New York Times contributor Bryce Covert highlighted how Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's claim that Democrats promise "free stuff" to court black voters - a narrative widely used by conservative media - "takes an incredibly narrow, and therefore misleading, view of government benefits," and is at odds with his own tax plan.
In a September speech during a campaign stop in South Carolina, Jeb Bush claimed that Democrats use "free stuff" in order to sway black voters. As The Washington Post's Phillip Bump subsequently explained, Bush's assertion had a "lack of evidence" and was based on popular conservative myths. Conservative media have spent years propping up similar unsubstantiated claims that Democrats use "free stuff" to entice minority voters and jumped to defend Bush when he parroted their talking point.
ThinkProgress' Bryce Covert explained in an October 8 op-ed for the New York Times that the "free stuff" talking point ignores how "we all get 'free stuff' from the government" such as tax credits, deductions, and exclusions. Writing that Bush "is almost certainly aware of the freebies available through taxes" as his own tax plan would give out more of them, Covert pointed out the disconnect between Bush's comments and his economic proposals:
The Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush got caught sounding like a Mitt Romney rerun recently: He told a mostly white audience that he could attract black voters because his campaign "isn't one of division and get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff." The remark comes just three years after Mr. Romney was lampooned for later describing his own message in a speech to the N.A.A.C.P. as one where the listeners shouldn't expect "free stuff."
In each context, it was clear what kind of government stuff they meant, given the voters they were talking about. They meant welfare programs -- cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, housing subsidies and other direct spending programs that help the poor -- that are, often unfairly, associated with black Americans.
But the shorthand of "free stuff" also takes an incredibly narrow, and therefore misleading, view of government benefits. There's a whole treasure trove of government handouts that aren't dispensed through spending, but rather through the tax code. That doesn't make them any less "free" than a rent voucher or an Electronic Benefit Transfer card.
The government loses about $900 billion in revenue every year on just the 10 largest tax expenditures -- called expenditures because while they aren't direct outlays, they come at a cost just like direct spending. It's a pot that includes credits like the earned-income tax credit and Child Tax Credit as well as deductions and exclusions that help mainly middle-class people reduce how much they owe each April. It also includes special tax rates such as the lower burden on money made through investments instead of a salary. Tax credits mainly help the poor, but the rest help the well off: According to the Congressional Budget Office, more than half of the benefits of these expenditures go to the richest 20 percent of American households.
These facts are obscured for most people. While those who get government benefits through spending programs are often aware -- and too frequently ashamed -- of that fact, those who get them through the tax system usually don't realize they've received a handout. In a 2008 poll, 57 percent of people said they had never availed themselves of a government program, yet 94 percent of those same people had in fact benefited from at least one -- mostly through what the Cornell professor Suzanne Mettler has called the "submerged state," or the huge but often invisible network of money spent through the tax code.
Jeb Bush, however, is almost certainly aware of the freebies available through taxes. (According to one analysis of his federal income tax returns, he himself has saved at least $241,000 since 1981 through the mortgage interest deduction.) Just days before he vowed not to promise voters more free stuff, he put out a tax plan that would give out a whole lot more of it.
There are a couple of things in his plan that would benefit low-income Americans, like a boost to the earned-income tax credit. But thanks to proposed changes such as lowering the top income tax rate, ending the estate tax paid by the wealthiest 0.2 percent and even further reducing the rate for investment income, the biggest benefit would be handed to those who are already counted in the richest 1 percent slice of America. And it would come at a cost of at least $1.6 trillion over a decade, according to analysis by the Tax Foundation.
Every four years, politicians stigmatize "free stuff" like food stamps and welfare while courting votes -- and gloss over tax breaks. But the problem goes beyond disingenuous politicians. Statements like these erode support for government. The more "visible" benefits someone has used -- in other words, direct spending programs -- the more likely he is to feel the government has helped him personally. If most Americans falsely think they don't get free government stuff, though, they won't want to offer it to the people they think get it instead.
House Republicans have voted to form a special committee to investigate Planned Parenthood, following a months-long campaign by right-wing media and anti-choice groups pushing deceptive attacks against the women's health organization. Multiple recent state investigations and a federal investigation have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.
From The October 7 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
Loading the player reg...
Rupert Murdoch, executive co-chairman of Fox News' parent company, praised Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and his wife Candy as "terrific" and called for "a real black president" in response to a New York magazine column that posed the question, "Did Barack Obama do enough for his own community?"
From Murdoch's October 7 tweet:
Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide? And much else.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) October 8, 2015
Murdoch apologized in an October 8 tweet:
Apologies! No offence meant. Personally find both men charming.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) October 8, 2015
This morning I nearly choked on my coffee when I saw that The New York Times' editorial board published an opinion piece with the headline, "Shut Down the Benghazi Committee." For once, I couldn't agree more with the Times.
Two years ago, I wrote an e-book with my colleague, Ari Rabin-Havt, titled, The Benghazi Hoax. In it, we detailed the 15 most common falsehoods the Fox Noise Machine and conservative blowhards pumped out on a daily basis as they tried to politicize the tragedy in Benghazi.
Mitt Romney had failed to do so effectively in the 2012 election, so the right-wing turned its sights on the woman they thought most likely to be the next Democratic nominee for president.
Fox News was a driving force behind House Republicans' formation of the sham Benghazi Committee. In fact, the network ran nearly 1,100 prime-time segments pushing the propped-up storyline in the first 20 months after the national tragedy alone.
On May 2, 2014, House Speaker John Boehner announced the Benghazi Select Committee. In the ensuing two weeks, as Media Matters reported, Fox News provided over $124 million dollars' worth of promotion on their airwaves. Mainstream media followed suit, awaiting each and every utterance of Rep. Trey Gowdy and his committee cronies.
Two years later, the results speak for themselves.
The committee has spent $4.6 million taxpayer dollars and uncovered no new information or wrongdoing by any individual. Despite major leaks to reporters, the Select Committee on Benghazi has offered no recommendations for how to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.
Now, The New York Times is reaffirming what I have been saying for the past two years, after they followed committee Republicans down the rabbit hole of Hillary's emails -- another glaring red herring in this tragedy-turned-partisan-ploy.
This may be one of the ugliest abuses of taxpayer funds and exploitations of a national tragedy in modern American history.
Politicians in both parties can expect to be dragged through the mud, but conservatives should be ashamed of dishonoring men and women who try to keep us safe, solely for partisan political gain. There should be general agreement -- if nothing else, common decency should tell you -- that politicizing a tragedy such as this crosses a line.
This was a political hit-job of the highest order. Hopefully, it is the last we'll see of any kind of political attack like it.
From the October 7 edition of Fox News' The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson:
Loading the player reg...
Cable morning news shows mostly ignored The New York Times' editorial board's call for House Republicans to "shut down the Benghazi committee" now that it has lost "any semblance of credibility." The editorial was mentioned in only one segment on CNN's New Day, and ignored by Fox News' Fox & Friends, as well as by MSNBC's Morning Joe hosts -- who stayed silent about the editorial during an interview with committee chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) as he vigorously defended what is now one of the longest congressional investigations in history.
Conservative media are distorting an answer given by Hillary Clinton during a debate in the 2008 Democratic primary to falsely claim that Clinton generally opposed the federal regulation of firearms during the 2008 race, but in a reversal now, favors such federal laws. In fact, in the 2008 debate answer cited by conservative media, Clinton was talking about one specific policy -- whether states should require or not require the registration of handguns -- and her current support for federal laws to improve background checks on gun sales and ban assault weapons are consistent with her campaign positions in 2008. Clinton's recent call to repeal the federal law that grants civil immunity to the gun industry is also consistent with her vote against the law as a U.S. Senator in 2005.
As Republicans and their media allies scramble to contain the damage from Rep. Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) comments on Fox News, where he admitted the allegedly non-partisan Benghazi select committee was created to sabotage Hillary Clinton's political career, note that the other key player in this story is the Beltway press. And like Republicans, reporters and pundits who have feasted off Benghazi -- and the supposedly-related Clinton email story -- now have a chance to come to terms with a new political reality.
And that reality is that the cover of legitimacy has been blown away. McCarthy's comments revealed a poorly-kept secret and now everyone has to acknowledge their unobstructed view of the crass partisanship in play.
Having handed Democrats such a blunt instrument to attack the GOP's permanent-scandal infrastructure, McCarthy's comments could represent a turning point of sort. My hunch is that many D.C. journalists liked it better when they could pretend the Benghazi and email pursuits were strictly fact-finding missions, but it is now much harder to cling to that farce.
The fact is that for years the Beltway press has had the chance to cast a critical eye on the GOP's Benghazi obsession, to ask pointed questions about the clear abuse of power and the use of taxpayer dollars to advance a political agenda, through a committee virtually subsidizing Republican opposition research for a presidential campaign.
Instead, the press mostly checked any skepticism and was happily recruited to be part of the Republican "scandal" production. The press liked the story the Benghazi committee was trying to tell. (A swirling scandal in the Obama White House. Will Clinton's campaign be doomed?) Much of the press liked being fed morsels of information, which were then nearly always related to news consumers with strong GOP flavoring.
Recall that when Republicans rolled out the select committee last year, much of the Beltway press seemed almost giddy with anticipation, busy suggesting that big troubles lay ahead for Democrats because of looming questions about the Libya terror attack. (Remember when the Benghazi select committee claimed it would actually investigate the Libya terror attack?) Of less interest to much of the political press was the fact that there had already been seven government inquiries into Benghazi and that none had uncovered any administration wrongdoing. In fact, several had completely debunked favorite Republican conspiracy theories. ("Stand down" orders were definitely not given.)
So in a way, McCarthy's comments didn't simply reveal the truth about Republican objectives, they also highlighted the press' pliant role. Going forward, journalists have a clear choice: they can finally decouple themselves from the increasingly farcical, and sprawling, Benghazi production, or become more deeply mired in the folly. (It's probably too late, though, for people like National Journal's Ron Fournier, who repeatedly backed all kind of bogus Republican claims about the White House and Benghazi.)
In the wake of McCarthy's accidental accuracy, a handful of prominent media voices have unequivocally stated the truth. At the New York Times, those voices included editorial board member Carol Giacomo: The Benghazi committee is "a partisan witch hunt targeting Hillary Rodham Clinton" and has "shed no significant new light on the Benghazi attack." And today, the New York Times' entire editorial board joined in, calling the Benghazi committee "an insult to the memory of four slain Americans," and urging Republicans to disband the partisan inquisition.
But the Times editorial board has been honest about the committee's true, absurd nature since day one. Whether other media outlets will finally follow their lead remains to be seen.
There's no question that McCarthy's blunder of accidentally telling the truth on national television has changed the political calculus in recent days. McCarthy's campaign to be next Speaker of the House is suddenly in danger of being derailed. Republican allies fear the investigation apparatus is permanently stained. And Democrats on the Benghazi committee, who have complained bitterly about Republican behavior for months, have essentially declared war on chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and are now potentially moving to disband the committee all together. (They likely don't have the votes to do so, but the Benghazi storyline has clearly changed.)
And with Democrats fighting back, that means the media narrative should, and can, change in important ways. Just look at the nuggets about committee malfeasance that we're now learning: "Gowdy Cancelled All Planned Hearings Other Than Hillary Clinton's After NYT Email Story."
Meanwhile, Clinton released her first national ad of the campaign cycle featuring Benghazi: "The Republicans have spent millions attacking Hillary because she's fighting for everything they oppose." (Vox called the 30-second spot "devastating.") And while it remained unstated, the ad worked as a critique of the press and its Benghazi malpractice as well.
It's true that Democrats on the committee and on Capitol Hill have for years been complaining about the Republicans' institutionalized scandal pursuits, and the way the GOP set up a Congressional infrastructure to feed the press wild allegations and create costly distractions, just like they did during the 1990s under President Bill Clinton.
I suspect much of the press knew the Democratic claims about the Benghazi committee were accurate, but they wanted to carry on with the charade. The press was invested and wanted to maintain the deniability that Republicans provided. (i.e. These are serious endeavors!) They wanted to pretend this circular, dog-chasing-tail Benghazi/email pursuit was presidentially important and required limitless resources.
So a game-changing revelation about the Benghazi committee had to come from a prominent Republican in order to alter the conversation.
And now it has.
The New York Times editorial board argued that it's time for House Republicans to shut down the Benghazi committee, noting that the crusade to paint Hillary Clinton as "personally responsible for the deaths" of four Americans in Benghazi "has lost any semblance of credibility."
On September 29, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is running to replace Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as the Speaker of the House, told Sean Hannity that one of the biggest accomplishments of the Republican House majority was creating the Benghazi Committee, which he credited with hurting Clinton's poll numbers. Hannity initially praised McCarthy and the committee for its "political" strategy, but has since walked back the complements amid backlash. Fox News largely ignored McCarthy's damning comments, falling in line with the network's years-long campaign to create and promote now-pervasive lies, smears, and conspiracy theories about Benghazi.
On October 7, in the aftermath of McCarthy's acknowledgement, The New York Times editorial board called for an end to the Benghazi committee. Deeming it a "charade" that "has accomplished nothing," the board wrote that the "laughable crusade" should be shut down or at the very least renamed "the Inquisition of Hillary Rodham Clinton." The board went on to claim that the committee and its efforts have lost "any semblance of credibility" and has "become an insult to the memory of four slain Americans":
House Republicans may be disinclined to disband the Select Committee on Benghazi with the presidential race heating up. But at the very least they should rename their laughable crusade, which has cost taxpayers $4.6 million, "the Inquisition of Hillary Rodham Clinton."
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, a leading candidate to become the next speaker of the House, acknowledged last week that was the point of burrowing into the details of the 2012 attacks on government facilities in eastern Libya that killed the American ambassador and three colleagues.
"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?"Mr. McCarthy said in an astonishing moment of candor that was clearly a gaffe, rather than a principled admission. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?"
Lawmakers have long abused their investigative authority for political purposes. But the effort to find Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the Libya attacks, was personally responsible for the deaths has lost any semblance of credibility. It's become an insult to the memory of four slain Americans.
"There's nothing to justify the committee's long duration or expense," said Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California who sits on the committee and has called for it to be disbanded. "We have nothing to tell the families and nothing to tell the American people."
Mrs. Clinton is scheduled to testify before the committee on Oct. 22. The hearing will give Republicans another chance to attack the credibility and trustworthiness of the leading Democratic presidential candidate. It will do nothing to make American embassies abroad safer or help the relatives of the four killed in Libya.
The hearing should be the last salvo for a committee that has accomplished nothing. If the Republicans insist on keeping the process alive, the Democrats should stop participating in this charade.
A Washington Post column by columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel denounced conservative media narratives surrounding the "war on Planned Parenthood," noting that Republicans have seized on the Center for Medical Progress' "widely-debunked series of videos" and intentionally used "a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life" -- which was heavily pushed by conservative media figures -- to engage in "a modern-day inquisition" against the organization.
Planned Parenthood has come under attack from conservative media outlets after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of deceptively edited videos, purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff engaging in the illegal sale of fetal tissue to medical firms. These videos were repurposed by the House Oversight Committee in an attempt to promote its investigation into Planned Parenthood.
