Fox News has ever-shifting standards for how the Obama administration should respond to terrorist attacks -- a strategic moving of the goalposts that was clearly on display during the network's coverage of the deadly Paris shooting.
On January 7, three gunmen opened fire at the office of the satirical weekly paper Charlie Hebdo, an attack that left 12 dead and 11 others wounded. That morning, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told CNN that based on the information the White House had at the time, the attack "does seem like" terrorism and that it "would condemn that in the strongest possible terms" if it were confirmed. Merely 30 minutes later, Earnest appeared on Fox News and declared, "This is an act of terror," a designation echoed by President Obama from the Oval Office. Obama expressed his "deepest sympathies to the people of Paris and the people of France for the terrible terrorist attack that took place earlier today," condemned the actions of "these terrorists [who] fear freedom," and noted the United States' cooperation with France on counterterrorism.
But to Fox News, describing the attack as terrorism wasn't enough. The network spent the day of the attack in Paris moving the goalposts for how the administration should have responded to the shooting.
Fox initially attempted to portray the change in the White House's characterization as scandalous. During Earnest's appearance on America's Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer took issue with the fact that Earnest used the term "act of terror" when earlier he'd used the phrase "act of violence." Hemmer repeatedly insisted that Earnest justify the change:
The demand soon grew. Claiming that it's insufficient to call the attack terrorism, Fox figures argued the White House "has to say 'Islamist terror.'" According to these personalities, the failure to say "Islamic," coupled with the White House's "reluctan[ce]" to say terrorism, evidences Obama's soft approach to fighting terrorism.
Moving the goalposts on the proper response to terrorism is a standard chapter in the Fox News playbook. The network obsessively claimed Obama failed to label the 2012 Benghazi attacks an act of terror, despite the fact that he did so from the Rose Garden the day after the attacks. When a gunman opened fire at Canada's War Memorial in October, Fox criticized Obama for refusing to acknowledge the attack was terrorism (despite the fact that he had). And after the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, in December, Obama condemned the terrorists, but Fox wondered why he failed to mention "the Taliban" by name.
Right-wing media outlets hyped widely discredited research from the Heritage Foundation to push the myth that President Obama's executive actions on immigration will cost the U.S. economy more than $2 trillion in federal benefits paid to those undocumented immigrants whose deportations are deferred. But Obama's exercise of prosecutorial discretion on behalf of certain undocumented parents of U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents does not confer federal means-tested benefits and economists report that allowing more immigrants to legally work will raise revenues and boost the economy.
From the November 24 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Right-wing media are claiming that former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attikisson was "targeted" by the Obama administration because a Department of Justice press aide complained to CBS about an article Attkisson wrote about Operation Fast and Furious. In fact, the story DOJ was criticizing inaccurately accused Attorney General Eric Holder of lying to Congress.
On November 20, conservative website PJ Media first reported on October 2011 emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by conservative group Judicial Watch. The emails contain a conversation between then-DOJ office of public affairs director Tracy Schmaler and White House communications aide Eric Schultz criticizing a CBSNews.com piece written by Attkisson.
Schmaler wrote that she was going to contact Attkisson's editor and CBS's Bob Schieffer and called Attkisson "out of control." In a later email, Schmaler wrote that the contention of Attkisson's article was "bullshit."
PJ Media characterized the exchange as a "bombshell" that "provides smoking gun proof that the Obama White House and the Eric Holder Justice Department colluded to get CBS News to block reporter Sharyl Attkisson."
Conservative blogs ran with PJ Media's article, which was eventually picked up by the Drudge Report. Attkisson reacted to PJ Media's article on Glenn Beck's radio show, saying, "If you dare to go after them, they will target you, try to assassinate your character, they'll call your bosses, they'll email. We know all of this is going on, but we now have emails that they've been withholding under executive privilege that refer to this."
The story also quickly made its way to Fox News, where America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer reported the development as "more bombshell emails revealing how the White House targeted former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson."
That the Obama administration would complain about Attkisson's reporting is unremarkable -- the central contention of the article they were complaining about was in fact inaccurate, as later confirmed by a 2012 independent investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.
Fox News is claiming that Democratic campaigns and supporters are vastly outspending their Republican counterparts during this election cycle, a suggestion that appears to focus on super PACs and ignores the influence of "dark money" spending that favors the GOP.
On the October 10 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer stated that Democrats have "got a lot of money ... and they're spending it, in some states, 4-to-1 over Republican candidates." National Review Online editor-at-large and Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg repeated a similar claim on the October 13 edition of Happening Now, downplaying secretive right-wing donors like the Koch brothers and arguing that "the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side" in contentious Senate races like the one in Kentucky:
HEATHER CHILDERS (guest host): So, a lot of this also is coming down to money. And we are talking about big amounts of money that are being spent from both sides in these particular states, so how is that going to influence things?
