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CHARTS: Nearly 70 Percent of Fox Climate Pundits Doubt Global Warming

| Thu Oct. 10, 2013 10:59 AM EDT
Fox News on the morning of September 27, 2013, covering the new IPPC report on climate change.

Following last month's release of the biggest study in climate science—the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report—there have been many rumblings about skewed, misleading media coverage. But we didn't have any data breaking down the press's performance on the most important climate story in years…until now.

Media Matters has a new content analysis of coverage of the report's release by major newspapers (the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times), networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC), and online and wire services (Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg News). The period analyzed was from the beginning of August through the end of the September, since the report was leaked and much coverage occurred prior to its official release date of September 27.

So what did Media Matters find? The picture isn't entirely bleak, but it contains plenty to be troubled about. Most notably:

Fox overrepresented climate skeptics by a factor of 23, compared with how they are represented in scientific publications. At the extreme of doubt-mongering was Fox News, whose reporting has previously been shown to sow feelings of distrust toward scientists. Sixty-nine percent of Fox's guests discussing the IPCC report raised doubts about climate science, according to Media Matters' analysis. This despite the fact that the global warming consensus is embraced by 97 percent of scientists publishing on climate change in peer-reviewed journals.

In other words, you might say that Fox coverage overrepresented skeptics by a factor of 23, compared with how they are represented in the scientific literature.

Climate "doubters" dominated Fox News coverage of the IPCC report.
Climate "doubters" dominated Fox News coverage of the IPCC report. Media Matters

Notably, this percentage is higher than in a previous study by American University's Lauren Feldman and her coauthors, which found that 46 percent of Fox guests were climate science doubters during the period from 2007-08. Perhaps Fox has grown even more skeptical since then; or perhaps there was a burst of skepticism associated with the new IPCC report in particular.

The press discussed the misleading global warming "pause" extensively. No other media outlet examined in the study was as doubt-centered as Fox. And yet, there are reasons to worry about the tenor of the coverage overall.

According to Media Matters, 41 percent* of overall news coverage of the IPCC report, and 49 percent of newspaper coverage, contained a discussion of the idea that the planet has not warmed in the last 15 years or so. That's no crime in and of itself: It really depends on how these outlets covered this issue of the global warming "pause," which has been blown out of proportion by climate skeptics but was also lent credence in a leaked draft of the IPCC report itself. For instance, was it adequately contextualized by noting that a small recent decrease in the rate of warming of late does not undermine climate concerns? And did journalists note that many of those citing the "pause" rely on selective use of statistics, such as starting their analysis with the year 1998, a record warming year?

Media Matters found that "many" of the outlets that brought up the pause did explain that it doesn't mean global warming has gone away. But such a high percentage of mentions certainly suggests that the "pause" has become a meme. Overall, that's a bad thing, because the meme has been widely used to cast doubt on the urgency of dealing with climate change. For more detail on how the media created the "pause" (with scientists' help), see here. And for a thorough rebuttal, see here.

"Pause" coverage
Media outlets and their coverage of an alleged "pause" in global warming.* Media Matters

CBS News also veered towards doubt-mongering coverage. Among other publications analyzed, Media Matters found significant issues with CBS News. It did a misleading segment on the "pause" on September 26, which started off with this opener by journalist Mark Phillips: "Another inconvenient truth has emerged on the way to the apocalypse. The new UN report on climate change is expected to blame man-made greenhouse gases more than ever for global warming. But there's a problem. The global atmosphere hasn't been warming lately." (We discussed this CBS report here.)

Praise, as well as blame. There were plenty of media outlets that did a good job, too. As you can see above, ABC, MSNBC, and NBC* didn't cover the "pause" at all. Meanwhile, Media Matters also found that the New York Times, Reuters, the Associated Press, and USA Today avoided quoting climate skeptics; not every media outlet felt a misguided desire to achieve "balance."

What's the big picture here?

Overall, the body of coverage couldn't be called terrible. Yet the Media Matters report shows that climate skeptics still get plenty of air time, and one of their top talking points, the "pause," filtered deeply into press coverage.

As a result, we can infer that the press, overall, sowed a great deal of doubt about climate science in the past two months. Scientists and journalists alike have some reckoning to do.

For the full study from Media Matters, titled "Media Sowed Doubt in Coverage of UN Climate Report," see here.

* Update: Media Matters' study originally reported that CNN had not covered the alleged global warming "pause," a finding we cited in this article. Media Matters subsequently corrected its study to include additional CNN segments, some of which did, in fact, mention the pause. We have revised this story accordingly.

