With two weeks to go before midterm elections, the North Carolina Senate race is on track to be the most expensive Senate race ever. But on Fox News, the focus is on spending by teachers unions, not the conservative-backed groups pouring money three times that amount into the state.
Fox News' America's Newsroom highlighted on October 21 how two prominent teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), are "on track to spend a record amount this [campaign] cycle." Focusing specifically on the North Carolina Senate race, host Martha MacCallum asked, "What are the teachers unions doing there?" Correspondent Mike Emanuel noted that Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is polling narrowly ahead of her Republican challenger Thom Tillis, as "the National Education Association super PAC has spent about $3 million on ads blaming Republican Tillis for making class sizes bigger and for reduced art and sports programs. Expect more of this down the final stretch," because Tillis is "a target."
With its focus on teachers unions, Fox conveniently left out the spending from outside groups that totals nearly three times more. For example, the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers has poured in at least $8.3 million in ad money. At least $6 million has come from groups linked to conservative Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor.
Such selective reporting on election spending is becoming standard for the network, which has worked to minimize the influx of money supporting Republican candidates into states with hotly-contested congressional races this election cycle.
News of a massive student protest in Colorado against a "conservative-led school board proposal" has prompted Fox News to rethink its stance on student freedoms.
Earlier this week, hundreds of students across six high schools in Arvada, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms amid news of a "conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority." The Associated Press reported that the curriculum proposal would establish a committee to ensure certain history materials "don't 'encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law'":
Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read "There is nothing more patriotic than protest."
The school board proposal that triggered the walkouts in Jefferson County calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
On September 25, Fox & Friends hosted Ken Witt, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, which oversees the Arvada schools, to discuss the protests. Amid chyrons like "Political Pawns" and "Teachers Are Using Students," Witt alleged that the real issue was not the history curriculum proposal, but rather the upcoming teachers union contract :
WITT: That's the unfortunate situation that's going on. I believe that there is a significant amount of union conflict right now that we would like to not have. The issue is that it's easy to get children out. It's easy to use kids as pawns and it's not right. We have a union contract that's expiring in August of this year.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck parroted Witt's allegations, saying, "What concerns me is that what I'm hearing from you, and correct me if I am wrong, is that there is someone else behind this planting it and using these students for their own gain."
As the current Supreme Court term winds down, a number of highly anticipated cases will be released in the coming week. Here are five of the decisions right-wing media have repeatedly misinformed about, as well as the top myths and facts.
From the April 15 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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While defending the Supreme Court's decision to undo decades of precedent and policy in campaign finance law, hosts of Fox News' The Five falsely suggested that unions can donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. In fact, unions are barred from directly donating to candidates and political parties.
In its April 2 decision on McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court decided that overall campaign contribution limits, previously set at $123,200 per individual per two-year election cycle, were unconstitutional. This allows future contributions to be spread among an unlimited number of political candidates, political parties, and PACs.
On April 4, as The Five co-host Bob Beckel criticized the decision and explained that these contribution limits were passed into law following the Watergate scandal, his fellow hosts Dana Perino and Eric Bolling claimed that unions face no limits on contributions, while there were limits on individuals.
But Perino and Bolling are incorrect. While unions, as well as corporations, can as of the 2010 Citizens United decision spend unlimited amounts on elections, they are still barred from direct contributions to candidates or political parties -- which is what the McCutcheon case was about. As USA Today explained:
It's the most important campaign-finance ruling since the high court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts independently to influence elections.
The limits on campaign contributions had stood for nearly 40 years. The high court drew a distinction between those contributions, which it said could lead to corruption, and money spent independently in its landmark 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling. Independent spending was expanded in the Citizens United case to include unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions.
Independent expenditures, which unions are allowed to make, are not the same as direct contributions to political candidates and political parties. A guide to federal election rules from The Campaign Legal Center states: "Corporations and labor unions are prohibited from using treasury funds to make a contribution to candidates, political parties, and many types of PACs."
Fox News has an enemy in the education debate, and that enemy is teachers unions.
In the weeks since New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, conservative media have sent themselves into a tizzy distorting the mayor's record, accusing him of waging a "war on children" and calling him "Comrade Bill." Perhaps no outlet was more indignant about de Blasio's decision than Fox News, whose hosts and pundits seemed incapable of discussing the story without blaming teachers unions, devoid of any evidence or support.
Watch below for Fox's "All Speculation, No Corroboration" approach to blaming teachers:
Fox's misguided outrage is unsurprising given the network's track record on unions. Its hosts and commentators have previously asked if "teachers unions [are] ruining your kids' education" and referred to labor unions as "parasites" that are "not doing anything" for workers. Fox host Dana Perino even suggested earlier this year that instead of making an "anti-NRA" film, filmmaker Harvey Weinstein could better "tackle gun violence if he would take on the teachers unions."
