In a USA Today article on the absence of the Supreme Court as a campaign issue in the presidential election, reporter Richard Wolf claimed the "most important" explanation is that the next president will be unlikely to nominate a justice who could significantly tilt the court. Not only is Wolf's reasoning at odds with that of journalists, advocates, and experts across the political spectrum, in his discussion of the aging justices, Wolf cites facts about Supreme Court retirements that undercut his thesis.
In addition to his surprising conclusion that the next president will not be able to change the ideological direction of the Court "very far," Wolf also claimed it has not become an issue in the campaign because Democrats were "satisfied" with the health care reform ruling, and Republicans can't "criticize" a conservative Court. From the October 24 article:
The Supreme Court could be transformed by the man elected president Nov. 6, but you wouldn't know it from the campaign the candidates are waging.
The reasons are many: Democrats were satisfied with the court's ruling in June that upheld Obama's health care law. Republicans can't really criticize a court still dominated by conservatives. Most voters are more focused on jobs and the economy. And those who care deeply about judicial issues likely chose a candidate long ago. Perhaps most important, the chance that Obama or Romney could tilt the court very far in one direction or the other is remote. That's because most justices choose to retire when their party is in power, and no retirements are immediately forecast.
But many progressives were not satisfied with the Court's ruling that upheld health care reform. Supporters of the law were certainly glad that it was not struck down, but conservative Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion itself, if not the holding, was widely criticized for its conservative rationale. A New York Times editorial, "The Radical Supreme Court," condemned the Chief Justice's reasoning that unified the conservative wing of the Court in a "stunning" limitation of Congress' future power to regulate the national economy, and referred to the conservative justices as "radical innovators, aggressively stepping into political issues to empower the court itself."
Conservatives have also freely criticized the Court -- despite its strong leaning in their favor -- in particular the Chief Justice, who was vilified by right-wing media after the health care reform decision. In fact, Wolf confirmed this dislike was widespread in Republican ranks in a previous article, writing that according to a Gallup poll taken soon after the ruling, "Republicans have turned against the Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Roberts with a vengeance[.]"
Further, Wolf's assumption that justices will only retire during the administration of an ideologically like-minded president is flawed. With the notable exception of progressive Justice Thurgood Marshall, who chose to step down due to advanced age and declining health during a Republican administration, it is true that in recent times justices have tended to retire during administrations of the same party as the president who appointed them. The next presidential term, however, could very well provide a Marshall-like exception to the rule. As Wolf himself observes, progressive Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 80 years old next year (and is a cancer survivor), while liberal Justice Stephen Breyer will approach that age by the end of the next presidential term.
The retirement of frequent swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy -- who will also turn 80 years old during the next presidential term -- could also significantly tilt the court, regardless of the political affiliation of the next president. Although Wolf noted the previous swing vote Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was replaced with conservative Justice Samuel Alito, Wolf failed to report how much more conservative this replacement made the Court. As noted by The New York Times on those changes to the Court:
[O]nly one change -- Justice Alito's replacement of Justice O'Connor -- really mattered. That move defines the Roberts court. "That's a real switch in terms of ideology and a switch in terms of outlook," said Lee Epstein, who teaches law and political science at Northwestern University and is a leading curator and analyst of empirical data about the Supreme Court.
The point is not that Justice Alito has turned out to be exceptionally conservative, though he has: he is the third-most conservative justice to serve on the court since 1937, behind only Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist. It is that he replaced the more liberal justice who was at the ideological center of the court.
Though Chief Justice Roberts gets all the attention, Justice Alito may thus be the lasting triumph of the administration of President George W. Bush. He thrust Justice Kennedy to the court's center and has reshaped the future of American law.