 

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Real-Life Captain Phillips: The Pirates "Did Not Let Me Urinate"

| Thu Oct. 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass, tells the true story of Richard Phillips (played by a New England-accented Tom Hanks), a merchant mariner taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009. After being held for five days aboard a lifeboat, Phillips was rescued when Navy Seal snipers took out three of his Somali captors. "I share the country's admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew," President Obama said in a statement on April 12, 2009. "His courage is a model for all Americans."

Last week, Phillips attended a special screening of Captain Phillips at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Hanks was there, taking selfies with sailors. Barkhad Abdi (who plays the pirate Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse) was in attendance, as were Navy Commander Frank Castellano (one of the men who saved Phillips) and Greengrass. The 58-year-old English director is a former journalist who directed two other acclaimed docudramas: Bloody Sunday and United 93. "Films aren't journalism," Greengrass emphasized while introducing his film, though he argued that dramatizations are capable of conveying certain "truths."

Nobody Sane Likes the Republican Party Anymore

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 8:26 PM EDT

I've been reading all day that Republican favorability ratings plummeted in the latest Gallup poll, but I didn't think much of it. After all, favorability ratings for both parties have been pretty low for a while. But when I finally clicked through to look at the actual numbers, it was a lot more dramatic than I thought:

Wow. Republican favorability ratings have been hovering within a few points of 40 percent ever since 2006. Then Ted Cruz mounted his filibuster, Republicans starting threatening to crash the economy, and their favorability crashed ten points to 28 percent, the lowest in history. As we all know, the Crazification Factor is 27 percent, which means that literally nobody sane approves of the Republican Party any longer.

This demonstrates a surprising amount of common sense among average Americans. In a way, I'm heartened.

At the University of Chicago, Elevators Are Finally for Everyone

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 5:12 PM EDT

After five months of agitation, the leaders of the University of Chicago have finally agreed that their sensibilities will not be too badly offended if they occasionally end up sharing an elevator car with a blue-collar maintenance worker. Corey Robin has the story here.

Remind me again which century we live in?

How Tens of Thousands of Americans Got Cheated Out of Their Mineral Rights

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 4:14 PM EDT

What if a gas company wanted to set up a fracking rig on your property? What if you found out that you couldn't say no? A new report from Reuters explains how tens of thousands of homeowners across America suddenly found themselves vulnerable to this nightmare scenario, as they discovered that their deeds cover their surface land but not the rights to the minerals beneath it. And as the American energy boom opens new land to extraction, homeowners from Florida to California to Washington to North Carolina have discovered that they unknowingly signed away the rights to what's under their property. And they might not be able to do anything about it.

Mineral rights—the right to extract and profit from whatever is under the ground—are more and more commonly being separated from land deeds, and in many cases, sellers aren't legally required to disclose that the estates have been split. After reviewing property records in 25 states, Reuters found that D.R. Horton, the biggest home-builder in the US, "has separated the mineral rights from tens of thousands of homes in states where shale plays are either well under way or possible, including North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Colorado, Washington, and California." When the rights are split from the property deed, homeowners not only have no say, they also don't see royalties from the drilling, which paid out more than $20 billion nationally in 2012.

The impacts can go way beyond potentially having a well pad show up on your doorstep. According to Reuters:

Loss of mineral rights isn’t the only hit homeowners take. Property-tax assessments don’t take into account severed mineral rights. And "lenders may not be willing to extend mortgage loans on property that is subject to intensive gas extraction activities," according to a report last year by the North Carolina Department of Justice.

Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest home lender, sometimes denies mortgages to homes encumbered by gas leases. And for the past year, Sovereign Bank has been including clauses in mortgages allowing it to declare borrowers in default if any part of the subsurface property has been "leased, assigned or otherwise transferred for use to extract minerals, oil or gas," according to a copy of the bank’s mortgage addendum. If mineral rights are severed, "we would not move forward with financing a property," said a bank spokeswoman.

Insurance policies usually exclude damage from "industrial operations," and some companies are denying coverage altogether for homes where the mineral rights have been severed.  Title insurance companies have been exempting anything to do with mineral rights from their policies, too.

Landowners have pushed back with mixed results. The D.R. Horton returned mineral rights to a group of 700 angry homeowners in North Carolina after an inquiry by the state Department of Justice. But some individuals haven't been so lucky. Earlier this year, Martin Whiteman of West Virginia lost an appeal for an injunction and damages after Chesapeake Appalachia—a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy—used ten acres of his 101 acre sheep farm to set up three wells and a series of disposal pits that rendered the land practically unusable. As the practice expands and more people discover that a few lines of legalese have radically changed the deal they thought they were getting, it's possible states will clarify how developers have to disclose this practice. Until then, it's buyer beware.

