Media figures have repeatedly forwarded the notion that the United States is currently facing a debt crisis. However, leaders of both parties agree there is no immediate crisis, and by focusing attention too heavily on deficit and debt reduction, the media distract from the more imminent problem of growth and jobs.
Throughout news coverage of recent budget negotiations, media figures have consistently framed discussions around the notion that the country faces a debt crisis, an assertion that is often presented uncritically and accepted as an indisputable fact. Since discussions are predicated on the assumption that a debt crisis exists, ensuing analysis of budget proposals is often solely focused on how far they go in reducing short term deficits and debt.
While media are convinced that a debt crisis exists, leaders of both parties have made explicit statements to the contrary. In a March 12 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Obama claimed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt," a statement that was immediately criticized by conservative media. When asked if he agreed with Obama's statement regarding debt on the March 17 edition of ABC's This Week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceded that there is no immediate crisis. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a similar admission on CBS' Face the Nation, saying "we do not have a debt crisis right now."
Furthermore, the media's focus on a "debt crisis" has necessarily steered the debate about budgets toward how the parties will sufficiently address short term deficits. Economists, meanwhile, have repeatedly argued that undue focus on deficits and debt distracts from the more pressing need for economic growth and reduced unemployment.
The bipartisan admission that there is no immediate debt crisis provides media with an opportunity to reframe their budget negotiations coverage around economic growth.
Video by Alan Pyke.
On the same day that Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) high profile filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency received widespread media attention, another filibuster that blocked confirmation for one of President Obama's nominees went completely unnoticed by the broadcast networks and cable news channels.
Paul's filibuster, which delved into serious questions about drone policy and national security, touched off a robust debate in the media. Paul's talking filibuster garnered extensive media attention the same day. According to a Nexis search, Paul was featured in at least 20 news segments Wednesday: 9 on CNN, 6 on Fox News, 4 on MSNBC, and 1 on NBC.
By contrast, not a single broadcast network or cable news channel reported on the silent filibuster of Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
President Obama first nominated Halligan to the DC appellate court in September 2010. Senate Republicans blocked her nomination via filibuster in December 2011. Obama renominated Halligan on January 3, but Republicans again blocked her nomination on Wednesday when 40 Senate Republicans rejected a motion that would allow her confirmation to proceed to an up-or-down vote.
As The Washington Post noted, this GOP obstruction came in the face of widespread support for Halligan in the legal community:
Against the distorted view of Ms. Halligan's record that Republicans have offered stand the endorsements of prominent legal minds both liberal and conservative, a unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association and a storied career in public service and private practice.
While Paul's rare example of a talking filibuster attracted widespread media coverage, silent filibusters have become increasingly common tools to block Obama's nominees.
A November 2012 report from the Alliance for Justice illustrated how Senators' use of the filibuster on judicial nominations has increased drastically during the Obama administration:
The strategy comes amid what the Center for American Progress has described as a judicial vacancy crisis in the federal courts system.
The contrast between the media's extensive coverage of Paul's filibuster and the one used to block Halligan rejection is a testimony to how common the silent filibuster is under the Obama administration, and why it's important for the media not to go quiet.
A Media Matters analysis found that the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC largely ignored climate change in 2012, despite record-breaking temperatures and a series of extreme weather events in the U.S. By contrast, PBS NewsHour devoted almost twice as many segments to climate change as the other networks combined.
When the National Climatic Data Center announced Tuesday that 2012 was the hottest year in recorded history for the contiguous U.S., broadcast networks admirably devoted segments connecting the announcement to climate change. But for most of the year they turned a blind eye to climate change, even while reporting on its consequences. Together, the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC devoted only 12 segments to climate change in 2012. PBS' coverage stood out, with its nightly news program dedicating 23 segments to the issue:
PBS' coverage included interviews with 29 climate scientists -- more than ABC, CBS and NBC combined. In September, the program made the mistake of seeking false balance in its reporting, giving non-expert Anthony Watts a platform to cast doubt on the science of climate change. PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler later criticized the segment, noting that it is "wrong to create an artificial or false equivalence" between the views of climate "skeptics" and the established science. But in the majority of its coverage, PBS acknowledged the scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet and turned to climate experts to educate its audience on the causes and impacts of climate change.
