After building three stores in rapidly developing Washington, D.C., neighborhoods, Walmart announced it would not build two additional stores planned for low-income communities. Right-wing media are falsely claiming that the District's recent increase in its minimum wage killed these stores when in fact, Walmart originally agreed to build them only to get support for the three stores it wanted to open in better-off areas, and the company has since decided to close over 150 stores in the U.S. this year due to poor sales.
A dirty energy advocate with Big Oil ties is falsely smearing Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' wind energy plan -- with an assist from The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal published a February 7 op-ed attacking Sanders' renewable energy plan by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, without disclosing that the Manhattan Institute has received at least $800,000 from ExxonMobil and millions more from foundations run by the oil billionaire Koch brothers. Unsurprisingly, given his track record, Bryce's criticism of Sanders is badly at odds with the facts.
In the op-ed, Bryce claimed that Sanders "better check with his Vermont constituents about the popularity of wind energy." Citing anti-wind proposals in the Vermont state legislature and a few scattered examples of local opposition to specific wind energy projects, Bryce declared: "Nowhere is the backlash [against wind energy] stronger than in Mr. Sanders's state."
However, despite the presence of a vocal minority who oppose large-scale wind projects, support for wind energy development is actually very strong in the Green Mountain State.
According to an April 2014 poll that was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), 71 percent of Vermonters support building wind turbines along the state's ridgelines, while only 23 percent oppose wind energy development. The poll also found that 86 percent of Vermonters support the state's goal of getting 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, and 72 percent of Vermonters said they would look more favorably on a candidate for state legislature who would make "advancing energy efficiency, clean energy and action on climate change central to their work."
These findings are in line with other polls conducted in Vermont. A May 2014 survey by the Castleton Polling Institute found that 89.3 percent of Vermonters agree that it is necessary and important to change the state's energy mix from the "current system based on fossil fuels, such as oil, and gas" to "a new energy system based on increasing energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro and biomass." And a February 2013 Castleton poll found that 69 percent of Vermonters would favor the development of a wind farm in their own community.
Indeed, Bryce's entire attack against Sanders is premised on deceptively cherry-picking several isolated incidents of local opposition to wind energy. This cherry-picking is exemplified by the very first example he cited as supposed evidence that opposition to wind turbines "has been growing" in the state:
Wind-generated electricity in the U.S. has more than tripled since 2008, but opposition to the gigantic turbines, which can stand more than 500 feet, has been growing. In Vermont several protesters were arrested in 2011 and 2012 while trying to stop work on a wind project built on top of Lowell Mountain.
In reality, 75 percent of Lowell residents voted for Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project on Lowell Mountain in 2010, and Lowell voters strongly reaffirmed their support for the project in March 2014, as the Associated Press noted at the time.
With Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton facing a barrage of criticisms over the tone of her voice during a recent speech, Media Matters looks back at the rampant sexism she faced from the media during her 2008 presidential bid.
The Wall Street Journal lambasted President Obama over a slight projected increase of the federal budget deficit in 2016 while praising budget-busting Republican tax plans that The Journal falsely claimed "would spur [economic] growth" enough to make up for revenue shortfalls.
On January 25, The Wall Street Journal used newly released figures from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to falsely claim the federal deficit was "climbing rapidly again" in President Obama's final year in office and to warn that future deficits would "take off" after the conclusion of his presidency. The Journal highlighted that the annual federal deficit is projected to increase from 2.5 percent of GDP in 2015 to 2.9 percent of GDP in 2016, blaming most of this growth on increased outlays to entitlement programs.
While The Journal blamed President Obama for creating a "fiscal time bomb" for his successor, the paper praised Republican tax plans claiming "the various tax reform plans that Republicans are offering would spur growth" (emphasis added):
Perhaps you've heard President Obama's talking point that the federal budget deficit has fallen by two-thirds on his watch. That overlooks that the deficit first soared on his watch, and then fell thanks largely to the GOP House and modest economic recovery, and that as he leaves office he is going to need one more asterisk: The deficit in 2016 has begun to rise again, in dollars and as a share of the economy. And after he leaves office, it takes off.
As ever, the big spending drivers will be entitlements, which are projected to rise to 15% of the economy from the current 13.1% over 10 years. This is the fiscal time bomb that Mr. Obama will leave his successor, thank you very much.
