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  • Fox & Friends blames Medicaid expansion and legalized marijuana for making the opioid crisis worse

    Research has shown marijuana has saved lives during this crisis, which began before Medicaid expansion took effect

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    A Fox & Friends segment citing President Donald Trump’s State of the Union remarks that his administration will fight the deadly opioid crisis ignored that the president has yet to actually take any action, and instead misleadingly blamed the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and states’ legalization of marijuana for making the opioid crisis worse.

    Trump addressed the opioid crisis that is killing tens of thousands of Americans annually for less than a minute in his January 30 State of the Union address, saying that his administration “is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need.” On the February 1 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Dr. Kevin Sabet, who worked on drug policy in the Obama White House, gave credit to Trump’s opioid commission for putting out “a very good report” and put the onus on Congress to fund its recommendations, saying: “We need funding for it, for the president's opioid commission, which was a bipartisan commission. Put out a very good report. Now we need to see Congress and the administration fund those recommendations.”

    But as CBS News explained after Trump’s address, the administration has not requested the Congress for funds to combat the crisis:

    Since October, the White House has dithered on asking Congress for funding to combat the epidemic.

    In the 97 days since the president declared the crisis a public health emergency, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has been unable to specify how much money the White House would request for funding. She has also not said when they would be submitting a funding request to Congress.

    After Mr. Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency in October -- a declaration that came with a laundry list of action items that have yet to be executed -- he has done little to bolster the paltry $57,000 available in the public health emergency fund. The president dedicated his third quarter salary of roughly $100,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the crisis. But that's pocket change compared to the what the Council of Economic Advisers projected as the cost of the epidemic in 2015 alone: $504 billion dollars.

    [...]

    "The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there's no funding behind it," Opioid Commission member and former congressman Patrick Kennedy told CNN last week. "You can't expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is."

    A day after Trump’s address, some Democratic senators sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking it to investigate Trump’s lack of action after he declared “a public health emergency over the opioid crisis in October.”

    But in its February 1 segment on the opioid crisis, Fox & Friends didn’t focus on Trump administration’s failure to take concrete steps to address the issue. Instead co-host Ainsley Earhardt opened the segment by blaming the Affordable Care Act’s 2014 Medicaid expansion for making the crisis worse, citing a Republican report that claimed Medicaid and its expansion contributed to prescription pill fraud.

    A January 17 Vox article that examined evidence behind the Republican claim that Medicaid expansion made the opioid crisis worse soundly debunked the theory. As Vox senior reporter German Lopez summed up:

    This claim runs into a basic problem: the concept of time. Medicaid didn’t expand under Obamacare until 2014 — well after opioid overdose deaths started rising (in the late 1990s), after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 declared the crisis an epidemic, and as the crisis became more about illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, rather than conventional opioid painkillers.

    Additionally Lopez noted that Medicaid can play a major part in addressing the opioid epidemic by covering addiction treatment, a point Kaiser Family Foundation has also made.

    Toward the end of the Fox segment, Dr. Sabet also blamed increasing legalization of marijuana for part of the opioid crisis:

    DR. KEVIN SABET: If we continue to do things like legalize marijuana and these other very harmful policies, we're going to make the opioid crisis much worse. This is an addiction crisis.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Really? You hear that, California?

    SABET: And many other states. This is an addiction crisis. Not just an opioid crisis.

    Sabet has a history of making anti-marijuana claims. And recent research shows that his claim that legalized marijuana makes the opioid crisis worse is simply wrong.

    A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded “medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid mortality rates.” In March 2017, NBC News reported on a study which found that in states that allow legal medical marijuana use, “hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent,” compared to an average of a 13 percent drop. And in October 2017, The Washington Post reported on a study which found that recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado led to a “reversal” of opiate overdose deaths. According to the study’s authors, “opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6% in the following 2 years” after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana sale and use.

    The Trump administration has made a recent policy move to discourage legalized marijuana from growing as a business. On January 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he’s rescinding federal guidelines that limited federal prosecutions for marijuana sales in states where it’s legal, which led to concerns that the Department of Justice may prosecute more people for marijuana crimes.

  • A “pivotal player” at Trump's health department previously promoted harmful "ex-gay" conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Shannon Royce, who has reportedly emerged “as a pivotal player” at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), previously suggested that so-called conversion therapy was an antidote to marriage equality and worked for anti-LGBTQ hate groups that have promoted the dangerous and widely discredited practice.

    Politico reported on January 22 that Royce, the director of HHS’ Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has become "a pivotal player” at the department and has been part of a group that's “spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care.” The publication added that she has also helped spearhead “a vast outreach initiative to religious groups.”

    During a November appearance on a right-wing radio program, Royce suggested that she wanted to increase partnerships with groups that were "considered hateful” under President Barack Obama’s administration, including organizations that are against same-sex couples getting married and adopting children.

    Royce has a history of promoting anti-LGBTQ groups and causes, including the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. The Human Rights Campaign has written that conversion therapy, sometimes known as reparative therapy, is “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Such practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy.” The American Psychiatric Association has found that the potential risks of the so-called therapy “include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.”

    Royce talked to The New York Times Magazine in 2005 about same-sex marriage and told reporter Russell Shorto that “the ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story”:

    The solution to the problem of the gay lifestyle in this view is, of course, Christ. The reparative therapy or "ex-gay" movement has been repudiated by major health and mental health organizations for its assumption that homosexuality is a defect to be repaired -- indeed, in May members of the American Psychiatric Association recommended that the organization support gay marriage in the interest of promoting mental health. But for both the national leaders on the anti-gay-marriage front and Christian community activists, "ex-gay" and "gay marriage" are closely connected, the first being the antidote to the second. Shannon Royce, the executive director of the Marriage Amendment Project, advised me explicitly: "The ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story." [Pastor Brian] Racer spelled it out clearly as well. "I've had quite a few opportunities to counsel people who were in a homosexual lifestyle," he said. "They have generally found themselves in a desperate place. They know that Christ promises an abundant life, but that promise was made with some restrictions. These people have tried to find fulfillment in ways that are against God's principles. So you don't want to further the error by allowing gay marriage. Most of these folks have had an abusive situation that goes back to childhood. You want to heal that. You want to hold back the tide and not let such a high impact issue harm the whole society."

    Royce has also held senior roles in organizations that promoted conversion therapy. 

    She worked as the chief of staff for the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council before landing her federal job. FRC’s official position states that it “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects." 

    The FRC explicitly supports conversion therapy as a practice. The Human Rights Campaign notes that FRC promotes the "idea that people can and should try to change their sexual orientation, and that even if you can’t stop 'involuntary attraction,' you can just not act on it." FRC has also fought against efforts to ban the practice in states.

    Royce was also the executive director of the Marriage Amendment Project, which first organized against same-sex marriage in 2004 and believed "marriage is the union of one man and one woman" (the group and its website are now defunct). The project's participants included numerous organizations that have supported conversion therapy, including the American Family Association, Exodus InternationalFocus on the Family, and FRC.

    Its “resources” page also included a link to advertisements from Exodus International touting the supposed effectiveness of the dangerous practice.

    Exodus International was explicitly dedicated to promoting conversion therapy. The group’s website in 2004 stated that it is “a worldwide interdenominational, Christian organization called to encourage, strengthen, unify and equip Christians to minister the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ to those affected by homosexuality.” The New York Times reported in 2012 that Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, “declared that there was no cure for homosexuality and that ‘reparative therapy’ offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful.” The following year, the group issued an apology for its efforts and shut down its operations.  

    Royce was also the executive director of The Arlington Group, a coalition of numerous Christian conservatives that included Exodus International's Alan Chambers.

    The Marriage Amendment Project’s FAQ page also pushed anti-LGBTQ myths. The project claimed that “the most important reason to protect traditional marriage is for the well-being of children. Marriage still provides the most stable and nurturing environment for the raising and education of children. Numerous studies have indicated that family stability has more of an effect on children than the ‘happiness’ of the parents involved. … Children, no matter the age, innately desire a relationship with their mother and father. Same-sex marriage cannot provide that inherent need children carry with them throughout their lives.” An ACLU fact sheet states that “all of the research to date has reached the same unequivocal conclusion about gay parenting: the children of lesbian and gay parents grow up as successfully as the children of heterosexual parents.”

    Royce also brings anti-choice views to the department. Right Wing Watch reported that she attended a recent Evangelicals for Life conference and said that “we have such an amazing team at HHS, that is absolutely a pro-life team across the spectrum, and that is playing out in many ways.”

    FRC's "Washington Update" recently noted Royce's tenure at the department, among other things, and wrote: "For Trump voters, few things are as rewarding as the turnaround at HHS." 

    A request for comment to the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships was not returned.

  • Media keep calling the GOP's corporate tax bill a "win" for Trump

    The extraordinarily unpopular bill is built on lies and ignores what we know about economics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump and his Republican congressional allies are enjoying a round of praise from media commentators for finally getting a legislative “win” on the board as their tax bill closes in on passage before the end of the year. The budget-busting corporate giveaway will enrich the superwealthy and do little for Americans who have to work for a living.

    Republicans finally unveiled the finished version of their tax legislation last Friday evening, and -- despite the public having just days to absorb its 1,097 pages -- both chambers of Congress plan to vote on the bill before the end of the week. If everything goes according to plan, the president will sign the bill into law just in time for members to head home for the holidays.

    After a year plagued by self-destructive outbursts, failed policy changes, unprecedented legal troubles, embarrassing scandals, humiliating legislative defeats, and nationwide political upheaval, many in the press are framing the GOP tax proposal as a crucial “win” for Trump and his party.

    On the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom, co-host Poppy Harlow wondered how anyone could argue the past year “hasn’t been a win for the president on some big fronts,” given a handful of recent accomplishments, including the new tax bill. Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns agreed with Harlow’s assessment while noting that such favorable framing fits “the way that the White House has been messaging their own achievements”:

    During an earlier segment on CNN’s New Day, guest A.B. Stoddard suggested that the Republican tax bill, which the Economic Policy Institute has labeled “a scam,” could count as “a great boon for Republicans” and “a win on the board,” if the bill actually fulfilled its over the top promises. (It won’t.) Commentary framing the expected party-line vote as a major victory for the GOP also cropped up in The Associated Press, Politico, The Hill, and The New York Times. Reporters have seemingly gone out of their way to pat Republicans on the back for endorsing legislation so historically unpopular it registers significantly less support than some previous tax hikes:


    FiveThirtyEight.com

    In a December 15 video, Eric Schoenberg of the activist group Patriotic Millionaires explained how the GOP tax bill overwhelming favors wealthy people like him (and the Trump family) while doing little for lower- and middle-class people. Trump and the Republicans continue falsely claiming that the bill will spur business development, boost wages, and stoke renewed economic growth, but the message is such a fantasy even Fox News had to admit there was nothing to it. Previous studies from the Congressional Research Service and the Brookings Institution have demonstrated little relationship between tax cuts for the wealthy and invigorated economic activity, which Trump and the GOP have promised will result from this tax bill.

    The bill permanently cuts taxes for corporations while giving only modest, temporary relief for working people. It loosens tax structures affecting the wealthiest Americans while threatening funds for Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and other initiatives that guarantee basic economic security to low-income families. The bill promises to add another $1.5 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade despite years of hysteria about Obama-era revenue shortfalls. The bill also senselessly repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which will likely result in millions of Americans dropping out of the insurance market.

    Rather than praising the Republican Party for ending a remarkably unproductive year by managing to cobble together a tax giveaway to the super rich, journalists should report on what is actually in the bill. Trump and the GOP have definitely enjoyed some "wins" this year, but reporters need to point out that the Republican Party's successes have often resulted in pain and suffering for millions of Americans.

  • Fox & Friends revives debunked myths on the deficit, health care, and middle-class tax increases to push Senate GOP tax plan

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In an attempt to defend the Republican tax bill, Fox & Friends hosts purported to debunk “myths” about the proposal, but actually just pushed a number of falsehoods and misleading statements themselves. For the segment, they hosted Rosemary Becchi, a tax attorney and lobbyist who previously worked as the Republican tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee.

