From the March 2 edition of CNN's New Day:
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From the February 17 edition of TawkrTV's The Bill Press Show:
In a piece exploring the political spin surrounding the fight over funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), National Journal turned exclusively to House Republicans for commentary -- even while noting that Republicans are strategically lecturing journalists for political gain.
On February 27, DHS will shut down if Congress fails to pass a spending bill that will fund the department. The bill has been stuck in the Senate after House Republicans attached a measure to defund President Obama's executive actions on immigration to the legislation and Democrats subsequently refused to pass it.
In a February 16 article, National Journal presented the talking points of Republicans defending their use of the spending bill to block Obama's actions on immigration. Explaining "how to spin a government shutdown," the article outlined the GOP's claims that forcing a shutdown of DHS would be blamed on Democrats, that the shutdown "won't be that bad," and that it will end up blowing over. But the perspective given on the shutdown was roundly one-sided -- of the sources quoted in article, all were Republicans.
What's more, National Journal quoted top Republicans confessing a need to manipulate media coverage to their advantage:
More and more, Republican members are beginning to sound like journalism professors, instructing reporters in person on several occasions over the last week on how to report out the story. Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, put his editor cap on for a moment during a press conference on Thursday.
"I would suggest to our friends in the Fourth Estate," Cruz said, "that every one of those Democrats when they walk off the Senate floor, you should be asking them: 'If DHS funding is so important, why are you filibustering funding for DHS?' ... I would suggest to each of you in the Fourth Estate another question that would be entirely appropriate to ask them: 'Were you telling the truth or were you lying when you said you opposed the president's unconstitutional executive amnesty? Because if you were telling the truth, why then are you filibustering?' "
Indeed, National Journal seemed to fall prey to a reporting style that privileged the GOP -- setting up the entire piece about the shutdown by equating the severity of the acts from either side of the aisle, "pox on both houses" style of reporting:
Congress has packed its bags and gone home for the week, leaving lawmakers with just five legislative days to find a way to keep the Homeland Security Department open. Senate Democrats remain intractable in their filibuster of legislation to fund the department, just as House Republicans refuse to bring up a clean bill, leaving open the real possibility that Congress will allow part of the federal government to shut down for the second time in two years.
From the February 11 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the February 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Early news coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign has tacitly allowed the GOP to disingenuously rebrand itself as a party of the middle class, despite the fact that the party's new rhetoric doesn't align with its policy positions that continue to exacerbate income inequality. When highlighting Republican rhetoric about the need to reduce income inequality, media should take care to hold the GOP accountable for its actions, not just its words.
Recent Gallup polling shows "two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S.," and Republicans have taken note. Prospective GOP presidential candidates have suddenly started talking about income inequality ahead of the 2016 elections, apparently heeding advice from the Republican National Committee's (RNC) post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned that the GOP had been "increasingly marginalizing itself" and urged the party to improve its optics by recognizing the fact "that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty."
During the January 25 Koch brothers-sponsored Freedom Partners Forum, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) each took the opportunity to bemoan income inequality and blame the Obama administration for a growing income gap. Mitt Romney claimed that "income inequality had worsened" during President Obama's time in office in a January 28 speech at Mississippi State University, while Jeb Bush's "Right to Rise" PAC has declared that "the income gap is real."
The Washington Post, Politico, USA Today, and Bloomberg Politics each reported on the 2016 hopefuls' Freedom Partners comments, highlighting the senators' statements lamenting income inequality and focusing on "issues such as the minimum wage ... [and] tax reform." The Wall Street Journal featured Republican policy proposals "aimed at boosting the middle class," and applauded Bush, Romney, Rubio, and Paul for "promoting or seeking ideas for shoring up the middle class." The Post's Post Politics blog and NBCNews.com's "First Read" emphasized Romney's recent focus on income inequality and poverty, pointing to speeches at the RNC and Mississippi State University.
These media outlets acknowledged the fact that Republicans are changing their rhetoric on inequality -- but it's actions and policies that count, not just rhetoric. Media cannot take GOP candidates at their word when their policies continue to exacerbate inequality and burden the middle and lower class.
