While discussing Oregon's recent political scandal, conservative media are reviving their favorite renewable energy bogeyman - the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra -- to push the false narrative that the clean energy industry is an economic failure that is widely infected with "crony capitalism." Contrary to these claims, Solyndra was never a scandal, and renewable energy sources are increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- despite historically receiving far less in government subsidies.
When former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber announced he would resign due to the controversy surrounding undisclosed consulting fees his fiancée received while advising him on energy policies, conservative media were quick to compare the controversy to the government loan guarantee and bankruptcy of solar firm Solyndra. As Politico recently explained, the conservative strategy is to use the Kitzhaber scandal as "ammunition" against Democrats and environmentalists who they claim "have propped up failed clean-energy projects" and provided government aid that "ends up financially benefiting only the politically connected companies lobbying for it." Bloomberg News similarly stated that whether or not it is accurate, "[t]he argument being made is that clean energy lobbying is a way for Democrats to get rich."
That's exactly what we've seen in the conservative media. The Washington Times claimed the Oregon scandal once again brings to light "the failures of taxpayer-funded green energy companies such as Solyndra that had political ties to party bigwigs." The National Review Online linked the situation in Oregon to Solyndra and what it claimed were other "green-energy scandals that piled up during [the Obama administration's] first term." The Daily Caller alleged that in the case of both the Kitzhaber scandal and Solyndra, "government supported green energy programs based on political connections." And Fox News also highlighted Solyndra while discussing the Oregon controversy -- twice.
But the simple truth is that the Solyndra episode was never a scandal, a fact that has been proven time and time again. The solar energy firm, which received a federal loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, filed for bankruptcy as a result of plummeting prices for solar panels, as detailed by Greenwire, among others. Conservative media responded by pushing baseless claims that Solyndra used unethical influence in the Obama administration to receive its loan, but an extensive investigation by House Republicans turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.
In addition to pushing the cronyism charge, conservative media have also used the Oregon scandal as an opportunity to broadly claim that renewable energy is not economically viable in the marketplace. For example, National Review Online purported that these sources of energy can't "survive in the marketplace without giant subsidies or special tax favors." During an interview on WSJ Live, Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell similarly claimed that "wind and solar and ethanol really cannot survive without handouts from government."
But the reality is that wind and solar power have become increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- and are actually cheaper than coal and natural gas in some markets -- despite having received far less in government subsidies over the years.
Right-wing media are celebrating Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R-IL) executive order blocking public-sector unions from collecting "fair share" fees from the state employees they represent, even though there is no precedent for such a move. National Review and The Wall Street Journal are praising Rauner for "thinking creatively" by effectively turning Illinois into a "right-to-work" state without legislative approval, even though those same outlets have criticized President Obama for issuing lawful executive orders without Republican input.
Rauner's order specifically targets "fair share" dues that nonmembers in unionized workplaces pay to cover the cost of union representation for their collective bargaining agreements. Illinois law already prohibits fair share fees (as opposed to full membership dues) from being used to fund union political activities, but Rauner nevertheless issued his executive order and wrongly claimed that "an employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree." A number of states have passed "right-to-work" laws that target these kinds of dues with the express purpose of weakening the bargaining power of unions. But Rauner saved himself some time by ignoring decades of Supreme Court labor-law precedent and imposing the "right-to-work" standard on state employees without running it past the legislature first.
Right-wing media are not particularly concerned with Rauner's unilateral and legally questionable antics. Rauner's lawyers, however, apparently realize the unusual nature of this executive action. On the governor's behalf, they have defensively filed a lawsuit asking a district court to preemptively declare his order legal on the radical assumption that all union activity -- even that related to collective bargaining -- is inherently political.
In a February 11 post, National Review writer Patrick Brennan applauded Rauner's "daring" and legal manuevering, celebrating that "Rauner's Illinois is in limbo -- and, duly elected, he deserves credit for putting them there." The Journal also praised Rauner in a February 10 editorial for "thinking creatively" since the "Democrats who have a supermajority in the state legislature won't make Illinois a right-to-work state."
This is an interesting about-face on executive orders from these outlets, which have attacked Obama's executive action on immigration in the face of an obstructionist GOP-controlled House as an "abuse of power" and "executive overreach" -- despite there being plenty of legal and historical precedent to support Obama's orders. In a November 16 editorial, the Journal argued that it would "support more liberal immigration but not Mr. Obama's means of doing it on his own whim because he's tired of working with Congress." Similarly, in a November 6 editorial, National Review complained that for Obama to "act on immigration without engaging the country's new congressional majority would be a defiance of the legislative branch, and of the American electorate."
But Rauner's order gets a pass from National Review now, because it is enough that "after a deep legal review, he thinks the fair-share fees are unconstitutional forced expression."
Apparently Rauner's deep legal review involves rewriting the basics of labor law. As the Illinois Economic Policy Institute explained, Rauner's claim that "state workers are forced to pay union dues for political purposes" is "false":
Illinois law does not prohibit labor organizations with state collective bargaining agreements from contributing to elected officials, but it also does not mandate that workers must pay for political activities that are endorsed by their representative union. The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act requires all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement to pay their "fair share" of the cost of collective bargaining and contract administration. Fair share dues "shall not include any fees for contributions related to the election or support of any candidate for political office" but an employee can make "voluntary political contributions in conjunction with his or her fair share payment" [emphasis added]. Since the 1988 Communications Workers of America v. Beck case in the U.S. Supreme Court, unions are authorized to collect from non-members only fees and dues necessary to perform collective bargaining operations, and workers can object to paying a portion of their dues toward political activities.
As conservative Justice Antonin Scalia explained in a 1991 labor law case, nonmembers who don't pay dues "are free riders whom the law requires the union to carry -- indeed, requires the union to go out of its way to benefit, even at the expense of its other interests. In the context of bargaining, a union must seek to further the interests of its nonmembers; it cannot, for example, negotiate particularly high wage increases for its members in exchange for accepting no increases for others." Without compulsory fair share dues for the collective bargaining agreement from which both non-members and members benefit, unions face a serious "free rider" problem and threat to their financial viability.
Which, for the National Review and the Journal, is clearly the point.
There's no question that the current makeup of the Supreme Court is less sympathetic to the labor movement than it has been in the past. In 2014, the conservative majority ruled that home care workers in Illinois (who are paid with state Medicaid funds but are not full-fledged public employees) cannot be compelled to pay dues to a union they don't want to join, but ultimately declined to strike down a 1977 case that allows public-sector unions to collect "fair share" dues from nonmembers. Even though Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion questioned the "foundations" of that 1977 ruling -- basically inviting a challenge like Rauner's -- the case is still good law.
In light of this precedent, some might call Rauner's actions an appeal to the "judicial activism" they frequently condemn. The WSJ, on the other hand, is calling this "thinking creatively."
An upcoming House Oversight Committee hearing features two conservative media darlings infamous for their anti-immigrant rhetoric and peddling misinformation about voter fraud and election law.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing February 12 titled, "The President's Executive Actions on Immigration and Their Impact on Federal and State Elections." The hearing advisory, obtained by Media Matters, promises an examination of the president's executive actions on immigration and how they may affect "federal and state elections, including the issuance of Social Security Numbers and drivers' licenses to individuals covered by the action."
Two witnesses who will be featured at the hearing, according to the advisory, are well known for spreading misinformation in conservative media circles: Kris Kobach and Hans von Spakovsky.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a repeat guest on Fox News and is often touted by right-wing pundits who support his extreme positions on immigration. He first elevated his profile by pushing a bill that would have directed police officers in Arizona to check the immigration status of those stopped for violations of city and county ordinances, civil traffic violations, and other non-crimes, and would have allowed police to consider race as a factor. Kobach was also instrumental in pushing a Kansas voter registration law that has disenfranchised thousands of American citizens. Appearing on Fox & Friends in March 2014, Kobach tried to cast doubt on the president's immigration enforcement, accusing the administration of "cooking the books" on deportation numbers.
Hans von Spakovsky has been featured on Fox News and on National Review Online for years, demonstrating an unending willingness to distort the truth in the service of restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws. Spakovsky has repeatedly overstated the prevalence of in-person voter fraud and continues to push for voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minority communities and suppress legal voters. At National Review, Spakovsky characterized the modern civil rights movement as being "indistinguishable" from "segregationists."
This hearing comes on the heels of the Senate's recent hearing on Loretta Lynch, a highly regarded nominee for attorney general, which featured a witness list peppered with habitual conservative media misinformers.
UPDATE: On the eve of the hearing, prosecutors in Kansas are questioning Kobach's voter fraud claims. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Kobach has asked lawmakers to grant him the "the power to press voter fraud charges because he says prosecutors do not pursue cases he refers."
But federal prosecutors in Kansas say Kobach hasn't referred any cases to them, and county prosecutors report that the cases referred to them did not justify prosecution.