    Claimed the plan won’t add $1 trillion to the deficit just one day after congressional committee found that it would. Becchi asserted that it was “completely false” that the bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit. Co-host Brian Kilmeade cited so-called “dynamic scoring” to allege that the bill could “actually reduce the deficit.” But, according to The New York Times, an estimate from Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) found that “the legislation would add $1 trillion to federal budget deficits over a decade, even after accounting for economic growth” through dynamic scoring.

    Falsely claimed the plan won’t hike taxes on middle-income people. Becchi also insisted that the tax bill would cut taxes “at all levels. It cuts at the high-income earners, as well as middle- and low-class taxpayers, as well.” But, according to The Washington Post, the JCT estimated that the bill would “give large tax cuts to the rich while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next decade.” Additionally, The New York Times found that “two-thirds of middle-class households would get a tax increase in 2027, and none — zero percent — would get a tax cut.”

    Whitewashed the harm the plan will do to Americans’ health care. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked Becchi whether a potential “health care tax hike” under the proposed law will happen, which Becchi dismissed. Becchi correctly noted that the proposal includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, which would not lead to a tax hike. But Becchi and the hosts did not explain that as a result of repealing the mandate, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated, 13 million more people would lose their insurance and premiums would rise by about 10 percent in the ACA’s individual market.

    Admitted that tax cuts will help the rich the most while claiming to be “debunking” the “myth” that tax cuts help the rich most. When asked about the impact the bill would have on the wealthiest Americans, Becchi noted that “these tax cuts will disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers,” but suggested that that was just because “most wealthy Americans pay the most taxes in this country.” This is a drastic understatement; based on the initial framework of the Republican tax bills, the Tax Policy Center found that “about 80 percent of the total benefit would accrue to taxpayers in the top 1 percent, whose after-tax income would increase 8.7 percent.”

    From the December 1 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): First off, we hear about the deficit, and we hear that it’s going to add $1 trillion dollars to the deficit.

    ROSEMARY BECCHI: And that's just completely false. There’s so much in this bill that will generate an economic growth. And that economic growth will put us on a path to fiscal responsibility. So, there’s a lot to be in this bill for everybody.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): OK, to chew on, and that's why we are looking at it, we just heard from [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [(D-CA)]. She called it a “scam.” What about the fact that so many Democrats, Rosemary, have said it's going to be a tax hike on the middle class?

    BECCHI: And that's just not true. This bill will give benefits to both the low-, middle-, and high-income earners. It provides tax cuts straight across the board.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): She also said health care tax hike. Is that going to happen?

    BECCHI: No. Not at all. What the bill includes is the repeal of the [individual] mandate. And if you recall, the mandate is simply a penalty for not purchasing health care. All it does is eliminate that penalty. That's not a tax.

    EARHARDT: So it saves people money if they don't want to do it.

    BECCHI: Exactly, exactly.

    KILMEADE: Right. And disproportionately it hurts people who make $50,000 and less, because they’re the ones who have to make the decision, do I have to pay the fine on the mandate for health care, or I do actually buy a plan --

    BECCHI: Correct.

    KILMEADE: -- which, sadly, the Obamacare plans are not what they promised -- the high premiums, high deductibles. Therefore, these people are in a conundrum. This would help them.

    BECCHI: That's absolutely correct.

    KILMEADE: Moving on to what I said before about the deficit. It would add $1 trillion  to the deficit, if you don't put a --  factor in the fact that the economy is supposed to grow, bringing in additional revenue called dynamic scoring. If you feel as though the economy is going to stay the same, it would blow a hole. But if you’re betting that it’s going to grow, it would actually reduce the deficit.

    BECCHI: Right, that’s right. This bill will put more money into the pockets of both Americans, as well as businesses. And people will reinvest that money. And as a result of that reinvestment, we will have economic growth. And economic growth will generate more taxes.

    EARHARDT: Now what about the wealthy? Because when the president was running he said I'm going to decrease taxes for everybody. He said in a press conference yesterday or the day before that he -- he said I'm going to pay the penalty. I'm going to pay more in taxes because I'm one of the wealthy.

    BECCHI: Right. Most Americans, most wealthy Americans, pay the most taxes in this country.

    EARHARDT: That's the way it is now, right?

    BECCHI: Exactly. That's the way it is. So, as a result, these tax cuts will disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers. And that's just the reality. But, what this tax bill does, it cuts at all levels. It cuts at the high-income earners, as well as middle- and low-class taxpayers, as well.

  • Study: Local TV news omits key details of Senate GOP's tax bill

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Media Matters analysis found that key provisions of the tax bill put forth by Senate Republicans were all but omitted from local media coverage of the plan in Portland, ME; Phoenix, AZ; Madison, WI; Anchorage, AK; and Nashville, TN. Additionally, while local media widely reported that the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, they neglected to note that doing so would raise premiums and increase the number of uninsured people. Stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative media conglomerate friendly to the Trump administration, also were worse than other stations in reporting on these important aspects of the bill.

  • Trump mirrors right-wing media plea to scuttle ACA's individual mandate in GOP tax plan

    Ending the policy would cause premiums to increase and millions to lose insurance

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A tweet from President Donald Trump urged lawmakers to include a provision in the latest so-called "tax reform" proposal to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, a policy that stipulates that all citizens must have health insurance or pay a small tax penalty. This proposal has been floating around right-wing media recently, despite the disastrous consequences it would have.

    In an apparent reference to the ACA’s individual mandate, Trump tweeted a message on November 13 urging lawmakers to consider “ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further” as part of the impending Republican plan to rewrite the tax code.

    Some in right-wing media have made the same suggestion in recent weeks. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote in a November 12 piece that “the best move for tax and health-care reform is to include the mandate repeal.” Earlier, on November 6, Washington Post columnist Hugh Hewitt called on Republicans to “kill off the mandate and advance tax reform at the same time.” Fox contributor Marc Siegel wrote in a November 9 op-ed, “It is time to kick the mandate leg off the stool and let it collapse under the weight of its over-bloated, one-size-fits-all insurance policies.” And Jay Caruso of the Dallas Morning News tweeted shortly before Trump this morning, “Call your Senators and urge them to repeal the Obamacare mandate tax.”

    These calls to dismantle the individual mandate would have disastrous consequences. In a November 8 analysis, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that repealing the individual mandate in 2019 would decrease the number of people with health insurance “by 4 million in 2019 and 13 million in 2027.” Additionally, the report also estimated that for those not covered through their employers, “average premiums … would increase by about 10 percent in most years of the decade … relative to CBO’s baseline projections.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also found that the resulting premium increases “could affect about 7 million mostly middle-income people who purchase ACA-compliant individual market coverage but have incomes too high to qualify for subsidies.”

    In his tweet, Trump suggested that dismantling the individual mandate -- and thereby throwing a wrench into the insurance market while simultaneously freeing up funds to use for tax cuts -- would lower taxes for the top tax bracket and benefit the middle class, though it’s unclear how it would do the latter. The plans Trump and Republican lawmakers have proposed are filled to brim with goodies for the wealthiest at the expense of middle-class workers. Repealing the individual mandate would only make the consequences even more dire for middle-class families.

    As Talking Points Memo’s Alice Ollstein wrote, calls to get rid of the individual mandate are “going over like a lead balloon on Capitol Hill” and including a provision to repeal it “could put the entire bill in jeopardy.” That’s because politicians -- even Republicans -- realize that it would be a disaster for the health insurance markets and their political careers.

  • Study: Maine media omit key benefits of potential Medicaid expansion

    Stations owned by Sinclair also proved reluctant to cover the proposal at all

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Media Matters analysis found that, from February 21 to October 21, local TV news stations in Portland, ME, critically downplayed and even omitted information about the benefits of expanding Medicaid in the state through an upcoming ballot measure. Additionally, the study found that stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group were much less likely than other stations to report on the proposal at all.

  • Right-wing media falsely call crucial ACA subsidies "bailouts" to defend Trump's decision to halt them

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    President Donald Trump and right-wing media have repeatedly referred to cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments -- a key subsidy under the Affordable Care Act that helps working class people afford insurance -- as a “bailout” for the insurance industry to defend Trump’s decision to cease making the payments. Fact-checkers have refuted the characterization of these payments as “bailouts,” and experts note that failure to make these payments could wreck havoc on the insurance industry and would end up costing the federal government billions.