A look at how right-wing media ran with Fox contributor Karl Rove's speculation that Hillary Clinton suffered brain damage from a fall in 2012, laying the groundwork to establish the baseless smear as an issue for the 2016 presidential race.
Fox News isn't happy that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner disagrees with their misinterpretation of excerpts from his new memoir.
On May 12, right-wing media's attempted to use Geithner's new memoir, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, to bolster its claims that the White House has a pattern of "playing politics with the American people" when it comes to issues like Benghazi. The narrative was rapidly debunked by a source close to Geithner and even one of Fox's own hosts.
Yet rather than correct their narrative the following day, Fox pivoted to attacking Geithner directly, calling it "outrageous" that "Geithner doesn't even believe his own book." The network later argued that there was no way Geithner could have misremembered the incident because, in Fox & Friends' Elisabeth Hasselbeck's words:
HASSELBECK: Anyone who knows, who has written a book, understands that there are many rounds of edits that go into providing text of your book. You look at that a few times before it hits the press, literally.
Hasselbeck's attack stretches credulity in order to obscure the most obvious explanation: that Fox was wrong.
When Geithner's memoir debuted, right-wing media were quick to latch on to his description of a prep session for the Sunday political shows in 2011. Then-communications director Dan Pfeiffer had asked Geithner to state that Social Security didn't contribute to the deficit. Geithner wrote that he had objected to the phrasing, because "[i]t wasn't a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute." According to the right-wing noise machine, the anecdote revealed that the White House directed Geithner to lie to the public. Fox quickly tied the narrative to its favorite Benghazi myth -- that the White House had worked to deliberately mislead the American people.
This framing of Geithner's anecdote was almost immediately debunked when The Five's Dana Perino, a former White House Press Secretary and Fox host, explained that the way Geithner was asked to to discuss Social Security made sense "from a communications standpoint."
Geithner himself reportedly later clarified this point, noting that he "does not believe he was encouraged to go out and mislead the public on the Sunday shows":
After the anecdote began to generate attention on Monday, a source close to Geithner clarified to Fox News that the former secretary "does not believe he was encouraged to go out and mislead the public on the Sunday shows."
The source said all the former secretary was trying to get across was that Pfeiffer wanted him to "send a signal" to liberals about the president's commitment to not allowing major cuts to Social Security.
From Geithner's book:
The Speaker and his staff kept insisting they needed a scalp for the right; at one point, he proposed we scrap Obamacare's individual mandate for health insurance, an obvious nonstarter.
We were getting a bit nervous about our side, too. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi had told the President they could support a grand bargain, but the outlines of the deal made the Democratic leaders uncomfortable. It would raise substantially less revenue than Simpson-Bowles or a draft proposal by a bipartisan Senate group known as the Gang of Six. And the entitlement reforms were going to be a tough vote for Democrats, especially with Republicans still insisting on some kind of Obamacare scalp.
I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn't contribute to the deficit. It wasn't a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a "dog whistle" to the left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.
On July 21, Boehner, remarkably, stopped returning the President's calls. He soon announced he was abandoning the grand bargain. This time, his rationale was that the President had moved the goalposts by asking for an extra $ 400 billion in revenues. But that was just a pretext; the negotiations were fluid. We had raised the revenue target, and their drafts still were calling for unacceptable political scalps, but the President hadn't drawn a line in the sand. The problem was that most of Boehner's caucus was unwilling to accept any new revenues, and many had pledged never to vote to raise the debt ceiling; he once told us that he was more interested in doing big things than being Speaker, but ultimately he was unwilling to split his caucus and risk his job.
Fox News is worried about an NFL player who was disciplined for posting anti-gay tweets about Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player to be drafted.
On May 10, Sam made history by becoming the first openly gay football player to be drafted to the National Football League, when he was selected as the 249th draft pick by the St. Louis Rams. Sam, who had previously weathered a storm of right-wing criticism when he spoke out about his sexual orientation in February, was shown on television kissing his boyfriend after receiving news that he had been drafted.
The kiss sparked homophobic attacks online -- Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones was disciplined for tweeting "omg" and "horrible" in response to Sam's celebration. Jones later apologized for his tweets after the team announced that he would be fined and temporarily excused from team activities.
Fox News appeared to side with Jones. The May 12 edition of Fox & Friends discussed Jones' tweet and compared the story to former NFL player Tim Tebow, suggesting Tebow was "mocked" for being a Christian while Michael Sam is "praised." Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck worried that the NFL's attempts to curb anti-gay attacks on Sam could "offend" players like Jones and stoked fears that such efforts could lead to a slippery slope toward civility:
HASSELBECK: When you look at what the NFL is saying though, now, this is a strong message. They are going on the offense against any sort of offensive comments out there. But does it offend those with their free speech and their opinions to voice them? Certainly when it comes on the field. Will they then go after what is said in the huddle, in a tackle, on the bottom of a pile? Because if you have those times mic'd, you're going to be hearing a lot of comments which would be deemed offensive. Where does this go from here?
Later in the show, Fox regular Donald Trump said the footage of Sam celebrating with his boyfriend "looked pretty out there to me." Of Jones' punishment for mocking Sam, Trump claimed, "We've become so politically correct in this country that the country is going to hell."
Fox host Geraldo Rivera demolished his network's latest Benghazi hoax, even as his colleagues worked to prop up their distortions of Ret. Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell's testimony on the administration's response to the attack.
On May 1, Lovell, who served as deputy intelligence director at the U.S. Africa Command in Germany (AFRICOM) during the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, testified that "we should have tried" to rescue the victims of the attack, yet later clarified that he did not mean to suggest that the government had the capability to send additional help that it failed to utilize. Fox News was quick to highlight the first portion of Lovell's testimony as "incredibly damning" evidence of the administration's negligence, yet failed to cover the full context of Lovell's remarks. Mainstream media similarly misrepresented the testimony.
Fox continued to push the myth that the administration had refused to send military assistance to Benghazi on the March 2 edition of Fox & Friends, claiming that Lovell "made it very clear we didn't even try to rescue those guys" and arguing: "Logic tells you that you would think that there would be some type of mission to get people out" -- arguments that were dismantled later in the show when Rivera described the realities of military coordination. Rivera called his Fox News colleagues' claims a "myth," pointing out that "we have never, as far as I know, never mounted a rescue operation in the time parameters we had here, at all" and "it would never have been mounted, that mission was a suicide mission, it could not have happened" (emphasis added):
RIVERA: Admiral Mike Mullen, appointed by President Bush, says there was no military asset available. I have investigated this from the Air Force assets in Aviano to the special forces in Tripoli and in Italy and in other places. Whatever was available in our fleet resources, AFRICOM, there was no forces that could have intervened. There was no gunship available as the myth suggested. There was no 'stand down order' given by concentrating on the -- and the military is not the SWAT team. They're not the fire department.
CO-HOST STEVE DOOCY: Geraldo, they could have buzzed them with a drone.
HASSELBECK: Doesn't it go back to the first paints that they should have paid attention --
RIVERA: I don't know. All I know is that when you, for instance, look at how we rescue the guy from the Mirsk, Alabama or how we go into the camps in Somalia, these are precisely planned, daylight operations largely. They involve three days of intense comprehensive plans -- we have never, as far as I know, never mounted a rescue operation in the time parameters we had here, at all.
RIVERA: Listen, I have been with so many fallen and wounded GIs from Afghanistan 12 times, Iraq 12 times, Somalia, I have a lot of African experience. If the jets Aviano had scrambled, they would have had to jettison their tanks at night, going over to a situation that they could have easily been taken down by a handheld RPG. To what end? We didn't have a target. It could would have been mounted, that mission was a suicide mission, it could not have happened.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has already debunked claims that further assistance could have been sent from U.S. military bases and even criticized this "cartoonish impression of the military," which has ignored the need for "planning and preparation before we send people in harm's way."
Lovell, too, was very clear about the limits of military's capability to respond. From his May 1 remarks:
REP. JERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I want to read to you the conclusion of the chairman of the [Armed Services] Committee, the Republican chairman Buck McKeon, who conducted formal briefings and oversaw that report. He said, quote, "I'm pretty well satisfied that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened, and how quickly it dissipated we probably couldn't have done much more than we did." Do you take issue with the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee? In that conclusion?
LOVELL: His conclusion that he couldn't have done much more than they did with the capability and the way they executed it?
CONNOLLY: Given the timeframe.
LOVELL: That's a fact.
LOVELL: The way it is right now. The way he stated it.
CONNOLLY: All right, because I'm sure you can appreciate, general, there might be some who, for various and sundry reasons would like to distort your testimony and suggest that you're testifying that we could have, should have done a lot more than we did because we had capabilities we simply didn't utilize. That is not your testimony?
LOVELL: That is not my testimony.
CONNOLLY: I thank you very much
Ex-CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson's latest round of Benghazi misinformation rapidly became the basis of a misleading Fox News report.
In an April 29 blog, Attkisson claimed that a newly released September 14, 2012 email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to other key national security aides had finally revealed "direct White House involvement in steering the public narrative about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, toward that of a spontaneous protest that never happened." She highlighted the right's "persistent allegations that the Obama administration developed a false political narrative to downplay or hide the fact that terrorists had struck," and argued that:
[T]aken as a whole, the documents and testimony revealed since the attacks support the idea that the administration's avoidance of the word "terrorism" was a strategy rather than an accident or mistake.
The following morning, Fox & Friends parroted her attack, hyping the emails as proof the White House covered up the truth about Benghazi. Co-host Steve Doocy pushed several claims from Attkisson's blog, including that the email had been retroactively "classified" in order to keep their information away from Congress. He later reminded viewers of Fox's previous efforts to hype mainstream media stonewalling on the story: "remember, [Attkisson] resigned because, among other things, she couldn't do what she wanted to do, like Benghazi":
These allegations have been debunked again and again. The Rhodes email reveals nothing new, but was consistent with other intelligence briefings circulating at the time. A bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report has already found that "there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to 'cover-up' facts or make alterations for political purposes." Instead, it showed that former UN Ambassador Susan Rice's statements after the attacks reflected the best intelligence available at the time and revealed that it took days for eyewitness statements by U.S. personnel indicating that there had been no protests to make their way into CIA assessments -- information that was not reviewed or disseminated until after Rice's statements.
In the email preparing Rice for her September 15 appearances, Rhodes only briefly referenced Benghazi. He stated that "the currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex" -- language that is identical to the initial draft of the separate set of CIA talking points that were crafted by CIA analysts earlier that day. The email's topline talking points, which both Fox and Attkisson highlighted for their failure to mention terrorism in connection to Benghazi, did not actually refer to Benghazi attack, but offered an accurate description of the anti-American protests occurring in the region at the time.
Despite Attkisson's efforts to portray herself as a victim of media censorship, this is only the latest example of how her Benghazi reporting ignores journalistic standards and denies facts. According to Politico, CBS News executives saw Attkisson as "wading dangerously close to advocacy on the issue," but her arguments are clearly at home on Fox. As fringe media increasingly embrace Attkisson's shoddy reporting, it's possible that Attkisson may find her place pushing right-wing misinformation at Fox -- as Fox personalities have previously hinted she should.
The right-wing media has shifted its focus from Cliven Bundy to hyping false reports of a government "land grab" in Texas -- again finding itself denying court-established property rights.
On April 21, Breitbart Texas claimed that Bureau of Land management (BLM) is "reviewing the possible federal takeover and ownership of privately-held lands which have been deeded property for generations of Texas landowners." Breitbart argued that the BLM had attempted to "seize" property from Texan Tom Henderson in 1986, and baselessly speculated that because the BLM is "in the process of developing a Resource Management Plan," the office may be planning on "simply confiscating the land." Breitbart described the old case by claiming "Henderson sued the BLM and lost 140 acres that had been in his family for generations. Now the BLM is looking at using the prior case as a precedent to claim an additional 90,000 acres."
Other right-wing outlets picked up Breitbart's frame. The Daily Caller trumpeted the BLM's "intent to claim 90,000 acres along the Red River" in Texas, The Blaze hyped "new concerns that [the BLM] may be looking to claim thousands of acres of land in the northern part of the state," and Fox News host Steve Doocy claimed that the government "is reportedly trying to claim 90,000 acres along the Red River, the line that separates the states of Texas and Oklahoma," from local ranchers. Doocy highlighted the 1986 case and noted that "many fear the Bureau of Land Management may use that case as a precedent to do it again." Meanwhile, an on-air graphic stoked fears of a "government land grab":
These claims are entirely baseless. The 1986 case that the right-wing media's narrative relies on -- Currington v. Henderson -- did not pit a local Texas landowner against the federal government. Currington was a land dispute between two local property owners over a portion of land on the Texas-Oklahoma border. A federal district court ultimately found that, in fact, neither claimant had rights to the land, which was already owned by the United States government. From the court findings:
The lands north of the medial line adjacent to Sections 3 and 4, Township 5 South, Range 9 West of the Indian Meridian are part of those lands and are owned by the respective plaintiffs. The lands lying in the bed of the Red River south of the medial like adjacent thereto are owned by the United States.
For weeks, conservative media have embraced Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents after refusing to pay decades worth of federal grazing fees on public land. The support persisted even as Bundy and his supporters were engaging in revolutionary, insurrectionist rhetoric and repeated threats of violence against government authorities.
Bundy took this even further on April 19, when he made overtly racist comments during one of his daily press conferences. From the New York Times (emphasis added):
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids -- and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch -- they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Though Nevada coverage of the Bundy standoff has made it clear that Bundy is breaking the law, right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, have propped up his cause with a PR campaign that romanticizes his lawlessness and the armed militia groups that helped him force a standoff with federal agents. On Fox alone, Bundy received a total 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming between April 5, when Bundy's story broke, and April 17:
Fox figures have been aggressive in supporting Bundy's fight with the federal government, led by Fox host Sean Hannity. Hannity interviewed Bundy on his Fox show Hannity, on April 9, sympathizing with the rancher's claims and arguing that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer." In the following days, Hannity escalated his rhetoric, arguing that federal agents have "drawn the wrong line in the sand here," praising Bundy because he "like[s] anybody that's willing to fight," and stoking fears "of what this government is capable of doing." Hannity also repeatedly predicted a violent outcome, saying, "This can spiral out of control," and, "If it keeps going, this is going to end very, very badly." He even demanded, "The government needs to stand down" because "I'm telling you, [it is] my opinion that this crisis could come to a head, and lives could be lost." He has refused to apologize for touting the standoff, and has doubled down on his support when his hypocrisy on the rule of law was highlighted.
Other Fox figures have downplayed Bundy and his supporters' threats of violence, agreeing that Bundy and his supporters demonstrate "the resistance of patriotic Americans," supporting the agitators as "good, hardworking Americans" or "law-abiding American citizens -- patriots," even as they concede that Bundy's actions were illegal. Right-wing outlets outside of Fox have made similar arguments. National Review Online's Kevin Williamson called the presence of armed agents "inflammatory" and compared Bundy to Gandhi. The Drudge Report recklessly hyped the growing fear of a violent standoff between anti-government militia members and federal forces.
Some of Bundy's conservative media supporters seem undeterred by his repulsive comments. Radio host Dana Loesch, who has already used Bundy's standoff to invoke Benghazi, said his comments were "odd and sounds offensive," but also defended him, saying:
I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn't media trained to express himself perfectly. He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family -- which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity -- so perhaps he included that in his remarks against big government? I'm just trying to figure out how he even got to the point of discussing it and yes, it's justified to have a healthy suspicion of the New York Times.
On the April 24 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, on the other hand, demonstrated what rational coverage of the Bundy's lawlessness looks like, noting, "it's the kind of conservatism that undermines everything that conservatives should be about":
Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has stepped up her campaign to paint herself as a victim of media bias by floating half-baked conspiracy theories about the research that exposed factual issues with her work. These newest allegations are as unsubstantiated as the shoddy reporting that has previously tarnished her -- and CBS'-- record as a reliable source.
Following its protracted campaign to smear Hillary Clinton as a dishonest and untrustworthy leader, Fox News is working overtime to explain away its own polling revealing that the American people trust the former Secretary of State more than the Republican Party and the slew of potential GOP presidential candidates.
According to Fox News' most recent poll data, 54 percent of registered voters consider Hillary Clinton "honest and trustworthy," a higher percentage than potential Republican 2016 presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Christie Christie received. At 49 percent, her favorability rating is higher than that of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and all GOP 2016 contenders.
