PBS' Frontline is responding to criticism of its recent documentary about the National Rifle Association by misrepresenting the arguments made by progressives in order to dismiss them.
On January 6, Frontline aired Gunned Down: The Power Of The NRA, a documentary that covered the history of the NRA from when the group began to become politicized in the 1960s through legislative efforts in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In a January 8 blog post, Media Matters leveled several critiques against the documentary, namely that it overstated the ability of the NRA to influence election outcomes, that it credited the NRA with Al Gore's defeat in the 2000 presidential elections, and that it created the perception of NRA invincibility by only including recent NRA victories, but not defeats.
In its response, Frontline wrote, "As for the assertion by Media Matters writer Timothy Johnson that the film overstated the influence of the NRA, we stand by our reporting." According to the documentary's producers, "The many interviews we conducted support the notion that since 1999 Washington has failed to enact tougher national gun legislation and the NRA has been the key reason why."
This is a straw man argument. Media Matters never argued that Frontline had overstated the influence of the NRA on federal legislation since 1999. That the NRA is a powerful lobbying force on Capitol Hill is obvious and has been discussed by Media Matters previously.
Instead, Media Matters criticized Frontline -- as it has criticized quite a few media outlets -- for overstating the ability of the NRA to determine the outcomes of elections. In part, politicians' misguided fears about the NRA punishing them on Election Day plays into the NRA's ability to effectively lobby.
Frontline's response doesn't take into account the distinction between the ability to influence election results and the ability to influence legislation. In addition to crediting the NRA with Gore's defeat in the 2000, Gunned Down credulously promoted the NRA's supposed electoral prowess by quoting a former NRA spokesperson saying, "You are a politician, you want to get elected, you want votes, NRA has votes" while offering no countervailing perspective.
Although that type of conjecture is often pushed by the NRA and its allies, a regression analysis of actual House and Senate races that involved NRA spending and endorsements has disproven the notion that the NRA is effective in determining the outcomes of elections.
PBS' Frontline documentary on the history of the National Rifle Association pushed the common media myth that the gun organization always wins and told the debunked story of how the NRA was supposedly responsible for the defeat of Al Gore in 2000.
On January 6, Frontline aired the hour-long feature Gunned Down: The Power Of The NRA, which was directed by filmmaker Michael Kirk. The documentary covered the history of the NRA from when the group began to become politicized in the 1960s through legislative efforts in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Gunned Down overstates the ability of the NRA to influence election outcomes. The gun group's influence on federal gun legislation is often credited to the theory that politicians who oppose the NRA will be defeated when running for reelection. A statistical analysis of recent House and Senate races has disproven this notion. Still, mainstream news outlets often advance the myth of NRA electoral dominance.
Gunned Down repeatedly inflates the supposed strength of the gun group based on commentary from former NRA officials -- no current official would talk to Frontline -- and by citing what is considered conventional wisdom in Washington D.C.
While explaining the NRA's successful lobbying to defeat federal legislation to close the gun show loophole following the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, Gunned Down turned to a former NRA spokesperson who said of the NRA's membership "if it had one political trait, they vote, it's that simple. You are a politician, you want to get elected, you want votes, NRA has votes."
The NRA has often attempted to take credit for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. At the gun group's annual meeting in 2002, executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre told the crowd, "You are why Al Gore isn't in the White House."
Gunned Down gave baseless credence to these claims.
From the October 31 edition of PBS' Moyers & Company:
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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.
A Media Matters study found that most network nightly news programs this year are on track to offer no more coverage of global warming than they did in 2013. However, PBS NewsHour remains a notable exception, covering climate change more than any other network and interviewing the largest number of scientists on the topic.
During the first six months of 2014, PBS NewsHour produced more news that featured climate change than any other major network evening broadcast, continuing a trend that Media Matters identified in both 2012 and 2013. The program aired 28 stories that at least mentioned global warming, nearly as much as all coverage combined from ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News during the same period, and four times the amount of coverage from ABC World News alone. Among all major nightly news programs, ABC by far offered its viewers the least coverage that gave any substantial mention of global warming, with only seven stories. While it is worth noting that NewsHour is an hour-long broadcast compared to the half hour broadcasts on the other networks, it nonetheless offered more than double the number of stories offered by its closest network news competitor, CBS Evening News.
ABC World News' lack of climate coverage so far this year correlates with its 2013 coverage when the program aired the fewest stories among all network nightly news shows, a flip in coverage from 2012 when the network was second only to PBS in such coverage.
Of the 28 stories that PBS NewsHour aired, 16 were segments focused on global warming. PBS NewsHour's coverage offered analysis of significant policy developments and major international reports, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution standards and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report that found climate change already has taken a toll on the planet and warned that food security and economic growth would be undermined if carbon pollution is not drastically cut. The program also connected unusual events, such as diseased starfish in the Pacific Northwest and coastal flooding on Alaska's North Slope, to the broader climate context.
More scientists were interviewed about climate change on PBS NewsHour than on any other network nightly news broadcast. During the first six months of the year, the NewsHour featured 14 scientists in its reports on global warming, nearly as many as the combined total of 16 scientists who appeared on all nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC. For an issue firmly based in scientific research and evidence, PBS NewsHour relied heavily on scientists, only turning to six media figures and six politicians during the first half of 2014.
This report analyzes news coverage of "climate change" and "global warming" that aired on PBS NewsHour, ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2014. Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript and/or or a definitive statement about climate change). Transcripts from Nexis and Media Matters' internal video archives, as well as the Internet Archive online database, were used to collect these stories.
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:
A national coalition of organizations has signed a letter to four major broadcast network heads expressing their concern over the failure of broadcast evening news programs to note the public cost of low wages.
A recently released Media Matters report found that over the past year, evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS have been largely silent about the burden that low minimum wages place on the financial security of public safety net programs. The report found that from March 1, 2013, through March 10, 2014, the networks only mentioned the reliance of minimum wage workers on federal, state, and local anti-poverty programs such as food assistance and welfare programs eight times, with PBS providing the majority.
22 national organizations that advocate on behalf of the millions of workers that would benefit from a minimum wage increase wrote the heads of the broadcast networks to express their "deep concern" over coverage of "the impact of low minimum wages on hard-working Americans, their families, and our country":
When it comes to growing our economy and improving the livelihoods of workers, it's increasingly imperative that your evening news programs cover the cost of inaction. Because of low wages, many workers in the fast food industry alone -- many of whom make wages at or just above the current minimum wage -- are forced to rely on government assistance to the tune of almost $7 billion annually. Additionally, a recent analysis found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce necessary spending on food stamps by $4.6 billion annually.
Your evening news programs reach millions of Americans every night and frequently set the tone for how this issue is debated at the kitchen table, state legislatures, and the Halls of Congress. We urge you to correct this oversight and hope you will take greater action in the future to ensure that these programs tell the full story. We are happy to meet with you to discuss ways to make your minimum wage coverage more informative.
The full letter can be read below:
Despite mounting evidence that low minimum wages put pressure on government finances through the need for expanded safety net programs, over the past year, evening news programs on four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- have been largely silent about the public cost of low wages.
Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- between the U.S., Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. The nations involved in the talks account for nearly 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of the world's trade, but weekday evening television news broadcasts have largely ignored the topic.
A Media Matters analysis found that network nightly news coverage of climate change was tepid in 2013, despite growing scientific evidence that global warming is getting worse. By contrast, PBS aired nearly three times as much climate coverage as ABC World News, the worst offender.
PBS NewsHour aired more news coverage about climate change and interviewed more scientists on the issue than any other evening network news program in 2013. The scale and scope of coverage demonstrated the program's commitment to reporting on global warming, a pattern Media Matters first identified in 2012. The program broadcast 35 stories that at least mentioned climate change, far more than what ABC World News, NBC Nightly News or CBS Evening News chose to give its audiences. By comparison, the three other network nightly news programs aired a combined total of 49 stories that at least mentioned global warming.
Former NBC News president Lawrence Grossman is the latest veteran news chief to call on 60 Minutes to better explain why it allowed a story on the 2012 Benghazi attack that was based on the lies of a now discredited source to air.
Grossman, who headed NBC News from 1984 to 1988 and also served as PBS CEO for many years, said once CBS News discovered former British security contractor Dylan Davies had lied about being at the attack site they should have "jumped in with both feet, and hands and everything else."
The October 27 segment featured Davies' heroic eyewitness account of the attacks, the same story he told in a book published by a CBS division. The network aired the story despite knowing that Davies had previously told his employer that he had never made it to the U.S. diplomatic compound on the night it was attacked. CBS finally retracted the story and apologized after learning that Davies had told the FBI the same story he had told his boss, but has not fully detailed how such a flawed story was broadcast.
Although 60 Minutes just this week revealed it was conducting an "journalistic review" of the story, Grossman stressed that the network should have been forthcoming sooner and should be providing more details about what the review will entail.
"I think CBS has an obligation now that the whole thing has been aired to let people know what they are doing to investigate exactly what happened," Grossman said in a November 14 phone interview. "How it came about and to be as specific and clear in what's going on with their examination of the matter."
Grossman added, "I think it's a big mistake for news divisions to be reluctant to apologize because the integrity of what they do is so important."
Grossman joins former ABC News President David Westin who told Huffington Post this week that "CBS made some big mistakes" and that the network should have acknowledged in their report that Davies had given a contradictory account to his employer.
A third former top network news executive, who requested anonymity, also weighed in, telling Media Matters, "The entire episode is worthy of more scrutiny and their apology was too thin. We expect better from a place like 60 Minutes."
Evening television news outlets have largely not reported on two important cases issued by the Supreme Court that rolled back workplace anti-discrimination law, despite the urgent call for congressional action issued by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dual dissents.
Ginsburg, in addition to being one of the most accomplished justices in history due to her trailblazing civil rights work, has also been a crucial participant in the dialogue between the Court and Congress over the scope of anti-discrimination law. Most famously, it was Ginsburg who successfully called upon Congress to act after the notorious Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007) decision, when the conservative majority twisted the intent of Title VII's protections against employment discrimination to make it easier to illegally pay women less than their colleagues.
When the five conservative justices once again attacked Title VII at the end of the Court's latest term and similarly dismissed long-standing law to make it harder for workers to protect themselves from sex and race discrimination, Ginsburg reprised her liberal dissent and asked Congress to undo the conservative damage to this vital component of the Civil Rights Act.
But a Media Matters search of Nexis transcripts since these two opinions were issued reveals that not only have most network and cable evening news programs completely ignored Ginsburg's plea to Congress to take corrective action and "restore the robust protections against workplace harassment the Court weakens" - similar to what legislators did in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 - they are not reporting on the two new Title VII decisions at all. PBS' The NewsHour was the sole exception, with a solitary mention.
While this most recent term will rightly be remembered in part for the important step forward the Court took in according the LGBT community with equal civil rights under law, it will also go down in history as a term where protections for other groups were rolled back, most significantly in the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Indeed, the Court's rightward jerk under Chief Justice John Roberts was even more apparent in the continuation of closely divided pro-business decisions that undermine regulations and law that guard against corporate abuse. As reported by NBCNews.com, "[i]n one measure of the strong term for corporations, the Chamber of Commerce was on the winning side for 14 of the 17 cases in which it filed briefs, and a perfect 8-0 in closely divided cases."
A day after yet another comprehensive fact-check poked holes into a study from the conservative Heritage Foundation on the costs of immigration reform, PBS' NewsHour aired a segment with the study's co-author in which it treated the report's conclusions as legitimate. But as experts and conservatives have noted, there is nothing remotely sound about the study's methodology, which renders its conclusion that reform would cost $6.3 trillion invalid.
On June 4, FactCheck.org published a definitive fact-check of the Heritage study that outlined several problems with the report's underlying assumptions, including the fact that the report is not an analysis of the bill currently being debated in the Senate.
