Media Matters: Hopping on the misinformation band-Wagoner, GM-style

The media failed and they failed hard this week when it came to news that General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner had resigned at the request of the Obama administration. ABC's Diane Sawyer claimed of the resignation: "[S]omebody said it's like The Apprentice, White House-style." We're not sure who Sawyer's “somebody” actually is, though it is worth noting her comments were far from the worst on the subject. Take, for example, Fox News' Andrew Napolitano, who said that the resignation was “an absolute power grab, and it's the road to fascism” and that “this is Mussolini on the Potomac.”

The media failed and they failed hard this week when it came to news that General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner had resigned at the request of the Obama administration. ABC's Diane Sawyer claimed of the resignation: "[S]omebody said it's like The Apprentice, White House-style." We're not sure who Sawyer's “somebody” actually is, though it is worth noting her comments were far from the worst on the subject. Take, for example, Fox News' Andrew Napolitano, who said that the resignation was “an absolute power grab, and it's the road to fascism” and that “this is Mussolini on the Potomac.”

Worse still, many in the media falsely described Wagoner's resignation as unprecedented. A Washington Times editorial labeled Wagoner's departure from GM just that way -- as “unprecedented.” At no point did the editorial mention that the government had required AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac in September 2008 to replace their CEOs as a condition of receiving government funds during the Bush administration. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times and CNN's Lou Dobbs uncritically repeated Sen. John McCain's false claim that the government's Wagoner decision was “unprecedented.” Despite the facts to the contrary, MSNBC's Chris Matthews called McCain's assessment “very correct,” while Fox News' Steve Doocy actually claimed “the last president who fired a CEO was Putin” and conservative leader Rush Limbaugh said the White House had sought Wagoner's resignation as “payback for the unions.”

Media Matters has been taking the “Limbaugh Challenge” for years

Just a few short weeks after Media Matters for America launched The Limbaugh Wire, a special website dedicated to providing hour-by-hour coverage of and commentary on Limbaugh's radio program, the Los Angeles Times printed an op-ed by Andrew Klavan, a contributing editor of the conservative Manhattan Institute's quarterly magazine, City Journal, in which Klavan claimed: “I listen to Limbaugh every chance I get, and I have never heard the man utter a single racist, hateful or stupid word.” Klavan then issued to “liberals” what he referred to as “the Limbaugh Challenge,” writing: “Listen to the show. Not for five minutes but for several hours: an hour a day for several days. Consider what he has to say -- the real policy material under the jokes and teasing bluster. Do what your intellectual keepers do not want you to do and keep an open mind.” Of course, Media Matters has been listening to the entire Rush Limbaugh Show everyday for years and has documented hundreds of examples of Limbaugh spewing outrageous commentary and basic misstatements of fact. Don't have the time (or the patience) to take “the Limbaugh Challenge” yourself? You can always sign up to receive The Limbaugh Wire by email each weekday.

Media fail to reconcile facts in coverage of president's budget

Throughout Obama's presidency (and even before it started), media figures have tried to pin the blame for the current economic situation on Obama by disappearing the Bush administration's role in their reporting of economic issues and repeatedly referencing the “Obama recession” and the “Obama bear market.” Nonetheless, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates that, as ABCNews.com reported: “Part of Obama's advantage in dealing with the economy is that, while blame and anger are in great supply, he escapes both. Eight in 10 Americans blame the situation on banks and other financial institutions for taking on too much risk; as many blame large business corporations for poor management decisions. Seventy-two percent blame consumers for taking on too much debt; 70 percent blame the Bush administration for lack of needed regulation. Just 26 percent, though, blame the Obama administration.” Media Matters released a compelling online video this week contrasting the punditry of media figures with the recent poll -- be sure to check it out.

Additionally, numerous media outlets advanced the false notion that it would be unprecedented for congressional Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to pass major policy initiatives, or failed to challenge conservatives making such claims. On Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, correspondent Molly Henneberg falsely claimed that "[r]econciliation was last used in 2001 by Republicans to pass the first Bush tax cuts." After Media Matters and others pointed out that Republicans used reconciliation to pass several of President Bush's major initiatives after 2001, Baier apologized for Henneberg's “error” three days later. The Washington Post also allowed “moderate” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) to criticize the use of the reconciliation process without noting his votes to use it to pass Bush's tax cuts. The Hill ignored the GOP's use of the reconciliation process in forwarding Republicans' complaints that it “was never intended to ram through major legislation.”

Because so many media figures and outlets promoted a number of falsehoods about the president's budget plan, Media Matters released a debunking of three major myths repeated in coverage of the proposal, including the false suggestion that Obama's proposal would increase taxes on a large percentage of small businesses and the previously mentioned falsehood about reconciliation. The debunking also noted that media outlets have engaged in a pattern of criticizing Obama for addressing health care in the budget or elsewhere given the size of the current and projected U.S. federal debt without addressing the president's response that health-care reform is essential to the long-term economic and fiscal health of the country.

Important questions: What will they give? What will she wear?

As the president and first lady arrived in Europe for the G-20 economic summit and a meeting with NATO, many in the media were transfixed by trivial matters. Rather than report on the important issues being discussed at the meetings of world leaders, many seemed to be asking the questions: What did they give the queen? What is Michelle wearing?