Fox hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Steve Doocy addressed Clinton's poll numbers on the April 17 edition of Fox & Friends by blaming liberal bias in the mainstream media. Doocy complained that Clinton was viewed as more trustworthy than Christie because the "mainstream media [...] beat the drum" against Christie rather than report on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, in an effort to "take him out." According to Hasselbeck, the poll could be due to a perception bias that favors women:
DOOCY: You know what's interesting about that poll is -- remember it wasn't too long before the whole bridge thing hit the mainstream media fan where Chris Christie was actually leading Hillary Clinton. But then the mainstream media -- and some cynics on the right would say, well they were just trying to take Chris Christie out because he posed the greatest threat for Hillary Clinton -- nonstop coverage on all the channels about that Bridgegate thing.
And when you think about the two potential candidates, you've got Chris Christie who, you know, a while back was involved, his administration put up 25 traffic cones in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and generated hundreds of hours of mainstream media Bridgegate television. And then far screen right you've got Hillary Clinton who ran the State Department which denied extra security for Libya and four Americans wind up dying. I mean that is quite a contrast. You've got 25 orange cones versus four dead Americans -- but you've got the mainstream media and they beat the drum for Chris Christie, against him, and nobody on the other side of the channel is really covering Benghazi, unless us.
HASSELBECK: Well, perception and reality are two different things. I think it is. In the past women have polled better in terms of trust when it comes to politics. But again, as you mentioned, you know, this is a woman who has been ridden with scandal in the past particularly recently when we talk about Benghazi and four Americans dead. She is still found to be more trustworthy at this point. Go figure.
It's understandable that Fox would prefer to discount these findings. The network has put a significant amount of effort into skewing public opinion of Clinton, pushing repeatedly debunked myths in an attempt to tarnish her image in expectation of a presidential bid in 2016. These efforts are in stark contrast with Fox's willingness to hide information that could hurt potential GOP presidential candidates like Christie, whom Fox personalities have previously showered with praise.
Right-wing media hyped a misleading apples-to-oranges comparison to claim that the U.S. is at a "tipping point" in the "relationship between welfare and work."
On April 15, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed new statistics showed that "the number of people living on the government dole outnumbered full-time working women." Fox Business host Stuart Varney then claimed "welfare is replacing work" because in 2012, 46 million people collected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) and 44 million women worked full time. Varney cited SNAP benefits as "the classic example" of an "explosion in welfare payments outgoing from the government to individuals and a decline in work," which he attributed to the Obama administration "buying votes." Meanwhile, Fox displayed this graphic:
Other right-wing media sources highlighted the same supposedly "telling" numbers. CNS News posted a graphic comparing the number of women working full time to total SNAP beneficiaries and the Drudge Report also hyped the connection:
But these numbers can't be compared, as many working women fall into both categories.
In fact, because the majority of recipients are working-class Americans with jobs, senior citizens, or children, an increase in SNAP beneficiaries is an extremely unreliable predictor of the number of full-time workers, let alone evidence of a tipping point before a decline in overall employment. A 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the "overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so" (emphasis original):
The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP -- and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children -- more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.
The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled -- from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011. The increase was especially pronounced during the recent deep recession, suggesting that many people have turned to SNAP because of under-employment -- for example, when one wage-earner in a two-parent family lost a job, when a worker's hours were cut, or when a worker turned to a lower-paying job after being laid off.
A separate report from the USDA pointed out that in 2012, "75 percent of all SNAP households, containing 87 percent of all participants, included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled nonelderly person. These households received 82 percent of all SNAP benefits."
This latest attempt to cast the SNAP program as spurring unemployment ignores current economic reality. SNAP enrollment has risen as a result of the economic downturn. The Economic Policy Institute noted that "SNAP swelled because the economy entered the worst recession since the Great Depression and remains severely depressed even 18 months after the official recovery began." According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP enrollment is projected to decline as the economy recovers:
The number of people receiving SNAP benefits will begin to slowly decline at the end of fiscal year 2014, CBO expects, reflecting an improved economic situation and a declining unemployment rate. Nevertheless, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits will remain high by historical standards, CBO estimates. That is partly because of a growing U.S. population and thus a greater number of potential SNAP participants.