Other conservative and liberal experts and advocates have pointed out the importance of Supreme Court appointments as an election issue, some of whom Wolf quotes as expressing this view. In fact, the print media has stepped up its reporting on this matter of late, and the Associated Press published an article the day before Wolf's entitled "Why It Matters: 1 New Justice Could Change A Lot." Thus, it is peculiar that USA Today would choose now to play the contrarian and downplay the importance of Supreme Court appointments. As Media Matters previously reported, lack of coverage of this important issue has been a consistent problem in broadcast news. USA Today should not join this trend.
Media outlets praised Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's speech on foreign policy, calling it "tremendous" and "a fabulous speech that exuded leadership." But the speech relied on numerous falsehoods, including many that have already been debunked.
A study released on Monday found that the Great Barrier Reef's coral cover declined by 50% in the past 27 years, partially as a result of human activities. These dramatic findings have caught the attention of scientists, politicians and some media outlets -- even Fox News -- but have been ignored by ABC, NBC, MSNBC and several major newspapers.
Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science examined thousands of surveys of the area and found that the amount of seafloor covered with coral has decreased from 28% to 13.8% since 1985, with two-thirds of the decline occurring since 1998. They warned that if this trend continues, "coral cover could halve again by 2022."
The study attributed about half of this loss to intense tropical cyclones, which have caused significant damage to the central and southern parts of the reef and may become more intense as a result of climate change. Because coral reefs act as a protective buffer against tropical storms, this decline exacerbates the impact of storms on marine life and coastal communities.
Another major factor in reef decline is nutrient runoff from agriculture, which has led to "population explosions" of coral-consuming crown-of-thorns starfish along the edge of the reef. Rising ocean temperatures are also increasing the frequency and intensity of coral bleaching, which has had "major detrimental impacts" in the northern and central parts of the Great Barrier Reef. The researchers say this problem is "directly attributable to rising atmospheric greenhouse gases" and that "bleaching mortality will almost certainly increase" as temperatures continue to rise.
These threats -- combined with other problems like ocean acidification, overfishing, and coastal development -- have serious implications for the marine life that depends on the Great Barrier Reef and the millions of tourists who come to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
But ABC and NBC have yet to report on the reef's significant decline during their news broadcasts. Meanwhile, CBS, CNN and even Fox News covered the story, although CNN was the only network to explain on-air that human activity is contributing to the problem:
MSNBC, the Associated Press, USA TODAY, and The Wall Street Journal also did not cover the study.
The media declared one of the top "zingers" of last night's debate to be Mitt Romney's line, "I had a friend who said, you don't just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers." But that line is based on a blatantly false claim that Romney made later in the debate, that "about half" of the Obama administration's investments in green energy have gone to bankrupt companies.
As even the Romney campaign has reportedly acknowledged, Romney got it completely wrong: a large chunk of that money went to projects like energy efficiency, and within the green energy loan guarantee program the vast majority of projects are still up and running.
The claim that "half" of the $90 billion spent on various clean energy projects went to bankrupt companies made easy fodder for solid fact-checks. But some ignored this blatant falsehood to push Romney's anti-green energy claims. Fox News seized on Romney's "pick the losers" line to declare that all the investments in green energy amounted to a "$90 Billion Boondoggle." And USA Today purported to ask "Are Obama green-energy loans really 'losers'?" but highlighted three of Romney's selective examples instead.
But of the $90 billion that Fox declared a "Boondoggle," nearly one-third was for energy efficiency measures, including retrofits in low-income neighborhoods, and another $10 billion went to electric grid modernization.
Even if Romney was referring only to the clean energy loan program funded under the stimulus, he still got it completely wrong. The New York Times called it "a gross overstatement," noting that "of nearly three dozen recipients of loans under the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program, only three are currently in bankruptcy." In fact, over 87 percent of the funds for the Department of Energy's 1705 loan guarantee program went to low-risk power generation projects, which are required to secure contracts with power purchasers before receiving a loan guarantee, virtually eliminating the risk of default. Congress anticipated that not all companies would succeed, and a Bloomberg Government analysis suggests they set aside more than enough to cover losses -- $2.47 billion, not $90 billion:
A Media Matters analysis finds that Fox News has aided Republican efforts to make Solyndra the face of clean energy in 2012 by incessantly covering it a year after the company declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have disproportionately hosted opponents of clean energy to discuss Solyndra, and uncritically repeated allegations that Solyndra's loan guarantee was politically motivated, even though a yearlong investigation has found no evidence to support the "crony capitalism" narrative.