Cruz, Paul, and Rubio all oppose recent calls to raise the minimum wage. At a January 25 private donor event, each of these senators argued that raising the minimum wage would eliminate jobs. Cruz claimed "the minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable," while Rubio called focus on raising the minimum wage "a waste of time." During the same event, none of the senators "said they could stomach any tax increases," and Rubio called the ACA a "perfect example" of "cronyism," blaming health reform for halting job creation. Just this month, Cruz introduced a bill to repeal the health care law, while Paul echoed calls to repeal and suggested instead to "try freedom for a while." Such positions are consistent with the GOP's historic stances on these issues. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, supposed Republican attempts to address income inequality, "in practice, ... apparently mean endorsing an agenda that cuts off unemployment benefits, slashes food stamps, cuts funding for public services, eliminates health care benefits, and rejects minimum wage increases."
Economists have often noted that wage stagnation has a profound impact on aggravating income inequality, and as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed out, raising the federal minimum wage just to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would "raise the wages of 27.8 million workers." The Congressional Budget Office has also reported on the "ripple effect" of raising the minimum wage, saying it would benefit 16.5 million workers and lift nearly one million people out of poverty. And according to a Center For American Progress report, a $10.10 minimum wage would cut food stamp participation and taxpayer expenditures by $4.6 billion annually. Support for anti-poverty government programs -- like SNAP, unemployment benefits, school lunch programs, and the like -- cut the country's poverty rate "nearly in half," according to research from the Institute for Research on Poverty.
Rather than alleviating income inequality, lawmakers have worsened inequality by consistently cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, according to a 2013 EPI study. Economist Larry Summers has emphasized the importance of "closing [tax] loopholes that only the wealthy can enjoy," noting that would "enable targeted tax measures such as the earned-income tax credit to raise the incomes of the poor and middle class more than dollar for dollar by incentivizing working and saving."
And despite countless Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care law will reduce income inequality, boost the incomes of lower and middle-class Americans, and extend coverage to 15.1 million uninsured adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Media acknowledging the GOP's new talking points and mottos is one thing. But given the 2016 hopefuls' apparent commitment to policies that stand in contrast to their rhetoric on income inequality, media should make sure and hold these Republicans accountable for their actions, not just their words.
From the February 2 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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From the January 29 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Fox host Martha MacCallum rehashed Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson's repeatedly debunked allegation that Hillary Clinton's State Department staff had "sifted through" and removed damaging Benghazi documents before turning them over to investigators, just days after a second witness has allegedly undermined Attkisson's report according to a letter from the ranking Democrat on The House Select Committee on Benghazi.
In a September 2014 report for The Daily Signal, Sharyl Attkisson baselessly claimed that Hillary Clinton's State Department staff scrubbed "damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya." Although Attkisson's report was denied by the State Department and relied solely on speculations from disgruntled former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell, Fox News quickly heralded it as a "bombshell" and "smoking gun."
A recently published November 2014 letter penned by the ranking Democrat on the House Benghazi Select Committee, Elijah Cummings, further undermined Attkisson's allegations, explaining that a second witness who Raymond Maxwell said could "corroborate his allegations" actually denied them, saying "he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department."
Despite the new developments, Fox News revived the discredited claim on the January 28 edition of America's Newsroom. Discussing the Benghazi Select Committee's third hearing, co-host Martha MacCallum attempted to assuage committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC)'s claim that the Obama administration is withholding Benghazi documents, pointing to "the story a while back about documents being sifted through at the State Department over a weekend." MacCallum also went on to suggest "it could be that some of what you're looking for simply isn't around anymore."
Fox News is burying Republican policy positions that exacerbate income inequality in order to help the GOP rebrand itself as a party for the middle class. This effort follows years of Fox figures blasting Democratic policies designed to alleviate income inequality as "class warfare."
From the January 27 hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi:
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The House Select Committee on Benghazi has been unable to corroborate Sharyl Attkisson's latest "bombshell" Benghazi exclusive, which claimed that "Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents" about the 2012 attacks before they were turned over to investigators. According to the committee's ranking Democrat, a "second witness" allegedly undermined the report.
