Fox News tried to blame First Lady Michelle Obama's healthy school lunch program for reports of financial woes and layoffs at school districts, but it failed to disclose that the study it cited comes from a group supported in part by food industry companies that sell their product to schools, including PepsiCo, General Mills, and Domino's.
On the August 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier highlighted the findings of a new study from the School Nutrition Association (SNA) that claims implementation of the National School Lunch Program's healthier nutritional standards has led to school district worker layoffs and financial struggles. The standards were established after Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, the centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative.
Baier told viewers, "School is back, or soon will be, and healthy school lunches are resulting in unhealthy school finances." He went on to cite the SNA study's claim that "56 percent of districts have lost lunch participants because of the new healthy standards championed by the first lady" and that "seven of 10 [school districts that responded] say the standards have hurt the financial situation of the local meals programs, with almost half choosing to reduce staffing."
But Baier failed to disclose that the School Nutrition Association, which describes itself as "a national, nonprofit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country," has deep ties to the industry that sells food products to school districts. As Media Matters has previously written, the SNA lists Schwan's Food Service, a company that specializes in providing pizza to schools and restaurants, as a "major" donor. The association has also accepted funding from PepsiCo, General Mills, ConAgra, and Domino's Pizza. Schwan and PepsiCo also hold seats on the SNA's board of directors.
Schwan, ConAgra, and General Mills were also among major members of the food industry behind successful lobbying efforts to preserve pizza's classification as a vegetable for the purpose of school nutritional standards in 2011.
Conservative media are seizing on a flawed, and later revised, Associated Press report to claim the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will allow Iran to conduct investigations of its own nuclear sites, leaving out important context that explains the agreement does not compromise the long-term inspection regime agreed upon in the international Iran nuclear deal, nor the ability of inspectors to observe the rest of the country's nuclear facilities, and pertains only to past nuclear activity at the Parchin military site. In fact, the agreement still requires "confirmation that Iran is keeping promises" for the country to receive international sanctions relief.
Fox News suggested that Hillary Clinton must have known her emails were classified when she received them during her tenure as secretary of state because they contained satellite imagery and signal intelligence. But officials say that the emails don't include any form of "sensitive sourcing" and may not have been classified at the time she received them.
At the 2016 Republican primary debate last night, the Fox News moderators appeared reasonable, effective, and pointed in their questions to the candidates. And that was the point of the whole charade.
Fox did exactly what Media Matters predicted they would. Moderators Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace took advantage of the low expectations mainstream journalists and many Americans have of their network. They knew millions of people who don't watch Fox as obsessively as we do would be tuning in, many of them expecting to see the brand of Fox they've heard so much about, full of conservative bias and incoherent arguments. And they knew how much power rested in surprising those viewers -- in convincing even just a handful of mainstream journalists that Fox can be legitimate.
The strategy worked. Because the moderators managed to look like real journalists for a little over two hours, they're getting intense praise from mainstream media outlets, such as Politico (emphasis added):
For more than two hours, the trio that won widespread praise in 2012 for hard-hitting questions once again demonstrated that Fox News would offer no safe harbor for Republican candidates.
And the New York Times (emphasis added):
There was more than just good television at stake. For the journalists of Fox News, the debate offered a potentially defining moment in front of millions of people, during one of the most anticipated political events of the year. This was an opportunity to demonstrate that their network is not, as its critics have charged, a blindly loyal propaganda division of the Republican Party, that Fox journalists can be as unsparing toward conservatives as they are with liberals, and that they can eviscerate with equal opportunity if they choose.
But that last clause from the Times is crucial: "if they choose." Because the other 364 days a year, Fox News does not choose to hold Republicans accountable for their extreme and misinformed positions on women's rights or welfare or immigration; instead they do create that "safe harbor" for Republicans to come up with their wild misconceptions and hateful rhetoric -- the same misconceptions they "choose" to blast those same Republicans for last night.
Fox has two fundamental goals: make lots of money by broadcasting entertaining television, and bolster the Republican Party. Last night, they succeeded in doing both, even in the moments where it might have seemed like they had no patience for the Republican candidates' pandering.
