Economists Made Up 1 Percent Of Guests In The First Quarter Of 2016, While Shows Focused On Campaigns, Inequality
Expertise from economists was almost completely absent from television news coverage of the economy in the first quarter of 2016, which focused largely on the tax and economic policy platforms of this year’s presidential candidates. Coverage of economic inequality spiked during the period -- tying an all-time high -- driven in part by messaging from candidates on both sides of the aisle, but gender diversity in guests during economic news segments remained low.
Meet the Press host Chuck Todd and panelists on his NBC show cited Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s claim that he opposes anti-LGBT “bathroom bills” as evidence that Trump is moderating his views as he looks toward the general election. But at no point was it mentioned that Trump backpedaled later, saying that states should decide whether to enact “bathroom bills” that discriminate against their LGBT residents.
“Bathroom bills” -- legislation that often aims to ban transgender people from public restrooms that do not correspond with the gender on their birth certificate -- are increasingly in the news as 44 bills in 16 different states targeting transgender people have been introduced as of February 2016. An anti-LGBT “bathroom bill” in North Carolina, HB 2, has come under particular scrutiny.
Trump commented on North Carolina’s law during an April 21 appearance on NBC’s Today, apparently opposing the law by stating, “there have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble. … . Leave it the way it is.” But he reversed himself during an appearance on Fox News’ Hannity later that day, stating, “I think that local communities and states should make the decision.” In Trump’s new view, states would be within their rights to pass discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation.
Media coverage which cites Trump’s first position on “bathroom bills” while omitting his later comment comes as Trump tries to convince the media that he will be more “presidential” throughout the rest of his presidential campaign.
NBC's Meet the Press seemed to fall for Trump’s ploy, with Todd referencing Trump’s first answer to NBC to ask, “Is Trump pivoting to a general election?”
During a panel discussion of Trump’s comment to NBC, Republican strategist and NBC News political analyst Nicole Wallace said, “Trump’s answer made so much sense, and I think what is also on the line in this cycle is the power and the saliency of social issues, and I think if Trump wins it delivers a massive blow to the idea that you have to be up and down on social issues to be the Republican nominee.”
Robert Costa, a reporter for The Washington Post, added, “Trump’s answer tells us a lot about how he would be in a general election, this is someone who has not climbed the ladder, forming relationships with social conservatives along the way.”
Costa went on to claim of Trump, “he has relationships with all kinds of people, he’s not just someone who surrounds himself with Republicans and conservatives, and that actually strangely worries Democrats, that he would be appealing to moderates.”
Wallace ended the segment by saying, “Trump’s answer got him a lot of credit with a lot of people,” with Todd agreeing, “It did.”
During the segment an on-screen graphic read, “Trump Campaign: More Accepting On ‘Bathroom Laws’.”
At no point was there mention that Trump had amended his stance to favor allowing states to pass discriminatory anti-LGBT laws or that Trump has for months said that as president he would sign into law the First Amendment Defense Act, a piece of Republican-sponsored legislation that would nullify existing federal LGBT protections and allow anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.
Trump’s Support For State-Sponsored Anti-LGBT Laws Does Not Make Him LGBT Friendly
In a segment discussing North Carolina's discriminatory anti-LGBT "bathroom bill" legislation, NBC's Hallie Jackson claimed that Donald Trump "is considered one of the more LGBT-friendly Republican candidates." Jackson’s misleading description of Trump as LGBT friendly comes as the Republican front-runner attempts to re-brand himself as a more moderate candidate heading into the general election and ignores Trump’s long-standing position as an opponent of marriage equality.
While Jackson described Trump as “one of the more LGBT friendly Republican candidates,” a closer look finds his stance in line with supporters of the law. During an April 21 interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity, Trump said "local communities and states" should be able pass discriminatory legislation barring transgender people from using a bathroom associated with the gender they identify with. Trump’s stance that states should be allowed to pass these discriminatory laws is in line with North Carolina’s passing of the state-sponsored anti-LGBT law:
HALLIE JACKSON: Ted Cruz, in a new online video, taking aim at Donald Trump's criticism of a transgender bathroom ban in North Carolina.
TED CRUZ: This is not a reasonable debate over public policy. This is political correctness run amok.
JACKSON: Cruz, using Trump's comments to try to boost his own conservative credentials, while hitting his rivals with a new online polling showing 64 percent of Republicans support the ban. But some of Trump's backers aren't bothered by it.
JACKSON: A top Trump aide, dismissing Cruz's criticism, telling NBC News the senator is simply trying to stay relevant. Trump himself, not backing down.
DONALD TRUMP: Local communities and states should make the decision. And I feel very strongly about that.
JACKSON: While Trump is considered one of the more LGBT-friendly Republican candidates, he hasn't talked much about those issues on the campaign trail. Not a typical part of his stump speech, and not mentioned tonight at his rally here in Delaware.
Jackson's NBC Nightly News report ignores Trump's history of bigoted and extreme positions on LGBT issues, including his support for the anti-LGBT "First Amendment Defense Act," Trump's promise to "strongly consider" appointing Supreme Court justices to overturn its recent ruling in support of marriage equality, and his previous support for Kim Davis, a Kentucky County clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Furthermore, the NBC segment plays into comments made by Trump’s new campaign manager, Paul Manafort. During an April 21 meeting of Republican leaders, Manafort attempted to assure those assembled that Trump’s outrageous rhetoric was the candidate simply “projecting an image” and that “the image is going to change.”
