This January marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court case that expanded the idea of "corporate personhood" by ruling that the First Amendment protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Network news coverage of its legal impact, however, has largely ignored how the Supreme Court continues to aggressively expand the decision.
This expansion of corporate rights has wide-ranging consequences, even outside of the context of campaign finance deregulation. The court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, for example, seemed to embrace the idea that corporations are capable of morally objecting to contraception coverage, co-opting yet another constitutional right -- that of religion -- that had previously been reserved for people, not businesses.
In terms of election law, the conservative justices further dismantled campaign finance restrictions in 2014's McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate campaign donation limits and allowed wealthy donors to contribute money to a virtually unlimited number of candidates and political parties. The court will hear yet another campaign finance case on January 20 called Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which could strike down a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from directly soliciting money from donors -- a rule that was put in place in response to a serious corruption scandal that resulted in the resignations of four Florida Supreme Court justices.
Yet despite the cascade of decisions from conservative justices intent on dismantling campaign finance regulations and rewriting corporate rights -- and the majority of Americans who support a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United -- the media have largely underreported this story.
Here are four graphics that illustrate this failure.
Fox News Sunday will host a debate on same-sex marriage featuring a anti-gay hate group leader who's known for peddling lies and smears about the LGBT community.
On January 18, Fox News Sunday is scheduled to host a debate on same-sex marriage featuring Ted Olson, a prominent pro-equality attorney, and Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC).
According to a Fox News press release announcing the debate:
Both sides in the same-sex marriage debate are looking to the Supreme Court as it decides whether or not to weigh in on the issue. The High Court is set to discuss cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, and decide whether to rule on petitions challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. We'll debate what has become a key social issue within the country, exclusively with Ted Olson, former Solicitor General who served as Co-Counsel for the plaintiffs in Virginia's same-sex marriage case, and Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council.
Perkins's FRC was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2010 because it has often promoted smears and falsehoods about the LGBT community. Perkins' history of extreme anti-gay work is well documented: he's made a career of linking homosexuality to pedophilia and calling homosexuality a health risk.
Conservative media issued catastrophic predictions and myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, despite ample evidence that the health care law is working. Media Matters looks back at six claims about Obamacare that didn't pan out for the right-wing media this year.
The Sunday broadcast political shows overwhelmingly ignored the omnibus spending bill's rollback of key regulations on Wall Street and campaign finance. Only ABC's This Week covered the provisions, which come at a time when the financial services industry and large donors are playing an increasingly outsized role in elections.
Congress' controversial $1.1 trillion spending bill to avoid a government shutdown took several days of debate to pass in the Senate and barely passed through the House of Representatives, due to the inclusion of provisions "easing rules on campaign finance and the banking industry," as NPR explained.
The deal reverses a requirement of 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform, allowing banks to "place both standard accounts and accounts that handle riskier derivative trades under the protection of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." The provision was drafted by Citigroup bank and provides a major benefit to big banks that allows riskier trades and transfers accountability for banks' failures -- and potentially future financial crises -- onto the government and taxpayers. The bill also rolls back campaign finance regulations, dramatically increasing the limit wealthy individuals may donate to national political parties.
This erosion of key Wall Street and campaign finance regulations was all but ignored on the broadcast Sunday political talk shows. Neither NBC's Meet The Press, CBS's Face The Nation, nor Fox Broadcasting Company's Fox News Sunday acknowledged the controversial provisions in their discussion of the spending bill, glossing over the specific rollback of regulations in favor of general discussions on inner-party divisions on the vote. Only ABC's This Week highlighted the provisions. Host Martha Raddatz explained how the bill "dramatically ease[s] restrictions on the amount of cash individuals can donate to campaigns," while a later panel discussion emphasized the rollback of Wall Street regulations.
The shows' failure to cover the rollback of banking regulations and systematic erosion of campaign finance comes at a time when dark money, large donors, and outside spending are playing an increasingly outsized roll in elections and the financial services sector -- the very industry which drafted and stands to benefit from the Dodd-Frank reversal -- is already outspending all other industries in midterm elections.
Rush Limbaugh claimed on Fox News Sunday that the American people were "begging" the GOP to stop Obama by shutting down the government and denied the harmful effects of the 2013 shutdown, which cost an estimated $24 billion.
On the December 7 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Limbaugh to defend his recent demands for congressional Republicans to force a government shutdown. Limbaugh stated that the results of the 2010 and 2014 elections showed the American people were "begging" the GOP to stop President Obama and that Republicans don't need to worry about the political risk of another shutdown. He then claimed that the "only thing that happened in that shutdown was Barack Obama closed [...] the World War II Memorial to World War II vets" and "shut down some White House tours."
But the shutdown was a significant blow to the U.S. economy. Standard & Poor's found the shutdown cost $24 billion in economic activity. Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi similarly estimated that it "stunted fourth quarter GDP growth by 0.5 points, resulting in a $20 billion hit," by disrupting "federal spending, global trade and investments in housing and businesses." Following the 2013 shutdown, Fox repeatedly downplayed its economic impact.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on Fox News Sunday's November 30 segments on civil rights protests in Ferguson, MO, and the resignation of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. CBS' Sunday morning political talk show had a small majority of white guests during similar segments, while ABC's and NBC's shows were more ethnically diverse.
From the November 30 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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Fox News Sunday ignored a new report from the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee that debunked many of the myths that Fox News has spent the last two years promoting.
