Declassified transcripts from House Armed Services Committee hearings on the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks revealed Fox News' highly politicized Benghazi reporting rarely reflected the facts on the ground.
Fox News misled viewers by claiming that new Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment statistics mean that the law will be unable to "balance the books" -- ignoring the many safeguards in the program designed to maintain cost stability and expert analysis that has found that the current number of young enrollees meets the bar for maintaining the program's sustainability.
From the January 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Conservatives are misusing a deceptive study to claim that the "liberal media" is giving the recent bridge scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration more coverage than they gave allegations that the Internal Revenue Service inappropriately targeted conservative groups. In their attempt to use the Christie story for political gain, conservatives accidentally point to a real media failure: after heavily covering the initial IRS allegations, the press has largely ignored subsequent revelations undermining the "scandal."
On January 8, the media reported on documents showing that close Christie aides were involved in the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge in order to create gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ as political retribution. The next day, Christie gave a press conference apologizing and saying he had fired the aides. As the events involved malfeasance by the administration of perhaps the leading contender for the 2016 Republican nomination, they received heavy media coverage.
On January 10, the conservative Media Research Center (MRC) released a report that attacked the media for that coverage by claiming that ABC, CBS, and NBC had given "a staggering 88 minutes to the story" but "over the last six months have allowed a scant two minutes for the latest on Barack Obama's Internal Revenue Service scandal." The report has been widely cited by conservatives, particularly on Fox News.
On Fox & Friends this morning, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked how the media could "justify wall to wall coverage over a traffic jam in one region of the country when they practically ignored the IRS which affects everybody in the country." Commentary Editor John Podhoretz explained that it's because the Washington press corps socializes with members of the Obama administration and "don't believe that these people could do something that untoward," but they don't know and don't like Republicans like Christie.
This is deeply dishonest. As both the MRC study and the Fox segments ignore, the IRS story broke eight months ago, not six months ago. Rather than comparing the network's coverage of the initial revelations in both stories, the MRC study carefully leaves out the initial, heavy coverage of the IRS story.
But the conservative complaint does inadvertently get at a crucial failure of the media. After trumpeting the initial, damning allegations at the heart of the IRS story, journalists have largely ignored the subsequent revelations undermining the notion that it was, as the MRC terms it, "Barack Obama's Internal Revenue Scandal."
The IRS story was launched on May 10 when Lois Lerner, then the director of the IRS division that determines whether organizations are tax exempt, admitted to and apologized for improper scrutiny of tea party groups and other organizations seeking tax exempt status. Lerner's statement was intended to pre-empt a highly critical inspector general's report that was released soon after. In the days following Lerner's revelation, President Obama called the targeting "outrageous" and "inexcusable" and fired the acting director of the IRS, while Attorney General Eric Holder announced a federal investigation. Meanwhile, Republicans began holding hearings suggesting that the White House had been involved in the targeting. All of these events received heavy coverage in the media.
But less than two months later, new documents and reporting had largely diffused the scandal, as journalist Alex Seitz-Wald detailed:
But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG's report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans' request; and that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn't even know about it until shortly before the public did.
Those revelations, however, did not receive nearly as much coverage as the initial allegations, as Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College who studies political scandals, explained in an August 1 piece for the Columbia Journalism Review.
Nyhan examined the coverage of the story in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico, finding that while all three had heavily covered the initial allegations in mid-May, "as contradictory facts emerged in June and early July, they had already lost interest, publishing a fraction of the stories that ran during the initial weeks of the scandal."
Here are a few charts from his piece showing the huge drop-off in coverage:
Fox News praised Gov. Chris Christie's handling of the bridge scandal plaguing his administration as a "lesson in leadership" despite the many lingering questions surrounding his office's involvement in the story.
Gov. Christie held a nearly two-hour long press conference on January 9 amidst allegations that a four-day traffic jam in Fort Lee, NJ may have been orchestrated by his administration as political retribution. Christie has denied involvement for months, and the story exploded into a full-blown scandal on January 8 when emails and text messages published by a local paper suggested that Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and a Christie appointee at the Port Authority colluded to close access lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create massive gridlock.
