In the five years since President Obama's health care reform plan -- which became the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- was first introduced, the right-wing media has waged a continuous campaign to attack the law through misinformation, deception, and outright lies.
The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.
Fox selectively highlighted an incomplete data point in a positive new study on the Affordable Care Act's effect on the uninsured as proof that the law is a failure.
On April 8, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research institution, released a study on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has affected the number of Americans with health insurance. The study found a net gain of 9.3 million Americans with health insurance from September 2013 to March 2014 and that the share of uninsured Americans has dropped from 20.5 percent to 15.8 percent. The report estimated a lower enrollment number than the White House's 7.1 million, but added an important caveat:
Although a total of 3.9 million people enrolled in marketplace plans, only 1.4 million of these individuals were previously uninsured. Our marketplace enrollment numbers are lower than those reported by the federal government at least in part because our data do not fully capture the surge in enrollment that occurred in late March 2014.
On the April 9 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Brian Kilmeade, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and Steve Doocy seized on the 3.9 figure from the RAND report to claim that the Obama administration's estimate of 7.1 people enrolled in the marketplace is incorrect. Co-host Steve Doocy cited RAND's finding that 1.4 million people who enrolled were previously uninsured to claim "we blew up everything for one percent" of the previously uninsured:
DOOCY: [Hasselbeck] just said that only 1.4 million Americans got their insurance through the exchanges. We blew up everything for one percent? Think about back to the last election where the Democrats made a big thing about the one percent, and the Republicans and the one percent. Well, everybody should make a big deal about how we blew up the entire healthcare system for one percent.
From the April 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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When a mass shooting occurs, conservative media rush to blame mental health, video games, a lack of armed people present, and even liberal values -- anything but the fact that the shooter was able to get a gun.
But the single proximate factor in all mass shootings, and in all gun violence really, is that it is easy for dangerous people to access high-powered firearms. Lack of access to firearms typically makes it difficult for would-be mass murderers to carry out their plans. For instance, experts say mass stabbings are extremely rare in the United States. To the contrary, 69 percent of all homicides are committed with a gun. Of 37 public mass killings since 2006, 33 involved firearms, while the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident involving a car, and two cases of arson accounted for the other four incidents.
Furthermore, academic research has linked the easy availability of firearms to homicide. According to numerous studies, "where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide." Compared to other high income nations which typically more strongly regulate the availability of firearms, the United States' gun homicide rate is 19.5 times higher, leading to an overall homicide rate that is 6.9 times higher. Research has also shown, "across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."
Following the April 2 shooting at Fort Hood that left three victims dead and 16 others wounded, conservative media have refused to acknowledge the role of easy access to firearms in shootings and have instead claimed mass shootings are caused by video games, mental health problems, the "culture war," and by a deficiency in the number of firearms carried by the general public.
One of Fox News' more bizarre ethical violations has drawn to a close. After devoting a week of segments to promoting a Republican Senate candidate's fundraising ploy, Fox & Friends plagiarized the idea and spent another week passing it off as their own.
As Media Matters previously reported, last month Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse released a March Madness-themed competition featuring a bracket of 64 alleged Constitutional violations by the Obama administration.
Fox & Friends eagerly latched onto the "Constitutional Madness" bracket, devoting significant time to it on their March 21, 22, 24, 25, and 26 broadcasts. While promoting the Sasse campaign's bracket, both the hosts and on-screen text repeatedly credited Sasse with coming up with the idea. Fox hosts also adopted the Sasse campaign-approved branding that the Nebraska Republican is known as "the anti-Obamacare candidate."
After originally telling viewers to weigh in on Facebook and Twitter, Fox & Friends started directing viewers to vote in the competition at the Sasse-operated constitutionalmadness.com. (Sasse himself also directed viewers to visit the website during his appearance on the March 24 edition of Fox & Friends.)
The Sasse campaign was likely thrilled by the publicity boost, because the entire competition was a thinly-veiled effort to farm email addresses and solicit donations. Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com are greeted with a large "CONTRIBUTE!" button. Filling out a bracket automatically redirects people to the Sasse campaign's fundraising page, and in order to complete the bracket in the first place, you have to give the Sasse campaign your email address.
Inevitably, since filling out a bracket on March 26, Media Matters has been emailed fundraising solicitations from the Sasse campaign, including one on March 29 urging people to contribute before the end of the fundraising quarter.
But a strange thing happened in the middle of Fox & Friends' promotion of Sasse's "Constitutional Madness": the show kept running segments charting the progress of the competition, but stopped crediting Sasse for the idea. Instead, Fox & Friends started directing people to vote at their show's own website, where they had plagiarized much of the original bracket.
Here's what right-wing media are missing in their rush to blame gun regulations and Democrats for the tragic shooting at Ft. Hood on April 2, in which a gunman killed three people and wounded 16 others before taking his own life.
Fox News used a misleading report from an anti-immigrant organization to baselessly claim the Obama administration is now releasing immigrants who have been convicted of rape and murder. In fact, those crimes, classified as Level 1 offenses by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are automatically subject to deportation.
On March 31, the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies reported that in 2013, ICE released nearly 68,000 immigrants who had been convicted of some type of crime. According to CIS, that number represented 35 percent of all immigrants convicted of a crime that CIS had come into contact with in 2013. CIS did not describe the specific crimes these immigrants had been convicted of but nevertheless concluded that the "release of so many convicted criminals back into U.S. communities, when they could be removed to their home countries, is a large-scale abuse of authority that inevitably leads to public harm."
