While numerous factors determine the frequency, severity and cost of wildfires, scientific research indicates that human-induced climate change increases fire risks in parts of the Western U.S. by promoting warmer and drier conditions. Seven of nine fire experts contacted by Media Matters agreed journalists should explain the relationship between climate change and wildfires. But an analysis of recent coverage suggests mainstream media outlets are not up to the task -- only 3 percent of news reports on wildfires in the West mentioned climate change.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, they're also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, or sometimes as global warming's "evil twin" or the "osteoporosis of the sea." Scientists have warned that it poses a serious threat to ocean life. Yet major American
news outlets covered the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification over the past year and a half.
Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, and if we do not lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the ocean surface could be up to 150 percent more acidic by 2100. At that level, the shells of some plankton would dissolve, large parts of the ocean would become inhospitable to coral reef growth, and the rapidity of the change could threaten much of the marine food web. According to the National Research Council, the chemical changes are taking place "at an unprecedented rate and magnitude" and are "practically irreversible on a time scale of centuries."
Despite a boom of recent scientific research documenting this threat, there has been a blackout on the topic at most media outlets. Since the end of 2010, ABC, NBC, and Fox News have completely ignored ocean acidification, and the Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS have barely mentioned it at all.
A majority of federal rulings on the substance of President Obama's health care reform law have found it to be constitutional, including the law's mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. But a Media Matters review of the five largest newspapers and the flagship CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs finds that the media overwhelmingly focused on rulings that struck down the law in whole or in part -- 84 percent of segments on the broadcast and cable programs reviewed and 59 percent of newspaper articles that reported on such rulings -- while largely ignoring rulings that found it constitutional or dismissed the case.
As anti-immigrant legislation has flooded state houses from coast to coast over the past two years -- culminating most notably with the Supreme Court's review of Arizona's controversial SB 1070 -- the nation's print media have given voice to the anti-immigrant special interest groups cheerleading (and in some cases orchestrating) these initiatives. Many of these groups have ties to white nationalist organizations and racists, and at least one has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These extremist ties have not prevented the nation's most respected newspapers, as well as the Associated Press and Reuters, from citing the institutions as authorities on the immigration debate.
In fact, a Media Matters analysis of news coverage since SB 1070's introduction in January 2010 has discovered that the nation's top five newspapers (New York Times, L.A. Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post), the Associated Press, and Reuters have cited these groups over 250 times. Over that period, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia, among other states, have introduced strict immigration bills that -- by their introduction alone -- have been met with a measure of success.
If print media plays a part in shaping public opinion, isn't it fair to ask whether the normalization of these extremist groups in the pages of America's daily papers has advantaged the ability of anti-immigrant measures to reach fruition?
For details on the methodology and other information in the Media Matters report, click here.
Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, was introduced in January 2010. Since then, in their coverage of immigration issues America's top five newspapers and the Associated Press and Reuters newswires have cited anti-immigrant organizations with ties to white supremacists and racists -- including one that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center -- over 250 times.
Mitt Romney's remarks at Solyndra were full of falsehoods that went unchecked by many major media outlets. The media also largely failed to point out that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney invested in several companies that subsequently went bankrupt or defaulted on state loans.
If ever a more shining example of an inherent problem plaguing the media today exists, this is it. Just three weeks ago, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two well-respected, centrist political commentators with records of accomplishment going back decades, charged in a Washington Post op-ed that the Republican Party is to blame for our "dysfunctional" Congress -- just days before the release of their book detailing this thesis, It's Even Worse Than It Looks.
But "the most quoted men in Washington" can't even get a booking on the opinion-setting Sunday morning talk shows, as Washingtonpost.com blogger Greg Sargent explained. Media Matters' own research reveals that while journalists writing for the top five national U.S. newspapers have frequently quoted Mann or Ornstein in news articles in the past, the duo is entirely absent from these pages since they publicized their latest observation about the state of Congress.
Such a thesis would seem "likely to generate widespread discussion," opined Steve Benen on Maddowblog recently. "Where's the debate?" he asked. That's a great question, and its examination reveals a structural problem with the way that journalists typically report the news.
Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, are well-respected centrist congressional experts who are often cited by the media. But their recent conclusion that Republicans are responsible for political dysfunction -- laid out in an April 29 Washington Post op-ed and their recently released book -- has been largely ignored, with the top five national newspapers writing a total of zero news articles on their thesis.
The Federal Communications Commission met today to vote on a series of proposed rules. Typically this isn't all that exciting, but one of the rules, requiring television broadcasters to publish online public documents disclosing the amounts they charge political campaigns for advertisements, sparked a fight between the broadcasters and good government groups.
OK, that's still not terribly exciting, but this gets interesting, I promise. Big media conglomerates (News Corp., Gannett, Allbritton, Disney, etc.) lobbied against the rule's passage, arguing that publishing the data online would put them at a competitive disadvantage. In spite of that opposition, the rule passed today on a 2-1 vote. As TechPresident ably documented, several media outlets owned by these companies completely ignored the story in the weeks leading up to the vote, among them Gannett-owned USA Today, which still has yet to report on the measure. (Gannett "operates 23 television stations in 19 U.S. markets," per their corporate website.)
I'm singling out USA Today here not just because they haven't said a single word about the vote, but because this afternoon the paper published a write-up of a separate measure the FCC voted on this morning that aims to stop unauthorized charges from appearing on phone bills, a practice known as "cramming." The FCC's vote on the "cramming" rule took place right before the vote on the ad disclosure measure.
