Media fact-checkers dismantled Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) claim during the fourth Republican presidential debate that "welders earn more money than philosophers" while conservative media championed the false assertion as part of Rubio's so-called mixture of "substance with soaring rhetoric."
Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will is increasing his criticism of his Fox News colleague Bill O'Reilly and his newest book Killing Reagan, detailing the major problems with O'Reilly's claims after the Fox host denounced Will as a hack.
Will first penned his criticism of O'Reilly's book in a November 5 column in The Washington Post, where he wrote that Killing Reagan will "distort the public's understanding of Reagan's presidency" and questioned the sourcing and authenticity of claims made by O'Reilly, concluding that it was "nonsensical history and execrable citizenship."
O'Reilly responded on his show that night by calling Will's piece "libel" and challenging him to appear on the show and debate the book. On November 6, the pair sparred on The O'Reilly Factor and O'Reilly called Will a hack and accused Will of "actively misleading the American people."
On November 10, Will followed up his criticism of O'Reilly's book in a column titled, "Bill O'Reilly makes a mess of history." In the column, Will railed against the premise of O'Reilly's book and described O'Reilly as an interloper, writing:
Were the lungs the seat of wisdom, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly would be wise, but they are not and he is not. So it is not astonishing that he is doubling down on his wager that the truth cannot catch up with him. It has, however, already done so.
O'Reilly "reports" that the trauma of the assassination attempt was somehow causally related to the "fact" that Reagan was frequently so mentally incompetent that senior aides contemplated using the Constitution's 25th Amendment to remove him from office. But neither O'Reilly nor [co-author Martin] Dugard spoke with any of those aides -- not with Ed Meese, Jim Baker, George Shultz or any of the scores of others who could, and would, have demolished O'Reilly's theory. O'Reilly now airily dismisses them because they "have skin in the game." His is an interesting approach to writing history: Never talk to anyone with firsthand knowledge of your subject.
O'Reilly impales himself on a contradiction: He says his book is "laudatory" about Reagan -- and that it is being attacked by Reagan "guardians" and "loyalists." How odd. Liberals, who have long recognized that to discredit conservatism they must devalue Reagan's presidency, surely are delighted with O'Reilly's assistance. The diaspora of Reagan administration alumni, and the conservative movement, now recognize O'Reilly as an opportunistic interloper
Amid a newly-announced investigation of ExxonMobil by the attorney general of New York and calls from all three Democratic presidential candidates for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a federal probe of the oil giant, Exxon is feeling heat over evidence that it deceived the public for decades about the science of climate change. So the company is lashing out at the media organizations that compiled that evidence, and recent opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are assisting Exxon's disinformation campaign.
Following an eight-month investigation that included interviews with former Exxon employees and an extenstive examination of primary sources, including internal Exxon documents dating back to the 1970's, InsideClimate News published a six-part series in September and October detailing "how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial." The Los Angeles Times conducted its own investigation with Columbia University's Energy & Environmental Reporting Project and reached a similar conclusion: in the 1980's Exxon "earned a public reputation as a pioneer in climate change research," but by 1990 the company began "pour[ing] millions into a campaign that questioned climate change." The Times reported that the documents, along with "the recollections of former employees," indicate that ExxonMobil changed its stance on the issue because it "feared a growing public consensus would lead to financially burdensome policies."
Exxon initially responded by seeking to dismiss the InsideClimate News investigation as the work of "anti-oil and gas activists" (never mind that InsideClimate News is a Pulitzer Prize-winning media organization). But now Exxon has adopted a new strategy: seek to discredit the Los Angeles Times' characterization of a single Exxon document in order to undermine the mountains of evidence that Exxon purposefully deceived the public about climate change.
Exxon put this strategy into action in a November 5 blog post, in which Exxon Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Ken Cohen claimed that the Times was "deliberating hiding" a 1989 Exxon presentation it cited against Exxon because the document supposedly "undercuts the paper's claims that ExxonMobil knew with certainty everything there is to know about global warming back in the 1980s yet failed to sound alarms." The Exxon complaint was quickly picked up by a November 8 Wall Street Journal editorial, which claimed that the 1989 document proves that the InsideClimate News and Times investigations "selectively quote from internal Exxon documents," and a November 8 column by The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson, who repeated Cohen's claim that the 1989 document shows how the media investigations "'cherry-pick' their evidence."
Exxon is attacking the Times for reporting that the 1989 presentation, by Exxon scientist Duane LeVine, showed Exxon recognized that "scientists generally agreed gases released by burning fossil fuels could raise global temperatures significantly by the middle of the 21st century." In particular, Exxon objects to the Times not mentioning that LeVine said in the same document, "I do not believe" that "the science has demonstrated the existence of [potential enhanced greenhouse] today," and "enhanced greenhouse is still deeply imbedded in scientific uncertainty." (LeVine defined "potential enhanced greenhouse" as the "enhancement of [the greenhouse effect] due to human activities.")
