Fox Business Network infested by false tale of stimulus bill's salt marsh mouse

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In recent days, numerous Fox Business Network hosts, reporters, and contributors have repeatedly spread the debunked claim that the economic recovery act includes funding to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in the San Francisco wetlands. In fact, the act does not contain any language directing funds to San Francisco wetlands or the salt marsh harvest mouse living in them, a fact that the House Republican leadership aide who reportedly originated the claim has reportedly acknowledged.

In recent days, numerous Fox Business Network hosts, reporters, and contributors have repeatedly spread the debunked claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes funding to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in the San Francisco wetlands. In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, the bill does not contain any language directing funds to San Francisco wetlands or the salt marsh harvest mouse living in them, a fact that the House Republican leadership aide who reportedly originated the claim has reportedly acknowledged. In addition to spreading misinformation about the bill, Fox Business Network figures have mocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her purported role in securing the provision and claimed that the provision would "bring out a devastating amount of mouse infestations, which is really good for Orkin [pest control services]." Reporter Tracy Byrnes even told viewers that because the mouse project and others are "still in there ... maybe this is going to teach people to actually be more vocal and go forward with more things. You know, don't vote these people back into office next time around."

After writing that "there isn't any such money in the bill" for the mouse, The Plum Line blogger Greg Sargent wrote on February 12 that the claim originated in an email from a "House Republican leadership staffer" who, when contacted by Sargent, "conceded that the claim by conservative media that the mouse money is currently in the bill is a misstatement." San Jose Mercury News staff writer Paul Rogers subsequently reported on February 13 that Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), originated the claim and said that "[t]here is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project."

Nonetheless, Fox Business Network hosts, reporters, and contributors have repeatedly spread the false claim that the economic recovery bill contains funding to specifically protect San Francisco wetlands or the salt marsh harvest mice that live there:

  • During the February 12 edition of Happy Hour, co-host Rebecca Diamond said: "Republicans also criticizing what they call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pet project. Look at the cute little thing there. She is getting her slice of cheese, they say. Pelosi's been a big supporter of the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse. ... There is $30 million in the bill for protecting the critter's home in the San Francisco Bay area." While Diamond spoke, Fox Business aired a graphic with the mouse and the text "Pelosi's bit of cheese?"

  • Diamond later claimed, "[I]f you look at it ... you look at the details and there's millions of dollars there for a wetlands reservation area for a mouse in the San Francisco area."
  • During the February 12 edition of Cavuto, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) claimed that "all the government has been doing is spending taxpayer monies on crazy things. Like, today's front page of The Washington Times -- the salt marsh mouse, $30 million for this wetlands restoration project. That's in this bill." Guest host Brian Sullivan did not challenge Jordan's claim. Later during Cavuto, Republican strategist Greg Mueller claimed: "[W]e have so many examples of pork barrel, wasteful spending. The pet stimulus of the day is the salt marsh harvest mouse for $30 million." In response, Sullivan said: "Everybody loves that mouse."
  • On February 13, during the 1 p.m. ET hour of Fox Business, host Sullivan responded to a viewer's pro-recovery plan email by stating: "The problem is maybe just not enough of the real work, which is what you're talking about. I don't think anybody's complaining about the infrastructure part. I think mostly it's the salt marsh mouse and tribal alcohol programs I think that most people are upset about."
  • During the February 13 edition of Bulls & Bears, Los Angeles bureau reporter William La Jeunesse claimed that there "is the salt marsh mouse in Nancy Pelosi's district. That's getting $50 million in habitat restoration ... money." In response to La Jeunesse's report, co-host David Asman referenced someone off-camera and claimed that that person "is very relieved to hear about the salt marsh mouse, because he was losing sleep over thinking about that poor mouse's fate. And thank goodness it's still in the bill." Later during the program, Danny Fontana, a senior partner at Triune Capital Advisors, said of the recovery bill: "Government's got to get out of the way to let the free market work." Asman replied: "But the salt marsh mouse lives on, Danny." Fontana replied, "It's safe. They're safe. Buy him a valentine, Dave. Buy him a valentine."
  • During the February 13 edition of America's Nightly Scoreboard, host Asman asked reporter Rich Edson: "Just to be absolutely clear, the salt marsh mouse is still in the bill, right?" Edson replied: "I haven't seen the salt marsh mouse specifically; doesn't mean it won't be funded, though." Asman responded: "I have heard that it's still in the bill. It's going to be part of the funding." Later, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) claimed that the "language in the legislation is written to direct money towards specific projects, whether it's high-speed rail from Los Angeles to Las Vegas or our famous San Francisco mouse." Asman did not challenge Cole. Later in the program, Asman again stated that there is funding for the mouse in the bill:

