Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."
An inaccurate new media narrative claims that while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answered extensive questions about his role in a scandal plaguing his administration, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to face questions regarding the September 2012 attacks on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi. In fact, Clinton has repeatedly addressed the Benghazi attacks, including answering 150 questions during a five hour congressional hearing on the attacks.
In an effort to control the political damage stemming from scandals plaguing his administration, Christie held a nearly two hour long press conference with state and national media to answer questions regarding his aides' involvement in the politically-motivated closing of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge
Following Christie's press conference, conservative media pivoted from Christie's scandal to attack Clinton, claiming that she had never addressed Benghazi in the same way.
On January 19, The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi wrote, "If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie must answer for four days of traffic jams on roads leading to the George Washington Bridge; surely Clinton has the same obligation to address a deadly assault that the bipartisan committee found 'preventable.' " In a January 22 piece, conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin complained that Christie was receiving undue scrutiny while Clinton received very little attention in the "mainstream media" and had not had to endure a "two-hour bearing-of-the-soul press conference," as Christie did:
No car company would dare manufacture a car with as vast a blind spot as that which plagues the pro-Hillary Clinton mainstream media.
There is no interest and never has been in investigating how she missed the infiltration of jihadis into Benghazi, Libya. No curiosity simmers about how she could have been unaware of the dire security situation that her ambassador faced. Accountability? Confession? No two-hour bearing-of-the-soul press conferences are needed. Benghazi was not at her level. No responsibility, no culture of cover-up. None.
TAPPER: Christie, it's also the nature of Christie to go out there and give a two-hour plus press conference and answer all those questions, although he has laid low since then. But still, that was one of the longest press conferences in modern American politics. Hillary Clinton was on her way out, and you know, I can't tackle her. I haven't had a chance to interview her since Benghazi happened. I don't even know, has she done interviews? I think she did some interviews on her way out.
HEWITT: It's a pretty stark contrast, isn't it, between Christie's two hour longest day press conference and Hillary hiding?
TAPPER: So a big contrast between Christie's press conference and most politicians in scandals, but certainly, of course what you've said is right. I mean, most politicians don't then go out there and give two hour press conferences. John McCain did like a 90 minute one after Keating Five.
But Clinton has faced questions from both the media and members of Congress about her role as Secretary of State during the attacks in Benghazi. As Tapper alluded, in a February 2013 interview with the Associated Press, Clinton confronted those critical of her actions during the attacks. She also testified for five hours in front of hostile Senate and House committee members -- testimony that was covered extensively in the press. The Huffington Post pointed out that during her testimony Clinton faced almost 150 questions from Democrats and Republicans:
At the Jan. 23 hearings before two congressional panels, Clinton faced some 150 questions from 48 House and Senate members, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly half of those queries fit into a small handful of broad categories: What happened to memos or other warnings about the security situation before the attack? -- 25 questions, from 10 different lawmakers. Why had the administration put a mission in Benghazi in the first place? -- 20 questions, from 10 lawmakers. When exactly did the administration know that the Libya attack was terrorism and not part of a broader regional protest about the video? -- 22 questions, from eight lawmakers. (The repetition of questions did not produce notably different answers from Clinton.)
Nearly every question was asked more than once. Many were packed together in a tight bundle, as part of the legislator's opening remarks.
In a rational world, that would settle the dispute over Benghazi, which has further poisoned the poisonous political discourse in Washington and kept Republicans and Democrats from working cooperatively on myriad challenges, including how best to help Libyans stabilize their country and build a democracy. But Republicans long ago abandoned common sense and good judgment in pursuit of conspiracy-mongering and an obsessive effort to discredit President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may run for president in 2016.
This new narrative continues the right-wing media's campaign to distract from the ongoing scandals plaguing Christie's administration by pivoting to Benghazi -- for Fox News in particular, the Christie scandals have been all about Benghazi. But the repeated collapse of these narratives demonstrates why traditional media should not get fooled by another Benghazi Hoax.
CNN's Jake Tapper issued a correction for a segment that misleadingly took comments by Vice President Joe Biden out of context. Tapper's decision to correct the record is commendable, but has yet to be imitated by Newt Gingrich, who first brought the bogus story to the network.
On December 3, Biden visited the Toyko headquarters of the Japanese company DeNA. According to the Wall Street Journal, that firm "is known for encouraging its female employees to continue working through motherhood," and Biden was there to "meet with its female employees to chat about achieving a work-life balance in a country where 60% of women don't return to work after giving birth." As part of that dialogue, Biden asked a group of five young female employees, "Do your husbands like you working full time?" Illustrating the vulnerability of journalists working in the current media environment, numerous media outlets ripped Biden's comments from their context and presented them as a sexist gaffe.