In September, Attkisson reported for the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal that former State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell alleged he had witnessed an "after hours session" at State Department headquarters at which he was told that employees had been ordered to "pull out anything that might put anybody" in the department's leadership "in a bad light" before documents were handed over to the Accountability Review Board, which was investigating the attacks. Maxwell claimed the actions were "unethical." Fox News quickly trumpeted the story as "a smoking gun of a potential cover-up," claiming that it showed State had been "scrubbing the documents" which were "destroyed" on Clinton's behalf.
The implication that documents were withheld as Maxwell claimed -- which the State Department told Attkisson was "totally without merit" -- never really added up. Maxwell, one of four State employees to be disciplined for their role in the Benghazi attacks, had testified before two House committees and given multiple interviews in the 18 months before the Attkisson piece. But he reportedly never mentioned the alleged "after hours session" in those previous statements, instead focusing on how he was supposedly scapegoated to protect higher-ups at State from accountability. Slate's David Weigel called the discrepancy "baffling," writing of the account, "Holy ... what the ... why not mention that sooner? Previously, this was a story of a guy who was railroaded in order to protect the Clintons. It could have been a story about a guy who witnessed Clinton allies hiding evidence. ... Why hold off on the 'scrubbing' until now?"
Now, new evidence calls the story further into question. In a November 2014 letter just published by Mother Jones on the eve of the Benghazi Select Committee's third hearing, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings writes to committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), stating that Maxwell had identified to the committee's Republican staff a "second witness that he claimed was present during this document review" who could "corroborate his allegations," but that the "second witness" denied Maxwell's claims when interviewed by Republican staff. Cummings further alleges that Republican staff deliberately hid this information from Democratic staff.
In the letter, after highlighting an October 17 Fox News interview in which Gowdy said he planned to investigate Maxwell's claims, Cummings writes:
In fact, several weeks before you made those public statements, your staff had already interviewed Mr. Maxwell, but they did not include, invite, or even notify Democratic Members or staff. Mr. Maxwell apparently identified for your staff a second witness that he claimed was present during this document review at the State Department. Mr. Maxwell identified this person as someone who could corroborate his allegations and someone he believes is credible.
Then, on October 16 -- one day before you appeared on Fox News -- your staff interviewed this second witness, again without including Democrats. However, this second witness did not substantiate Mr. Maxwell's claims. To the contrary, he did not recall having been in the document review session Mr. Maxwell described, and he said he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department. He further reported that he never engaged or was aware of any destruction of documents.
I did not discover any of this information from you or your staff but from the witnesses themselves. When my staff inquired with your staff about what they learned from the witness identified by Mr. Maxwell, your staff stated that he had worked at the State Department during the relevant time period. Beyond that, however, they reported: "we learned nothing else of note in our discussion, so we don't plan to conduct any additional follow-up."
I am sure you understand -- as a former prosecutor -- that evaluating the credibility of witnesses and their allegations depends on whether the information they provide can be corroborated. Although your staff stated that they learned nothing "of note," in fact they learned that this claim was not substantiated by a key witness. If our goal is the truth and not a preconceived political narrative, these interviews should have been conducted jointly, with both Democrats and Republicans present.
Gowdy has not directly addressed Cummings' claims about Maxwell's story, either in a staff statement or in a letter to the committee's Democrats released after Cummings' letter was published by Mother Jones. He instead warned that Cummings' "characterization of witness testimony... not only risks an adverse effect on the investigation but could also negatively impact the witness' careers."
Research provided by Sophia Tesfaye and Cal Colgan.
Media reports on the GOP's latest broadband industry-backed bill should take note that the legislation is net neutrality in name only. In reality, the bill would undermine the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) ability to enact net neutrality regulations and adequately protect broadband users and providers from data blocking, or slowing down or speeding up individual websites, and access fees.
From the January 14 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Right-wing media mourned Rep. John Boehner's (R-OH) re-election to a third term as House Speaker by comparing his opponents to the American revolutionaries, the hero David from the biblical story of David and Goliath, and lobbing accusations of election rigging.