CNN and Fox News repeatedly reported on the Keystone XL pipeline without connecting it to a major oil spill near the pipeline's proposed route. By contrast, MSNBC and others in the media have reported on the spill, which occurred in the Yellowstone River in Montana, in the context of concerns about Keystone XL's environmental risks.
Oil Pipeline Leaked 50,000 Gallons Of Crude Into Yellowstone River. On January 17, an oil pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline Co. spilled 1,200 barrels of crude oil -- or about 50,000 gallons -- into the Yellowstone River, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency. Reuters reported:
A small but heavily subscribed pipeline that transports 42,000 barrels a day of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region is expected to remain closed on Tuesday after a weekend breach that spilled 1,200 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency in the state's eastern Dawson and Richland counties on Monday while towns and cities downstream, including Williston, North Dakota, are monitoring their water systems in case of contamination.
However the water supply of Glendive, the town of 5,000 about 10 miles (16 km) downstream of the spill, has already been tested and found to have elevated levels of hydrocarbons. Water intakes in the river for the city have been closed, according to the EPA. The company, EPA and other agencies are trying to get other drinking water supplies for Glendive, the EPA's Mylott said. [Reuters, 1/20/15]
Spill Has Released Cancer-Causing Agent Into Region's Water. Days after the spill, officials detected benzene -- a cancer-causing agent -- in the water supply of Glendive. From CBSNews.com:
Some residents of an eastern Montana farm community are criticizing officials for taking more than two days to notify them that their drinking water is contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical.
Elevated levels of benzene were found in water samples taken from a treatment plant that serves about 6,000 people in the agricultural community of Glendive near the North Dakota border. The contamination followed a 50,000 gallon oil spill that found its way from a break in a 12-inch pipeline into the Yellowstone River. [CBSNews.com, 1/20/15]
Keystone XL Would Be Built Close To The Site Of Yellowstone Spill. On January 21, The New York Times reported that Keystone XL "would pass about 25 miles north of Glendive," a town located downstream of the Yellowstone spill. [The New York Times, 1/21/15]
A Spill From Keystone XL Could Be Much Worse Than The Yellowstone Spill. As Think Progress reported, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is much wider than the Bridger pipeline and would pump much more oil on a daily basis:
The proposed -- and controversial -- northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline would be three times the diameter of the breached Bridger pipeline, and pump more than 34 million gallons of oil per day through the Dakotas down into Nebraska and into the southern leg in Oklahoma and Texas. Many landowners and local residents are concerned about what a potential spill would mean for critical watersheds and aquifers -- not to mention what subsequent increased tar sands oil production means for Canadian watersheds. [ThinkProgress, 1/19/15]
CNN And Fox Barely Mentioned Yellowstone Spill -- And Didn't Tie It To Keystone XL. CNN and Fox News each provided only a single brief mention of the Yellowstone oil spill, according to a review of Media Matters' internal video archives, and neither mention was in the context of reporting on Keystone XL. CNN made a 20-second mention of the spill in a headline rundown on the January 21 edition of Early Start, while Fox News provided an equally brief mention of the spill on the January 21 edition of Fox & Friends First.
MSNBC's Schultz Cited Yellowstone Spill As Reminder That "The President Is Right To Veto" Keystone XL. On the January 21 edition of The Ed Show, host Ed Schultz noted that Keystone XL would be a much bigger pipeline than the Bridger pipeline, and pointed to the Yellowstone spill as the latest reminder that "oil pipelines are risky":
SCHULTZ: No matter how you cut it, oil pipelines are risky just like cars crash, planes crash, trains have derailments -- pipelines leak. It`s a dangerous game, case and point. Let`s check out Yellowstone River in Montana that`s unfolding right now.
On Saturday, 40,000 gallons of oil leaked into the Yellowstone River from a 12-inch steel pipe. Now, do you know how big this Keystone pipe is going to be? About four times that size.
The Yellowstone River saw another major pipeline spill, in 2011, 63 gallons of oil spilled near Billings, Montana. I could go right on through the list, there`s been major ruptures in California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, in North Dakota. The EPA reported between 2012 and 2013 roughly 300 pipeline spills went unreported in North Dakota alone.
