Dayanita Ramesh

Author ››› Dayanita Ramesh
  • Climate Change Is Getting Worse And So Is Media's Coverage Of It

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH, JOHN KERR & KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Broadcast networks are decreasing their climate coverage at a time when the case for reporting on the issue is become more and more compelling. By ignoring this serious matter, media are failing to inform audiences about pressing impacts on human migration patterns, women, and the economy.

    In 2016, media had no shortage of compelling reasons to cover climate change -- from the revelation that it was the third consecutive hottest year on record to the United States’ election of a climate denier to its highest office. Yet broadcast news outlets’ coverage of climate change dropped a whopping 66 percent from 2015 to 2016, making it the third consecutive year of declining coverage.

    When media turn a blind eye to climate change, they ignore an issue that will have devastating impacts and multiply existing threats across the globe. According to The New York Times, unmitigated climate change could displace between 50 million and 200 million people by 2050. But the effects of climate change are already visible. Un the U.S. last year, the federal government allocated $48 million in grants to resettle residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, which represents “the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community struggling with the impacts of climate change.”

    Climate change poses a particular threat to women. A whole host of studies have concluded that women will bear the brunt of climate change-induced natural disasters and severe weather events. According to a United Nations analysis, “Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men—primarily as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change.” The analysis also stated, “When coupled with unequal access to resources and to decision-making processes, limited mobility places women in rural areas in a position where they are disproportionately affected by climate change.”

    The prospect of a warming planet also presents a huge risk to the global economy. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley found that climate change could "reshape the global economy by reducing average global incomes roughly 23% by 2100 and widening global income inequality." The National Climate Assessment reported that in the U.S., “more than 5,790 square miles and more than $1 trillion of property are at risk of inundation from sea level rise of two feet above current level by 2050.” Not surprisingly, Bloomberg recently reported that most of the world’s biggest investors now consider climate change when making investment decisions.

    More and more Americans are waking up to the threat of climate change. Recent polls have found that a majority of Americans are concerned about global warming and believe action should be taken to address it. And yet there’s an inverse relationship between Americans’ growing concern about climate and the media’s coverage of it.

    By dropping the ball on climate change, media are doing audiences a huge disservice. As Washington Post Deputy Weather Editor Angela Fritz wrote, “The media have a responsibility to report the facts. If scientists agree an extreme weather event was made worse by climate change, viewers need to know that, not just because it is true, but because people do think it’s a problem. I don’t know whom network news and Congress are serving by turning a blind eye to climate change, but according to these poll results, it’s not the voters.” 

  • VIDEO: How News Outlets Fail Rape Survivors

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN, DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but based on the way most news outlets cover sexual assault and harassment cases year-round, it seems they didn’t get the memo.

    Since the month of awareness was officially instituted in 2001, the goal has been to educate the public about sexual violence and teach people how to prevent it. Yet media tend to make the same three mistakes when covering cases: They blame victims, they treat offenders like the “true” victims, and they almost exclusively cover cases that confirm pre-existing cultural biases about “believable” survivors and culpable offenders.

    Although high-profile cases that dominate media coverage may make sexual assault seem like an isolated problem, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.” Similarly, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Given the sheer number of challenges survivors face when reporting sexual assault and harassment, these numbers are likely much higher. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 63 percent of rapes and sexual assaults already go unreported.

    Beyond cases of rape and assault, sexual harassment is also rampant in the United States. Although Fox News has finally parted ways with Bill O’Reilly after multiple women reported that he sexually harassed them, the problem goes beyond him or even the network.

    After 2005 footage that showed President Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault was leaked to the media last year, networks downplayed the severity of his comments -- calling them merely “vulgar” or “lewd” -- and attacked the credibility of the women who came forward with specific allegations against him.

    Sexual assault isn’t just “vulgar” -- it’s unacceptable. And what’s really “vulgar” is media’s refusal to call it what it is. This is rape culture: the willingness to treat sexual assault or harassment as natural, inevitable, or acceptable. Rape culture not only silences survivors, it’s also at the root of why stalking, domestic violence, and workplace and online harassment are so pervasive: People treat these behaviors as if they’re normal or somehow the recipients invite them.

