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  • Koch-funded groups mount PR and media campaign to fight carbon pricing

    Worried about momentum for carbon taxes, climate deniers go on attack via right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters  

    A coalition of right-wing organizations is waging a multilayered attack to erode growing support for carbon pricing. Most of the groups involved have been funded by the Koch network or other fossil fuel interests.

    Several different carbon-pricing mechanisms -- variously backed by groups of progressives, Democrats, establishment Republicans, or business interests -- are being proposed at the state and national level. To counter these initiatives, the right-wing coalition is running a public relations campaign featuring industry-friendly arguments and climate denial. Their advocacy includes exerting direct pressure on lawmakers to oppose carbon-pricing initiatives and placing op-eds in right-wing and mainstream media publications.

    The basics of carbon pricing  

    A carbon price is a cost attached to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, intended to reduce those emissions. According to the World Bank, there are two main ways to price carbon:

    An ETS [emissions trading system] — sometimes referred to as a cap-and-trade system — caps the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and allows those industries with low emissions to sell their extra allowances to larger emitters. By creating supply and demand for emissions allowances, an ETS establishes a market price for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap helps ensure that the required emission reductions will take place to keep the emitters (in aggregate) within their pre-allocated carbon budget.

    A carbon tax directly sets a price on carbon by defining a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions or — more commonly — on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is different from an ETS in that the emission reduction outcome of a carbon tax is not predefined but the carbon price is.

    Some 45 countries and 25 states, provinces, and other subnational regions have implemented some variation of carbon pricing, including California and the nine Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

    Momentum is building for carbon-pricing policies

    Carbon pricing has almost no chance of being implemented on the national level anytime soon. The last serious push came early during the Obama administration when the U.S. House passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but it died in the Senate in 2010.

    President Donald Trump opposes carbon pricing, as do the vast majority of Republican members of Congress. Nevertheless, the approach is gaining traction at the state level, and a growing number of business interests and establishment Republicans are promoting carbon-pricing proposals at the national level.

    • The Climate Leadership Council -- which is composed of a number of influential conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schulz, and major oil companies and other corporations -- is one of the most prominent organizations advocating for carbon pricing. It launched in 2017 with the release of a report, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Its proposal is known as the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan.
    • In June, a new political action committee, Americans for Carbon Dividends, was launched to build support for the Baker-Shultz plan. It is co-chaired by former Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA), who both represented oil states.
    • Other conservative groups that support carbon pricing include republicEn and R Street.
    • Conservative thinkers who have endorsed carbon pricing or called for it to be given serious consideration include Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Cato Institute's Peter Van Doren, and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Aparna Mathur, among many others.
    • The nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend proposal, has a conservative caucus and counts Shultz and former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) as members of its advisory board.
    • Six House Republicans recently exhibited openness to carbon taxes by voting against an anti-carbon-tax resolution. Two years ago, no Republicans voted against a similar resolution.
    • Two House Republicans are pushing a carbon-tax bill. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, introduced the Market Choice Act on July 23. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the bill's co-sponsor.
    • A few congressional Democrats are also pushing carbon-pricing bills: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Cicilline (D-RI) have introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the America Wins Act.
    • More than a dozen states have taken serious strides toward enacting a carbon price. Legislators in eight states have introduced carbon-pricing legislation in 2018 alone: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In June, the Massachusetts Senate passed a carbon-pricing bill, which now goes before the state House. 
    • In January, nine states -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington -- formed the Carbon Costs Coalition, which is advocating for carbon pricing.
    • At the December 2017 One Planet summit held in France, two states -- California and Washington -- joined five Pacific Rim countries -- Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico -- in committing to implement carbon pricing.

    Although some of the more conservative, oil-industry-backed carbon-tax plans are opposed by progressives, and the more progressive plans are opposed by conservatives and the oil industry, they all have one foe in common -- the Koch-backed anti-carbon-pricing coalition.

    Alex Flint, the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a group of conservative leaders who support carbon pricing, said in April, “Those who oppose a carbon tax are rallying their defenses for a reason: they see supporters gaining momentum.”

    A right-wing campaign against carbon pricing ramps up

    On July 19, the U.S. House voted 229 to 180 to approve a nonbinding resolution opposing a carbon tax, largely along party lines. Six Republicans voted against it, and seven Democrats voted for it. The anti-carbon-pricing coalition helped to make sure almost all Republicans were on the "yes" side.