On November 21, the Republican-led House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released its report on the September 2012 attacks on two U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Similar to the many preceding investigations into the attacks -- including the Accountability Review Board and the bipartisan U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence -- the report found that no stand down order was issued during the attacks, there was no intelligence failure leading up to the attack, and that the talking points the administration used in the days following the attacks were based on the CIA's best assessment at the time.
The November 23 edition of Fox News Sunday did not inform viewers of the report's findings. This stands in stark contrast to Fox's longstanding campaign to promote myths about the attacks.
Fox has been a tireless promoter of nearly every facet of the Benghazi hoax. In the 20 months following the attacks, Fox ran over 1,100 segments on Benghazi and hosted Republicans at a rate of 30:1 over Democrats to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, the network has routinely ignored and downplayed evidence refuting its conspiracy theories.
CNN media critic Brian Stelter noted that other Fox programs only provided cursory coverage of the report on the night of its release and that Fox never mentioned it the following day. According to Stelter (emphasis added):
STELTER: Boy, has Fox News spent a lot of time over the past two years focused on the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and I mean a lot of time. [...] But when a new Benghazi report came out on Friday, there was hardly a peep, and maybe that's because the report, which was Republican led, it was by the House Intelligence committee, debunks many of the myths that have run rampant on Fox News and in conservative media circles. [...] So I have to wonder: will Fox will stop aggressively pushing its theories about Benghazi? Probably not. With its audience largely in the dark about the latest findings, the myths may, and perhaps will, live on.
On the November 23 edition of Fox News' own MediaBuzz, host Howard Kurtz noted that it only received "brief" coverage on Fox and that the results of the two-year long investigation "deserved more coverage from all news outlets."
Sunday morning political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox devoted just 30 seconds of coverage to net neutrality the week after President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to require Internet service providers to treat all content equally. Those same programs dedicated nearly 17 minutes to helping scandalize comments made by Jonathan Gruber, an economist who helped estimate the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Fox News Sunday hosted Karl Rove to analyze Senate midterm elections without disclosing his role with political organizations that have spent millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates in those races.
On the October 12 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace was joined by Rove and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi to discuss "the hottest races" in 2014. While Rove was introduced as "the architect of George W. Bush's two presidential victories" and described in on-screen text as a "former Bush White House advisor," no mention was made of his current political activities or affiliations. Rove commented on three Senate races in which his political groups have made a significant financial investment. Rove said he believed Republican Joni Ernst would win in Iowa because she had "united the party," claimed that voters in North Carolina would reject Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan because it's the only way to "send a message to Obama," and praised Alaska Republican candidate Dan Sullivan's energy policy.
Rove co-founded and advises two political organizations, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, that have spent nearly $8 million dollars against Democratic candidates in the Alaska, Iowa, and North Carolina races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rove's political network poured more than $4.5 million in additional spending into those races in support of the Republican candidates.
American Crossroads has also received $300,000 from Dan Sullivan's parents. Sullivan's father reportedly "doesn't know with certainty that the funds will be spent on his son's race," telling Bloomberg News, "That will be up to the discretion of Karl Rove."
This is the second time in four weeks that the program has allowed Rove to provide election analysis without noting his role in attempting to influence those same races.
Later in the broadcast, Fox contributor Carly Fiorina predicted that Ernst and Cory Gardner, the Republican candidate for Senate in Colorado, would win, praising the candidates for "very clear platforms about what they think the priorities of this nation should be." Neither Fiorina nor Wallace noted that Fiorina heads the Unlocking Potential PAC, which has spent nearly $150,000 in support of the Ernst and Gardner campaigns.
Here is the full segment featuring Rove:
From the October 12 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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The 2014 midterm election cycle is already one of the most expensive ever -- due in part to the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance decisions, which have opened the floodgates for billions of dollars in political expenditures to influence our election system. But the crisis is all but nonexistent on Fox News Sunday, which has rarely discussed money in politics outside of the overblown IRS targeting scandal.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court dismantled aggregate campaign contribution limits in McCutcheon v. FEC, making it easier for individuals to influence the political process by donating money to an unlimited number of candidates, political parties, and super PACs. McCutcheon was an extension of the court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC in 2010, which allowed corporations to make unlimited political expenditures to support their favored candidates.
Since the Court decided to hear McCutcheon in 2013, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday has discussed campaign finance roughly as often as the Sunday morning news shows on other broadcast networks did -- but its coverage was almost always in relation to the allegation (and right-wing talking point) that the IRS unfairly scrutinized the tax-exempt status of Tea Party nonprofit groups and other conservative organizations.
In fact, out of nine segments on Fox News Sunday that discussed campaign finance reform, seven mentioned the IRS allegations or former IRS director Lois Lerner. The program's other two segments were passing mentions of the existence of campaign finance reform, not comprehensive discussions of the issue. While every other Sunday show aired at least one substantive segment on campaign finance reform, Citizens United, or McCutcheon, Fox News Sunday did not.
Below are five stories that Fox News Sunday could have covered to give its viewers a more complete picture of the crisis of big money in politics.
From the October 6 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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Conservative media have rallied around calls to enforce travel bans from countries in West Africa affected by the Ebola epidemic, despite the fact that medical and military experts have repeatedly noted that travel bans would hamper relief efforts and impede workers' ability to properly address the outbreak.
From the September 28 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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