In a new variation of what Politico's Michael Hirsh deemed the "Benghazi-industrial complex," Fox News is suggesting that the Obama administration's strategy to push back against the network's Benghazi misinformation amounts to a cover-up.
Writing in Politico Magazine, Hirsh highlighted what he called the "Benghazi-Industrial Complex," the GOP's tactic to use Benghazi conspiracy theories to make former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "so disgusted by the prospect of running that she'll stay out of the race" for president in 2016. Hirsh explained how Fox News has led the way in this campaign, creating outlandish conspiracy theories such as the claim that "Hillary staged her concussion in 2012" to avoid addressing Benghazi on the Sunday news shows. Hirsh continued:
Fox, in fact, has made Benghazi a permanent part of its programming, mentioning the word on no fewer than 1,101 programs in the past year, according to Nexis. The chyron "Benghazi" is almost as much of a permanent fixture on Fox as "Breaking News" is on CNN.
Fox News has worked from the beginning to spread misinformation about the attacks. In the days after the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, the network consistently distorted the Obama administration's response, accusing the president of "covering-up for al Qaeda." In one of the most egregious attacks on the president in the weeks following the attack, Fox pretended Obama called the "vicious murder of Americans ... just a bump in the road."
The network's lies about Benghazi could -- and did -- fill novels, and its Benghazi hoax eventually led House Republicans to call a special select committee based the false information reported on Fox.
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":
Following its protracted campaign to smear Hillary Clinton as a dishonest and untrustworthy leader, Fox News is working overtime to explain away its own polling revealing that the American people trust the former Secretary of State more than the Republican Party and the slew of potential GOP presidential candidates.
According to Fox News' most recent poll data, 54 percent of registered voters consider Hillary Clinton "honest and trustworthy," a higher percentage than potential Republican 2016 presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Christie Christie received. At 49 percent, her favorability rating is higher than that of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and all GOP 2016 contenders.
Fox hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Steve Doocy addressed Clinton's poll numbers on the April 17 edition of Fox & Friends by blaming liberal bias in the mainstream media. Doocy complained that Clinton was viewed as more trustworthy than Christie because the "mainstream media [...] beat the drum" against Christie rather than report on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, in an effort to "take him out." According to Hasselbeck, the poll could be due to a perception bias that favors women:
DOOCY: You know what's interesting about that poll is -- remember it wasn't too long before the whole bridge thing hit the mainstream media fan where Chris Christie was actually leading Hillary Clinton. But then the mainstream media -- and some cynics on the right would say, well they were just trying to take Chris Christie out because he posed the greatest threat for Hillary Clinton -- nonstop coverage on all the channels about that Bridgegate thing.
And when you think about the two potential candidates, you've got Chris Christie who, you know, a while back was involved, his administration put up 25 traffic cones in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and generated hundreds of hours of mainstream media Bridgegate television. And then far screen right you've got Hillary Clinton who ran the State Department which denied extra security for Libya and four Americans wind up dying. I mean that is quite a contrast. You've got 25 orange cones versus four dead Americans -- but you've got the mainstream media and they beat the drum for Chris Christie, against him, and nobody on the other side of the channel is really covering Benghazi, unless us.
HASSELBECK: Well, perception and reality are two different things. I think it is. In the past women have polled better in terms of trust when it comes to politics. But again, as you mentioned, you know, this is a woman who has been ridden with scandal in the past particularly recently when we talk about Benghazi and four Americans dead. She is still found to be more trustworthy at this point. Go figure.
It's understandable that Fox would prefer to discount these findings. The network has put a significant amount of effort into skewing public opinion of Clinton, pushing repeatedly debunked myths in an attempt to tarnish her image in expectation of a presidential bid in 2016. These efforts are in stark contrast with Fox's willingness to hide information that could hurt potential GOP presidential candidates like Christie, whom Fox personalities have previously showered with praise.
Fox News attacked Denver public schools by claiming they were hiring "illegal alien" teachers who are unqualified to teach. But the teachers in question have legal status to work in the U.S., have an alternative license to teach from the state of Colorado, and are working toward being fully licensed.
Fox News continues to reverse the success of the federal clean energy loan program by cherry-picking from a small minority of failures, magnifying the trend of mainstream media distorting the program's success.