On the January 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised Christie's press conference, saying it "really indicated to many what leadership looked like after facing a crisis."
The Fox hosts went on to argue that the Obama administration could learn a lot from Christie's "brilliant" response:
Not all media was as taken with Christie's performance. In contrast to Fox, The New York Times' editorial board wrote that Christie's press conference left "plenty of questions that Mr. Christie and his aides, current and former, need to answer." According to The Times, Christie's "version of reality simply does not add up" and that until "full and conclusive investigation can restore public trust" Christie "has zero credibility":
First, is it plausible that officials as high up as Ms. Kelly and Mr. Christie's top appointees at the Port Authority, which controls the bridge, would decide to seek revenge and create this traffic chaos on their own?
Did Mr. Christie know in December, when Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein resigned, that these two members of his inner circle had taken part in the scheme? Did he ever ask them what happened?
The email documents released on Wednesday were heavily redacted. Why? And when will the full emails be made public?
Why did Mr. Christie insist that the traffic snarl was connected to a "traffic study," even after Port Authority officials denied there was any such study? Did he try to get the Port Authority to stop its own internal investigation of the problem?
NBC News had similar concerns, reporting that in the press conference Christie did not "resolve the mystery behind the closing of lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September" or why local officials working to investigate the jam "got no help," listing six "of the most pressing" questions that Christie left unanswered.
Fox News hosted former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to promote the importance of companies paying attention to cybersecurity without disclosing that Ridge heads lobbying and consulting firms that work on cybersecurity.
Ridge appeared as a guest on the January 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends. Co-host Brian Kilmeade asked him about "one of your real expertise ... what about cybersecurity as it compares to Al Qaeda?" Ridge responded that cybersecurity is a threat and "companies have to pay a lot more attention at the C-suite level to make sure that they are prepared to deal with it because it's happening every day."
Ridge heads several companies that work on cybersecurity:
Ridge is also the chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Security Task Force, which "is responsible for the development and advancement of Chamber policy related to homeland security and national security" including on "priorities related to cyber security."
Additionally, Ridge sits on the advisory board of TaaSERA, "a cyber security company" that "builds runtime behavior detection solutions used by the world's leading companies and government agencies."
Fox News suggested that new parents are unable to add their babies onto health care plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in order to stoke fears about the law, even though parents are able to add new dependents onto ACA plans by directly contacting their insurance provider. Fox called the process more difficult than going through labor.
The January 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends purported to report that the portion of HealthCare.gov that would allow consumers to report major life changes -- such as having a baby -- is not yet online and available to consumers, airing a graphic claiming "Obamacare lacks easy way to add baby to plan." Co-host Brian Kilmeade attempted to explain the sign-up process by comparing it to labor: "A lot of people think having a baby's tough. Know what's harder? Under Obamacare, getting that baby insured. So labor might be easier than getting insurance paperwork done." But co-host Steve Doocy took it even further, claiming that new babies cannot be added to ACA plans, saying "You might have a new dependent who's dependent on you and dependent on health care, but right now, you can't put them in on the Affordable Care Act."
But while the ACA's website, Healthcare.gov, is still working on its reporting system for consumers to add new dependents online, this information can be given directly to insurance providers in order to update ACA plans. As the Associated Press (AP) reported, parents can directly contact their insurer "to include the child immediately" on existing policies, and will "have to contact the government at some point later on." Parents must notify the government of the birth of a new baby because "[s]uch changes affect financial assistance available under the law," and may qualify for increased financial assistance under the ACA, AP wrote:
After the federal system is ready to process changes, parents will have to contact the government to formally bring their records up to date. Albright said parents will be able to add a new child to their policy for 30 days.
Having a baby could increase a family's monthly premiums, but it could also mean that the parents are eligible for a bigger tax credit to help with the cost. Under some circumstances, it could make the child or the family eligible for Medicaid, a safety-net program that is virtually free of cost to low-income beneficiaries.
