After recent reports that the Syrian government may have used chemical weapons against civilians, media figures have begun to push for U.S. military intervention in the region. But senior military leaders say that engagement could produce a negative long-term outcome.
Last month, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, detailed possible downsides to U.S. military involvement in Syria in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). In addition to possible collateral damage to civilians and the loss of U.S. aircraft, Dempsey notes that a poorly planned military incursion "could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control." Additionally, Dempsey noted that military options could cost taxpayers between $500 million to $1 billion per month.
A review of letters to Congress from dozens of state health departments and attorneys general around the country revealed that abortion in the United States is safe and well-regulated, despite recent media reports to the contrary.
Following the conviction of Kermit Gosnell for the murder of three infants during unsafe medical practices that bore no resemblance to legal abortion procedures, congressional Republicans launched an inquiry into how states monitor and regulate abortion, writing letters to the departments of health and attorneys general in all 50 states asking for details regarding criminal laws, prosecutions, inspections of abortion clinics, and regulations relating to abortion at the state level.
The pro-choice group RH Reality Check reviewed the responses from 38 of the state attorneys general and 31 of the health departments and found that they provide the "most comprehensive picture to date of the reality of abortion services," confirming that "abortion in the United States is highly regulated and overwhelmingly safe":
The responses received to date include thousands of pages of legislation and regulations on a wide range of topics that could relate to abortion. They contain definitions of "ambulatory surgical clinics," criminal statutes addressing feticide and the failure to provide medical care to newborns, and the minutiae of how state health officials must conduct inspections of clinics where abortions are performed. Some states also provided samples of the forms, such as the surveys that clinic inspectors have to fill in as they conduct their visits of abortion facilities, as well as samples of the application forms for facilities wishing to provide abortions. As an indication of how voluminous some of these responses are, Pennsylvania's response ran to 1,250 pages.
An analysis of these documents shows that congressional Republicans will find no support for their arguments in favor of new restrictions on abortion care in the evidence presented by the states. In particular, to the extent that anti-choice advocates claim that women are being put at risk by abortion services, these documents--from the very state entities charged with overseeing and regulating abortion--show the contrary. They show that abortion in the United States is highly regulated and overwhelmingly safe.
In particular, the responses revealed that abortion facilities nationwide are routinely inspected and subject to onerous regulation.
The findings of this congressional survey undermine the media's recent narrative that abortion requires even greater regulation and restriction. NBC, CNN, and Fox News hosts have all hyped the claim that an unconstitutional ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy would be "reasonable." Writers for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have falsely claimed individual bans on 20-week abortions are popularly supported, and have glossed over the realities of these bills, which could place women and their fetus' health in severe danger. With the exception of a unique segment on MSNBC, media reports on abortion restrictions have largely ignored women's health experts who confirm these unnecessary restrictions will put women's health at risk.
Furthermore, media figures at The National Review, Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere have insisted that the case of Kermit Gosnell is representative of later-term abortions in the U.S., when in fact according to these documents, the Gosnell case was the only reported instance of an illegal "born alive" procedure.
Media Matters has previously noted that despite the fact that abortion is regulated at unprecented levels, with the vast majority of U.S. counties already lacking access to abortion providers, state lawmakers have proposed hundreds of new bills to further limit women's access to safe and legal abortion services. Some of these restrictions have already been struck down, with Bloomberg reporting that state legislatures suffered "a 0-for-8 losing streak after court challenges" reaffirmed that bans on abortion after six, 12, and 20 weeks of pregnancy are unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's rulings that a woman has a right to an abortion up until fetal viability.
The evidence from the congressional inquiry confirms all of these findings: abortion is already safe and well-regulated, despite what lawmakers and the media might say.
The Weekly Standard attacked Texas state senator Wendy Davis for not responding to the right-wing magazine's attempt to link legal abortion to convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell, continuing the right-wing media's attempt to use the case to smear women's health and choice advocates.
In an August 5 post, the Weekly Standard wrote about a recent appearance at the National Press Club in which Davis spoke about her successful filibuster of a Texas anti-choice bill. The Standard asked Davis at the event whether there was a distinction between the actions of convicted Philadelphia murderer Kermit Gosnell and "legal late-term abortions" at 23 weeks." Davis responded "I don't know what happened in the Gosnell case" and went on to describe the effects that the Texas bill would have on reproductive access. The Standard attacked Davis, writing that she "has become a champion for pro-choice activists, but during her recent whirlwind national media tour, she never commented on late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murder in May for killing infants moments after they were born."
The restrictive bill that Davis has been fighting limits access to legal abortions and has nothing to do with Gosnell, whose acts were already illegal. The bill would limit reproductive access in the state by closing an estimated 90% of legal abortion facilities in Texas by imposing requirements that could only be met by five existing centers, according to the AP:
Conservative media figures and their cut-outs in the Republican Party went out in full force Sunday, ready to cast blame and aspersions on President Obama for the closures of U.S. embassies around the world after intelligence suggested a possible al Qaeda attack.
With our embassies around the world under what all acknowledge to be a serious threat, these conservatives saw a political opportunity, cynically using the fear of an imminent terrorist attack to regurgitate year-old smears about Barack Obama's success in the war on terror.
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the Iraq War's #1 cheerleader, led the charge with a blog post Saturday, hyperbolically stating, "Al Qaeda's not on the run. We are."
He followed that up on Fox News Sunday, telling host Chris Wallace:
KRISTOL: Four years ago President Obama gave a much-heralded speech as outreach to the Muslim world. And now, four years later we are closing embassies throughout the Muslim world. The year ago the president said Al Qaeda is on the run. And now we seem to be on the run.
Kristol's falsehoods were reflected by other conservatives across the media. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint also appeared on Fox News Sunday echoing Kristol's attack: "Well, it's clear that Al Qaeda may be more of a threat to us than they were before 9/11 now."
Later in the panel he went on to state, "The instability around the world is clearly related to at least a perception of a lack of resolve of the United States and a perception of weakness."
After criticizing the Senate's bipartisan effort to address rising incidents of sexual assault in the military, The Weekly Standard's editor Bill Kristol doubled-down on his denial of the growing problem as a "pseudo-crisis," adding that conservative legislators' effort to erase the wide-spread retaliation faced by victims of sexual assault who report the crime is "an effort to placate the forces of left-wing legalism and feminist political correctness."
On July 18, Kristol attacked Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) for supporting Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)'s proposal to change the military's chain of command structure for reporting sexual assaults, which attempts to curb retaliation faced by those who report such an assault. Kristol accused the senators of "doing damage to conservatism" and again called the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military a "pseudo-crisis":
It was two Republican senators, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who, in response to a pseudo-crisis of military sexual assault, popped up to support Democratic legislation that would upend the military judicial system and strip commanders of authority. In their effort to placate the forces of left-wing legalism and feminist political correctness, these Republican senators buy into the calumny that the military officer corps is full of individuals who couldn't care less about the men and women under their command.
What Kristol calls a "pseudo-crisis" is, in reality, nearly 3,400 reported incidents of sexual assault within the ranks in 2012, according to the Department of Defense's (DOD) Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. That represents a six percent increase from 2011's total reported sexual assaults, a growth DOD called "significant." According to a survey cited in the report, that number would skyrocket to approximately 26,000 sexual assaults if unreported incidents are included, up 35 percent from the previous year's estimate. Even more disturbing, the report found that 62 percent of victims who reported being assaulted faced retaliation as a result.
Military leaders such as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have decried this epidemic as a "crisis," and "a threat to the safety and the welfare of our people and the health, reputation and trust of this institution."
Kristol's statement follows a week of sexual assault denial from his conservative magazine and website, The Weekly Standard.
On July 8, The Weekly Standard published an article titled "Harassing the Military" that declared, "there is no sexual assault crisis," citing the possibility that there may be a greater prevalence of sexual assaults within other communities. Later, a July 16 blog post promoted a U.S. Marine Corps officer's suggestion that the scope of the military's sexual assault problem is exaggerated. That same day, Kristol referred to the bipartisan Senate effort as a "proposal to undermine the military's chain of command on behalf of the pseudo-crisis of military sexual assault."
UPDATE: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a former prosecutor of sex crimes and senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, responded to Kristol's depiction of sexual assault in the military as a "pseudo-crisis," saying:
Thousands of reported sexual assaults, and many thousands more sex-related crimes that go unreported-combined with a decades-long inability to seriously address the epidemic-constitutes a crisis. It's a crisis for our military, their morale, and ultimately our national security. For someone who's constantly pushing for additional U.S. involvement in conflicts around the world, you'd think Mr. Kristol would share our goal of ensuring justice for those who are doing the fighting. Instead, his comments illustrate that while there's growing support for our historic reforms, all of us fighting for significant change must continue our effort.
After the Department of Defense reported a significant increase in sexual assault in the military, estimated at nearly 26,000 incidents in 2012, and after military leaders decried the epidemic as a "crisis," The Weekly Standard responded to Congress' preventative actions with sexual assault trutherism, denying the fact that a sexual assault crisis exists within the military.
Radio host Mark Levin attacked 21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and Fox News Channel for "bias" in pro-immigration reform reporting, continuing to grow the divide between conservative talk radio hosts and the network.
On the July 15 edition of his radio show, Levin -- who has previously called the immigration reform bill a "disgusting disgrace" and a "crap sandwich" -- discussed a recent tweet by Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox, that declared Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was correct about the immigration reform effort and expressed support for the immigration reform bill. Levin then accused Fox News of biased reporting on immigration reform and accused "a number of hosts" who support immigration reform of not reading the bill:
This isn't the first time Levin has taken issue with what he referred to as "our favorite cable channel." On the July 12 edition of his show, Levin attacked Fox News contributor Karl Rove over his support for immigration reform saying, "you know what number Karl Rove never puts on that whiteboard? His win-loss percentage."
Earlier this month, both Levin and fellow conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh appeared on Fox, but neither was asked about immigration reform, despite their well-known outspokenness on the immigration reform effort. After Limbaugh's interview, he went on his radio show to criticize the network and claim that Fox wouldn't allow him to discuss the immigration reform effort. Yet, after walking back his comments, Limbaugh was allowed to speak on the topic during Fox News' The Five for almost ten minutes.
In addition to a conservative radio schism, conservatives in print media have also pitted themselves against one another over immigration, most recently between New York Times columnist David Brooks -- an immigration reform supporter -- and National Review's Rich Lowry and The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who wrote an op-ed calling on House Republicans to "[put] a stake through" comprehensive immigration reform.
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and The National Review's Rich Lowry are calling on House Republicans to obstruct comprehensive immigration reform efforts by not passing any immigration reform bills out of the chamber.
In a July 8 op-ed titled "Kill the Bill" cross posted on The Weekly Standard and The National Review's websites, Kristol and Lowry argued that House Republicans should not pass any immigration reform legislation. Doing so would obstruct immigration reform efforts by preventing Senate and House representatives from meeting to reconcile the differences between the Senate's bill and any bill that may pass the House:
House Republicans may wish to pass incremental changes to the system to show that they have their own solutions, even though such legislation is very unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. Or they might not even bother, since Senate Democrats say such legislation would be dead on arrival. In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill. House Republicans can't find any true common ground with that legislation. Passing any version of the Gang of Eight's bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing. House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.
Others in right-wing media have proposed a similar strategy of obstruction. On the June 25 edition of her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham and guest Kristol endorsed obstruction, arguing that the House and the Senate reconciling their immigration reform bills would result in a problematic law and should therefore be avoided. In addition, during the June 13 edition of Fox News' Hannity, guest Ann Coulter warned that "if the House passes anything concerning immigration" and conference with representatives from the Senate, the resultant bill "will come out an amnesty bill." She claimed that if a reconciled bill passed, "the country is over."
Right-wing media have long encouraged Republicans to engage in obstruction, including on the appointment of President Obama's second-term nominees and stricter gun violence prevention laws.
Media outlets have pounced on a quote from one member of a science advisory panel to once again claim a White House "war on coal," but they are missing crucial context about President Barack Obama's expected plan, which sets aside money for the development of so-called "clean coal" technology in addition to proposing necessary regulations on the pollution that coal-fired power plants currently emit.
Tuesday, The New York Times published a quote from Harvard University professor Daniel P. Schrag, a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, in anticipation of the Obama administration's announcement of measures to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change:
"Everybody is waiting for action," he said. "The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed."
The Washington Post singled out the remarks in a post titled "Obama science adviser calls for 'war on coal." However, Schrag is not Obama's primary science adviser -- he is simply one of 18 advisors in a group that includes current and former executives from Microsoft, Google and tech conglomerate Honeywell, Inc. Additionally, as the Post noted, "he is not closely involved in setting regulatory policy for the White House."
Right-wing outlets immediately began publicizing the remarks, suggesting they are a sign of President Obama's true motives, with The Washington Free Beacon claiming the quote shows that the president's plan "is explicitly aimed at attacking the coal industry." Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin followed up by asking "Is Obama waging a 'war on coal?' and responding that "[t]o a large extent, the answer is yes."
