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.
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.
Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.
The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."
Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."
JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.
Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."
This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.
So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.
This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.
Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.
And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."
As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.
But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.
Monday night's 78-17 procedural vote in the U.S. Senate to clear the path for $1 billion worth of aid to Ukraine as it battles the Russian annexation of Crimea represented precisely what you would expect Congress to do in the wake of an international crisis: to act in a bipartisan manner and send a unified message to the world. Yet despite that bipartisanship, the push for an emergency U.S. loan guarantee for Ukraine languished in Congress for weeks because House Republicans objected to the measure moving through the Senate.
Specifically, they opposed a provision in the package that would have revamped the International Monetary Fund and let developing countries such as Ukraine borrow more money while giving other nations more control over the organization (the U.S. would retain its veto). The reforms were negotiated by President Obama in 2010 and have broad international support. House Republicans wanted the IMF language stripped from the senate bill. And because the press covered for them.
In the end, a negotiated deal on Capitol Hill was reached and the IMF language was removed. But while the crucial aid package sat idle for weeks, the press chalked up the legislative morass to Congressional dysfunction and "gridlock."
The two sides were "locked in a partisan fight over the details of the package," according the Los Angeles Times, which stressed lawmakers have been unable to "set aside partisan squabbles." The Hill reported "Congress this week will try to get its act together" regarding Ukraine, while Reuters detailed how "a partisan political dispute" was stalling the final passage of the aid bill.
"Ukraine Aid Bill Still Stuck In Washington Gridlock," announced a Time headline.
But was the Ukraine battle really an example of "gridlock"? And were both sides really to blame? Or was the press guilty, once again, of staking out the safe, middle ground in order to inoculate itself from cries of "liberal bias,' and from having to explain how all-consuming and destructive Republican obstruction has become, especially in the House?
Question: Was the Ukraine aid dispute "partisan"?
Reuters' climate coverage has continued to drop significantly under the regime of its new "skeptic" editor, with less than half the amount of climate coverage compared to before the editor took over, according to a Media Matters study. This finding comes despite two major reports on climate science that occurred during this period, suggesting that the paper's "climate of fear" may have persisted.
A federal agency's new preliminary report debunks the popular right-wing myth that private contracts that require people to take their complaints to an arbitrator are an effective alternative to class-action lawsuits.
Right-wing media outlets have consistently supported what are known as "forced-arbitration clauses" -- contractual provisions that often force consumers to give up their right to join a class action lawsuit and instead require them to go before an arbitrator individually, even if the amount in dispute is so small that it wouldn't make sense to pursue outside of a collective, mass action. Support on the right has grown since 2011, when the conservative majority of the Supreme Court held that such forced arbitration clauses trump consumer protection laws.
The right-wing media has relied in part on that Supreme Court ruling to dismiss criticism of forced arbitration as "unfair." For example, Ammon Simon at National Review Online has called forced arbitration clauses "especially generous towards consumers," and called class-action lawsuits "a cash cow for trial lawyers ... [that] don't usually help consumers, who are systemically under-compensated in such cases." Simon continued:
While trial lawyers would benefit from strictly limiting arbitration, consumers would suffer. ... [C]lass action lawsuits last an average of 3 years from start to completion, while arbitrations last slightly under 7 months. What's more, while consumer claims go on the backburner to trial attorney fees in class action litigation, consumers can actually be successful in arbitration, and prefer arbitration to the alternatives.
Hans von Spakovsky, also an NRO contributor and a legal fellow at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, argued that forced arbitration clauses are "an efficient and fair alternative to our costly and burdensome litigation system":
Given the arbitration process's many benefits over the only real alternative -- expensive and time-consuming litigation that in many cases does more to line trial lawyers' pockets than redress consumers' injuries -- any action to curtail arbitration would only injure consumers and workers.
Simon and von Spakovsky agree that arbitration clauses provide consumers with a better chance of fair compensation than do class-action lawsuits.
Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, sweeping the island nation with near-record winds and a towering storm surge. There are many scientific uncertainties around the factors contributing to storms such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, but scientists know that rising sea levels driven by manmade climate change worsen the damage caused by these storms. Yet an analysis of Typhoon Haiyan coverage in television and print media finds that less than five percent of stories mentioned climate change.
After hyping an alleged "pause" in global warming, mainstream media have entirely ignored a groundbreaking study finding that warming over the last 16 years has actually proceeded at the same rate as it has since 1951 with no "pause" compared to that time period.
The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society by Dr. Kevin Cowtan of the University of York and Robert Way of the University of Ottawa, found that the average global surface temperature has warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius between 1997 and 2012 (see the bold "Global" line in the graph above) -- two and a half times the UK Met Office's estimate of 0.05°C (see "Met Office" line). According to the new estimate, over the last 16 years the globe has warmed at the same rate as it has since 1951.
Writing about the study at the scientific blog Real Climate, climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf concluded that the public debate about the "pause" has "become"completely baseless" and that any speed bump in warming is "not surprising" with natural variability:
The public debate about the alleged "warming pause" was misguided from the outset, because far too much was read into a cherry-picked short-term trend. Now this debate has become completely baseless, because the trend of the last 15 or 16 years is nothing unusual - even despite the record El Niño year at the beginning of the period. It is still a quarter less than the warming trend since 1980, which is 0.16 °C per decade. But that's not surprising when one starts with an extreme El Niño and ends with persistent La Niña conditions, and is also running through a particularly deep and prolonged solar minimum in the second half.
An earlier Media Matters analysis found that mainstream media mentioned the alleged "pause" in nearly half of coverage of a major international climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, media have often been reluctant to cover data contradicting that narrative, including a study finding that heat may have been stored in the intermediate depths of the ocean, where warming has proceeded 15 times faster than in the past 10,000 years, rather than in the atmosphere.
