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  • Milwaukee Journalists: Sheriff David Clarke Is “Missing In Action”

    “It’s Horrible. He’s Got People Dying In His Own Jails And He Is Nowhere To Be Found”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin has become a fixture on Fox News and at conservative political events, regularly serving as a shameless advocate for President Donald Trump.

    But local journalists who report on the 15-year sheriff of Wisconsin’s most populous county say his newfound national spotlight sharply detracts from his law enforcement duties. They note that he spends much of his time away from home, either promoting Trump or pushing his new book, Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime and Politics for a Better America

    Wisconsin reporters also point out that his local approval ratings continue to fall as he ignores his responsibilities, as well as a string of troubling incidents that have occurred in the past few years. Chief among the concerns are four inmate deaths that occurred in his jails in 2016, which Clarke has failed to adequately explain, they say.

    “It gives the impression that he is missing in action and that he is an advocate for the Trump administration,” Daniel Bice, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who has reported extensively on Clarke, said about his recent actions. “The perception is that he has gone from being the sheriff to being an advocate for Trump -- that is his primary role right now.”

    Clarke, a Democrat and African-American, is among Fox News' favorite guests. A search of Fox News transcripts on Nexis since 2015 finds he has made prime time appearances more than 100 times, in most cases to discuss national issues, not his home county. (Nexis does not capture Fox News appearances on morning and daytime programming.)

    In addition, a recent Journal Sentinel review of Clarke’s outside income disclosure statements found he had earned more than $220,000 in 2016 from speaking fees and related expenses, along with other gifts, during speeches to 34 different groups in 20 states outside of Wisconsin. These earnings outpace his sheriff salary which is $132,290.

    “He’s not around and he’s not doing his job and not providing any leadership,” said Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative Wisconsin talk show host now appearing on MSNBC and WNYC Radio in New York. “His approach has been to refuse to comment, refuse to be transparent in any way, and attack anyone who raises questions about it.”

    And then there are the questionable incidents involving Clarke, ranging from his tweet calling CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill a “jigaboo” to his alleged harassment of a fellow airplane passenger.

    Clarke also called for a boycott of a local Fox affiliate, claiming it presented “fake news” and “racist” coverage.

    “He doesn’t talk to the local press except through the county sheriff’s Facebook page, but he does talk to Fox News, which is a contrast,” Bice said. “The assumption nationally among the conservatives is that he is beloved here, but even conservatives are frustrated with how long he is gone and not doing his job.”

    Clarke was first appointed sheriff in 2002, winning re-election later that year and again in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He is up for re-election again in 2018.

    But he didn't gain national prominence until his last election, when groups of gun-safety advocates helped support an effort to have him voted out.

    When he won that election, local reporters say, he started getting national attention as a gun-rights advocate and law enforcement voice. He drew further attention last year when he spoke out against the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a hate group. He was also an early Trump supporter.

    One of the misconceptions about Clarke, however, is his image as a crime-fighter, local journalists say. His office does very little in the way of policing, with most of its work focused on the county's jails, highways, and parks.

    “The county sheriff has almost nothing to do with crime. The police handle the crime,” said Bruce Murphy, editor of UrbanMilwaukee.com, former editor of Milwaukee Magazine and onetime Journal Sentinel reporter. “He’s the classic example of all hat and no cattle. He talks tough and he has the impression of being this guy who is taking care of crime, and he has very little to do with it.”

    A January 31 report from Public Policy Polling found that Clarke had a 31 percent approval rating among local voters, and it noted that “voters consider him to be somewhat of a national embarrassment.” It also revealed that 65 percent believed Clarke has had a negative impact on Milwaukee County’s image.

    PolitiFact, meanwhile, has deemed 75 percent of his statements that it reviewed false or mostly false.

    “He’s very thin-skinned. He enjoys the limelight, likes the big checks and flying first class,” said Mike Crute, a talk show host on WRRD News Talk 1510 in Milwaukee. “It’s horrible. He’s got people dying in his own jails and he is nowhere to be found.”

    Crute added: “He is a guy who undermines the office and the public service office. It’s all narcissism, building himself as a TV brand, following Trump’s example. The sheriff’s office and its duties are just tedious to him. He doesn’t do anything.”

    James Wigderson, assistant editor of the conservative website RightWisconsin.com, called the outside appearances “a distraction.”

    “The fact that he probably earns more from speaking fees than he does at his day job leads you to believe that his day job has to be suffering at some point in this process,” Wigderson said. “It’s a mixed bag in Milwaukee County when you are more frequently appearing on Fox News nationally than you are on the local news discussing what is going on in Milwaukee County.”

    Journalists also say that he has not properly addressed the jail deaths or his constant trips out of town. When Media Matters approached him at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in February outside Washington, D.C., Clarke declined to comment on either.

    Most reporters who cover Clarke believe he will not run for re-election in 2018, due in part to his diminishing local image and popularity, but also because of his continued support for Trump, as many believe he still hopes to serve the president in some capacity.

    “He’s become a Fox News commentator/Trump surrogate and at that point has become almost completely disconnected with the community,” said Sykes.