In what is likely a first for a major political party, one of the themes for the GOP's nominating convention next week is built around a falsehood. When Republicans meet in Tampa on Tuesday, the banner will be "We Built It," which plays off the manufactured controversy this summer in which conservatives, led by Fox News, claimed President Obama insulted small businessmen and women by supposedly saying they hadn't built their own success.
Speaking to supporters for nearly an hour in Roanoke, VA. on July 13, the president touched on the topic of small business success and the collective forces that shape it, such as the U.S. infrastructure and teachers. Fox quickly claimed Obama insulted small business owners by telling them of their accomplishments, "you didn't build that." (He was referring to the "this unbelievable American system" which includes the "roads and bridges.")
Obama's opponents succeeded in concocting an uproar over a single sentence from an Obama campaign appearance by ripping it out of context. They were able to do that despite being debunked by fact-checker ("out of context"), after fact-checker ("taken wildly out of context") after fact-checker ("ignores the larger context of the president's meaning") after fact-checker ("that quote distorts the meaning of Obama's claim").
Nonetheless, through the sheer force of repetition, as well as taking advantage of a timid press corps that too often suggested the meaning of Obama's comment was somehow in dispute (or a press corps that didn't even care), "build that" has lived on and is now being revived in time for Tampa.
The question now is will the press allow Republicans to get away with it again? Or will the press do its job and point out that the party's "build that" attack revolves around a Fox-fueled falsehood?
Early indications are not encouraging.
On Wednesday, scientists announced that melting over the Greenland ice sheet has already "shattered the seasonal record" set in 2010, with four weeks left before the end of the melting season. Scientists say this record melting is driven by rising Arctic temperatures and could have serious consequences for the environment and coastal communities. But the major media outlets are once again failing to report on clear evidence that our climate is changing.
Professor Marco Tedesco, whose research was sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, examined satellite data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and found that Greenland has "experienced extreme melting in nearly every region" this year. He concluded: "With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a goliath year - the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979."
Tedesco looked at the extent and duration of melting to determine the "cumulative melting index," which measures the "strength" of the melting season. The following chart illustrates that by early August, Greenland's melting index was already higher than at any time in the past 30 years:
Tedesco attributed his findings to rising temperatures in the Arctic, noting that accelerated melting and ice sheet thinning are consistent with models of the effects of climate change. But, he added, "the difference is how quickly this seems to be happening."
Scientists say that human-induced climate change made this year's record heat more likely, and project that extreme heat will become more common in the United States. But a Media Matters analysis of media coverage of record-breaking heat in July finds that major television outlets rarely made the connection between heat waves and a changing climate.
This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the hottest month on record for the contiguous U.S. and that so far this year is the warmest on record. Scientists say that this record heat is partially driven by manmade climate change, yet Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CBS Evening News, and USA TODAY did not mention climate change at all in their reports on NOAA's announcement.
These heat extremes are occurring in the context of rising global temperatures, which the vast majority of scientists agree are driven by greenhouse gas emissions. As the National Research Council explained, extensive climate research indicates that heat waves will become "more intense, more frequent, and longer-lasting" in the United States and around the globe as a result of human-induced climate change.
But not everyone in the media failed to mention these facts. The Associated Press' Seth Borenstein spoke to climate scientists, who noted that July's record heat alone would not be evidence of climate change, but that the broader pattern of record breaking heat shows global warming at work:
A Media Matters analysis of wildfire coverage in July finds that nearly 14 percent of articles and segments mentioned climate change -- over four times more than in previous months.
