U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
National Review Online misrepresented a recent court decision that could allow an unneccessarily restrictive voter identification law to be implemented in Wisconsin only weeks before the November election.
On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that a district court judge had previously granted to prevent Wisconsin's strict voter ID law from going into effect due to concerns that its disproportionate effect on communities of color violated the Voting Rights Act. After the three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit issued its order, Wisconsin officials announced that they would move forward with implementing the law despite the fact that election officials are not trained in the new photo ID requirements and absentee ballots have already been turned in. This last minute voting change has the potential to keep hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters who lack photo ID from participating in the November election.
Right-wing media quickly downplayed the significance the law might have on the election. On the September 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin managed to point out that the law could affect the outcome of the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin, which shows Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a near-tie with his Democratic opponent Mary Burke. But Tobin minimized the impact of the ID law by erroneously suggesting that "there is only a handful of voters who won't get IDs by election day."
NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky, a tireless advocate for voter ID laws that suppress the vote of women, minorities, and the poor, also applauded the Seventh Circuit's order, calling it a "stunning blow" for opponents of voter ID. Von Spakovsky overlooked key facts in the case to ultimately conclude there was "no justification for striking down" Wisconsin's law in the first place:
As I explained in an NRO article in May, the district court judge, Lynn Adelman, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic state senator, had issued an injunction claiming the Wisconsin ID law violated the Voting Rights Act as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. Adelman made the startling claim in his opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 2008 upholding Indiana's voter-ID law as constitutional was "not binding precedent," so Adelman could essentially ignore it.
However, that was too much for the Seventh Circuit. It pointed out, in what most lawyers would consider a rebuke, that Adelman had held Wisconsin's law invalid "even though it is materially identical to Indiana's photo ID statute, which the Supreme Court held valid in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board."
It was also obviously significant to the Seventh Circuit that the Wisconsin state supreme court had upheld the state's voter-ID law in July ... In fact, the appeals court said the state court decision had changed the "balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief."
In other words, there was no justification for striking down a state voter-ID law that was identical to one that had been previously upheld by both the Supreme Court of the United States and that state's highest court.
A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
National Review Online misinformed about an amendment that would reinstate the ability of Congress to regulate campaign finance and counter Citizens United -- the infamous Supreme Court decision that opened the door for the super-rich and corporations to drown out average Americans in the political debate with unlimited sums of money.
On September 8, the Senate voted to debate the proposed constitutional amendment, which would re-establish campaign finance laws that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United in 2010. That decision overturned part of the McCain-Feingold Act -- much-needed bipartisan campaign finance reforms instituted to prevent corruption of the political process and level the playing field between small donors and the wealthy -- and effectively eliminated limits for independent corporate spending in federal elections. Specifically, Citizens United radically rewrote First Amendment precedent and expanded the legal concept of "corporate personhood," with the court ultimately deciding that the political spending by corporations was constitutionally equivalent to the free speech of actual human voters. The conservative justices chipped away at campaign finance limits even further this year in McCutcheon v. FEC, which abolished direct contribution limits that worked to control the corrupting influence of multimillion-dollar donations.
Although the proposed amendment is intended to restore the First Amendment to its pre-Citizens United interpretation, right-wing media are already denouncing the Senate's attempts to stem the explosion of unregulated high-dollar donations with wild exaggerations. In a September 9 editorial, NRO complained that Democrats were planning to "repeal the First Amendment" by proposing the Citizens United amendment -- which the editorial board called "an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself" -- and suggested the move would "censor newspapers and television reports." From the editors:
Senate Democrats are on the precipice of voting to repeal the First Amendment.
That extraordinary fact is a result of the increasingly authoritarian efforts of Democrats, notably Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, to suppress criticism of themselves and the government, and to suffocate any political discourse that they cannot control.
The Supreme Court in recent years has twice struck down Democratic efforts to legally suppress inconvenient speech, citing the free-speech protections of the First Amendment in both cases. Senator Reid's solution is to nullify the first item on the Bill of Rights.
The Democrats are not calling this a repeal of the First Amendment, though that is precisely what it is. Instead, they are describing the proposed constitutional amendment as a campaign-finance measure. But it would invest Congress with blanket authority to censor newspapers and television reports, ban books and films, and imprison people for expressing their opinions. So long as two criteria are met -- the spending of money and intending to influence an election -- the First Amendment would no longer apply.
The amendment that Democrats are putting forward is an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself. If those who would criticize the government must first secure the government's permission to do so, they are not free people.
National Review Online columnist Mona Charen criticized the Department of Justice's efforts to address potential civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department, calling previous investigations in other jurisdictions "heavy on the implied racism" despite statistical evidence of racially biased and unconstitutional policing tactics.
