Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."
From the February 4 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
From the January 31 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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From the January 31 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News host Greta Van Susteren suggested that "Stand With Wendy" -- a campaign slogan affiliated with state senator Wendy Davis' (D-TX) gubernatorial campaign in Texas -- was "code" language being used to ridicule her disabled opponent, Greg Abbott (R-TX). Van Susteren all but ignored the origins of the slogan, which was popularized after Davis' now-famous filibuster in the Texas legislature weeks before her opponent entered the race.
On the January 27 edition of Fox News' On The Record, Van Susteren invited gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott to talk about the race against Davis. During the segment Van Susteren expressed concern that "websites associated with" the Davis campaign were employing language about standing with Wendy in order to mock Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since he was partially paralyzed by a falling tree many years ago.
"I think that's code, 'standing up,' said Van Susteren. "I actually think if I were running against someone who was in a wheel chair, the last -- I would be mortified if the word 'standing' appeared in any of my literature, if only on the off chance that I might hurt someone who's in a wheel chair or say something to people who are disabled. And I don't see that she's ever disavowed it." Van Susteren acknowledged Davis' filibuster, but said she finds it "too coincidental" and recommended Davis apologize for the slogan, "which may have another meaning."
From the January 27 edition of Fox News' On The Record With Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News hosted contributor Allen West the day after he smeared President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder as "the most vile and disgusting racists," airtime that West used to compare a Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyer to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a January 14 post on his website, West condemned new federal guidelines aimed to prevent discriminatory disciplinary policies in schools as "racial preference policies" perpetuated by the Obama administration. In his post, West attributed self-proclaimed high school violence rates among black students to "the decimation of the black family," and gave the following message to "white Americans" (emphasis added):
This is my clear and succinct message to white Americans. How long will it be before "you people" realize you have elevated someone to the office of president who abjectly despises you -- not to mention his henchman Holder. Combined they are the most vile and disgusting racists -- not you.
The next day, Fox News' On the Record gave West a platform to further attack the DOJ. During a discussion about reports that no criminal charges are expected to be filed in the IRS targeting case, West compared Barbara K. Bosserman, the DOJ attorney who is investigating the case, to the Muslim Brotherhood because she had donated money to President Obama's past campaigns, saying, "that's kind of like asking the Muslim Brotherhood to investigate Benghazi":
Right-wing media denied the effectiveness of anti-poverty policies in response to President Obama's recent push to reduce income inequality, instead hyping marriage as a preferable economic solution. But experts have rejected that notion, citing a systemic lack of economic opportunity as a more critical issue.
From the January 14 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Right-wing media have hyped demands from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to illegally remove the Department of Justice attorney tapped to investigate the IRS targeting scandal because of her political contributions, despite the fact that the DOJ is prohibited by law from considering political affiliations or contributions in personnel decisions.
Fox News' Eric Bolling and Ben Carson denied the positive effects of the Affordable Care Act(ACA)on slowing the rise of health care cost growth in recent years, despite economists crediting the law for partly being responsible.
A December 18 New York Times report explained that health care spending "is growing at the slowest pace ever recorded":
Nationally, spending on health care is growing at the slowest pace ever recorded. Annual spending on health care often grew more than 10 percent a year during the 1970s and '80s. Growth dipped in the 1990s, only to rise again, but starting in the early 2000s, the rate began falling. It is now just about 4 percent a year.
During the January 2 edition of Hannity, Bolling claimed that the ACA hasn't helped slow down health care costs, and denied that the rate of growth has even slowed:
BOLLING: Obamacare hasn't done a thing for the cost of health care. It hasn't done a thing. It has done something for the cost of health insurance, but not a darn thing for health care. Health care costs aren't slowing down, they are still rising.
Earlier, Fox contributor Ben Carson also denied the role of Obamacare's impact on slowing health care costs. Appearing on Fox's On The Record, Carson noted that health care costs began slowing during the recession, claiming that this proves Obamacare played no role in controlling health care costs.
But these claims ignore what economists have said about the ACA's role in slowing down the rise in health care costs. A November 20 report from the White House's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) explained that the recession is not the only cause of the slowdown in rising health care costs, and detailed how the health care reform law is contributing:
The ACA is contributing to the recent slow growth in health care prices and spending and is improving quality of care: ACA provisions that reduce Medicare overpayments to private insurers and medical providers are contributing to the recent slow growth in health care prices and spending. Other ACA reforms are reducing hospital readmission rates (see figure below) and increasing provider participation in payment models designed to promote efficient, high-quality care.
Intriguingly, recent economic research suggests that the ACA's reforms to Medicare may have "spillover effects" that reduce costs and improve quality system-wide, not just in Medicare. Accounting for "spillover effects" of the ACA's reductions in Medicare overpayments suggests that the ACA has reduced health care price inflation by 0.5 percent per year since 2010, which represents a substantial fraction of the recent slowdown in health care price growth.
Other economists, such as Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, and MIT's Jonathan Gruber, agreed with the CEA's assessment that the ACA is partially responsible for the slowdown in health care costs.
