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The Senate

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  • Right-wing media figures and online bots are going after “weak, spineless” Mitch McConnell

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media condemnation reached a fever pitch on August 9 after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) commented that President Donald Trump had “excessive expectations” for health care reform, which many Trump loyalists in the conservative mediasphere interpreted as an attack on the president. In response, Trump sycophants along with online bots and trolls used their platforms to besmirch McConnell’s character, call for him to retire, and popularize the hashtag #DitchMitch on Twitter.

  • The predictable hero story of the health care vote -- and what it misses

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Late last night, the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act was defeated in a Senate vote, with two members of the Republican Party voting against the measure in full force, and a third Republican senator voting no because it’s part of his brand, I guess.

    Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) came out strongly against the repeal efforts early on, opposing previous bills aimed at repealing the ACA and voting against the procedural motion to begin debate on the repeal proposals.

    Let’s be clear: Opposing an absolutely devastating disaster of a bill that would lead to higher uninsured rates and, likely, the deaths of some of your constituents is the bare minimum any competent lawmaker can do. As The New Republic’s Sarah Jones wrote, “Obamacare’s real saviors have been dragged out of wheelchairs, arrested, and assaulted for weeks. They are, as you would expect, the people who stand to lose the most if Obamacare is repealed. They are people with disabilities: activists associated with [the disability rights group] ADAPT, and the unaffiliated individuals and carers who came forward to share their experiences and to demand better from the GOP.”

    Collins and Murkowski aren’t exactly heroes, either. But at least these two senators committed to opposing dangerous repeal measures from the start, in the face of thuggish tactics from the men they work with. Collins and Murkowski faced escalating, sometimes physically oriented, threats from male colleagues in Congress and the Trump administration because of their opposition to the bill. Murkowski was reportedly threatened by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a personal phone call. President Donald Trump tweeted that Murkowski had “let the Republicans, and our country, down” after she voted against the motion to begin debate on the repeal earlier in the week. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) said somebody ought to “go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass,” in defense of Trump’s tweet singling out Murkowski. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) ominously threatened to “duel” the two lawmakers (if only they were men).

    And then there is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the media’s favorite political figure despite his signature tendency to say one cool, “maverick” thing to reporters and then immediately do the other -- often falling into line behind his party, though occasionally going rogue to further secure his media darling standing. McCain also did the absolute bare minimum and voted against the bill in the end, after months of hedging on his stances about a repeal effort. He would have been applauded by the media either way.

    Guess which senator a bunch of reporters chose to cast as the hero? The average news consumer, scrolling through headlines on social media or on email, would draw one clear and utterly false conclusion about who really did the most to defeat the repeal measures: an indecisive, press-conscious dud of a senator instead of his much stronger female colleagues, or the grass-roots activists who far, far, far surpass them all.

    [CNN, 7/28/17]

    [The Washington Post, 7/28/17]

    [The Washington Post, 7/28/17]

    [Politico, 7/28/17]

    [The New York Times, 7/28/17]

    [The New York Times, 7/27/17]

    [NBC News, 7/28/17]

    [USA Today, 7/27/17]

    [The Associated Press, 7/28/17]

    [The Daily Beast, 7/28/17]

  • How Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson are (still) ignoring the health care debate

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    As Senate Republicans began holding votes to take away health care from tens of millions of Americans, Fox News’ Sean Hannity still chose to focus primarily on phony Clinton pseudo-scandals. Similarly, Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight focused on irrelevant and often offensive stories while largely ignoring health care. Even The Five, which did discuss health care at length, made time for a segment hyping Democratic frustrations with Hillary Clinton.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on July 24 that the Senate would be holding a vote on whether to proceed to debate on the various Republican proposals to repeal and, in some cases, replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which have been projected to take away health care from upward of 22 million people ("straight repeal" would strip away insurance from 32 million). On July 25, the Senate narrowly approved a motion to proceed to debate and then rejected the first plan McConnell put up to a vote.

    Despite the new actions on health care, Fox News’ prime-time shows focused nearly as much on bogus Clinton scandals and political intrigue as they did on health care on July 24 and July 25. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox’s prime-time line-up of Hannity, The Five, and Tucker Carlson Tonight spent 35 minutes and 49 seconds discussing health care while devoting 34 minutes and 56 seconds to discussions of the Clintons.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Of the three programs, Hannity’s coverage, unsurprisingly, was the most skewed. Over the two-day period, Hannity spent 13 minutes and 4 seconds on health care while devoting 30 minutes and 42 seconds to the Clintons. Even as senators were taking votes on health care, Hannity ran two full segments on the Clintons and spoke about health care in brief spurts of less than two minutes throughout the show.

