Fox News is now suggesting that minor contradictions in Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis' life story constitute a more important political "scandal" than accusations of corruption and political retribution by NJ Gov. Chris Christie's administration.
On the January 23 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott accused "op-eds and pundits [for] tearing into [Christie's] character," while ignoring the "political scandal in Texas." This scandal, according to Scott, was that Davis' life story had "holes" in it, partly because she didn't pull "herself up by her stilettos" and instead relied on some financial help from her second husband in order to attend law school:
Scott: The interesting thing about Wendy Davis is this story that has propelled her to state-wide stardom, maybe even national stardom. She says she was married at 19, teenage mother, divorced, lived in a trailer, made it through Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School, and now she is where she is today, a state senator and maybe the next governor of Texas. The problem is, there are some holes in that story.
The suggestion that she pulled herself up by her stilettos and made it through Harvard Law School doesn't exactly jive with the fact that her husband, her then-husband, paid for it all, then as soon as it's all paid for, she left him, and he got custody of the two girls.
Michael Barone, a Fox News contributor, argued during the segment and in a Washington Examiner piece that Christie's record as governor of New Jersey was being scrutinized by media "because he might be a successful presidential candidate," and that Davis should come under similar media scrutiny for these details of her life because her run for governor could potentially "turn Texas blue," a move which would have national significance.
But the reason to scrutinize Christie's record is not that he might run for president. It's that he has been accused of corruption and petty political retribution in his position as the current governor of New Jersey. At no point during the segment did either Scott or Barone delve into the details of "Chris Christie's problems," but they are far more than minor contradictions in a timeline of life events.
Christie has admitted that his administration caused a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, in what is alleged to have been political payback against a local mayor. Though the governor claimed he was unaware of his staff's actions, and later removed two top aides, his administration was subsequently accused by a different mayor of holding Hurricane Sandy relief funds hostage for political reasons.
There are at least three separate legal investigations examining the accusations launched against the Christie administration.
In contrast, Davis is not currently under investigation for possibly abusing the power of her office as state senator. There are some small, legitimate questions about her presentation of her life story, but those questions have been blown out of proportion by conservative media, who have launched an absurd and often sexist campaign against her. Right-wing radio hosts and Fox contributors have implied she is an unstable and unreliable mother, unfit for public office, and have attacked her for defying gender norms by leaving her spouse to pursue her career (a move many male politicians have made, with little media fanfare).
Scott's sexist joke about Davis' stilettos is just the latest example of these demeaning attacks, and furthers the network's desperate attempt to bury the Christie scandal by deflecting attention to unrelated stories.
Fox has previously attempted to compare Christie's scandal to the September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and to the IRS scandal, in which bureaucrats largely based in Cincinnati allegedly devoted inappropriate scrutiny to conservative groups. The network also devoted less than 15 minutes of coverage to Christie on the day the scandal broke, and mentioned the revelations about Hurricane relief only once the day they emerged.
If you are a woman, you no longer have the same rights you had 41 years ago.
January 22 is the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, in which the court ruled that women have a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.
But in the intervening decades, that right has largely disappeared, a process helped by media outlets that have misinformed on these safe and legal health procedures.
Thanks to Supreme Court rulings that came after Roe, states are now free to regulate and restrict abortion so long as new laws do not impose an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose. But state legislatures are currently testing what qualifies as an undue burden, and in 2013 alone 70 different anti-choice restrictions were adopted in 22 states across the U.S. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more abortion restrictions have been enacted in the past three years than in the entire previous decade.
In December, Ian Millhiser and Tara Culp-Ressler published a thoughtful piece about this process at ThinkProgress headlined, "The Greatest Trick The Supreme Court Ever Pulled Was Convincing The World Roe v. Wade Still Exists." They argued that while a woman's right to choose an abortion is still ostensibly covered by the constitution, the reality is that right is increasingly restricted to just wealthy women who happen to live in (or are able to travel to) one of the few states that will still permit them the opportunity to exercise that right.
