Right-wing media have been Hobby Lobby's biggest fans in the Supreme Court showdown between the federal government and the company over the health care law's contraception coverage mandate, championing Hobby Lobby as only interested in protecting its religious liberties. But according to new documents obtained by Salon, the company is an active partner to activist groups pushing their Christian agenda into American law.
This week the Supreme Court took on the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage mandate, hearing arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case which could allow secular, for-profit corporations an unprecedented religious exemption from the requirement that all health insurance cover preventive services like birth control. The conservative plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, is arguing that some emergency contraceptives covered by the mandate amount to abortion -- even though they don't.
Over at National Review, editor Rich Lowry framed the Green family -- Hobby Lobby's owners -- as "law-abiding people running an arts-and-craft-chain," "minding their own business," until "Uncle Sam showed up to make an offer that the Greens couldn't refuse -- literally." Jonah Goldberg, in an op-ed in USA Today, claimed that all Hobby Lobby is asking is to leave birth control decisions up to women and their doctors.
The conservative media sphere has repeatedly characterized Hobby Lobby as merely seeking "religious freedom." As Fox News host Eric Bolling described the case, "your religious freedom, guaranteed to you by the constitution, hangs in the balance." He added that the mandate "feels like political ideology trumping small business." The network has even given Hobby Lobby's attorney the platform to champion the company's small town virtues.
It turns out that the company right-wing media have worked so hard to champion has a significant hidden political agenda. On March 27 Salon broke the story that it had obtained a document revealing Hobby Lobby's political funding ties to a network of activist groups "deeply engaged in pushing a Christian agenda into American law."
According to Salon, a 2009 Tax Filing Form revealed that Crafts Etc., a Hobby Lobby affiliate company, and Jon Cargill, the CFO of Hobby Lobby, contributed a total of nearly $65 million in 2009 alone to the National Christian Charitable Foundation -- one of the biggest contributors to the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Center for Arizona Policy.
These organizations pushed SB 1062 -- the anti-gay legislation recently vetoed by AZ Governor Jan Brewer -- to the AZ Statehouse, and their agendas include many other discriminatory and dangerous policies including legislation that forces women to have invasive ultrasounds before abortions.
The National Christian Charitable Foundation also contributed over $90,000 in 2012 to the Becket Fund, the legal group representing Hobby Lobby in its current Supreme Court battle over Obamacare's contraception mandate. As Salon explained the relationship:
Seen in this light, the ideological connection between the Hobby Lobby suit and Arizona's recently vetoed legislation becomes clearer: One seeks to allow companies the right to deny contraceptive coverage while the other would permit businesses to deny services to LGBT people. "There are really close legal connections between [Arizona's anti-gay SB 1062 bill] and the [Hobby Lobby] Supreme Court case," Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel at the National Women's Law Center, told Salon. "Ideologically, the thing that unites the two efforts is an attempt to use religious exercise as a sword to impose religious belief on others, even if it harms others, which would be a radical expansion of free exercise law," said Martin.
And the common thread is the much bigger trend across the country. "Individuals and entities with religious objections to certain laws that protect others are seeking to use their religion to trump others," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, told Salon.
On March 25, Hobby Lobby, a secular, for-profit corporation, plans to wrongly argue before the Supreme Court that emergency contraception, a form of preventive service like birth control that all health insurance policies must cover under the Affordable Care Act, amounts to abortion, and thus violates the corporation's religious liberty. Here's what media should know about the contraception at issue.
Fox News touted conservative Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse by promoting his website and urging viewers to vote on the "Constitutional Madness" bracket that Sasse created in an attempt to smear President Obama.
The March 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends featured Sasse's "Constitutional Madness" bracket, which purports to determine Obama's worst violation of constitutional rights by allowing participants to vote online. Fox followed in the footsteps of their contributor Sarah Palin, who has endorsed Sasse, by hosting and promoting the Nebraska Senate candidate during a discussion of his bracket. Sasse urged viewers to visit his campaign websites as co-host Steve Doocy celebrated the press the bracket has received:
In keeping with right-wing media's recent smears of President Obama's surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy as "anti-gun," Fox News framed Murthy's support for "allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes" as a controversial position. However, doctors discussing gun safety with patients is a responsible, common sense practice that is protected by the First Amendment.
On the March 18 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, Shannon Bream reported that "critics" of Murthy's nomination are "worried" by the physician's "support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes":
BREAM: Well Murthy is well known for his support of Obamacare but his critics say they're most worried about his advocacy for tougher gun laws and his support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes.
And given those Second Amendment concerns, once the NRA announced it would score the vote, meaning it would keep track of and publicly talk about how the Senators voted on that Murthy nomination, a number of those moderate democrats -- a number of them in red states up for re-election this fall there started to be chatter that they too would not support this particular nominee.
Guinness announced that it will not participate in the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade due to the parade's exclusion of LGBT groups, prompting outrage and calls for boycott from right-wing media figures.
Right-wing media are newly outraged over the Affordable Care Act's "hardship" exemption, a provision of the original law that pardons qualifying persons from the individual mandate to purchase health insurance coverage.
One conspiracy theory, favored by the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and conservative blogs like The Daily Caller, is that the Obama administration 'secretly' changed the ACA last week by "quietly" adding a hardship exemption. Others like FoxNews.com suggested that the administration added the hardship exemption -- "a mega-exemption" -- to the law just three months ago. But the one thing all right-wing media agree on is that the hardship exemption "might be the death knell" for the individual mandate, as Fox put it. According to the Journal:
[L]ast week the Administration quietly excused millions of people from the requirement to purchase health insurance or else pay a tax penalty.
