Conservative media haven't had the best luck in recent years when choosing which fringe protests or figures to elevate into the national conversation, often mistakenly tying themselves to extremism and bizarre conspiracy theories. In 2013, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Drudge, and other conservatives helped promote a rally of truckers planning to clog the Beltway to protest the government. The protest -- which eventually fizzled -- turned out to have been organized in part by someone who thinks President Obama and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person.
This year, conservatives threw their weight behind a Nevada rancher fighting against the federal government over grazing fees, only to be burned when he was videotaped giving his thoughts on "the Negro." 2014 also featured an unhinged conspiracy about President Obama trying (and apparently failing) to spark a domestic Ebola outbreak and a staggering amount of outlandish comments from Fox News contributor Allen West.
Media Matters looks back at the year on the fringe.
Right-wing media figures attacked President Obama's announcement of an agreement on diplomatic relations with Cuba, claiming that it is "appeasement" and tantamount to "prop[ping] up another communist dictator." But foreign policy experts and commentators have long supported a deal with Cuba to loosen the embargo and improve relations.
From the December 17 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto:
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Fox News obscured the fact that Republican lawmakers are holding renewal of a terrorism insurance program hostage in order to continue chipping away at financial regulatory reform.
The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), first passed after 9/11 and subsequently renewed by Congress, allows the federal government to aid insurance companies in providing terrorism insurance to businesses. One of the biggest beneficiaries of TRIA are professional sports organizations like the NFL.
If TRIA is not renewed, these organizations could lose terrorism insurance coverage. Thus on the December 15 edition of Fox & Friends First, Fox Business contributor Lauren Simonetti claimed that the Super Bowl may be in danger of cancelation. According to Simonetti, "The reason is Congress," adding "unless this act is reauthorized by the end of the year," the Super Bowl could be canceled:
The New York Times overlooked the millions of dollars in campaign contributions spent by lobbyists and special interest groups that benefitted from the provisions added to the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week.
The Sunday broadcast political shows overwhelmingly ignored the omnibus spending bill's rollback of key regulations on Wall Street and campaign finance. Only ABC's This Week covered the provisions, which come at a time when the financial services industry and large donors are playing an increasingly outsized role in elections.
Congress' controversial $1.1 trillion spending bill to avoid a government shutdown took several days of debate to pass in the Senate and barely passed through the House of Representatives, due to the inclusion of provisions "easing rules on campaign finance and the banking industry," as NPR explained.
The deal reverses a requirement of 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform, allowing banks to "place both standard accounts and accounts that handle riskier derivative trades under the protection of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." The provision was drafted by Citigroup bank and provides a major benefit to big banks that allows riskier trades and transfers accountability for banks' failures -- and potentially future financial crises -- onto the government and taxpayers. The bill also rolls back campaign finance regulations, dramatically increasing the limit wealthy individuals may donate to national political parties.
This erosion of key Wall Street and campaign finance regulations was all but ignored on the broadcast Sunday political talk shows. Neither NBC's Meet The Press, CBS's Face The Nation, nor Fox Broadcasting Company's Fox News Sunday acknowledged the controversial provisions in their discussion of the spending bill, glossing over the specific rollback of regulations in favor of general discussions on inner-party divisions on the vote. Only ABC's This Week highlighted the provisions. Host Martha Raddatz explained how the bill "dramatically ease[s] restrictions on the amount of cash individuals can donate to campaigns," while a later panel discussion emphasized the rollback of Wall Street regulations.
The shows' failure to cover the rollback of banking regulations and systematic erosion of campaign finance comes at a time when dark money, large donors, and outside spending are playing an increasingly outsized roll in elections and the financial services sector -- the very industry which drafted and stands to benefit from the Dodd-Frank reversal -- is already outspending all other industries in midterm elections.
USA Today amplified a misleading op-ed claiming that proposed net neutrality regulations could cost consumers $15 billion in new user fees and taxes, a number that has been called into question by advocacy groups for faulty assumptions.
