Out Of Gas
Gas stove "controversy" is case study in media manufacturing two separate non-stories
January 17, 2023
Dateline: The day after Tom Brady may have played his last game (but probably not)
Watching this week…
— Cooking up manufactured storylines
— COVID misinfo becomes reality
— Who’s watching Chris Wallace?
— Journalism Tell: No Docs Sources
— Great Moments in Poor Old Biden Journalism
Gas stove “controversy” is case study in media manufacturing two separate non-stories
CNN has a Chief Climate Correspondent, named Bill Weir, and on Wednesday last week he was making a rare appearance on the network talking about gas stoves. “The science is showing us that having a gas stove, in a small apartment especially, with bad ventilation, is like having a car idling there,” he said. “If you have young kids, it can affect cognitive abilities, as well as asthma."
Nevermind that what Weir said is not remotely true — no science shows that having a gas stove is “like having a car idling” in your apartment. But where did this come from? Last Monday Bloomberg published an exclusive interview with Richard Trumka Jr. of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, who said that “any option is on the table” when dealing with the harmful gas stoves, and “products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” And what we got next was virtue signaling aggregation — a series of news articles about this dangerous climate-harming appliance. “A US federal agency is considering a ban on gas stoves,” wrote CNN. “U.S. agency examines secret pollution source in 40 million homes: Gas stoves,” wrote The Washington Post. “What the Potential Ban on Gas Stoves Mean if You Have One,” wrote Time Magazine.
This “gas stoves are dangerous and maybe should be banned” news cycle originated because of Trumka’s comments, which originated because of a study that he cited that showed that close to 13% of “childhood current asthma in the US can be attributable to gas stove use.” If it sounds convoluted, it’s because it is. As the great Matt Shapiro of theSubstack pointed out on Twitter, the “study” was funded by organizations that are partnering with companies to remove gas lines from buildings. One company, known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, purports to be “shifting the paradigm of building construction and energy use to one that is climate-safe, equitable, affordable, and renewably-powered.”
This important detail was left out of the nearly all the reporting. Instead, we get a manufactured news cycle thanks to a virtue signaling opportunity for the press when it comes to climate.
But that’s not where the story ends. Around the time that Stephen Colbert didn’t get the memo about the narrative shift, Republicans and commentators on the right began speaking out against the potential ban, and the pendulum swung the other direction. Suddenly the prospect of potentially banning gas stoves (something already happening in new construction in New York City, California, and other places) was simply a right-wing fantasy. Just ignore what the press wrote a couple days earlier — now it was a political issue. “How the humble gas stove became the latest flash point in the culture wars,” wrote The Washington Post. “Right's new fight: Gas stoves,” wrote Axios. The Week Magazine took it to the most ridiculous extreme, with a photo illustration of a MAGA hat hanging off a pan:
Floating the gas stove ban was met with such disdain the story immediately shifted — away from a manufactured emergency about gas stoves harming our children to a manufactured media storyline about a new entrant in the culture wars, thanks to right-wing crazies who won’t stop pretending their gas stoves are going to get physically removed from their houses.
If you didn’t spend a lot of time consuming Twitter over the past week, perhaps you missed this whole controversy entirely. I must say I’m a little jealous. But likely if you’re reading this newsletter you consume a decent amount of media, and it’s a good chance you have a warped view of the story from one perspective or another.
It’s another example of Glance Journalism — a thirsty and lazy press wavering from one non-story to the next, under-informing the public at each step of the way. The corporate press continues to find new ways to run out of gas.
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New COVID consensus: It’s ok to say we have been overcounting COVID deaths
File this under the latest entry in the category of “yesterday’s misinformation is today’s news.” Prominent Washington Post and CNN contributor Leana Wen wrote a column last week that might have gotten you labeled a disinformation purveyor in early 2021. “We are overcounting covid deaths and hospitalizations. That’s a problem,” she wrote.
“Today, most patients in their hospitals carrying the coronavirus are there for another reason,” writes Wen, somewhat matter-of-factly. “If the covid death count turns out to be 30 percent of what’s currently reported, that’s still unacceptably high. But that knowledge could help people better gauge the risks of traveling, indoor dining and activities they have yet to resume.”
Some have been making this point for literally years now, to mostly disinterest from the press, if not outright disdain. But it’s true. Phil Kerpen has done excellent work on COVID realism during this entire pandemic, and he recently took data looking at just 29,000 COVID-associated deaths in 2021 and highlighted what some of these deaths actually entailed. Dozens of suicides and homicides are counted. And then there are the pediatric deaths. In case after case, deaths that were labeled as COVID deaths clearly weren’t: “accidental suffocation,” or “drowning” or “traffic accident.”
The data makes it obvious — we were lied to by the media with their Doom Bias that saw the death counter on the side of the screen. This is not to minimize COVID — it was a truly deadly and horrible pandemic. But the media amplified the counts, consciously or subconsciously, and because of this misinformation, the public is less informed today than it should be.
What’s the next front in this COVID information battle between the rationalists and the extremists? Likely vaccines. The CDC announced last week it identified a potential “safety signal” in increased risk of stroke for people over 65. How did the New York Times cover it? “No Increased Stroke Risk Linked to Pfizer’s COVID Boosters, Federal Officials Say.”
Spin and deflection, for now. But like the thaw on “with COVID” vs. “from COVID,” the truth can only be hidden from the public for so long.
Chris Wallace was CNN's big bet for the now-defunct CNN+. Is the investment paying off?
Chris Wallace went from a decades-long career as a political host and journalist to easy listening softballs with celebrities for CNN’s streaming platform. Or at least it appears that was the plan before CNN+ went away in less than a month. Now the show streams on HBO Max, and a compilation version runs at 7pmET each Sunday night, to fairly low ratings and little coverage.