    In response to a request for comment, Fran McLaughlin at Clarke's office sent the following:

    I spoke with the sheriff :

    The left (Progressives, Democrats) doesn't think a black guy is capable of handling many things at one time. Let me introduce them to Sheriff David Clarke. He's added Tammy Baldwin to the list. He's EVERYWHERE! He's too busy to talk to you right now though. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain

  • USA Today Report Raises New Questions About Stephen Bannon And The “Breitbart Embassy”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    White House senior adviser Stephen Bannon’s housing and financial arrangements are unusually complicated. Many reporters have attempted to tackle the intricate and conflicting network of connections between Bannon, the extreme-right Breitbart.com site that he used to run, far-right billionaires, a tangle of small companies and financial holdings, and President Donald Trump. USA Today’s new report on the Washington, D.C., town house near Capitol Hill known as the “Breitbart Embassy” hints at another set of potential conflicts of interest for the senior White House official.

    The “Breitbart Embassy” has been a D.C. staple since Breitbart (then a fringe conservative site) began operating out of the residential property in 2011. As early as 2013, the town house was described as then-Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon’s house -- though it’s actually owned by an Egyptian businessman and politician named Moustafa El-Gindy. Until recently, there have been conflicting reports on the nature of any official relationships between Breitbart or Bannon and the actual owner of the property, including the nature of any financial or leasing agreements among the different parties.

    Now that Breitbart executive Larry Solov has said Bannon “resigned” from Breitbart “via phone” (though offering no proof, yet, of this separation), USA Today’s Paul Singer investigated potential current or past conflicts of interest and legal liabilities associated with the use of the “Breitbart Embassy” property -- and his findings pose some additional conflict-of-interest questions.

    Is Bannon Still Living At The “Breitbart Embassy”?

    In 2014, a writer for Vice visited the house, which he later described as “a handsome living quarters for Bannon and other company brass” at Breitbart as well as a “workspace for the website's D.C. reporters.” An October 2015 profile in Bloomberg News -- which featured original quotes and photographs of Bannon in the house -- similarly described the property’s dual usage as a workspace and Bannon’s living quarters. A week after the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported that the town house "holds offices sometimes used" by Breitbart but "isn't typically the site of the media organization's day-to-day operations." However, Bannon "would often hold team meetings around its elegant dining table” and “reportedly uses the upper levels of the four-bedroom residence as his Washington crash pad.”

    In his article, Singer implied Bannon no longer lives in the home, but he couldn’t locate documentation to back up Bannon’s living situation. When he knocked on the door of the “Embassy,” a staffer for one of Bannon’s film companies who has also written for Breitbart answered.

    If Bannon was previously living in the space -- which he does not own -- was he paying rent to either the owner or to Breitbart as a subletter? Did he continue to either pay rent to the media outlet or live there on the outlet’s dime after he joined the Trump campaign or even the administration? Could he still be doing so today?

    Did Breitbart Lease The Residential Space For Commercial Reasons?

    Though the residential property is reportedly “still the official address of Breitbart’s Washington bureau,” a Breitbart spokesperson told Singer the site was “transitioning people out of the house” and, soon, into what Singer described as “a regular office in downtown D.C.” He also noted that “the Embassy is in a residential neighborhood where it is generally not legal to run an office.” Singer also spoke with a locally elected official familiar with zoning rules, who explained what commercial uses are allowed in such a residential space and noted that Breitbart’s uses “appear to violate” the rules: 

    Breitbart CEO Larry Solov told the Senate press gallery that the company has a soon-to-expire lease in the building for corporate housing, offices and entertainment. But zoning rules for the block do not allow commercial leases.

    “That area of Capitol Hill is zoned only for residential uses, with a very narrow set of ‘home occupation’ exceptions allowing a resident (as opposed to a rotating group of occasional visitors) to work as an in-home tailor, music tutor, doctor, or the like, or to run a small bed & breakfast,” said Mark Eckenwiler, longtime chair of the zoning committee for the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the city government unit for that area.

    The uses Solov described to the press gallery “appear to violate the D.C. zoning regulations applicable to that location,” Eckenwiler said. Since the lease is not public, it is impossible to know whether the terms meet the neighborhoods restrictions.

    Does El-Gindy Maintain Residence At The “Embassy,” In Accordance With The Tax Deduction Requirements?

    As the USA Today report also notes, the Capitol Hill home is not technically Bannon’s -- it’s actually owned by an Egyptian politician and businessman named Moustafa El-Gindy. Washington, D.C.’s public records show that El-Gindy purchased the property in 2009 and appears to have been renting to Breitbart since 2011. As reported by BuzzFeed in August, El-Gindy told an Egyptian reporter he is “just a landlord” and that he rents the house because tourism has slowed in Egypt. But the article points out that El-Gindy may stay at the town house sometimes, and appears to get friendly coverage from Breitbart. He’s been quoted in Breitbart articles without any disclosure of his relationship to Bannon or the outlet at least four separate times.

    The nature of any type of lease between El-Gindy and Breitbart -- or Bannon himself, for that matter -- is not clear. Singer’s investigation adds an interesting wrinkle in the story:

    El-Gindy is receiving a homestead deduction on the property, a $72,000 tax credit that requires the owner to maintain residence in the building. He could not be located for comment on this story.

    In Washington, D.C., individuals qualify for this tax deduction if the property is their “permanent home” or if they own the property and consider it to be their “principal residence.” The Washington, D.C., Office of Tax and Revenue website indicates that violations of this tax rule could result in the property owner owing back taxes, interest, and a penalty to the district.

    There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the connections between Bannon, Breitbart, and El-Gindy -- maybe because the answers could point to questionable legal practices, tax violations, and conflicts of interest. 