In an April 11 segment titled "Who's Ruining the Economy?" Fox & Friends denounced the Department of Energy's (DOE) low carbon vehicle program despite its success. Fox Business host Stuart Varney pointed to a few companies that received government assistance and later filed for bankruptcy, saying "they thought they could pick winners. They picked losers." He went on to decry the announcement that the DOE will revamp their advanced technology vehicles manufacturing (ATVM) program, saying "they're not reversing course at the sight of failure, they're actually speeding up down the same road":
Fox News' myopic view of the loan program is a lie by omission -- 98 percent of the funds in DOE's clean energy loan programs have been successful. Of the 31 ventures awarded DOE loans, only four have been discontinued -- a far greater success rate than that of venture capital investments, which typically consider three in ten successes to be a successful portfolio.
Fox selectively highlighted an incomplete data point in a positive new study on the Affordable Care Act's effect on the uninsured as proof that the law is a failure.
On April 8, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research institution, released a study on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has affected the number of Americans with health insurance. The study found a net gain of 9.3 million Americans with health insurance from September 2013 to March 2014 and that the share of uninsured Americans has dropped from 20.5 percent to 15.8 percent. The report estimated a lower enrollment number than the White House's 7.1 million, but added an important caveat:
Although a total of 3.9 million people enrolled in marketplace plans, only 1.4 million of these individuals were previously uninsured. Our marketplace enrollment numbers are lower than those reported by the federal government at least in part because our data do not fully capture the surge in enrollment that occurred in late March 2014.
On the April 9 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Brian Kilmeade, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and Steve Doocy seized on the 3.9 million figure from the RAND report to claim that the Obama administration's estimate of 7.1 million people enrolled in the marketplace is incorrect. Co-host Steve Doocy cited RAND's finding that 1.4 million people who enrolled were previously uninsured to claim "we blew up everything for one percent" of the previously uninsured:
DOOCY: [Hasselbeck] just said that only 1.4 million Americans got their insurance through the exchanges. We blew up everything for one percent? Think about back to the last election where the Democrats made a big thing about the one percent, and the Republicans and the one percent. Well, everybody should make a big deal about how we blew up the entire healthcare system for one percent.
Over the past week, Fox & Friends has run numerous segments promoting the "Constitutional Madness" bracket created by Republican Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse. While Sasse's bracket is ostensibly an attempt to determine the worst constitutional violation among supposed Obama administration scandals, in reality it's a thinly-veiled attempt to collect donations and email addresses. Fox News liked the Sasse idea so much they eventually plagiarized it for FoxNews.com.
To coincide with the NCAA's annual March Madness basketball tournament, last week Sasse's campaign released a bracket of 64 alleged constitutional violations by the Obama administration. Sasse is a former Bush administration official running in a Republican primary to fill Mike Johanns' Senate seat in Nebraska. The bracket is made up of a panoply of Fox News-promoted pseudoscandals, including things like "death panels."
Fox & Friends has given the bracket a major publicity boost, discussing it at length on its March 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 broadcasts. During some of the segments, Fox hosts -- and Sasse himself, who appeared on March 24 -- directed viewers to the competition website and pushed people to cast a vote. The network has also hyped how "thousands of people" are voting in the competition, which has gotten "a lot of buzz" -- thanks in no small part to Fox's efforts.
Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com -- many of whom likely did so after hearing about it on Fox News' highly-rated morning show -- are greeted with a green "CONTRIBUTE!" button above the actual voting process.
In order to submit votes, visitors must give the Sasse campaign their email address, which will undoubtedly be used for later fundraising pitches. After submitting a vote, the site redirects to the Sasse campaign's donation page, with the $100.00 donation option helpfully pre-selected. Text on the landing page reads, "Thanks for playing! Will you help fight back against Constitutional overreach by making a donation to the campaign today?"
On its March 26 broadcast, the show promoted its own version of the competition and encouraged viewers to visit the Fox & Friends website to cast votes.
Much of the language on Fox's version of the bracket is pulled directly from the Sasse campaign website, but Fox offers no attribution anywhere on its site. To the contrary, Fox News claims it's "our Constitutional Madness Bracket" and "we put together a 'Constitutional Madness' bracket." Fox also lifted language from other sources in writing "background" information about the alleged constitutional violations.
Fox News of course has routinely worked to bolster the political ambitions of Republicans, including those on its own staff. But even by the network's warped ethical standards, its week-long promotion of Sasse's campaign ploy has been egregious.
In 2010, the Democratic Governors Association filed a complaint (later dismissed) against Fox News after the network ran the campaign web address of former Fox employee and then Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich.
A rundown of Fox's "Constitutional Madness" hype is below.
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.
