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A Washington, D.C., Fox News affiliate’s shoddy reporting purposefully validated right-wing conspiracy theories about the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich when the station published unproven claims that Rich directly communicated with WikiLeaks regarding the leaked committee emails published on that site. Following the publication of the Fox 5 DC story, Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Sean Hannity further fueled the conspiracy theories when they retweeted new conspiracies about the Rich story, including a false claim that a Washington Post report on Trump sharing classified information with Russia was published to drown out Fox 5's story.
In a May 15 article and subsequent newscast, Fox 5 DC’s Marina Marraco quoted Rod Wheeler, a private investigator once hired to assist the Rich family’s search for Rich’s killer, who claimed that “a source inside the police department” told him that the department was “‘told to stand down on this case.’” Wheeler also said it was “confirmed” that Rich had links to WikiLeaks. Alex Griswold, a reporter for right-wing publication the Washington Free Beacon, pointed out that Fox 5’s story was “entirely hearsay” and chided the news station for failing to disclose that Wheeler is a vocal Trump supporter and a paid Fox News analyst.
The article was updated on May 16 to include a note that the station had spoken to D.C. police since publication and was told that Wheeler’s claim was false. The Rich family issued a statement saying family members had seen “no facts” and “no evidence” to suggest Rich had worked with WikiLeaks. It also noted that a “third party” paid Wheeler for his investigative work and that he was “contractually … barred from speaking to press.” But the updates came too late to prevent the unsubstantiated claims published in Fox 5 DC’s report from becoming fuel for the right-wing conspiracy theory machine. (Marraco’s article even acknowledged that the claims she was publishing “could prove these theorists right.”)
By the next morning, fringe right-wing media and conspiracy theory websites had run full speed with the false allegations made in the Fox 5 DC article. Breitbart.com ran an article on its home page claiming that Fox’s shoddily sourced article may prove that the hack of DNC emails was “an inside job.” The Drudge Report ran a screaming banner on its site claiming Rich “had contact” with WikiLeaks and linked to the Fox 5 DC article:
The Gateway Pundit published a “BREAKING” piece about the conspiracy theory linking to the Fox 5 DC article. Fringe conspiracy theory sites World News Daily and ZeroHedge also regurgitated the Fox 5 DC article to claim a conspiracy theory. The baseless speculation quickly jumped to more established outlets, as FoxNews.com made it the lead morning story on its website, and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Circa News and Fox News’ Fox & Friends also promoted the story:
Some conspiracy theorists, including InfoWars' Paul Joseph Watson, even spread claims that The Washington Post’s report about President Donald Trump sharing highly classified information with Russian officials was printed to drown out the “bombshell news” story reported by the Fox affiliate. Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Sean Hannity retweeted this false claim. But Washington Post political reporter Dave Weigel set the record straight, noting that the Washington Post story went up before the Fox 5 story was published.
This isn’t the first local news station to lend legitimacy to a fringe conspiracy theory that resembled fake news. In January, a CBS Atlanta affiliate ran a segment promoting the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that a Washington pizza parlor was the headquarters of a child sex-trafficking ring involving the Clinton family.
White House credentialed "alt-right" troll Jack Posobiec posted video in which he asks President Trump for comment on the conspiracy theories surrounding Rich's murder in a video uploaded to Twitter May 16:
Fake News Purveyors Joined Conservatives In Lauding Comey's Firing
Right-wing media praised the Trump administration’s egregious decision to fire FBI director James Comey. Conservatives trumpeted the move as long overdue, while other media outlets lamented Trump’s move as “obstruction” and called his rationale for the firing “implausible.”
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Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier featured a segment that baselessly connected the recent shooting at a building on a University of Alabama campus with “animosity in the climate change wars.”
Over the the March for Science weekend, seven shots were fired at a building at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. One of the shots struck the window of an office next to the office of John Christy, a professor of atmospheric sciences, who has testified before congressional committees on multiple occasions to repeat his claim that climate model projections of future warming are overstated. No one was hurt in the incident.
Christy told AL.com that he thought his floor was targeted. But the university said in a statement that investigators believed that the shooting, which they say struck multiple floors of the building, was a “random, isolated event unlikely to be a premeditated act.” AL.com further noted that the investigators “have marked the case ‘inactive’ pending new information.”