Fox dishonestly framed the current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case examining outside influence in the Chattanooga Volkswagen union vote as an attack on Sen. Bob Corker's free speech, ignoring that the board has no authority to constrain political speech.
On February 14, workers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee Volkswagen plant voted down a proposal to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712 - 626. The vote came after an extended media campaign which culminated on February 13, the day before the scheduled vote, when Corker falsely alleged that if the workers voted against the union, the plant would be rewarded with a new product to manufacture. His claim was immediately rejected by Volkswagen.
The UAW appealed for a re-vote, contending that the "coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign" by Corker and others infringed on the workers' right to "employee free choice."
But on the March 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck framed the fallout of Corker's threats and the impending investigation as "what happens when one of America's most powerful unions doesn't get its way," and as an effort by the UAW to get "a whole new set of rules" if the votes are recast. Hasselbeck then turned to guest Sen. Bob Corker to explain the pending NLRB decision, asking whether the UAW's objection to his threat was really an attempt to stifle free speech:
HASSELBECK: This is a freedom of speech issue, is it not? I mean, The president was out there speaking on behalf of the unions. You were certainly speaking on behalf of your constituents. You worked long and hard to get Volkswagen there from the beginning. Actually had initial meetings in your home. [...] They're telling you you can't speak, but yet the president can? Is this a double standard when it comes to freedom of speech?
CORKER: Yes. And I think, you know, we'll have to see. The UAW has been given until Friday to add additional arguments to their case. You're right, the president weighed in during the election process also. Again, this has happened time and time in the past and never, never before has the NLRB ever overruled because politicians have been involved in this way. So look, I -- you're right. I built the industrial part that Volkswagen is located on when I was mayor with others, recruited them to our state, had been involved with them for five years. Know the management up and down the line, have been, you know, have relationships there. And for me to express concerns about what it would mean to our community and our state over time is something that I think people elect me to do. So again, this is an interesting case. Hopefully even though this is Obama's NLRB, these are his appointees, hopefully they will do the right thing here and not try to muzzle people that are elected by people in their state.
Fox's attempt to frame the NLRB decision as an issue of free speech is dishonest. Offering workers a second chance to consider unionization isn't the same thing as "muzzling" Corker, and giving workers some distance from his comments isn't, as Hasselbeck claimed, a UAW ploy to implement "a whole new set of rules." As former NLRB general counsel Fred Feinstein explained, "the NLRB has no authority over Sen. Corker and cannot control what he says." At most, he said, the Board could conclude that Corker's comments had unfairly tainted the election and could "conceivably order a new one."
The NLRB is responsible for protecting workers legal right to "engage in protected concerted activities-group action to improve wages, benefits, and working conditions and to engage in union activities and support a union," and works to ensure that workers are free of coercion while maintaining their right to "free choice" during union elections. The NLRB typically focuses on whether unions or companies have been involved in illegal coercion of workers during a union vote, but third-party coercion is still a concern. The Huffington Post explained that the NLRB could make the case "that Corker's highly detailed statement created an atmosphere of coercion."
The UAW is only asking for a re-vote, which, if granted, would only allow the unionization of the plant with a majority vote. That's a far cry from Fox's claim that the UAW is planning to "take over" the Volkswagen plant and block officials' free speech in the process.
In recent months, conservative media figures have undermined efforts by labor groups to organize across the United States, demonizing labor unions in the process. These anti-union attacks are largely reliant on myths alleging negative side-effects of union participation.
From the February 19 edition of Fox News Channel's The Five:
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Fox News gave Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) an uncritical platform to continue pushing anti-labor falsehoods about a recent attempt to unionize a Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, TN.
On February 14, the VW plant in Chattanooga voted against joining the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712-626. Prior to the vote, Corker and third party anti-labor groups like Grover Norquist's Center for Worker Freedom (CWF) waged an anti-UAW publicity campaign that threatened workers with claims that unionizing would hurt jobs and the economy of Tennessee. Days after stating that he believed it was not "appropriate" to make public statements about the unionizing effort, Corker issued one anyhow, telling workers that if they rejected the union, VW would reward the plant with a new product line:
I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.
But VW AG rebuffed statement, saying "There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees' decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market."
On the February 19 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer interviewed Corker, who repeated the claim that the vote to unionize was tied to decisions about new product lines for the plant. Remarkably, Hemmer failed to push Corker on this point or even note that VW directly rejected his accusations.
Fox News accused an MSNBC contributor of injecting racism into the failed union vote at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, but the analogy that formed the basis of Fox's phony outrage actually originated with the anti-labor forces Fox was defending.
Last week workers at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen plant voted against organizing with the United Auto Workers union. The vote gained national attention for what some labor experts called the unusual nature of the campaign: While Volkswagen did not oppose unionization, interference was run by national conservative groups like Grover Norquist's Center for Worker Freedom, which, aided by Republican politicians, waged a dishonest publicity war against the union effort.