That dishonest framing reached CNN the same day, when Crossfire's Gingrich tried to use them to diffuse criticism of the GOP's toxic rhetoric on women. He commented: "Democrats like to complain about a Republican war on women. That was before Vice President Joe Biden started his current tour of Japan. Today, while touring a Japanese game company, he walked up to a group of women and asked them, 'Do your husbands like you working full-time?'" Gingrich used Biden's comments to ask, "How do you explain Biden's inability to stay in touch with reality?"
The next day on his CNN program, Tapper played the same clip to illustrate the media's propensity to highlight the Vice President's gaffes and asked if Republicans are right to say there is a double standard about sexist comments.
Tapper issued a full correction on the December 6 edition of his show, apologizing for doing the vice president and the viewer "the exact same ill service" of focusing on Biden's gaffes without "providing the proper context":
CNN host Jake Tapper advocated the Republican piecemeal budgeting approach by claiming there is "no principled reason" for Democrats to oppose the strategy. But piecemeal funding keeps the government from fully functioning and ignores those who lack the clout to get their programs funded in that manner.
After failing to avert a government shutdown by passing a budget, House Republicans adopted a "piecemeal" approach, attempting to pass budgetary items individually. During an October 7 CNN special on the government shutdown, host Jake Tapper argued that "there is no principled reason I can see" for Democrats to oppose the GOP's approach, claiming it's "just that Democrats don't like the politics." Earlier in the show, Tapper asked Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to explain Democrats' votes to provide funding for military salaries and back pay for furloughed workers.* Tapper later claimed it's "not a principle to say, 'Well, we want to do it all at once'":
But the GOP's piecemeal budgeting efforts have faced widespread criticism. Think Progress found that "The government has not typically been funded by temporary extensions, or continuing resolutions (CRs), but through full budgets." The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also criticized the piecemeal method. Tom Tarantino, Chief policy officer for IAVA, explained that "The only way to solve this problem is to restart the government" because of the shutdown's disproportionate effects for veteran employment. The Center for Science In The Public Interest (CSPI) opposed the House bill H.J. Res 77 which would fund parts of the government but not others, explaining that "food safety requires the concerted effort of 13 different agencies" so "Opening FDA alone would not be enough to protect the public from potential risks." CSPI continued:
FDA works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify and locate the source of a foodborne illness outbreak.
Besides the FDA, CDC, and USDA, the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration examines seafood for safety and quality, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates the use of pesticides, and the Department of Homeland Security coordinates all those agencies' security activities.
CNN hosted Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt -- who has suggested the government may have been behind a recent mass shooting -- to discuss the status of the national gun debate following the recall of two Colorado state senators over their support for stronger gun laws.
During his September 11 appearance on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, Pratt expressed opposition to background checks on any gun sale and suggested that fellow guest Jim Kessler, the co-founder of centrist think tank Third Way, "like[s] bodies piling up," because of Kessler's opposition to guns in schools:
To support his attack on Kessler, Pratt claimed that "all the mass murders occurred in gun-free zones, pure gun-free zones, in the last 20 years, all of them." In fact, an analysis conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 13 of 56 mass shooting incidents that occurred between January 2009 and January 2013 took place where guns were prohibited. Schools, where guns are typically not allowed, are actually among the safest places for young people.
Major news organizations have honored Chelsea Manning's - formerly known as Bradley Manning - explicit request to be identified as a woman, but CNN continues to make excuses for misgendering Manning in its news coverage.
On August 22, Manning - who will soon begin serving a prison sentence for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks - announced in a statement to NBC that she wishes to be identified as a woman and go by the name Chelsea, stating:
As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).
Following Manning's announcement, many news organizations struggled with deciding how to identify Manning in their reporting. Some outlets, like Slate and Mother Jones, quickly honored Manning's request and began referring to her as a female. Others, like The New York Times and the Associated Press, were reluctant at first but did agree to stop misgendering her, stating that they had been "persuaded" by arguments in favor of correctly identifying Manning.
CNN, however, has continued to refer to Manning by the name Bradley and use male pronouns.
During the August 22 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper explained that CNN will continue to refer to Manning as a male because "he has not yet legally changed his name." Moments later, he spoke with Lauren McNamara - who he identified as "a transgender" - about Manning's request for hormone therapy while in prison:
Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC all covered a 2001 study by psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer that purported to show that a "change in one's sexual orientation was possible." Anti-gay groups claiming homosexuality is a choice have repeatedly cited the study. Last month, Spitzer retracted the study, and while MSNBC covered Spitzer's retraction, neither CNN nor Fox has done so, according to the Nexis database.
Right-wing media have been hyping reports from an Indian news agency that President Obama's upcoming trip to India will cost $200 million a day and will require 34 warships to be stationed off the Indian coast. In fact, the White House, the Secret Service and the Pentagon have called the claims false, and numerous U.S. media sources question the numbers.
The question for the mainstream press, as always, is how to deal with egregious falsehoods that take hold and quickly drive our political discourse. Sometimes I think the right-wing plan is to just drown everyone in so many lies that it becomes too time consuming for journalists to fact-check all the fabrications. And perhaps that's why so often the lies are not confronted.
Happily, the India trip lie is being forcefully knocked down from some mainstream media outlets such CNN and ABC News. And that's exactly the right way to confront a misinformation campaign -- call it out for what it is. Don't look away, or issue it's-just-Rush-being-Rush type of passes to powerful pundits who can't tell the truth. The correct thing to do is to say without apology, that these people are lying about the President of the United States, they don't seem to care that they're lying, and most likely they know they're lying. ($2 billion in security costs for a presidential visit? On what planet?)
And to his credit, that's essentially what Anderson Cooper did on last night's show:
And it's what ABC's Jake Tapper did on Good Morning America:
Meanwhile on her program last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow also debunked the India trip idiocy. But Maddow went a bit further and explained the larger, disturbing trend in play, which is how the "alternative, self-contained, right-wing media world" fabricates and deceives on purpose; how it's designed to spread misinformation. Maddow notes the increasing trouble with that is that more and more Republican political leaders are taking that right-wing misinformation ($2 billion) and deploying it into the real world.
Maddow laments that because of its self-contained structure there's no longer an effective debunking process for right-wing lies because nobody inside that world acknowledges the outside world. True to a point. But I still think it's effective and important and necessary for independent journalists to call out this nonsense and let right-wing pundits know they cannot always lie with impunity.
As much as novelty fact-checking (news outlets creating fact-check gimmicks when it should be a normal part of reporting) may be trivializing an important issue, it's good to see Christiane Amanpour continuing the practice on ABC's This Week which she helmed for the first time as its new host this weekend.
Back in April, This Week guest-host Jack Tapper partnered with PolitiFact.com to offer fact-checks each week of ABC's important Sunday show.
PolitiFact editor Bill Adair told Media Matters, "I met with This Week's executive producer Ian Cameron a few weeks ago and we decided that we really liked how it was going and that it was a valuable service for This Week's viewers and PolitiFact readers." Adding, "so, we decided to keep it going."
Thus far, This Week remains the only Sunday morning network political talk show to offer an independent fact-check. Media Matters' partner organization Political Correction has been providing fact-checks of the Sunday shows for seven months.
From the July 4 edition of ABC's This Week:
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First there was Jake Tapper, interim-host of ABC's This Week, partnering with PolitiFact.com to offer viewers a fact-check of the Sunday morning program.
In an act of policing itself, today TNR launches The In-House Critics, a blog that offers regular criticism of itself from the Right and Left.
Editor Franklin Foer explained in a statement that "while disagreement between writers exists in spades on TNR.com, The In-House Critics represents an experiment in formalizing it."
So they've asked Jim Manzi ("several clicks to our right") and Michael Kazin ("several to our left") to "regularly disagree with us-to write short pieces that call us out when they see us making dubious intellectual leaps, and to serve as collegial irritants to our assumptions."
While I doubt other publications will take TNR's lead it would certainly be refreshing to see others looking at their own work with a critical eye. I'm not holding my breath though. Remember, none of Tapper's rivals have followed his example. In fact, two of them have said people watching at home can fact-check on their own time.
Over the years, we've done a variety of reports documenting the lack of progressive voices as well as gender and ethnic diversity on the all-important Sunday morning network political chat shows. As Media Matters' Jamison Foser noted earlier this week:
Politico reported a finding by American University's Women & Politics Institute that "female lawmakers have composed 13.5 percent of the total Sunday show appearances by all representatives and senators this year." (That finding was consistent with a 2007 Media Matters study that examined all Sunday show guests -- not just lawmakers -- in 2005 and 2006, finding that about 80 percent of guests were men and roughly 90 percent were white.)
