In reporting on the recent Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured up to 200 others, broadcast evening news programs and the Sunday morning political talk shows have largely ignored an outdated federal law that could deny financial compensation to victims and their families.
After the horrific Amtrak passenger train crash on May 12, much of the media coverage has focused on the technical causes of the accident and whether increased infrastructure spending might prevent future tragedies.
But a Media Matters analysis of evening news broadcasts and Sunday shows' coverage of the derailment indicates that the major networks have largely ignored how the victims of this crash might be denied financial compensation from Amtrak that will adequately cover their medical expenses going forward. Because of a 1997 federal law that limits the amount of money the victims can recover for their injuries to $200 million, many of the victims -- and the families of those who died -- may get stuck trying to pay for the costs associated with the crash out of their own pockets.
Only the May 17 edition of ABC News' This Week briefly mentioned the outdated law, in a segment with ABC's Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams. As Abrams explained, the $200 million cap is not per victim, but the total amount that can be paid out per incident, regardless of the number of fatalities or extent of survivor injuries:
I find that when I'm engaging in media criticism, it's helpful to have a basic grasp of the facts. Mediaite founder Dan Abrams apparently disagrees, and his website seems to be happy to curry favor with the boss by covering up his ignorance.
Last night on CNN's Parker/Spitzer, Abrams -- publisher of a media reporting and analysis website -- posited that it's no big deal that five potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are currently working at Fox News. I disagree with Abrams -- as we've documented, Fox has donated at least $40 million in airtime to these potential candidates, while providing them with an extraordinarily friendly platform to promote themselves. But I'm willing to acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree on this.
The problem is that Abrams' explanation for his opinion exposed that he doesn't actually know what he's talking about:
WILL CAIN: Dan, I got the first question for you. It's complicated. So what? What's the big deal that the Republican primaries are going to take place on FOX News?
ABRAMS: Look, I don't know that they're going to take place at FOX News because remember, these people are commentators. These are not hosts of shows. If these people were hosting primetime shows, then I might say, you know what? This is going to be a real vehicle for them to get their positions out there, to advocate.
But as commentators, they are answering questions. And sure, that means they get publicity but they're also not the only ones in the country -- these five -- who have considered political -- or political aspirations and they are commentators on TV.
OK. So Abrams thinks it would be a problem if one of these Fox candidates had their own show, but since none of them do, it's no big deal. The idea that these potential candidates can't "advocate" because they're just commentators seems deeply flawed - anyone who's ever watched Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum on Fox knows that they are not asked challenging questions, and have wide latitude to "get their positions out there." But more importantly, Abrams' premise - that none of the Fox candidates has their own show - is just flatly inaccurate.
Dan Abrams, meet Mike Huckabee.
Dan Abrams, an NBC legal analyst and former MSNBC host, has launched Mediaite.com, a website described as "the site for news, information and smart opinions about print, online and broadcast media, offering original and immediate assessments of the latest news as it breaks."
Rachel Sklar, former senior contributing editor and founding editor of Huffington Post's Eat The Press, has signed on as Editor at Large while Colby Hall, a former producer for MTV and VH1 will serve as Managing Editor.
Hall describes the site as "Huffington Post meets Gawker."
