Houston media outlets have failed to hold anti-LGBT activists accountable for the misinformation they have spread about the city's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), currently the focus of a repeal effort. Media outlets have allowed myths about the ordinance's protections for transgender people to go unchallenged and have disproportionately cited anti-LGBT groups and advocates in their reporting on the measure.
In the thick of virtually every hot-button cultural battle to engulf Texas in recent years has been Jonathan Saenz - the president of a lobbying group called Texas Values, a regular spokesman for right-wing causes in local media, and a rabidly theocratic, anti-LGBT extremist.
This May, during the debate over Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance - a measure that prohibits discrimination based on characteristics including sexual orientation, and gender identity - Saenz emerged as a leading voice against the proposal in local media. Local news outlets described him as an attorney or social conservative, obscuring the extremist worldview that undergirded his fight against the ordinance.
With an effort underway to repeal the ordinance, which Houston's City Council passed eleven to six on May 28, Saenz is certain to remain in the spotlight as the fight over its LGBT protections continues.
Saenz's group, Texas Values, is the lobbying arm of the Plano, TX-based Liberty Institute, an organization notorious for peddling discredited stories about supposed threats posed by government and progressive activists to religious liberty. Upon Texas Values' launch in 2012, Saenz became its founding president, following a stint as Liberty Institute's top lobbyist in Austin. Texas Values' biography of Saenz notes that he "has been featured in local, national, and international media" including cable networks Fox News and CNN, where he has discussed such topics as school prayer and Texas conservatives' effort to remake the state's social studies curriculum.
But those media appearances only hinted at the far-right vision informing Saenz and Texas Values' work.
Much of Texas Values' work centers on its fight against LGBT equality, which includes opposing even basic protections for LGBT people:
Texas Values also beats the drum of a litany of typical right-wing social causes. The group opposes comprehensive sex education in schools and has attacked Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis for her support for reproductive rights and the gay "anti-family agenda,"
The group also pushes the tired right-wing myth of a "war on Christmas" - but with a distinctly conspiracy-minded fervor. According to the group, that "war" is "a key front in the radical movement to remove all religious expression from the public square" and to create a world in which children are too afraid to even talk about Christmas at school.
The Texas lieutenant governor's recent threat that statehouse reporters could potentially be arrested and jailed if their behavior is deemed "not respectful" of the legislature is being called "worrisome" and "absurd" by Texas journalists.
Several editors and reporters who have been covering the contentious abortion debate in the state Senate, which drew national interest last week during an 11-hour filibuster that derailed the legislation, said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's threats of potential arrest during an interview Friday raised concerns.
During a June 28 interview with HotAir.com's Ed Morrissey, Dewhurst said that his staff was reviewing security tapes of the Senate gallery to examine the behavior of reporters during the demonstration that occurred as Republican leaders failed to pass the bill before the legislative session expired. Dewhurst explained:
"We have reports and I have my staff taking a look at the video, the internet video that we keep, we store, on the proceedings that evening and if I find as I've been told examples of the media waving and trying to inflame the crowd, incite them in the direction of a riot, I'm going to take action against them. That is wrong. That's inciting a riot. That is wrong. And we have a provision in our rules that if people do not deport themselves with decorum, they're not respectful of the legislative process, one of our rules says we can imprison them up to 48 hours. Of course that was out of the question with that many people, but it is, we take a democratic policy seriously."
Within a day, Dewhurst's office backpedaled from the threat, claiming they had reviewed tapes of the session and found nothing worth pursuing.
Still, several journalists are speaking out with concern that such a threat was even made and the option of arresting reporters even considered.
"As I listened to this, I said, 'what the hell is this, you're going to throw us in jail?'" said Wayne Slater, a longtime political reporter for the Dallas Morning News, who posted video of the HotAir.com interview on his blog. "The first thing I thought of is there are other countries that do this, where they arrest reporters whose work they don't like or who don't report things or act in the way the majority likes. It seemed absurd to me because there are countries that do this and we are not one of them."
After Slater posted the interview video on his Morning News blog Saturday, he said Dewhurst's office called him within hours to backtrack on the comments.
"They saw it and made a decision fairly quickly that they had to pull back from this," he said. "To call and say no media did anything wrong."
But that did not stop other journalists from criticizing the original comments and worrying about what they could mean for future reporting.
"As a newspaper editor, the lieutenant governor's statement I found worrisome," said Steve Proctor, managing editor of the Houston Chronicle. "If any action were taken against a Houston Chronicle reporter, they would be defended vigorously. Any editor is going to consider that worrisome."
He said even a hint of such action can be negative to reporters' work: "I want to be able to cover the news without interruption or interference, so you are always worried when there is interference on the information."
As the State Department nears a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the media is exaggerating its economic benefits and downplaying environmental risks to advocate for the project. Here, Media Matters takes on five of the prevailing media myths about Keystone XL.
Now that the Obama administration and Congress are engaged in a debate over immigration policy, a Media Matters review of major news outlets has found that when it comes to immigration coverage, anti-immigrant commentator Mark Krikorian continues to be the media's preferred conservative voice. Krikorian heads the Center for Immigration Studies, a group associated with notorious nativist John Tanton and whose research has been called into question -- but these facts are routinely ignored in coverage of his remarks.
The three largest newspapers in Texas have so far failed to report on comments made by Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Dr. Kyle Janek over the past two months in which he claimed not to believe the official number of people without health insurance in Texas. Nearly two weeks after Republican Gov. Rick Perry officially notified the federal government that Texas would not be setting up a health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act to help people get insurance, readers of the Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram remain in the dark about the out-of-touch comments from by the governor's social services czar, according to a Media Matters analysis.
In September and again in October, Janek discussed the problem of uninsured Texans at forums held by the Texas Tribune. During his first comments at the Texas Tribune Festival, Janek said he did not believe the Census Bureau's statistics describing the percentage of uninsured Texans -- which currently stands at 26.3 percent -- because according to him, the Census Bureau asked the wrong question.
In October, Janek re-framed his position telling the Texas Tribune during a one on one discussion with Texas Tribune founder Eric Smith that the Census Bureau asked "a question" instead of saying they asked the wrong question.
From a transcript of a video (at the 13:40 mark) posted by the Texas Tribune:
ERIC SMITH (TEXAS TRIBUNE): Let me ask you a broader question about the state of health policy in Texas and the uninsured. You know that the U.S. Census Bureau some six weeks ago put out a report that said that Texas now has 5.8 million uninsured citizens, 23 percent of our population, which makes us first among the states in the percentage of our citizens insured. You gave an interview to Emily Ramshaw of the Tribune at the Texas Tribune Festival in which you basically said I don't believe those statistics. This is the U.S. Census Bureau, not Public Policy Polling. It's a little hard to argue that the polls are skewed when the numbers are coming from the Census Bureau Dr. Janek, don't you think?
DR. KYLE JANEK (TEXAS HHSC): Umm, no their numbers are accurate for the question that they asked.
SMITH: So you think they asked the wrong question?
JANEK: No I don't, I think they asked a question.
SMITH: A question.
JANEK: Not the wrong question, it's a question. And here's the issue. If you go out now today and you go knock on doors as the Census Bureau does and do it by letter and say, "Do you have insurance," a lot of folks will say no, it doesn't mean they won't have insurance next week, it doesn't mean they will have insurance next week, it could be years before they have insurance again, it's a snapshot.
Later in the video Smith does push back on Janek's assertion that the Census Bureau had inaccurate data. However, these numbers shouldn't come as a surprise to new commissioner. As RH Reality Check points out, these numbers have remained consistent since 1987:
Janek must not be aware that for nearly 25 years, the Census Bureau's "snapshot" has shown practically the same thing: since 1987, Texas repeatedly has one of the highest, or the very highest, number of uninsured adults in the country. That rate has not been below 1987's 23 percent; it peaked at 26.8 percent in 2009 and is currently estimated at 26.2 percent.
As Texas Tribune pointed out in its first report pushing back on the comments, the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey -- which does ask if the respondent had health insurance within the last year -- still puts the uninsured rate at about a quarter of the population:
There's a flip side to his first argument: The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, which asks whether respondents had health insurance at any point in the previous year, also puts Texas' rate of uninsured at about a quarter of the population. That survey is much smaller -- it has a national sample size of 100,000 addresses -- but is more detailed and conducted by more experienced staff.
"The suggestion that Texas would shoot to the top because of the way the question is asked -- I cannot think of any reason why anything would be different here," said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities. "The same conditions exist here that exist in the whole country, except we have more people uninsured, and we're spending billions of dollars in local property taxes" on hospital care.
While Texas Tribune pushed back on his comments, newspapers in Texas failed to hold the commissioner accountable. According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage on Nexis and the newspapers' websites, since his appointment at the end of July, none of the three Texas newspapers examined wrote about Janek's controversial comments, and only one gave him more than a passing mention. On November 11, almost a month and a half after Janek's initial comments, the Chronicle wrote a piece spotlighting Janek's health care strategies in Texas, and, in an almost laudatory tone, said his appointment "couldn't come at a better time for private hospitals."
From the Chronicle:
The appointment of Janek, a Houston physician, couldn't come at a better time for private hospitals like Memorial Hermann, Methodist and St. Luke's. He's an important ally at a time when the balance of power is shifting dramatically.
Janek recently sparred with Coleman at a public hearing of the House County Affairs Committee, which Coleman chairs. The Houston Democrat noted pointedly that health care districts - not the private hospitals - will put up tax dollars to win an estimated $29 billion in extra federal dollars.
The private hospitals, he complained, "are crying and hollering about someone else's money." He also objected to complaints from private business entities that are "aligned" politically with politicians who oppose government-funded health care.
This wasn't the first time the Chronicle has discussed Janek and failed to push back on his Census skepticism. After the second interview with the Texas Tribune, the Chronicle published a piece that included comments he made at the Tribune event, but the paper again failed to mention or dispute his assertions about the number of uninsured in Texas, instead discussing his opinion on Planned Parenthood's role in the new Texas Women's Health Program.
Despite not holding Janek accountable, the Chronicle has not shied away from discussing the uninsured in Texas. In August they dedicated an entire article to the Census Bureau findings -- the same one Janek claimed didn't provide the whole picture -- noting that Texas' overall percentage of uninsured residents was 26.3 percent. Earlier this month, the Chronicle again discussed the number of uninsured in Texas, writing that the state has the second-highest number of uninsured residents in the nation, but again failed to mention the health commissioner's unfounded skepticism.
While the facts go against Janek's assertion, the more troubling aspect is the failure of the major newspapers in Texas to hold the Commissioner of Health and Human Services accountable for his comments.
Both mainstream and conservative media outlets have responded to the recent spike in gasoline prices by circulating talking points rooted in politics rather than facts. As a whole, these claims reflect the misconception, perpetuated by the news media, that changes in U.S. energy policy are a major driver of oil and gasoline prices.
Starting in 2008 seven states -- Louisiana, South Dakota, Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas -- passed measures or promoted policies that would change the education curriculums in their states to begin teaching "different perspectives" in environmental science instruction. The major newspapers in each of these states gave varying coverage to the issue with some not even covering the issue at all. In addition a Media Matters investigation shows that, despite the appearance that these state proposals and model legislation by the conservative organization the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), not once did these newspapers mention ALEC or their model legislation in their coverage.
Dozens of voter ID laws have been introduced in state legislatures over the past two years, including particularly strict measures passed in seven states in 2011 -- Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. There is widespread evidence that this surge of voter ID laws stems from model legislation crafted in 2009 by a conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But a Media Matters analysis has found that the largest newspapers in the seven states that enacted voter ID laws in 2011 have largely ignored ALEC's influence. Indeed, of the newspapers examined, only Rhode Island's Providence Journal mentioned any connection between the state's voter ID bill and ALEC.
In my column this week I looked at the terrain of the media landscape faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans noting, in part:
...despite increased public acceptance and the passage of some basic legal protections, not only is sexual orientation still a taboo for many in the media, all too often it serves as a focal point for hate, ridicule, and misinformation.
Looking back now, I should have also noted that, in addition to the "taboo," "hate, ridicule, and misinformation," LGBT Americans regularly face something far more insidious in the media: silence.
This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots which are largely credited with sparking the modern LGBT civil rights movement. For those unfamiliar with this seminal moment in gay history (I don't blame you, so little attention has been paid to the event by the media) here's the gist of it from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights:
[In 1969], there were not many places where people could be openly gay. New York had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public, and private businesses and gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down.
