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  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.

  • Local and national media outlets virtually silent as GOP assault on health care encourages higher premiums

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Both local and national media have largely failed to cover recent proposals by Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance providers to increase premiums in Maryland and Virginia, and media have all but ignored the connection between Republican efforts to weaken the ACA and increasing health care costs.

    On May 4, two of Virginia’s ACA health insurance providers requested that state officials approve significant premium increases in 2019. Cigna and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield both proposed average premium hikes that are in the double digits. They were joined days later by several other Virginia insurers and both of Maryland’s providers, Kaiser and CareFirst, the latter of which requested a 91 percent rate increase for members on its PPO plan.  

    These increases are not unexpected; many organizations, as well as the Congressional Budget Office, predicted that insurance rates would skyrocket if the Trump administration and the Republican-held Congress eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate, which required people to have health insurance or pay a penalty. On December 22, President Donald Trump signed the Republican tax bill into law, officially repealing the individual mandate and ensuring a rise in insurance premiums. Both Cigna and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield have already blamed the termination of the mandate for their soaring rates.

    Without the individual mandate, people are more likely to withdraw from the market, meaning that cost sharing is spread among fewer people, and, as a result, the burden increases for everyone. Additionally, young and healthy people are the most likely to forego purchasing health insurance, leaving the market saturated with older and unhealthy people who require more medical attention, which pushes premiums up. Trump’s former Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, admitted as much during a May 1 speech at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, where he said that repealing the mandate would lead to “younger and healthier” people exiting the exchanges and “consequently, that drives up the cost.”

    Virginia and Maryland media largely ignored the story

    Four major TV news stations in the Baltimore media market mentioned premium increases a combined four times in evening weekday coverage. Two stations didn't mention them at all. Between May 7 and May 14, rising premiums were mentioned four times among the four major local TV news stations during their weekday evening news coverage*; only one network noted the role of Republican health care reform in proposed premium increases:

    • ABC’s WMAR did not mention the looming premium hikes in its 12 hours of weekday evening news coverage.

    • Fox’s WBFFDT also neglected to mention the premium increases in its 12 hours of weekday evening news coverage.

    • NBC’s WBALDT discussed the proposed increases once during nine hours of coverage, and the report did not explain their connection to the repeal of the individual mandate.

    • CBS’ WJZ mentioned requested increased premiums three times in its 15 hours of coverage, but none of the mentions extended beyond a brief headline, and the network did not explain that the expected increases are related to the repeal of the individual mandate.

    Three major Maryland newspapers ran a total of just two articles that mentioned rate increases. Since Maryland insurers requested double-digit premium hikes on May 7, only two of three major print newspapers have printed a report on it:

    • The Baltimore Sun ran one article about the proposed soaring premiums between May 7 and May 14. The article accurately pointed out the connection between the proposed increases and the individual mandate repeal.

    • The Daily Times in Salisbury mentioned expected rising premiums in one article (which ran twice, on May 12 and May 14).  

    • Annapolis’ The Capital did not report on potentially rising health care costs.

    Four major TV news stations in Virginia’s largest media market mentioned premium increases a combined three times in evening weekday coverage. Two stations didn't mention them at all. Of the four stations carrying local news in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, only two discussed potential premium increases between May 4 and May 14:

    • CBS’ WTKR mentioned the proposed rate increases and their connection to the repeal of the individual mandate one time in the 17.5 hours of evening weekday news programming.

    • ABC’s WVEC mentioned that premiums were likely to rise twice in the 17.5 hours of evening weekday news programming. Once the issue was mentioned during an off-topic segment about underfunding of Virginia’s prison system, and the other time it came up during a discussion about a health care plan proposed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Neither segment actually noted that Virginian health insurers had already requested a rise in premiums, although the second segment did mention Kaine’s insistence that the Trump administration's watering down of the ACA is leading to increased premiums.

    • Fox affiliate WVBT did not mention the expected premium hike during its four and a half hours of evening weekday news programming.

    • NBC affiliate WAVY also did not mention the looming premium increases during the station’s 17.5 hours of scheduled evening news programming.

    Three major Virginia newspapers ran a combined five articles about the proposed premium hikes, but mostly excluded important context about the GOP sabotage effort. Between May 4 -- when several Virginia insurers first requested premium hikes -- and May 14, three major Virginia newspapers ran five articles that mentioned potential rate increases:

    • The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran one article informing readers about potential rate increases, but it failed to connect the rising premiums to the Republican-led repeal of the individual mandate.

    • The Virginian Pilot also printed one article about the premium jumps; it was the only article among those in Virginia’s top three newspapers to explain that the repeal of the mandate was largely to blame for the increases.

    • The Roanoke Times mentioned rising health insurance premiums in three articles; only one of them informed readers about the Republican Party’s complicity in their rise.