    Media have an obligation to cover the issue in a fact-based and stigma-free way.

    First, media need to ditch the victim-blaming rhetoric and quit treating survivors as if they are even partly responsible for what happened. Survivors are not, and will never be, responsible for inciting acts of sexual violence. Period.

    When writing about sexual assault and harassment, choosing the right words is crucial to clearly, accurately, and compassionately communicate with broad audiences. A report from the Columbia Journalism Review found that when reporting on sexual assault, media rely on “leading language, scant statistics, and a whole lot of victim blaming” -- all of which contribute to downplaying and at times dismissing sexual violence allegations. Similarly, the Dart Center for Journalism instructs media to “avoid any language that might imply that the [survivor] is responsible in any way.”

    Media coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed that media outlets also tend to treat offenders as the real victims -- sympathetically highlighting past accomplishments, or bemoaning the costs to their careers.

    Particularly when offenders are high-profile figures, media treat the issue as merely a “scandal.” Writing about allegations against his father Woody Allen, The Hollywood Reporter’s Ronan Farrow explained how these reactions cultivate a “culture of impunity and silence” around reporting on sexual assault allegations. By getting caught up in a cult of celebrity -- even when focusing on a deserved fall from grace -- media can either trade fact-based reporting for access or lose sight of their “obligation to include the facts, and to take them seriously.”

    Finally, media scrutinize every move made by a survivor -- how they dressedwhen they reported, and even their possible “ulterior” motives. While doing so, they tend to focus on cases that confirm pre-existing cultural biases about the identities of survivors and offenders.

    Sexual violence happens in a wide variety of contexts and communities. And more often than not, survivors know their assailants prior to the assault. Nevertheless, media fixate on the myth of the “perfect victim”: an unrealistic expectation that believable victims of sexual assault are attractive, innocent white women who unwittingly provoke attack from an unknown (usually non-white) predator. As MSNBC’s Irin Carmon reported, accounts of sexual assault shouldn’t have to “be black and white, starring a perfect victim and a perfect set of villains, in order for us to get outraged.”

    Rather than fixating on only these “perfect” examples, media should cover cases from across the spectrum of experience, and they should provide audiences with critical context about the widespread nature of sexual violence.

    Sexual assault isn’t just a problem at Fox News or in “other communities”; it’s all around us. People look to the media to tell stories about their lives and the world at large, so reporters and outlets have an obligation to educate audiences about this reality and correct harmful misconceptions.

    If the Trump-era media have shown us anything so far, it’s this: Survivors deserve far better.

  • VIDEO: Media Can't Ignore The Voices of Activists

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    In a time of historic protests and activism against bigoted and hateful policies of President Donald Trump and his administration, news outlets need to scrap the so-called “fair and balanced” panels of pundits and politicians speculating and judging protests from a studio.

    Since day one of the Trump administration, there have been organized efforts around the country to protest the president’s policies. These include the Women’s March On Washington in January which mobilized an estimated 3.6 to 4.6 million protestors around the world, demonstrations at airports across the U.S. a week later to protest banning and detaining Muslim travelers, the International Women’s Day Strike, the upcoming Tax Day March in April to pressure Trump to release his full tax returns, the People’s Climate March in the same month, and the Immigration March in May. Journalists can no longer ignore the activists, organizers and protestors who are taking to the streets and to town halls across the country to demand accountability and change.

    Media have dismissed the protests as spectacles, alleged that they are being staged, or falsely claimed that the protesters are paid to show up. Activists have been central to the evolution of American democracy and have fought for policies that are more inclusive and that better their communities.

    News outlets need to let activists tell their stories.

  • The White House Is Gaslighting The Media (And The Entire Country)

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    President Donald Trump’s administration is gaslighting America. He lies, reporters fact-check him, then he and his team spin the lies to blame the "biased" and "dishonest" media. Trump's team wants to create a world where no one knows what to believe, where facts and reality are irrelevant, and all that matters is what Trump says matters. Gaslighting reporters is one part of the administration’s war with the press -- just another way for his team to try to make the media's role as truth-tellers obsolete.

