Media personalities on broadcast network Sunday shows advanced the right-wing myth that the Obama administration has given Congress a special exemption from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ignoring that the decision fixed a problem that would have treated congressional employees differently from all other Americans.
Following right-wing media's efforts to portray an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) rule clarification as an "exemption" or "dispensation" to congressional staffers, The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol appeared on the August 11 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday and suggested that Congress was not "covered by the same rules as the rest of the country" with respect to the health care law:
On Meet the Press, CNN contributor Ana Navarro similarly focused on the decision, complaining of "strategic cut-outs" and claiming that the administration has "been making nothing but exceptions on this Obamacare":
NAVARRO: But I also think, you know, it's rather rich for the president to be throwing stones that way when what we've seen is an administration that has been making nothing but exceptions on this Obamacare whether it's for corporations or for congressional staff. So maybe he should talk about implementing the whole thing he passed and not doing these exceptions that I'm very disappointed Republicans and Democrats stayed quiet on the exceptions for the congressional staff that were made this last week. There should be more focus on well, if you passed it, live with it, instead of rather than making these very strategic cut-outs.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees the health benefits of federal government employees, responded to the ACA's Grassley amendment with a rule clarification. The amendment requires members of Congress and their staffs to enter the exchanges that were otherwise intended for people without access to employer-based coverage. OPM's decision allows the government to contribute to insurance premiums for members of Congress and staffers moved to the ACA exchanges.
In the Health Affairs blog, health care expert Timothy Jost noted that "[f]ar from exempting Congress from ACA requirements, as some have reported, the amendment subjects members to a legal requirement that will apply to no other Americans."
Jost further explained that Congress would have no way to pay for their employees' coverage through the law because the exchanges were meant to provide access to health care for individuals and small businesses, and that staffers would not receive a tax credit to help pay for coverage because their salaries are generally above the limit for premium subsidies. This would, in effect, force them to pay the full price of their insurance for no reason.
The Obama administration's compromise is to permit the federal government to contribute toward employee insurance on the exchanges, but to render those employees ineligible for any tax credits or subsidies.
"Members of Congress and their staff must go into the exchange," said an administration official. "No ands, ifs, or buts. They will not be eligible in any way for subsidies or tax credits. But they don't lose their current employer contribution."
Fox News hyped a poll showing that a majority of people think the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, would increase the deficit and raise their taxes and insurance premiums, claiming that these polls debunked what President Obama has said about the law. But nonpartisan estimates have consistently shown that the ACA lowers the deficit, IRS rules show that the law's payroll tax increases only affect high-income Americans, and reports show the law is already saving many Americans money.
Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich smeared Hillary Clinton by claiming that she lied in a speech honoring the victims of the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. But Pavlich is distorting Clinton's remarks.
Fox & Friends covered the announcement that NBC's entertainment division is planning to air a new mini-series focused on Hillary Clinton's "life as a wife, mother, politician and cabinet member" sometime before 2015. Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich used the segment as an opportunity to smear Clinton, saying:
PAVLICH: Although Diane Lane is a fantastic actress, I doubt she can act as well as Hillary Clinton did when she lied about that YouTube video in front of flag-draped caskets of Americans as they came home from being killed in Benghazi. So it's going to be really hard for her to top that performance.
But in her remarks, Clinton mentioned the wave of protests at U.S. embassies in the region, which repeated news reports said were in response to an anti-Islam video that was posted on YouTube. From Clinton's remarks [emphasis added]:
In the days since the attack, so many Libyans - including the Ambassador from Libya to the United States, who is with us today - have expressed their sorrow and solidarity. One young woman, her head covered and her eyes haunted with sadness, held up a handwritten sign that said "Thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi nor Islam." The President of the Palestinian Authority, who worked closely with Chris when he served in Jerusalem, sent me a letter remembering his energy and integrity, and deploring - and I quote - "an act of ugly terror." Many others from across the Middle East and North Africa have offered similar sentiments.
This has been a difficult week for the State Department and for our country. We've seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We've seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful internet video that we had nothing to do with. It is hard for the American people to make sense of that because it is senseless, and it is totally unacceptable.
Pavlich's description of Clinton's "performance" is a reference to is the administration's early contention that an anti-Muslim YouTube video played a role in sparking the Benghazi attacks, which Fox has long attacked as a "lie" and some sort of cover-up. But unclassified talking points produced by the intelligence community linked the video to the Benghazi attack, and The New York Times reported that the Benghazi attackers "did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video."
Fox News attacked President Obama's July 25 suggestion that "phony scandals" are a distraction in Washington, claiming that he was referencing attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya and calling the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi "phony." Yet Obama made no mention of Benghazi, and it's Fox who has pushed dozens of phony Benghazi conspiracy theories since the attacks took place in September 2012.
Fox News continued its smear campaign against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, by hyping an evidence-free claim that recipients are using the program to send food overseas.
