Right-wing media are disingenuously claiming Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's (NH) widely-publicized support of basic campaign finance rules is "bombshell" evidence that she urged the "targeting" of conservatives.
Just hours before election day, the Daily Caller released a report alleging that Shaheen was "principally involved in a plot with Lois Lerner and President Barack Obama's political appointee at the IRS to lead a program of harassment against conservative nonprofit groups during the 2012 election." As evidence, it pointed to the fact that Shaheen had corresponded with the IRS lawyer William J. Wilkins about decades-old campaign finance regulations.
The Daily Caller added that a "major conservative super PAC" included Shaheen's name in a Freedom of Information Act request pertaining to the IRS. "If YOUR NAME is the search term that the conservative super PAC uses in its bid to get public information," writes Patrick Howley, "then you just might be involved in something."
Other right-wing media sources rapidly seized on the opportunity to attack Shaheen. Fox News, which has relentlessly promoted the campaign of her challenger, former Fox News employee Scott Brown, trumpeted the claim as "a death sentence" for Shaheen's Senate hopes.
But the Daily Caller's piece does not demonstrate a scandal of any kind and appears only to be repackaging already-reported information about a benign exchange of letters between several Democratic senators and IRS attorneys.
It's no secret that Senate Democrats asked the IRS to clearly define how much money 501(c)4 nonprofits, which gain tax exemption as "social welfare" organizations, are allowed to spend on election-related activities. In 2012, Democratic Senators, including Shaheen, released a letter publicly requesting that the IRS offer more specific "administrative guidance" on campaign finance restrictions for nonprofit groups. The request received media attention at the time, and IRS lawyer William J. Wilkins responded to Shaheen and others with a letter describing existing campaign finance rules:
"These regulations have been in place since 1959," Wilkins wrote. "We will consider proposed changes in this area as we work with Tax-Exempt and Government Entities and the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Policy to identify tax issues that should be addressed" in designing new regulations and "guidance."
"I hope this information is helpful," Wilkins wrote. "I am sending a similar response to your colleagues. If you have questions, please contact me or have your staff contact Cathy Barre at (202) 622-3720."
Right-wing media have repeatedly used unfounded conspiracy theories to prop up the IRS "scandal" after the allegations that the IRS solely investigated conservative groups' campaign spending began to crumble. Meanwhile, the political influence of money spent by outside groups has soared to record levels in the 2014 election cycle.
The lead investigator in the Department of Homeland Security's 2012 review of the Secret Service prostitution scandal -- which was sensationalized by conservative media -- has reportedly resigned after being accused of soliciting a prostitute himself.
According to recent reports, David Nieland resigned from DHS in August after refusing to answer questions about whether he solicited a prostitute in Florida. His 2012 inquiry into how the Secret Service handled the prostitution scandal that resulted in the firing of eight agents was the source of right-wing media claims of a political cover-up, as Nieland told Congress that he felt pressure from superiors to delay his investigative report until after the 2012 election and to "withhold and alter certain information." According to the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee's subsequent review of the investigation process, however, there was "no evidence to substantiate" Nieland's allegations.
Still, The Washington Post cited Nieland's unverified claims for its controversial October 8 story on the investigation, which relied heavily on an anonymous source to implicate then-White House volunteer and Yale law student Jonathan Dach in the prostitution activity. The Post printed his name despite the fact that the White House cleared him of wrongdoing in 2012 (Notably, the Post's recent coverage of Nieland's resignation does not use Dach's name, instead simply explaining that Nieland had mentioned a White House "volunteer").
