2013 was an epic year of right-wing media misinforming the public on the health care debate, particularly on women's health issues. Ignoring women's health experts, conservative media spent this year stoking fears about everything from birth control to maternity care, ignoring science, distorting state and federal regulations, and demonizing women's health care options in the process. These are the top six scare tactics from 2013.
Fox News repeatedly conflated the emergency contraceptive Plan B (also known as the morning-after pill) with abortion while covering two Supreme Court cases brought by companies that object to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) birth control coverage benefits. However, experts agree that the morning-after pill is not abortion -- it prevents pregnancy but cannot stop pregnancy after fertilization takes place.
Right-wing media have been pushing multiple dubious claims related to the recent revelation that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to scrutinize some conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Media Matters has compiled five of the worst offenders.
Fox News is helping American Center for Law and Justice's chief counsel Jay Sekulow baselessly accuse the Obama administration of continuing to use inappropriate screening to scrutinize nonprofit groups even after Obama condemned that practice. Sekulow's Fox-fueled campaign comes as legal experts say the IRS must continue assessing whether groups are eligible for nonprofit status.
A recent Inspector General report found that one of the IRS offices responsible for approving nonprofit status was targeting conservative groups. Following the report, President Obama condemned the actions of the office as "intolerable and inexcusable" and called for those responsible to be held accountable. Acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller was fired as a result of the improper scrutiny, and Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a criminal investigation.
Fox hosted Sekulow to discuss the controversy. During the segment, Sekulow complained that, despite the investigation, the IRS was continuing to apply heavy scrutiny to conservative groups that he represents in court. Sekulow cited an eight-page compliance letter that an unnamed nonprofit received that contained "intrusive questions," calling the IRS' actions "harassment":
But although one office of the IRS improperly delayed the nonprofit status of some groups, Sekulow provided no evidence that the groups he represents were targets of the same tactics. While the Inspector General's report criticized the actions of that office, it did not call for an end to scrutiny on groups applying for nonprofit status, and legal experts have pointed out that the investigation should be used as a reason to draw down the review process on those groups.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly and frequent contributor Jay Sekulow attacked Attorney General Eric Holder for a speech he gave highlighting the work of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in combatting threats against Muslims, a timely topic given the anti-Muslim backlash seen in right-wing media following the Boston Marathon bombings.
On April 29, Holder spoke at the centennial summit of the ADL and commended the organization for its long history fighting anti-Semitism, stating the organization would continue to "find a committed and active ally in this Attorney General." Holder closed his remarks by noting that it was two weeks to the day of the Boston bombings and praised ADL for its additional work fighting anti-Muslim bigotry, a commitment Holder assured the audience the Department of Justice shares. As explained by Holder, "just as we will pursue relentlessly anyone who would target our people or attempt to terrorize our cities - the Justice Department is firmly committed to protecting innocent people against misguided acts of retaliation."
In a "Fox News Alert" segment on America Live, Kelly attacked this speech by asking, "Has there been backlash against Muslims in the wake of Boston? And is this a time for the attorney general to be effectively scolding Americans, not to be bigoted and not to be ignorant?" Kelly also claimed that because Holder said this at the ADL's summit, "the context could be perceived by some to be somewhat offensive." In addition to pushing the argument that the bombing suspect should have been treated as an un-Mirandized "enemy combatant," Sekulow admonished Holder because "the attorney general of the United States needs to do us all a favor. Catch the terrorists. That's what he needs to be doing."
Fox News and Fox Business are butchering civil rights precedent and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in their continued campaign to suggest President Obama's nominee for Labor Secretary, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, doesn't want to protect white people.
Following the pre-existing practice of smearing President Obama and his administration as hostile to whites and biased toward people of color, Fox has joined right-wing media in attacking Perez for his enforcement of long-standing civil rights law and advocacy for Hispanic immigrants. This right-wing campaign against Perez has focused on the Civil Rights Division (CRD), which under Perez's supervision has been very effective at using the VRA to protect historical victims of voter suppression.
President Obama has nominated Thomas E. Perez as Secretary of Labor. Right-wing media used this announcement to push false attacks about Perez based on his service in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and other civil rights work and advocacy.
Fox News is using its lack of knowledge about the Voting Rights Act and basic civil rights law to smear the nomination of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez for Secretary of Labor.
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) and Section 5, a provision within the law that requires jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting practices to submit election changes for federal review, has been a source of difficulty for Fox News. On the March 14 edition of America Live, Fox News host Megyn Kelly and frequent guest Jay Sekulow attacked Perez by incorrectly describing the role of race in race-conscious civil rights law, such as the VRA. In the lengthy segment about the Voting Section - a Department of Justice (DOJ) section under Perez's supervision - Kelly misrepresented a recent Inspector General report and allowed Sekulow to question Perez's competence even as he mangled civil rights law by insisting the Voting Rights Act is "colorblind."
Rush Limbaugh recently bragged that conservative Justice Antonin Scalia should be "honored to be compared" to the radio host for disparaging the Voting Rights Act as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement" during the Shelby County v. Holder oral arguments. Other conservative justices also repeated right-wing media talking points as they considered the fate of this historic civil rights law.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with a history of racially-based voter suppression to "pre-clear" election changes with federal officials or judges. By dismissing as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement" the fact that a bipartisan majority in Congress voted to reauthorize the law in 2006 - after reviewing thousands of pages of evidence that race-based threats to voting rights still exists in the covered jurisdictions - Scalia adopts the arguments of right-wing media.
In their rush to frame a federal appellate court opinion as a personal rebuke of President Obama, Fox News host Megyn Kelly and frequent guest Jay Sekulow misrepresented the truly radical and unprecedented nature of a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on presidential recess appointments. Although Kelly and Sekulow erroneously reported that the opinion only affects Obama's recess appointment of members to the National Labor Relations Board, it actually casts doubt on hundreds of presidential appointments and subsequent actions since the 1940s.
On the January 25 edition of America Live, Kelly repeatedly reported that the DC Circuit "clipped President Obama's wings" by holding the Republican-controlled Senate was actually in session when Obama made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, pursuant to long-standing presidential powers. The NLRB is, of course, a frequent bogeyman for both right-wing media and corporate interests because of its perceived favorability to unions. Kelly and Sekulow, who filed an amicus brief in the case as Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, claimed the decision's holding depended on the fact that the Senate was technically in session because of a new parliamentary trick that gavels the Senate into "pro forma session" even though no business is conducted. This is inaccurate.
Regular Fox News guest Jay Sekulow repeated the false accusation that President Obama will issue illegal executive orders that violate Second Amendment rights, before admitting he doesn't actually know what the administration will propose.
On the January 10 edition of America Live, host Megyn Kelly thwarted Sekulow's attempt to recycle the right-wing claim that forthcoming gun violence prevention proposals resulting from Vice President Biden's recent efforts will infringe on Second Amendment rights. When Kelly asked him how he reconciled his allegation with the fact that the first President Bush installed a ban on imports of certain types of assault weapons by executive order, Sekulow tried to explain that although there are many constitutional strategies Obama could pursue, Obama will push the illegal one. Still, Sekulow admitted he has no proof to back up this claim. From the interview:
KELLY: Jay, let me start with you on this. The research that we've looked at suggests that he's got some leeway to curtail some gun rights by executive order if he so chooses. What say you on it?
SEKULOW: I don't think so.
SEKULOW: The Second Amendment rights have been pretty clear and I think the idea that you can utilize an executive order to implement restrictions on that right not through a legislative process, by just executive fiat, I don't think that's going to work constitutionally. So I think that would be a very difficult challenge. It's different if you have legislation passed by Congress that could somehow regulate this and then the White House would simply, you know, issue regulations off them. Here there's no regulation...
KELLY: Wait, wait, let me jump in, let me jump in. That may be the difference that we're talking about because I looked back. The research suggested that when George H. W. Bush was president back in 1989, he used executive order to ban the import of assault weapons using his powers under the Gun Control Act of 1968 that stipulated that legal rifles had to be suitable for sporting purposes. So he did it that way using this 1968 gun control act law. But, you know, it begs the question, could Barack Obama do the same thing?
SEKULOW: I don't think -- that law -- we don't know what the president wants to do yet, but assuming it's going to be significant restrictions and restraints, I don't think you can use that law from 1968 to implement an executive order that would do anything other than comply with existing law. I mean, when you talk about what President George H.W. Bush did, he did use the '68 law, but we don't know what the president is proposing yet. But you listened to Vice President Biden yesterday and a kind of foreboding experience. We're talking about the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution here. Look, if it's the First Amendment the president can't simply say I don't like that provision anymore, I'm going to get an executive order, saying, you know, freedom of press, not so helpful, I'm not going to use it.
Sekulow was right when he said the President can't "implement an executive order that would do anything other than comply with existing law." It is true: laws issued pursuant to other laws can't violate the law. However, the administration is not proposing any such action.
If an executive order to address gun violence is forthcoming, it will have ample precedent, as Kelly herself noted, and Sekulow later admitted. There are existing laws on the books that Obama could enforce -- the preferred form of "gun control" for the NRA and its allies -- that would satisfy Sekulow's rule of thumb that a President shouldn't "do anything" that violates existing law. From The New York Times' description of President Bush's executive action:
In the Presidential campaign last year Mr. Bush, a hunter and longtime member of the N.R.A., opposed to any bans on assault weapons. But a public outcry after a drifter armed with an AK-47 killed five schoolchildren in Stockton, Calif., in January helped convince others in the Administration that some limits were needed.
At the urging of William J. Bennett, the director of national drug control policy, the Administration suspended imports of certain types of semiautomatic assault rifles in March. The President expanded that temporary ban as part of a broader anticrime program that he announced in April, and said he would make it permanent for imported weapons that did not have a legitimate sporting use.
Sekulow's claim that executive orders in this area don't "work constitutionally" has no basis in law. District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, explicitly held that reasonable gun violence prevention strategies are constitutional.
Prior to Sekulow's confession that right-wing media is speculating, it was possible that Biden told right-wing media Obama was planning on issuing an executive order, completely untethered to current legislation, which would reinstate the ban on individual possession of handguns in Chicago homes that Heller struck down.
But as Sekulow confirmed in his America Live appearance, this hasn't happened.
From the November 13 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the August 6 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Fox News regular Jay Sekulow claimed that voting is a privilege as he went to bat in support of the Texas voter ID law today, and denied that such laws disenfranchise eligible voters. In fact, Americans are constitutionally protected from having their vote denied on the basis of race - which the Department of Justice has said would happen under Texas' law -- and voter ID laws have already disenfranchised hundreds of voters, and could prevent millions more from voting in this year's elections.
Sekulow was on Fox's America Live, debating the Texas voter ID law that was passed in May 2011, but was blocked by the Department of Justice because:
As a state with a history of voter discrimination, Texas must get preclearance from the Department of Justice for changes in election law. The DOJ blocked Texas' law under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, declaring that it would disproportionately affect Hispanic voters.
In his defense of Texas' voter ID law, Sekulow said: "Look, voting is a privilege. I mean, there are things you have to do to vote." He also suggested that he didn't find "asking for identification to make sure you're the person that's actually casting the vote" at all problematic.
But Sekulow is in the wrong here - the Justice Department found that the Texas law would disproportionately affect minorities, which is unconstitutional. As the Department of Justice notes, the Voting Rights Act:
[C]odifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment's permanent guarantee that, throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color.
Throughout the Fox segment, Sekulow repeatedly denied that voter ID laws disenfranchise eligible voters and said that in some cases the IDs are available free of charge. However, not only can voters incur significant costs for the underlying documents needed to get those supposedly free IDs, but existing voter ID laws have already been found to have disenfranchised hundreds of voters during the 2008 election cycle.
Frequent Fox News guest Jay Sekulow falsely claimed that the Department of Homeland Security would not accept phone calls from Arizona law enforcement seeking to verify an individual's immigration status. In fact, DHS will continue to verify immigration status over the phone, but "will not respond to the scene of state or local traffic stops or similar law enforcement encounters to enforce immigration laws unless the individual meets DHS enforcement priorities."