On September 4, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would investigate the Ferguson Police Department, an overwhelmingly white force with a history of serious misconduct, after one of its officers shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. These types of investigations are not unusual for police departments under suspicion for systemic abuse of authority and civil rights violations, but right-wing media have still accused Holder of playing "the race card" and have called the DOJ's involvement "inherently political" and "absolute garbage."
In a September 9 column, Charen followed the attacks on Holder and questioned the objectivity of the DOJ's investigation. She suggested that it "will be premised on the racist-white-cop-shoots-black-man narrative" because Holder acknowledged he understood the mistrust between the police and the Ferguson community both as the attorney general of the United States and as a black man who has been unfairly racially profiled in the past.
Charen went on to characterize Holder's involvement in Brown's case as another example of the DOJ's "extremely aggressive pattern vis-à-vis local police," and used as her example a recent investigation of the Newark Police Department that showed officers unjustifiably stopped and arrested a disproportionate number of residents of color. As far as Charen is concerned, the number of stops in Newark "might be too low," however, and the statistics "do not come close to proving police wrongdoing":
The Department of Justice recently concluded an investigation into the Newark, N.J., police department, which it found to have repeatedly violated the civil rights of Newark's black residents. The evidence? Justice found that while blacks account for 54 percent of Newark's population, they represent 85 percent of pedestrian stops and 79 percent of arrests.
Police misconduct must always be taken seriously and vigilantly corrected, but these numbers do not come close to proving police wrongdoing, far less denial of Newarkers' civil rights. To know whether 85 percent of pedestrian stops is a reasonable number or not, you need to know how many pedestrians of various races are committing crimes. If 90 percent of pedestrian criminals are black, then 85 percent might be too low. In any case, the relevant measure is the percentage of criminals, not, as the Justice Department explained, whether "officers ... disproportionately stopped black people relative to their representation in Newark's population."
Announcing the DOJ's report, Holder went heavy on the implied racism. "We're taking decisive action to address potential discrimination and end unconstitutional conduct by those who are sworn to serve their fellow citizens," he declaimed. It's possible that Newark police are engaged in wrongdoing, but the DOJ's use of statistics certainly didn't prove it. If the attorney general believes that black and Hispanic officers are stopping and arresting black people out of racial animus, he failed to say so, and if not, he's in effect arguing that all of the misconduct is attributable to the roughly one-third of the force that is white.
National Review Online is repeating the claims of conservative groups who compared voter registrations in Maryland and Virginia and flagged potential instances of "double voting" -- voters with the same name and birthdate who may have voted in both states. This method of election integrity has been discredited due to its high rate of false positives and significant risk of voter disenfranchisement.
The New York town of Greece, whose policy of allowing sectarian Christian prayers to be delivered before town meetings was the subject of a recent First Amendment challenge before the Supreme Court, has now adopted a new set of rules that appear to exclude non-believers from this practice -- discrimination that the town's defenders in right-wing media pretended didn't exist.
In May, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the prayer offered before this town's meetings was permissible under the First Amendment -- despite the fact that "the invocations given ... were predominantly sectarian in content," which "repeatedly invoked a single religion's beliefs," as Justice Elena Kagan explained in her dissent. Yet the majority found this apparent preference for Christian prayers constitutionally acceptable because the town assured the Court "that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation." It was this claim that the prayer policy was non-discriminatory and would allow non-Christians to participate that the Court, as well as right-wing media outlets, relied upon.
After the decision, Washington Post columnist George Will attacked the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs who challenged the town's prayer policy, calling them "prickly plaintiffs" and "flimsy people" who were "theatrically offended" over nothing more than "brief and mild occasional expressions of religiosity." The Wall Street Journal also celebrated the conservative decision in Town of Greece, and specifically hailed the inclusivity the town of Greece had told the Court it practiced:
The town of Greece used mostly Christian prayers because its citizens are predominantly Christian. Yet when rabbis and clerics of other faiths asked to give the prayer, they were welcome. Even a Wiccan priestess was allowed to issue what we suppose was an anti-prayer. Council members and visitors were under no obligation to pray along and there was no evidence of punishment or even disapproval for anyone who didn't.
Both Will and the Journal ignored the fact that town officials extended those invitations to non-Christians only after the lawsuit was filed.
Now it appears the town of Greece has backed away from the inclusivity that right-wing media touted. As the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported, last week the town adopted a new policy for its legislative prayer that is being condemned as "an enormous bait and switch" because it seems to bar the non-believers the Supreme Court claimed were allowed to participate. Designed by the religious right's Alliance Defending Freedom -- the legal organization who led the Court to believe that "a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation" -- the new guidelines require that speakers represent a local, established religious organization that "regularly meet[s] for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective."