The news shows of the major networks ABC, NBC, and CBS did not report on the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired after the House failed to reauthorize it by the close of the 112th Congress on Tuesday. The reauthorization of the law was blocked by House Republicans over provisions that extended domestic violence protection to immigrants, LGBT Americans, and Native Americans.
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre will be the "exclusive" guest on NBC's Meet the Press on December 23, nine days after the horrific shooting in Newtown, CT, and five days after the NRA mustered the courage to finally comment on the tragedy. Meet the Press moderator David Gregory is soliciting questions for LaPierre via Twitter, and we're happy to propose a few that touch on LaPierre's and the NRA's credibility on gun rights, drawing from LaPierre's long record of conspiratorial rhetoric in the name of aiding the firearms lobby.
LaPierre: Obama will "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution."
At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, LaPierre delivered a speech sketching out what he saw coming should President Obama win reelection:
LAPIERRE: We see the president's strategy crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms' freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution.
The only way to "erase" a constitutional amendment is with another constitutional amendment. Given that the passage of an amendment requires two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of Congress (one of which is controlled by Republicans) and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures (more than half of which are controlled by Republicans), the chances of the Second Amendment being "erased" any time soon are infinitesimally small - even if Democrats supported such a thing. And in fact, Obama himself has repeatedly stated that he supports both the Second Amendment and passing reasonable restrictions on guns - as do most NRA members.
QUESTION: "There is no plausible scenario in which President Obama or the Democrats could possibly remove the Second Amendment from the Constitution, so how can you justify your claim that the president will do so in his second term?"
Two former network news presidents offered criticism following the revelation that a Fox News contributor had urged Gen. David Petraeus to run for president at the request of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
"That just isn't what a news guy does," said Michael Gartner, who served as NBC News president from 1988 to 1993. "Twenty years ago it wouldn't have been done. But that was a different era."
The critiques come in response to a December 4 report from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward that Fox News contributor K.T. McFarland, on instructions from Ailes, had urged Petraeus to run for president during a recorded 2011 interview in Afghanistan.
McFarland suggested that Ailes would leave Fox to work on Petraeus' campaign and that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch might "bankroll" the effort.
During the same interview with Petraeus, McFarland said of Ailes, "he loves you, and everybody at Fox loves you. So what I'm supposed to say directly from him to you, through me, is first of all, is there anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?"
Media critics have nonetheless responded harshly to the McFarland-Petraeus interview, with Dylan Byers at Politico writing that no other major news outlet would tolerate such behavior from their top executive, and Erik Wemple at the Post writing that it indicated "Fox News is corrupt."
David Westin, who served as ABC News president from 1997 to 2010, also offered concern about the exchange to Media Matters.
While Westin said he did not know the details of Ailes' direct involvement, and noted Ailes had told Bob Woodward his comments to MacFarland had been "more of a joke" than a serious request, Westin did offer criticism of such communications between news person and news subject.
"The report had someone from Fox News, now it was a contributor, not on staff, but a contributor, saying things to a subject of news coverage that normally a journalist wouldn't say," Westin said late December 4. "You need to keep some distance from the people you're covering and you don't want to be partial for them or against them either way, so what I read would be something that normally a journalist wouldn't do."
A study released on Monday found that the Great Barrier Reef's coral cover declined by 50% in the past 27 years, partially as a result of human activities. These dramatic findings have caught the attention of scientists, politicians and some media outlets -- even Fox News -- but have been ignored by ABC, NBC, MSNBC and several major newspapers.
Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science examined thousands of surveys of the area and found that the amount of seafloor covered with coral has decreased from 28% to 13.8% since 1985, with two-thirds of the decline occurring since 1998. They warned that if this trend continues, "coral cover could halve again by 2022."
The study attributed about half of this loss to intense tropical cyclones, which have caused significant damage to the central and southern parts of the reef and may become more intense as a result of climate change. Because coral reefs act as a protective buffer against tropical storms, this decline exacerbates the impact of storms on marine life and coastal communities.
Another major factor in reef decline is nutrient runoff from agriculture, which has led to "population explosions" of coral-consuming crown-of-thorns starfish along the edge of the reef. Rising ocean temperatures are also increasing the frequency and intensity of coral bleaching, which has had "major detrimental impacts" in the northern and central parts of the Great Barrier Reef. The researchers say this problem is "directly attributable to rising atmospheric greenhouse gases" and that "bleaching mortality will almost certainly increase" as temperatures continue to rise.
These threats -- combined with other problems like ocean acidification, overfishing, and coastal development -- have serious implications for the marine life that depends on the Great Barrier Reef and the millions of tourists who come to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
But ABC and NBC have yet to report on the reef's significant decline during their news broadcasts. Meanwhile, CBS, CNN and even Fox News covered the story, although CNN was the only network to explain on-air that human activity is contributing to the problem:
MSNBC, the Associated Press, USA TODAY, and The Wall Street Journal also did not cover the study.
Three panelists who appeared with President Barack Obama at the 1998 conference where he mentioned "redistribution" agree that his comments were wrongly taken out of context by the conservative press and some mainstream media outlets.
The panelists at the Loyola University event also recall then-state senator Obama discussing funding of education and other social programs through foundations and public funds.
"Shame on them," said Maureen Hellwig, who was a program coordinator for the Policy Research Action Group, a consortium of non-profit community organizations, when she appeared on the panel. "How do you take one phrase and say therefore this person is a socialist? You need to know a lot more about him, give other examples. He wasn't discussing socialism at the meeting, he was discussing distribution of public funds to produce good public adult education."
The conference made news this week after a video clip of Obama at the event was posted on YouTube and picked up by The Drudge Report and several news outlets.
Initially, Drudge linked to a video clip with a photo of Obama and the headline, "I actually believe in redistribution." That quote was picked up by Gateway Pundit blogger Jim Hoft who used the video to call Obama "America's Socialist In Chief."
But the quote flagged by Drudge and other conservatives left off the end of Obama's sentence: "at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot."
Obama was talking about the role of government in providing services, but also criticizing ineffective forms of government. For instance, Obama says in the audio, "We do have to be innovative in thinking, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live?"
He was speaking broadly about pooling resources to make sure that everyone has fair access.
Transcript of the YouTube audio:
OBAMA: Let me just close by saying, as we think about the policy research surrounding the issues that I just named, policy research for the working poor, broadly defined, I think that what we're going to have to do is somehow resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all. There has been a systematic -- I don't think it's too strong to call it a propaganda campaign against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policymaking. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago Public Schools.
What that means, then, is, is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we're all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live? And my suggestion, I guess, would be that the trick -- and this is one of the few areas where I think there are technical issues that have to be dealt with, as opposed to just political issues -- I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot.
But that didn't stop several news outlets, including Fox News, from hyping the edited clip and failing to offer full context to suggest that Obama is a closet extremist.
NBC News posted and reported on the full context of the clip Thursday, stating on its website:
Mitt Romney's campaign this week has pounced on a 14-year-old clip of Obama speaking about "redistribution" in October 1998 at a conference in Chicago, in which the future president seems to extol the virtues of redistributing wealth.
Yet NBC News has obtained the entirety of the relevant remarks, which includes additional comments by Obama that weren't included in the video circulated by Republicans. That omission features additional words of praise for "competition" and the "marketplace" by the then-state senator.
