Right-wing media's last-ditch attempts to discredit the Affordable Care Act went off the rails as the end of open enrollment approached, from denying the law's basic premise of increasing access to health coverage through private companies to complaining that the law has become too successful.
March 31 marks the end of the ACA's open enrollment deadline -- the date by which individuals must enroll in a Qualified Health Plan in the ACA's exchanges for 2014. Enrollment numbers have reportedly surpassed the 6 million estimate, and early returns have suggested enrollment numbers may reach the administration's original estimate of 7 million sign-ups.
As the open enrollment period comes to a close, right-wing media haven't taken the continued enrollment surge well, desperately pushing debunked myths and trying to spin the positive numbers in last-ditch attempts to discredit the law.
Here are some of their best efforts:
Relentless investigations into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that have been tirelessly cheered on by right-wing media have reportedly cost taxpayers and the Pentagon millions of dollars and wasted thousands of hours of personnel time, according to the Associated Press.
Citing a March 11 Pentagon letter, the AP reported how millions in funding have been funneled away from other Department of Defense responsibilities to "repetitive requests for information from about 50 congressional hearings, briefings and interviews," and the Pentagon determined that "[t]he total cost of compliance with Benghazi-related congressional requests sent to the department and other agencies is estimated to be in the millions of dollars." The AP cited former commander of U.S. Africa Command Gen. Carter Ham's experience as an example:
[He] has briefed or testified before congressional panels five times over two years, and yet both the Armed Services Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform has [sic] asked Ham to submit to additional interviews.
Right-wing media have actively campaigned for these unending investigations, even coordinating with House Republicans to skew evidence. On February 6, Fox host Bill O'Reilly demanded that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) subpoena former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to re-litigate one of Fox's favorite conspiracy theories, and on January 27, host Greta Van Susteren demanded the release of facts already in the public record. Fox has since reached farther to push the Benghazi hoax -- ignoring independent investigations that have turned up no evidence of political scandal.
Fox News invited Paul Wolfowitz, a former Bush administration official and current development scholar for conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, to push the repeatedly debunked claim that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may actually increase the number of uninsured.
On March 23, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Wolfowitz, an Iraq War architect who noted his past employment with the World Bank had little to do with health care, to weigh in on the ACA enrollment numbers.
Wolfowitz baselessly claimed that the health reform law may increase the number of uninsured Americans:
WALLACE: We haven't heard from you on Obamacare as former head of the World Bank. What do you think of how it has gone so far?
WOLFOWITZ: I wouldn't say the World Bank has much to do with it. But you know, it seems to me, I hear numbers, I think it's correct, that five million people had their plans canceled, the ones they were promised they could keep. Presumably, some of that five million of new enrollees are just people who got kicked out and are back in. This was supposed to reduce the number of uninsured. It may actually have increased the number. I think Nancy Pelosi famously said we have to pass the bill so you'll know what is in it. Well, they've passed the bill, there's are so many changes by administrative fiat, I don't think the authors any longer know what's is in it. It's -- you cannot reform 17 percent of the economy with 900 pages of legislation that nobody's bothered to read.
But the suggestion that the ACA may have increased the number of uninsured Americans has been debunked by multiple fact checks. On March 17, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler weighed in on a similar claim from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) that there has been "a net loss of people with health insurance," writing that Boehner's claim "flies in the face of the facts" and issuing it "four pinocchios" -- the rating it issues for "whoppers." Kessler also cited two data points that demonstrate how the ACA has increased the number of people with insurance:
So what does this add up to? Taking the lowest-range estimates, we still end up with nearly 9 million people added to the insurance rolls, more than enough to swamp Boehner's 6 million figure, which as we noted is a pretty useless number to begin with.
- 3.4 million -- HealthCare.gov sign-ups, assuming 80 percent paid, though February
- 2.4 million -- lowest estimate for new Medicaid enrollment through January
- 2.2 million -- young adults added to parents' plans (2010 average to first two quarters of 2013)
- 500,000 -- off-exchange enrollments
Charles Gaba, a blogger who has tracked the state-by-state numbers at ACAsignups.net, including known off-exchange enrollments, meanwhile calculates the actual current figure though mid-March at nearly 14 million. Even if you take a conservative estimate for paid plans and reduce the number of young Americans added to plans, you end up with about 13 million. That makes Boehner's "net loss" claim seem especially absurd.
Politifact similarly rated the "net loss" claim "false." As its March 18 article noted, Boehner's suggestion omitted several "important factors," including Medicaid enrollments, young adults who have been able to remain on their parents' plans, and notably, what happened to people who received cancellation notices because their insurance plans were not ACA compliant:
Some of those policies, about half, were restored when Obama administratively allowed canceled plans to continue for another year and later through 2016.
Many others were moved to new plans, either through their insurance company or by purchasing a new policy on the marketplaces set up for Obamacare. The administration estimated that of the people with canceled plans, just 500,000 were left without coverage, and catastrophic coverage was extended to those individuals.
That's not to say this wasn't a difficult ordeal for people who lost their plans, especially if they thought the law would allow them to keep their coverage. But most of them were able to find new plans, meaning Boehner's 6 million uninsured people basically vanishes.
The New York Times just destroyed Fox News' consistent efforts to downplay the impact that the Koch brothers are having on elections.
In recent weeks, Fox News has repeatedly used a Center for Responsive Politics study examining total political donations between 1989 and 2014 to downplay conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch's campaign spending.
Though the study noted that it was unable to count the amount of funding given to "politically active dark money groups, like Americans for Prosperity" -- which is known to be Koch funded -- because such groups have been able to hide details about their donors in the wake of the Citizens United decision and available information is incomplete, Fox eagerly highlighted the finding that political donations from the Koch brothers came in at 59th in overall political donations, according to available data.
Honest coverage of the campaign funding landscape would have noted the dramatic shift that has taken place since Citizens United was decided in 2010 and that long-term data does a poor job of capturing that change. As the New York Times reported today, the Kochs have already emerged as the "dominant force" in the 2014 races. The article highlighted not only AFP's political spending, but the group's extensive involvement in advertising, advocacy, and field organizing:
As the group emerges as a dominant force in the 2014 midterm elections, spending up to 10 times as much as any major outside Democratic group so far, officials of the organization say their effort is not confined to hammering away at President Obama's Affordable Care Act. They are also trying to present the law as a case study in government ineptitude to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come.
The group, for instance, analyzed the available data, determining which of their ads performed best, and held focus group sessions. Among the most recognizable changes from 2012 is that Americans for Prosperity is now producing testimonial-style ads and carrying out an elaborate field effort, spending more than $30 million already in at least eight states with crucial Senate races and in some House districts as well.
Many of Americans for Prosperity's current ads feature women talking directly to the camera, explaining how Mr. Obama's health care law has hurt them and their families. The group just repurposed one of its original ads for Colorado, where Republicans see a new opportunity, with a woman saying: "Obamacare doesn't work. It just doesn't work." The tag line now urges voters to call Senator Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat facing re-election, about the law.
Americans for Prosperity is also stepping up its ground game. The organization now has more than 200 full-time paid staff members in field offices in at least 32 states. The idea is to embed staff members in a community, giving conservative advocacy a permanent local voice through field workers who live in the neighborhood year-round and appreciate the nuances of the local issues. They can also serve as a ready-to-go field organization in future election years and on future issues -- not dissimilar from the grass-roots, community-based approach Mr. Obama used successfully in 2008 and 2012.
Fox falsely accused President Obama of disregarding the law after he pledged not to use health care enrollment information as a deportation tool.
In a March 19 interview with Univision Deportes, Obama promised that information provided for the purpose of enrolling in the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) health care exchanges would not threaten family members who may be undocumented, saying "if you have a family where some people are citizens or legally here, and others are not documented, the immigration people will never get that information."
