Media Matters: On health care reform, the Fox News noise machine is cranked to 11

››› ››› TERRY KREPEL

As the reform bill moved closer to a vote in the House, the Fox News noise machine went into overdrive, hurling every false and misleading claim it could muster.

You know those special amps used by Spinal Tap that go to 11, in order to provide "that extra push over the cliff"? It appears Fox News has gotten a hold of some and hooked them up to its coverage of health care reform.

As the reform bill moved closer to a vote in the House, the Fox News noise machine went into overdrive, hurling every false and misleading claim it could muster.

The week in Fox News health care hysteria began with an oldie-but-goodie -- Steve Doocy, Bill Hemmer, and Bill O'Reilly all claimed or suggested that the bill will, in O'Reilly's words, "require American taxpayers to fund abortion." But it doesn't, at least not beyond what is currently permitted under current law. Fox News, unfortunately, is not alone in repeating this falsehood.

Then, Doocy and Hemmer, joined by Neil Cavuto and several other hosts, jumped on the idea that a legislative procedure the House is reportedly considering to pass the Senate's version of health care reform would allow them to do so without a vote. Wrong again -- the House would need to vote to implement that procedure.

Carl Cameron, however, broke through the noise on this issue, pointing out that the process would simply pass the bill "in one vote instead of two" and that the process "has been used, literally, for centuries" -- indeed, Republicans made copious use of the "self-executing rule" when they controlled Congress. Even Charles Krauthammer conceded that it's constitutional. Still, that didn't keep Alisyn Camerota from scoffing that the rule "might as well be a self-immolating rule."

Fox News then pounced on a survey claiming to have found that 46 percent of primary care physicians would consider leaving their profession if health care reform passes. O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and contributor Dr. Marc Siegel all portrayed the survey as having been published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Except it wasn't. The article was written by the physician-recruiting firm that conducted the survey, and it actually appeared in an employment newsletter produced by the publisher of the New England Journal of Medicine, not the Journal itself. Further, the survey itself was not all that scientific -- done via email contacts taken from the recruiting firm's database -- so any claim that the survey's results accurately reflect the view of the American medical community is dubious at best.

Fox News' Megyn Kelly did eventually note that the survey was "not a scientific poll." But that didn't keep Glenn Beck from insisting -- hours after Kelly corrected the record -- that "The New England Journal of Medicine says that if this bill is passed nearly one-third of doctors will quit practice medicine."

(Beck, meanwhile, is keeping up the long tradition of Fox News hosts pushing partisan political agendas by joining with Republican Rep. Steve King to promote an anti-reform rally in Washington.)

Fox News contributor and serial misleader Dana Perino made her own non-contribution to the health care debate, asserting that the reform bill's Medicare investment tax on those making over $200,000 a year is "so disturbing ... because the people who make that money are the small business owners." In fact, fewer than 1.3 percent of small business owners would be affected by the tax.

When the Congressional Budget Office released new numbers detailing how the reform bill would reduce the deficit by $130 billion over 10 years, Fox News didn't want to talk about that -- it spent far more time highlighting how much the bill would cost instead of how much it would save. And when that didn't seem to work, it tried to discredit the CBO as untrustworthy and unreliable. Never mind that when the CBO issued "favorable" numbers last fall on a Republican health care reform plan, Fox News praised the CBO as "nonpartisan."

The Fox News spin is even confusing its own hosts. Brian Kilmeade can't quite comprehend how a bill can cost money yet reduce the deficit, and Kelly admitted, "I don't understand anything they're talking about when it comes to this potential law."

Fox News' inept war against health care reform, while in keeping with its function as the communications arm of the Republican Party in exile, is making itself look like the Spinal Tap of news. It doesn't really need that "extra push over the cliff" -- after all, that's what it's been speeding toward for years.

At this rate, it probably won't be too long before a Fox anchor spontaneously combusts.

Other stories this week

A whole lot of shaky earthquake claims goin' on at Fox

How much does Fox News oppose health care reform? It's pretending natural disasters didn't happen if they're inconvenient to the anti-reform agenda.

