Of mice and misinformation: Sammon joins other Fox News personalities in spreading stimulus falsehood

Fox News' Bill Sammon claimed that "[p]eople look at" the economic recovery bill “and see ... some mouse is being protected in [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi's district” -- echoing a falsehood previously forwarded by several other Fox News hosts and reporters. The bill, in fact, contains no language allocating funding to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco wetlands.

On the February 15 edition of Fox News Sunday, Fox News Washington deputy managing editor Bill Sammon advanced the debunked claim that the economic recovery bill includes funding to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco wetlands, a falsehood previously forwarded by others on Fox News. Sammon said of the recovery bill: “People look at this thing and see, you know, some mouse is being protected in [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi's district.” In fact, even the House Republican leadership aide from whom the claim reportedly originated acknowledged that the bill does not contain any language directing funds to San Francisco wetlands or the salt marsh harvest mouse living in them.

As Media Matters for America has documented, the spurious mouse tale leapt from the House GOP to The Washington Times, several Fox News hosts, and at least one Fox News reporter. The falsehood also was repeated on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, and in a graphic aired on Fox News' Hannity.

After writing that “there isn't any such money in the bill” for the mouse, The Plum Line blogger Greg Sargent wrote on February 12 that the claim originated in an email from a “House Republican leadership staffer” who, when contacted by Sargent, “conceded that the claim by conservative media that the mouse money is currently in the bill is a misstatement.” San Jose Mercury News staff writer Paul Rogers subsequently reported on February 13 that Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), originated the claim and said that "[t]here is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project."

From the Mercury News article:

Trouble is, the facts were mostly wrong. But the lightning speed of Internet news enabled it to take on urban legend stature within hours.

The tale began Wednesday [February 11], when Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent an e-mail to reporters and political leaders that noted Republican staff members have been asking federal agencies how they would spend the stimulus money.

“One response? Thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area -- including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse,” wrote Steel.

The Washington Times then wrote a story citing Steel and claiming that $30 million for the mouse project is contained in the bill. The paper suggested the money was put there by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. Blogger Matt Drudge, whose Web site receives 26 million hits a day, posted a link to that story.


Steel, however, said the Washington Times story is incorrect.

“There is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project,” Steel told the San Jose Mercury News. “There are large pots of money in the bill that go to various agencies. One of those agencies said the salt marsh harvest mouse project is something we'd do if you gave us the money.”

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hamill agreed that funding for the mouse is not in the bill, and said she did not lobby for it to be on any list.

Then where did the $30 million figure come from, if it's not in the bill? It turns out that $30 million is the total amount that the California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency, recommended more than a month ago to numerous federal agencies, looking for lists of “shovel ready” projects as part of the stimulus bill planning.

The conservancy's wish list included five major ongoing wetlands restoration projects totaling nearly 4,000 acres, said civil engineer Steve Ritchie, a Coastal Conservancy staff member who helped draw it up. And the federal Army Corps of Engineers included all five projects on its own list of possible ways to spend stimulus money.

The projects, which range from Napa County to Silicon Valley, involve moving levees, creating islands and converting former industrial salt ponds back to marshes. Each could begin by year's end and would benefit dozens of species, including salmon, steelhead trout, ducks, egrets, and yes, the endangered mouse, Ritchie said.


Even if the stimulus passes, there's no guarantee the projects will get the money, since they're not named in the bill. That will be up to the Army Corps of Engineers, which does everything from harbor dredging to building dams to restoring wetlands.

From the February 15 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: I mean, in the end, for all the debate -- I mean, I think we would all agree what's going to end up being -- marking the success or failure of Mr. Kristol's thousand pages is whether or not it works. Is it big enough? Is it effective enough? Is it stimulative enough? What's your sense of that, Bill?

SAMMON: Well, if it works, certainly the Democrats will get credit. If it doesn't, the Republicans will probably stand to gain. I think the problem is that the public has come to view this thing as -- it wasn't just Republicans calling this pork. Chuck Schumer said this is full of porky amendments. And I think this has turned into a public relations disaster for Obama. People look at this thing and see, you know, some mouse is being protected in Pelosi's district, some rail lines being built in Harry Reid's state. They look at the welfare reform that Bill Clinton had enacted as basically have been undone. I think as we get deeper into the details of this bill, it's going to get uglier and uglier. So yes, Obama won, but he won ugly. He wanted bipartisan support; he got virtually none. He wanted 80 votes in the Senate; he got 60, and he had to send a plane to get that 60th vote and sort of limp across the finish line. I'm not sure this is the big victory that he had hoped for.