Fox News is dishonestly misinterpreting news reports to erroneously conclude that IRS officials in Washington, D.C., were involved in the improper scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Several Fox anchors have portrayed details of a congressional interview with Holly Paz, formerly a D.C.-based manager in the IRS tax-exempt unit, as contradicting previous claims from the Obama administration that IRS reviews of conservative tax-exempt applications were not initiated by D.C. officials.
For example, on America's Newsroom, Martha MacCallum said Paz "says that she was in on the plan to give extra scrutiny to conservative groups." On the same program, Stuart Varney said Paz's interview proved that the orders to scrutinize conservative groups "did go higher up the food chain."
Later in the show MacCallum said that there were "compelling reasons" to investigate whether the orders to investigate conservative groups came from the top.
Similarly, America Live host Megyn Kelly said Paz's interview "discredits" claims made by the Obama administration that they were not involved in targeting conservatives.
These claims are based on a misinterpretation of what the IRS did that was improper. In an interview with congressional investigators, transcript of which was released to several news outlets, Paz acknowledged having "reviewed 20 to 30 applications" from politically active groups seeking non-profit. But it was not improper for the IRS to review such applications -- the reason the IRS has been criticized is because they used politically slanted criteria to select conservative, but not progressive, groups to receive that scrutiny. Specifically, the IRS gave additional scrutiny to groups with "tea party," "patriot," and "9/12" in their names.
In her interview, Paz reportedly said she reviewed case files submitted by IRS officials in Cincinnati, Ohio, but that it was the local office that was responsible for selecting those cases for scrutiny. From USA Today:
Paz said liberal groups were mentioned by name, alongside the Tea Party, on an IRS BOLO -- or "be on the lookout" -- list. Screeners in Cincinnati, where all applications for tax-exemptions are processed, used the list to identify sensitive or complex cases that should be sent to specialists in Cincinnati and Washington.
Thus, by the time Paz reviewed the cases in D.C., the improper behavior had already occurred, consistent with the Obama administration claims that the improper behavior was the fault of officials in Cincinnati.
From the June 15 edition of Fox News' Cashin' In:
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Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly defended Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) baseless declaration that 12 Communists served on the Harvard Law School faculty when he attended it in the early 1990s.
During a June 14 America Live segment about progressives criticizing Cruz, contributor Alan Colmes pointed out that Cruz had said he was "honored" to have been compared to notorious red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy after "he said that we have a list of Communists at Harvard." Kelly replied that Cruz had said he "believed that there were more Communists at Harvard - because he went to Harvard undergrad and Harvard Law School - thanthere were Republicans." After Colmes interjected that Cruz had said he had "a list of them, just like McCarthy," Kelly replied, "But do you have reason to believe that's not true?"
The red-baiting Kelly defended has been debunked by Charles Fried, who has been teaching at Harvard Law since 1961 and served as solicitor general during the Reagan administration.
In February, the New Yorker reported that during a 2010 speech, Cruz said President Obama "would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School," explaining (emphasis added):
"There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government."
New Yorker reported that Fried criticized Cruz's comments, saying that his "willingness to label the faculty Communist 'lacks nuance.'" Fried said he doubted that any members of the faculty were Communists at the time Cruz attended the school, and that several members were Republicans:
Harvard Law School Professor Charles Fried, a Republican who served as Ronald Reagan's Solicitor General from 1985 to 1989, and who subsequently taught Cruz at the law school, suggests that his former student has his facts wrong. "I can right offhand count four "out" Republicans (including myself) and I don't know how many closeted Republicans when Ted, who was my student and the editor on the Harvard Law Review who helped me with my Supreme Court foreword, was a student here."
Fried went on to say that unlike Cruz, or McCarthy, who infamously kept tallies of alleged subversives, he had never tried to count Communists. "I have not taken a poll, but I would be surprised if there were any members of the faculty who 'believed in the Communists overthrowing the U.S. government,'" he said. Under the Smith Act, it is a crime to actively engage in any organization pursuing the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Fried acknowledged that "there were a certain number (twelve seems to me too high) who were quite radical, but I doubt if any had allegiance or sympathy with anything called 'the Communists,' who at that time (unlike the thirties and forties) were in quite bad odor among radical intellectuals." He pointed out that by the nineteen-nineties, Communist states were widely regarded as tyrannical. From Fried's perspective, the radicals on the faculty were "a pain in the neck." But he says that Cruz's assertion that they were Communists "misunderstands what they were about."
