For weeks, conservative media have embraced Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents after refusing to pay decades worth of federal grazing fees on public land. The support persisted even as Bundy and his supporters were engaging in revolutionary, insurrectionist rhetoric and repeated threats of violence against government authorities.
Bundy took this even further on April 19, when he made overtly racist comments during one of his daily press conferences. From the New York Times (emphasis added):
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids -- and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch -- they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Though Nevada coverage of the Bundy standoff has made it clear that Bundy is breaking the law, right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, have propped up his cause with a PR campaign that romanticizes his lawlessness and the armed militia groups that helped him force a standoff with federal agents. On Fox alone, Bundy received a total 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming between April 5, when Bundy's story broke, and April 17:
Fox figures have been aggressive in supporting Bundy's fight with the federal government, led by Fox host Sean Hannity. Hannity interviewed Bundy on his Fox show Hannity, on April 9, sympathizing with the rancher's claims and arguing that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer." In the following days, Hannity escalated his rhetoric, arguing that federal agents have "drawn the wrong line in the sand here," praising Bundy because he "like[s] anybody that's willing to fight," and stoking fears "of what this government is capable of doing." Hannity also repeatedly predicted a violent outcome, saying, "This can spiral out of control," and, "If it keeps going, this is going to end very, very badly." He even demanded, "The government needs to stand down" because "I'm telling you, [it is] my opinion that this crisis could come to a head, and lives could be lost." He has refused to apologize for touting the standoff, and has doubled down on his support when his hypocrisy on the rule of law was highlighted.
Other Fox figures have downplayed Bundy and his supporters' threats of violence, agreeing that Bundy and his supporters demonstrate "the resistance of patriotic Americans," supporting the agitators as "good, hardworking Americans" or "law-abiding American citizens -- patriots," even as they concede that Bundy's actions were illegal. Right-wing outlets outside of Fox have made similar arguments. National Review Online's Kevin Williamson called the presence of armed agents "inflammatory" and compared Bundy to Gandhi. The Drudge Report recklessly hyped the growing fear of a violent standoff between anti-government militia members and federal forces.
Some of Bundy's conservative media supporters seem undeterred by his repulsive comments. Radio host Dana Loesch, who has already used Bundy's standoff to invoke Benghazi, said his comments were "odd and sounds offensive," but also defended him, saying:
I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn't media trained to express himself perfectly. He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family -- which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity -- so perhaps he included that in his remarks against big government? I'm just trying to figure out how he even got to the point of discussing it and yes, it's justified to have a healthy suspicion of the New York Times.
On the April 24 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, on the other hand, demonstrated what rational coverage of the Bundy's lawlessness looks like, noting, "it's the kind of conservatism that undermines everything that conservatives should be about":
Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has stepped up her campaign to paint herself as a victim of media bias by floating half-baked conspiracy theories about the research that exposed factual issues with her work. These newest allegations are as unsubstantiated as the shoddy reporting that has previously tarnished her -- and CBS'-- record as a reliable source.
Following its protracted campaign to smear Hillary Clinton as a dishonest and untrustworthy leader, Fox News is working overtime to explain away its own polling revealing that the American people trust the former Secretary of State more than the Republican Party and the slew of potential GOP presidential candidates.
According to Fox News' most recent poll data, 54 percent of registered voters consider Hillary Clinton "honest and trustworthy," a higher percentage than potential Republican 2016 presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Christie Christie received. At 49 percent, her favorability rating is higher than that of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and all GOP 2016 contenders.
Fox hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Steve Doocy addressed Clinton's poll numbers on the April 17 edition of Fox & Friends by blaming liberal bias in the mainstream media. Doocy complained that Clinton was viewed as more trustworthy than Christie because the "mainstream media [...] beat the drum" against Christie rather than report on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, in an effort to "take him out." According to Hasselbeck, the poll could be due to a perception bias that favors women:
DOOCY: You know what's interesting about that poll is -- remember it wasn't too long before the whole bridge thing hit the mainstream media fan where Chris Christie was actually leading Hillary Clinton. But then the mainstream media -- and some cynics on the right would say, well they were just trying to take Chris Christie out because he posed the greatest threat for Hillary Clinton -- nonstop coverage on all the channels about that Bridgegate thing.
And when you think about the two potential candidates, you've got Chris Christie who, you know, a while back was involved, his administration put up 25 traffic cones in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and generated hundreds of hours of mainstream media Bridgegate television. And then far screen right you've got Hillary Clinton who ran the State Department which denied extra security for Libya and four Americans wind up dying. I mean that is quite a contrast. You've got 25 orange cones versus four dead Americans -- but you've got the mainstream media and they beat the drum for Chris Christie, against him, and nobody on the other side of the channel is really covering Benghazi, unless us.
HASSELBECK: Well, perception and reality are two different things. I think it is. In the past women have polled better in terms of trust when it comes to politics. But again, as you mentioned, you know, this is a woman who has been ridden with scandal in the past particularly recently when we talk about Benghazi and four Americans dead. She is still found to be more trustworthy at this point. Go figure.
It's understandable that Fox would prefer to discount these findings. The network has put a significant amount of effort into skewing public opinion of Clinton, pushing repeatedly debunked myths in an attempt to tarnish her image in expectation of a presidential bid in 2016. These efforts are in stark contrast with Fox's willingness to hide information that could hurt potential GOP presidential candidates like Christie, whom Fox personalities have previously showered with praise.
Right-wing media hyped a misleading apples-to-oranges comparison to claim that the U.S. is at a "tipping point" in the "relationship between welfare and work."
On April 15, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed new statistics showed that "the number of people living on the government dole outnumbered full-time working women." Fox Business host Stuart Varney then claimed "welfare is replacing work" because in 2012, 46 million people collected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) and 44 million women worked full time. Varney cited SNAP benefits as "the classic example" of an "explosion in welfare payments outgoing from the government to individuals and a decline in work," which he attributed to the Obama administration "buying votes." Meanwhile, Fox displayed this graphic:
Other right-wing media sources highlighted the same supposedly "telling" numbers. CNS News posted a graphic comparing the number of women working full time to total SNAP beneficiaries and the Drudge Report also hyped the connection:
But these numbers can't be compared, as many working women fall into both categories.
In fact, because the majority of recipients are working-class Americans with jobs, senior citizens, or children, an increase in SNAP beneficiaries is an extremely unreliable predictor of the number of full-time workers, let alone evidence of a tipping point before a decline in overall employment. A 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the "overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so" (emphasis original):
The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP -- and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children -- more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.
The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled -- from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011. The increase was especially pronounced during the recent deep recession, suggesting that many people have turned to SNAP because of under-employment -- for example, when one wage-earner in a two-parent family lost a job, when a worker's hours were cut, or when a worker turned to a lower-paying job after being laid off.
A separate report from the USDA pointed out that in 2012, "75 percent of all SNAP households, containing 87 percent of all participants, included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled nonelderly person. These households received 82 percent of all SNAP benefits."
This latest attempt to cast the SNAP program as spurring unemployment ignores current economic reality. SNAP enrollment has risen as a result of the economic downturn. The Economic Policy Institute noted that "SNAP swelled because the economy entered the worst recession since the Great Depression and remains severely depressed even 18 months after the official recovery began." According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP enrollment is projected to decline as the economy recovers:
The number of people receiving SNAP benefits will begin to slowly decline at the end of fiscal year 2014, CBO expects, reflecting an improved economic situation and a declining unemployment rate. Nevertheless, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits will remain high by historical standards, CBO estimates. That is partly because of a growing U.S. population and thus a greater number of potential SNAP participants.
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."