Americans need to keep this in mind -- Keystone, the President is right to veto this. [The Ed Show, 1/21/15]
MSNBC's Maddow To Pro-Keystone Senator Manchin: "Does It Give You Pause When We Have Pipeline Accidents Like The One ... In The Yellowstone River In Montana?" During an interview with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who supports Keystone XL, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted that the Yellowstone spill occurred "very close to the Keystone route," and asked Manchin whether the spill gives him "pause" about the Keystone XL's possible environmental risks:
MADDOW: Senator, does it give you pause when we have pipeline accidents like the one that we had over the weekend in the Yellowstone River in Montana? That's very close to the Keystone route. That's not a pipeline that was seen as very high risk. In Glendive, Montana tonight, they're drinking bottled water and nobody knows how much of the beautiful Yellowstone River has been destroyed by an oil spill there on a very small pipeline. Are you worried at all that we're essentially selling the safety of this country, putting some very important aquifers at risk, essentially to help Canadian companies get their stuff to the world market at no real benefit to Americas?
MANCHIN: We respectfully disagree on the real benefits to America. Any time we have more security and we have more independence from foreign oil, we're going to be more secure and it might not take us to places such as Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and all the other places, which I don't believe we should be. So, I've been very clear about that. [MSNBC Special Coverage: State of the Union Address, 1/21/15]
New York Times: Yellowstone spill "has led to renewed concerns among environmentalists about the safety" of Keystone XL. In a January 21 article, The New York Times noted the proximity of the spill to Keystone XL's proposed route, and quoted an environmental group that opposes building the pipeline:
The spill has led to renewed concerns among environmentalists about the safety of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would pass about 25 miles north of Glendive.
Environmental groups, however, said the pipeline rupture was an omen.
"Every barrel of oil that spills into the Yellowstone River is another reason to reject Keystone XL," said Jamie Henn, spokesman for 350.org, an environmental group opposed to Keystone, which is being built to transport crude oil from Canada to refineries in the United States. "Pipelines are inherently unsafe," Mr. Henn said. "If they're not spilling oil into rivers, they're still spilling carbon into the atmosphere." [The New York Times, 1/21/15]
Al Jazeera America: "Montana's latest Yellowstone River spill wrenched focus back to Keystone's risks." Al Jazeera America noted in a January 21 article that Keystone XL would also cross the Yellowstone River, and quoted a local resident expressing concern that while the current spill is "bad," a potential Keystone XL spill could be even worse:
Certainly the disaster is far more than just a local issue. As more than 100 emergency workers hacked at thick river ice in a frantic attempt to find and contain the spilled oil, the U.S. Senate in Washington made good on what its new Republican leaders promised would be their first order of business: approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would also cross the Yellowstone River in Glendive.
In its similarities to the January 2014 chemical spill in West Virginia's Elk River and the 2012 tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River, Montana's latest Yellowstone River spill wrenched focus back to Keystone's risks.
While President Barrack Obama has vowed to veto Keystone, the enthusiasm of its boosters has left many who live in its path worried that it will still be built, possibly at the expense of vital infrastructure upkeep and without sound contingency plans for spills. The scene in Glendive offered them no comfort.
"This is bad," said Irene Moffett, 79, who ranches and farms on a vast bench of grass above the Yellowstone River in Glendive. "But it's nothing compared to what they want to put in." [Al Jazeera America, 1/21/15]
CNN's Camerota Adopted Senator Ernst's Keystone XL Talking Points, Which Included Downplaying Environmental Impact. The January 21 edition of CNN's New Day featured the GOP's response statement to the State of the Union address, in which Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) stated that the State Department has said the Keystone pipeline "could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact." In response, host Alisyn Camerota asked White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, "given all those reasons, why doesn't the president like it?" [CNN, New Day, 1/21/15]
Fox News And CNN Aired Several Other Segments In Which Republicans Advocated For Keystone XL. Since the Yellowstone River spill, Fox News and CNN have aired several segments featuring GOP proponents of Keystone XL:
Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch have another ally in the media: CBS News and Fox News analyst Frank Luntz. The Republican strategist and pollster has reportedly provided the Kochs with messaging advice while using his media platform to praise Koch advertising efforts as "powerful," "one of the best," and having "unlocked the key."