  • Obamacare Repeal And The Myth Of Trump As The "Great Negotiator"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Before House Republicans and President Donald Trump were forced to pull the American Health Care Act (AHCA), their ill-fated first attempt to gut health care reform and repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media repeatedly trumpeted Trump's supposed ability to get the bill passed because of his mastery of the "Art of the Deal." Here's a look back at how they described the "great negotiator," which was "the whole point of Trump":

  • Alex Jones Apologizes For Pizzagate Coverage, Blames Other Media Outlets

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones was pressured to air an apology for his role in spreading the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which led to a Jones listener firing a gun inside a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. Jones aired a pre-taped video in which he acknowledged that he made commentary about the pizzeria owner that “in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him.”

    Watch Jones’ statement here (transcript here):

    On December 4, Edgar Maddison Welch entered Comet Ping Pong during business hours while wielding an assault weapon to “self-investigate” the false conspiracy theory that the restaurant was helping the campaign of Hillary Clinton traffic children. After patrons and employees fled, Welch fired several shots. On March 24, The Washington Post reported that Welch had pleaded guilty to two violations of federal and local gun laws.

    The New York Times interviewed Welch several days after the shooting, and he told the paper that he was a listener of Jones’ show and that Jones “touches on some issues that are viable,” but that sometimes Jones “goes off the deep end.” The criminal complaint against Welch alleged that he shared a YouTube video with the message “Watch PIZZAGATE: The Bigger Picture.” Alex Jones’ website Infowars published a December 1 article with the headline “Pizzagate: The Bigger Picture” which included an Infowars YouTube video.

    Following the Comet incident, Jones claimed that Welch is an “admitted actor” and that the incident “is classic scripting. I’m not saying it’s scripted -- it has all the telltale signs, they’ve been caught doing it before.”

    Infowars also scrubbed some Pizzagate-related content from its website and YouTube, including a video posted before the Comet incident in which Jones told his listeners to personally “investigate” the conspiracy theory.

    A February Infowars article falsely denied that Infowars had promoted the conspiracy theory.

    Jones, a top media ally of President Donald Trump, is a self-proclaimed founder of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement and has repeatedly alleged that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks were carried out by the U.S. government. He frequently claims that calamities such as natural disasters, mass public shootings, and terror attacks are “false flag” events orchestrated by the government.

    In particular, Jones has promoted conspiracy theories about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, that left 20 children and six educators dead. Family members have said they have been regularly harassed and threatened by conspiracy theorists, and they have criticized Jones for his smears.

    Jones has close ties to Trump. During a December 2015 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Trump praised Jones as having an "amazing" reputation and promised, "I will not let you down." Following Trump’s victory, Jones said Trump had called him to “thank” his audience. Jones has also bragged in recent months that the president calls him.

    Transcript (emphasis added):

    ALEX JONES (HOST): First, an important piece here when it comes to being accurate, dealing with Pizzagate. Here it is.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    JONES: Alex Jones here with an important note to our viewing, listening, and reading audiences. I’m going to read to you from a statement that is also posted to Infowars.com that I wrote yesterday.

    Last fall, before the presidential election, a large number of media outlets began reporting on allegations arising from emails released by WikiLeaks that appeared to come from John Podesta, who served President Clinton and Obama and was the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

    Dozens of those stories and articles raised or discussed theories that some of Podesta’s emails contained code words for human trafficking and/or pedophilia. Stories also included allegations connecting members of the Democratic Party with a number of restaurants allegedly involved with a child sex ring. These stories were cited and discussed in social media and went viral on the internet.

    One of the persons mentioned in many of the stories in the media was a Washington, D.C., restaurant owner named James Alefantis, and his pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong. It is fair to say that Mr. Alefantis is a prominent individual who has been mentioned as a power player in Washington. Mr. Alefantis and his restaurant were mentioned in many stories published by a lot of different outlets. Mr. Alefantis was quoted in many subsequent stories, and he denied any involvement in such reported child sex rings. These denials were reported in the national media and many other outlets and news websites.

    The volume of stories was substantial, generating national headlines and came to be known across the country as “Pizzagate.” We at Infowars became part of that national discussion. We broadcast commentary about the allegations and the theory that the emails contained code words. We raised questions about information in Mr. Podesta’s emails and the Comet Ping Pong restaurant. We believed at the time that further investigation was necessary. In December of 2016, we disassociated ourselves from the “Pizzagate” claims and theories, a position we reiterated last month after being contacted by Mr. Alefantis.

    In late February of 2017, we received a letter from Mr. Alefantis asking that we retract certain statements that he says were made in seven of our broadcasts between the last week of November and the first week of December in 2016. We have attempted, through our lawyers, to contact Mr. Alefantis to discuss with him what sort of statement he would like to see made.

    In our commentary about what had become known as Pizzagate, I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him. We were participating in a discussion that was being written about by scores of media outlets, in one of the most hotly contested and disputed political environments our country has ever seen. We relied on third-party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of reporters who are no longer with us. This was an ever-evolving story, which had a huge amount of commentary about it across many, many media outlets.

    As I have said before, what became a heightened focus on Mr. Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong by many media outlets was not appropriate. To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis, nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking as was part of the theories about Pizzagate that were being written about in the media outlets and which we commented upon.

    I want our viewers and listeners to know that we regret any negative impact our commentaries may have had on Mr. Alefantis, Comet Ping Pong, or its employees. We apologize to the extent our commentaries could be considered as negative statements about Mr. Alefantis or Comet Ping Pong, and we hope that anyone else involved in commenting on Pizzagate will do the same thing.