Right-wing media have marked the 40th Anniversary of Title IX by attacking equal opportunity efforts for women in the "STEM" fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. The historic civil rights law prohibits discrimination in federally-funded education programs or activities on the basis of sex.
Conservative media has not only argued that such affirmative action is unconstitutional, but has gone farther and argued that the law does not apply beyond scholastic sports and requires quotas. They also insist that women simply do not want to study or work in science-or math-related fields. The first three claims are demonstrably incorrect; the fourth assertion contradicts numerous studies and cannot satisfactorily explain the disproportionate under-representation of women in these educational fields.
On the July 25 edition of Fox & Friends, Gretchen Carlson hosted a segment that touched on all of these discredited arguments in an interview with Hans Bader, Counsel for Special Projects for the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute. Bader concluded the interview by asserting that women are heavily underrepresented in the STEM fields because they naturally choose "organic subjects like people, plants, animals, biology, psychology." Carlson then ended the interview, noting that there "could be" a counter argument to this last claim.
Bader's Fox and Friends appearance is only the most recent example of conservative attacks on the Obama Administration's efforts to utilize Title IX for the promotion of equal opportunity in science and math education.
For example, Sabrina Schaeffer and Carrie Lukas of the conservative Independent Women's Forum did the same on June 18 and June 22 in the Huffington Post and U.S. News, respectively, Fox News Political Analyst Kirsten Powers took aim at sex-based affirmative action on July 17 in USA Today, and New York Post columnist Kyle Smith used the front page to launch a July 14 op-ed that was particularly reliant on sex stereotypes.
These conservative commentators repeated Bader's false claims: that Title IX's scope is limited to athletics, the Obama administration is proposing quotas, equal opportunity efforts disregard women's aversion to science and math, and affirmative action on the basis of sex is unconstitutional.
All of these conservative critiques are incorrect or unsubstantiated.
Fact-checkers have said that nearly every claim made in the latest Romney ad attacking green energy investments and the stimulus is misleading or false. Yet on The O'Reilly Factor, Lou Dobbs said "Basically [the ad is] true," and he and O'Reilly went on to amplify several of the misleading attacks in the ad.
Opponents of health care reform have opened up a new front in their relentless campaign, receiving extensive media attention for their claim that only state-created exchanges can legally offer tax credits for health insurance. This contested reading of the health care reform law would leave consumers in states with federal exchanges -- the default marketplace for states that decline to set up their own exchanges -- without access to affordable health insurance.
Exchanges have become the latest bogeyman in the right-wing media, but a just-released report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why a legal challenge to them is unsupported by both the clear language of the Affordable Care Act and relevant case law.
As described in a June 25 USA Today op-ed, opponents of exchanges are claiming that their reading of the health care reform law reveals that "[c]redits are [legally] available only in states that create an exchange themselves. The federal government might create exchanges in states that decline, but it cannot offer credits through its own exchanges." Right-wing activist groups have jumped on this argument and are already clamoring for lawsuits to be filed over the administration's interpretation of the law to the contrary. A July 9 article in Congressional Quarterly Today (subscription required) reported the director of policy at the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity as adamant that litigation would "absolutely" ensue.
The idea of suing to block exchange implementation and hamstring affordability programs designed to help low- and moderate-income persons afford coverage in the private insurance market appears to have originated with two frequent National Review Online contributors, Jonathan Adler, Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University, and Michael Cannon, Director of Health Policy at the Cato Institute. Long-time opponents of the Affordable Care Act and authors of the USA Today op-ed, the two first presented this questionable theory to the mainstream press through a November 16, 2011, op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Cannon, in particular, seems to have made exchanges his personal target, barnstorming the country along with other Koch-backed organizations.
