Fox continued its effort to target the Obama administration with manufactured scandals, fearmongering that IRS commissioner Sarah Hall Ingram will use the IRS' authority under the Affordable Care Act to discriminate against conservatives by denying or postponing approval for medical procedures.
As of this writing, there is no indication that the IRS's inappropriate targeting of conservative political groups has any connection whatsoever to the White House. And some conservative talking heads are even acknowledging as much. But they're not letting that stop them from naming Barack Obama as the culpable party, arguing that the president is responsible due to his preternatural ability to bend the average bureaucrat to his maleficent will from afar.
It all started with RedState founder Erick Erickson, who wrote on May 15 that "Barack Obama never specifically asked that tea party groups and conservatives be targeted." But...
But by both his language and the "always campaigning" attitude of his White House, he certainly sent clear signals to Democrats with the power and ability to fight conservatives to engage as they could. Given his rhetoric against his political opponents, it is no wonder sympathetic Democrats in the Internal Revenue Service harassed and stymied conservative groups and, though little mentioned, pro-Israel Jewish groups and evangelical groups.
"President Obama did not have to tell the IRS specifically to harass conservative, evangelical, and Jewish groups who might oppose him," Erickson observed. "His rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the permanent campaign of the White House operations made clear what he wanted."
Fox News is apparently desperate for a scandal over President Obama's handling of news that the Internal Revenue Service applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups, especially now that the network's campaign to embroil the president in scandal over his response to the Benghazi attacks is falling apart. Fox has gone from ignoring Obama's swift responses to the IRS's actions to downplaying the significance of his firing the IRS's acting commissioner, each time distorting reality in order to call for a special prosecutor.
The release of over 100 pages of inter-agency emails obtained by CNN have threatened to derail months of right-wing scandal-mongering over the administration's response to the 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The emails appear to counter the conservative narrative that the State Department altered Benghazi-related talking points for political reasons. As Fox News' desperate attempts to resurrect the waning scandal fall flat, Fox pundits have resorted to criticizing the president's handling of the IRS controversy instead.
Fox kicked off its criticism by deciding Obama's initial condemnation of the IRS's actions as "outrageous" was too weak. When the president first addressed concerns over this story at a press conference on Monday, May 13, he asserted, "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported," then "that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable." America Live host Megyn Kelly covered his remarks by wondering, "Does the president understate it when he calls this, 'outrageous'?"
After the Inspector General published its report on the IRS's actions, concluding the agency applied "inappropriate criteria" to conservative applicants, Obama released a statement on May 14 definitively calling the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable" and directing action to be taken to hold those responsible accountable. This time, Fox simply pretended Obama made no such statement and continued to attack his remarks from two days prior, all while arguing that a special prosecutor was needed given Obama's supposed inaction.
By Thursday, Fox was fumbling over how to handle the fact that Obama had fired Steven Miller, the IRS acting commissioner, over the agency's actions. In the morning, America's Newsroom chose the route of merely ignoring that anyone had been fired so that host Martha MacCallum could declare, "[Obama] could be the big person. He could say, 'This stinks. You're all fired. This doesn't happen in America.' He has every ability in his position right now to take the high road. Why not? Why not do it?"
When the network finally acknowledged that Miller had been forced to resign, it did so by attempting to downplay the decision. Anchor Bret Baier questioned the action on Happening Now, claiming, "He was ready to leave, despite the fact -- I mean, before any of this already happened. He was acting commissioner and was set to leave the IRS. So that's a question for the White House; that's a question for the president. You know, was this guy fired when he was going to leave anyway?"
Fox News ignored President Obama's explicit demand for accountability in the wake of news that the Internal Revenue Service applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups. The network's omission gave it cover to accuse Obama of not taking the IRS's actions seriously and to call for a special prosecutor.
Obama first addressed the IRS controversy during a May 13 joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, where he condemned the IRS's behavior with the caveat, "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported," then "that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable."
