Right-wing media rushed to exploit the deadly attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. But this is just the latest in right-wing media's long history of politicizing tragedy to push political objectives.
Fox News is moving the goalposts on how President Obama should respond to terrorist attacks, complaining that the White House's statement on a deadly attack on a Pakistani school did not mention "the Taliban." The network had previously attacked Obama for not using the words "terrorist" and "terrorism," two words that appear in the president's statement.
On the December 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, correspondent Ainsley Earhardt reported on the global reaction to a deadly attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan carried out by members of the terrorist group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. Earhardt highlighted that the president's statement did not mention the Taliban:
EARHARDT: Brand new information about one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan's history: Pakistani Taliban insurgents storming an army school in Peshawar, killing more than 140 people, most of those young school children. Leaders across the globe condemning those brutal attacks, but the White House not mentioning the Taliban, at all. President Obama's statement reads this, quote "by targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once against shown their depravity."
Similarly, on-screen text during the December 17 edition of Fox & Friends First declared Obama's response was "Not A Full Statement" because the president did not mention the Taliban:
Thousands of low-income Detroit residents denied access to water over delinquent bills did not find much sympathy from the hosts of Fox & Friends, who argued, "If you're not paying for water, why should you get it?"
The city of Detroit has shut off water service to more than 27,000 households this year, an effort to address the water department's more than $5 billion in debt in a city where over 50 percent of residents are delinquent on their water bill.
An estimated 2,300 homes are still without water, despite the fact that the city has established a payment plan for some who are unable to afford their water bill. The city says that 33,000 customers are currently enrolled. According to U.N. human rights officials who made an informal visit to Detroit, the water disconnection constitutes a human rights violation.
But to the hosts of Fox & Friends, the water shutoffs were more justified. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that it is "devastating" that several thousand Detroit families don't have water and that she's sorry they can't afford to pay their bills, but declared:
EARHARDT: Why is that any different than any other bill that we have to pay? You don't pay your car payment, you don't pay your house payment, you lose your car. You lose your house. If you're not paying for water, why should you get it?
The hosts condemned the U.N. officials' determination that the water shutoffs constituted a human rights violation, claiming the U.N. was making "a deliberate attempt to embarrass the United States."
Fox's indignation didn't extend to the commercial and industrial businesses similarly behind on their water bills -- as of July, the city had not reported which delinquent businesses had seen their service disconnected. According to recent reports, the Detroit Red Wings' hockey arena and the Detroit Lions' stadium owe tens of thousands in unpaid water bills but still have service.
Detroit's water shutoffs take the greatest toll on low-income residents, a significant number of people given that nearly 40 percent of the city lives below the poverty line. People are often forced to choose between paying for rent, electricity, or water, and the water department has recently increased the price of service by almost 10 percent. Beyond water being a basic necessity for life, the lack of access has other repercussions -- it could be grounds for child protective services to remove children from their homes.
Right-wing media cherry-picked from an email chain between the White House and the Department of Labor to claim that it reveals a White House "cover-up" of the schedule of former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who was being investigated over allegations that she had violated political fundraising rules. In fact, the last email from the White House shows that it did not object to the planned release of information from Solis' schedule.
From the June 10 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Fox News excitedly reported on new smart gun technology that increases firearm lethality through improved target accuracy, enthusiasm that stands in stark contrast to the network's earlier criticism of smart gun technology aimed at increasing gun safety.
The TrackingPoint rifle, a new smart gun that debuted last summer from a startup gun company in Texas, uses lasers and computers to increase shot accuracy, enabling even novice shooters to hit a target over 1,000 yards away. The technology has been criticized for decreasing gun safety by making it easier for a criminal, murderer, or terrorist to kill from a distance without detection. Now novice shooters have the ability to hit a target from 1,000 yards away, a distance experts say only a handful of highly trained shooters can normally hit.
Such safety concerns didn't stop Fox News from championing the smart aim technology and even sending one of their own hosts to try it out.