    Here’s what we have done to clarify to the public. Months ago, we took down the majority of broadcasts and videos including ones that only passingly mentioned Pizzagate. This happened months before we were even contacted by Mr. Alefantis. Mr. Alefantis objected to portions of seven particular radio/TV broadcasts. We have taken down those seven broadcasts and we have attempted to take down any broadcasts that mentioned Mr. Alefantis or Comet Ping Pong. We have attempted to do so not just on our website but also on social media sites such as our YouTube channel. If Mr. Alefantis has any other objections, we invite him to let us know. Two reporters who used to be associated with us are no longer with us. In a recent broadcast, I invited Mr. Alefantis on our program to state what he wanted to, and I again do so here. He has given interviews to many media outlets, and he is welcome to come on our show.

    In issuing this statement, we are not admitting that Mr. Alefantis, or his restaurants, have any legal claim. We do not believe they do. But we are issuing this statement because we think it is the right thing to do. It will be no surprise to you that we will fight for children across America. But the Pizzagate narrative, as least as concerning Mr. Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong, we have subsequently determined was based upon what we now believe was an incorrect narrative. Despite the fact that we were far from the genesis of this story, it is never easy to admit when your commentaries are based on inaccurate information, but we feel like we owe it to you the listeners, viewers and supporters to make that statement, and to give an apology to you and to Mr. Alefantis, when we do.

    We encourage you to hold us accountable. We improve when you do.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    JONES: And again, ladies and gentlemen, that was -- we got distracted off by MSM on this stuff in D.C. when it was all going on in New York and that’s why day one, I saw it, I saw the media, and I said, “Get off that.” And I did that because we’re not psychopaths, we actually look at what is reality and then focus on that. We don’t go like MSM with their misinfo and just cold-bloodedly spew lies, this person’s a racist, this person’s this, this person’s that. Just because it gets us ahead in what we’re doing, we’re all about integrity, and that’s why we make mistakes by covering MSM, focusing on it, and the huge debate. We will absolutely own up to it, and make right for it, as we just did. 

  • Following Dramatic Drop In Coverage, U.S. Senators Condemn Irresponsible Lack Of Climate Change Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    U.S. senators are calling on broadcast networks to fulfill their duty and bolster their news coverage of climate change, after a Media Matters study found that the networks dramatically decreased their coverage of climate change in 2016, during a campaign in which the U.S. elected a climate denier as president.

    Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) issued statements this week calling on the major broadcast networks to fulfill their responsibility and provide audiences with essential reporting on the impacts of and science surrounding climate change, as well as related policies. The senators’ statements were made in response to a study by Media Matters finding that in 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015.

    Sen. Whitehouse stated: 

    The Trump presidency has brought into sharp focus the critical responsibility of an independent news media to cover the science and policy of climate change. … Donald Trump ran a campaign blissfully unconcerned about climate change, even referring to it as a "hoax." Now President Trump has an ardent climate change denier who received millions from big polluters running the EPA, the former CEO of ExxonMobil heading up the State Department, and other industry operatives making decisions that affect the health and safety of American families. More than ever, Americans will need the free press to deliver the real facts on climate change. We don’t have time to waste on alternative ones.

    Sen. Schatz echoed Whitehouse’s sentiment, stating: 

    In a year when the American people were deciding who our next leader should be, you would think there would have been more discussions about climate change in our news programs, not less. This isn’t just shameful, it’s irresponsible. The climate is changing, and it’s affecting everything from the weather to our national security and our economy. Its impacts are already being felt and the American people deserve to know more about it.

    Indeed, as Media Matters found, during the campaign, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox did not air a single segment about the ramifications and impacts of a Trump or Hillary Clinton administration as they relate to climate change. 

  • Advertisers Are Fleeing YouTube To Avoid “Directly Funding Creators Of Hateful” Content

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    YouTube is losing advertisers as big-name companies pull ads from the site because, according to a report from The New York Times, “The automated system in which ads are bought and placed online has too often resulted in brands appearing next to offensive material on YouTube such as hate speech.”

    More and more major companies are abandoning the ad services of YouTube's parent company, Google, amid concerns that ads for their brands are being placed next to extremist material. On March 22, The New York Times reported that AT&T and Johnson & Johnson “were among several companies to say Wednesday that they would stop their ads from running on YouTube and other Google properties amid concern that Google is not doing enough to prevent brands from appearing next to offensive material, like hate speech.” The decision by advertisers comes as Google has struggled in its efforts to prevent websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising services to profit. It also comes as Google and YouTube have been criticized following a BuzzFeed News report for driving revenue for conspiracy theorists who broadcast to millions and monetize conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate,” which led to an armed confrontation in a DC-pizza shop.

    Now, The New York Times reports that “the technology underpinning YouTube’s advertising business has come under intense scrutiny” as “other deep-pocketed marketers [are] announcing that they would pull their ads from the service.” According to the Times report, the problem “is particularly jarring” for YouTube specifically, because “YouTube splits advertising revenue with its users, meaning advertisers risk directly funding creators of hateful, misogynistic or terrorism-related content.” From The Times’ March 23 report:

    YouTube is now one of the pillars of Google’s advertising business and the most valuable video platform on the internet. In recent years, advertisers, unable to ignore its massive audience, flocked to YouTube to reach younger people who have started to shun traditional broadcast television.

    But the technology underpinning YouTube’s advertising business has come under intense scrutiny in recent days, with AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and other deep-pocketed marketers announcing that they would pull their ads from the service. Their reason: The automated system in which ads are bought and placed online has too often resulted in brands appearing next to offensive material on YouTube such as hate speech.

    [...]