Because Fox chief Roger Ailes knows that the best way for Fox to bolster the Republican Party in the long-term is for mainstream journalists to trust Fox -- for the "blindly loyal propaganda division" to appear, even just for one night, as credible. Propaganda doesn't work, after all, if you know it's propaganda.
So even if many of their questions actually did reinforce Republican orthodoxy (such as claiming that deceitful videos attacking Planned Parenthood shed "new light on abortion practices"), the Fox moderators made sure they spent most of their time looking like attack dogs ready to take on the Republican candidates.
But it's worth looking closely at how that played out, and what exactly mainstream media outlets are now praising. Getting the most attention is perhaps one of the biggest of the so-called "Megyn Moments" of the night, in which Kelly momentarily appears out-of-step with Fox rhetoric and calls out a bit of right-wing nonsense. Her tendency to do this every once in a while successfully distracts from her standard misinformation, and helps feed the exact narrative about Fox's potential for credibility that they were desperate to encourage last night.
"Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don't use a politician's filter," she began. "However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women. You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.'"
Quickly dismissing Trump's attempt to shrug these comments off with a crude joke, she beat on: "Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?"
To be clear, it is definitely remarkable to hear a Fox News host even mention the "war on women," something the network and the Republican Party have worked hard to minimize. And Trump deserves to be held accountable for these comments.
But it's not exactly an act of remarkable journalism to ask such a question -- pointing out Trump's raging sexism is something any competent journalist should be expected to do.
Moreover, Fox has had ample time to hold him accountable for these comments before. Trump has been winning the "Fox News Primary" for the last three months, appearing on the network more times than any other Republican candidate in the race.
Yet his sexism has certainly not been a regular topic of the fawning interviews he typically receives on the network. Instead, Fox has worked very, very hard to promote Trump, and the fact that he was standing at center stage last night due to his soaring poll numbers was certainly aided by the network.
While network figures have criticized Trump in the past, Fox's shift during the debate to fully acknowledging Trump's nasty side is notable. But it once again says more about Fox's calculus for the evening and our own low expectations than it does about Trump himself.
In his review of the evening, Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman explained that according to his sources, key to that calculus was Fox's fear that the winner of the night would be Trump, at the expense of the network's moderators:
During a meeting at Fox late last week, according to a source, senior Fox executives discussed a more worrisome scenario: What would happen if Trump won over the audience and moved the crowd to boo moderators Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace on live television? What if Trump was able to direct his base of supporters to stop watching Fox? To prevent that from happening, Ailes needed a way to keep the audience firmly on the side of his moderators.
The questions posed last night to all of the candidates were carefully considered, and key to the strategy behind those questions was keeping the audience on Fox's side, not on the side of the actual candidates running for president. That isn't a strategy for good journalism, or for aiding a thoughtful electoral process. That's a strategy of control.
Fox may have realized they can no longer control Trump; but they're definitely trying to maintain full control over the mainstream narrative about their "credibility," and thus the Republican primary.
From the August 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Beware the low expectations you have for Fox News.
Tonight, Fox News will host the first Republican 2016 presidential primary debate (as well as a forum at 5pm for candidates that Fox has deemed less deserving of the primetime spotlight). The debate will be moderated by Fox News' Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace.
At Media Matters, we spend considerable time steeped in Fox News' misinformation. As part of our larger media monitoring efforts, we watch Fox News every day from 6AM until 11PM. We're well versed in their chicanery and adept at combating their deceit with airtight research. It's why we often say of Media Matters, "We watch Fox News, so you don't have to."
But on nights like tonight, many people who don't usually watch Fox News will tune in. These viewers -- be they progressives, people who regularly get their news from other networks, or just casual political observers who engage only around big events -- have some impression of what Fox News' brand is. They tend to have a sense that Fox News is very conservative and that Fox News lies. And they probably initially associate Fox News with some of its legacy personalities like Bill O'Reilly, or even former ones like Glenn Beck.