    The measure had been introduced on April 26 by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House majority whip and possible contender for House speaker, and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) -- both climate deniers. The “sense of the House” resolution declared that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States,” and it garnered 48 co-sponsors total. (Scalise had previously sponsored anti-carbon-tax measures in 2013 and 2016.)

    On the day the resolution was introduced, the leaders of more than 25 right-wing and industry lobbying groups released a letter calling on members of Congress to support it. "We oppose any carbon tax," the letter read (emphasis in original). On July 9, many of these same groups sent a follow-up letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) urging them to hold a vote on Scalise’s resolution. Groups sent one more letter to members of Congress on July 17, two days before the vote.

    The influential right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform, which signed onto all three letters, put out its own call for representatives to vote yes.

    Altogether, 51 groups signed at least one of the letters in favor of Scalise's resolution:

    At least 42 of the 51 groups (82 percent) have received money from the Koch network, a conglomerate of fossil fuel executives, donors, think tanks, and advocacy groups that work to advance the right-wing deregulatory and anti-environment objectives of the Koch brothers and their company, Koch Industries. Scalise is a recipient of Koch money too: In 2017 and 2018, KochPAC, a political action committee that represents Koch Industries, gave $105,000 to Scalise and to a PAC and leadership fund he runs.

    Koch Industries also weighed in directly in support of Scalise’s resolution by sending a letter to members of the House on July 16.

    The Koch brothers have waged a multimillion-dollar crusade to undermine acceptance of climate change and support for climate change solutions since the mid-2000s. Starting in 2008, the Kochs' main political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, cajoled hundreds of elected officials, including many congressional Republicans, into signing its influential “No Climate Tax" pledge. “The pledge marked a pivotal turn in the climate-change debate, cementing Republican opposition to addressing the environmental crisis,” Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker last year.

    Right-wing groups' arguments against carbon pricing often feature the Kochs' libertarian talking points or straight-up climate-change denial.

    For example, the American Energy Alliance makes vague free-market arguments in a piece on its website titled “ICYMI: There’s Nothing Conservative About a Carbon Tax”:

    Simply calling something “conservative” or “free-market” doesn’t make it so. The Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax is an affront to the principles that conservatives have championed for decades. Most important, a carbon tax would destroy American jobs, encourage more wasteful spending from Washington, and burden consumers with higher energy costs. You’d be hard pressed to find a more damaging policy for American families.

    The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded think tank that argued Scalise’s resolution understates the harm of carbon pricing, denied the well-established scientific consensus around human-caused climate change in its April 30 white paper, “Does a Carbon Tax Support Prosperity?”:

    There remain questionable fundamental issues about the way carbon dioxide affects the climate. Observed temperatures by sophisticated technologies greatly and consistently conflict with today’s widely accepted, although highly questionable, scientific consensus about the effects humans have on climate change.

    Conservative and right-wing media amplify the anti-carbon-tax campaign

    In the days after Scalise’s resolution was introduced, it was covered in the right-wing and conservative mediasphere and praised in op-eds by commentators from right-wing think tanks.

    • The Hill published an op-ed supporting the resolution, written by the authors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's anti-carbon-tax white paper.
    • RealClearPolicy published an op-ed opposing carbon taxes in general, written by a researcher from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
    • The Washington Examiner ran an op-ed from a Heartland Institute senior fellow praising the resolution and contending that a carbon tax would be "disastrous."

    Conservative outlets continued to publish anti-carbon-pricing opinion pieces from Koch-funded think tanks up until the House voted on Scalise's resolution.

    • TribTalk, a publication of The Texas Tribune, published an op-ed denouncing carbon taxes that was co-written by an author of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s white paper and a senior economist at the Institute for Energy Research. The latter is a Koch-funded partner group of the American Energy Alliance.  
    • RealClearEnergy ran an op-ed by staffers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and ALEC that incorporated many of the white paper’s talking points.
    • The Daily Signal published an opinion piece co-written by an analyst and an intern from the Heritage Foundation that promoted Scalise's resolution and denounced the Baker-Shultz plan.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Americans for Tax Reform’s director of strategic initiatives that endorsed the Scalise resolution.

