The Associated Press took down a false story that jumped the gun in order to accuse Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe of lying to federal investigators. Before the AP killed the story, however, the right-wing media had already amplified the false report.
In an October 9 article, AP political writer Bob Lewis reported that McAuliffe had allegedly "lied to a federal official investigating a Rhode Island estate planner now imprisoned for receiving death benefits on annuities secured on terminally ill people without their knowledge." The AP's report was based on court documents alleging that an individual identified only as "T.M." had lied to a postal inspector about participating in a death benefit fraud:
The McAuliffe campaign responded after the AP published its report, denying that the "T.M." identified in the court documents was McAuliffe and pointing out that "he was not interviewed by law enforcement on April 20, 2010; rather, he was in Richmond for a day of meetings." The campaign further stated that McAuliffe was a "passive investor" and "he was never involved in the referral of any annuitants to Mr. [Joseph] Caramadre, ever."
Shortly after posting the report, the AP withdrew it. Lewis also issued a retraction, tweeting, "The error was mine and I take responsibility for it." But before the story was withdrawn, it was picked up by several media outlets and amplified by right-wing blog Hot Air, which stated:
Normally in an October surprise like this, one would suspect dirty tricks by the opposing campaign. That doesn't appear to be the case here, though. This isn't an old report uncovered in oppo research, but a new filing in a federal court. McAuliffe's name only got linked to the Caramadre case today. Ken Cuccinelli is the current AG of Virginia, but there isn't any apparent connection between the state AG's office and a federal investigation in Rhode Island, at least not at the moment.
So at least for the moment, this looks like a very big and unspinnable problem for Team McAuliffe, and not just in the campaign. Lying to federal investigators is obstruction of justice, which is a very significant felony -- as Scooter Libby can attest. McAuliffe is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that's only in the legal sense, not the political sense.
Hot Air also updated its blog after the AP story was withdrawn.
UPDATE: On October 10, The Associated Press issued the following statement:
The initial alert moved on AP's Virginia state wire at9:45 p.m. The story was withdrawn one hour and 38 minutes later. That was an hour and 38 minutes too long. As our retraction said, "The indictment did not identify McAuliffe as the 'T.M.' who allegedly lied to investigators."
UPDATE 2: According to the Huffington Post, the Associated Press has fired both Bob Lewis and editor Dena Potter and is expected to reprimand another unnamed editor:
The Associated Press has fired a reporter and editor over an erroneous Oct. 9 report that Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lied to an investigator in a federal fraud case, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The AP retracted the article in question roughly an hour and a half after publication, and last week, suspended its author, veteran political reporter Bob Lewis.
According to sources, Lewis has since been fired. He could not be reached for comment.
The AP has also fired Dena Potter, a Richmond-based news editor for Virginia and West Virginia.
When reached by phone, Potter instructed this reporter to call Paul Colford, the AP's Director of Media Relations. Colford declined to comment on personnel matters.
Another editor is expected to be reprimanded over the incident, according to sources.
After insisting that House Republicans hold the line on budget negotiations, Fox News' Sean Hannity used the resulting government shutdown to attack Democrats, labeling it the "Obama-Reid shutdown."
On the October 9 edition of his Fox show, Hannity labeled the government shutdown the "Obama-Reid shutdown," claiming the Obama administration is targeting veterans and children with cancer as a way to cause political pain:
Hannity was one of the loudest voices in the right-wing media urging the House Republicans not to give in, even if it meant shutting down the government. On the October 1 edition of his radio show, Hannity said, "My advice to the Republicans: Hold the line. Stand on your principles. Stand with the American people. Stand for the best health care system."
Later that day on his Fox News program, Hannity told Sen. Rand Paul that he Republicans should not "give in at all" and "sit it out" even if the shutdown lasted months:
HANNITY: I think the worst outcome, though, for the Republicans in the House at this point -- as they have been reasonable and the president totally unreasonable, Reid unreasonable -- is to cave. I don't think they should give in at all. And if that means that they're going to sit this out for a month or two months or however long the president wants to be arrogant and not talk to anybody, then just sit it out.
In March, Hannity urged Republicans to shut the government down as a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act:
HANNITY: Republicans right now, if they really want to -- not just symbolically -- if they want to repeal health care, Dr. [Ben] Carson, Obamacare, they've got to shut the government down and be labeled 'the full faith and credit of the United States is in jeopardy.' Which is not true. But if they really want to do that, that's what it will take. I want them to do it.
While he has been one of the shutdown's foremost supporters, Hannity is far from the only right-wing media figure to advocate for it. His Fox colleagues Laura Ingraham, Erick Erickson, Sarah Palin, and Todd Starnes have all promoted the shutdown as a way to defund or repeal the Affordable Care Act.
