The Associated Press and The New York Times deceptively highlighted 77-year-old Eleanor McCullen as the "new face" of anti-abortion activists, thereby downplaying the threat of violence that women continue to face when seeking medical care at women's health clinics.
This week, the Supreme Court will consider a challenge to a 2007 Massachusetts statute that creates "buffer zones" around reproductive health centers to ensure the safety of patients and staff from anti-abortion protests, which have a history of turning violent. In the past, Massachusetts' buffer zone law has been repeatedly upheld as constitutional by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Associated Press' (AP) January 13 coverage of the case highlighted plaintiff Eleanor McCullen as "the new face of a decades-old fight" between anti-abortion protesters and health clinics and paid special attention "her pleasant demeanor and grandmotherly mien." A New York Times profile of McCullen similarly framed anti-abortion protesters as harmless, noting that McMullen "is 77, and she said she posed no threat":
"I am 5 feet 1 inch tall," she said in a sworn statement filed in the case. "My body type can be described as 'plump.' I am a mother and grandmother."
The only other protester featured by the Times is the similarly unimposing 81-year-old Mary O'Donnell, who "said she found the line baffling."
Both outlets briefly noted that Massachusetts buffer zone law was approved in response to, in the Times' words, "an ugly history of harassment and violence at abortion including a shooting rampage at two facilities in 1994," but neither provided any mention of the ongoing need for such protections or cited any discussion of the violence women seeking medical care at have faced at hands of anti-abortion activists in the past 20 years.
In fact, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has called anti-abortion violence "America's [f]orgotten [t]errorism," emphasizing that content-neutral buffer zones are necessary because patients and doctors of health facilities that offer abortion services remain targets of violent attacks "from murders to arsons to bombings." According to ADL:
Anti-abortion violence has actually remained a consistent, if secondary, source of domestic terrorism and violence, manifesting itself most often in assaults and vandalism, with occasional arsons, bombings, drive-by shootings, and assassination attempts. As one anti-abortion extremist, while serving a prison sentence for anti-abortion arsons, put it in 2010: "Abortionists are killed because they are serial murderers of innocent children who must be stopped, and they will continue to be stopped."
In addition to the Green Bay firebombing, some other recent examples of anti-abortion violence include:
- Madison, Wisconsin, March 2012: A federal grand jury indicted Ralph Lang, 63, on charges of attempting to intimidate by force people participating in a program receiving federal financial assistance, as well as using or carrying a firearm in relation to the alleged crime. According to police, Lang travelled to Madison to threaten to kill people at a local Planned Parenthood clinic; he was arrested after allegedly firing his gun in a motel room while practicing drawing it.
- Pensacola, Florida, February 2012: A federal grand jury indicted Bobby Joe Rogers, 41, of Pensacola, Florida, for the alleged arson of a women's health clinic in Pensacola the previous month. Rogers allegedly used a Molotov cocktail (a type of incendiary device) to set the fire.
- Madera, California, January 2012: A federal court sentenced Donny Eugene Mower, 38, to five years in prison for having thrown a Molotov cocktail at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Madera in 2010, leaving behind a note that read, in part, "Let's see if you can burn just as well as your victims."
- McKinney, Texas, July 2011: A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Planned Parenthood clinic in north Texas.
- Greensboro, North Carolina, March 2011: Justin Carl Moose, 26, received a 30-month federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to distributing information pertaining to the manufacturing and use of an explosive. Moose, who claimed to be part of the radical anti-abortion group Army of God, had described himself as an "extremist radical fundamentalist" who wanted to fight abortion "by any means necessary and at any cost." He had provided bomb-making instructions to an undercover FBI informant whom he thought was going to bomb an abortion clinic.
- Wichita, Kansas, April 2010: A federal court sentenced anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder to life in prison on first degree murder and aggravated assault charges for the June 2009 assassination of a Wichita physician who performed abortion procedures.
- Plano, Texas, April 2010: FBI agents arrested Erlydon Lo, 27, on charges that he threatened to use deadly force against a women's clinic in Dallas. Lo had filed a document threatening to appear at the facility the next day that said, in part, "if I must use deadly force to defend the innocent life of another human being, I will."
- St. Paul, Minnesota, May 2009: Matthew Lee Derosia, 33, received a sentence of time serviced and five years of probation for purposely driving his truck earlier that year into the front of a St. Paul Planned Parenthood clinic on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.
The AP and New York Times' misleading characterizations of abortion protesters provide an inaccurate picture of the danger women have historically faced in seeking care at womens' health clinics. As the LA Times noted on December 2, 2013, "[t]hough there are many civil, reasonable anti-abortion protesters in the world, history shows that some have turned the perimeters of reproductive health clinics into battlegrounds, using intimidation and sometimes violence."
Fox News praised Gov. Chris Christie's handling of the bridge scandal plaguing his administration as a "lesson in leadership" despite the many lingering questions surrounding his office's involvement in the story.
Gov. Christie held a nearly two-hour long press conference on January 9 amidst allegations that a four-day traffic jam in Fort Lee, NJ may have been orchestrated by his administration as political retribution. Christie has denied involvement for months, and the story exploded into a full-blown scandal on January 8 when emails and text messages published by a local paper suggested that Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and a Christie appointee at the Port Authority colluded to close access lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create massive gridlock.
On the January 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised Christie's press conference, saying it "really indicated to many what leadership looked like after facing a crisis."
The Fox hosts went on to argue that the Obama administration could learn a lot from Christie's "brilliant" response:
Not all media was as taken with Christie's performance. In contrast to Fox, The New York Times' editorial board wrote that Christie's press conference left "plenty of questions that Mr. Christie and his aides, current and former, need to answer." According to The Times, Christie's "version of reality simply does not add up" and that until "full and conclusive investigation can restore public trust" Christie "has zero credibility":
First, is it plausible that officials as high up as Ms. Kelly and Mr. Christie's top appointees at the Port Authority, which controls the bridge, would decide to seek revenge and create this traffic chaos on their own?
Did Mr. Christie know in December, when Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein resigned, that these two members of his inner circle had taken part in the scheme? Did he ever ask them what happened?
The email documents released on Wednesday were heavily redacted. Why? And when will the full emails be made public?
Why did Mr. Christie insist that the traffic snarl was connected to a "traffic study," even after Port Authority officials denied there was any such study? Did he try to get the Port Authority to stop its own internal investigation of the problem?
NBC News had similar concerns, reporting that in the press conference Christie did not "resolve the mystery behind the closing of lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September" or why local officials working to investigate the jam "got no help," listing six "of the most pressing" questions that Christie left unanswered.
CNN media critic Brian Stelter questioned Fox News' minimal coverage of the political retribution scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that Fox executive Roger Ailes' role as a "Republican kingmaker" and his support of a Christie presidential campaign may be a reason the network initially ignored the breaking story.
On January 8, news broke that Christie's administration may have deliberately created gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ by ordering the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge as retribution for the town mayor's refusal to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid. Christie has publicly denied the swirling allegations of his involvement for months, but newly released emails show his deputy chief of staff seemingly requesting the lane closures.
As Media Matters reported, both CNN and MSNBC quickly reported on the new revelation -- but it took Fox News nearly six hours from the time the story broke to mention it on air.
The next day, CNN's New Day highlighted Fox's minimal discussion of the story, and senior media correspondent and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wondered if political motivations were to blame. Stelter pointed to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' reputation as a "Republican kingmaker" and noted that Ailes "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie."
Stelter said the coverage made him "wonder is Fox avoiding the story to help Chris Christie," particularly given the 2016 presidential race:
STELTER: With 2016 on the horizon, Fox News is an important place for Republicans or for conservatives to hear about these candidates. And if they don't hear a lot about this scandal, they may not take it as seriously.
Indeed, a January 9 New York Times article on the upcoming biography of Ailes highlights his focus on influencing national politics -- particularly the presidential election -- and how he uses Fox News in pursuit of that goal:
Roger Ailes was so eager to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, he told fellow Fox News executives point-blank: "I want to elect the next president."
The book describes in detail Mr. Ailes's professional ambition, his desire to influence American politics through a conservative prism, and his status as a visionary who possessed an intuitive understanding of the power of television to shape public opinion. Before entering the corporate world, Mr. Ailes was a political consultant, and Mr. Sherman's book credits him with being a pioneer in using television during election campaigns.
For years, Fox personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their "love" for the "national sensation." According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Fox News suggested that new parents are unable to add their babies onto health care plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in order to stoke fears about the law, even though parents are able to add new dependents onto ACA plans by directly contacting their insurance provider. Fox called the process more difficult than going through labor.
The January 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends purported to report that the portion of HealthCare.gov that would allow consumers to report major life changes -- such as having a baby -- is not yet online and available to consumers, airing a graphic claiming "Obamacare lacks easy way to add baby to plan." Co-host Brian Kilmeade attempted to explain the sign-up process by comparing it to labor: "A lot of people think having a baby's tough. Know what's harder? Under Obamacare, getting that baby insured. So labor might be easier than getting insurance paperwork done." But co-host Steve Doocy took it even further, claiming that new babies cannot be added to ACA plans, saying "You might have a new dependent who's dependent on you and dependent on health care, but right now, you can't put them in on the Affordable Care Act."