The Kochs "helped create a broad network of nonprofit groups that control hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into politics." During the 2012 elections, their network reportedly raised over $400 million for conservative causes. Politico's Ken Vogel reported today that the Koch brothers' network "has in many ways surpassed the reach and resources of the" Republican National Committee. The biggest Koch-affiliated group is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), "which spent $130 million in the midterms, with 550 paid staff" to target Democrats.
Mother Jones' Peter Stone reported that the Koch brothers have been using Luntz as a messaging consultant dating back to the 2010 election cycle. Luntz has "provided message advice for Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, the fundraising hub for the Koch network, for critical ad campaigns in Senate battleground states." Earlier this year, Luntz reportedly "popped up in at least two conference calls hosted by top Koch operatives with wealthy donors."
Stone noted Luntz praised an AFP political ad on Fox News after having helped craft their message, prompting a conservative operative to remark: "One hand is in [the Kochs'] pocket, while the other hand pats them on the back."
National Review wrote on March 31 of Luntz's influence on Koch messaging: "Luntz found that emotional appeals were more effective and that women were considered more credible than men on the [health care] issue. 'Women are more focused on quality of life and peace of mind,' Luntz says. This year, all of AFP's testimonial ads feature middle-class women speaking from their homes."
During media appearances, Luntz has attempted to portray himself as above the fray while failing to disclose his connections to the Kochs' political advertising. During an October 14, 2012, appearance on CBS' Face The Nation, Luntz complained about "awful" negative advertising: "It's also ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent of all ads are now negative. And so all you are told is why your opponent is a fool, is incompetent, or worse yet, a liar. And so how are you supposed to then function as a democracy when ninety-seven percent of it-- and it's awful and it works." Luntz did not mention his own history with AFP's negative advertising.
The timing and nature of Luntz's work with AFP is murky. When reached by Mother Jones, Luntz "declined to discuss the details of his Koch work" and AFP similarly declined comment, making a full accounting of Luntz's financial connections with the Koch network difficult (The network largely operates within the shadow of difficult to trace "dark money"). During a December 2013 appearance on Fox News' America's Newsroom, Luntz claimed he was no longer working for AFP. Host Bill Hemmer said: "By the way, you used to do some work for this group a few years ago, and you're no longer affiliated with them, is that true?" Luntz replied: "That is correct." Luntz then went on to praise the ad's message.
Luntz joins a long roster of media figures who have connections with the Koch empire. At least 15 Fox News hosts and contributors have recently campaigned for Americans for Prosperity and its sister group the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The Fox figures have in turn defended the Kochs on-air, dismissing criticism of them as "McCarthyistic," and "a form of social control." They've also praised Koch political efforts as "effective" and "devastating" against Democrats.
Luntz has offered effusive praise of AFP's advertising efforts during his TV appearances, repeatedly calling their ads one of "the best." The group, in turn, frequently highlights his appearances on its YouTube page. Below are four times Luntz touted AFP's political ads without disclosing his connections to the group.
The calling cards of anger and denial have been on display since Friday afternoon when the House Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, released the findings of its two-year investigation into the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi. Becoming the sixth government inquiry to come to a similar conclusion, the report found nothing to support the allegations behind Fox News' ongoing Benghazi witch-hunt. And that's where the anger and denial came in.
Appearing on CNN, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has staked his professional reputation on the endless claim of an elaborate White House cover-up, flashed irritation when he denounced the House report as being "full of crap."
Meanwhile, Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes did his best to deflate the supposedly "deeply flawed" Republican report:
I'd caution against reaching firm conclusions based on the #Benghazi report issued by the House Intel cmte. It's deeply flawed.-- Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) November 22, 2014
For Benghazi conspiracy disciples, unanswered questions always remain as long as devotees say so, and as long as the answers provided by government (and Republican-led investigations) don't match up their conspiracy narrative. But apparently if the seventh investigation finds wrongdoing on the part of the administration, that's the one that will really matter?
