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How A Discredited Anti-Choice Group Became A Primary Source Of Misinformation For A Congressional Witch Hunt Against Abortion Patients, Providers, And Clinics
Since its inception in October 2015, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has used numerous documents taken from the discredited organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and other anti-choice groups to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Scores of media outlets have confirmed that the footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, while 14 investigations to date have cleared the organization of all wrongdoing.
MSNBC Only Outlet To Vet Ryan's Scheme To Gut The Social Safety Net
Weekday evening programming on the largest cable and broadcast news outlets almost completely ignored a long-standing Medicare privatization scheme favored by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the days since he first resurrected the idea of radically reshaping the American health care system toward for-profit interests.
During a November 10 interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ryan misleadingly claimed that due to mounting “fiscal pressures” created by the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress would be forced to engage with what Baier called “entitlement reform” sometime next year. Ryan falsely claimed that “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke” and that the popular health insurance system for American seniors will have to be changed as part of any legislation to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s health care reform legacy. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from November 10 to November 27, Ryan’s plan to privatize the nationwide, single-payer health care coverage currently enjoyed by millions of seniors has gone unmentioned on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. Ryan’s so-called “premium support” plan was briefly mentioned on the November 22 edition of PBS NewsHour when co-host Judy Woodruff pressed President-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as to whether Trump would accept Ryan’s privatization proposal. By comparison, during the same time period, MSNBC ran six prime-time segments exposing Ryan’s privatization agenda:
According to a July 19 issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue “a proposal to gradually transform Medicare into a system of premium supports, building on proposals” adopted by Ryan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. These so-called “premium supports” would provide each Medicare beneficiary with a “voucher” that can be used for the purchase of private health insurance; they represent “a significant change from the current system” that pays health care providers directly for services rendered.
In essence, Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and redirect hundreds of billions of tax dollars that currently go to doctors, hospitals, and other medical service providers through the costly private health insurance market.
This startling scheme bears similarities to a failed 2005 attempt by the Bush administration to partially privatize Social Security. Democratic members of Congress are already aligning themselves against Ryan’s throwback plan to gut Medicare, and it’s not actually clear if Trump is supportive of the initiative, which he refused to fully endorse on the campaign trail.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out last July, claims that Medicare is “nearing ‘bankruptcy’ are highly misleading,” and Ryan’s specific charge that Medicare is “broke” because of the ACA is completely wrong. President Obama’s health care reform law greatly improved Medicare’s long-term finances and extended the hospital insurance trust fund’s solvency by 11 years.
The looming fight over the future of Medicare, which serves over 55 million beneficiaries and accounted for 15 percent of the entire federal budget in 2015, has been well-documented, but it has garnered almost no attention on major television news programs.
Millions of Americans who rely on broadcast and cable evening news are completely unaware of the stakes in this health care policy fight. They are also unaware that Ryan’s privatization scheme would leave millions of retirees at the whims of the same private insurance market that right-wing media are currently attacking because of increased rates.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from November 10, 2016, through November 27, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any mention of “Medicare.”
A new report from The Washington Post cites recent IRS filings to confirm previous allegations that President-elect Donald Trump’s private charitable foundation engaged in illegal “self-dealing” activities, a story Fox News originally ignored when Trump was the Republican presidential candidate.
On November 22, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported that the Trump Foundation’s newly available tax filings confirm earlier reports that the foundation had engaged in illegal “self-dealing.”
Fahrenthold wrote that the foundation’s 2015 filings -- which were made publicly available on the evening of November 21 -- reveal that the foundation had “transferred ‘income or assets’ to a disqualified person,” which could be Trump himself “or a member of his family or a Trump-owned business.” Another section of the filing also revealed that the foundation had checked “yes” to indicate it had “engaged in any acts of self-dealing in prior years.”
As explained by the Post’s report, these transfers violate “a legal prohibition against ‘self-dealing,’ which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.”
Fahrenthold first reported on this suspected illegal activity in September. As explained when Fahrenthold originally broke the story, Trump spent $258,000 from the Trump Foundation -- to which he has not personally donated since 2009 -- to settle legal issues involving his for-profit businesses, which Fahrenthold noted on CNN “is against the law.”
At the time, the Trump campaign denied the allegations, claiming that Fahrenthold’s report was “peppered with inaccuracies and omissions” and that “there was not, and could not be, any intent or motive for the Trump Foundation to make improper payments.” (The statement offered no examples of any inaccuracies in Fahrenthold’s reporting, nor did subsequent surrogates who claimed the reporting was “debunked”.)
In the day following this breaking story, Fox News devoted a total of just under three minutes to the report, substantially trailing CNN and MSNBC in total coverage. Its flagship evening program, Special Report with Bret Baier, led the network’s race to the bottom in terms of covering the story, devoting just 12 seconds to reporting on the alleged “self-dealing.”
A Media Matters analysis found that Fox News’ segments on the Post report also offered few details on the investigation. The longest segment Fox devoted to the report was one minute and 41 seconds on The O’Reilly Factor, in which guest host Bret Baier allowed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to dismiss the report uninterrupted for a full minute.
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President-elect Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits alleging his for-profit business Trump University used aggressive sales tactics and unqualified instructors to scam students. Throughout the lawsuit’s litigation, right-wing news outlets helped shield Trump University from criticism by enabling Trump to lie about the institution and aiding his racist attacks on the judge overseeing the case.
Conservative media are defending Stephen Bannon, who was recently appointed as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, amid growing backlash over his ties to anti-Semitism and white nationalists. While Bannon’s appointment has been hailed as a victory by white nationalists, the push to normalize Bannon was aided by major newspapers that downplayed and ignored his extreme ties.
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Fox News Already Reported Speculation That Libya Consulate Guards Turned On U.S. Personnel Four Years Ago
On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, Fox News pushed a report detailing the “explosive charge” that a security company hired to protect the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was staffed with locals that participated in the September 11, 2012, attack that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Fox actually reported identical speculation more than four years ago; their sources for the charge are an anonymous “independent security specialist, the co-author of a book that stated that there is “no evidence” the guards “were in league with the attackers,” and an organization filled with birthers and conspiracy theorists; and the network’s previous reporting about the security company featured noted fabulist Dylan Davies.
A week after the September 11, 2012, attack, Fox correspondent Ed Henry reported that “there are reports that security guards” hired by the British security contracting firm Blue Mountain Group “ “turned on the ambassador and that led to his death.” From a Nexis transcript of the September 18, 2012, edition of Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier (subscription required):
HENRY: Today, [State Department spokesperson Victoria] Nuland clarified the administration had, in fact, hired a private security company, Blue Mountain Group, to work inside the perimeter.
NULAND: They were hired to provide local Libyan guards who operated inside the gate doing things like operating the security access equipment, screening the cars.
HENRY (on-camera): Significant, because there are reports that those Libyan security guards turned on the ambassador and that led to his death. Now, late today, Secretary Hillary Clinton said there was no actionable intelligence about an imminent attack in Libya. The keyword being actionable there.
Tonight, a FoxNews.com report by Malia Zimmerman and Adam Housley called similar reports an “explosive charge,” and presented them as completely new information:
An obscure private firm hired by the State Department over internal objections to protect U.S. diplomats in Benghazi just months before the American ambassador and three others were killed was staffed with hastily recruited locals with terror ties who helped carry out the attack, multiple sources told Fox News.
The explosive charge against Wales-based Blue Mountain Group comes from several sources, including an independent security specialist who has implemented training programs at U.S. Consulates around the world, including in Benghazi, where he trained a local militia that preceded Blue Mountain. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Blue Mountain used local newspaper ads to assemble a team of 20 guards, many of
whom had terror ties, after securing a $9.2 million annual contract.
“The guards who were hired were locals who were part of the Ansar al-Sharia and Al Qaeda groups operating in Benghazi,” said the source, whose assignment in Benghazi had ended in November 2011. “Whoever approved contracts at the State Department hired Blue Mountain Group and then allowed Blue Mountain Group to hire local Libyans who were not vetted.”
John “Tig” Tiegen, one of the CIA contractors that responded to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack and co-author of “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi,” confirmed to Fox News that the local Libyans who attacked the consulate that night included guards working for Blue Mountain.
