The Last Word

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  • STUDY: Evening Cable News Devoted Nearly 250 Segments To Wikileaks Emails In The 5 Weeks Before The Election

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ROB SAVILLO

    In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.

    After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.

    Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.

    Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

    In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”

    And Trump wasn’t alone.

    Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)

    Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.

    Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.

    Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).

    CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).

    On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.

    The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.

    USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.

    As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study[] Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”

    Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”

    The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:

    I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.

    The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).

    Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.

    For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.

    We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.

    For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”

  • STUDY: Fox News Spent Less Than Five Minutes Covering The Dakota Access Pipeline Protests This Week

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    One of the largest tribal protests in modern history is being virtually ignored by Fox News, even as clashes between protesters and militarized police over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota came to a head. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox devoted less than five minutes to coverage of these events in the past week.

    For months, Native demonstrators known as “water protectors” have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would transport crude oil near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation in North Dakota, potentially harming sacred grounds or endangering their water supply. In recent weeks, the ongoing water protection actions have expanded to include larger groups of allies, in what activists say is now “the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century, perhaps since Little Bighorn.” Local police forces have reportedly used rubber bullets, mace, and other violent means, as well as mass arrests in an attempt to control the ongoing protests. Prominent progressive online publications have been covering the actions against the pipeline for months, and major print outlets have begun writing editorials about the pipeline. The protests even spawned a viral Facebook post, delivering news about the clashes between peaceful demonstrators and local authorities to wider audiences. Cable news coverage this week has not been as comprehensive, with Fox News, in particular, merely mentioning the events during headline readings.

    Media Matters analyzed coverage for the last week -- from October 26 through November 3 -- on the cable news networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and found that all three networks together spent less than an hour covering the ongoing protests and police response. Fox News stood out for its lack of coverage, devoting just four and a half minutes to reporting on the events.

    CNN’s coverage over the same period amounted to 18 minutes and 45 seconds, while MSNBC led the charge with just over 30 minutes of coverage. Both CNN and MSNBC featured multiple updates from reporters on the ground at Standing Rock (Sara Sidner at CNN and Miguel Almaguer at MSNBC), and panel discussions about the ongoing protection actions and the response from local authorities.

    MSNBC’s October 27 edition of The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell provided exemplary coverage of the issue, with a panel discussion that included the leader of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Dave Archambault II, and delved into the nuances of the the pipeline debate.

    Meanwhile, Fox’s scant coverage of the issue was in line with the network’s tendency to overlook or demonize protesters of color while elevating white armed protesters as “patriotic.” In a one-and-a-half-minute segment -- its longest segment on the matter this week -- during the October 28 edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox characterized the protest movement writ large as violent, calling the stand-off “a mess” and saying “there is no evidence” that the pipeline construction will pollute the Sioux tribe’s water. The segment featured a brief interview clip with just one person at Standing Rock -- a local sheriff:

    Media have a responsibility to provide coverage of the environmental and human rights battles of our time because coverage can pressure politicians to speak out. Protests against police brutality in Ferguson, MO, and Baltimore, MD, for example, were widely covered by media -- and the coverage, though often frustrating and problematic, helped start a debate that has now set needed reforms in motion.

    Raising the voices of the Native water protectors in North Dakota would also improve the lack of representation of minorities of color in media, a challenge that is far from being overcome.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC transcripts using the SnapStream video archive from October 26 at 6:00 a.m. through November 3, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. for any mention of the term "Dakota" within 20 seconds of the terms "access" or "pipeline." We excluded teasers for upcoming segments and duplicate segments that were re-aired.

