The media heralded a report in early 2014, which claimed that building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change. Since then, multiple studies have found that same report to be flawed, but most mainstream media outlets have refused to give these studies coverage.
President Obama has stated that he would not approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada through the United States, if it "significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution." So when the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement concluding that the Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate change, the media touted State's findings as justification for the contentious pipeline's approval.
However, various studies have since called the State Department's report into question, finding specifically that their climate impact analysis is likely inaccurate. The agency's conclusion rests on the assumption that if the Keystone XL is not approved, the oil sands will simply be transported by rail instead. This may not be the case. According to Reuters, the State Department's predictions of increased rail capacity have been consistently wrong. Reuters broke the news in March that State's latest estimates of tar sands being transported by rail were overestimated by over 400 percent. But no* other major mainstream outlet reported on these findings, which undermined the claim that Keystone XL won't affect the climate - a meme many of these same outlets previously had amplified.
More recently, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that approving the Keystone XL could lead to carbon dioxide emissions four times greater than the State Department's highest estimates. Again, the findings were mostly ignored by top U.S. media outlets** -- with one notable exception. The Los Angeles Times amplified the study and its findings that State's analysis didn't account for the pipeline's impact on the global oil market, which would lead to far greater greenhouse gas emissions. The study authors projected that the pipeline will increase carbon emissions by up to 110 million metric tons due to increased global consumption, far overshooting State's projection of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons. The oil industry has dismissed this study based on the faulty argument that the oil will be shipped by rail anyways, which Associated Press reported -- without mentioning Reuters' contradictory findings.
The authors previously concluded in a similar study that approving the Keystone XL could "potentially counteract some of the flagship emission reduction policies of the U.S. government." How many more studies and reports need to be issued before the mainstream media corrects themselves on the climate impact of approving the Keystone XL pipeline?
*According to a LexisNexis search for "keystone" from March 5 to March 8 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
**According to a search of LexisNexis and internal video archives for "keystone" from August 8 to August 11 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
Image at the top of an oil sands site from Flickr user Pembina Institute with a Creative Commons license.
The globe recently experienced the hottest June on record, fitting in with the trend of global warming. Yet several top media outlets reported on the announcement without mentioning climate change at all.
2014 has been a record-breaking year for global temperatures. On July 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced that the average global temperature for the month of June was the hottest experienced for 134 years of records. This finding follows the hottest May on record, the hottest March to June period on record, and the third hottest first half of the year on record. The average ocean surface temperatures for the month of June were the warmest on record for any month of the year. NOAA's climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt explained succinctly to the Associated Press -- the only top U.S. print source* that reported on the findings in the context of global warming -- stating that the planet is in the "steroid era of the climate system." Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck added: "This is what global warming looks like."
But if you consume mainstream media, you likely missed this context. CBS, NBC, MSNBC, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal,** and The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang all covered the announcement without mentioning its key context: global warming, driven by human activities, is making hotter temperatures the norm.
The July 21 edition of ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer was the only broadcast network program to report on the record in the context of global warming, introducing it as "a new statistic for arguments about climate change," and going on to discuss extreme weather events currently happening across the United States:
From the July 6 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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NBC's David Gregory pointed a series of questions about Hillary Clinton's role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), allowing Paul to attack Clinton with the long-debunked smear that she was aware of the need for additional security forces at the Benghazi compound yet denied the requests.
On the June 22 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, host David Gregory posed a series of questions on Hillary Clinton's role in the 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, but failed to correct Sen. Paul's false smears that Clinton refused requested security. While discussing the possibility of Clinton running for president in 2016, Gregory asked Sen. Paul about whether "the prosecution of foreign policy," is "the main argument" against Clinton's candidacy. In his response, Paul invoked the debunked myth that Hillary Clinton refused "multiple requests for more security" in the months leading up the attacks.
Later in the interview, Gregory asked whether Benghazi is "disqualifying" for Clinton's potential 2016 candidacy, again allowing Sen. Paul to claim that Clinton "was not responsive to multiple requests for more security." Paul concluded that the American people "want a commander in chief that will send reinforcements, that will defend the country, and that will provide the adequate security," implying for a third time that Clinton refused security she knew was necessary to the Benghazi compound:
NBC and ABC's Sunday news shows turned to discredited architects of the Iraq War to opine on the appropriate U.S. response to growing violence in Iraq, without acknowledging their history of deceit and faulty predictions.
This week a Sunni Iraqi militant group (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) seized control of several Iraqi cities and is focusing their sights on taking control of Baghdad and the rest of the country. The United States is still debating a response to the escalating violence, and has reportedly moved an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf.
To discuss the growing unrest and potential threat of terrorism that could emerge, NBC's Meet The Press turned to Paul Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration.