Fox falsely accused President Obama of disregarding the law after he pledged not to use health care enrollment information as a deportation tool.
In a March 19 interview with Univision Deportes, Obama promised that information provided for the purpose of enrolling in the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) health care exchanges would not threaten family members who may be undocumented, saying "if you have a family where some people are citizens or legally here, and others are not documented, the immigration people will never get that information."
Fox & Friends co-hosts attacked Obama's statement the following day, pretending his comments were a revelation and that his plan violates current law. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the decision would set HHS apart from other agencies, "where if they find out something, they share it." He went on to frame the plan as "extraordinary," and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck agreed, suggesting it is against the law:
But the policy that Obama discussed is, in fact, consistent with the law's implementing regulations. As the National Immigration Law Center has pointed out, ACA regulations do not require applicants who are not seeking health coverage for themselves "to provide information about their citizenship or immigration status and are not required to provide a Social Security number."
Not only is the policy not new, it is not unique to the ACA. In fact, government agencies are only required to report undocumented immigrants in relation to three federal programs - Social Security, public housing, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- and only if the individuals' immigration status is known. Obama's promise is consistent with longstanding federal policy:
The ACA codifies longstanding federal guidance, known as the Tri-Agency Guidance, which was issued by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture to ensure that applications do not require unnecessary information from nonapplicants, because these inquiries deter eligible people from securing benefits for which they may be eligible. According to ACA regulations, applications "may not request citizenship status, status as a national, or immigration status from an individual who is not seeking coverage for himself or herself on any application or supplemental form."
The policy was designed to alleviate concerns from mixed-status families that enrollment of eligible family members may cause repercussions for their undocumented family members. As Reuters reported, these fears can leave eligible children without coverage:
"A lot of mixed-status families are afraid that if they enroll, that the government will come and divide up their family through deportation," said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president at the California Endowment, a health foundation.
One couple who last month came to a Los Angeles event by the group Vision y Compromiso demonstrates the types of problems these families face, said program manager Hugo Ramirez. The organization, dedicated to improving the health of the Hispanic community, received funding through Covered California to promote Obamacare.
The undocumented parents, a father who is a construction worker and a mother who works as a house cleaner, feared information they might submit to enroll their three children in Covered California could be used against them by U.S. immigration officials, Ramirez said.
An advocate advised the couple they would not risk running afoul of immigration authorities, but that in enrolling their children and providing details on the family's earnings, they would have to begin paying income taxes despite being undocumented, Ramirez said. The couple seemed inclined to buy coverage for their children, ages 17 and younger, he said.
Continuing a pattern of romanticizing economic hardships that limit employee choice and force workers to put in long hours for low pay, right-wing media have claimed that expanding overtime compensation for salaried workers undermines work ethic by changing "the notion of hard work."
Right-wing media were quick to attack President Obama's new plan to alter Labor Department pay requirements to expand the number of salaried workers who qualify for overtime. Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck warned that this move "undercuts work ethic," and co-host Brian Kilmeade agreed, encouraging viewers to weigh in on the "new American work ethic" and how the plan is "discouraging those, it seems, that want to work more to get further along, with these new rules."
On the March 12 edition of Fox Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Fox host Martha MacCallum similarly warned that workers would be forced into "an hourly wage category," which she said, gives employees "a whole different mentality." The Wall Street Journal lamented the change in a March 12 editorial:
The rules will particularly harm workers who want to climb the economic ladder by going the extra mile for their employers and demonstrating why they deserve promotion. Now many businesses will tell employees with ambition they can't work long hours.
Fox & Friends also ran an on-air graphic on March 13 that read, "The New American Way: New Rule Seems To Change The Notion Of Hard Work."
These reflexive attacks highlight conservative media's tendency to denounce proposals designed to benefit workers by romanticizing economic hardship. Conservative outlets like Fox News have previously commended the "uniquely American" desire to "work more, work harder" and take on "two and three jobs to make ends meet" as something that is being undermined by policies that offer workers more flexibility.
Just days after concluding a smear campaign against highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile's nomination to the Department of Justice, the right-wing media began working to tar Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, as a "radical" for suggesting that gun violence is a public health issue.
Right-wing media are upset that President Obama sat down for an interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis on "Between Two Ferns."
Fox dishonestly framed the current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case examining outside influence in the Chattanooga Volkswagen union vote as an attack on Sen. Bob Corker's free speech, ignoring that the board has no authority to constrain political speech.
On February 14, workers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee Volkswagen plant voted down a proposal to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712 - 626. The vote came after an extended media campaign which culminated on February 13, the day before the scheduled vote, when Corker falsely alleged that if the workers voted against the union, the plant would be rewarded with a new product to manufacture. His claim was immediately rejected by Volkswagen.
The UAW appealed for a re-vote, contending that the "coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign" by Corker and others infringed on the workers' right to "employee free choice."
But on the March 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck framed the fallout of Corker's threats and the impending investigation as "what happens when one of America's most powerful unions doesn't get its way," and as an effort by the UAW to get "a whole new set of rules" if the votes are recast. Hasselbeck then turned to guest Sen. Bob Corker to explain the pending NLRB decision, asking whether the UAW's objection to his threat was really an attempt to stifle free speech:
HASSELBECK: This is a freedom of speech issue, is it not? I mean, The president was out there speaking on behalf of the unions. You were certainly speaking on behalf of your constituents. You worked long and hard to get Volkswagen there from the beginning. Actually had initial meetings in your home. [...] They're telling you you can't speak, but yet the president can? Is this a double standard when it comes to freedom of speech?
CORKER: Yes. And I think, you know, we'll have to see. The UAW has been given until Friday to add additional arguments to their case. You're right, the president weighed in during the election process also. Again, this has happened time and time in the past and never, never before has the NLRB ever overruled because politicians have been involved in this way. So look, I -- you're right. I built the industrial part that Volkswagen is located on when I was mayor with others, recruited them to our state, had been involved with them for five years. Know the management up and down the line, have been, you know, have relationships there. And for me to express concerns about what it would mean to our community and our state over time is something that I think people elect me to do. So again, this is an interesting case. Hopefully even though this is Obama's NLRB, these are his appointees, hopefully they will do the right thing here and not try to muzzle people that are elected by people in their state.
Fox's attempt to frame the NLRB decision as an issue of free speech is dishonest. Offering workers a second chance to consider unionization isn't the same thing as "muzzling" Corker, and giving workers some distance from his comments isn't, as Hasselbeck claimed, a UAW ploy to implement "a whole new set of rules." As former NLRB general counsel Fred Feinstein explained, "the NLRB has no authority over Sen. Corker and cannot control what he says." At most, he said, the Board could conclude that Corker's comments had unfairly tainted the election and could "conceivably order a new one."
The NLRB is responsible for protecting workers legal right to "engage in protected concerted activities-group action to improve wages, benefits, and working conditions and to engage in union activities and support a union," and works to ensure that workers are free of coercion while maintaining their right to "free choice" during union elections. The NLRB typically focuses on whether unions or companies have been involved in illegal coercion of workers during a union vote, but third-party coercion is still a concern. The Huffington Post explained that the NLRB could make the case "that Corker's highly detailed statement created an atmosphere of coercion."
The UAW is only asking for a re-vote, which, if granted, would only allow the unionization of the plant with a majority vote. That's a far cry from Fox's claim that the UAW is planning to "take over" the Volkswagen plant and block officials' free speech in the process.
In recent months, conservative media figures have undermined efforts by labor groups to organize across the United States, demonizing labor unions in the process. These anti-union attacks are largely reliant on myths alleging negative side-effects of union participation.
Fox News promoted an effort to ban Isabel Allende's award-winning novel The House of The Spirits, thanking a North Carolina mother for a "keeping up the good fight" and using her campaign to lob yet another off-base attack at the Common Core educational standards.
On the March 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck reported that "parents are outraged over a new book being assigned to their high school students containing references to abortion and prostitution," and was quick to tie the book to the Common Core educational standards -- falsely labeling them the "Common Core classroom curriculum." She welcomed North Carolina mother Chastity Lesesne on to discuss:
The campaign to censor The House of The Spirits in North Carolina's Watauga County school district has sparked national scrutiny in recent weeks. As Michael Keegan, president of the free speech advocacy organization People for The American Way noted, Lesesne's censorship attempt ignores that "The House of Spirits is an internationally renowned work that is taught in high school Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs throughout the country." Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union-NC Legal Foundation, also warned of the "the slippery slope of banning books that promote critical thinking and classroom dialogue" and urged district officials to vote "in favor of the freedom to read."
Promoting censorship is an unusual position for Fox given that the network has previously cited First Amendment concerns as reasons to reject anti-bullying policies, allow anti-gay discrimination, contest a private company's decisions, and even offer a pro-fracking film undeserved awards.