Experts on health care law and policy are highly critical of the proposed anti-exchange lawsuits. However, although the challenge might be a long shot due to its debatable reading of the statute and disregard of congressional intent, even far-fetched legal challenges have legs in today's increasingly conservative courts. Remember broccoli? Amplified by the increasing synergy between right-wing academics and media, the "broccoli" and "inactivity/activity" argument in the health care reform cases rocketed from the fringe to the mouths and pens of Supreme Court Justices.
Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote the report yesterday that rebuts Adler and Cannon's claims:
Opponents of health reform apparently intend to file a legal challenge to the law on behalf of one or more employers who are penalized for not providing coverage in a state with a federal exchange, based on the claim that the federal exchange was not authorized to provide the subsidies. A court considering such a claim would almost certainly defer to the Treasury Department interpretation that subsidies are fully available through federally operated exchanges.
In providing for a federal exchange, Congress clearly intended that it substitute for a state exchange. One of the primary functions of an exchange is to determine eligibility for, and the amount of, advance premium tax credits so that people can afford to buy coverage. The language of section 1321 of the ACA establishing the federal exchange is clear on that point, as is the reference in section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code to credits being provided through a federally operated exchange. But even if the statute were ambiguous, a court examining whether the Treasury regulations are valid would certainly defer to the agency's interpretation of the statute because it is both permissible and reasonable. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/16/12]
Major news networks have largely ignored Republican obstruction of a regulation addressing the recent resurgence of black lung, a disease caused by coal mine dust. By contrast, media coverage of the Republican narrative about "job-killing regulations" has been abundant, indicating that news outlets let the Republican Party define the media discourse about regulation of the coal industry.
A USA Today editorial is downplaying poverty and food insecurity in America, and using Fox News talking points to justify a push to cut vital and effective anti-poverty programs.
In June the Senate voted to reduce spending on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, by $4.5 billion. Conservatives in the House are pushing for deeper cuts to the program, despite the fact that food stamps reduced the poverty rate by 8 percent during the depths of the recession.
In championing those cuts, USA Today offered a shockingly uninformed dismissal of the problem of food insecurity -- a term researchers say is more accurate than hunger. Pointing to increased use of food stamps in recent years, the editors opined:
These numbers are not driven by a rise in hunger. Indeed they have come about at a time when Americans -- particularly those on the lower-income rungs -- are struggling with obesity.
This analysis is nonsense. As Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger told The New York Times: "Hunger and obesity are often flip sides to the same malnutrition coin." The Food Research and Action Center explains: "food insecure and low-income people are especially vulnerable to obesity due to the additional risk factors associated with poverty." Minnesota Public Radio further detailed the interaction between food insecurity and obesity in a January 27, 2012, report:
Recent research from the University of Minnesota finds parents who struggle to get enough food eat fewer fruits and vegetables and drink more sugar-sweetened beverages than other parents. That is largely due to poor access, said Mary Story, a dietician in the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.
"What we know is that fruits and vegetables cost more, whole grains cost more," Story said. "And many low-income people live in neighborhoods or communities that lack access to a supermarket."
USA Today's apparent ignorance of the connection between obesity and food insecurity casts doubt on its call to "nudge the numbers back toward where they were in the mid-'90s."
But their embrace of Fox News' bullying tactics underscores the pernicious aspect of the campaign to demonize and cut food stamps.
After detailing efforts over the past decade to expand SNAP eligibility, the editorial argued:
Adding to the growth, the Agriculture Department has begun advertising the program more aggressively, and it has removed many of its inconveniences (and its stigmas at the cash register) by replacing coupons with cards that look and function much like debit cards.
This type of poverty-shaming has been a constant drum beat on the right. In June, New York Post columnist and Fox News regular Michael Goodwin discussed increased SNAP enrollment and lamented: "The sense of shame is gone." Goodwin's commentary echoed other Fox figures who have castigated SNAP beneficiaries for lacking an appropriate level of shame.
Perhaps tomorrow USA Today will explain how easy it is to feed a family on a diet of rice and beans.