But the Times is correct in pointing out that LeVine acknowledged the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels was projected to lead to significant warming. From page 20 of LeVine's 1989 presentation (emphasis added):
[The Department of Energy's] CO2 projections are used in current climate models to predict important changes over the next 100 years. This set of results is taken from the National Research Council (NRC) report "Changing Climate".
Consensus predictions call for warming 1.5-4.5 [degrees Celsius] for doubled CO2 with greater warming at the poles. Note that these numbers reflect the range produced by available models. No one knows how to evaluate the absolute uncertainty in the numbers.
The extent and thickness of glaciers are predicted to decrease, leading to sea level rise. The NRC report chose a most likely value of 70 cm sea level rise. Other predictions suggest a broader range from 30-200 cm. The rise occurs both from a larger amount of water in the oceans, and from thermal expansion.
Finally, climate change and higher levels of atmospheric CO2 affect agriculture and ecosystems.
The Times is also correct when it says that LeVine urged Exxon to "[t]ell the public that more science is needed before regulatory action is taken ... and emphasize the 'costs and economics' of restricting carbon dioxide emissions." From page 33 of the presentation (emphasis added, ellipses original):
To be a responsible participant and part of the solution to [potential enhanced greenhouse], Exxon's position should recognize and support 2 basic societal needs. First ... to improve understanding of the problem ... not just the science ... but the costs and economics tempered by the sociopolitical realities. That's going to take years (probably decades). But there are measures already underway that will improve our environment in various ways ... and in addition reduce the growth in greenhouse gases. That's the second need including things like energy conservation, restriction of CFC emissions, and efforts to increase the global ratio of re/de forestation. Of course, we'll need to develop other response options...implementing measures when they are cost effective in the near term and pursuing new technologies for the future.
In the presentation, LeVine drew a distinction between historical warming up to that point -- which he claimed is "not enough to confirm enhanced greenhouse" (page 22) -- and projections, which he said "suggest ... significant climate change with a variety of regional impacts" and "sea level rise with generally negative consequences" (page 22). Then, after identifying the "key players" that were likely to increasingly call for action to address climate change (page 23), LeVine claimed there is a "misconception" that "enough research on the basic problem has been done," and argued that "failure to understand" the need for scientific advances and uncertainty in the climate models could "lead to premature limitations on fossil fuels" (page 31).
So LeVine acknowledged the scientific consensus on climate change while simultaneously arguing that he personally did not believe anthropogenic global warming was fully proven and that more research was necessary before restricting fossil fuel use. In that sense, LeVine's presentation is indicative of Exxon's shift towards attempting to "emphasize [the] doubt," just as the Times described it.
The year of LeVine's presentation also fits with the timeline for Exxon's shift on climate science that was identified in the InsideClimate News investigation (emphasis added):
Through much of the 1980s, Exxon researchers worked alongside university and government scientists to generate objective climate models that yielded papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Their work confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming's risks.
Yet starting in 1989, Exxon leaders went down a different road. They repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions. Even as the models grew more powerful and reliable, Exxon publicly derided the type of work its own scientists had done. The company continued its involvement with climate research, but its reputation for objectivity began to erode as it campaigned internationally to cast doubt on the science.
With this full context, it's clear that the Times' characterization of LeVine's presentation is justified and Exxon's response is a deceptive smokescreen.
But it's also important to remember that LeVine's presentation is just one of many primary source documents examined by the Times and InsideClimate News. Here is a sampling of other documents showing that Exxon scientists and officials recognized by the early-to-mid-eighties that there was broad scientific consensus continuing to burn fossil fuels would lead to climate change, even if the amount of warming was still unclear:
Image at top via Flickr user Mike Mozart using a Creative Commons license.
Can Marco Rubio chase the press away from lingering questions that surround his personal finances? Can the Florida Republican cordon off the story as a partisan "gotcha" endeavor even though the Beltway press corps recently spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy raising questions about Hillary Clinton's finances and insisting that story posed dire consequences for her?
That certainly seems to be the Rubio strategy, and there are some early signs it may be working.
At the CNBC Republican primary debate late last month, Rubio snapped at a moderator who brought up his personal "bookkeeping skills" as evidence that he might not be qualified to manage the nation's money: "You just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I'm not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all."
Rubio's rebuttal was part of the evening's larger war-on-the media strategy, as Republicans announced they were offended by the "tone" of the debate questions and the Republican Party subsequently "suspended" NBC from hosting further debates.
