This year's midterm election campaigns were filled with promises to dismantle climate change policies, at a time when climate action is more important than ever. But even against the backdrop of record-breaking temperatures, recent landmark climate reports, and candidates denying climate change, the broadcast networks ignored the implications of climate change in their evening news coverage of the midterms.
A Media Matters analysis of broadcast networks' coverage of the midterm elections found that their nightly news programs glossed over policy issues. Moreover, the programs offered no discussion about climate change or how the candidates plan to address the issue.
Here are several opportunities that the media could have used to bring climate change into their discussion of the midterm elections.
Environmental issues were a top platform issue in this year's elections; environment and energy-related issues were the "third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements" according to an analysis from Kantar Media/CMAG, especially in battlegrounds states like Kentucky and West Virginia. The New York Times reported that the surge in energy and environmental ads "suggests the prominent role that the issues could play in the 2016 presidential race."
Many of these ads included promises to dismantle environmental regulations and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A main target of conservative attacks has been the EPA's Clean Power Plan, a key piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which has been seen by foreign government leaders as an important step for reaching a global agreement on climate change. Dismantling the Climate Action Plan could have global ramifications and dissuade other countriesfrom taking action to curb emissions themselves.
At the same time, the reality of climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The globe just experienced the hottest June, August, and September on record, as well as the warmest six-month stretch ever recorded.
Just days before the elections, the United Nations' climate panel released the culmination of their five-year effort to synthesize climate science in a report concluding that the world needs to take action and completely phase out fossil fuels by 2100 to avoid the "irreversible"effects of man-made climate change.
Yet several GOP candidates waffled on the issue of climate change, or even backtracked to global warming denial. Denial of climate science has become something of a litmus test for Republican politicians, and in order to deflect questions about their belief in climate change, candidates have repeated the refrain: "I'm not a scientist."
A plurality of Americans agree that climate change is happening and support government effort to curb emissions, but now that the Senate has flipped, the nation's current efforts to address climate change are at risk.
The broadcast nightly news programs have an alarming trend of paltry climate change coverage. Their coverage of the midterm elections fits in with this trend --instead of focusing on climate issues, the networks devoted much of their midterm coverage to President Obama's low favorability ratings.
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
Chuck Todd hopes the media has "grown up" and will avoid sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 presidential run.
In the final installment of Media Matters' three-part interview series with Todd, the new Meet the Press host discusses the challenges facing media outlets covering a possible Clinton White House bid.
During her 2008 presidential run, Clinton faced near-constant sexism from the press. Asked whether things might be different if Clinton chooses to run in 2016, Todd explained he'd "like to think the media's grown up about that." Nonetheless, he cautioned, "Identity politics can sometimes bring out the worst in people on the left and right."
According to Todd, the Clintons' decades-long presence in the public eye presents challenges for both her potential campaign and for reporters that might eventually cover it.
In a September interview with PBS host Charlie Rose, Todd said that the press often misrepresents the idea that there is a "Clinton fatigue problem," explaining that the "fatigue" actually rests with the press and not people in the Democratic Party, with whom the former secretary of state is very popular. Todd expanded on those comments to Media Matters, saying that media outlets need to avoid "'been there, done that' disease."
Todd said that outlets need to utilize their long history of covering Clinton while being wary of "preconceived notions" and employing a "fresh set of eyes."
Clinton herself recently lamented the tendency of the press to focus on "the best angle, quickest hit, the biggest embarrassment" at the expense of more substantive news. Todd agreed with Clinton, saying that "what gets the attention and what gets clicks" for political reporters is "the gotcha moment." But he added that "the media isn't doing it on their own." Pointing to the proliferation of opposition research on both sides, Todd said that while it used to be utilized by the press merely to highlight hypocrisy, it's turned into "where's every negative thing I can find."
"So it doesn't matter how responsible 70 percent of the journalism community is," Todd said. "There's always a 30 percent chunk that is willing to just take whatever's handed them." He added, "it doesn't matter if the mainstream media is responsible when you have the 10,000 other outlets to get below-the-belt stuff out, right?"
Relevant transcript from Todd's Media Matters interview has been published with each part.
Answers covered in part three are below:
If Chuck Todd's plans for the new Meet the Press are successful, within a year the show will balance the need to explain the inner workings of Washington to viewers with elevating public concerns that are not getting enough attention in the political sphere.
In the second part of a three-part interview series with Media Matters, Todd lays out his goals for Meet the Press, the struggle for guest diversity on Sunday political shows, and the current state of the media landscape.
Responding to a frequent progressive critique of the Sunday shows -- that they are obsessed with gaffes and spin and not actual issues -- Todd expressed hope that his show would pull off a "balancing act."
