Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto again downplayed the sharp rise of reported sexual assaults in the military, even as military leaders agree that sexual assaults are a real problem.
The New York Times reported on November 7 that sexual assault complaints in the military rose "nearly 50 percent increase over the same period a year earlier." The report noted:
The numbers included sexual assaults by civilians on service members and by service members on civilians. Sexual assault was defined in the report as rape, sodomy and other unwanted sexual contact, including touching of private body parts. It did not include sexual harassment, which is handled by another office in the military.
But Taranto ridiculed the Times report, claiming the Pentagon was "exaggerating the problem of military sexual assault." Taranto claimed the report should be treated with "skepticism" because it included reports of military members assaulted by civilians and those assaulted before entering the military:
Media coverage of nuclear power often suggests that environmentalists are illogically blocking the expansion of a relatively safe, low-carbon energy source. However, in reality, economic barriers to nuclear power -- even after decades of subsidies -- have prevented the expansion of nuclear power. While nuclear power does provide meaningful climate benefits over fossil fuels, economic factors and the need for strict safety regulations have led many environmentalists to focus instead on putting a price on carbon, which would benefit all low-carbon energy sources including nuclear.
Right-wing media are ignoring the dangers of underinsurance in their attacks on the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) requirement that new insurance plans offer at least a minimum level of coverage, including ten "essential health benefits."
Research has shown that medical costs contribute to a high percentage of bankruptcies filed in the U.S, and a 2007 study from Harvard University found that more than three-quarters of people with medical debt had health insurance. Beginning January 1, 2014, the ACA will begin to tamp down on the type of "swiss cheese" coverage that can leave consumers facing catastrophic health costs by requiring that all health plans on the new health care exchanges cover ten "essential health benefits" that will provide consumers with a basic level of coverage for things like hospitalization, prescription drugs, mental health services, and preventative care.
Right-wing media are attacking this shift toward providing an improved health insurance product and insisting that insufficient insurance is not a problem. An October 30 Wall Street Journal editorial blasted the change as "command-and-control regulation" and said "Democrats are openly instructing adults that they don't know what's best for their own good." In his own October 30 column, the Journal's deputy editorial page editor, Daniel Henninger, wrote called the push for increased consumer protection "progressive coercion," emblematic of "politics by cramdown."
During the October 31 Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and Fox Business host Stuart Varney obscured the dangers of "cut-rate" insurance plans to characterize the administration's claim that the insufficient levels of coverage in some existing plans led insurers to tell policyholders that they had to change their coverage as "flat-out outrageous" -- even though a study published in Health Affairs found that, in 2010, more than half of Americans who purchased their own insurance had plans that fell short of ACA standards. Later in the show, Doocy and Fox Business host John Stossel bashed the health care law's requirements for new insurance policies:
DOOCY: Now we're going to have to buy insurance that is up to the government's standard even though maybe we would rather just save money.
STOSSEL: We chose those policies and yet the president says you didn't choose well, I need to choose for you.
These attacks all ignore the consequences of being underinsured, which carry many of the same risks as having no insurance at all. According to Kaiser Health News, some uninsured people "avoid going to the doctor or getting prescriptions filled because they can't afford it," and noted that others "end up with medical debt and other severe financial problems." The April Commonwealth Fund study found that half of the underinsured "said they had not received needed care because of cost" and explained that 55 percent of underinsured Americans "reported medical bill problems are accrued medical debt" -- more than twice the rate of those with adequate insurance coverage.
Huffington Post health care reporter Jeffrey Young defined the underinsured as those with health insurance plans that "offered too little coverage and exposed them to high out-of-pocket costs." He highlighted an April study by the Commonwealth Fund that found 30 million people, or 16 percent of the U.S. population were underinsured in 2012. The study also found that lower-income Americans were underinsured at higher rates. The Commonwealth Fund study also stated that 85 percent of those who were underinsured could be eligible for coverage under the ACA's Medicaid expansion or qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance plans on the exchanges, which have a certain standard of coverage, and so "[m]ore people insured and better-quality coverage will likely lead to less medical cost-fueled debt and fewer cost-related access problems."