Right-wing media maligned Obama's economic policy initiatives announced during his State Of The Union address as both divisive class warfare and Santa Claus-style giveaways.
The right-wing media misinformation behind the 231 restrictions on abortion passed by state legislatures in the last four years has found its way into Congressional Republicans' latest strategy to roll back abortion rights nationally. Medical experts agree that such anti-choice legislation is often based on medically inaccurate or outright false information and that these regulations harm women. Here are the facts behind the myths underpinning the GOP's war on abortion rights.
Right-wing media rushed to exploit the deadly attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. But this is just the latest in right-wing media's long history of politicizing tragedy to push political objectives.
Right-wing media rushed to exploit the deadly terrorist attack on a French satirical newspaper in Paris, placing blame on Democrats and citing the tragedy to push for renewed surveillance of U.S. Muslims, discriminatory profiling, looser gun regulations, and stricter immigration laws.
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.
Conservative media outlets amplified a misleading study from the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, which claimed that "all net employment growth has gone to immigrants" between November 2007 and November 2014. But data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that job growth among the native-born has far outpaced job growth among immigrants during the economic recovery.
This year, media coverage of issues affecting women often failed badly, from trivializing sexual assault to pushing inaccurate reports on pending state abortion restrictions. Below are nine major ways the media failed women in 2014.
The Supreme Court will soon hear King v. Burwell, a challenge to tax credits for consumers who live in states that refused to set up their own health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and instead relied on the federal version. Right-wing media have repeatedly insisted that the ACA can only have been written to deny Americans affordable health insurance, but experts call this argument "political activism masquerading as statutory restraint."
National Review personalities exploited questions surrounding Rolling Stone's high-profile account of a rape at the University of Virginia (UVA) in order to deny the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and suggested that women should do more to protect themselves, a response in keeping with the outlet's history of denialist, victim-blaming sexual assault coverage.
Right-wing media have championed photo ID requirements on EBT cards for Maine residents who receive food stamp benefits, claiming high levels of waste and fraud. But in reality, Maine's SNAP program is not rampant with fraud and such photo identification measures have proved inefficient in other states.
Conservative media outlets are attacking President Obama's immigration action with myths that the newly protected workers will hurt the economy and the tax system. In reality, immigration increases wages and doesn't hurt employment, and the executive action is likely to boost tax revenue.
Right-wing media outlets are trying to draw a distinction between Republican administrations' executive actions on immigration and President Obama's proposed order, claiming that the current president's authority for deferring deportation -- unlike that of his predecessors -- is illegitimate.
On November 20, Obama will reportedly issue an executive order that would suspend deportations for certain classes of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Although the full details of the order aren't yet known, it is expected to focus in part on keeping families together and to provide temporary administrative relief to immigrants who are undocumented but whose children are U.S. citizens or otherwise legally present. There is plenty of legal precedent to support Obama's exercise of prosecutorial discretion to halt some deportation proceedings, and experts from across the political spectrum have pointed out that this sort of executive action has taken place in the past, notably once when Congress failed to pass immigration reform.
Yet right-wing media have nevertheless fearmongered about the legality of Obama's proposed executive action, even though the Associated Press reported that both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush "acted unilaterally on immigration," as have numerous presidents before and since. Despite this Republican precedent, which the American Immigration Council has called a "striking historical parallel," conservative media figures have sought to deny the similarity. Radio host Mark Levin slammed the Associated Press report, saying, "No, Ronald Reagan, no, George H.W. Bush did not do what Obama is about to do," because Reagan was acting in response to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which "Congress passed" and "sent to the president."
National Review Online contributor Mark Krikorian also tried to distinguish Obama's "threatened move" from Reagan and Bush's executive actions, calling the comparison a "nice try." Krikorian went on to argue that Reagan's action "is simply irrelevant to the current case" because it "was a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion shortly after passage of" IRCA. Krikorian also rejected the similarities to George H.W. Bush's immigration order, arguing that it "cannot meaningfully be described as precedent for Obama's scheme" because, among other reasons, Bush's move was a "cleanup measure for the implementation of the once-in-history amnesty that was passed by Congress."
Rush Limbaugh repeated this attack on the November 18 edition of his show, saying that "it's uncanny to me how often the Democrat Party, when they get in a jam and when they know they're doing something that is untoward, when they know they're doing something that's not above board -- like this clearly is not above board -- they go back and they cite Reagan." Later, Limbaugh claimed that "Reagan never took executive action. This is a bold-faced, flat-out lie."