But asking Rubio about his finances hardly represented a "gotcha" questions -- he's been facing a litany of queries for five years now. Florida journalists in particular have been raising the issue for much of Rubio's career.
"Rubio has a string of financial messes, personal and political. And anyone who watched his record in Florida knows it. He was mired in debt, even while living a life of limo rides and travel and telling others to live within their means," Scott Maxwell at the Orlando Sentinel noted last week. "Don't take it from me. Take it from court documents. And investigative reports."
Why do questions of finances matters? First, it's been a common campaign topic of media inquiry for a very long time. Reporters frequently ask the questions -- how did candidates accumulate their wealth, did they do so honestly, and are they beholden to any special interests? And secondly, how politicians handle their personal finances might offer insights into how they would handle America's finances if elected became president. (On that front, Rubio's proposed economic plan simply does not add up.)
Some of the lingering questions -- none of which have been "discredited" -- revolve around Rubio's use of a Republican Party-issued credit card between 2005 and 2008 when he was a rising star in Florida politics. (According to GOP policy, the card should only have been used for official party business.) In 2010, news leaked that Rubio used the credit card to charge all kinds of personal expenses, including stone pavers at his house and a four-day, $10,000 family reunion at Melhana Plantation, an historic resort in Georgia. (Rubio's extended family booked 20 rooms.)
Rubio has insisted the hefty charges were a mistake. "I pulled the wrong card from my wallet to pay for pavers," he wrote in his book, while insisting his travel agent "mistakenly used the card to pay for a family reunion in Georgia." Rubio eventually covered the costs himself. At times, the story Rubio has told about his use of the card has wandered from the verifiable facts or shifted as new information came out.
To date, Rubio's team seems to have convinced some journalists that the story about the candidate's finances centers entirely around the use of his Republican credit card, and if and when questions about the credit card are answered, that means all the finance questions have been resolved.
That's simply not true. "GOP Credit Card Only Part of Marco Rubio's Story," read a Florida headline last week.
Some examples from the archives:
In 2008, he abruptly amended his financial disclosure forms after reporters asked why he had not listed a $135,000 home-equity loan he secured on his current home, purchased in December 2005 for $550,000. [Tampa Bay Tribune]
By the time he left office in 2008, Rubio had $903,000 in home, car and student loans. His net worth was a mere $8,332. [Tampa Bay Tribune]
Rubio and his family have benefited both personally and politically from [billionaire Florida car auto dealer Norman] Braman since the start of the senator's political career. Braman donated money to Rubio's campaigns and would likely be a major backer for the super PAC that's been formed to help support Rubio's presidential ru. Braman also employed Rubio as a lawyer during the latter's 2010 campaign for the Senate -- and now employs his wife, Jeannette Rubio, an arrangement that began shortly after her husband was elected. [MSNBC.com]
A few weeks ago, he disclosed that he had liquidated a $68,000 retirement account, a move that is widely discouraged by financial experts and that probably cost him about $24,000 in taxes and penalties. [New York Times]
Yet there's some indication the press is going along with Rubio's current campaign spin. Most prominently, Politico and the Washington Post in recent days both moved to squelch the story, suggesting Rubio's dubious bookkeeping "isn't really a scandal," and that Rubio's campaign had "set a trap," waiting for critics to raise questions so they could pounce with all the answers.
That kind of nothing-to-see-here-coverage stands in stark contrast to the fevered, and at-times even hysterical, coverage that outlets such as Politico and the Washington Post produced while delving into Hillary Clinton's finances and emphatically suggesting that that story resembled a make-or-break problem for the Democrat.
What was the hovering disaster for Clinton that threatened to doom her chances? She made too much money (i.e. she's no longer "authentic"), and she was talking about her wealth all wrong. Pundits agreed that meant she risked being viewed by voters as "greedy," "defensive," "whiny," and "out of touch."
On and on the story has churned. The Clinton finance coverage became so fevered that CNN even altered a Hillary Clinton quote about money to make it more incriminating and newsworthy than it actually was.
And then there was the media eruption over Clinton's paid speeches. Again, there was absolutely nothing wrong or unethical with the money she earned. The press just didn't like the way it looked; journalists thought the optics were bad. The Washington Post in particular became obsessed with the paid speeches storyline, publishing a steady stream of articles and columns on the topic since last summer.
Bottom line: Clinton's finances represented a huge campaign story. And it was one that journalists insisted was both deeply damaging to the candidate (it wasn't) and revealed all kinds of troubling truths about her (it did not).
Meanwhile, what are the optics of Rubio paying for a family reunion with a Republican Party credit card? Do most Americans have a billionaire patron that both invests in their political future and employs their spouse? Does Rubio's financial situation make him seem "out of touch"? The press doesn't seem to care. Most of the coverage to date has centered on the specifics of his credit cards and finances, and very little of it has suggested the story is playing poorly for him or turning off voters.
