Mainstream media outlets are blindly repeating the claim by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that she supported expanded background checks by voting for Republican legislation that would actually have weakened the background check system.
On April 17, Ayotte voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment, a legislative proposal to expand background checks to sales at gun shows and over the Internet, facing political backlash as a result. Ayotte, however, co-sponsored and voted in favor of a replacement bill offered by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that purported to improve the background check system by increasing the number of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
In fact, the Grassley-Cruz proposal would weaken the gun background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system. Specifically, Section 103 would change current law by only creating a disqualifying background check record if an individual is designated as dangerously mentally ill by a court or other adjudicative body. Under present law, adjudications by all lawful authorities create a record that prohibits an individual from buying a firearm.
To the contrary, Manchin-Toomey would have increased the number of mental health records in NICS by offering states financial incentives and disincentives to include missing records in the system, in addition to expanding background checks
A National Rifle Association-authored opinion piece in The Hill is rife with misleading claims about legislation that aims to expand background checks for gun sales and fix current deficiencies in the background check system.
Chris Cox, a regular columnist and top lobbyist for the NRA, claimed in an op-ed that proposed legislation to expand background checks would create a national gun registry and "criminalize" transfers of firearms between family members. In fact, expanded background check legislation reported to the Senate on March 12, known as the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013, contains an exception for transfers between family members and federal law already prohibits the establishment of a national gun registry. Cox also misled about the effectiveness of the current background check system as an argument against making improvements.
In his March 18 column titled, "A universally bad idea," Cox claimed, "A mandate for truly 'universal' background checks would put the federal government squarely in the middle of every sale, loan or gift of a firearm between private individuals. In other words, it would criminalize all private firearms transfers, even between family members or friends who have known each other all of their lives."
The Fix Gun Checks Act, the leading piece of background check legislation, would require a criminal background check for nearly every gun sale to occur with some important exceptions. The legislation exempts "bona fide gifts between spouses, between parents and their children, between siblings, or between grandparents and their grandchildren" from the background check requirement. Other exemptions waive the background check requirement for temporary transfers for hunting and other sporting purposes.
The exemptions laid out in the Fix Gun Checks Act mirror the Obama administration's policy proposal on reducing gun violence, which called for background check legislation with "common-sense exceptions for cases like certain transfers between family members and temporary transfers for hunting and sporting purposes."
In addition to expanding background checks, the Fix Gun Checks Act also aims to improve the background check system by using a carrot-and-stick approach to incentivize states to submit disqualifying records into the background check system that are currently missing.
Dick Morris, cut loose from Fox News after years of embarrassingly wrong political analysis, is still gainfully employed by The Hill, which continues to publish his weekly column. The very public battering Morris took following the 2012 election has done nothing to improve the quality of his commentary, and his most recent Hill column demonstrates as much. Headlined "Latinos could be GOP allies," the column is based on a Republican-funded push poll conducted by a pollster whose work in the 2012 Mexican presidential election distinguished itself with near-Dick Morris levels of inaccuracy.
"A new poll taken by Mexico's leading public opinion researcher shows that U.S. citizens of Latino descent are potentially strong allies of the Republican Party," writes Morris. The poll, as Morris acknowledges, was "organized and funded by John Jordan of Jordan Winery, a prominent Republican donor," but that's really the least of its problems. The questions asked, as quoted by Morris, are so over-the-top and one-sided that it's no real surprise the results are so favorable to the GOP:
By 59-34 percent, U.S. Latinos agreed that "Democrats are closer to the leaders we had in Latin America, always giving handouts to get votes. If we let them have their way, we will end up being like the countries our families came from, not like the America of great opportunities we all came to."
By 78-16 percent, U.S. Latinos agreed that Latino immigrants must "not go the way some have gone into high unemployment, crime, drugs, and welfare.
They must be more like the hard working immigrants who came here and worked their way up without depending on the government." More important, when asked which party most shares this sentiment, they chose the Republicans, by a margin of 45-29 percent.
By 47-31, Latinos agree that Republicans would do more to "strengthen churches so they can help the poor and teach values of faith and family." By 89-8, they think that "too many people depend on the government and its handouts. That way of thinking is very bad and leads to lifetimes of unemployment, poverty, and crime." And, by 45-37, they believe the Republican Party is more likely to share their view than Democrats are.
The poll's methodology does little to enhance its credibility. It combined telephone and in-person interviews conducted over the course of an entire month, January 15 to February 15. What's the problem with having a poll in the field that long? Something big could happen that might alter the opinions of the population being sampled -- like, say, the president of the United States laying out an immigration reform plan.
Conservative media are parroting a Republican claim that a federal report says health care reform increases the long-term deficit. In fact, the report says that the deficit would only increase if cost containment measures in the bill were phased out over time, and found that the deficit would decrease if those measures were maintained.
President Obama is busily nominating replacements for the various Cabinet officers and Cabinet-level officials who aren't sticking around for his second term. The emerging consensus in the media is that in doing so, the president is "picking fights" with the Senate GOP minority that will have to vote for or against the nominees. Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel's nomination for Defense Secretary has been cast as an especially provocative move by the White House. It's a curious way to frame the story -- if indeed Obama can be said to be "picking fights" with Cabinet nominees, that's only because Senate Republicans have made clear they'll fight anyone Obama picks. And casting Obama as the disruptive force masks the Republican obstructionism underlying the confirmation fights.
Here's The Hill from January 7:
Obama nominates Hagel for Pentagon, picking fight with Senate Republicans
President Obama on Monday nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be the nation's next Defense secretary despite warnings of a tough confirmation fight from some Senate Republicans.
Here's the Washington Post, also from January 7:
President Obama picks a confirmation fight. Can he win it?
When President Obama formally nominates Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense later today, he can be certain of one thing: The former Nebraska Republican Senator will face a major fight to win confirmation.
And here's Politico from this morning:
Why President Obama is picking fights with Congress
Barack Obama is looking for a few good fights.
Obama, the same president who campaigned twice on breaking the cycle of conflict in Washington, sees the utility -- even the necessity -- of rattling Republican cages as he plunges into a succession of upcoming battles over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the debt ceiling, $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts, immigration reform and gun control.
In May, O'Reilly Factor host Bill O'Reilly told Fox News political analyst Dick Morris that because he was "so far out on the limb" predicting a Romney win in the presidential election, if Obama were to be re-elected Morris would be "through" and "selling refrigerators in Topeka." Seven months later, following Obama's comfortable re-election, Morris isn't selling appliances in Kansas (that we know of), but he's the laughingstock of the political pundit class and has temporarily been benched at Fox News.
Like most other years of Morris' media career, 2012 was marked by terribly inaccurate election predictions, habitual dishonesty, and questionable ethical conflicts. Unlike most other years, however, Morris appears to actually be facing consequences and backlash for his role as America's Worst Political Pundit.
After Morris made more than fifteen appearances on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On the Record in October and early November, he's been absent from the network's primetime lineup since November 12 following reports that producers now have to get special permission to book him (or Karl Rove) on their shows. He has also been publicly criticized by numerous media ethicists from prominent newspapers and universities, countless political writers and reporters in the U.S. (and abroad), donors to his shady super PAC, and his colleagues at The Hill newspaper.
Appearing on Fox & Friends the day before the election to discuss his prediction of a "landslide" Romney victory, Morris said of the various people predicting an Obama win, "either I'm gonna have to go through a big reckoning, or they are. And you know what? They are."
It was another prediction that wouldn't shake out.
Reporters at The Hill newspaper are levying tough criticism at the publication's columnist Dick Morris following recent outlandish predictions that caused Fox News to restrict his time on the air.
"I think everyone at The Hill views him the way that people outside The Hill do," said one staffer. "He is a laughingstock, especially the way he acted in this last election."
"I don't think people take his column seriously," added another. "What did he predict, 300 electoral votes for Romney?"
New York magazine's Gabe Sherman reported December 4 that segments involving Morris and fellow Fox News political analyst Karl Rove would now require approval from a top network executive. He explained of Morris:
Inside Fox News, Morris's Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line. At a rehearsal on the Saturday before the election, according to a source, anchor Megyn Kelly chuckled when she relayed to colleagues what someone had told her: "I really like Dick Morris. He's always wrong but he makes me feel good."
Morris had used his Fox perch to offer an array of outlandish predictions, including repeated claims that Mitt Romney would win the presidency by a "landslide," Republicans would pick up 10 Senate seats, and stating it was "very possible" President Obama would drop out of the race altogether.
The commentator's record at The Hill was not much better, using his widely-mocked final columns before Election Day to predict a Romney "landslide" of more than 5 points in the popular vote and several GOP Senate victories.
But while Fox News - famously lacking accountability - has decided to reduce Morris' appearances in response to his embarrassing commentary, The Hill appears to be taking no such steps. And that concerns some of the paper's reporters who worry that his work adversely affects their brand.
"If it was up to me, I would not have him as a columnist, but it's not up to me," said a third reporter. "His columns are wildly outlandish. I think that he, as evidenced by this [interview], he probably brings more negative attention than positive to the paper."
A November 19 article in The Hill repeated the false claim that the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty -- a proposal to crack down on the supply of weapons to human rights abusers -- poses a threat to private gun ownership in the United States.
In a piece that relied entirely on a House Resolution filed in opposition to the ATT, Hill reporter Pete Kasperowicz also credulously repeated suggestions that the treaty could impact assistance to Israel and Taiwan. In fact, both of these claims are contradicted by the text of the proposed treaty itself and by basic United Nations procedure.
Throughout the entire article, Kasperowicz does not cite any authorities to provide deeper context for the ATT, relying instead on the text of the House Resolution filed by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), which is quoted at length. From The Hill:
The resolution, whose main sponsor is Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), argues that the ATT does not recognize the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms, and thus threatens to undermine the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
The ATT's draft preamble clearly "reaffirm[s] the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems." Furthermore, the Department of State has also declared that the United States will oppose any final treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
From the November 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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The Hill recently published two falsehood-filled columns by Dick Morris suggesting that President Obama will subjugate the United States to the United Nations.
In a column posted yesterday, Morris claimed that "[s]ecretly, behind closed doors, the nations of the world are negotiating a treaty -- initiated by Russia and China -- to regulate the Internet through the United Nations" that will be signed in December in Dubai. Yet Morris conveniently omitted one relevant fact: The United States opposes any such regulation.
The White House has repeatedly said it "opposes the extension of intergovernmental controls over the Internet" and has "vowed to block any proposals from Russia and other countries that they believe threaten the Internet's current governing structure or give tacit approval to online censorship."
Indeed, Reuters reported that the U.S. has been "trying to drum up support, both domestically and internationally, to preserve a decentralized Internet" and quoted an unnamed State Department official stating: "This is one of those circumstances where I think it's fair to say there's absolute unanimity. I don't believe you'd find any dissent at all to the view that we would like to keep the Internet free of inter-governmental controls."
Morris previously claimed during a Republican fundraiser that Obama has "secret plans particularly to force UN regulation of the Internet."
In a separate Hill column posted on October 8, Morris claimed that Obama "will invite the United Nations to tax Americans directly" and claimed that "Obama, Hillary and the U.N. are planning" to enact a "U.N.-imposed tax on billionaires all over the world" that would somehow "gradually grow downwards to cover more and more Americans."
However, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations has stated that it opposes global taxes. A spokesperson told FoxNews.com: "The United States opposes global taxes because we believe that any source of revenue should remain under the control of national authorities. This is an idea that has been kicked around for years. Fortunately, it hasn't gone anywhere, nor will it."
In what is likely a first for a major political party, one of the themes for the GOP's nominating convention next week is built around a falsehood. When Republicans meet in Tampa on Tuesday, the banner will be "We Built It," which plays off the manufactured controversy this summer in which conservatives, led by Fox News, claimed President Obama insulted small businessmen and women by supposedly saying they hadn't built their own success.
Speaking to supporters for nearly an hour in Roanoke, VA. on July 13, the president touched on the topic of small business success and the collective forces that shape it, such as the U.S. infrastructure and teachers. Fox quickly claimed Obama insulted small business owners by telling them of their accomplishments, "you didn't build that." (He was referring to the "this unbelievable American system" which includes the "roads and bridges.")
Obama's opponents succeeded in concocting an uproar over a single sentence from an Obama campaign appearance by ripping it out of context. They were able to do that despite being debunked by fact-checker ("out of context"), after fact-checker ("taken wildly out of context") after fact-checker ("ignores the larger context of the president's meaning") after fact-checker ("that quote distorts the meaning of Obama's claim").
Nonetheless, through the sheer force of repetition, as well as taking advantage of a timid press corps that too often suggested the meaning of Obama's comment was somehow in dispute (or a press corps that didn't even care), "build that" has lived on and is now being revived in time for Tampa.
The question now is will the press allow Republicans to get away with it again? Or will the press do its job and point out that the party's "build that" attack revolves around a Fox-fueled falsehood?
Early indications are not encouraging.
Fact-checkers have said that nearly every claim made in the latest Romney ad attacking green energy investments and the stimulus is misleading or false. Yet on The O'Reilly Factor, Lou Dobbs said "Basically [the ad is] true," and he and O'Reilly went on to amplify several of the misleading attacks in the ad.
On Wednesday, The Hill turned an undiscriminating spotlight on a new Republican effort to, as The Hill put it, "block the EPA from using drones." From the article:
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and 11 other House members introduced a bill Tuesday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from conducting aerial drone surveillance of farms to enforce the Clean Water Act, or using any other overhead surveillance.
"Unemployment has been at or above 8 percent for 30 consecutive months. Is conducting flyovers of family farms across the country really the best use of taxpayer money?" Capito asked on Tuesday.
In fact, flyovers are exactly that -- a cost-saving measure, as the Washington Post reported last week:
This is the part that's true: for more than a decade, EPA inspectors have flown over farmland in small private planes -- the traditional kind of aircraft, with people inside them. The inspectors are looking for clean-water violations, like dirty runoff or manure dumped into a stream.
The EPA says the flights are legal under a 1986 Supreme Court decision. And they're cheap: an on-the-ground inspection might cost $10,000, but it costs just $1,000 to $2,500 to survey the same farm by air.
An agency spokesman said these flights are not happening more frequently now than in the past.
What's worse, the Hill story also ignores the fact that the GOP bill is designed in part to solve a problem that has never existed. Despite the manufactured outrage by Republicans, the EPA has never used drones, and the right-wing myth that the agency was "spying" on farmers with unmanned vehicles has been roundly debunked for some time.
The jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning showed that 115,000 jobs were created in April, and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 percent. Reacting to the report on Fox & Friends, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called it "very, very disappointing" and said: "We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery."
Romney's comments were reported by ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others. In each instance, these outlets simply quoted Romney's target for job growth of 500,000-plus per month.
Some context is sorely needed here.
Since 1939, monthly job growth has exceeded 500,000 a grand total of sixteen times, according to BLS. It's happened only five times since the end of the Eisenhower administration: March 1978, April 1978, September 1983, September 1997, and May 2010.
To put that in perspective, monthly job growth that exceeds 500,000 happens with roughly the same frequency as perfect games in baseball, of which there have been 19 since 1900. (Not an exact comparison, of course, but it illustrates the infrequency.)
The vanishing rarity of such explosive job creation should have been mentioned when reporting Romney's call for sustained growth at that rate.
Dick Morris's failure to disclose his financial ties to political entities he writes about for The Hill brought sharp criticism from journalism veterans and news ethicists, one of whom accused the Fox News analyst of breaking an "ethical commandment."
The top editor of The Hill, meanwhile, declined to admit that the newspaper or the columnist had done anything wrong, even as media critics called out the paper's failure to police Morris's column.
In a statement to Media Matters, Hugo Gurdon, the editor-in-chief of The Hill, said:
Our comment pages publish opinion pieces from people on the left and the right who are active in partisan politics. We're confident that our readers know this, but we will continue to make additional disclosures where we think this is necessary.
Asked to elaborate further on Morris's specific actions and whether the paper would subject his work to greater scrutiny in the future, editors at The Hill did not respond.
At issue are several instances identified by Media Matters in which Morris, a well-known conservative political consultant, wrote columns for The Hill, but failed to disclose his financial ties to some subjects of the columns.
In one column earlier this month, Morris attacked "RINO Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.)" for supporting the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The column did not disclose that Morris had headlined a September 2011 fundraiser for Lugar's Republican primary opponent, Richard Mourdock. The Mourdock campaign had also rented Morris's email list in July 2011 for a donation solicitation, which featured an appeal from Morris.
Morris's practice brought criticism from Howard Kurtz on his CNN Reliable Sources program Sunday.
After reading a comment from Gurdon in which the Hill editor said that the paper's readers "are being kept well-informed" about their columnists' potential conflicts of interest, Kurtz commented that those readers "should be kept a little more well-informed."