GOLDBERG: Sure, well, it depends on state by state. You know, in some of these places, you just don't have enough physical airtime in the space-time continuum to buy more ads. I mean, people are throwing in -- you know, the Democrats are just announcing [unintelligible] a million dollars into South Dakota. A million dollars probably would buy, you know, who knows how much airtime in South Dakota at this point. And so you're seeing things saturated all over the place. One of the things that has helped Democrats enormously is, they have actually raised vastly more money than Republicans have at a lot of these different levels. They're spending a lot more money. In North Carolina, they're outspending Republicans, I think, 2-to-1, and yet they claim that it's all the evil Koch brothers and their sort of other James Bond-like villains who are throwing all the money into Republicans. When the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side, but a lot of the mainstream media covers it as if, "Oh, it must be the Republicans who are taking advantage of all of this outside money." [emphasis added]
On October 15, Fox News correspondent Jim Angle continued the network's inapt comparison of the Koch brothers to high-dollar Democratic donors. Angle didn't mention that unlike the progressive billionaires and unions he highlighted, conservative activists like the Kochs are unwilling to publicly stand behind the right-wing policies their billions of dollars fund.
Fox News' narrative is misrepresenting the full and current story on campaign spending, which actually shows that a deluge of undisclosed outside money is supporting Republicans and outpacing similar expenditures for Democrats -- especially in the Kentucky contest.
The 4-to-1 statistic that Hemmer used may be a reference to a widely cited report from The Wall Street Journal that found super PACs aligned with Democrats had raised four times more than their Republican counterparts. By focusing on super PAC figures, Fox News is ignoring massive spending from outside right-wing groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fox News contributor Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and the Koch brothers' network of secretive and increasingly political groups. These organizations don't reveal their donors, and sometimes -- depending on the type of ad they are running -- they don't even reveal their expenditures. Groups of that sort have spent more "dark money" -- funds from undisclosed donors -- than Democratic-leaning groups have.
Fox News' report on the Supreme Court's recent order temporarily blocking a Texas law that imposed strict requirements on state abortion providers included references to the horrific crimes of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell, but left out the law's dangerous implications for women's health and access to reproductive care.
On October 14, the Supreme Court stopped implementation of the law, allowing over a dozen Texas abortion clinics to re-open. The law "caused all but eight of the state's abortion clinics to close," according to The New York Times. The challenged restrictions require all abortion clinics in the state to meet the standards of "ambulatory surgical centers" and all doctors "performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital." The court order blocked the former requirement and partially blocked the latter.
The October 15 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom invoked Gosnell's crimes in its report on the Supreme Court order. Senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano admitted that "the practical effect of [the law] was to reduce the number of facilities in the state of Texas that could perform abortions," but went on to characterize the Texas law as intended to protect women's health and prevent crimes like Gosnell's:
Fox News is calling recent court decisions blocking voter ID laws a "setback," despite the fact that these decisions will allow more people to engage in the political process.
On October 9, the Supreme Court issued an order temporarily blocking Wisconsin's voter ID law -- a law that The New York Times called "one of the strictest in the nation." Even though these kinds of voter ID laws disproportionately affect people of color and in-person voter fraud is almost nonexistent, right-wing media outlets has repeatedly celebrated them. National Review Online was highly supportive of Wisconsin's law in particular, and it called fears that the new ID requirements would cause "chaos at the polls" overblown because "there has been no such 'chaos' in any of the other states that have implemented voter-ID laws over the past ten years."
Elsewhere, in Texas, a federal court struck down that state's voter ID law -- another stringent law that right-wing media have described as "a good thing." However, in its ruling, the court called Texas' law an "unconstitutional poll tax" that "has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose."
Yet Fox News was apparently unmoved by the Texas court's proclamation that the right to vote "defines our nation as a democracy." On the October 10 edition of America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum said the "timing" of the orders was "very interesting." Her co-host, Bill Hemmer, said the decisions were "the latest setbacks" to laws "meant to crack down on voter fraud":
The timing is interesting, but probably not in the way MacCallum thinks. Although the court's order doesn't say why it stopped Wisconsin's law from being implemented, SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston suggested that "the fact that this year's election is less than a month away may have been the key factor." In its brief in the Wisconsin case, the ACLU also argued that "[n]o court has permitted a voter ID law to go into effect this close to an election based on last-minute changes to the law." Had the law been implemented before the 2014 election, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters could have been affected. According to the ACLU and the Advancement Project, state officials would have had "to issue some 6,000 IDs per day between now and the election" to ensure that every eligible voter had the required form of identification.