However, Schrag's remark is not representative of President Obama's record as The Columbia Journalism Review and others have previously pointed out. Schrag responded to an email inquiry from Media Matters that he believes "there is nothing wrong with coal if technology is used to remove CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants" (emphasis added):
The quote was slightly out of context. I was asked about the question of a war on coal, and I explain that shutting down conventional coal plants is a critical step in moving towards a low-carbon economy. But the phrase "war on coal" is really inappropriate and I shouldn't have used it - simply because it is not the coal that is the problem, but the emissions from coal, and what they do to our health, the health of our children, and of course the climate. So there is nothing wrong with coal if technology is used to remove CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants. But conventional coal, that is harming our children and changing the climate system should have no place in our society.
Right-wing media are dishonestly arguing that senators have not had enough time to read the approximately 1,200-page immigration reform bill the weekend before a scheduled vote on it. In fact, the majority of the bill has been online since May, a fact even Karl Rove acknowledged on Fox News to push back against conservative criticism.
The bulk of the bill's 1,200 pages are available online and have been since May 21. On June 21, the Senate added enforcement provisions submitted by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) to the main text of the bill, which total 119 pages.
Those opposed to the legislation, such as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol jumped on the Corker-Hoeven addition to make the misleading claim that the Senate only had the weekend to review the entire bill before voting on it. As highlighted by Breitbart.com, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward also implied that the Senate was rushing to pass immigration reform, saying on the June 23 edition of Fox News Sunday: "It's proven time and time again, when you pass complicated legislation and no one has really read the bill, the outcome is absurd." Other conservative outlets, like Red State, picked up the misleading narrative, with The Drudge Report showing a picture of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) drinking from a water bottle with the headline, "Senate to vote on bill before reading it":
Right-wing media are attacking President Obama over the cost of his upcoming diplomatic trip to Africa, ignoring or dismissing the fact that the security measures that have driven the trip's budget are in line with those used by previous presidents on similar trips.
On June 13, The Washington Post reported on an internal document that detailed some of the security precautions being taken during President Obama's scheduled trip to Africa later this month, which will include the first lady, and will seek to forge stronger economic ties with African nations and address global health problems. According to the document, hundreds of Secret Service agents will be dispatched where the president and his family will be, a naval ship will be standing by for medical emergencies, and fighter aircraft will fly in 24-hours security shifts. The document "does not specify costs" for the trip, but the Post cited speculation from a source familiar with the trip that it "could cost the federal government $60 million to $100 million based on the costs of similar African trips in recent years."
The Post also stated that "the preparations appear to be in line with similar travels in the past" and quoted Ben Rhodes, an Obama adviser on national security, who said that the security requirements "are Secret Service-driven." The story also mentioned that a safari was being considered during the trip but was canceled, and that previous presidents had made similar trips, with President Bush bringing his daughters along on one that included a safari:
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also made trips to multiple African nations involving similarly laborious preparations. Bush went in 2003 and 2008, bringing his wife on both occasions. Bush's two daughters went along on the first trip, which included a safari at a game preserve on the Botswana-South Africa border.
But in their eagerness to criticize President Obama over the cost of the trip, right-wing media ignored or dismissed these facts. The Drudge Report only highlighted the speculation that the trip could cost $100 million and that the safari was canceled. A blog post from The Weekly Standard drew attention to the canceled safari without mentioning the African safari that Bush and his family went on.
Mark Levin, on the other hand, decided that these precedents were irrelevant when he attacked Obama on his radio show. Levin said that he'd "never seen a presidential family take so many trips" and that Obama "doesn't deny himself or his family a damn thing." Levin stated that Obama is "on welfare, presidential welfare" and that "Obama believes that this is his time to live like a king" and that "his wife is the imperial first lady." He concluded by dismissing the fact that previous presidents have made similar trips by claiming "this president's propaganda is different from other presidents, this president's Marxist class warfare is different than other presidents."
Fox Nation highlighted Levin's attack on Obama with the headline, "Levin slams Obama's $100 million Africa trip: He lives like a billionaire off you and me!"
Right-wing media have repeatedly used dishonest and misleading charts from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to decry spending on nutrition assistance and other programs for needy Americans.
Fox News, Fox Nation, and The Weekly Standard have, over the course of many months, taken charts from Sessions' staff depicting spending on food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and other spending on low-income Americans in grossly misleading ways with out-of-context numbers. On June 12, Fox & Friends First cited Sessions when airing a graphic showing spending on SNAP being more than five times greater than spending on veterans job training and education programs:
Similar charts appeared on Fox Nation and The Weekly Standard. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection that is cited on the graph does not list any spending on veterans job training and education, so that number cannot be verified. But the White House projects that spending on this program will increase over the next five years, after it already grew dramatically after 2009 -- while spending on SNAP is projected to decrease over the same five-year period.
But it is ridiculous to compare a veterans education program -- which is limited to only military veterans and thus a very small segment of the population -- to SNAP, which is an income security program (indeed, it is listed as such in the CBO document) and is open to every American that meets eligibility requirements. And many veterans and their families are eligible for SNAP and active-duty service members and their families use the benefits. But if one was to look at income security spending for veterans, CBO projections show that more is actually spent on veterans -- a total of $801 billion on income security for veterans over 10 years, and a much larger amount than the veterans program highlighted by Sessions and the right-wing media.
During the segment, Fox Business' Diane Macedo noted that "the USDA also provides bonuses totaling about $50 million per year to states that meet high enrollment targets." These awards, which Sessions brought up on Fox News in June 2012, date back to the Bush administration, and have their origin in the 2002 farm bill.
Right-wing media have urged Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to abandon comprehensive immigration reform efforts in their continued effort to thwart the Senate's attempt to overhaul the nation's immigration system.
Right-wing media are continuing to follow GOP talking points opposing filibuster reform by pretending President Obama's attempts to fill judicial vacancies are dangerously unprincipled.
By shamelessly repeating Sen. Chuck Grassley's debunked analogy that the president's current nominations to the important U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit are a "type of court-packing reminiscent of FDR's era," right-wing media appear to be running out of excuses for rampant Republican obstructionism. Consequently, this "radical and different" treatment of the president's nominees as opposed to that of past Republican presidents has led to the real possibility that Senate rules will be changed in July to require up-or-down votes for executive and judicial nominees.
GOP insistence on clinging to an ahistorical characterization of the president's moves to fill existing seats on the D.C. Circuit as tantamount to former President Franklin Roosevelt's proposal to create new seats on the Supreme Court has been dismissed as "silly on its face" and incapable of "passing the laugh test" by multiple experts.
Nevertheless, The Weekly Standard has parroted the false line, declaring that the "nominations are simply a power play" so the court will "vote in his administration's favor all the time." The Wall Street Journal similarly warned that the president wanted judges who "rubber stamp liberal laws," leading him to his "flood-the-zone strategy" for the D.C. Circuit, "a liberal power play that shows contempt for traditional political checks and balances." Breitbart.com is breathlessly proclaiming the nominations show "Obama has declared war on judicial independence" and is "trying to declare law by executive fiat."
Ironically, Grassley and now Rep. Tom Cotton have introduced bills that would block the president's nominations by eliminating the vacant seats -- literally court-packing in reverse. In a companion move to their bad sense of history, the GOP is relying on bogus numbers to claim the D.C. Circuit doesn't need the president's nominees because of its workload, an assertion refuted not only by the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States (which recommends the size remain the same), but also by the court's former Chief Judge and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Right-wing media are nonetheless repeating this discredited spin, in support of the unprecedented Republican blockade of judicial nominees.
The additional GOP threat of filibusters of the president's executive nominees to head the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to warn he will demand a simple majority vote for all of the president's nominees in July.
On May 15 the White House released the full email chain regarding the much-discussed Benghazi talking points, and in doing so deflated conservative and Republican allegations that the administration had engineered a politically minded "cover-up" of the circumstances surrounding the September 2012 attack on the diplomatic facility. The release of those talking points was spurred in no small part by separate reports from The Weekly Standard and ABC News that wrongly suggested the White House's overriding concern in editing those talking points was helping the State Department dodge political attacks from Republicans.
Now that the actual emails are in the public record, we can go back and see exactly what errors ABC and The Weekly Standard made that helped lead us to this point.
(For an easier-to-navigate version of the email chain, check out Yahoo News' interactive feature.)
Weekly Standard writer Stephen F. Hayes' article for the May 13 edition of the magazine noted that after the initial draft of the talking points was sent, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland "responded to raise 'serious concerns' about the draft." Hayes, working primarily off a House GOP report on Benghazi, wrote that Nuland "worried that members of Congress would use the talking points to criticize the State Department for 'not paying attention to Agency warnings.'" That was, we now know, an incomplete description of Nuland's email, and made it seem as though her only concern was protecting that State Department from political attacks.