Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
Following Mitt Romney's repeated claims during the presidential debate that he largely agrees with President Obama on foreign policy, mainstream media adopted the narrative that little separates the candidates on this issue. In fact, this narrative allows Romney to disavow extreme positions.
National Public Radio (NPR) recently recycled a false narrative fueled by right-wing media that the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit neutrally reviews regulatory agencies. But NPR fails to mention that the court, which hears appeals on environmental, health, safety, and other regulations, is dominated by conservative judges, and is under increasing criticism for substituting its ideological opinions for scientific and technical expertise.
In an article detailing the difficulties the next president would encounter if he sought to take "a hard right turn on an environmental rule," NPR downplayed the D.C. Circuit court's importance and ideological composition. The article uncritically presented the conservative perspective that "strict constructionist" judges would prevent a weakening of bipartisan environmental law in such a scenario:
"If you take a hard right turn on an environmental rule -- or for that matter, a hard left turn -- you've got strict constructionist judges who are going to say no, and they're on the federal courts today," says Kevin Book, director of ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington-based energy consulting firm.
Book says the federal judges who oversee EPA rules most likely would prevent big changes, regardless of who wins the election.
That's because the pollution rules at the center of this debate aren't just ideas Obama and his EPA came up with. They can be decades in the making or ordered by the federal courts. They're called for in environmental laws passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress -- laws such as the Clean Air Act, which was first signed by President Nixon and strengthened by the first President Bush, both Republicans.
As described by federal courts expert Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law, the D.C. Circuit court is known as the "second most important court" in the country not only because it is often the last word on appeals from federal administrative agency determinations, but because its judges are often nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Its prominence is one reason it is currently suffering three vacancies, despite the Obama administration's attempts to appoint qualified jurists to a court whose Republican-appointed members outnumber their Democratic counterparts 5 to 3.
The NPR article fails to recognize that this federal court has demonstrated a clear preference for crafting "hard right" policy that defers to business interests, regardless of the bipartisan pedigree of legislation before it. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog has described the D.C. court's view of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as consistent with that of the broader anti-environmental movement, where "[t]he EPA...is a frequent bête noire for conservatives, who feel the agency is strangling industry with excessive regulation." The editorial page of the WSJ, for example, praised a recent opinion that struck down the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which it referred to as "another illegal Obama regulation." The op-ed went on to celebrate that:
According to a scoreboard by the American Action Forum, Tuesday's rebuke from the D.C. Circuit marks the 15th time that a federal court has struck down an Obama regulation, and the sixth smack-down for the Obama EPA. This tally counts legally flawed rules as well as misguided EPA disapprovals of actions by particular states.
Unlike the recent coverage in NPR, other media outlets have increasingly noted the ideological bent of this court willing to substitute its scientific and technical analysis for that of the experts. For example, Floyd Norris, The New York Times' chief financial correspondent, has reported on how the D.C. court has stuck down many of the new rules promulgated to prevent a recurrence of the recent financial meltdown:
[The D.C. Circuit Court] may yet be the institution that dooms many or even most of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms that Congress passed in 2010 and that regulatory agencies have been struggling to put in place since then.
In the area of regulatory law, that court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, reigns supreme, and it is now controlled by judicial activists who seem quite willing to negate, on technical grounds, any regulations they do not like. The Securities and Exchange Commission has suffered a series of defeats there, defeats that it has chosen to accept rather than risk an appeal to the Supreme Court.
And Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post's business and economics columnist, explicitly attributes the recent decision striking down the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule to tea party politics, consistent with the D.C. court's pro-business tilt:
The dirty little secret is that dysfunctional government has become the strategic goal of the radical fringe that has taken over the Republican party. After all, a government that can't accomplish anything is a government that nobody will like, nobody will pay for and nobody will want to work for. For tea party conservatives, what could be better than that?
Nowhere has this strategy been pursued with more fervor, or more success, than the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where a new breed of activist judges are waging a determined and largely successful war on federal regulatory agencies.
The prospect that some balance might be restored to the nation's second-most powerful court has long since faded after Senate Republicans successfully filibustered every nominee put forward by President Obama for the three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit. The only hope now is that Chief Judge David Sentelle and some of the court's more intellectually honest conservatives will move to rein in the judicial radicals before they turn the courts into just another dysfunctional branch of a dysfunctional government.