According to a September 2011 study by the Commonwealth Fund, once fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act could reduce the number of underinsured adults by 70 percent.
The Wall Street Journal provided a platform for the Employment Policies Institute, a lobbying group with ties to the fast food industry, to push misleading claims about the effects of minimum wage increases -- but the Journal failed to disclose the group's connections.
On October 28, the Journal posted an op-ed from Michael Saltsman that dismissed low-wage workers' recent push for a minimum wage increase and claimed the "vast majority of people earning the minimum wage aren't working at large corporations with 1,000 or more employees." Saltsman used this claim to suggest that small businesses would be hurt if forced to "bear the brunt" of increases in the minimum wage -- a common right-wing media myth that has been repeatedly undermined by economic data. The Journal's disclaimer identified Saltsman simply as the "research director at the Employment Policies Institute."
But the Journal's disclaimer doesn't mention that Saltsman's employer is a front group for corporate lobbyist Richard Berman, who lobbies for, among others, the restaurant industry. In 2007, CBS noted that Berman "takes a certain pride, even joy, in the nickname 'Dr. Evil,' " and reported:
His real name is Rick Berman, a Washington lobbyist and arch-enemy of other lobbyists and do-gooders who would have government control--and even ban-a myriad of products they claim are killing us, products like caffeine, salt, fast food and the oil they fry it in. He's against Mothers Against Drunk Driving, animal rights activists, food watchdog groups and unions of every kind.
He has come up with a clever system of non-profit educational entities. Companies can make charitable donations to these groups, which have names like Center for Consumer Freedom and Center for Union Facts. They are neutral sounding but "educating," with a particular point of view, all perfectly legal.
Berman and his staff of young crusaders attack the nanny culture by combing through watchdog and government reports, seeking inconsistencies, overstatements, seizing on the one fact here or there that might discredit the research. And Berman says he's rarely disappointed.
"He's a one-man goon squad for any company that's willing to hire him," says Dr. Michael Jacobson, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a healthy food advocacy group. Jacobson has been the point man in the "food wars" for decades.
Who are the companies that support Berman?
"The food industry, the beverage industry, alcoholic beverage industry, the restaurant industry's a major supporter. He doesn't disclose the names of his funders," Jacobson says.
Saltsman's claims are just another example of the Employment Policies Institute's track record of using misleading studies to claim that minimum wage increases would hurt the economy without providing real evidence. From the Center for Media and Democracy:
In 1995, EPI lashed out at Princeton University professors David Card and Alan Krueger, after they published a survey of fast-food restaurants which found no loss in the number of jobs in New Jersey after implementing an increase in the state's minimum wage. Berman accused Card and Krueger of using bad data, citing contrary figures that his own institute had collected from some of the same restaurants. But whereas Card and Krueger had surveyed 410 restaurants, Berman's outfit only collected data from 71 restaurants and has refused to make its data publicly available so that other researchers can assess whether it "cherry-picked" restaurants to create a sample that would support its predetermined conclusions.
The Wall Street Journal has a responsibility to disclose the Employment Policies Institute's corporate lobbying ties when providing a platform for such commentary.
On October 23, I attended the Institute for Legal Reform's (ILR) 14th Annual Legal Reform Summit to listen to right-wing columnist Peggy Noonan and a gang of corporate lawyers frighten each other into believing that there's an approaching tsunami of frivolous lawsuits.
The theme of this year's summit was "Healing the U.S. Lawsuit System," with panels ranging on topics from class action litigation to the spread of "U.S. style litigation" abroad, and speakers representing multinational corporations and some of the biggest law firms in the country. The keynote speaker for this event was conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. It was not entirely clear why Noonan was selected for this task -- though she is a reliable conservative ally, she hasn't written extensively on tort reform. In fact, she didn't make much of an attempt to tie her remarks into the theme of the event at all. Instead, she spent most of her speech complaining about Obamacare (problems with the healthcare website are "deeply IT-related. Deeply, federally, IT-ly related"), and making suggestions on how the Obama administration might "enhance its mystique" (don't go on TV so much). The closest she came to talking about tort reform was when she told a joke about a lawyer whose arm fell off after getting hit by a truck (the lawyer, naturally, was more concerned with losing his Rolex than his arm).
The ILR, an off-shoot of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is deeply troubled by the apparent onslaught of "frivolous lawsuits," and its stated goal is to "restore balance, ensure justice, and maintain integrity within the civil legal system." For ILR, this means advocating for federal and state-level "reforms" that make it more difficult for consumers to access civil justice and make it easier for corporations to avoid liability. The Chamber seems particularly disturbed by lawsuits, which is why, 15 years ago, it founded ILR. According to ILR President Lisa Rickard, back then "jackpot jurisdictions dominated the landscape," but thanks to reforms proposed by ILR, there have been positive changes in some of the nation's "worst jurisdictions."
For a group so concerned with lawsuit abuse, none of the attendees seemed disturbed by the fact that the Chamber itself brings a significant amount of lawsuits every year -- not just against the federal government, but regular people who just happened to piss them off. During Chamber President Tom Donohue's speech, he admitted that the Chamber has sued the federal government 170 times this year alone -- that works out to about three lawsuits a week. Despite all those (completely non-frivolous, I'm sure) lawsuits, Donohue insisted, "what we're doing is right. What they're [plaintiffs' lawyers] doing is wrong." Donohue continued, "What we do protects corporations from advancing their interest without being sued for trying to do their best" but still insisted that the Chamber "support[s] the truly wronged from being compensated." Donohue didn't stop there. "This is a war of attrition," he said. "The group with the most money will come out on top, and it better be us."
The media has heavily focused on problems faced by the Affordable Care Act website's implementation problems at the expense of stories showing that the exchanges have allowed many people to successfully access affordable health care coverage.
News Corp. not only declined to participate in David Folkenflik's new book about Rupert Murdoch, but "actively discouraged" people from speaking with the NPR veteran, while also "denigrating" his reputation, the author says.
Still, Folkenflik says he was able to conduct his reporting for Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires and has come away with a detailed look at how the mogul built and sustains a global media conglomerate. In a wide-raging Wednesday interview with Media Matters, Folkenflik discussed Fox News' role in Republican Party primaries ("arbiter and umpire"), the network's PR department (Roger Ailes' "unbridled id"), the "searing experience" the Murdoch family has undergone due to the still unfolding phone-hacking scandal in Britain, how the network used Juan Williams' firing to "unleash" unprecedented "vitriol" on NPR, and what the future may hold for the empire Murdoch built.
Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
What prompted you to write this book since so much has been written about Murdoch and News Corp.?
I thought that the extraordinary revelations of the summer of 2011, which I was involved in covering for NPR, offered an extraordinary and new window into the inner workings of how News Corp. operated. If you look at it it involved his properties in England, and yet the stakes were felt very keenly here in the heart of midtown Manhattan just a few blocks from our bureau where News Corp. has its global headquarters. And as I looked at the story more closely, it became clear to me that there were commonalities in the cultures that News Corp. had created, particularly in the three great English-speaking nations in which Murdoch casts such a great shadow, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. That they evolved differently in some ways through the culture of each country, and yet there were these common threads that I thought were worth exploring and teasing out and understanding ... I thought it was important to see what kind of steward he had been at The Wall Street Journal, how Fox and Murdoch had operated in the age of Obama, and what possibly could give rise to the conditions that would allow what now appears to have been fairly widespread criminality to have occurred at his two best-selling newspapers.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore altered his previous position on the effect of Obamacare on the growth of part-time jobs to push the dubious claim that health care reform will increase part-time work in the future.
On the October 23 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, co-host Bill Hemmer interviewed Moore on the potential effects of Obamacare implementation on the growth of part-time work. When asked by Hemmer if the law has already played a role in increasing part-time work, Moore responded, "We are going to probably see that number [of part-time employment] rise next year, because that's when the Obama requirements really take effect. In January."