Fox & Friends co-hosts attacked Obama's statement the following day, pretending his comments were a revelation and that his plan violates current law. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the decision would set HHS apart from other agencies, "where if they find out something, they share it." He went on to frame the plan as "extraordinary," and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck agreed, suggesting it is against the law:
But the policy that Obama discussed is, in fact, consistent with the law's implementing regulations. As the National Immigration Law Center has pointed out, ACA regulations do not require applicants who are not seeking health coverage for themselves "to provide information about their citizenship or immigration status and are not required to provide a Social Security number."
Not only is the policy not new, it is not unique to the ACA. In fact, government agencies are only required to report undocumented immigrants in relation to three federal programs - Social Security, public housing, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- and only if the individuals' immigration status is known. Obama's promise is consistent with longstanding federal policy:
The ACA codifies longstanding federal guidance, known as the Tri-Agency Guidance, which was issued by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture to ensure that applications do not require unnecessary information from nonapplicants, because these inquiries deter eligible people from securing benefits for which they may be eligible. According to ACA regulations, applications "may not request citizenship status, status as a national, or immigration status from an individual who is not seeking coverage for himself or herself on any application or supplemental form."
The policy was designed to alleviate concerns from mixed-status families that enrollment of eligible family members may cause repercussions for their undocumented family members. As Reuters reported, these fears can leave eligible children without coverage:
"A lot of mixed-status families are afraid that if they enroll, that the government will come and divide up their family through deportation," said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president at the California Endowment, a health foundation.
One couple who last month came to a Los Angeles event by the group Vision y Compromiso demonstrates the types of problems these families face, said program manager Hugo Ramirez. The organization, dedicated to improving the health of the Hispanic community, received funding through Covered California to promote Obamacare.
The undocumented parents, a father who is a construction worker and a mother who works as a house cleaner, feared information they might submit to enroll their three children in Covered California could be used against them by U.S. immigration officials, Ramirez said.
An advocate advised the couple they would not risk running afoul of immigration authorities, but that in enrolling their children and providing details on the family's earnings, they would have to begin paying income taxes despite being undocumented, Ramirez said. The couple seemed inclined to buy coverage for their children, ages 17 and younger, he said.
Fox News' Benghazi coverage has sunk to relying on Roger Stone, the head of the now-defunct anti-Hillary Clinton group Citizens United Not Timid -- designed by Stone for its acronym -- as a source to continue pushing distortions surrounding the attacks.
The March 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends provided Stone with the platform to promote his new book The Benghazi Report. Together with co-host Clayton Morris, Stone recounted some of Fox's favorite Benghazi hoaxes, under the pretense that the myths will harm former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should she run for president in 2016. According to Stone, "There's no question Hillary lied and people died":
Fox selected the right guest to forward its effort to make the Benghazi tragedy into a scandal, as Stone has a long history of directing extreme and sexist attacks at Clinton. In 2008, Stone established an anti-Hillary Clinton political organization named Citizens United Not Timid - The organization frequently went by C.U.N.T., an acronym Stone settled on after reportedly failing to find an appropriate name to match the acronym B.I.T.C.H. In a January 28, 2008 Weekly Standard article, senior writer Matt Labash called Stone "a professional dirty trickster and high priest of political hijinks" before quoting him on the goals of Citizens United Not Timid: "[I]t's one-word education. That's our mission. No issues. No policy groups. No position papers. This is a simple committee with an unfortunate acronym."
Stone's group purported to "educate the American public about what Hillary Clinton really is":
Stone has never been known as an honest political actor. The New York Times has reported that, as a teenager, Stone hired a political mole, and the Washington Post documented Stone employing deceptive campaign tactics as far back as the 1970s. According to the Times, Stone was forced to resign from the campaign of New York state Sen. Joseph Bruno in August 2007 after "allegations that he left a threatening telephone message at the office of Gov. Eliot Spitzer's father."
