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.
After weeks of highlighting negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media outlets have largely underreported the law's success in helping slow the growth of health care costs.
Multiple media outlets have targeted young Americans in an attempt to spread misinformation and myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that coverage is too expensive, the ACA provides too much coverage to young adults, and that Millennials are better off not signing up for coverage, despite vast evidence showing that young people both need and want coverage under the ACA.
Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, sweeping the island nation with near-record winds and a towering storm surge. There are many scientific uncertainties around the factors contributing to storms such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, but scientists know that rising sea levels driven by manmade climate change worsen the damage caused by these storms. Yet an analysis of Typhoon Haiyan coverage in television and print media finds that less than five percent of stories mentioned climate change.
After hyping an alleged "pause" in global warming, mainstream media have entirely ignored a groundbreaking study finding that warming over the last 16 years has actually proceeded at the same rate as it has since 1951 with no "pause" compared to that time period.
The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society by Dr. Kevin Cowtan of the University of York and Robert Way of the University of Ottawa, found that the average global surface temperature has warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius between 1997 and 2012 (see the bold "Global" line in the graph above) -- two and a half times the UK Met Office's estimate of 0.05°C (see "Met Office" line). According to the new estimate, over the last 16 years the globe has warmed at the same rate as it has since 1951.
Writing about the study at the scientific blog Real Climate, climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf concluded that the public debate about the "pause" has "become"completely baseless" and that any speed bump in warming is "not surprising" with natural variability:
The public debate about the alleged "warming pause" was misguided from the outset, because far too much was read into a cherry-picked short-term trend. Now this debate has become completely baseless, because the trend of the last 15 or 16 years is nothing unusual - even despite the record El Niño year at the beginning of the period. It is still a quarter less than the warming trend since 1980, which is 0.16 °C per decade. But that's not surprising when one starts with an extreme El Niño and ends with persistent La Niña conditions, and is also running through a particularly deep and prolonged solar minimum in the second half.
An earlier Media Matters analysis found that mainstream media mentioned the alleged "pause" in nearly half of coverage of a major international climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, media have often been reluctant to cover data contradicting that narrative, including a study finding that heat may have been stored in the intermediate depths of the ocean, where warming has proceeded 15 times faster than in the past 10,000 years, rather than in the atmosphere.
As for claims that global warming has "stopped" or that global warming is "[o]ver," the study found with 94 percent probability that there has been some warming over the last 16 years. Dr. Cowtan wrote that "the hypothesis that warming has accelerated ... is four times as likely as the hypothesis that warming has stopped."
Why were previous estimates off?
The Los Angeles Times recently announced it does not publish Letters to the Editor that deny man's role in climate change, but most major newspapers are not following suit. A study from Media Matters found that 14 letters that deny manmade climate change have been printed in The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, The Washington Post and The New York Times so far in 2013.
Media reports suggested that it was previously unknown that some in the individual insurance market would have to seek new health care plans due to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) regulations. In fact, the administration announced in 2010 that some insurance policies would not be "grandfathered" in under the new law, largely due to regular turnover in the health insurance marketplace.
USA Today published an op-ed from The Media Institute president Patrick Maines attacking Media Matters for purportedly engaging "in the 21st century's version of book burning" by "target[ing] advertisers on shows such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News." But the paper didn't disclose that Maines' group receives financial support from the very media companies that have a business interest in preventing such actions, including Fox News and Clear Channel, which owns Rush Limbaugh syndicator Premiere Networks.
Maines' October 16 op-ed accused Media Matters of supporting "the suppression of speech" for having targeted advertisers. He added that Media Matters "traffics in the 21st century's version of book burning" and "it's something to ponder as the country celebrates Free Speech Week this month."
Maines also criticized TruthRevolt for its boycott campaign of Al Sharpton's MSNBC program. TruthRevolt is a new organization headed by discredited activists Ben Shapiro and David Horowitz which aspires to be the conservative equivalent of Media Matters.
The op-ed simply identified Maines as: "Patrick Maines is president of The Media Institute."
USA TODAY became the latest mainstream newspaper to incorrectly "balance" the views of the hundreds of scientists behind a major climate report with the the Heartland Institute, a fossil-fuel-funded organization that once compared those who accept climate science to the "Unabomber." In an op-ed published by the newspaper Tuesday, the head of the organization portrayed outright falsehoods as simply "opinion" in order to dismiss the United Nations panel behind the report as a "discredited oracle."