While Fox News' Sean Hannity declared he was “not so concerned in what gifts wealthy people are giving each other,” he nevertheless repeatedly used his show to complain about the iPod the Obamas gave to the queen. Not to be outdone, his Fox colleague Bill O'Reilly claimed giving an iPod to royalty "would have gotten you beheaded in Henry VIII's time."

If you thought controversy over the gift was ridiculous, coverage of the first lady's attire was even worse. On NBC's Today, co-host Meredith Vieira said the “big question” concerning Michelle Obama's visit with the queen is, “will she bare her arms?” The big question? Days later, Vieira joked about a potential “cat fight” and “mud wrestling” between Mrs. Obama and France's Carla Bruni. Not to be outdone in the women's attire department, MSNBC's Chris Matthews gushed over the “summit” between Obama and Bruni, asking whether they'll be “dressed to beat the other.” Hannity, doing his best to gin up yet another conspiracy, claimed it was Michelle Obama's “hope” to “get all these great designer clothes and that everyone will report on it and call [her], you know, Jackie Kennedy.”

The Fox Nation launches amid more apologies from ... Fox News

This week, Fox News launched The Fox Nation, which, according to the website, was “created for people who believe in the United States of America and its ideals, as expressed in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation.” The website goes on to describe itself as a place “for those committed to the core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse -- and fair and balanced coverage of the news.”

If it sounds too good to be true, that is because it is.

In an entry to FoxNews.com's Fox Forum, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist wrote that the website “takes no position on issues -- although unlike so many other Web portals, FOX Nation does begin with the presumption that America is a special and unique place, a blessed land to be treasured and defended.” As Media Matters noted, however, The Fox Nation recently labeled Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) a "[d]angerous duo," linking to an Agence France-Presse article that simply reported that Dodd and Frank “promised President Barack Obama on Monday they would work with the White House to enact a sweeping overhaul of US financial regulatory structures by year's end.” Nothing in the AFP article in any way characterized Dodd or Frank as "[d]angerous."

Fair and balanced? Hardly.

Indeed, in the same Fox Forum entry, Norquist undermined his own claim that The Fox Nation “takes no position on issues,” writing: “That's right, conservatives, libertarians, and other believers in limited government have found a new home -- at FOX Nation.”

News of the website came as Fox News offered its third apology in recent weeks for getting a story relating to the Obama administration plain wrong.

Additionally, Media Matters detailed how, during an interview this week between Happening Now co-host Jon Scott and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Fox News aired “FOXfact[s]” purporting to describe facts about the House Republican budget, when, in fact, all seven of the on-screen “FOXfact[s]” were nearly identical to portions of an op-ed Ryan published in that day's Wall Street Journal. For example, using nearly identical language, Fox News and Ryan's op-ed both characterized President Obama's cap-and-trade proposal as a “scheme.” Ryan wrote, “We do these things by rejecting the president's cap-and-trade scheme” ; the “FOXfact” stated that the “GOP budget rejects the president's cap-and-trade scheme.”

Don't forget, Media Matters previously noted that Scott passed off a GOP press release as Fox News' own research, even reproducing a typo contained in the Republican press release.

CNN's Kurtz has the Kudlow-down on CNBC

Last weekend on CNN's Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz discussed CNBC host Larry Kudlow's decision not to run for U.S. Senate in Connecticut. Kudlow announced his decision after Media Matters issued an open letter to CNBC President Mark Hoffman expressing concern over Kudlow's use of airtime to further his potential candidacy. Kurtz cited Media Matters, noting “Larry Kudlow, the CNBC host, was considering a run for the Senate from Connecticut. But with his network being pressed by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters to say whether he was a pundit or a pol, Kudlow made his decision. ... Kudlow also canceled plans this week to speak at a Republican Party fundraiser in Washington, which is a good thing, since he wouldn't be very credible on CNBC if he were openly shilling for one party.”

Ann Coulter: April's Fool

Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, who often accuses progressives of lacking a sense of humor, fell for a fake April Fools' Day article by Car and Driver magazine this week. The phony article claimed that Obama had ordered GM and Chrysler to cease their participation in NASCAR because it is an “unnecessary expenditure.” Falling hook, line, and sinker for the joke, Coulter wrote in her April 1 column, “If Obama can tell GM and Chrysler that their participation in NASCAR is an 'unnecessary expenditure,' isn't having public schools force students to follow Muslim rituals, recite Islamic prayers and plan 'jihads' also an 'unnecessary expenditure'?” Car and Driver later clarified that the story was an April Fools' Day joke, and then removed the story from its website. As USA Today reported, "Car and Driver later pulled the fake story (which estimated savings of $250 million between the manufacturers) and apologized for 'going too far' while noting the magazine 'has a proud tradition of irreverent editorial and we amplify that each year with our April Fool's Day joke.' "

This week's media columns

This week, Media Matters Senior Fellows Eric Boehlert, Jamison Foser, and Karl Frisch take a look at coverage of Norm Coleman's ongoing election challenge in Minnesota, how the media treats McCain like a winner even though he lost and the right's "-isms" arms race, respectively. Additionally, Media Matters Editor-in-Chief Marcia Kuntz had an op-ed in The Providence Journal about the lack of media coverage on the Bush economic legacy.

Week in Review video

This weekly wrap-up is 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. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to receive his regular weekly columns by email.