Wolfowitz, who served in the Bush administration from 2001 -- 2005 as Deputy Secretary of Defense, is universally recognized as one of the original architects of the Iraq invasion. He infamously predicted the war reconstruction effort could pay for itself from Iraqi oil revenue (for reference, the cost of the Iraq War is now estimated to be more than $2 trillion), and publicly accused Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction long after the intelligence community informed the Pentagon that he did not. Later, Wolfowitz claimed that the conflict was primarily about liberating the Iraqi people rather than confronting the WMD threat, while also making the assertion -- without evidence -- that without the invasion, "we would have had a growing development of Saddam's support for terrorism."
Ten years after the start of the war, Wolfowitz admitted that the Bush administration bungled the conflict and should never have taken control of the country away from Iraqi leadership, despite having been the first senior Bush official after September 11, 2001 to call for Hussein's overthrow.
And on June 15 from his NBC platform, Wolfowitz opined that the current Iraqi violence could be traced to the absence of U.S. troops, suggesting that we should have stayed in Iraq just as we "stuck with South Korea for 60 years." When Meet The Press host David Gregory asked the former Bush official for advice on how to mitigate the potential terrorist threat merging from ISIS, saying "what do you do then, as a policy matter, to stop this," Wolfowitz responded that the Obama administration must convince the Middle East that the U.S. "is serious," arguing, "I would do something in Syria."
That same day ABC's This Week invited network contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol to discuss how the U.S. should handle the growing violence in Iraq, a notable decision given Kristol's poor record on Iraq War predictions.
Hosts of the network Sunday news shows treated Benghazi myths and facts with false equivalence, an approach that hides the truth about the tragedy.
The right-wing's manufactured hysteria over the release of new White House memos and the House GOP's announcement that it would form a special select committee brought the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya back into the spotlight on the May 4 Sunday news talk shows. The latest charge from conservative media is that a newly-released email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes preparing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk shows -- where she suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests -- was part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
In a seeming effort to provide false balance between the facts and the myths, the network news hosts lent credence to evidence-free claims by their guests, giving them equal weight with the truth.
Broadcast nightly news shows were silent on the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) landmark proposal that will empower Internet providers to control online content, a decision that could dramatically -- and devastatingly -- reshape the digital landscape and the principle of net neutrality.
On April 23, the FCC announced plans to propose new rules to allow companies to pay internet providers to speed up customers' access to their websites. As the Washington Post reported, the proposal "could give high-speed Internet providers more power on what content moves the fastest on the Web based on which firms pay the most." It's an open Internet rule that could wipe away net neutrality, the principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers.
Since the FCC announced the proposal, none of the broadcast nightly news shows - neither ABC, CBS, nor NBC - have acknowledged the move. This is not the first time evening broadcast shows neglected to give airtime to this topic; on January 14 when the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidated the FCC's requirement for net neutrality that lead to the new rule proposal, these same networks did not even acknowledge the ruling in their evening broadcasts.
It's a disappointing, but not surprising, omission. 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.
Giant corporations like Comcast win under the FCC's proposal, as Time explained:
Under the FCC's new plan, Internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T "would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers," according to an FCC spokesperson. The companies would also be prohibited from blocking or discriminating against online content, but they would be allowed to strike special deals with Internet companies like Netflix or Skype for preferential treatment, as long as they acted in a "commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis."
The dismantling of net neutrality laws will allow such corporations to promote their own content at the expense of smaller competitors. As PCWorld explained:
Net neutrality advocates fear that without rules in place, big companies like Netflix, Disney, and ESPN could gain advantage over competitors by paying ISPs to provide preferential treatment to their company's data. For example, YouTube might pay extra so that its videos load faster than Hulu's on the ISP's network.
We've already seen shades of What Could Happen in AT&T's Sponsored Data and Comcast's decision to have the Xfinity TV streaming app for the Xbox 360 not count against Comcast subscribers' data caps.
Comcast could soon be even larger. The NBC parent company is currently looking to merge with cable giant Time Warner Cable Inc., and could potentially gain control of one-third of the U.S. broadband market if the merger is approved. As OpenSecrets noted, both Comcast and Time Warner Cable are against net neutrality, and "spent about $19 million and $8 million on lobbying respectively last year," making them the sixth highest federal lobbying spender.
It's not only smaller companies, but the public that will be harmed by the FCC's ruling. The New York Times noted the warning by consumer advocates that "higher costs to content providers could be passed on to the public," and could stymie startup innovation. As Vox wrote:
Allowing big companies to pay for prioritized access to consumers flies in the face of the internet's egalitarian ideals, which allow anyone or any company free access to a vibrant market free of tolls or restrictions -- allow service providers like Comcast and AT&T to start creating artificial barriers to entry, and you make it harder for the next generation of college kids to start the next Facebook or Google.
The final decision from the FCC on net neutrality rules remains to be seen. But the failure of the nation's broadcast news to acknowledge the proposed rules suggests an allegiance closer to the interests of their corporate parents than to those of their public audience.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening network broadcast news on ABC, CBS, and NBC from April 23, 2014 through April 25, 2014. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: FCC, Federal Communications Commission, internet, or net neutrality.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams.