Moore's position, that Obamacare is not currently increasing part-time work, reverses his previous stance on the subject. Moore has played a significant role in creating and perpetuating the myth that the reform is the driving force behind increasing part-time work.
Since the beginning of 2013, the Wall Street Journal editorial board -- of which Moore is a member -- has published as least four editorials claiming that Obamacare is directly linked to the growth of part-time work at the expense of full-time employment.
Indeed, Moore has repeated these claims directly. In a July 5 WSJ Live segment on the "ObamaCare Jobs Report," co-editorial board member Mary Kissel asked Moore what was behind the rise in part-time work in the June jobs report. Moore responded, "clearly Obamacare."
Moore's decision to finally acknowledge facts that have long been noted by professional economists is a welcome change. Unfortunately, his admission came while pushing yet another unsubstantiated claim; that part-time work will increase when the employer mandate -- penalties for which were delayed until 2015 -- takes effect.
In an analysis of the effect of Obamacare on employer practices, economists Dean Baker and Helene Jorgensen noted that initial indications of an increase in part-time work resulting from Obamacare would have materialized by January 2013, "since under the original law employment in 2013 would serve as the basis for assessing penalties in 2014." Jorgensen and Baker conclude by noting that that in the first few months of 2013, before the mandate was delayed on July 2, "employers [did] not appear to be changing hours in large numbers in response to the sanctions in the ACA." If this evidence has any implications for the future, there will be no part-time work shift as a result of Obamacare, as Moore suggests.
Indeed, after previously suggesting that the law may cause part-time job growth, Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said recently of the part-time work claim: "I don't see it in the data."
Right-wing media are championing an appellate decision currently before the Supreme Court that upended the ability of presidents to appoint nominees during Senate recesses as a repudiation of President Barack Obama. But National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning was a radical decision that ignored long-standing precedent, and if the Supreme Court finds such appointments unconstitutional, governmental operations could be hindered to a historic degree.
The Wall Street Journal's economics blog debunked the claim that the Affordable Care Act is leading to increased part-time unemployment -- a myth that has been repeatedly pushed on the Journal's editorial page.
The lackluster September unemployment report highlights the need for a focus on job creation, a priority that is likely to be ignored by media.
On October 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its unemployment report for the month of September, which found that payrolls rose 148,000, edging the official unemployment rate down from 7.3 to 7.2 percent. While the report found positive gains in the labor market -- a welcome change from losses sustained after the financial crisis -- job creation fell far short of economists' expectations, which predicted 180,000 to 200,000 jobs would be created in September.
The underperforming labor market, identified in this month's report, presents an opportunity for the media to focus on job creation and economic growth.
Unfortunately, this opportunity is likely to be squandered in favor of promoting discussion on spending cuts and deficit reduction, as evidenced in past reporting.
Media's focus on deficits and debt instead of economic growth and jobs has long been criticized by economists. Previous coverage of budget negotiations show that media place overwhelming focus on the need to reduce spending, often leaving the more pressing need for economic growth largely unmentioned.
Indeed, this issue has already been raised by economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a post on The New York Times Economix blog, Bernstein expressed fears that after concluding the 16-day long government shutdown, the media will undoubtedly pivot focus to deficit and debt reduction. Bernstein explains that the debate over spending and deficit reduction will crowd out discussion on the more immediate jobs crisis:
Imagine instead that the politicians turned not to the budget deficit but to the jobs deficit, the infrastructure deficit, to poverty, wage stagnation, immobility and inequality. Along with a budget conference -- and don't get me wrong; I'm glad they're talking -- imagine there was an economic conference to make recommendations on what's really hurting the country, which I assure you is not our fiscal situation. That's taking care of itself for the short term, as is always the case after a recession (deficits go up in recessions, for obvious reasons).
I'm surely going to jump into the budget debate myself any minute now, but before I do, I wanted to point out that this is not the debate we should be having. It's the preferred debate of those who seek to shrink the role of government, to undermine social insurance, to reduce needed investments in public goods and human capital, and to protect the concentrated wealth of the top few percent.
Bernstein's fear of undue focus on debt and deficits has already been realized.
Reacting to the deal that ended the recent government shutdown, Fox News host Megyn Kelly claimed it wasn't a "win for the American people" because it didn't reduce the national debt. CNN reported that the shutdown deal shouldn't be celebrated because it "kicks the can [of budget negotiations] down the road." Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore immediately declared the preservation of sequestration cuts -- which will continue to reduce spending and deficits -- the "winner" of the shutdown, and the Journal preemptively told Republicans to stand firm on sequestration cuts in any budget deal in an October 13 editorial.
If history and early reports are any indication, media will continue their habit of promoting deficit reduction as budget negotiations take place.
Right-wing media dishonestly accused President Obama and the Justice Department of "McCarthyism," "extortion," and carrying out a "vendetta" against JPMorgan Chase (JPM) after the two parties reached an historic $13 billion settlement over the company's role in the 2008 financial crisis. The attacks characterized the settlement as politicized "medieval justice," excusing JPM's responsibility for its own alleged wrongdoing and those of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual -- two entities which played a large role in the collapse that were later acquired by JPM.
In his forthcoming book on News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, veteran NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reports several fascinating stories about the mogul's expansive media empire.
Among the stories highlighted in Murdoch's World: that Fox News' public relations shop used an elaborate series of fake accounts to post pro-Fox comments on websites critical of the network; that the same PR department has resorted to ruthless tactics to take revenge on critical reporters; that News Corp's CEO tried to suppress damaging reporting about the phone hacking scandal from running in the Wall Street Journal; and that a New York Post columnist was merely "chastised" for directing a racial slur at a colleague.
Fox's ruthless PR department: Taking revenge on reporters and using sock puppet accounts on critical websites
Folkenflik highlights numerous anecdotes about the aggressive tactics of Fox News' PR department, which punished reporters that upset the network.
For example, when New York Times media reporter Timothy Arango was working on a story about CNN's solid ratings in 2008, he was reportedly first asked by Fox to run in full a "vitriolic" statement about CNN that the conservative network had provided him. After he bristled at the suggestion, Arango -- a former News Corp employee that had worked for the New York Post from 2002 to 2006 -- claims he received an ominous threat from Fox suggesting he would be attacked personally for his story.
The morning Arango's story ran on the front page of the Times' business section, he was contacted by a writer for the now-defunct gossip website Jossip. That site later anonymously published a hit piece on him, including revealing that a recent medical leave he had taken "may have been a stint in rehab":
This time, he said, [Fox News' Irena] Briganti warned him: They're going to go after you personally. On March 5, 2008, Arango's story, headlined "Back in the Game," ran on the front page of the Times business section, and it was featured prominently on the paper's website. That morning, he received a call from a blogger with Jossip, a now-defunct gossip site. Arango knew what lay in store but did not return the call.
The unbylined story on Jossip said Arango had just returned from a two-month medical leave that "many allege may have been a stint in rehab." The Jossip posting utilized every element of Arango's past coverage at the Post and Fortune magazine to draw a portrait of a craven reporter in unsuccessful pursuit of on-air reporting jobs at cable channels. It referred to "blowjob pieces about CNBC execs" written, the blog claimed, when Arango was hustling for a job at the network.