Question: If Hillary Clinton had used a Democratic Party-issued credit card to pay for a $10,000 family reunion, do you think the press would treat that revelation as a very big deal?
Media figures from multiple outlets debunked Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson's allegations that no other presidential candidate has undergone similar scrutiny, after he lashed out at the media for reporting on several discrepancies in his autobiographical claims.
Fox News co-host Eric Bolling dubiously claimed violence against police officers has been increasing, and attributed the supposed increase to the Black Lives Matter movement and criticism of police.
On the November 5 edition of Fox News' The Five, the show's hosts discussed recent comments from film director Quentin Tarantino regarding police officers and Drug Enforcement Administration head Chuck Rosenberg speculating that the "Ferguson effect" -- the idea that increased scrutiny and criticism of police brutality is leading to increased violence, especially against police officers against police officers -- was real and recent criticism of the police was leading to more violence. Bolling claimed "Violence to police officers is going up as well based on" criticism of police and Black Lives Matter has "blue blood on their hands":
ERIC BOLLING: That's when the ... downside of Quentin Tarantino making a comment like that, that cops are murderers, he walks it back. In the meantime it feeds into the narrative. "What do we want, we want them dead, cops, dead cops," walking through the corridors here of Manhattan. Calling for dead cops and violence against cops rise. Remember the two guys who were executed over here in Brooklyn? In days after that, that protest. People, as Dana points out, people look up to Quentin Tarantino. They look up to Hollywood actors and directors, and it feeds into that narrative. Cop violence is going up. Your point, Juan, violence at the end of a police officer is going up. Violence to police officers is going up as well based on this. Black Lives Matter has blood on their hands, they have blue blood on their hands.
However, recent data show that both killings and assaults of police officers have been trending downward. Data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund comparing police officer fatalities between January 1 through November 5, 2015 and January 1 through November 5, 2014 found firearms-related fatalities were down 23 percent from 2014. Furthermore, as Radley Balko of The Washington Post noted in September, 2015 "is on pace" to "end with the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades," and "assaults on police officers are in decline as well":
So far, 2015 is on pace to see 35 felonious killings of police officers. If that pace holds, this year would end with the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades.
The other way you could measure the rate of killings of police officers is to look at the number with respect to the overall population. Here's another graph from [the American Enterprise Institute's Mark A. Perry] that plots those figures:
As you can see, by this measure 2015 is shaping up to be the second safest year for police ever, after 2013.
But assaults on police officers are in decline as well. That is, not only are fewer people killing police officers, fewer people are trying to harm them.
Fox News has run a continuous campaign to hype up the "Ferguson effect" and demonize the Black Lives Matter movement. Numerous experts and mainstream outlets have debunked the theory, noting there's no evidence at this time to support it.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to protect Alaska's Bristol Bay, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, from the adverse environmental impacts of a proposed mineral excavation project called the Pebble Mine. Proponents of the mine have been pushing an array of falsehoods, many of which are being propagated in the media as the EPA's process for evaluating the project was scrutinized in a November 5 Congressional hearing. Here are the facts.
From the November 5 edition of Working Family Radio Network's The Union Edge:
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Ed Rogers is the chairman of a top lobbying firm that's received more than $700,000 from the energy industry so far this year, and is also a lobbyist for Southern Company, an electrical utility company that is fighting environmental protections. But the Washington Post is allowing Rogers to write a blog where he repeatedly dismisses the scientific consensus on climate change and echoes his client's attacks against President Obama's flagship climate plan without disclosing his lobbying clients.
Virginia Delegate Scott Surovell (D) debunked claims following Virginia's November 3 statewide elections that some Democrats' advocacy for stronger gun laws cost the party a chance to control the state Senate.
Prior to Election Day, Democrats needed to pick up one seat to effectively obtain control of the chamber (the Senate would have been split 20 - 20 with a Democratic lieutenant governor casting tie-breaking votes). Democrats did not gain the seat, retaining the 19 - 21 party split.
Following the election, media pundits seized on the Senate race in District 10 to baselessly argue that the gun issue caused Democrat Dan Gecker to lose to Republican Glen Sturtevant. Gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety had spent $700,000 on advertising in support of Gecker.
The Washington Post ran an article with the headline, "Did gun control cost McAuliffe and Democrats the Virginia election?" while the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board concluded Gecker accepting help from Everytown was "a massive mistake." None of these claims had any basis in fact: the evidence actually suggested that the ads helped Gecker close the gap, although he ultimately did not prevail.
