents out of context.
The AP article, published the day of a House hearing on the loan guarantee granted to the troubled company, appears to be based on what a Department of Energy official characterized in an email to Media Matters as "selectively released" documents from Republican politicians leading that hearing.
The article's lede claims that the documents "show that the Obama administration was warned as early as 2010 that electric car maker Fisker Automotive Inc. was not meeting milestones set up for a half-billion dollar government loan, nearly a year before U.S. officials froze the loan." However, neither of the documents it cites substantiates that claim.
The first document was an internal email speculating that Fisker could miss a milestone that it met five days later, as AP noted six paragraphs in:
Aoife McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said the June 2010 email was taken out of context.
"The document shows that one person at a meeting discussed the possibility that Fisker might not meet a financial commitment" required by the Energy Department, McCarthy said in an email late Tuesday. DOE received the needed certification five days later and subsequently made the loan payment, she said.
The second document is from April 2010 -- before the loan agreement had even been officially closed -- and thus before milestones had kicked in, as a DOE official explained in an email to Media Matters (emphasis added):
A Media Matters analysis of news coverage of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline since the 2012 election shows that the media continue to largely ignore the risk of an oil spill, while promoting the economic benefits of the project. Meanwhile, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal have dismissed Keystone XL's climate impacts, instead serving as a platform for the pipeline's champions.
First lady Michelle Obama has responded to conservative criticism over her Academy Awards appearance, saying it was "absolutely not surprising" that her participation in the ceremony set off a national conversation.
On February 24, Obama made a surprise appearance via satellite at the 85th Academy Awards where she helped announce the Best Picture Oscar winner. Academy officials invited the first lady to take part in the presentation.
Following the first lady's appearance, right-wing media falsely suggested that her participation was unprecedented, ignoring that former presidents and former first lady Laura Bush had previously participated in the ceremony. Right-wing media also smeared Obama, calling her appearance "obscene" and claiming she made the ceremony about her.
Obama responded to that criticism on Thursday, saying it was "absolutely not surprising." From the Associated Press:
Michelle Obama says it was "absolutely not surprising" to her that her satellite appearance at the Academy Awards ceremony provoked a national conversation about whether it was appropriate, after some conservative critics accused her of selfishly crashing the event in an attempt to upstage it.
She attributed the chatter to a culture shift that has spawned legions of bloggers, tweeters and others who talk about anything and everything all the time.
"Shoot, my bangs set off a national conversation. My shoes can set off a national conversation. That's just sort of where we are. We've got a lot of talking going on," the first lady said only somewhat jokingly Thursday before an appearance in Chicago, her hometown. "It's like everybody's kitchen-table conversation is now accessible to everybody else so there's a national conversation about anything."
A group named Donors Trust has been funneling far more money than ExxonMobil ever did to climate denial groups, but because the source of the funds remains largely hidden, the public has been unable to pressure the donations to stop as they did with Exxon. A small portion of Donors Trust's funding was recently revealed by the Center for Public Integrity, yet even that small portion has significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as "conservative and libertarian causes," serving as "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement." Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you "wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues," you can use it to direct your money.
One of the "controversial issues" that Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund have bankrolled is the campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and delay any government action to reduce emissions.* The following chart created by The Guardian based on data from Greenpeace shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
Several of these organizations have sown confusion about the science demonstrating climate change. The Heartland Institute, which The Economist called the "world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change," received over $14 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, making up over a quarter of Heartland's budget. in 2010. In 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate science to The Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Fidel Castro. Several corporate donors distanced themselves from the organization, but Donors Trust made no comment. Heartland removed the billboard soon afterward but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Meanwhile, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) received over $4 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, accounting for over 45 percent of CFACT's budget in 2010. The highest-paid member of CFACT's staff is Marc Morano, who runs a website that pushes misleading attacks on climate science. Morano defended Heartland's billboard and said that climate scientists "deserve to be publicly flogged." Despite Morano's sordid background, CNN twice hosted him to "debate climate change and if it is really real" without disclosing that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization. CFACT lists the Forbes columns of Larry Bell, who calls global warming a "hoax," as "CFACT research and commentary." The organization is advised by several prominent climate misinformers, including Lord Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has revealed the sources of approximately $18.8 million of Donors Trust's funding from 2008 to 2011, culled from Internal Revenue Service filings. That leaves over $281 million in anonymous funds during that period, assuming that the organization gives out approximately as much as it takes in each year.
