Hillary Clinton returned to South Carolina this week to rally support for her 2016 White House bid, and despite speaking at length about the substance of her campaign platform, media chose to fixate on her southern accent.
While speaking to the South Carolina Democratic Women's Council, Clinton laid out her vision for America and highlighted her support for President Obama following their 2008 primary fight. In her remarks, Clinton placed a heavy emphasis on her support for gender pay equality and helping middle class families, while pushing for civility and coalition-building:
CLINTON: We will have disagreements. We will have debates, but I want you to know that I will be remembering what I think should be at the core of every political campaign, how we treat one another, and how we care for this if we have been given, the United States of America.
Media's takeaway from the event? Clinton's southern accent.
CNN's New Day host Alisyn Camerota declared Clinton's accent is "an interesting twist" to her campaign, while MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said that, "Hillary Clinton got her southern accent back after, like, 20 years." Vox.com dedicated a post to exploring the origins of the accent, writing that "there is a certain fascination worthy to be had of public figures who can turn their accents on and off."
Such superficial coverage of Clinton's event is unsurprising, given media's seeming preference for fluff over substance in coverage of the Clinton campaign and their repeated attempts to sensationalize Clinton's voice.
Fox News largely ignored the controversy surrounding Josh Duggar following his recent admission that, as a teenager, he molested young girls, including several of his sisters. The revelations are particularly stunning given that, under the guise of protecting children, the Duggar family has played an active role in the fight against LGBT equality.
On May 21, In Touch magazine revealed that in 2006, Jim Bob Duggar - patriarch of TLC's hit show 19 Kids and Counting - had waited more than a year before telling police that his son, Josh, had confessed to molesting several female minors, including his sisters, when he was a teenager. TLC has since pulled episodes of 19 Kids from its schedule.
The revelations drew widespread criticism in the media, with many outlets pointing out the Duggar family's reputation as a torch-bearer for conservative values and strong involvement in Republican politics and anti-LGBT activism. The revelations look to many like hypocrisy from a family that's become a political powerhouse in socially conservative circles in recent years by wielding its reality show influence to stump for "family values," Republican politicians, and the repeal of legal protections for LGBT people.
But while MSNBC and CNN have reported heavily on the Duggar scandal, Fox News has largely ignored the story. According to a Media Matters analysis, Fox News spent less than two minutes covering the story between May 21 and May 25, compared to almost an hour of coverage from the other cable news networks.
During the May 24 broadcast of Media Buzz, Fox News' media critic Howard Kurtz even criticized other media outlets for "piling on" by highlighting the Duggar family's ties to prominent Republican politicians:
CNN glossed over how harmful Republican policies threaten women in order to question why female members of the GOP aren't typically considered feminists.
During the May 27 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Carol Costello interviewed former media strategist for the Republican National Committee (RNC), Molly Finn, to discuss why more conservative women aren't considered feminists. Framing the discussion around presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D) and Carly Fiorina (R), Costello asked "why conservative women rarely come to mind when we think about feminist leaders," while Finn argued, "Just because some people are not necessarily aligning with the feminist label doesn't mean they aren't advocates for women's equality and success." Finn went on to claim that the "women's organizations that came out of the feminist movements of the 60s and 70s, it was kind of a narrow conversation. Women's power, women's political power might have been limited to talking about reproductive rights." Costello then asked whether feminism is "outdated," wondering if "that word feminism [is] sort of deepening the chasm between liberal women and conservative women":
Such a conversation on feminism and conservatism misses an opportunity to examine why conservative women are not generally labeled as feminists in the first place -- their policies and legislation often hurt women. Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, whom Costello cited as an example, is roundly in support of policies that are detrimental to women, opposing legislation to address the gender pay gap, access to reproductive health services, and the Affordable Care Act which "greatly improves women's access" to health care. Republicans more broadly have spent years in a concentrated effort to roll back women's access to reproductive health care, general health care and equal pay.
From the May 24 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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CNN declined to comment on whether Newt Gingrich is still employed at the network in light of news that he is joining the world's largest law firm.
