Right-wing media are seizing on a New York Times report that misleadingly stated that Paul Begala sought "talking points" from the State Department before a CNN appearance to discuss Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state to attack the CNN contributor as biased. But in the email in question, Begala actually requested a "briefing," not talking points.
Several months into the 2016 presidential campaign, the media is frequently failing to fact-check statements by presidential candidates denying the science of climate change. Seven major newspapers and wire services surveyed by Media Matters have thus far failed to indicate that candidates' statements conflict with the scientific consensus in approximately 43 percent of their coverage, while the major broadcast and cable news outlets other than MSNBC have failed to do so 75 percent of the time.
Toxic air pollution from power plants has been linked to serious health problems including cancer, heart attacks, and premature death, and mercury in particular is a potent neurotoxin that is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women. But that hasn't stopped conservative media from joyfully celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court decision that jeopardizes the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plan to rein in this harmful pollution.
Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change reveals his belief that there is a moral obligation to act swiftly on climate change, which disproportionately harms the world's poor. But conservative media are relentlessly attacking the pope over the encyclical, calling it "insipid" and "blasphemous," and fearmongering that the Catholic leader is a "Marxist" pushing for "a new world order," among other things.
Several media outlets parroted Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's economic message after he claimed his administration would oversee 4 percent economic growth and the creation of up to 19 million new jobs. But economists argue that his goals are unrealistic, and question the impact any single president can have on "decades-long trends."
Right-wing media outlets are attacking a new rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designed to increase diversity in American neighborhoods, calling it an attempt by President Obama to dictate where people live. But the program merely provides grant money to encourage communities to provide affordable housing and greater access to community resources.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley falsely claimed that the FBI misrepresented data on mass shootings to "help drive Democratic turnout" during the 2014 midterm elections. In fact, the report only contained data on "active shooter" situations, not mass shootings, and made that clear in the introduction, which stated, "This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings."
In a June 9 editorial headlined, "Obama's Gun-Control Misfire," Riley wrote, "Last September the Obama administration produced an FBI report that said mass shooting attacks and deaths were up sharply -- by an average annual rate of about 16% between 2000 and 2013."
But the 2014 FBI report, which focuses on 160 incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013, literally says it is not about "mass shootings," but rather a different phenomenon known as an "active shooter" situation. From the report's introduction (emphasis added):
This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings, but rather a study of a specific type of shooting situation law enforcement and the public may face. Incidents identified in this study do not encompass all gun-related situations; therefore caution should be taken when using this information without placing it in context. Specifically, shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence--pervasive, long-tracked, criminal acts that could also affect the public--were not included in this study. In addition, other gun-related shootings were not included when those incidents appeared generally not to have put others in peril (e.g., the accidental discharge of a firearm in a school building or a person who chose to publicly commit suicide in a parking lot). The study does not encompass all mass killings or shootings in public places and therefore is limited in its scope. Nonetheless, it was undertaken to provide clarity and data of value to both law enforcement and citizens as they seek to stop these threats and save lives during active shooter incidents.
The FBI defined an active shooter situation as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area," and found that such incidents occurred with increasing frequency over a 13-year period starting in 2000.
In his opinion piece, Riley used his inaccurate reading of the report to claim that the Obama administration hoped to use the report to help Democrats win in the 2014 midterm elections and to advance its own gun safety agenda:
The White House could not possibly have been more pleased with the media reaction to these findings, which were prominently featured by the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, the Washington Post and other major outlets. The FBI report landed six weeks before the midterm elections, and the administration was hoping that the gun-control issue would help drive Democratic turnout.
Following the high-profile mass shootings in 2012 at a cinema in Aurora, Colo., and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the White House pushed hard for more gun-control legislation. Congress, which at the time included a Democratic-controlled Senate, refused to act. This surprised no one, including an administration well aware that additional gun controls wouldn't pass muster with enough members of the president's own party, let alone Republicans.
But the administration also knew that the issue could potentially excite Democratic base voters in a year when the party was worried about turnout. Hence President Obama's vow in his 2014 State of the Union address "to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook."
To attack the report's credibility, Riley cited criticism of it from discredited gun researcher John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Lott has a history of manipulating statistics and making false claims about guns to advance his pro-gun agenda, and he is the author of the well-known but thoroughly debunked "more guns, less crime" hypothesis. Lott, who is not considered a credible source for information about mass shootings, recently claimed Fox News is partnering with him to "start systematically publishing news stories about mass public shootings that have been stopped by concealed handgun permit holders." (According to an analysis of 62 mass shootings over a 30-year period by Mother Jones, no such cases exist.)