While the individuals and corporations funding Donors Trust remain largely hidden, we know that at least five separate foundations connected to Koch Industries have given over $3.8 million to Donors Trust in recent years. Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the largest privately owned company in the U.S. and controls several oil refineries and pipelines.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli proposed an agreement with power companies that would repeal state incentives for clean energy programs and save the companies money, but the Associated Press and the Richmond Times-Dispatch failed to note that Cuccinelli, who is running for governor in 2013, recently received major contributions from Dominion Power, Koch Industries, and other companies that could directly or indirectly profit from the proposed agreement.
From the Times-Dispatch:
Customers of Virginia's two big electric power companies likely will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 12 years under an agreement worked out between the state Attorney General's Office and the utilities.
The proposal would repeal the state's bonuses for renewable energy programs and building fossil-fuel power plants. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said in a report in November that the bonuses have not produced intended environmental gains or encouraged power plant construction.
The article noted that the proposal would "reduce Dominion Virginia Power's revenue requirements by $38.5 million," and provide the following benefits to the power companies:
• expanding the financial performance limits defining when the companies "overearn" or "underearn" compared with their state-authorized rate of return; and
• allowing utilities to recover the costs of catastrophic natural events and early power plant closings, because of new environmental rules or factors beyond the companies' control, during the biennial review period they occur for financial reporting purposes.
A Dominion Power statement called the proposal "another step forward for Dominion Virginia Power's customers."
Neither the Times-Dispatch nor the Associated Press mentioned that Cuccinelli has recently received $10,000 in campaign contributions from Dominion Power's political action committee and another $50,000 from the Koch brothers, who are deeply invested in the oil and gas industry. Other large contributions from the fossil fuel industry have been recorded, including Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company notorious for its dangerously poor safety record.
In reporting that North Carolina is likely to enact a voter ID law that was vetoed by the former governor, the Associated Press failed to acknowledge the relationship between Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and photo requirements that threaten the right to vote. Federal courts have found voter ID laws with photo requirements to be impermissible under Section 5, which bars states with a history of racial discrimination from changing election practices absent federal review.
Voter ID is a top priority for North Carolina Republicans, who gained control of both executive and legislative branches during the November state elections. Although the AP noted the opposition to this legislation, it reported it as a partisan counterargument:
[New Republican Governor] Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders pledged that if elected, they would undo vetoes from Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue that GOP legislators could not override because they lacked enough votes.
At the top of the list was the 2011 bill requiring voters to show photo identification to cast ballots in person.
North Carolina Republicans have said they wanted the photo ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections and discourage voter fraud. But Democrats and civil rights groups have accused Republicans of passing voter ID because many people who don't have photo identification - the poor and minorities - disproportionately vote Democratic. They say that fraud is extremely rare and that photo ID would erode voting rights expanded over the past 50 years.
The extreme rarity of in-person voter fraud is a fact, not just a Democratic rebuttal to the types of voter ID laws recently proposed by state Republicans across the country. Furthermore, federal judges who examined these laws under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the run-up to the 2012 elections issued extensive findings that these laws can impermissibly disenfranchise voters of color. Nevertheless, the AP reported these points as partisan opinion, in the same fashion it commented that "Democrats and civil rights groups" maintain photo ID laws "erode voting rights expanded over the past 50 years."
Voting rights have been protected for the past 50 years because of the VRA, historic civil rights legislation that the AP did not mention. Section 5 of the VRA, which requires that changes to election practices - such as photo voter ID laws - by states with a history of racial discrimination first be reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice or a federal court, has been indispensable. Judges have noted this key role of Section 5 in fighting Jim Crow in opinions that halted impermissibly discriminatory voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas, a history referenced by former North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue when she vetoed the voter ID law North Carolina Republicans are now poised to pass.