    After Scalise’s resolution passed, anti-carbon-pricing groups took a brief victory lap before quickly turning their attention toward attacking Curbelo’s carbon-tax bill.

    • The Daily Caller wrote about Americans for Tax Reform’s press conference, highlighting opposition to Curbelo’s proposal: "Conservative and anti-tax groups from around the world joined together to speak against a carbon tax bill that has been introduced in Congress." 
    • Reason published an article contending that Curbelo’s bill could raise privacy concerns for businesses.
    • The Miami Herald published a letter to the editor attacking Curbelo’s legislation from the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that has sided with polluters in other fights over environmental issues.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed co-written by staffers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that argued Curbelo's bill would be "a costly failure."
    • Forbes published a piece attacking carbon-pricing proponents written by an executive for Americans for Tax Reform.
    • CNSNews published an op-ed from a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute that bashed Curbelo's bill.
    • The Star Beacon, an Ohio newspaper, published an op-ed from the president of American Commitment condemning Curbelo’s bill.
    • The Washington Examiner published an opinion piece by an analyst from the Family Business Coalition that attacked progressives’ “delusional tax reform ideas,” including proposals for a carbon tax.

    Anti-carbon-pricing coalition enlists minority groups in its campaign

    The anti-carbon-pricing coalition is also trying to make it look like its effort has the support of minority communities -- a strategy the polluter lobby has used often. The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, two Koch-funded minority groups with long histories of opposing climate solutions, were enlisted as signatories on the coalition's letters endorsing Scalise's anti-carbon-tax resolution.

    National Black Chamber President Harry C. Alford gave a quote to Scalise to support his resolution: “We can continue to reduce regulations and watch our economy rise with the recent tax reform. Bringing unnecessary hurdles before us like a carbon tax will preclude that growth and hurt our economy immensely.” Alford, a climate denier, has previously opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose smog restrictions on factories and power plants and to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants through the Clean Power Plan. The National Black Chamber of Commerce also led a disinformation campaign against rooftop solar in Florida in 2016.

    The Hispanic Leadership Fund participated in Americans for Tax Reform's press conference criticizing Curbelo's bill. In 2015, the fund joined with other Koch-aligned groups in asking a federal judge to vacate the Clean Power Plan. In 2009, it co-sponsored a Heartland Institute conference on climate change, which was based on the premise that “Global Warming is Not a Crisis.”

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is also part of the anti-carbon-tax effort. Its president wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald opposing Curbelo’s legislation. In 2016, the group supported a utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida.

    These efforts are especially harmful because minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change and minorities are generally more concerned about climate change than white people. 

    Taking the fight to the states

    Curbelo’s bill won’t be passed into law by this Congress, and the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan and other national carbon-pricing proposals won’t get much if any traction this year either. But in a number of states, carbon-pricing measures are gathering more support and have more chance of being enacted. The right-wing, anti-carbon-pricing coalition wants to halt this trend, so it's at work on the state level too. Media Matters will examine these state-focused efforts in a forthcoming piece.

  • Don't believe the right-wing lie that auto fuel-economy standards make cars more dangerous

    WSJ and SFC also push false notion that strong fuel-economy standards kill people

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the heels of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s announcement this month that his agency will weaken the 2012 vehicle fuel-economy standards set by the Obama administration, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed celebrating the rollback and arguing that President Barack Obama's standards would have led to more vehicle crash fatalities. Other news outlets, both right-wing and mainstream, have also published pieces pushing the message that ambitious fuel-economy rules kill people. But it’s an unsupported claim based on decades-old data. More recent research has found that strengthening the standards can actually improve road safety and save lives.

    WSJ and other outlets push outdated claim that efficient, lightweight cars lead to more fatalities

    On April 2, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced his intention to revise the Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would have required new cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. In doing so, he ignored demands from many states, environmental groups , and consumer protection organizations to keep the Obama-era standards in place.

    Two days later, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled “Coffee Won’t Kill You, But CAFE Might,” written by Sam Kazman, who's identified under the piece as "general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute." The Journal failed to note that the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has funders with an economic interest in fuel-economy rules: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and auto companies like Ford and Volkswagen; the American Petroleum Institute and oil companies like ExxonMobil; and the Koch brothers

    "CAFE kills people by causing cars to be made smaller and lighter," Kazman asserted. To make this point, he relied on one study published in 1989 and another study from 2002 that analyzed 1993 data. Kazman wrote

    A 1989 Harvard-Brookings study estimated the death toll [from CAFE standards] at between 2,200 and 3,900 a year. Similarly, a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study estimated that CAFE had contributed to up to 2,600 fatalities in 1993. This was at a relatively lenient CAFE level of 27.5 miles per gallon. Under what the Obama administration had in store, CAFE would soon approach levels twice as stringent.

    After citing these outdated studies, Kazman tried to make the findings seem relevant today:

    Advocates of stringent standards claim that automotive technologies have advanced since that 1992 court ruling, making vehicle mass less significant. But the basic relationship between size and safety has not changed. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which closely monitors crashworthiness, still provides the same advice it has been giving for years: “Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer.”

    Other news outlets have also given industry-friendly voices a platform over the past two weeks to claim that CAFE standards boost fatalities, often citing the same outdated research and CEI staffers. These outlets include: the San Francisco Chronicle, which published an op-ed by CEI senior fellow Marlo Thomas; the Washington Examiner, The Epoch Times, and the Media Research Center, which published pieces by their own contributors; and conservative websites Townhall and CNSNews.com, which published versions of the same piece by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst at the oil industry-funded Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

    Latest research undermines claim that CAFE has increased road fatalities

    The National Academy of Sciences revised its view in 2015. The arguments from Kazman and others hinge on a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which analyzed deaths in 1993 -- a 16-year-old study based on 25-year-old data. Basing their claims on such dated information is highly questionable; automotive safety technology and design have advanced substantially in the past quarter century.

    Also, the 2002 NAS study included an appendix with a dissent by two of the report’s authors who argued, “The relationship between fuel economy and highway safety is complex, ambiguous, poorly understood, and not measurable by any known means at the present time.” As such, the two wrote, the study's conclusions on safety were “overly simplistic and at least partially incorrect.”

    Kazman and his fellow CAFE critics also ignored how the government adjusted rules to improve safety after the 2002 study was released, and they neglected to mention a more recent 2015 National Research Council study. The 2002 NAS study recommended tying fuel-economy goals to vehicle attributes such as weight, and the federal government implemented these recommendations in 2009. By 2015, researchers concluded that these changes had yielded appreciable benefits to highway safety.

    As a February 12, 2018, Bloomberg article explained:

    The [2002 NAS] study recommended several changes to the efficiency regulations, including basing fuel economy on an attribute such as vehicle weight. That would mitigate an incentive for automakers to sell smaller, fuel-sipping cars to offset sales of gas-guzzling trucks.

    That change was made in 2009, when NHTSA [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] began tying fuel economy targets to a vehicle’s "footprint," the area between an automobile’s four wheels.

    In 2015, the academy released a new study that concluded the change to a footprint measurement had satisfied many of its safety concerns.

    From a press release describing the 2015 study conducted by the National Research Council, the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences: “Manufacturers are likely to make cars lighter in their efforts to improve fuel economy. The most current studies support the argument that making vehicles lighter, while keeping their footprints constant, will have a beneficial effect on safety for society as a whole, especially if the greatest weight reductions come from the heaviest vehicles, the report says.” Still, researchers recommended that NHTSA monitor and mitigate safety risks as automakers transition to lighter cars.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supported Obama's CAFE rules. Kazman also cited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as he tried to argue that Obama-era fuel-economy rules were dangerous. But a spokesperson for the institute, Russ Rader, said that it supported the Obama plan. "The Obama-era changes to the rules, essentially using a sliding scale for fuel economy improvements by vehicle footprint, addressed safety concerns that IIHS raised in the past," Rader told Bloomberg in February. 

    A 2017 study found that CAFE standards can cut down on deaths. Research released last year found that fuel-economy standards could actually decrease fatalities. The 2017 study on pre-Obama CAFE standards, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that "on net CAFE reduced fatalities.” The Washington Post summed it up with this headline: "Scientists just debunked one of the biggest arguments against fuel economy standards for cars." The Post article explains how lighter cars might lead to fewer deaths:

    Say you observe a crash between two SUVs, both around the same size. If you downsize one of those vehicles to a Smart car, the chance of its passengers being injured or killed may increase. On the other hand, if you downsize both vehicles, the overall risk of fatality might actually become smaller than it was to begin with.

