Hosts of the network Sunday news shows treated Benghazi myths and facts with false equivalence, an approach that hides the truth about the tragedy.
The right-wing's manufactured hysteria over the release of new White House memos and the House GOP's announcement that it would form a special select committee brought the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya back into the spotlight on the May 4 Sunday news talk shows. The latest charge from conservative media is that a newly-released email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes preparing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk shows -- where she suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests -- was part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
In a seeming effort to provide false balance between the facts and the myths, the network news hosts lent credence to evidence-free claims by their guests, giving them equal weight with the truth.
Conservatives are cheering S.E. Cupp's false claim that the gun safety coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has "crumbled" with its member mayors fleeing in droves.
Last week former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he plans to spend $50 million on gun safety efforts, in part through the new group Everytown for Gun Safety, an umbrella organization that merges MAIG and the grassroots organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America.
During an appearance on ABC's This Week, Cupp, a host for both CNN and Glenn Beck's network The Blaze, claimed that "Mayors Against Illegal Guns has crumbled because he duped mayors into thinking they were actually going to fight illegal guns. And when they all found out actually they were going after law abiding gun owners, they said that's not what I want to be a part of. His efforts are duplicitous and they're measurably failing." Cupp's remarks were subsequently trumpeted across the right-wing media.
In fact, MAIG currently counts as members "a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 current and former mayors from nearly every state." While some mayors have left the group over the years -- at times while seeking the Republican nomination for higher office -- MAIG's overall membership has dramatically increased in recent years, from 15 mayors at its founding to 450 members in 2009 to roughly 850 in January 2013 to its current level.
Likewise, Cupp's claim that the gun safety effort is "failing" ignores reality. While federal legislation received a majority vote in the Senate but was blocked by a filibuster last year, gun safety efforts resulted in major executive actions; legislative packages passed in New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, California, and Delaware, among others; and the appointment of the first permanent director of the ATF since 2006. Championing gun safety in a swing state and with the support of Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC, Terry McAuliffe and Mark Herring were elected governor and attorney general of Virginia.
ABC host George Stephanopoulos announced on This Week that talk radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham is the network's "newest contributor." On her syndicated radio program The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham has repeatedly engaged in inflammatory and hateful rhetoric, lobbing numerous attacks against everyone from President Obama to people who receive government assistance to her favorite target, immigrants.
Here are 10 hateful moments from Ingraham in the past year:
1. Ingraham Used A Gunshot Sound Effect To Cut Off A Replay Of Rep. John Lewis' March On Washington Speech. During her coverage of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington in August 2013, Ingraham criticized the event and its speakers, saying the goal "was to co-opt the legacy of Martin Luther King into a modern-day liberal agenda." She then played a clip of a speech from Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, abruptly interrupting the playback of his comments with the sound of a loud gunshot. Following criticism of this sound effect, Ingraham defended her use of the gunshot sound, instead calling it a "blow up effect" and claiming that criticism of her using the sound effect on Lewis was an attempt "to crush free speech."
Cokie Roberts said she was surprised to hear women comprised less than 30 percent of guests last year on Sunday morning broadcast political talk shows like her former program, ABC's This Week. But she did not believe that disparity was a problem, stating, "there are plenty of women there."
According to data compiled by Media Matters, the four major broadcast Sunday shows hosted men at least 72 percent of the time in 2013, with women guests making up less than 30 percent on each program.
Those numbers haven't changed since Media Matters examined the programs in 2008. And women were even less likely to be chosen for the coveted solo newsmaker interviews, receiving no more than 15 percent of time devoted to such appearances.
"I didn't even notice it," Roberts said during an appearance at a bookstore in New Jersey Tuesday to promote her children's book, Founding Mothers, which is about the unsung women of early American history. "I'm surprised at that because there seem to be a lot more than there were when I started."
Asked if she believes it is a problem to have such a low ratio of women guests, Roberts, who co-anchored ABC's Sunday morning political talk show from 1996-2002 and has been a regular guest in the years since, sought to defend the process the shows used.
"It seems to me that the attempt is always to have a little of this, a little of that," she said. "Someone just has to balance whatever, whether it's a conservative slot that needs to be filled or a minority slot that needs to be filled. It's the luck of the draw how any given week goes."
Still, she said the gender gap had not been apparent to her.
"I haven't noticed it," she said. "I am surprised to have you even say it. It doesn't look that way to me. It is always better to have more women, but to me in thinking about the shows there are plenty of women there."
Below are charts showing the gender diversity on the four broadcast Sunday shows, as well as similar programs on CNN and MSNBC:
A massive spill of toxic coal ash in a North Carolina river on February 2 has been entirely ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC. The spill has led to a federal investigation and allegations that the state's Governor -- who worked for the corporation behind the spill and has received substantial campaign donations from it -- has been too lenient on the company, which was discovered to have spilled coal ash into the river again on February 18.
This week, all four major broadcast networks covered extreme weather and climate change on their Sunday morning political talk shows. Those programs have largely ignored global warming in recent years, making their effort to address the issue unusual and laudable. But several of the segments also demonstrated the vulnerability inherent in treating science as a political debate where both sides receive a platform to air their positions.
Major winter storms across the U.S. in the month of February, drought in California, and President Obama's call for a $1 billion climate change "resilience fund" sparked debates this week over the need for action against climate change. The science of global warming is settled: according to one survey, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that "humans are causing global warming." But the Sunday shows, because they are built on a model of showing political conflicts, have difficulty putting that fact in context.
ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press both featured debates between individuals who support and oppose the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, creating a false balance that could serve to confuse their viewers. Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, meanwhile, hosted a discussion in which no panelist stated that human-caused climate change is occurring while several claimed that it is not. CBS' Face the Nation, by contrast, featured an interview with a scientist who explained that "we know that climate change is happening and humans are contributing."
The broadcast Sunday shows devoted a paltry 27 minutes of coverage to climate change in 2013, according to a Media Matters study. Nearly 60 percent of that coverage came on Face the Nation; Meet the Press did not mention the issue all year. Face the Nation also featured the first interview of a scientist to discuss global warming by any of the programs in five years.
It's a good sign that the Sunday shows are addressing global warming, but treating it as just another political issue causes new complications.
Republicans and conservatives were hosted more often than Democrats and progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning political talk shows. Fox News Sunday was particularly slanted toward the right while ABC's This Week was the only program to feature as many progressives as conservatives.
Two dozen women leaders and organizations have signed a letter to the six network and cable news heads expressing their concern for the lack of gender diversity on Sunday morning political talk shows.
A Media Matters report found that in 2013, men made up more than 70 percent of the guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, and CNN's State of the Union. Only MSNBC's Up and Melissa Harris-Perry reached near parity, with women making up 44 percent of total guests. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time. The top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews were all men. Media Matters also found that gender diversity has not improved on the broadcast political talk shows in the past five years.
The heads of 24 organizations which advocate for women and women's representation in media wrote to the Presidents and Chairs of the broadcast and cable networks, expressing "deep concern" for the lack of diversity and urging them to take action to ensure the morning political talk shows "more accurately reflect the demographics of our diverse nation":
With male guests vastly outnumbering female guests on Sunday morning broadcasts, women lose out in shaping the national discourse, and your viewers miss important points of view.
There are qualified women to speak on issues affecting all Americans, including national security, economic growth, climate change, education and many others. But when it comes to reproductive health, equal pay, and other subjects disproportionately affecting women, it becomes increasingly imperative that Sunday political talk shows reflect our democracy. This is particularly important since these shows frequently set the tone for how these topics are covered later in the week.
The full letter can be read below.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on the broadcast and CNN Sunday morning talk shows in 2013. Melissa Harris-Perry continued to be the most ethnically diverse program.
Want to know if women's representation in media is improving? Here's one indication it's not: the percentage of female guests on the Sunday morning broadcast political talk shows is the same as it was five years ago.
According to a Media Matters analysis, male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday broadcast political talk shows in 2013, with women making up only 25 percent of all guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time on the same programs. In fact, the top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews in 2013 were all men.
This vast underrepresentation of women on political talk shows that often set the agenda is disheartening -- but the number appears even worse when looked at over time.
Female guests made up only 24 percent of guests on the Sunday morning broadcast shows back in 2008 according to Media Matters' data, an insignificant change over the past five years.
One reason for this may be that the pool of potential guests for these shows has also not gotten significantly more diverse over the past five years. The most common guests were in 2013 were journalists and pundits, a profession which is overwhelmingly male. Newsroom diversity has been stagnant for over a decade, with the percentage of women in newsrooms never exceeding 38 percent.
The second most common profession among guests in 2013 on those programs were politicians. According to the Nation Women's Political Caucus, in 2013 women made up only 18.3 percent of Congress, a (shockingly low) number which was not much of an improvement from 2008, when women were 17 percent of Congress.
The lack of diversity in newsrooms and Congress, however, does not entirely excuse the broadcast shows from consistently failing to invite women to the table. In 2013, MSNBC managed to have women make up 44 percent of guests on their Sunday morning political talk shows, with Melissa Harris-Perry (which debuted in 2012) leading in gender diversity by hosting women 47 percent of the time. Broadcast political talk shows have a lot of catching up to do to ensure women have equal participation in our national media.
Let's hope it doesn't take another five years.
Charts by Oliver Willis.
Male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday morning broadcast and CNN political talk shows in 2013, according to a Media Matters review. MSNBC's programs gave women a significantly greater opportunity to voice their opinions.
A Media Matters review of the Sunday morning political talk shows finds that white males largely dominated the guest lists in 2013. MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry and Up with Steve Kornacki achieved greater ethnic and gender diversity than the broadcast shows or CNN's State of the Union. Overall, conservatives outnumbered progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning shows.
A Media Matters analysis reveals that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX picked up in 2013 over the previous year, but remained lower than a 2009 high. Furthermore, while one Sunday show interviewed scientists about climate change, distinguishing itself as the first such program to do so in five years, these shows continued to rely largely on media figures and Republicans to dictate the conversation around global warming.
In response to Senate Democrats invoking the so-called "nuclear option," right-wing media advanced a number of myths not only about filibuster reform, but about the qualifications of President Obama's nominees who have languished in the confirmation process. What right-wing media have ignored is that Democrats used the "nuclear option" only after unprecedented GOP obstruction prevented Obama's judicial and executive nominees from receiving an up-or-down vote.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.