House GOP leaders reportedly distributed a memo instructing members on how to demonstrate compassion when discussing unemployment. And even as news of the memo leaked, conservative media were demeaning unemployed Americans as "lazy" and calling "hunger" a superior policy to jobless benefits.
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.
To hear conservatives tell it, Santa Claus is most definitely white, and his home isn't melting. At least that's what Fox News, with its recent barrage of attacks on an ad in which Santa warns about the impact of climate change on his Arctic home, would lead you to believe.
In December, the environmental group Greenpeace released an ad featuring the butler from Downton Abbey as a distraught Santa, who warns that as climate change drives continued Arctic ice melt, he may have to cancel Christmas. The ad calls for protecting the Arctic from offshore oil drilling, which, in a grim irony, is only possible in the region because of the ice melt.
The cheeky video was a "new low" achieved by "any-means-necessary" tactics, according to Fox News. It was also a chance to deny climate change. Rush Limbaugh declared "The ice is not melting at the North Pole," and a Fox News guest said "Santa's home is going to be fine ... for a long, long time to come." Fox News co-host Eric Bolling claimed contrary to any temperature record that "the globe is getting colder":
But Santa is right: the North Pole is melting. Arctic ice registered a record low in 2012 in line with a long-term melting trend. The sea ice extent in 2013 was not as low as 2012's (as was expected), but it was still among the lowest extents in the 35-year record, and does not represent a "recovery":
Fox News hosts used meaningless hand gestures to mock the interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service who reportedly did not use standard sign language, even after another news organization apologized for a similar sight gag.
As NPR reported, there is "outrage among many in the deaf community" after it was revealed that the interpreter who was assigned to translate speeches for the hearing impaired during the December 10 ceremony did not use standard American or South African sign language. Wilma Newhoudt, a Deaf member of South Africa's parliament and vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf, tweeted that the interpreter was using meaningless hand gestures and suggested he be removed from the stage. The interpreter defended his work before claiming that suffered a "schizophrenic episode" during the memorial. An investigation is pending.
Fox News reported the story with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade making meaningless hand gestures and waving his arms around while his co-hosts laughed.
Later in the show, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum meaninglessly moved her hands around while attempting to sign "I love you."
NBC's Today show apologized for similarly mocking the incident on December 11, after a producer mimed fake sign language during the broadcast. Minutes after the gag aired, a representative for the show tweeted "We aired a joke in our 9:00 hour that was offensive. We apologize to our viewers."
FoxNews.com reported on the Today show segment, noting that many in the Deaf community were offended.
From the December 5 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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From the December 5 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Soon after reports broke confirming the murder of an American teacher in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News exploited reports on that crime to push the phony scandal the network has attempted to create surrounding the September 11, 2012, attacks on American diplomatic facilities in that city.
On December 5, American chemistry teacher Ronnie Smith, who worked at an international school in Benghazi, was gunned down while jogging. At the time of publication, motive for the attack remained unclear and no one had claimed responsibility.
Hours after the news broke, America's Newsroom host Martha MacCallum used a report on Smith's murder to pivot into a brief discussion of the Obama administration's response to the 2012 attacks that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. While presenting a timeline of the 2012 attacks, MacCallum claimed "The Obama administration initially insisted that the Benghazi attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration that had broken out over an anti-Muslim film" -- comments that echo the months-long Fox News misinformation campaign to smear the president with phony reports about his handling of the tragedy.
But it was the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis -- not political appointees within the Obama administration -- that originally linked the video to the attacks. The president labeled the attacks an "act of terror" in his September 12 address to the nation regarding the incident. The Associated Press reported on September 13 that the "The Obama administration ... is investigating whether the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a planned terrorist strike."
Fox's exploitation of the murder should come as no surprise. Following the 2012 attacks, Fox immediately exploited that tragedy to relentlessly spread falsehoods in an attempt to smear President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the administration's response. Most recently, the network has resorted to reporting months-old information as though it were a new development.
This post has been updated for accuracy.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum hid the radical implications of a Supreme Court case which could allow for-profit corporations to use religion to discriminate against women and deny employees basic health care coverage, claiming the corporations were merely asking "for some tolerance of their religious belief."
On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in two cases in which business owners -- Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties -- argue they should be exempt from an Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement which mandates that large, for-profit corporations must offer employees health plans that cover contraceptives at no additional cost.
On December 2, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum supported the corporations' arguments, claiming that allowing employers to pick and choose what to cover under their health plans based on their religious beliefs was simply an issue of "tolerance" and that the health care law was asking employers to "violate their conscience" by offering contraceptive care:
It seems to me, I mean all they're asking is for an exemption, and for some tolerance of their religious belief, so if a company is owned by someone who doesn't believe that that is ethical, that they should be able to offer a plan that is accepted under Obamacare but that is exempted, that exempts contraception.