We realize such unhappy realities are not supposed to intrude on a presidential campaign, and the American public long ago dropped spending and deficits as major concerns. Voters care more about the economy and terrorism, and there's good sense to that. The deficit will never vanish without faster economic growth, and the various tax reform plans that Republicans are offering would spur growth. By all means let's debate growth.
The Journal's core claim, that "the deficit will never vanish without faster economic growth" is debatable, but its decision to endorse "the various tax reform plans that Republicans are offering" as a solution for both economic growth and deficit reduction is absurd.
According to tax policy scores from the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation, all of the tax plans promoted by Republican presidential candidates would vastly increase the budget deficit:
According to this GOP-friendly analysis, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's proposals would reduce expected economic growth and job creation over the next decade but also reduce deficit-accumulation by $191 billion to $498 billion. At the same time, according to the Tax Foundation, GOP candidates would oversee stronger economies while vastly accelerating the growth of the federal deficit. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's tax plan could add as much as $12 trillion to the national debt on top of expected accumulation, while Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) plan only ends up reducing the deficit in a "dynamic revenue estimate" that Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has repeatedly derided as "voodoo economics."
Furthermore, The Journal's claim that faster economic growth resulting from tax cuts is what is needed to reduce the federal deficit is not backed up by sound economic research. On August 25, 2015, Republican-appointed CBO Director Keith Hall said "tax cuts do not pay for themselves," and a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report withdrawn by GOP senators found that lower top income tax rates did not correlate with higher economic growth but did find it "associated with greater income disparities." When economists created a model for creating a top tax rate that would be an "effective tool for social insurance," they found raising rates on the top 1 percent of earners to 90 percent would be appropriate.
Right-wing media outlets repeatedly stoke fears of the federal deficit growing too large. Fox News and other right-wing media outlets are notorious for hyping the federal deficit and The Journal's editorial feeds into this narrative.
A Wall Street Journal column used the recently released film depicting the Benghazi attacks to revive old myths about the attacks while claiming that the movie "ought to" threaten Hillary Clinton's presidential run.
Earlier this month, Michael Bay released his latest movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Before it hit theaters, conservative media used the film to recycle debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks, including that officials issued a "stand down order" and that no military assistance was sent to Benghazi during the attacks. Right-wing media also hyped the possibility that the movie could "pose a threat to" Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and could raise questions about the attacks that eight congressional probes previously failed to answer. Fox's Megyn Kelly claimed the film "reintroduces Benghazi as a potential campaign issue that cannot be helpful to Mrs. Clinton." Another Fox host argued that "if anyone sees this movie ... and then goes on to vote for Hillary Clinton, they're a criminal."
In his January 20 column for the Journal, Daniel Henninger asserted, "'13 Hours' is a graphic, reasonably accurate depiction" of the attacks and "makes the memory of the government's tall tale, which it insisted on repeating for more than a week, hard to stomach." That "tale," the claim goes, involves "the Obama administration's YouTube coverup, the story--or 'talking points'--about how an obscure anti-Islamic video made in California caused Benghazi to happen." Henninger also twisted facts to place blame on Hillary Clinton, writing, "There ought to be a political reckoning over this" for Clinton, who "was complicit in a White House concoction she knew the night of the attack was untrue."
The myths pushed by the conservative media chorus about the film have been repeatedly debunked. According to former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the "stand down order" right-wing media claim occurred on the night of the attacks never happened. Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense during the Bush and Obama administrations, explained military aid was deployed, but was unable to reach Benghazi before the attacks concluded, and called out conservative media's "cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces." Henninger's assertion that the Obama administration attempted to "coverup" the story behind the attacks by blaming a YouTube video has been debunked by Senate Select Committee reviews and the by attackers themselves. The "talking points" Henninger mentioned were edited to avoid revealing what the administration knew to the terrorists groups responsible for the attacks.
As The Washington Post's Erik Wemple explained, conservative media are "promoting the Bay movie for its potential to revive Benghazi as a problem for Clinton" and in doing so, "acting as an advocacy organization." And Media Matters' David Brock wrote "there's no scandal" in the film or the events it depicts, "only a partisan witch hunt."
Economists from the University of California, Davis published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal debunking the popular right-wing media myth that an influx of low-skilled refugees would necessarily result in decreased wages and job opportunities for American workers.
