In the five years since President Obama's health care reform plan -- which became the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- was first introduced, the right-wing media has waged a continuous campaign to attack the law through misinformation, deception, and outright lies.
Media reports on the Senate vote to renew long-term unemployment benefits established a false contrast between providing a safety net for unemployed Americans and policies designed to create jobs. In fact, experts note that unemployment benefits boost job creation and economic growth.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson has a history of illegal behavior and controversial comments -- facts that were left out of mainstream print reporting on GOP candidates trying to win his favor last week.
The Republican Jewish Coalition met March 27-29 in Las Vegas, and the event was dubbed the "Adelson Primary" as GOP presidential hopefuls used the meeting to fawn over magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., a casino and resort operating firm, who reportedly spent nearly $150 million attempting to buy the 2012 election with donations to a super PAC aligned with Mitt Romney and other outside groups (including Karl Rove's American Crossroads). Before switching allegiance to Romney, Adelson had donated millions to Newt Gingrich. He has also given generously in the past to super PACs associated with a variety of Republican politicians, including Scott Walker, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, and Eric Cantor.
Hoping to benefit from Adelson's largesse, potential 2016 Republican candidates including Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush gathered at Adelson's casino to "kiss the ring."
While Republicans' efforts to court Adelson made big news in print media over the past week, none of the articles mentioning Adelson in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, or The Wall Street Journal mentioned that he has come under investigation for illegal business practices, including bribery, or his history of extreme remarks.
Monday night's 78-17 procedural vote in the U.S. Senate to clear the path for $1 billion worth of aid to Ukraine as it battles the Russian annexation of Crimea represented precisely what you would expect Congress to do in the wake of an international crisis: to act in a bipartisan manner and send a unified message to the world. Yet despite that bipartisanship, the push for an emergency U.S. loan guarantee for Ukraine languished in Congress for weeks because House Republicans objected to the measure moving through the Senate.
Specifically, they opposed a provision in the package that would have revamped the International Monetary Fund and let developing countries such as Ukraine borrow more money while giving other nations more control over the organization (the U.S. would retain its veto). The reforms were negotiated by President Obama in 2010 and have broad international support. House Republicans wanted the IMF language stripped from the senate bill. And because the press covered for them.
In the end, a negotiated deal on Capitol Hill was reached and the IMF language was removed. But while the crucial aid package sat idle for weeks, the press chalked up the legislative morass to Congressional dysfunction and "gridlock."
The two sides were "locked in a partisan fight over the details of the package," according the Los Angeles Times, which stressed lawmakers have been unable to "set aside partisan squabbles." The Hill reported "Congress this week will try to get its act together" regarding Ukraine, while Reuters detailed how "a partisan political dispute" was stalling the final passage of the aid bill.
"Ukraine Aid Bill Still Stuck In Washington Gridlock," announced a Time headline.
But was the Ukraine battle really an example of "gridlock"? And were both sides really to blame? Or was the press guilty, once again, of staking out the safe, middle ground in order to inoculate itself from cries of "liberal bias,' and from having to explain how all-consuming and destructive Republican obstruction has become, especially in the House?
Question: Was the Ukraine aid dispute "partisan"?
As Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) woos young voters ahead of an expected 2016 presidential bid, it's become conventional wisdom among many Beltway pundits that Paul could broaden the GOP's appeal with his ostensibly tolerant views on social issues - never mind that that this narrative is completely divorced from Paul's traditional conservative positions on such topics.
Paul's effort to win over Millennials and other constituencies historically suspicious of the GOP came to the fore with his March 19 speech at the University of California, Berkeley, where Paul condemned government surveillance programs as a threat to privacy.
The chattering class proclaimed that the speech was emblematic of Paul's appeal as an unconventional, "intriguing" Republican. And despite Paul's conservative stances on issues like marriage equality, reproductive choice, and creationism, many media outlets have also pointed to Paul as the kind of candidate who could help move the GOP away from its hardline social positions. It's a narrative that even some of Paul's conservative critics have come to accept, as Charles Krauthammer showed when he called Paul "very much a liberal on social issues."
A look at media coverage of Paul helps explain where Krauthammer got that notion.
Newspaper coverage of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood lawsuits downplayed the possibility that the Supreme Court could expand the concept of corporate personhood when ruling on the cases, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage for birth control based on the owners' personal religious beliefs. Only 3 out of 24 articles on the case in five major U.S. newspapers mentioned the potential unpopular expansion of corporate rights in the headline or first sentence.
