A Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation has found no evidence that the anti-fraud program "Operation Choke Point" targeted gun retailers, contrary to what conservative media outlets and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have long claimed.
Operation Choke Point was conceived as an anti-fraud program by the DOJ's Consumer Protection Branch in November 2012 based on the suspicion that some banks -- acting with knowledge or willful blindness -- entered into businesses relationships with individuals engaged in fraud. As an early memo explained, Choke Point was designed as "a strategy to attack Internet, telemarketing, mail, and other mass market fraud against consumers, by choking fraudsters' access to the banking system."
Conservative media and the NRA have repeatedly insisted that Choke Point was part of a government conspiracy to target gun retailers -- based on the belief that the Obama administration is "anti-gun." But a new report from the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) -- the office responsible for "investigating allegations of misconduct involving Department attorneys" -- has decisively concluded "that the evidence did not demonstrate that Operation Choke Point" was used to target firearm sellers.
In January 2014, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee opened an investigation into Choke Point to determine whether the program may have "inappropriately target[ed] two lawful financial services: third-party payment processing and online lending."
Although no mention of gun retailers was made during the first congressional inquiries, NRA News host Cam Edwards began connecting Choke Point to claims by some firearm retailers that banks were refusing to do business with them.
With no evidence to bear that claim out, Choke Point then became a regular topic of discussion by the NRA and conservative media, which characterized it as another Obama administration scandal. The anti-fraud program was discussed dozens of times on the NRA's radio and (since-cancelled) television show, and the NRA's lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislation Action, offered frequent updates on the so-called scandal.
Choke Point was also widely reported on by the conservative Washington Times, which interviewed gun retailers who claimed their business relationships with banks had been terminated because of the program. (At the time, Media Matters exposed the dubiousness of these claims. For example, one gun retailer had his account terminated by his bank months before Choke Point was even proposed by DOJ.) The Washington Times editorial board declared, "Obama wants to use the banks to void the Second Amendment."
False claims about Choke Point's targets were also picked up by Fox News, with network contributor Katie Pavlich claiming that DOJ was "discriminating" against gun owners. As recently as April 13, Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher falsely reported on The Kelly File that "Operation Choke Point was created by the Obama administration to choke out businesses it finds objectionable, like gun shops, casinos, and tobacco sellers."
None of this is true, according to the DOJ OPR investigation, which examined "memoranda, subpoenas, and contemporaneous emails" related to the operation. The July 7 report found no evidence that Choke Point had "compelled banks to terminate business relationships" with firearm sellers (emphasis added):
OPR also concluded that the evidence did not demonstrate that Operation Choke Point compelled banks to terminate business relationships with other lawful businesses, a concern raised in your letter and the Staff Report. Indeed, OPR found no evidence establishing that any CPB attorney intentionally targeted any of the industries listed in the Staff Report (including credit repair companies, debt consolidation and forgiveness programs, online gambling-related operations, government grant or will-writing kits, pornography, online tobacco or firearms sales, pharmaceutical sales, sweepstakes, magazine subscriptions, etc.). None of the subpoenas or memoranda issued or drafted in connection with Operation Choke Point focused on specific categories of purportedly fraudulent businesses, except for fraudulent Internet payday lending, to the limited extent discussed above. Moreover, the CPB attorneys' e-mail records contained no discussion or even mention of targeting any such specific industries.
As the report noted, there was no evidence that attorneys involved in Choke Point ever discussed firearm businesses at any time during Choke Point.
From the July 11 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Fox News' Trace Gallagher cited a poll showing 54 percent of Americans don't like Obamacare as a reason to back the Republican plan to shut down the federal government if the law is not defunded. Gallagher's analysis is at odds with multiple polls cited earlier the same day by his Fox colleague Gregg Jarrett that showed a majority of Americans do not support Republican defunding efforts.
On September 20, House Republicans passed a continuing resolution that would defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but continue to fund the government. Senate Republicans have criticized the plan, with Richard Burr of North Carolina describing it as "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of."
On the September 20 edition of Studio B with Shepard Smith, guest host Trace Gallagher said during an interview with The Hill's managing editor, Bob Cusack, "[T]hey're not just a bunch of nutty House members up there voting for this thing. I mean look, 54 percent, the latest polls show 54 percent of Americans are against Obamacare, so the House is at least fighting for the majority of Americans."
But Gallagher ignored polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose the Republican effort to defund Obamacare -- a fact made clear during an earlier Fox News segment. During that segment, Fox News host Gregg Jarrett advised Monica Crowley that he had "looked at three different polls today. They all say the same thing. That is, as unpopular -- and it is -- as Obamacare is, they don't want the government shut down because of a defunding effort."
An August poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 57 percent of Americans disapprove of cutting off funding "as a way to stop the law from being implemented, a finding that has been consistent in Kaiser Health Tracking Polls since January 2011."
[E]ven this push poll that dramatically oversamples Republicans (more on that in a minute) finds respondents are more likely to say that the Affordable Care Act should be kept than scrapped -- and that a plurality would blame Republicans if the government were to shut down.
Only 44.5 percent "oppose the health care law and think it should be repealed," while 52 percent either support the law as is or have some concerns, but say they think implementation should move forward. And asked whom they would blame if "there was an impasse between president Obama and Congress on whether to continue to fund the health care law, and that impasse resulted in a partial government shutdown," the top response (28 percent) was Republicans in Congress. The next option, Obama, got 21 percent of respondents.
Gallagher's dishonest reading of the American public's attitude toward defunding the Affordable Care Act is the latest example of Fox's dishonest characterization of the House vote to defund the law, which FoxNews.com recently described as a vote "to keep government open."
Fox News reported on House Republicans' removal of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) from an agriculture bill by parroting Republican falsehoods about the program. The report hyped Republicans' false accusations that SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, is rife with fraud and has no vetting process without challenging the claims. The segment also ignored what others in the media have reported -- that separating SNAP funding from the farm bill could lead to major cuts in the program.
Last week, House Republicans passed an agriculture bill, commonly known as the farm bill, without including funding for the SNAP program. The move stripped SNAP from the farm bill, where it has been since 1973, according to the New York Times.
During the July 15 edition of Fox News' America Live, correspondent Shannon Bream reported on the removal of SNAP, claiming the vote would not end SNAP and that no one would be cut off due to the House-version of the farm bill. Bream highlighted Republicans' purported opinions on the program: "Republicans say the system is filled with fraud and that claims made by applicants aren't vetted or verified in any way."
In fact, SNAP has a very low instance of fraud. The trafficking rate, when a SNAP benefit is exchanged for cash, is only one cent per dollar, and that's down from 1993 when it was four cents. The chief economist of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Chad Stone, wrote:
[SNAP] has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program. SNAP error rates (benefit overpayments and underpayments) are at an all-time low; just 3 percent of benefits went to ineligible households or exceeded the allowable benefit for eligible households. Moreover, honest mistakes by recipients, eligibility workers, data entry clerks or computer programmers - not fraud - account for an overwhelming majority of such overpayments.
Rules for SNAP eligibility vary by state, but applicants must verify household income is below a certain standard and that assets do not exceed a given amount.
Ironically, according to the Times, non-SNAP programs contained the farm bill suffer higher fraud and abuse rates than SNAP.
While Bream's claim that the House-passed farm bill does not cut SNAP is technically correct, she ignored what many others in the media have acknowledged -- that, as the Washington Post wrote, "The vote made clear that Republicans intend to make significant reductions in food stamp money." Fox's Trace Gallagher even introduced the segment by referring to a "food fight ... where lawmakers are taking aim at the exploding cost of food stamps."
Right-wing media are now resorting to mocking female university students' health care needs and their call that religiously affiliated colleges and universities provide access to contraceptives. But studies have found that numerous benefits (medical, social, and economic) exist in providing college-aged women -- the most vulnerable demographic for unintended pregnancies -- affordable access to contraception.
Fox News figures have been hyping the bankruptcy filing of high-tech battery manufacturer Ener1, blaming President Obama for its financial problems and claiming the case is "another Solyndra," referring to a solar panel company that went bankrupt last year. But experts have said the case is "no Solyndra," and in blaming Obama for Ener1's bankruptcy, Fox is ignoring a history of GOP support for the company -- including from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, to whom Fox recently gave lavish praise.
Fox News and The Daily Caller have promoted the idea that unemployment rates are dropping in Alabama because of the state's new immigration law. In fact, the state's governor -- who supports the law -- and economists say there's no definitive evidence about the law's effects on unemployment.
From the October 28 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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In the rush to cover the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a loan guarantee from the federal government, many news media outlets have misrepresented or omitted key facts.
From the August 8 edition of Fox News' Fox Report With Shepard Smith:
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Fox News' America Live repeated the accusation that undocumented immigrants have increased crime rates in Hazleton, Pennsylvannia. However, America Live failed to report that the there is no evidence supporting the accusation, or that there is no evidence that undocumented immigrants have higher crime rates nationwide.
During Fox News' coverage of Secure Communities, a deportation program begun under the Bush administration, Fox pushed the idea that opting out of the program would create "sanctuary states" for dangerous undocumented immigrants. In fact, a large proportion of individuals who are detained and deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement carry only misdemeanors and minor infractions or have no criminal conviction or background.
Right-wing media have continued to attack energy standards that will phase out inefficient light bulbs by 2012, claiming the bill will "ban" incandescent light bulbs and force consumers to instead purchase either $50 light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs or "dangerous" compact florescent lights (CFL). In fact, the bill only bans inefficient incandescent light bulbs, and efficient bulbs -- whose prices vary considerably depending on the type of bulb and are also projected to drop -- will save consumers money in the long run; experts have also said that concerns over mercury in CFL bulbs are overstated.
From the January 26 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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