Conservative media are attacking actor Ben Affleck for comments he made objecting to disparaging generalizations about Islam during a heated exchange with HBO host Bill Maher, using their dialogue as ammunition to continue claiming that the religion has a unique connection to extremism and that Muslims have not done enough to root out religious zealotry.
From the September 17 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Conservative media are claiming that unemployed Americans are "lazy" because they supposedly spend too much time "shopping" and not enough time working or looking for work. But the data they cite includes the activities of stay-at-home parents, students, people with disabilities, and retirees who are "not employed."
On September 8, fringe conservative website CNS News published an article claiming "an unemployed American is more likely to be shopping ... than to be looking for a new job. " The article ostensibly cited data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), an annual survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). CNS claimed that "only 18.9 percent of Americans who were unemployed" engaged in job searches or job interviews on "an average day." Meanwhile, according to CNS, 22.5 percent of the "unemployed" engaged in shopping "for items other than groceries" on "an average day."
Unfortunately, CNS did not link to its internal data or provide methodology for its reporting, leaving readers to take the website's claims at face value.
Digging into the technical notes of the ATUS reveals that the BLS does not categorize individuals as "unemployed," but rather as "not employed." This distinction is important, as it includes individuals who fit the classification of being unemployed -- not working but actively looking for work -- as well as individuals who are "not in the labor force" for other reasons, including retirement, educational pursuit, and disability. So-called "discouraged workers," the small percentage of the population who involuntarily leave the labor force due to a lack of opportunity, would also count as "not employed" by ATUS classification.
CNS' insinuation that the so-called "unemployed" spend too much time engaged in non-work activities like "shopping" is based on a fatally skewed statistical error. But that fact has not stopped right-wing media outlets from using CNS' assumptions to fuel their campaign against the unemployed.
Fox News offered Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) a platform to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, raising questions about the network's willingness to be manipulated using unverified quotes in order to harm a potential presidential candidate.
During the September 3 edition of Hannity, Paul joined host Sean Hannity to discuss the threat of the Islamic State to the U.S. After Hannity asked him if IS "has declared war on us," Paul blamed Clinton for the Islamic State's rise, asserting that "in the past, you know, Hillary Clinton has said ISIS is not a threat to the United States."
Fox's Bill Hemmer later hosted Paul on the September 5 edition of America's Newsroom, where Paul again claimed Clinton has "been out there saying that ISIS is not a threat, and so not a threat to America. Those I think were her exact words." After Hemmer asked Paul whether Clinton actually said the terror group was not a threat, Paul was unable to pin down where the alleged quote was from, but responded that it was his "belief" that "a couple of months ago there was a quote saying ISIS was not a threat to America." Hemmer subsequently failed to follow up on Paul's lack of specifics.
Hemmer's question was a critical one for any journalist to ask, but his failure to demand the specific quote and Hannity's total acceptance of Paul's claim is troubling. By not pushing for proof of Paul's claim, Fox News is letting itself be used as a conduit for misinformation from one potential presidential candidate to another.
Fox News misleadingly credited Governor Rick Perry's (R-TX) announcement that National Guard troops would be deployed to the border for reducing the number of immigrants crossing the border -- but experts find that migration regularly decreases in summer months due to dangerous summer weather.
From the July 10 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Fox News host Bill Hemmer reported that "busloads of illegals" are inundating the small town of Murrieta, California, to stoke fears that immigrants are being sent to towns around the country indiscriminately. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection explained that the immigrants are being transported to other border patrol facilities to alleviate overcrowding and facilitate speedy processing of immigrants.
In June, the Los Angeles Times reported on unsanitary, overcrowded conditions at detainment centers in Texas and Arizona following an influx of unaccompanied minors into the country, necessitating transfers to other facilities.
On July 1, anti-immigrant protesters in Murrieta forced buses transporting immigrants from overcrowded facilities in Texas to reroute to other facilities.
During the July 7 edition of Fox's America's Newsroom, Murrieta Mayor Alan Long discussed the immigration protests in his town with Hemmer. During the discussion, Hemmer reported ominously that "busloads of illegals roll into the town of Murrieta" and asked Long, "How did we reach this point, where your small little bedroom community is inundated?" Long claimed to have no idea why border patrol would send immigrants to his "bedroom community of 106,000," saying that "all of a sudden, the world showed up at our doorstep." He also warned that "you can't just send them all over the country."
From the June 27 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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