"On one hand, we're trying to explain and interpret what Washington is up to for the public," Todd said. "But at the same time, trying to bring the public's concerns and the public's issues and the things that they seem to be worried about to Washington's doorstep."
Asked whether Meet the Press should discuss issues like climate change that are generally under-covered or merely reflect the current discussion in Washington, Todd explained that it's difficult to find time to cover every deserving story, especially when breaking news events like the Ebola outbreak eat into the schedule.
Media Matters has repeatedly highlighted the lack of diversity on the Sunday morning political shows, including on Meet the Press. In 2013, when the show was hosted by David Gregory, a full 62 percent of the guests were white men.
Todd said that it's probably too early to judge his own efforts with regards to diversity but said it is "a front-burner issue for us, not a back-burner issue."
While Todd said he had so far sought to make his weekly roundtables diverse, he warned of challenges in providing a balanced slate of interview subjects.
Todd highlighted how, for instance, "90 percent of the generals and the military experts out there" are white men. "Some of this stuff is out of your control. At the end of the day, you want to put the best people on. You want to put the best, smartest people on," Todd said. "I'd like to think we're doing a better job at making sure that we're reflecting America."
He also pointed to the need for geographical diversity among guests in order to avoid "socioeconomic groupthink," as well as providing diverse ideological voices within both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Todd criticized Fox News' use of straight news reporters to balance conservative commentators on their roundtable panels, saying that it demonstrates the network has an "agenda," adding that Meet the Press doesn't "believe in that." Todd also criticized Fox News for "trying to make everything about media bias."
Despite his criticism of the conservative network, Todd offered that "too many citizens are only getting news from one place and not understanding the other side."
The first part of Todd's interview with Media Matters focused on the media's coverage of scandals and crises. The third and final installment will focus on media coverage of Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 presidential run.
Relevant transcript from Todd's Media Matters interview will be published with each part.
Answers covered in part two are below:
Cable and broadcast television news networks have repeatedly hosted former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino to comment on Secret Service security lapses, but have often failed to disclose that he is a Republican congressional candidate.
After reports of Secret Service lapses were uncovered by The Washington Post, Bongino has appeared on cable and broadcast news networks more than a dozen times to discuss the security failures. In several of these appearances, the networks did not disclose Bongino's campaign as a Republican for Maryland's 6th Congressional District, which was announced nearly a year ago.
Bongino was featured during the October 2 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, introduced only as a former Secret Service agent and author of a book based on his career. He used his appearance to criticize the White House staff and management. Bongino also briefly appeared during the October 1 edition of NBC's Nightly News, identified only as a former Secret Service agent, to comment on the resignation of Julia Pierson as director of the Secret Service. An October 1 appearance on MSNBC's Jose Diaz-Balart also failed to disclose his congressional campaign, and his status as a congressional candidate was also neglected during his September 30 appearance on CNN Newsroom while discussing the congressional hearing on the agency's recent failures.
Fox News has repeatedly allowed political candidates to work as on-air personalities and CNN's failure to disclose former host Newt Gingrich's conflicts of interest recently helped spur the Society of Professional Journalists to overhaul its transparency provisions.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ringing endorsement last week of Truvada, the "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection, presents news outlets with a prime opportunity to cover an historic development in the three-decade struggle against HIV/AIDS. So far, however, media organizations have largely ignored the story.
Truvada is a 10-year-old pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs. Taken daily, it prevents infection of HIV. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug back in July 2012, it hasn't exactly caught on; a September 2013 report by Gilead Sciences found that only 1,774 people had filled Truvada prescriptions from January 2011 through March 2013. Nearly half of users were women, even though gay men are the demographic group most at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Part of the reason Truvada has been slow to gain steam is, undoubtedly, the stigma attached to those who use it. Gay men who use the drug have been derided as "Truvada Whores," a term many users have sought to reclaim. Some HIV/AIDS advocates, including Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have cast doubt on Truvada's effectiveness, noting that it won't block infection unless users strictly adhere to taking it daily.
But advocates who hail Truvada as a watershed development in the struggle against HIV/AIDS got a huge boost on May 14, when the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called on doctors to prescribe the pill for patients deemed at risk of HIV/AIDS - men who have sex with men, heterosexuals with at-risk partners, anyone whose partners they know are infected, and those who use drugs or share needles.
As The New York Times noted, if doctors follow the CDC's advice, Truvada prescriptions would increase to an estimated 500,000 annually.
On May 15, the Times gave the CDC's historic report prime placement on its front page:
But the Times and The Washington Post were the only major newspapers outlets to cover the CDC's report:
Mainstream media distorted Ret. Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell's Benghazi testimony to the House Oversight Committee, seizing on a partial remark that "we should have tried" to rescue the victims and ignoring the fact that Lovell later explained that he did not mean the military response was insufficient.