As for claims that global warming has "stopped" or that global warming is "[o]ver," the study found with 94 percent probability that there has been some warming over the last 16 years. Dr. Cowtan wrote that "the hypothesis that warming has accelerated ... is four times as likely as the hypothesis that warming has stopped."
Why were previous estimates off?
Although all of President Obama's qualified nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit are currently at risk of being refused an up-or-down vote by unprecedented Republican obstructionism, right-wing media have targeted Georgetown law professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard in particular with misguided smears.
A study of coverage of the recent United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that many mainstream media outlets amplified the marginal viewpoints of those who doubt the role of human activity in warming the planet, even though the report itself reflects that the climate science community is more certain than ever that humans are the major driver of climate change. The media also covered how recent temperature trends have not warmed at as fast a rate as before in nearly half of their IPCC coverage, but this trend does not undermine long-term climate change.
Multiple mainstream media outlets have covered a new report touting the economic benefits from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") without disclosing the report's industry funding.
The recently released study, titled "America's New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil & Gas Revolution and the US Economy," received widespread media attention on Thursday. The report, conducted by consulting group IHS CERA, was commissioned by multiple fossil fuel organizations that stand to benefit from growth in the oil and gas industry. According to the report, the increase in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction has added an average of $1,200 in discretionary income to each US household in 2012, and now supports 1.2 million jobs -- projected to increase to 3.3 million by 2020. These figures are much larger than the findings of many previous economic studies.
However, multiple major news outlets, including Reuters, CNBC, Forbes.com, and the Los Angeles Times, covered the new report with no mention of its financial ties to the industry. The research was monetarily supported by America's Natural Gas Alliance, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and others who stand to gain economically from an unregulated increase in fracking. Kyle Isakower, vice president of regulatory policy at the American Petroleum Institute -- the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry -- lauded the new report, saying "[f]or an organization like the American Petroleum Institute, being able to cite the findings and reputation of IHS goes a long way toward making its point to government officials." According to Steve Forde, vice president of policy and communication at the Marcellus Shale Coalition (an industry trade group), economic impact studies such as this are "an important advocacy tool" for industry development.
Bloomberg, which did disclose the report's industry ties, reported that the IHS report didn't take potential environmental impacts from extracting unconventional oil and gas through drilling and fracking, such as groundwater contamination and strains on water resources, into account.
UPDATE (9/10/13): The Wall Street Journal joined the slew of coverage that failed to disclose the report's oil and gas industry funding, in an editorial published on Tuesday. The editorial claimed the IHS report was "evidence" that fracking "may be the country's best antipoverty program." The Wall Street Journal has published editorials downplaying the risks of fracking before.
News outlets who continue to refer to U.S. Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning, who formerly went by the name Bradley, using masculine pronouns after she announced that she identifies as female this week are drawing criticism from transgender advocates, raising the issue of how such news subjects should be covered.
Manning, who on August 21 was found guilty of crimes related to giving classified documents to Wikileaks, on August 22 released a statement through her lawyer which said in part: "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female." Manning requested that "starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun."
In response, the GLAAD and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association each issued statements informing media outlets that they should use the name and pronouns that Manning prefers. But many media outlets have continued to refer to Manning as "Bradley" and describe her using male pronouns.
Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the GLAAD, specifically singled out the Associated Press and Reuters, saying the group had reached out to these two news organizations and requested a correction in their approach going forward.
"Today our focus is on reaching out to them and asking for corrections," Ferraro said of A.P. and Reuters.
Ferraro also pointed out that he believes the AP had violated its own policy that states when reporting on transgender news subjects, "use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth."
AP and Reuters have not yet responded to requests for comment, but AP posted a statement on its website that said the service "will use gender-neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue. However, when reporting is completed, the AP Stylebook entry on 'transgender' will be AP's guide."
The AP, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post on Thursday referred to Manning with a male pronoun throughout stories about her announcement Thursday morning that she wished to be identified as a woman and had wished to be called Chelsea, not Bradley.
"We would probably criticize the media overall," Ferraro said when asked about GLAAD's reaction to such references. "Chelsea Manning's announcement today and subsequent media judgment reflects a lack of education on covering transgender people. Media today should respect Chelsea Manning's announcement and that includes using female pronouns when speaking about her and that includes referring to her as Chelsea."
A Media Matters study finds that Reuters' coverage of climate change declined by nearly 50 percent under the regime of the current managing editor, lending credence to a former reporter's claim that a "climate of fear" has gripped the agency.
David Fogarty, a former Reuters climate change correspondent, wrote that Managing Editor Paul Ingrassia, then serving as deputy editor-in-chief, identified himself as "a climate change sceptic" in 2012. As time went on, Fogarty alleged, "getting any climate change-themed story published got harder," as some desk editors "agonised" over decisions and allowed articles to become mired in bureaucracy. Eventually, amid a "climate of fear," Fogarty's role was "abolished."
An earlier report published by The Baron, an independent site that caters to current and former Reuters employees, similarly noted that in recent years the news service has been steered in a "new direction" in its climate change coverage, as evidenced by decreased attention, in-print "skepticism" and the reassignment of regional environment correspondents to other beats.
In line with claims from Fogarty and The Baron, a survey of coverage in the six months immediately prior to Ingrassia's appointment compared to an analogous period in 2012 found that Reuters filed 48 percent fewer articles on climate change under the new regime, despite the fact that the latter period featured the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, a continuing fight over the European Union's proposal to impose a carbon tax on international flights, record heat in the U.S. and other noteworthy developments.
As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.