Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- between the U.S., Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. The nations involved in the talks account for nearly 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of the world's trade, but weekday evening television news broadcasts have largely ignored the topic.
From the February 4 edition of CNN's OutFront with Erin Burnett:
Two dozen women leaders and organizations have signed a letter to the six network and cable news heads expressing their concern for the lack of gender diversity on Sunday morning political talk shows.
A Media Matters report found that in 2013, men made up more than 70 percent of the guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, and CNN's State of the Union. Only MSNBC's Up and Melissa Harris-Perry reached near parity, with women making up 44 percent of total guests. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time. The top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews were all men. Media Matters also found that gender diversity has not improved on the broadcast political talk shows in the past five years.
The heads of 24 organizations which advocate for women and women's representation in media wrote to the Presidents and Chairs of the broadcast and cable networks, expressing "deep concern" for the lack of diversity and urging them to take action to ensure the morning political talk shows "more accurately reflect the demographics of our diverse nation":
With male guests vastly outnumbering female guests on Sunday morning broadcasts, women lose out in shaping the national discourse, and your viewers miss important points of view.
There are qualified women to speak on issues affecting all Americans, including national security, economic growth, climate change, education and many others. But when it comes to reproductive health, equal pay, and other subjects disproportionately affecting women, it becomes increasingly imperative that Sunday political talk shows reflect our democracy. This is particularly important since these shows frequently set the tone for how these topics are covered later in the week.
The full letter can be read below.
CNN cast President Obama and the Democrats' continued push to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship as a false choice between bipartisan compromise or playing politics, arguing that if Obama rejected a Republican deal that included only legal status for undocumented immigrants, he would be risking his legacy over politics.
In his State of the Union address, Obama urged Congress to "fix our broken immigration system," saying:
OBAMA: Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let's get immigration reform done this year. Let's get it done. It's time.
During CNN's post-SOTU coverage, chief national correspondent John King stated that to get immigration reform passed this year, Obama "likely would have to accept something from the House, the Republican House, short of what he wants. The president has said, 'I won't sign it unless it gives a path to citizenship.'" King continued:
KING: What if the House does legal status and sends it to the president? And then [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid come to him saying, "veto it, we want the issue to attract Latino voters in the campaign." Does the president look at his legacy and say, "I'll take it, that's 80 percent, and then we'll fight for more," or does he take the politics?
New York Times correspondent Jonathan Martin added that "the question comes down to President Obama and also some of the Hispanic advocacy groups: Are they going to cast a path to legal status but not citizenship as something between either a half a loaf as John put it or is it a poison pill?"
KING: In Ronald Reagan days, 80 percent was a pretty good deal. If the president can get a guest-worker program, can get the high-tech visas, can get some of the other things that he wanted that are not related to the big issue that derails this every time, which is citizenship or status or nothing, if he could get status, does he sign that for his legacy, or do the Democrats say, Mr. President, don't give that to Republicans?
However, defining support for a pathway to citizenship as political gamesmanship is faulty for several reasons:
Hillary Clinton's recent statement that her "biggest regret is what happened in Benghazi" led to a media feeding frenzy who treated her statement as a groundbreaking revelation, while ignoring the fact that immediately following the attacks, Clinton accepted responsibility multiple times including during her testimony with the Senate and House committee.
Media critics on Fox News and CNN criticized a recent article that outed the inventor of a golf putter as a transgender woman. The two networks' history of problematic transgender coverage suggests that CNN and Fox could stand to take their own advice.
On January 15, the sports website Grantland published a lengthy article by Caleb Hannan about Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, the founder of Yar Golf and inventor of a "scientifically superior" golf club. In the story, which Hannan described as "the strangest story I've ever worked on," Hannan outed "Dr. V" as a trans woman. Hannan wrote that during the course of his reporting, Vanderbilt resisted his outing of her. At the end of the article, he revealed that Vanderbilt had killed herself.
Hannan's digging into Vanderbilt's personal life -- and his problematic framing of a transgender woman's identity as "strange" - sparked fierce criticism and generated questions about the role his invasive reporting may have played in Vanderbilt's suicide. On January 26, CNN's Reliable Sources and Fox's #MediaBuzz weighed in on the controversy, with hosts and panelists on both shows agreeing that Grantland should have consulted a trans person before proceeding with the article.
On Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter invited ESPN.com's Christina Kahrl and GLAAD's Tiq Milan to discuss the story and the ethical questions it raised:
MILAN: What journalists can take away from this is exactly what [Grantland editor-in-chief] Bill Simmons said in his letter ... to consult with LGBT organizations like GLAAD or like the National Center of Trans Equality to see how to better -- what are the best practices to deal with situations like this.
STELTER: It goes back to one of these journalistic maxims that diversity is so important to have in newsrooms. But I wonder if that's easier said than done sometimes for these places. I think you made a point, Christina, that the article was being written for an audience that could have learned a lot about the transgender community if only the research had been done.
Meanwhile, on Fox's #MediaBuzz, host Howard Kurtz dubbed Grantland's story a "media fail":
From the January 26 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the January 22 edition of CNN's Crossfire:
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Fox News has been all but silent in reporting on major human rights crises facing gays and lesbians in Uganda, Nigeria, and India over the past few weeks, continuing the network's pattern of turning a blind eye to significant international stories about the LGBT community.
Hillary Clinton's name doesn't appear in the bipartisan portions of the Senate review of the tragic September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, but you would not know that by looking at the media.
The report, released earlier in the week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a Rorschach test for the media, and as is almost always the case with Hillary Clinton, they are stretching to see something nefarious.
According to the Post, the report "is likely to provide fodder" for Clinton's political opponents, even though the Post acknowledged that the only references to the former Secretary of State came from partisan Republicans in an addendum, not from the review itself.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer said the report was "fueling heated debate, partisan debate, about her leadership," while correspondent Elise Labbott insisted that Clinton would "have to address Benghazi during" any 2016 campaign.
Inexplicably, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin accused media of being too "incurious" when it comes to Clinton and called Benghazi Clinton's "drip, drip, drip problem." Partisan Republicans are certainly happy that the media is carrying their water. Almost on cue, Sen. Marco Rubio said the report should justify further investigations ... into Clinton.
The question of "leadership," however, has been a lopsided one as it played out in the media's campaign to use the Senate report as an indictment of Clinton.
Clinton has "deflected questions" about Benghazi, according to The New Yorker's Amy Davidson, who argued that Clinton "does not come out well" in the Senate report -- again, a report that never mentions Clinton. Davidson's explanation? "The State Department made mistakes when [Clinton] was its leader."
Clinton herself has acknowledged ultimate responsibility for any bureaucratic shortcomings that played a role to the tragedy in Benghazi. "I do feel responsible," she said under questioning by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). "I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department. I take it very seriously."
So everybody agrees that Clinton had ultimate responsibility for leading the State Department.
That makes the question of what that leadership looks like critical, particularly since the media seems determined to parrot the right-wing narrative that Benghazi is a singular reflection on the former Secretary of State.
What is problematic about the way the media has used the Senate's review as a reflection on Clinton's leadership is that the reports ostensibly exploring Clinton's leadership make no mention of the fact that one of her last acts as Secretary of State was to fully accept and begin implementing the findings of the Accountability Review Board, an independent, nonpartisan review panel that looked into what went wrong and how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
That review, like the Senate report that led to the latest bout of Benghazi mania, also singled out bureaucrats, not the Secretary of State, for scrutiny over diplomatic security failures. Four mid-ranked department officials were suspended for those failures; according to Ambassador Thomas Pickering, one of the chairmen of the ARB, their "future career[s]" are "finished."
One of the pillars of the right-wing's Benghazi hoax has been to accuse Clinton of being dismissive of the tragedy during her Congressional testimony when she asked "what difference, at this point, does it make" what led the attackers to target the diplomatic facility on that day.
Often left out of the sound bite is what Clinton said next: "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
The Accountability Review Board laid out dozens of recommendations as to how to prevent future tragedies, recommendations largely in line with those contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. Those recommendations are being implemented.
It's woefully inadequate to leave that fact out of a discussion of leadership.
In the second half of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable evening news discussed Social Security in a largely negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
For years, cable news networks have turned to Evangelical Texas pastor Robert Jeffress to provide a social conservative's perspective on issues ranging from marriage equality to the to the "War on Christmas." But while the pastor's congeniality has earned him favor with media outlets, his history of extreme anti-gay and Islamophobic rhetoric should raise questions about his legitimacy as a mainstream media commentator.