The whole piece is worth a read. You can find it here.

The Weird Politics of Republican Hostage Taking

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 2:41 PM EDT

So there's a weird thing going on with the Republican hostage-taking strategy. All of them agree that taking hostages is hunky dory, but there's a split over which hostage should be taken. Some Republicans think the party should go ahead and fund the government and then have an all-out fight using the debt ceiling as leverage. John Boehner, Charles Krauthammer, and Marc Thiessen are in this crew. On the other side, we have Republicans who think we should go ahead and raise the debt ceiling and use the government shutdown as leverage for conservative demands. Tea party firebrands Erick Erickson and Matt Kibbe are on this team.

Here's the weird part: The (relative) moderates want to rely on the debt ceiling for leverage, even though breaching the debt ceiling would be far more catastrophic than a government shutdown. The (relative) extremists are shying away from the horror of a debt ceiling breach and just want to continue the shutdown. Doesn't this seem backward?

It depends on what the real motivations are. Team Boehner claims that they want to use the debt ceiling as a hostage because it's better leverage. But Team Erickson doesn't believe them. They apparently think this is just cover. The moderates know perfectly well that a debt ceiling breach would cause a market panic that in turn would force Republicans to cave in. So they're only pushing this line because they want a way out of the fight, and this will do it. Conversely, a fight over the government shutdown could go on for a long, long time, and eventually Democrats might end up caving in.

That's my take on the oddness of which players are on which team, anyway. Is it correct? I'm not sure. I need Dave Weigel or Robert Costa or someone like that to help interpret the wall posters here.

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VIDEO: David Corn on Why Obama Is Defending Boehner

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 1:30 PM EDT

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Joy Reid this week about why President Obama won't paint House Speaker John Boehner as a government shutdown villain and what the chances are for a new supercommittee. Watch here:

Good News on Salmonella Outbreak: CDC Is Back on the Job. Bad News: The Strain Is Antibiotic-Resistant.

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 1:19 PM EDT
Salmonella bacteria

Nothing like a big, multi-state salmonella outbreak to focus the mind of a federal government partially shut down by a political crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which gathers and analyzes data on such outbreaks and helps bring them under control, was effectively crippled in that capacity by the shutdown fiasco heading into this week, as Wired's Maryn McKenna reported.

But then on Monday, the US Department of Agriculture announced that 278 people across 18 states had been sickened by salmonella from eating chicken from a West Coast poultry processor called Foster Farms. And now the CDC's outbreak-tracking team has been called back into action, Barbara Reynolds, a spokesperson for CDC, told me. Because the center had been monitoring the outbreak before the furloughs and snapped back into action after the USDA's announcement Monday, the shutdown's effect on CDC's investigation had been "minimal," she said.

About 42 percent of the people infected have had to be hospitalized—about double the normal rate.

And now that CDC team is back up and running, it has released fresh information about the outbreak, and the news is disturbing. About 42 percent of the people infected have had to be hospitalized—about double the normal rate, Reynolds said, meaning that the salmonella strains in the chicken seem to be virulent. Worse, the strain is "resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics," CDC reports. And that means "an increased risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals." "Treatment failure," of course, is another way of saying death.

As for the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which inspects poultry plants and investigates them when an outbreak occurs, "the shutdown has not had an impact on this investigation," USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee told me. All the employees that inspect meat plants are considered essential and exempt from furloughs.

Dan Engeljohn, who directs the USDA's meat plant inspections, said that the agency began collecting samples from Foster Farms facilities on the suspicion that they were the source of the outbreak on September 9, a process that continued until September 27. By Monday, October 7, when the USDA made its announcement, the agency had finished its lab analyses and determined that the outbreak strain had emerged from three Foster Farms facilities.

When it issued the announcement Monday morning, it also gave Foster Farms 72 hours to deliver a plan to show how it planned to resolve the salmonella problem in the three plants, Engeljohn said. The USDA will then assesses whether the plan is sufficient; if not, the agency will pull its inspectors from the three plants and effectively shut down their operation, he added.

Foster Farms was responsible for another salmonella outbreak, this one peaking in 2012, that sickened 134 people in 13 states. Engeljohn said that outbreak stemmed from different plants—in Washington state and not in California—and involved a different strain of salmonella.

Curious about the antibiotic-resistant nature of the current strain—again, it's "resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics"—I checked Foster Farms' website to see if the company had a policy on the controversial practice of feeding drugs to livestock. I found this:

Foster Farms has always prioritized the care and well-being of its birds and does not use antibiotics for the purpose of growth promotion. Any antibiotics used by Foster Farms for treatment are approved by the USDA and FDA for use in poultry and are prescribed by and monitored under the supervision of a veterinarian. Foster Farms observes all regulated antibiotic withdrawal times prior to processing.