  • STUDY: Cable And Broadcast Coverage Of The Economy Stumbles In Election Season

    Economists Made Up Roughly 8 Percent Of Guests In Third Quarter Of 2016 Amid Rampant Misinformation From Trump Campaign

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Cable and broadcast news outlets dedicated considerably less airtime to the economy in the third quarter of 2016 compared to the previous three-month period, as media focused increasingly on the presidential horserace. The proportion of economic news segments touching on economic inequality increased relative to the previous quarter, but the tone of coverage revealed problematic trends toward misinformation as Fox News assumed an even more prominent role in shaping the dialogue. The relative proportion of economists featured as guests during qualifying segments reached an all-time high during the third quarter as outlets struggled to keep up with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s shifting and often-contradictory tax and economic policy proposals.

  • The Media Aren't Buying Trump’s Claim That Intelligence Officials Criticized Obama During Confidential Briefing

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Media figures immediately denounced Donald Trump’s claim during NBC’s Commander-In-Chief Forum that during an intelligence briefing, CIA officials expressed disappointment in President Obama and his handling of foreign affairs.

    In August, Trump began receiving intelligence briefings, which NBC News described as a description of “how US intelligence agencies see a variety of global issues.”

    During the forum, moderator Matt Lauer asked Trump if he had learned anything about strategy to combat ISIS or anything that would make him reconsider his promise to defeat the terror organization quickly. Trump replied that he did not learn anything like that during the briefing but he did learn that President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry are “total disaster[s]” and that Obama “did not follow … what our experts said to do.”:

     

    MATT LAUER (MODERATOR): Did anything in that briefing, without going into specifics, shock or alarm you?

    DONALD TRUMP: Yes, very much so.

    LAUER: Did you learn new things in that briefing?

    TRUMP: First of all, I have great respect for the people that gave us the briefings. They were terrific people. They were experts on Iraq and Iran and different parts of -- and Russia. But yes, there was one thing that shocked me. And it just seems to me that what they said, President Obama, and Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, who is another total disaster, did exactly the opposite.

    LAUER: Did you learn anything in that briefing, again, not going into specifics, that makes you reconsider some of the things you say you can accomplish like defeating ISIS quickly?

    TRUMP: No. I didn't learn anything from that standpoint. What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly -- when they call it intelligence, it's there for a reason. What our experts said to do.

    Trump’s claim was met with immediate skepticism. On MSNBC, former CIA Director Leon Panetta said he would be “very surprised” if the interaction Trump described took place and said it would be a “violation of [intelligence officials] responsibility.” Media figures described it as “untruthful,” and “hard to believe.” Furthermore, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius said the intelligence community would not make policy recommendations and that they would be “deeply upset” by Trump’s comments.

  • STUDY: Brexit Crisis Forces Cable And Broadcast News To Host Economists

    Economists Made Up More Than 7 Percent Of Guests In The Second Quarter Of 2016

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Economic news in the second quarter of 2016 bore striking similarities to trends established in the first quarter, as the presidential candidates’ economic platforms increasingly shaped the news. Coverage of inequality slipped from a high point last quarter, but the unprecedented economic crisis created by the United Kingdom’s so-called “Brexit” referendum did boost participation from economists to the highest point ever recorded by Media Matters.

  • Conservative Media Are Making Violent Anti-Trump Protests Clinton’s Responsibility

    Clinton Campaign Has Denounced Anti-Trump Violence, While Trump Himself Has Regularly Instigated Violence

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Right-wing media figures are calling on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to condemn violence that broke out at presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign rally, ignoring that her campaign denounced the violence the night of the protests. Conservative media figures previously defended Trump when violent protests broke out at his rallies, despite many major media outlets noting that Trump’s rhetoric has incited and encouraged the violence.

  • STUDY: How Cable News Talks About Abortion

    Anti-Choice Speakers And Misinformation Dominate Abortion Coverage On Evening Cable News

    ››› ››› RACHEL LARRIS & SHARON KANN

    A Media Matters study of 14 months of evening cable news programs found that discussions of abortion were weighted toward anti-choice speakers, which resulted in widespread misinformation on the topic. Of the three networks, Fox News aired the largest number of inaccurate statements about the most prevalent abortion-related myths, and MSNBC was the most accurate.