For two years, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been peddling the theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list to a gay rights organization as part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Two separate investigations and a ruling by a Reagan-appointed judge have debunked that theory. But right-wing media, which have widely touted NOM's initial accusations, have largely ignored or denied the conspiracy theory's demise.
In the spring of 2012, an IRS employee inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. The pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got its hands on the list, highlighting past contributions to NOM by prominent conservatives like then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Noting that key HRC officials were prominent supporters of President Obama's re-election campaign, NOM alleged a conspiracy between the organization and the Obama administration aimed at embarrassing NOM and its supporters.
In April 2012, NOM filed a formal letter of complaint to the IRS. Conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard touted the complaint, focusing particularly on the revelation that Romney was one of the group's donors. For most of the next year, however, media interest in the story was scant.
That changed in the spring of 2013. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder ordered the FBI to begin a criminal probe into allegations that the agency had targeted tax-exempt conservative political groups. While the IRS actually scrutinized progressive groups more extensively than conservative ones, the IRS "scandal" became a rallying cry for right-wing media. The controversy also meant newfound interest in NOM's allegations against the agency.
Mainstream and conservative media outlets were quick to pick up on NOM's call for an investigation into the IRS's activities.
The Wall Street Journal 's James Taranto spotlighted NOM's claims in a column on the IRS controversy, asking "How pervasive is the Obama IRS scandal?":
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed pushing for a lift on a decades-old ban on crude oil exports without disclosing that the authors' work was funded by the oil industry, which stands to benefit from its claims.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by the lead authors of a study for the consulting group IHS Inc. argued that the Obama Administration "needs to lift the ban on oil exports." The co-authors advanced their report's claims that ending a 41-year-old ban on crude oil exports would spur domestic oil production, resulting in lower gasoline prices and fueled job creation. However, the Journal did not disclose that this study, titled U.S. Crude Oil Export Decision: Assessing the Impact of the Export Ban and Free Trade on the U.S. Economy, was funded almost entirely by oil and gas corporations, including industry giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, and ConocoPhillips:
This research was supported by Baker Hughes, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron U.S.A., Concho Resources, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Helmerich & Payne, Kodiak Oil & Gas, Nabors Corporate Services, Newfield Exploration, Noble Energy, Oasis Petroleum North America, Pioneer Natural Resources, QEP Resources, Rosetta Resources, Weatherford and Whiting Petroleum.
In fact, several top business media outlets repeated the report's boldest claims when it was released in late May -- like that it would lead to $746 billion in investment into the U.S. economy or save U.S. motorists $265 billion by 2030 -- without disclosing its industry funding. CNBC, Bloomberg, USA Today's Money section, and the Wall Street Journal all covered the study with no mention of the oil giants that have a financial incentive to lift the ban on crude oil exports because it would allow them to sell more of their oil at the higher world price. USA Today even noted that two of the report's funders, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhilips, have been pushing for the White House to lift the ban -- but did not disclose their investment in the IHS report. Some outlets got it right: Reuters and conservative news site Breitbart (surprisingly) did mention that the IHS study was funded by oil and energy companies.
The crude oil export ban was enacted in the 1970s in response to an Arab oil embargo, which shocked the U.S. economy. The Center for American Progress explained that lifting the ban would "enrich oil companies," but "could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security":
The increase in domestic oil supply, combined with the decline in demand, has also led to a significant decrease in foreign oil imports. These changes make us less vulnerable to a sudden foreign oil supply disruption that could cause price spikes. Unfortunately, the oil industry would squander this newfound price stabilization and energy security by lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Doing so would enrich oil companies by enabling them to sell their oil at the higher world price, but it could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security.
Even Goldman Sachs supports keeping the ban - at least until the U.S. market reaches "saturation" where it's producing more oil than it can consume -- because it benefits the economy by keeping refining for U.S. workers.
Lifting the ban on crude oil exports would also be catastrophic for the climate, according to the Sierra Club. Oil Change International published a study finding that keeping the ban on crude exports is imperative for the United States to achieve its climate goals.
The Journal's failure to disclose the background these op-ed authors shared with the oil industry falls in line with a repeated lack of transparency about who the newspaper publishes. In 2012, the Journal was found to have "regularly failed to disclose the election-related conflicts of interest of its op-ed writers."