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.
From the April 6th edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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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:
On Meet the Press, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said that it is "patently false" that she or others in the Obama administration misled the American public about the Benghazi attack, a charge often made by conservative media.
During her appearance after the attack on Meet the Press on September 16, 2012, Rice presented "the best information we have at present," which she acknowledged could change as an FBI investigation gathered more facts. She said:
RICE: First of all, there's an FBI investigation, which is ongoing. And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of-- of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya. And it escalated into a much more violent episode. Obviously, that's-- that's our best judgment now. We'll await the results of the investigation.
Conservative media, especially Fox News, have smeared Susan Rice and the administration ever since, accusing administration officials of lying and deliberately misleading the American people by citing an anti-Islam video as a motivating factor behind the attack. As Rice said on Sunday, the charge that the Obama administration intentionally misled the public is "patently false" (emphasis added):
RICE: What I said to you that morning and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you was what we had at the moment, it could change, I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me, and my colleagues, and indeed to Congress by the intelligence community. And that's been well-validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out in some respects not to be 100 percent correct. But the notion that somehow I, or anybody else in the administration, misled the American people is patently false, and I think that that's been amply demonstrated.
Rice is correct -- she has been validated. Soon after Fox and other conservative media began attacking her, Fox contributor Juan Williams criticized his own network and pointed out that Rice was truthfully offering the assessment of the intelligence community at the time. Even Fox News host Megyn Kelly finally acknowledged this fact, long after attacking Rice for what she said. And a bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released in January 2014 determined, regarding the talking points provided to Rice, that "there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to 'cover-up' facts or make alterations for political purposes."
The Senate report and a long investigation by The New York Times also determined that an anti-Islam video did indeed play a role in the attack, despite Fox's claims to the contrary. A section of the Senate report stated that "[s]ome intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video." The Times had a report out in October 2012, citing some of the attackers themselves, that they were angry over the video. A six-part series by the Times in December 2013 included more detail about the attack, and stated that "it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam," and that there was "no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers."
Will the conservative media finally accept these facts, or will they continue pushing the Benghazi hoax?
This week, all four major broadcast networks covered extreme weather and climate change on their Sunday morning political talk shows. Those programs have largely ignored global warming in recent years, making their effort to address the issue unusual and laudable. But several of the segments also demonstrated the vulnerability inherent in treating science as a political debate where both sides receive a platform to air their positions.
Major winter storms across the U.S. in the month of February, drought in California, and President Obama's call for a $1 billion climate change "resilience fund" sparked debates this week over the need for action against climate change. The science of global warming is settled: according to one survey, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that "humans are causing global warming." But the Sunday shows, because they are built on a model of showing political conflicts, have difficulty putting that fact in context.
ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press both featured debates between individuals who support and oppose the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, creating a false balance that could serve to confuse their viewers. Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, meanwhile, hosted a discussion in which no panelist stated that human-caused climate change is occurring while several claimed that it is not. CBS' Face the Nation, by contrast, featured an interview with a scientist who explained that "we know that climate change is happening and humans are contributing."
The broadcast Sunday shows devoted a paltry 27 minutes of coverage to climate change in 2013, according to a Media Matters study. Nearly 60 percent of that coverage came on Face the Nation; Meet the Press did not mention the issue all year. Face the Nation also featured the first interview of a scientist to discuss global warming by any of the programs in five years.
It's a good sign that the Sunday shows are addressing global warming, but treating it as just another political issue causes new complications.
Broadcast nightly news shows completely ignored the day's landmark court ruling striking down federal net neutrality regulations, an omission that deals a huge disservice to the public audience and a boon to the news outlets' parent corporations.
Net neutrality -- the principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers -- was dealt a serious blow the morning of January 14 when the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidated the Federal Communications Commission's requirement that providers offer equal access to online information, regardless of the source. Prior to the ruling, the FCC prevented internet providers from blocking (or slowing down access to) content in order to benefit their own business interests.
That evening, neither NBC, CBS, nor ABC acknowledged the ruling in their evening news broadcasts.
Here's why that's important -- NBC is owned by Comcast Corporation, which bills itself as the nation's largest high-speed Internet provider. CBS' parent company is CBS Corporation, which also owns multiple sports networks and Showtime, while ABC is part of The Walt Disney Company empire, also the owner of ESPN.
This is a huge conflict of interest for the broadcast news channels, as their parent corporations all have a vested interest in striking down net neutrality laws and promoting their own content at the expense of competitors that lack an advantage in size or Internet service. As PCWorld explained: