Not once but twice in recent days Meet The Press host David Gregory announced that the troubled launch of President Obama's new health care law is roughly the equivalent to President Bush's badly bungled war with Iraq. The NBC anchor was quick to point out that he didn't mean the two events were the same with regards to a death toll. (Nobody has died from health care reform.) But Gregory was sure that in terms of how the former president and the current president are viewed, in terms of damage done to their credibility, the men will be forever linked to a costly, bloody war and a poorly functioning website, respectively.
"Everybody looked at Bush through the prism of Iraq," Gregory explained. "Here, I think people are going to look at Obama through the implementation of Obamacare." It's Obama's defining event of their two-term presidency. It's a catastrophic failure that's tarnished Obama's second term, and will perhaps "wreck" his entire presidency, according to the media's "doom-mongering bubble," as Kevin Drum at Mother Jones described it.
But like the painfully inappropriate comparisons to Hurricane Katrina that have populated the press, Gregory's attempt to draw a Bush/Obama parallel is equally senseless. Bush's war morass stretched over five years, so of course it defined his presidency. Obama's health care woes are in week number six and could be fixed within the next month.
There's something else in play here though, as the Beltway press corps strains to anoint Obama as the new Bush, as it tries to convince news consumers that Obama's failures simply show how presidents are so alike, as are the crises they face and sometimes create. An American city drowned in slow motion following Hurricane Katrina? The United States launched a senseless, pre-emptive war that will drain the U.S. Treasury for decades to come? Well, Obama's Healthcare.gov website doesn't work very well!
This is the mother lode of false equivalency.
But note that the casual attempt to connect the current health care setbacks with the war in Iraq represents a particularly disingenuous attempt to downgrade Bush's historical failures, and to cover the media's tracks of deception.
Fact: You can't talk about the Iraq War as a political event without addressing the central role the U.S. media played in the botched run-up to the war, and the fevered and futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction. By suggesting that Obama's six-week health care crisis puts him in the same position of Bush following the Iraq invasion softens not only the magnitude of Bush's failures, but the media's as well. It's an effort to downplay the massive missteps that led to the war and to trivialize the staggering costs still being paid by Americans. (The Bush and media failures surrounding Iraq are forever linked.)
"No pundit should be allowed to use Iraq as a measuring tool until they are willing to have an honest discussion about their role in selling the country on Iraq," wrote PoliticsUSA's Sarah Jones this week. And she's right.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
In the first nine months of 2013, white men dominated the guest lists on the broadcast network Sunday shows and CNN's State of the Union. MSNBC was the only network achieving notable diversity in its guests, particularly on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Republicans and conservatives are hosted significantly more on the broadcast Sunday shows than Democrats and progressives.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed to support increasing the number mental health records in the gun background check system, even though his organization was instrumental in blocking legislation that would have made that change earlier this year.
LaPierre appeared on the September 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press to deliver his first public comments since the September 16 mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. During the segment, LaPierre claimed that "the NRA supported the gun check because we thought the mental records would be in the system." In April his organization was singled out by President Obama for influencing the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal to improve the background check system that was filibustered by a largely-Republican coalition of Senators. The NRA falsely claimed that the legislation would have created a national gun registry, even as the bill itself explicitly prohibited such an action. Instead, Machin-Toomey would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales -- including sales at gun shows and over the Internet -- and would have increased the number of disqualifying records in the background check system.
LaPierre bemoaned the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI-administered tool for processing background checks on gun sales from licensed dealers, is missing mental health records that would disqualify individuals from buying a gun. However, Manchin-Toomey would have given states funding incentives and disincentives for submitting records. NRA-backed alternative legislation would have also provided funding incentives to increase the number of records, but would have weakened the background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system.
David Gregory is set to host National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre on this Sunday's Meet the Press. It's LaPierre's first Sunday show interview since March and a rare opportunity to put the NRA chief under the microscope.
In his past coverage of the gun violence debate, Gregory has demonstrated the ability to push back on LaPierre's spin and force him to account for his group's intransigence. But he's also shown a willingness to adopt false media tropes about the supposed electoral weakness of lawmakers who back stronger gun laws.
In recent days, following the recalls of two Colorado state senators who supported stronger gun laws and the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard shooting, some in the media have suggested that no progress on the issue is possible, a lazy claim that could shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws. Here are a few things Gregory should remember to avoid falling into that conventional wisdom trap.
Legislation to expand background checks to cover private sales, which failed to receive a supermajority in the Senate earlier this year, is favored by an overwhelming majority of the American people. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that bill should have passed. A majority of Americans also support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The evidence does not back up the claims from some pundits that the Colorado recall elections show that Democrats should avoid the issue of stronger gun laws if they want electoral success. The gun laws passed in Colorado earlier this year, which remain on the books, are popular statewide, with more than 80 percent of Coloradans supporting the expanded background check law and a plurality supporting the limit on high-capacity magazines. The recall elections featured shockingly low turnouts of 21 and 36 percent; turnout was likely reduced by efforts from recall supporters to prevent the use of mail-in ballots that the state usually uses. While opponents of stronger gun laws did succeed in their efforts to remove two state senators, they originally had targeted two more but failed to qualify for the ballot. And President Obama and the state's governor and senator all won recent elections despite fervent opposition from the NRA.
NBC News' Chuck Todd claimed that Congressional Republicans refrained from talking about Benghazi on the one-year anniversary of the attacks -- the statements and actions of at least seven GOP officials on September 11 prove otherwise.
September 11, 2013 marked the twelve-year anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history and the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Over the last year, congressional Republicans and conservative media have formed an echo chamber of lies, smears, and conspiracies related to the Benghazi attacks and the Obama administration's handling of its aftermath.
On Meet the Press the Sunday following the anniversary, NBC News' Chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd claimed that Republicans withheld from discussing Benghazi during the one-year anniversary of the attacks: (emphasis added)
DAVID GREGORY (host): Meanwhile, we're talking about not only twelve years after 9/11, and the Middle East, Benghazi, back as a political focus this week.
TODD: It is. The House Republicans have not dropped this as an issue. They didn't talk about it last week during the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attack, but this week on Thursday alone, three different hearings are going to be taking place on the same day on Capitol Hill. House Republicans, they don't want to drop this.
But House and Senate Republicans alike jumped at the opportunity to push Benghazi falsehoods on the anniversary of the attacks.
Several elected Republicans took to the friendly airwaves of Fox News on Wednesday, September 11 to politicize the year-old attacks and condemn the president's response. Republican Congressman Frank Wolf (VA) suggested the Obama administration was hampering an investigation into the Benghazi attacks when he spoke on Fox's America Live. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) went on Fox's Your World and complained that the debate over intervention in Syria is a distraction from the Benghazi attacks "where nothing ever occurred to ... bring people to justice." Later, on Fox's On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, both Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) launched multiple attacks on Obama to intimate that the administration was not committed to investigating Benghazi.
Media personalities on broadcast network Sunday shows advanced the right-wing myth that the Obama administration has given Congress a special exemption from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ignoring that the decision fixed a problem that would have treated congressional employees differently from all other Americans.
Following right-wing media's efforts to portray an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) rule clarification as an "exemption" or "dispensation" to congressional staffers, The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol appeared on the August 11 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday and suggested that Congress was not "covered by the same rules as the rest of the country" with respect to the health care law:
On Meet the Press, CNN contributor Ana Navarro similarly focused on the decision, complaining of "strategic cut-outs" and claiming that the administration has "been making nothing but exceptions on this Obamacare":
NAVARRO: But I also think, you know, it's rather rich for the president to be throwing stones that way when what we've seen is an administration that has been making nothing but exceptions on this Obamacare whether it's for corporations or for congressional staff. So maybe he should talk about implementing the whole thing he passed and not doing these exceptions that I'm very disappointed Republicans and Democrats stayed quiet on the exceptions for the congressional staff that were made this last week. There should be more focus on well, if you passed it, live with it, instead of rather than making these very strategic cut-outs.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees the health benefits of federal government employees, responded to the ACA's Grassley amendment with a rule clarification. The amendment requires members of Congress and their staffs to enter the exchanges that were otherwise intended for people without access to employer-based coverage. OPM's decision allows the government to contribute to insurance premiums for members of Congress and staffers moved to the ACA exchanges.
In the Health Affairs blog, health care expert Timothy Jost noted that "[f]ar from exempting Congress from ACA requirements, as some have reported, the amendment subjects members to a legal requirement that will apply to no other Americans."
Jost further explained that Congress would have no way to pay for their employees' coverage through the law because the exchanges were meant to provide access to health care for individuals and small businesses, and that staffers would not receive a tax credit to help pay for coverage because their salaries are generally above the limit for premium subsidies. This would, in effect, force them to pay the full price of their insurance for no reason.
The Obama administration's compromise is to permit the federal government to contribute toward employee insurance on the exchanges, but to render those employees ineligible for any tax credits or subsidies.
"Members of Congress and their staff must go into the exchange," said an administration official. "No ands, ifs, or buts. They will not be eligible in any way for subsidies or tax credits. But they don't lose their current employer contribution."
Appearing on Meet the Press, National Review editor Rich Lowry presented several falsehoods about the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, misinterpreting and misstating the contents of the Congressional Budget Office's assessment of the legislation.
On July 8, Lowry co-wrote an editorial with Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol calling on congressional Republicans to "kill the bill." On Meet the Press on July 14, Lowry called for the passage of "incremental" immigration legislation in the House instead of comprehensive reform.
Lowry claimed that "we're still going to have, depending on your estimates, 6, 7, 8 million more illegal immigrants here in 10years."
In fact, the CBO forecasts that by 2023 there will be 8.1 million less undocumented immigrants in the country.
Later, Lowry said that "according to the CBO, unemployment will be higher" between 2014 and 2020 if the bill passes and that wages "will be lower."
