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:
From the September 14 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:
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The Society of Professional Journalists, the "leading professional association of working journalists," overhauled its Code of Ethics to include new transparency provisions partly in response to 60 Minutes' Benghazi debacle and CNN's failure to disclose Newt Gingrich's political ties, the group's ethics chair said Monday.
He also cited Washington Post columnist George Will's failure to disclose his ties to conservative group Americans for Prosperity as the type of conflict of interest journalists should seek to avoid.
On September 6, SPJ announced the release of its first new Code of Ethics in 18 years, Smith said. The group explained that the "code is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior."
Kevin Smith, outgoing SPJ ethics chair, told Media Matters the revisions were done in part to address the growing problems with transparency, including news outlets failing to disclose clear conflicts of interest.
"I think there is a lot of room to criticize a lot of media today for their lack of transparency," Smith said following the release of the new code on Saturday. "On Fox, I've seen it happen, on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, these conflicts that show up, they do not reveal them in the story."
In the release announcing the changes, SPJ stated:
The idea of transparency makes a debut in this code. Although this code does not abdicate the principle of being independent of conflicts that may compromise integrity or damage credibility, it does note more strongly that when these conflicts can't be avoided, it is imperative that journalists make every effort to be transparent about their actions.
Asked which specific incidents prompted the change, Smith pointed to two major ethical failures that emerged in late 2013.
In October 2013, 60 Minutes aired a since-retracted segment promoting a book written by Dylan Davies, a supposed eyewitness to the 2012 Benghazi attacks whose accounts were later discredited. In its initial segment, CBS failed to disclose that Davies' book was published by Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions, which is owned by CBS Corporation.
"Once they found out [a CBS company] was publishing, wouldn't it make sense there were some internal pressures on Lara Logan to rush that vetting?" Smith said. "I think the book deal is what forced that interview on to TV before it was ready. They could interview him and promote the book."
Smith also cited CNN failing to disclose Crossfire co-host Newt Gingrich's financial contributions -- through his PAC -- to various politicians he had discussed or interviewed on-air. CNN actually changed its ethics policy to make clear that Gingrich's actions were not violations.
"That's problematic, right?" Smith said about CNN. "Don't you believe the audience deserves a full accountability of someone who has benefited financially or contributed their work to a particular candidate?"
The media heralded a report in early 2014, which claimed that building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change. Since then, multiple studies have found that same report to be flawed, but most mainstream media outlets have refused to give these studies coverage.
President Obama has stated that he would not approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada through the United States, if it "significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution." So when the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement concluding that the Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate change, the media touted State's findings as justification for the contentious pipeline's approval.
However, various studies have since called the State Department's report into question, finding specifically that their climate impact analysis is likely inaccurate. The agency's conclusion rests on the assumption that if the Keystone XL is not approved, the oil sands will simply be transported by rail instead. This may not be the case. According to Reuters, the State Department's predictions of increased rail capacity have been consistently wrong. Reuters broke the news in March that State's latest estimates of tar sands being transported by rail were overestimated by over 400 percent. But no* other major mainstream outlet reported on these findings, which undermined the claim that Keystone XL won't affect the climate - a meme many of these same outlets previously had amplified.
More recently, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that approving the Keystone XL could lead to carbon dioxide emissions four times greater than the State Department's highest estimates. Again, the findings were mostly ignored by top U.S. media outlets** -- with one notable exception. The Los Angeles Times amplified the study and its findings that State's analysis didn't account for the pipeline's impact on the global oil market, which would lead to far greater greenhouse gas emissions. The study authors projected that the pipeline will increase carbon emissions by up to 110 million metric tons due to increased global consumption, far overshooting State's projection of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons. The oil industry has dismissed this study based on the faulty argument that the oil will be shipped by rail anyways, which Associated Press reported -- without mentioning Reuters' contradictory findings.
The authors previously concluded in a similar study that approving the Keystone XL could "potentially counteract some of the flagship emission reduction policies of the U.S. government." How many more studies and reports need to be issued before the mainstream media corrects themselves on the climate impact of approving the Keystone XL pipeline?
*According to a LexisNexis search for "keystone" from March 5 to March 8 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
**According to a search of LexisNexis and internal video archives for "keystone" from August 8 to August 11 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
Image at the top of an oil sands site from Flickr user Pembina Institute with a Creative Commons license.
The globe recently experienced the hottest June on record, fitting in with the trend of global warming. Yet several top media outlets reported on the announcement without mentioning climate change at all.
2014 has been a record-breaking year for global temperatures. On July 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced that the average global temperature for the month of June was the hottest experienced for 134 years of records. This finding follows the hottest May on record, the hottest March to June period on record, and the third hottest first half of the year on record. The average ocean surface temperatures for the month of June were the warmest on record for any month of the year. NOAA's climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt explained succinctly to the Associated Press -- the only top U.S. print source* that reported on the findings in the context of global warming -- stating that the planet is in the "steroid era of the climate system." Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck added: "This is what global warming looks like."
But if you consume mainstream media, you likely missed this context. CBS, NBC, MSNBC, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal,** and The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang all covered the announcement without mentioning its key context: global warming, driven by human activities, is making hotter temperatures the norm.
The July 21 edition of ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer was the only broadcast network program to report on the record in the context of global warming, introducing it as "a new statistic for arguments about climate change," and going on to discuss extreme weather events currently happening across the United States:
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.
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."