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.
When the Justice Department's Inspector General alleged in September that the DOJ had paid more than $16 per muffin at a 2009 conference, most major media outlets rushed to cover this latest example of "outrageous spending" by the government. But several of those same outlets -- Fox, CBS, NBC, and USA Today -- have failed to report that the IG has since retracted that claim.
Last Week, Media Matters released a report detailing coverage of the IG's initial allegation. Our study revealed that while network news, cables news, and top national newspapers reported on the $16-muffin claim, few outlets followed up when the IG's $16 figure was called into question by the Hilton hotel that hosted the conference.
On Friday, the IG's office officially retracted the $16-muffin claim. Here's a look at how the media outlets that initially reported the erroneous allegation have handled (or ignored) the IG's retraction.
Today, the Department of Justice's Inspector General officially retracted its allegation that at a 2009 conference, the DOJ had paid $4,200 for 250 muffins -- or, more than $16 per muffin. From the IG's statement:
After publication of the report, we received additional documents and information concerning the food and beverage costs at the EOIR conference. After further review of the newly provided documentation and information, and after discussions with the Capital Hilton and the Department, we determined that our initial conclusions concerning the itemized costs of refreshments at the EOIR conference were incorrect and that the Department did not pay $16 per muffin. We have therefore revised the report based on these additional documents and deleted references to any incorrect costs. We regret the error in our original report.
Earlier this week, Media Matters released a report detailing media coverage of the story on network news, cable news, and print. We discovered that while many outlets reported the initial $16 claim from the IG, few followed up when the figure was disputed by Hilton. Key findings from the report:
As we explained, the media's irresponsible coverage of "muffin-gate" reinforced the common conservative narrative of wasteful government spending. We'll be watching to see whether news outlets that pushed the IG's initial allegation inform their audiences that the $16-muffin claim has now been officially debunked.
When the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General published a September 2011 audit of conference expenses, the media focused on one finding in particular: the claim that the Justice Department had once paid $4,200 for 250 muffins at a conference in Washington -- or more than $16 per muffin. And as dubbed by ABC's Erica Hill, CBS, and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, "Muffin-gate" was born, reinforcing a common conservative narrative of wasteful government spending. As O'Reilly himself said on September 21: "But the $16 muffin now becomes a symbol of how wasteful the feds are with our tax dollars."
Within days, Hilton Worldwide, which hosted the 2009 conference in question, disputed the claim: "In Washington, the contracted breakfast included fresh fruit, coffee, juice, muffins, tax and gratuity for an inclusive price of $16 per person." And within a week of that, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the DOJ claimed "the actual price was $14.29 per person per day," and that "included breakfast and rental fees for the workshop space and conference rooms." Furthermore, Bloomberg reported that the IG's office subsequently "conceded that it might not have been in possession of all the facts." The IG's office told the magazine: "Since our report was issued, the Capital Hilton has stated that other food and beverage items, such as coffee, tea, and fruit, were included in the charged amount." The IG's link for the report now only states:
In September 2011, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General issued audit report number 11-43, Audit of Department of Justice Conference Planning and Food and Beverage Costs. After our report was issued, the Office of the Inspector General received additional documents concerning the food and beverage costs at one conference that had not previously been provided during the audit. We have reviewed these documents and will issue a revised report in the near future.
Sam Stein of The Huffington Post investigated print coverage of the story and concluded that only 37 of the 223 articles that pushed the $16-muffin myth "offered an explanation for the cost of the muffins or attempted to correct the record." He added that Bill O'Reilly continued to push the falsehood (and even took credit for breaking the story) during a September 28 appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart -- after Hilton disputed the $16-muffin claim.
Media Matters reviewed the transcripts of broadcast and cable news and the articles of the top five national newspapers for coverage of this story. Contrary to the fervor with which the media reported the initial claim from the IG, few outlets followed up with the updates from Hilton or the IG's office, leaving their audiences in the dark about the truth of the $16 muffin.