Sorry Fox News, but six strikes and you're out.
Still, Benghazi Truthers, like Joel Pollak at Breitbart, soldiered on, claiming the exhaustive House report was no big deal [emphasis added]:
The House committee, chaired by Republican Mike Rogers (R-MI), found that there was no intelligence failure leading up to the attack, and that the CIA and military personnel present did the best they could. The crucial new finding is that there was no "stand down" order, as some there have claimed, and that no further military resources were available.
The three points Pollack mentioned that were debunked by the House report represented almost the entire basis of the "scandal" crusade. They were easily the inspiration for hundreds of Fox News programming hours over the last two years, and likely thousands of hours of talk radio attacks on Obama, Hillary Clinton and anyone connected to the administration. (Note that Fox aired 100 segments on the "stand down" allegation alone during its evening programs in the 20 months following the attack.)
While Breitbart and other right-wing media players gallantly tried to play defense (it's just a flesh wound), Fox News simply went into denial as the cable news channel essentially turned a blind eye to the story: Fox News Sunday completely ignored the topic. But it wasn't just Fox News Sunday. CBS' Face The Nation and ABC's This Week also ignored news about the latest Benghazi debunking; a Republican debunking no less.
There was something fitting about those two omissions, considering CBS and ABC likely suffered the two worst Benghazi-related black eyes within the mainstream media when their reporters, Lara Logan and Jonathan Karl respectively, flew too close to the far-right flame and got very badly burned. (Note to reporters: When your sources have to make stuff up about Benghazi, it's a pretty good indication the 'scandal' is lacking.)
And don't forget how Logan played ball with at least one vociferous Benghazi critic behind the scenes while putting her fatally flawed 60 Minutes report together. According to a May report in New York magazine, Logan met with Sen. Graham, who helped shape the Benghazi story. Then when the 60 Minutes segment aired he immediately cheered it on, calling it a "death blow" to the White House and announced he'd block every White House appointee until he got more answers about Benghazi.
In other words, the Benghazi lessons to be learned here aren't only for Fox News. Media Matters has spent the better part of two years detailing how Beltway reporters, producers and pundits who should've known better have played along with the contrived conspiracy talking points about the Democratic president and a far-reaching cover-up. (Is Benghazi to Obama what Whitewater was to Bill Clinton?)
The U.S Department of Energy's (DOE) renewable energy loan guarantee program is turning a profit after weathering years of media attacks and misinformation that attempted to paint the now defunct solar energy firm Solyndra as representative of the program's failure. Media outlets from The Washington Post to CBS News spent years profiling Solyndra, wrongly suggesting its demise was illustrative of widespread waste, fraud, failure, and political corruption among DOE loan guarantee recipients -- but will the program's latest successes receive a comparable platform?
On November 13, NPR reported that the DOE loan program, designed to "accelerate the domestic commercial deployment of innovative and advanced clean energy technologies," is now turning a profit exceeding $30 million after collecting $810 million in interest payments. NPR noted that the program was never intended to make money, making the development all the more remarkable:
Overall, the agency has loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology. Companies have defaulted on $780 million of that -- a loss rate of 2.28 percent. The agency also has collected $810 million in interest payments, putting the program $30 million in the black.
When Congress created the loan program under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it was never designed to be a moneymaker. In fact, Congress imagined there would be losses and set aside $10 billion to cover them.
NPR noted that previous critics of the program have remained silent on the new revelations.
The media's coverage of the DOE's loan program over the past few years has been overwhelmingly negative and often egregiously misinformed. Coverage frequently focused on Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a $535 million federal loan guarantee before going bankrupt in 2011, suggesting the company's fate was representative of the program's success as a whole.
The Washington Post gave particularly outsized coverage to the Solyndra bankruptcy, devoting an entire section of its website to the so-called "Solyndra Scandal." The Post's reporting stated that President Obama "infused" politics into the program and suggested that Solyndra made the entire loan guarantee program a political liability:
Since the failure of [Solyndra], Obama's entire $80 billion clean-technology program has begun to look like a political liability for an administration about to enter a bruising reelection campaign.
Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama's green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal e-mails. Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and White House officials.