"Many of the local Libyans who attacked the consulate on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, were the actual guards that the State Department under Hillary Clinton hired to protect the Consulate in Benghazi,” Tiegen told Fox News. “The guards were unvetted and were locals with basically no background at all in providing security. Most of them never had held a job in security in the past.
“Blue Mountain Libya, at the time of being awarded the contract by our State Department, had no employees so they quickly had to find people to work, regardless of their backgrounds,” he said.
One former guard who witnessed the attack, Weeam Mohamed, confirmed in an email sent to the Citizens Commission on Benghazi and obtained by Fox News, that at least four of the guards hired by Blue Mountain took part in the attack after opening doors to allow their confederates in.
“In the U.S. Mission, there were four people [who] belonged to the battalion February 17,” Mohamed wrote to the Commission, an independent body formed with Accuracy in Media to investigate the attack and the administration's handling of it.
Fox’s sourcing for the story -- which would contradict several reports by congressional committees and a review by the State Department -- is extremely dubious. Their lead source is anonymous. Their second source, Tiegan, wrote in his bestseller 13 Hours that there was “no evidence” the guards helped the attackers. From 13 Hours (page 84-85):
Who opened the gate wasn’t clear, but responsibility for the entrance rested with the Blue Mountain Libya guards. By some accounts the armed invaders threatened the unarmed guards, who immediately acquiesced. A US government review raised the possibility that the “poorly skilled” local guards left the pedestrian gate open “after initially seeing the attackers and fleeing the vicinity.” No evidence has shown that the Blue Mountain guards were in league with the attackers, but maybe they were incompetent. As the report noted, “They had left the gate unlatched before.” Further complicating matters, the camera monitor in the guard booth at the front gate was broken, and new surveillance cameras.
The network’s third source comes by way of the Citizens Commission on Benghazi, which is staffed by multiple birthers, anti-Muslim activists, and conspiracy theorists who maintained that there was a Benghazi “cover-up.”
Fox previously relied upon Blue Mountain Group security contractor Dylan Davies for Benghazi reporting -- in fact, Housley himself acknowledged on-air that some of the network's 2012 Benghazi coverage had cited Davies, but they "stopped speaking to him when he asked for money." In 2013, CBS News retracted a report that featured Davies’ fabricated claims about having scaled a wall of the Benghazi diplomatic compound while it was under attack and striking a terrorist with his rifle.
It’s no surprise that Fox News, whose obsession with finding a way to turn the tragedy in Benghazi into political attacks on President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would close the 2016 presidential campaign with a new Benghazi conspiracy.
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Fox News anchor Bret Baier’s seemingly bombshell reporting about the Clinton Foundation and a "likely" indictment regarding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, which was based on two unknown sources, collapsed within days when the anchor admitted he’d made a “mistake.”
By the time Baier walked back his comments, his claims had already been parroted by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Fox hosts and correspondents, right-wing blogs, and some mainstream outlets like The Hill.
While Donald Trump’s own campaign manager Kellyanne Conway admitted that the story was wrong, she celebrated that “voters are hearing it” and "the damage is done." Therein lies the massive problem.
Baier made more than a "mistake." And if you need more evidence that Baier's Friday apology wasn't enough, look no further than Fox & Friends Saturday, where discredited conservative journalist Ed Klein touted dubious reporting to suggest that Clinton will likely face an indictment if she’s elected president. What’s more, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume tweeted on Saturday morning that “Fox News stands by Bret Baier's key finding: that the FBI [investigation] of the Clinton [Foundation] is open & active.”
Following the backlash from Bret Baier’s false smear about an impending Clinton indictment, and the doubling down from Fox News, I’m urging Fox News to take these additional steps to correct this miscoverage as soon as possible:
2) Fox News should devote the same amount of time to running Baier’s apology as it did to his faulty reporting. The network spent more than two hours of coverage and devoted at least 41 segments over a 24-hour period to Baier’s faulty reporting. This amounts to nearly 12 percent of the network’s total live airtime.
3) Fox News should re-air its correction on Baier’s show, Special Report, and on The O’Reilly Factor, the network’s most watched show. Baier has yet to apologize on his own show. After years of convincing its viewers that all other news outlets are biased, there stands the very real possibility that the only place Fox viewers are likely to see Baier's apology is if it airs on Fox News. If the network will not devote equal time to the correction as it gave to Baier’s faulty reporting, then it should ensure the correction is seen by as many viewers as possible.