Long before he was making appearances on America's most watched cable news shows, Robert Jeffress was acting as the young pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls. Despite his Evangelical background, Jeffress' early ministry work wasn't defined by fire-and-brimstone-type condemnations of homosexuality. In 1998, however, Jeffress made his first public foray into the culture war. According to D Magazine's Michael J. Mooney:
He had just finished preparing a portion of a sermon titled "We Cannot Condone What God Has Condemned" when a member of his church came to him one morning with two books from the Wichita Falls public library. The books, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy's Roommate, are both about children raised by gay couples, and the latter features an illustration of two men in a bed together.
He thought about those books. And when he was preaching his message that Sunday, something welled up inside of him. The words just came out. "I'm gonna take my stand right here!" he said. "I'm not gonna return these books!"
Jeffress went on to spearhead an effort to remove the books from the Wichita Falls public library - an effort that earned him national attention as the City Council and ACLU became involved in the dispute. A judge eventually ruled that it was unconstitutional to exclude the books from the library, but the incident helped propel Jeffress' popularity among Evangelicals, and his congregation expanded as a result.
In 2007, Jeffress became the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, where his national profile continued to grow. In March of 2013, the church opened a new $130 million church campus - completing the "largest Protestant church building campaign in modern history."
From the January 12 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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CNN media critic Brian Stelter questioned Fox News' minimal coverage of the political retribution scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that Fox executive Roger Ailes' role as a "Republican kingmaker" and his support of a Christie presidential campaign may be a reason the network initially ignored the breaking story.
On January 8, news broke that Christie's administration may have deliberately created gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ by ordering the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge as retribution for the town mayor's refusal to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid. Christie has publicly denied the swirling allegations of his involvement for months, but newly released emails show his deputy chief of staff seemingly requesting the lane closures.
As Media Matters reported, both CNN and MSNBC quickly reported on the new revelation -- but it took Fox News nearly six hours from the time the story broke to mention it on air.
The next day, CNN's New Day highlighted Fox's minimal discussion of the story, and senior media correspondent and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wondered if political motivations were to blame. Stelter pointed to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' reputation as a "Republican kingmaker" and noted that Ailes "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie."
Stelter said the coverage made him "wonder is Fox avoiding the story to help Chris Christie," particularly given the 2016 presidential race:
STELTER: With 2016 on the horizon, Fox News is an important place for Republicans or for conservatives to hear about these candidates. And if they don't hear a lot about this scandal, they may not take it as seriously.
Indeed, a January 9 New York Times article on the upcoming biography of Ailes highlights his focus on influencing national politics -- particularly the presidential election -- and how he uses Fox News in pursuit of that goal:
Roger Ailes was so eager to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, he told fellow Fox News executives point-blank: "I want to elect the next president."
The book describes in detail Mr. Ailes's professional ambition, his desire to influence American politics through a conservative prism, and his status as a visionary who possessed an intuitive understanding of the power of television to shape public opinion. Before entering the corporate world, Mr. Ailes was a political consultant, and Mr. Sherman's book credits him with being a pioneer in using television during election campaigns.
For years, Fox personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their "love" for the "national sensation." According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news continue to place undue focus on government spending cuts and deficit reduction, pushing a narrative that is out of touch with economic reality.
Media Matters research revealed that throughout the fourth quarter of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable nightly news programs were more likely to advocate for deficit reduction than economic growth and job creation. Out of a total 890 segments on the economy, 250 saw the host or guest mention deficit reduction as an economic priority, while only 204 segments mentioned the need for economic growth and job creation.
Of course, Fox News led the charge in calling for deficit reduction, echoing trends seen in previous quarters.
Media's focus on deficit reduction was a constant theme throughout 2013, a theme increasingly out of touch with economic realities.
While broadcast and cable evening news programs were clamoring about the need for deficit reduction, in fiscal year 2013, the Treasury posted the smallest budget deficit since 2008. The same news programs that advocated for deficit reduction, however, were unlikely to mention this fact -- only 15 total segments over the fourth quarter noted that deficits are in decline.
Meanwhile, economic growth and job creation, while taking a backseat in media coverage, still remain a persistent problem in the U.S. economy. Many economists have repeatedly argued that sluggish economic growth and weak job creation are directly tied to an undue policy focus on deficit reduction. But with the recent government shutdown and budget negotiations taking place, weekday broadcast and cable evening news coverage consistently turned the debate back to deficit and debt reduction and away from more pressing issues like unemployment.
Maybe this is why only six percent of Americans know the deficit is shrinking.