The 2014 midterm election cycle is already one of the most expensive ever -- due in part to the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance decisions, which have opened the floodgates for billions of dollars in political expenditures to influence our election system. But the crisis is all but nonexistent on Fox News Sunday, which has rarely discussed money in politics outside of the overblown IRS targeting scandal.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court dismantled aggregate campaign contribution limits in McCutcheon v. FEC, making it easier for individuals to influence the political process by donating money to an unlimited number of candidates, political parties, and super PACs. McCutcheon was an extension of the court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC in 2010, which allowed corporations to make unlimited political expenditures to support their favored candidates.
Since the Court decided to hear McCutcheon in 2013, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday has discussed campaign finance roughly as often as the Sunday morning news shows on other broadcast networks did -- but its coverage was almost always in relation to the allegation (and right-wing talking point) that the IRS unfairly scrutinized the tax-exempt status of Tea Party nonprofit groups and other conservative organizations.
In fact, out of nine segments on Fox News Sunday that discussed campaign finance reform, seven mentioned the IRS allegations or former IRS director Lois Lerner. The program's other two segments were passing mentions of the existence of campaign finance reform, not comprehensive discussions of the issue. While every other Sunday show aired at least one substantive segment on campaign finance reform, Citizens United, or McCutcheon, Fox News Sunday did not.
Below are five stories that Fox News Sunday could have covered to give its viewers a more complete picture of the crisis of big money in politics.
National Review Online's foremost legal analyst is continuing his colleagues' attacks on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by criticizing her for"speaking publicly on abortion policy," despite previously defending Justice Antonin Scalia's penchant for similar public comments and interviews.
In the past week, National Review "roving correspondent" Kevin Williamson echoed his outlet's debunked insinuations from 2009 that Ginsburg supported eugenics. Williamson accused her of harboring a "desire to see as many poor children killed as is feasibly possible," an argument that NRO editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg offered "three cheers for" and that Williamson later compounded when he argued that women who have abortions should be hanged. NRO legal analyst Ed Whelan continued the attacks on Ginsburg, joining other anti-choice voices in condemning Ginsburg's statements in a recent interview in which she criticized a Texas law that closed down a number of the state's reproductive health clinics, arguing that commenting on legislation that could soon be before the Supreme Court was grounds for her recusal.
But Whelan went on to broaden his critique of Ginsburg, suggesting in a later post that she not speak publicly about abortion policy at all, regardless of whether it is in reference to a reproductive justice case before the court or not. In a September 30 blog post, Whelan complained about Ginsburg speaking "on all sorts of other matters related to abortion policy" and suggested that it was improper for the justice to "speak her mind openly on this matter."
Whelan's condemnation of Ginsburg and her discussion of general "abortion policy" appears inconsistent with his defense of his former boss, Justice Antonin Scalia, who also frequently speaks on contentious public policy. For example, in 2011, when Scalia spoke at a "closed-door session with a group of conservative lawmakers," Whelan balked at the suggestion that Scalia's attendance at a Tea Party function was inappropriate. According to The New York Times:
M. Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former clerk to Justice Scalia, disputed [George Washington University law professor Jonathan] Turley's criticism.
"Does he think it's improper for any justice ever to speak to any group of members of Congress who might be perceived as sharing the same general political disposition?" Mr. Whelan told The Los Angeles Times. "My guess is that, schedule permitting, Scalia would be happy to speak on the same topic to any similarly sized group of members of Congress who invited him."
Right-wing media outlets are complaining about the federal government's announcement that it will provide grant money to legal services organizations willing to represent undocumented immigrant children in deportation proceedings.
Earlier this summer, federal officials reported that a record number of unaccompanied minors were being apprehended while crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Despite the fact that many of those children made the dangerous journey to escape horrific violence in their home countries, right-wing media still blamed President Obama for the increase in refugees, suggested that the children carried rare diseases, and claimed that they were "fronts for drug dealers" and terrorists. Although the number of unaccompanied minors coming into the United States has dropped over the last few months, children now in custody are entering deportation proceedings, and most of them will face the court with no lawyer -- a potential violation of due process that right-wing media don't seem to care much about.
Federal law allows immigrants "the privilege of being represented, at no expense to the government, by counsel of the alien's choosing." This privilege, however, is no guarantee and often hollow as many of these minors cannot afford a private attorney. As a result, thousands of children -- who have no money -- are forced to represent themselves in complex legal proceedings because there aren't enough lawyers available to take their case pro bono, without a fee. As The New York Times reported earlier this year, minors representing themselves in court "can be comically tragic, with preschoolers propped in leather-cushioned chairs facing off against federal lawyers." Although the grant money will be a step toward addressing this glaring civil rights problem, advocates agree that "it would only touch a fraction of all the unaccompanied minors who appear in court in the coming months."