    National news outlets hardly mentioned the expected rise in premiums

    The looming premium hikes were mentioned a total of six times on all evening national cable news outlets. From May 4 to May 14, the requested premium increases were mentioned twice on Fox News, twice on CNN, and twice on MSNBC. In almost every instance, the premium increases were brought up in the context of Democratic messaging for the 2018 midterm elections, and none of the discussions mentioned specific examples of where or by how much premiums could potentially rise. During a May 5 interview with Tom Price, the former health and human services secretary attempted to clarify his statement from May 1 in which he acknowledged that ending the individual mandate will lead to higher premiums if other reforms are not implemented; this was the only segment that tied the increases to the GOP-led health care reform effort.

    Of the three national broadcast evening news programs, only one mentioned the expected rise in premiums. CBS Evening News was the only national broadcast evening news program to mention the premium increases; the brief mention failed to explain the role of the Republican individual mandate repeal in rising premiums. The other two broadcast evening news programs, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt and ABC World News Tonight with David Muir, did not report on the news.

    Only one major U.S. newspapers mentioned the premium increases. The Washington Post was the only major newspaper to discuss the premium hikes in a news article. The paper published two articles that referred to the proposed premium hikes. The New York Times published one opinion piece about the proposed increases and tied the change to the GOP’s individual mandate repeal. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the New York Post, and Chicago Tribune have not reported on the proposals in their print editions.

    In the past, media outlets have often left audiences in the dark over the negative effects of the Republican health care push. And while local media outlets have covered this issue better than national outlets, so far, the reporting on potentially increasing premiums from Virginia and Maryland outlets has been lackluster. As insurance companies continue to propose higher premiums across the country, national and local media outlets must do a better job preparing their audiences for the upcoming changes to their health care.

    Methodology

    Using Nexis, Media Matters searched three widely circulated Virginia-based print newspapers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian Pilot, and The Roanoke Times, from May 4 to May 14 and reviewed relevant articles that included variations of the terms "premium," "rate," "insurance," "health," or "coverage," and "increase," "change," "go up," "rise," or "jump.". The same search was used to search widely circulated Maryland-based newspapers, The Baltimore Sun, Annapolis’ The Capital, and The Salisbury Daily Times, from May 7 to May 14. The search was replicated for major national print outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the New York Post, and the Chicago Tribune between May 4 and May 14. The database Factiva was used to search for relevant articles from The Wall Street Journal during the same time frame with the search terms “health care,” and “premium.” Articles that only appeared online were not included.

    Using iQ Media, Media Matters searched Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, the largest local news market in Virginia, between May 4 and May 14 and relevant transcripts that included some variation of the terms "health care," "healthcare," "premium," or "insurance" on local CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC stations. The same search was conducted in Maryland’s largest news market, Baltimore County, between May 7 and May 14. Weekend coverage was not counted.

    Media Matters searched Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC for “health care” or “premium” using SnapStream between the dates of May 4 and May 14 and reviewed all relevant mentions of the expected premium hikes. Mentions were included only if they addressed rising premiums specifically.

    *Each local station varies in its news programming depending on the network and market. For this reason, the number of times the premium rises were mentioned was presented as a proportion of the individual station’s total evening news programming per week.

  • Trump administration declines to fire HHS official Ximena Barreto over bigoted and conspiratorial remarks

    Barreto was placed on leave following Media Matters report

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it will retain political appointee Ximena Barreto, who had been placed on leave for making bigoted and conspiratorial remarks as a right-wing commentator.

    Barreto (who also goes by the surname Barreto-Rice) joined the administration in December 2017 as a deputy communications director. Prior to that, she was a fringe media personality who used the screen name “RepublicanChick.” She posted commentaries online and briefly co-hosted a YouTube show. Barreto also said she helped President Donald Trump’s efforts in California during the 2016 election.

    On April 9, Media Matters documented Barreto’s history of toxic remarks. For example:

    • Barreto repeatedly pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory that prominent political figures were trafficking children through a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant.
    • Barreto claimed that “African-Americans are way more racist than white people.”
    • Barreto labeled Islam “a fucking cult” and said that it has “no place” in the United States.
    • Barreto said that marching in the 2017 Women’s March was “retarded” because “they’re marching in a country where we have rights.”
    • Barreto stated that the “main goal” of “the media and the Democrats is to cause a civil war because at the end they’re gonna end up profiting from it.”

    A compilation of the HHS official’s remarks can found here (video by John Kerr):

    Media Matters found out about Barreto’s federal employment because she was added to ProPublica’s Trump Town database, which includes personnel records for thousands of appointees in Trump’s administration.

    Following the publication of Media Matters’ report, HHS said that Barreto “has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is reviewed.”

    CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie, and Nathan McDermott reported on April 13 that Barreto “shared an image in 2017 that said ‘our forefathers would have hung’ Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for treason.” CNN also “found that Barreto also repeatedly used the hashtag #BanIslam” and pushed conspiracy theories, including about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    HHS announced on May 1 that Barreto has been allowed back to work. An HHS official told Media Matters in an email that the review was completed and she “will not to return to the public affairs department and will serve in a different role where she will work to complete several projects.”  

    Barreto also issued an apology, which was provided by the department. She claimed, in part: "In the heated and hyper-passionate political campaign environment, I made generalized comments regarding race relations and radical Islam. I fully understand that these emotionally-charged comments were hurtful, and I deeply apologize to members of both communities."

    This piece was updated with additional information from HHS.

  • An HHS official is a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist who said “African-Americans are way more racist than” whites and Islam is a “fucking cult"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: Following the publication of this article, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told Media Matters in an updated statement that Ximena Barreto “has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is reviewed.”

    UPDATE 2: Trump administration declines to fire HHS official Ximena Barreto over bigoted and conspiratorial remarks

    ORIGINAL POST:

    As a fringe right-wing political commentator, Ximena Barreto claimed that “African-Americans are way more racist than white people,” labeled Islam “a fucking cult” that has “no place” in the United States, pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and attacked the “retarded” 2017 Women’s March. In December, she became a deputy communications director at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

    Media Matters found out about her federal employment because she was recently added to ProPublica’s Trump Town database, which includes personnel records for thousands of appointees in President Donald Trump’s administration. As the project notes, the administration has often hired people who “have little-to-no government experience.”

    Barreto (who also goes by the surname Barreto-Rice) was a right-wing pundit who used the screen name “RepublicanChick” on her personal website and social media. She regularly posted commentary on Periscope and briefly co-hosted a YouTube show called The Right View by Deplorable Latinas. She also said she helped Trump’s California efforts during the 2016 election.

    A biography of Barreto on her now-defunct website stated: “Growing up in Colombia during the drug wars, which deeply impacted her life at a young age, Ximena witnessed blatant corruption and extreme violence, lost family members, and came to understand the importance of law and order. After moving legally to the United States, Ximena began comparing the social issues between Colombia and the USA, which played a big role in her engagement in political activities as an American.”

    A spokesperson for HHS stated that the department “has no comments on any statements she may have made before joining HHS.” The spokesperson also said that “Mrs. Barreto-Rice provides specialty media support including: Spanish media, outreach, and other general press related responsibilities. ... In addition to her seven years of media experience, Mrs. Barreto-Rice brings a unique background to the position.”

    Media Matters reviewed Barreto’s commentary -- some of which is no longer publicly available but has been cached through content archives -- and found she has made vitriolic and conspiratorial remarks about Pizzagate, black and Muslim Americans, and the media, among others. Here are some of her worst remarks:

    “We’ve got to use all of our efforts into Pizzagate and not let that one die”

    Barreto has repeatedly pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory that claimed prominent political figures were trafficking children through a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. She tweeted in November 2016 that efforts by supporters of former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to trigger a recount were “a hoax so we get distracted from #PizzaGate.”

    She appeared in a November 30, 2016, Periscope video in which she also said (starts roughly 1:45 into the video) the presidential recount effort is an attempt to distract people “from Pizzagate.” She later claimed that former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is also tied to Pizzagate. “A lot of people are connected to it,” she remarked.

    Near the end of the video, Barreto told viewers: “Don’t listen to the recount and relax. We’ve got to use all of our efforts into Pizzagate and not let that one die because that’s what the mainstream media is trying to get distracted from. So check all the Pizzagate stuff.”

    “African-Americans are way more racist than white people”

    In her November 30, 2016, Periscope video (starts roughly 8:00 into the video), during a discussion about “fucking reverse racism,” Barreto said: “African-Americans are way more racist than white people.”

    She continued shortly after: “I’ve been attacked by more African-Americans on Twitter than white people, in all honesty. … They’re the most racist people I ever met.” She then said that she’s been insulted and called slurs by African-Americans.

    “Islam has no place” in this country; Islam isn’t a religion but “a fucking cult”

    During her November 30, 2016, Periscope, Barreto said (starts roughly 7:26 into the video) that Islam advocates for “killing other people and abusing women; that’s not a religion, that’s a fucking cult. Like, I’m serious. Like, that’s not religion.” She also said during a June 12 video that Islam is "just a cult. All the practices are cult-like, all that they do.”

    During a December 4, 2016, Periscope video (starts roughly 8:00 into the video), she wondered aloud whether there are members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. government -- a common conspiracy theory among anti-Muslim right-wing media. After someone asked if there’s a Muslim Brotherhood plan in the United States, she replied: “Well, how many of them are in the government already, you know? Like in Congress?”

    In a May 25 post on the now-defunct website Borderland Alternative Media, she suggested that practicing Islam should not be allowed in the United States:

    The atmosphere created during the Obama administration encouraged criminal behavior, lawlessness, and violence, has badly harmed our country. In addition to his disastrous domestic policies, Obama ended up further destabilizing the Middle East by pulling troops out of Iraq, after being advised not to. Pulling the troops prematurely lead to the creation of ISIS, a group that has claimed numerous terrorists attacks, who are honestly not much different from the guerrillas and the drug lords: they are all thirsty for blood, power and total control. All the while, Obama and other political elites (both Democrat and Republican) flooded our country with Islamic refugees, many of whom have engaged in terrorism and sworn allegiance to ISIS. Now, these terrorists seek to destroy Western civilization and America itself; having been enabled to grow stronger and becoming emboldened under the weak Obama administration.

    How did we go from being enraged after 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, San Bernardino, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando (just to name a few) to liberals caring and worrying about the feelings of terrorists? Recently, one of the reporters at “The View” complained about President Trump calling terrorist losers, saying that “wasn’t presidential.” Yes they are losers, they kill children! If we call them monsters we are actually EMPOWERING them because they know we fear them, we need to start calling them for what they really are COWARDS, and LOSERS. I don’t consider myself an expert on Islam, however many take the Koran by heart- a book that calls for the death of non believers and that threatens our way of life. Now, liberals are wearing hijabs in marches all while turning their backs to real oppression, such as the brutality of Islamic law against children, women and the LGBT community.

    This isn’t about feelings, it’s about common sense and basic survival. We have become too soft, we have allowed radical leftist rhetoric to infiltrate our education system. A few weeks ago, San Diego Unified School District approved “Sharia compliant curriculums” in classrooms. We are appeasing the savages that want us dead, and that we have fought for over 700 years! Islam has NO PLACE in our education system (or country) and it’s shameful to see them involved in writing curriculum while Christianity is banned. It’s a sin. Whatever happened with separation of church and state? Apparently that only applies to Christianity.

    Other vitriolic rhetoric

    Barreto claimed during a September 18, 2017, appearance on The Hagmann Report that the “main goal” of “the media and the Democrats is to cause a civil war because at the end they’re gonna end up profiting from it.” During that program she also said: “We think fake news in English is bad, but Spanish is even worse,” pointing to alleged coverage of President Trump on Univision and Telemundo.

    Barreto has tweeted that "#LiberalismIsCancer" and "#FeminismIsCancer and an excuse for women to disrespect men and act insane"; falsely claimed that President Barack Obama pushed millions of “illegals” to vote in 2016; said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has done “the work of the devil”; and complained of the 2017 Women’s March: “It’s retarded that they’re marching in a country where we have rights. Like, what do you think other countries where women don’t have rights are thinking about us right now?”

    Video by John Kerr. 

    (Note: Barreto's Periscope-hosted videos were removed after this piece was published. Media Matters subsequently uploaded the original videos and changed the original links.) 

  • Oklahoma’s largest newspaper blamed Democrats for a Republican problem with abortion

    The editorial board said the failure of an ACA stabilization bill was because Democrats want "abortion on demand"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Recently, Oklahoma has attracted attention from extreme anti-abortion groups because Dan Fisher -- a Republican gubernatorial candidate -- has been very vocal about his desire to “abolish abortion” and his belief that courts should ignore Roe v. Wade. On the heels of that news, the editorial board of a local newspaper tapped into the same well of anti-abortion sentiment to forward an inaccurate assessment of the effort by Congress to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.

    On March 28, the editorial board of The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in Oklahoma, ran an editorial laying the blame on Democrats and their “insistence on unfettered abortion rights” for Congress’ failure to pass an Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium stabilization bill. However, the debate in Congress was actually over the inclusion of language in the bill that would have expanded the Hyde Amendment -- which prohibits the use of federal funds to provide for abortions -- to stop private insurers selling over the ACA exchange from covering abortion as well. In simple terms, Republicans wanted the language included (a change from the status quo), and Democrats did not.

    Even though Republicans were pushing for a more restrictive version of the Hyde Amendment, the editorial board said that blame for the bill's failure should at least partially rest with Democrats. The outlet argued that “Democrats' claims of surprise are hard to buy” because “iterations” of the Hyde Amendment “have existed in various forms “in health-related legislation since 1976.” In addition to misrepresenting the nature of Democrats’ opposition, the editorial board also promoted the right-wing myth that Democrats support “abortion on demand.”

    The Oklahoman wasn’t alone in its inaccurate framing of Democrats’ stance on abortion rights and how it impacted the ACA stabilization bill. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal similarly blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure, writing that “the left has abandoned the idea that abortion is a personal choice and now regards it a self-evident right that everyone must subsidize.” The Wall Street Journal also recently published an opinion piece from Cardinal Timothy Dolan in which he claimed the Democratic Party had alienated Catholics in pursuit of “the most radical abortion license in the country.”

    However, as reported by Politico, the inclusion of the expanded Hyde Amendment language would have curtailed coverage for abortion from private insurers in the marketplaces -- a meaningful distinction that The Oklahoman and others failed to unpack. Indeed, Democrats said their objection wasn’t to the inclusion of any Hyde language, but that the language in question “would significantly expand federal funding restrictions on abortion” because “any insurance plan that covered abortion wouldn’t be able to get federal funds from Obamacare, or worse, insurers in some states wouldn’t be allowed to sell any individual market health plan that covers abortion.”

    In other words, as HuffPost concluded, the proposal would have made it “almost certain no insurer offering coverage to individuals would include abortion coverage.” Under the ACA’s current structure, the Hyde Amendment restrictions are not violated because insurers that want to provide abortion coverage do so through “separate spending accounts, filled only with premiums they have received directly from individuals.” Contrary to the framing used by The Oklahoman and others that the Democrats played spoiler, Politico also reported that when “Democrats offered language similar to what was in the Affordable Care Act,” Republicans rejected this offer. Instead, Republicans demanded “permanent Hyde Amendment language” in the bill that would also apply to private insurers.

    It should be noted that, while the Democrats weren't objecting to the Hyde Amendment as it currently exists, the law is actually an extremely harmful policy that, as the Center for American Progress noted, has “a disproportionate impact on low-income women, young women, and women of color.” It leads to “poor health outcomes” and “contributes to a culture rife with abortion stigma.” It’s also not even popular with voters.

    Rather than discuss any of this, the editorial board of The Oklahoman oversimplified the debate in order to place blame on Democrats and allege that their position on abortion was extreme.

  • Fox & Friends blames Medicaid expansion and legalized marijuana for making the opioid crisis worse

    Research has shown marijuana has saved lives during this crisis, which began before Medicaid expansion took effect

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    A Fox & Friends segment citing President Donald Trump’s State of the Union remarks that his administration will fight the deadly opioid crisis ignored that the president has yet to actually take any action, and instead misleadingly blamed the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and states’ legalization of marijuana for making the opioid crisis worse.

    Trump addressed the opioid crisis that is killing tens of thousands of Americans annually for less than a minute in his January 30 State of the Union address, saying that his administration “is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need.” On the February 1 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Dr. Kevin Sabet, who worked on drug policy in the Obama White House, gave credit to Trump’s opioid commission for putting out “a very good report” and put the onus on Congress to fund its recommendations, saying: “We need funding for it, for the president's opioid commission, which was a bipartisan commission. Put out a very good report. Now we need to see Congress and the administration fund those recommendations.”

    But as CBS News explained after Trump’s address, the administration has not requested the Congress for funds to combat the crisis:

    Since October, the White House has dithered on asking Congress for funding to combat the epidemic.

    In the 97 days since the president declared the crisis a public health emergency, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has been unable to specify how much money the White House would request for funding. She has also not said when they would be submitting a funding request to Congress.

    After Mr. Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency in October -- a declaration that came with a laundry list of action items that have yet to be executed -- he has done little to bolster the paltry $57,000 available in the public health emergency fund. The president dedicated his third quarter salary of roughly $100,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the crisis. But that's pocket change compared to the what the Council of Economic Advisers projected as the cost of the epidemic in 2015 alone: $504 billion dollars.

    [...]

    "The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there's no funding behind it," Opioid Commission member and former congressman Patrick Kennedy told CNN last week. "You can't expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is."

    A day after Trump’s address, some Democratic senators sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking it to investigate Trump’s lack of action after he declared “a public health emergency over the opioid crisis in October.”

    But in its February 1 segment on the opioid crisis, Fox & Friends didn’t focus on Trump administration’s failure to take concrete steps to address the issue. Instead co-host Ainsley Earhardt opened the segment by blaming the Affordable Care Act’s 2014 Medicaid expansion for making the crisis worse, citing a Republican report that claimed Medicaid and its expansion contributed to prescription pill fraud.

    A January 17 Vox article that examined evidence behind the Republican claim that Medicaid expansion made the opioid crisis worse soundly debunked the theory. As Vox senior reporter German Lopez summed up:

    This claim runs into a basic problem: the concept of time. Medicaid didn’t expand under Obamacare until 2014 — well after opioid overdose deaths started rising (in the late 1990s), after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 declared the crisis an epidemic, and as the crisis became more about illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, rather than conventional opioid painkillers.

    Additionally Lopez noted that Medicaid can play a major part in addressing the opioid epidemic by covering addiction treatment, a point Kaiser Family Foundation has also made.