The paper was roundly criticized for its decision to print the White House volunteer's name -- as Huffington Post senior media reporter Michael Calderone pointed out, the Post's story relied on uncorroborated claims from a single anonymous "eyewitness" who said "he saw Dach with a woman he believed was a prostitute," but failed to mention any attempts to confirm the anonymous woman's existence or identity. Calderone slammed the paper for "craft[ing] its story in a way that could give the impression of guilt or impropriety":
So why then did the Post decide to name him now, two and a half years after it broke the news of the scandal and 9 months since reporters began communicating with his attorney? Letters obtained by The Huffington Post show the attorney, Richard Sauber, rebutted the claims and offered countervailing evidence in letters sent to top Post editors. The decision to publish Dach's identity regardless raises questions about the threshold news organizations must meet when revealing the name of someone accused of lurid activity without independently confirming the claims.
Though The Post did not conclude that Dach hired a prostitute, it nevertheless crafted its story in a way that could give the impression of guilt or impropriety. ... Sauber denied the allegations and expressed concern that the inclusion of Dach's name in a story on the prostitution scandal could significantly damage his professional future. Sauber wrote on Jan. 16that the publication of the charge "will be devastating to this young man just as he embarks on his career after law school."
Academics and experts are casting doubt on the merits of a new study, promoted by right-wing media, which estimates that a small percentage of non-citizens vote and might sway the outcome of elections.
Mainstream media figures, following in the footsteps of conservative media, are trying to manufacture a scandal out of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent argument against trickle-down economics by stripping her comments of context to falsely cast them as a controversial gaffe or a flip-flop on previous statements about trade.
Conservative media outlets rushed to vilify Clinton's stance after she pushed for a minimum wage increase and warned against the myth that businesses create jobs through trickle-down economics at an October 24 campaign event for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley (D). Breitbart.com complained, "Clinton told the crowd ... not to listen to anybody who says that 'businesses create jobs,'" conservative radio host Howie Carr said the comments showed Clinton's "true moonbat colors," while FoxNews.com promoted the Washington Free Beacon's accusation that she said "businesses and corporations are not the job creators of America."
Mainstream media soon jumped on the bandwagon.
CNN host John King presented Clinton's comments as a fumble "a little reminiscent there of Mitt Romney saying corporations are people, too," and USA Today called the comments "An odd moment from Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail Friday - and one she may regret." In an article egregiously headlined, "Hillary Clinton No Longer Believes That Companies Create Jobs," Bloomberg's Jonathan Allen stripped away any context from Clinton's words in order to accuse her of having "flip-flopped on whether companies create jobs," because she has previously discussed the need to keep American companies competitive abroad.
Taken in context, Clinton's comments are almost entirely unremarkable -- and certainly don't conflict with the philosophy that trade can contribute to job growth, as Allen suggests. The full transcript of her remarks shows she was making the established observation that minimum wage increases can boost a sluggish economy by generating demand, and that tax breaks for the rich don't necessarily move companies to create jobs:
CLINTON: Don't let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. They always say that. I've been through this. My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s. I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what? Millions of jobs were created or paid better and more families were more secure. That's what we want to see here, and that's what we want to see across the country.
And don't let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried. That has failed. That has failed rather spectacularly.
One of the things my husband says, when people say, what did you bring to Washington? He says, well I brought arithmetic. And part of it was he demonstrated why trickle down should be consigned to the trash bin of history. More tax cuts for the top and for companies that ship jobs over seas while taxpayers and voters are stuck paying the freight just doesn't add up. Now that kind of thinking might win you an award for outsourcing excellence, but Massachusetts can do better than that. Martha understands it. She knows you have to create jobs from everyone working together and taking the advantages of this great state and putting them to work.
Economic experts agree that job growth is tied to the economic security of the middle class.
U.S. economic growth has historically relied on consumer spending, and middle class consumers are "the true job creators," Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out. Right now, the U.S. economy is "demand-starved," as Economic Policy Institute's (EPI) Joshua Smith puts it. Steiglitz says that, of all the problems facing the U.S. economy, "The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth."
In a testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, economist Heather Boushey noted that "It is demand for goods and services, backed up by an ability to pay for them, which drives economic growth" and "The hollowing out of our middle class limits our nation's capacity to grow unless firms can find new customers."
UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich agrees that the problem in the U.S. economy is demand. "Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell," he writes, and places the blame on low paychecks and growing inequality: "The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping... Consumers can't and won't buy more." He says the key to job growth is "reigniting demand" by "putting more money in consumers' pockets." From The Huffington Post:
Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don't need more financial incentives. They're already sitting on a vast cash horde estimated to be upwards of $1.6 trillion. Besides, large and middle-sized companies are having no difficulty getting loans at bargain-basement rates, courtesy of the Fed.
In consequence, businesses are already spending as much as they can justify economically. Almost two-thirds of the measly growth in the economy so far this year has come from businesses rebuilding their inventories. But without more consumer spending, there's they won't spend more. A robust economy can't be built on inventory replacements.
The problem isn't on the supply side. It's on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell.
The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation.
Clinton's emphasis on the minimum wage is supported by economic experts as well. Reich says that raising the minimum wage is an effective way to generate the consumer demand that would spur job growth. It "would put money in the pockets of millions of low-wage workers who will spend it -- thereby giving working families and the overall economy a boost, and creating jobs." He also rejected critics' claims that giving low income-earners a raise hurts job growth: "When I was Labor Secretary in 1996 and we raised the minimum wage, business predicted millions of job losses; in fact, we had more job gains over the next four years than in any comparable period in American history."
EPI called the minimum wage a "critically important issue" that "would provide a modest stimulus to the entire economy, as increased wages would lead to increased consumer spending, which would contribute to GDP growth and modest employment gains" (emphasis added):
The immediate benefits of a minimum-wage increase are in the boosted earnings of the lowest-paid workers, but its positive effects would far exceed this extra income. Recent research reveals that, despite skeptics' claims, raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss. In fact, throughout the nation, a minimum-wage increase under current labor market conditions would create jobs. Like unemployment insurance benefits or tax breaks for low- and middle-income workers, raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of working families when they need it most, thereby augmenting their spending power. Economists generally recognize that low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to spend any extra earnings immediately on previously unaffordable basic needs or services.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by July 1, 2015, would give an additional $51.5 billion over the phase-in period to directly and indirectly affected workers, who would, in turn, spend those extra earnings. Indirectly affected workers--those earning close to, but still above, the proposed new minimum wage--would likely receive a boost in earnings due to the "spillover" effect (Shierholz 2009), giving them more to spend on necessities.
This projected rise in consumer spending is critical to any recovery, especially when weak consumer demand is one of the most significant factors holding back new hiring (Izzo 2011). Though the stimulus from a minimum-wage increase is smaller than the boost created by, for example, unemployment insurance benefits, it has the crucial advantage of not imposing costs on the public sector.
The economic benefits of a minimum wage increase are widely accepted. Over 600 economists signed a recent letter supporting an increase, arguing, "Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front."
After spending weeks avoiding interviews with Iowa newspaper editorial boards who threatened to ask substantive policy questions, Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst took refuge on Fox News, where hosts lavished her with uncritical praise.
Ernst has recently come under fire after cancelling or declining meetings with the editorial boards of major Iowa newspapers. Staff at key Iowa papers told Media Matters that Ernst's recent avoidance of them is nearly unprecedented and pointed to the importance of local papers as forum for candidates "to explain one's positions" to voters in her state.
But Ernst isn't avoiding the media entirely.
On October 24, Ernst sat down for a softball interview with the hosts of Fox & Friends. Fox ran two of Ernst's campaign ads -- her infamous pig castration spot and a recent sequel -- while co-host Peter Johnson, Jr. commented that Ernst had "captured the imagination of voters." Co-host Brian Kilmeade called her "one of the more exciting new candidates."