At CBS News, then-correspondent Sharyl Attkisson issued a report on Solyndra that was rife with factual errors. The report helped earn Attkisson an award from Accuracy In Media, a conservative organization known for pushing anti-gay misinformation and bizarre conspiracy theories. CBS subsequently pulled Attkisson from a planned appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to accept the award.
Fox News demonized DOE loan programs at every turn, criticizing even companies who received no funds at all from the guarantee program.
More recently, an April Media Matters study found that the mainstream media largely failed to mention the DOE's role in the success of the electric car company Tesla Motors and ignored that the program has a higher success rate than venture capitalists.
The Post's "Wonkblog" acknowledged on November 13 that the energy loans were making money, but after years of breathless negative coverage, it remains to be seen whether these media outlets will provide a more prominent a platform to inform media consumers of evidence that counters their previous narrative.
Celebrating its sixtieth anniversary, CBS's Face The Nation this week touted sit-down interviews with President Obama and former President George W. Bush. As expected, the Obama interview featured more policy questions, as well as queries about the president and the Democratic Party's recent political failures.
By contrast, Bush, who's promoting a biography he wrote about his father, was treated to softer questions from host Bob Schieffer, with a strong emphasis on Bush's family and whether his younger brother Jeb will decide to run for president. Schieffer did raise questions about one key Bush administration decision -- Bush's defining policy of invading Iraq -- though the queries seemed rather perfunctory on the CBS host's part.
There was nothing especially scandalous about Schieffer's decision to treat the former president differently than he did the sitting president, who, by definition, continues to face pressing issues and grapple with unforeseen crises. And yet, there was something noteworthy about the way Schieffer just tossed off Bush's answers about the Iraq War and didn't ask a single obvious follow-up question. The performance nicely captured the double standard that seems to have always existed between Bush and the Beltway press.
It's the kind of casual dual standard that's been in place for so many years, and has become so normal and accepted, that it barely register a response anymore. It's to the point where most people don't think it's odd that Bush's old golfing buddy is paid to lob him softball questions on a national news program.
It's true. Bob Schieffer "struck up a golfing friendship with George W. Bush during the 1990s," according to a 2004 Mother Jones article. Schieffer attended "dozens" of baseball games with Bush and even traveled down to baseball's spring training season with the future president. In fact, the Face The Nation host once conceded that when it comes to Bush, "It's always difficult to cover someone you know personally."
Why the close Schieffer/Bush connection? Because Schieffer's brother Tom helped make George W. Bush a very rich man. Tom Schieffer and Bush were both part of the ownership group that bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1989, and as the team's president Schieffer played a key role in making that investment a profitable one.(Bush invested $600,000 and earned a $25 million return just nine years later.) Bush then turned around and made Tom Schieffer the U.S. ambassador to Australia and then to Japan.
But these facts haven't been discussed much in public over the years, and they certainly weren't emphasized for Schieffer's sit-down interview with Bush on Face The Nation. (Portions of the interview also aired on CBS Sunday Morning.) Instead, the CBS host allowed Bush to make nonsensical proclamations about the failed Iraq War; a conflict that continues to tax the U.S. Treasury and haunt our national security.
This year's midterm election campaigns were filled with promises to dismantle climate change policies, at a time when climate action is more important than ever. But even against the backdrop of record-breaking temperatures, recent landmark climate reports, and candidates denying climate change, the broadcast networks ignored the implications of climate change in their evening news coverage of the midterms.
A Media Matters analysis of broadcast networks' coverage of the midterm elections found that their nightly news programs glossed over policy issues. Moreover, the programs offered no discussion about climate change or how the candidates plan to address the issue.
Here are several opportunities that the media could have used to bring climate change into their discussion of the midterm elections.
Environmental issues were a top platform issue in this year's elections; environment and energy-related issues were the "third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements" according to an analysis from Kantar Media/CMAG, especially in battlegrounds states like Kentucky and West Virginia. The New York Times reported that the surge in energy and environmental ads "suggests the prominent role that the issues could play in the 2016 presidential race."