Nonetheless, on the May 2 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, host Bret Baier introduced a segment on the shooting as evidence that “animosity in the climate change wars is hitting new lows.” During the segment, correspondent Doug McKelway incorrectly reported that Christy “got seven bullet holes in his office windows” (AL.com reported that only “one went through a window in the office next to Christy's”) and made reference to Christy’s skepticism of computer model climate predictions.
From the May 2 edition of Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier:
BRET BAIER (HOST): We are awaiting a decision from President [Donald] Trump on whether the U.S. will continue to participate in a worldwide global warming treaty that he criticized during the campaign. Correspondent Doug McKelway tells us tonight the animosity in the climate change wars is hitting new lows.
DOUG MCKELWAY: In 1991, climate skeptic John Christy got NASA’s medal for exceptional scientific achievement. Last week, he got seven bullet holes in his office windows during the March for Science weekend at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Police think it was random. Christy thinks he was targeted. Christy measures actual earth temperatures from satellite data. He is skeptical of computer model predictions of warming and government remedies to fix it.
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Since March 4, President Donald Trump and Fox News have been feeding each other evidence and defenses to back up Trump’s false claim that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, ordered a “wiretap” at Trump Tower. Fox figures, including Andrew Napolitano, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, have been backing up Trump’s claim, and Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have in turn recycled their comments in their attempts to substantiate the original claim. On March 20, FBI Director James Comey debunked Trump’s original tweet accusing Obama of wiretapping, unequivocally stating, “I have no information that supports those tweets. … The Department [of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.”
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CNN moderators Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer should aggressively fact-check Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price during the network’s March 15 town hall, given the Trump administration’s penchant for spreading misinformation on health care. The town hall format amplifies the need for follow-up questions by the moderators who are informed enough on the issues to actively fact-check misleading claims.
CNN is holding a town hall featuring Price that “will focus on the GOP’s health care bill.” This is just one of several special events CNN has held about the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Given that the network has a new emphasis on “showcasing special events,” it is particularly important for CNN moderators to fact-check participants so these events don’t simply turn into platforms for conservatives to spread misinformation.
CNN has a unique opportunity during this town hall to hold the Trump administration accountable for the predicted effects of its proposed bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), particularly given that this is will be Price’s first prime-time cable appearance outside the friendly confines of Fox News. (Price has done the rounds on Fox, giving interviews to Bret Baier, Neil Cavuto, and Trump sycophant Sean Hannity).
Given Price’s history of pushing disastrous health care policies and the tendency for Republican politicians to push misinformation about their health care agenda during CNN’s special events, Bash and Blitzer must utilize this opportunity to ask follow-up questions and fact-check the secretary. Here are the five ways that Price is most likely to spread misinformation given his history and the Trump administration’s official positions:
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reviewed the AHCA and reported that it would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 14 million in 2018, and 24 million in 2026. A consistent theme in the conservative reaction to the CBO review revolves around attacking the credibility of the organization as a mechanism for undercutting its predictions. Price echoed these attacks, tweeting that “the CBO report defies logic” and issuing an official statement claiming that the “assumptions” of the report “do not translate to the real world.”
Despite these attacks, the CBO has a long history of making accurate predictions about health care reform legislation. Vox’s Andrew Prokop notes that the CBO’s influence derives from its “reputation as a politically neutral arbiter” and that it is viewed as “the gold standard.” In contrast to the GOP’s claims that the CBO made inaccurate predictions about the ACA, the Commonwealth Fund emphasized that the CBO was “reasonably accurate” and that its “projections were closer to realized experience than other prominent forecasters’ estimates were.” FactCheck.org’s Brooks Jackson debunked the anti-CBO talking points, illustrating that “the CBO actually nailed the overall impact of the law on the uninsured pretty closely” and “got the big picture right” on coverage estimates. Bash and Blitzer should be ready to correct attempts by Price to smear the CBO to salvage the AHCA’s chances of passage.
Price has consistently misled the public during interviews about the AHCA’s impact on insurance coverage. When asked by Cavuto if he thought it was “inevitable” that “some” people who gained insurance through the ACA marketplaces would lose it, Price said, “No. I just simply don’t believe that.” He went further during a Meet the Press interview, claiming that “we have a great opportunity to increase coverage over where we are right now.” His remark echoed misleading claims made by Trump about providing “insurance for everybody.”
