Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."
From the November 8 edition of CBS' CBS This Morning:
Following the October 1 rollout of the Affordable Care Act's exchanges, media outlets hyped several anecdotal stories of people who will be negatively affected by the law. These stories have ranged from the misleading to the outright false.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
Media outlets have been promoting the stories of individuals whose plans are being canceled as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But many of those canceled plans offer an inadequate level of coverage, which carries many of the same risks as not having insurance at all.
After CBS News ran a deceptive segment highlighting a Florida woman's increased health care costs, Fox News reportedly contacted the woman to appear on three of its shows. CBS has run several misleading segments on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since the implementation of the law's exchanges.
On CBS' This Morning, political correspondent Jan Crawford highlighted the story of Dianne Barette, a Florida woman who received notice that her plan did not meet the ACA's minimum coverage requirements. In the segment, Crawford said Barette "pays $54 a month. The new plan she's being offered would run $591 a month, ten times more than what she currently pays." According to the Washington Post's media blogger Erik Wemple, after the CBS story aired, Barette was contacted by three Fox News shows, Fox & Friends, Your World with Neil Cavuto, and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren.
Wemple, who also interviewed Barrette, pointed out a detail the CBS report failed to mention: in addition to being inadequate, the coverage Barrette currently receives doesn't cover hospitalizations, something that "could well have bankrupted Barrette under her current insurance." From Wemple's article:
More coverage may provide a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of Barrette's situation: Her current health insurance plan, she says, doesn't cover "extended hospital stays; it's not designed for that," says Barrette. Well, does it cover any hospitalization? "Outpatient only," responds Barrette. Nor does it cover ambulance service and some prenatal care. On the other hand, says Barrette, it does cover "most of my generic drugs that I need" and there's a $50 co-pay for doctors' appointments. "It's all I could afford right now," says Barrette.
In sum, it's a pray-that-you-don't-really-get-sick "plan." When asked if she ever required hospitalization, Barrette says she did. It happened when she was employed by Raytheon, which provided "excellent benefits." Ever since she left the company and started working as an independent contractor, "I haven't been hospitalized since then, thank God." Hospitalization is among the core requirements for health-care plans under Obamacare.
CBS News political analyst Frank Luntz had a major undisclosed conflict of interest while appearing on the network. While Luntz used his pre-election platform on CBS to praise Rep. Paul Ryan, his consulting firm, Luntz Global LLC, received $40,000 in consulting and polling fees from Rep. Paul Ryan's congressional campaign.
On CBS, Luntz called Ryan a "very popular" congressman who could help Romney win Wisconsin. Luntz also used his CBS appearances to attack his client's vice presidential opponent. He claimed that Biden's debate performance was a turnoff to voters and suggested it showed that the Obama administration can't work with Congress. Luntz made eleven CBS appearances to discuss the presidential campaign from September 24 -- when Luntz's firm first received a payment from Ryan -- through November.
According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Ryan's successful 2012 congressional campaign paid Luntz Global LLC $20,000 on September 24 for "Polling: Dial Session" and $20,000 on October 9 for "Advertising: Ad Consulting." UPDATE (12/7): Following the publication of this post, Ryan's campaign filed its post-general FEC report showing an additional $5,063.39 disbursement to Luntz Global on November 6 for "Advertising: Ad consulting expenses."
Luntz is a Republican operative (despite some apparent confusion from CBS) who is perhaps best known for helping write and market Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. New York Times Magazine contributor Robert Draper reported that Luntz orchestrated a 2009 meeting where prominent Republicans, including Paul Ryan, formulated a plan to gain control of Congress and The White House.
Luntz's lack of disclosure may violate CBS Corporation's standards of conduct. The CBS Corporation Business Conduct Statement on conflicts of interest informs CBS employees, "including those employed on a temporary, freelance, intern, or per diem basis," that "in all cases" they "must disclose all potential conflicts of interest" to CBS:
Disclosing and Addressing Potential Conflicts of Interest
CBS requires that you disclose, in writing, any personal, business, or other relationship that could potentially affect your business judgment on behalf of your Company and CBS. The existence of a potential conflict of interest, such as one or more of the situations discussed below, does not necessarily constitute a violation of CBS's conflict of interest policy. Our policy is one of disclosure and review of potential conflicts and prohibition of actual conflicts of interest. In some cases, disclosure may be all that is required. In others, the situation may require additional action to avoid a conflict of interest or to remedy one. But remember, in all cases, you must disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
The document adds: "Even the appearance of a conflict of interest can undermine our integrity in the minds of our co-workers, our customers, our suppliers, or the public."
Luntz also didn't disclose his financial relationship with Ryan during appearances on Fox News. On the October 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity (via Nexis), Luntz said: "I would tell people to be watching Wisconsin even more than Ohio. Paul Ryan is very popular there. He's known state wide. His numbers are fantastic, and that's a state that has already survived a recall. There's a good Republican organization on the ground because of the Scott Walker vote. The man did even better in the recall." Luntz also conducted a live focus group on Fox following the October 11 vice presidential debate. Luntz Global states that Luntz is a Fox News contributor.
Luntz's failure to disclose his financial connection to Rep. Ryan was not his only undisclosed conflict of interest during recent media appearances. The day before the election, Fox & Friends hosted Luntz to praise a "powerful" ad from Karl Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads. Neither Luntz nor Fox disclosed that Crossroads had paid Luntz's firm more than $46,000 earlier in the year.
Requests for comment to CBS, Fox News and Luntz Global LLC were not returned.
Several TV media outlets have hosted John Hofmeister even as he misled their viewers by claiming that drilling will lower gasoline prices in contrast to independent experts from across the political spectrum. But they have failed to disclose that Hofmeister is currently a director at several oil and gas companies.
CBS News can't seem to decide whether CBS News analyst Frank Luntz is still a Republican pollster and strategist.
CBS This Morning has contradictorily introduced Luntz as both a "Republican pollster" or strategist and "former Republican" pollster or strategist during numerous segments in recent months (see video and transcript below). There shouldn't be any confusion: Luntz is a Republican pollster and strategist whose firm has received money from Republican groups this election cycle, according to a Media Matters review.
Luntz, who was hired by CBS earlier this month, helped lay the ground for Republican efforts to win back the U.S. Congress and White House. New York Times Magazine contributor Robert Draper reported in his recent book that Luntz "organized a dinner" on President Obama's inauguration night featuring several of "the Republican Party's most energetic thinkers." During the meeting, Republicans formulated a plan which involved showing "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies."
According to a search of Federal Election Commission records, Luntz and his firm Luntz Global LLC have received payments from several Republican groups this cycle:
Over the weekend, CBSNews.com ran an AP report on the bankruptcy of Ener1, whose subsidiary received contracts under the Bush administration and a grant under the Obama administration to manufacture batteries for electric cars. CBS added this paragraph and an accompanying video to the AP report:
A CBS News investigation found earlier this month that a dozen green-energy companies - which in total received at least $6.5 billion in stimulus money from the federal government - have filed for bankruptcy protection.
But the CBS "investigation" found no such thing. Earlier this month, CBS ran an error-ridden report by Sharyl Attkisson which purported to reveal 11 "New Solyndras." Attkisson said these clean energy companies were "having trouble" or had "filed for bankruptcy" after receiving a total of $6.5 billion in federal assistance (making no distinction between loan guarantees and grants.) The deeply flawed report has been eagerly repeated by conservative media; Bill O'Reilly managed to use it to falsely claim "We gave France 1.2 billion."
But CBS is counting companies that didn't even receive federal funds, companies that haven't actually gone bankrupt, and companies that have sold the government-backed projects to other firms. CBS hasn't even identified 4 of the 11 companies it claimed are endangering taxpayer money. And instead of issuing a correction, CBS is doubling down on this shoddy reporting in a way that recalls the editorial standards of Fox News.
Last night Fox News' Bill O'Reilly told his viewers that the Obama administration "gave France 1.2 billion" in clean energy funding. It was completely false and something Fox could have avoided with a few minutes of fact-checking. But a chunk of the blame belongs to CBS, which enabled O'Reilly's misinformation with its own sloppy journalism.
CBS News' new morning show ran a report on Friday by correspondent Sharyl Attkisson which purported to identify 11 "New Solyndras." The segment was surprisingly bad, and like so much reporting on clean energy these days, eagerly skipped over the facts in pursuit of a broader narrative. In the report, Attkisson included California solar company SunPower on her list of struggling clean energy companies purportedly risking taxpayer dollars:
ATTKISSON: SunPower landed a $1.2 billion loan guarantee last fall after a French oil company took it over. On its last financial statement, SunPower owed more than it was worth.
Citing CBS, O'Reilly concluded that "the French people got our money," adding, "We gave France 1.2 billion, because this company went bankrupt and the French guy swooped in ... grabbed the company, and went back to Paris with our money":
In reality, SunPower doesn't have a federal loan guarantee. NRG Energy acquired the project in question -- the California Valley Solar Ranch -- from SunPower shortly before the project received the loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. So NRG, not SunPower, is on the hook for the loan. The CVSR project is not considered risky for taxpayers because California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. already signed a long-term contract to buy the power from the solar plant.
In a misleading segment painting a skewed picture of the Department of Energy's clean tech investments, CBS News' new morning show purported to reveal 11 "New Solyndras" -- companies CBS said "are having trouble" or "have filed for bankruptcy" after receiving federal assistance. But CBS only identified 7 companies and included some that did not actually get federal funds.