Six months after the tragic Newtown school shooting, Fox & Friends highlighted a gun manufacturer's high profits but failed to recognize victims of gun violence in Newtown or elsewhere in the country.
On December 14, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, left 26 people dead, including 20 children, and helped to spark a national debate about preventing gun violence and stronger gun laws. Six months later, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson reported record earnings, which CNN Money attributed to a "spike in demand from consumers fearing that the national debate over gun control would yield new regulations limiting their ability to buy certain firearms."
But Fox & Friends ignored the Newtown victims exactly six months after the school shooting, instead highlighting how gun sales have soared in response to congressional debate over tougher gun laws. In Fox & Friends' "News by the Numbers" feature, co-host Brian Kilmeade said:
KILMEADE: First, 10 percent. That's how much stock for Smith & Wesson is up since the start of the year. The company helped by strong demand and fears of increased gun regulations.
In contrast to how Fox & Friends handled the report, CNN's Starting Point similarly mentioned the gun industry's "record" sales in recent months, but also took time to recognize the victims of the Newtown shooting. CNN host Christine Romans noted that the trend of increasing gun sales "accelerated after the Newtown shootings, which happened six months ago today."
The Fox News show America's Newsroom, which follows Fox & Friends, aired part of a Newtown moment of silence in remembrance of the shooting victims.
From the June 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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After stressing the importance of no longer just "preach[ing] to the choir" when she and Fox News parted ways in January, Sarah Palin is rejoining the conservative network.
The day after Fox and Palin announced that her contract at the network would not be renewed, the former Republican vice presidential candidate gave an interview for Breitbart.com to Stephen K. Bannon, the director of the Palin hagiography The Undefeated.
During that interview, she told Bannon that it was important for conservatives to "jump out of the comfort zone, and broaden our reach." According to Palin, who indicated she was "taking my own advice here as I free up opportunities to share more broadly the message of the beauty of freedom," it was imperative for the conservative movement to no longer "just preach to the choir; the message of liberty and true hope must be understood by a larger audience."
Less than six months later, apparently preaching to the choir is no longer a pressing concern. In her statement accompanying the announcement that she was rejoining Fox, Palin praised the power of the network as "unparalleled":
Palin's statement: "The power of FOX News is unparalleled. The role of FOX News in the important debates in our world is indispensible. I am pleased and proud to be rejoining Roger Ailes and the great people at FOX."
Fox News contradicted a wealth of economic evidence to claim that a near five-year low in weekly jobless claims indicates that the economy has entered a "new normal."
Following the release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' report on initial weekly jobless claims, which showed the number falling by 12,000 to 334,000, Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed that while there was a significant drop in those filing for unemployment benefits, the number was still "relatively high." From Fox News' America's Newsroom:
After co-host Martha MacCallum correctly noted that the number of weekly jobless claims neared a five-year low, Varney insisted that the number was too high and that it indicated the economy is entering a "new normal" of sluggish economic growth.
But Varney's assertions about weekly claims don't match the data. Since 1967 -- the earliest data available -- initial jobless claims have averaged about 363 thousand per week. This week's number is about 30 thousand lower than the historical average - hardly a "relatively high" figure.
The suggestion that this week's numbers show signs of a "new normal" also doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Since peaking in 2009, weekly jobless claims have maintained a consistent downward trend, and the current numbers mirror those experienced in previous decades.
According to a Reuters report, the drop in jobless claims experienced in recent weeks signals a slowdown in layoffs:
Many economists believe growing confidence in America's economic recovery has led U.S. employers to exit a long cycle of elevated layoffs.
The continued insistence that the economy is entering a "new normal" is particularly strange given that in recent weeks, there have been signs that the economy is slowly improving, ranging from a surge in housing prices to a five-year high in consumer confidence.
While economic gains have not been rapid in recent years, Varney and MacCallum failed to note that many economists have pointed to deep and unnecessary spending cuts as holding back growth. Indeed, reductions in government spending have reduced potential GDP growth, and public sector job cuts are holding back labor market gains, a deviation from previous recoveries.
Fox portrayed the split with Palin as amicable and Palin herself had portrayed it as her own decision. But some media observers suggested that it was part of Fox's effort to "purge some of its more controversial characters" after the Republican Party had been "damaged badly in 2012 by loud, partisan voices that stoked the base - but that scared the hell out of many voters."
Palin's return to Fox would appear to signify that any such strategy is no longer in effect.