In reality, the CBO report predicts that “in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured” and that that number would rise to “24 million in 2026.” Vox explained that the AHCA’s provision to end Medicaid expansion in 2020 “would contribute to one in five Americans being uninsured.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) emphasized that “all of the historic coverage gains expected under the ACA would disappear and the uninsured rate among the non-elderly would be at or above its 2010 levels.” The CNN moderators must be aggressive in holding Price accountable for the real impacts the proposed legislation will have on millions of Americans who are currently benefitting from Obamacare.
The AHCA would eliminate the ACA’s means-tested subsidies and replace them with age-rated refundable tax credits. During Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked, “Can you say for certain that once this bill is passed, nobody will be worse off financially when it comes to paying for health care?” Price initially ducked the question but when Todd pressed him again, he declared, “I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially.”
Despite Price’s bold claims, the CBO report shows that the AHCA will increase premiums for older, low-income Americans by “more than 750%.” Families USA noted that “lower income families could see their deductibles increase by as much as $5,500.” The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund explained that the AHCA “is a mass transfer of income” from working-class and middle-class Americans that cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans while cutting federal benefits for the middle and working class.” Bash and Blitzer should expect Price to try to spin his previous statements and must be ready to push back on any false characterizations of the AHCA’s impact on health care costs.
Price has a history of discounting the importance of women’s health care and has previously advocated legislation to roll back the ACA’s birth control mandate and to defund Planned Parenthood. Trump administration officials have defended the provision of the AHCA that defunds Planned Parenthood by claiming that it’s “not about denying women access to care” because they would reallocate the money to “federally qualified health care clinics.”
Experts have debunked the conservative lie that Planned Parenthood can be replaced by community health care centers, calling it a “gross misrepresentation.” A Guttmacher Institute study found that in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” with accessible contraception services. Funding cuts to Planned Parenthood in Indiana and Texas resulted in severely negative impacts on community health, contributing to HIV outbreaks. The Washington Post reported that defunding Planned Parenthood “would leave many women without services to help them avoid pregnancy, resulting in thousands of additional births.” The CBO report found that “15 percent” of people in low-income communities “would lose access to care” as a result of defunding Planned Parenthood. CNN should use this town hall as an opportunity to press Price on reproductive rights generally and on the detrimental impact the GOP’s health care bill would have on women’s health care.
The AHCA would dramatically alter Medicaid by instituting a per capita cap on federal Medicaid spending and ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion in 2020. During his interview with Cavuto, Price claimed that the AHCA would return “flexibility” to the states and allow them “the ability … to determine what is the right kind of program to care for their Medicaid population.”
While conservatives often claim Medicaid caps -- also known as “block grants” -- will increase state “flexibility,” in reality such proposals result in the loss of services and coverage for the most vulnerable. A CBPP analysis showed that a per capita cap would result in the “loss of health coverage and less access to needed health care for tens of millions of low-income Americans.” The Kaiser Family Foundation explained that federal caps could lead states to “restrict benefits” and “result in eligibility restrictions and cost shifts to beneficiaries.” Vox noted that the rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion would take “4 million to 6 million people off the rolls” and, combined with the per capita cap, would result in “a $370 billion cut to federal funding to Medicaid over 10 years.” Given the devastating impact the AHCA will have on Medicaid, Bash and Blitzer must follow up on any general assertions of increasing state innovation.
The Wall Street Journal reported Donald Trump plans to “restructure and pare back” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence due to his belief it has become “bloated and politicized.” Trump’s belief that the DNI has become politicized echoes right-wing media conspiracies attempting to delegitimize intelligence reports that found Russian government directed compromises of emails during the 2016 election cycle.
MSNBC Only Outlet To Vet Ryan's Scheme To Gut The Social Safety Net
Weekday evening programming on the largest cable and broadcast news outlets almost completely ignored a long-standing Medicare privatization scheme favored by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the days since he first resurrected the idea of radically reshaping the American health care system toward for-profit interests.