This sustained attack on women's rights is fast becoming a key issue for politicians in the 2014 midterms. But the media have also played a sizeable role in this process, contributing to the vanishing power of Roe by allowing anti-choicers to control the conversation.
Right-wing media are making sexist and outrageous claims in an attempt to smear Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis over her divorces.
The Dallas Morning News reported January 18th that Davis had been 21, not 19, by the time she got a divorce, a seemingly-minor contradiction to previous statements in which she had described herself as a teenage-single mother. In a statement to Buzzfeed, Davis explained that she had been separated from her first husband "on [her] way to a divorce" by 19, living alone with her daughter in a trailer for a time.
Exactly how young Davis was when she took care of her daughter on her own while facing economic hardship is a small, but understandable, question. Conservative media, however, are blowing the legitimate questions about Davis' backstory out of proportion while making sexist attacks on Davis' character and implying she is not fit for public office.
On January 20, Rush Limbaugh called Davis a "babe" and a "genuine head case," and claimed the new details proved she needed a man to be successful, as her second husband helped pay for her law school. Limbaugh concluded that her life story was full of "fraud and deceit ... her entire biography has been embellished and falsified by her."
Radio host Mark Levin also suggested that Davis was a "good Democrat gubernatorial candidate" because she is a "liar" and because there were "allegations -- I stress, allegations -- of adultery."
In two posts on his blog, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson used the divorce in an attempt to portray Davis as an unstable and unreliable mother, with two posts headlined, "Documents Show A Texas Court Ordered Wendy Davis to Stay Away From Drugs and Alcohol" and "Wendy Davis' Ex Asked a Court to Order Her Not to Use Drugs Before Seeing Her Kids."
But Erickson conveniently ignored that a temporary restraining order, or TRO, is common practice in divorce cases involving children, and can include restrictions on alcohol and drug consumption. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite effectively laid out how Davis' restraining order was typical, and an example of a petition form for the TRO is available on the Texas Law Help website, showing that drug and alcohol provisions are included on the form.
Erickson has repeatedly attempted to smear Davis, whom he demeaningly refers to as "Abortion Barbie." Last November, Erickson absurdly suggested that Davis was unfit for public office because she had claimed "mental health issues" in a 1996 lawsuit. Erickson once again showed his unfamiliarity with the law; the language he cited is required boilerplate for the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claim Davis brought against a Texas newspaper.
These attacks on Davis are extreme, but they also follow a predictable pattern. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation has studied every female candidate for governor in the past, and found that women running for executive office often are placed on an "Ethical Pedestal," which perpetuates the myth that women are more innately honest than men -- allowing male opponents to undermine them by simply questioning their integrity:
To distract from what really matters -- the policies, priorities, and platforms of each candidate -- male opponents often strike early with attacks questioning a woman's integrity. It's a well-worn strategy.
We saw this happen in Senator Elizabeth Warren's race against then-Senator Scott Brown in 2012, when he repeatedly questioned her integrity, and we're already seeing it in State Senator Wendy Davis's race against Attorney General Greg Abbott in Texas.
Fox News has largely moved on from the developing scandals engulfing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, even as new allegations emerge from a New Jersey mayor that the governor withheld Hurricane Sandy relief aid for political reasons. Christie's name came up only three times on Fox's January 18 programming, even as MSNBC and CNN devoted significant coverage to the new revelations.
David Brooks has a problem with single mothers.
The New York Times opinion columnist scapegoated unmarried moms for their poverty in his January 16 column, joining a chorus of media figures who have ignored basic economics to suggest that marriage is a magic-bullet solution to poverty.
Brooks claimed that "someone being rich doesn't make someone poor," arguing that discussions of income inequality have been too focused on disparities in wealth and not focused enough on the "fraying of social fabric" and the "morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem," which he pinned in part on single motherhood (emphasis added):
There is a very strong correlation between single motherhood and low social mobility. There is a very strong correlation between high school dropout rates and low mobility. There is a strong correlation between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility. There is a strong correlation between de-industrialization and low social mobility. It is also true that many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women.
Low income is the outcome of these interrelated problems, but it is not the problem. To say it is the problem is to confuse cause and effect. To say it is the problem is to give yourself a pass from exploring the complex and morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem. It is to give yourself permission to ignore the parts that are uncomfortable to talk about but that are really the inescapable core of the thing.
First, Brooks is wrong on the basic arithmetic of income inequality. As economist Elise Gould at the Economic Policy Institute has explained, "if it had not been for growing economic inequality, the poverty rate would be at or near zero today." This is because without inequality, economic growth would be shared equitably among all income levels; instead, since the 1970s, growing inequality has increased poverty, as the rich benefit more from economic growth.
Second, the "problem" of single motherhood is not that mothers aren't married; it's that significant numbers of unmarried mothers don't have access to basic support systems like childcare, paid family and medical leave, and family planning -- necessary social supports that Brooks dismisses in favor of fearmongering about "fraying of social fabric."
The recently released Shriver Report on women's economic realities in America found that economic policies and programs that improve access to education and child care can do more to help decrease economic hardship for women than marriage ever could. Karen Kornbluh, former ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, also noted that childcare, after-school programs, and health care reform would provide single mothers the needed flexibility to work more secure and economically beneficial jobs.
If poverty were simply an effect of unmarried parenthood, it would seem logical that both single mothers and fathers would face similar experiences. But the Shriver Report also found that single mothers spend more on housing than single fathers, and most likely work minimum-wage jobs. Poverty, and income inequality, are the results of structural economic problems, which disproportionally affect women -- not the other way around.
(Image: Shriver Report, via Feministing)
Media figures who insist that single mothers are to blame for their own poverty ignore these economic realities, and distract from the conversation we should be having: that all families, regardless of structure, need access to basic social goods like equal pay, family planning, and childcare; benefits which economists have shown would improve the economy and reduce poverty for everyone.
The day a major scandal broke involving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Fox News devoted scant coverage to the developing story. On January 8, Fox devoted less than 15 minutes to the New Jersey bridge closure scandal, compared to more than two hours each on CNN and MSNBC.
Things continue to get worse for 60 Minutes' already retracted Benghazi report and its discredited "eyewitness" Dylan Davies. Gawker's J.K. Trotter reports that CBS News and Simon & Shuster may have failed to properly vet significant "discrepancies" in Davies' accounts of his military background.
60 Minutes' October 27, 2013, segment about the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, collapsed after it was revealed that Davies had given conflicting accounts of his actions that night. CBS News eventually pulled the segment and released a "journalistic review" finding that the report was "deficient in several respects" and "did not sufficiently vet Davies' account of his own actions and whereabouts that night." Correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan were put on a leave of absence.
Two days after the 60 Minutes report aired, Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions -- which is owned by CBS Corporation, a blatant conflict of interest -- released The Embassy House under the Davies pseudonym Morgan Jones. The book was pulled from shelves shortly after CBS retracted its segment, but a number of inconsistencies in the book have raised questions about whether Davies' publishers and CBS News adequately vetted Davies before promoting his dubious story.
Gawker's J.K. Trotter has uncovered further discrepancies in Davies' account, this time related to claims about his military service. Trotter notes that while Simon & Schuster highlight the rank of "Sergeant Morgan Jones," "there is zero evidence Davies obtained the rank of sergeant in the British Army." Furthermore, "Davies and his editors seem to disagree about the length of his military service." During the book Davies claims to have served for fourteen years, but the book's jacket and website both say he served for only twelve -- "So either Davies is lying about his enlistment date, or Threshold Editions is lying about their own author."
Trotter also revealed that no one at Threshold Editions or 60 Minutes appears to have verified Davies' claim that he worked on the security detail of U.S. Major General James T. Conway. According to Conway, no one at either organization contacted him to verify Davies' account, despite Conway's importance to Davies' personal narrative:
At several points in the book, Davies recounts leading a security detail as a private contractor in Afghanistan for the (now retired) commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Major General James T. Conway.
But when contacted by Gawker, Conway couldn't verify Davies' story. "[His] name is vaguely familiar but [I] cannot put a face with it," he wrote in an email. "That is not to say his claim is not true."