This morning's Meet the Press featured a panel discussion on moderator David Gregory's interview with Mitt Romney, and the discussion turned to whether Romney will be able to separate himself from the policies of George W. Bush, given their persistent unpopularity. The panelists were near unanimous in their agreement that Romney was being hampered by the Bush legacy; the only dissenter was Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett, who argued that "Bush did a lot of fine things," but Romney already has separated himself from Bush "by having Paul Ryan there. Paul Ryan was a critic of Bush spending and he's a critic of Obama spending."
I'm not sure how many times I'll have to write this, but I'll keep writing it for as long as I have to: Paul Ryan voted for every high-cost, deficit-exploding, debt-ballooning policy the Bush White House put in place. He voted for Bush's tax cuts on income and capital gains. He voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted for the unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit. He voted for TARP. That's a whole lot of spending (plus a whole lot of revenue reduction), and those policies tell almost the entire story of the current deficits and public debt.
Paul Ryan is as much an ambassador of Bush-era policies as anyone, and to claim otherwise is nothing short of nonsense.
Yesterday, after the Treasury Department announced that total public debt has surpassed $16 trillion, a number of media outlets quoted vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan attacking President Obama for not reducing said debt. "Of all the broken promises from President Obama, this is probably the worst one because this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," said Ryan in Iowa, stumping for Mitt Romney. That debt, however, didn't create itself. It's primarily the product of Bush-era policies that Paul Ryan voted to enact -- a fact that was lost in the coverage of Ryan attacking the debt he helped create.
Uncritical quotation of Ryan's debt attack abounds -- NBC, ABC, the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and so on. But as Ezra Klein pointed out during last week's Republican National Convention, which featured a prominently displayed debt clock in the convention hall, the majority of current debt can be laid at the feet of George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress of the early 2000s.
The specific Bush-era policies driving debt, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are the tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bailouts of Wall Street and Fannie and Freddie. Economic recovery measures put in place under Obama, i.e. the stimulus, play a comparatively miniscule part in the total debt picture.
Paul Ryan voted for the tax cuts. He voted for the wars. He voted for TARP. Every Bush-era policy that ballooned the debt to its current level got the Paul Ryan stamp of approval. And if press outlets are going to quote him saying "this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," they should note that this "threat" is partially of his own creation.
On Wednesday, scientists announced that melting over the Greenland ice sheet has already "shattered the seasonal record" set in 2010, with four weeks left before the end of the melting season. Scientists say this record melting is driven by rising Arctic temperatures and could have serious consequences for the environment and coastal communities. But the major media outlets are once again failing to report on clear evidence that our climate is changing.
Professor Marco Tedesco, whose research was sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, examined satellite data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and found that Greenland has "experienced extreme melting in nearly every region" this year. He concluded: "With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a goliath year - the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979."
Tedesco looked at the extent and duration of melting to determine the "cumulative melting index," which measures the "strength" of the melting season. The following chart illustrates that by early August, Greenland's melting index was already higher than at any time in the past 30 years:
Tedesco attributed his findings to rising temperatures in the Arctic, noting that accelerated melting and ice sheet thinning are consistent with models of the effects of climate change. But, he added, "the difference is how quickly this seems to be happening."
Amid heavy scandal-mongering from Fox, NBC News centered a news report on Tuesday around deceptively truncated comments President Obama made during a July 13 campaign appearance, comments right-wing media have been distorting for days to accuse Obama of dismissing business owners.
In other words, the Fox Cycle is in full effect.