On December 12, USA Today ran an op-ed by Progressive Policy Institute's Hal Singer and Brookings Institute's Robert Litan promoting their conclusion that a vote by the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act could cost consumers "a whopping $15 billion in new user fees to consumer bills." The authors claimed that "[o]nce Internet access service is labeled a 'telecommunications service' under Title II, consumer broadband services could become subject to a whole host of new taxes and fees."
Singer and Litan admitted that "the Internet Tax Freedom Act pending in Congress might limit the impact of some of these taxes and fees" and that the FCC could limit service fees to consumers, but argued that such moves are unlikely and would not limit the impact of all fees.
The paper published the authors' claims despite the fact that their calculations have been criticized for relying on faulty assumptions. The nonpartisan open Internet advocacy group Free Press estimated that FCC limits and the Internet Freedom Act would reduce possible fees associated with net neutrality reclassification by nearly 75 percent, to $4 billion. The group called the notion that Internet reclassification would amount to more than $15 billion in new local, state, and federal taxes an unlikely "worst-case scenario" that fails to account for how net neutrality works in practice, as it ignores "the difference between services that cross state lines and those that exist entirely within one state":
Fox News is firing shots at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) after he criticized conservative attempts to delegitimize the Committee's report on Benghazi.
In November, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee released the results of a two-year investigation that "debunk[ed] a series of persistent allegations," pushed by conservative media, about the 2012 attacks on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi. Several Republican lawmakers publicly denounced the report, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who said on CNN that he thought the report "is full of crap." Talking Points Memo reported on December 12 that Rogers "brushed off" criticism from fellow Republicans unsatisfied with his committee's findings:
The Weekly Standard also published a piece quoting a number of members arguing that the Bengahzi report was incomplete. Rogers said those comments were just because the outcome wasn't what those members wanted.
"First of all, they didn't read the report. And unfortunately people wanted this report to be the expansive Benghazi report," Rogers told TPM and other reporters right after the Christian Science Monitor Breakfast. "I told everyone, including some members on my committee that it was not going to be an expansive Benghazi report. My jurisdiction -- the committee's jurisdiction was the lane of the intelligence community. So I think they wanted a report to come out to go after the State Department or the White House. That was not my goal. I put no piece of information in a finding if we couldn't corroborate the information. So one piece of testimony is not corroboration. I had to have other corroboration in order to do it."
Rogers said that none of the criticism has been on the findings.
Fox News host Andrea Tantaros responded by suggesting Rogers manipulated the report's conclusions to protect his wife, who was "doing some consulting on security on the ground at the time" of the Benghazi attacks. From the December 12 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered (emphasis added):
TANTAROS: And there's also questions about Mike Rogers, because he put out that report recently. And some Republicans on the committee are very unhappy with him. They have questions.
So he put out this report where he said, oh, nothing happened here, nothing to see here. No Republicans endorsed it. Wasn't his wife doing some consulting on security on theground at the time? So this isn't just a partisan issue. And it is, it is an issue now because the State Department just this week, and we talked about this a couple days ago, Harris, reported that our embassies are still not secure. So in the wake of the torture memo, have we learned anything?
Tantaros' attacks represent a new, more aggressive angle in Fox's ongoing attempt to discredit the report's findings.
The New Hampshire Union Leader referenced the fictional character, Jack Bauer of the television show 24, to call those in favor of releasing the Senate report on CIA torture practices "wusses" and claim opposition to the agency's brutal techniques amounted to "whining."
The December 10, editorial defended the CIA's "enhanced interrogation program" by referencing Jack Bauer as evidence that real life is more complex than the "liberal politicians" behind the report make it seem (emphasis added):
Regarding the politically motivated and highly questionable U.S. Senate report on the CIA released this week, we wonder:
What would Jack Bauer make of these wusses?
Bauer, of course, is the fictional character from the TV series "24.'' He regularly and single-handedly saved America by beating the daylights and the information out of the bad guys with little regard for civil niceties.