In Palin's previous turn at Fox News, she made many false and outrageous statements. Here are some of the lowlights:
Fox News seized on a recent claim that IRS agents were training with assault weapons to mainstream anti-government fears while downplaying the dangerous nature of working in law enforcement with the IRS -- officers routinely face death threats, and investigate cases ranging from drug trafficking to counter-terrorism. Fox contributor Monica Crowley even attempted to link the IRS to a widely debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory.
While investigating a debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) reported that IRS law enforcement agents were training with AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles. Fox host Martha MacCallum and Crowley used this report to stoke fears about the motives of the IRS, with Crowley stating, "why IRS agents, which are basically number crunchers ... would need to have weapon is a really outstanding question." Emphasis added:
MACCALLUM: And now we're learning that they're training, some of them, and there is a, we should point out, a law enforcement arm or section of the IRS so that, they, you know, they have that. But really? Semi-automatic weapons necessary to deal with taxes?
CROWLEY: Right. I mean, just when you hear -- think you've heard it all, Martha, something more outrageous comes at us here. I mean, why IRS agents, which are basically number crunchers and dealing with the public, dealing with the taxpayers, why they would need to have weapons is a really outstanding question. You mentioned that there's a law enforcement arm to the IRS, and that's true. But another outstanding question here is how widespread this is going to be in terms of is your local IRS agent going to be packing heat when you go in for your audit? We don't know. And I think when you get this news on the heels of the severe abuse of power that we've been talking about with the IRS in addition to the Department of Homeland Security also amassing massive numbers of weapons and ammunition, you have to wonder what are these domestic agencies doing with this, these kinds weapons and ammo?
MACCALLUM: And you would think local police would, you know, provide backup if necessary. We realize sometimes they go into some tough situations. We did a little research on this. No IRS enforcer has ever been killed in the line of duty, but they have been -- they've had to use those weapons eight times and accidentally fired the weapons eleven times over the last couple years, Doug, so that's not too reassuring.
But Duncan's report references the IRS' enforcement division, not, as Crowley speculated, civilian IRS employees. IRS' law enforcement officers are more than just "number crunchers." In fact, according to Politico, IRS investigations have resulted in "convictions of crimes ranging from offshore bank accounts, to Medicare fraud, to money laundering and drug trafficking operations." They also investigate crimes related to counter-terrorism. By virtue of working with the IRS, agents also receive a growing number of death threats, and have been targeted repeatedly by members of the violent "Tax Protest" movement, who have committed multiple attempted bombings, arsons, attempted kidnappings, and attempted murders. MacCallum's claim that no IRS "enforcer" has ever been killed in the line of duty is also false. IRS Agent Michael Dillon was shot and killed while attempting to collect a settlement made by the IRS with James F. Bradley.
Crowley then mentioned that this comes, "in addition to the Department of Homeland Security also amassing massive numbers of weapons and ammunition..." Her claim references a debunked conspiracy theory popularized by Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist with influence in right wing media, who recently claimed the government may have used a "weather weapon" to create the tornado that devastated Moore, OK.
Fox has routinely pushed conspiracy theories, including those of Alex Jones, while ignoring its own role in perpetuating these falsehoods. Fox's tendency to hype anti-government conspiracy theories continued recently when its president, Roger Ailes, pushed another widely debunked claim that, "the federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce healthcare."
Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr., used a severely ill girl to smear health care reform with falsehoods.
After spending months on a pediatric donor list without success, on June 12, Sarah Murnaghan, a 10 year old diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, received a needed lung transplant. This follows her family's successfully petition to the Department of Health and Human Services and the federal judiciary to have her placed on an adult transplant list. Murnaghan was initially placed a pediatric organ transplant wait list as opposed to an adult transplant wait list, due to her age. NYU medical ethicist Art Caplan explained the purpose behind different transplant lists to USA Today: "Adult lungs don't fit well in children's bodies, and that makes it hard to transplant them. You are looking at using a piece of lung instead of a whole lung, and that makes it makes it a more difficult procedure and less likely to work." Fox's Peter Johnson, Jr., took a personal interest in Murnaghan's attempt to be placed on an adult transplant list.
Johnson politicized Murnaghan's difficult situation by dubiously asserting that her difficulty with receiving the lung would be commonplace once health care reform is fully implemented. He baselessly reasoned that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a board created by the health care reform law and designed to contain Medicare costs would deny some people the health care they need, claiming that this was his "fear going forward":
JOHNSON Jr.: I think the lesson of Sarah, the Murnaghan and the Ruddock family is that a lot of us, going forward are going to face this type of travail. When you have advisory boards like the organ advisory board, when you have independent advisory boards that are created by Congress under Obamacare to reduce Medicare, when you have boards appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Service, when you politicize medicine, girls like Sarah, boys like Javier Acosta may die when they shouldn't die. And so that's really the lesson of Sarah.
And the question that we all face as Americans going forward, are we going to have to hire lawyers? Are we going to have to call people at Fox News? Are we going to have to stand out in front of hospitals and in front of Washington offices and say, please give us the health care that the doctors say we can provide, but you are holding back. That is my fear going forward. So a lot on the left are saying 'oh you want to make this about death panels. Sarah would've died, but for public attention and a pro bono law firm. And so I'm afraid what we're facing as a result of Obamacare is new Obamacare courts where hundreds of thousands of Americans will have to go into court and get the health care that they need. That's my great fear this morning.
Contrary to what Johnson says, IPAB is prohibited by law from making "any recommendation to ration health care ... or otherwise restrict benefits" for Medicare recipients. Indeed, PolitiFact Ohio found the claim that IPAB "can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments to be a "pants-on-fire" level falsehood.
In using Sarah Murnaghan's situation to attack Obamacare, Johnson Jr. does the very thing he decried; he "politicize[d] medicine."
Fox & Friends aired a flawed poll question which falsely asserted that President Obama abandoned Americans under attack in Benghazi, Libya, in reaction to General Martin Dempsey reaffirming that no "stand down" order was issued to forces during the attacks. The false allegation that troops were told to stand down has been repeatedly pushed by Fox News.
On June 13, Fox & Friends aired a graphic showing results to a Fox News poll question that asked why "President Obama did not order US troops to help Americans in Benghazi." The show aired the results to the poll question after playing part of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dempsey's congressional testimony in which he said no "stand down" order was given:
Contrary to what Fox polled, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained in a February 7 Senate hearing that President Obama ordered him to "do whatever you need to do in be able to protect our people there" on the night of the Benghazi attacks. Following that conversation, and before the attacks were over, Panetta ordered two anti-terrorism security teams stationed in Spain to deploy to Libya and another special operations team to deploy to the region. Unfortunately, the forces arrived after the attacks were over.
Fox News president Roger Ailes used the platform provided for him while accepting a prize from a right-wing foundation to repeat discredited claims that the Affordable Care Act will create 16,000 armed IRS agents and that President Obama was absent on the night of the Benghazi attacks.
Ailes was honored during the 2013 Bradley Prizes, awards given by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which gives tens of millions of dollars annually to a "Who's Who" of right-wing movement organizations. The prize, which recognizes "individuals of extraordinary talent and dedication," includes a stipend of $250,000, which Ailes said he was donating to a charity for senior citizens.
According to remarks posted on the Fox News website, Ailes said that "The federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce healthcare." He also said, "I have come to the conclusion that even I don't care what the president of the United States was doing that night. However, I would like to know what the commander in chief was doing that night."
Both of Ailes' attacks have been pushed by Fox News -- and both are based on falsehoods.
On the April 16, 2010, edition of Fox & Friends, then-Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich attacked reports that approval for health care reform was growing by claiming the law would hire "16,000 IRS agents as health police":
GINGRICH: But my general experience is that, you know, you don't have people walk up to you in an airplane and start attacking you very often, or you're in really deep trouble. I think what [Sen.] Harry [Reid] ought to do is get in a car and drive around Nevada, where people are overwhelmingly opposed to hiring 16,000 IRS agents as health police.
The figure, which was based on a report by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, was described as "wildly inaccurate" by FactCheck.org which described the claim as coming "from a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation":
The GOP analysts assume that the $10 billion would not be spread evenly over the decade, but would reach $1.5 billion annually in later years. That's reasonable, given that major provisions of the new law don't take effect until 2014. But even accepting that, the peak figure could just as easily be $750 million a year, if the CBO's lower guess proves to be correct. So the number of new IRS workers implied by the GOP's own logic could be closer to 5,000 than to 16,500, after adjusting for overhead costs and inflation.
Ailes' second attack -- that Obama was missing on September 11, 2012, during the attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya -- also appeared regularly on Fox News, where Fox figures repeatedly demanded to know where Obama was during the attacks. In addition to reports by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that White House staff was "engaged with the National Military Command Center pretty constantly" throughout the attack and testimony by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Obama gave orders to deploy forces immediately after learning about the attack, the White House Flickr page shows Obama meeting with aides in the Oval Office on the night of the attack:
Ailes also said during his remarks: "Traditional American culture influenced me greatly as I created the Fox News Channel for Rupert Murdoch. We knew that a fair and balanced news channel could succeed, as long as no views were rejected and conservative views were allowed to be heard."