On January 18, University of California, Davis economist Giovanni Peri and doctoral candidate Vasil Yasenov published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal discussing their recent study on the wage and employment disruption created when a large influx of Cuban refugees arrived in South Florida in 1980. Their work, published in December 2015 by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), updated prior research on the migration and confirmed that the sudden arrival of 125,000 Cuban refugees did not correlate with decreased wages or employment activity for American workers in the local community.
Right-wing media have created many myths about immigration, but perhaps the most pervasive is the misleading claim that new immigrants take jobs away from American workers. Economists have debunked the claim many times, but it remains a prevalent talking point in many conservative outlets.
Peri and Yasenov argued that an influx of new immigrants "stimulates productivity and growth in the economy" and pointed to the experience of Cuban refugees in the 1980s as a model for what to expect from Syrian refugee arrivals today. From The Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):
A well-known episode took place after April 20, 1980, when Fidel Castro opened the port of Mariel, enabling anyone to freely leave the island. More than 125,000 Cubans fled to the U.S. until the Mariel boatlift, as it was called, ended in September. More than half of these refugees settled in Miami. Most were low-skill--which meant that the supply of workers without a high-school diploma in the city increased between 12% and 15%.
Economist David Card analyzed how the wages and employment rate of native workers in Miami changed from 1979 (before the inflow) to 1981-82 (after the inflow). His influential study, published in 1990, compared Miami with Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and Tampa-St. Petersburg, a control group of cities with similar demographic and labor-market characteristics during the 1970s.
The results were striking: The 1979-1981 wage and employment changes in Miami were not much different than in the other cities. The evidence, he concluded, was that a sudden increase in the supply of low-skill workers had no significant negative effect on native laborers with similar schooling levels.
Our results--released as National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 21801 on Dec. 15--confirm Mr. Card's original study. There is no evidence that Miami's low-skill workers experienced wage or employment decline relative to those in our control group of cities in 1980, 1981 or 1982. We also analyzed different subgroups--males, females, Hispanics and non-Hispanics--and did not find any significant wage effect in Miami after 1979.
This result suggests that the common belief that more immigrant workers depress native workers' wages or employment is not a good representation of what happens. Earlier research by one of us has shown that native workers do not suffer the negative impact of arriving immigrants because they take different jobs. Moreover, their arrival stimulates productivity and growth in the economy.
Miami's experience after the Mariel boatlift suggests that an influx of refugees from Syria to the U.S. would have no significant economic impact on American workers.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board predictably lined up behind the conservative establishment's interests by arguing in favor of a Supreme Court decision that would deal a blow to unions representing teachers, social workers, EMTs, firefighters, and other public employees.
On January 11, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case calling into question a California state teachers union's right to charge an "agency fee" or "fair share fee" to non-members who benefit from the union's collective bargaining efforts despite not paying full membership dues. Media have noted that if the case results in the court overturning a previous decision, it would weaken all public-sector unions -- and a "who's who" of conservative anti-union backers have been instrumental in bringing it before the Supreme Court as quickly as possible.
The "agency fee" principle was established in a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and was designed to prevent non-union employees from freely enjoying the substantial benefits negotiated by unions on behalf of their members. This so-called "free rider" problem would otherwise force unions to operate on smaller budgets but continue to bargain and organize on behalf of the same number of people. As The Atlantic reports:
Under federal law, if a majority of employees decide to form a union, the union must represent all employees for bargaining purposes. But if some people decide not to join (whether because of genuine political disagreement or merely to save money on the fees), the union has less leverage because it represents fewer members. It also has less money to pay for the things that keep it strong, like bargaining and organizing. But it still has an obligation to do things such as bargaining and organizing since, in many states, public employers are required to bargain with unions.
The Supreme Court's most recent decision on agency fees in the 2014 case Harris v. Quinn, which the Wall Street Journal also advocated for and celebrated, signaled the conservative majority's desire to revisit and potentially overturn Abood, and thus decades of labor law that are "vital to the very concept of public employee unionism" -- an opportunity Friedrichs now provides.