"Anchor babies" are a myth. Let's just get that right off. The image of a pregnant South American woman -- in some tales, she is eight-months along -- literally being dropped over the Southwestern border fence, which is what this offensive term can conjure, is the figment of an anti-immigrant imagination bent on overturning decades of settled law, if not the Constitution itself. What's more, the term is a racial slur. It's an ugly, derogatory, mean-spirited, racist jab directed at children for the imagined "crime" of being born in America to non-citizen parents. Some have said the slur is comparable to the N-word.
But in an article reporting that Chinese women are coming to the United States to give birth so their children will be U.S. citizens, NBC News used the term no less than nine times. The piece by Beijing-based journalist Ed Flanagan, headlined: "The trials and tribulations of China's 'anchor babies,' " began:
The question of children born of illegal immigrants -- so-called "anchor babies" -- was re-injected back into America's national discourse late last year when a U.S. study found that an estimated 340,000 of 4.3 million babies born in the United States in 2008 -- or every 1 in 15 -- had an illegal-immigrant parent.
While much of the debate -- and a healthy dose of vitriol -- was focused on immigrants of Hispanic background, stories of upper-class Chinese women flying to the United States in style and staying at private clinics to have their babies to take advantage of citizenship laws soon began to appear in the news cycle.
With them, a new breed of anchor baby was born, and their very existence changed the dynamics of the controversy completely.
While Hispanic anchor babies might be stereotypically viewed as coming from poverty and consequently destined to be heavily reliant on government social services, the parents of Chinese anchor babies were wealthy Chinese who legally paid their own way to the United States, freely spent money at American stores, and generally intended to return back to China soon after giving birth.
The article went on to report that the "motivations of these families are far-ranging: from a desire to provide better educational and travel opportunities to their children in an increasingly competitive and international job market, to a clever way to skirt China's one-child policy, to a desire to one day enjoy the American lifestyle and all the benefits -- both social and economic -- that entails." It further explained that while an American passport would someday provide the child with certain benefits once in the United States, it was far from being an asset in mainland China.
But what could have been an interesting and objective look at what Chinese families go through when they decide to come to America was marred by the numerous times "anchor baby" was thrown around.
I ask because this was the take-away from NBC's daily political tip sheet [emphasis added]:
To us, the most striking part of President Obama's "60 Minutes" interview was his admission that that he and his administration didn't compromise and work with the Republicans.
Here's what Obama said on 60 Minutes about the issue of compromise, specifically in terms of trying to pass health care legislation:
PRESIDENT OBMA So, ultimately, I had to make a decision: do I put all that aside, because it's gonna be bad politics? Or do I go ahead and try to do it because it will ultimately benefit the country? I made the decision to go ahead and do it. And it proved as costly politically as we expected. Probably actually a little more costly than we expected, politically.
KROFT: In what ways?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, partly because I couldn't get the kind of cooperation from Republicans that I had hoped for. We thought that if we shaped a bill that wasn't that different from bills that had previously been introduced by Republicans -- including a Republican governor in Massachusetts who's now running for President -- that, you know, we would be able to find some common ground there. And we just couldn't.
Did Obama go on 60 Minutes and admit his administration refused to compromise with Republicans? No. In fact, Obama said the opposite. He said his administration specifically crafted health care reform legislation that didn't look that different from what Republicans had supported in the past. (One health care bill voted out of committee included 161 Republican amendments.)
NBC's First Read might want to hit rewind on the president's 60 Minutes interview and watch it again.
Several Sunday talk show hosts allowed GOP lawmakers to push misinformation about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, without challenging or questioning their statements. The hosts of CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and Meet the Press allowed Republican senators to advance already debunked claims about Kagan's stance toward the Second Amendment, her opinions about Israel's Judge Barak, and her actions regarding military recruitment at Harvard Law School.
From the November 8 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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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.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll question advanced the false claim that a secret-ballot election is currently required before workers can form a union. In fact, under current law, a secret-ballot election is required only when an employer demands it; an employer can recognize a union if it is supported by a majority of workers.