FactCheck noted that one of the report's authors, Robert Rector, has admitted that "some aspects of the bill, such as increasing green cards or legal permanent residence visas for high-skill workers, would likely lower the cost projection." Other problems it identified included:
But on the June 5 edition of PBS' NewsHour, Rector's wild conclusions were treated with credibility. Host Ray Suarez introduced the discussion -- which also featured Center for American Progress visiting fellow Robert Lynch -- as a debate on the "contrasting views on what immigration reform would cost, and whether it would help or hurt the U.S. economy."
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman will appear on PBS' Charlie Rose on March 4, following weeks of their high-profile dispute over the proper policy response to two competing problems: historically high unemployment and historically high public debt.
After Scarborough hosted Krugman on the January 28 edition of Morning Joe, he wrote an op-ed for Politico that characterized Krugman as a solitary dovish voice on near-term debt. Over the ensuing weeks, the two sniped at one another, with Scarborough continuing his effort to marginalize Krugman, misrepresenting Krugman's colleagues in the process.
Both economic data and the consensus among economists support Krugman's side of the debate. Still, Scarborough has labeled the economist a 'debt denier,' and deflected fact-based criticism with jokes about "bloggers eating Cheetos" and "skewed graphs liberals make up on their mom's PowerPoint." Given that their debate has at times produced more heat than light, here are five things that host Charlie Rose must take care to include in his show tonight:
1. Debt Levels Are Stable For The Coming Decade.
The Congressional Budget Office says that the ratio of public debt to GDP will hold steady through the coming ten years, even without changes to current law:
The stable near-term debt outlook undermines the common claim of a "debt crisis" that requires immediate austerity.
2. Austerity Is Already Placing An Enormous Drag On Economic Growth.
Government consumption and investment has decreased nearly 5 percent over the past two years. Cuts have shrunk the public sector by a net 712,000 jobs not since the recession began, but since it ended in mid-2009. And the macroeconomic data are clear: the government's declining consumption is a drag on GDP growth.
3. A Wide Range Of Economists Agree With Krugman That Short-Term Deficits Are Not A Priority With Economic Output Lagging.
Scarborough's January op-ed in Politico claimed that "almost all mainstream economists" disagree with Krugman; this is not true, and an accurate representation of expert opinion would improve the conversation.
As Media Matters has shown, it is not just center and center-left economists like Richard Koo, Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Henry Aaron, Alan Blinder and Larry Summers who agree with Krugman that short-term deficit reduction is a bad idea with economic output so far behind its potential. It's also John Makin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, The Wall Street Journal's Rex Nutting, former Reagan budget adviser Bruce Bartlett, and others who Scarborough might count as natural allies. Makin's prescription for how we ought to run large deficits is anathema to progressives, of course, but economists across the spectrum agree that we can and should float just a few more years of large deficits, in order to grow the economy.
4. Economists Say The Best Way To Solve Long-Term Debt Issues Is To Invest In Growth Now, While Borrowing Is Cheap.
Economic growth is the key to managing the debt. It is unusually cheap for the government to borrow money right now to finance such growth -- in some cases interest rates are negative, meaning the markets are basically paying us to borrow from them. The CBO finds economic output is $1 trillion behind what it should be, which is why so many economists take Krugman's side in calling for fiscal stimulus. The first CBO report to account for the "fiscal cliff" tax deal reinforced this position, as Nutting wrote in The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch: "the CBO gently hinted that the government should run higher deficits for the next four years to boost economic growth and job creation, and then start reducing the deficit in earnest in 2017 when the economy is fully healed." Any conversation about fiscal policy that fails to note these facts is inherently misrepresentative.
5. President Obama And Congress Have Already Enacted $2.4 Trillion In Deficit Reduction Since The Start Of FY2011.
Although Scarborough blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for a slowdown in economic growth late last year, the reality is that the President and Congress have passed laws that reduce deficits by approximately $2,400,000,000,000 over the 10-year budget window.
The media frequently fail to acknowledge existing deficit reduction, but it is real and it is important to the ongoing conversation about fiscal policy.