Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.
A brutal attack on a Nigerian town by the militant group Boko Haram that may have killed as many as 2,000 people has been given relatively little attention by the U.S. media.
On January 3, Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Baga, Nigeria, near the Cameroon and Chad borders, after attacking a nearby military base. Conflicting reports on the death toll have emerged -- local officials initially estimated that as many as 2,000 were killed, though recent accounts suggest the death toll is in the hundreds. As of January 12, nine days after the attacks began, "bodies still littered the bushes in the area." More than 10,000 people were killed in 2014 alone in a conflict that has raged for more than five years and displaced 1.5 million people.
But the terrible scale of this tragedy hasn't translated into extensive news coverage, which Maeve Shearlaw noted in a January 12 Guardian article:
But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world's media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored.
On Twitter, Max Abrahms, a terrorism analyst, tweeted: "It's shameful how the 2K people killed in Boko Haram's biggest massacre gets almost no media coverage."
A quick Nexis search confirms this: the Baga massacre has hardly made a dent in cable or network news coverage. Searching evening cable news transcripts between January 3 and 14 for "Boko Haram" turns up only nine substantive discussions of the Baga massacre: four on CNN, three on MSNBC, and two on Fox.
Network news fared even worse. The massacre was mentioned once on NBC, twice on ABC, and once briefly on CBS. According to the American Press Institute, 73 percent of Americans get at least some of their news from nightly broadcast news.
News of the Baga massacre began to reach the Western press around the same time another heinous terrorist attack occurred: the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris. While that attack has received wall-to-wall coverage, Baga has barely been addressed. The Hebdo shooting certainly deserves our attention. But given the scale of the Baga tragedy, with as many as 2,000 dead and survivors still trapped on an island on Lake Chad, don't these victims' stories deserve to be heard too?
2014 was a year of eye-popping media numbers, from millions of dollars' worth of coverage devoted to a trumped-up scandal to mere seconds devoted to historic news. Here are some of the most important -- and most surprising -- figures from the year.
This year saw clean energy technologies become cost-competitive with fossil fuels and gain prominence worldwide. The fossil fuel industry, desperate to stymie clean energy's continuing expansion, enlisted conservative media to do their bidding and attack clean technologies in every shape and form. From stoking fears about public transit being a form of "government control," to providing one-sided stories falsely predicting clean energy's downfall, here are the media's six most absurd attacks on clean energy this year.
1. 60 Minutes Produces "Poor Piece Of Journalism" To Attack Clean Energy
In January, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report titled, "The Cleantech Crash," which attempted to label clean energy a "dirty word." The report was widely criticized by reporters, government officials, and clean energy advocates alike for offering a one-sided look at renewable energy and narrowly focusing on a few failures while ignoring the majority of clean energy's success. Two of the guests interviewed in the report later criticized it for selectively airing their comments to provide an overly negative portrait of the industy and for "fail[ing] to do the most elementary fact checking and source qualification."
Further, the report made no mention of climate change, which as energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out is "the whole point of cleantech, after all: using the promise of technology and innovation to try to wean our economy off of fossil fuels."
The Sunday broadcast political shows overwhelmingly ignored the omnibus spending bill's rollback of key regulations on Wall Street and campaign finance. Only ABC's This Week covered the provisions, which come at a time when the financial services industry and large donors are playing an increasingly outsized role in elections.
Congress' controversial $1.1 trillion spending bill to avoid a government shutdown took several days of debate to pass in the Senate and barely passed through the House of Representatives, due to the inclusion of provisions "easing rules on campaign finance and the banking industry," as NPR explained.
The deal reverses a requirement of 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform, allowing banks to "place both standard accounts and accounts that handle riskier derivative trades under the protection of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." The provision was drafted by Citigroup bank and provides a major benefit to big banks that allows riskier trades and transfers accountability for banks' failures -- and potentially future financial crises -- onto the government and taxpayers. The bill also rolls back campaign finance regulations, dramatically increasing the limit wealthy individuals may donate to national political parties.
This erosion of key Wall Street and campaign finance regulations was all but ignored on the broadcast Sunday political talk shows. Neither NBC's Meet The Press, CBS's Face The Nation, nor Fox Broadcasting Company's Fox News Sunday acknowledged the controversial provisions in their discussion of the spending bill, glossing over the specific rollback of regulations in favor of general discussions on inner-party divisions on the vote. Only ABC's This Week highlighted the provisions. Host Martha Raddatz explained how the bill "dramatically ease[s] restrictions on the amount of cash individuals can donate to campaigns," while a later panel discussion emphasized the rollback of Wall Street regulations.
The shows' failure to cover the rollback of banking regulations and systematic erosion of campaign finance comes at a time when dark money, large donors, and outside spending are playing an increasingly outsized roll in elections and the financial services sector -- the very industry which drafted and stands to benefit from the Dodd-Frank reversal -- is already outspending all other industries in midterm elections.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on Fox News Sunday's November 30 segments on civil rights protests in Ferguson, MO, and the resignation of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. CBS' Sunday morning political talk show had a small majority of white guests during similar segments, while ABC's and NBC's shows were more ethnically diverse.
A two-year investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee that debunked several prominent right-wing myths about the Benghazi attacks was largely ignored by the four major broadcast networks' Sunday shows.
