Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Houck Cluelessly Wanders Into Trans-Pacific Partnership Coverage

MRC Watch Dept. - On Tuesday, the Senate considered a motion to open debate on extending to the Obama administration "fast-track" authorization for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); the motion received majority support (52-45), but failed to reach the 60-vote threshhold needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. An extraordinary feature of the TPP drama is that Republicans, who have, throughout the entire run of the Obama administration, lock-stepped against virtually anything Obama has proposed merely because he was the one proposing it,[1] are the ones leading the charge for the TPP, while Obama's own party stands largely opposed to it.

The MRC's Curtis Houck has wandered into this dispute like a lost, clueless child:
"On Tuesday, ABC's World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News chose to ignore news that Senate Democrats voted to block debate on a series of trade measures pushed by President Barack Obama as part of a push to eventually approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal... While ABC and CBS made no mention of this issue that has divided the Democratic Party, NBC Nightly News did cover the story with a news brief by interim anchor Lester Holt."
Houck notes that PBS and various cable news outlets mentioned these developments at various points throughout the day. He concludes by fantasizing,
"With such disagreement in the Democratic Party, it's worth pointing out that the network newscasts would likely be spending far more time reporting on and analyzing such a split if it involved Senate Republicans voting to block an initiative of a Republican president."
But while Houck frets that the partisan divide isn't getting enough attention, the TPP story has major implications for the MRC's larger project of portraying the press as liberal, implications Houck entirely fails to address. The American liberal base is opposed to the TPP, which, secretively negotiated, was born in the Bush administration in 2008. A "liberal media" can either be with the liberals or with Obama, not both. So how are the major press outlets really handling this matter? Who benefits from a lack of press coverage?

In the summer of 2012, when a draft of a portion of the negotiations were leaked, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen answered that question, describing the agreement as
"a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny. Indeed, only two of the twenty-six chapters of this corporate Trojan horse cover traditional trade matters. The rest embody the most florid dreams of the 1 percent -- grandiose new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulation. They include new investor safeguards to ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources, and severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more."
The only thing unusual about the sparsity of the coverage offered Tuesday's development in the TPP saga is that this development was mentioned at all. Liberal publications and orgs have been trying to draw attention to this matter for years now, while the big dogs of the corporate press -- those big dogs the MRC insists are so slavishly devoted to heathen liberalism -- have almost entirely buried it.

For years, liberal press critic Project Censored has assembled a list of important stories that received little or no coverage in the previous year; in 2013, the Trans-Pacific Partnership finished at #3. In March 2014, Steve Rendall of liberal media critic Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) noted that
"TPP would seem to be a major story with significant real-world impact. But despite its apparent newsworthiness—and two major leaks, providing grist for reporting and debate—there were no stories about TPP on the three major network news shows in the year following Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union mention of the agreement. The same goes for cable channels CNN and Fox News.
"The only thing preventing a total blackout of TPP on national commercial TV was MSNBC, where the Ed Show practically made TPP a feature of the program, offering critical coverage and commentary in 25 segments. TPP was also discussed once on Melissa Harris-Perry (12/14/13), when it was briefly criticized by The Nation's John Nichols."
Shortly after, FAIR launched a petition demanding that the major networks stop their blackout of this story; others have done the same.

It didn't seem to help. In February, liberal press critic Media Matters undertook a study of tv news coverage of the TPP.
"A Media Matters transcript search of the CBS Evening News, ABC's World News Tonight, and NBC's Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through January 31, 2015, found no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. By contrast, PBS NewsHour mentioned the TPP on during eight broadcasts, most of which were substantive discussions of the trade agreement."
Among the cable news operations, "CNN and Fox News each mentioned the TPP during two broadcasts," while MSNBC was the only outlet to give the matter any real attention -- it was covered in 71 broadcasts, mostly the Ed Show.

On Monday -- three days ago -- Media Matters followed up. From 1 February to 10 May, the network evening newscasts had continued their complete blackout -- not a single mention from any of them. The PBS Newshour had done 6 additional segments on the subject. Among the cable outlets, CNN hadn't offered a single new mention while there had been 10 on Fox News. Again, only MSNBC devoted any notable attention to the matter, covering it in 53 segments.[2]

Print coverage has been pathetic as well. In April 2014, FAIR examined the attention given the TPP by two of the largest papers in the U.S.:
"In the year between Barack Obama’s 2013 and 2014 State of the Union addresses (2/12/13– 1/28/14), the New York Times and Washington Post had a combined total of 18 news reports discussing TPP, featuring 48 sources.
"TPP received a small fraction of the attention the papers devoted to stories of much less import, such as the Benghazi and IRS stories portrayed as scandals by the right—without much of anything scandalous behind them (FAIR Blog, 5/17/13, 6/25/13). Benghazi was mentioned in 618 stories in both papers. Using the search terms 'IRS' and 'conservative'—according to the IRS scandal storyline, the agency singled out conservative groups for harassment—turned up 444 stories.
"In the two papers combined, sources favoring TPP (31) outnumbered those opposing (14) by more than 2-to-1. Three sources were expressly noncommittal. The Post presented an almost 3-to-1 ratio of supporters to opponents (16–6) with one noncommittal source, while the Times featured a nearly 2-to-1 imbalance (15–8) with two noncommittal sources."
While barely covering the story, print outlets have managed to circulate all manner of nonsense about the deal and its critics.

As Wallach wrote, the TPP is a bundle of "policies that could not survive public scrutiny." But while the public wouldn't stand for such things if they were dragged into the light of day, the TPP has powerful supporters, including the big media companies, whose parent entities are lobbying for it. News media inattention can only benefit TPP, which is why liberal activists have raged against it for so long.

This is the environment into which Houck innocently wandered, a landscape wherein, contrary to the most basic premise of everything the MRC does, the concerns of liberals have -- as usual -- been entirely ignored or grossly mistreated by the major press outlets, where any stories about --or even mention of -- TPP on the evening newscasts are, as a rule, non-existent. While TPP's critics have, for years, unsuccessfully tried to draw attention to big and important matters that will affect not only the U.S. bur the world, Houck complains that he didn't get to see Democrats fight one another on the evening news. Cry me a river.



[1] It's impossible to overstate this point. It's so bad that Republicans legislators have made a regular practice of walking away from even proposals they, themselves, had written as soon as Obama endorses the measures.

[2] In its follow-up, Media Matters inexplicably combined the numbers from its previous survey with the follow-up, offering total numbers for the full 20 months rather than just for the 3 months of the new survey. To get the three-month numbers I've quoted, I simply deducted the previous findings from that combined total.

[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that, when appropriate, tells Donny at the Media Research Center to shut the fuck up.]

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