    And here’s the kicker: It’s not just the Trump administration. It’s also propaganda outlets tied to Trump. They rush to reinforce Trump’s false narratives with his base, which only puts mainstream outlets in a tougher position.

    Some journalists, like Teen Vogue's Lauren Duca, have already made it clear they won't fall for Trump's ploy. It's important that the rest of the media learn that same lesson. The future of American democracy depends on journalists, reporters, and everyday Americans rising above Trump’s gaslighting and calling the president out on his lies. It’s not the Trump administration’s place to decide what is true or false or set the frame of reference. In America, that role belongs to the free and fair press.

  • VIDEO: The “Alternative” To Roe Will Put Lives On The Line

    Trump And Right-Wing Media Are Demanding Greater State Control Over Abortion -- Even If It Causes Harm

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN, DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    Forty-four years ago, Roe v. Wade determined that the constitutionally protected right to privacy ensures an individual’s ability to make personal, medical decisions without interference from politicians -- including the decision to have an abortion.

    But now, President-elect Donald Trump and anti-choice politicians who have made careers from promoting scientifically dubious and medically harmful anti-abortion laws want to eliminate Roe’s protections.

    During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to appoint “pro-life justices” who would “automatically” overturn Roe. After the election, Trump told CBS’ Lesley Stahl that he would prefer control over abortion “go back to the states” even it it meant that women would “perhaps have to go … to another state” to obtain necessary reproductive health care.

    This may sound like hyperbolic campaign rhetoric, but the threat is very real -- and it’s impossible to overstate how dangerous losing federally protected abortion rights would be.

    Right-wing media have consistently argued that greater state control over abortion clinics and providers is necessary to “protect women’s health.” The Supreme Court rejected this allegation in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which rebuked states for attempting to baselessly regulate abortion clinics under the guise of improving public health and safety.

    Legal abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Where abortion is legal, it is extremely safe. … In contrast, historical and contemporary data show that where abortion is illegal or highly restricted, women resort to unsafe means to end an unwanted pregnancy.”

    In contrast, life before Roe v. Wade -- without federally protected abortion rights -- was dangerous and difficult. Women traveled to neighboring states or even other countries to receive an abortion, often alone, in secrecy, with just enough money pooled together from friends or roommates. Some even saw their friends die from what can and should be a safe and simple procedure.

    Trump and anti-choice lawmakers seem to think a return to this grim reality would constitute “protecting women.”

    Even without attacks on Roe, accessing reproductive health care is already difficult -- especially for marginalized communities. Between rules like the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion, and the targeted restriction of clinics meant to increase logistical barriers to abortion access, essential reproductive care is already tenuously out of reach for many.

    Conservatives are already putting people’s lives at risk with medically unnecessary laws that restrict abortion access. If they succeed in eliminating the federal and constitutional protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, people will get hurt.

    Anyone trying to spin that as “protecting women’s health” is lying to you.

  • VIDEO: Strict Voter ID Laws Are The New Jim Crow Laws

    Right-Wing Media Falsely Cry “Voter Fraud” To Keep Citizens From Voting

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH, COLEMAN LOWNDES & JOHN KERR

    Thirty-four states currently have voter ID laws, and 32 will be in effect on Election Day. These laws require voters to present some form of identification document when going to vote -- a step beyond the "non-documentary" identity verification requirements used across the country. Right-wing media have played an important role in making it hard for certain Americans to vote. They tout the necessity of the most restrictive voter ID requirements to supposedly thwart voter fraud, while dismissing the risk of voter disenfranchisement that accompanies these strict voter ID laws as a “myth.”