Arango braced for the slam about rehab because he had indeed returned a few days earlier from an extended medical leave to address his substance abuse. Arango kept silent, expecting a wave of disgust from his own newsroom. It never materialized. Bill Keller, then the executive editor at the Times, emailed Arango a note of encouragement: We don't take that kind of bullshit seriously. Keep your head up. [Murdoch's World, pp 72-73]
Folkenflik also writes about an incident involving fellow Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff. Wolff reportedly told Folkenflik that he was approached by Murdoch's staff with a request to "change the date when Murdoch met his third wife, Wendi Deng," whom Murdoch married "just weeks" after he finalized his divorce from his previous wife. After Wolff refused, his book received "scant coverage in any News Corp properties," though the New York Post eventually published seven pieces in the span of a month invoking an affair Wolff had been having with a colleague:
As Wolff tells the story, Murdoch wanted the timing of his involvement with Deng out of the book, but it stayed in. The Man Who Owns the News, received scant coverage in any News Corp properties. And Wolff also criticized [New York Post editor Col] Allan by name on cable television for the racially charged cartoon. Soon an article appeared on the gossip website City-File, and then another surfaced on the better-known Gawker, alleging that Wolff was having an affair with a younger colleague - a woman just a year older than his daughter. The Post pounced, citing, of course, the reporting of others. Over the course of the month, the Post published seven pieces invoking the affair and publishing another cartoon by Delonas, unfairly depicting the couple, in the words of Wolff's girlfriend Victoria Floethe, as "a thirteen-year-old girl in bed with an eighty-year-old." By the end of the coverage, Wolff had moved out of the apartment he shared with his wife and the tabloid was running pieces about a legal fight the soon-to-be divorced couple were having with Wolff's mother-in-law. [Murdoch's World, pp 49-50]
Folkenflik explains that after some negative attention in 2008, "Fox pulled back on some of its most aggressive tactics."
As Media Matters has previously highlighted, lashing out at critical reporters isn't the only way Fox's PR shop seeks to shape public opinion. Folkenflik reports in the book that the network's staffers set up a series of fake accounts to post comments to articles that were critical of Fox:
On the blogs, the fight was particularly fierce. Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations. Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked. [Murdoch's World, pg. 67]
Right-wing media continue to deny that President Obama's judicial nominees have faced unparalleled obstruction from congressional Republicans, and is mischaracterizing the legal philosophies of those nominees.
FoxNews.com contributor John Lott not only misled on the overwhelming hurdles President Obama's nominees have faced, he also rather bizarrely branded one nominee as "controversial," even though his legal opinions are based on well-established Supreme Court precedent.
From Lott's October 16 column:
The Senate Judiciary committee will vote on either Wednesday or Thursday whether to confirm Robert Wilkins, President Obama's nominee to the prestigious D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals -- the court often referred to after the Supreme Court as the "second highest court" in the country.
President Obama has spared little rhetoric in threatening Republicans should they dare defeat or delay Wilkins' nomination. When Wilkins was nominated in June, Obama accused Republicans of being "cynically" engaging in "unprecedented" obstruction of judicial nominations.
Democrats claim that any fair consideration would guarantee Wilkins' quick confirmation. After all, as they point out, Wilkins was quickly confirmed as a District Court judge in 2010 "without opposition."
But it might not be such smooth sailing, for after getting on the bench, Wilkins has made a number of controversial rulings -- recently striking down Texas' voter photo ID law and upholding aggregate campaign finance donation limits.
The president and other Democrats complain that Obama's nominees are suffering the most difficult confirmations ever. Many newspaper articles agree, such as in the New York Times, USA Today, and the Congressional Research Service.
But, these numbers are fundamentally flawed.
These studies don't look at what finally happens to nominees, only what happens at some arbitrary cut-off date, such as last fall or at the end of a president's first term.
In reality, many of the longest confirmation battles involve nominations made during a president's first term and not finished until some time during his second term.
A president's decision to make nominations late in a congressional cycle can also strongly influence the results.
Actually, President Obama has little to complain about.
But As Lott himself acknowledges, numerous analyses (including one by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service) have shown that President Obama's "rhetoric" is true -- his nominees have been blocked at unprecedented levels. Lott dismisses these studies by highly reputable sources because supposedly their "numbers are fundamentally flawed," a bold claim from a source whose research on gun violence has been repeatedly and seriously discredited.
Before he was promoted to his current role as chief executive officer of News Corp., Robert Thomson used his position at The Wall Street Journal to hobble the paper's reporting of the parent company's phone hacking scandal, according to a new book.