Gingrich will start working for Dentons in June as a "senior advisor" in its public policy and regulation practice. It's unclear whether Gingrich, who has a history of conflict of interest problems, will simultaneously work for the firm and as a CNN contributor -- the network declined to clarify his current employment status to Media Matters. According to a Nexis search, Gingrich was last on CNN on March 3, 2015. During the appearance, he was identified as a CNN contributor.
While he'll work with lobbyists at Dentons, he will not officially register as one. The Wall Street Journal reported that the firm earned more than $1.275 billion in revenue last year and has "more than 6,600 lawyers and professionals" and "will have 125 offices in more than 50 countries."
Dentons' public policy and regulation practice is involved in dozens of areas such as energy, the environment, health care, and national security. Dentons US banked more than $6.5 million in lobbying income in 2014 from clients like Allstate, Credit Union National Association, Lumara Health, and Time Warner Cable, according to OpenSecrets.org. The firm's chairman stated that Gingrich will "engage and advance the goals of our clients."
Gingrich told the Journal that "he's 'clearing a fair amount of time' to work at Dentons, but he'll continue doing some other projects" such as writing a novel. A request for comment passed along by Dentons to Gingrich's office was not returned.
The firm's large client list and practice areas would create innumerable conflicts for Gingrich as a media commentator.
Gingrich, who previously hosted CNN's now-defunct Crossfire reboot, has shown little concern for adhering to media ethics regarding conflicts of interest. In 2013, CNN drew an onslaught of criticism from reporters for allowing Gingrich to discuss candidates his political action committee gave money to without disclosing it. His media company also received money from the Republican National Committee, but Gingrich did not divulge that while hosting Crossfire.
From the May 17 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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"The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over," announced the World Health Organization on May 9, declaring a cautious end to the deadly wave that claimed 4,700 Liberian lives since last summer. That outbreak, of course, eventually sparked panic in the United States last September and October when a handful of Ebola cases were confirmed domestically. Ebola mania raged in the media for weeks and became one of the biggest news stories of 2014.
So how did the American media cover the latest, good-news Ebola story in the days following the WHO announcement? Very, very quietly.
By my count, ABC News devoted just brief mentions of the story on Good Morning America and its Sunday talk show, This Week. On NBC, only the Today show noted the development, while CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News set aside brief mentions. None of the network newscasts have given this Ebola story full segments, according to a transcript search via Nexis.
A scattering of mentions on cable news and a handful of stories including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, rounded out the remaining coverage in the past week.*
Pretty amazing, considering that late last year the U.S. news media were in the grips of self-induced Ebola hysteria. During one peak week, cable news channels mentioned "Ebola" over 4,000 times, while the Washington Post homepage one night featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns, many of which focused on both the international crisis and the political dynamic, and the problems Ebola was supposedly causing President Obama.
That's not to say the tragic outbreak was not a big story worthy of any news coverage. It was, but American media went into overdrive hyping concerns that a deadly domestic outbreak was imminent -- only to rapidly forget.
The recent look-away coverage from Ebola shouldn't come as a surprise. The American media lost complete interest in the story right after Republicans lost interest in the story, which is to say right after last November's midterm elections, when they brandished Ebola as a partisan weapon.
That's no exaggeration. From Media Matters' research:
Broadcast nightly news programs have remained silent on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) over the past three months of weekday programming, even as Congress is scheduled to vote this week on whether to grant President Obama authority to finalize the terms of the massive trade deal. The coverage blackout continues a trend extending back to 2013.
On May 12, the Senate plans to vote on legislation that would grant "fast-track" trade promotion authority to Obama as he attempts to complete negotiations among the 12 member nations that comprise the TPP. "Once Congress grants a president trade promotion authority, lawmakers have the ability to vote up or down on a final trade agreement, but they forfeit the right to amend the deal or filibuster it," The New York Times explained.
Debates over the merits of the deal itself and of granting the president trade promotion authority have erupted among Democratic and Republican members of Congress, but coverage of the negotiations has been largely absent from evening news programming on the major broadcast networks.
A Media Matters analysis of ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through May 10, 2015, found that the programs completely ignored the trade negotiations and related policy debates. Only PBS NewsHour devoted substantive coverage to the TPP, with 14 total segments:
Coverage of the TPP among major cable outlets has been similarly one-sided. Since August 1, 2013, MSNBC has mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 124 evening and primetime segments, the overwhelming majority of which (103) came during The Ed Show. Fox News trails far behind with just 12 mentions of the TPP over that time period, 10 of which have come since February 1, 2015. CNN has been almost completely absent from the discussion, registering only 2 mentions of the trade negotiations:
From the May 5 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper:
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From the May 4 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom With Carol Costello:
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Media are parroting conservative lawmakers' and activist groups' characterization of the D.C. Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) as an "abortion law," an inaccurate portrayal the GOP is pushing in its effort to repeal the legislation. The law actually provides women vital protection from discrimination based on reproductive health decisions, like assisted pregnancy and even premarital sex.
From the April 28 edition of Comedy Central's The Nightly Show:
From The April 27 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show:
During his speech at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner on April 25, President Obama invited comedian Keegan-Michael Key to reprise the Comedy Central bit in which Key plays Luther, Obama's "anger translator." What followed was highly amusing -- but also quite revealing of the President's frustration with how the media covers climate change.
As he spoke to an audience of thousands of journalists, media executives, politicians, and celebrities, Obama began the sketch by emphasizing that "we count on the press to shed light on the most important issues of the day." That line provided an opening for Luther to piercingly mock Fox News' fearmongering that "Sharia law is coming to Cleveland" and CNN's "wall-to-wall Ebola coverage." He even landed a few good one-liners about Ted Cruz and Hilary Clinton as they pursue contributions for their presidential campaigns.
But the skit took a noticeable turn when Obama told the media-heavy crowd that "we do need to stay focused on some big challenges, like climate change." After Luther joked that drought conditions have made California "look like a trailer for the new Mad Max movie up in there," it quickly became apparent that Obama needed no assistance from his anger translator to spell out how the media and climate change deniers in Congress are failing to take this threat seriously:
OBAMA: I mean, look at what's happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it's a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day and instead of doing anything about it, we have elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate.
LUTHER: Okay, Mr. President. Okay, I think they've got it, bro.
OBAMA: It is crazy! What about our kids! What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible, bull--
Luther cut Obama off before he engaged in any presidential profanity, but the President had already gotten his point across. As a less angry Obama put it in June 2014, "the media doesn't spend a lot of time covering climate change and letting average Americans know how it could impact our future."
The appointment of CNN's Jake Tapper as the new host of State of the Union means that the program will join Sunday political talk shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox as being anchored by white men, highlighting the long-standing lack of diversity in Sunday morning political talk shows.
CNN announced on April 24 that network host Jake Tapper would begin anchoring the network's Sunday political talk show State of the Union in June, taking over the temporary duties of Dana Bash after Candy Crowley left the program in December. Tapper's appointment to the position highlights the continued lack of diversity represented on Sunday political talk shows. CBS News also recently announced that network political director John Dickerson will replace Bob Schieffer as the host of Face the Nation when he retires this summer. All of the hosts of major Sunday political talk shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and CNN will now be white men. MSNBC's Sunday news programs, which include Up with Steve Kornacki and Melissa Harris-Perry do present a contrast to the lack of diversity at other networks.
But white men aren't just dominating the programs as hosts -- they also make up the large majority of guest appearances. According to a Media Matters report analyzing the state of diversity on the Sunday news programming in 2014, white men made up the largest proportion of guests on all shows considered. The report, which analyzed the ethnicity, gender and ideology of guests on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, NBC's Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, and CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, found that white men dominated the guests appearances on all programs considered:
These findings underscore a 2013 Media Matters' analysis that uncovered how gender diversity on Sunday morning political talk shows had gone basically unchanged over the previous five years:
The continued lack of diversity in Sunday morning political news programming illustrates a news environment that consistently fails to bring minorities and women to the table. According to a 2014 survey by the American Society of News Editors, "the percentage of minority journalists" in the United States remains between just 12 and 14 percent -- where it has been "for more than a decade." The percentage of women in newsrooms has also gone virtually unchanged for 14 years.