I don't understand what the issue would be, with offering a separate version that that employer feels doesn't violate their conscience? How can you ask someone to violate their conscience in the plan that they choose to offer to their employees?
What MacCallum ignores is that religious organizations and certain religiously affiliated nonprofits are already provided exemptions from the contraception mandate. The question posed by these cases to the Supreme Court is whether or not these exemptions should be extended to for-profit, secular companies. If the court rules in favor of the corporations, it would be an unprecedented extension of religious freedom rights and could have radical legal implications, going against the basic tenets of corporate law.
It could also set a dangerous precedent, allowing employers to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against women, and potentially deny all Americans benefits for a wide range of basic medical needs.
Requiring businesses to provide health care plans that cover contraception at no additional cost "was put into place in order to eliminate gender inequality in healthcare," Gretchen Borchelt, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, explained. As Micah Schwartzman and Nelson Tebbe noted in Slate, exempting for-profit corporations would reinstate that inequality, undermining a purpose of health care reform:
[E]xempting large, for-profit corporations from the contraception mandate would significantly burden female employees, along with all the wives and daughters covered by the policies of male employees. Thousands of women would lose all insurance coverage for contraception. That loss would be very real, and it would frustrate a central objective of Obamacare: namely to ensure that women have equal access to critical preventative care.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the corporations, it will not just put women's basic health care in jeopardy. As MSNBC's Irin Carmon and Slate's Dahlia Lithwick have pointed out, corporations could potentially be allowed to opt out of covering anything that is religiously contested, including things like vaccinations, psychiatric care, and AIDS medications. What if your employer is an Orthodox Jew who wants to refuse coverage for any medication that comes in a gelatin capsule? What if she is a Christian Scientist who doesn't believe in visiting doctors?
Requiring for-profit companies to offer health plans which cover birth control is not an attack on religious liberties. It ensures that everyone, regardless of their personal religious belief, has access to basic health coverage which they can then choose to use or ignore.
Former Obama adviser David Plouffe went on ABC News' This Week to discuss the Affordable Care Act, and he noted that the program "is going quite well" in states where health care exchanges and Medicaid expansion have been implemented, and other states may follow suit after President Obama leaves office, at which point "it'll work really well." Plouffe's point was that the law is working where it has been fully implemented, and will work even better if Republican-led state-level opposition to expanding Medicaid disappears after the 2016 elections. Several conservative media outlets, however, have mischaracterized Plouffe's remark to claim that he said the ACA will not work until 2017.
Right-wing media are dismissing President Obama's and Congressional Democrats' work on filibuster reform, a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and immigration reform as merely attempts to distract from the Affordable Care Act.
Fox News reported that the Cleveland Clinic was instituting "massive layoffs" due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but when asked about the reports, a Clinic spokesperson told Media Matters, "We're not."
On November 25, The Daily Caller published an article titled, "Top U.S. hospital laying off staff due to Obamacare." On Fox Business' Markets Now, host Connell McShane reported on the "massive layoffs." America's Newsroom host Bill Hemmer claimed that the Cleveland Clinic was going to "shed workers." Later, during the America's News HQ, Fox reporter Chris Stirewalt claimed that the layoffs "rocked the community there in northeastern Ohio."
But there's one problem: the Cleveland Clinic is not laying off any employees. Eileen Sheil, Cleveland Clinic's Executive Director of Corporate Communications, said in an e-mail to Media Matters, "There have been several mis-reports and they keep mentioning that we're laying off 3,000 employees. We're not." Sheil explained that Cleveland Clinic is offering voluntary retirement to 3,000 eligible employees and that the Clinic is also "working on many initiatives to lower costs, drive efficiencies, reduce duplication of services across our system and provide quality care to our patients." Sheil continued, "Many of these initiatives do not impact our employees."
Sheil told Media Matters that Fox had been notified of its error and that the Cleveland Clinic requested Fox's future reporting on the issue more accurately present the Clinic's plans. According to a Media Matters search, Fox had not corrected its mistake by the time of publication.
Despite Fox's reporting, Sheil reiterated the Clinic's support for the Affordable Care Act, stating:
We believe reform is necessary because the current state is unsustainable. The ACA is a step toward that change and we believe more changes will come/evolve as there are still many uncertainties. Hospitals must be responsible and do what we can to prepare and support the law.
Fox's continued focus on the Cleveland Clinic is due, presumably, to President Obama's frequent praise of the hospital. In September, host Greta Van Susteren acknowledged the network's flawed reporting on the Cleveland Clinic after it was cited by U.S. Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) on her program.
A month after claiming that President Obama's focus on immigration reform was intended to distract the American public from problems with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) rollout, Fox News is at it again.
Previewing Obama's immigration reform speech in San Francisco in which Obama will reportedly urge the House to pass a reform bill before year's end, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked: "Forget Iran, forget Obamacare, President Obama wants to talk about immigration? Will changing the subject actually work, I say, with italicized work?" He added: "We report, you decide."
