Conservative media are in the middle of a concerted push to claim that a government report confirms their longstanding claim that the federal government wastes tax money on employees whose sole duty is "union work," but ignore key content of the report in question that undermines their misleading narrative.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney made that claim on the February 28 edition of Fox & Friends. But Varney's oversimplified version of the conservative case ignores the content of the report in question, and the more sophisticated version of the case made elsewhere falls apart under minimal scrutiny of the evidence these outlets offer.
During a discussion on federal expenditures for union activity, Varney said that the recipients "worked full-time on union business," and "did not work for the taxpayer." When host Steve Doocy noted that's not how private-sector unions tend to work, Varney replied "Well I don't want to be cynical, Steve, but you've never worked for the federal government, now have you?" Watch:
The report Varney cites from the Office of Personnel and Management directly contradicts his blanket assertion that this money goes to full-time union reps in the introduction. OPM explains that "voluntary membership in Federal sector unions results in considerable reliance by unions on the volunteer work of bargaining unit employees, rather than paid union business agents." In the next paragraph, OPM adds that these hours of pay go to "Federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. It allows unions to satisfy their duty of fair representation to members and non-members alike."
Varney's presentation of this misinformation on a flagship Fox News program may prove an inflection point for a piece of misinformation that's percolated through other, smaller conservative media outlets since the OPM report came out in mid-February. On February 19, Fox Nation hyped a Washington Post story that noted some of the contextual information OPM provided. That same day, a Washington Examiner editorial writer highlighted the report. RedState.com put its own write-up on the front page on February 21, beneath an image of brass knuckles atop a pile of cash. On the February 27 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox Business' Liz MacDonald made the same set of claims, and numerous other op-eds and blog posts from conservatives have accused the government of this same misspending of taxpayer dollars. Conservative gripes about "official time" expenditures are not new, however, as this 2011 Heritage Foundation testimony on the subject indicates.
Many of these other instances cite Freedom of Information Act requests by the conservative Americans for Limited Government to back their claims. According to ALGFOIAFiles.com, the group requested information from four departments on employees who perform "official time" labor representation work full-time. All four -- the Environmental Protection Agency, National Labor Relations Board, Small Business Administration, and the Department of Transportation -- responded between September and November of 2012. While conservatives like Trey Kovacs, a labor analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, point to the EPA (which found 17 full-time union reps) and DOT (which found 38) responses as proof of a widespread "problem" whereby taxpayers fund work that does not benefit them, the reality of these four FOIA responses is not nearly so convenient for conservatives.
The data expose this claim for what it is: ideology masquerading as empiricism. As the table below shows, according to the most recent data available the four departments ALG successfully FOIA'd have as many as 0.19 percent of their employees doing union representation work full-time. And those employees do not account for all of the billed "official time" hours in any department, confirming that there are indeed many public servants (in the conservative sense of the phrase) who pitch in to bargaining and other representational efforts as needed.
As the State Department nears a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the media is exaggerating its economic benefits and downplaying environmental risks to advocate for the project. Here, Media Matters takes on five of the prevailing media myths about Keystone XL.
Conservative media have denigrated solar energy by denying its sustainability, ignoring its successes, and arguing the U.S. should simply cede the solar market to China. Yet this booming industry has made great strides, and with the right policies can become a major source of our power.
The right-wing media are claiming that the "liberal agenda" President Obama outlined in his second inaugural address is out of the mainstream, even though polling has shown that the majority of Americans agree with Obama's stances on marriage equality, sustainable energy, and other issues.
Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
Two days after linking potential gun violence prevention measures to Adolf Hitler, the Drudge Report is highlighting a story reporting that Google searches for "Hitler gun control" have spiked.
On Wednesday, the Drudge Report used images of Hitler and Joseph Stalin to highlight a report that President Obama is considering executive action to strengthen gun laws. On Thursday, the Washington Examiner reported that "web users interest in the history of Hitler and gun control has spiked since Democrats began demanding more restrictions on high capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons":
On Friday, Drudge linked to the Examiner story with the headline "GOOGLE searches for 'Hitler gun control' spike...":
PolitiFact's "lie of the year," awarded today to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign for falsely claiming that Jeep planned to move U.S. production facilities to China, had its roots in conservative media. Throughout the 2012 campaign, many falsehoods used by Romney and the Republican Party were created by and popularized by the conservative press.