    The researchers argue that, in the past, critics have only examined the effects of reducing an individual vehicle’s weight and not the standards’ overall effects on all vehicles in circulation — an important distinction.

    […]

    “I think one of the findings of this study is that these [safety] concerns have been drummed up as the reason to get rid of this standard,” [study coauthor Kevin] Roth said. “We’re essentially showing that these concerns are probably overblown.”

    Another coauthor of the study said that the safety benefits on their own are a good argument for maintaining fuel-economy standards, even without considering environmental benefits.

    Because the science underpinning vehicle efficiency and safety is complex, industry-aligned organizations such as CEI are able to cherry-pick and manipulate specific data to meet their predetermined conclusions. For those who want to obtain a comprehensive understanding of vehicle efficiency standards and their myriad benefits, there are many useful resources, including a 2012 report jointly produced by the EPA and NHTSA, which details how the agencies took safety into account as they formulated the CAFE standards that the Trump administration intends to roll back.

  • Right-Wing Media Push Absurd Pizza Lobby Claim That Franchises Are Burdened By Basic Food Labeling

    Pizza Franchises Are Lobbying Trump To Kill Another Public Protection Enshrined In ACA

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A pizza industry lobbying campaign against food labeling requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has gained momentum in recent weeks as right-wing media promote exaggerated complaints that it would be “costly and burdensome” to require chain restaurants to display calorie information on menu items. Conservative outlets are urging President Donald Trump to rescind the long-delayed implementation of certain food labeling requirements, while completely ignoring that the long-term benefits of such public protections vastly outweigh the short-term costs.

    On the April 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Domino's franchisee owner Chris Reisch asked Trump -- who is an obsessive Fox & Friends viewer -- to stop a rule that was passed as part of the ACA and goes into effect on May 5, requiring chain restaurants to display the calorie counts of items on their menus. Reisch preposterously claimed the food labeling requirement would force him to “have a book at the counter” to display the calorie count of the 34 million topping combinations of Domino’s pizza and promoted the openly ridiculous claim that kitchen staff might face jail time for putting too many toppings on a pizza:

    During his interview, however, Reisch did not disclose that he was recently on Capitol Hill lobbying against food labeling, overtime pay, and labor rights on behalf of the American Pizza Community (APC) -- the lobbying arm of the pizza industry.

    According to The Washington Post, the APC is leading “a desperate push” to curb food labeling standards before they go into effect, “more than seven years after [the ACA] was signed into law” and years after most other chain restaurants already complied with the new standards. Having already gone to Congress with its complaints, the pizza industry may have hoped to reach the president directly via Fox & Friends, which culminated a month-long chorus of right-wing outlets slamming the rule on the industry’s behalf.

    In the past few weeks, right-wing outlets and fringe conservative sites have assailed the ruling, citing its supposedly onerous costs and bemoaning the confusion it could cause for customers. Since March 22, The Washington Free Beacon, PJMedia (twice), the National Review, NewsBusters, Investor’s Business Daily, CNS News, and FoxNews.com have promoted varying arguments that the rule would be “costly and burdensome,” that it “lacked common sense,” and that it amounted to little more than “pizza shaming.” CNS News hyped a report from the food services industry that incorrectly estimated the cost of compliance at $1 billion in its first year and NewsBusters questioned if the government should have any role in mandating that companies disclose nutritional information to the public.

    In reality, the actual ACA rule requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display the calorie counts of all standard menu items, and has exceptions for temporary items. When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its food labeling standards in November 2014, it estimated that the industry-wide costs would be roughly $1 billion over a 20 year period -- a sum that pales in comparison to the $767 million profit Domino’s earned in 2016 alone. Overall, the FDA estimated that the benefits of Americans eating healthier because of the additional nutritional information would exceed the total cost of implementation by over $8 billion:

    Reisch’s claim that the rule would be too costly loses steam in light of the FDA’s findings but it is even more bizarre considering he admitted that Domino’s already has this information and posts the calorie counts of its pizzas and toppings online. On April 17, MarketWatch reported that pizza companies are opposed to displaying calorie counts on menus even though “Americans are paying more attention to food ingredients” and polling showed up to 68 percent want chain restaurants to post calorie information. On her Food Politics blog, nutrition and public health professor Marion Nestle pointed out that the fierce pushback against posting calories on menus, regardless of the low cost and outsize health benefits, shows that these companies “would rather you did not have this information.” This attitude makes it that much more important for government to protect consumers access to this knowledge.