On March 18, Doocy took exception to President Obama's statement that a provision in the health care reform that would help Louisiana cope with Medicaid shortfalls resulting from Hurricane Katrina might also help Hawaii because it "went through an earthquake. "Hold it. What Hawaiian earthquake?" Doocy asked. "There was an earthquake in 1868 that killed 77. There was an earthquake in 1975 that killed two." After noting that the provision applies to states that have suffered a natural disaster "within the last seven fiscal years," Doocy added: "Essentially it boils down to just one state, and that is Louisiana."

Doocy seems to have forgotten that there was an earthquake in Hawaii in 2006. Not only did it cause tens of millions of dollars in damage, the Bush administration "declared a major disaster exists in the State of Hawaii and ordered Federal aid to supplement State and local recovery efforts" as a result of the quake.

But Doocy didn't need to rely on federal agencies for information on the quake -- Fox News reported on it at the time. (Investor's Business Daily similarly ignored its own reporting to suggest there was no recent Hawaii quake.)

It seems that rather than trust the federal government or his own news organization, Doocy chose instead to trust right-wing bloggers, who were spreading the misinformation. That runs counter to a 2007 memo -- issued after Doocy and other Fox hosts falsely claimed that Obama was educated in a madrassa -- in which Fox News vice president John Moody reportedly wrote, "For the record: seeing an item on a website does not mean it is right. Nor does it mean it is ready for air on FNC."

Media Matters has written Fox News requesting that Doocy correct the record. We shouldn't have to, since Fox News is supposed to have a "zero tolerance" policy toward on-air mistakes, but then, these are the same folks that ludicrously insisted that a Fox & Friends graphic in which poll numbers added up to 120 percent contained no errors.

The latest right-wing witch-hunt target: Jim Wallis

Fox News has long been a leader in witch hunts against Obama and his administration (or, really, anyone who can be remotely tagged as liberal). Now Glenn Beck, as an extension of his repeated attacks on the idea of social justice, has drawn a bead on the latest witch-hunt target: Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners.

After Wallis challenged Beck to a debate over social justice, Beck demurred, his vaguely threatening statements making it clear his witch hunt was more important than reasoned debate: "In my time, I will respond. ... Just know the hammer's coming. ... And when the hammer comes, it's going to be hammering hard and all through the night, over and over."

Right-wing website WorldNetDaily, meanwhile, blundered into the breach with a poorly written article that attempted to put words in Wallis' mouth. WND claimed that Wallis was a "champion of communism," even though Wallis has declared communism to be a "failed" system; asserted that Sojourners has published "a slew of radicals" while ignoring that it has also published a slew of conservatives; and alleged that "Sojourners' official 'statement of faith' urges readers to 'refuse to accept [capitalist] structures and assumptions that normalize poverty and segregate the world by class,' " even though the word "capitalist" -- inserted by WND -- actually appears nowhere in the statement. WND even falsely claimed that Wallis "labeled the U.S. 'the great captor and destroyer of human life.' "

Somehow, we suspect that Beck's upcoming assault on Wallis will be just as divorced from reality as WorldNetDaily's.

Erick Erickson joins the "scumbags" at CNN

Should a blogger who once called a retiring Supreme Court justice a "goat f


ing child molester" be rewarded with a regular commentary gig on CNN? Doesn't matter -- the deal's been done.

CNN announced this week that RedState editor Erick Erickson has joined the network as a political contributor, mainly appearing on John King's new show. The network claimed that Erickson is "a perfect fit" for King's show, adding that "Erick is in touch with the very people John hopes to reach."

Media Matters has detailed Erickson's history of outrageous statements, of which the aforementioned is but one.

Predictably, conservatives defended Erickson's new job, his fellow RedStaters among them. One of Erickson's RedState defenders, however, went a tad off-message: "From Non-Conservatives, to Academics and Liberal Elitists, to self-soiling and unprincipled Professional Politicians and firmly-entrenched good ole boys inside the M(ostly) S(cumbags) M(edia), each of these clowns has a tale of doom about the hell we're headed for compliments of CNN's hand basket."

We have to wonder: Does Erickson consider his new CNN colleagues to be "scumbags"?

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert examines the media myth of Obama's "falling poll numbers," and Karl Frisch tells you how to annoy Glenn Beck in five minutes or less.

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