On February 17, MSNBC contributing writer Timothy Noah ruffled right-wing feathers after he said that the anti-union forces were portraying the UAW as "a union invasion, refighting of the Civil War," adding: "Apparently there are not a lot of black employees in this particular plant, and so that kind-of, waving of the Confederate flag was an effective strategy."
Fox News figures accused Noah of injecting the "tired, old, desperate" racism argument into the union vote. According to The Five co-host Andrea Tantaros, Noah's reference to the Civil War was "shameful" and "really pathetic."
The problem with Fox's indignation is that the Civil War analogy Noah referenced actually originated with the UAW opposition trying to convince workers to vote against organizing.
Fox News figures covered up controversial tactics by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who falsely promised that Volkswagen would reward workers at a Chattanooga plant with a new SUV production if they voted against unionizing.
On February 14, the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, TN voted against joining the United Auto Workers union by a vote of 712 - 626. Fox News' America's News HQ reacted to the vote by calling it a "major win for Republicans like Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee who say unions just would push away auto manufacturers." Fox then aired comments from Corker who claimed, "How many companies from South Korea or Japan or Germany, how many of them do you think make a stop in Detroit to look at locating there? None. Not a one. And it's because of the culture that the UAW's largely contributed":
But what Fox omitted from its report is that Corker is at the center of controversy for this advocacy against the union. On February 13, the day before the vote was scheduled to take place, Corker claimed that if the workers of the Chattanooga plant rejected the union, Volkswagen would "reward the plant with a new product to build":
Corker has long been an opponent of the union which he says hurts economic and job growth in Tennessee, a charge that UAW officials say is untrue.
"I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga," said Corker, without saying with whom he had the conversations.
But Corker's claim was immediately rebuffed by Volkswagen, who had remained neutral and even "tacitly endorsed the union." In a statement released following Corker's comments, the company stressed that unionization would have no impact on its decision about where to build the new product, saying "There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees' decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market." None of this information was presented in Fox's report.
Fox News pushed aside economic reality and Volkswagen's stated position surrounding unionization effort at a Tennessee plant, instead warning that a unionization push may generate too many benefits for workers and hurt the carmaker.
Workers at a Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee are voting this week on whether to unionize with the United Auto Workers (UAW). A final vote on the move is scheduled to take place by February 14, and in advance of the decision, outside conservative activist groups have mobilized a campaign to halt the unionization effort, succeeding in skewing local coverage of the issue.
Now Fox News is joining the union opposition effort. The February 13 edition of Fox & Friends stoked fears that unionization could hurt the U.S. economy and make manufacturing prohibitively expensive, something that Fox Business host Stuart Varney called "a very big issue":
PETER JOHNSON, JR.: What does this sound in terms of the economy, in terms of right to work, in terms of our ability in this country to manufacture in a way that's not too expensive?
VARNEY: Oh, it's a very big issue.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Tell us about that.
VARNEY: A very, very big issue. Foreign carmakers have, I think, 11 plants in more than a dozen states in America. They're nonunion, very successful automobile producers. Now, if the union comes into Volkswagen, do they now have union rules, work rules? Which really hurts the ability of a carmaker to move quickly with a new product. What about wage levels? What about benefits? Do those always go up because of unionization?
Varney purports to be concerned with economic growth and employer's rights, but it is at the expense of the facts.
The reality is that Volkswagen is not opposing the unionization effort in Tennessee.
From the February 12 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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A misleading op-ed in Chattanooga's Times Free Press, co-written by a Koch and ALEC ally, falsely claimed creating a union in a local Volkswagen plant would negatively impact the state economy and plant relations, despite evidence to the contrary.
The February 12 op-ed co-authored by Justin Owen of the Koch-tied Beacon Center and anti-union UAW member Terry Bowman misleadingly accused unions of threatening jobs and economic opportunity in the state and claimed workers could have an equal voice in plant decisions without a union:
When all is said and done, the UAW is a hyper-political organization with perspectives and policies contrary to those of many of the workers it claims to represent. The union has a history of using workers' dues to influence elections at all levels of government. Those policies have failed in Detroit and do not fit in a state like Tennessee that is trying to create automotive jobs and economic opportunity. And while many of Tennessee's auto workers have already expressed their opposition to the UAW, the battle is far from over.
Workers should absolutely have the opportunity to freely associate with each other and explore with their respective employers ways to improve their workplace and the quality of the products they produce. At the same time, Volkswagen can allow this to happen by using current, nonunion workers, instead of insisting that only a UAW-represented plant can enter into a works council agreement.
The anti-union reaction from Owen is no surprise as his organization, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, is a registered member of the State Policy Network (SPN). According to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy, the SPN and its member organizations "are major drivers of the right-wing" agenda:
Although many of SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, our in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.
Owen's co-author, Terry Bowman, is a UAW member and founder of the Union Conservatives, a group dedicated to advancing right-to-work laws that weaken unions. As a due-paying member, Bowman is often relied upon by conservative media outlets to fabricate union member dissatisfaction.