On the May 6 edition of Fox & Friends, anchor Ainsley Earhardt reported on the new smart gun, emphasizing how easy the technology makes target accuracy for someone "who doesn't shoot regularly," when "normally it takes years of practice, patience, and devoted diligence." Earhardt admitted that some people are concerned "that it could turn someone into a killing machine," but downplayed these safety issues by citing the manufacturer's promise that buyers must be approved through a background check. Hosts Steve Doocy, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Brian Kilmeade called the smart gun technology "amazing" and "incredible," noting that despite the gun's high cost, the $27,000 price tag is worthwhile because "you never miss":
Fox News promoted what they called a "blistering report" on Benghazi released by the Citizens' Committee on Benghazi, a group comprised of birthers, conspiracy theorists, and fringe right-wing activists.
Fox figures praised armed supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as good, patriotic, hard-working Americans, ignoring their threats of violence against Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents and indications that they were willing to put women in children in the line of fire.
From the April 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Conservative media's recent smear that surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is controversial because he supports doctors discussing safe gun ownership with their patients is curious given frequent complaints from right-wing media -- albeit false -- that health care reform posed a threat to the inviolable doctor-patient relationship.
From the March 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News baselessly claimed that newly-released photographs of the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks reveal a "level of devastation" which contradicts the Obama administration's "original story of what happened" -- without explaining how the photos provided new insight or how they contradicted the administration's position on the destruction of the attacks.
On the November 20 edition of Fox & Friends First, co-host Ainsley Earhardt highlighted photos of the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, following the September 11, 2012 attacks which were recently obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch. The photos depict a car on fire, burnt furniture, and graffiti on the walls of the compound, and Earhardt claimed they revealed "a new level of devastation, contradicting the Obama administration's original story of what happened":
EARHARDT: New images of the aftermath of last year's September 11th terrorist attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya. The new pictures show a new level of devastation, contradicting the Obama administration's original story of what happened. The State Department gave 30 pages of records and 14 pictures to the conservative group Judicial Watch. That group is suing after requesting public materials through the Freedom of Information Act and not receiving them.
Earhardt did not explain how the photos contradicted anything the Obama administration had previously said about the attack, nor did she provide any evidence that administration officials previously downplayed or diminished the damage in Benghazi.
Her attack on the administration did, however, mirror comments made by Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who claimed the "photos reveal a level of total devastation thoroughly belying Obama's original cover story that the carnage was perpetrated by a bunch of random malcontents upset over an unpleasant video."
But as Media Matters has repeatedly documented, there was no cover story -- Then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made clear during her initial comments on the attack that they were based on the administration's "current best assessment" of the situation, which was that the attacks were not premeditated. She acknowledged that the perpetrators were "extremists" and said that future investigations and analyses by intelligence services "will tell us with certainty what transpired." It would later be revealed that her suggestion that the attack was linked to an anti-Islam video that had embroiled the Middle East came from talking points generated by the CIA.
Furthermore, the photos released by Judicial Watch and billed as groundbreaking are actually similar to pictures which have been available online since the day after the attacks. On September 12, 2012, Buzzfeed posted photos showing the destruction at the compound, including a burnt car, graffiti, and broken windows. The next day, Daily Mail Online posted more photos of the burnt interiors of the compound.
For more on conservative media myths about the September 2012 attacks, read The Benghazi Hoax, the new e-book by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt.
Fox News and serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey are baselessly stoking fears that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will force doctors to ask "intrusive" sexual history questions that are already standard medical practice.
In a New York Post op-ed, McCaughey claimed that the health care law will "turn doctors into government agents" by requiring them to ask supposedly "intrusive" questions about their patients' sexual history. McCaughey's op-ed, which cited no evidence to support her claims, was parroted by Fox & Friends First co-host Ainsley Earhardt who said, "Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time":
As Wonkette pointed out, McCaughey offered no evidence for her claims that the ACA changes existing practices. In fact, despite her fearmongering, sexual history questions are routine medical practice. The Centers For Disease Control calls such questions "an important part of a regular medical exam or physical history" and recommends that "[a] sexual history needs to be taken during a patient's initial visit, during routine preventive exams, and when you see signs of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)." In fact, the very questions that McCaughey claims doctors will now be pressured to ask are the exact questions the CDC recommends doctors ask their patients.
Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt misled viewers to believe that the U.S. Postal Service used taxpayer dollars to provide upscale accommodations and activities for a leadership conference, even though the USPS does not receive taxpayer funds for operational costs, and conference attendees have to finance their own entertainment.
In an effort to deal with budget shortfalls, the USPS has used its annual National Postal Forum Conference as "a revenue-generating opportunity," Postal Service spokeswoman Zy Richardson told Government Executive. The agency said that last year's conference brought in about $160 million in revenue from new sales.
But Fox hosts highlighted the conference as a waste of taxpayer dollars, focusing on the supposed extravagance of the event and mocking its stated goal of developing "sales leads":
STEVE DOOCY: Because let's face it, it's so depressing, demoralizing, working at the Postal Service these days. Don't you think those guys should just be able to go out and, you know, blow a bunch of dough, and blow off some steam?
BRIAN KILMEADE: Not really.
EARHARDT: Your money, your tax dollars.
According to the USPS website, the agency does not receive any taxpayer dollars to cover its operational costs. Like other expenses, the National Postal Forum Conference is funded by the agency's $65 billion in annual revenue from the sale of postage, products, and services.
The National Postal Forum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the responsiveness and efficiency of the U.S. mail system, designed the conference "to find innovative solutions and learn about the latest technologies that are shaping the mailing industry's future." Richardson emphasized that the conference "is a public event that anyone can attend. It's not a secret, internal event."
Doocy's suggestion that the conference's cost covers expensive activities like golf is also incorrect. As Government Executive reported:
[T]he golfing is not included in the registration fees for the conference and any Postal Service employee participating must pay his or her own way to participate.
Fox News misleadingly invoked the 9-11 terrorist attacks to pillory President Obama's immigration policy, falsely claiming that the hijackers entered the United States illegally, and therefore would not have been arrested had they been detained in 2001 under Obama's immigration policy.
Citing a former Bush Immigration and Customs Enforcement official's February 2012 congressional testimony, Fox & Friends First co-host Ainsely Earhardt claimed that Obama's immigration policy would have allowed the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to remain in the United States had the policy been in effect in 2001, claiming his "policy prevents agents from arresting people solely for entering the country illegally."
However, the 9-11 hijackers did not enter the country illegally, so any immigration policy changes dealing with people entering the country illegally would not apply. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks reported that the hijackers entered the United States legally via visas issued by the State Department:
Beginning in 1997, the 19 hijackers submitted 24 applications and received 23 visas. The pilots acquired most of theirs in the year 2000. The other hijackers, with two exceptions, obtained their visas between the fall of 2000 and June 2001. Two of the visas were issued in Berlin, and two were issued in the United Arab Emirates. The rest were issued in Saudi Arabia. One of the pilots, Hani Hanjour, had an application denied in September 2000 for lack of adequate documentation. He then produced more evidence in support of his student visa application, and it was approved.
And while several of the hijackers had overstayed their visas, the Obama administration has taken steps to crack down on those who stay when their visas expire, focusing on security risks. From an Associated Press report in September 2011:
The Obama administration is cracking down on immigrants in the U.S. who have overstayed the terms of their visas by using a system that automatically checks multiple national security, immigration and law enforcement databases at the same time, a senior Homeland Security Department official said.
The common practice has been to make manual checks of individual databases. The new system already has identified dozens of investigative leads, said John Cohen, deputy counterterrorism coordinator at the Homeland Security Department.
The immediate focus is to identify people who have overstayed their visas and who pose potential threats to national security or public safety, Cohen said.
The department also is checking regularly the systems for people whose visas have not expired -- in some cases, as often as daily or weekly, Cohen said.
Such a review process deals with the reality that information about a person's potential terrorism ties might not be clear to the intelligence community until after a visa has been issued.