During a November 10 interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ryan misleadingly claimed that due to mounting “fiscal pressures” created by the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress would be forced to engage with what Baier called “entitlement reform” sometime next year. Ryan falsely claimed that “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke” and that the popular health insurance system for American seniors will have to be changed as part of any legislation to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s health care reform legacy. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from November 10 to November 27, Ryan’s plan to privatize the nationwide, single-payer health care coverage currently enjoyed by millions of seniors has gone unmentioned on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. Ryan’s so-called “premium support” plan was briefly mentioned on the November 22 edition of PBS NewsHour when co-host Judy Woodruff pressed President-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as to whether Trump would accept Ryan’s privatization proposal. By comparison, during the same time period, MSNBC ran six prime-time segments exposing Ryan’s privatization agenda:
According to a July 19 issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue “a proposal to gradually transform Medicare into a system of premium supports, building on proposals” adopted by Ryan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. These so-called “premium supports” would provide each Medicare beneficiary with a “voucher” that can be used for the purchase of private health insurance; they represent “a significant change from the current system” that pays health care providers directly for services rendered.
In essence, Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and redirect hundreds of billions of tax dollars that currently go to doctors, hospitals, and other medical service providers through the costly private health insurance market.
This startling scheme bears similarities to a failed 2005 attempt by the Bush administration to partially privatize Social Security. Democratic members of Congress are already aligning themselves against Ryan’s throwback plan to gut Medicare, and it’s not actually clear if Trump is supportive of the initiative, which he refused to fully endorse on the campaign trail.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out last July, claims that Medicare is “nearing ‘bankruptcy’ are highly misleading,” and Ryan’s specific charge that Medicare is “broke” because of the ACA is completely wrong. President Obama’s health care reform law greatly improved Medicare’s long-term finances and extended the hospital insurance trust fund’s solvency by 11 years.
The looming fight over the future of Medicare, which serves over 55 million beneficiaries and accounted for 15 percent of the entire federal budget in 2015, has been well-documented, but it has garnered almost no attention on major television news programs.
Millions of Americans who rely on broadcast and cable evening news are completely unaware of the stakes in this health care policy fight. They are also unaware that Ryan’s privatization scheme would leave millions of retirees at the whims of the same private insurance market that right-wing media are currently attacking because of increased rates.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from November 10, 2016, through November 27, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any mention of “Medicare.”
A new report from The Washington Post cites recent IRS filings to confirm previous allegations that President-elect Donald Trump’s private charitable foundation engaged in illegal “self-dealing” activities, a story Fox News originally ignored when Trump was the Republican presidential candidate.
On November 22, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported that the Trump Foundation’s newly available tax filings confirm earlier reports that the foundation had engaged in illegal “self-dealing.”
Fahrenthold wrote that the foundation’s 2015 filings -- which were made publicly available on the evening of November 21 -- reveal that the foundation had “transferred ‘income or assets’ to a disqualified person,” which could be Trump himself “or a member of his family or a Trump-owned business.” Another section of the filing also revealed that the foundation had checked “yes” to indicate it had “engaged in any acts of self-dealing in prior years.”
As explained by the Post’s report, these transfers violate “a legal prohibition against ‘self-dealing,’ which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.”
Fahrenthold first reported on this suspected illegal activity in September. As explained when Fahrenthold originally broke the story, Trump spent $258,000 from the Trump Foundation -- to which he has not personally donated since 2009 -- to settle legal issues involving his for-profit businesses, which Fahrenthold noted on CNN “is against the law.”
At the time, the Trump campaign denied the allegations, claiming that Fahrenthold’s report was “peppered with inaccuracies and omissions” and that “there was not, and could not be, any intent or motive for the Trump Foundation to make improper payments.” (The statement offered no examples of any inaccuracies in Fahrenthold’s reporting, nor did subsequent surrogates who claimed the reporting was “debunked”.)
In the day following this breaking story, Fox News devoted a total of just under three minutes to the report, substantially trailing CNN and MSNBC in total coverage. Its flagship evening program, Special Report with Bret Baier, led the network’s race to the bottom in terms of covering the story, devoting just 12 seconds to reporting on the alleged “self-dealing.”
A Media Matters analysis found that Fox News’ segments on the Post report also offered few details on the investigation. The longest segment Fox devoted to the report was one minute and 41 seconds on The O’Reilly Factor, in which guest host Bret Baier allowed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to dismiss the report uninterrupted for a full minute.