These viewers tune in with the expectation that the Fox figures moderating the debate will align with their impression or sense of Fox News' brand of bloviating, bias, and bigotry. In effect, the bar is set -- and it's pretty low.
Here's a rough version of this that ends up playing out on nights like tonight: Fox puts its best foot forward. The Fox figures conduct themselves in a way that exceeds the low impression that these non-regular viewers have of Fox personalities. Many of these viewers think to themselves, "Hmm. Well, those moderators were pretty reasonable." Some may even pass remarks to this effect on social media or in their social circles.
Think back to your social media feeds from nights like this. I bet you saw some posts from friends or even some mainstream media figures either giving accolades to Fox or mentioning something along the lines of 'Fox News is conservative, but that news side moderator seems pretty okay.'
In reality, no, they weren't 'pretty okay' or 'reasonable' as some non-regular viewers might believe. It's just that the bar is really low.
Fox is well aware of this dynamic. They need nights like tonight.
A few years ago, the idea that Fox News is not news but rather more akin to a political operation finally broke through and became a widely-shared opinion in political and media circles. In late 2011, Roger Ailes, Fox News' Chairman & CEO, responded by conceding that Fox News needed a "course correction" and retreating to what the network claims is a separation between its commentary and hard news side.
Since then, Fox News has often touted its supposed "news side" to deflect criticism or to create a veneer of legitimacy. Nights like tonight are pivotal to this strategy.
In the lead up to tonight's debate, there were well choreographed pieces in Politico and The New York Times that emphasized the distinction between Fox News' commentary side and news side and advanced the narrative Fox wants told about how hard-hitting the anchors moderating tonight's debate are.
It's very likely that the Fox anchors moderating tonight's debate will exceed the low expectations that occasional viewers have of Fox News.
Don't be fooled though!
Just because the three people sitting at the moderators' table won't remind you of Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck, be wary of giving them too much credit.
When not performing for an audience of non-typical Fox viewers...
This is bigger than these three individuals. Kelly, Wallace and Baier are simply window dressing that Fox is putting on display tonight to advance the idea that Fox has a hard news side. But there isn't a meaningful difference between Fox News' supposed news side and its commentary side.
Look no further for evidence of this than Bill Sammon. Sammon is a right-wing ideologue and serves as an executive on Fox News' supposed news side. He won't be on stage tonight. But, according to Fox News' Digital Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt, Sammon helped lead the team that prepared the questions for tonight's debate. Several years ago, Media Matters obtained leaked communications from Sammon that showed him using his position to impose a right-wing slant on Fox News' supposed hard news reporting as well as instructing on-air reporters to refrain from accurately reporting on rising global temperatures caused by climate change.
So before you rush to give Fox News credit for exceeding low expectations, just keep in mind that many of the smears, ignorant remarks, and flat-out lies told by candidates tonight were either very likely promoted heavily or manufactured by Fox itself. The landscape has been seeded with Fox News' chicanery. Candidates are well aware of the audience that they're speaking to -- a fact reflected in the decision by some of them to appeal directly to Fox News' core audience with substantial ad buys in an attempt to increase their standings in the polls.
Fox News has consistently helped Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush run defense for many of his controversial remarks, including his assertions that he would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, that Americans "need to work longer hours" to boost the economy, and that the federal government spends "too much" on women's health.
Fox News is helping Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush whitewash his suggestion that the federal government spends too much on health care services for women, which kicked off a firestorm as other media outlets, Democrats, and advocacy groups called him out for the remarks.
Fox News devoted 10 segments on seven separate programs in one day to hyping a deceptively edited video purporting to show Planned Parenthood "haggling" over the price of "baby parts, while mainstream media and fact checkers roundly discredited the video and its smears.
Fox News pundits repeatedly pushed -- and then walked back -- a false narrative propagated by an anti-Islam blogger that an "ISIS-linked" Twitter account warned of the Tennessee shooting prior to the attack.