We know, real life isn't like television make-believe. But that is precisely the point here. The liberal politicians behind this report are either terribly naive or terribly cynical or both.
Now it is easy to sit in judgment on those who had to find out, fast, who was out to destroy America and stop them. And this business that some brutal tactics make us the moral equivalent of our murderous enemies is garbage.
Sorry to disappoint the Senate Democrats who wrote and released this one-sided, misleading report, but we think most Americans are going to pay little attention to their whining. We certainly hope so.
The details of the Senate report shows that prisoners were subjected to a litany of harsh interrogation techniques including forced rectal feeding, being forced to stand on broken legs, waterboarding (simulated drowning), and sleep deprivation. In addition, the report found that no useful information was garnered from the use of these techniques.
The Union Leader also suggested those in support of the report should not fault the CIA because the agency was charged with "protect[ing] us from further attacks" with few restrictions after 9/11. However the CIA's tactics exceeded limits to interrogation techniques which were laid out by the Department of Justice. As Politico reported, the report detailed instances in which the CIA violated Justice Department legal opinions concerning how the agency should interrogate subjects while ignoring necessary safeguards like training requirements for interrogators.
Notable conservative Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a victim of torture during his five year captivity in a notoriously harsh North Vietnamese prison camp, also denounced the CIA's actions. During his Senate floor statement on the release of the report, Senator McCain explained that the use of torture is strategically ineffective and runs counter to the values of the United States:
I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.
Rush Limbaugh claimed on Fox News Sunday that the American people were "begging" the GOP to stop Obama by shutting down the government and denied the harmful effects of the 2013 shutdown, which cost an estimated $24 billion.
On the December 7 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Limbaugh to defend his recent demands for congressional Republicans to force a government shutdown. Limbaugh stated that the results of the 2010 and 2014 elections showed the American people were "begging" the GOP to stop President Obama and that Republicans don't need to worry about the political risk of another shutdown. He then claimed that the "only thing that happened in that shutdown was Barack Obama closed [...] the World War II Memorial to World War II vets" and "shut down some White House tours."
But the shutdown was a significant blow to the U.S. economy. Standard & Poor's found the shutdown cost $24 billion in economic activity. Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi similarly estimated that it "stunted fourth quarter GDP growth by 0.5 points, resulting in a $20 billion hit," by disrupting "federal spending, global trade and investments in housing and businesses." Following the 2013 shutdown, Fox repeatedly downplayed its economic impact.
From the December 5 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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The Washington Post is helping a former official from President George H.W. Bush's administration walk back his 1990 congressional testimony that Bush's executive action on immigration could have helped up to 1.5 million people and using that to decry the Obama administration's use of the figure to justify its upcoming immigration action. But the official, then-Federal Immigration Commissioner Gene McNary, was the person who introduced the 1.5 million figure, and an immigration expert's analysis of immigration numbers at the time shows that the figure is plausible.
Conservative media parroted Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) claim that cigarette taxes were partly to blame in the choking death of Eric Garner by a New York City police officer following a grand jury decision not to indict the officer accused in the incident. Mainstream media outlets criticized the "fanciful" assertion, explaining Garner died due to excessive police force.
On November 21, the Republican-led House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released the findings of its investigation into the September 2012 attacks on two U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, debunking many right-wing media myths about the attacks. Despite the fact that this is just the latest of several reports that clear Obama administration officials of any wrongdoing, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reappointed Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) to lead a special committee in furtherance of the right-wing Benghazi hoax.
Right-wing media outlets hyped widely discredited research from the Heritage Foundation to push the myth that President Obama's executive actions on immigration will cost the U.S. economy more than $2 trillion in federal benefits paid to those undocumented immigrants whose deportations are deferred. But Obama's exercise of prosecutorial discretion on behalf of certain undocumented parents of U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents does not confer federal means-tested benefits and economists report that allowing more immigrants to legally work will raise revenues and boost the economy.