Katrina vanden Heuvel noted in her October 6 column for the Washington Post that Rep. Jason Chaffetz "brandished a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life that appeared to indicate -- falsely -- that Planned Parenthood performs more abortions than cancer screenings," the same chart also promoted heavily by conservative media figures, in a baseless attack on Planned Parenthood. She further wrote that, "What really demands attention are the lives currently hanging in the balance" because, despite the false claim that community clinics could fulfill the demand for services provided by Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health care provider is already filling a niche by providing a majority of services to low-income Americans and those in rural or under-served areas:
Republicans haven't done this much hand-wringing since Donald Trump rode his escalator into the presidential race. But McCarthy's "gaffe" hasn't put the brakes on the GOP's cynical strategy. In fact, they plan to replicate it.
Exhibit A was the recent announcement of a Benghazi-like select subcommittee tasked solely with exposing Planned Parenthood's supposedly nefarious activities, after the release of a widely-debunked series of videos purporting to show the organization selling fetal body parts. The new panel should not be confused with the House Energy and Commerce Committee's existing probe into Planned Parenthood. Or the House Judiciary Committee's "Planned Parenthood Exposed" investigation. Or the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's hearing.
Planned Parenthood, mind you, provides 2.7 million Americans annually with cancer screenings, birth control and STI testing. Abortions comprise a small percentage of its work. The organization estimates one in five American women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime, and 75 percent of the $500 million in federal funding Republicans hope to eliminate comes from Medicaid reimbursements for treating America's poorest patients. Break out the subpoenas!
We got a taste of the GOP's latest assault on women's health when House Republicans hauled Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in front of a mostly-male hearing last week. Republican committee members compared Richards to a criminal. They expressed astonishment over her salary (which is comparable to those of other chief executives of large nonprofits). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) brandished a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life that appeared to indicate -- falsely -- that Planned Parenthood performs more abortions than cancer screenings. It was, to put it gently, a modern-day inquisition.
Seeing the anti-choice crowd's open misogyny, some might conclude, as Post reporter Sarah Kaplan wrote , that "the stormy sessions could help Planned Parenthood." Progressives point to polls showing that 61 percent of Americans support federal funding for Planned Parenthood (only 29 percent support the Republican Party). They recall the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation's ill-fated 2012 attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, which backfired and resulted in $3 million in donations and an outpouring of support for Planned Parenthood. Heck, Politico reports that Hillary Clinton's campaign is "eager for [a] Planned Parenthood fight with GOP."
What really demands attention are the lives currently hanging in the balance. Since 2011, states have enacted an astonishing 287 new restrictions on abortion access. One-and-a-half abortion clinics are closing every week. Last Wednesday, a Planned Parenthood clinic near Los Angeles was deliberately set on fire.
These setbacks seriously hinder access to desperately-needed health services, especially for those without other options. Planned Parenthood says that 78 percent of its patients are low-income. A third are black or Latino. More than half of its clinics are located in rural or underserved areas. As Richards reminded us, "We're not fighting political battles just to get a tally of win-losses. It's because it actually does matter in womans' lives."
From the October 5 edition of Cumulus Media Network's Geraldo Rivera Show:
Loading the player reg...
From the October 5 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
Loading the player reg...
A Media Matters analysis of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal found that The Post dedicated extensive coverage to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's boast that the House Select Committee on Benghazi was part of a partisan strategy that damaged Hillary Clinton's presidential chances. The Post featured 17 online or print articles or blog posts that mentioned or covered McCarthy's comments. The Times mentioned or covered the comments in five online or print articles or blog posts, and The Journal neglected to offer any print coverage, but had five online articles and blog posts that mentioned or offered coverage.
A Media Matters analysis of the three months of broadcast evening news' coverage of Hillary Clinton following her 2016 presidential campaign launch found that there were more than twice as many segments covering Clinton's use of a personal email server than there were of her more than a dozen announced policy proposals and positions.