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • Fox News Falsely Claims Americans Use "Disability Option" To Avoid Work

    Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

    Fox News' Stuart Varney dishonestly hyped new data on the number of Americans receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to accuse beneficiaries of committing fraud to avoid finding a job. But experts agree that fraud in the SSDI program is low and there is no evidence Americans are faking their disabilities.

    A May 21 Drudge Report headline proclaimed a "Record 10,999,447 On Disability and linked to a CNSnews.com article announcing that the total number of disability beneficiaries in the U.S rose in April "setting a new all-time record":

    On Fox's America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed the "explosion" in disability beneficiaries showed "America is becoming increasingly a welfare state. " Varney accused SSDI beneficiaries of committing fraud by taking the "disability option" supposedly where able-bodied individuals who can't find a job use SSDI "almost as an insurance policy against no income or no job":

    VARNEY: During the Obama years we've gone from eight million people, just about eight million people claiming Social Security disability payments all the way up to nearly 11 million. That is a huge explosion in disability payments. Now a lot of people are taking what's called the disability option. They can't find a job. So they take -- they treat disability almost as an insurance policy against no income or no job. So you have got this explosion in disability payments. And Martha, we can't afford it.

    [...]

    Two points, number one, if we go on like this the Social Security disability trust fund, totally runs out of money by the end of 2016. That is not that far away. Number two, there's been an expansion in who qualifies for disability payments. Mental disorder is now acceptable. Mood disorder, or back pain. Now, that kind of opens the door to fraud because you can't really prove a lot of that. And plus, once you get disability, you're on it for a very long time because the virtually very little inspection process to figure out who is off the disability, who has recovered. So pretty much payment for life. We can't afford this

  • Conservative Media Give Cover For Illegal Sales At Gun Shows

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conservative media are touting a video from the right-wing Media Research Center purporting to show that vendors at gun shows always refuse to sell firearms to felons and other disqualified persons and that legislation to expand the background check system is unnecessary. But according to prior undercover reports, when private sellers at gun shows were not aware they were on camera, a substantial portion agreed to sell guns to people they believed could not legally possess them.

    Vendors who have a Federal Firearms License are required to perform background checks on their customers, but so-called private sellers who say they are not "engaged in the business" of selling firearms have no such requirement at gun shows in 33 states. This discrepancy has been termed the "gun show loophole" and is the reason narco-terrorists, illegal gun traffickers and other dangerous individuals seek out unregulated sales at gun shows. The most infamous use of the loophole is the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where all four guns involved were passed through a local gun show by private sellers.

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has estimated between 25 and 50 percent of vendors at gun shows sell without a background check. Adding sales over the Internet and through newspaper classified adverts, a substantial proportion of firearms are transferred without a background check in the United States. Federal legislation to expand the background check system to cover private sales failed in the Senate last year.

  • Right-Wing Media Draw False Comparison Between Women's Employment And Food Stamp Recipients

    Blog ››› ››› ELLIE SANDMEYER

    Right-wing media hyped a misleading apples-to-oranges comparison to claim that the U.S. is at a "tipping point" in the "relationship between welfare and work."

    On April 15, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed new statistics showed that "the number of people living on the government dole outnumbered full-time working women." Fox Business host Stuart Varney then claimed "welfare is replacing work" because in 2012, 46 million people collected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) and 44 million women worked full time. Varney cited SNAP benefits as "the classic example" of an "explosion in welfare payments outgoing from the government to individuals and a decline in work," which he attributed to the Obama administration "buying votes." Meanwhile, Fox displayed this graphic:

    Other right-wing media sources highlighted the same supposedly "telling" numbers. CNS News posted a graphic comparing the number of women working full time to total SNAP beneficiaries and the Drudge Report also hyped the connection:

    But these numbers can't be compared, as many working women fall into both categories.

    In fact, because the majority of recipients are working-class Americans with jobs, senior citizens, or children, an increase in SNAP beneficiaries is an extremely unreliable predictor of the number of full-time workers, let alone evidence of a tipping point before a decline in overall employment. A 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the "overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so" (emphasis original):

    The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so.  Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP -- and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP.  The rates are even higher for families with children -- more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.