    That technology, known as programmatic advertising, allows advertisers to lay out the general parameters of what kind of person they want to reach — say, a young man under 25 — and trust that their ad will find that person, no matter where he might be on the internet. This approach plays to the strengths of tech giants like Google and Facebook, allowing advertisers to use automation and data to cheaply and efficiently reach their own audiences, funneling money through a complicated system of agencies and third-party networks.

    But more than 400 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and while Google has noted that it prevents ads from running near inappropriate material “in the vast majority of cases,” it has proved unable to totally police that amount of content in real time. And that has advertisers increasingly concerned.

    [...]

    While brands have expressed concern about showing up next to unsavory photos and videos uploaded to digital platforms by users — like pornography on Snapchat — the situation with YouTube is particularly jarring. YouTube splits advertising revenue with its users, meaning advertisers risk directly funding creators of hateful, misogynistic or terrorism-related content.

    The revenue-sharing model has minted stars, some of whom gain cultlike followings for edgy and inappropriate content. Last month, the platform cut business ties with its biggest star, Felix Kjellberg, known to his 54 million subscribers as PewDiePie, after The Wall Street Journal reported on crude anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery in his comedy videos. He was part of YouTube’s premium advertising product called Google Preferred — a category of popular, “brand safe” videos on YouTube.

  • Trump’s Proposed Budget Would Cut Support For The Network Leading The Way In Climate Reporting

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    In 2016, PBS NewsHour once again surpassed its nightly news competitors in climate coverage, devoted significant airtime to a range of climate-related issues, and hosted a number of scientists. But President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would take aim at the network that has long been the nightly news leader in terms of climate coverage by cutting vital government support for PBS.

    Trump’s budget blueprint released last week included a proposal to completely defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), an independent agency that partially funds PBS and NPR. CPB CEO Patricia Harrison said the proposed cuts could start "the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.” 

    In addition to funding a portion of PBS’ revenue source directly, about half of CPB’s $445 million budget goes to PBS member stations that broadcast PBS NewsHour -- with stations in rural areas being especially reliant on CPB funding. In a statement to Media Matters, CPB stated, “The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect [on stations in rural America]. These stations would have to raise approximately 200 percent more in private donations to replace the federal investment.” And Variety reported, “WCTE-TV in Cookeville, Tennessee, is a prime example. ... Station manager Becky Magura told [PBS president Paula] Kerger that the station would shut down if it loses CPB funding, which amounts to about half of its operating budget. WCTE is the only TV station that directly serves the town and surrounding areas in Putnam County, population 73,245 as of 2013.”

    This loss for viewers would be a shame because, as Media Matters has documented over the years, PBS NewsHour has consistently stood apart from its nightly news counterparts in the scale and scope of its climate coverage, dating back to at least 2012, when Media Matters first identified this trend. Once again, Media Mattersannual report on broadcast networks’ climate coverage found that in 2016, PBS NewsHour far surpassed its competitors, airing more climate-related segments (46) than ABC, CBS, and NBC did combined (36) in the same year.

    PBS NewsHour also stands apart from the major networks for the content of its coverage. In 2016, it was the only show to air a segment that discussed the ramifications of a Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency on climate change before the election. The other nightly news shows, however, failed to provide any issues coverage of climate change during the campaign. PBS NewsHour also led the networks in coverage of the impacts of climate change -- on extreme weather, plants and wildlife, and the economy -- and important climate-related policies and issues, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement and UN climate summits. 

    And at a time when researchers studying climate change are under immense pressure from Trump’s anti-science administration, PBS NewsHour also interviewed the largest number of scientists among the nightly news shows and featured the most segments about climate-related scientific research.

    To cite just a few examples, PBS NewsHour invited scientists to discuss the news that 2015 was the hottest year on record and the consequences of continued global warming; the significance of the Paris climate accord; and climate change’s role in the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in Louisiana last year.

    With the nightly newscasts having significantly decreased their climate coverage in 2016, It's alarming to see the network that provides such essential coverage being threatened with funding cuts. Thankfully, there are promising signs of improvement on the broadcast evening news programs. In early 2017, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News are both on their way to far surpass their climate coverage of 2016; in February, CBS Evening News even featured a week of climate segments from Antarctica for its “Climate Diaries” series. 

    In the meantime, PBS NewsHour still remains the gold standard when it comes to climate change coverage on the nightly news shows. 

    Sign Media Matters’ petition urging Congress to oppose cuts to PBS and other sources of public broadcasting.

  • The Life Cycle Of A Donald Trump Lie

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On March 4, President Donald Trump declared himself the victim of a scandal on the level of the the Watergate crimes that brought down President Richard Nixon. In an early-morning tweetstorm apparently triggered by reading a Breitbart article, the president claimed that President Barack Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” in an October effort to influence the election.

    Over the past three weeks, Obama’s spokesperson, his director of national intelligence, the directors of the National Security Agency and FBI, Trump’s Justice Department, and the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees have all said that this isn’t true, and the claims have been widely ridiculed by the press.

    But Wednesday, after a bizarre press conference in which House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said that he had just learned that “on numerous occasions the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition” -- an effort he described as “legal” -- Trump’s conservative media allies rushed to declare that the president had been right all along.

    “President Trump vindicated on his wiretap claim,” claimed Sean Hannity, adding, “We’ve been telling you for two weeks, and the rest of the alt-left-propaganda-destroy-Trump media with egg on its face once again.” At Breitbart.com, the headline was “Nunes ‘Unmasking’ Report Vindicates Trump Claims on Surveillance.” Rush Limbaugh declared that Nunes’ remark “is what Trump meant” and that “Trump’s record remains 100 percent; the things he says generally have happened or do happen.”

    On its face, these claims make no sense.

    As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted last week, it is deceptive to suggest that this sort of “incidental collection” is evidence of Trump’s claims because “Trump claimed the surveillance was targeted at him -- and directed by Obama. Incidental collection is, by definition, incidental -- i.e. unintentional. The wiretap wouldn't be of Trump Tower; it would be of whomever was contacting Trump Tower.”

    (Trump associates’ communications could also have been legally collected as part of the FBI’s investigation into “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”)

    “It's not difficult,” Blake warned, “to see evidence of incidental collection eventually emerging and the Trump team saying, ‘See! We told you they were surveilling us!’”

    And indeed, in an interview with Time magazine conducted after the Nunes press conference and published yesterday, the president declares that Nunes’ assertion “means I’m right.”

    When the reporter noted that the incidental collection Nunes references “would not be wiretapping of you,” and thus would not support Trump’s initial statement, the president responded, “Who knows what it is? You know, why, because somebody says incidental.”

    Hours later, Trump lashed out at NBC and ABC over their “totally biased and fake news reports of the so-called Russia story.” And Spicer spent much of the press briefing later that day attacking the press for its coverage of the story.

    A pattern is emerging:

    This cycle is part of the White House’s effort to delegitimize any source of information that gets in the way of Trump’s propaganda. He appears to believe that everything he says is true, and he treats any information that confirms his biases as accurate -- any information that doesn’t is “fake news” from dishonest people.

    Trump and his team are doing everything they can to create an atmosphere of uncertainty in the which people will trust Trump over all other sources. And so they tear down the media, and the Congressional Budget Office, and federal government employees.

    But this only works if Trump is perceived as honest. And so Trump never admits that he was wrong, never acknowledges if his story has changed, claims that it is the people who say that he’s pushing falsehoods who are the real liars, and kicks up as much dust as possible around his falsehoods.

    This turns every lie he tells into a polarized argument, with him and his media allies on one side and his perceived enemies on the other. The pro-Trump team rallies his supporters to believe him over the facts. Those in the middle, who don’t follow news closely, are confused; the story they end up hearing is that there is a dispute over what the president said, not that he is a liar.

    Trump’s handling of the Time interview is instructive. The president was talking to the magazine for a cover story whose premise was that he lies all the time.  And yet, throughout the interview, Trump never gave an inch to the reporter’s suggestions that he sometimes told untruths. Instead, he claimed that he had been right all along, either because his statements had been accurate or because he had only been citing someone else’s reporting. The interview ends up reading as a debate between one person who is insisting, with increased alarm, that the other person acknowledge that the sky is blue, while the second person blithely claims that, in fact, it is green.

    During the Time interview, the president also helpfully pointed to a few of his past falsehoods that fit the cycle.

    “Thousands And Thousands” Of Americans Celebrated 9-11

    1) At a November 21, 2015, rally, Trump claimed that “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

    2) Fact-checkers and other journalists promptly debunked Trump’s claim.

    3) Right-wing media figures who support Trump assembled scraps of evidence from news reports that they claim “vindicate Trump’s claim of 9/11 Muslim celebrations.” One of these stories was a Washington Post report written by Serge Kovaleski stating that authorities “questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks.” No proof of the “thousands” Trump claimed ever materializes.

    4) Trump followed his allies and cited Kovaleski’s story on Twitter to support his initial claim, saying, “I want an apology! Many people have tweeted that I am right!” Trump was trying to move the goal posts, suggesting that his statement should be considered accurate if there was credible evidence of ANY people celebrating. Kovaleski issued a statement saying that he did not recall “anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating.”

    5) Trump mocked Kovaleski’s muscular disorder in a subsequent speech in which he claimed he had “shut a lot of people up” by citing the reporter’s article and that Kovaleski had then been compelled to lie about what he had seen. Trump has since falsely claimed that he did not know who Kovaleski was at the time and that Trump was not mocking his disability on the stump.

    Asked about the claim by Time magazine more than a year later, Trump responded, “Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.”

    “You Look At What’s Happening Last Night In Sweden.”

    1) During a February 18 rally, Trump “referred to several countries that have taken in a disproportionate number of refugees and that have recently been the target of attacks. ‘We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?’ Trump went on to refer to Paris, Nice, France, and Brussels, European cities where attacks have occurred in the past two years.” The president was apparently referencing a segment that aired on Fox News the previous night.

    2) The president was widely ridiculed by Swedish politicians who pointed out that there had been no terror attack in the country that night.

    3) A few days later, riots erupted in a Stockholm neighborhood largely populated by immigrants.

    4) Conservative media outlets respond to the riots by stating that Trump was right about Sweden, even though that event happened after Trump’s comments. Trump told Time that the “massive riot in Sweden” was “exactly what I was talking about” and claimed he was “right about that.”

    5) During the Time interview, Trump lists his comments about Sweden as one of the instances where he has been right and the media has been wrong to attack him.

  • The GOP Health Care Bill Actually Does What Conservatives Said Obamacare Would Do -- And Worse

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) scheduled the vote on the Republican health care bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), on the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Despite seven years of Republicans pledging to repeal and replace the ACA, all they’ve managed to come up with is a bill that is the manifestation of some of the worst myths and baseless critiques that right-wing media leveled against the ACA.

    The Republican Party introduced their health care bill earlier this month. The proposed legislation severely cuts Medicaid, reduces tax credits while giving a massive tax cut to the wealthy, and dramatically increases the number of uninsured Americans, effectively erasing the gains made by the ACA. While right-wing media has spent the better part of a decade demonizing the ACA, three of their biggest myths -- allegations that the ACA hurts seniors, that Democrats rammed the law through Congress, and the never-ending predictions of a “death spiral” -- are actually valid criticisms of the GOP health care law.

    The most famous right-wing media myth surrounding the ACA is the death panel -- the false allegation that the ACA created a panel of government bureaucrats that would ration health care for the elderly. PolitiFact dubbed the falsehood the “Lie of the Year” in 2009. However, right-wing media figures continued to push the myth for years. The specter of a death panel that might euthanize a grandmother fit into right-wing media’s narrative that the ACA would hurt seniors. Conservative media figures forwarded a variety of lies about how Obamacare was “sticking it to the seniors,” ranging from assertions that the ACA’s medical tax would apply to wheelchairs (it doesn’t) to false allegations that the law eviscerated Medicare by raiding its funding.

    In reality, the ACA improved senior care by reducing prescription drug costs for the elderly and extending coverage to key services. The ACA improved access to care by increasing Medicare payments for primary services and instituted crucial protections to improve the “quality and coordination of care.” The health care law also extended the solvency of Medicare by over 10 years, after which “payroll taxes and other revenue will still cover 87 percent of Medicare hospital insurance costs.”

    The AHCA, on the other hand, worsens the health care outlook for seniors. The bill loosens the age-rating protections that limit how much insurers can charge seniors, allowing them to discriminate against the elderly by charging them five times more than younger individuals. While allowing insurers to jack up premiums for the elderly, the AHCA also provides substantially less generous tax credits for purchasing health care, likely far below what would be needed to purchase comprehensive coverage. This disproportionately hurts working-class seniors. According to Vox, a 64-year-old who makes $26,500 a year will see “more than a 750 percent increase in premiums from Obamacare to the Republican bill.” As The Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk explained, “proportionally, the group of people that would see the most coverage losses under the AHCA is the population of people aged 50 and older.” And while the ACA increased Medicare’s solvency, the AHCA repeals the Medicare payroll surtax on the wealthy, which will “weaken Medicare’s financial status” by depleting its funding “three years sooner than under current law,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Essentially, despite right-wing media having pushed the image of seniors as one of Obamacare’s main victims, it is actually the Republican health law that actively worsens access to health care while increasing costs for the elderly (just ask the AARP). 

    Another anti-Obamacare talking point featured conservative media figures decrying the allegedly undemocratic process by which Congress passed the ACA, claiming that Democrats were trying to “ram it down America’s throat.” Right-wing media took then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) comment “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it” at the National Association of Counties out of context, to scandalize the health law as a secretive, closed door deal.

    Despite the rampant right-wing smears, the debate over the ACA was “one of the most transparent” in recent history, as Congress debated the legislation for over a year before it was signed into law. The full context of Pelosi’s now notorious speech reveals that her comment was about the need to have conversations about the substance of the ACA outside of the “fog of the controversy,” because negative talking points dominated the discussions of the law.

    The clear differences between the legislative processes for the ACA and the GOP health care bill lays bare right-wing media’s hypocrisy. As Politico’s Dan Diamond noted, “in 2009, Dems took 119 days between introducing [the] bill [and] taking a floor vote,” while “in 2017, [the] GOP will do it in 17 days.” The GOP has pledged to hold a vote on the bill in the House on March 23, despite the fact that the CBO has not finished scoring the substantial amendments released this week. Topher Spiro, the Center for American Progress’ Vice President for Health Policy, highlighted the hypocrisy, pointing out “Republicans *literally* have to pass the bill to find out what it does,” since it is highly likely there would be “no CBO score before the vote.” Instead of defending the democratic process they found so dear in 2009, conservative media figures portrayed the AHCA’s passage as inevitable and allowed guests to insist that the Republicans are using “regular order” to normalize the rush to pass the disastrous bill. The hypocritical treatment of these starkly contrasting legislative processes illustrates how right-wing media fealty to democratic norms only exists when it furthers their own narratives.

    The third manifestation of conservative hypocrisy on health care stems from right-wing media’s continued predictions over the last seven years about the possible collapse of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance markets into a death spiral. Conservative outlets claimed the law was in a death spiral each time premiums increased, when Aetna withdrew from the exchanges, when they alleged there weren’t enough healthy enrollees, and when some of the co-ops failed. None of these alleged death spirals were real -- in fact, the newest CBO report confirms the ACA is not collapsing and will continue to stabilize, despite claims to the contrary.

    By eliminating the individual mandate and replacing it with a much weaker “continuous coverage” requirement, the AHCA seriously risks a death spiral because it “could have the unintended consequence of discouraging healthy people from buying coverage.” Whereas the ACA’s individual mandate incentivizes purchasing insurance to avoid a penalty, under the continuous coverage requirement a healthy uninsured individual is likely to wait until they are sick to join the market, massively increasing costs. The Century Foundation outlined how the AHCA could result in a death spiral because coverage losses and cuts in financial assistance will result in few healthy enrollees. Families USA noted that the only way the AHCA creates stable markets is “by making it nearly impossible for older adults and the sick to find affordable coverage, leaving only the healthy or wealthy in the market.” While the predictions of the ACA’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, the Republican health law might actually lead to the death spiral right-wing media have long been hyping.

    The false claims right-wing media have made over time about the ACA highlight only a few of the ways in which the AHCA would devastate the American health care system. The AHCA pays for a $600 billion tax cut for the wealthy by cutting Medicaid -- the program that provides essential health care for the disabled, the elderly, and low-income communities -- by 25 percent. The newest reported proposal to eliminate the ACA’s essential health benefits package will gut access to substance abuse treatment for victims of the opioid epidemic and likely increase costs for women as insurers can drop maternity coverage. By defunding Planned Parenthood, the AHCA will deprive many low-income communities of their only safety-net health center and result in thousands of additional births per year. If the law passes -- despite the apparent cancellation of the first scheduled attempt -- the AHCA could create the apocalyptic fantasy right-wing media desperately sought to find in the ACA.

    *Image by Sarah Wasko

  • The Press Seemed Amazed By Trump’s Wiretapping Lie, But Trump Lies About Everything

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    What was the tipping point for The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page in terms of dealing with President Donald Trump’s increasingly sketchy behavior? We now know: It’s the demonstrable lie Trump told about President Barack Obama having wiretapped Trump Tower.

    Lamenting “the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods,” the Journal on Tuesday night belittled Trump for being “his own worst political enemy.”

    Claiming that “the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle,” the Journal relentlessly mocked Trump’s evidence-free wiretapping claim, using the type of biting rhetoric the page usually reserved for attacking President Barack Obama or the Clintons.

    The public undressing represents a clear demarcation line that has extended throughout the Beltway media in recent weeks, as pundits and reporters have drilled down deep on the wiretapping lie and demanded answers, day after day. With none forthcoming, Trump’s team continues to be battered by the story. Even more bizarre, the White House stubbornly refuses to move off its scripted talking points about there being imaginary evidence of the nonexistent Obama-driven wiretapping scheme.

    For a presidency that has been defined by falsehoods, it’s the wiretapping lie that seems to be causing the most damage for Trump, mostly because the press remains keenly focused on it.

    That hyper focus only intensified yesterday after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) took the extraordinary step of going to the White House to brief Trump on an investigation before discussing the information with ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Trump and his media loyalists immediately insisted that Nunes’ vague claims of incidental intelligence gathering involving officials on the Trump transition team bolstered the president’s wiretapping claim against Obama. But it does no such thing. (Nunes himself "reiterated" that he "had no evidence of" Trump's wiretapping claim, according to Politico.) All of which means Trump’s still stuck pushing a signature, hollow allegation.

    Here's the key: The kind of focus on the White House’s wiretapping charade should be extended to the rest of the Trump’s fabrications. Trump lies about everything. And Trump’s surrogates lie about everything. So if journalists are going to relentlessly call out the White House for its wiretapping smear -- and they definitely should -- they ought to be equally aggressive in calling out all of Trump’s casual deceits, which now tumble out on a daily basis. (In a new interview with Time about falsehoods, Trump laced his comments with at least 14 falsehoods.)

    In other words, the press is giving Trump a hard time about the Obama wiretap lie, but the media is still too slow and timid about calling out Trump's often more substantial, policy-based lies.

    What journalists continue to struggle with is the obvious realization that not only does Trump lie constantly, but that he doesn’t care that people know it. Trump doesn’t care when his claims are swiftly fact-checked. It gives him no pause. And that represents the burgeoning challenge the press faces in covering the Trump White House, based on its almost chronic attempts to fabricate information, followed by no expression of remorse for the wild dissembling.

    Ten days into Trump’s term, I cautioned that journalists shouldn’t believe anything the White House tells them – ever. And that journalists needed to rip up the old rules in covering this new president, simply because we’ve never had a White House staffed with so many dishonest people embracing so many “alternative facts.”

    Note this exchange from MSNBC on Monday night, as Politico’s Michael Crowley and MSNBC’s Katy Tur analyzed that day’s hearing in the House Intelligence Committee on ties between Russia and Trump, as well as the hollow allegation of Obama wiretapping:

    MICHAEL CROWLEY: Over and over again, Sean Spicer and people around Trump are just making these implausible assertions about the scale of this story. And if they would just give a little ground they would have so much more credibility. If they would take the underlying issue seriously, if they would speak accurately and honestly about the players and the factors involved. But when you get this kind of wild overcompensation you have to ask, what are you afraid of? And what are you hiding? It’s just very strange and it begs more questions.

    KATY TUR: Or are you working on behalf of a president who is so erratic that you don’t know where solid ground is.

    All of that is accurate. But here’s the thing: That critique applies to virtually every topic that the White House tackles. “He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before,” wrote David Leonhardt of The New York Times this week.

    And that really needs to be the prism through which journalists view the president. They need push past the idea that it’s mean or “biased” to call Trump a liar. Just like when the White House unveiled its extremist budget proposal last week. If Trump is going to advocate radical positions, then journalists shouldn’t shy away from detailing his radical positions.

    The same is true for Trump’s lies. His bizarre one about Obama committing a felony in order to listen in on Trump’s phone calls has caught the media’s imagination. But all of Trump’s bogus claims should be highlighted and ridiculed. Yes, Trump rolls out endless falsehoods, and there's a suspicion that he does so on purpose so the press can't keep up. But they have to. It's now a paramount responsibility.

    Whether the lies are about the travel ban, crime statistics, Obama’s birthplace, Jersey City Muslims on 9/11, the unemployment rate, Mexico paying for the border wall, health care for “everybody,” the U.S. murder rate, IRS audits, news coverage of terror attacks, the Electoral College, or voter fraud.

    The press should apply the same relentless attention and detail to those lies as that it has to Trump’s wiretapping lie.