A July 21 New York Post story claimed that low-income New Yorkers were using SNAP funds to purchase food to send overseas. The Post based its claims on anecdotes from unnamed sources at two New York supermarkets that "confirmed the practice," but failed to include specifics. The anonymous woman that the Post provided as its sole example of the practice was not a SNAP beneficiary:
Last week, a woman stuffed dozens of boxes of macaroni and evaporated milk into a barrel headed for her family in Kingston, Jamaica. She said she didn't have welfare benefits and bought the food herself.
"This is all worth more than $2,000," she said. "I've been shopping since last December. You can help somebody else, someone who doesn't live in this country."
A man helping her pack the barrel said: "We're poor here, and they're poor. But what we can get here is like luxury to them."
You're paying for food stamps for foreigners? The New York Post reports that welfare recipients in New York City are buying groceries and sending them in giant barrels to relatives in Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The Agriculture Department won't investigate. That will be up to individual states. Thanks.
Meet The Press host David Gregory misrepresented the Affordable Care Act's "medicare surtax" to suggest that it will be felt by "anybody who gets a paycheck in this country," though the provisions will only affect individuals with an annual income above $200,000.
Beginning with 2013 tax returns, new tax provisions included in the Affordable Care Act will begin to take effect. Though most Americans will only see a tax increase if they decide to forgo health coverage, some changes designed to increase fairness in Medicare funding will begin to affect the wealthiest Americans.
Gregory misled about this change during a discussion about the Affordable Care Act implementation process on the July 7 edition of NBC's Meet the Press. He noted that while he didn't understand all the "ins and outs" of the healthcare law, its Medicare tax increases were one thing that would be apparent to all working Americans on their paychecks.
Gregory's claim failed to recognize that both of the healthcare law's Medicare tax increases affect only the wealthiest of Americans. A 0.9 percent Medicare payroll tax increase will apply to individual earners whose annual income exceeds $200,000 or households earning more than $250,000 - a group representing only 4.2 percent of taxpayers. An additional 3.8 percent tax will apply to the investment income of some Americans. As Forbes noted, "for individuals who have little or no net investment income, their 3.8% Medicare Surtax will be minimal if not zero."
According to the White House, the changes are designed to increase fairness in a system that is highly regressive. Currently, Americans with substantial unearned income do not pay into the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund as workers do, and payroll tax caps decrease the percentage that high-earners contribute.
Fox News criticized State Department spending on public engagement through Facebook, though experts say that social media is a key component of public diplomacy in the 21st century and the State Department's Facebook presence has produced a level of engagement that exceeds industry standards.
Fox cited a May 2013 Inspector General (IG) report on the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) in order to criticize the bureau for spending $630,000 on two advertising campaigns to increase the bureau's Facebook audience. According to the IG report, the campaigns succeeded in raising the number of followers of the bureau's English Facebook pages from around 100,000 per page to over 2 million for per page. The IIP is tasked with developing a social media community as part of its mission to provide and support "the places, content, and infrastructure needed for sustained conversations with foreign audiences to build America's reputation abroad."
During the June 3 Fox & Friends, guest co-host Clayton Morris suggested that the State Department's spending on "Facebook likes" was a not useful. Co-host Brian Kilmeade added, "Do you know how many White House tours they could have had with that?"
In fact, experts contend that social media outreach is an important part of modern diplomacy. American University professor Craig Hayden noted in a Fall 2012 Global Media Journal article that "social media technologies are increasingly inextricable from strategic formulations about US foreign policy, its methods, and objectives," and that "it is increasingly evident that such claims are more than unsubstantiated valorization of technology." Similarly, a February 2013 American Security Project report asserted that social media has a role in public diplomacy and advised that "these tools should be components of an integrated strategy" [emphasis original]. And a 2013 Aspen Institute report cited two former US ambassadors who urged the State Department to utilize social media "as a means to strengthen public diplomacy."
Moreover, a 2010 Pew Internet poll found that a majority of Americans do not think that that government engagement through social media "is a waste of government money." 79 percent of Americans also agreed that social media "helps people be more informed about what the government is doing," while 74 percent said it "makes government agencies and officials more accessible".
Though the IG report on the State Department's Facebook outreach noted that "just over 2 percent" of the bureau's followers like, share, or comment on the bureau's Facebook posts per week, according to research by the Chief Marketing Officer Council, two percent exceeds industry standards for the level of engagement that most brands can expect when seeking increased publicity on Facebook: "Only 1.3% of 'fans' actually engage with the brands they 'like'."
The Washington Post dismissed the severity of the across-the-board automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, failing to note that these cuts hit programs designed to help disadvantaged Americans and that the impact of sequestration will be long lasting.
On June 30, a Washington Post article headlined, "They said the sequester would be scary. Mostly, they were wrong," reported that early projections of the impacts of sequestration have proven largely incorrect because they "didn't cause much real-world pain."
Though the Post noted that "the $85 billion budget cut has caused real reductions in many federal programs that people depend on," it neglected to elaborate on these "real reductions," focusing instead on cuts like furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration, which congressional leaders chose to replace by reallocating money intended for other projects in the face of public pressure. The Post summarized:
In other cases, however, budget maneuvers made sequestration even less painful. It wasn't a cleaver. It wasn't a scalpel. It was more like liposuction -- carefully removing the things that would be missed the least.