On October 25, the Washington Examiner claimed that Jeep "is considering giving up on the United States and shifting production to China," mischaracterizing an interview Jeep president Mike Manley gave to Bloomberg a few days earlier, in which Manley said Jeep would be expanding production to China. The story was soon picked up and promoted by the Drudge Report.
A day later, at an October 26 campaign rally in Ohio, Romney noted at a campaign rally that he "saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep -- now owned by the Italians -- is thinking of moving all production to China."
The false story soon became the basis of a Romney campaign ad that received heavy rotation in Ohio, which prompted a denial from Jeep's parent company Chrysler and fact-checks from several news outlets. Nonetheless, Fox News stridently defended the accuracy of Romney's ad -- Fox business contributor Stuart Varney called the ad "flat-out accurate," while chief national correspondent Jim Angle claimed "the head of Fiat-Chrysler confirmed exactly what the Romney ad said."
Right-wing media outlets are echoing and defending Mitt Romney's false claim that Chrysler is sending a Jeep production line from the United States to China. In fact, as numerous media outlets have pointed out, Jeep is not sending any U.S. jobs to China; rather, the U.S. is opening a new production line in China for the Chinese domestic market.
At a rally in Ohio on October 26, Romney said that he "saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep -- now owned by the Italians -- is thinking of moving all production to China." The Detroit News reported that Romney "was apparently responding to reports Thursday on right-leaning blogs that misinterpreted a recent Bloomberg News story earlier this week that said Chrysler, owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA, is thinking of building Jeeps in China for sale in the Chinese market."
Indeed, the Washington Examiner claimed the previous day that Jeep "is considering giving up on the United States and shifting production to China." The Examiner's Paul Bedard also wrote that Jeep is "shifting production of all Jeeps to China, which has a strong desire for Jeeps." The Drudge Report also hyped the Examiner post.
On his October 27 Fox Business show, host Neil Cavuto echoed Romney's claim, saying (via Nexis) that Jeep is "apparently shifting gears and its production plan, moving a lot of manufacturing out of Michigan and right into China."
On October 29, NewsBusters smeared MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, likening her to Saddam Hussein's propaganda minister "Baghdad Bob" after she said that Romney was wrong. NewsBusters claimed "it's still unclear" how Romney was wrong when he said Jeep is thinking of moving its production to China:
Chrysler is majority-owned by Fiat and hence it is within Fiat's power to move Jeep production wherever it wants. Since the company "may eventually" make all its Jeeps in China, as Bloomberg reported, citing a company executive as its source, one can only conclude that Romney's lying about this, as far as Maddow is concerned, stems from him not actually reading a story about it as he claimed, but getting his information elsewhere.
Also on October 29, the Drudge Report linked to a Romney ad on the auto rescue with the headline: "Romney hits auto bailout as Chrysler moves Jeep production to China." But this ad has been criticized for its inaccuracy. A Boston Globe post titled "Mitt Romney ad suggests US auto jobs headed to China" said that while the ad "does not state explicitly" that jobs are moving to China, "it connects Jeep's manufacturing in China to Romney's fighting for American jobs." The Hill said that Romney's ad "references a report that Chrysler is outsourcing its U.S. Jeep production," despite Chrysler's statements to the contrary. And National Journal wrote that Romney "is running a new TV ad that implies Chrysler is planning to move U.S. auto jobs to China, though that is not the case."
These claims and NewsBusters' defense of Romney are completely wrong. The Bloomberg article that NewsBusters references to prove Romney is right also includes this line that the right-wing media watchdog organization left out (emphasis added):
Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. [Fiat and Chrysler executive] Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.
