Media Matters: Busting a cap and trade in their ... spin

As the House vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act approached this week, prominent media conservatives once again took to the airwaves and displayed their true colors. Criticism of the bill from the right -- especially its cap-and-trade provisions -- has not been the product of principle, but of misinformation and, at times, willful denial.

As the House vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act approached this week, prominent media conservatives once again took to the airwaves and displayed their true colors. Criticism of the bill from the right -- especially its cap-and-trade provisions -- has not been the product of principle, but of misinformation and, at times, willful denial.

On Friday, radio host Rush Limbaugh once again flagrantly denied that global warming exists and continued to advance the shockingly erroneous, comically false argument that under the legislation, “we could be taxed because of the carbon dioxide we exhale.” Thanks, Professor Limbaugh, for another science lesson!

“This bill is about raising taxes and taking away people's freedom,” Limbaugh continued, before comparing it to a “Soviet-style five-year plan” that is “all based on hoaxes,” a crooked scheme worthy of Bernie Madoff.

The fearmongering continued as Fox News' Glenn Beck agreed with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) when she argued of the bill, “You're either for freedom or you're not.”

Indeed, portraying the legislation as a massive financial penalty for ordinary Americans is a major line of attack for media conservatives. Thursday's Fox & Friends claimed that the average family would have to pay an extra $3,100 a year in energy costs if it passed. But that number is based on a distortion of a 2007 MIT study -- a distortion that has since been discredited by one of the study's authors. Fox's Sean Hannity also pushed a similar myth, claiming that the bill would cost families $2,000 a year.

Entirely absent from these critiques is the result of a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis that found that the bill's net impact to households would eventually range between a benefit of $40 per year and a cost of $340 per year, with an average cost of $175 per year. Hannity isn't the only one ignoring this crucial study while claiming the bill will lead to far higher costs; CNN's The Situation Room and Lou Dobbs Tonight and Fox News' Special Report and On the Record with Greta van Susteren have also repeated the misinformation or failed to challenge guests who advanced it. Unfortunately, as of June 23, none of them had reported on the new CBO study.

Other major stories this week:

Sanford: An affair to remember; others, they forget

As everyone knows by now, the case of the missing South Carolina governor has been solved. Those who watched Mark Sanford's press conference on Fox News, however, may be a bit confused, since the conservative network briefly identified the Republican politician as a Democrat before correcting the error. While Fox apologized the next day, the “mistake” was nothing new. The news channel seems to have a habit of identifying unpopular or scandal-ridden Republicans as Democrats.

It's especially hard to take the apology seriously when you consider that in two segments over the course of four hours on June 25, Fox's James Rosen highlighted only scandals involving Democrats during reports that purported to examine earlier political sex scandals in an effort to assess Sanford's situation. Neither segment mentioned any of the numerous sex scandals that involved Republican politicians such as Sen. John Ensign (NV), Sen. David Vitter (LA), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, among others.

Fox News was hardly alone in its selective memory. MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski claimed there is a “double standard” when it comes to the sex scandals of Republican and Democratic politicians -- that Democrats like Bill Clinton have “completely survived” their scandals. I wonder if she's told survivors Vitter, Ensign, Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani of this “double standard” that apparently doesn't apply to them. Mort Kondracke could benefit from the same reminder of these survivors. Roll Call's executive editor, without a hint of irony, took to Fox News to say that “the Democratic Party is a lot more tolerant of licentiousness than the Republican Party is.” Oh, brother.

So who is to blame for Sanford's downfall? Well, if you're Limbaugh or fellow conservative radio host Michael Savage, placing blame is pretty easy. They blame -- wait for it, wait for it ... President Obama. Seriously. Limbaugh suggested the president may have been a catalyst for Sanford's affair -- because the governor was sooo stressed out trying to reject stimulus funds -- while Savage, citing the affairs of Sanford and Ensign, said that “Obama's team is taking out potential rivals one after another.”

If you really want to see the hypocrisy of these media conservatives, I suggest you watch this video of democratic strategist Bob Beckel trying to pin Hannity down on his opinion of Ensign's affair. You'll have to fight the giggles; Hannity's consistency is quite laughable.

Nico Pitney is no Jeff Gannon

Remember Jeff Gannon? He's the former Talon News “Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent” who lobbed softballs at President Bush and his former press secretary Scott McClellan in the White House press briefing room and lifted big chunks of language verbatim from GOP documents for his “news reports.” Gannon wasn't a credentialed reporter -- not by the House or Senate press galleries, not by the White House Correspondents' Association, not by the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association. Nope, for quite some time, Gannon was granted a day-to-day pass to White House press briefings by ... the White House.

Oh, yeah, one other thing: As The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz noted at the time, “naked pictures [of Gannon] have appeared on a number of gay escort sites.” More on that here.

Jeff Gannon is no Nico Pitney. I'd just hate for Gannon to think that his integrity, journalistic or otherwise, even remotely matches that of The Huffington Post's national editor.