This latest political reconstruction has received zero media notice, and the Health and Human Services Department didn't think the details were worth discussing in a conference call, press materials or fact sheet. Instead, the mandate suspension was buried in an unrelated rule that was meant to preserve some health plans that don't comply with ObamaCare benefit and redistribution mandates. Our sources only noticed the change this week.
That seven-page technical bulletin includes a paragraph and footnote that casually mention that a rule in a separate December 2013 bulletin would be extended for two more years, until 2016. Lo and behold, it turns out this second rule, which was supposed to last for only a year, allows Americans whose coverage was cancelled to opt out of the mandate altogether.
But what right-wing media are missing in their most recent set of attacks against the ACA is that the hardship exemption has been a part of the ACA from the law's inception, and their attacks against the law's "new," "mega-exemption" guidelines are actually based on three-month old HHS guidance that was laid out under routine rule-making authority. As Jason Linkis of Huffington Post and Brian Beutler of Salon detailed, not only is the original provision old news, so too is the new hardship category that right-wing media like the WSJ editorial board suddenly discovered even though multiple outlets covered the change in December.
The hardship exemption was written into the ACA at the law's outset, with the intention of exempting certain individuals from the shared responsibility payment -- the "individual mandate." As the law was written, exemptions and exclusions from this penalty would be granted to a range of groups in addition to those experiencing hardship and an inability to find an affordable plan, including undocumented immigrants, members of health care sharing ministries, and Native Americans. A 2010 report from the Urban Institute examining the impact of the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act noted at the time that the ACA allows "financial hardship exemptions to be granted. The requirements for these are left to the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services." A Congressional Research Service report called the ACA a "particularly noteworthy example of congressional delegation of rulemaking authority to federal agencies," and "indicates that PPACA gives federal agencies substantial responsibility and authority to 'fill in the details' of the legislation through subsequent regulations."
Fox News promised to stay in touch with the cancer patient at the center of one of right-wing activists' favorite Obamacare horror stories. But now that new reports show it is actually an Obamacare success story, as the woman who worried the Affordable Care Act was "unaffordable" will now save approximately $1,000 a year under the new law, will Fox make good on its promise?
Desperate to find Obamacare horror stories, right-wing media have repeatedly hyped the story of Michigan resident Julie Boonstra, who is suffering from leukemia and saw her existing insurance plan canceled after it failed to meet the ACA's new guidelines, which force insurers to provide more comprehensive coverage than in the past. Right-wing media, conservative candidates, and ads by Koch-funded special interest groups held Boonstra up as an exemplar of health care reform victims after she claimed her new plan was too expensive.
The one problem? This right-wing bubble's characterization didn't hold up under scrutiny -- as Washington Post's fact checker Glenn Kessler noted on February 20, Boonstra's monthly premiums were "cut in half" on her new plan, and eventually she would reach the law's new caps and no longer have to pay anything.
But Fox News was undeterred by the holes in the story. From February 20 - March 4, the network hosted Boonstra at least three times, painting her as under attack by the Obama administration for speaking out against the ACA.
On the March 4 edition of Fox's The Kelly File, host Martha MacCallum praised Boonstra as a "fighter" for pushing back against those questioning whether she was worse off under the ACA, encouraging her to continue her "fight on both fronts." MacCallum promised to speak with Boonstra again:
MACCALLUM: You're become, sort of, a face for other people who are also getting letters, who are also getting thrown off their plans. Do you feel a responsibility now given the stories that they share with you?
MACCALLUM: Julie, thank you. You're a fighter. Continue your fight on both fronts. And we look forward to speaking with you again.
Right-wing media are upset that President Obama sat down for an interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis on "Between Two Ferns."
Fox News' Charles Krauthammer argued that the Obama administration is "unwise" for taking all U.S. military action "off the table" in response to Russia's recent invasion into Ukraine -- an apparent 180º from his position on military action when Russia invaded Georgia during President Bush's tenure.
On the March 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Baier reported that in response to Russia's invasion of the Crimea region of Ukraine, "U.S. officials say they still see no scenario, no scenario, involving military action of any kind." Fox contributor Krauthammer scoffed at the administration's stance against the use of military force, arguing "I think that's unwise to take everything off the table. What if there's a full-scale invasion all the way to Kiev? You're going to do nothing?"
During a Fox News segment discussing the release of the Clinton presidency documents, conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch accused Hillary Clinton of strategically using her concussion to avoid testifying on Benghazi while instead vacationing in the Dominican Republic. But the State Department confirmed that neither of the Clintons traveled to the Dominican Republic in December 2012.
Thousands of documents from the Clinton White House were released on February 28, leading to a media frenzy that was mocked by Fox host Shepard Smith. Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace also stated that "there's really no there there," predicting that unless something really incriminating appears, the papers will soon be forgotten.
Discussing the Clinton papers on Fox News' The Kelly File, guest host Shannon Bream implied that Hillary Clinton herself strategically cultivated rumors about her own health for her benefit. Loesch seized the opportunity to push the Benghazi hoax, accusing Clinton of taking a vacation to the Dominican Republic while using her concussion to avoid testifying before Congress about the Benghazi attack:
LOESCH: I campaigned for the Clintons when I was in college and I used to be a registered Democrat and I saw some of how the machine worked. And there are few women in politics that are as slick as Hillary Clinton. I may disagree with her on everything, but on this, she is very strategic. And so I keep going back as when they were getting ready to have the hearings on Benghazi, she had a concussion, but then she wasn't able to testify. And then a couple of days later she flew to the Dominican Republic and attended an event for Oscar de La Renta. So, could be strategic minor changes to get some empathy, we'll see.