The final installment of the U.N.'s top climate report, which calls for prompt, extensive action to avoid calamitous impacts from climate change, garnered relatively little attention from the major print, cable and broadcast media outlets compared to the first installment. However, coverage of the third report rightfully gave far less space to those who cast doubt on the science.
Over the past year, broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC failed to mention the role of reduced taxes on the wealthy as a cause of inequality, despite the fact that economists view taxes as a primary driver of income gaps.
In the five years since President Obama's health care reform plan -- which became the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- was first introduced, the right-wing media has waged a continuous campaign to attack the law through misinformation, deception, and outright lies.
The Department of Energy's clean energy loan program helped fuel the achievements of electric car company Tesla Motors, yet the major broadcast, cable and print media only mentioned the loan in 20 percent of their coverage of Tesla in 2013 (and in only 7 percent of coverage of Nissan's best-selling electric car, the Leaf). Meanwhile, 84 percent of coverage of Fisker, an electric car company that declared bankruptcy, mentioned its federal loan. This skewed coverage may have misinformed the public about the overwhelmingly positive success rate of the program.
NBC aired an hour-long special on the effects of climate change, making bold connections to current extreme weather events and featuring several climate scientists. The network, which previously devoted scant coverage to climate change, is proving that it is taking important steps to improve its coverage of global warming.
On April 6, NBC aired an hour-long special titled "Our Year Of Extremes: Did Climate Change Just Hit Home?" Ann Curry took the reins, making important connections between extreme weather and global warming, and featuring a climate scientist on nearly every topic. From the special:
Media Matters found that broadcast networks, including NBC, have been lacking on climate change coverage in recent years -- Sunday shows devoted only 27 minutes to the topic in all of 2013, with NBC's Meet the Press failing to even substantially mention climate change last year. In response to this paucity of media coverage, a group of senators released a letter urging broadcast networks to devote more airtime to this "critically important issue."
And NBC's coverage on climate change has been improving. When the United Nations released a report assessing the impacts of climate change, a joint work of hundreds of top climate scientists and experts, NBC led its nightly news program with the story, featuring two climate scientists who contributed to the report. (Curry also frequently referenced this report during her climate change special). And NBC's nightly 2013 coverage on climate change was an improvement from 2012, covering the topic four times more than the year prior and giving greater time to scientists.
In "Our Year Of Extremes," Curry took viewers to see how climate change "is already being felt in every continent and across the oceans" -- the melting Arctic sea ice, an "unrelenting" California drought, the Colorado summer floods, western wildfires, and drowning coastlines. She emphasized the impacts on human welfare, such as rising food prices from a suffering agriculture industry in California, a deteriorating way of life for Arctic Inuits, and New York City homes destroyed by a hurricane exacerbated by climate change. In each case, Curry turned to climate experts on the topic, a welcome change. Throughout the hour-long special, Curry interviewed four climate scientists: glaciology expert Jason Box, Florida Atlantic University's Keren Bolter, Rutgers professor Jennifer Francis, and NASA's Tom Wagner.
By making hard-hitting connections between global warming and impacts being felt today, and turning to the work of established climate scientists, NBC's climate change special shows that the network is continuing to make strides on an issue of critical importance.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the first quarter of 2014. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA and the minimum wage are causes of poor job growth.
From an April 1 Capitol Hill Hearing recorded on C-SPAN2:
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A senator from each party criticized the notion -- heavily promoted by the right-wing media -- that President Obama's foreign policy somehow impelled Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Since Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February, conservative media have suggested that the move was the result of the "weakness" of Obama's responses to events in Syria and Libya and suggests that he's lost "moral authority." Conservatives offered no such argument about Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia, which occurred during the Bush administration.
David Gregory highlighted this argument on the March 16 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, pointing out that Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer had criticized President Obama's actions toward Russia as "fruitless accommodationism." Gregory then asked his bipartisan panel if Obama's foreign policy "invite[s]" Russian President Vladimir Putin "to take the action he's taken ... when the president doesn't follow through in Syria."
Both Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ), newly returned from Ukraine, pushed back on Krauthammer's criticism. Durbin said that "Mr. Krauthammer has a short memory," highlighting the similarities between the current crisis and Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia by asking, "What does Mr. Krauthammer say of the Bush administration in those days?" Flake agreed, saying that while he has been critical of President Obama in the past, "I don't think anything the president did or said lended itself to what Putin did here."
A national coalition of organizations has signed a letter to four major broadcast network heads expressing their concern over the failure of broadcast evening news programs to note the public cost of low wages.
A recently released Media Matters report found that over the past year, evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS have been largely silent about the burden that low minimum wages place on the financial security of public safety net programs. The report found that from March 1, 2013, through March 10, 2014, the networks only mentioned the reliance of minimum wage workers on federal, state, and local anti-poverty programs such as food assistance and welfare programs eight times, with PBS providing the majority.