After co-host Anna Kooiman suggested that Ernst had set herself apart by not deciding to go negative, Fox aired a campaign ad on economic issues from her Democratic competitor, Rep. Bruce Braley, with an on-air graphic hyping "Democratic Attacks." The hosts gave Ernst the chance to criticize Braley but failed to press her for details about a platform many see as extreme:
Fox & Friends' praise of Ernst and string of softball questions is in line with the network's previous treatment of Ernst, which has previously conspicuously avoided mention of her controversial platform. Ernst is a climate change denier and has promoted a Glenn Beck conspiracy theory about the "United Nations' superseding U.S. laws, states nullifying federal laws and impeaching Obama." She has claimed that Obama has "become a dictator" and should maybe be impeached. The Washington Post has criticized Ernst for trying to "cover her tracks" on her previous support for a 'personhood' amendment that would ban abortion and some forms of contraception.
Conservative media are claiming that looser gun safety laws are key to preventing shootings like the one in Canada, a nonsensical stance given that the U.S. has far less restrictions on gun ownership and a higher incidence of gun violence compared to Canada and other high-income nations.
Time Warner Cable News (TWC) orchestrated a phony scandal and boosted Thom Tillis's North Carolina Senate campaign by placing an empty chair for his opponent, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, at an event it billed as a "debate" -- though it had known for months Hagan would not attend. TWC's stunt resulted in widespread negative media coverage of Hagan and helped amplify GOP attacks on the senator in the midst of a race some experts consider a toss-up.
In early July, Hagan announced that she would attend three debates in the North Carolina Senate race, but would not participate in a fourth debate Time Warner Cable News (TWC) planned to host on October 21. TWC acknowledged that Hagan had declined the invitation, but moved forward with the program, still billing it as a "debate," and placed an empty chair next to Tillis during his appearance. Tillis' campaign was quick to attack Hagan's decision not to attend, hyping the "empty chair in Kay Hagan's place."
When the event was initially proposed, it was billed as a debate between Tillis and Hagan and sponsored by TWC and local papers The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. The two papers withdrew "after learning that an empty chair would be placed on the set," The News & Observer reported. "We wanted to have a serious discussion with Mr. Tillis about the issues without any gimmicks," News & Observer executive editor John Drescher said, citing an "honest miscommunication" with TWC, "My understanding was that we would tell viewers every 15 minutes that Sen. Hagan had declined our invitation but that we would not have an empty chair." Both The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer referred to the event as an "appearance on a cable TV news show" by Tillis rather than a "debate."
TWC's stunt provided the mainstream media a chance to echo the Tillis campaign's criticism. CNN's chief national correspondent John King highlighted Hagan's absence and the empty chair on the October 22 edition of New Day, but didn't note that her absence had been expected for months. King said, "we're waiting for a good explanation from the Hagan campaign, besides she had other things to do." A CNN article similarly hyped Hagan's absence with the headline: "Hagan absent, Tillis faces off against empty chair," and quipped "This is not your Clint Eastwood empty chair moment from the 2012 Republican National Convention -- but it's close." The article highlighted GOP criticism of Hagan's decision, but did note that she "had already declined."
Right-wing media outlets also seized on TWC's gimmick to attack Hagan. Fox News co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed on the October 22 edition of Fox & Friends that Hagan "didn't bother to show up" and asked "Why did Kay Hagan bail?" Breitbart ran the story under the headline "Thom Tillis Debates Empty Chair After Kay Hagan Declines Debate Invitation," and the Washington Free Beacon highlighted her absence, saying "Hagan's empty chair was visible throughout the debate." The Weekly Standard also hyped Hagan's absence, publishing direct quotes from the Republican research firm America Rising attacking Hagan for not attending the event.
TWC's stunt comes in the wake of accusations of a cozy relationship between Tillis and the telecom company. Last year, a Republican lawmaker in the NC legislature resigned his position as chairman of the Finance Committee, accusing Tillis of governing with a conflict of interest and citing a "business relationship with Time Warner." Time Warner has also previously donated money to Tillis.
Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz echoed his colleague Shepard Smith's admonishment of media for irresponsible Ebola coverage, highlighting his own network's reporting failures.