    The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled -- from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011.  The increase was especially pronounced during the recent deep recession, suggesting that many people have turned to SNAP because of under-employment -- for example, when one wage-earner in a two-parent family lost a job, when a worker's hours were cut, or when a worker turned to a lower-paying job after being laid off.

    A separate report from the USDA pointed out that in 2012, "75 percent of all SNAP households, containing 87 percent of all participants, included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled nonelderly person. These households received 82 percent of all SNAP benefits."

    This latest attempt to cast the SNAP program as spurring unemployment ignores current economic reality. SNAP enrollment has risen as a result of the economic downturn. The Economic Policy Institute noted that "SNAP swelled because the economy entered the worst recession since the Great Depression and remains severely depressed even 18 months after the official recovery began." According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP enrollment is projected to decline as the economy recovers:

    The number of people receiving SNAP benefits will begin to slowly decline at the end of fiscal year 2014, CBO expects, reflecting an improved economic situation and a declining unemployment rate. Nevertheless, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits will remain high by historical standards, CBO estimates. That is partly because of a growing U.S. population and thus a greater number of potential SNAP participants.

  • Right-Wing Media's Latest Zombie Myth: Congress Is "Exempt" From Obamacare

    ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    Florida Watchdog.org, an offshoot of the Koch brothers-funded Watchdog.org, parroted right-wing media claims that Congress is receiving an "exemption" from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by receiving a "special subsidy" from the government for its health insurance. However, this zombie lie is not based in fact and is due to a Republican effort to politicize the implementation of the law.

  • Conservative Media Distort Jobs Benefits Of Renewable Energy Grant Program

    Blog ››› ››› JILL FITZSIMMONS

    Conservative media outlets are misrepresenting job estimates to suggest that a stimulus grant program for renewable energy projects has been a waste of taxpayer money. In fact, in just two years the program has supported up to 75,000 jobs and has propelled growth in the renewable energy industry.

    Earlier this week, Congressional Research Service analyst Molly Sherlock testified before Congress on the jobs impact of the Sec. 1603 grant program, which was established by the Recovery Act to provide grants in-lieu of existing tax credits for renewable energy projects. Sherlock cited a recent analysis by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) which found that the projects that benefitted from the grant program have supported up to 75,000 direct and indirect jobs per year since it began in 2009, including construction jobs and long-term operations and maintenance jobs.

    Based on NREL's figures, she estimated that the program itself has created 4,021 direct jobs per year, including 3,666 construction jobs and 355 ongoing operational jobs. Including indirect jobs, that number rises to as many as 31,000 jobs per year. Sherlock noted that these rough estimates "may understate actual job creation" because they don't factor in how many of the projects that received grants were motivated by the 1603 program.

    But that didn't stop the right-wing media from cherry-picking data from her testimony to distort the success of the program. The Washington Free Beacon reported that the "Obama administration spent $10 billion to create 355 renewable energy jobs per year." Meanwhile, CNS News reported:

    The Obama administration distributed $9 billion in economic "stimulus" funds to solar and wind projects in 2009-11 that created, as the end result, 910 "direct" jobs -- annual operation and maintenance positions -- meaning that it cost about $9.8 million to establish each of those long-term jobs.

    This faulty math discounts thousands of direct construction jobs, let alone the tens of thousands of jobs created in supporting industries.

  • Limbaugh's Justification For Attacking Fluke Is Nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› CHELSEA RUDMAN

    Rush Limbaugh's ugly attacks on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke have centered on the idea that she -- and other women who think birth control should be covered by health insurance -- "wants all the sex in the world whenever she wants it, all the time, no consequences." For support, Limbaugh has referenced a CNS News blog post by CNS communications director Craig Bannister that's headlined "Sex-Crazed Co-Eds Going Broke Buying Birth Control, Student Tells Pelosi Hearing Touting Freebie Mandate."

    The blog post obsessed about the cost of condoms and postulated that $3,000 -- the amount Fluke said some female Georgetown students pay for three years of birth control -- could buy enough condoms to have "sex 2.74 times a day, every day, for three straight years."

    First of all, Fluke wasn't talking about condoms -- she was talking about birth-control pills. And when used as contraception, birth control pills must be taken regularly to be effective, regardless of how much sex the user is or isn't having.