Some of these things that the president has said, like there's not one pet project -- you can't get away with this anymore. We know the pet projects from the salt marsh mouse to this $650 million for digital conversion -- we know it is loaded with stuff that the president says is not in it. So, the fact that America is not having the wool pulled over its eyes is a step in the right direction?

Byrnes replied to Asman:

It is, but it's -- this stuff is still in there; it's not like it's going anywhere. So maybe this is going to teach people to actually be more vocal and go forward with more things -- you know, don't vote these people back into office next time around, because, look, they're not representing you and what you believe in. And enough people have spoken up to say they disapprove. So now you have got to take the next step and actually make it known.

  • During the February 14 edition of Your Questions, Your Money, while playing a purported true or false game, co-host Dagen McDowell asked if the "bill contains $30 million to save the Eastern garter snake." Contributor Eric Bolling replied, "No, it's $30 million for the marsh mouse, not the garter snake." McDowell agreed, stating: "No, it's not the Eastern garter snake."
  • During the February 14 edition of Bulls & Bears, host Brenda Buttner teased an upcoming segment by stating, "[A] little mouse stirring up big controversy. It's getting 30 million in stimulus cash. Well, don't get mad, get even, with the stock ready to give you a 40 percent gain because of it." During the predictions segment, Fox News contributing market analyst Tobin Smith claimed: "Thirty million bucks to save the salt marsh mouse. Now, I believe that that's going to bring out a devastating amount of mouse infestations, which is really good for Orkin. It's owned by Rollins Company." While Smith spoke, the following graphic appeared on-screen:

  • During the February 14 edition of Cavuto on Business, while discussing whether Americans cared about purported pork spending in the recovery bill, guest host and Fox Business contributor Charles Payne claimed, "The salt marsh mouse -- Americans don't care about that kind of stuff?" Payne later said to conservative commentator Ben Stein: "Ben, $30 million to save a mouse in a marsh somewhere near San Francisco, and the average person is wondering where their next mortgage payment is coming from. Do you tell me that people don't care about this stuff?" In a later segment, after Fortune senior writer Adam Lashinsky said that "San Francisco, my city, just said no to a company called American Apparel, and it was stupid," Payne said: "Well, maybe if American Apparel could find a home for those salt marsh mouse [sic], they might get a compromise here."
  • On February 16, during the noon ET hour of Fox Business, Clint Greenleaf, president and CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, claimed: "I don't know what in that stimulus package makes me excited to either go out and hire anybody or go out and buy stocks. I don't own any of the land that the saltwater mouse marsh has and I'm not really going to be able to do that well with that. Nothing in this makes me have any faith in the government's ability to get us out of this." Co-host Cheryl Casone replied: "Saltwater mouse got $30 million. Thirty million for the little mouse over there in San Francisco. Lucky mouse, you know." Later during the program, Casone referenced a February 12 post on her blog and said, "And I did talk about that little mouse. No offense against the mouse, but they don't need $30 million in San Francisco for a mouse." In her post, titled, "Taxpayer Money and the Salt Marsh Mouse," Casone wrote:

Are you sitting there wondering what exactly where your tax money is going for stimulus? How do you feel about the Salt Marsh Mouse? Because the mouse is getting some. According to the Washington Times, the San Francisco Bay Area (Nancy Pelosi's district) is getting thirty million dollars for wetlands restoration. It is a cause she has been behind since the 90's, and this stimulus package will give her her wish. (for the record Pelosi says she wasn't involved in the current initiative.)

From the February 12 edition of Fox Business Network's Happy Hour:

DIAMOND: Republicans also criticizing what they call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pet project. Look at the cute little thing there. She's getting her slice of cheese, they say. Pelosi's been a big supporter of the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse. Over there, the little guy. There's $30 million in the bill for protecting the critter's home in the San Francisco Bay area.

[...]

DIAMOND: Well, I mean, and the thing with this, as we were talking about just a few minutes ago, is that they are saying, OK, there is no earmarks. Well, yeah, but if you look at it, now, you know, you look at the details and there's millions of dollars there for a wetlands reservation area for a mouse in the San Francisco --

JONATHAN MORRIS (Fox News contributor): Right.

DIAMOND: -- area in Nancy Pelosi's home state of California. And you look at stuff like that, and you're like, OK, how does that create jobs? Sure, we want to save the environment, but how does that create jobs?

MORRIS: Exactly.

From the February 12 edition of Fox Business Network's Cavuto:

JORDAN: What we know that doesn't work is big federal government spending, because if big federal government spending was going to get us out of this mess, we'd have been out of it a long time ago. Because that's all the government has been doing is spending taxpayer monies on crazy things. Like, today's front page of The Washington Times -- the salt marsh mouse, $30 million for this wetlands restoration project. That's in this bill.

The American people understand, unlike [Sen.] Chuck Schumer's [D-NY] statement, understand that pork in this bill is not what our economy needs. And I think Senator [Judd] Gregg [R-NH] understands that, and just felt for good reasons, that he could not be a part of this -- this administration.

SULLIVAN: But how does Senator Gregg going back -- and he never really left -- but going back to the Senate, does that change any dynamic?

[...]

MUELLER: Well, I think it's not just about saving jobs, it's about creating jobs. It's about long-term growth, and that's a winning issue for Republicans. Ronald Reagan proved that. We've got to have that issue back, Brian. If we don't have it, we're not going anywhere. This is LBJ, Great Society on steroids, Brian --

SULLIVAN: But we had [inaudible] --

MUELLER: -- and we have so many examples of pork barrel, wasteful spending. The pet stimulus of the day is the salt marsh harvest mouse for $30 million.

SULLIVAN: Everybody loves that mouse.

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the February 13 edition of Fox Business:

SULLIVAN: Well, literally, since we asked -- I mean, 20 minutes ago -- we've had more than 50 emails about the stimulus bill. Forty-nine of those emails were against it. There was one that was for it, and it was written by a "Curvie." That's the name that was -- that's the name that was put on the email: Curvie, in Arlington, Texas.

Here's what Curvie had to say: "The plan will increase funding for transit which will have long range benefits for reducing automobile dependence and greenhouse gases. There are shovel-ready transit projects ready to be built but lacked the funding."

And you know what, Curvie? You're right. The one thing that matters in this bill is probably infrastructure, because it increases productivity, high-speed rail. The problem is maybe just not enough of the real work, which is what you're talking about. I don't think anybody's complaining about the infrastructure part. I think mostly it's the salt marsh mouse and tribal alcohol programs I think that most people are upset about.

From the February 13 edition of Fox Business Network's Bulls & Bears:

LA JEUNESSE: And I'll finally wrap it up on this way. Some of the other things we saw there -- remember, President Obama said there would be no earmarks on Monday in this bill. There is the salt marsh mouse in Nancy Pelosi's district. That's getting $50 million in habitat restoration proj -- money. We talked about the billion dollars that will be going to that FutureGen clean coal project in Senator Dick Durbin's [D-IL] district. We're talking about the $200 million for Filipino soldiers that's been championed by Senator [Dan] Inouye [D] of Hawaii.

And finally, you have that high-speed rail train that goes from Disneyland to Las Vegas -- that is a pet project of Senator [Harry] Reid [D-NV]. But you will not see their names in this bill along with the amounts. In fact, a staffer said, I wish there were earmarks in this bill, because under current rules, at least then you would know who did it, you'd know when and where, you'd know the amount, you'd know where it's going -- you'd know that. In this, you don't. You see these things like $4 billion to law enforcement. David -- and you'll know this could go anywhere.

ASMAN: Right, well I've got to tell you that Toby is very relieved to hear about the salt marsh mouse, because he was losing sleep over thinking about that poor mouse's fate. And thank goodness it's still in the bill. Thank you, William La Jeunesse -- appreciate it.

[...]

FONTANA: I tell ya, I'm of the belief philosophically that the only thing that's going to stop this is the free market itself. Government's got to get out of the way to let the free market work. Until we do that, I think we're in for a lot more pain.

ASMAN: But the salt marsh mouse lives on, Danny.

FONTANA: It's safe. They're safe.

ASMAN: They're safe.

FONTANA: Buy him a valentine, Dave. Buy him a valentine.

ASMAN: Thank you, have a great weekend, Danny.

LIZ CLAMAN (co-host): Thanks, Danny.

From the February 13 edition of Fox Business Network's America's Nightly Scoreboard:

ASMAN: Just to be absolutely clear, the salt marsh mouse is still in the bill, right?

EDSON: The salt marsh mouse -- I haven't seen the salt marsh mouse specifically; doesn't mean it won't be funded, though.

ASMAN: OK, I have heard that it's still in the bill. It's going to be part of the funding. Thank you very much, Rich.

[...]

ASMAN: But he [Obama] said, and I'm quoting him, "What this bill does not contain, however, is a single pet project. And it has been stripped of the projects members of both parties found most objectionable." You know, it's not polite to call the president a liar, but was that a little fib?

COLE: Well, I think the president's being, you know, at best, naive. I mean, frankly, a lot of the legislation -- the language in the legislation is written to direct money towards specific projects, whether it's high-speed rail from Los Angeles to Las Vegas or our famous San Francisco mouse.

[...]

ASMAN: Some of these things that the president has said, like there's not one pet project -- you can't get away with this anymore. We know the pet projects from the salt marsh mouse to this $650 million for digital conversion -- we know it's loaded with stuff that the president says is not in it. So, the fact that America is not having the wool pulled over its eyes is a step in the right direction?

BYRNES: It is, but it's -- this stuff is still in there; it's not like it's going anywhere. So maybe this is going to teach people to actually be more vocal and go forward with more things -- you know, don't vote these people back into office next time around, because, look, they're not representing you and what you believe in. And enough people have spoken up to say they disapprove. So now you've got to take the next step and actually make it known.

From the February 14 edition of Fox Business Network's Your Questions, Your Money:

McDOWELL: The bill contains $30 million to save the Eastern garter snake.

BOLLING: False.

McDOWELL: Correct: False.

[crosstalk]

BOLLING: No, it's $30 million for the marsh mouse, not the garter snake.

McDOWELL: No, it's not the Eastern garter snake.

From the February 14 edition of Fox Business Network's Bulls & Bears:

BUTTNER: Up next: a little mouse stirring up big controversy. It's getting 30 million in stimulus cash. Well, don't get mad, get even, with the stock ready to give you a 40 percent gain because of it.

[...]

BUTTNER: Predictions, Toby?

TOBIN SMITH: Look, I know there's no pork in this porkalaba-looza thing we've got going, but 30 million bucks to save the salt marsh mouse. Now, I believe that that's going to bring out a devastating amount of mouse infestations, which is really good for Orkin. It's owned by Rollins Company. If you actually look at the company, you know, in a recession -- or what I'm now calling a depression -- people still keep that --

BUTTNER: OK.