In fact, having a child counts as a qualifying life event, that allows consumers enrolled in health insurance under the ACA to alter their coverage outside of the open enrollment period.
Fox has previously attacked provisions in the ACA designed to aid pregnant women and new mothers, claiming that a ban on discrimination against women in the health insurance market constitutes "sticking it to men" and denying the need for improved access to maternity coverage -- while ignoring the benefits of improved maternity care under the ACA.
From the January 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Right-wing media were quick to discount a report from The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick that debunked favored conservative claims, but the outlets offered scant evidence to contest Kirkpatrick's findings. Instead, they resorted to questioning the Times' actions during the attack, baselessly claiming that the paper "whitewash[ed]" Hillary Clinton's culpability, and scouring outdated reporting to hype a tenuous Al Qaeda connection.
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
Fox News again acted as the communications arm of the GOP, promoting a health care plan from Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) that could leave millions without coverage, do nothing to constrain the rise of health costs, and allow insurers to discriminate against patients with preexisting conditions.
On the December 16 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck interviewed Price, presenting his proposal, the Empowering Patients First Act, as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that "could save this country trillions of dollars." While an on-air graphic described Price's plan as an "Obamacare alternative," Hasselbeck endorsed the proposal, saying, "[w]e have the support behind you on this in terms of what I've read so far."
But Fox's endorsement of Price's plan glossed over significant flaws with the bill, including the fact that Price's proposal has already failed twice in Congress and that plans like Price's have been tried, and failed, in the past. As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein reported in 2009, The Empower Patients First Act "won't work" as its "version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly." According to Klein, Price's plan fails to include an individual mandate that would ensure the coverage pool would include both healthy and sick consumers and does nothing to prevent insurers from cherrypicking enrollees. As Klein noted, "this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California":
Price's bill has a couple of good ideas in it: Automatic enrollment, for one thing. And extending the employer tax deduction to individuals while capping it at "the average value of the national health exclusion for Employer Sponsored Insurance (family/singles) grown at inflation." This amounts to a huge tax increase, incidentally, although Price won't call it that.
But the plan won't work. In particular, its version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly. There's no individual mandate ensuring that the pool includes both healthy and sick individuals, no insurance market regulations stopping insurers from cherrypicking, and no risk adjustment rebalancing the scales when they do. In other words, this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California. Price isn't learning from past policy mistakes, and so he means to repeat them.
Price also endorsed selling insurance across state lines, a proposal that the New America Foundation found would increase premiums for many consumers while decreasing the level of coverage:
The New America report, entitled, "Across State Lines Explained: Why Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines is Not the Answer," found that under across state lines proposals premiums would increase for many people, health insurance benefits would become less generous, and more Americans would likely become uninsured over time.
"Selling health insurance across state lines would have a devastating impact on the health insurance marketplace and will not work for many Americans. This approach fails to introduce the incentives necessary to move insurers to a 21st Century business model that prioritizes care coordination and high value care over marketing and underwriting," said Len M. Nichols, Director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation and coauthor of the report.
"In fact, selling health insurance across state lines represents a step backwards not only for the health insurance marketplace, but also and more importantly for the American people who struggle everyday to secure quality, affordable coverage," Nichols continued.
Fox's decision to highlight Price's proposal is just another example of the network's long history of work as the communications arm of the GOP. The information provided on the plan, including figures pushed by Holtz-Eakin, who served as CBO director under President George W. Bush and policy advisor to then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, comes directly from Price's own talking points.
Fox News hosts used meaningless hand gestures to mock the interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service who reportedly did not use standard sign language, even after another news organization apologized for a similar sight gag.
As NPR reported, there is "outrage among many in the deaf community" after it was revealed that the interpreter who was assigned to translate speeches for the hearing impaired during the December 10 ceremony did not use standard American or South African sign language. Wilma Newhoudt, a Deaf member of South Africa's parliament and vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf, tweeted that the interpreter was using meaningless hand gestures and suggested he be removed from the stage. The interpreter defended his work before claiming that suffered a "schizophrenic episode" during the memorial. An investigation is pending.