The relationship between Section 5 of the VRA and North Carolina is especially relevant because the state is partly covered by the provision, and was the source of a right-wing challenge to the law in Nix v. Holder. The Supreme Court accepted a similar challenge from Alabama, Shelby County v. Holder, and oral arguments on the fate of Section 5 are scheduled for February 27.
A full understanding of why voter ID is legally problematic, especially in North Carolina, is impossible without discussion of Section 5. Putting the North Carolina version in context is especially important for the media now that those states challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 before the Supreme Court are also challenging the findings that their election practice changes illegally discriminated on the basis of race.
As the North Carolina voter ID law proceeds legislatively, the AP must discuss this clear overlap between those who continually push flawed voter ID laws and those who seek to do away with one of the most effective civil rights laws in American history. The stakes are high nationally, and certainly for North Carolina, as State Board of Election data show that nearly one in ten voters may be disenfranchised by the proposed photo voter ID law.
An analysis by the Checks & Balances Project finds that 60 major newspapers frequently quote fossil fuel-funded think tanks on energy and environmental issues without disclosing their industry ties. Further research by Media Matters finds that the Wall Street Journal's lack of disclosure has been especially glaring.
The Checks & Balances Project found that between 2007-2011, industry-funded organizations like the Heartland Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation were cited or quoted over 1000 times in 60 publications, often to attack environmental regulations or renewable energy technology. Their ties to fossil fuel interests were disclosed only 6 percent of the time, despite the fact that 17 percent of mentions promoted fossil fuels. The analysis concluded that "a transactional relationship of contributions in exchange for national media traction is playing out" between these groups and their corporate benefactors.
Expanding on these results, Media Matters found that the Wall Street Journal cited, quoted or featured these think tanks on energy issues more than 100 times between 2007-2011 -- more than any of the other other major papers evaluated by Checks & Balances. But the Journal -- which has a history of failing to disclose fossil fuel ties - mentioned the funding sources for these groups just under 4 percent of the time, slightly worse than the average disclosure rate for the other 60 publications.
Top Ohio newspapers failed to adequately highlight the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) influence on recent asbestos legislation in the state.
On December 4, the Ohio Senate passed an ALEC-inspired bill that curbs the ability of asbestos victims to file lawsuits for damages. From Legal Newsline:
A bill meant to stop the duplication of asbestos lawsuits has passed the Ohio state Senate.
The bill, which passed the Senate by a 19-14 vote, would require anyone to reveal all asbestos claims filed by them or for them. If they don't do so, the person could face perjury charges. The bill made it through Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. It passed the House in January.
Critics, however, say the measure would slow legitimate claims. And they say the bill would make Ohio the first state with such claim restrictions even though Ohio is among the states with the biggest backlog of asbestos claims.
The Dayton Daily News and Cincinnati Enquirer both failed to link the harmful asbestos bill to ALEC in their original reporting, despite it being covered in other states and nationally. Only the Columbus Dispatch ran an original story that noted the piece of legislation was an ALEC model bill, while the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Dayton Daily News published AP versions of the story that briefly mentioned ALEC. None of the stories highlighted the several legislators who supported the bill who are also known members of ALEC.
Ohio has the 8th highest rate of death in the nation from mesothelioma and asbestosis with 1,328 total mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths from 1999 to 2008. Ohio is one of several states to pass an ALEC inspired bill attempting to limit the damages victims of asbestos exposure can seek. This year alone, legislation attempting to curtail victims' rights has been passed in Michigan, Arizona, Idaho, and Utah. The Minnesota legislature also passed an ALEC inspired bill, however it was vetoed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D).
In 2001, ALEC and manufacturing company Crown Holdings, Inc. jointly crafted model legislation which attempted to limit the amount in compensation victims of asbestos-related diseases received from companies who exposed their workers to asbestos. Coverage of the model bill in Minnesota from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune revealed that this "national effort" was being undertaken by the "$8 billion can manufacturer to shield itself from costly asbestos lawsuits." Even the general counsel to Crown Holdings, William Gallagher, announced in testimony before the Michigan House Judiciary Committee that the laws passed in other states were based on ALEC model legislation and urged Michigan to enact a similar law.