Later on in the broadcast, Kilmeade again asserted that Obama is "going to have a hard time changing the subject to immigration" in light of ACA problems. Anchor Bret Baier agreed, replying:
BAIER: He is, because -- listen. Every day, there is some story about Obamacare, and it's not just the website anymore, and we've gone over that. But the more and more people see the premiums, that's really the sticker shock. And I think you've got -- when you've got a White House trying to turn the page a number of different times, a number of different ways, he might have a challenge.
America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum struck a similar note, suggesting that Obama is "trying to move to these other topics in an attempt to change the subject a bit and perhaps salvage his second term."
In fact, as senior political analyst Brit Hume pointed out on America's Newsroom, "it's not surprising" that Obama is focusing on immigration reform:
HUME: These are issues -- Iran, immigration -- that the president was gonna have to address anyway, whatever his standing, whatever the condition of his health insurance reform plan. So it's not surprising that he would try to do that, particularly on immigration, which it wasn't so very long ago you recall Martha, had a real head of steam behind it.
And it looked as if after the results of the 2012 election, Republicans were eager to pass something to try to get themselves in the better graces of the Hispanic community. Some of the air is out of that tire; it's understandable that the president would try to re-inflate it and get it rolling again.
Indeed, Obama has repeatedly urged Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill by year's end and his speech today is intended, as Hume noted, to inject renewed urgency into the debate. Obama has maintained since his election in 2009 that immigration reform is a priority for his administration.
Fox's Martha MacCallum hosted a guest to attack the Affordable Care Act who ended up supporting the changes the ACA has made to substandard insurance plans.
On the November 18 edition of America's Newsroom, MacCallum interviewed former health care executive Stan Hupfeld in a segment that described him as a top insurance industry official "warning against the Obamacare fix." However, in the interview that followed, Hupfeld recommended switching to ACA-compliant policies and underlined the reasons behind the cancellations of old, inadequate plans:
HUPFELD: Well the insurance companies, obviously, somewhere in the debate became supporters because they saw the opportunity for millions more uninsured to come their way. Part of the problem it seems to me, and certainly consistent with your last guest, was that many people with their old plans, with these very high deductibles, didn't really realize until they came to the point of having to use the plans, some of the inadequacies. You know, when you have a family of four each with a $5,000 deductible, for the average patient that shows up at the hospital, they're essentially uninsured because they can't, in most cases, meet those deductibles.
MACCALLUM: What would you recommend to people? If you got the cancellation notice and you were booted off your policy and you're still looking around trying to figure it out, would you say yes, I recommend you go back and continue that plan, or try your luck with some of these new things that the president claims will actually be cheaper in the end?
HUPFELD: Well obviously it depends on whether your circumstances, whether you're sicker and older or younger and healthier. I think for the most part, you'd be better off in trying to make the change now, to the new plan.
Republican and conservative media figures lauded a report from CBS' 60 Minutes on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, using it to advance their attacks on the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. But that report has since come under fire following the revelation that the piece's key Benghazi "eyewitness" had previously claimed he was nowhere near the compound on the night of the attack.
Fox News is calling mileage-based user fees that several states are considering "Orwellian," implying the government would be able to track your vehicle without permission and perhaps even "shut your car off." But the network's segment left out that such proposals generally include devices that cannot track your location and certainly cannot turn off your car, satisfying both the American Civil Liberties Union and several conservative organizations.
In a segment featuring no voices in defense of mileage-based user fees (MBUF), Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum declared such proposals the "most Orwellian thing I've ever heard." MacCallum hosted Berkeley Varitronics Systems President Scott Schober, who suggested the government may be able to "shut your car off" if you do not pay the fees. MacCallum added that if "somebody is stalking you and they want to know where you're going, they could very well hack right into this system and follow you." The segment was so conspiratorial that fellow Fox News anchor Jon Scott joked that "I see the black helicopters over your studio right now":
Ryan Morrison, Founder and CEO of True Mileage, Inc. -- a company that designs devices that could be used for MBUF -- said this "definitely sounds like misinformation." In a phone conversation with Media Matters, Morrison said "no company or departments of transportation are looking into devices that could shut off a car." He added that "certainly no one would be able to do anything like that with our devices, and the only time that I've heard of something like that is with a LoJack" for stolen vehicles.
In addition, according to Morrison, most proposals are suggesting allowing citizens to choose whether to install devices without GPS-tracking -- such as his company's -- or to install ones that do have GPS-tracking -- in order to save money when they travel out of state or on less congested roads. For instance, Oregon, which has moved forward with a pilot program for a MBUF (also known as a "vehicle-miles traveled" (VMT) fee), would allow participants to choose devices that do not have GPS tracking and delete personal data after 30 days. The American Civil Liberties Union is reportedly "satisfied with the privacy protections" in Oregon's program.