As part of its buzz seeking approach, Mediaite.com hosts a "Power Grid" ranking of "1477 individuals from 325 media entities broken down into 12 categories." Here are a few of the categories that may be of interest to you along with the current rankings:
TV Anchor/Hosts: (1) Oprah Winfrey (2) Conan O'Brien (3) Katie Couric (4) David Letterman (5) Dr. Phil McGraw
TV Reporters: (1) Jake Tapper (2) Chuck Todd (3) Richard Engel (4) Lara Logan (5) Nancy Cordes
Media Moguls: (1) Rupert Murdoch (2) Michael Bloomberg (3) Sumner Redstone (4) Oprah Winfrey (5) Arnaud Lagardere
TV Pundits: (1) Newt Gingrich (2) Karl Rove (3) Ann Coulter (4) Dick Morris (5) Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Radio Hosts: (1) Rush Limbaugh (2) Glenn Beck (3) Sean Hannity (4) Michael Savage (5) Dave Ramsey
Print/Online Reporters: (1) David Pogue (2) Andrew Ross Sorkin (3) Dana Milbank (4) Jennifer 8 Lee (5) Ezra Klein
Print/Online Columnists: (1) Paul Krugman (2) Thomas Friedman (3) Maureen Dowd (4) Michelle Malkin (5) Christopher Hitchens
I'll admit I've enjoyed Abrams' work at MSNBC over the years but can a website opening with such buzz worthy fluff provide some honest, serious media criticism as well? I sure hope so. In the mean time, what do you think of the rankings?
PolitiFact.com editor Bill Adair falsely suggested that Sen. Barack Obama's and Sen. John McCain's campaigns have been equally guilty of making what PolitiFact has characterized as inaccurate claims in public statements and political ads this summer. In fact, since June 7, 57 percent of Obama's claims assessed by PolitiFact were rated "mostly true" or better, while 62 percent of McCain's statements assessed by PolitiFact were described as "half true" or worse. Further, McCain has twice received PolitiFact's sharpest critique, "pants on fire," a designation not given to any Obama statement.
MSNBC and Editor & Publisher have noted that Fox & Friends featured photos of New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe that appeared to have been digitally altered. But Fox News has yet to address the controversy.
MSNBC's Dan Abrams and Keith Olbermann took issue with Fox News host E.D. Hill's suggestion that a fist bump by Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, might be "interpret[ed]" as a "terrorist fist jab," with Abrams saying, "[O]ver at Fox News, if it's Obama, it must be something far more sinister."
After Chuck Todd acknowledged a media double standard in coverage of Sen. John McCain's Al Qaeda-Iran gaffe, CNBC's John Harwood asserted on Morning Joe: "I think that at the end of the day, John McCain has got sufficient credibility on that issue that people are not going to look at that and say, 'Oh, John McCain is confused' or 'John McCain's too old' or 'John McCain doesn't get it.' ... But he obviously can't do that too many times or he's got a problem." Harwood was not alone in misrepresenting or excusing McCain's false claim on MSNBC; several MSNBC reporters and anchors have ignored or excused McCain's false claim.
On his MSNBC program, Dan Abrams labeled as a "non-story" a New York Times article that suggested that Obama may have exaggerated his account of his past drug use "to make the challenges he overcame seem more dramatic." Abrams stated: "Any article about his drug use is bad news for Obama. But for the Times to claim deceitful motives just because they couldn't find anyone to corroborate his [Obama's] youthful indiscretion is the ultimate in media arrogance. And sadly, I predict this story will be just the first in a series of non-stories about his drug use."
On MSNBC Live with Dan Abrams, discussing Bill O'Reilly's recent controversial comments about his visit to Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, Rhode Island radio host John DePetro stated: "It was a discussion on race and we're talking about Harlem. And by and large -- I lived in New York for years -- white people don't go to Harlem." He continued: "If Dan Abrams and John DePetro, Bill O'Reilly, some white guys are sitting around a table, and Dan Abrams said, 'Yeah, I was up in Harlem last night.' We would think you were either, a) looking for drugs, or, b) looking for a prostitute."
MSNBC host Dan Abrams failed to challenge the assertion of Kris W. Kobach, a constitutional law professor and former counsel to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, that President Bush's controversial domestic spying program dealt only with "very targeted" calls. In fact, recent media reports indicate that the program has cast a broad net, monitoring thousands of people with no relationship to Al Qaeda.
Few major news outlets have covered the fact -- first reported by the New York Daily News -- that in a letter to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's defense attorneys, special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said that numerous emails from 2003 are missing from the White House computer archives.