In an op-ed at the Post, Surovell explained that "the focus on gun safety actually made District 10 a tighter, tougher fight for the Republicans than it should have been," and also noted commentators on the election are ignoring that the Democratic candidate in Senate District 29 -- who was supported by gun safety ads -- prevailed in a high-profile race. From the op-ed:
There's been a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking about how firearm violence prevention played in Virginia elections this year. Let's look at the two state Senate races where the issue played a central role: Senate District 10 in the Richmond area and Senate District 29 in Prince William County. In both races, gun safety was either the winning factor or helped tighten a race in a previously non-competitive GOP-held district.
First, polling in and outside of Virginia shows more than 85 percent of Americans support common-sense firearms-violence prevention rules such as universal background checks or keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals. Notwithstanding that, the NRA and other groups continue to give "F" ratings to any elected official who dare to support reasonable safeguards on weapon acquisition.
In Senate District 29, only a few miles from the NRA's Fairfax headquarters, gun safety was the issue that put the victor, Democratic candidate Jeremy McPike, over the top. Hal Parrish, the NRA "A"-rated, popular mayor with high name recognition, was handpicked by the GOP to win an open seat but was soundly defeated by McPike, an NRA "F"-rated candidate who had never held elected office.
Parrish consistently led in pre-election polls until Parrish's unpopular gun positions and his inability to articulate what he would do to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals were exposed to voters. Phone calls, door knocks and television ads on firearm-violence prevention narrowed the gap, solidified undecided voters and moved a race that began within the margin of error to an 8 percent win in McPike's favor. That spread is the new price to be paid for sticking by the gun lobby and being out of step with Virginia voters.
In Senate District 10, Republicans kept an open seat they held for 17 years. Glen Sturtevant, the NRA-backed candidate won -- but by a margin of less than 3 percent, fewer than 1,500 votes. Four years ago, John Watkins won by 12 percent, 4,300 votes.
Even in Powhatan County -- the most conservative county in the district - Sturtevant underperformed his predecessor by 4 percent.
While blaming one issue for winning or losing elections is an interesting political parlor game, it is a vast oversimplification for a process that divines the intentions of more than 30,000 people. The focus on gun safety actually made District 10 a tighter, tougher fight for the Republicans than it should have been, closing the gap to a spread much closer than the prognosticators were expecting.
Media outlets are pointing out Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) shifting position on immigration reform after the presidential hopeful changed his position on ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). While Rubio previously supported eliminating the program after comprehensive immigration reform was in place, he recently stated he'd eliminate it regardless. This shift follows a push by conservative media figures who have long criticized Rubio for his immigration stances.
A Washington Post article on the 2015 Virginia elections relied on punditry rather than data to suggest that "advocacy of gun control in a pivotal Senate race in the Richmond area may have backfired," costing Democrats a chance to gain control of the state Senate.
Prior to statewide Virginia elections on November 3, Democrats needed to pick up one seat to effectively obtain control of the chamber (the Senate would have been split 20 - 20 with a Democratic lieutenant governor casting tie-breaking votes). Democrats did not gain the seat, retaining the 19 - 21 party split.
A November 4 Post articled claimed that following the election "one possible mistake stands out: [Democrats'] aggressive advocacy of gun control in a pivotal Senate race in the Richmond area may have backfired by producing a pro-Republican backlash," referring to the defeat of Democrat Dan Gecker in the 10th Senate district.
According to the Post, victorious Republican Glen Sturtevant "beat Democrat Daniel A. Gecker after GOP supporters ran ads blasting Gecker for trying to win the seat with $700,000 of outside help from pro-gun-control TV advertisements paid for by a group linked to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg."
The article quotes several elected officials and political strategists who suggested that advocacy for gun safety or pro-gun safety TV advertisements explained Gecker's loss.
Here are the actual facts on the ground in Virginia and how they relate to gun safety advocacy:
- While Gecker did not win, he outperformed expectations. According to unofficial election results issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Gecker lost with 47 percent to Sturtevant's 49 percent. Four years ago, during the last District 10 Senate race, the Democratic candidate received 43 percent of the vote and lost by more than 13 points. Gecker was running in a district where Republican voters outnumber Democrats. According to internal polling viewed by Media Matters, the party ID of the district was 41 percent Republican versus 36 percent Democrat. The poll, taken in July before the spending highlighting Gecker's support of stronger gun laws began, showed a generic Republican defeating a generic Democrat for the seat by a 48 percent to 39 percent margin. Gecker would ultimately lose the seat by just 2 points.
- The Post article made no mention of the race in Senate District 29 where Democrat Jeremy McPike defeated Republican Hal Parrish in a "high-stakes race." According to an October 22 Post article, Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety spent $1.5 million on the race in support of McPike. Notably there is no Post article positing that but for spending on pro-gun safety ads, Democrats would have had a net loss of one Senate seat. Just last week the Post reported that the race in the 29th district was "guns vs. tolls," noting that McPike was being hammered by ads that associated him with a plan by McAuliffe that Republicans claim would cause a siginficant increase in toll fees on Route I-66, which passes through the 29th district. Significantly, McPike prevailed with the help of gun safety ad spending and in the face of spending that tied him to higher tolls.