From the July 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
From the July 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
Fox News reported that an "ISIS-linked" Twitter account warned of today's shooting in Tennessee before it happened, but the tweet in question was sent after the attack had ended. The falsehood was propagated by anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller before spreading through conservative media
Four Marines were killed when a shooter fired on two military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Fox News reported that the attacks may be connected to ISIS because an ISIS supporter purportedly discussed the shooting on Twitter before it happened. Fox host Sean Hannity repeated the false claim on his radio show.
In fact, the tweet Fox News referenced was posted well after the shooting had already occurred. Mashable editor Brian Ries first pointed out the discrepancy.
On Your World, Fox's chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reported, "the last investigative thread I would mention at this point is that we're taking a hard look at a Twitter account -- an ISIS-linked Twitter account -- that seemed to have foreknowledge of the shooting in Chattanooga. The tweet went out at 10:34 with the hashtag Chattanooga referring to American dogs and a likely shooting. This of course was about 15 minutes before the shooting took place."
On his radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity also referenced the inaccurate information.
HANNITY: We have a report from Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch, that he's put together -- a timeline regarding today's, what they are now calling a domestic terrorist act in Chattanooga. We have four Marines that have been killed. By the way, our thoughts, our prayers are with the families and the entire military community there. According to the AP, the shooting started around 10:30, 10:45. The Islamic State tweeted a warning about the attack, posted at 10:34 a.m. The ISIS tweet specifically mentioned Chattanooga, which is an obvious reference to the attack. If it's true that ISIS was taking credit for the shooting at the exact same time, or maybe slightly before the shooting commenced, that would be pretty strong evidence of a connection. And Spencer reminds us the Islamic State has called on Muslims to murder American military personnel here in the U.S.
The source of the claim is conservative blogger Pamela Geller, who has a long history of anti-Muslim activism.
Geller made the claim on Twitter and on her blog, writing, "This morning an ISIS supporter tweeted this at 10:34 am -- the shooting started at 10:45." The report cited by Hannity from Jihad Watch cites Geller as the source. Spencer has often worked with Geller on anti-Muslim projects.
But the tweet was posted at 1:34 p.m. Eastern time, not 10:34 a.m., as Geller asserted. According to news reports, the shooting "unfolded at two sites over 30 minutes" and started "around 10:45 a.m. ET."
The image of the tweet she references on her blog appears to be stamped with the Western time zone -- Twitter time stamps are based on the user's time zone, not the time zone of the person who made the tweet.
Media Matters took this screenshot of the ISIS supporter's Twitter account at 5:13 p.m. ET, and it shows that the post was made 4 hours previously (near the 1 o'clock hour Eastern time).
Conservative blog Weasel Zippers also made the erroneous conclusion about the tweet in a post headlined, "Islamic State Account Tweets Warnings About Chattanooga Moments Before Shooting Began."
UPDATE: After this story was published, Fox News began to pull back on their allegation. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
BRET BAIER: Let me be careful about the tweet to the ISIS-related account. In Garland, Texas we know that it came out before the shooting, before that happened. In this case, the time stamp does say 10:34, but we don't know if that's Pacific time, Mountain time, Eastern time, so we have to be careful about it coming out before the shooting. Point is there are ISIS accounts that are pointing directly to this incident and touting it as one of own.
UPDATE #2: On The O'Reilly Factor, this story was addressed at least three more times.
At the top of the Factor, O'Reilly reported the "sensational" ISIS tweet story, even after admitting it wasn't "exactly clear whether it's accurate."
Midway through the show, Catherine Herridge reappeared and admitted that "there are now some questions about the time stamp on one of the ISIS tweets earlier today." When O'Reilly pressed her on how she learned about the tweet, she said, "I first saw it this afternoon, it was part of the social media that was circulating."
At the end of the Factor, Special Report anchor Bret Baier clarified the timing of the tweet, saying that "all indications now are that it came out after the attack." When O'Reilly asked if that meant the ISIS tweet story was "a bogus situation," Baier replied, "yeah."
Right-wing media praised Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ahead of his announcement that he will seek the Republican nomination for president, highlighting his record as governor and his efforts to reduce the power of labor unions.
From the July 12 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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