T. SMITH: -- you know, that going. So I think it's a good stock. It looks like it's up 40 percent.

BUTTNER: Poor little San Francisco marsh. Gary B., you like it? You like this stock?

GARY B. SMITH (commentator): I tell you what. Toby will do anything to get the first prediction.

T. SMITH: Hello?

BUTTNER: That's OK.

T. SMITH: Hello?

G. SMITH: It's a beautiful gambit, Toby, but the stock is like an EKG --

BUTTNER: OK.

G. SMITH: -- of a dead person. I mean, this is a snoozer. I don't like it.

BUTTNER: All right. Lots more on that little mouse in Cavuto on Business, coming up in five minutes.

From the February 14 edition of Fox Business Network's Cavuto on Business:

PAYNE: Adam, Americans don't care about pork, and more or less what Chuck Schumer is saying is, just throw everything against the wall, let's see what sticks. And by the way, you know, obviously, I thought about you this morning. The salt marsh mouse -- Americans don't care about that kind of stuff?

LASHINSKY: Well, I think, Charles, you and Todd [Wilemon] are letting the facts get in the way of telling a good story here, because Chuck Schumer is probably right. Look, two things: on a more serious note, I think we're all bought into the fact right now that we don't care about the budget deficit in the very short term.

Republicans and Democrats alike agree that if we could get to good stimulus -- good stimulative spending -- that that would be a good use of our money right now. Whether or not this bill does that is a separate subject. Do Americans care about pork? I don't think so. I don't think they ever cared about pork. They care about somebody else getting pork, but if they can get some, they love it. You know that.

PAYNE: So -- so, Ben, $30 million to save a mouse in a marsh somewhere near San Francisco, and the average person is wondering where their next mortgage payment is coming from. Do you tell me that people don't care about this stuff?

STEIN: I think people care about it very, very much. There's an awful lot of doubt about it. I can remember a long conversation with Karl Rove, who certainly knows an awful lot about how elections are won and lost, saying that the allegations of pork and earmarks against the Republicans were devastating to them in the 2006 elections. This whole bill is pork though, Charles.

[...]

LASHINSKY: The second point is: It's great -- I think it's great to see Wal-Mart coming back to Chicago and saying, look, let us in. We're going to invest money in your community. How can you say no to that? San Francisco, my city, just said no to a company called American Apparel, and it was stupid -- a company that wanted to spend money in a neighborhood. It doesn't -- it just doesn't make any sense.

PAYNE: Well, maybe if American Apparel could find a home for those salt marsh mouse, they might get a compromise here.

From the noon ET hour of the February 16 edition of Fox Business:

BOLLING: I got to say, there's not a lot of conviction on Wall Street as far as this stimulus package helping individual stocks or the stock market in general.

GREENLEAF: Right, I don't know what in that stimulus package makes me excited to either go out and hire anybody or go out and buy stocks. I don't own any of the land that the saltwater mouse marsh has and I'm not really going to be able to do that well with that. Nothing in this makes me have any faith in the government's ability to get us out of this. I think it comes back to earnings --

CASONE: Saltwater mouse got $30 million. Thirty million for the --

GREENLEAF: Right. I know.

CASONE: -- little mouse over there in San Francisco. Lucky mouse, you know.

GREENLEAF: It's a great mouse.

CASONE: You know, but I have to say --

GREENLEAF: And it's one of the nicest mice.

CASONE: Yeah, it's a cute one.

[...]

CASONE: Well, speaking of stimulus, if you go to Casone Exchange, our blog, I actually wrote out a lot of the pieces of stimulus that I felt were just out and out pork-barrel spending. Earmarks, pet projects, you name it. And I did talk about that little mouse. No offense against the mouse, but they don't need $30 million in San Francisco for a mouse.

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