Early in his first term, President George W. Bush addressed the nation in primetime about allowing for limited stem cell research in America and his approval for limited medical research. During the weeks leading up to the announcement, there had a been regular news coverage of the topic, as the White House let reporters know the president was deeply engaged on the issue and was meeting with an array of experts to guide him.
As Bush appeared from his ranch in Texas to make the announcement, all of the major broadcast networks joined the cable news channels in carrying his message live.
The stem cell speech didn't address breaking news and it wasn't about an imminent threat facing the nation. But at the time, network executives said they were happy to air the address. "I don't think it was a tough call because it's an issue that's received so much attention," CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius told the Boston Globe. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider agreed: "It's an important issue and one that the country is following closely." He added that Bush was "going to make news" with the speech.
A decade later the rules seem to have shifted. All four networks have announced they won't carry President Obama's address to the nation tonight about his long awaited plan to take executive action to deal with the pressing issue of immigration reform. (Two Spanish language networks, Univision and Telemundo, will carry the address live in primetime.)
Keep in mind, the issue is so paramount, and Obama's strategy supposedly so controversial, that a Republican senator yesterday warned there might be violence in the streets in response to Obama's actions. Some GOP lawmakers insisted Obama could face a flurry of legal action including impeachment proceedings, while others have urged the entire federal government be shut down if Obama goes through with his plan. Yet according to executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, Obama's address isn't worth covering.
In early October, the GOP developed a plan to make the federal government's response to Ebola a central part of its midterm elections strategy. Television media played into Republicans' hands, helping to foment panic about the disease. Following the diagnosis of a handful of U.S. Ebola patients, the major broadcast networks ran nearly 1,000 segments about the virus in the four weeks leading up to the elections. Coverage of the disease plummeted in the two weeks following Election Day, with the same networks running fewer than 50 total segments.
Sunday morning political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox devoted just 30 seconds of coverage to net neutrality the week after President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to require Internet service providers to treat all content equally. Those same programs dedicated nearly 17 minutes to helping scandalize comments made by Jonathan Gruber, an economist who helped estimate the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
A 60 Minutes report on groundwater depletion brought attention to a critical issue that many regard as a national security threat, but failed to mention the inherent connection between water scarcity and climate change.
The November 16 edition of 60 Minutes featured a segment on the threat of groundwater scarcity titled "Depleting the Water." In it, host Leslie Stahl covered the severe droughts around the world that are leading people to extract fresh water from the ground at unsustainable rates, warning that "the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water."
But Stahl completely ignored climate change, which is projected to increase the severity and frequency of such droughts and is inherently linked to groundwater scarcity. A United Nations climate science report concluded earlier this year that manmade climate change will reduce groundwater resources "significantly in most dry subtropical regions," and a 2013 study from Simon Fraser University determined that climate change may already be exacerbating water shortages in many areas around the globe.
The 60 Minutes segment highlighted that California's "record-breaking drought" is inducing farmers to drill for water in underwater aquifers at unsustainable rates -- without mentioning that this drought that has been directly linked by scientists multiple times to manmade climate change. Stahl also highlighted severe droughts across southern Asia and in the Middle East, regions that the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other scientific institutions have projected will experience worsening droughts as the planet warms.
Stahl's comment that groundwater shortages may lead to political unrest also has roots in global warming. As Stahl pointed out, many aquifers that are being severely depleted are in "volatile regions" such as in Iraq and Syria. Many military officials have warned that unabated global warming could exacerbate wars and terrorism and pose a national security threat.
The segment ended by asserting that if no action is taken, California's aquifers could end up completely depleted. But the only responses to the drought that the news magazine covered were a process in which sewage water is recycled into freshwater and a recently enacted law that regulates groundwater. 60 Minutes didn't discuss ways to combat climate change, which would work to prevent catastrophic droughts from happening in the first place.
60 Minutes' failure to mention global warming -- in a segment focused on a problem related to manmade climate change -- follows the news magazine's widely panned report on clean energy, which also made no mention of climate change.
CBS Evening News reported on the role of dark money -- spending on political campaigns by outside groups in which either no donors are disclosed or some donors are disclosed -- in key senate elections during the 2014 midterm elections without noting that conservative dark money spending far outpaced that of Democrats, giving viewers a distorted view of who benefited from this controversial spending in 2014.
From the October 12 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:
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On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.
Fox News' Special Report left out necessary context when previewing former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's upcoming interview with 60 Minutes in which he stated, "it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq."
During his September 19 coverage of Panetta's statement, host Bret Baier depicted Panetta's account of the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as the latest in "a very public back-and-forth between the White House and the Pentagon." Baier added, "Now this weekend, 60 Minutes has an interview with former CIA director and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in which he will say the U.S. should not have pulled out all of its troops out of Iraq in 2011":
But Baier failed to mention that the Iraqi government refused a deal to allow U.S. military forces to stay in Iraq. As the New York Times reported in 2011, "Iraqis were unwilling to accept" the terms of a Status of Forces Agreement to leave thousands of troops as a residual force. Fox News has repeatedly failed to mention this important detail.
During his 60 Minutes interview with Panetta, CBS' Scott Pelley provided the crucial bit of context that the Iraqi government "didn't want the U.S. force." Watch: