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In a letter explaining his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, President Donald Trump cited “letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending [FBI Director James Comey’s] dismissal as the Director of the” FBI. After removing Comey, various White House officials and right-wing media figures pushed the claim that Trump “took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general” and fired Comey, but days later, Trump himself admitted that he was thinking of "this Russia thing with Trump" and “was going to fire [Comey] regardless of [a] recommendation” from the Department of Justice or the deputy attorney general.
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Media figures rushed to call the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) a “win” or “victory” for the Republican Party and President Donald Trump, despite the fact that millions will lose health care.
Right-wing media figures are displeased after the likelihood of a government shutdown seemed to fade following a breakthrough after days of failed negotiations and speculation. Specifically, right-wing media figures cheered the idea of a shutdown because they wanted to make sure that “Democrats get blamed” and to exact revenge after, as they claimed, Democrats made previous shutdowns “as painful as possible.”
During its reporting on the state of Arkansas’ unprecedented plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days, Fox News repeatedly omitted important details about the legal challenges to the plan, downplayed the extent of criticism to the plan, and misled its viewers on the reasons the executions have not yet been carried out.
On the April 18 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now, host Jon Scott opened a panel discussion by asking, “The reasoning for this holdup has nothing to do with the lethal injection drugs that are currently in question, right?” In fact, one of the orders blocking the executions was issued for that exact reason. The Arkansas circuit judge temporarily blocked the state from using one of its drugs, vecuronium bromide, a paralytic used in prisons for lethal injections (and for other purposes elsewhere).This ruling came after McKesson, a distributor of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, filed a complaint alleging that the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) “intentionally sought to circumvent McKesson’s policies by claiming that the drug would only be used for medical reasons in a health facility.” The ADC has to date declined to answer questions about how it obtained the restricted drugs or whether it planned to return them.
An hour before Scott’s show aired, correspondent Casey Stegall noted on Fox’s America’s Newsroom that “states have had a difficult time getting new supplies of this drug [midazolam] because many critics say it should not be used to kill people.” He was referring to another drug that Arkansas has in its possession but which will expire on April 30. Stegall, however, failed to mention that these “critics” include the drug makers themselves. West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes midazolam, and Fresenius Kabi USA, manufacturer of potassium chloride, another drug used in executions, have also expressed opposition to the use of their drugs for lethal injection. In an amicus brief they filed with the district court, the companies wrote that using their medicines in executions “runs counter to the manufacturers’ mission to save and enhance patients’ lives.” Spokespersons for Fresenius Kabi and West-Ward told The Washington Post that they had “recently learned” that their medicines “might be used in Arkansas lethal injections.” The reporting on these drugs shows that all three drugs used in Arkansas’ lethal injection cocktail are implicated in legal battles. Thus for Fox to imply that the planned executions are opposed merely by “critics” is a gross understatement of the legal challenges ADC is facing.
During his reporting, Stegall also failed to provide context for the shortage of the drugs in the first place. Since 2011, many European drug companies, in an alignment with the European Union’s objection to death penalty, have decided to cease shipment of their drugs to U.S. prisons that carry out executions via lethal injections. This has created a shortage that has led U.S. prisons to turn to dangerous experimentation, as was in the case in 2014, when Dennis McGuire, an Ohio inmate on death row, was injected with a never-before-used drug cocktail. McGuire’s execution lasted 25 minutes, the longest in Ohio’s history, and witnesses said he “gasped several times throughout” before dying.
After criminal defense attorney Yodit Tewolde explained that “for Arkansas to try to rush executions for the sake of a drug expiring at the end of the month is disrespectful to the intent of justice in this case,” Scott ignored her point and flippantly remarked that it “seems odd” to characterize the response to a crime that happened in 1992 as a “rush to judgment.” His comment and Casey Stegall’s claim that the “expedited timeline” was initiated because “the state is up against this deadline” of expiring drugs ignores the legal implications of their expiration. Arkansas’ “rush” to use drugs before their expiration for purposes which are opposed by the companies that sell them is a potentially illegal contract violation, and given the state’s reported admission that it violated contracts with drug makers in an earlier case, this context is especially important.
Arkansas hasn’t carried out any executions since 2005. The state’s aggressive and potentially unconstitutional plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days is unprecedented, hugely consequential, and has drawn national scrutiny at a time when Americans’ support for the death penalty is on the decline. Leaving out important details when reporting on such a high profile case is an inexcusable journalistic failure, especially given the American public’s lack of knowledge about capital punishment in the nation’s prisons.
Image by Sarah Wasko.
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Conservative media figures can’t decide who to blame for the disastrous American Health Care Act (AHCA), which seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will endanger the health insurance of millions of Americans. Despite President Donald Trump taking credit for this effort to roll back health care reform, right-wing media figures and outlets are grappling over whether they should fault the president for “Trumpcare” or absolve him of responsibility.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board joined a chorus of right-wing outlets in blasting the federal government’s income-based student loan repayment program, calling it a costly “con” meant to “buy millennial votes.” Yet right-wing media are ignoring the benefits of a program that could relieve millions of student borrowers of a portion of their remaining debt and that is still generating a profit.
Right-wing media lambasted the Department of Education and student borrowers after the Journal reported on November 30 the latest findings from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the government is on track to forgive $108 billion of $352 billion in student loans as part of federal income-driven repayment plans. The Journal’s editorial board blasted the government on December 1, calling the latest findings proof that the Department of Education’s loan program is a “con” designed to “buy millennial votes.” (The editorial column was the Journal’s second since November 1 lamenting the federal program, which has led to millions of students earning student loan forgiveness.) Earlier that day, Fox News host Jon Scott questioned if the program was a “bailout” for student borrowers. Fox Business host Stuart Varney also called the program “a bailout” on the November 30 edition of Varney & Co., while his guest Steve Costes added that the program is “a shame.”
Federal student loan borrowers have multiple repayment plan options, including income-based plans that require borrowers to pay back loans based on a percentage of their income for a certain number of years, after which the remainder is eligible to be forgiven. The GAO’s findings were for the hypothetical cost in loan principal forgiveness for the 5.3 million borrowers who signed up for income-based repayment plans for loans issued over a 22-year period, between 1995 to 2017. These borrowers will likely see an average of $21 forgiven for every $100 in loans received. Despite right-wing media complaining about the cost of borrower relief for those on income-based payment plans, the GAO found that the Department of Education still nets a profit on student loans.
The reason the government still makes a profit even after loan forgiveness is because many federal student loans have an interest rate at 6.8 percent -- a figure that is much higher than inflation or the 1 percent interest rate banks receive from the Federal Reserve. The 6.8 percent interest rate is so high that the GAO’s hypothetical borrower would pay almost double the original principal of their loan if the income-based plan had no cutoff date for forgiveness:
Student loan debt is a leading concern among young people, with The Atlantic finding nearly 30 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 “cited paying off student loans as their biggest financial challenge.” According to Fortune, “there is little doubt that many Millennials are struggling financially” after a survey by PwC found that 79 percent of the 42 percent of millennials that have student loans struggle to pay those loans. Evidence shows student debt can impact personal wealth, delay homeownership affect personal decisions to marry or start a family, and that it has “cripple[d] retail sales growth.” The financial stress of student loans has a “devastating toll” on borrowers’ mental health, according to Complex, which cited findings by researchers that “student loans were associated with poorer psychological functioning.”
While right-wing media push many myths about student debt, student concerns are valid; according to a November 21 op-ed published by Investopedia, Americans with student loan debt have “a challenging road ahead of them in the present and the future” due to workers being unable to save for retirement. The op-ed, which was authored by a financial adviser, even questioned whether people with student loans "will be able to retire” at all. The increasing debt burden can even hinder career advancement as graduates can be forced to take jobs that may have no chance of wage growth or career development so they can make debt payments on time.
Conservative media have labeled higher education as a "privilege" and suggested students ought to choose fictional cheaper colleges. Some outlets have even defended schools that take advantage of students and leave them with significant debt. But research shows college matters now more than ever, and the cost to attend is rising across the board. The student debt crisis is especially damaging for poor students and students of color, who more frequently attend cheaper open-access and community colleges and are still forced to borrow in higher numbers to pay for their education.
Blaming students for the student loan debt crisis ignores the facts and distracts from finding real solutions to America's skyrocketing student debt burden.
Fox News featured a discussion with Special Report anchor Bret Baier about the "controversy" surrounding President-elect Donald Trump's pick for chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. Baier and Happening Now host Jon Scott covered Bannon's "call for Paul Ryan to be removed as speaker," but not Bannon's embrace of anti-Semitism and white nationalism.
Baier characterized Bannon as "someone who, from the outside, … wanted to take down the Republican Party," and Scott noted that Bannon "called for ... the ouster of Paul Ryan." Baier added that Bannon "does come with a lot of controversy" and has "stoked real concerns, especially on the left." Their vague language obscures the reality of what makes Bannon so controversial. Under Bannon's tenure, Breitbart News ran multiple atrocious headlines such as "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew" and "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy." Bannon himself trumpeted Breitbart News as "the platform for the 'alt-right'," and Breitbart dutifully helped boost Trump's chances in the election. Furthermore, Bannon encouraged the Trump campaign to incorporate bigoted "alt-right" beliefs and policies into their platform, to the delight of white nationalists. But Baier and Scott found none of this "controversy" worth mentioning. From the November 14 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
BRET BAIER: Steve Bannon is someone who, from the outside, wants to -- wanted to -- take down the Republican Party -- and made no bones about saying that. So you have the guy who embodies the Republican Party and the guy who wanted to take down the Republican Party working together inside the Trump White House.
JON SCOTT (CO-HOST): Stephen Bannon's title, chief strategist. … He has been a Navy officer, he was, as we mentioned, head of Breitbart News, he's been an investment banker for Goldman Sachs. But he also, as you pointed out, called for Paul Ryan's elim -- you know, stepping down, the ouster of Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus are very close, like this. It's an odd combination, sort of like President Lincoln's team of rivals.
BAIER: Well, that's right, and I think that the structure in the campaign seemed to work for the Trump campaign and that's why you put Bannon in there in this role to provide some cover from the Trump folks who would worry that he was automatically being absorbed into this establishment structure inside Washington. However, Priebus is right -- you need relationships up on Capitol Hill to get stuff across the finish line. There is an excitement on the Republican side that they are going to get a lot done, quickly, and it's going to tick down, and in order to do that orderly, you have to have some relationship on the inside and up on Capitol Hill.
SCOTT: So if you've got a Republican-led House and Senate, nobody is going to be able to help you get legislation passed more quickly than the guy who up till now has headed the Republican National Committee.
BAIER: Exactly. And you’re going to have those inside conversations. He’s going to be able to say which trains come on the tracks, you know, get into the oval office -- that's the chief job of the chief of staff is who gets in to see the president. But Steve Bannon, much like David Axelrod in a strategist role inside the White House, not only puts you close to the president but also prevents, perhaps, him from running this movement on the outside to take down the Republican Party. Whether that was a serious thought of why he was chosen, we don't know. I will say this: He come with a lot of controversy, a lot of things he has said before, a lot of things that online has come out of Breitbart has really stoked some real concerns, especially on the left, and they'll have to deal with that as they get ready to take office January 20th.
Fox News figures are hyping unverified stories of electronic voting machines allegedly switching voters’ votes for president amid cries from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of “large scale voter fraud.” In fact, “just about every voting technology expert” says voting machines are not rigged to flip votes, and instead “human error” and aging machines often lead to incorrect vote choices, which can be fixed. Conservatives hyped alleged vote flipping during the 2012 election as well.
Several right-wing media outlets have breathlessly scandalized a stolen email released by WikiLeaks showing President Obama received emails from Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was secretary of state. These outlets claim the email proves Obama lied when he claimed to have learned about her private email server from news reports about it, even though the White House clarified over a year ago that while the president knew her email address, he did not know about the server.