- According to Senator Donald McEachin, Chair of the Virginia Democratic Senate Caucus, gun safety ads helped both Gecker and McPike. In a statement, McEachin said in part, "In both races, polls showed our candidates trailing in the weeks before Election Day. Gun safety advocates helped us to close those gaps. As a result, we won one race and came very close in the other -- despite running in a difficult political environment."
Media often blame the issue of gun safety for losses by progressive candidates, even when there is no actual evidence to support the claim. This is due to a longstanding but fact-free conventional wisdom within the media that the gun lobby has the ability to defeat pro-gun safety candidates for office at will.
After the publication of this post, The Washington Post added language to its article that tempered the claim that the gun issue was responsible for conservative voter turnout in the 10th district. While the original article said, "Sturtevant won the District 10 seat after benefiting from huge turnout in the conservative Powhatan area that analysts attributed to the gun issue," it now reads (emphasis added), "Sturtevant won the 10th District seat after benefiting from a huge turnout in conservative Powhatan County, which analysts attributed in part to the gun issue."
The Post also added language to indicate that "leaders from both sides said the gun issue cut both ways because it helped energize the Democratic base in the district's liberal neighborhoods in Richmond."
The article now has a quote from Sen. Ryan McDougle, who chairs the Senate Republican caucus, stating, "It certainly increased the intensity for some people who were pro-Second Amendment but also for some people who were pro gun control."
Putting claims about the relationship between the gun issue and turnout in Powhatan County in clearer context, the article added language explaining that McDougle "and others also said that hotly contested local races, such as for sheriff and county supervisor, had boosted turnout in Powhatan."
The article is still largely premised on the fact-free claim that the gun issue cost Gecker his election and thus Democrats control of the Senate.
Like lawn signs and pep rallies, the return of conservative cries about liberal media bias in recent days represents something of a campaign tradition. Sparked by outrage over CNBC's handling of the Republican primary debate, the condemnations came raining down.
The latest caterwauling has certainly been more pronounced and better organized than the typical bouts of complaining about how journalists are supposedly working in conjunction with the Democratic Party to torpedo the GOP. All of which comes as news to Hillary Clinton, I'm sure.
Republicans have been using the liberal bias claim as a battering ram for 50 years. (Sen. Barry Goldwater in April, 1964: "Republicans generally do not get good press.") And mainstream journalists often echo the allegation, the way Bloomberg's Mark Halperin did this week: "There's huge liberal media bias."
But do you notice how the liberal media allegation is usually wrapped in hazy ambiguity, and the way conservatives have such a hard time pointing to concrete evidence of media malice? Even in the wake of the CNBC debate, an event allegedly so lopsided and unfair that it ignited a movement meltdown, most conservative critics were reduced to complaining that the "tone" of the debate questions were too mean, and that moderators didn't show enough respect.
In truth, the CNBC debate questions were quite substantive and I didn't see any individual queries that clearly reeked of bias. On the flip side, proving it's a conservative fantasy that the Beltway press adheres to a liberal agenda remains a very simple task.
Three words: The Iraq War. Or eight words: The Iraq War and The New York Times. The recent passing of Iraqi power broker Ahmed Chalabi only throws that contrast into a sharper light.
The Iraq War and the media's lapdog, obedient performance during the run-up to America's pre-emptive invasion effectively demolishes claims of liberal media bias simply because so many journalists teamed up with the Republican White House to help sponsor the disastrous war. At a time of heightened patriotic fervor, the national press played a central role in helping to sell a war to the public.
The performance represented a collective fiasco and should have been the spike through the heart of the liberal bias claim.
As Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler wrote, the Beltway media performance in 2002 and 2003 likely represented an historic failure. "How did a country on the leading edge of the information age get this so wrong and express so little skepticism and challenge?" asked Getler. "How did an entire system of government and a free press set out on a search for something and fail to notice, or even warn us in a timely or prominent way, that it wasn't or might not be there?"
And just last year the Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, reminded readers, "The lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 was not The Times's finest hour."
At first, the correlation might have been difficult to see: Bush leading America into a costly war in 2003 and Republican complaining about the "liberal media" in 2015. Then on Monday came the news of Chalabi's death and suddenly a connection became easier to recognize.
Who was Ahmed Chalabi? The influential Iraqi politician reportedly served as the main source of bogus information that former Times reporter Judith Miller used in her thoroughly discredited work about Iraq's supposedly brimming stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi who wove Saddam Hussein fiction and it was Miller who gave it the Times stamp approval as the paper did its part to lead the nation to war. (Miller is now a Fox News contributor.)