Riley's false accusations are the latest in a series of outlandish and baseless criticisms of the Obama administration and gun laws. In a 2014 appearance on Fox News, he said "The administration already has enough race baiters, starting with the president continuing to Eric Holder, his attorney general." In 2013, he said controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense laws "[benefit], disproportionately, poor blacks," even though research has shown that killings defended with such laws are much more likely to be found justified when a white person killed a black person, rather than the reverse.
The Wall Street Journal's opinion page has been serving as a mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry's attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which will set limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Nearly every WSJ op-ed about the proposed rule since it was released on June 2, 2014 has been written by people with ties to the energy industry -- and every single one has attacked it.
Some media outlets are distorting comments made by President Obama claiming he admitted he doesn't have a "complete strategy" to fight the terrorist group the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). But the full context of the remarks -- which were reported correctly by a number of media outlets -- shows that Obama was only referencing the complete strategy of training and equipping of Iraqi soldiers.
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan criticizes the "Trigger-Happy Generation" in her latest column, adding to the increasingly wide range of media figures questioning the merits of "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" on college campuses. But her attacks in particular reveal a troubling element largely missing from this debate: an honest assessment of the crisis of mental health support for students.
Trigger warnings and safe spaces, in theory, attempt to warn and shield students from material that might remind them of past trauma or reinforce a hostile experience. In practice, they take on many different forms, giving ammunition to both defenders and critics who often see them as overzealous attempts to shield students from reality.
In her May 21 column, Noonan places herself squarely in the critics' camp, labeling on-campus advocacy for safe spaces and trigger warnings as "part of a growing censorship movement." She specifically targets an opinion piece in a Columbia University newspaper, which described in part a survivor of sexual assault wanting greater protection after feeling triggered during a class discussion on the rape scenes in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Noonan argues that the world is an unsafe place, and that students shouldn't try to shape it into something more comforting:
There is no such thing as safety. That is asking too much of life. You can't expect those around you to constantly accommodate your need for safety ... [I]f you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself? Might it mean you need a lot of therapy?
Noonan is being flippant, but her dismissive joke actually points to a growing problem: colleges don't offer students enough mental health support, which may be one explanation for the growing trend of students trying to create safe spaces and safe texts for themselves.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and the same day Noonan's column was published, a report released as part of the campaign found that millennials who work (which would include many college students) have the highest rates of depression of any generation. Last year, The Washington Post noted that according to recent studies, "44 percent of college students experienced symptoms of depression, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students."
And victims of rape, intimate-partner violence, stalking, or sexual assault -- which the Columbia University student Noonan highlighted reportedly was -- are "drastically more likely to develop a mental disorder at some point in their lives," according to a 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association study, CNN reported at the time.
These students often don't have access to help, including the therapy Noonan blithely suggested. In 2011, the American Psychological Association labeled the state of mental health on campuses a "growing crisis," and they've continued to track the concerns since. College counseling centers, they explained, "are frequently forced to come up with creative ways to manage their growing caseloads. For example, 76.6 percent of college counseling directors reported reducing the number of visits for non-crisis patients to cope with the increasing number of clients." 88 percent of campus counseling centers surveyed by the American College Counseling Association said they experienced staffing problems due to the increase in demand, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2013.
But as of 2012, only 56 percent of four-year colleges and universities offered on-campus psychiatric services. Fewer than 13 percent of community colleges did as well. The services can't keep up with the rise in demand.
To be sure, not all of the students asking for safe spaces or trigger warnings on their campuses need therapy, nor are they all seeking these spaces because of a general lack of robust mental health service on their campuses. However, I know at least some of them are, because that's exactly what I did.
For three years running, The Wall Street Journal editorial board has championed an annual report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) claiming that federal regulations are a "hidden tax" that cost Americans almost two trillion dollars every year and nearly $15,000 per household. But The Washington Post Fact Checker has described the CEI report as "unbalanced" and "misleading" because it has serious methodological problems and completely ignores the economic benefits of regulations, and policy and economic experts who spoke to Media Matters agree that the report is heavily biased and hugely flawed.
Mainstream media are highlighting the Clintons' recent disclosure of their personal finances to suggest that Hillary Clinton will not be able to address poverty and income inequality as a 2016 presidential candidate, ignoring how her past policies and work have helped to alleviate these issues.
Conservative media outlets rushed to scandalize Bill and Hillary Clinton using the newly released "Deflategate" NFL report finding it was "more probable than not" the New England Patriots conspired to tamper with footballs.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board is siding with four teachers in California who are suing their unions, claiming "coercion" and "political extortion" because "critical benefits" are being withheld from non-member employees who don't pay for them, but failed to mention the challenge is seeking to overturn decades-old precedent.
In April, four teachers filed suit against the California Teachers' Association and several other teachers' unions, arguing that their denial of certain benefits to non-members was unconstitutional, despite Supreme Court precedent to the contrary. The teachers had refused to join their representative unions because they disagree with the groups' "political activity," which is funded by members who pay full membership dues. While even non-members are required to pay some dues to the union -- a reduced share known as "agency" or "fair share fees" -- that money cannot be used for political activities.
In a May 4 editorial, the Journal sided with the suing teachers, calling their lawsuit an opportunity "to end the political extortion" by unions, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of agency fees. The editorial took special exception to the fact that non-members aren't covered by a disability insurance program that provides paid maternity leave, claiming that it is unfair for teachers to have to "ante up to receive substantial employment benefits":
Teachers who disagree with the union's agenda can opt out of membership and not pay dues. Trouble is, they then must forfeit material benefits including legal representation in workplace disputes as well as union insurance that is necessary for disability and maternity leave. They also cannot vote on collective-bargaining agreements that govern the terms and conditions of their employment.
The coercion is particularly insidious in the case of maternity leave, which the union does not collectively bargain. Teachers who want to take leaves of absence are guaranteed full-time pay only for their unused sick days. After that, their pay gets docked substantially. So if new mothers want to take a couple of months off, they in effect must either join the union -- and finance its political advocacy -- or take a huge pay cut.
Imagine if a bank made maternity leave and flex time available only to workers who contribute to a Republican political action committee. This is essentially what the union public-school monopoly does: restrict critical benefits to those who support their political spending.
Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor since 2001, was named chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board on Monday. Under Gigot, the Journal editorial page has had several ethical lapses and has been a regular source of misinformation on climate science, health care, the Iraq War, and a host of other issues.
Pulitzer administrator Mike Pride told Media Matters a new board chair is chosen annually and the board member or members who have served nine years of their 10-year term normally get the post.
Gigot, who is going into his 10th and final year on the board, was the only member in that position this year, Pride said.
"It is really relatively automatic and nine years on the board give you a greater understanding in the way things work."
Pride, a former board member from 1999 to 2008, left in April 2008 after one year as co-chair with Joann Byrd. He is also the former editor of Concord Monitor. Pride became board administrator in September 2014.
But while Gigot's appointment is fairly routine, his position is one of power and influence over the board that distributes the most coveted awards in journalism, Pride said.
"The chair has some powers for sure in deciding which things we emphasize and which things we focus on," Pride said, later adding, "It's not a weak position at all, it's a strong position."
"He is on all the committees and is really involved in everything."
Gigot's appointment comes at a time when the Pulitzer Prizes have undergone sharp changes in recent years. In 2008, the categories were opened up to allow online-only entries, a major shift for the prizes that had previously been limited to newspapers.
And this year marked the first time magazine entries were allowed, in two categories. As board chair, Gigot can influence what changes are made or not, Pride said.
"The chair has a big effect on that so if the chair decides to slow down something the process will slow down," he explained. "If the chair decides to move faster, it will move along. It is a person that helps to determine the future of the prizes."
NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen called news of Gigot's new position "strange," noting that the Journal's newsroom "often rolls its eyes at the editorial page's evidentiary standards."
In 2011, Women's Wear Daily reported that the Journal's newsroom "often has objections to Paul Gigot's editorial page." The New York Observer noted that "under editorial-page editor Paul Gigot, opinion writers freely dispute the facts reported in the rest of the paper," while "news staffers disavow the contributions from Mr. Gigot's side."
One staffer told the Observer in 2006 that the editorial section is "wrong all the time" and that "they lack credibility to the point that the emperor has no clothes."
Rosen also noted it should "concern journalists" that the Journal editorial page under Gigot "has been a leader in the manufacture of doubt about climate change." As evidence, he linked to a Journal editorial comparing modern climate research to the party dogma of the Soviet Union.
The Journal's editorial page has also been criticized for ethical lapses under Gigot. In the run-up to the 2012 election, the paper routinely failed to disclose columnist Karl Rove's ties to political organizations acting to prevent President Obama's re-election and published at least 23 different op-eds from various Mitt Romney advisers without disclosing their blatant conflict of interest. (The paper eventually added a mention of Rove's political groups to his bio.)
In addition to its climate coverage and ethical problems, Gigot's editorial page has misled on several issues over the years, including electoral politics, the labor movement, health care, and the economy.
The Journal editorial page's low point under Gigot was probably its role in furthering falsehoods in the run-up to the Iraq War. The Journal routinely promoted the idea that Saddam Hussein either had -- or was on the verge of obtaining or producing -- weapons of mass destruction. A characteristic Wall Street Journal editorial from 2003 claimed that the coalition force would find "nasty weapons and the cheering Iraqis...when it liberates the country."