Why cover the "cramming" rule but not the ad disclosure rule? I sent a request for comment to USA Today and will update if they respond, but their coverage thus far gives the impression that the paper has an interest covering the rules that pass FCC muster, just not the one its parent company lobbies against.
Yesterday, we documented how the conservative media, following the release of a report by the Secretary of the Senate, covered up obstructionism by Senate Republicans in order to cast Democrats as "do-nothing" and "lazy." In fact, Republicans have routinely resorted to filibusters to try to block bills that would have otherwise passed the Senate.
But the right-wing media would not easily get away with this if not for the complicity of the mainstream media. On Monday, a majority of senators voted in support of legislation to enact the Buffett Rule, which would set a minimum effective tax rate for annual income in excess of $1 million. Fifty-one senators voted in favor of the bill, while 45 senators opposed it. The legislation did not pass the Senate, however, because a Republican filibuster meant that a supermajority of 60 senators was needed in order to pass the bill.
But the mainstream media was noticeably derelict in reporting that the bill had majority support and was blocked by procedural tricks by the minority. For instance, The Boston Globe article on the subject stated: "Monday night's Buffett rule vote, which blocked consideration of the bill in a 51-45 tally, was timed to coincide with Tuesday's IRS filing deadline." The article continued: "Republicans prevented the measure from receiving the 60 votes necessary to open debate. All Republicans but Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted against it. All Democrats except for Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted for it."
Unless a reader knew the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, the reporting makes it seem that 51 senators voted against the bill rather than in favor of it.
USA Today similarly failed to inform its readers that the bill received majority support.
A Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of rising gasoline prices between January 1 and February 29 finds that news outlets often provided a shallow and shortsighted treatment of the issue. For instance, several outlets largely overlooked fuel economy standards -- a key policy solution that mitigates U.S. vulnerability to price spikes -- while promoting increased U.S. drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline, which would likely move gas prices by only a few cents, if at all. In addition, cable news outlets primarily hosted political figures rather than energy experts or economists to comment on gas prices. Fox News, which covered gas prices far more frequently than any other outlet, regularly blamed President Obama for the recent price increase, a claim in line with Republican strategy but not with the facts.
On Friday the President of low-lying Pacific island nation Kiribati (pronounced KEER-ih-bhass) told The Associated Press about a plan to buy land from Fiji as an "insurance policy" against the effects of climate change. The land purchase would be large enough for the whole population of Kiribati to move should their country become uninhabitable. Not a single major newspaper or television news outlet has covered the story.
The over 100,000 I-Kiribati (Kiribati residents) face rising sea levels, reduced access to safe water, and changing weather patterns in part due to climate change. The village of Tebunginako, which is now all but abandoned, is a powerful symbol of this threat:
Yet none of the major print newspapers (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Los Angeles Times), the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), or the cable networks (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) have covered the Kiribati's plight since Friday, according to a search of Nexis and Snapstream transcripts. (The Post and USA Today ran the AP report on their websites, but not in print.)
A Media Matters analysis shows that as a whole, news coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline between August 1 and December 31 favored pipeline proponents. Although the project would create few long-term employment opportunities, the pipeline was primarily portrayed as a jobs issue. Pro-pipeline voices were quoted more frequently than those opposed, and dubious industry estimates of job creation were uncritically repeated 5 times more often than they were questioned. Meanwhile, concerns about the State Department's review process and potential environmental consequences were often overlooked, particularly by television outlets.
Noting Ronald Reagan's famous question -- "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" -- from 1980, USA Today manufactured evidence to claim that President Obama has acknowledged the economy has not improved during his time in office:
Obama caused a stir when he told ABC News that he believes Americans aren't better off in his presidency.
That statement is demonstrably false. In fact, it's proved false by the very next sentence in the USA Today post:
"They're not better off than they were before Lehman collapsed, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we're going through," Obama said in October.
Those anchors Obama cited -- the financial crisis, Lehman's collapse, and the recession -- are critical. Each predates Obama's presidency. Those anchors make clear that Obama is saying that the economy has not returned to its pre-recession level -- not that the economy has not improved from where it was in January 2009, when Obama's presidency actually began.
Obama was in fact referring to the economic situation in 2007, long before his presidency. The recession began in December 2007. Lehman collapsed in September 2008.
That "four years ago" question has two components: where the economy is today, and where it was four years ago. That latter component -- where the economy was -- will be particularly important to explain during the 2012 election.
After incessant coverage of the failed solar panel maker Solyndra, major TV and print news outlets are now ignoring a report concluding that "the focus on Solyndra is not proportional to its impact." The Bloomberg Government analysis of the Department of Energy's 1705 loan guarantee program found that 87 percent of the portfolio is low-risk and that even if all 10 of the higher risk projects defaulted, we'd still have nearly half a billion dollars left in the fund set aside by Congress to cover losses.
Alison Williams - who previously served as a DOE analyst under both the Bush and Obama administrations - authored the report, which is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the loan guarantee program that assisted Solyndra. According to a Nexis search, not a single major newspaper or television news outlet has reported on the analysis, which was covered by The Hill and the Huffington Post.
The main takeaway from the report is that 87 percent of the value of all the 1705 loan guarantees (18 of the 28 projects) went to power generation projects, as opposed to manufacturing projects like Solyndra's factory. The DOE required generation projects to secure a buyer before receiving a loan guarantee -- ensuring stable revenue and significantly reducing the risk of the investment. In fact, Shayle Kann, a solar power market expert at GTM Research, has said that these projects have almost no risk of default.