In fact, sequestration cuts have caused real-world pain for thousands of struggling Americans. As the Center for American Progress reported, Congress has made an effort to fix some high-profile effects of sequestration while ignoring its effect on low-income Americans, including:
140,000 low-income Americans who stand to lose their housing vouchers, the 70,000 children who stand to be kicked out of Head Start, and the many seniors who will have to adjust to 4 million fewer meals delivered by Meals on Wheels.
Additionally, some low-income Medicare patients have been denied care as the two percent cut to Medicare payments for doctors has forced local cancer clinics with narrow profit margins to turn them away. In the next year, California's Napa and Solano Counties will lose $500,000 in Head Start funding, 63,872 hours of educational and family development service, and funding for 45,952 meals for needy families. In New York, Head Start classes for low-income children are beginning to close and will remain closed next fall due to sequestration cuts. As one Head Start administrator pointed out, "When you have to manage a $800,000 cut for a program, you can't just nibble around the edges. You have to go in and it takes a real human toll, a real social toll, and a real economic toll."
The Post also downplayed automatic cuts to occur in October and the long-term impact of sequestration cuts, suggesting that "the Obama administration will seek to make the threat reappear," but "[t]he problem is, officials said all that before," failing to mention that sequestration's effects will be felt well past October 2013.
But the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) predicted that the effects of sequestration would resemble a "slow motion train wreck," and that "ramifications will steadily worsen as time passes." The BPC also estimated that sequestration would cost the economy approximately one million jobs in 2013 and 2014. And Wall Street economists have predicted that sequestration cuts would reduce GDP growth by as much as one percentage point during its first fiscal year.
In a June 17 article, The National Journal noted that most of the economic backlash from sequestration furloughs are likely still to come since the majority of federal furloughs won't begin until July. On July 8, for example, 680,000 Pentagon workers will begin to be furloughed, and "the real income shock will not show up until the July personal income and outlay report on Aug. 30."
Media outlets are pushing the conservative narrative that the Obama administration will "bypass Congress" with a new plan to reduce carbon emissions while ignoring key context: the 2007 Supreme Court decision that explicitly gave the executive branch the power to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act and the endangerment finding that made the EPA "statutorily obligated" to do so.
President Obama announced the details of his new plan to deal with the challenge of climate change in a June 25 speech at Georgetown University. Details of the White House plan, which will extend regulation on carbon emissions to existing power plants, were released on the morning of June 25.
Advance coverage of Obama's climate speech and plan by Fox News, Politico, The Associated Press, NBC News, and The Hill echoes past criticism from conservative media of Obama's efforts to combat climate change by focusing on the fact that the efforts do not need to be approved by Congress.
On the June 25 edition of Fox & Friends First, business analyst Diane Macedo concluded her report on the climate policies that Obama is likely to announce by noting that "none of these steps require congressional approval," and that Obama is "seek[ing] ways to work around [Congress]."
Politico reported on June 21 that the president was "preparing to bypass Congress on climate change." An NBCNews.com headline described the president's intent to "sidestep Congress with new initiatives to reduce carbon emissions." And The Hill stated that the administration would "curb emissions using executive powers that sidestep Congress" and the plan was "designed to get around Congress."
However, not one of these outlets explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government already has the authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. Right-wing media outlets similarly excluded this critical context when they hyperbolically accused the administration of breaking the law by proposing carbon regulations that did not require congressional approval. In June 2012, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said that earlier EPA regulations on carbon emissions were "outright lawlessness." A March Wall Street Journal editorial also claimed that Obama's efforts to regulate carbon make him similar to a dictator.
Six months after the tragic Newtown school shooting, Fox & Friends highlighted a gun manufacturer's high profits but failed to recognize victims of gun violence in Newtown or elsewhere in the country.
On December 14, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, left 26 people dead, including 20 children, and helped to spark a national debate about preventing gun violence and stronger gun laws. Six months later, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson reported record earnings, which CNN Money attributed to a "spike in demand from consumers fearing that the national debate over gun control would yield new regulations limiting their ability to buy certain firearms."
But Fox & Friends ignored the Newtown victims exactly six months after the school shooting, instead highlighting how gun sales have soared in response to congressional debate over tougher gun laws. In Fox & Friends' "News by the Numbers" feature, co-host Brian Kilmeade said:
KILMEADE: First, 10 percent. That's how much stock for Smith & Wesson is up since the start of the year. The company helped by strong demand and fears of increased gun regulations.
In contrast to how Fox & Friends handled the report, CNN's Starting Point similarly mentioned the gun industry's "record" sales in recent months, but also took time to recognize the victims of the Newtown shooting. CNN host Christine Romans noted that the trend of increasing gun sales "accelerated after the Newtown shootings, which happened six months ago today."
The Fox News show America's Newsroom, which follows Fox & Friends, aired part of a Newtown moment of silence in remembrance of the shooting victims.