    Meanwhile, while the Senate was voting on health care, Tucker Carlson avoided discussing it at all. On the July 25 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host went live to President Donald Trump’s rally in Ohio for 10 minutes and 57 seconds. Carlson did manage to spend 17 seconds on health care during his July 24 broadcast, which was mainly a video of Trump lamenting Obamacare.

    Instead of covering health care or the Clintons, Carlson focused his attention on stories that were either offensive or non-urgent.

    Unlike the other prime-time shows, Fox News’ The Five spent a significant amount of time discussing the health care bills. But the hosts also made time for a segment on Democrats criticizing Hillary Clinton.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of health care, healthcare, Better Care Reconciliation Act, BCRA, Senate health, GOP health, or Republican health, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obama care, and Obamacare, as well as Bill, Hillary, and Clinton on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, and Hannity on July 24 and 25.

    Conversations were included in this study if health care or the Clintons was the stated topic or discussion or if two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed health care or the Clintons with one another. If a speaker mentioned health care or the Clintons in a multitopic segment and no other speaker in that segment engaged with the comment, then it was excluded from the analysis as a passing mention. All teasers of upcoming segments about health care or the Clintons were excluded from the analysis.

    The amount of time spent on Trump’s rally was calculated by monitoring it from beginning to end on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

  • When it comes to John McCain, some journalists will never, ever learn

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko /  Media Matters

    Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) voted yesterday to proceed to debate on an unknown Republican health care bill (or bills) written in unprecedented partisan fashion outside of the normal legislative process. Then he stood in the well of the Senate and decried partisanship and legislative hijinks. Many political journalists applauded his words and scoffed at liberals who pointed out the inconsistency with his actions, even generating convoluted, nonsensical explanations that he was setting himself up to oppose the eventual bill. Hours later, McCain proved the liberals right by supporting a proxy vote for a partisan bill written outside of the legislative process that had not been fully reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office.

    It’s not a coincidence that political reporters missed the story on McCain in their rush to canonize him. They’ve been wrong about him for decades.

    Political journalists love to tell the legend of John McCain, the noble, straight-talking maverick who says what he means and means what he says. The reality is much less interesting: McCain is a standard-issue Republican senator with few legislative accomplishments but an immense talent for press relations.

    McCain won the affection of the press in the simplest way possible -- he worked them. Beginning in the late 1990s, as he and his ghostwriter Mark Salter were reinventing him and positioning him for his first presidential run, McCain gave reporters access, treated them alternatively to respect and jocular insults, and provided a steady stream of good quotes. The deployment of the Straight Talk Express, the presidential campaign bus McCain used to charm and disarm reporters on long trips through the countryside, was a brilliant maneuver. And it worked. “The press loves McCain,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said in 2006. “We’re his base.”

    McCain talks a good game to reporters, at times providing them with juicy quotes criticizing his party’s excesses. But his voting record in recent years is basically in line with that of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). No one calls Hatch a maverick. On the rare major legislative issues in which he has defied his party -- the Bush tax cuts, campaign finance reform, and comprehensive immigration reform -- McCain has repudiated or abandoned his attempts to break with the party as they came under increasing fire from the right.

    The “maverick” reputation largely unraveled among the press late in the 2008 presidential campaign, helped along by his nakedly cynical decision to pick the woefully unqualified Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. But old habits die hard, and for years we have seen declarations from political journalists and commentators that Maverick McCain is “back.”

    The label even survived McCain’s decision to endorse Donald Trump (a man he fairly clearly did not trust with nuclear weapons), a clear admission that, to the extent McCain ever represented a different kind of Republican, he lost and was willing to bow to those that won. After McCain offered criticism of the president in the early days of his administration, reporters again rushed to praise his willingness to stand up for his beliefs, ignoring that he had voted for almost every member of the president’s cabinet.

    Yesterday’s paean to the “need for bipartisanship” and a demand to return to “the old way of legislating in the Senate” immediately following a vote in favor of partisan legislation crafted in secret should have exposed McCain to his friends in the press. Instead, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver noted, there was a divide between “less traditional reporters” who pointed out McCain’s inconsistency and television and newspaper reporters who warmly received his remarks.  