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), which convenes hundreds of top climate experts from around the world to assess the scientific understanding of climate change, 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. This is an increase from just over 50 percent certainty in 1995, and 66 percent certainty in 2001. Yet the head of the Heartland Institute, Joseph Bast, counterfactually suggested in USA TODAY that "we are no more certain about the impact of man-made greenhouse gases than we were in 1990, or even in 1979."
Bast also falsely claimed that the IPCC "admits, but does not explain, why no warming has occurred for the past 15 years." It would be one thing for Bast to claim that he is not convinced by the IPCC's explanation that that the slightly slower rate of atmospheric warming in the last 15 years was likely due to the ocean absorbing much of recent heat, along with other natural factors such as volcanic eruptions. But Bast simply pretended that this explanation does not exist so that he could cling to the myth that short-term variability rebuts the idea of a long-term greenhouse gas signal.
A recent study by Media Matters found that The Washington Post and Bloomberg News also turned to Bast, making him one of the most frequently quoted climate doubters in IPCC coverage. The New York Times quoted a report backed by the Heartland Institute. None of these newspapers disclosed that Heartland has recently received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, backed by the CEO of a corporation with major oil interests, and received funding from ExxonMobil from 1998 to 2006. Nor did they mention factors that might help readers assess the credibility of the Heartland Institute, including that in 2012 the group launched a billboard campaign associating "belief" in global warming with murderers such as Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber," which they discontinued after backlash from many of their own donors but refused to apologize for.
USA Today published an opinion piece defending the discredited, degrading, and ineffective practice of "conversion therapy" for gays.
In a July 30 op-ed column, Nicholas Cummings, who led the American Psychological Association (APA) from 1979 to 1980, criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for filing a consumer fraud lawsuit in New Jersey against the "ex-gay" therapy organization Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH). Cummings asserted that many gays and lesbians have been "successful" in changing their sexual orientation through therapy:
When I was chief psychologist for Kaiser Permanente from 1959 to 1979, San Francisco's gay and lesbian population burgeoned. I personally saw more than 2,000 patients with same-sex attraction, and my staff saw thousands more. We worked hard to develop approaches to meeting the needs of these patients.
They generally sought therapy for one of three reasons: to come to grips with their gay identity, to resolve relationship issues or to change their sexual orientation. We would always inform patients in the third group that change was not easily accomplished. With clinical experience, my staff and I learned to assess the probability of change in those who wished to become heterosexual.
Of the roughly 18,000 gay and lesbian patients whom we treated over 25 years through Kaiser, I believe that most had satisfactory outcomes. The majority were able to attain a happier and more stable homosexual lifestyle. Of the patients I oversaw who sought to change their orientation, hundreds were successful.
Fox News is using a tragic train crash in Spain to question whether California's high-speed rail plan is "safe." However, the train crash is a rare event: you are more likely to die from a shark attack or a lightning strike than a train crash in the United States. Automobile crashes, on the other hand, are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and are especially likely to cut short the lives of the very young, exacting large social and economic costs.
CBS News framed its story similarly to Fox News, titling its report "Despite Spain crash, California proceeding with high-speed rail system." However, its report noted that "high speed rail is one of the safest ways to travel, generally speaking." Indeed, Japan and France have been operating high-speed rail for over 30 years without a single fatality. The President of US High Speed Rail Association, Andy Kunz, said in a phone conversation that "the California system will be more like the one in Japan" than the Spain track. The Spanish crash, which occurred when a driver reportedly went twice the speed limit, occurred on an older line that was "not on their true high-speed system." He added California's system will be using the "very safest" measures including technology that "overrides the driver in cases where there is a situation like this" and tracks that "don't have tight curves like" the one in Spain, which is "why it costs more."
Art Guzzetti, the Vice President of Policy at the American Public Transportation Association, told Media Matters in a phone conversation, "the way the media should cover it is they should look at the whole body of experience" as "you can't draw conclusions from one" tragic event. "The whole body of experience, the whole body of evidence, the whole body of facts shows that passenger rail is safe," he said. "The real safety issue," he added, is motor vehicles, noting that deaths per passenger mile for motor vehicles are over 40 times larger than for Amtrak, and over 20 times larger than for commuter rail.
A review of claims made by the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels over the last quarter century shows that he has repeatedly been proven wrong over time. Michaels is one of a few contrarian climate scientists who is often featured in the media without disclosure of his funding from the fossil fuel industry.
A study of wildfire coverage from April through July 1 finds that print and TV media only mentioned climate change in 6 percent of coverage, although this was double the amount of coverage from a year ago. While many factors must come together for wildfires to occur, climate change has led to hotter and drier conditions in parts of the West that have increased the risk of wildfires.