Of course, the Wall Street Journal predictably jumped at the chance to fall in line with conservative interest groups pushing for a case like Friedrichs that could give the court -- in particular, Justice Samuel Alito, who seemingly asked for such a case in his Harris opinion -- the chance to overturn Abood. On January 10, the Journal's editorial board celebrated Friedrichs as "a rare and splendid opportunity to repair damage to the First Amendment done by the Court itself" -- at best, minimizing the implications for public-sector unions and public employees and, at worst, enjoying the prospect that institutions of organized labor could be dealt a serious blow with the decision. The editorial pushed several incorrect claims related to the case before concluding that Abood ought to be sent "to the mistake file" with the Friedrichs decision:
But as the teachers point out, collective bargaining in government is impossible to separate from matters of ideological speech. For public teachers, collective bargaining involves wages and benefits that inevitably implicate fiscal policy and the tax burden. It also includes such controversial political matters as teacher evaluations and tenure. Individual teachers who object to the union's positions on these issues must nonetheless subsidize them.
In her dissent in Harris, Justice Elena Kagan justified this state coercion for unions on grounds that the government has an interest in labor peace. But no great harm to the state or the public is caused by letting teachers exercise their free-speech right. The union won't vanish, or even lose its monopoly bargaining power. It will merely have less money to spend to influence politicians.
The board claimed that "no great harm to the state or the public" would result from a decision overturning Abood, and that the California teachers' union "won't vanish, or even lose its monopoly bargaining power," but would "merely have less money to spend to influence politicians."
The Journal's anti-union argument managed to be wrong on just about all counts: research shows that unions are severely weakened when they are no longer allowed to charge agency fees for collective bargaining activities, and the economy suffers as a result. In so-called "right-to-work" states, where unions cannot charge agency fees, unions have notably decreased in size and potential leverage, and public employees are earning less and enjoying fewer benefits. And as economist Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, points out, "a decline in unionization on the national level has caused wage stagnation, growing inequality, and the overall slippage of the American middle class."
The Journal also mischaracterized the premise of agency fees, arguing that paying such fees requires public employees who do not agree with a union's political stances to "nonetheless subsidize them." The Abood decision establishing agency fees prevents exactly that, drawing a distinction that limits agency fee revenue to subsidize only collective bargaining activities, not political advocacy. The Journal's claim ignores that distinction to back the plaintiff's flawed argument that all union activity constitutes free speech -- even bargaining and organizing that directly benefit employees and prevent costly, escalated labor disputes.
The Wall Street Journal's factually challenged opinion on the Friedrichs case should come as no surprise; the Journal has a long history of advocating for measures that would weaken organized labor, and members of its board are tied to the "web of dark money" responsible for pushing Friedrichs to the Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs in Friedrichs, ten California public school teachers, are represented by conservative legal group the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a pro-bono legal organization known for its work on cases dismantling affirmative action and civil rights protections, with donors connected to "the web of dark money" associated with anti-labor billionaires Charles and David Koch. CIR attorneys declined to argue the case in lower courts, instead pushing for the courts to issue decisions that would allow the case to move exceptionally quickly to the Supreme Court level. The CIR's funders constitute "a who's who of the right's opposition to organized labor." As The American Prospect reported:
Koch-linked groups known to have made grants to CIR, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, include DonorsTrust, the Donors Capital Fund, and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. Other CIR funders belong to the Koch donor network. Among them are the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, as well as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which was instrumental in the legislative attack on labor in Wisconsin...
Think tanks and groups that receive either direct funding from Koch entities or are linked to the Koch brothers' funding network also filed amicus briefs in favor of the Friedrichs plaintiffs. They include the Cato Institute, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, and the Mackinac Center, a major force behind the 2012 anti-union legislation enacted in Michigan.
According to journalist Laura Flanders, earlier in its history CIR also enjoyed the support of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist organization devoted to the promotion of eugenics.
It's clear the "phony grass-roots support" behind Friedrichs is well-funded by the anti-labor conservative establishment, and propped up by research written by institutions and individuals receiving that funding. The Wall Street Journal editorial board's flimsy argument to overturn Abood may be no exception -- several members of the board have received large grants from the Bradley Foundation, one of the foundations involved in Wisconsin's "right-to-work" push in 2014 and a funder of the CIR. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, two of the foundation's annual $250,000 "Bradley Prizes" for journalism were awarded to Wall Street Journal columnists in 2014 -- one of whom sits on the paper's editorial board. In 2010, Paul A. Gigot, the editorial pages editor at the Journal, also received the Bradley prize.