CNN host Erin Burnett attempted to downplay the consequences of reaching the debt ceiling, ignoring both the reporting of her CNN colleagues and experts who warn that passing the debt ceiling would result in default and economic harm.
On the October 8 edition of CNN's OutFront, Burnett argued that the conversation around reaching the debt limit had become "hyperbolic," claiming "experts tell us you can reach the debt ceiling without defaulting on the debt" because "if the debt ceiling is breached, there is enough money to fund half to two-thirds of the economy." Burnett repeated one economist's claim that "The bottom line is there is enough money coming in to pay the interest on the debt, the military, and up to two-thirds of government activity":
Earlier in the day, however, CNN anchor Christine Romans argued against proponents of prioritization, saying: "You hear people like Congressman Ted Yoho and others talk about, you know, 'Oh, they'll just have to prioritize.' You can't. There's not enough money that we finance the operations of the government. It would be instant austerity that many economists say could send us into a recession if they don't work this out":
Experts have also pointed out that the prioritization plan Burnett pushed would not prevent default. Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin wrote in a Treasury Department blog that prioritizing debt payments "would not actually prevent default":
While well-intentioned, this idea is unworkable. It would not actually prevent default, since it would seek to protect only principal and interest payments, and not other legal obligations of the U.S., from non-payment. Adopting a policy that payments to investors should take precedence over other U.S. legal obligations would merely be default by another name, since the world would recognize it as a failure by the U.S. to stand behind its commitments. It would therefore bring about the same catastrophic economic consequences Secretary Geithner has warned against.
A Business Insider post also pointed out: "It's not true that on all days the Treasury has more money coming in than it has to pay out. ... The U.S. might be able to prioritize for a few days, but come November the U.S. would have to pay way more than was coming in that day, and we'd have a real breach no matter what." The post included a chart that compiled data from Goldman Sachs and the Treasury Department, showing that by early November, the combination of headroom under the debt ceiling and cash balance would reach zero by early November:
Another of Burnett's CNN colleagues pointed out that the consequences of reaching the debt ceiling would have a devastating effect on the stock market. During the October 8 edition of The Lead, CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik responded to a question about the debt ceiling's effect on the economy by noting that "if a default happens, there's one analyst who says that the S&P 500 could drop 45 percent":
CNN host Jake Tapper advocated the Republican piecemeal budgeting approach by claiming there is "no principled reason" for Democrats to oppose the strategy. But piecemeal funding keeps the government from fully functioning and ignores those who lack the clout to get their programs funded in that manner.
After failing to avert a government shutdown by passing a budget, House Republicans adopted a "piecemeal" approach, attempting to pass budgetary items individually. During an October 7 CNN special on the government shutdown, host Jake Tapper argued that "there is no principled reason I can see" for Democrats to oppose the GOP's approach, claiming it's "just that Democrats don't like the politics." Earlier in the show, Tapper asked Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to explain Democrats' votes to provide funding for military salaries and back pay for furloughed workers.* Tapper later claimed it's "not a principle to say, 'Well, we want to do it all at once'":
But the GOP's piecemeal budgeting efforts have faced widespread criticism. Think Progress found that "The government has not typically been funded by temporary extensions, or continuing resolutions (CRs), but through full budgets." The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also criticized the piecemeal method. Tom Tarantino, Chief policy officer for IAVA, explained that "The only way to solve this problem is to restart the government" because of the shutdown's disproportionate effects for veteran employment. The Center for Science In The Public Interest (CSPI) opposed the House bill H.J. Res 77 which would fund parts of the government but not others, explaining that "food safety requires the concerted effort of 13 different agencies" so "Opening FDA alone would not be enough to protect the public from potential risks." CSPI continued:
FDA works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify and locate the source of a foodborne illness outbreak.
Besides the FDA, CDC, and USDA, the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration examines seafood for safety and quality, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates the use of pesticides, and the Department of Homeland Security coordinates all those agencies' security activities.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly baselessly accused a noted health care expert of "propaganda" for pointing out that the Affordable Care Act will not negatively affect the vast majority of Americans.
On the October 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed "millions of Americans will see their health insurance costs, their deductibles, their copays go up because of Obamacare. So here is the question: Is it morally right to hurt some Americans to help other Americans?" After Fox contributor Juan Williams pointed out that most Americans "will see no change," O'Reilly responded, "I don't believe that for a second, I think that's propaganda." O'Reilly then said, "That's what some pinhead says, that's not a fact."
Williams was citing Jonathan Gruber, a health care economist at MIT and an architect of the Massachusetts health care law. In an interview with Esquire magazine, Gruber argued that "about two or three percent" of health care consumers will be worse off under the Affordable Care Act:
Fox News used a proposal to convene a Senate conference on budget issues to attack Senate Democrats, ignoring the fact that Republicans blocked the formation of such a conference earlier in the year.