Many of these ads included promises to dismantle environmental regulations and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A main target of conservative attacks has been the EPA's Clean Power Plan, a key piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which has been seen by foreign government leaders as an important step for reaching a global agreement on climate change. Dismantling the Climate Action Plan could have global ramifications and dissuade other countriesfrom taking action to curb emissions themselves.
At the same time, the reality of climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The globe just experienced the hottest June, August, and September on record, as well as the warmest six-month stretch ever recorded.
Just days before the elections, the United Nations' climate panel released the culmination of their five-year effort to synthesize climate science in a report concluding that the world needs to take action and completely phase out fossil fuels by 2100 to avoid the "irreversible"effects of man-made climate change.
Yet several GOP candidates waffled on the issue of climate change, or even backtracked to global warming denial. Denial of climate science has become something of a litmus test for Republican politicians, and in order to deflect questions about their belief in climate change, candidates have repeated the refrain: "I'm not a scientist."
A plurality of Americans agree that climate change is happening and support government effort to curb emissions, but now that the Senate has flipped, the nation's current efforts to address climate change are at risk.
The broadcast nightly news programs have an alarming trend of paltry climate change coverage. Their coverage of the midterm elections fits in with this trend --instead of focusing on climate issues, the networks devoted much of their midterm coverage to President Obama's low favorability ratings.
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
From the November 3 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Sharyl Attkisson's new book shows the common interest between a discredited journalist trying to cash in on right-wing credibility and the conservative machine that wants its media worldview confirmed.
Attkisson resigned in March after two decades at CBS News, reportedly in part because she believed the network had stymied her reporting due to "liberal bias." Staffers there reportedly characterized her work, which often focused on trumped-up claims of Obama administration misdeeds, as "agenda-driven," leading "network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting."
In her forthcoming book, Stonewalled, Attkisson alleges that the press has been protecting Obama from scrutiny for ideological reasons. "Attkisson doesn't explicitly accuse CBS and the rest of the mainstream media of a pervasive liberal bias," writes Fox News' Howard Kurtz in a review. "But that view is clear from sheer accumulation of detail in her book."
Based on press accounts, Attkisson's allegations of CBS News' bias rely largely on her own recollections of conversations she says she had with her former colleagues. The network declined Media Matters' request for comment, but one apparent subject of Attkisson's criticism has denied her account.
Attkisson's credibility is central to determining whether to believe her claims. Given her history of conspiratorial claims and shoddy reporting -- including her false and baseless claim that Media Matters may have been paid to attack her -- it is difficult to take her story at face value. But one thing is clear: her message is very valuable to both right-wing media and Attkisson herself.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
New evidence revealing the full context of Hillary Clinton's comment about the "truly well off" suggests that she was not trying to contrast herself from the ranks of the wealthy, as many in the media previously suggested.
On June 21, The Guardian reported pieces of an interview they had conducted with Clinton during the roll-out of her new memoir, Hard Choices:
America's glaring income inequality is certain to be a central bone of contention in the 2016 presidential election. But with her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
"But they don't see me as part of the problem," she protests, "because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work," she says, letting off another burst of laughter.
Numerous media outlets jumped on Clinton's comments, suggesting that in her statement "unlike a lot of people who are truly well off" Clinton was saying that she and President Clinton are not "truly well off." At times, media outlets even altered the quote to fit that impression, falsely reporting that Clinton had said they were "not truly well off." For example:
Business Insider: Hillary Clinton Says She Isn't 'Truly Well Off'
Washington Post: Hillary Clinton says she's unlike the 'truly well off'
Fox News: Clinton: I'm not 'truly well off'
As Media Matters' Eric Boehlert noted at the time, while Clinton's comments were somewhat unclear, "at least as good an interpretation of the quote is that Clinton included herself and her husband among the 'truly well off,' but was saying that unlike many of them, they pay ordinary income tax."
Indeed, the full transcript of Clinton's response supports this interpretation. Clinton immediately followed up the comment by noting, "We know how blessed we are." She went on to explain that the Clintons did not grow up rich and that her goal is to "create a level playing field" to ensure opportunity for all. Here's the transcript, posted by The Hill on June 26 (emphasis added):
QUESTION: Domestically, as you mentioned towards the end of the book, one of the key issues is inequality.