Additionally, an article published on December 26 in The New England Journal of Medicine, which examined the slowing growth in health care costs, recommended that the cost control provisions in the ACA should continue to be implemented:
A central finding of our analysis is that, regardless of what happens to cost trends, current spending is far higher than needed, and it demands continued efforts at cost control, including implementation of new ACA provisions. In recent months, many independent groups have put forth cost-control ideas that build on the health reform law and suggest common strategies that should be pursued to improve efficiency in the health system.
Fox News allowed the president of Koch brothers-funded Generation Opportunity, which has created a series of anti-Obamacare ads, to characterize the organization as "independent" and funded by "a variety of donors."
On the December 9 edition of Fox News' On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren played a new attack ad from Generation Opportunity, which encouraged young Americans to "opt out" of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After providing Generation Opportunity President Evan Feinberg a platform to promote his organization and attack the ACA, Van Susteren asked, "Where do you get the money," specifically inquiring whether Generation Opportunity is funded by any "influential group." Feinberg maintained that Generation Opportunity is "an independent organization":
VAN SUSTEREN: Where do you get the money, because that looked like a pretty expensive ad. Where do you get the money?
FEINBERG: Oh, we've got a variety of donors, and we're just focused on working with people across the country who care deeply about helping our generation to fight for our own freedom.
VAN SUSTEREN: I guess I ask why, you know, I'm wondering if there is some very influential group that funds you and sort of, that, as a consequence you've got to take some marching orders from some other group, or how independent are you?
FEINBERG: Oh no, we're an independent organization that's able to fight for our peers and you see these ads are really creative opportunities to very inexpensively reach millions of young people.
Over a period of several days, Fox News hosts and contributors demanded that Rev. Al Sharpton condemn a series of "knockout" attacks that have occurred in several cities. Sharpton condemned the attacks in a speech on Saturday, but Fox has so far failed to report on the condemnation.
The so-called "knockout game" involves young men attacking random people on the street. The violent, unprovoked attacks have sometimes resulted in death. Fox News has intensely covered these attacks, reporting on them largely as racially motivated crime committed by black youths against white victims.
Media fell for another misleading leak from the House Oversight Committee when they hyped allegations that the Obama administration ignored HealthCare.gov security warnings -- though the warnings were for a portion of the site that will not be operational until early 2014.
On November 11, a CBS News report cited selectively leaked partial transcripts from Affordable Care Act (ACA) opponent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to claim that "the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security." The network was criticized by Maddow producer Steve Benen when he found that the warnings referenced a function of the health care website that won't be active until early 2014 and has nothing to do with the parts of the website that are currently in use. A Democratic staffer Benen talked to also said that this part of the website "will not submit or share personally identifiable information."
CBS' faulty report aired just days after the network faced widespread criticism and was forced to apologize for failing properly vet an unreliable source that was prominently featured in the network's October 27 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi attack. But CBS wasn't the only outlet to promote misleading claims from the leaked Oversight Committee transcript.
On November 11, The New York Times reported that The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Henry Chao, "[t]he chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace," was "not aware of tests that indicated potential security flaws in the system, which opened to the public on Oct. 1," citing excerpts released by Issa. The same day, FoxNews.com claimed that Obamacare security concerns had been "withheld," but never mentioned that its story was based on a partial transcript. CNN's New Day, and Fox News' America's Newsroom and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren all ran the story on November 12. The Associated Press repeated the claim "Chao was unaware of a memo earlier that month detailing unresolved security issues" as late as November 13 -- after contradictory reports had surfaced.
The media's failure to confirm the suggestions made by partial transcripts from the House Oversight Committee is a significant oversight, considering the committee chairman Darrell Issa's history of releasing misleading material the press.
Hill reporter Elise Viebeck shot down Fox News' continued attempt to scapegoat undocumented immigrants for improper Medicare payments, disputing the claim that undocumented immigrants were willingly involved in defrauding the federal government of millions of dollars.
On October 30, the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services released a report finding that from 2009 through 2011, Medicare inappropriately paid out $29 million in drug benefits for undocumented immigrants.
The report explained that the payments were made erroneously because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services does not have a policy in place to screen undocumented immigrants from receiving benefits under its drug prescription plan, Medicare Part D.
But Fox News seized on the report to pile false attacks on undocumented immigrants and smear them, using dehumanizing terms like "illegal aliens."
Discussing the OIG report on Fox News' On The Record, Viebeck refuted host Greta Van Susteren's suggestion that CMS was "knowingly" paying insurance companies for Medicare drug benefits to undocumented immigrants. Viebeck noted that CMS "didn't have policies in place that would have caught" undocumented immigrants and "vetted them one by one in terms of their immigration status."
VIEBECK: The way Medicare Part D works is, people have their plans offered through a private insurance company, and then those insurance companies bill the federal government. And so, the federal government was effectively paying insurance companies on behalf of patients that apparently the insurance companies hadn't vetted extensively enough. They thought they might have been eligible for Medicare, but they weren't because they're illegal immigrants.
Viebeck went on to say that "these are not individual immigrants who are trying to defraud the federal government. This all happens through insurance companies. It's basically one gigantic error."