Here's how a former CIA analyst described the closed loop that existed between Miller, Chalabi and the Bush White House:
Chalabi is providing the Bush people with the information they need to support their political objectives with Iraq, and he is supplying the same material to Judy Miller. Chalabi tips her on something and then she goes to the White House, which has already heard the same thing from Chalabi, and she gets it corroborated by some insider she always describes as a 'senior administration official.' She also got the Pentagon to confirm things for her, which made sense, since they were working so closely with Chalabi.
Chalabi was spinning wild tales about Iraq's WMD's and the New York Times couldn't wait to publish them. Then-executive editor Howell Raines reportedly wanted to prove the paper's conservative critics wrong.
"According to half a dozen sources within the Times, Raines wanted to prove once and for all that he wasn't editing the paper in a way that betrayed his liberal beliefs," wrote Seth Mnookin in his 2004 Times exposé, Hard News. Mnookin quoted Doug Frantz, the former investigative editor of the Times, who recalled how "Howell Raines was eager to have articles that supported the warmongering out of Washington. He discouraged pieces that were at odds with the administration's position on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction and alleged links of al-Qaeda."
Asking debate questions that aren't sufficiently polite in tone, or helping to sell a disastrous, $3 trillion war. You tell me which media offense is more egregious.
A recent Washington Post Opinion blog noted that while American television has a "long way" to go until abortion is "treated like a routine medical procedure," recent programming indicates that a shift in that direction may be underway, which could be a significant step toward reducing the unwarranted stigma and misinformation that surrounds this common reproductive choice.
Television can influence viewers by reflecting what culture thinks falls within the bounds of normal behavior, an effect that is called "normalizing" behavior. When an action is portrayed in fictional stories it creates a frame for an audience to think about such actions when they happen in the real world - which can be particularly important when the viewer has personal experience with the subject matter.
Because abortion has been mostly cloaked with a narrative of tragedy in television it's all the more interesting how some recent television shows are gradually altering depictions of abortion, as was recently highlighted by The Washington Post's television and pop culture Opinion writer Alyssa Rosenberg. In a blog titled "TV tentatively starts talking about abortion," Rosenberg described characters discussing abortion as a legitimate option on some recent TV shows and highlighted an episode of "You're The Worst" as unique for "[w]ithout containing an actual abortion, [being] the closest television's gotten to a neutral, or even positive, abortion story" in years. Rosenberg praised certain shows that "have demonstrated a glimmer of refreshing honesty in their willingness to at least mention a subject about which pop culture has been oddly, depressingly coy: abortion."
Despite the fact that abortion is a safe medical procedure that has been available to U.S. women for the past 42 years, and recent data as of 2008 indicates that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by age 45, it is still frequently depicted as a negative option in our television shows. According to one study of film and television stories from 1916-2013 by Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport, abortion in fictional stories is often linked to death for female characters -- whether they obtain the procedure or not -- perpetuating the false myth that abortion frequently causes death. In reality, pregnancy actually causes more female deaths than induced abortions.
The cloaking of TV abortion stories with the subtext of tragedy is a prime example of "abortion stigma" which is broadly defined as "a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable." Abortion stigma is displayed across society from state laws enacted with the express purpose of preventing women from having abortions to outright lies and misinformation about abortion safety. Abortion stigma filtered through society's legal and policy apparatuses also creates a psychological effect, which is entirely intentional. As a research article in Women's Health Issues pointed out, abortion stigma is a key part of the anti-choice movement's playbook as "[t]he anti-abortion movement increasingly seeks both to erect overt barriers to abortion and to change cultural values, beliefs, and norms about abortion so that women will seek abortion less frequently regardless of its legal status. From photographing women entering clinics to distributing flyers to the neighbors of providers, the anti-abortion movement foments abortion stigma as a deliberate tactic, not just as a byproduct of its legislative initiatives. Eroding public support for the idea of abortion is seen as an underpinning of future institutional limits."
In an interview with Tara Culp-Ressler of ThinkProgress, Sisson and Kimport emphasized that these "political framings" of the anti-choice movement are influenced by the "cultural framings" of television they studied:
Culture and politics are often inextricably intertwined. So how much do our cultural perceptions of abortion contribute to that? Is our political atmosphere driving the violent abortion portrayals in the media, or is pop culture creating an atmosphere where it's easy for Americans to agree that abortion is dangerous?
We don't know the answers for sure. But it's probably a bit of both.
"The dramatic components around abortion are very useful for some story lines, but may also be contributing to our social and cultural myths about abortion as something that's dramatic and violent -- when in fact, that doesn't fit with most of the evidence on women's actual experiences with abortion," Kimport told ThinkProgress. "There's an interactive relationship between politics and culture. It may be that political framings are influencing cultural framings. But at the same time, cultural framings are going to influence political framings."