On January 9, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will host a presidential candidate forum in Columbia, South Carolina focused on poverty. As media outlets prepare to cover the event, will they remember that despite Ryan's gentler language, he has a history of promoting budget and fiscal policies that would harm Americans struggling with poverty?
From Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, to the establishment of the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, to a landmark international climate agreement, 2015 has been full of major landmarks in national and global efforts to address global warming. Yet you wouldn't know it if you inhabited the parallel universe of the conservative media, where media figures went to ridiculous and outrageous lengths to dismiss or deny climate science, attack the pope, scientists, and anyone else concerned with climate change, and defend polluting fossil fuel companies. Here are the 15 most ridiculous things conservative media said about climate change in 2015.
2015 was an important year in education policy, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the beginning of the 2016 election campaigns, and local fights for teachers and public schools making national headlines. In an important year for students and teachers across the education spectrum, however, some media outlets used their platforms to push falsehoods. Here are five of the worst media failures on public education this year.
This summer, teachers union opponent and former journalist Campbell Brown launched a "non-profit, non-partisan news site about education," called The Seventy Four. In spite of the site's stated mission to combat "misinformation and political spin" with "investigation, expertise, and experience," Brown hired Eric Owens, who has a long history of attacks on students and teachers, to write for the site. Owens has a long history of attacking and mocking teachers and students with transphobic, sexist, victim-blaming, and racially insensitive rhetoric as the education editor at the Daily Caller.
This year, The Wall Street Journal continued its campaign of misinformation on teachers unions, pushing harmful, union-opposed policies such as a Louisiana voucher program that was found to violate desegregation requirements and a Washington, D.C. voucher program reported to waste federal dollars on "unsuitable learning environments." The WSJ editorial board often explicitly attributed its support of these unsuccessful policies to combating teachers unions. In an October editorial, for example, the board wrote that being "unpopular with unions... ought to be a requirement for any education leadership position," ignoring the troubling realities of the programs they attempted to defend in spite of well-founded union concerns.
As ESSA moved through Congress in late November, the editorial board doubled down on its teacher-blaming rhetoric, claiming that the new legislation was favored by "teachers unions who want less accountability," and advocating for the continuation of unpopular high-stakes testing and voucher policies in the states.
The Washington Post editorial board similarly advocated for continuing the extensive testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, lending support to a high-stakes testing policy with questionable public or research support, and villainized teachers unions in the process. In its February editorial on the issue, the Post claimed that teachers unions "give lip service to accountability as long as their members aren't the ones held to account," and cited this self-interest as the source of unions' opposition to flawed teacher evaluation models that utilize students' standardized test scores to punish teachers.
Fox News featured offensive and often inaccurate commentary on public education and the teaching profession throughout the year -- in some cases doubling down on the anti-teacher rhetoric many Fox figures pushed in 2014.
In February, Outnumbered co-host Kennedy kicked off the teacher-bashing by arguing that "there really shouldn't be public schools," before the hosts agreed that the federal Department of Education ought to be abolished. In April, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy slurred prospective bilingual educators, referring to immigrants with legal permission to work in the United States as "illegals" during a segment highlighting an initiative to boost language learning in schools.
In August, Fox & Friends included a segment where Fox News regular Frank Luntz conducted a live focus group segment about public education. Questions for the focus group included "Who here has issue with teachers unions?" and "Doesn't it make you angry that you're putting all this money into public schools?" Luntz followed up his leading question about teachers unions by singling out a teacher from the group and asking him to "defend" himself.
In an October discussion about New York City schools on Fox's The Five, the co-hosts implored the city's public school teachers to "become a better teacher" and "don't suck at your job." That same month, co-host Juan Williams attacked unions' endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, asserting that an "unholy alliance between education unions and Democrats" would be "dangerous for our kids" and would "hurt" "minority communities" and "poor people."
This year also marked the launch of the 2016 presidential campaign season, with five Republican and three Democratic debates held this fall. While candidates outlined their positions time and again on national security issues, women's health care, and taxes, the debates barely mentioned education issues. A Media Matters search of all eight full debate transcripts found only nine mentions of any variation of the term "teach." In fact, according to this review, no candidate or moderator uttered the phrases "No Child Left Behind," "Race To The Top," or "Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)" throughout the 2015 debate season, despite the recent passage of the landmark ESSA legislation replacing No Child Left Behind.