Nobody at Threshold Editions--or 60 Minutes--contacted Conway to determine whether Davies' claims checked out.
"You are the first person to contact me about any of this," Conway told Gawker.
This is doubly notable because his book's marketing apparatus--including, most of all, 60 Minutes--depended on Davies' image as a dedicated, experienced, well-regarded security professional. "He's been helping to keep U.S. diplomats and military leaders safe for the last decade," is how Logan introduced him. His proximity to Conway earned a special mention in Davies' jacket biography.
Fact-checking is essentially non-existent in the book publishing world, meaning there are few safe guards in place to prevent such failure. Threshold Editions did not respond to Media Matters' previous requests for comment regarding an explanation of its procedures. Threshold representatives declined to comment to Gawker.
But 60 Minutes should have vetted Davies more thoroughly before featuring him in their segment, and their flagrant disregard for basic journalistic standards and ethics helped earned CBS News the distinction as Media Matters' 2013 Misinformer of the Year.
Gawker and Trotter, on the other hand, seem to be doing the investigative research into Davies' background that CBS News should have done before ever putting him on air.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Taranto falsely claimed that women have full control over reproduction and are choosing to have "illegitimate" children who grow up without fathers -- furthering his history of sexist and inaccurate attacks on women's rights and reproductive freedom.
In his January 6 Best of the Web Today column, Taranto examined an article about studies which claim that boys who grow up in households without fathers are likelier to have discipline problems in school than boys who grow up in families with both a male and female parent. Taranto argued that this was a problem rooted in "female careerism" and birth control. He claimed that the growing number of children born to unmarried women -- what he termed "widespread illegitimacy" -- was a product of women having full control over reproduction thanks to the introduction of the pill and abortion rights, and thus "the vast majority of children who are growing up without fathers are doing so in large part because of their mothers' choices" (emphasis added):
Under the legal regime that has prevailed for more than four decades, any woman who gives birth out of wedlock does so because she chooses to do so. To assign responsibility is not necessarily to assign blame: One may hold the view, for example, that illegitimate childbirth is morally preferable to abortion, or that widespread illegitimacy is not as bad for society as the decline in fertility that would occur, all else being equal, if sex outside marriage never produced a child.
Nonetheless, the vast majority of children who are growing up without fathers are doing so in large part because of their mothers' choices. In our column last month, we half-facetiously raised "the converse lament that young females are insufficiently interested in 'becoming reliable wives and mothers.' " Let us now raise it half-seriously. It is trivially true that an unmarried woman who bears a child is not a reliable wife. If Hymowitz is correct about the baneful effects of fatherlessness on boys, such a woman also is not a reliable mother, at least to her sons.
Regardless of what kind of household children are raised in, the fact is women have increasingly little control over their reproductive choices, as their rights are under unprecedented threat. A new Guttmacher Institute report stated that in 2013 alone there were 70 different anti-choice restrictions adopted throughout the states. This severely reduced women's reproductive health options and in many cases shut down health clinics in huge areas of the country, blocking women's access to necessary and safe procedures. Indeed, more abortion restrictions were enacted in the past three years than in the entire previous decade.
Taranto's sexism and misinformed attacks on women's reproductive freedom are a regular feature at the Journal, where he has previously argued that a "war on men" began with contemporary feminism in the 1960s, when women dared "to be equal to men" and wanted "sexual freedom." Below, Media Matters has compiled a selection of some of his worst comments:
Video by Coleman Lowndes
Fox News hyped a photo from the Internet indicating that, at an unknown location, a copy of Al Gore's 2006 book An Inconvenient Truth is selling for $1. According to Amazon.com, numerous booksellers are currently selling the books of various Fox News hosts for that figure or less.
Fox News has a history of dismissing the science of climate change and launching bizarre personal attacks on Gore. Back in 2010, the network even showed a copy of Gore's book in the snow, as part of their annual tradition of using the existence of cold weather to try and attack the scientific consensus on climate change.