To ensure that the above happens, Media Matters for America will be running a media awareness campaign online to make Fox viewers aware of Bret Baier’s serious reporting transgressions.
On November 2, days before the presidential election, Fox host Bret Baier cited two anonymous sources to issue three explosive claims: The FBI is currently engaged in a “very high priority” investigation of “possible pay-for-play interaction” between Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation that is uncovering an “avalanche” of evidence; the FBI believes with “99 percent accuracy” that Clinton’s private email server was hacked by at least five foreign intelligence services; and that these investigations “will continue to likely an indictment.”
Today, Baier issued an apology that effectively walked back all three claims.
Baier’s original reports were based on “two separate sources with intimate knowledge of the FBI investigations into the Clinton emails and the Clinton Foundation.” In the 24 hours following his initial claims, Fox gave the story more than two hours of airtime, and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump trumpeted the story on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, several other networks debunked Baier’s reporting. But according to Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, even if Fox’s reporting is wrong, “the damage is done to Hillary Clinton” and the facts don’t “change what’s in voters’ minds right now.”
Below is a comparison of Baier’s original reports, his apology statement this morning, and reporting from other networks.
Baier’s Original Reporting
Baier repeatedly hyped the magnitude of the Clinton Foundation investigation, calling it “a quote ‘very high priority’” and saying agents “had collected a great deal of evidence,” with “an avalanche of new information coming in every day.” He claimed that the investigation is “far more expansive than anybody has reported.”
From the November 2 edition of Special Report:
The Clinton Foundation investigation is a quote "very high priority." Agents have interviewed and re-interviewed multiple people about the foundation case, and even before the WikiLeaks dumps, these sources said agents had collected a great deal of evidence. Pressed on that, one source said quote "a lot of it". And there's an avalanche of new information coming in every day -- some of it from WikiLeaks, some from new emails.
The agents are actively and aggressively pursuing this case. And they will be going back and interviewing the same people again -- some for the third time.
Also from the November 2 edition of On the Record:
BAIER: Here's the deal. We talked to two separate sources with intimate knowledge of what's going on with these FBI investigations. A couple of things, one, the Clinton Foundation investigation is far more expansive than anybody has reported, I think, so far.
Three, the Clinton Foundation investigation is so expansive they have interviewed and re-interviewed many people. They described the evidence that they have as quote “a lot of it.” And there is an avalanche coming every day with WikiLeaks and the new emails. They are quote "actively and aggressively pursuing this case."
In his apology, Baier said only that the investigation into the Clinton Foundation is “continuing” and that it’s a priority “for those investigators working it.” He nonetheless claimed to “stand by the sourcing on the ongoing active Clinton Foundation investigation” and that Fox is “working to get sources with knowledge of the details on the record.”
ABC News reported that “there has been no change in posture” for the investigation since February, when “prosecutors and senior FBI officials agreed there was no clear evidence of wrongdoing, and that a criminal case tied to the Clinton Foundation could not be made.”
NBC News’ Peter Williams reported that “FBI officials tell me there's been virtually no movement” on the Clinton Foundation inquiry “for the last several months.”
Baier’s Original Reporting
Baier originally claimed that “we have learned that there is a confidence from these sources that her server had been hacked and that it was about a 99 percent accuracy that it had been hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies, and they believe that things had been taken from that.”
In his apology, Baier admitted that “I was quoting from one source about his certainty that the server had been hacked by five foreign intelligence agencies. And while others believe that is probable because of the confirmed hacking of email accounts Secretary Clinton communicated with, as of today there are still no digital fingerprints of a breach no matter what the working assumption is within the bureau. All the time, but especially in heated a election on a topic this explosive, every word matters, no matter how well-sourced.”
Williams reported that there is “no such view” of hacking at the FBI, which has “concluded they couldn't know for sure, but they found no positive proof of any successful hacks.”
Baier’s Original Reporting
In his On the Record appearance, Baier said that the “investigations will continue. There is a lot of evidence. And barring some obstruction in some way, they believe they will continue to likely an indictment.”