Fox News seized on the report to repeatedly argue that the Obama administration "is destabilizing the nation by allowing hordes of dangerous illegal aliens to invade the country," as Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes put it.
Fox hosts have since escalated those claims, asserting that immigrants who were released were those convicted of rape and murder, even though the CIS report makes no such claim.
On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy stated: "That's kind of scary that we released close to 70,000 people who had criminal convictions. I know some of them were drunk driving, but they did include murder in some cases and rape as well. That's not the way it's supposed to work." Guest Jessica Vaughan, CIS' director of policy studies, replied: "Well, ICE has not released all the details on the exact crimes that these people are associated with, but it is concerning that interior immigration enforcement has deteriorated."
Later on America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs noted that CIS is a "restrictionist advocacy group" "and therefore you have to take their numbers with a grain of salt." But Dobbs went on to push the same wild claim, saying that "some" of the immigrants released were found to be guilty of crimes "running up to rape, murder and far down as taking off."
In fact, any immigrant -- legal or undocumented -- who has been convicted of an aggravated felony such as rape or murder is automatically subject to deportation, without the benefit of a court hearing.
As the Washington Post explained:
Immigrants convicted of such crimes are automatically required to be detained by federal immigration authorities after they're released from criminal custody and can then be summarily deported without a hearing before a judge. Aggravated felons are also ineligible for asylum or reprieve from deportation by a change due to family hardship, and they're prohibited from ever returning to the United States without special permission from the government. (Permanent residents are granted a hearing, but the judge still has limited authority to prevent deportation.)
Determined to undermine positive news about successful enrollment in health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, Fox News drastically downplayed the number of previously uninsured Americans who have gained coverage through the ACA.
Right-wing media outlets including Fox News falsely claimed that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was only able to reach the benchmark of 6 million enrollees by signing up undocumented immigrants and "Mexican nationals" at Mexican consulates. In fact, Mexican nationals -- like all American citizens and legal immigrants -- are mandated by the law to sign up for insurance, and outreach efforts at Mexican consulates that work to educate Mexicans legally living in the United States about government programs are nothing new.
From the March 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News attacked the Obama administration for announcing a delay to the Affordable Care Act that resembles administration delays by other presidents, such as President Bush's 2006 delay of the Medicare Part D penalty.
Over the past week, Fox & Friends has run numerous segments promoting the "Constitutional Madness" bracket created by Republican Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse. While Sasse's bracket is ostensibly an attempt to determine the worst constitutional violation among supposed Obama administration scandals, in reality it's a thinly-veiled attempt to collect donations and email addresses. Fox News liked the Sasse idea so much they eventually plagiarized it for FoxNews.com.
To coincide with the NCAA's annual March Madness basketball tournament, last week Sasse's campaign released a bracket of 64 alleged constitutional violations by the Obama administration. Sasse is a former Bush administration official running in a Republican primary to fill Mike Johanns' Senate seat in Nebraska. The bracket is made up of a panoply of Fox News-promoted pseudoscandals, including things like "death panels."
Fox & Friends has given the bracket a major publicity boost, discussing it at length on its March 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 broadcasts. During some of the segments, Fox hosts -- and Sasse himself, who appeared on March 24 -- directed viewers to the competition website and pushed people to cast a vote. The network has also hyped how "thousands of people" are voting in the competition, which has gotten "a lot of buzz" -- thanks in no small part to Fox's efforts.
Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com -- many of whom likely did so after hearing about it on Fox News' highly-rated morning show -- are greeted with a green "CONTRIBUTE!" button above the actual voting process.
In order to submit votes, visitors must give the Sasse campaign their email address, which will undoubtedly be used for later fundraising pitches. After submitting a vote, the site redirects to the Sasse campaign's donation page, with the $100.00 donation option helpfully pre-selected. Text on the landing page reads, "Thanks for playing! Will you help fight back against Constitutional overreach by making a donation to the campaign today?"
On its March 26 broadcast, the show promoted its own version of the competition and encouraged viewers to visit the Fox & Friends website to cast votes.
Much of the language on Fox's version of the bracket is pulled directly from the Sasse campaign website, but Fox offers no attribution anywhere on its site. To the contrary, Fox News claims it's "our Constitutional Madness Bracket" and "we put together a 'Constitutional Madness' bracket." Fox also lifted language from other sources in writing "background" information about the alleged constitutional violations.
Fox News of course has routinely worked to bolster the political ambitions of Republicans, including those on its own staff. But even by the network's warped ethical standards, its week-long promotion of Sasse's campaign ploy has been egregious.
In 2010, the Democratic Governors Association filed a complaint (later dismissed) against Fox News after the network ran the campaign web address of former Fox employee and then Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich.
A rundown of Fox's "Constitutional Madness" hype is below.
Fox News dishonestly attacked the solar industry, implying that Yuma, Arizona's unemployment rate is higher than that of Midland, Texas due to the presence of a solar power plant and lack of natural gas or petroleum exploration. However, Yuma and Midland have completely different economic bases, and the Yuma solar plant has been lauded as a success.
Fox News touted conservative Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse by promoting his website and urging viewers to vote on the "Constitutional Madness" bracket that Sasse created in an attempt to smear President Obama.
The March 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends featured Sasse's "Constitutional Madness" bracket, which purports to determine Obama's worst violation of constitutional rights by allowing participants to vote online. Fox followed in the footsteps of their contributor Sarah Palin, who has endorsed Sasse, by hosting and promoting the Nebraska Senate candidate during a discussion of his bracket. Sasse urged viewers to visit his campaign websites as co-host Steve Doocy celebrated the press the bracket has received: