As the nation's student loan debt burden continues to grow and voters look to 2016 presidential candidates for solutions, right-wing media continue to perpetuate debunked myths about college costs, financial aid, and student loans. Here are the facts that conservative media outlets ignore.
Multiple conservative media outlets used a misleading report to attack public unions, claiming that unions hurt upward mobility and drive economic inequality -- a theory Media Matters has already thoroughly debunked.
Forbes contributor Carrie Sheffield claimed public sector unions hurt upward mobility for private sector workers, but ignored the effects the decline of private sector union membership have had on stagnating wages and reducing ladders of opportunity for American workers.
Media have hailed presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich as a "moderate," ignoring that as governor he oversaw the shuttering of half of the state's abortion clinics and implemented extreme hurdles to legal abortion in the state.
Right-wing media outlets are hyping disclosures that health insurance premium rates could "skyrocket" for some plans in 2016 as proof of the Affordable Care Act's failure as a national policy, ignoring the fact that these reported rates are skewed and not final, and that previous "rate shock" predictions have fallen flat.
After repeatedly using his regular Forbes column to attack gun safety efforts without mentioning that he also writes for the National Rifle Association, Frank Miniter's latest column discloses his ties to the gun group.
In an October 20 column about the relationship between gun laws and law enforcement officers, Miniter added, "Full disclosure: The often politically incorrect truth about guns led me to write the recently published book The Future of the Gun. I'm also a former executive editor of the NRA's magazine American Hunter. I still write for the NRA and for many other publications and am a 'field editor' (an honorary title) for American Hunter."
Media Matters previously criticized Miniter and Forbes for not disclosing his NRA ties in a September 25 column that claimed the gun safety initiatives undertaken by Everytown for Gun Safety and the group's founder Michael Bloomberg were "backfiring."
Miniter's latest column proves the need for the disclosure. In the piece, he cites a discredited survey previously hyped by the NRA in order to create the impression members of law enforcement typically oppose gun safety laws.
Forbes contributor Frank Miniter published a lengthy column arguing that the gun safety initiatives of Everytown for Gun Safety and the group's founder Michael Bloomberg are "backfiring" without disclosing that he writes for Everytown's primary political opponent, the National Rifle Association.
Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, has said he will spend at least $50 million supporting gun safety initiatives this year, including spending on the 2014 midterm elections.*
Miniter's September 25 column offered myriad attacks on Bloomberg and Everytown. Many of the criticisms are in the form of quotations from thoroughly discredited gun researcher John Lott. ("I can't find a single study from Bloomberg's groups that aren't loaded with errors. They have an anti-gun agenda and will lie to achieve it.")
Miniter also wrote, "On the pro-gun side most of the money is coming from the grassroots," and concluded, "Though there are wealthy individuals on the gun-rights side, it's not a stretch to say a few wealthy, out-of-touch billionaires are trying to disarm the people." (The NRA receives millions of dollars from gun manufacturers and other corporations and according to its latest tax documents operated on more than $250 million in revenue in 2012.)
Fox News hosts offered a spirited defense of a recently fired Forbes contributor who wrote that "irresponsible" intoxicated women "are the gravest threat to fraternities" in part because of the possibility that the fraternity would be liable if a woman was sexually assaulted at a party.
On September 23, Forbes published and quickly retracted a column in which contributor Bill Frezza identified "drunk female guests" as "the gravest threat to fraternities." The since-deleted column warned fraternity members that:
[W]e have very little control over women who walk in the door carrying enough pre-gaming booze in their bellies to render them unconscious before the night is through ...
In our age of sexual equality, why drunk female students are almost never characterized as irresponsible jerks is a question I leave to the feminists. But it is precisely those irresponsible women that the brothers must be trained to identify and protect against, because all it takes is one to bring an entire fraternity system down.
Frezza was subsequently fired for his controversial column.
Some of the co-hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered came to Frezza's defense on the September 25 edition of the show. Co-host Andrea Tantaros agreed that Frezza expressed a "legitimate fear" and said, "I don't know why this writer is taking so much heat because this is actually a problem that goes on." Tantaros asked, "the guys, what are they supposed to do, lock them out?" Co-host Kirsten Powers complained of a "culture now where we literally cannot tolerate differing ideas," and guest host Jesse Watters suggested that intoxicated women were responsible for their own assaults:
WATTERS: Let's just try to identify this guy's fear here, Andrea. What he's afraid of is he hosts a party at the house and these girls pregame too hard and they come over sloppy drunk. They take too many shots and they go up to your room and the next thing happens in the morning, I don't know what happens, I can barely remember what happens, she gets hurt, she gets assaulted, anything could happen and then they're liable.
Not every Outnumbered host defended the inflammatory article. Co-host Kennedy pointed out that fraternities are responsible for the safety of their guests, and her colleague Sandra Smith added, "I feel like it's the fault of the fraternity that has ...no policies to handle this."
The Outnumbered hosts previously suggested a link between drinking and sexual assault when they agreed it was wise that college women avoid consumption of alcohol in order to avoid the risk of sexual assault. As an expert explained to USA Today, "People don't get raped because they have been drinking, because they are passed out or because they are drunk. People get raped because there is a perpetrator there -- someone who wants to take advantage of them."
Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
In response to a New York Times report about General Mills' new anti-consumer legal terms connected to its website privacy policies, Forbes came to the defense of the large corporation and its recent attempt to immunize itself from class action lawsuits.
On April 16, The New York Times reported that General Mills had changed its legal terms to include burdensome forced arbitration clauses, contract provisions that force consumers to waive their right to sue or join a class action. In the aftermath of the high-profile publicity and condemnation from consumer advocacy groups, General Mills abandoned the change after complaining their short-lived class action bans were "mischaracterized."
Forced arbitration clauses have become increasingly popular in the wake of Supreme Court decisions upholding the legality of such clauses. Unsurprisingly, forced arbitration is beloved by right-wing media and corporations alike, because they make it exceedingly difficult for injured consumers to join together in a class action.
However, General Mills' forced arbitration agreement was particularly outrageous. According to the Times, the new terms could be interpreted to bind consumers by merely downloading coupons, interacting with the company's website through social media like Facebook, or by entering a sweepstakes or contest, even if they were unaware that they had supposedly relinquished their right to sue.
In a recent column in Forbes, columnist Daniel Fisher responded to the Times by minimizing the importance of class actions as a method of recovery for injured consumers, and hyped forced arbitration clauses as an adequate alternative. Fisher went on to mock the Times for flawed reporting before relying on right-wing talking points about forced arbitration:
The bigger issue is what the Times writers work so strenuously to keep out of their stories. The fight here isn't over individual lawsuits; it's over class actions, those cases that reward lawyers with millions of dollars in cash fees and give their clients little to nothing. In editorials and articles like this, the Times carries water for the class-action bar, which also happens to supply a significant amount of money to the Democratic Party each year. The paper conflates the individual right to sue with the right of lawyers to assemble huge groups of consumers, typically without their knowledge or participation, into zombie armies that can compel companies into settling on lucrative terms.
What do General Mills customers really give up if they agree to an arbitration clause?
[A]rbitration does offer some advantages over traditional litigation. Such as: No lawyer would ever take a small case against General Mills in the first place. The General Mills policy specifies a $200 filing fee, which the company waives in cases involving less than $5,000. And anybody who really wants to preserve his right of jury trial can opt out of the policy entirely by notifying General Mills in writing.
The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.
Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.
Forbes recently hyped the American Tort Reform Association's (ATRA) annual "Judicial Hellholes" report, but failed to mention that the report's attempt at methodology is anecdotal and highly suspect.
This is not the first time members of the right-wing media have cheered ATRA's Judicial Hellholes report, which aims to point out the jurisdictions that are the "worst" when it comes to allowing lawsuits to proceed. Last year, a Wall Street Journal editorial board writer called the report the "Oscars" of "abusive class actions."
In his December 16 article, Forbes writer Daniel Fisher called the report "an entertaining read" and minimized legitimate criticisms of ATRA's "hellhole" selection process:
News flash: Madison, County, Ill. is no longer the nation's worst place for corporations to find themselves in court.
California took top honors in the American Tort Reform's annual "Judicial Hellholes" list, an unashamedly pro-defendant look at the nation's judicial system. The Golden State won for the welcoming stance its courts take toward consumer class actions -- particularly against food companies -- and rampant lawsuits targeting small businesses over disability-access rules.
A dozen or so law firms, many of them veterans of the tobacco litigation jackpot, have filed 75 class actions against food companies in California and similar cases are running almost one a week, ATRA reports. Many involve the same plaintiffs and take advantage of the state's stringent laws to target companies like Chobani and Trader Joe's with claims that they mislabeled products -- for example, using the term "evaporated cane juice" instead of "sugar."
Critics may say, with justification, that ATRA is financed by businesses with a strong profit motive to cut down on such litigation. But these lawsuits aren't without cost: ATRA says California consumers paid at least part of the cost of $33.5 billion in settlements in 2013 alone. And, as I have reported elsewhere, studies cast strong doubt on the idea that consumers get anything of value out of class actions supposedly brought in their name.
Unlike the Journal's positive take on the "Judicial Hellholes" report from last year, Fisher at least points out some of its flaws -- namely that it's underwritten by corporations that don't want to pay to defend themselves in court. But Fisher seems far more concerned with the amount of money these companies spend on litigation than he is with the very real harm corporate wrongdoers cause. According to the Center for Justice & Democracy, many of ATRA's members are Fortune 500 companies, including "representatives of the tobacco, insurance, chemical, auto, and pharmaceutical companies" -- all industries with a history of questionable business practices.
Forbes columnist John Tamny's declaration on The Daily Show that food stamps are "cruel" and would be replaced by private charity if people were "literally starving" with "distended bellies" is in keeping with his past remarks on the program -- In his regular role as a Fox panelist, Tamny has lamented that food stamp recipients are not publicly shamed and embarrassed for receiving the benefits.
On the December 17 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Forbes columnist Tamny spoke to correspondent Jessica Williams about the $5 billion recently cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps). Tamny told Williams, "If I were in control, I would abolish SNAP all together. I think food stamps are cruel." He added, "I don't think anyone is happy if they're reliant on someone else, if they're taking a handout."
Tamny argued that if people were "literally starving," a "massive outpouring of charity" would "make up for that fact":
WILLIAMS: What does literally starving look like?
TAMNY: This is going to come off the wrong way, but I guess it's where people have literally distended bellies where they're getting almost nothing. We don't hear about the poor in this country starving on the streets.
He went on to deny that the food stamp program keeps people from starving.
Multiple media outlets have targeted young Americans in an attempt to spread misinformation and myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that coverage is too expensive, the ACA provides too much coverage to young adults, and that Millennials are better off not signing up for coverage, despite vast evidence showing that young people both need and want coverage under the ACA.