To try to provide these preschoolers with basic due process, the Department of Justice announced plans to distribute $1.8 million in grants to legal aid organizations that represent unaccompanied minors in immigration court. The DOJ's grants will be awarded through AmeriCorps and "will enable legal aid organizations to enroll approximately 100 lawyers and paralegals to represent children in immigration proceedings." The Department of Health and Human Services also announced that it plans to give out $9 million over the next two years to help fund immigration services for children who face deportation.
But the right-wing media weren't wild about extending civil rights to these unaccompanied minors.
National Review Online complained that the grants hadn't received enough scrutiny in the media because they were "an unprecedented effort to shield illegal immigrants from deportation" and went on to say the grants are "legally dubious" and may be an "illegitimate use of taxpayer dollars." On the October 1 edition of Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade also criticized the federal grants in his "News by the Numbers" segment:
Following Eric Holder's announcement that he was resigning, The Wall Street Journal attacked the legacy of the nation's first black attorney general by repeating debunked descriptions of his civil rights work and accusing him of turning the Department of Justice "into a routine instrument of social and racial policy."
On September 25, Holder announced that he will step down as soon as his replacement is confirmed. Right-wing media were quick to celebrate, with Fox News host Andrea Tantaros calling him one of the "most dangerous men in America" because "he ran the DOJ much like the Black Panthers would" and Fox and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham asking, "What are the race-baiters going to do now?"
The Journal joined the opportunity to bash Holder's civil rights legacy as attorney general, claiming in an editorial that he "explicitly turned the Justice Department into a political weapon." The editorial specifically attacked Holder's efforts to curb racial discrimination in hiring, to promote desegregation in Louisiana schools, and to fight election restrictions that violate the Voting Rights Act:
Mr. Holder also turned Justice into a routine instrument of social and racial policy. Under the former head of the Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez (now Secretary of Labor), Justice used "disparate impact" analysis to force racial adjustments on cities, police and fire departments and banks. The settlements were not based on proven racial discrimination, as traditionally required, but on arcane statistical analyses.
Among Mr. Holder's worst overreaches was filing suit last year to block Louisiana's private-school voucher program. That program overwhelmingly helps the state's poorest minority families escape bad schools. No matter, Justice's statistical cops said the program was unbalancing the "racial identity" of public schools by admitting too many black children into better schools.
In July 2012 the Attorney General invoked the specter of Jim Crow amid a presidential campaign. In a speech to the NAACP, he likened voter ID laws to "poll taxes," an argument rejected by the Supreme Court in 2009.
These three specific complaints have been among right-wing media's favorite myths about Holder and his successful civil rights track record at the DOJ.
A new interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that will appear in Elle magazine has given National Review Online an opportunity to once again twist the justice's views on the importance of equal reproductive rights for everyone, regardless of their financial means. As it did in 2009, NRO claimed that Ginsburg's frequent observations that poor women are disproportionately affected by anti-choice legislation may be proof of her support for eugenics -- even though that misinterpretation of her comments has been debunked.
After hundreds of thousands of people participated in what may have been the largest climate change protest in history, National Review Online criticized the event, attacked environmental justice law that seeks to ameliorate health disparities, and misrepresented a study to argue "the effects of pollution on health have been exaggerated."
On September 21, an estimated 310,000 demonstrators took part in the People's Climate March, a multi-city event protesting inaction on climate change and its harmful effects on the planet. Although the Sunday news shows ignored this historic event, National Review Online was quick to condemn it. Editor Rich Lowry called it a "symbolic protest," questioned the settled science of the human causes of climate change, and dismissed advocacy on the dangers of climate change as "anti-industrial apocalypticism."
Lowry's NRO colleague Katherine Timpf specifically criticized protestors in Harlem who were calling for legal action that would protect communities of color from toxic pollutants, a type of civil rights advocacy that is based on decades-old precedent. Timpf complained that "environmental-justice legislation does more harm than good" because "demonizing corporations is not the best method for bringing economic development to a struggling city." Timpf also claimed that "the impact that pollutants actually have on poor communities is questionable," and because of that, she argued, communities of color should embrace the potential economic benefits that a pollution-causing factory might bring:
During one of the march-preparation meetings, the deputy director of the Harlem-based group WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Cecil Corbin-Marks, tells me he's fighting for "global climate policies that focus on the challenges that local communities are confronting."
"Not all communities have the same resources," he says. "People of color are disproportionately affected." He believes that world leaders must unite to stop destructive corporations from spreading the pollutants that sicken minority neighborhoods by causing asthma and cancer.
I don't support his cause. Am I callous and cruel? Am I just ignorant of the suffering of the residents of these areas?
"There is pollution, and it should be cleaned," Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce says during an interview. "But to say that it's happening because of race? No. That's crazy to think corporations sit in boardrooms and design strategies to pollute races. That's Nazi stuff."
Politicians are responsible for keeping the neighborhoods clean, Alford says, so they're the ones who must be held responsible when they're not. All environmental-justice laws do is give these politicians more power.
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.