Image at the top obtained via Flickr user roseannadana with a Creative Commons license.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ringing endorsement last week of Truvada, the "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection, presents news outlets with a prime opportunity to cover an historic development in the three-decade struggle against HIV/AIDS. So far, however, media organizations have largely ignored the story.
Truvada is a 10-year-old pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs. Taken daily, it prevents infection of HIV. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug back in July 2012, it hasn't exactly caught on; a September 2013 report by Gilead Sciences found that only 1,774 people had filled Truvada prescriptions from January 2011 through March 2013. Nearly half of users were women, even though gay men are the demographic group most at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Part of the reason Truvada has been slow to gain steam is, undoubtedly, the stigma attached to those who use it. Gay men who use the drug have been derided as "Truvada Whores," a term many users have sought to reclaim. Some HIV/AIDS advocates, including Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have cast doubt on Truvada's effectiveness, noting that it won't block infection unless users strictly adhere to taking it daily.
But advocates who hail Truvada as a watershed development in the struggle against HIV/AIDS got a huge boost on May 14, when the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called on doctors to prescribe the pill for patients deemed at risk of HIV/AIDS - men who have sex with men, heterosexuals with at-risk partners, anyone whose partners they know are infected, and those who use drugs or share needles.
As The New York Times noted, if doctors follow the CDC's advice, Truvada prescriptions would increase to an estimated 500,000 annually.
On May 15, the Times gave the CDC's historic report prime placement on its front page:
But the Times and The Washington Post were the only major newspapers outlets to cover the CDC's report:
Two Media Matters analyses suggest that over 85 percent of those quoted in the media about climate change are men. Several top women in the field denounced this disparity, noting that women will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
A review of a recent Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of the U.N. climate reports found that women made up less than 15 percent of interviewees. A look back at our analysis of broadcast coverage of climate change unearthed the same stark disparity: less than 14 percent of those quoted on the nightly news shows and Sunday shows in 2013 were women.
Allison Chin, the former president of the Sierra Club, decried this gender gap in a statement to Media Matters:
The gender imbalance among those quoted on the climate crisis is striking, particularly since women around the world are more vulnerable to the dangers of climate disruption and among the most active in the movement for solutions. Globally, existing inequalities give women less access and less control over resources and make them more susceptible to the worst effects of extreme weather. The last thing the media should do is amplify that divide by only covering one set of perspectives.
Rebecca Lefton, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and an expert in international climate change policy and gender equality agreed, telling Media Matters that this is an environmental justice issue because "women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in developing countries." Indeed, studies show, for instance, that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of extreme weather disasters, some of which are exacerbated by climate change, in part because they are more likely to be poor. Lefton added, "Without women's voices we lose the perspective of half of the population and without women's participation, the transition to a cleaner economy will be slower."
The lack of women's voices in climate change conversations in the media is not due to a shortage of powerful women in climate policy and communications. U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, who is in charge of negotiating a global climate treaty, noted in March that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt." The last two heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is slated to come out with carbon pollution standards for future power plants, were both women -- current administrator Gina McCarthy and former administrator Lisa Jackson.
Media Matters has previously found that women make up only about a quarter of guests on the Sunday morning talk shows and weekday evening cable news segments on the economy. However, the gender gap on climate change conversations is even starker. One contributing factor may be that the climate sciences have experienced a "female brain drain," according to Scientific American, as have many other scientific fields. This "female brain drain" is also evident in the largely male leadership of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Women that do enter the field often face discrimination. Two prominent female climate scientists, Heidi Cullen and Katherine Hayhoe, have both been dismissed by Rush Limbaugh as "babe[s]." Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who is one of the stars of a new Showtime series on climate change, told E&E News that much of the internet harassment she receives focuses on her gender:
The final installment of the U.N.'s top climate report, which calls for prompt, extensive action to avoid calamitous impacts from climate change, garnered relatively little attention from the major print, cable and broadcast media outlets compared to the first installment. However, coverage of the third report rightfully gave far less space to those who cast doubt on the science.
The Department of Energy's clean energy loan program helped fuel the achievements of electric car company Tesla Motors, yet the major broadcast, cable and print media only mentioned the loan in 20 percent of their coverage of Tesla in 2013 (and in only 7 percent of coverage of Nissan's best-selling electric car, the Leaf). Meanwhile, 84 percent of coverage of Fisker, an electric car company that declared bankruptcy, mentioned its federal loan. This skewed coverage may have misinformed the public about the overwhelmingly positive success rate of the program.