    As libertarian law professor Eugene Volokh noted on his blog:

    The logic makes no sense. There's nothing substantive in common between being paid to have sex, and having contraceptives be provided by a health plan. (Would you call a man a gigolo because he uses a condom that he got for free from some university giveaway?) The allegation that somehow Ms. Fluke is "having so much sex" strikes me as misunderstanding the way birth control pills work: You have to take them all the time even if you're having sex only rarely, and even if you're having sex with only one person (I mention this because the implication seems to me that Ms. Fluke is being promiscuous).

  • Young Women's Health Care Needs Are No Laughing Matter

    ››› ››› SOLANGE UWIMANA

    Right-wing media are now resorting to mocking female university students' health care needs and their call that religiously affiliated colleges and universities provide access to contraceptives. But studies have found that numerous benefits (medical, social, and economic) exist in providing college-aged women -- the most vulnerable demographic for unintended pregnancies -- affordable access to contraception.

  • Fox's Latest Pelosi Smear: She "Has Totally Lost It" Over Payroll Tax Estimate

    Blog ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    Although the right-wing media are generally supportive of tax cuts, they often find themselves opposing them whenever they are proposed or supported by President Obama and Democrats. This is true of the proposal to extend an existing holiday on the payroll tax. The latest attack came from Fox Nation -- with an assist from CNSNews -- which mocked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as having "totally lost it" for comments she made about the payroll tax holiday and extension of unemployment insurance.

    In a recent press briefing, Pelosi noted that independent estimates have shown that the two proposals "would make a difference of 600,000 jobs to our economy." On December 15, Fox Nation seized on a CNSNews article that reported her comments and linked to it with the following headline:

  • Drudge's Latest Desperate Attack On Obama

    Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

    Matt Drudge is highlighting a headline from the conservative CNS News that reads: "Obama: 'I Don't Think Ethics' Was My Favorite Subject."

    Cute gotcha. The right-wing is busy dreaming up scandals involving President Obama and his administration, and here's Obama himself saying he wasn't a big fan of ethics.

    The problem is that the headline is totally misleading. Obama was discussing what he thought about an ethics class he took in eighth grade. He says that since then he has come to value the lessons he learned in that ethics class.

    From the CNS article:

    "I did not love every class I took. I wasn't always paying attention the way I should have," Obama said. "I remember when I was in 8th grade I had to take a class called ethics. Now, ethics is about right and wrong, but if you'd ask me what my favorite subject was back in 8th grade, it was basketball. I don't think ethics would have made it on the list."

    Obama went on to tell the high school students that even though that 8th grade ethics class was not one of his favorites it did have a significant impact on his life -- and now inspires the way he acts as president.

    "I still remember that ethics class, all these years later," Obama said. "I remember the way it made me think. I remember being asked questions like: What matters in life? Or, what does it mean to treat other people with dignity and respect? What does it mean to live in a diverse nation, where not everybody looks like you do, or thinks like you do, or comes from the same neighborhood as you do? How do we figure out how to get along?

    "Each of these questions led to new questions," said Obama. "And I didn't always know the right answers, but those discussions and that process of discovery -- those things have lasted. Those things are still with me today. Every day, I'm thinking about those same issues as I try to lead this nation."

    Big swing and a miss for Drudge.

  • Spoiler Alert: Glenn Beck's Website Ruins Science And An Episode Of SpongeBob

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN ZIEBER

    Glenn Beck's The Blaze is stoking fears of a sinister plot aimed at "indoctrinating children" with the "overtly controversial stance" that global warming is man-made with free books and SpongeBob SquarePants:

    On July 20, 2011, kids in the Washington, D.C. area were treated to free books during a special U.S. Department of Education event. Two of the books that were offered featured popular Nickelodeon characters as part of the network's "Big Green Help Series," a campaign encouraging children to help protect the Earth.

    But one of these publications takes an overtly controversial stance, as it promotes the idea that global warming is a man-made problem that requires human intervention in order to be stemmed.

    Of course, there should be nothing remotely controversial about the idea that humans are contributing to climate change. Countless scientific organizations and groups long ago moved past the notion that the concept is "controversial." The controversy exists only in the fevered imaginations of right-wing commentators, like those at The Blaze, where it has become a point of pride to deny a massive body of scientific research.

    SPOILER ALERT!