While reading headlines on Fox & Friends, "news anchor" Heather Nauert reported that the price of the former vice president's book had "melted to just one dollar," according to the price tag on a "picture that is now circulating on Twitter":
Well, talk about an inconvenient truth for former vice president Al Gore. There is a picture that is now circulating on Twitter, you can see this right here, and it shows the price of his book on the so-called "global warming crisis" -- well, it's melted to just one dollar. It's also labeled a super buy. Super buy. No word on exactly where this picture was taken, but on Amazon.com the book sells for about $12. It's a buck twenty to buy a used one.
There is nothing unusual about books being marked down. Indeed, Amazon reveals even better deals on books from Nauert's own colleagues. For example, a new, hardcover edition of Sean Hannity's 2004 book Let Freedom Ring will only cost you one cent from booksellers through the Amazon marketplace.
So will a new hardcover copy of The Mr. & Mrs. Happy Handbook, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy's "laugh-out-loud perspective on love, marriage, and family" from 2009. In fact, a bookseller in Minnesota will sell you a signed first edition of this guide to marital happiness for just $0.99 plus shipping.
Greta Van Susteren's My Turn At The Bully Pulpit is also available for less than a dollar new at Amazon booksellers. Bill O'Reilly's 2010 book Pinheads and Patriots is available new in hardcover for slightly more than Gore's at $2.70, but a used copy will cost you just $0.01.
Brian Kilmeade's 2007 sports book It's How You Play The Game is available new for just $2.85, but a "collectible" paperback edition is available for 99 cents. Booksellers are also promoting Kilmeade's latest book, George Washington's Secret Six, for $11.00 new -- a nearly 60 percent mark down for a book that came out just last November.
From the January 6 edition of Fox & Friends:
Fox News is convinced that the recent increase in federal disability benefits must be suspicious -- but they're ignoring the historic rise of disabling conditions, which results in 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities.
During a January 3 Fox & Friends segment about "Who's Ruining the Economy," co-host Steve Doocy asked why more Americans were receiving Social Security disability benefits, wondering "are there simply more people who are becoming disabled, or are more people just simply becoming desperate?"
Guest and Fox Business host Stuart Varney replied, "I think it's the latter. A lot of people are taking the disability option," suggesting that millions of Americans were faking their disabilities in order to receive benefits while unemployed.
Varney is simply wrong. As medical advancements allow us to live longer lives, they are also making us more likely to live with disabilities. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, produced over five years by hundreds of researchers around the world, revealed that on average the world population lives longer and is more likely to survive lethal diseases than ever before. As The Washington Post reported, this means that "people are living with conditions that don't kill them but that affect their health":
"These are things like mental disorders, substance abuse, musculoskeletal pain, vision loss, hearing loss . . . that cause a huge amount of disability but not a whole lot of death," said Murray, who heads the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
People are living longer lives, but the time they are gaining isn't entirely time with good health. For every year of life expectancy added since 1990, about 91 / 2 months is time in good health. The rest is time in a diminished state -- in pain, immobility, mental incapacity or medical support such as dialysis. For people who survive to age 50, the added time is "discounted" even further. For every added year they get, only seven months are healthy.
"Progress in reducing disability just hasn't kept pace with progress in reducing mortality," said Joshua A. Salomon of the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the project leaders.
Only about 1 in 25 Americans receive disability benefits, but nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability. That's about 56.7 million people. The Social Security administration further estimates that a 20-year-old worker today has a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement.
Furthermore, as Media Matters has repeatedly and extensively documented, despite Fox's never-ending campaign to demonize Social Security disability, it is not an "option" that out-of-work individuals can rely on if they do not have severe disabilities. The eligibility criteria are stringent, with waiting periods that are typically months long, and more than half of all applicants are denied. There is also no evidence that people receiving disability benefits are hurting the economy.
The rise of disabling medical conditions is a serious issue for millions of Americans, and the ability of the federal disability programs to help some of those individuals survive when they are unable to work could be at risk if Congress fails to reallocate the necessary funds for the programs, which they have routinely done before. But Fox would rather push baseless and deceptive fears about these necessary federal programs than accurately report on the medical conditions millions of Americans live with every day.