QUESTION: Presumably whoever runs in 2016 will be talking a lot about that. It's come up already, but I did want to - it's such a polar - another polarized issue. Can you be the right person, were you to decide to run, to raise an issue like that when - with your own huge personal wealth, which is something that people have already started sniping about? Is it possible to talk about that subject --
QUESTION: -- when people perceive you as part of the problem, not the solution?
CLINTON: But they don't see me as part of the problem because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names, and we have done it through dint of hard work. We know how blessed we are. We were neither of us raised with these kinds of opportunities, and we worked really hard for them. But all one has to do is look at my record going back to my time in college and law school to know not only where my heart is, but where my efforts have been. I want to create a level playing field so that once again, you can look a child in the eye and you can tell them the truth, whether they're born in a wealthy suburb or an inner city or a poor country community; you can point out the realistic possibility that they will have a better life. But here's what they must do: It's that wonderful combination of individual effort, but social support, mobility and opportunity on the other side of the equation. So I'm willing to have that debate with anybody.
Veteran news ethicists and observers are criticizing CBS News and pollster Frank Luntz for failing to disclose Luntz's financial ties to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor during an appearance on CBS This Morning today to discuss Cantor's surprise primary defeat.
Luntz, a CBS News political analyst, said during the interview that Cantor's defeat was "a great loss not just for Virginia, but for the country." But at no point did CBS News or Luntz disclose that Luntz's firm, Luntz Global, had received more than $15,000 in consulting fees since 2012 from Cantor's congressional campaign.
CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair claimed the network had provided adequate disclosure during the broadcast, telling Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple: "His work as a strategist for Republicans was disclosed on the broadcast."
That explanation doesn't satisfy veteran media critics and reporters. They slammed CBS in interviews with Media Matters, saying that the specific Cantor connection should have been revealed.
"I think it is a classic case of a conflict of interest and CBS was remiss in not knowing it," said Alex S. Jones, former media writer for The New York Times and director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "If CBS did know it and didn't mention it, then they are bad journalists. If they did know and agreed not to mention it as a condition for getting Luntz on the show, then they were not only bad, but corrupt."
Andy Alexander, former Washington Post ombudsman, agreed.
"It's Journalism 101. Anything that could impact the credibility of the person being interviewed should be disclosed," he said in an email about Luntz. "It's a matter of being honest and transparent with your audience."
Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker, said such non-disclosures are becoming too common: "He should have disclosed he got paid and CBS should have disclosed he got paid," Auletta said in a phone interview. "This is very common now in television to have political consultants as talking heads."
David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun television writer, called the lack of disclosure "outrageous."
"I can't imagine how anyone would think it is ok NOT to clearly explain that conflict of interest," he said via email. "And CBS wants to sell this show as somehow being the journalistically solid viewing choice."
For Alicia Shepard, former NPR ombudsman, such action is a form of deception by CBS: "When CBS viewers learn -- and they will -- that Luntz worked for Cantor, they will feel deceived. None of us likes that feeling. CBS loses nothing by acknowledging that Luntz worked for Cantor. Why not be transparent? "
Kevin Smith, chair of the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, offered a similar thumbs down: "This constant parade of pundits and analysts on network TV with insider interests needs to stop. Clearly, CBS and others are not willing to be forthcoming about these conflicts and share them in a transparent manner with the viewers."
This isn't the first time CBS has had disclosure problems with Luntz, who has been an analyst for the network since 2012. The GOP strategist appeared on CBS in October and November of that year to discuss Republican vice presidential candidate and Rep. Paul Ryan without disclosing Luntz Global had received money from Ryan's congressional campaign.
UPDATE: CBS News responded to this post by suggesting it doesn't need to disclose if its on-air talent is being paid by the people they're analyzing.
CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair claimed the network had provided adequate disclosure during the broadcasting, telling Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple: "His work as a strategist for Republicans was disclosed on the broadcast."
Wemple found that explanation wanting, writing that journalism ethics would require CBS to disclose the specific "consultant-client relationship" between Luntz and Cantor:
There's some logic here: Saying that Luntz strategizes for Republicans could be interpreted to encompass his work for Cantor, who is a Republican certainly in need of political strategy.