    Just as Jim Crow laws denied the right to vote through literacy tests, poll taxes, the grandfather clause and violence, strict voter ID laws unfairly target minorities, especially Latinos and African-Americans. Communities of color are more affected than other groups by these unnecessary and redundant voting restrictions because many Latinos and African-Americans disproportionately lack access to the required form of photo IDs or the personal documentation needed to obtain them, or they just don’t have the necessary information on how to get them. This is how strict voter ID laws harm voters:

    1. Strict voter ID laws target the poorest voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice: “More than 1 million eligible voters [in states with the most restrictive laws] fall below the federal poverty line. … Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20,” compared with the poll tax during the Jim Crow era, which “cost $10.64 in current dollars.”

    2. Strict voter ID laws target minorities, the Brennan Center reports: “In the 10 states with restrictive voter laws, ... 1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week.” Plus, many of these offices that issue IDs maintain limited business hours, making it harder for those “in rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty” to get there during open hours.

    3. Strict voter ID laws can cause serious confusion. For example, in Texas, “half of the residents who said they didn’t vote in 2014 because they lacked a voter ID actually had an acceptable ID and didn’t know it.”

    Lawmakers in states with voter ID laws echo right-wing media by claiming they are preventing voter fraud, but many have openly admitted that these laws are just meant to prevent people from showing up, so as to sway an election. In addition, these photo requirements would prevent only voter impersonation -- a type of in-person voter fraud that is virtually nonexistent. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to protect voters from barriers to voting and was used to challenge these overly restrictive laws, but it’s been under attack, and those efforts have drawn support from Chief Justice John G Roberts and a conservative majority of the Supreme Court. Roberts questioned the necessity of the act, claiming that “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

    Expanding the right to vote to include all Americans has been a long process, requiring excluded communities to clear countless barriers and hurdles to ensure that all people can make their voice heard on Election Day.

    Video transcript:

    It's almost Election Day, so let's talk about the right to vote in the United States.

    Right-wing media have long claimed that the integrity of elections in the U.S. is at stake due to rampant voter fraud and have called for more requirements to vote, like voter ID laws, for example.

    Voting is a right, but it’s not always easy for some people to get to the voting booth.

    As you might know, the right to vote began in America as a legal privilege exclusively available to white, property-owning Protestant men.

    And all white men would gain the right to vote with the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868.

    The 15th Amendment passed in 1870, giving freed male slaves the right to vote.

    However, many states enacted Jim Crow laws, which were a formal, codified system of racial apartheid that also systematically denied the right to vote through the use of literacy tests, poll taxes, the grandfather clause and other racially motivated criteria.

    People also threatened black voters with violence if they tried to enter a polling station.

    Or worse, acted on these threats.

    Women gained the right in 1920, and it wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was signed, which helped strike down Jim Crow laws and enforced the 14th and 15th amendments.

    But while states can no longer force people to take literacy tests, they can still pass voter ID laws.

    And just like Jim Crow laws, strict voter ID laws intentionally and unfairly target communities of color, because, more often than other groups, they lack the resources to get proper IDs.

    Today, 34 states have voter identification laws requirements on the books.

    Lawmakers in states with additional identification requirements claim they are preventing voter fraud, but many have openly admitted that these laws are just meant to prevent people from showing up -- as a way to sway an election.

    Former North Carolina GOP precinct chair Don Yelton: “The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt. If it hurts a bunch of college kids that’s too lazy to get up off their bohunkus and go get a photo ID, so be it. If it hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it.”

    In-person voter fraud -- which strict photo voter ID laws are supposed to stop -- does not exist. A recent study found 31 incidents of in-person voter fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.

    Another study from the Brennan Center for Justice found that the chance of someone impersonating someone else to vote is less likely than you getting struck by lightning.

    Attacks on the Voting Rights Act have drawn support from Chief Justice John G Roberts, who questioned the necessity of the act, claiming that, quote, “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

    Strict voter ID requirements are dangerous, misguided and a step backward. These laws present substantial barriers to voting and negatively affect voter participation.

    The history of the United States is characterized by a gradual expansion of voting rights.

    As democracy continues to evolve, the right to vote has been expanded to include more and more Americans.

    Don’t take your right to vote for granted.

  • VIDEO: How False Equivalence Ruins Trump-Clinton News Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA, DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    News outlets covering the presidential election have made the mistake of treating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as two equally flawed candidates. That false equivalence has made it harder for voters to understand the categorical differences between their options on November 8.

    In typical elections, news outlets often treat both major presidential candidates as relatively similar -- comparing their flaws, scrutinizing their respective scandals, and framing the election as a choice between two comparable options.

    That approach hasn’t been appropriate this election cycle. Clinton is not a flawless candidate -- her campaign has been dogged by conspiracies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. But she is a relatively conventional one -- abiding by both constitutional and political norms.

    Trump, on the other hand, represents a dramatic break from mainstream American politics. He threatens the First Amendment, demonizes minority groups, cozies up to white supremacists, championed the birther movement, invites Russian interference in the election, promises to arrest his political opponent, lies constantly, lacks the most basic interest in and knowledge of public policy, says he may not accept the results of the election because he believes it to be “rigged” -- the list goes on and on.

    These are not equally flawed candidates. But a number of news outlets have treated them as such, devoting similar amounts of attention and ink to Clinton and Trump’s respective controversies.

    The New York Times has been criticized for its disproportionate focus on Clinton’s email server and the Clinton Foundation, so much that the paper’s public editor penned a defense of the paper’s coverage:

    The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates.

    [...]

    If Trump is unequivocally more flawed than his opponent, that should be plenty evident to the voting public come November. But it should be evident from the kinds of facts that bold and dogged reporting unearths, not from journalists being encouraged to impose their own values to tip the scale.

    That approach, treating both candidates’ scandals equally and hoping voters come to the correct conclusion, is a big part of the reason that voters view Trump and Clinton as being similarly untrustworthy, and view their missteps as similarly concerning. Audiences internalize the way the media covers each candidate in relation to the other.

    Treating two wildly different candidates as if they’re equally flawed is not “fairness” -- it’s a journalistic failure. And news outlets that have failed to explain the categorical differences between the controversies dogging Trump and Clinton’s presidential campaigns have done a real disservice to voters who want to understand what’s at stake in November.

    Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • VIDEO: What Right-Wing Media Get Wrong About The Unemployment Rate

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR & DAYANITA RAMESH

    Right-wing media personalities have long claimed that the economy is worse off than it is in reality by citing inappropriate figures to distort the full picture. They claim that the “real” unemployment rate is much higher than the figure reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and they often point to the labor force participation rate as the main indicator of how healthy job growth is.

    Donald Trump has claimed that the unemployment rate is as high as 42 percent, saying “these are the real unemployment numbers – the 5 percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.” PolitiFact gave that claim a rating of “Pants on Fire,” its worst possible verdict, but right-wing media have repeatedly enabled this lie by claiming that as many as 94 million Americans are "not in the labor force," failing to note that this 94 million includes: students, retirees, stay-at-home parents, and those institutionalized in mental health or penal facilities. As of August 2016, the official unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 following the financial crisis.

    Conservative pundits like to cite the labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the population that is in the labor force, as proof that the economy is in decline. They use this rate because it is downward trending while the unemployment rate has been steadily improving for nearly six years. The reason the labor force participation rate is on the decline though, is because "baby boomers" are retiring en masse; in fact, roughly 10,000 people reach retirement age every day. Labor force participation peaked during the Clinton administration, and President Obama inherited an economy in the midst of a deep recession from President Bush. The idea that Obama is to blame for an imaginary economic decline is just misinformation.

    Many economists agree that the employment to population ratio is a better measure of economic health -- as it represents the number of jobs available as a proportion of the total population -- and the ratio has been gradually improving since the end of the recession.

    These types of myths are harmful. CNN Money recently highlighted a study from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University which found that while the unemployment rate is only 4.9 percent, 57 percent of Americans “believe it is a lot higher” because the “general public has ‘extremely little factual knowledge’ about the job market and labor force.” The article also noted how “Donald Trump has tapped into this confusion” by “repeatedly call[ing] the official unemployment rate a ‘joke’ and even a ‘hoax.’”