Fox News continued to push the false narrative that the Obama administration politicized early intelligence assessments about the Benghazi attack by purporting to provide "new data points" which are contradicted by the findings of a bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released in January.
On February 13, Shannon Bream introduced a report from Fox national security correspondent Catherine Herridge by saying, "Tonight, two new data points in the Benghazi timeline [are] raising new questions about whether early intelligence was indeed politicized." Herridge began her report by claiming CIA leadership had been informed twice that the anti-Islam video "played no role" in the Benghazi attack, before former UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday news shows and provided information about the attack based on talking points that represented the best assessment of the intelligence community at the time.
But nowhere in the segment is there evidence that anyone was told that the anti-Islam video had no role in inspiring the Benghazi attack. Instead, Herridge presents evidence and quotes from Republican lawmakers that there was no demonstration that took place before the attack -- which is not the same thing.
The very Benghazi report Herridge cites in her appearance contradicts her claim that the video "played no role." The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's findings and recommendations in the report included the following:
Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar terrorist attacks with little advance warning.
That finding from the Senate committee report lines up with the talking points drafted in the aftermath of the attack, which said that the attack was "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo" -- protests that were a response to the anti-Islam video.
Considering that Fox's "new data points" do not actually provide any new information, the charges of intelligence politicization fall flat. The New York Times had a journalist who arrived at the Benghazi diplomatic facility as it was being attacked, and learned about the anger at the video from some of the attacks there.
The Benghazi report cited by Herridge also found that "there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to "cover-up" facts or make alterations for political purposes" -- a fact that she chose to left out.
In its continued opposition to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and a proposed amendment to this historic law, The Wall Street Journal published a misleading op-ed by Hans von Spakovsky, an unreliable contributor to the National Review Online.
The op-ed of von Spakovsky, a right-wing activist who has called the "modern 'civil rights' movement" indistinguishable from "discriminators and segregationists of prior generations" and whose attempts to fearmonger about "virtually non-existent" voter fraud have been repeatedly discredited, followed a WSJ editorial that compared the bipartisan attempts of Congress to update the VRA with that of "Jim Crow era Southerners."
Although this new effort to strengthen the VRA through the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 has prominent Republican support, von Spakovsky claimed "[t]his bill really isn't about the [Supreme Court's recent Shelby County v. Holder] decision. It is about having the federal government manipulate election rules to propagate racial gerrymandering and guarantee success for Democratic candidates." From the WSJ op-ed, which defended the conservative justices' gutting of the VRA in Shelby County and smeared the subsequent bipartisan efforts to repair the damage:
Before Shelby County, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required certain states to get "preclearance" from the federal government before making any voting changes. But the Supreme Court ruled that the formula to determine which jurisdictions were covered was unconstitutional because it was based on 40-year-old turnout data that did not reflect contemporary conditions. Census Bureau data show that black-voter turnout is on a par with or exceeds that of white voters in many of the formerly covered states and is higher than the rest of the country. We simply don't need Section 5 anymore.
In Shelby County, a radical break from precedent that has been described by experts as "on a par with the Court's odious Dred Scott and Plessy decisions and other utterly lamentable expressions of judicial indifference to the ugly realities of racial life in America," the bitterly divided Supreme Court struck at the heart of the VRA's efficacy by dismantling its "preclearance" process.
Even as the conservatives did so, however, Chief Justice John Roberts explicitly told Congress to fix this formula that requires covered jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit election changes for federal review before implementation. Contrary to von Spakovsky's strange assertion that "this bill really isn't about" Shelby County and is "an attempt to circumvent" the decision, this new bipartisan legislation is actually a direct response to Roberts' invitation to Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
Admittedly, this new formula is more complex than von Spakovsky's preferred method of determining voter suppression by "turnout data," a confusion between correlation and causation that has been described as a rudimentary failure of "Statistics 101." Rather, Section 5 of the VRA imposes the preclearance process on jurisdictions with an incorrigible track record of suppressing votes based on race, and the formula to determine this discrimination has been changed in the new legislation to incorporate a comprehensive and rolling 15-year record.
The claim of the op-ed that the old formula led to "unwarranted objections" on the part of the Department of Justice toward alleged voter suppression is also inaccurate; this preclearance mechanism has been extremely effective at stopping racially discriminatory election changes. In fact, the two cases that von Spakovsky highlights both involved Section 5 successes.
From the February 12 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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After Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave congressional testimony that echoed President Obama's recent statements about the threat that al Qaeda poses, Fox News host Bret Baier claimed that the testimony was a "direct contradiction" to the president's description of the threat posed by the terrorist organization.
On the February 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Baier reported on Clapper's testimony earlier in the day before the Senate Armed Service Committee, in which Clapper testified that al Qaeda is "morphing and franchising itself" throughout the world. Baier categorized Clapper's testimony as a "direct contradiction" to what President Obama has said about the terrorist group in the past:
BAIER: A direct contradiction today from the nation's top intelligence chief, to what president Obama has said about al Qaeda. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee today previous assessments from the president are not accurate.
Baier appeared to suggest that Obama's past claims that al Qaeda was "on the run," made several times during the 2012 campaign, are in contradiction to Clapper's testimony. But Baier failed to note Obama's most recent statements on the terrorist organization. In fact, Clapper's testimony before the Senate that al Qaeda is a "morphing" threat that is "franchising itself" in several countries is similar to recent statements from President Obama. In his State of the Union address last month, Obama acknowledged that al Qaeda still posed a threat to the United States, a threat that he said has "evolved": (emphasis added)
While we've put al-Qaida's core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker baselessly criticized President Obama for his administration's "willingness to challenge, rather than protect, religious liberty in this country," citing right-wing legal challenges to insurance coverage of birth control under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a lawsuit that was filed by the previous administration, not the current one.
In a recent column, Parker complained that Obama's decision to speak out against attacks on religious freedom overseas during the National Prayer Breakfast was done "without a hint of irony," because Obama failed to mention the "eroding protections of religious liberty" in the United States. Parker pointed to several high-profile cases as evidence of the Obama administration's supposed "challenge [to] religious liberty in this country." Parker overlooked the fact that the right-wing legal arguments that form the basis of these cases are a radical departure from settled corporate law precedent and the "well-established" religious accommodation practice for objectors toward neutral laws like the ACA's "contraception mandate." Parker also went on to claim that a separate Supreme Court decision in 2012 that ruled in favor of a church's discriminatory hiring practices was further evidence of the Obama administration's attack on religious liberty:
President Obama gave a lovely speech at the recent National Prayer Breakfast -- and one is reluctant to criticize.
But pry my jaw from the floorboards.
Without a hint of irony, the president lamented eroding protections of religious liberty around the world.
Just not, apparently, in America.
Nary a mention of the legal challenges to religious liberty now in play between this administration and the Catholic Church and other religious groups, as well as private businesses that contest the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.
Missing was any mention of Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor -- whose cases have recently reached the U.S. Supreme Court and that reveal the Obama administration's willingness to challenge, rather than protect, religious liberty in this country.
The more germane question to cases such as Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters is whether the government can accomplish its goal of making free contraception available without burdening religious objectors. Can't women in Colorado get contraception without forcing the Little Sisters, a group of nuns who care for the elderly, to violate their core beliefs? Their charitable work could not long survive under penalties the government would impose on them for noncompliance.
For now, the Little Sisters have been granted a reprieve, thanks to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Arguments in the Hobby Lobby case are scheduled for March, with a decision expected in June. Meanwhile, another case settled in 2012 reveals much about this administration's willingness to challenge religious freedom. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the question boiled down to whether the government can decide whom a church hires as minister. Since when?
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is now demanding a new congressional hearing on the Benghazi attacks held to his personal specifications.
On the February 6 edition of his Fox News show, O'Reilly demanded that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) subpoena former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to ask him whether he told President Obama that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist attack when he first informed him of the attack on September 11, 2012. O'Reilly's insistence that this question "is the crux of the matter" about Benghazi makes no sense, given that the president called Benghazi an "act of terror" several times in the days after the attack -- a fact that Fox News continues to ignore.
From the February 6 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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On February 5, President Obama announced the nomination of state judge Darrin Gayles to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The previous nominee for that slot, state judge William Thomas, was unexpectedly blocked by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a decision right-wing media defended.
If confirmed, Gayles will be the first black, openly gay male judge on the federal bench. But Gayles is not the first black, openly gay judge to be nominated to the Florida seat -- that would have been Thomas. Despite his initial support, Republican Senator Marco Rubio ultimately refused to support Thomas' nomination, a decision that was fatal to the nomination because nominees to the federal bench need the support of both of their home-state senators to advance.
In the wake of criticism about Rubio's flip-flop, right wing media defended the Senator's decision, claiming his belated "careful review of [Thomas'] record raised red flags" and rejecting as baseless any claims that Rubio's decision may have been "because he was a black homosexual."