In his apology, Baier said that his reference to a “likely” indictment was “a mistake” because “no one knows if there would or would not be an indictment no matter how strong investigators feel their evidence is. It is obviously a prosecutor who has to agree to take the case and make that case to a grand jury.”
ABC News reported that the indictment claim was “inaccurate and without merit.” NBC’s Williams reported that “this idea that there are indictments near or something like that, I am told is just not true.” And according to CNN, Baier’s use of the word indictment was “wrong” because “there is no evidence that any of the Fox stuff is true. That there is nothing close to an indictment. “
Fox Ran More Than Two Hours Of Coverage On Report Three Other Networks Have Debunked
Fox News devoted more than two hours of live coverage over one day of programming to Fox News anchor Bret Baier’s anonymously-sourced reporting that included explosive claims about both the FBI’s investigation into a “pay-for-play” relationship between the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s office as secretary of state and their investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Three other networks have debunked and disputed the claims Baier made based on their own sources.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier made a massive face plant on his now-debunked report of a forthcoming indictment as part of supposed FBI investigations related to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Yet fellow journalists are giving Baier a pass because he is a “solid reporter” and a “real journalist.” To the contrary, Baier is part of the cadre of so-called “hard news” Fox reporters who frequently peddle conservative misinformation under the guise of “straight news,” and his latest “indictment” error is not simply a one-time slip up.
Baier seemingly stunned the political world on November 2 when he cited anonymous sources to claim that FBI agents investigating the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state found an “avalanche of new information coming in every day” that would lead to “likely an indictment.” The claim quickly made its way to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who said the FBI investigation “is likely to yield an indictment.”
Less than 24 hours after the initial claim, however, Baier partially walked back his “inartful” and flawed report, saying it was wrong for him to “phrase it like I did.” Later that day, ABC News and NBC News poured cold water on Baier’s report, and NBC’s Pete Williams reported that “there really isn’t” an investigation into the Clinton Foundation and that “this idea that there are indictments near … is just not true.”
Yet despite Baier’s botched reporting, some journalists claimed Baier’s inaccurate reporting was a one-off error. CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota held Baier up as “a real journalist,” saying, “He’s not Sean Hannity. … Bret is a real journalist,” suggesting that his latest miscue was out of character for him. Fellow CNN anchor Chris Cuomo also suggested that it was Baier’s sources who were at fault, not he, because Baier is a “solid reporter” who shouldn’t be “assail[ed]” for being misled.
Baier’s bungled report is indeed an example of terrible journalism, but he hardly has an otherwise-clean slate of “solid” and honest reporting.
Throughout his tenure at Fox, Baier has pushed false and misleading claims about numerous issues. He has distorted conversations about reproductive rights by pushing an overwhelming amount of abortion-related misinformation on his show, including referring to common abortion procedures as “dismemberment abortion.” He has also used his show as a vehicle for pushing debunked conspiracy theories and flatout falsehoods regarding the September 11, 2012, terror attacks in Benghazi -- in fact, Baier’s Special Report aired the most Benghazi-related segments of all of Fox’s evening programs in the 20 months following the attacks.
Baier has attacked first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy lunches initiative, pushed falsehoods about Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and fearmongered over nondiscrimination ordinances. He has falsely suggested that climate change data is “cooked,” peddled false conspiracy theories about Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, and even pushed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to threaten a government shutdown. Baier also defended his former boss Roger Ailes after sexual harassment allegations surfaced and attempted to downplay Trump’s widely condemned invitation for the Russian government to hack Clinton by claiming Trump was simply “joking.”
In addition to all of this, Baier has not even fully retracted his false reporting on Clinton and the FBI, doubling down on November 3 despite the debunking from other outlets.
So no, Bret Baier is not a “real journalist.” He is a right-leaning Fox News reporter who exploits the facade of his “straight news” evening show to peddle conservative misinformation, and his latest “indictment” misfire is part of an ongoing trend.
UPDATE: On November 4, Baier apologized on-air for his misleading report and effectively walked back all three of his original and now debunked claims. Journalists praised Baier for correcting his false reporting, ignoring the broader context of flawed body of work.