Once again, the press is turning a blind eye to the unprecedented obstructionism coming from the Republican Party.
In the wake of Ambassador Susan Rice's Capitol Hill meetings with Republican senators this week and the harsh assessment they quickly gave reporters, most new accounts stressed that if Rice were nominated to be secretary of state she would face stiff opposition. Reporters detailed how Republicans were raising objections to Rice's involvement in the controversy surrounding the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi after she was selected to appear on Sunday talk shows to relay the intelligence community's assessment of the attack. (An assessment that was later changed.)
Here's the key fact most press accounts omitted: The GOP continues to engage in unrivaled obstructionism. And its threat to vote down Rice as secretary of state before she's even named likely represents an unparalleled act of partisan defiance.
The extremist maneuver erases decades, if not centuries, of Capitol Hill protocol with regards to allowing a newly elected president to confirm the secretary of state of his choosing. The aggressive GOP attempt to derail Rice's rise also runs counter to how Democrats confirmed Condoleeza Rice as secretary of state, despite outstanding questions about her involvement in selling and planning the Iraq War.
Even more shocking with regards to Susan Rice was the threat this week from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) that she would try to block any secretary of state nominee, whether it's Rice or someone else, unless the White House provides more answers about Benghazi. (The White House has been providing Benghazi answers for 10 weeks now.)
Ayotte's stunning threat is, without question, the definition of (militant) obstructionism :
One who systematically blocks or interrupts a process, especially one who attempts to impede passage of legislation by the use of delaying tactics, such as a filibuster.
Ayotte's scorched-earth tactic was treated by the Beltway press as nothing more than routine political posturing. Virtually no information was provided cluing news consumers into just how radical and extraordinary a proposal the Republican was making, or just how remarkable it was for senators to mount a campaign to block a secretary of state nomination.
Note that in these news reports from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Washington Post, all of the crucial context was missing. And it's routinely missing from the ongoing Rice coverage.
A Wall Street Journal editorial hid the relative health of Social Security, in order to argue that immediate cuts to the program should be part of any deficit reduction deal. In fact, economists say that Social Security is not a major driver of deficits. Unfortunately, mainstream media have not reported this fact, which has given the Journal cover to push for Social Security cuts.
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out: "While the United States does have a long-run budget problem, Social Security is not a major factor in that problem." Social Security does face a shortfall between the revenue the program receives and the estimated benefits it will pay out beginning in 2034. But Center for Budget and Policy Priorities economist Kathy Ruffing has also noted that, far from being in crisis, Social Security's shortfall over the next 75 years would be almost completely restored by letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans.
Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office has said that Social Security spending, which amounted to 4.69 percent of Gross Domestic Product, will rise only to 6.63 percent of GDP by 2086 if the program pays out full benefits. These facts have led economist Dean Baker to conclude that with regards to Social Security that "there is no plausible story in which our children or grandchildren will have to worry that there won't be anything there for them."
Nevertheless, the Wall Street Journal editorial board demanded that Democrats make immediate cuts to Social Security as the price for any deficit deal that raises federal revenues:
President Obama's re-election means that taxes for upper-income earners are going up one way or another. The Bush rates expire on December 31 unless Mr. Obama signs an extension, and he shows no inclination to do so except for anyone earning less than $250,000 a year ($200,000 if you're single). The question is how Republicans should handle this reality while staying true to their principles and doing the least harm to the economy.
Speaker John Boehner deserves some leeway to try to mitigate the damage by negotiating a larger tax reform.
All the more so if Mr. Boehner can also get Mr. Obama to agree to significant spending and entitlement reform. This means more than the usual suspects of cuts to doctors and hospitals and means-testing benefits for the affluent.
It means reforms -- dotted-line commitments, not promises -- that immediately reduce Medicare and Social Security liabilities, that terminate some discretionary programs, and that rein in such scandals as runaway Social Security disability payments.
Unfortunately, the Journal is not the only media outlet hiding the relative health of the Social Security program.
A November 25 Washington Post article on progressive resistance to conservative demands for Social Security cuts falsely claimed that Social Security's costs are "skyrocketing" and "fast-growing." In addition, a New York Times article reported that Republicans were pushing for Social Security cuts to restrain the deficit while the White House said the program "is not currently a driver of the deficit," but made no attempt to ascertain whether Republicans or the White House were correct.
And the Post and Times misleading reporting on Social Security provided the Journal cover to push for major cuts to the program.
In an extended attack on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice's potential candidacy for secretary of state, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd repeatedly contradicted her paper's reporting on the Obama administration's response to the September 11 attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.
Right-wing media have repeatedly attacked Rice for suggesting in a series of September 16 interviews that the attack on the diplomatic facility resulted from a spontaneous uprising in response to an anti-Islam video -- statements consistent with talking points approved by the CIA at the time. Those attacks have increased as media have reported that Rice could be nominated to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In her November 18 column, Dowd writes that Rice "should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.'s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was `not anger over a movie." But the Times' own reporting indicates that the people who attacked the diplomatic facility have said that an anti-Muslim film prompted their attack.
The Times reported on October 15 (emphasis added):
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
The paper pointed to a statement from a spokesman for Ansar al-Shariah, the group that reportedly carried out the attack, which "praised the attack as the proper response to such an insult to Islam."
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, major media outlets whitewashed many of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's extreme positions, including on abortion, health care, and the situation in the Middle East. In doing so, these outlets aided Romney's efforts to remake himself as a moderate politician.
Fox host Eric Bolling insisted that there is no video of Mitt Romney saying that we should "let Detroit go bankrupt," when, in fact, Romney repeated those very words during a 2011 appearance on CBS' Early Show.
During the Friday edition of The Five, Bolling played a clip of President Obama saying that Romney has run away from his opposition to the auto rescue, despite the fact that Romney is "on videotape saying the words 'let Detroit go bankrupt.' "
Bolling said that Obama was wrong and that Romney had merely written a 2008 op-ed that The New York Times headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" and that Romney has never actually said those words.
Here is video of Romney on the June 3, 2011, Early Show repeating the headline from the op-ed and embracing it:
With the election nearing its end, the New York Times takes stock of the race for Ohio, noting that President Obama begins the final week before Election Day with a 5-point lead in their latest poll, while "in the closing stages of the race, [Mitt] Romney has taken steps to emphasize the moderate elements of his record." The Times notes that Romney's "campaign was running a television advertisement here on Tuesday reminding voters that he supports abortion rights in the case of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother," and quotes one of their poll respondents dismissing the notion that a Romney victory would mean returning to "the point where women won't be able to have abortions or birth control is going to be rationed." Unmentioned by the Times, though, were any of the positions Romney's taken or statements he's made that indicate his hostility towards reproductive rights.
From the October 31 New York Times article:
In the closing stages of the race, Mr. Romney has taken steps to emphasize the moderate elements of his record. His campaign was running a television advertisement here on Tuesday reminding voters that he supports abortion rights in the case of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. Democratic groups and the Obama campaign countered with their own ads.
The economy remains the top issue on the minds of voters, the poll found, and the ads were dismissed as not relevant by one poll respondent, Dana Hogan of Cincinnati.
"Do I really think we're going to go back to the point where women won't be able to have abortions or birth control is going to be rationed? That's just silly to even think of," said Ms. Hogan, who works at a small company and spoke in a follow-up interview. "Some women do still get really riled up by that, but I think it's just a scare tactic. Really, you think women are that dumb?"
The Times has previously given Romney an assist in reshaping his stance on abortion, allowing the Republican to blunt the edges on the sharp anti-choice rhetoric he used during the Republican primaries. Romney's attempts at late-stage moderation on abortion stand in contrast to his support for overturning Roe v. Wade, his promise to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding, his pledge to reinstate the Mexico City Policy banning federal money from going to abortion providers abroad, and his support for anti-abortion legislation.
In fairness to the Times, though, it can be tough to nail down precisely what Romney's position on abortion is at any given moment, given the high degree of mutability he's demonstrated throughout the years.
New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed on Meet the Press that President Obama's recent comments to the Des Moines Register differed from his comments on the campaign trail. In fact, as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne pointed out to Brooks, Obama has committed to comprehensive immigration reform, corporate tax reform, and a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy just as he did in his remarks to the Register.
Media figures including New York Times columnist Frank Bruni and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough are distorting President Obama's proposals to claim that the president has said he will rely solely on taxes to cut the deficit. In fact, Obama has proposed a balanced approach of spending cuts combined with tax increases on the wealthy to reduce deficits.
On September 9, CBS News reported Obama's "plan for reducing the deficit would cut $2.50 in spending allowances for every $1 of increased tax revenue." Obama has advocated a balanced approach to deficit-cutting for years and continues to advocate it to this day. Indeed, some progressives have criticized Obama's budget proposals for cutting spending too much.
But in a column for the latest Sunday edition of the Times, Bruni claimed that Obama is suggesting that "extra taxation on the rich alone can solve many of our budget problems." Bruni wrote:
President Obama admits that he'd like taxes raised on households making more than $250,000. But he casts those increases as an insurance policy against any significant hikes on everyone else, and puts an emphasis on them far out of bounds with their potential impact. The implication is that extra taxation on the rich alone can solve many of our budget problems. That's savvy marketing, smart politics and utter bunk.
Scarborough similarly said that "we can't raise taxes to solvency," but "Obama's answer to everything" is "we're going to raise taxes on the rich."
The right-wing media have repeatedly pushed this falsehood that Obama wants to increase taxes to reduce the deficit while opposing spending cuts of any kind. They have also erected and knocked down the straw-man argument that taxing the wealthiest Americans at 100 percent would eliminate the deficit.
And Scarborough took this particular straw man even further. During the segment, he claimed that even if the government used tanks to seize all the assets of the top 1 percent, it would not close the deficit:
SCARBOROUGH: We could seize the assets of the top 1 percent. Take everything. Take 100 percent, go in with tanks, take their homes, sell them. Do all of that. That still wouldn't make us solvent -- not more than for eight, nine, 10 months.
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks argued today that the Obama administration's clean energy investments have been "a wasteful disappointment," citing a figure that his own paper called "outrageous" to downplay the number of jobs created in the clean energy sector.
Obama's stimulus package set aside $90 billion for renewable energy loans and grants, but the number of actual jobs created has been small. Articles began to appear in the press of green technology grants that were costing $2 million per job created. The program began to look like a wasteful disappointment.
But the $90 billion figure -- which Mitt Romney cited in the first presidential debate -- has been repeatedly debunked, including by Brooks' own New York Times. As the Times' Matthew Wald explained after the first debate, not all the money went to renewable energy, not all of it has been spent, and much of it was authorized under the Bush administration:
The $90 billion is a real number drawn from the 2009 stimulus package, but it wasn't all spent, as Mr. Romney said, and a lot of the green energy spending that went out the door on Mr. Obama's watch was authorized during the Bush administration.
The biggest component of the $90 billion was $29 billion for energy efficiency, of which $5 billion involved improvements in the homes and apartments of low-income households. There was also $18 billion for fast trains and $21 billion for wind farms, solar panels and other renewable energy. Supporters point out that much of the energy spending drew in private capital.
Another New York Times fact-check called the number "outrageous" and "a piece of masterful spin."
The paper was ridiculed earlier this year when then-public editor Arthur Brisbane questioned whether reporters should be "truth vigilantes." The resounding answer was "of course," yet the Times and other leading newspapers continue to leave misleading claims unquestioned, even when their own fact-checkers have debunked them.
Which is why we can't trust Brooks' unnamed media reports that stimulus grants for clean energy cost "$2 million per job created."
These calculations are problematic because they often count loans as if they are grants, and assume that all the money has been spent, development is complete and no new workers will be hired. A more accurate accounting of the jobs impact of clean energy investments might note that a Brookings Institution study found clean energy jobs grew at an average annual rate of 11.1 percent between 2003 and 2010, "more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy."
Brooks went on to argue that unlike private investments gone bad, high-profile failures like Solyndra "tarnish" the government's record on clean energy:
The federal agencies invested in many winners, but they also invested in some spectacular losers, from Solyndra to the battery maker A123 Systems, which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Private investors can shake off bad investments. But when a political entity like the federal government makes a bad investment, the nasty publicity tarnishes the whole program.
But as Clean Technica pointed out after Solyndra declared bankruptcy, "the Obama administration is batting a much better average in "picking winners and losers" than the private Venture Capital (VC) market itself." Clean energy consultant Richard Stuebi expects just 3 out of 10 private investments to succeed -- a 70 percent failure rate. By contrast, only three of the 26 companies that received Department of Energy 1705 loan guarantees have filed for bankruptcy, amounting to about 6 percent of the loan guarantee funds.
While on a Fox News Sunday panel, New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny received feedback from right-wing radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham on how the Times should cover the controversy over the terrorist attack in Benghazi during which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed. This seems to be in conflict with Times guidance against its staff members making appearances that could undermine the impartiality of the paper's journalism.
Discussing the Benghazi attack, Ingraham lectured Zeleny on how the Times should be covering the administration's response to the Benghazi attacks, asking if the paper was "camped outside" of U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice's home to question her on whether she was a "sacrificial lamb" for the Obama administration.
Veteran economics reporters and columnists are strongly criticizing conservative claims that the unemployment data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday was manipulated to benefit President Obama politically, calling such allegations "implausible" and "unfounded."
Shortly after the BLS announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8%, former GE CEO Jack Welch tweeted, "Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers." Welch's tweet was quickly highlighted by the Drudge Report. Since then, conservative media figures, including multiple Fox News personalities, have tried to cast doubt on the new jobs numbers.
But experienced financial journalists at outlets like The New York Times and The Economist say the contention that the new unemployment rate is fraudulent is not based on any valid proof.
"It is completely implausible to me that they would actively rig the thing to help Obama," said Joe Nocera, New York Times business columnist. "The guys are green eye-shaded career bureaucrats who have no particular vested interest one way or another in who wins the presidential election."
Nocera was referring to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the unemployment rates and has no political ties to the White House.
"They come out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if you are going to cook them, how exactly would you go about it, it is pretty implausible that the career bureaucrats at the Bureau would cook the books for Obama," Nocera added. "Everybody likes a conspiracy theory, but it is hard to understand how they would do it."
Jesse Eisinger, senior reporter for finance at ProPublica and a former seven-year Wall Street Journal reporter, agreed.
"This is complete fantasy," he said about the claims of political influence. "It is yet another one of these right-wing denialist ideas. They're perennial ideas that government statistics are manipulated. These are flawed measures, certainly, but the flaws are not due to any partisanship ... These are done by reputable civil servants. There is almost no way that these numbers could be manipulated for political gain. It doesn't hold up in any way you think about it."
Martin Wolk, executive business editor for NBC News Digital, also called such claims baseless.
"I've been covering economics for a long time and I have been watching these reports come out every month and I talk to these economists and I think that those claims are unfounded," Wolk said in an interview Friday. "They do the best to present those claims honestly. I have never seen a pattern where the numbers consistently favor one party or another. I would defy anyone to find a pattern in those numbers that is politically motivated."
Added David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times economics reporter and author of many books on taxes and business:
"This claim gets made often. It has never been shown to have any basis in fact afterward during previous administrations."
New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that the "economy in 2012 is worse than the economy in 2011." In fact, measures of economic health indicate the economy is better off now than it was one year ago.
A New York Times article on Mitt Romney embracing the health care reform he passed in Massachusetts hid the fact that Romney has promised to repeal President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
The Times reported that Romney recently "talked about the health care law he championed as governor of Massachusetts" and quoted Romney saying: "I got everybody in my state insured. ... One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance."
But the Times left out the most important fact on this controversial campaign issue: If he becomes president, Romney plans to undo the law that will provide insurance to all Americans. He has proposed repealing President Obama's Affordable Care Act, which requires that all Americans have health insurance and has even pledged to gut the Affordable Care Act on his first day in office by granting waivers from the law to all 50 states.
Furthermore, Romney's plans for Medicaid would leave many Americans in worse shape than they were before passage of the Affordable Care Act. Romney plans to change Medicaid from a federal program to a system in which the federal government gives a fixed amount of money to each state. According to Bloomberg News, this plan would cut Medicaid by $1.26 trillion over nine years.
As the American College of Physicians has noted, the Congressional Budget Office analyzed a similar plan issued by Romney's running mate and predicted that it could require states to make "considerable cutbacks" in Medicaid. CBO stated that such cutbacks might involve reduced eligibility, reduced "coverage of fewer services, lower payments to providers, or increased cost-sharing by beneficiaries -- all of which would reduce access to care."
In contrast with the Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and The Los Angeles Times all reported that Romney boasted about his health reform in Massachusetts while simultaneously opposing the federal Affordable Care Act.
Fox News is distorting President Obama's economic agenda by pushing the straw-man argument that taxing the entirety of millionaires' incomes would fund the government for less than three months. In fact, Obama has proposed no such thing, and this Republican talking point obscures the billions in revenue that would be generated from letting the Bush tax cuts expire for wealthy households.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and vocal critic of the Obama administration, is often sought after by the media for his opinion on foreign policy issues, but his stake in the presidential election -- as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney -- is rarely, if ever, disclosed by the outlets that publish him.
In addition to editorials in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and appearances on Fox News that left Bolton's ties to Romney undisclosed, a Media Matters review found editorials in five additional publications written or co-written by Bolton that left out that key information.
In total, Bolton wrote seven editorials that were critical of Obama's policies for The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Examiner, The Weekly Standard and the National Review after he became affiliated with the Romney campaign. None of those op-eds identified Bolton as a member of the Romney team. However, three of those outlets -- the Times, Monitor, and the Examiner -- have reported separately on Bolton's position in the campaign.