22 national organizations that advocate on behalf of the millions of workers that would benefit from a minimum wage increase wrote the heads of the broadcast networks to express their "deep concern" over coverage of "the impact of low minimum wages on hard-working Americans, their families, and our country":
When it comes to growing our economy and improving the livelihoods of workers, it's increasingly imperative that your evening news programs cover the cost of inaction. Because of low wages, many workers in the fast food industry alone -- many of whom make wages at or just above the current minimum wage -- are forced to rely on government assistance to the tune of almost $7 billion annually. Additionally, a recent analysis found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce necessary spending on food stamps by $4.6 billion annually.
Your evening news programs reach millions of Americans every night and frequently set the tone for how this issue is debated at the kitchen table, state legislatures, and the Halls of Congress. We urge you to correct this oversight and hope you will take greater action in the future to ensure that these programs tell the full story. We are happy to meet with you to discuss ways to make your minimum wage coverage more informative.
The full letter can be read below:
Despite mounting evidence that low minimum wages put pressure on government finances through the need for expanded safety net programs, over the past year, evening news programs on four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- have been largely silent about the public cost of low wages.
When the State Department released its final Environmental Impact Statement, nearly all the headlines read the same: "Report Opens Way to Approval for Keystone Pipeline" and "State Dept. Keystone XL Would Have Little Impact On Climate Change." Yet after Reuters broke the news last week that the State Department was wrong in its predictions of greatly expanded rail capacity, undermining its claim of no climate impact, no major media outlet amplified the report.
In a report released late on Friday, January 31, the State Department concluded that Keystone XL was "unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas" based on the assumption that if the pipeline were not built, the equivalent amount of tar sands would instead be transported by rail. It was this finding that the media trumpeted, largely ignoring that buried in the analysis, the State Department for the first time acknowledged that under some studied scenarios, the project could have the equivalent climate impact of adding 5.7 million new cars to the road. The idea that the Keystone XL would not harm the climate led many to declare that President Barack Obama should approve the pipeline, even spurring MSNBC host Ed Schultz to call for approval (before later reversing his stance) and liberal commentator James Carville to predict that the pipeline would be built.
On March 5, Reuters added to skepticism that locking in infrastructure enabling tar sands extraction would have no climate impact, reporting that the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had significantly overestimated the amount of tar sands that would move by rail from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The draft EIS projected that about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) would be moved along this route by rail before the end of 2013. However, a Reuters analysis found that "even in December, when deliveries were near their highest for the year, that tally did not top 40,000 bpd" -- less than a quarter of the State Department's prediction. The final EIS removed any specific projections of movement by rail.
Not a single major media outlet has reported on Reuters' finding, according to a Media Matters search.* In fact, some continued to repeat the State Department's claim that Keystone XL could be replaced by rail without mentioning the report.
Much of the initial coverage of the State Department's final EIS left out that an investigation at the time was looking into whether the contractor that wrote the report for the State Department had a conflict of interest in part because it was a member of the pro-pipeline American Petroleum Institute (API). The investigation later concluded that it did not, but environmentalists still contended it was based on too low of a bar. In fact, API told reporters prior to the final EIS release that it received news from inside the State Department about the timing and conclusions of the report, allowing it to spin the findings to reporters beforehand.
Meet the Press host David Gregory invited conservative activist Ralph Reed to comment on the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) event just held outside Washington, D.C., but never mentioned Reed's comparison of President Obama to segregationist George Wallace during his CPAC speech.
On March 7, Reed said during his speech at CPAC:
REED: And in Louisiana right now, this administration is trying to block the right of minority children to receive state aid to attend either a religious or a charter school where they are safe and where they can learn. Fifty years ago, George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and said that African-American students couldn't come in. Today, the Obama administration stands in that same schoolhouse door and refuses to let those children leave. It was wrong then, it is wrong now, and we say to President Obama, let those children go.
As Mother Jones reported, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made a similar comparison at CPAC. Wallace was famous for being pro-segregation as Alabama governor and in 1968 ran as a presidential candidate for a third party whose platform opposed civil rights. A Wallace staffer explained that "race and being opposed to the civil rights movement and all it meant was the very heart and soul of the Wallace campaign." And Wallace's 1998 Washington Post obituary stated that he "vilified blacks" in his campaign.
But in the approximately seven minutes Reed was on a Meet the Press panel that discussed CPAC and Republican politics, neither Gregory nor anyone else mentioned Reed's smear of Obama. Watch:
From the February 26 edition of MSNBC's NOW With Alex Wagner:
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A massive spill of toxic coal ash in a North Carolina river on February 2 has been entirely ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC. The spill has led to a federal investigation and allegations that the state's Governor -- who worked for the corporation behind the spill and has received substantial campaign donations from it -- has been too lenient on the company, which was discovered to have spilled coal ash into the river again on February 18.
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."