Rep. Maxine Waters: “Don’t Allow These Right-Wing Talking Heads, These Dishonorable People To Intimidate You Or Scare You”
Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
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Broadcast and cable news coverage of ruinous economic policies rolled out by the White House last week was overwhelmed by the president’s false accusation that his predecessor illegally wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election.
On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that up to 24 million Americans would lose access to health insurance over the next 10 years if the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare goes into effect. On that same day, the Trump administration unveiled an overlooked executive order that encourages cabinet secretaries and agency directors to create a plan to completely reshape a federal bureaucracy of over 2.8 million employees. And on March 16, the Trump administration unveiled its budget outline for the 2018 fiscal year, featuring proposed “massive cuts” to nondefense spending. The proposed cuts, which would offset an increase in spending on military programs and a border wall, would hit almost every facet of the federal government, but they would come down particularly hard on funding for small programs including Meals on Wheels, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS.
Yet according to Media Matters research, from March 13 to 17, President Donald Trump’s false wiretap claim dominated TV news coverage, overshadowing discussion of these important policy moves. While Trump’s lie certainly merits extensive media coverage, it’s also crucial to share details of his policymaking with the public.
Trump ignited a media firestorm in early March when he repeatedly accused former President Barack Obama of illegally wiretapping him in the midst of last year's election. Right-wing media, led by Fox News, sprang to his defense even though the president offered no evidence to support his claim. Meanwhile, legitimate reporters exposed the bizarre accusation’s source as “the right-wing fever swamps” of fringe media and reported that it was pushed by a Russian state-sponsored news network. During March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey put Trump’s wiretapping lie to rest, telling the committee, “I have no information that supports those tweets.”
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Yet nearly two weeks after Trump initially made the claim, his smear of Obama still had such an influence on television news coverage that it overshadowed every other discussion about Trump’s policy agenda last week. Media Matters identified 226 segments from March 13 through 17 that focused on Trump during evening programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. Of those segments, 64 focused on Trump’s wiretapping allegations -- a figure that dwarfed every other major issue Media Matters identified. Coverage of Trump’s health care plan came in a distant second place, with 37 segments, and stories related to the portion of Trump’s 2005 tax returns obtained by Rachel Maddow ranked third (26 segments). Trump’s proposed budget outline was discussed in just 14 segments, and his executive order to reshape the federal workforce registered just four mentions.
With television news forced to dissect and debunk Trump’s outrageous claims, coverage of pressing economic issues was eclipsed. Coverage of the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- which health care experts have said would be particularly harmful to low-income Americans, seniors, and people dealing with illnesses -- could not overtake that of Trump’s wiretapping tweet, even with the Trump administration attempting to smear the CBO numbers in the press. The executive order, which was described by CNN reporter Stephen Collinson as part of Trump’s larger goal to “dismember government one dollar at a time,” barely registered in news coverage at all. And Trump’s budget cuts, which would decimate social safety net programs, were discussed 14 times during evening news coverage on March 16 and 17, while Trump’s lie about wiretapping was discussed 35 times on those two days.
Trump’s promotion of a discredited lie accusing his predecessor of illegal conduct while in office merits extensive media coverage, but the policies he has enacted or plans to enact can be just as destructive as the misinformation he spreads. Media cannot afford to let Trump's misleading claims dominate the news cycle, drowning out crucial coverage of the pain his policies may cause the United States.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening news programming (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as the major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, from March 13, 2017, through March 17, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Trump or executive order or federal government or federal employ! or federal worker or federal workers or civil service or government workers or government worker or federal government or budget.
The following programs were included in the data: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS' Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS' NewsHour, as well as CNN's The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News' Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity, and MSNBC's For The Record, Hardball, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval. This survey includes CNN’s second live hour of Anderson Cooper 360 during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot.
For this study, Media Matters included only those segments that contained substantial discussions of Donald Trump. We defined a "substantial discussion" as any segment where a host dedicates a monologue, or portion of a monologue, to Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States, or any segment where two or more guests discuss Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted when they first aired in the 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. survey window.
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Women accounted for just one-quarter of total guests discussing foreign affairs and national security in 2016 during prime-time programming on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and on the five major Sunday political talk shows. This stark disparity between women and men is actually a slight improvement over previously established trends for 2015 and 2014, but more work remains to be done to better include perspectives from women.
Representation Of Economists Remained High In Fourth Quarter As Surprising Election Result Forced Outlets To Scramble For Explanations
The final quarter of 2016 saw an increase in cable and broadcast news coverage of the economy from the prior three-month period. Yet the proportion of economic coverage that focused on economic inequality decreased sharply as attacks on progressive economic policies rose. Fox News led the charge in attacking progressive policies and health care reform throughout the fourth quarter of the year, while the leading defender of progressive initiatives, MSNBC, aired most of its economic coverage after Election Day. The relative proportion of economists booked as guests during economic news segments remained higher than in years past but dropped as a percentage from the third to fourth quarters of 2016. The proportional representation of women in cable and broadcast evening news discussions of the economy reached a record, but dispiriting, high in the fourth quarter at a mere 30 percent of all guests.
Talking Heads Drown Out Personal Stories Of Americans Threatened By Obamacare Repeal
Cable news outlets dedicated considerable attention to the “Resistance Recess” that swept through congressional town hall meetings over the past week, as tens of thousands of Americans voiced their fear and disapproval of Republican plans to dismantle health care reform, among other issues. Yet evening and prime-time coverage of the grass-roots groundswell largely failed to include perspectives from those attendees opposed to efforts to roll back reforms.
The week of February 18-26 marked the first congressional recess period of 2017 and created an ideal opportunity for American voters concerned with the trajectory of their government to directly petition elected officials face to face. Americans capitalized on this opportunity by flooding in-district town hall events across the country demanding that representatives on both sides of the aisle stand up to President Trump’s radical agenda. Among attendees’ demands was that elected officials present viable solutions to further the cause of health care reform beyond merely “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Cable news outlets used the town hall turmoil as the basis for 53 evening and prime-time news segments from the start of the recess period through February 27 discussing how the demonstrations might affect the future of health care reform in the United States. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these discussions failed to include input from people voicing disapproval with Republican plans to repeal or significantly alter the ACA at those town halls. Media Matters identified 88 guests during evening and prime-time cable programming related to the town halls -- mostly reporters and political pundits. Only three of the 88 guests were town hall attendees affected by the outcome of this health care debate.
The February 27 edition of MSNBC’s All In did feature an impassioned interview with cancer survivor and Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, who, though not identified as a town hall participant, outlined how the ACA granted her access to what would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive life-saving treatments. All three of the actual town hall attendees were featured in two segments aired during the February 22 edition of MSNBC’s For the Record, which featured constituents who attended town halls hosted by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). In the first segment, an Arkansas constituent named Suzie Bell, who co-founded a rural free health clinic, questioned why Cotton wanted to restrict access for the patients she serves. In the next segment, Louisiana constituents Laura Kelley and Shawon Bernard expressed the collective “frustration” of fellow attendees about a laundry list of issues, including the future of the ACA:
MSNBC featured the most guests (46) and the most segments (29) focused on the town halls, but only two segments featured the three aforementioned town hall attendees. CNN featured 30 guests across 18 segments, but no town hall attendees in prime-time. Fox News lagged far behind the competition, featuring just 12 guests during 6 segments discussing the town hall protests and also failed to include any attendees.
CNN's failure to book any town hall attendees during evening or prime-time slots is particularly perplexing given that the network did interview town hall attendees outside of the influential prime-time window. On the February 22 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Brooke Baldwin interviewed Rose Perkins, whose dressing down of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at a town hall the day before had already become a viral sensation. Meanwhile, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon interviewed Kati McFarland, a young woman who credits the ACA with keeping her alive despite her chronic, life-threatening illness and whose heartfelt plea to Cotton created an uproar. But the piece didn’t air until 12:19 a.m. on Saturday, February 25. (McFarland was also interviewed by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi during daytime programming on February 23.)
The nationwide coalition of demonstrators, which progressive groups like MoveOn.org have dubbed the “Resistance Recess,” found many Republican members of Congress unprepared to face tough questions. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that many constituents stand to lose their health insurance or see their premiums soar if Trump and the GOP succeed in gutting the ACA. Rather than simply reporting on the abstract optics of these demonstrations, media outlets need to focus on the human beings who dedicated their time to safeguard legislation that benefits millions of Americans every day.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis and SnapStream search of transcripts of cable evening and prime-time (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from February 18 through February 27, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: affordable care act or aca or obamacare or healthcare or health care or protester or demonstrator or townhall or town hall.
The following programs were included in the data: The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, Hardball, For the Record, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
After Roger Stone was banned from appearing on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN for nearly a year because of his wildly unreliable claims and offensive behavior, NBC News appeared to reverse its decision, hosting the former adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign for two appearances, one on MSNBC and one on NBC, despite his pattern of spouting bigotry and lies and pushing conspiracy theories.
On February 16, NBC’s morning show, Today, hosted Stone to discuss renewed allegations that Trump aides, including Stone himself, had regular contact with Russian officials during the campaign. Stone is a racist, misogynist conspiracy theorist who is reportedly being investigated by the FBI for possible illegal dealings with Russia.
Stone's disreputable past and history of making false claims (such as his conspiracy theories that the Clintons are “plausibly responsible” for the deaths of about 40 people, the Bush family “tried to kill” Ronald Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy) were not mentioned in the Today interview. Nor were his January suggestions that former CIA Director John Brennan is a "Saudi mole" and that he has proved that Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) father "was working side by side with Lee Harvey Oswald" as a CIA operative.
Instead, Stone “categorically, positively, … absolutely” denied the allegations of his collusion with Russian officials on behalf of Trump to co-hosts Matt Lauer and Hallie Jackson. Later in the day during a rambling press conference, Trump referenced Stone's denials to attack "the failing New York Times."
Since the allegations were first reported by The New York Times on January 19, Stone has gone on the Russian-owned RT to defend Russian officials from allegations that they were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) ("The entire notion that the Russians hacked this election and did so in order to affect the result is a falsehood, is a canard"), and appeared on the show of fellow conspiracy theorist and Trump supporter Alex Jones to attack the role of Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff as "an enormous mistake."
Stone is also currently promoting a new book about the Trump campaign. His previous books, columns, and research have been widely dismissed as “discredited,” “Pants on Fire” false, and/or plagiarized.
Stone had previously claimed that he was in communication with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and had tweeted that it would be Hillary Clinton’s then-campaign chairman John Podesta’s “time in the barrel” shortly before the release of his hacked emails, a pattern of leaks that was repeatedly associated with Russian intelligence efforts.
The night before Stone appeared on Today, MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes also hosted him. Hayes noted that Stone had been banned from the network “because of numerous incredibly offensive, bigoted, and objectionable tweets,” but that he was interviewing Stone because he was “once again in the middle of the news” -- a reference to the fact that Trump’s inner circle has been implicated in the investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Shortly after the MSNBC interview aired, Stone took to Twitter to call CNN's Ana Navarro a "stupid bitch" for her comments on former national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn's recent resignation, which occurred after it was revealed that Flynn possibly lied about contacts he had with Russian officials in the transition to the Trump presidency.
Stone previously attacked numerous NBC personalities with racist and vile taunts. He tweeted that MSNBC host Al Sharpton is a "professional negro" who ate fried chicken, NBC's Tom Brokaw is "senile," and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is "Rachel the muff-diver." Stone also wrote that former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly -- now with NBC -- has a "nice set of cans.” He twice offered a cash reward to anyone who "punches out" MSNBC host Chris Matthews. Stone later deleted most of those tweets.
Trump’s Executive Order Reinstated The Gag Rule And Quietly Expanded Its Scope -- CNN And Fox News Didn’t Report The Consequences
On January 23, President Donald Trump issued an executive order reinstating and secretly expanding the scope of the global gag rule, an anti-choice restriction banning the U.S. from providing foreign aid to nongovernmental organizations that privately fund or promote abortion care. A Media Matters study found that in a week of evening coverage on the three major cable news networks, only MSNBC reported on the disastrous consequences of Trump’s reinstatement and unprecedented expansion of the global gag rule.
In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.
After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.
Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.
Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”
In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”
And Trump wasn’t alone.
Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)
Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.
Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.
Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).
CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).
On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.
The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.
USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.
As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”
Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”
The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:
I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.
The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”
Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).
Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.
For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.
We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.
For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”
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When President-elect Donald Trump made seemingly open-minded remarks about climate change during a November 22 meeting with staff of The New York Times, it set off a wave of television coverage about how Trump had supposedly “reversed course” on climate change. But few of these reports addressed any of the substantive reasons that is highly unlikely, such as his transition team’s plan to abandon the Obama administration’s landmark climate policy, indications that he will dismantle NASA’s climate research program, and his appointment of fossil fuel industry allies as transition team advisers -- not to mention the full context of Trump’s remarks to the Times.
In his interview with reporters, editors and opinion columnists from the Times, Trump contradicted his long-held stance that climate change is a “hoax” by stating that he thinks “there is some connectivity” between human activities and climate change (although even that statement doesn’t fully reflect the consensus view of climate scientists that human activities are the “dominant cause” of global warming). Trump also declined to reaffirm his earlier statements that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the international climate agreement reached in Paris last year, instead saying that he has an “open mind” about how he will approach the Paris agreement.
But there are many reasons to take these comments with a grain of salt. For one, Trump has given no indication that he will preserve the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement. To the contrary, The Associated Press reported that internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan and other recent Obama-era environmental regulations that have been the subject of long-running legal challenges filed by Republican-led states and the fossil fuel industry.” Moreover, a senior Trump space policy adviser recently indicated that the Trump administration plans to eliminate NASA’s climate change research program, a move that would likely be accompanied by significant funding cuts to climate research.
Additionally, Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate science denier from the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead his EPA transition team, and two other close allies of the fossil fuel industry, Kathleen Hartnett White and Scott Pruitt, are reportedly Trump’s leading contenders to run the EPA. Trump also named Thomas Pyle, president of the fossil fuel-funded American Energy Alliance, to head his Energy Department transition team. According to The Washington Post, “Hartnett-White, Pyle and Ebell have all expressed doubt about climate change and have criticized the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”
Then there are Trump’s Times comments themselves, which have been “wildly misinterpreted” in the media, as Grist’s Rebecca Leber has explained. In addition to saying there is “some connectivity” between human activities and climate change, Trump said during the Times interview that there are “a lot of smart people” on the “other side” of the issue, and added: “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views.” Trump also appeared to reference the thoroughly debunked “Climategate” scandal about emails among climate scientists at a U.K. university, stating, “They say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists.”
Nonetheless, Trump’s two seemingly climate-friendly remarks to the Times -- that he has an “open mind” about the Paris climate agreement and that humans play some role in climate change -- generated a tremendous amount of uncritical television coverage:
Trump’s climate remarks also received wall-to-wall coverage on cable news, although unlike the broadcast networks’ reports, several of the cable segments did feature pushback on the notion that Trump had actually changed his position on the issue.
Trump’s climate comments were uncritically covered on several CNN programs, including New Day, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. And on the November 27 edition of Inside Politics, host John King and senior political reporter Manu Raju agreed that Trump’s climate remarks were a “big deal.” Some of these programs included speculation about whether Trump truly meant what he said to the Times or whether it was a negotiating ploy, but none mentioned any specific steps Trump has taken since the election that undermine claims that he has reversed course on climate change.
By contrast, several other CNN programs included pushback on the notion that Trump had “softened” or “reversed” his position on climate change. For instance, on the November 23 edition of Erin Burnett Outfront, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein cited Trump’s plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan as evidence that although Trump is “signaling a different tone” on climate change, “when you get into the guts of the policy, he is going in the same direction”:
Similarly, in an interview with NextGen Climate founder Tom Steyer on the November 27 edition of Fareed Zakaria GPS, host Zakaria noted that despite his comments to the Times, Trump “still has a leading climate change denier [Myron Ebell] as the head of his EPA transition, [and] his actions and contradictory words have climate change activists concerned.” Zakaria added that Trump “does say he's going to reverse a lot of these executive actions that Obama has taken, whether it's on coal-fired plants or vehicle emissions.”
A couple of CNN guests also challenged the premise that Trump had shifted his stance on climate change. On the November 22 edition of CNN’s Wolf, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said of Trump’s climate remarks to the Times, “The real test is who is he appointing and what will his policies be.” And on the November 23 edition of CNN’s At This Hour, Michael Needham of Heritage Action for America (the sister organization of the fossil fuel industry-funded Heritage Foundation), pointed to other remarks Trump made to the Times in order to dispute the idea that Trump had accepted that climate change is “settled science.” Needham stated:
I read the actual transcript of this thing. If you look at what [Trump] says on climate change, it's pretty much what we would have said at Heritage. He said there are questions that need to be looked at, there's research on both sides of the issue, this is not settled science the way some people on the left want to say.
Finally, all of the prime-time MSNBC shows that featured substantial discussions of Trump’s climate remarks included proper context. For instance, on the December 2 edition of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Hayes explained that incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had “clarif[ied]” that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is “that most of it is a bunch of bunk.” Hayes also explained that a senior Trump adviser had indicated that “NASA would be limited to exploring other planets rather than providing satellite information and data about what’s happening on the only planet we currently inhabit”:
Similarly, on the November 30 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews aired a clip of Priebus confirming that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is that “most of it is a bunch of bunk.” And on the November 22 edition of MTP Daily, guest host Andrea Mitchell pointed out that Trump “appointed somebody from a very conservative, climate-denying, Koch-sponsored organization, policy institute, to lead the transition on energy and climate issues,” although Mitchell nonetheless maintained that Trump’s statement that he is now open to the Paris climate agreement was “a very big signal internationally.”
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MSNBC Only Outlet To Vet Ryan's Scheme To Gut The Social Safety Net
Weekday evening programming on the largest cable and broadcast news outlets almost completely ignored a long-standing Medicare privatization scheme favored by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the days since he first resurrected the idea of radically reshaping the American health care system toward for-profit interests.
During a November 10 interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ryan misleadingly claimed that due to mounting “fiscal pressures” created by the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress would be forced to engage with what Baier called “entitlement reform” sometime next year. Ryan falsely claimed that “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke” and that the popular health insurance system for American seniors will have to be changed as part of any legislation to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s health care reform legacy. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from November 10 to November 27, Ryan’s plan to privatize the nationwide, single-payer health care coverage currently enjoyed by millions of seniors has gone unmentioned on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. Ryan’s so-called “premium support” plan was briefly mentioned on the November 22 edition of PBS NewsHour when co-host Judy Woodruff pressed President-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as to whether Trump would accept Ryan’s privatization proposal. By comparison, during the same time period, MSNBC ran six prime-time segments exposing Ryan’s privatization agenda:
According to a July 19 issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue “a proposal to gradually transform Medicare into a system of premium supports, building on proposals” adopted by Ryan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. These so-called “premium supports” would provide each Medicare beneficiary with a “voucher” that can be used for the purchase of private health insurance; they represent “a significant change from the current system” that pays health care providers directly for services rendered.
In essence, Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and redirect hundreds of billions of tax dollars that currently go to doctors, hospitals, and other medical service providers through the costly private health insurance market.
This startling scheme bears similarities to a failed 2005 attempt by the Bush administration to partially privatize Social Security. Democratic members of Congress are already aligning themselves against Ryan’s throwback plan to gut Medicare, and it’s not actually clear if Trump is supportive of the initiative, which he refused to fully endorse on the campaign trail.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out last July, claims that Medicare is “nearing ‘bankruptcy’ are highly misleading,” and Ryan’s specific charge that Medicare is “broke” because of the ACA is completely wrong. President Obama’s health care reform law greatly improved Medicare’s long-term finances and extended the hospital insurance trust fund’s solvency by 11 years.
The looming fight over the future of Medicare, which serves over 55 million beneficiaries and accounted for 15 percent of the entire federal budget in 2015, has been well-documented, but it has garnered almost no attention on major television news programs.
Millions of Americans who rely on broadcast and cable evening news are completely unaware of the stakes in this health care policy fight. They are also unaware that Ryan’s privatization scheme would leave millions of retirees at the whims of the same private insurance market that right-wing media are currently attacking because of increased rates.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from November 10, 2016, through November 27, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any mention of “Medicare.”