    Toward the end of the Fox segment, Dr. Sabet also blamed increasing legalization of marijuana for part of the opioid crisis:

    DR. KEVIN SABET: If we continue to do things like legalize marijuana and these other very harmful policies, we're going to make the opioid crisis much worse. This is an addiction crisis.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Really? You hear that, California?

    SABET: And many other states. This is an addiction crisis. Not just an opioid crisis.

    Sabet has a history of making anti-marijuana claims. And recent research shows that his claim that legalized marijuana makes the opioid crisis worse is simply wrong.

    A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded “medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid mortality rates.” In March 2017, NBC News reported on a study which found that in states that allow legal medical marijuana use, “hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent,” compared to an average of a 13 percent drop. And in October 2017, The Washington Post reported on a study which found that recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado led to a “reversal” of opiate overdose deaths. According to the study’s authors, “opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6% in the following 2 years” after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana sale and use.

    The Trump administration has made a recent policy move to discourage legalized marijuana from growing as a business. On January 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he’s rescinding federal guidelines that limited federal prosecutions for marijuana sales in states where it’s legal, which led to concerns that the Department of Justice may prosecute more people for marijuana crimes.

  • A “pivotal player” at Trump's health department previously promoted harmful "ex-gay" conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Shannon Royce, who has reportedly emerged “as a pivotal player” at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), previously suggested that so-called conversion therapy was an antidote to marriage equality and worked for anti-LGBTQ hate groups that have promoted the dangerous and widely discredited practice.

    Politico reported on January 22 that Royce, the director of HHS’ Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has become "a pivotal player” at the department and has been part of a group that's “spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care.” The publication added that she has also helped spearhead “a vast outreach initiative to religious groups.”

    During a November appearance on a right-wing radio program, Royce suggested that she wanted to increase partnerships with groups that were "considered hateful” under President Barack Obama’s administration, including organizations that are against same-sex couples getting married and adopting children.

    Royce has a history of promoting anti-LGBTQ groups and causes, including the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. The Human Rights Campaign has written that conversion therapy, sometimes known as reparative therapy, is “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Such practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy.” The American Psychiatric Association has found that the potential risks of the so-called therapy “include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.”

    Royce talked to The New York Times Magazine in 2005 about same-sex marriage and told reporter Russell Shorto that “the ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story”:

    The solution to the problem of the gay lifestyle in this view is, of course, Christ. The reparative therapy or "ex-gay" movement has been repudiated by major health and mental health organizations for its assumption that homosexuality is a defect to be repaired -- indeed, in May members of the American Psychiatric Association recommended that the organization support gay marriage in the interest of promoting mental health. But for both the national leaders on the anti-gay-marriage front and Christian community activists, "ex-gay" and "gay marriage" are closely connected, the first being the antidote to the second. Shannon Royce, the executive director of the Marriage Amendment Project, advised me explicitly: "The ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story." [Pastor Brian] Racer spelled it out clearly as well. "I've had quite a few opportunities to counsel people who were in a homosexual lifestyle," he said. "They have generally found themselves in a desperate place. They know that Christ promises an abundant life, but that promise was made with some restrictions. These people have tried to find fulfillment in ways that are against God's principles. So you don't want to further the error by allowing gay marriage. Most of these folks have had an abusive situation that goes back to childhood. You want to heal that. You want to hold back the tide and not let such a high impact issue harm the whole society."

    Royce has also held senior roles in organizations that promoted conversion therapy. 

    She worked as the chief of staff for the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council before landing her federal job. FRC’s official position states that it “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects." 

    The FRC explicitly supports conversion therapy as a practice. The Human Rights Campaign notes that FRC promotes the "idea that people can and should try to change their sexual orientation, and that even if you can’t stop 'involuntary attraction,' you can just not act on it." FRC has also fought against efforts to ban the practice in states.

    Royce was also the executive director of the Marriage Amendment Project, which first organized against same-sex marriage in 2004 and believed "marriage is the union of one man and one woman" (the group and its website are now defunct). The project's participants included numerous organizations that have supported conversion therapy, including the American Family Association, Exodus InternationalFocus on the Family, and FRC.

    Its “resources” page also included a link to advertisements from Exodus International touting the supposed effectiveness of the dangerous practice.

    Exodus International was explicitly dedicated to promoting conversion therapy. The group’s website in 2004 stated that it is “a worldwide interdenominational, Christian organization called to encourage, strengthen, unify and equip Christians to minister the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ to those affected by homosexuality.” The New York Times reported in 2012 that Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, “declared that there was no cure for homosexuality and that ‘reparative therapy’ offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful.” The following year, the group issued an apology for its efforts and shut down its operations.  

    Royce was also the executive director of The Arlington Group, a coalition of numerous Christian conservatives that included Exodus International's Alan Chambers.

    The Marriage Amendment Project’s FAQ page also pushed anti-LGBTQ myths. The project claimed that “the most important reason to protect traditional marriage is for the well-being of children. Marriage still provides the most stable and nurturing environment for the raising and education of children. Numerous studies have indicated that family stability has more of an effect on children than the ‘happiness’ of the parents involved. … Children, no matter the age, innately desire a relationship with their mother and father. Same-sex marriage cannot provide that inherent need children carry with them throughout their lives.” An ACLU fact sheet states that “all of the research to date has reached the same unequivocal conclusion about gay parenting: the children of lesbian and gay parents grow up as successfully as the children of heterosexual parents.”

    Royce also brings anti-choice views to the department. Right Wing Watch reported that she attended a recent Evangelicals for Life conference and said that “we have such an amazing team at HHS, that is absolutely a pro-life team across the spectrum, and that is playing out in many ways.”

    FRC's "Washington Update" recently noted Royce's tenure at the department, among other things, and wrote: "For Trump voters, few things are as rewarding as the turnaround at HHS." 

    A request for comment to the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships was not returned.

  • Media keep calling the GOP's corporate tax bill a "win" for Trump

    The extraordinarily unpopular bill is built on lies and ignores what we know about economics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump and his Republican congressional allies are enjoying a round of praise from media commentators for finally getting a legislative “win” on the board as their tax bill closes in on passage before the end of the year. The budget-busting corporate giveaway will enrich the superwealthy and do little for Americans who have to work for a living.

    Republicans finally unveiled the finished version of their tax legislation last Friday evening, and -- despite the public having just days to absorb its 1,097 pages -- both chambers of Congress plan to vote on the bill before the end of the week. If everything goes according to plan, the president will sign the bill into law just in time for members to head home for the holidays.

    After a year plagued by self-destructive outbursts, failed policy changes, unprecedented legal troubles, embarrassing scandals, humiliating legislative defeats, and nationwide political upheaval, many in the press are framing the GOP tax proposal as a crucial “win” for Trump and his party.

    On the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom, co-host Poppy Harlow wondered how anyone could argue the past year “hasn’t been a win for the president on some big fronts,” given a handful of recent accomplishments, including the new tax bill. Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns agreed with Harlow’s assessment while noting that such favorable framing fits “the way that the White House has been messaging their own achievements”:

    During an earlier segment on CNN’s New Day, guest A.B. Stoddard suggested that the Republican tax bill, which the Economic Policy Institute has labeled “a scam,” could count as “a great boon for Republicans” and “a win on the board,” if the bill actually fulfilled its over the top promises. (It won’t.) Commentary framing the expected party-line vote as a major victory for the GOP also cropped up in The Associated Press, Politico, The Hill, and The New York Times. Reporters have seemingly gone out of their way to pat Republicans on the back for endorsing legislation so historically unpopular it registers significantly less support than some previous tax hikes:


    FiveThirtyEight.com

    In a December 15 video, Eric Schoenberg of the activist group Patriotic Millionaires explained how the GOP tax bill overwhelming favors wealthy people like him (and the Trump family) while doing little for lower- and middle-class people. Trump and the Republicans continue falsely claiming that the bill will spur business development, boost wages, and stoke renewed economic growth, but the message is such a fantasy even Fox News had to admit there was nothing to it. Previous studies from the Congressional Research Service and the Brookings Institution have demonstrated little relationship between tax cuts for the wealthy and invigorated economic activity, which Trump and the GOP have promised will result from this tax bill.

    The bill permanently cuts taxes for corporations while giving only modest, temporary relief for working people. It loosens tax structures affecting the wealthiest Americans while threatening funds for Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and other initiatives that guarantee basic economic security to low-income families. The bill promises to add another $1.5 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade despite years of hysteria about Obama-era revenue shortfalls. The bill also senselessly repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which will likely result in millions of Americans dropping out of the insurance market.

    Rather than praising the Republican Party for ending a remarkably unproductive year by managing to cobble together a tax giveaway to the super rich, journalists should report on what is actually in the bill. Trump and the GOP have definitely enjoyed some "wins" this year, but reporters need to point out that the Republican Party's successes have often resulted in pain and suffering for millions of Americans.

  • Fox & Friends revives debunked myths on the deficit, health care, and middle-class tax increases to push Senate GOP tax plan

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In an attempt to defend the Republican tax bill, Fox & Friends hosts purported to debunk “myths” about the proposal, but actually just pushed a number of falsehoods and misleading statements themselves. For the segment, they hosted Rosemary Becchi, a tax attorney and lobbyist who previously worked as the Republican tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee.