Yet this is an on-air title, not an on-air disclosure. When it comes to getting people to say favorable things about other people, there's nothing like a consultant-client relationship to facilitate things. When money changes hands, journalism ethics must pay heed.
CBS This Morning hosted its political analyst Frank Luntz to discuss House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's Republican primary loss to Dave Brat. An upset Luntz said that Cantor's defeat was "a great loss not just for Virginia, but for the country." But at no point did CBS News or Luntz disclose a major conflict of interest: Cantor has paid Luntz's firm thousands of dollars for consulting.
Frank Luntz is the CEO of the political consulting firm Luntz Global (Luntz sold his majority stake in the company in January, but continues to serve as an executive). According to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Luntz Global has received over $15,000 in consulting fees since 2012 from Cantor for Congress: On February 27, Cantor paid Luntz Global $2,354 for "seminar expenses"; on December 12, Cantor paid Luntz Global $5,000 for "speech consulting"; on April 9, 2012, Cantor paid Luntz Global $8,000 for "speech writing."
CBS This Morning hosts Norah O'Donnell and Charlie Rose did not note the CBS News political analyst's financial connections to Cantor. Luntz hailed Cantor as a hero to the country whose loss shatters the "cooperation" between House Republicans and the White House. From the June 11 edition of CBS' CBS This Morning:
LUNTZ: Well you had Eric Cantor, who had a very good relationship with Joe Biden. Had open lines of communication. I think for the GOP it's going to be very dangerous now for a Republican to talk to Democrats, as it was Democrats to talk to Republicans a few years ago. That this a blow for conversation. This is a blow for some sort of cooperation and I think it's bad for the country, not just bad for the Republicans.
LUNTZ: I think this is such a great loss not just for Virginia, but for the country. Eric Cantor had the ability to negotiate. Eric Cantor had the ability to sit toe to toe and make concessions and make agreements. And maybe that hurt him in the primary, but that's exactly what we need in Washington, and now we're losing him.
After Rose noted Cantor "was a pipeline to Wall Street too in raising money," Luntz replied, "He was also a pipeline to Americans who just wanted people to get things done. And we've lost that leadership in Washington."
CBS Sunday Morning provided a cautionary example for what media outlets should avoid when covering transgender issues, providing an anti-LGBT hate group leader with a history of misleading news outlets a forum to attack transgender accommodations during an otherwise commendable segment highlighting the lived experiences of transgender children.
During the June 9 edition of CBS Sunday Morning, correspondent Rita Braver interviewed transgender youth, family members, and a medical doctor who treats trans children for a segment titled "Born this way: Stories of transgender children." That framing - and Braver's willingness to let transgender children speak for themselves - offered a refreshing contrast to media coverage that all too often excludes transgender voices from discussions of transgender issues.
Inexplicably, however, Braver saw fit to interview Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a Sacramento-based anti-LGBT hate group. But Braver didn't identify Dacus as a hate group leader, instead describing him as the leader of "a conservative legal group" and allowing him to attack transgender rights as "ludicrous" and "really unreasonable":
DACUS: You're saying under [California's transgender non-discrimination] law that a 13-year-old or 14-year-old girl in a locker room has to change and dress and be naked in front of, say, a 16-year-old boy simply because a 16-year-old boy who's a biological boy, but inside has a mental condition called gender identity dysphoria and thinks that he's a girl. This is ludicrous and really unreasonable.
Braver accepted at face value Dacus' assertion that he believes "transgender kids should be treated with compassion," as long as they aren't allowed to use facilities appropriate for their gender identity. But if Braver had done her homework on the PJI, perhaps she'd have treated that profession of compassion with appropriate skepticism.
Dacus is a man who has stated that LGBT people are under "Satan's dominion," and his group has shown a willingness to stoop to any low to fight LGBT equality. During the debate over California's law allowing transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, the PJI fabricated a story about a transgender Colorado high school student harassing her peers in the girl's restroom. The storm of negative publicity the PJI's lie brought to the girl led her to be placed on suicide watch.