Clinging to persecution fantasies that seem to grow darker each year, conservative voices continue to hype doomsday scenarios in which President Obama is scheming to confiscate firearms, socialize American medicine, silence his critics through brute political force, and wage violent class warfare. Allegedly under siege at every turn as their freedoms are stripped away, conservatives embrace an imagined status as perennial victims.
The result? Wallowing in self-pity and convinced of the dark forces moving against them, conservatives launch attack after attack, insisting they're fighting forces at home akin to Hitler's Nazi storm troops. They complain louder and louder that America has become like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler when 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Nazi analogies aren't new and conservatives didn't trademark them. But the cries have become far more frequent during Obama's sixth year in office.
Four years ago, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes accused the management of National Public Radio of having "a kind of Nazi attitude" for firing commentator Juan Williams. Former Fox host Glenn Beck frequently immersed himself in offensive Hitler rhetoric during Obama's first years in office, while the then-burgeoning Tea Party movement did the same. And so did Rush Limbaugh, who obsessed over Obama-Nazi comparisons in 2009: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."
In 2009, the Anti-Defamation League, led by Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, documented the Tea Party's growing reliance on "Nazi comparisons" as a way to express its anti-Obama rage. Yet today the Nazi claims arrive effortlessly and on a depressingly regular basis as conservatives line up to compare this president, his allies, and this country to one of the worst chapters in civilized history.
The thoughtless rhetoric not only captures how detached Obama's critics have become from reality (not to mention the blanket insensitivity involved), but it also reveals the bizarre view conservatives have of their alleged political strife.
Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson recently claimed America is now "very much like Nazi Germany" in that it has a government "using its tools to intimidate the population." Carson defended the insulting comparison by suggesting American conservatives are being targeted and intimidated by the government: "Maybe if I don't say anything, I won't be audited, people won't call me a name."
Audited? Name-calling? Historical note: Those were certainly among the least painful afflictions Jews suffered during the Nazi reign of terror. "I know you're not supposed to say 'Nazi Germany,'" said Carson. "But I don't care about political correctness."
Continuing a pattern of romanticizing economic hardships that limit employee choice and force workers to put in long hours for low pay, right-wing media have claimed that expanding overtime compensation for salaried workers undermines work ethic by changing "the notion of hard work."
Right-wing media were quick to attack President Obama's new plan to alter Labor Department pay requirements to expand the number of salaried workers who qualify for overtime. Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck warned that this move "undercuts work ethic," and co-host Brian Kilmeade agreed, encouraging viewers to weigh in on the "new American work ethic" and how the plan is "discouraging those, it seems, that want to work more to get further along, with these new rules."
On the March 12 edition of Fox Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Fox host Martha MacCallum similarly warned that workers would be forced into "an hourly wage category," which she said, gives employees "a whole different mentality." The Wall Street Journal lamented the change in a March 12 editorial:
The rules will particularly harm workers who want to climb the economic ladder by going the extra mile for their employers and demonstrating why they deserve promotion. Now many businesses will tell employees with ambition they can't work long hours.
Fox & Friends also ran an on-air graphic on March 13 that read, "The New American Way: New Rule Seems To Change The Notion Of Hard Work."
These reflexive attacks highlight conservative media's tendency to denounce proposals designed to benefit workers by romanticizing economic hardship. Conservative outlets like Fox News have previously commended the "uniquely American" desire to "work more, work harder" and take on "two and three jobs to make ends meet" as something that is being undermined by policies that offer workers more flexibility.
Side-by-side comparisons are often the most unflattering. Just ask Daniel Henninger.
One of the unusual features of the current Ukraine crisis is that on many levels it represents a replay of the armed struggle that erupted in August 2008, when, set against the backdrop of simmering tensions, Russia invaded its sovereign neighbor Georgia. Then as today, the international community condemned the action. And then as today, America's president faced somewhat limited options in terms of how to respond.
The déjà vu aspect provides an opportunity to look back and see which partisan pundits have remained consistent in their analysis of the similar international conflicts, and which have drastically altered course simply because there's a Democrat in the White House this time.
For example, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen used his Washington Post column to mock President Obama for taking a weekend vacation nine days after Russian troops gained control of Crimea. But Thieseen forgot to that while he was working in the White House, his then-boss left for a twelve-day summer vacation just one week after Russia invaded Georgia. (Bush logged his 950th day away from the White House during that Texas retreat.)
And Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer has been relentlessly critical of the White House's inaction. In 2008 however, the pundit seemed non-plussed: "Well, obviously it's beyond our control. The Russians are advancing. There is nothing that will stop them."
But I'm not sure any pundit has flip-flopped as hard as Wall Street Journal Deputy Editorial Page Director Daniel Henninger. The columnist hasn't reversed course in terms of condemning Russia's aggression. There, he's consistent. (Isn't everybody?) But he has done a complete 180 in terms of who's at fault for the invasion. Today, Henninger singles out one man: President Barack Obama.
Multiple Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlets, including the New York Post, Fox News, and The Wall Street Journal, have launched false attacks against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's record on charter schools to paint him as waging a "war on children" and "poor kids," all while ignoring the benefits of de Blasio's push for universal pre-K in the city.
The attacks on de Blasio from Murdoch's media came in response to the announcement on February 27 that he blocked three New York City charter schools from using public school space rent-free. News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch himself kicked off the attacks with two incendiary tweets on February 27, asking how "de Blasio [can] do this" the same day President Obama unveiled his initiative for young boys and men of color, and falsely claiming that de Blasio's move "hurts poor families who only want a better school for their kids."
On Fox News, On The Record host Greta Van Susteren claimed the next day that "New York City democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, he just declared war on children," calling him "selfish, really selfish" and accusing him of "picking on the poor kids," asking, "Who could be that rotten?" On the March 3 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox correspondent Charles Gasparino accused "comrade Bill" of wanting "essentially to end charter schools." Later that day, The Real Story host Gretchen Carlson said that de Blasio "ax[ed] three planned charter schools," asking one of her guests, "Why is this an outrage in your mind that Mayor de Blasio is going to strip kids from going to charter schools?"
In print, the New York Post likened de Blasio's charter school move to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal (in which the governor's office engaged in political retribution), calling it "Chartergate" and writing that "de Blasio is taking good schools away from disadvantaged minority children to get back at his enemy." The Wall Street Journal editorial board called for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to defend the closed schools, claiming, "National Democrats are silent as Bill de Blasio kills charter schools."
But the facts tell a different story. According to The New York Times, de Blasio said "he would block three charter schools from using space inside New York City public school buildings." The Times explained that "[i]n reviewing 49 proposals to share school space approved under [former New York City Mayor] Mr. Bloomberg, he left untouched a majority of plans affecting charter schools." He did not "end" them or "kill" them or wage "war," as Murdoch and his media outlets claim. Furthermore, city officials told the Times that some of the plans, which were approved by Bloomberg, "would have required elementary school students to attend class inside high school buildings, and others would have required cutting programs for students with disabilities."
What right-wing media conveniently ignore in characterizations of de Blasio as picking on "poor kids" is his push for universal pre-K in New York City, which would mean greater early education access for every child regardless of their income status. The New York Times reported last week that de Blasio estimated "up to 29,000 [pre-K] seats could be opened at schools and so-called community based organizations" using his plan to fund pre-K through a higher state income tax. And as Washington Post columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel pointed out in January, de Blasio's plan "reflects growing evidence ... that high-quality, universal access to pre-K can make a significant difference in the lives of children, especially those from low-income families."
Don't expect to get the facts from Rupert Murdoch's media outlets any time soon -- their history of inflated rhetoric about de Blasio ensures his education plans will continue getting the fact-free right-wing treatment.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan pointed to the fight against measures that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers as further evidence of "the politicization of everything," ignoring the fact that conservative media and legislators spearheaded the push to allow individuals and businesses to deny services to the LGBT community.
In a February 27 screed lamenting the decline of "the nation's morale," Noonan launched a wide-ranging attack on "the aggressive left" and its alleged responsibility for sowing the seeds of "national division." Obamacare, the IRS, the EPA, the NSA, and Nancy Pelosi all featured in Noonan's list of terribles, as did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), whom she compared to Vladimir Lenin because Obamacare. Noonan also expressed concern about "the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place" (emphasis added):
We are suffering in great part from the politicization of everything and the spread of government not in a useful way but a destructive one. Everyone wants to help the poor, the old and the sick; the safety net exists because we want it. But voters and taxpayers feel bullied, burdened and jerked around, which again is not new but feels more intense every day. Common sense and native wit tell them America is losing the most vital part of itself in the continuing shift of power from private to public. Rules, regulations, many of them stupid, from all the agencies--local, state, federal--on the building of a house, or the starting of a business. You can only employ so many before the new insurance rules kick in so don't employ too many, don't take a chance! Which means: Don't grow. It takes the utmost commitment to start a school or improve an existing one because you'll come up against the unions, which own the politicians.
It's all part of the malaise, the sclerosis. So is the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place that must culturally and politically be respected. The political-media complex is bravely coming down on florists with unfashionable views. On twitter Thursday the freedom-fighter who tweets as @FriedrichHayek asked: "Can the government compel a Jewish baker to deliver a wedding cake on a Saturday? If not why not." Why not indeed. Because the truly tolerant give each other a little space? On an optimistic note, the Little Sisters of the Poor haven't been put out of business and patiently await their day in court.
While Noonan lamented the implications of a world in which being LGBT isn't sufficient reason for a business owner to deny someone a service, her survey of the "politicization of everything" excluded a look at the role of conservative media outlets like Fox News in crafting the narrative that LGBT equality poses a dire threat to religious freedom - the very narrative that led legislators across the country to begin proposing bills that would make LGBT customers legitimate targets of discrimination.
Fox contributor Karl Rove deceitfully shuffled the words of former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice in an effort to accuse her of pushing a "contemptible falsehood" about the 2012 Benghazi attacks and claiming that she was part of an "endless Benghazi coverup."
In a February 26 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal "The Endless Benghazi Coverup," Rove took Rice's comments about the violent protests that were then erupting across the Middle East out of context, falsely representing them as a specific reference to the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. According to Rove, Rice said the Benghazi attack was "absolutely" the result of the protests against a "'very hateful, very offensive video that has offended many people around the world":
The worst part of National Security Adviser Susan Rice's comments on Sunday's "Meet The Press" was that she expressed no regret for saying that the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. outposts in Benghazi were "absolutely" the result of protests against a "very hateful, very offensive video that has offended many people around the world."
This is an egregious mischaracterization of the ambassador's words. In context, Rice's comment clearly referred to the protests that had broken out throughout the Middle East and not specifically to Benghazi.
Rove was referencing Rice's September 16 interview on Fox News' Fox News Sunday, which focused at different points on the anti-American protests that had broken out across the Middle East as well as the attack in Benghazi.
Wallace led with a question about the protests that were occurring "in two dozen countries across the Islamic world," and asked whether Rice agreed with White House press secretary Jay Carney's assessment that the protests came in "response to a video that is offensive" and had "nothing to do with the president's policies." The quote Rove cited was pulled from that response, and was not at all focused on the Benghazi attack (emphasis added on the portions quoted by Rove):
WALLACE: This week, there have been anti-American protests in two dozen countries across the Islamic world. The White House says it has nothing to do with the president's policies.
Let's watch. [...] You don't really believe that.
RICE: Chris, absolutely I believe that. In fact, it is the case. We had the evolution of the Arab spring over the last many months. But what sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful very offensive video that has offended many people around the world.
Beyond his misrepresentation of Rice's comments, Rove failed to add any new information to the increasingly stale media conversation about the Benghazi attack. The rest of his piece devolved into a dissection of whether or not "she was merely sharing 'the best information that we had at the time'" - something that Rove called "a contemptible falsehood." But there too, the evidence is on Rice's side.
Rove and other Fox figures have repeatedly pushed the smear that Rice deceptively attributed the Benghazi attack to the anti-Muslim video for political reasons, but even this unusually creative distortion doesn't change the facts.
Coverage of Social Security in three major national print outlets relied on reporting figures in raw numbers devoid of relevant context -- such as previous years' figures -- that could provide a more accurate picture of the program's finances. These findings, calculated since July 2013, are consistent with a previous Media Matters analysis of print media's coverage of Social Security.
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Phil Gramm and Mike Solon pushing "pro-growth tax reform" and criticizing "regulatory burden" and "antibusiness bias." The Journal did not disclose that the authors are partners of an anti-regulation lobbying firm, and that Solon is frequent business lobbyist.
Gramm is a former Republican Senator, and Solon worked as a Gramm Senate staffer for over a decade. They run Gramm Partners, a D.C. lobbying firm. The firm's website states that it works "on the issues that matter most to financial companies" and has "a track record of delivering major accomplishments -- and stopping bad deals in their tracks." The two also run US Policy Metrics, "an economic and public policy research firm serving asset managers, hedge funds and the investor community."
According to 2013 data (the most recent available), Solon has lobbied for a variety of clients including the "lobby giant" Akin Gump, Fidelity, American Express, Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, Exxon Mobil, and US Chamber of Commerce. In addition to heading a lobbying firm, Gramm gained notoriety during the 2008 campaign because he co-chaired Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign and was also a "lobbyist for a Swiss bank at the center of the housing credit crisis." Gramm does not appear to have registered as a lobbyist since 2007. Gramm Partners' lobbyist registration form states it is lobbying on behalf of Akin Gump on issues that include budget and taxes.
The Journal's identification of Gramm and Solon simply states: "Mr. Gramm, a former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is senior partner of US Policy Metrics and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Solon was a policy adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and is a partner at US Policy Metrics."
Gramm and Solon's op-ed complains that Democrats won't lower tax rates and have a "misplaced perception of the importance of the inequality debate." They added: "A pro-growth tax reform will not undo this administration's doubling of the federal debt held by the public, its tax increases, increased regulatory burden or antibusiness bias. But it would be a major movement in the right direction."
Media Matters has documented how the Journal has repeatedly failed to disclose relevant ties about writers in its editorial page.
A Wall Street Journal article omitted the positive economic news in recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports, misleadingly framing the reports as having challenged and "chipped away" at White House economic policies.
In a February 19 post, the Wall Street Journal characterized two recent reports from the CBO on the economic effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a proposal to raise the minimum wage as the "biggest challenges to the Obama administration's economic policy in the past month," which the Journal claimed "chipped away at two pillars of President Barack Obama's economic policy." The Journal failed to report the positive aspects of the CBO findings or describe the reports' many nuances, and made no move to identify the CBO's "complex and layered projections" that supported its thesis beyond this general line:
The budget office calculated earlier this month that the health law would lead some people to leave their jobs or ratchet back their work hours, and it said this week that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 could lead 500,000 people to lose their jobs.
Yet the Journal's framing of the reports as 'chipping away' at Obama's economic policies is undermined by the CBO's actual determinations, which contained positive economic news.
In its study released this week on the effects of a minimum wage increase, the CBO determined that such an increase would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty, 16.5 million workers would see their wages increased, and notably, "Once the increases and decreases in income for all workers are taken into account, overall real income would rise by $2 billion." The New York Times offers some perspective:
Tuesday's report from the budget office, a federal nonpartisan agency, was almost entirely positive about the benefits of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, as President Obama and Congressional Democrats have proposed.
More than 16 million low-wage workers, now making as little as $7.25 an hour, would directly benefit from the increase, the report said. Another eight million workers making slightly more than the minimum would probably also get raises, because of the upward "ripple effect" of an increase. That would add $31 billion to the paychecks of families ranging from poverty level to the middle class, significantly increasing their spending power and raising the nation's economic output and overall income.
In fact, the report said, 900,000 people would be lifted from poverty with a wage increase. The income of those below the poverty line would increase by a total of $5 billion, or 3 percent, at no cost to the federal budget.
And in its Budget and Economic Outlook for 2014-2024, the CBO found that the ACA could free 2.5 million workers from being forced to keep their current jobs because of a need to maintain employer-sponsored health coverage. While the Journal attempts to portray this as a negative, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) called it "an unambiguously good thing":
Not surprisingly, the CBO finds that, all else equal, people are less likely to work and will work fewer hours under the ACA. They find, and I quote, "The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in business' demand for labor" (page 117).
These are purely voluntary labor supply decisions, not people being laid off from jobs they'd rather keep, or people looking for work and being unable to find it. Working-age adults can now choose, without regard to their need to secure health insurance, whether they wish to supply labor and how much labor they wish to supply to the labor market. This is unabashedly a good thing for them.
Opponents of the ACA will try to paint these CBO estimates as evidence that the ACA has "killed jobs" or something like it. That's flat wrong. What the ACA has done is expand the menu of options available to Americans about how to obtain decent health insurance without having their income fall to poverty levels. That menu used to include one option--"go to work for a large employer." The fact that it's broader now is an unambiguously good thing.
What's more, the report suggested that the ACA could increase job opportunities for currently unemployed workers. The CBO pointed out that "[i]f changes in incentives lead some workers to reduce the amount of hours they want to work or to leave the labor force altogether, many unemployed workers will be available to take those jobs," and reported that the law will have the stimulative effect of "raising overall demand in the economy." In a congressional testimony following the report's release, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf noted that the ACA "would reduce unemployment over the next few years."