Right-wing media have been Hobby Lobby's biggest fans in the Supreme Court showdown between the federal government and the company over the health care law's contraception coverage mandate, championing Hobby Lobby as only interested in protecting its religious liberties. But according to new documents obtained by Salon, the company is an active partner to activist groups pushing their Christian agenda into American law.
This week the Supreme Court took on the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage mandate, hearing arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case which could allow secular, for-profit corporations an unprecedented religious exemption from the requirement that all health insurance cover preventive services like birth control. The conservative plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, is arguing that some emergency contraceptives covered by the mandate amount to abortion -- even though they don't.
Over at National Review, editor Rich Lowry framed the Green family -- Hobby Lobby's owners -- as "law-abiding people running an arts-and-craft-chain," "minding their own business," until "Uncle Sam showed up to make an offer that the Greens couldn't refuse -- literally." Jonah Goldberg, in an op-ed in USA Today, claimed that all Hobby Lobby is asking is to leave birth control decisions up to women and their doctors.
The conservative media sphere has repeatedly characterized Hobby Lobby as merely seeking "religious freedom." As Fox News host Eric Bolling described the case, "your religious freedom, guaranteed to you by the constitution, hangs in the balance." He added that the mandate "feels like political ideology trumping small business." The network has even given Hobby Lobby's attorney the platform to champion the company's small town virtues.
It turns out that the company right-wing media have worked so hard to champion has a significant hidden political agenda. On March 27 Salon broke the story that it had obtained a document revealing Hobby Lobby's political funding ties to a network of activist groups "deeply engaged in pushing a Christian agenda into American law."
According to Salon, a 2009 Tax Filing Form revealed that Crafts Etc., a Hobby Lobby affiliate company, and Jon Cargill, the CFO of Hobby Lobby, contributed a total of nearly $65 million in 2009 alone to the National Christian Charitable Foundation -- one of the biggest contributors to the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Center for Arizona Policy.
These organizations pushed SB 1062 -- the anti-gay legislation recently vetoed by AZ Governor Jan Brewer -- to the AZ Statehouse, and their agendas include many other discriminatory and dangerous policies including legislation that forces women to have invasive ultrasounds before abortions.
The National Christian Charitable Foundation also contributed over $90,000 in 2012 to the Becket Fund, the legal group representing Hobby Lobby in its current Supreme Court battle over Obamacare's contraception mandate. As Salon explained the relationship:
Seen in this light, the ideological connection between the Hobby Lobby suit and Arizona's recently vetoed legislation becomes clearer: One seeks to allow companies the right to deny contraceptive coverage while the other would permit businesses to deny services to LGBT people. "There are really close legal connections between [Arizona's anti-gay SB 1062 bill] and the [Hobby Lobby] Supreme Court case," Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel at the National Women's Law Center, told Salon. "Ideologically, the thing that unites the two efforts is an attempt to use religious exercise as a sword to impose religious belief on others, even if it harms others, which would be a radical expansion of free exercise law," said Martin.
And the common thread is the much bigger trend across the country. "Individuals and entities with religious objections to certain laws that protect others are seeking to use their religion to trump others," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, told Salon.
Newspaper coverage of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood lawsuits downplayed the possibility that the Supreme Court could expand the concept of corporate personhood when ruling on the cases, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage for birth control based on the owners' personal religious beliefs. Only 3 out of 24 articles on the case in five major U.S. newspapers mentioned the potential unpopular expansion of corporate rights in the headline or first sentence.
USA Today allowed a deeply misleading op-ed to endorse the conservative plaintiffs challenging the Affordable Care Act's "contraceptive mandate" before the Supreme Court in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, without disclosing the author's professional connections to Hobby Lobby's owners.
On March 23, USA Today published an opinion piece by Ken Starr, former Clinton-era independent counsel and current president of Baylor University, arguing in favor of Hobby Lobby, the for-profit, secular corporation currently challenging the availability of women's preventive services in health insurance under the ACA. And yet USA Today did not disclose the fact that as part of its religious mission, Baylor has a professional relationship with the owners of Hobby Lobby.
Baylor explained its partnership with the Green family, Hobby Lobby's founding owners, in its alumni magazine:
Over the past few years, the Green family has become involved with the university through Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI). A partnership with the family has established Baylor as a major research partner and an academic home for the GSI's primary undergraduate program. Baylor plays a leadership role in providing undergraduate and graduate coursework and research.
The website of the Green Scholars Initiative confirms this close relationship between the Greens and Baylor.
This professional connection between Hobby Lobby and the author of an op-ed supporting the business' position before the Supreme Court should have been disclosed by USA Today, especially in light of Starr's extremely biased explanation of the case and outright inaccuracies. From his op-ed:
When the State Department released its final Environmental Impact Statement, nearly all the headlines read the same: "Report Opens Way to Approval for Keystone Pipeline" and "State Dept. Keystone XL Would Have Little Impact On Climate Change." Yet after Reuters broke the news last week that the State Department was wrong in its predictions of greatly expanded rail capacity, undermining its claim of no climate impact, no major media outlet amplified the report.
In a report released late on Friday, January 31, the State Department concluded that Keystone XL was "unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas" based on the assumption that if the pipeline were not built, the equivalent amount of tar sands would instead be transported by rail. It was this finding that the media trumpeted, largely ignoring that buried in the analysis, the State Department for the first time acknowledged that under some studied scenarios, the project could have the equivalent climate impact of adding 5.7 million new cars to the road. The idea that the Keystone XL would not harm the climate led many to declare that President Barack Obama should approve the pipeline, even spurring MSNBC host Ed Schultz to call for approval (before later reversing his stance) and liberal commentator James Carville to predict that the pipeline would be built.
On March 5, Reuters added to skepticism that locking in infrastructure enabling tar sands extraction would have no climate impact, reporting that the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had significantly overestimated the amount of tar sands that would move by rail from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The draft EIS projected that about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) would be moved along this route by rail before the end of 2013. However, a Reuters analysis found that "even in December, when deliveries were near their highest for the year, that tally did not top 40,000 bpd" -- less than a quarter of the State Department's prediction. The final EIS removed any specific projections of movement by rail.
Not a single major media outlet has reported on Reuters' finding, according to a Media Matters search.* In fact, some continued to repeat the State Department's claim that Keystone XL could be replaced by rail without mentioning the report.
Much of the initial coverage of the State Department's final EIS left out that an investigation at the time was looking into whether the contractor that wrote the report for the State Department had a conflict of interest in part because it was a member of the pro-pipeline American Petroleum Institute (API). The investigation later concluded that it did not, but environmentalists still contended it was based on too low of a bar. In fact, API told reporters prior to the final EIS release that it received news from inside the State Department about the timing and conclusions of the report, allowing it to spin the findings to reporters beforehand.
USA TODAY has chosen to propagate the noxious Heartland Institute's climate misinformation once again, pointing to a larger failing in their "Our View"/"Their View" editorial format: whenever the board writes an editorial acknowledging global warming as fact, it attempts to "balance" the facts with denial.
On January 31, USA TODAY published an editorial titled "Baby, it's cold outside, but globe is warming." The board correctly pointed out that the recent cold weather snap and rare southern snowstorm do not contradict long-term data showing the climate is warming, driven by human activities. But the paper also ran an opposing op-ed from the Heartland Institute's James Taylor, who claimed that "[t]his winter shows that global warming is not changing our climate severely."
The Heartland Institute is possibly the worst of the worst climate "skeptic" think tanks, yet USA TODAY chose it once again to "balance" its editorial. The fossil fuel-funded organization is infamous for its attacks on climate science, previously comparing those who accept climate change to a domestic terrorist in a billboard campaign. James Taylor, a lawyer with no scientific background, is one of the Institute's most prominent media figures and a primary instigator of spreading misinformation as a regular contributor to Forbes.com.
Taylor claimed that global warming will "benefit, rather than harm, human health and welfare." But economic studies show that the impacts of global warming driven by carbon emissions will result in net negatives -- even one from Bjorn Lomborg, an economist who opposes large-scale climate action. Lomborg's study estimating the economic damage caused by climate change found that "after year 2070, global warming will become a net cost to the world, justifying cost-effective climate action." Other studies have found that the costs of climate change will be much higher.