Fox News reported the story with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade making meaningless hand gestures and waving his arms around while his co-hosts laughed.
Later in the show, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum meaninglessly moved her hands around while attempting to sign "I love you."
NBC's Today show apologized for similarly mocking the incident on December 11, after a producer mimed fake sign language during the broadcast. Minutes after the gag aired, a representative for the show tweeted "We aired a joke in our 9:00 hour that was offensive. We apologize to our viewers."
FoxNews.com reported on the Today show segment, noting that many in the Deaf community were offended.
Right-wing media launched a series of sexist attacks on Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt after she took a photo with President Obama during the Nelson Mandela memorial service, calling her "Denmark Babe," "Danish Pastry," and referring to her as a sexual object.
The right-wing media is using a photo from Nelson Mandela's memorial service to fabricate a sexist depiction of President Obama and Michelle Obama.
A photographer from Agence France-Presse took a series of photos of the Obamas and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was seated next to them at the December 10 service.
The New York Post seized on one of the photos to produce this cover for its December 11 edition:
Fox & Friends picked up the angle later in the morning. "I remember the last time I was sitting with the Danish prime minister," co-host Brian Kilmeade quipped. "She caused trouble in my relationship as well."
Fox and the New York Post used the image to concoct a sexist narrative that suggests that the only reason President Obama could possibly have to be friendly to the prime minister of Denmark is because he wants to flirt with her, and that portrays Michelle Obama as jealous.
But the photojournalist who took the pictures rejected the interpretation that his photos showed Michelle Obama was angry, writing of another photo, the "selfie" that President Obama took with Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron:
I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.
Indeed, via Twitter, here's a photo of Michelle Obama smiling as President Obama and Thorning-Schmidt converse:
Fox News hyped baseless claims from fast food industry sources that the recent fast food protests were nothing but "rent-a-mob[s]" and misleadingly cited national labor statistics to minimize the fast-food workers' apparent need for increased wages.
On the December 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade suggested that there was a "secret ingredient" in the December 5 demonstrations by fast food workers and their advocates in support of minimum wage increases, asking Fox contributor and anti-union activist Mallory Factor to weigh in. Factor claimed "it was rent-a-mob. purely rent-a-mob," and that "these guys were getting $50, $75 in Seattle, for instance" -- claims which he sourced to the National Restaurant Association. Responding to Factor's assertions, Kilmeade did note that the director of the Fast Food Forward campaign, a group that had helped organize the protests, had denied allegations that protesters had been paid, yet then went on to mislead about the economic factors fueling the protests by claiming that only "2 percent of the workforce are minimum-wage workers and only 1.5 percent of them support their families or themselves on that salary."
Kilmeade's claim that only 2 percent of the workforce is paid the minimum wage references national workforce data, and does not reflect the reality of low wages in the fast food industry. In fact, an August 2013 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that about 13 percent of fast food workers make at or below the federal minimum wage, and about "70 percent of fast-food workers fall in the range between the current $7.25 federal minimum wage and the $10.10 level." From CEPR:
A study by researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of California-Berkeley found that 68 percent of fast food workers are the primary wage earners for their families, and CEPR noted that "more than one-fourth" of all fast food workers are responsible for raising at least one child. According to CEPR, 40 percent of fast food workers are over the age of 25, and of the fast food workers that are above age 20, "almost 85 percent have a high school degree or more and over one-third have spent at least some time in college (including about 6 percent who have earned a college diploma)."
Furthermore, Factor's characterization of the fast-food demonstrators as "rent-a-mobs" echoes a discredited anti-labor line of attack that has been pushed by notorious restaurant industry lobbyist Richard Berman and his anti-labor front groups, The Center for Union Facts and ROC Exposed, as well as by Walmart. The fact that Factor only cites a claim from the National Restaurant Association, an industry lobby group, that the protesters were "paid demonstrators" as a source for his "rent-a-mob" claim does not lend his argument much credibility.
Image via Steve Rhodes