But the CBO report notes that slight reductions in average wages "for the much of the next two decades" caused by the bill's passage would mostly be felt by "the additional people who would become residents under the legislation" who will "earn lower wages," and is not likely to impact current U.S. residents.
The report also notes that the bill would have "no effect on the unemployment rate after 2020."
Lowry also said "the CBO says there's no deficit reduction in the first 10 years," which directly contradicts the report's contents. The CBO explains that "the legislation would decrease federal budget deficits by $197 billion over the 2014-2023 period and by roughly $700 billion over the 2024-2033 period."
Conservative media figures have repeatedly distorted the data surrounding immigration reform, while also demanding that Republican elected officials refuse to pass the pending legislation.
From the July 14 edition of NBC's Meet The Press:
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In the first six months of 2013, white men dominated the guest lists on the broadcast network Sunday shows and CNN's State of the Union. MSNBC was the only network achieving notable diversity in its guests, particularly on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Republicans and conservatives are hosted significantly more on the broadcast Sunday shows than Democrats and progressives.
Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and entitlement reform throughout the second quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many segments lacked proper context or input from economists, while some topics went largely underreported.
Meet The Press host David Gregory misrepresented the Affordable Care Act's "medicare surtax" to suggest that it will be felt by "anybody who gets a paycheck in this country," though the provisions will only affect individuals with an annual income above $200,000.
Beginning with 2013 tax returns, new tax provisions included in the Affordable Care Act will begin to take effect. Though most Americans will only see a tax increase if they decide to forgo health coverage, some changes designed to increase fairness in Medicare funding will begin to affect the wealthiest Americans.
Gregory misled about this change during a discussion about the Affordable Care Act implementation process on the July 7 edition of NBC's Meet the Press. He noted that while he didn't understand all the "ins and outs" of the healthcare law, its Medicare tax increases were one thing that would be apparent to all working Americans on their paychecks.
Gregory's claim failed to recognize that both of the healthcare law's Medicare tax increases affect only the wealthiest of Americans. A 0.9 percent Medicare payroll tax increase will apply to individual earners whose annual income exceeds $200,000 or households earning more than $250,000 - a group representing only 4.2 percent of taxpayers. An additional 3.8 percent tax will apply to the investment income of some Americans. As Forbes noted, "for individuals who have little or no net investment income, their 3.8% Medicare Surtax will be minimal if not zero."
According to the White House, the changes are designed to increase fairness in a system that is highly regressive. Currently, Americans with substantial unearned income do not pay into the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund as workers do, and payroll tax caps decrease the percentage that high-earners contribute.
Throughout the first half of 2013, broadcast and cable nightly news overwhelmingly discussed Social Security in an unbalanced and negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
In the weeks leading up to an automatic doubling of federal student loan interest rates, broadcast and cable nightly and weekend news devoted little time explaining the effects of the rate hike and the expiration of other programs designed to help American students, graduates and families with increasingly high education costs.
In 2007, Congress passed a law to reduce interest rates on federal subsidized student loans, the Stafford Loan program, to 3.4 percent. The law was intended to reduce college costs and increase access to higher education. The Budget Control Act of 2011 ended several provisions of previous law; foremost setting an expiration date of July 1, 2013, for Stafford Loan interest rates. Today, those rates automatically double to their previous 6.8 percent.
Media Matters research found the looming student loan deadline has been largely ignored by major news networks in the past several weeks. Since May 23, the date the House of Representatives passed a party line student loan plan of its own, primetime and weekend television news has offered just 13 brief segments on student loan issues.
Absent from media analysis has been any real discussion of economists' recommendations for dealing with student debt. Many economists, including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, have supported various efforts to defray college costs, expand federal funding, and provide restructuring and refinancing options for student and family borrowers.
In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report on student loan affordability. It found that expanded refinancing options for student debt could have a simulative effect on economic growth, household formation and homeownership among borrowers. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York had previously found that student debt was a driving force in decreasing home and automotive purchases among recent graduates.
The rate increase set to take effect on July 1 will directly affect millions of Americans while making college less affordable for prospective students. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the higher rate could cost average borrowers more than $1,000 to take out a subsidized federal loan. College graduates are saddled with an enormous debt burden - more than $1 trillion through 2013, according to The New York Times.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Sunday and evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from May 23 through June 30. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: student loan, college loan, student debt, college debt, student, debt, loan, and college.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Evening News (CBS), Face the Nation, Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press with David Gregory, Fox News Sunday, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs (such as Anderson Cooper 360 and Hardball with Chris Matthews), only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of increasing student debt or the July 1 interest rate deadline. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, and re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5p.m. to 11p.m. window.
Despite a number of significant economic developments, major network and cable Sunday shows have been largely silent on the economy.
Media Matters research reveals that from May 12 to June 9, five major Sunday shows devoted only approximately 35 minutes of economic coverage.
During this time period, the Sunday shows were silent on the economy and missed an opportunity to cover significant developments.
Despite the various economic developments over this period, CNN and major network Sunday shows devoted little time to those stories. Only during the week of June 2 did coverage of the economy rise above five minutes, which provided three-quarters of the coverage for the entire five-week period.