Conservative media outlets pushed at least eleven misleading attacks on President Obama's energy policies that have become talking points used by Mitt Romney's campaign. The conservative media bubble has largely prevented voters from hearing the facts about clean energy programs, fossil fuel production and environmental regulation under the Obama administration.
Right-wing media are attacking ABC reporter Martha Raddatz, the moderator of the vice-presidential debate, complaining that she interrupted GOP candidate Paul Ryan significantly more than Vice President Joe Biden. In fact, Raddatz interrupted Biden and Ryan roughly the same number of times.
Following the October 11 debate, right-wing media figures complained that Raddatz cut Ryan off significantly more often than she did Biden. Washington Examiner senior editorial writer Philip Klein tweeted, "Every time Biden starts interrupting Ryan, Martha Raddatz cuts Ryan off." Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham complained that Raddatz interrupted Ryan when he rebutted "Biden's illogical position on abortion and Catholic Church." Town Hall news editor Katie Pavlich wrote, "This debate should be renamed: Joe Biden and the Moderator Interrupt Paul Ryan!"
But Raddatz interrupted Biden and Ryan approximately an equal number of times. According to a Media Matters review of the debate, Raddatz interrupted Biden 15 times and Ryan 18 times:
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and vocal critic of the Obama administration, is often sought after by the media for his opinion on foreign policy issues, but his stake in the presidential election -- as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney -- is rarely, if ever, disclosed by the outlets that publish him.
In addition to editorials in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and appearances on Fox News that left Bolton's ties to Romney undisclosed, a Media Matters review found editorials in five additional publications written or co-written by Bolton that left out that key information.
In total, Bolton wrote seven editorials that were critical of Obama's policies for The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Examiner, The Weekly Standard and the National Review after he became affiliated with the Romney campaign. None of those op-eds identified Bolton as a member of the Romney team. However, three of those outlets -- the Times, Monitor, and the Examiner -- have reported separately on Bolton's position in the campaign.
Conservative media have claimed that the Obama administration is waging a "war" on "cheap," "clean" coal that will cause blackouts and massive layoffs. In fact, the Obama administration has simply implemented long overdue and legally required clean air regulations to protect public health without hurting electric reliability or employment, and much of the transition away from coal is due to the rise of cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
Mitt Romney's nomination acceptance speech contained numerous falsehoods that originated in the right-wing media. Right-wing media have also echoed some of Romney's other dubious claims that were part of the speech.
In her syndicated column, Michelle Malkin depicted newly finalized fuel economy standards as dangerous to consumers. But in fact, standards have been reformed to remove incentives for smaller, potentially less safe cars, and technological improvements have made many smaller cars just as safe as larger vehicles.
This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down an EPA rule intended to curb power plant emissions carrying pollutants like sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) downwind across state lines on the basis that it overstepped the EPA's statutory authority under the Clean Air Act. Although the court made clear that its decision was not a comment on the "policy merits" of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which was put in place to address public health concerns, the right-wing media immediately mobilized to proclaim it "a major blow" against environmental regulations and what they claim is the Obama administration's "war on coal."
The right-wing reaction to the decision was just the latest chapter in a years-long campaign by conservative media to sow fear about the economic impact of EPA pollution controls while downplaying or denying their health benefits. A Wall Street Journal editorial claimed the "flawed rule" is part of the EPA's "regulatory war" on coal plants, and The Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll called it "just one of many costly regulations currently in the pipeline."
Horowitz also claimed the rule was part of "Obama's inexorable war on American energy [and] consumers." In a similar vein, a Washington Times editorial called the CSAPR "one of the EPA's most insidious schemes to shut down affordable power generation," and referred to "an all-out war on affordable energy."
But the conservative media have grossly exaggerated the effect of the CSAPR on consumers. According to the EPA, its "effect on prices for specific regions or states may vary, [but] they are well within the range of normal electricity price fluctuations." A Government Accountability Office analysis of the EPA's data estimated a national average retail electricity price increase of just 0.8% as a result of CSAPR. And a report by Resources For The Future found that neither CSAPR or the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) would "create the shock to the electricity system that some worry would lead to reliability problems."