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a group of gay customers at a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn, who had grown angry at the harassment by police, took a stand and a riot broke out. As word spread throughout the city about the demonstration, the customers of the inn were soon joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting "gay power."
Police reinforcements arrived and beat the crowd away, but the next night, the crowd returned, even larger than the night before, with numbers reaching over 1000. For hours, protesters rioted outside the Stonewall Inn until the police sent a riot-control squad to disperse the crowd. For days following, demonstrations of varying intensity took place throughout the city.
In the wake of the riots, intense discussions about civil rights were held among New York's LGBT people, which led to the formation of various advocacy groups such as the short-lived Gay Liberation Front, which was the first group to use the word "gay" in its name, and a city-wide newspaper called Gay. On the 1st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay pride parades in U.S. history took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and near the Stonewall Inn in New York.
The Stonewall riots inspired LGBT people throughout the country to organize in support of gay rights, and within two years after the riots, gay rights groups had been started in nearly every major city in the United States.
Well, according to a search of TVeyes.com and Nexis, scant attention this week has been paid by the media to this historic civil rights anniversary.
CABLE NEWS: Since Monday, TVeyes.com turns up exactly four mentions of Stonewall on CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, Fox Business News, MSNBC and CNBC. All four mentions occurred on the June 23 broadcast of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. Double checked on Nexis – same results.
NETWORK NEWS (Morning Shows/Nightly News): Since Monday, TVeyes.com hasn't turned up a single mention of Stonewall on ABC's Good Morning America or World News, CBS' Early Show or Evening News, or NBC's Today Show or Nightly News. Double checked on Nexis – same results.
MAJOR NEWSPAPERS: Since Monday, a search of Nexis turns up 2 stories discussing Stonewall in any substantive way printed in America's top ten daily newspapers – USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle and Arizona Republic. A search of these newspapers' websites confirm the results. What exactly did these publications print about the anniversary?
USA Today: Nothing
Wall Street Journal: Nothing
New York Times: Passing reference to Stonewall in story about the lack of a national leader in the gay right's movement.
Los Angeles Times: Nothing
New York Daily News: Two good stories about the Stonewall anniversary.
Washington Post: Printed an AP story titled "Today in History" that lists Stonewall as one of 13 events and 18 birthdays worth noting this week.
Chicago Tribune: Passing reference to Stonewall in story about a senior center for gay seniors.
Houston Chronicle: Printed an AP story titled "Today in History" that lists Stonewall as one of 13 events and 18 birthdays worth noting this week.
Arizona Republic: Nothing
Of America's top ten daily newspapers, only the New York Daily News spent much time at all discussing the Stonewall anniversary this week – the rest either make passing reference with little context or, worse yet, print nothing at all.
So, the 40th anniversary of Stonewall has been granted one cable news segment and 2 print stories this week. Surely such an historic milestone merits more serious attention, not just from cable and network news outlets but from newspapers as well.
UPDATE: It's nice to see the AARP doing so much with its various media arms to commemorate Stonewall.
UPDATE 2: Newsweek.com has a good package up on Stonewall. Hopefully they'll follow suit with something equally substantive in the print edition.
Numerous media outlets have devoted significant coverage to the earmarks contained in the pending omnibus appropriations bill, even though, according to most estimates, earmarks constitute less than 2 percent of the total spending in the bill. In many instances, the media have allowed attacks by Sen. John McCain and other opponents of the omnibus bill to dominate their coverage of the legislation -- at times themselves characterizing the bill as laden with "pork."
Vice President Dick Cheney's recent hunting accident offered yet another example of an unmistakable pattern with the Bush administration, which few in the media have noted. When faced with potential political damage stemming from its actions or decisions, the Bush White House attacks those fomenting the criticism; Cheney or President Bush then take to the airwaves and appear to temper the debate -- while benefiting from whatever discrediting their surrogates' smears brought on their targets.
Numerous media outlets and commentators have gone to great lengths to avoid using some version of the simplest construction to describe Vice President Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of a hunting partner, Harry Whittington: Cheney shot Whittington. Instead, the media have come up with alternative formulations that have the effect of distancing Cheney from the incident.