The EPA recently appealed the D.C. Circuit's recent pollution decision arguing the court had "developed 'regulatory policy out of whole cloth' in violation of their role of review." Media outlets should note this trend when evaluating whether "hard right" environmental policies can pass judicial review. This frame buys into the conservative myth of a "monster" regulatory state and misses the bigger picture: the D.C. Circuit is crafting "hard right" regulatory policy on its own.
An NPR report today about the Obama administration's deferred action program for young undocumented immigrants quoted Americans For Legal Immigration PAC president William Gheen, who yesterday claimed that the program "will allow illegal aliens who are willing to lie about coming to the US as children to be given 'deferred status' and work permits starting immediately."
On June 15, the Obama administration announced a plan that will give eligible undocumented youth a chance to avoid deportation and work in the country legally. That program went into effect today; and thousands have reportedly started the application process.
Gheen -- who went on to write that President Obama's action "will rapidly increase the number of illegal aliens feloniously voting in US elections, stealing your jobs and expecting future benefits" -- posted his screed on the website of ALIPAC, an anti-immigrant organization supported by the Federation for American Immigration Reform and allied with former Minutemen groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated FAIR a hate group.
In light of this, it's hard to understand NPR's decision to lend Gheen credibility on the issue of deferred action for immigrants. And not only did NPR quote Gheen, it also failed to inform viewers of Gheen's extreme views of immigrants.
Indeed, ALIPAC is not known to hide its extremist views or what it thinks of policies that seek to help the undocumented population. In fact, the front page of the organization's website contains a hoard of inflammatory rhetoric that NPR should have been aware of.
Headlines that include "amnesty" or "illegals" or such phrases as "Obama releases violent illegal aliens upon American citizenry in mass dream amnesty" don't induce honest debate, let alone encourage meaningful discussion. They're red herrings meant to attract similar xenophobic rhetoric.
Following criticism from Media Matters and other sources for quoting National Federation of Independent Business member Joe Olivo without disclosing his NFIB membership in stories exploring how health care and minimum wage laws could affect small businesses, NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote that Olivo should never have been interviewed for NPR's stories.
The blog Balloon Juice first brought attention to the fact that Olivo, owner of a printing company in New Jersey, appeared on NPR on June 29 to criticize the Affordable Care Act and claim it could harm his business. On July 9, Balloon Juice noticed that Olivo appeared in another NPR story, this time to criticize proposals to raise the minimum wage. NPR did not disclose Olivo's affiliation with NFIB in either of the stories -- even though the organization opposes both the health care reform law and increases in the minimum wage.
In response to this criticism, the NPR ombudsman wrote on Friday that Olivo "shouldn't have been interviewed at all":
Joe Olivo, the articulate owner of a printing company in New Jersey, has become a poster child for the National Federation of Independent Business in its campaign against the government's new health care program. He has appeared in one of the organization's videos and testified before House and Senate committees.
So, when he was interviewed in two recent NPR stories as a typical small business owner--following interviews of him over the past few years on NBC, Fox (repeatedly), Associated Press and Financial Times and on NPR itself in 2009--a howl went up among liberal media critics and scores of listeners that NPR reporters and editors were either leaning right or lazy.
Didn't do your homework is the right answer. What we have here is not a matter of ethics or accuracy, but of sluggish journalism. I don't want to say lazy, because the reporters and producers did hustle; they just didn't hustle enough.
In addition to being an ombudsman, I also teach at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. What we have here is not an ombudsman issue of ethics or standards, but a journalism school issue of good practices and competitive originality. Olivo shouldn't have been interviewed at all.
Fox & Friends today interviewed a member of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) to attack the Affordable Care Act without disclosing his ties to the anti-health care group. NFIB member and small business owner Mike Paine appeared on the program to claim that the health care bill will hurt his business, an attack that has been repeated by other NFIB members.
During the interview, Fox & Friends co-host Dave Briggs asked Paine to explain, "[w]hy, in your opinion, does Obamacare hurt small businesses like yours?" Paine went on to talk about his uncertainty over the law and claimed he believed President Obama wants to get rid of employer-based health care:
At no point during the interview did Briggs mention that Paine was a member of the NFIB, a group that has spent millions opposing the health care reform law, even though the NFIB's Twitter account promoted his appearance on Thursday:
The NFIB has long been involved in the effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Salon.com's Alex Seitz-Weld noted that the NFIB is the lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against the law that went before the Supreme Court, and reported that the group's lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act "cost at least $2.9 million in 2010 alone." He also reported that:
The NFIB presents itself as the "nonpartisan" voice of small businesses, but liberal critics charge that, much like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NFIB has become a partisan conservative attack dog.
The group has given vastly more to GOP candidates than to Democrats, with over 90 percent of its contributions going to Republicans for the past 15 years, on average. So far this year, they've given almost $300,000 to GOP candidates and just $3,500 to Democrats. Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)4 arm of Karl Rove's American Crossroads, also gave $3.7 million to the NFIB last year.
But Paine isn't the only small business owner affiliated with the NFIB that Fox has hosted to criticize health care reform, and it isn't the first time they failed to disclose the guest's NFIB membership.
More than half of all public broadcasting stations would be put "at risk" if federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were eliminated, according to a new report commissioned in response to attacks from conservatives that put the funding in jeopardy.
The report stated: "Ending federal funding for public broadcasting would severely diminish, if not destroy, public broadcasting service in the United States."
The study, released June 20 from Booz & Company Inc., reviewed alternative funding options for public broadcasting if federal funding is removed. It found that trying to replace such funding -- which accounts for about 15% of CPB's operating budget -- with advertising and other revenue would be detrimental as well.
In 2011, a House vote to defund National Public Radio was supported by numerous conservative commentators, many spouting false claims of liberal bias and citing alternative sources that could be used to replace the federal dollars -- many of which the CPB report finds ineffective.
"There have been a lot of suggestions that public broadcasters could just turn to commercial broadcasting, but this report shows that is not possible," said Tim Isgitt, senior vice-president for communications and government affairs at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. "The most surprising thing that comes out of this report is that advertising would significantly limit our other funding sources; foundations provide funding because it is a public good and mission driven. They wouldn't do that if we were a commercial model, and individual members would be less likely to give money to an entity that is commercial."
The study was commissioned at the request of the Conference Report accompanying the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012 (H.R. 2055). The report states that "the conferees requested that CPB provide a report to House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 180 days of enactment of the Act on alternative sources of funding for public broadcasting stations in lieu of federal funding."
The report states, in part:
A reduction or elimination of CPB funding will put 63% (251) of radio stations and 67% (114) of television stations in the public broadcasting system at risk:
19% (76) of radio stations and 32% (54) of TV Stations that currently operate at a minimum practical cost level, and would be at a high risk of closing.
44% (175) of radio stations and 35% (60) of TV stations have a history of operating deficits and would suffer reduced effectiveness or closure under increased financial pressure.
Both mainstream and conservative media outlets have responded to the recent spike in gasoline prices by circulating talking points rooted in politics rather than facts. As a whole, these claims reflect the misconception, perpetuated by the news media, that changes in U.S. energy policy are a major driver of oil and gasoline prices.
National Public Radio's newly unveiled Ethics Handbook discourages its news employees from forming contracts with "other media outlets." NPR notes that such requests will likely be denied. However, NPR is going to allow national political correspondent Mara Liasson, one of the few NPR employees who has a contract with another media outlet, to continue her long-running appearances on Fox.
The unlikely pairing of an NPR commentator regularly appearing on partisan Fox News has bedeviled the radio network for years. Its Ethics Handbook was revised because of the controversy that erupted in 2010 when NPR fired Juan Williams for controversial comments he made about Muslims while appearing on The O'Reilly Factor. Even prior to the 2010 tumult, NPR bosses were so uncomfortable with Williams' public association with O'Reilly's show that they reportedly insisted he remove his NPR identifier when he appeared on The Factor.
An NPR ethics task force was designed to address dilemmas such as the one surrounding Williams' high-profile Fox News affiliation. Previewing its recommendations last year, the 14-person advisory group singled out the need for NPR to do away with long-term contracts with outside media companies.
According to a report last year in Current, which covers public broadcasting, the task force was clear that NPR should "have its journalists phase out any long-term contracts for appearances on other media outlets." The task force recommended those media appearances be approved on a case-by-case basis. The task force made its formal presentation to the NPR Board last September and the Ethics Handbook was then formalized over the winter.
Following that task force recommendation, the handbook makes clear that NPR employees are unlikely to be granted permission to enter into new, long-term arrangements (emphasis added):
We don't enter into contracts with other media outlets without approval from senior news management and NPR's legal department. Understand that in most cases permission will not be granted.
One of the concerns stated in the handbook for the get-tough policy about regular outside work is that those arrangements subject NPR "to the editorial agenda of producers who may not share our standards." That includes the editorial agenda of Fox News.
However, an NPR spokesperson informs Media Matters that Liasson will be allowed to maintain her long-term association with Fox News and its unique set of "standards."
A new NPR piece equating scrutiny of Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital with the racially charged "Willie Horton" ad from 1988 could provide fodder for Romney supporters who want to shield the candidate from criticism.
In a post titled, "Bain attacks on Romney recall notorious 'Willie Horton' ads," NPR's Ron Elving set the clock back to 1988 to explain how criticism of Romney's record at Bain from Republicans in the primary could in turn hurt the GOP during the general election.
But NPR's analogy is flawed. Romney has been citing his experience at Bain Capital as a justification for why he is best suited for the presidency. That makes the intense scrutiny into his record fair game. By contrast, the ads about Willie Horton were unadulterated race-baiting with the intent to scare voters and marginalize Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis.
During the 1988 presidential campaign, Republicans turned questions about Dukakis' support for a program that allowed criminals to participate in weekend furloughs into the Horton attack ads. Elving wrote:
[T]he real danger of the Bain story will not be manifest among Republicans this winter and spring. The real danger is that the story bobs back up in the summer and fall.
To be sure, Dukakis' general election campaign had plenty of other problems. But none was so lurid and enduring as the ads attacking him for the furlough program (and featuring a frightful prison picture of Horton). Those ads -- which also drew accusations of racism for their frightening portrayal of a black criminal -- helped make George H.W. Bush the 41st president of the United States (and his son the 43rd).
It's a distant mirror, of course, but the circumstances of a weak primary candidate raising an emotional issue in 1988 resemble those by which Gingrich and others now attempt to derail the Romney express.
The Horton issue worked because it resonated with Dukakis' image as a bleeding heart liberal. The Bain assault works if voters come to see Romney as a heartless capitalist, a Wall Street marauder wrapped in patriotic patois.
To his credit, Elving acknowledged the racial component of the Horton ads, but the very analogy can in turn be used to make any effort to examine Romney's record at Bain verboten, even as Romney continues to tout that record on the campaign trail.
Reporting on emails selectively released by House Republicans, numerous media outlets falsely claimed the documents show Obama donor George Kaiser -- whose family foundation invested in Solyndra -- discussing Solyndra's federal loan with the White House, with Fox going even further to claim "quid pro quo." In fact, the emails occurred after Solyndra had already received the loan guarantee and do not indicate that Kaiser discussed the loan with the White House.
NPR recently published a laudatory (some would even say fawning) profile of the "one man" behind the controversial Alabama anti-immigration law, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. From it, we learn that Kobach "looked the part" of a "movie star," "handsome and loaded with charisma"; that he is "deified by his supporters" in part because of his Ivy League credentials (Harvard, Oxford, and Yale); and that the time spent on immigration issues has been very "lucrative." Gushed the reporter: "Official documents from Arizona indicate he made $300 an hour with a $1,500 monthly retainer, plus expenses."
Amid all the flattery, however, KCUR reporter Laura Ziegler dropped hints that Kobach isn't all Mr. Congeniality. But she failed to show how extreme a figure Kobach really is. The fact that he has a history of anti-immigrant action and rhetoric elicited barely a mention. Instead, here is what Ziegler reported:
ZIEGLER: At a campaign event before the 2010 elections, candidate Kobach brought in Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona, who's enforcing the immigration law there. Rallies outside the event, in a Kansas City suburb, showed how both had become lightning rods because of it.
MYRNA OROSKO: My name is Myrna Orosko and I came to the United States when I was four years old. And I came legally with a visa. However, like for many immigrants, it expired. I have to, you know, refuse to let men like Kris Kobach and Arpaio continue to spread a message of hate and intolerance for our immigrants around the country.
Zeigler didn't explain what Orosko meant nor did she point to any "message of hate and intolerance." She later added:
ZIEGLER: [Southern Poverty Law Center director of research Heidi] Beirich says Kobach is leading a strategic anti-immigrant crusade, which she says has a racial element.
BEIRICH: His decision to first start at the local level with laws in towns that were going through some strife over growing immigrant populations and then to take that to the state level shifted the entire terms of the debate.
While exhorting a government to enforce its immigration laws may not be racist, that's not the reason critics have given for blasting Kobach for "spread[ing] a message of hate and intolerance." Kobach works on behalf of noted hate group FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. As a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he assigned students a book with an anti-Latino immigrant message.
Bill O'Reilly is no fan of National Public Radio.
Last October, after NPR fired Juan Williams, O'Reilly went on Fox News and said NPR "is not a news organization" and "is basically a left-wing outfit" that "throw[s] out propaganda in violation of the First Amendment." He called for "the immediate suspension of every taxpayer dollar going into the National Public Radio outfit" and likened the network to terrorists: "Terrorists want to create terror. Well what does NPR want to create? They're intimidating, too." To cap it all off, he called NPR "boring," "dishonest," and a "snake pit."
This past March, still incensed over the incident, O'Reilly invented a new term, "TL" -- short for "totalitarian liberal" -- and christened NPR the "TL Vatican." Said O'Reilly: "That is totalitarian. You cannot say certain things at NPR, and Juan did, and that's what happened there." And he once again called for NPR to be stripped of all public funding.
So it was curious, then, to tune into NPR's Morning Edition earlier today and hear Bill O'Reilly chat with Steve Inskeep about the Fox News host's new book, Killing Lincoln. They even had a quick discussion about his role as a media figure, which was noteworthy for its lack of self-awareness:
O'REILLY: I'm in the media, I've been doing it for 35 years. I know the media as well as anybody in the world knows it. And there are always going to be people who try to make money by slamming other people and by, you know, creating all kinds of stuff that doesn't really get us anywhere.
INSKEEP: Do you think you add to that sometimes?
O'REILLY: You know, I try not to do it personally. I think that we bring a robust debate to the nation every night. I think we try to stay away from the personal stuff. We try to back up our opinions with facts. So yeah, I mean, you can accuse me of anything you want, but, you know, I'm trying to do the right thing.
So O'Reilly thinks NPR is a totalitarian snake-pit of pseudo-terrorism that shouldn't get taxpayer money to promote its dishonest left-wing ideological agenda. Using taxpayer money to help sell his books, though, is perfectly fine.
National Public Radio's Board of Directors will meet this week to discuss the news organization's ethics code, which is being revised in the wake of the controversy surrounding Juan Williams' firing. Earlier this year, an NPR task force working on the code recommended that the new guidelines move away from long-term associations between NPR employees and outside media outlets. National political correspondent Mara Liasson, who regularly appears on Fox News, is among the very few NPR employees who currently enjoy such a long-term pact.
An NPR spokeswoman tells Media Matters that no final decision regarding Liasson's Fox News job has been made, but that the type of on-going media contract Liasson has with Fox was reviewed by an NPR ethics task force.
According to a report earlier this year in Current, which covers public broadcasting, the task force was clear that NPR should "have its journalists phase out any long-term contracts for appearances on other media outlets." Instead, those media appearances should be approved on a case-by-case basis.
The task force was created in the wake of the Williams firing, prompted by his comments on Fox's O'Reilly Factor that he felt uncomfortable flying with passengers dressed in "Muslim garb." NPR executives, who had long been unhappy with William's association with Fox News, terminated his contract.
The move sparked a wide controversy, with the right-wing media responding with special indignation, echoing Williams' claim he had been unfairly fired. Conservatives also claimed, often hysterically, that NPR's personnel move highlighted what they saw as the network's embedded liberal bias. Indeed, Fox News unleashed a nasty attack campaign against Liasson's employer, regularly ambushed its CEO, and spread all kinds of smears and misinformation about NPR and its staff in an effort to defund and destroy public broadcasting. (Fox News' Brit Hume essentially called NPR racist for firing Williams.)
Liasson, who has been an NPR employee for two decades, maintained her Fox News association in spite of the network's harassment campaign of NPR, which culminated with chief Roger Ailes denouncing Liasson's bosses as "Nazis."
Out beating the bushes for charitable donations, conservative activist James O'Keefe's accidentally spoke the truth in a fundraising email recently sent out to supporters [emphasis added]:
I'm also asking for your financial help today, so I can focus on growing Project Veritas and training thousands of young citizen journalist to expose the corruption and fraud you want uncovered to protect you. That's what I do best.
What I don't do best is editing. It takes me forever because I'm not a professional. I need to hire an editing professional. I need to purchase editing equipment for that person.
Amen to that, James.
Between the ACORN pimp hoax you got caught trying to spread, the NPR videos that were unfairly altered, and the law enforcement reviews of your work that determined clips were "severely edited," it's safe to say editing is not your strong suit.
Although honestly, I'm not sure getting strangers to pay for new equipment is going to solve your ethical shortcoming.