The Fox Cycle is the phenomenon where Fox News helps the conservative fringe bring bogus stories into mainstream outlets. It works like this:
1. Right-wing bloggers, talk radio hosts, and other conservative media outlets start promoting and distorting the story.
2. Fox News picks up the story and gives it heavy, one-sided coverage.
3. Fox News and conservative media attack the "liberal media" for ignoring the distorted story.
4. Mainstream media outlets eventually cover the story, echoing the right-wing distortions.
5. Fox News receives credit for promoting the story.
6. The story is later proven to be false or wildly misleading, long after damage is done.
That cycle was at work this week, after Obama made the unremarkable observation that businesses do not succeed in a vacuum, but that public infrastructure -- such as roads, schools, and fire departments -- create a community that supports businesses:
OBAMA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
Stage 1 of the Fox Cycle hit soon after Obama made those comments, as the right-wing fringe distorted them. Focusing singularly on Obama's statement, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that," these media conservatives accused the president of expressing hostility toward business. These attacks ignored the previous sentence in Obama's comments, when was talking about investments in roads and bridges.
After incessantly covering the bankruptcy of Solyndra, the television media has largely overlooked the failure of a Massachusetts solar company championed by then-Governor Mitt Romney. The major cable and broadcast networks have failed to point out Romney's flip-flop on government clean energy investments, which he supported in Massachusetts and which enjoyed bipartisan support before the GOP turned Solyndra into a political punch line.
Mitt Romney has made Solyndra a central part of his campaign message, calling it a symbol of "crony capitalism" even though an extensive investigation has turned up "no evidence of wrongdoing." Earlier this month, Romney made a campaign stop at Solyndra's headquarters to lambaste the Obama administration's investments in clean energy. Many news outlets covered the event without mentioning that Romney made similar investments in renewable energy companies as Governor of Massachusetts.
Shortly after taking office in January 2003, Romney held a press conference at Konarka Technologies to award the company a $1.5 million loan as part of a new Green Energy Fund. Romney predicted the state-backed venture capital fund would "become a major economic springboard for the Commonwealth by focusing on job creation in the renewable energy sector." Since then, three of the twelve companies supported by the Green Energy Fund have gone bankrupt or been sold at a loss.
Konarka Technologies declared bankruptcy on June 1 -- the day after Romney's press conference at Solyndra. Since then, the major cable (CNN, MSNBC, Fox) and broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) networks have discussed Konarka only four times, for a total of about 15 minutes.* By contrast, the same networks spent over ten hours covering Solyndra in the weeks following its bankruptcy announcement.
Konarka's failure does not detract from the overall success of Massachusetts' green energy investments, most of which "continue to thrive" according to William Osborn, a general partner at the Green Energy Fund. Osborn told the Associated Press that the program anticipated some failures given the inherent risk associated with these investments:
Osborn said the loss of three companies out of a dozen isn't unusual in the venture capital world, which inherently involves some risk. He defended the decision to invest in Konarka, saying that in 2003 it was impossible to foresee the scale of investment that China would place on solar manufacturing -- the same pressure that officials at Solyndra cited as a key reason for its failure.
Similarly, Congress set aside ample funds to cover any losses from the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program, anticipating that not all investments would be successful -- a point that was largely overlooked by mainstream news outlets. And despite the media's attempt to paint this program as a failure, only 2 out of 26 loan guarantee recipients have filed for bankruptcy, and the majority of the loans are low-risk. As Grist noted, the loan program's failure rate is far lower than that of private venture capital investments in clean energy.
A Media Matters report released this week found that broadcast news coverage of climate change has dropped significantly since 2009, despite a series of key developments in climate science and politics.
Last year, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX spent a total of only 47 minutes discussing climate change. The same networks spent more than twice as much time covering Donald Trump's presidential ambitions and his fruitless investigation into President Obama's birth certificate.
For more on broadcast coverage of climate change, check out the full study here.
A Media Matters analysis shows that as a whole, news coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline between August 1 and December 31 favored pipeline proponents. Although the project would create few long-term employment opportunities, the pipeline was primarily portrayed as a jobs issue. Pro-pipeline voices were quoted more frequently than those opposed, and dubious industry estimates of job creation were uncritically repeated 5 times more often than they were questioned. Meanwhile, concerns about the State Department's review process and potential environmental consequences were often overlooked, particularly by television outlets.