    Here, for example, are the opening paragraphs of a CNN.com news article by White House reporter Stephen Collison: “In a Washington moment for the ages, Sen. John McCain claimed the role of an aging lion to try to save the Senate, composing a moving political aria for the chamber and the country that he loves. With a deep-red scar etched from his eyebrow to his temple, the legacy of brain surgery less than two weeks ago, McCain beseeched his colleagues to forsake political tribalism and restore the chamber to a spirit of compromise that had helped forge national greatness.”

    Some in the press, noting McCain had said in his speech that he “will not vote for the bill as it is today,” created convoluted explanations for how McCain was “laying the groundwork to vote no” on a final bill. This made little sense at the time -- McCain doesn’t need to lay “groundwork”; if he has a problem with how the bill was put together he could have opposed it and forced the return to regular order he championed. And in any case, McCain effectively voted for “the bill as it is today” later that night, proving his media backers wrong in embarrassing fashion.

    Maybe McCain will find a way to vote “no” on one of the health care bills that will apparently come before the Senate, while voting “yes” on other versions of the legislation. If that happens, his “base” in the media will surely grab ahold of that vote with both hands and declare the senator and themselves vindicated, regardless of how little sense that makes. But expecting McCain to be the deciding vote preventing Republican health care legislation would be foolhardy. He’s a run-of-the-mill Republican senator who can be counted on to fall in line. Indeed, he almost always has.

  • Capitol Hill staff prevent journalists from reporting on health care protesters

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Capitol Hill staff blocked reporters from reporting on demonstrators who were protesting the Senate’s vote to proceed to debate on an as-yet-unknown Republican health care measure. In at least one case, a journalist said they forced him to delete his video of the protesters.

    As voting began on the measure, dozens of protesters yelled “kill the bill” and “shame” from the Senate gallery. The demonstrators were removed from the gallery and placed under arrest by Capitol Police:

    But reporters who attempted to report on the scene were denied access on the grounds that they were observing a “crime scene”:

    Reporters were told they could not take photos and had to delete any they had taken:

    And in at least one case, a journalist says he was forced to delete a video he had recorded:

    In recent weeks, Republicans have sought to curtail press access on Capitol Hill. At one point, the Senate rules committee said it would begin enforcing a rule banning reporters from filming interviews with senators unless they had been granted permission ahead of time, according to journalists. Following an uproar, Republicans backed off.

  • Fox & Friends leaves out that Obamacare mother actually benefited from the law

    Hosts also pressure Republicans and deflect blame from Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    As the Senate Republicans prepared to vote on a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Fox & Friends spent the morning misleading its audience about congressional procedure heading into the vote, omitting key details in an interview with a critic of the ACA (a mother who blamed health care reform for a lack of options for her son's care), and failing to mention that the GOP sabotaged the ACA for years. The hosts also, directly and indirectly, pressured Republicans into voting for the bill while shifting blame away from President Donald Trump if it fails.

    One of the first health care segments on the July 25 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends was an interview with Marjorie Weer, a mother who was invited to the White House on July 24 to serve as an example of someone victimized by Obamacare.

    During the interview, Weer discussed her son’s disability and said the ACA has made it more difficult for her son to get care. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt, who conducted the interview, left out a few previously reported details of Weer’s story wherein her family directly benefitted from health care reform. A July 24 article in The Post and Courier pointed out that Weer and her family “benefited from the Obamacare provision that insurance companies cannot deny coverage to an individual because of a preexisting condition.” The Weer family also benefited from another provision banning “lifetime spending limits.”

    Additionally, Earhardt failed to note that cuts to Medicaid in the Republican-authored bills under consideration in Congress would cause sweeping cuts to special education programs, which would presumably be important to many families with a child who has a disability. During her Post and Courier interview, Weer admitted that her son has actually benefitted from Medicaid, which she called a “lifesaver” before endorsing efforts to “rein it in.” The Post and Courier added: "Ultimately, Weer said, she felt fairly confident that under the Senate Republican bill, preexisting conditions protections would be preserved, along with the ban on lifetime spending caps. Whether the legislation sufficiently accomplishes these goals is, in fact, subject to debate between supporters and critics."

    The topic of health care also came up when the hosts of Fox & Friends interviewed Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) later on in the program.

    In the interview, co-host Steve Doocy attempted to pressure Manchin into voting for a motion to proceed to a debate for legislation to replace the ACA by misleadingly suggesting that senators “can offer up amendments and change it to anyway you want it.” Doocy added that it appeared as if Democrats “are a party of no” because they do not support a motion to proceed. Manchin corrected Doocy, telling him, “That’s not the way it works in the real world.” Manchin pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would be able to control what amendments are in the bill and would have the power to exclude Democratic amendments.

    During a later segment, co-host Ed Henry also framed the Senate vote by laying out the current state of Obamacare, saying that the health care system was “struggling” with costs and falsely claiming, “the exchanges are falling apart.”

    Henry also brought up “the destruction of the exchanges” again when he was recapping Weer’s interview.

    Henry left out some important context. The challenges the exchanges face today are largely due to Republican sabotage at the state and federal level. As The Washington Post noted, Republicans in Congress blocked funding to build a federal exchange and urged Republican-led states to “refuse to build their own insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, Politico reported, “Congressional Republicans refused repeatedly to appropriate dedicated funds" needed for the federal government to "take at least partial responsibility for creating marketplaces serving 36 states" that “declined to create their own state insurance exchanges.” Republican stonewalling left "the Health and Human Services Department and other agencies to cobble together HealthCare.gov by redirecting funds from existing programs," according to Politico.

    Fox & Friends also spent time pressuring Republican senators, either directly or indirectly, to support the bill. In an interview with Fox contributor Newt Gingrich, Doocy suggested that if they don’t support the bill, Republicans could look like they were “fibbing” when they promised for years to repeal the ACA.

    And in an interview with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has spoken out against both the health care reform law and numerous GOP replacement plans, Doocy said that “millions of people who voted for you guys are going to be disappointed” if any Republican senators object to proceeding with debate.

    As Obamacare’s fate is uncertain for the time being, the hosts covered their bases and attempted to deflect blame from Trump if the bills under consideration in the Republican-controlled Congress fail. Earhardt asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if Trump would “take the blame” if a repeal bill does not pass, leaving Huckabee Sanders to defend her boss and pre-emptively slam congressional Republicans.

  • Somehow, Sean Hannity managed to talk about Hillary Clinton more than health care in the last week

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Over the past week, Senate Republicans worked tirelessly to take health insurance away from 32 million people -- or slightly fewer, paired with giant tax cuts for their wealthiest friends. However, Hannity viewers might have thought we were still in the election cycle of 2016 and that the news of the week actually revolved around former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

    A Media Matters analysis found that from July 13 to 19, Fox News’ Sean Hannity devoted more time to so-called “scandals” surrounding Hillary Clinton than to health care -- spending 1 hour, 7 minutes and 51 seconds on his prime-time show on the Clintons compared to 44 minutes and 34 seconds on health care.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Although one whose main source for news is Hannity might not realize it, there has been a lot of health care news in the past week. On July 13, the Senate finally unveiled its newest plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). By July 17, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) had announced they wouldn’t be supporting the motion to proceed on the bill, effectively killing the legislation. The same night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that Republicans would move forward with a straight repeal, an idea that met its demise the next day. The Senate GOP’s health care bills have been almost universally criticized and marred by bad poll numbers. Amid the negative coverage of the latest bill, it appears as if Hannity chose instead to focus his attention, and his viewers’, on a common right-wing foe instead: Hillary Clinton.

    Hannity’s obsessive Clinton chatter focused on bogus and debunked smears, including accusations that she colluded with Ukraine:

    Hannity also hyped a previously debunked smear from the error-filled book Clinton Cash that as secretary of state, Clinton approved the transfer of up to 20 percent of America’s uranium to Russia:

    Hannity’s absurd focus on Clinton and sycophantic coverage of President Donald Trump are nothing new. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Hannity’s Clinton crusade is an attempt to paint an alternate reality for his viewers -- a reality where Clinton “scandals” are more relevant than Trump’s disastrous policy agenda. It’s clear that not only is Hannity incapable of moving past the 2016 election, but that the only move he has in his playbook is attacking Clinton.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts and SnapStream for mentions of health care, healthcare, Better Care Reconciliation Act, BCRA, Senate health, GOP health, or Republican health, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obama care, and Obamacare, as well as Bill, Hillary, and Clinton on Fox News’ Hannity between July 13 and 19.

    Conversations were included in this study if health care or the Clintons was the stated topic or discussion or if two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed health care or the Clintons with one another. If a speaker mentioned health care or the Clintons in a multitopic segment and no other speaker in that segment engaged with the comment, then it was excluded from the analysis as a passing mention. All teasers of upcoming segments about health care or the Clintons were excluded from the analysis.