The reason for this disparity is simple: the Sunday shows do not prioritize the diversity of their guest lists. This is true of gender diversity, racial and ethnic diversity, and, too often, diversity of viewpoints and policy positions. (In the run-up to the Iraq war, for example, Meet the Press hosted nearly three times as many Democrats who supported the Congressional measure authorizing the use of force as Democrats who opposed it -- despite the fact that a majority of Congressional Democrats opposed the measure.)
He goes on to note that the network's responsible for the disparity are offering nothing but excuses saying, it is "quite revealing that a Sunday show producer defends her team's efforts to book women by saying they've tried 25 times to book one woman, rather than saying they've tried to book 25 women." He continues:
If you were trying to increase the number of women who appear on your Sunday show, would you A) keep inviting the same woman over and over again, despite the fact that she has declined 25 invitations and despite the fact that you think she is "just unwilling" to be your guest, or B) Find other women to invite?
It's not the first time the networks' have offered up hollow excuses for their lack of diversity.
When Media Matters released its first Sunday show report looking at "nearly 7,000 guest appearances during President Bill Clinton's second term, President George W. Bush's first term, and the year 2005," there were several startling findings:
The networks responded with, you guessed it, excuses. Representatives from the CBS and NBC Sunday shows said that the party in the White House would undoubtedly hold a booking edge because they have so many more newsmakers. This particular excuse ignored the many advantages Republicans and conservatives had during President Clinton's second term. The shows then argued that it was because Republicans controlled Congress. Okay, so how would the right's booking advantage be affected when Democrats won the House and Senate in 2006?
Media Matters' follow-up report found that although control of Congress had switched hands, network practices remained largely unchanged with conservatives and Republicans holding many of the same advantages they had for so many years.
The dreadful Sunday show excuse parade doesn't only march surrounding questions of diversity.
After Jake Tapper -- interim host of ABC's This Week -- began working with PolitiFact.com on a trial basis to provide a weekly fact-check of the network's Sunday show, two of his rivals swatted away suggestions that they too take up the practice.
David Gregory -- host of NBC's Meet the Press -- said of fact-checking his program, "people can fact-check Meet the Press every Sunday on their own terms."
Bob Schieffer -- host of CBS' Face the Nation -- struck the same chord saying, "everybody's welcome to fact-check us all they want" adding "I kind of think that by the time we get around to fact-checking, we'd already be fact-checked."
Yep, people upset with the lack of accountability (and journalism) dolled out on Sunday are free to do their own fact-checking. Talk about avoiding responsibility.
I guess, If It's Sunday, It's Excuses.
Two weeks ago, I double-dog-dared Fox News contributor Sarah Palin to take ABC News' Jake Tapper up on his offer to appear on This Week.
As Media Matters' Eric Boehlert went on to note:
I hope she accepts the offer. But I don't think she'll bite, for the very simple reason that she has categorically refused to answer any questions from non-right-wing journalists, and non-Fox News cheerleaders, for going on a year now. That's a fact. But you don't hear Beltway journalists complain. (They don't seem to mind being habitually snubbed. In fact, they reward her with more free news coverage.)
We've simply never seen an instance in modern American politics where a high-profile political figure was able to not only hide from the press, but advertise the fact that he/she was going to boycott the press. (And do it with glee!) And then have the press roll over and accept the categorical rejection. I mean c'mon, reporters now routinely type out Palin's Facebook notes as news.
Does anybody honestly think that if, say, after his 2000 election loss, Al Gore basically refashioned himself into some sort of relentless attack hack, a kind of whirling dervish of partisan misinformation, and positioned himself for a possible run in 2004, and Gore refused to answer questions from the Beltway press for more than a year, that an ABC News host would try to cajole Gore into appearing on his show?
Now the former half-term Governor of Alaska is making the rounds on local television news -- I guess it was something the Dutch suggested.
As Politico's Patrick Gavin reports:
It's not exactly a new strategy (ask George W. Bush...), but we've noticed that Sarah Palin is focusing more on local media lately (of course, having an exclusive contract with Fox News forbids her from going on certain other national outlets...).
As my colleague Ken Vogel put it, "Take that Lame Stream Media!"
I guess Tapper is only going to get that interview if he takes a demotion and moves to a rural ABC affiliate.
Perhaps I should have gone with the rarely used and "sinister triple-dog-dare."
From the June 6 edition of ABC's This Week:
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