USA TODAY's editorial format, requiring two sides to every issue, is concerning -- particularly when one "side" is truth and the other is misinformation. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), which is composed of hundreds of scientists, stated in its most recent report that scientists are 95 percent certain that the majority of recent warming is manmade, or about as certain as they are that cigarettes kill. Interestingly, the Heartland Institute also denied that cigarettes kill, stating that "smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects." USA TODAY likely wouldn't run an op-ed from the Heartland Institute espousing this "view" -- so why did they do so with climate denial?
UPDATE (2/3/14): James Taylor bragged about his USA TODAY op-ed on the Heartland Institute's website in an article titled "USA Today Gets it Right, Nature Gets it Wrong," elated that "a mainstream media organ acknowledge[d] the existence of scientific debate on the climate change issue."
Fox News hosted Sen. Jeff Sessions to amplify false conservative claims that immigration reform would negatively affect the U.S. economy and has a detrimental impact on Americans' wages. Sessions made similar claims in a USA Today op-ed published the same day, using misleading data from anti-immigrant groups to argue that the Republican push for reform is tantamount to "self-sabotage."
As The New York Times reported, congressional Republicans will unveil principles for immigration reform this week, in which they are "expected to call for border security and enforcement measures, as well as providing a path to legal status -- but not citizenship -- for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country." President Obama is also expected to address the issue during his State of the Union address on January 28.
In the run-up to these efforts, conservative media have attempted to hijack the debate with misleading data and bogus arguments.
On Fox News' The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson allowed Sessions to repeatedly advance the myth that, in Carlson's words, immigration reform "could mean fewer jobs for Americans who are struggling, and quite frankly, already live here." Sessions stated:
SESSIONS: We really do have a huge problem. We have the lowest percentage of Americans actually working today than since 1975. Wages have declined in America relative to inflation since 2000. American working people are hurting; many of the jobs created today are part-time so it makes no sense to me at all to see a dramatic increase in the legal flow of immigration while we're not even reducing the illegal flow.
He went on to repeat the bogus statistic from anti-immigrant nativist group NumbersUSA that immigration reform legislation, such as the one passed by the Senate in June 2013 and endorsed by the Obama administration, would import 30 million new immigrants into the country. FactCheck.org criticized the number as "inflated and misleading," noting that the legislation would add "an estimated 6 million new foreign job seekers over the next 10 years."
Sessions, who has been profiled as one of the most "persistent and vocal foe[s]" of immigration reform and who led the effort to quash the Senate bill in 2013, later argued on Fox that the "Republicans need to stand up for the American worker," who he claimed was "the person in America today that's been ignored" and whose "interests are being ignored." He concluded: "Somebody needs to stand for them and the party that does that will be rewarded by the American people in elections."
Sessions took a similar stand in his USA Today op-ed, writing:
Republicans have the opportunity to give voice to the working and middle-class Americans whose wages and job prospects have eroded drastically in recent years. House GOP leaders are reportedly planning to release their "immigration principles" this week. Unfortunately, leaks reveal the leaders' plan mirrors central elements of the president's plan, combining work permits for millions of illegal immigrants with large permanent increases in the flow of new workers from abroad. This would be an extraordinary act of self-sabotage.
The choice is clear. Either the GOP can help the White House deliver a crushing hammer blow to the middle class -- or it can stand alone as the one party defending the legitimate interests of American workers.
But Sessions' argument that immigration is inimical to the economy has been thoroughly discredited by a long line of studies. In fact, as the New York Times noted in February 2013: "There are many ways to debate immigration, but when it comes to economics, there isn't much of a debate at all."
Right-wing media denied the effectiveness of anti-poverty policies in response to President Obama's recent push to reduce income inequality, instead hyping marriage as a preferable economic solution. But experts have rejected that notion, citing a systemic lack of economic opportunity as a more critical issue.
2013 got off to a promising start when perennial conservative huckster Dick Morris was finally fired from Fox News.
But any hope for year free from scandal unraveled as conservative outlets like Fox, and venerable institutions like CBS and CNN, found themselves mired in ethical morasses of their own making.
Media Matters looks back at the year in media ethics:
America's top newspapers focused their coverage of health care reform on its political implications while largely ignoring its real-world impact in the week before the health care exchanges opened. Those papers have since shifted their focus, with most articles highlighting benefits under the law and enrollment in the exchanges in the week after the Obama administration relaunched the Healthcare.gov website.