Conservative media have rushed to praise the recent Supreme Court ruling which upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action policies, while ignoring the ruling's dangerous consequences for minority rights.
On the April 27 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, conservative author Mallory Factor applauded the decision by the Supreme Court in Schuette v. BAMN, in which the conservative justices of the Supreme Court effectively overturned decades of civil rights precedent and gutted a core component of equal protection law by giving Michigan voters the power to change their state's constitution to ban race-based university admissions. Factor praised the court for "finally saying, we're not going to make law from on high; we're going to leave law to the states and let the states make some decisions."
But Michigan provides a perfect example for why rights like these should be decided by the courts, and not left up to voters: over 80 percent of residents are white. The Supreme Court decision did not change the fact that race-conscious government action, such as affirmative action, remains constitutional, but it did open a door for state majorities to change their political systems unfairly disadvantage minorities -- and in a state like Michigan where white Americans are the overwhelming majority, it's all too easy to see the dangerous consequences this decision could have on civil rights.
The data shows the reality of these negative consequences. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that despite majority support for affirmative action programs around the country, a strong racial and partisan divide in opinion exists, with the overwhelming majority of those who oppose these policies being white and/or Republican:
As Think Progress reported, the decision also "sanctioned two tiers of access in our nation's colleges and universities: one for the children of donors, alumni, and other interest groups, and another for racial and ethnic minorities." Any non-minority group seeking to lobby the state's public universities for improved admissions standards in the future -- such as children of rich donors or legacies -- are free to petition the university directly, but minorities must overturn a state constitutional amendment.
In Michigan, the impact of the decision is already being felt by minority students. In addition to racist incidents and racial tensions on campuses around the country, the ACLU reported that enrollment of African-American students in Michigan has seen a dramatic decrease since Proposal 2, the act which barred the state's universities from considering race as an admission factor, took effect:
There has been a notable decline in minority enrollment since Proposal 2 took effect. For example, African-American enrollment plummeted 33 percent at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor between 2006 and 2012, even as overall enrollment grew by 10 percent.
Factor isn't the only one praising the Schuette ruling. Immediately after the Supreme Court's decision was announced, conservative media jumped to applaud it, hailing affirmative action as a form of reverse-racism. Right-wing media's praise for the decision for doing away with imaginary racial discrimination against white people ignores the fact that the case did not actually rule on affirmative action itself, but instead ruled to give states the power to ban affirmative action themselves through a ballot initiative.
By blindly praising the decision, conservative media cast aside the dangerous consequences it could have on civil rights by granting voters, instead of the courts, the power to make these decisions.
Two Media Matters analyses suggest that over 85 percent of those quoted in the media about climate change are men. Several top women in the field denounced this disparity, noting that women will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
A review of a recent Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of the U.N. climate reports found that women made up less than 15 percent of interviewees. A look back at our analysis of broadcast coverage of climate change unearthed the same stark disparity: less than 14 percent of those quoted on the nightly news shows and Sunday shows in 2013 were women.
Allison Chin, the former president of the Sierra Club, decried this gender gap in a statement to Media Matters:
The gender imbalance among those quoted on the climate crisis is striking, particularly since women around the world are more vulnerable to the dangers of climate disruption and among the most active in the movement for solutions. Globally, existing inequalities give women less access and less control over resources and make them more susceptible to the worst effects of extreme weather. The last thing the media should do is amplify that divide by only covering one set of perspectives.
Rebecca Lefton, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and an expert in international climate change policy and gender equality agreed, telling Media Matters that this is an environmental justice issue because "women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in developing countries." Indeed, studies show, for instance, that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of extreme weather disasters, some of which are exacerbated by climate change, in part because they are more likely to be poor. Lefton added, "Without women's voices we lose the perspective of half of the population and without women's participation, the transition to a cleaner economy will be slower."
The lack of women's voices in climate change conversations in the media is not due to a shortage of powerful women in climate policy and communications. U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, who is in charge of negotiating a global climate treaty, noted in March that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt." The last two heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is slated to come out with carbon pollution standards for future power plants, were both women -- current administrator Gina McCarthy and former administrator Lisa Jackson.
Media Matters has previously found that women make up only about a quarter of guests on the Sunday morning talk shows and weekday evening cable news segments on the economy. However, the gender gap on climate change conversations is even starker. One contributing factor may be that the climate sciences have experienced a "female brain drain," according to Scientific American, as have many other scientific fields. This "female brain drain" is also evident in the largely male leadership of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Women that do enter the field often face discrimination. Two prominent female climate scientists, Heidi Cullen and Katherine Hayhoe, have both been dismissed by Rush Limbaugh as "babe[s]." Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who is one of the stars of a new Showtime series on climate change, told E&E News that much of the internet harassment she receives focuses on her gender:
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.