After the Inspector General published its report on the IRS's actions, concluding the agency applied "inappropriate criteria" to conservative applicants, Obama granted the IRS no such caveat. He released a statement definitively naming the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable" and directing action to be taken to hold those responsible accountable:
I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog's report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.
I've directed Secretary Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again.
Yet the next day, America Live host Megyn Kelly and Fox's digital political editor Chris Stirewalt pretended Obama issued no such condemnation.
Instead, Kelly claimed that even after the IG's report was released, "we still have the president saying, 'Well, if they did it, if they did it, if they did it." She ranted, "I don't understand, more so today than the other day, why the president used that word 'if.' 'If these people did this, if these people did that.' Now that I've seen the Inspector General report -- and you're telling me -- now Fox News just got it last night. But other news organizations had it leaked to them early. You're telling me President Obama couldn't have got it when it was complete on Monday?"
Kelly and Stirewalt used their mischaracterization of Obama's response to call for a special prosecutor into the IRS's actions. Stirewalt told Kelly that if he were the president, he would "find a Republican of good standing" to appoint as an independent investigator. Kelly responded with the charge, "Where is the harm to this administration, if as these IRS employees state, no one outside of the IRS had anything to do with this, this was just IRS employees deciding to target conservatives. So if the White House and no one else had anything to do with it, where is the harm? Why doesn't the president just say 'absolutely'?"
Evening news coverage throughout April touched upon several economic issues, including income inequality, deficit reduction, and entitlement cuts. A Media Matters analysis of this coverage reveals that many of these segments lacked proper context or necessary input from economists, while some networks ignored certain issues entirely.
From the May 13 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player ...
Fox News glossed over an important aspect in its reporting on lower than expected GDP growth -- the government contribution to GDP has been negative in the majority of recent reports.
Following the April 26 release of first quarter GDP growth estimates, Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney dismissed the 2.5 percent increase as "not good numbers," claiming that the increase was not indicative of a robust recovery. From Fox News' America's Newsroom:
Varney provided a laundry list of reasons why GDP growth has failed to live up to expectations, including recent federal and state tax increases and, notably, cuts from sequestration - a reversal from previous right-wing assertions that sequestration was too small to harm the economy. Varney failed to explain, however, that too little government spending has been holding back economic growth, as indicated by many of quarterly reports from the past two years.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides data on individual contributions to GDP, including government spending's contribution. When the government's contribution to GDP growth is separated from total growth, it becomes apparent that it has been a drag on the economy for much of the past two years.
In the previous 13 quarters, government spending has only added to GDP growth twice - once in the second quarter of 2010, and again in the third quarter of 2012.
This observation has been recognized by others, causing The Washington Post's Ezra Klein to boldly state that "government is hurting the economy - by spending too little." Of course, any recognition of this fact from Fox News would require the network to abandon its longtime stance that increased government spending can only hurt the economy.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin is seizing on a recent poll showing that George W. Bush's approval numbers are up to declare "Bush is back," arguing that America is starting to appreciate Bush's policies in the light of what she calls the "rotten" Obama presidency. To make her case, Rubin neatly excises from Bush's record every single massive failure and disaster that resulted in Bush leaving office as one of the least popular presidents in history.
Rubin managed to cram so much misinformation and nonsense into seven short paragraphs that it's tough to pick a place to start, but this one is worthy of special attention:
Why the shift? Aside from the "memories fade" point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt). Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11. People do remember the big stuff -- rallying the country after the Twin Towers attack, 7 1/2 years of job growth and prosperity, millions of people saved from AIDS in Africa, a good faith try for immigration reform, education reform and a clear moral compass.
"Aside from the 'memories fade' point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt)." Funny thing about those "spending" and "debt" failures of Obama's that make Bush's supposedly seem so mild: Bush-era policies are responsible for the lion's share of the current public debt and will continue exacerbating the debt situation long after President Obama has left office.
"Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11." This is false. There were a number of successful terrorist attacks between 9-11 and the end of the Bush presidency, most prominently the DC-area sniper attacks of 2002. But I'm dodging the real problem, which is the phrase "after 9/11." Her argument -- an argument she's made before -- is that the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, despite happening on Bush's watch, doesn't count against Bush. Why? She doesn't say. Rubin doesn't allow Obama any terrorism Mulligans, calling his record "spotty at best with Benghazi, Libya, Boston and Fort Hood."
From the April 15 edition of Fox News' America Live:
Loading the player ...
From the April 10 edition of MSNBC's Martin Bashir:
Loading the player ...
Fox News buried Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's (R) decision to back down on his plan to eliminate the state's income tax, praising the now-dead proposal just days after Jindal acknowledged Louisianans reject the scheme.
While the network has not covered* Jindal's April 8 speech rescinding the proposal, Fox News' America's Newsroom dedicated a segment on April 10 to the idea of repealing Louisiana's income tax. Before introducing Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, guest host Gregg Jarrett framed the topic, saying: "Creating jobs and helping put more money in your wallet--the state of Louisiana wants to scrap its state income taxes." As Jarrett continued, Fox displayed a graphical summary of the plan Jindal withdrew two days earlier:
In his speech to state lawmakers, Jindal explained his decision to withdraw that plan as a recognition of fierce opposition to it. From The Times-Picayune:
The speech is a major concession that Jindal's proposal, a complicated plan contained in a total of 11 bills, is unpopular both within and outside the Legislature. The proposal has come under increasingly heavy fire in recent weeks as business groups and advocates for the poor have assailed its effects and think tanks have questioned whether the math in the proposal adds up.
Jindal acknowledges the strong opposition to the proposal in his prepared remarks.
"I realize that some of you think I haven't been listening. But you'll be surprised to learn I have been," according to the text of the speech. "And here is what I've heard from you and from the people of Louisiana -- yes, we do want to get rid of the income tax, but governor you're moving too fast and we aren't sure that your plan is the best way to do it.
"So I've thought about that. And it certainly wasn't the reaction I was hoping to hear. And now I'm going to give you my response and it's not the response people are accustomed to hearing from politicians.
"Here is my response: 'Ok, I hear you,' " according to the text of the speech. "So I am going to park my tax plan."
The governor went on to request that lawmakers write an income tax repeal bill of their own, and his administration has reportedly signaled interest in repealing the income tax even without any accompanying plan to make up the lost revenue.
Numerous major news outlets reported on Jindal's speech as both a setback for his political career and a victory for the poor. MaddowBlog's Steve Benen noticed this is the second such rebuke Jindal's suffered so far this year, after his plan to end hospice care for Medicaid beneficiaries went down in the face of stiff criticism. But on Fox, Jarrett and Moore didn't just ignore Jindal's reversal. They praised Jindal's stillborn plan as a near-heroic effort to boost economic growth in his state. "The real story here is that Bobby Jindal is trying to take on the special interests in Louisiana, trying to make the case that Louisiana could be a really high-flying state if they could get rid of their income tax," Moore said.
Beyond their attempt to recast Jindal's efforts in a more positive light, Moore and Jarrett continued Fox's pattern of misrepresenting the relationship between state income taxes and growth. Fox had previously ignored the regressive nature of Jindal's plan, and the April 10 segment featured the false claim that eliminating income taxes boosts state economic growth. Media Matters has previously shown Moore's work on that subject to be dishonest, and as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown, cuts in state income taxes are correlated with weaker economic growth except in oil-rich states. Furthermore, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported in February that the nine states with no income tax have shown substantially weaker economic growth than those with high income taxes.
*A review of transcripts found that no Fox News Channel shows covered the Louisiana governor's speech from April 8. Fox Business's Stuart Varney interviewed Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform about Jindal's reversal on the April 9 edition of Varney & Co.
News Corp. properties Fox News and The Wall Street Journal failed to disclose the fossil fuel industry ties of commentators who used the media outlets to advocate pro-fossil fuel industry positions.