Right-wing media are trying to damage President Obama's nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by baselessly claiming he was involved in the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.
The failed gun trafficking sting Operation Fast and Furious ended with the indictment of 34 defendants on January 25, 2011. The investigative tactics, which involved the misguided attempt by Arizona ATF agents to track weapons to high-level targets rather than interdicting the traffickers when the opportunity presented itself, concluded some months earlier. The tactics used in Fast and Furious triggered months of controversy and the resignation of then-Acting Director Kenneth Melson. On August 30, 2011, the ATF announced that B. Todd Jones had been appointed acting director.
Conservative media have nonetheless attempted to use a June 11 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the nomination of Jones for permanent appointment as a springboard to suggest that he was involved in Fast and Furious, which concluded months before he joined ATF.
Mike Huckabee claimed on June 9 edition of his Fox News program that Jones "allegedly helped cover up the [Fast and Furious] scandal" while misidentifying him as "the former number two boss at ATF." Again misidentifying Jones as "a supervisor at ATF" -- he actually continues to work as a U.S. attorney while serving as acting ATF director -- Huckabee added, "Should we be concerned that here's a guy who knew about Fast and Furious, according to many sources including [ATF whistleblower Vince Cefalu] helped cover it up, now he's going to lead the agency?"
During the segment Fox used a chyron that asked, "What did Obama's pick for ATF Dir. know about 'Fast & Furious'?"
Conservative commentators have also posited that Jones was involved in Fast and Furious because he attended a meeting, in his capacity as chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys (AGAC), that concerned ATF plans to crack down on the trafficking of guns into Mexico. But there is no evidence the tactics used in Fast and Furious were discussed at that meeting.
Fox News host Brian Kilmeade's praise of a British nationalist hate group leader as doing "great" work is being criticized by that nation's journalists, who call the group "thuggish" and "unsavory."
Kilmeade drew criticism after he praised English Defence League co-founder Tommy Robinson during a June 10 interview on his Fox News Radio program. Kilmeade told Robinson "we got your back" and said, "it's great what you're doing."
Numerous U.S. outlets, including Fox News, have previously detailed the violent and fringe nature of the EDL, which has clashed with police during anti-Muslim protests.
Kilmeade's treatment of a group known for its anti-Muslim hatred did not sit well with those in the United Kingdom who have reported on EDL and Robinson.
"No great surprise but still disturbing that a Fox News extremist will cuddle up to a British hate extremist with a number of convictions for violence and who served time behind bars after he was caught trying to enter the U.S. with a false passport," Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror and a political columnist, wrote in an email.
Robinson (whose real name is Stephen Lennon) used a false identity document to enter the United States to attend an anti-Islam event with anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller. Robinson pleaded guilty and was jailed in January and released in February. His offense was not his first brush with the law.
"So we may add hypocrisy to the charge sheet against Fox," added Maguire, "when the channel demands America's borders be secure yet hails a violent man who tried to sneak into the US with somebody else's ID."
Maguire described Robinson as "thuggish" and his supporters as "Nazi-saluting followers."
Fiona Hamilton, a crime reporter for The Times of London, which is also headed by Rupert Murdoch, said of Kilmeade and others who offered supportive comments or favorable interviews to EDL, "I think they should take a closer look at what they stand for, definitely. This is a man who said he would ban the future building of mosques."
She said the group is "viewed as extremists" in the U.K., adding, "I don't think you would find a majority of Britains who would agree with the English Defence League."
John Higginson, political editor of Metro -- a free London newspaper owned by the Daily Mail parent company -- said Kilmeade's comments were a mistake.
"The BBC wouldn't say 'I've got your back.' If he is saying that, he is condoning these extremist views," Higginson said. "The EDL, some of what they're preaching is to get rid of people just on religious grounds, just being a Muslim. To be saying that, it is bad."
Tom Whitehead, security editor at The Telegraph of London, has covered the EDL and called them "a fairly extreme right-wing group" that engages in "threats and incidents of violence." He said that if a British journalist echoed Kilmeade's views, "it wouldn't be seen very favorable to all. Personally, I certainly would not condone that at all."
Sean Hannity is warning that data mining and surveillance are "very clear violation[s] of the Fourth Amendment," a drastic change for the Fox News host, who was a loud defender of National Security Agency surveillance during the Bush administration.
Media Matters offers a look at Hannity on NSA surveillance, then and now.