Unsurprisingly, several legislators involved in the crafting of the Ohio asbestos bill are or were members of ALEC. A Cincinnati Enquirer article -- while completely omitting any ALEC mentions -- cited several legislators who sponsored and voted for the bill including the bill's originator Rep. Louis Blessing Jr., Senate President Tom Niehaus, Sen. Bill Seitz and Sen. Bill Coley. All four have known ties to ALEC according to the Center for Media and Democracy's project, ALEC Exposed.
Despite the many news reports and facts linking this bill to ALEC, Ohio newspapers generally failed to produce original content which makes the link. The Cincinnati Enquirer published a piece of original content that made no mention of ALEC. The Dayton Daily News published one original news story which did not mention ALEC. In addition, the Daily News published two AP stories on the bill, but only one of which made the ALEC connection. The only paper to run an original story mentioning ALEC was the Columbus Dispatch which, buried at the bottom of a story on legislative action banning Internet cafes, wrote a short blurb on other lame-duck legislative action:
Following a spirited debate, the Senate approved House Bill 380, which is aimed at victims of on-the-job asbestos exposure who try to pursue two avenues for damages. It would require workers to disclose all asbestos claims they have filed. Critics say it would block legitimate claims. The bill is based on model legislation from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. The bill passed 19-14, with four Republicans, including Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, joining all Democrats in opposition.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News both ran an AP version of the story that referenced ALEC at the end of the story:
The bill stems from model legislation developed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which has drawn attention for the entree it's recently gained at statehouses through efforts including opulent, corporate-backed conferences not always subject to normal disclosure rules.
None of this coverage -- the original content as well as the AP article -- mentioned the direct and extensive links between the bill's sponsors and ALEC, even when mentioning those legislators in their reporting.
Ohio papers are not alone, however. When the ALEC asbestos bill was passed in Michigan neither of the state's two biggest newspapers covered the connection.
Climate change was almost entirely absent from the political discourse this election season, receiving less than an hour of TV coverage over three months from the major cable and broadcast networks excluding MSNBC. By contrast, those outlets devoted nearly twice as much coverage to Vice President Joe Biden's demeanor during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. When climate change was addressed, print and TV media outlets often failed to note the scientific consensus or speak to scientists.
The Associated Press recently presumed to fact-check Washington state Democratic candidate for Governor Jay Inslee for noting that the U.S. "clean-tech sector grew twice as fast as the regular economy between 2003 and 2010." But Inslee's statement is correct -- it was AP that bungled its facts by confusing two terms in a report from the Brookings Institution.
AP noted that Inslee invested in SunPower, a solar company that has recently experienced layoffs, and suggested that, despite his long focus on clean energy, this investment was the reason that Inslee touted federal policies that encourage clean energy growth.
After claiming that SunPower shows the "risk" of investing in clean energy, AP tried to fact-check Inslee's statements on clean energy growth:
Inslee has said voters need to look at the green industry as a whole, not just the fate of individual companies. He's noted that the clean-tech sector grew twice as fast as the regular economy between 2003 and 2010. But that number doesn't give the whole picture.
In a Brookings Institution analysis of the industry last year, researchers determined that the overall clean-energy sector added jobs at an annual rate of 3.4 percent over that seven-year time frame, and the figure lagged the national economy's 4.2 percent annual growth. Inslee has chosen to focus on the growth in a small subset of that industry -- newer clean-tech firms -- that account for less than 10 percent of total jobs in the industry. [Emphasis added]
But AP confused the rate of growth for what Brookings called the "clean economy," which included sectors such as organic farming and public transit, for the rate of growth of the "overall clean-energy sector." As Brookings researcher Kenan Fikri previously told Media Matters, clean energy jobs "have grown at an average annual rate of 11.1 percent." A slightly broader grouping of 13 clean-tech jobs (which includes a smart grid, battery technologies, carbon storage and others) grew 8.3 percent annually, "more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy measured the same way," according to Brookings.
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.