On April 3, Fox & Friends hosted Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell, who accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of delaying a decision to allow for fossil fuel extraction via hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, to keep Republican areas of the state from becoming richer and wielding more political influence:
Ebell dismissed the real concerns regarding fracking as political posturing when in fact, injection wells that store used fracking fluids have been linked to earthquakes, and drinking water contamination has been correlated with the drilling activity employed in fracking.
The Wall Street Journal print edition published an op-ed piece by the Institute for Policy Innovation's Merrill Matthews on the same day, where he denied that the fossil fuel industry receives tax breaks specific to the industry:
President Obama has been telling America for months that special tax breaks for the oil and gas industry must come to an end. The presidential demand always prompts puzzled gazes among tax and energy-industry experts, who ask: What special tax breaks?
Thanks in part to a bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland and ranking member on the House Budget Committee, it's all much clearer now. The congressman has inadvertently called attention to the fact that those special tax breaks just for the oil and gas industry don't exist.
Contrary to Matthews' claim, the Congressional Research Service and the conservative Heritage Foundation have found that the fossil fuel industry receives "special tax treatments" specifically for fossil fuel extraction.
News Corp. failed to disclose that both the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and at the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) are partly funded by the oil industry.
Conservative media are again using a European financial crisis to stoke fears about the U.S. economy.
According to many right-wing media figures, the Cypriot government's plan to tax private bank accounts to avert a fiscal disaster provides a dire warning for the U.S. Many have speculated or outright claimed that the same could happen here unless the so-called "debt crisis" is averted
Of course, fears of heavy taxation on private bank accounts occurring in the U.S. are largely unfounded, with many experts noting the comparison between the two countries is ill-conceived. But the facts rarely matter for right-wing media when it comes to exploiting a European crisis.
The Wall Street Journal has repeatedly supported the conservative call for states to cut income taxes in order to foster economic growth, ignoring a large body of evidence that shows cutting or eliminating income taxes is economically damaging.
In recent months, The Wall Street Journal has published opinion pieces in support of Republican governors' push to reduce or eliminate state income taxes.
A January 30 editorial claimed that eliminating state incomes taxes "makes sense," arguing that it would spur economic growth and bolster state revenues. Economist Art Laffer and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore reiterated that thinking in a March 28 opinion piece titled "The Red-State Path to Prosperity," which argues for - among other measures - "pro-growth tax reform" that hinges upon a reduced reliance on income taxes.
Both pieces ostensibly rely on research conducted by the corporate-funded, right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Both Laffer and Moore have published research jointly with ALEC, and the January 30 editorial directly references Laffer's ALEC research. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), ALEC's studies on state-based tax reform are heavily biased toward states with low taxes and often do not comport with broader research findings:
ALEC's studies and reports claim that its agenda would boost economic growth and create jobs, but they are disconnected from a wide body of peer-reviewed academic research on public finance.
In addition, the preponderance of mainstream research refutes core elements of ALEC's argument, showing that state tax cuts or lower state taxes generally do not boost the economy, state tax cuts do not pay for themselves in the form of higher economic growth that generates more revenues, progressive taxes and corporate taxes do not inherently damage the economy, and taxes generally do not cause people to flee a state. (emphasis added)
Indeed, a recent review conducted by CBPP reinforces the lack of validity in ALEC and WSJ's claims -- of the eight peer-reviewed studies on the effect of state-level personal income taxes on the economy since 2000, six have found insignificant effects, and one had internally inconsistent results. CBPP also found that in states that cut taxes the most in the 1990s, average annual job growth fell far below the national average in the following economic cycle.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has a long and documented history of pushing economic misinformation on his program, reinforced recently by economist Richard Wolff who said O'Reilly's claims about the economy are false.