Beltway establishment journos and conservative media figures were apoplectic after Obama selected Pitney to ask a question concerning Iran at his press conference this week.

Leading the Beltway charge, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank ridiculed Obama for taking “a preplanned question” by “a planted questioner.” Of course, Milbank omitted the substance of Pitney's question. Limbaugh directly compared the media response to Pitney's question with “the outcry over Jeff Gannon.”

For the record, since so many have failed to, I present you Pitney's question to Obama, which was offered up on behalf of an Iranian:

Under which conditions would you accept the election of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad? And if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of the -- of what the demonstrators there are working towards?

What about Gannon? Here's what he asked Bush in a 2005 presser:

Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines. And Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you've said you are going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?

As the song goes, “one of these things is not like the other.” Far from Gannon's softball, Pitney's question was described as “tough” by Michael Tomasky and Glenn Greenwald. ABC News' Jake Tapper described it as “one of the tougher” questions.

So it can't be the substance of Pitney's question that has the right and Beltway insiders in such a huff. In fact, most conservatives skipped past the question entirely, attempting to paint a picture of a White House picking a liberal out of the blue to come into the presser and ask a prearranged question. Those assertions are both unfair and untrue. But it didn't stop Hannity from falsely claiming that Pitney himself had “explained” that the White House chose his question. In fact, both Pitney and the White House deny that Obama had prior knowledge of the question. Hannity's Fox News colleague Bret Baier accused The Huffington Post of “coordinat[ing]” with Obama to ask the question. The Fox Nation website took things a step further, equating The Huffington Post question to “state-run media.”

For what it's worth, the whole episode smacks of journalistic jealousy. Anyone who has been following Pitney's live coverage of the ongoing crisis in Iran knows that his work has been nothing but top-notch and worthy of praise, not derision. If you haven't been reading Pitney, I strongly suggest that you start ... today.

Perhaps a CNN caption during an interview with Pitney best summed up the controversy: “A blogger gets press room Q&A. So what?”

ABC: Now it's premeditated liberal media bias?

Right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin may not believe it, but ABC's health care town hall with Obama this week was a ratings success for the network. The strong showing came after days of relentless (and nonsensical) conservative attacks attempting to paint the special as an “infomercial” and a left-wing propaganda coup. Fox News' Mike Huckabee and Chris Wallace, apparently struck by the lunacy of the right-wing charges, defended ABC, essentially saying that anyone would jump at the chance to host such an event. Perhaps they could have discussed the issue with other Fox News personalities around the fair and balanced water cooler.

While some media critics like Kurtz correctly identified the conservative efforts as a classic example of “working the refs,” they kept largely mum. Kurtz himself said he was “amazed” by the attacks, but has yet to say more.

As usual, the content of the program proved that charges of pro-Obama favoritism just wouldn't fly. Hosting, ABC's Charles Gibson claimed that “a lot of people are very uncomfortable” with the “idea” of “government insurance,” even though a recent New York Times poll pegged support for such a plan at a whopping 72 percent. Gibson was also schooled over his interpretation of a Lewin Group report concerning future health care coverage of Americans by ... the Lewin Group's president and Obama.

Funny enough, ABC's Diane Sawyer, who co-hosted the town hall, noted this week that Bush had turned down the opportunity to participate in a similar program during his time in office.

It really was a case of imagined premeditated liberal media bias on the part of media conservatives.

The crazy world of Michael Savage

This week,'s Ron Moore reported that Savage (née Weiner), the nation's third-most-listened-to talk radio host, vowed to “retaliate” against Media Matters for America by posting photos and “pertinent information” about staff on his website. Seriously. You can listen to Savage's disturbing words for yourself.

The comments led Ed Schultz, host of MSNBC's The Ed Show, to discuss the right-wing fringe talker's attacks in his appropriately titled "Psycho Talk" segment. Schultz declared Savage “is pinning a 'Wanted' sign on employees at Media Matters.”

As Huffington Post political reporter Jason Linkins put it, “What's strange about this is that Media Matters has been making the case for some time now that right-wing voices have been ramping up rhetoric that specifically urges violent acts and intimidation. So now, Savage is talking about a running a web-stalking campaign against them? Hmmm. I wonder what sort of conclusions a person might draw from that?”

Media Matters responded to Savage, posting a video on YouTube that juxtaposes the seemingly rational face the host put on a during recent CNN interview with screeching audio clips from his own nationally syndicated radio program, including his threats against Media Matters' staff. The video concludes with on-screen text stating “We're Still Listening.”

That night on his show, Savage dug in deeper, telling listeners that he's getting “tax returns for Media Matters.” Of Media Matters' staff, Savage also repeated his vow to “expose not only their names and their pictures, but also how much money they make for being the good Stalinists that they are.”

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Jamison Foser looks at Mika Brzezinski's double standard, and Karl Frisch says the media could use a Stonewall uprising of their own.

Buy the book

Don't forget to order your autographed copy of Senior Fellow Eric Boehlert's compelling new book, Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press (Free Press, May 2009).

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web as well as original commentary.