Conservatives tout "combative" Snow's barrage of false attacks on the media

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN & JOE BROWN

The White House released a series of statements, reportedly initiated by new press secretary Tony Snow, attacking specific media reports and editorials as misleading. Conservatives in the media have touted the statements as indicative of a new willingness on the part of the White House communications office, led by Snow, to call the press on its misinformation. But Media Matters for America has found that, of the six "Setting the Record Straight" releases issued from May 8 to May 11, at least four are highly misleading.

From May 8 through May 11, the White House released a series of statements, reportedly initiated by new White House press secretary Tony Snow, attacking specific media reports and editorials as misleading. Conservatives in the media have touted the statements as indicative of a new willingness on the part of the White House communication office, led by Snow, to call the press on its misinformation. In a May 11 Washington Examiner article, senior White House correspondent Bill Sammon uncritically highlighted the complaints contained in the White House press releases. Later that day, the Drudge Report linked to Sammon's report. The conservative Media Research Center's weblog, NewsBusters, has also highlighted (here and here) the releases. But Media Matters for America has found that, of the six "Setting the Record Straight" releases issued from May 8 to May 11, at least four are highly misleading and suggest repeatedly that the articles they are criticizing omit points that are actually included in the articles.

May 8: The Associated Press on Brett Kavanaugh's new ABA rating

The White House's May 8 release falsely suggested that, in an article noting the American Bar Association's (ABA) downgrading of Bush judicial nominee Brett Kavanaugh from a rating of "well-qualified" to "qualified," Associated Press staff writer Laurie Kellman ignored the fact that the ABA still considers Kavanaugh "qualified" for the bench. The White House release was titled "Setting the Record Straight: Brett Kavanaugh is 'Indeed Qualified to Serve on the Federal Bench.' " In fact, the AP report explicitly noted Kavanaugh's "qualified" rating in the headline: "ABA downgrades rating for White House aide from well-qualified to qualified" -- a headline the White House cited in its press release. Moreover, a statement by ABA panel chairman Steven L. Tober that the White House highlighted to purportedly rebut the AP -- that "Kavanaugh is 'indeed qualified to serve on the federal bench' " and "enjoys a solid reputation for integrity, intellectual capacity and writing and analytical ability" -- also appeared in the AP article. The press release also cited Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who said that the new rating is "just a shading" and that Kavanaugh has "a very strong record." But, again, the source for those quotes was also Kellman's article -- as the White House press release's citation indicated.

The White House made two other claims in the press release in criticism of the Associated Press: 1) of the 42 votes cast in Kavanaugh's three ABA reviews -- the two previous reviews were conducted in 2003 and 2005 -- Kavanaugh had never received a "non-qualifed" vote, and 2) that "the majority of those 42 raters found Mr. Kavanaugh to be 'well-qualified' to serve on the D.C. Circuit." But the AP report included the first point by quoting White House spokeswoman Donna Perino's statement to that effect. With regard to the second, while a majority of the 42 votes may have been for a "well-qualified" rating, in the last one -- producing the operative rating -- a majority gave him a lower, "qualified" rating. That evaluation was reportedly based on additional interviews "with more recent experience with the nominee." Tober explained in a written statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee that each time Kavanaugh was renominated, the committee conducted a further investigation of the time since its previous evaluation. In the last review, Tober wrote that "no less than six" members of the committee who agreed that Kavanaugh was "well-qualified" in February 2005 changed their votes to "qualified" for the new, April 2006 rating. As the AP article reported, Tober noted that the new interviews conducted for the 2006 evaluation highlighted Kavanaugh's shortcomings:

The additional interviews conducted in 2006 expanded upon those earlier concerns. One judge who witnessed the nominee's oral presentation in court commented that the nominee was "less than adequate" before the court, had been "sanctimonious," and demonstrated "experience on the level of an associate." A lawyer who had observed him during a different court proceeding stated: "Mr. Kavanaugh did not handle the case well as an advocate and dissembled." Other lawyers expressed similar concerns, repeating in substance that the nominee was young and inexperienced in the practice of law.

Further, the 2006 interviews raised a new concern involving his potential for judicial temperament. Unlike the earlier 2003 final report and 2005 updated report, the recent supplemental evaluation contained comments from several interviewees with more recent experience with the nominee, which caused them to characterize the nominee as "insulated." One interviewee suggested that much of his concern about the nominee being insulated was due, understandably, to the nominee's current position as Staff Secretary to the President. However, this interviewee remained concerned about the nominee's ability to be balanced and fair should he assume a federal judgeship. And another interviewee echoed essentially the same thoughts: "(He is) immovable and very stubborn and frustrating to deal with on some issues." Both issues -- his professional experience and the question of his freedom from bias and open-mindedness -- were brought up (along with others) with the nominee during his 2006 interview, and he was provided a full opportunity to address them in detail as part of our supplemental evaluation material.