On the March 25 edition of the independently syndicated Democracy Now!, former University of Massachusetts, Amherst economics professor Richard Wolff responded to O'Reilly's claim that European countries are going bankrupt because they are "nanny states," stating:
WOLFF: You know, he gets away with saying things which no undergraduate in the United States with a responsible economics professor could ever get away with. If you want to refer to things as "nanny states" then the place you go in Europe is not the southern tier -- Portugal, Spain, and Italy -- the place you go are Germany and Scandinavia because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what? Not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation.
[O'Reilly's] just making it up as he goes along to conform to an ideological position that is harder and harder for folks like him to sustain, so he has to reach further and further into fantasy.
O'Reilly's misinformation on economic issues, however, is not just contained to commenting on the European experience. Here are 10 other examples of O'Reilly's failure to accurately understand economics:
10. O'Reilly Falsely Compared The U.S. Debt Situation With That Of Greece. In an effort to force Congress to enact deep spending cuts, O'Reilly claimed that "like Greece, Ireland, and Spain...the USA has bankrupted itself." However, economists agree that the U.S.-Greece comparison is misguided and ignores the structure of the countries' economies.
9. O'Reilly Dismissed The Recession's Effect On Gas Prices. O'Reilly expressed doubt over the economic downturn's effect on gas prices, claiming that President Obama's explanation for low gas prices was "totally bogus." In reality, gas prices dropped precipitously during the recession, a fact that many news outlets -- including Fox -- reported at the time.
8. O'Reilly Claimed That Food Stamps Have No Economic Value. In a discussion about President Obama's stimulus bill, O'Reilly claimed that increasing spending on food stamps has "nothing to do with stimulating the economy." However, economists largely disagree, and studies have indicated that food stamps are among the most stimulative of government programs.
7. O'Reilly Suggested Bush Tax Cuts Increased Revenue. In an interview with former President Clinton, O'Reilly claimed that because of "the tax cuts under Bush, more money flowed into the federal government." However, when tax revenues are expressed as a share of the economy, the Bush tax cuts resulted in the lowest level in any decade since the 1950s, a fact noted by many economists.
6. O'Reilly Dismissed The Causes Of Income Inequality. In a discussion with Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers, O'Reilly brushed aside income inequality, claiming, "Income inequality is bull. Nobody gives you anything, you earn it." However, O'Reilly's statements ignored the fact that, at the time he said them, taxes on top income earners are at historic lows, and that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "typical middle-class households face higher rates than some high-income households."
5. O'Reilly Blamed Undocumented Immigrants For California's Budget Problems. In a segment on California's budgetary problems, O'Reilly claimed that an "enormous amount of money" was being spent on the "illegal alien problem." However, O'Reilly ignored that fact that a majority of undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and that granting them legal status could have a positive impact on the economy.
4. O'Reilly Repeatedly Suggested That "Irresponsible Behavior And Laziness" Cause Poverty. O'Reilly has consistently characterized the poor as "lazy" and "irresponsible," ignoring the consequences of the recent economic downturn and the rise in income inequality in recent decades.
3. O'Reilly Claimed That The Economy "Would Be Fine" If We Cut Spending To 2008 Levels. In a segment discussing sequestration, O'Reilly called for a rollback in spending to 2008 levels, claiming that the economy "would be fine" if spending was cut to that level. However, this proposal that has been repeatedly criticized by economists as economically dangerous, costing as many as 590,000 jobs.
2. O'Reilly Claimed That The Stimulus Was A Failure. O'Reilly has repeatedly stated that President Obama's stimulus package was a failure, ignoring the fact that, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it increased employment by over 1 million jobs and raised GDP by between 0.8 and 2.5 percent.
1. O'Reilly Repeatedly Claimed That Economy Is Worse Off Than It Was When Obama First Took Office. O'Reilly has consistently stated that the Obama administration's policies are hurting the economy, even going so far as to claim that it is worse off than it was prior to Obama's first inauguration. However, by almost every measure of economic health, including unemployment, net job creation, and GDP, the economy has improved greatly since 2009.