Kurtz called out media figures like Fox host Bill O'Reilly, who has demanded the resignation of CDC director Tom Frieden, for reducing their response to Ebola "to a question of which heads should roll."
He contrasted coverage like O'Reilly's to that of Fox's Shepard Smith, who made headlines this week for blasting media's "irresponsible" and "hysterical" Ebola coverage. Smith "challenged his own profession to stop scaring people," Kurtz explained, asking, "Will the media listen?"
From Kurtz's October 17 column:
There's a growing media drumbeat on how to fix the Ebola crisis.
Tom Frieden should resign!
[D]oes anyone really believe that turning CDC over to an acting director will quickly boost the agency's performance?
Bill O'Reilly has demanded that Frieden be fired, calling him the "chief propagandist" for the "dumb and dangerous" approach of expecting airport screening to be able to keep infected people out of the United States.
Another doctor, Fox contributor Manny Alvarez, says:
"I am more convinced than ever that CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden is not the right person for the job. And I say this because this latest press conference consisted of him telling a room of reporters what anyone who has ever dealt with Ebola in the past should have known...
"Frieden showed up late to the game again on Ebola, which is not acceptable when lives are at stake."
Fox News falsely claimed an indictment filed against alleged Benghazi attacker Ahmed Abu Khattala proves the September 11, 2012, attack was not sparked by an anti-Muslim video. But Fox ignored the fact that Abu Khattala himself reportedly cited the video as his motivation for the attack.
On October 15, Fox & Friends reported that new charges against Abu Khattala allege that he "masterminded the pillage of ... documents, maps and computers, secret stuff" from the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi during the assault. Guest host Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed these details prove Fox's longtime claim that the Benghazi attack was "a planned terrorist attack. Not a spontaneous outburst of some kind of video."
But in reality, planning theft of confidential information during the assault and targeting the U.S. outpost in response to an anti-Muslim video are not mutually exclusive. Abu Khattala reportedly "told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video." According to The New York Times:
On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy's walls -- images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.
As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.
In an interview a few days later, he pointedly declined to say whether an offensive online video might indeed warrant the destruction of the diplomatic mission or the killing of the ambassador. "From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad," he said.
Despite Fox's claims, the latest indictment against Abu Khattala does not contradict this account. It is unspecific about the timeline, saying that "on or before" the night of the attack Abu Khattala told people that he "believed the [U.S] facility was actually being used to collect intelligence" and that he was "going to do something about the facility." It also reports that the theft of the documents did not take place during the first portion of the attack. Abu Khattala allegedly took part in the initial 9:45 p.m. assault that set fire to the compound, retreated, and then returned to the facility with other conspirators nearly two hours later to "plunder property from the Mission's office."
Fox News has been relentless in claiming that the attack had no connection to the inflammatory video, spending 478 segments attacking administration talking points that mentioned the connection -- though the myth continues to fall flat.
Fox News hosts stoked fears that the United States' ability to respond to Ebola may be weakened by the absence of a Surgeon General, a concern that whitewashes the network's history of smearing the pending Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Following CDC director Tom Frieden's October 13 statement that a Dallas nurse's contraction of Ebola requires hospitals to "rethink" infection control and "double down" on precautions, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy suggested that the administration's response to Ebola is suffering from a lack of leadership without a designated Surgeon General, arguing:
DOOCY: You would normally think that in something like this, the Surgeon General would be in charge, but right now at this point oddly, the United States of America does not have a Surgeon General. His nomination is tied up in politics.
Doocy's concern stands in contrast to Fox News' efforts to stall and politicize the Surgeon General nomination process earlier this year.
Fox personalities repeatedly worked to cast doubt on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination, questioning his strong qualifications and smearing him as "too political" for the job. In March, network host Brian Kilmeade alleged that Murthy "hasn't done much in his career yet," and argued that "you want to be impressed with" a Surgeon General nominee's resume.