May 9: USA Today on Medicare and the poor

The White House's May 9 release attacked as "misleading" a May 9 USA Today article on the Medicare prescription-drug program for stating that "the program is being used least by those who could benefit most: poor, often minority Medicare beneficiaries." The White House took exception to USA Today's suggestion that "'Poor, Often Minority' Medicare Beneficiaries Are Not Enrolling In Medicare Drug Coverage."

Contrary to the White House's suggestion, USA Today did note that most eligible minorities were enrolled in the program:

  • Press release: "By April, More Than 70 Percent Of Eligible African Americans, More Than 70 Percent Of Eligible Hispanics, And More Than 75 Percent Of Eligible Asian Americans Are Enrolled Or Have Retiree Drug Coverage."
  • USA Today: "Federal officials say more than 37 million people on Medicare have joined or been automatically covered by the drug plan since it began Jan. 1, including 70% to 75% of eligible blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. They acknowledge that millions of eligible low-income Americans are still not enrolled.

Minority enrollment was not the only fact included in the article but nonetheless cited by the White House to support its claim that the article was misleading:

  • Press release: "Low Income Beneficiaries Who Qualify For Medicare's Limited-Income Subsidy (LIS) After May 15 Will Be Able To Enroll With No Penalty."
  • USA Today: "Those who don't enroll by Monday could pay higher prices if they eventually sign up. As a penalty, monthly premiums will rise by 1% a month beginning in June; a person who waits two years to enroll would pay 24% more for life. To ease the burden on the poor, those with incomes and assets low enough to qualify for extra help will not be penalized when they eventually do sign up." (emphasis added)

May 10: NY Times editorial on Bush administration's economic record

The White House's May 10 release attacked a New York Times editorial from that day for "Ignoring America's Economic Progress." In particular, the White House took issue with the Times' assertion that "[f]or all but the wealthiest Americans," "fixed costs, like housing, health care and gasoline" are "rapidly outpacing" "paychecks and benefits."

The White House release noted that gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a rate of 4.8 percent during the first quarter of 2006, after GDP grew at a rate of 3.5 percent annually in 2005. But the Times editorial had already noted that "over all," the economy "is growing at a strong clip."

Additionally, the Bush press release cited a 13.8 percent increase in real after-tax income since January 2001 as evidence of economic progress under Bush. But statistics on the average increase in income provide no indication of who -- lower, middle, or high income people -- are actually experiencing an increase in income. For example, a January 29 analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that -- based on data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) -- in the period from 2002 to 2003, the real average after-tax income of the bottom 20 percent of earners fell by 1.4 percent and the incomes of the second and middle quintiles increased by less than one percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top one percent of earners grew by 8.2 percent. The study also noted that tax cuts taking effect in 2003 "benefited those at the top of the income spectrum the most," further aggravating an "underlying growth in before-tax income inequality" that year. Additionally, the report noted that according to Census Bureau data, "the top five percent of households experienced income gains from 2003 to 2004," while "[m]ost other households ... saw their incomes decline from 2003 to 2004." Further, the report noted that inflation-adjusted wages for low- and middle-income workers "have fallen since 2003."

May 11: Wash. Post editorial on Bush administration's tax cuts

The White House's May 11 release attacked a Washington Post editorial of that same day headlined "Tax Cuts, Again: The formula hasn't changed: a windfall for the rich, and a hole in the federal budget." The White House asserted that, in fact, "President Bush's Tax Relief Benefits All Taxpayers." As a contrast to the editorial, the White House press release cited a May 11 Washington Post article, which featured the headline, "House Passes $70 Billion Tax Package: Voting on Party Lines, Lawmakers Extend Benefits to Middle Class." That article began as follows:

The House easily approved a five-year, $70 billion tax package last night that would extend President Bush's investor tax cuts, keep millions of middle-income Americans off the alternative minimum tax and provide a bevy of other benefits, from a tax write-off for songwriters to a break for the University of Texas.

However, as Media Matters has documented and as the Post indicated in its editorial, the recently passed tax-cut bill disproportionately benefits the wealthiest taxpayers, according to an estimate of the bill's' impact published by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center (TPC). In particular, according to the TPC, the bill's dividend and capital-gains tax cut would significantly reduce taxes for those with annual incomes over $1 million, while offering meager savings to middle-class Americans.

In contrast with the editorial, the Washington Post's May 11 article touted by the White House omitted any mention of the disproportionate benefits of the tax bill, while noting the benefits accruing to the middle class. A May 10 Washington Post report, on the other hand, noted that the bill is skewed towards the wealthy:

Critics maintain that those tax cuts have overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy, while budget cuts target programs for the poor to close a deficit created largely by tax cuts totaling nearly $2 trillion since Bush took office.

Middle-income households would receive an average tax cut of $20 from the agreement, according to the joint Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, while 0.02 percent of households [,] with incomes over $1 million [,] would receive average tax cuts of $42,000.

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