    Claimed the plan won’t add $1 trillion to the deficit just one day after congressional committee found that it would. Becchi asserted that it was “completely false” that the bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit. Co-host Brian Kilmeade cited so-called “dynamic scoring” to allege that the bill could “actually reduce the deficit.” But, according to The New York Times, an estimate from Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) found that “the legislation would add $1 trillion to federal budget deficits over a decade, even after accounting for economic growth” through dynamic scoring.

    Falsely claimed the plan won’t hike taxes on middle-income people. Becchi also insisted that the tax bill would cut taxes “at all levels. It cuts at the high-income earners, as well as middle- and low-class taxpayers, as well.” But, according to The Washington Post, the JCT estimated that the bill would “give large tax cuts to the rich while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next decade.” Additionally, The New York Times found that “two-thirds of middle-class households would get a tax increase in 2027, and none — zero percent — would get a tax cut.”

    Whitewashed the harm the plan will do to Americans’ health care. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked Becchi whether a potential “health care tax hike” under the proposed law will happen, which Becchi dismissed. Becchi correctly noted that the proposal includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, which would not lead to a tax hike. But Becchi and the hosts did not explain that as a result of repealing the mandate, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated, 13 million more people would lose their insurance and premiums would rise by about 10 percent in the ACA’s individual market.

    Admitted that tax cuts will help the rich the most while claiming to be “debunking” the “myth” that tax cuts help the rich most. When asked about the impact the bill would have on the wealthiest Americans, Becchi noted that “these tax cuts will disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers,” but suggested that that was just because “most wealthy Americans pay the most taxes in this country.” This is a drastic understatement; based on the initial framework of the Republican tax bills, the Tax Policy Center found that “about 80 percent of the total benefit would accrue to taxpayers in the top 1 percent, whose after-tax income would increase 8.7 percent.”

    From the December 1 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): First off, we hear about the deficit, and we hear that it’s going to add $1 trillion dollars to the deficit.

    ROSEMARY BECCHI: And that's just completely false. There’s so much in this bill that will generate an economic growth. And that economic growth will put us on a path to fiscal responsibility. So, there’s a lot to be in this bill for everybody.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): OK, to chew on, and that's why we are looking at it, we just heard from [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [(D-CA)]. She called it a “scam.” What about the fact that so many Democrats, Rosemary, have said it's going to be a tax hike on the middle class?

    BECCHI: And that's just not true. This bill will give benefits to both the low-, middle-, and high-income earners. It provides tax cuts straight across the board.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): She also said health care tax hike. Is that going to happen?

    BECCHI: No. Not at all. What the bill includes is the repeal of the [individual] mandate. And if you recall, the mandate is simply a penalty for not purchasing health care. All it does is eliminate that penalty. That's not a tax.

    EARHARDT: So it saves people money if they don't want to do it.

    BECCHI: Exactly, exactly.

    KILMEADE: Right. And disproportionately it hurts people who make $50,000 and less, because they’re the ones who have to make the decision, do I have to pay the fine on the mandate for health care, or I do actually buy a plan --

    BECCHI: Correct.

    KILMEADE: -- which, sadly, the Obamacare plans are not what they promised -- the high premiums, high deductibles. Therefore, these people are in a conundrum. This would help them.

    BECCHI: That's absolutely correct.

    KILMEADE: Moving on to what I said before about the deficit. It would add $1 trillion  to the deficit, if you don't put a --  factor in the fact that the economy is supposed to grow, bringing in additional revenue called dynamic scoring. If you feel as though the economy is going to stay the same, it would blow a hole. But if you’re betting that it’s going to grow, it would actually reduce the deficit.

    BECCHI: Right, that’s right. This bill will put more money into the pockets of both Americans, as well as businesses. And people will reinvest that money. And as a result of that reinvestment, we will have economic growth. And economic growth will generate more taxes.

    EARHARDT: Now what about the wealthy? Because when the president was running he said I'm going to decrease taxes for everybody. He said in a press conference yesterday or the day before that he -- he said I'm going to pay the penalty. I'm going to pay more in taxes because I'm one of the wealthy.

    BECCHI: Right. Most Americans, most wealthy Americans, pay the most taxes in this country.

    EARHARDT: That's the way it is now, right?

    BECCHI: Exactly. That's the way it is. So, as a result, these tax cuts will disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers. And that's just the reality. But, what this tax bill does, it cuts at all levels. It cuts at the high-income earners, as well as middle- and low-class taxpayers, as well.

  • Study: Local TV news omits key details of Senate GOP's tax bill

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Media Matters analysis found that key provisions of the tax bill put forth by Senate Republicans were all but omitted from local media coverage of the plan in Portland, ME; Phoenix, AZ; Madison, WI; Anchorage, AK; and Nashville, TN. Additionally, while local media widely reported that the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, they neglected to note that doing so would raise premiums and increase the number of uninsured people. Stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative media conglomerate friendly to the Trump administration, also were worse than other stations in reporting on these important aspects of the bill.