Moderators did discuss schools and teachers a handful of times throughout the debate season, mostly in relation to national security. In the August 6 Republican debate on Fox News, moderator Bret Baier questioned former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on their disagreement on the Common Core state standards and asked former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) whether he would abolish the Department of Education, among other federal agencies. The moderators of the October 28 CNBC Republican debate also mentioned teachers once, when moderator Carlos Quintanilla asked Donald Trump about his comments that educators ought to be armed. And on CNN's December 15 Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked candidates about the closure of the Los Angeles Unified school district following an email threat.
The other five debates did not feature questions regarding K-12 education policy.
Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and school funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions not only protect the rights of educators but also benefit students and their communities, state newspapers editorializing on union activities framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others.
Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, Media Matters found that state newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, and Washington published editorials distorting the facts to question the motives of teachers and attack their right to organize.
In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News repeatedly claimed that teachers unions supporting a parent-led movement against standardized testing want to maintain "the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo" and require children to "pay the price." In Scranton, Pennsylvania, The Scranton Times-Tribune lamented that teachers unions had the ability to strike and dismissed teachers' calls to be treated with respect and dignity. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Albuquerque Journal mocked teachers' concerns over an unfair evaluation method that was subsequently struck down by a district court that agreed with the unions. In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times dismissed unions' worries that a charter expansion plan created by one of the paper's education reporting funders would financially jeopardize local public schools, telling those who opposed the plan to "quit whining." And in Seattle, Washington, The Seattle Times repeatedly attacked the local union for "using their students as pawns," as they advocated for fair pay, guaranteed recess time, more funding for schools, and greater equity in school discipline policies.
These editorial board attacks on educators -- because of the readers they serve and the prominence of local priorities on education policy -- have the dangerous potential to shift public conversation away from the facts and to pit communities against the teachers who advocate for them. After a year where the importance of education policy has become more critical than ever, hopefully this disturbing trend will not continue in 2016.
Image by Ian MacKenzie under a Creative Commons license.
New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait criticized right-wing media outlets for claiming the Paris climate agreement is toothless after previously denying the reality of man-made climate change.
Conservative media personalities criticized the Paris conference leading to a landmark December 12 climate change agreement to limit global emissions. Right-wing media outlets and figures, such as Fox News' Stuart Varney and The Daily Caller, claimed any agreement would have "little... impact" and argued that lowering global temperatures by a "minuscule amount" would cost America "an enormous amount of money." Fox News in particular demonstrated its hypocrisy over the issue by falsely implying that those at the Paris agreement were hypocrites for having a supposed large carbon footprint the Paris summit and dismissing the "hoopla" over the event due to any agreement being non-binding, while at the same time pointing to record level Alaska snowfall to dispute climate change. A Fox host also falsely claimed global temperatures have "stabilized or gone down a little bit," and Fox's Laura Ingraham claimed that the summit is about "bringing America's economy down."
In a December 20 article, Chait pointed out how conservative media were moving the goalposts on the issue, writing they had "shifted their emphasis from denying the science to denying the possibility that policy can change it." Noting that conservative media previously "objected to previous climate deals precisely because their 'mandatory' character presented an unacceptably onerous burden," conservative media were claiming "the absence of that unacceptable feature makes the new agreement worthless." Chait also called out outlets like National Review, Fox News, and The Daily Caller for misrepresenting a MIT climate study to downplay the agreement's impact:
Most conservative energy on climate change over the last quarter-century has gone into questioning the validity of climate science. Conservative intellectuals have invested enough of their reputations into this form of scientific kookery that it cannot be easily abandoned. Instead, as the evidence for anthropogenic global warming grows ever more certain, and the political costs for Republican presidential candidates of openly questioning science rise, conservatives have shifted their emphasis from denying the science to denying the possibility that policy can change it. A National Review editorial last year dismissed the notion of an international agreement to limit climate change as a metaphysical impossibility, on the grounds that reducing coal usage in one place would axiomatically increase it elsewhere. As The Wall Street Journal editorial page asserts, "If climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it." Having begun with their conclusion, conservative are now reasoning backward through their premises.
Accordingly, a new data point has taken hold on the right and quickly blossomed. One study by MIT finds that the Paris agreement would reduce the global temperature increase by a mere 0.2 degrees by 2100. The entire right-wing media has eagerly circulated the finding. "Current analysis by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- not exactly a nest of fossil-fuel conservatism -- suggests that the emissions cuts being agreed to in Paris would reduce that estimated warming by as little as 0.0°C or by as much as 0.2°C," announces a National Review editorial, thrilled to have an empirical basis for the conclusion it previously asserted as an a priori truth. The same study has been recirculated by places like the Daily Caller, Fox News, and elsewhere. Rich Lowry, writing in the New York Post, reports, "The best estimates are that, accepting the premises of the consensus, the deal will reduce warming 0.0 to 0.2 degrees Celsius."
In fact, this study is just one estimate, not estimates plural. There are many other studies, and while Lowry's column does not reveal what process he used to deem the MIT study "the best," we can probably guess that it has something to do with MIT being the one that supports his preferred conclusion. In fact, the MIT study does not produce the conclusion its gloating conservative publicists claim on its behalf.
So MIT's conclusion of emissions levels over the next 15 years is right in line with other estimates that assume Paris will do a great deal to limit climate change.
It is also certainly possible that global willpower to reduce emissions will weaken, or collapse entirely. Future events cannot be proven. Only rigid dogma like American conservatism (or, for that matter, Marxism) gives its adherents a mortal certainty about the fate of government policy that a liberal cannot match, and should not want to.
A Media Matters analysis found that four of the ten largest-circulation newspapers in the country published op-eds, editorials, or columns that denied climate science while criticizing the international climate change negotiations in Paris, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Post, and The Orange County Register. Altogether, 17 percent of the 52 opinion pieces that the ten largest newspapers published about the Paris conference included some form of climate science denial, and many of them repeated other myths about the climate negotiations as well.
A professor who was caught agreeing to hide the oil funding behind a climate denial research paper named Breitbart News as a media outlet that could "likely help" publicize the research, according to emails unearthed as part of an undercover investigation by Greenpeace. Indeed, Breitbart News has frequently cited Princeton Emeritus Professor William Happer to promote the supposed "benefits" of climate-warming carbon pollution and argue against a "war on CO2" -- including just days before the Greenpeace investigation was released. And now that Greenpeace has exposed Happer's ethically dubious actions, Breitbart News is defending Happer's behavior as "morally and scientifically unimpeachable."
On December 8, Greenpeace released the results of its investigation, in which Greenpeace UK reporters claiming to represent oil and coal companies asked two university professors to write industry-friendly research papers, and the professors agreed to do so without disclosing the fossil fuel funding behind them. According to Greenpeace, the investigation details "how fossil fuel companies can secretly pay academics at leading American universities to write research that sows doubt about climate science and promotes the companies' commercial interests."
As part of its report about the investigation, titled "Exposed: Academics-for-hire agree not to disclose fossil fuel funding," Greenpeace released a series of emails between its undercover staffers and the two academics, William Happer and Penn State Emeritus Professor Frank Clemente. In an email exchange in early November, a Greenpeace employee who was posing as an oil company consultant based in Beirut asked Happer if he could write a briefing paper "examin[ing] the benefits of fossil fuels to developing economies," and if there were any "US outlets or contacts you may have" that could help "get this research out far and wide." The Greenpeace employee also mentioned a London Times column praising carbon emissions by Matt Ridley, who Happer said was in "close touch" with a pro-carbon group called the CO2 Coalition that Happer helped organize. The Greenpeace employee then asked Happer if Ridley -- a Times columnist who also frequently writes op-eds published by The Wall Street Journal -- "would help to disseminate our research." Happer replied: "I am sure Matt Ridley will be interested in whatever you produce. The Breitbart news organization would also likely help, as would various blogs, syndicated columnists, etc."