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Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are feuding over the portion of North Carolina’s unprecedented anti-LGBT law regulating public bathroom access for transgender people. Journalists covering the spat should know that the “bathroom predator” concept Cruz referenced is an anti-LGBT myth.
Last month, following a special session convened by North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill (HB 2) targeting the transgender community by banning people from using certain public restrooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificate. Despite the intense backlash to HB 2 and economic harm caused by the law over the past several weeks, legislators in at least in four other states are pushing for similar laws regulating transgender people's access to public restrooms.
On April 21, Trump and Cruz feuded over the North Carolina law. When asked about HB 2 during an April 21 town hall on NBC’s Today Show, Trump argued against the measure, saying that there has been “so little trouble” allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity that it should be left “the way it is.”
Cruz quickly attacked Trump’s comments, asking if the country had gone "stark raving nuts." Cruz centered his support for North Carolina’s law on the myth that allowing transgender people access to facilities that match their gender identity will allow male predators to enter women’s bathrooms and commit sexual assault. During a radio interview with Glenn Beck, Cruz argued that “the idea that grown men would be allowed alone in a bathroom with little girls -- you don't need to be a behavioral psychologist to realize bad things can happen.”
Cruz’s appeal to women’s safety through the idea of a “bathroom predator” is the favorite tactic of anti-LGBT activists working to pass so-called “bathroom bills.” It’s also a well-debunked myth. Law enforcement experts, government officials, and women's safety advocates in cities and states across the country have thoroughly rejected the talking point, calling it “beyond specious.” The same day Cruz peddled the talking point, a coalition of over 250 groups working to end sexual assault and domestic violence condemned anti-transgender bathroom bills and the “bathroom predator” myth, writing:
Those who are pushing these proposals have claimed that these proposals are necessary for public safety and to prevent sexual violence against women and children. As rape crisis centers, shelters, and other service providers who work each and every day to meet the needs of all survivors and reduce sexual assault and domestic violence throughout society, we speak from experience and expertise when we state that these claims are false.
Assaulting another person in a restroom or changing room remains against the law in every single state. We operate and advocate for rape crisis centers and shelters all over the country, including in cities and states with non-discrimination protections for transgender people. Those protections have not weakened public safety or criminal laws, nor have they compromised their enforcement.
Given the overwhelming research and consensus debunking the myth, journalists covering the spat between Cruz and Trump should report the truth on the “bathroom predator” talking point. Giving any false balance to claims of transgender bathroom boogeymen distorts reality and helps spread a baseless, harmful lie.
In an April 21 town hall event, NBC’s Today co-hosts allowed Donald Trump to mislead about his past support for invading Iraq, his position on abortion, and his tax plan.
As Donald Trump won the New York primary, media covering the news repeatedly said Trump sounds "more presidential" and "more disciplined," downplaying the bigoted, racist, and sexist things that the GOP front-runner has said throughout the course of his campaign.
A Media Matters analysis of the broadcast evening and weekend TV news coverage of mass protests against money in politics organized by Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring revealed that the networks devoted only two segments -- a total of 29 seconds of airtime -- between April 11 and April 18 to the week-long demonstrations.
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The Obama administration has released a comprehensive new scientific report detailing how climate change affects human health, presenting the broadcast networks' nightly news programs with a good opportunity to cover a critical topic that they rarely addressed last year.
The Climate and Health Assessment, which is the result of three years of research by approximately 100 health and science experts in eight federal agencies, builds on the findings of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's National Climate Assessment and signifies increased "scientific confidence in the link between climate change and a broad range of threats to public health."
These threats include some of the most severe effects of global warming, such as increased incidence of death from extreme heat waves and worsened air quality, as well as some less discussed impacts, including the potential for carbon pollution to make our food crops less nutritious and the toll that weather-related disasters can take on our mental health. The report also details how climate change will increase or otherwise alter the risks of suffering from various diseases and illnesses, including Lyme disease from ticks, West Nile virus from mosquitos, water-borne illnesses, and Salmonella poisoning from food.
Any of these topics could provide fodder for an important and informative nightly news segment that would help viewers better understand the threats and challenges posed by climate change.
NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News did each provide a substantial report last year on the ways climate change is impacting allergies and asthma, respectively. But here, too, the Obama administration report provides opportunities for additional coverage.
For instance, the networks could examine these issues from an environmental justice perspective; the report finds that minority adults and children "bear a disproportionate burden associated with asthma as measured by emergency department visits, lost work and school days, and overall poorer health status." And when considering all of the various health impacts, the report identifies many specific populations that are "disproportionately vulnerable" to climate change:
[C]limate change exacerbates some existing health threats and creates new public health challenges. While all Americans are at risk, some populations are disproportionately vulnerable, including those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups (including those with limited English proficiency), Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.
The networks could also cover some of these public health findings alongside a distressing new study on sea level rise, which projects severe impacts on coastal cities that will undoubtedly have profound implications on the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Or they could address the public health benefits of the most significant U.S. climate policy in U.S. history, the Clean Power Plan, which the networks infrequently covered in 2015 -- and which polluting fossil fuel industry groups and allied attorneys general are now fighting in court.
Major news outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Guardian, Time magazine, The Associated Press, and McClatchyDC have already covered the new White House report. Now is the time for the broadcast networks' nightly news programs to improve on last year's coverage and educate their viewers about the myriad ways that a changing climate is affecting our health.
Image at top via Flickr user Graeme Maclean using a Creative Commons license.