But the nature of Rubio's subsequent change of heart regarding Thomas' nomination was strange. Though Rubio insisted he withdrew his support due to concerns about Thomas' "fitness" to serve, members of the Florida legal community were quick to point out the judge's extensive qualifications and his fairness in the courtroom. Indeed, although the "red flags" were purportedly supposed to involve improper sentencing in two criminal cases, the actual prosecutors involved rejected those arguments. As explained by Miranda Blue of People for the American Way:
Rubio's office provided two examples of instances in which they believed that Thomas didn't impose "appropriate criminal sentences." In both cases, Thomas imposed the highest sentence sought by the prosecution; in both cases, prosecutors praised his handling of the trials. Rubio's staff also claimed that in one of those cases, a grisly murder trial, Thomas "broke down in tears" when sentencing the defendant to death; news reports make clear that the judge's tears came when he was describing the brutal crime. As [MSNBC's] Chris Hayes put it, none of these complaints "pass the smell test."
Because of this history, national news organizations are already reporting on this nomination of Gayles to the federal bench. Rubio's office has also quickly responded to media inquiries, telling NPR "I do not anticipate having an objection to moving forward on any of these nominations pending the outcome of the customary background check conducted on every nominee." Such high-profile media scrutiny is certainly welcome in the wake of the confusing and contested reasons for the failure of the last openly gay black man to be seated to this court.
Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."
From the February 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
National Review Online is pushing an accusation that Virginia attorney general Mark Herring is "politicizing" his office because he has refused to defend that state's same-sex marriage ban in court. In reality, Herring's decision is a common one -- state officials on both sides of the political aisle have frequently refused to defend laws they consider to be unconstitutional, and he is not alone in his legal analysis.
One economic study, two news outlets, and two very different reports on its findings.
When the nonpartisan CBO released its Budget and Economic Outlook for the years 2014 to 2024 this week, right-wing media distorted its projection that the supply of labor would decline by about 2 million workers over the next three years, due to the ACA allowing workers the option to work less and still maintain health coverage. In the conservative echo chamber, pundits from Jennifer Rubin to Fox anchors argued that the CBO report proved the ACA is destroying jobs.
CNN's Carol Costello corrected the record about this conservative "spin" on the CBO report on February 5, explaining, "To be clear, the CBO did not say jobs would actually be lost. It said workers could choose to work fewer hours to meet Obamacare requirements for coverage," and calling out the misinformation surrounding the report:
COSTELLO: [C]ritics say a new nonpartisan report proves the law will indeed kill jobs. But when you cut through the spin, this is all about workers' choices, not job cuts.
As Costello was clarifying the CBO's findings, the very "spin" she highlighted was underway on Fox News. Anchor Bill Hemmer dismissed the notion that the CBO projection concerned workers' choice, arguing that it boiled down to "job losses" caused by the ACA. Frequent Fox guest Art Laffer added, "If you don't love your work, it doesn't mean you should be paid not to work so you can sit at home and dream. That's just silly."
Fox has attacked health reform at every turn, pushing myths and phony scandals to argue for its repeal. The network's repeated misinformation on the CBO report in order to continue its war on the ACA, no matter what the facts, is just another example of Fox prioritizing politics over accurate reporting.
After the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released new estimates of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) impact on labor markets, the Associated Press' Julie Pace claimed there were "two different ways" to characterize the report: the Republican characterization, and the White House's position. But there's a major problem with Pace's false balance -- only the White House's position is backed up by the facts.
On February 4, the non-partisan CBO released its Budget and Economic Outlook for the years 2014 to 2024. One section of the report projected that the number of full-time-equivalent workers would decline by about 2 million over the next three years due to the impact of the ACA. Conservative media quickly declared that the report showed 2 million jobs would be destroyed.
During a panel discussion on the February 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report, guest host Shannon Bream asked Julie Pace, the Associated Press (AP) White House correspondent, to spell out the details of the new CBO report and what the White House said about it. Pace explained:
PACE: Basically what you have is two different ways of characterizing this report. If you talk to Republicans, they say there are going to be nearly 2.5 million jobs that are going to be lost over a decade because of the Affordable Care Act. If you talk to the White House, there are going to be 2.5 million people who are going to have a choice to leave full-time employment.
Pace included the Republican talking point in an apparent attempt to balance the White House's statements, but the idea that "there are going to be nearly 2.5 million jobs that are going to be lost" is simply not true. As the Los Angeles Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist Michael Hiltzik explained (emphasis original):
The CBO projects that the [Affordable Care] act will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs. There's a big difference. In fact, it suggests that aggregate demand for labor (that is, the number of jobs) will increase, not decrease; but that many workers or would-be workers will be prompted by the ACA to leave the labor force, many of them voluntarily.
As economist Dean Baker points out, this is, in fact, a beneficial effect of the law, and a sign that it will achieve an important goal. It helps "older workers with serious health conditions who are working now because this is the only way to get health insurance. And (one for the family-values crowd) many young mothers who return to work earlier than they would like because they need health insurance. This is a huge plus."
The ACA will reduce the total hours worked by about 1.5% to 2% in 2017 to 2024, the CBO forecasts, "almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor -- given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive." That translates into about 2.5 million full-time equivalents by 2024 -- not the number of workers, because some will reduce their number of hours worked rather than leaving the workforce entirely.
Abandoning any pretense at understanding civil rights precedent or the bipartisan-supported Voting Rights Act (VRA), The Wall Street Journal condemned as "racial mischief" Congress' recent attempt to update this historic law pursuant to the Supreme Court's recent and explicit instructions.
In last year's bitterly split opinion of Shelby County v. Holder, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted the most effective part of the Voting Rights Act - the "preclearance" formula by which jurisdictions with an incorrigible record of voter suppression must submit election changes to federal review before implementation. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts invited Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
On January 16, Congress did just that and submitted bipartisan legislation to update the previous formula, which itself was an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort signed into law by former President George W. Bush. In a February 3 editorial, however, the WSJ declared this legislation comparable to the efforts of "Jim Crow era Southerners" and declared "Congress should let it die":
Never underestimate Congress's ability for racial mischief. In the Jim Crow era Southerners blocked civil-rights progress. Now, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the liberal goal is to give national politicians more power to play racial politics in a few unfavored states.
Democrats and the strange bedfellow of Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner have introduced a bill to revise Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down last year. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Act's coverage formula no longer made sense in light of current racial realities, and the new proposal isn't much better.
The good news is that the bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Conyers and Senator Pat Leahy and endorsed in his State of the Union by President Obama, specifically exempts voter ID laws from the actions that could be counted as a demerit against the state's voting-rights record. That's a repudiation of Attorney General Eric Holder's politically motivated campaign against voter ID, and perhaps that's why Mr. Sensenbrenner came on board.
But that concession isn't worth the broader political intrusion that the new proposal would allow. The Voting Rights Act's current provisions still provide ample federal enforcement when local politicians limit minority rights. Federal preclearance was an extraordinary exception to the Constitution's command of equal treatment under the law, and the country's racial progress shows it is no longer needed. Congress should let it die.
The WSJ may be puzzled, but there is nothing "strange" about the fact that conservative Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is leading Republican support for the latest renewal of the VRA. Support for the VRA and its preclearance mechanism - including the formula for determining covered jurisdictions - has historically been strongly bipartisan.
Sensenbrenner was the GOP's legislative leader the last time the VRA was reauthorized in 2006, when Congress passed updates to the preclearance formula by majorities of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. As former President Ronald Reagan had done before him with the 1982 reauthorization of the VRA (another bipartisan effort, also involving Sensenbrenner), Bush publicly and proudly signed into law the 2006 preclearance mechanism that Republicans (many still in Congress) overwhelmingly supported. The current bill is specifically crafted to repeat such long-standing bipartisan support, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has stated that his "experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all ... I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."
The WSJ not only botches civil rights law history, it also botches the substance of the new amendment.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly baselessly claimed that the "explosion of disability payments in this country" is an "undeniable" fact that contradicts President Obama's point that "we have not massively expanded the welfare state."
O'Reilly's comments came on the February 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends during a discussion of his recent interview with President Obama. O'Reilly cited disability benefits as an example of what Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy called the "massively expanded the welfare state" and claimed that government is "getting conned like crazy" by disability beneficiaries. He failed to cite any further examples of the supposedly expanding "Nanny State" that Fox's on-air graphics hyped.
In reality, a recent study from the Social Security Administration's actuaries found that the total allowance rate for disability benefits has fallen significantly during Obama's presidency. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has noted, "[s]tandards don't become more lax in recessions, and stories that focus only on the growth in applications omit that crucial fact."
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): When he said we have not massively expanded the welfare state, how could coffee not shoot out through your nose? I mean, that's just -- that is just not true!
O'REILLY: Well, it's theoretical and I wanted to stay away from that, but I had to hit him with the disability because that's the -- if you want to point to something that is undeniable, it's the explosion of disability payments in this country because as I pointed out, the workplace is safer than it was 20 years ago. Then what are all these people getting paid for? If you go into welfare, he'll go into recession. It's not my fault. I had to bail these people out. They're dying. If you go into unemployment, he's going to go there. He's going to use the economic maladies as justification. But if you go to something like disabilities where that's somebody who is going into the government saying look, I can't do this, give me money and the government says sure and doesn't check it out and everybody knows it. That's what I said, you see you're getting conned like crazy. It all goes back to the fact that he doesn't see this stuff as a welfare state. He sees it as necessary.
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): And that's the one thing that I don't get. That's an issue its not his fault, not his administration's fault, disability is exploding. That's where you focus on. 60 Minutes did 30 minutes on just the disability explosion in this country right now. And it would be apolitical and help our economy. But yet he doesn't see it that way. And unfortunately, we got three more years of this.