Given Breitbart News' past coverage of Happer, it should come as no surprise that he mentioned Breitbart when asked to name media outlets that would promote his industry-funded, climate-denying research. For instance:
On December 4, several weeks after Happer mentioned Breitbart News in his email to Greenpeace (and just days before Greenpeace released the results of its investigation), Breitbart News published yet another article touting Happer, this one titled "Carbon Dioxide Is Not Our Enemy." In it, Breitbart's John Hayward wrote a highly sympathetic profile of Happer's climate science denial, asserting that a white paper Happer co-authored was "meant to be a conversation-starter" and took "a non-confrontational approach with copious footnotes and supporting sources, inviting readers to perform their own research and gain a fuller understanding of CO2 and its benefits." Hayward also stated that Happer "lamented the vicious treatment given to scientists who showed even modest skepticism toward the link between CO2 and climate change."
After Greenpeace released its investigation, Breitbart News' James Delingpole rushed to Happer's defense with a December 8 article, in which he wrote: "What's clear is that [at] every stage Happer's behaviour was morally and scientifically unimpeachable." Delingpole alleged that Happer was not at fault because he made clear he "would only say in his paper what he believed anyway" and indicated that he did not "wish to benefit personally from the fee, but preferred that the money should go to a tax-exempt educational charity, which pays only his travel expenses."
It's true that Happer has a long track record of advocating for the purported "benefits" of carbon pollution, and it's also true that he requested in his emails to the undercover Greenpeace employee that "whatever fee would have come to me would go directly to the CO2 Coalition" -- the group Happer helped organized earlier this year. But Delingpole tellingly did not provide Happer's answer to two other questions Delingpole noted that Greenpeace had raised: "Would the CO2 Coalition be happy to take a direct donation on condition the donor remained anonymous?" and "Might Happer be able to get his paper peer-reviewed by sympathetic authors?"
This is where Happer's conduct is far from "unimpeachable," as Breitbart News claimed.
The Greenpeace staffer posing as a representative of the Middle Eastern oil company told Happer over email that "we are happy to make a direct donation to the CO2 Coalition, providing it is anonymous," and asked Happer whether "the CO2 Coalition voluntarily discloses its funders." Happer replied that he believed the CO2 Coalition isn't "required to make public any donors, although it is required to disclose them to the Internal Revenue Service." He also forwarded the question to William O'Keefe, another member of the Board of Directors of the CO2 Coalition and former Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the American Petroleum Institute. O'Keefe replied by suggesting that the oil company funnel the funds through the Donors Trust, which has been dubbed the "dark-money ATM" of the conservative movement:
We are under no obligation to identify donors, except to the IRS but I think that is just organizations. When people ask the IRS or a firms 990 [sic], the donor list is redacted. If the person participates in the Donors Trust, he/she can make the donation through that and have complete confidentiality.
Happer then forwarded O'Keefe's response to the undercover Greenpeace employee. As Greenpeace noted, in his emails "Happer also disclosed that [coal giant] Peabody Energy paid $8,000 in return for his testimony in a crucial Minnesota state hearing on the impacts of carbon dioxide. This fee was also paid to the CO2 Coalition."
The exchange between Happer and the undercover Greenpeace staffer exemplifies how the fossil fuel industry's funding of shoddy science can be hidden from public view, and how this strategy can apply not just to the research papers themselves but also to op-eds and other media coverage about them. Indeed, the other university professor that Greenpeace approached, Penn State's Frank Clemente, listed over email a series of op-eds he had written that had been published in newspapers across the United States, and then observed: "Note that in none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is published as an independent scholar."
The other serious issue raised in Happer's emails relates to peer review, the process by which scholarly work is checked by a group of experts in the same field prior to publication. As Greenpeace documented, in his emails Happer "laid out details of an unofficial peer review process run by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a UK climate sceptic think tank, and said he could ask to put an oil-funded report through a similar review process, after admitting that it would struggle to be published in an academic journal." Specifically, Happer wrote that if he submitted the research paper to a peer-reviewed journal, it might "no longer make the case that CO2 is a benefit, not a pollutant, as strongly as I would like, and presumably as strongly your client would also like." Instead, Happer proposed a review process that would not be anonymous and would be conducted by the climate-denying Global Warming Policy Foundation, writing that although "purists might object that the process did not qualify as a peer review ... I think it would be fine to call it a peer review."
The Global Warming Policy Foundation recently conducted a similar review of another pro-carbon pollution paper, with Ridley -- who used to be a regular columnist for The Wall Street Journal -- deceptively alleging in the London Times that the paper had been "thoroughly peer reviewed."