What’s happening here — and what’s the longterm plan with Wallace at the network? I dug into that topic in the first “Rabbit Hole” deep dive column for Fourth Watch. It’s available for paying subscribers, but I’ve now unlocked an extended version of the column for free, which you can check out, or choose to upgrade if you’d like and read the full thing:
Journalism Tell: Biden classified documents story is devoid of media leaks
One week ago today, CBS News broke the story of classified documents discovered at President Biden’s think tank at the University of Pennsylvania. Since then, we’ve seen a drip-drip-drip of news about classified documents at other Biden locations — like his garage. But the way this story has developed in the intervening days — and looking back at the truth about it for months now, as we’ve learned more since the initial report — tells us a lot about an overarching lack of curiosity by the press.
I’ve written before about “Journalism tells,” like in poker. What we can glean when a reporter tweets out the question, instead of the answer, for example. In this case, we can learn a lot about the story by how most of the press sources its coverage of it.
Over the weekend, Biden’s attorney Bob Bauer put out a lengthy statement laying out the timeline of this story. On November 2, Biden’s personal attorneys “unexpectedly discovered” classified documents. Within two days, the Department of Justice was made aware of it. Weeks past, and Biden’s personal attorneys once again stumbled on some new classified documents in December. Those attorneys let the Department of Justice know again. Back and forth this went — personal attorneys searching, and Department of Justice being informed of it.
It’s easy to play the “but what if it was Trump” game, but here it’s pretty glaring. Imagine how the media would treat this explanation if it was Trump giving it. Would they let him get away with his “personal attorneys” explaining away the extent of the classified documents that were discovered?
But the truth is, it would have never even gotten to that point if it was Trump. Because it took more than two months for anyone in the press to either receive a leak from a very traditionally leaky DOJ, or, more likely, to garner enough intestinal fortitude to report it out. Still, today the sourcing on almost every story is relying on the public statements of these officials, rather than journalists doing the work to develop the sources on it.
It’s not to say that there hasn’t been good journalism about it. Like Jake Tapper repeatedly pushing Rep. Jamie Raskin about the story on Sunday — and Raskin having no real answers.
Today Weijia Jiang of CBS had press secretary Karine Jean Pierre stumbling trying to recount the actual timeline.
But through all of this very juicy story it appears most in the media are either striking out on developing sources to further it, or are feeling incentivized to stand down and play it slow. There’s no aggression — no urgency. And the double standard is obvious.
WATCH IT… Sam Harris has seemingly drifted so far from his moral center over the past few years — it’s kind of stunning to watch. Here is a five-minute clip from a recent interview of him talking about COVID in bizarre, theoretically terms instead of the reality we now know, while describing how he refuses to debate people who… seemingly have intellectual conversations?
HEAR IT… It’s been a few years since I saw the movie "Sideways,” and it was interesting to listen to Bill Simmons and the Ringer crew on The Rewatchables talk through not just the movie but the way the movie had a serious and lasting influence on the wine business - torpedoing Merlot and propping up Pinot Noir for years to come.
READ IT… I’ll be honest — I did not expect much from a Bulwark article headlined “Why the January 6th Mob Wasn’t Stopped in Time.” But instead Amanda Carpenter’s deep dive into the security failures of that day was well worth the read, and highlighted an important takeaway that often gets lost in the Trump-focused coverage of that day.
New York Times journalist Blake Hounshell tragically died by suicide last week, and this Garrett Graff remembrance of him was fantastic.
CNN is shuffling up its dayside schedule with three-hour blocks of multi-host programming (and also somehow Jim Acosta’s role is growing on the weekends).
Speaking of CNN — will Bill Maher’s “overtime” each week end up on the news network, as Puck’s Matt Belloni reports?
NBC News’ executive shuffle has brought over Rebecca Blumenstein from the New York Times, as Noah Oppenheim exits.
Interesting Slate profile — somewhat positive, somewhat skeptical — of the tech and politics focused All-In Podcast.
Fascinating Forward column by a former CNN producer who was fired after anti-Semitic tweets from his past were uncovered — about how he can make amends.
Andrea Mitchell was very unhappy with NBC reporter Garrett Haake after he dared to use the term “pro-life” to describe a position espoused by a GOP congresswoman.
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Lyin’ George Santos Edition ⏩
⏪ As we learn more about the many lies of new GOP Congressman George Santos, clip after clip from the campaign are emerging on Twitter that show the lengths he went to make things up. Here’s a hilarious and strange one from a casual television debate where he seems to echo exactly what his opponent says about a “favorite family tradition.”
⏩ If it’s not already obvious, Santos’ problems are just beginning, as the drip-drip continues about this odd fabulist. Like his habit of often spending exactly $199.99 in campaign filings — a cent short of the $200 that would require documentation. This was explored recently in a funny Slate article that doubled as a restaurant review of Santos’ favorite place, according to the nearly $50,000 of campaign donations he apparently spent there.
It’s not just the lunatic MAGA fringe conspiracy theorists who want more information about the Paul Pelosi attack from shortly before the election. No, the Associated Press reports on the wide array of media outlets looking for more transparency about the assault, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, CBS, ABC, and NBC. The coalition filed the motion in San Francisco because “the public and press have standing to assert their rights of access to court records and proceedings.” Remember that in the December hearing, the judge could watch the body cam footage — but it was kept from the press, and the public. Pelosi’s attacker is due back in court next month, but in the meantime, hopefully these media organizations get the access they have asked for, because the public has a right to know more about this disturbing story.
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
You really have to watch this clip to see the bizarre boosterism attempt by the Reuters reporter, that caught the Biden administration official so off guard she basically just said “pass.”
Thanks for reading, back soon (and also back soon - the Fourth Watch Podcast)…
Great analysis of media manipulation.