Just days after concluding a smear campaign against highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile's nomination to the Department of Justice, the right-wing media began working to tar Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, as a "radical" for suggesting that gun violence is a public health issue.
Fox dishonestly framed the current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case examining outside influence in the Chattanooga Volkswagen union vote as an attack on Sen. Bob Corker's free speech, ignoring that the board has no authority to constrain political speech.
On February 14, workers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee Volkswagen plant voted down a proposal to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712 - 626. The vote came after an extended media campaign which culminated on February 13, the day before the scheduled vote, when Corker falsely alleged that if the workers voted against the union, the plant would be rewarded with a new product to manufacture. His claim was immediately rejected by Volkswagen.
The UAW appealed for a re-vote, contending that the "coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign" by Corker and others infringed on the workers' right to "employee free choice."
But on the March 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck framed the fallout of Corker's threats and the impending investigation as "what happens when one of America's most powerful unions doesn't get its way," and as an effort by the UAW to get "a whole new set of rules" if the votes are recast. Hasselbeck then turned to guest Sen. Bob Corker to explain the pending NLRB decision, asking whether the UAW's objection to his threat was really an attempt to stifle free speech:
HASSELBECK: This is a freedom of speech issue, is it not? I mean, The president was out there speaking on behalf of the unions. You were certainly speaking on behalf of your constituents. You worked long and hard to get Volkswagen there from the beginning. Actually had initial meetings in your home. [...] They're telling you you can't speak, but yet the president can? Is this a double standard when it comes to freedom of speech?
CORKER: Yes. And I think, you know, we'll have to see. The UAW has been given until Friday to add additional arguments to their case. You're right, the president weighed in during the election process also. Again, this has happened time and time in the past and never, never before has the NLRB ever overruled because politicians have been involved in this way. So look, I -- you're right. I built the industrial part that Volkswagen is located on when I was mayor with others, recruited them to our state, had been involved with them for five years. Know the management up and down the line, have been, you know, have relationships there. And for me to express concerns about what it would mean to our community and our state over time is something that I think people elect me to do. So again, this is an interesting case. Hopefully even though this is Obama's NLRB, these are his appointees, hopefully they will do the right thing here and not try to muzzle people that are elected by people in their state.
Fox's attempt to frame the NLRB decision as an issue of free speech is dishonest. Offering workers a second chance to consider unionization isn't the same thing as "muzzling" Corker, and giving workers some distance from his comments isn't, as Hasselbeck claimed, a UAW ploy to implement "a whole new set of rules." As former NLRB general counsel Fred Feinstein explained, "the NLRB has no authority over Sen. Corker and cannot control what he says." At most, he said, the Board could conclude that Corker's comments had unfairly tainted the election and could "conceivably order a new one."
The NLRB is responsible for protecting workers legal right to "engage in protected concerted activities-group action to improve wages, benefits, and working conditions and to engage in union activities and support a union," and works to ensure that workers are free of coercion while maintaining their right to "free choice" during union elections. The NLRB typically focuses on whether unions or companies have been involved in illegal coercion of workers during a union vote, but third-party coercion is still a concern. The Huffington Post explained that the NLRB could make the case "that Corker's highly detailed statement created an atmosphere of coercion."
The UAW is only asking for a re-vote, which, if granted, would only allow the unionization of the plant with a majority vote. That's a far cry from Fox's claim that the UAW is planning to "take over" the Volkswagen plant and block officials' free speech in the process.
Media are distorting Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state by fixating on her attempt to reset the U.S. relationship with Russian in order to make Russia's invasion of Crimea a political issue in the 2016 presidential election. But Clinton has long maintained that Russian President Vladimir Putin is untrustworthy and helped negotiate Russian cooperation on Iran sanctions and use of Russian airspace for the war in Afghanistan.
In recent months, conservative media figures have undermined efforts by labor groups to organize across the United States, demonizing labor unions in the process. These anti-union attacks are largely reliant on myths alleging negative side-effects of union participation.