Fox News is aiding the Republican agenda to govern by crisis by attempting to shift blame to Democrats for the government shutdown.
As House Republicans threatened a government shutdown by proposing a series of budgets that defunded or delayed portions of the Affordable Care Act, Jonathan Chait reported in New York magazine that their actions were the result of the "Williamsburg Accord," a legislative strategy formulated by the GOP in January 2013 that "took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises." Chait noted that the accord explained "why Republicans are careening toward a potential government shutdown."
After the House failed to produce a budget compromise that was not tied to defunding or delaying the ACA, Fox News responded by shifting blame to Democrats and portraying the GOP as willing to compromise. On the October 1 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade described the budget negotiation by claiming that "one thing is clear: Democrats didn't budge and the Republicans did." Co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck added that "the American people did not want Obamacare, did not want a shutdown, and Republicans were compromising to bring the American people what they wanted. Not well received, clearly."
But as Chait explained, the shutdown is the result of the GOP's agreement not to compromise on Obama's legislative agenda and to use crises such as funding the government and raising the debt ceiling in order to force concessions:
But the decision House Republicans made in January has set the party on the course it has followed since. If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.
The history is important because much of the news coverage and centrist commentary has leaned heavily on the idea that the crises in Washington have come about because of some nebulous failure of bipartisanship. The Washington Post editorial page implores both sides to compromise, without explaining why only one party should have to offer policy concessions to keep the government running. Mark Halperin neatly implies that the two sides share the blame in equal measure.
The analytic error here is the assumption by professional pox-on-both-housers that they can take an advocacy position on the government shutdown without siding with one of the parties. If you want to land on the conclusion that both sides are to blame, you need to equivocate on the underlying moral question of whether a shutdown is really a bad thing. If, on the other hand, you want to take a stance against crisis governance, you need to be honest about the fact that one party is pursuing this as a conscious strategy.
Dan Froomkin wrote in the Huffington Post that attempts to blame both sides for the shutdown or shift blame away from the GOP ignores the fact that threatening to shut down the government in order to repeal duly-passed legislation is a "dramatic break from the past." Froomkin quoted several congressional experts and historians and summarized their conclusions by saying "Even compared to the famous government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, the current GOP bargaining position is unprecedented in its political extremism":
"It's unheard of to shut the government down because you want to repeal a law," said Tiefer.
"That seems quite beyond the pale," said George Washington University political science professor Sarah Binder.
Former Congressional Research Service and the Library of Congress official Louis Fisher said he was shocked when he saw what he now recognizes as a foreshadowing of today's crisis, when Republican senators refused for two years to confirm Richard Cordray -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless President Obama agreed to change the bureau's structure.
"That is really amazing, to say you're not going to confirm unless the underlying statute is rewritten," Fisher said. "That was breathtaking to me."
"The Republican Party is caught between politics and its responsibility, as a majority party of the House of Representatives, for governance," said [University of Maryland professor of government and politics the Frances] Lee. "Governance always requires disappointing your base."
It's easier when you're in the minority, she said. "The party out of power can take advantage of its lack of responsibility for governing."
Today's GOP "wants to behave like a party that has no power at all, but unfortunately for it, it does," she said. "The politics of defunding Obamacare are great with its base, but it has an institutional role which it cannot evade."
Right-wing media figures celebrated the House Republicans' plan to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act by a year, ignoring the consequences that the move would have on the uninsured.
Fox News expressed outrage after President Obama, in a speech supporting the Affordable Care Act, pointed out that viewers watching Fox were likely to think the health care law is "horrible." On the Septmber 27 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer complained about the president's speech, absurdly asking, "What has been reported on Fox News Channel that is not accurate?"
Below is a small sample of the misinformation and outright lies that Fox has directed toward the Affordable Care Act:
The Drudge Report falsely accused President Obama of playing the "slavery card" to promote the Affordable Care Act, ignoring that the president actually invoked that phrase to criticize inflammatory right-wing rhetoric against the health care law.
The Drudge Report linked to a Time magazine article on a recent speech Obama gave in support of the ACA under the headline, "T-Minus 4 Days: Obama Plays Slavery Card":
But the Time post makes it clear that Obama was not invoking slavery in order to support the ACA, but was instead responding to the inflammatory rhetoric of the health care law's opponents:
Mocking Republicans for their escalating rhetoric on how dire the health care law will prove to be, Obama said one Republican's assertion that it was the worst law in the nation's history is an awfully tall order. "You had a state representative somewhere say that it's as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act," the president said as the audience booed. "Think about that. Affordable health care is worse than a law that lets slaveowners get their runaway slaves back."