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  • Conservative media downplay the Trump administration's unprecedented stonewalling of congressional oversight

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    As legal experts, historians, and Democratic lawmakers have sounded the alarm over President Donald Trump’s blanket obstruction of congressional oversight of his presidency -- suggesting we have reached or are approaching a constitutional crisis -- Trump’s conservative media allies are brazenly misrepresenting the arguments and suggesting everything boils down to a fight over the Mueller report, claiming Trump’s obstruction is normal, and ridiculing Democrats for speaking out.

  • Don’t believe right-wing media’s false claims that the Green New Deal would cost “$93 trillion” or "$65,000 per household"

    Politico calls the analysis "bogus," PolitiFact calls it "false," and even its lead author won't defend it

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (4/19/19): This post and headline have been updated to include the per-household cost estimates in AAF's study. 

    Right-wing media outlets have repeatedly asserted that the Green New Deal would come with the absurd price tag of "$93 trillion" or "$94 trillion," uncritically repeating claims from a back-of-the-envelope, deeply flawed analysis produced by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. Politico recently determined that the $93 trillion figure was "bogus," and quoted the lead author of the AAF analysis, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, admitting that he had no idea how much it would cost to implement the Green New Deal.

    American Action Forum has ties to the fossil fuel industry

    The American Action Forum, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and its 501(c)(4) “sister organization,” the American Action Network (AAN), have been funded by a who’s who of the polluter syndicate.

    AAN has received at least $250,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for the oil industry that has donated to groups in the Koch network. And AAN has received at least $35,000 from the American Natural Gas Alliance, a pro-fracking gas industry trade group. Dow Chemical has given at least $250,000. AAN has also been funded by other Koch-connected groups such as Americans for Job Security, Donors Trust, and the Wellspring Committee. It's gotten money from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS too. AAN has in turn donated millions to AAF.

    Though some information about its funding has been made public, AAN has generally refused to disclose its donors. In 2014, MSNBC called AAN a "dark money power player," noting that it had been running numerous attack ads against Democratic candidates. FactCheck.org noted that same year that AAN has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates. In 2018, a watchdog group filed suit against AAN for violating campaign finance laws and abusing its nonprofit status.

    AAF's Green New Deal cost analysis is problematic from top to bottom

    Considering the think tank’s connections to the fossil fuel industry, it’s not surprising that the American Action Forum’s report found the Green New Deal untenable. What is surprising is how flippant Holtz-Eakin, president of AAF and former head of the Congressional Budget Office, was about the rigor of the analysis he co-authored. When challenged about the accuracy of the report’s claim that the Green New Deal would cost some $93 trillion over 10 years, Holtz-Eakin told Politico, “Is it billions or trillions? Any precision past that is illusory.”

    The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on February 7 is just a broad, 14-page outline of goals with no policy specifics, so determining a price tag was a fanciful exercise. AAF's claims of a total cost of $51.1 trillion to $92.9 trillion -- up to $653,000 per household over a decade, or $65,000 per year -- have no basis in reality. As Politico reporter Zack Colman put it:

    When they set out to put a price tag on the Green New Deal last month, Holtz-Eakin and his associates had no real policy or plan to evaluate, so they made one up to perform back-of-the-envelope calculations.

    And the AAF study does not distinguish between government and private-sector spending, nor does it attempt to quantify the benefits of reducing pollution or other policies. For example, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson estimated that eliminating the electricity sector’s carbon emissions would avoid $265 billion in annual U.S. damages beginning in 2050.

    Colman also pointed out that more than $80 trillion of the alleged $93 trillion total cost would come from implementing a jobs guarantee and universal health care -- policy ideas that have no direct relation to greening the economy, even though they are in the Green New Deal resolution.

    Politico declared that the $93 trillion figure is "bogus" -- or, in an earlier version of the article published behind a firewall, "essentially vapor."

    The fact-checking project PolitiFact also found the $93 trillion figure to be untrustworthy, calling it "only about as strong as a clothespin in high wind." It noted that "the [AAF] report itself is full of assumptions, qualifiers and caveats," and when a fact-checker reached out to Holtz-Eakin, the AAF president "made it clear to us that the report aims to provide very rough estimates on a plan that’s only partially developed." PolitiFact rated as "false" this claim from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA): "At $93 trillion, the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire recorded spending of the U.S. since the Constitution went into effect in 1789."

    Other journalists have also pointed out major problems with the AAF analysis. Paul Blest at Splinter noted that AAF used cost estimates for a universal jobs program ("$6.8 trillion to $44.6 trillion") and universal health care ("$36 trillion") that are vastly higher than estimates produced by other think tanks. AAF also failed to account for how much money programs like universal health care could save. According to Blest:

    [AAF's] ballpark estimate on a federal jobs guarantee has a range of $38 trillion. The centrist Brookings Institution’s estimate last year, by the way, put the high end on a job guarantee at $543 billion a year, or $5.4 trillion over 10 years.

    On Medicare for All, too, the AAF’s number is substantially higher than previous estimates. The libertarian Mercatus Center’s estimate set out to prove last year that Medicare for All would bankrupt the country, and inadvertently found that Medicare for All would eventually save about $2 trillion in national health expenditures. Even Mercatus, however, put the cost of Medicare for All at $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

    The ClimateDenierRoundup column at Daily Kos pointed out another problem with AAF's jobs-program estimates:

    The jobs price tag is wrong because it’s double counting: many of those jobs would be created by the other parts of the GND. Improving energy efficiency and building a clean energy economy will create a lot of jobs, which are counted in the GND’s green policy price tag tally. But then AAF simply counts those jobs again in the jobs guarantee portion, as though none of those promised jobs would be used to put the green in the Green New Deal.

    Green New Deal sponsor Markey called out major flaws in the report too, starting with the basic premise: "Putting a price on a resolution of principles, not policies, is just Big Oil misinformation." Markey pointed out that AAF calculated the cost of "policies that aren't even in the resolution," such as eliminating air travel:

    Markey also noted that AAF did not provide any support for its cost estimate for a low-carbon electricity grid.

    As The New York Times recently put it, "For now it’s impossible to pin down dollar figures on the plan." FactCheck.org agreed, writing that "the experts we spoke to said it’s not possible to put a specific price tag on the Green New Deal."

    Perhaps most egregiously, AAF’s analysis of the Green New Deal completely ignored the enormous cost of not fighting climate change. Just last year, climate disasters and extreme weather events cost the U.S. an estimated $91 billion. According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 1.5 C rise in the global average temperature would cost $54 trillion. Things only get more expensive (and catastrophic) from there. According to Axios:

    • You think $54 trillion is a lot? That number comes from research that also says that a 2.0°C increase will cause $69 trillion of damage, and a 3.7°C increase will cause a stunning $551 trillion in damage.
    • $551 trillion is more than all the wealth currently existing in the world, which gives an indication of just how much richer humanity could become if we don't first destroy our planet.

    Current policies in place around the world have us on track for about 3.3 C of warming by 2100 if we don't dramatically change course.

    AAF's analysis also ignored the significant economic benefits that would come from taking addressing climate change. "Bold climate action could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual," according to a recent report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

    Fox News and other right-wing outlets have been hyping the $93 trillion figure

    Right-wing media have been heavily citing the AAF report since its release on February 25 -- and they have often used the $93 trillion figure without noting that it's at the top end of a range AAF provided. Fox News has been particularly eager to amplify the huge estimate. Hosts and guests have cited price tags between $91 trillion and $94 trillion on Fox News shows including Fox & Friends, The Greg Gutfeld Show, and Watters’ World, and on Fox Business Network shows including Varney & Co., Trish Regan Primetime, Making Money with Charles Payne, and Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. Sean Hannity has cited the AAF report at least three times on his Fox News show. He typified Fox's incurious reporting on AAF’s analysis during the March 5 episode of Hannity:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): They are going to eliminate fossil fuels, gas, and oil. They're going to destroy the lifeblood of our economy. They're going to get rid of planes, mandate you rebuild your home. Who's paying for that? The estimates now are as high as $94 trillion in 10 years --that's their proposal.

    Many other right-wing media outlets have also uncritically amplified AAF's enormous estimate, including The Daily Caller, The Daily Wire, and the Washington Free Beacon

    Some Republican politicians such as Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso have also latched onto the $93 trillion estimate and publicized it through mainstream and right-wing media. Barrasso issued a press release with the figure, wrote an opinion piece about it for USA Today, and made an appearance on Fox News to promote it. During Barrasso’s interview on Fox's America's Newsroom, co-host Sandra Smith falsely claimed that “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office” was behind the $93 trillion figure and Barrasso failed to correct her error. (Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt also falsely credited the report to the CBO.) From the February 28 episode of America’s Newsroom:

    SANDRA SMITH (HOST): The Green New Deal, all the rage on the left. But a new study finds that it comes with a staggering price tag: the plan estimated to cost is as much as $93 trillion. That breaks down to $600,000 per household. Those are some big numbers. Joining us now, Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming who chairs the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Been hearing you talk a lot about this, sir, and this price tag. It is a lofty one. This is the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that did a study on this and came up with those numbers: $93 trillion, $600,000 per household. What do you think?

    SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, this Green New Deal is a big green bomb that will blow a hole in our strong economy. It will destroy the energy independence we now have from foreign countries. It will destroy what we’ve been doing to actually lower emissions. The cost to families -- electricity alone would go up by about $3,600 per family, per year. This is something, Sandra, that we cannot as a nation afford. The economy can't afford it. Our nation can’t survive it.

    Some Fox News personalities and Republican politicians, including President Donald Trump, have cited an even larger unsubstantiated figure for Green New Deal costs: $100 trillion. As Dave Anderson recently reported for the Energy and Policy Institute, that number originated from a flippant Twitter thread by a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. The Manhattan Institute has been funded by ExxonMobil, and the chair of its board is also the CEO of a hedge fund that is the top shareholder in Peabody Energy, a major coal company. The $100 trillion figure was mentioned by Fox host Charles Payne during an interview with EPA chief Andrew Wheeler on March 4 on Your World with Neil Cavuto, and it was also cited on other Fox programs and right-wing sites like Townhall.

    Right-wing echo chamber amplifies misinformation by design

    The spread of the $93 trillion figure is a textbook example of how the right-wing media sphere disseminates misinformation to stymie climate action (and the spread of the $100 trillion figure too, for that matter). Conservative media outlets have been freaking out about the Green New Deal since even before the resolution was unveiled. AAF rushed out a quickie estimate of its potential costs that even its lead author won't robustly defend. Surely the think tank knew that its ready-made, sky-high number would be quickly picked up and regurgitated by conservative commentators, writers, and politicians -- and it was. It is not likely to matter that AAF's report has been called out as “bogus” and poked full of holes. You can expect right-wing media to keep on promoting it.

  • Trump's tariffs could hurt millions of Americans, but media focus instead on presidential drama

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 31, CBS News reported on retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, targeting numerous products including American steel and aluminum, playing cards, motorcycles, and tobacco. European Commission president Jean-Paul Juncker said that Trump’s move “leaves us with no choice but to proceed … with the imposition of additional duties on a number of imports from the U.S.”

    News reports and experts say the tariffs will hurt Americans in a number of ways. Though the steel and aluminum industries stand to benefit, “almost every US industry” that uses these metals will be faced with higher manufacturing costs, which “will likely get passed on to consumers.” These higher costs could “kill hundreds of thousands of jobs” as companies scramble to offset artificially high prices. Retaliatory tariffs levied by other nations are threatening a wide range of businesses, from agriculture to commercial production. According to The New York Times, even Trump’s own Council of Economic Advisers concluded that the tariffs would hamper economic growth.  

    But media coverage of U.S. allies’ responses to Trump’s economic attack centered on  the sensationalism and drama of the moment. Though CNN interviewed or cited economists in a few segments on the tariffs’ effects for American workers and business, the majority of the punditry  focused on the shock value of levying tariffs against U.S. allies. CNN also interviewed Stephen Moore, a Trump campaign economic advisor whom CNN hired as its in-house defender of the president who dodged policy questions to muddy the facts and obsequiously push the Trump agenda (which is how interviews with former or current Trump officials usually go); the network did not interview any workers who could potentially be hurt by the retaliatory tariffs.

    Fox News, meanwhile, played up the personal drama Trump incited with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Fox personalities said that “the public spat between these world leaders [Trump and Trudeau] is something to watch,” argued that Trudeau should “maybe … realize it’s not personal,” and generally attacked Trudeau for, among other things, “trying to out-alpha President Trump.” Lou Dobbs hailed Trump’s defeat of our allies’ “globalist conspiracy,” and on Dobbs’ show, sworn Nazi sympathizer Sebastian Gorka denounced Canada’s response to Trump because Canada “started it.”  When Fox figures tried to analyze the tariffs, they usually didn’t get beyond spouting worn-out taglines such as the electorate wanted the “disrupter-in-chief” to provide “a complete change in direction.” Jesse Watters got creative, however, when he positively compared Trump’s tariffs to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, a 1930 tariff commonly understood to have “exacerbated the Great Depression.” (Fox & Friends did feature one dairy farmer who, predictably, supported Trump’s agenda.)

    Much of the coverage on MSNBC also focused on the spectacle and/or provided a superficial analysis of Trump’s actions. But anchors Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi, along with correspondent Vaughn Hillyard, did do substantial reporting on how the tariffs might impact American laborers, coverage which often included the workers themselves, during their combined three hours of hosting time., Velshi and Ruhle dedicated segments to explaining the far-reaching nature of the tariffs from U.S. allies (as well as an earlier round of tariffs from China) and how they might affect laborers and consumers alike.

    On-site reporting focused on affected farmers, and several reports focused even further on specific industries -- pork products, potatoes, and bourbon among them -- targeted by the tariffs.

    Ruhle, Velshi, and Hillyard notwithstanding, a common facet of tariff coverage was, as Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth said, the “unpredictability” of the situation, because it “makes for good TV.” With Friday’s White House announcement of another $50 billion in tariffs against Chinese products, media need to move beyond the drama and focus on the substance and the potential devastation to some Americans.

  • Sebastian Gorka: Swamp Thing

    Lacking any real experience or qualification, Sebastian Gorka has moved quickly to cash in on his brief White House tenure

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Some big congratulations are in order for Sebastian Gorka. A couple of months after “resigning” from his well-compensated White House job, which consisted mainly of going on TV to propagandize on behalf of President Trump and spin fanciful nightmares about Shariah law, he’s landed a new gig as a “national security strategist” for Fox News. I can’t pretend to know what that job title is supposed to mean, but in practice Gorka has been doing more of the same -- he’s paid to go on TV and lionize his former boss while whipping up panic about dangerous Muslims.

    This is quite a success story for Gorka, a self-styled national security “expert” who doesn’t really know much about national security. He’s such a flagrant poser that actual national security experts practically trip over themselves to go on record calling him an ignorant charlatan. Lesser frauds might have had their ambitions derailed by their transparent ignorance and links to Hungarian neo-Nazi groups --but not Gorka. He faked it until he made it all the way to an office in the West Wing (from which he was ignominiously booted after just seven months).

    What strikes me about Gorka’s new job at Fox is its audacious swampiness. There isn’t really any good reason to give Sebastian Gorka a job as a “national security strategist,” whatever that is. By some accounts, Gorka had no actual “national security” role in the White House and was essentially a glorified spokesman. But for Fox News, a recently departed White House staffer who still has strong ties to the political machine of the president the network supports is a valuable commodity, so carving out some bullshit patronage for him makes sense.

    As for Gorka, he’s quite shamelessly moving as quickly as he can to cash in on his brief, ridiculous tenure in the Trump administration. Before landing at Fox, he was briefly employed by the MAGA Coalition, a pro-Trump super PAC founded by conspiratorial whackos. The Daily Beast reported this week that Gorka has also been working as a paid lecturer for the Heritage Foundation. The cushy gig at Fox is the third sinecure he’s locked down since being ejected from the Trump administration. For someone who spends a lot of time inveighing against the corruption of “the swamp,” Gorka clearly has no problem monetizing the paltry 200-plus days he spent as a government official.

    So what has Gorka been doing to earn his Fox News paycheck? His primary responsibility to date has been to go on Hannity and Fox & Friends (two of the network’s more toxically dishonest programs) to conspiratorially gibber about political news and launch acidic broadsides against any critic of Donald Trump. What the network is not getting from its new “national security strategist” is much in the way of national security strategy.

    In the past couple of weeks, Gorka appeared on the network numerous times to discuss reports of sexual misconduct by prominent Democrats -- a topic that has nothing to do with national defense, but is tailor-made for someone whose only real talent is attacking Donald Trump’s political enemies. “The left as a whole has no vision and no morals, they are spiritually and politically bankrupt,” Gorka barked during a November 21 Hannity segment on a sexual misconduct report against Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).

    That segment never once came within striking distance of anything even tangentially related to national security, nor did his November 27 spot on Hannity reacting to Donald Trump’s racist attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as “Pocahontas.” As Gorka saw it, the real villain was Sen. Warren. “This is a woman who had a no-show job, or a job where she taught one course and then picked up $400,000 from Harvard a year,” sneered Gorka, who earns his living via 10-minute cable news hits and speaking fees from a right-wing think tank.

    Gorka has also logged several segments on the Uranium One “scandal.” If one were inclined to be extremely generous, one could categorize those segments as being related to “national security,” given that Uranium One involves a former high-level national security official (Hillary Clinton) and fuel for nuclear weapons. But I can’t be that generous because the Uranium One scandal is a complete fabrication.

    And Gorka’s interest in the Uranium One “scandal” has less to do with its nonexistent national security aspect than its similarly vacant promise of legal consequences for Clinton. “Your slides yesterday were magnificent,” Gorka told Sean Hannity on November 15, referring to a conspiratorial Uranium One flowchart Hannity slapped together. “Those should be used in the court of law to prosecute everybody involved with Uranium One who undermined the American national security.”

    But I want to be careful here and give Sebastian Gorka the credit he is due -- he has brought some national security strategizing to Fox News’ airwaves. For example, on the November 9 edition of Hannity, Gorka reminded viewers that “the first rule of war is that the initial report from the battlefield is almost always wrong.” That’s sound military advice, though I have to point out that he said it in the context of questioning the credibility of the women reporting Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore for sexual assault. “Let's stop, find what the facts are. Is this person credible?”

    On the November 18 edition of Watters’ World, Gorka observed that “Steve has read his Sun Tzu, he knows how to do this.” Sun Tzu, of course, was the Chinese general credited with writing The Art of War, a book that has inspired countless military leaders and vanity license plates. The “Steve” in this sentence, however, is not a military leader but, rather, Steve Bannon, whom Gorka was praising for trying to goad Hillary Clinton into running for president again in 2020.

    These two quips nicely encapsulate the essence of Gorka: an otherwise unremarkable pundit who wraps himself in a millimeter-thick patina of “national security” gravitas. His shallow insights and analysis are identical to the dreck emanating from fringe think tanks and lesser-known far-right Islamophobes. But he’s clever enough to seek out people and institutions who will give him money and important-sounding positions despite his lack of qualification: the Trump White House, Fox News, the Heritage Foundation, etc. Gorka is a creature of the swamp.

  • Trump Rewards O'Reilly Minion Who Previously Aired Racist And Misogynist Reports

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Fox News host Jesse Watters will interview President Donald Trump for his show Watters World. Watters, who originally appeared on Fox as a correspondent for The O’Reilly Factor, has a track record of disparaging segments about immigrants, women, Asian-Americans and African-Americans. He has also produced reports in which he shamed homeless Americans, mocked members of the LGBTQ community, and “followed, harassed, and ambushed” a journalist.