Interestingly, that policy jibes perfectly with the Food and Drug Administration's April 2012 "voluntary guidance" on antibiotics in meat animals, which urges producers to use antibiotics only to treat or prevent disease under the control of a veterinarian, and not to use them to make animals grow faster.

But as I argued at the time, by allowing the industry to use antibiotics to "prevent" disease, the guidance leaves a gaping loophole. As I wrote:

[H]ow can anyone distinguish giving animals small daily doses of antibiotics to prevent disease from giving them small daily doses to promote growth? The industry can simply claim it's using antibiotics preventively and go on about its business—continuing to reap the benefits of growth promotion and continuing to menace public health by breeding resistance.

Should Credit Card Companies Get to Decide Who Does Business on the Web?

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 1:10 PM EDT

A few days ago David Segal wrote a story in the New York Times about the latest in sleazy internet rackets: companies that post mug shots from arrests and make money by charging people to take them down. Maxwell Birnbaum, a college freshman who got caught with a few Ecstasy pills in his knapsack, will soon have a clean record in the eyes of the law, but not anywhere else:

In the eyes of anyone who searches for Mr. Birnbaum online, the taint could last a very long time. That’s because the mug shot from his arrest is posted on a handful of for-profit Web sites, with names like Mugshots, BustedMugshots and JustMugshots. These companies routinely show up high in Google searches; a week ago, the top four results for “Maxwell Birnbaum” were mug-shot sites.

The ostensible point of these sites is to give the public a quick way to glean the unsavory history of a neighbor, a potential date or anyone else. That sounds civic-minded, until you consider one way most of these sites make money: by charging a fee to remove the image. That fee can be anywhere from $30 to $400, or even higher. Pay up, in other words, and the picture is deleted, at least from the site that was paid.

But that's not the end of the story. Segal followed up with credit card companies, and they all agreed to shut down the mug shot scammers:

“We looked at the activity and found it repugnant,” said Noah Hanft, general counsel with the company. MasterCard executives contacted the merchant bank that handles all of its largest mug-shot site accounts and urged it to drop them as customers. “They are in the process of terminating them,” Mr. Hanft said.

PayPal came back with a similar response after being contacted for this article....American Express and Discover were contacted on Monday and, two days later, both companies said they were severing relationships with mug-shot sites. A representative of Visa wrote to say it was asking merchant banks to investigate business practices of the sites “to ensure they are both legal and in compliance with Visa operating regulations.”

This is worthy of applause. And yet....it's also worthy of a pause. It's possible that there's no slippery slope here and nothing to worry about, but it's worth asking whether we really want credit card companies making moral judgments about which businesses should be blacklisted from doing business on the web. It's certainly possible to envision a public outcry over something that ends up cutting off a business for unpopular political views, not just semi-extortion schemes like the mug shot guys. It's worth some thought.

Don't Expect Janet Yellen to Make Any Waves at the Fed

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 12:27 PM EDT

The big news in central banking today is Janet Yellen's impending nomination to replace Ben Bernanke as head of the Federal Reserve. As lots of people will tell you, she's fantastically well qualified; she'll be the first woman to head the Fed; and she's a monetary dove. (Or an "unemployment hawk" if you prefer.)

That's the nickel take on Yellen, and so far, in the dozens of pieces I've read about Yellen last night and this morning, I haven't seen anything else about her that's truly new or interesting. Until now. This is from an interview Jim Tankersley did with Yellen last November:

On using monetary policy to try to get the economy revving:

“There are a lot of things holding back the economy. If one were making a list of the top five or ten things holding back the economy, you wouldn’t say money being too tight, and interest rates being too high were on it. But interest rates and credit conditions are what we can affect. They are not the problem, but they can be part of the solution.”

That's....remarkable. Yellen doesn't seem to think that monetary policy even makes the top ten list of things that could help the economy right now. Admittedly, her wording is a little bit opaque. Technically, all she says is that current Fed policy isn't one of the big things holding back the economy. But the implication is pretty clear: if that's true, it means that there aren't any changes to Fed policy that could have a significant positive effect on the recovery.

In one sense, I suppose this isn't a big surprise. Yellen has been one of the architects of current Fed policy, and nobody thinks she's the kind of person likely to promote radical new ideas. Still, the fact that monetary policy right now doesn't even make her top ten list means that she thinks Fed policy right now is essentially ideal. Once you get outside the top ten, after all, you're dealing with effects so small they're barely noticeable. Steady as she goes, folks.