Fox News host Shannon Bream misled about new regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that allow both non-profit and for-profit entities to opt-out of health insurance coverage for contraception, while pretending this new accommodation was contrary to the Supreme Court's recent orders on the "contraception mandate" of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On August 22, HHS announced a new set of rules aimed at accommodating non-profits and business owners who object on religious grounds to providing comprehensive health insurance to their employees. The new regulations are designed to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which held that certain "closely-held" for-profit corporations can be exempted from the requirement that contraception be covered in their employer-sponsored plans. This exemption now aligns the treatment of these businesses with that of religiously-affiliated non-profits, an accommodation the conservative Justices of the Court explicitly directed HHS to consider.
But on the August 25 edition of Fox News' Real Story, host Shannon Bream ignored the fact that the new rules were based on instructions from the Supreme Court.
Bream claimed that "a lot of people are saying" that HHS's rule change "was just a sleight of hand" that "doesn't really change anything." The Fox host went on to argue that these new regulations were contrary to the ruling in Hobby Lobby because "the Supreme Court said simply they don't have to comply with the mandate, now they'd have to fill out paperwork to comply with the mandate":
Bream's pretense that the HHS regulations do not track the Supreme Court's recent rulings is wrong. In his majority opinion for the conservative justices in Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that there was "no reason" why HHS couldn't offer an accommodation of this sort to both non-profit and for-profit entities alike, and that such a process for this exemption to the contraceptive mandate "constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government's aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty."
Moreover, the new regulations also address the additional issue raised by the conservative justices in an interim order issued after Hobby Lobby in Wheaton College v. Burwell, a case where a Christian university successfully claimed that even signing the form that notified its insurance issuer of its objection to birth control coverage was also an impermissible burden on religious freedom. To deal with that objection, HHS' new rules -- in an attempt to meet the instructions of the Court in both Hobby Lobby and Wheaton -- now create an accommodation to its accommodation and will allow "institutions ... to tell the federal government which company administers their health-insurance plan, and the government would then contact that administrator to ask it to arrange contraception coverage for the institution's employees."
HHS has now done what the conservative justices twice told it to do, a fact Fox News forgets as it complains that in accommodating objections to female employees' access to contraception, HHS still hasn't done enough.
A new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union that offers a "complete factual record of stop-and-frisk activity" in New York City between 2002 and 2013 has found that this unconstitutionally performed policing tactic was largely ineffective at reducing violent crime, a clear rebuttal to right-wing media's frequent justifications for the practice.
Right-wing media have long supported stop-and-frisk policies that allow police officers to stop, question, and pat down "suspicious" pedestrians. Although stop-and-frisk when correctly practiced is generally legal, the racially discriminatory version employed by the New York Police Department was determined to be unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013. The judge in that case determined that "at least 200,000 stops were made without reasonable suspicion," which "resulted in the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics in violation of the Equal Protection Clause."
Nevertheless, right-wing media complained loudly about the decision, accusing the judge of "substitut[ing] her own view of the world, her own utopian view of how the world should be for the way the real life is, for the people who are trying to get by, not get killed, not get robbed, not get raped on the streets of New York."
Fox News has been particularly vocal in their support for stop-and-frisk, with Bill O'Reilly continually insisting that stops reduce crime because "the police take the guns and they pat down people" and that without it, "more black Americans and more Hispanic Americans are going to die." O'Reilly has also stated that stop-and-frisk "is racial profiling, but it's really criminal profiling." Most recently, frequent Fox guest Bo Dietl, a former New York police officer, argued that scaling back stop-and-frisk was "ridiculous," because, he claimed, it made the streets less safe for law enforcement. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy agreed, and suggested that the police were "demoralized" after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced reforms to address unconstitutional policing tactics. Other Fox hosts have erroneously claimed that stop-and-frisk is responsible for New York City's declining murder rate.
But the NYCLU's comprehensive report, which analyzes 12 years of stop-and-frisk data from NYPD records, debunks right-wing media's claims that this controversial law enforcement tool was essential for public safety. From the report:
The NYPD often sought to justify the large number of stops on the grounds that the stop-and-frisk program was critically important to recovering guns and thus reducing shootings and murders. The NYPD's data contradict this argument.
Between 2003 and 2011, annual stops increased dramatically, but gun recoveries, which were always a tiny percentage of stops, moved up and down and any increases were quite small. During that same time, the number of shooting victims remained largely flat and murders moved up and down. By contrast, in 2012 and 2013, recorded stops dropped dramatically. At the same time shootings and murders dropped dramatically.
As The Washington Post explained, "to the extent that supporters have argued that stop-and-frisk makes cities safer, the above chart is a fair rebuttal."
Right-wing media are parroting local Republican officials and criticizing voter registration drives in Ferguson, Missouri, the site of intense protests after the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Voting rights advocates argue that registering the electorate is crucial for the community to hold their government accountable, but right-wing media condemn these efforts as "liberal activism."