Both Sisson and Kimport are realistic about the limitations of pop culture, and aren't suggesting that it should painstakingly reflect the reality of every issue. But they do maintain that fictional depictions of abortion can have very real implications for the women who have decided to end a pregnancy. If those people have never felt safe enough to talk to someone else about their decision, or connect with other women who have made the same choice, seeing abortion reflected on the screen is somewhat revolutionary.
"In our culture, there are so few spaces for people to talk openly and honestly about what abortion looks like, so the media becomes very important," Sisson told ThinkProgress. "Our conversation around abortion is so polarized and politicized that there are very few opportunities to share their stories, say what their abortions looked like, or even share that they had an abortion. These stories of fictional characters become very resonant. They become a way of telling these stories that real women don't have a space to tell."
Intentionally or not, American television has been reinforcing a dangerous right-wing campaign to shame American women. Fictional TV has the freedom of the medium to invoke situations that viewers might find both familiar and exotic to their personal experience. It would be a welcome development if the reinforcement of abortion stigma was no longer a part of this programming - and the recent examples may be a reason to stay tuned and watch what happens.
[Infographic via ANSIRH]
Disclosure: The Washington Post Opinion writer referenced above is married to an employee of Media Matters. That employee had no part in the production of this blog.
The Washington Post editorial board condemned the list of demands compiled by several presidential campaigns for media organizations sponsoring Republican primary debates, predicting that the stipulations "could harm the integrity of the debates." The board called the GOP letter "a threat" that "responsible journalists will ignore."
Following conservative backlash against the October 28 CNBC moderators for their alleged liberal bias, GOP presidential candidates rallied to seek greater control over future debate formats. Republican lawyer Ben Ginsburg distributed a list of demands to media sponsors, including a commitment to not "ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question" and to "provide equal time/an equal number of questions to each candidate." Several media outlets have mocked the GOP for "whining" and drafting a "ridiculous manifesto" of unnecessary demands, with one journalist calling it an effort to "bully the press."
On November 3, The Washington Post editorial board warned that there is great "potential for harm" in the debate demands and that "future moderators may now feel pressure to pull their punches." The board stated that "Republicans [choosing] to debate before conservative-friendly media organizations" with the goal of "replac[ing] perceived liberal bias among moderators with explicit and purposeful conservative bias" could be "the largest danger to the [debate] process":
Three debates into the Republican presidential contest, the candidates are staging a revolt. Piling onto CNBC for its mediocre -- but hardly scandalous -- moderating last week, several campaigns are drawing up demands for the media organizations sponsoring debates during the rest of the nominating season. Others are issuing demands on their own. Their discontent has already led to real-world changes: The Republican National Committee reshuffled staff in response.
A staff reshuffle is one thing.Anything that could harm the integrity of the debates, on the other hand, must be rejected.
Some of the changes on the table are virtually irrelevant to the public at large. It won't matter much to anyone other than micromanaging campaign staff if TV networks keep debate halls below 67 degrees or decline to televise empty podiums. At least one suggestion -- that all debates be live-streamed online -- would, in fact, be helpful to those who don't have cable connections.
But the potential for harm is much greater. Candidates appear to want to ban questions that require them to raise their hands or to give yes-or-no answers, on the pretext that such questions don't allow for substantive discussion. At times, that's certainly the case. At others -- such as when, in the 2012 nominating cycle, the Republican candidates raised their hands in opposition to a 10-to-1 budget deal in the GOP's favor -- binary questions can produce illuminating results.
The same goes for the push to ban candidate-to-candidate questioning, or to allow campaigns to vet graphics and candidate biographies flashed on screen. Journalists should be vetting that material, not campaigns seeking soft treatment. Another potential demand -- for 30-second opening and closing statements so that the candidates can recite generally unenlightening prepared remarks -- is a plainly terrible idea.
The largest danger to the process, though, is that this controversy might lead Republicans to choose to debate before conservative-friendly media organizations instead of outlets more likely to offer questions out of line with right-wing orthodoxies. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) suggested that irresponsible ideologues Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin or Sean Hannity moderate the GOP debates. Carly Fiorina wants the RNC to organize future debates with fringey networks such as the Blaze and One America News. The goal, it seems, is to replace perceived liberal bias among moderators with explicit and purposeful conservative bias.
Even if that doesn't happen, future moderators may now feel pressure to pull their punches, particularly if their networks want to keep hosting debates that draw high ratings. A draft letter to television networks warns that "the quality and fairness of your moderators' questions" will determine "whether the candidates wish to participate in your future debates." This is a threat. Responsible journalists will ignore it.