The media declared one of the top "zingers" of last night's debate to be Mitt Romney's line, "I had a friend who said, you don't just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers." But that line is based on a blatantly false claim that Romney made later in the debate, that "about half" of the Obama administration's investments in green energy have gone to bankrupt companies.
As even the Romney campaign has reportedly acknowledged, Romney got it completely wrong: a large chunk of that money went to projects like energy efficiency, and within the green energy loan guarantee program the vast majority of projects are still up and running.
The claim that "half" of the $90 billion spent on various clean energy projects went to bankrupt companies made easy fodder for solid fact-checks. But some ignored this blatant falsehood to push Romney's anti-green energy claims. Fox News seized on Romney's "pick the losers" line to declare that all the investments in green energy amounted to a "$90 Billion Boondoggle." And USA Today purported to ask "Are Obama green-energy loans really 'losers'?" but highlighted three of Romney's selective examples instead.
But of the $90 billion that Fox declared a "Boondoggle," nearly one-third was for energy efficiency measures, including retrofits in low-income neighborhoods, and another $10 billion went to electric grid modernization.
Even if Romney was referring only to the clean energy loan program funded under the stimulus, he still got it completely wrong. The New York Times called it "a gross overstatement," noting that "of nearly three dozen recipients of loans under the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program, only three are currently in bankruptcy." In fact, over 87 percent of the funds for the Department of Energy's 1705 loan guarantee program went to low-risk power generation projects, which are required to secure contracts with power purchasers before receiving a loan guarantee, virtually eliminating the risk of default. Congress anticipated that not all companies would succeed, and a Bloomberg Government analysis suggests they set aside more than enough to cover losses -- $2.47 billion, not $90 billion:
A Media Matters analysis finds that Fox News has aided Republican efforts to make Solyndra the face of clean energy in 2012 by incessantly covering it a year after the company declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have disproportionately hosted opponents of clean energy to discuss Solyndra, and uncritically repeated allegations that Solyndra's loan guarantee was politically motivated, even though a yearlong investigation has found no evidence to support the "crony capitalism" narrative.
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.
On Wednesday, scientists announced that melting over the Greenland ice sheet has already "shattered the seasonal record" set in 2010, with four weeks left before the end of the melting season. Scientists say this record melting is driven by rising Arctic temperatures and could have serious consequences for the environment and coastal communities. But the major media outlets are once again failing to report on clear evidence that our climate is changing.
Professor Marco Tedesco, whose research was sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, examined satellite data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and found that Greenland has "experienced extreme melting in nearly every region" this year. He concluded: "With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a goliath year - the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979."
Tedesco looked at the extent and duration of melting to determine the "cumulative melting index," which measures the "strength" of the melting season. The following chart illustrates that by early August, Greenland's melting index was already higher than at any time in the past 30 years:
Tedesco attributed his findings to rising temperatures in the Arctic, noting that accelerated melting and ice sheet thinning are consistent with models of the effects of climate change. But, he added, "the difference is how quickly this seems to be happening."
Scientists say that human-induced climate change made this year's record heat more likely, and project that extreme heat will become more common in the United States. But a Media Matters analysis of media coverage of record-breaking heat in July finds that major television outlets rarely made the connection between heat waves and a changing climate.
This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the hottest month on record for the contiguous U.S. and that so far this year is the warmest on record. Scientists say that this record heat is partially driven by manmade climate change, yet Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CBS Evening News, and USA TODAY did not mention climate change at all in their reports on NOAA's announcement.
These heat extremes are occurring in the context of rising global temperatures, which the vast majority of scientists agree are driven by greenhouse gas emissions. As the National Research Council explained, extensive climate research indicates that heat waves will become "more intense, more frequent, and longer-lasting" in the United States and around the globe as a result of human-induced climate change.
But not everyone in the media failed to mention these facts. The Associated Press' Seth Borenstein spoke to climate scientists, who noted that July's record heat alone would not be evidence of climate change, but that the broader pattern of record breaking heat shows global warming at work:
A Media Matters analysis of wildfire coverage in July finds that nearly 14 percent of articles and segments mentioned climate change -- over four times more than in previous months.
Right-wing media have marked the 40th Anniversary of Title IX by attacking equal opportunity efforts for women in the "STEM" fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. The historic civil rights law prohibits discrimination in federally-funded education programs or activities on the basis of sex.
Conservative media has not only argued that such affirmative action is unconstitutional, but has gone farther and argued that the law does not apply beyond scholastic sports and requires quotas. They also insist that women simply do not want to study or work in science-or math-related fields. The first three claims are demonstrably incorrect; the fourth assertion contradicts numerous studies and cannot satisfactorily explain the disproportionate under-representation of women in these educational fields.
On the July 25 edition of Fox & Friends, Gretchen Carlson hosted a segment that touched on all of these discredited arguments in an interview with Hans Bader, Counsel for Special Projects for the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute. Bader concluded the interview by asserting that women are heavily underrepresented in the STEM fields because they naturally choose "organic subjects like people, plants, animals, biology, psychology." Carlson then ended the interview, noting that there "could be" a counter argument to this last claim.
Bader's Fox and Friends appearance is only the most recent example of conservative attacks on the Obama Administration's efforts to utilize Title IX for the promotion of equal opportunity in science and math education.
For example, Sabrina Schaeffer and Carrie Lukas of the conservative Independent Women's Forum did the same on June 18 and June 22 in the Huffington Post and U.S. News, respectively, Fox News Political Analyst Kirsten Powers took aim at sex-based affirmative action on July 17 in USA Today, and New York Post columnist Kyle Smith used the front page to launch a July 14 op-ed that was particularly reliant on sex stereotypes.
These conservative commentators repeated Bader's false claims: that Title IX's scope is limited to athletics, the Obama administration is proposing quotas, equal opportunity efforts disregard women's aversion to science and math, and affirmative action on the basis of sex is unconstitutional.
All of these conservative critiques are incorrect or unsubstantiated.
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.
Opponents of health care reform have opened up a new front in their relentless campaign, receiving extensive media attention for their claim that only state-created exchanges can legally offer tax credits for health insurance. This contested reading of the health care reform law would leave consumers in states with federal exchanges -- the default marketplace for states that decline to set up their own exchanges -- without access to affordable health insurance.
Exchanges have become the latest bogeyman in the right-wing media, but a just-released report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why a legal challenge to them is unsupported by both the clear language of the Affordable Care Act and relevant case law.
As described in a June 25 USA Today op-ed, opponents of exchanges are claiming that their reading of the health care reform law reveals that "[c]redits are [legally] available only in states that create an exchange themselves. The federal government might create exchanges in states that decline, but it cannot offer credits through its own exchanges." Right-wing activist groups have jumped on this argument and are already clamoring for lawsuits to be filed over the administration's interpretation of the law to the contrary. A July 9 article in Congressional Quarterly Today (subscription required) reported the director of policy at the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity as adamant that litigation would "absolutely" ensue.
The idea of suing to block exchange implementation and hamstring affordability programs designed to help low- and moderate-income persons afford coverage in the private insurance market appears to have originated with two frequent National Review Online contributors, Jonathan Adler, Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University, and Michael Cannon, Director of Health Policy at the Cato Institute. Long-time opponents of the Affordable Care Act and authors of the USA Today op-ed, the two first presented this questionable theory to the mainstream press through a November 16, 2011, op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Cannon, in particular, seems to have made exchanges his personal target, barnstorming the country along with other Koch-backed organizations.
Experts on health care law and policy are highly critical of the proposed anti-exchange lawsuits. However, although the challenge might be a long shot due to its debatable reading of the statute and disregard of congressional intent, even far-fetched legal challenges have legs in today's increasingly conservative courts. Remember broccoli? Amplified by the increasing synergy between right-wing academics and media, the "broccoli" and "inactivity/activity" argument in the health care reform cases rocketed from the fringe to the mouths and pens of Supreme Court Justices.
Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote the report yesterday that rebuts Adler and Cannon's claims:
Opponents of health reform apparently intend to file a legal challenge to the law on behalf of one or more employers who are penalized for not providing coverage in a state with a federal exchange, based on the claim that the federal exchange was not authorized to provide the subsidies. A court considering such a claim would almost certainly defer to the Treasury Department interpretation that subsidies are fully available through federally operated exchanges.
In providing for a federal exchange, Congress clearly intended that it substitute for a state exchange. One of the primary functions of an exchange is to determine eligibility for, and the amount of, advance premium tax credits so that people can afford to buy coverage. The language of section 1321 of the ACA establishing the federal exchange is clear on that point, as is the reference in section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code to credits being provided through a federally operated exchange. But even if the statute were ambiguous, a court examining whether the Treasury regulations are valid would certainly defer to the agency's interpretation of the statute because it is both permissible and reasonable. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/16/12]
Major news networks have largely ignored Republican obstruction of a regulation addressing the recent resurgence of black lung, a disease caused by coal mine dust. By contrast, media coverage of the Republican narrative about "job-killing regulations" has been abundant, indicating that news outlets let the Republican Party define the media discourse about regulation of the coal industry.
A USA Today editorial is downplaying poverty and food insecurity in America, and using Fox News talking points to justify a push to cut vital and effective anti-poverty programs.
In June the Senate voted to reduce spending on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, by $4.5 billion. Conservatives in the House are pushing for deeper cuts to the program, despite the fact that food stamps reduced the poverty rate by 8 percent during the depths of the recession.
In championing those cuts, USA Today offered a shockingly uninformed dismissal of the problem of food insecurity -- a term researchers say is more accurate than hunger. Pointing to increased use of food stamps in recent years, the editors opined:
These numbers are not driven by a rise in hunger. Indeed they have come about at a time when Americans -- particularly those on the lower-income rungs -- are struggling with obesity.
This analysis is nonsense. As Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger told The New York Times: "Hunger and obesity are often flip sides to the same malnutrition coin." The Food Research and Action Center explains: "food insecure and low-income people are especially vulnerable to obesity due to the additional risk factors associated with poverty." Minnesota Public Radio further detailed the interaction between food insecurity and obesity in a January 27, 2012, report:
Recent research from the University of Minnesota finds parents who struggle to get enough food eat fewer fruits and vegetables and drink more sugar-sweetened beverages than other parents. That is largely due to poor access, said Mary Story, a dietician in the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.
"What we know is that fruits and vegetables cost more, whole grains cost more," Story said. "And many low-income people live in neighborhoods or communities that lack access to a supermarket."
USA Today's apparent ignorance of the connection between obesity and food insecurity casts doubt on its call to "nudge the numbers back toward where they were in the mid-'90s."
But their embrace of Fox News' bullying tactics underscores the pernicious aspect of the campaign to demonize and cut food stamps.
After detailing efforts over the past decade to expand SNAP eligibility, the editorial argued:
Adding to the growth, the Agriculture Department has begun advertising the program more aggressively, and it has removed many of its inconveniences (and its stigmas at the cash register) by replacing coupons with cards that look and function much like debit cards.
This type of poverty-shaming has been a constant drum beat on the right. In June, New York Post columnist and Fox News regular Michael Goodwin discussed increased SNAP enrollment and lamented: "The sense of shame is gone." Goodwin's commentary echoed other Fox figures who have castigated SNAP beneficiaries for lacking an appropriate level of shame.
Perhaps tomorrow USA Today will explain how easy it is to feed a family on a diet of rice and beans.
While numerous factors determine the frequency, severity and cost of wildfires, scientific research indicates that human-induced climate change increases fire risks in parts of the Western U.S. by promoting warmer and drier conditions. Seven of nine fire experts contacted by Media Matters agreed journalists should explain the relationship between climate change and wildfires. But an analysis of recent coverage suggests mainstream media outlets are not up to the task -- only 3 percent of news reports on wildfires in the West mentioned climate change.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, they're also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, or sometimes as global warming's "evil twin" or the "osteoporosis of the sea." Scientists have warned that it poses a serious threat to ocean life. Yet major American
news outlets covered the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification over the past year and a half.
Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, and if we do not lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the ocean surface could be up to 150 percent more acidic by 2100. At that level, the shells of some plankton would dissolve, large parts of the ocean would become inhospitable to coral reef growth, and the rapidity of the change could threaten much of the marine food web. According to the National Research Council, the chemical changes are taking place "at an unprecedented rate and magnitude" and are "practically irreversible on a time scale of centuries."
Despite a boom of recent scientific research documenting this threat, there has been a blackout on the topic at most media outlets. Since the end of 2010, ABC, NBC, and Fox News have completely ignored ocean acidification, and the Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS have barely mentioned it at all.
A majority of federal rulings on the substance of President Obama's health care reform law have found it to be constitutional, including the law's mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. But a Media Matters review of the five largest newspapers and the flagship CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs finds that the media overwhelmingly focused on rulings that struck down the law in whole or in part -- 84 percent of segments on the broadcast and cable programs reviewed and 59 percent of newspaper articles that reported on such rulings -- while largely ignoring rulings that found it constitutional or dismissed the case.