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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.
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 Matters’ annual 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.
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, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial -- the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.
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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Evening News Programs On Cable And Broadcast News Rarely Cover Escalating Drug Prices
A Media Matters review of weekday evening news coverage on cable and broadcast networks since December reveals that the evening programs largely ignored the problem of escalating prescription drug prices in the United States, even though lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed to address the issue.
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.
The hosts of multiple morning news shows allowed the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, to push falsehoods in his public sales pitch about the newly unveiled Republican health care plan, which would wreak havoc on health care, particularly harming low-income people and women.
During the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency, broadcast evening news shows and Sunday political talk shows devoted a total of just over 10 minutes to discussing the allegation that Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by receiving foreign government payments. The scant reporting that did address this issue failed to mention that such conduct is an impeachable offense.
Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, known as the Emoluments Clause, creates a broad prohibition on federal officeholders, including the president, receiving payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. It reads: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
The provision is much broader than a ban on receiving bribes. According to legal experts, even “fair market value transactions that result in any economic profit or benefit” count as an emolument, because the Founding Fathers wanted a “prophylactic” rule aimed at preventing even the appearance of corruption.
A president’s violation of the clause is an impeachable offense.
According to legal experts, Trump’s retention of an ownership interest in the Trump Organization as president means that he has been violating the Constitution since the moment he took the oath of office. Indeed, just two days after the inauguration, the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit in federal court “to stop President Trump from violating the Constitution.” A press release about the suit notes that the president “is now getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals abroad.” (Other presidents have avoided violating the clause by placing their assets into an independently controlled blind trust, something Trump has refused to do.)
In what should serve as a prompt for investigative journalists, the exact nature of the emoluments Trump has received is unclear in many instances due to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. As Emoluments Clause expert Zephyr Teachout, an associate law professor who is a lawyer on CREW’s lawsuit, explained in The Washington Post, while some emoluments Trump is receiving are known -- including rent paid by the Qatari state airline at a Trump property, licensing fees paid by several foreign countries for rights to the TV show The Apprentice, and construction permits granted by the Indian government -- the full extent of his violations is unknown because “Trump hasn’t disclosed any information about his finances.”
In spite of Trump’s secretive business dealings, two concrete new violations emerged during the first month of his presidency.
According to a February 9 report from Politico, “A lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia paid for a room at Donald Trump’s Washington hotel after Inauguration Day, marking the first publicly known payment on behalf of a foreign government to a Trump property since he became president.” The article notes that the payment “raises questions about whether it represents a violation of the foreign emoluments clause.”
Politico quoted Obama ethics attorney Norm Eisen, who described the payment as part of a “systemic problem,” and constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe, who said, “This example is bound to be one of a vast stream of instances.” Both Tribe and Eisen are lawyers on CREW’s lawsuit.
Then The Associated Press reported on February 14 that Trump was set to score an “unlikely” legal win in China by way of a “trademark for building construction services” following “a decade of grinding battle in China's courts.” According to the report, the legal victory “could signal a shift in fortune for the U.S. president's intellectual property in China. At stake are 49 pending trademark applications -- all made during his campaign -- and 77 marks already registered in his name, most of which will come up for renewal during his term.” (China announced the trademark two days after AP’s article.)
As the AP report aptly noted, “Trump's foreign trademarks have raised red flags with ethics lawyers across the political spectrum who say they present grave conflicts of interest and may violate the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.” (Indeed, a post at the libertarian Volokh Conspiracy blog concluded that the trademark grant qualifies as an emolument received by Trump.)
The nation’s leading news programs have insufficiently covered a story about a president openly taking actions that not only violate the Constitution but also are grounds for impeachment.
CBS Evening News, ABC World News Tonight, and NBC Nightly News have each devoted a single segment to foreign payments to Trump.
A January 20 CBS Evening News segment didn’t mention the Emoluments Clause explicitly, but it included an interview with George Washington University law school professor Steven Schooner, who explained how Trump can profit from foreign governments via the Trump Organization.
ABC World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News each devoted brief segments on January 23 to CREW’s lawsuit.
In total, the issue was covered for just over seven minutes on broadcast nightly news between January 20 and February 20. None of the segments mentioned violating the Emoluments Clause is an impeachable offense:
Sunday political talk shows provided even less coverage. During the January 22 broadcast of ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos directly asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) about Trump and the Emoluments Clause. During the January 29 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked White House chief of staff Reince Priebus why Muslim-majority countries with business ties to Trump were left out of Trump’s travel ban, although the Emoluments Clause was never directly cited. CBS’ Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union all failed to discuss the issue.
Sunday show coverage of the issue totaled just under four minutes, with no discussion of how the offense is grounds for impeachment:
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN for "emoluments," "emolument," "Trump Organization," "Trump Hotel," Trump w/10 “trump international hotel,” Trump w/10 impeach, Trump w/10 constitution, Trump w/10 "conflict of interest," Trump w/10 conflicted, Trump w/10 payment, Trump w/10 “foreign payment,” and Trump w/10 divest. We identified segments that mentioned foreign payments to Trump in the context of conflict-of-interest questions and/or the Emoluments Clause directly, and then counted those segments for time in iQ media.
Graphics by Sarah Wasko.
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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.
After President Donald Trump gave a speech to joint members of Congress filled with exaggerations, lies, and policy plans that contained no specifics -- and in many cases were based on propagating fear about and demonizing immigrants -- the takeaway from pundits and talking heads was somehow that he sounded “presidential.”
That's how low the bar has been set. So low that because the president sounded like an adult for an hour and refrained from transparently attacking people of color, allies, or the press, media figures forgot the glaring abnormalities of Trump’s presidency thus far. To some in the media, the speech was a “reset” for the new president.
As soon as he finished speaking, the accolades from pundits began to roll in. Fox’s Chris Wallace said, “I feel like tonight, Donald Trump became the president of the United States.” ABC’s Alex Castellanos similarly said Trump “became president tonight. I think we saw the long-awaited pivot.” MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki claimed that Trump had “a more presidential tone, a more optimistic tone,” and Fox’s Chris Stirewalt said Trump “did sound like the president, look like the president, act like the president.” They weren’t the only ones.
Essentially, the media set the bar so low for the speech that when Trump, the president of the United States, sounded like the president of the United States, it was lauded as a victory.
Not only was that an absurd measure, but the praise delivered by pundits across the broadcast and cable news stations, for the most part, entirely lacked context. One prominent example of this failure was the reaction to Trump’s comments about a slain Navy SEAL officer, William “Ryan” Owens. During his speech, Trump acknowledged Owens’ widow and said that “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.” That portion of the speech was cited by many as a highlight and an “extraordinary moment”:
CNN’s Van Jones: “He became president of the United States in that moment, period.”
Politico’s John Bresnahan: “That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta: “Powerful moment.”
But there’s a lot more to this story. As NBC’s Katy Tur properly noted, while it was an emotional moment in the speech, it “came after Trump seemed to blame his generals/Obama for Owen’s death” just that morning, and after NBC reported that “senior intelligence sources dispute” the White House’s “characterization of [the] raid as a success.” As Tur pointed out, NBC’s reporting “would mean that Trump isn’t being honest with a grieving wife. And that is anything BUT presidential.”
The praise also ignored the actual content of Trump’s address. Those lauding the speech as “normal” ignored what was extraordinarily abnormal about it of it. As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker noted, “President Trump’s maiden address to Congress was notable because it was filled with numerous inaccuracies.” And while large parts of the speech simply featured Trump touting what he’s done so far as president, not much about those actions is normal either. According to a New York Times analysis, most of the significant actions and events in Trump’s presidency thus far have been “abnormal.”
Those praising parts of the speech also seemed unable to acknowledge the startling differences between the Trump who gave that speech and the Trump from just that morning. Some examples:
These remarks, particularly on immigration, served a clear purpose that the fawning punditry seemed to miss. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, talking to a “senior White House official,” reported that the aide said the speech was aimed to be “‘nationalism with an indoor voice,’” and that Trump “backed off exactly none of his previous policies.”
Perhaps because Trump’s speech didn’t indicate any real change in policy, the high praise from the press has apparently even caught some of his aides off guard. According to The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, even “some sources in [the White House] are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech,” noting that “Trump has not changed,” and there is “no big shift in policy coming."
Some sources in WH are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech. Say Trump has not changed, no big shift in policy coming.
— Robert Costa (@costareports) March 1, 2017
It’s not the first time the media has fallen for this ruse. Over the past year, media figures have repeatedly either predicted that Trump would finally start acting more respectable or claimed that it had already happened -- that he had finally pivoted. Yet time and time again Trump has reverted back to his usual style, leaving the media the Charlie Brown to Trump’s football-wielding Lucy.
So yes, Trump may have sounded more like a president than we expected. But a normal-sounding speech isn’t nearly enough to erase the first month of his presidency, which was distinguished by abnormal -- and extremely problematic -- actions, attacks, and rhetoric. With promises of worse to come, it’s crucial that media stop setting the bar so low and start demanding more.
Fox News’ 14 Seconds Of Coverage Continues Its Pattern Of Dismissing Hate Crimes Against People Of Color
Broadcast and cable news largely ignored the February 22 shooting of two Indian immigrants in Kansas in which the suspected attacker told the victims to “get out of my country,” devoting mere minutes to the attack. Fox News’ virtual failure to cover the attack fits into the network's larger pattern of severely downplaying hate crimes aimed at people of color.