But while the ACA's website, Healthcare.gov, is still working on its reporting system for consumers to add new dependents online, this information can be given directly to insurance providers in order to update ACA plans. As the Associated Press (AP) reported, parents can directly contact their insurer "to include the child immediately" on existing policies, and will "have to contact the government at some point later on." Parents must notify the government of the birth of a new baby because "[s]uch changes affect financial assistance available under the law," and may qualify for increased financial assistance under the ACA, AP wrote:
After the federal system is ready to process changes, parents will have to contact the government to formally bring their records up to date. Albright said parents will be able to add a new child to their policy for 30 days.
Having a baby could increase a family's monthly premiums, but it could also mean that the parents are eligible for a bigger tax credit to help with the cost. Under some circumstances, it could make the child or the family eligible for Medicaid, a safety-net program that is virtually free of cost to low-income beneficiaries.
In fact, having a child counts as a qualifying life event, that allows consumers enrolled in health insurance under the ACA to alter their coverage outside of the open enrollment period.
Fox has previously attacked provisions in the ACA designed to aid pregnant women and new mothers, claiming that a ban on discrimination against women in the health insurance market constitutes "sticking it to men" and denying the need for improved access to maternity coverage -- while ignoring the benefits of improved maternity care under the ACA.
Right-wing media were quick to discount a report from The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick that debunked favored conservative claims, but the outlets offered scant evidence to contest Kirkpatrick's findings. Instead, they resorted to questioning the Times' actions during the attack, baselessly claiming that the paper "whitewash[ed]" Hillary Clinton's culpability, and scouring outdated reporting to hype a tenuous Al Qaeda connection.
In 2013, Fox News worked to stoke outrage over the supposed decline of traditional American values, identifying the purported "wussification" of America in everything from the "disturbing trend" of yoga in schools to the availability of human resources in the workplace. Here is Media Matters' top ten countdown of Fox News' 'wussification' fears:
Fox News attacked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney for accurately pointing out that the Affordable Care Act has led to millions in refunds for health insurance consumers, falsely claiming his statement was "Obamacare spin."
During a December 16 press briefing, Carney highlighted the refunds that health insurance consumers received because of a provision in the ACA that requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of premium funds on health care services. Companies that spend more than 20 percent of the premium dollars they take in on administrative costs like salaries and marketing must reimburse consumers for the lost value.
Fox & Friends co-hosts attacked Carney's statements on December 17 while an on-screen graphic labelled Carney's comments "Obamacare Spin." Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that Carney had "tried to sell the line" that millions have already seen savings. Doocy and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck went on to ridicule Carney's point:
DOOCY: Don't you think if there was a line of people, they would be right behind him? 'I saved 300 bucks, I saved 900 bucks, Our deductible got lower.'
HASSELBECK: Right, with signs.
DOOCY: Where are those people?
HASSELBECK: Maybe make a t-shirt. You know, they would be there.
HASSELBECK: Well, you know who is on to that? Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said no, those people that you're talking about, Jim Carney, they don't exist. It's actually getting worse.
But the savings that Carney mentioned do exist. According Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services data, "the 77.8 million consumers in the three markets covered by this 80/20 rule saved $3.4 billion" in up-front medical costs in 2012 and a further "$500 million in rebates, with 8.5 million enrollees due to receive an average rebate of approximately $100 per family." As CMS noted, counsumers could receive these rebates as checks in the mail, a direct reimbursement to the account used to pay for the plan, a deduction from the following year's premium, or if coverage was employer-sponsored, the employer could receive the rebate directly -- but would be required to use the funds "for your benefit." These savings were an increase from 2011:
Fox News again acted as the communications arm of the GOP, promoting a health care plan from Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) that could leave millions without coverage, do nothing to constrain the rise of health costs, and allow insurers to discriminate against patients with preexisting conditions.
On the December 16 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck interviewed Price, presenting his proposal, the Empowering Patients First Act, as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that "could save this country trillions of dollars." While an on-air graphic described Price's plan as an "Obamacare alternative," Hasselbeck endorsed the proposal, saying, "[w]e have the support behind you on this in terms of what I've read so far."
But Fox's endorsement of Price's plan glossed over significant flaws with the bill, including the fact that Price's proposal has already failed twice in Congress and that plans like Price's have been tried, and failed, in the past. As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein reported in 2009, The Empower Patients First Act "won't work" as its "version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly." According to Klein, Price's plan fails to include an individual mandate that would ensure the coverage pool would include both healthy and sick consumers and does nothing to prevent insurers from cherrypicking enrollees. As Klein noted, "this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California":
Price's bill has a couple of good ideas in it: Automatic enrollment, for one thing. And extending the employer tax deduction to individuals while capping it at "the average value of the national health exclusion for Employer Sponsored Insurance (family/singles) grown at inflation." This amounts to a huge tax increase, incidentally, although Price won't call it that.
But the plan won't work. In particular, its version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly. There's no individual mandate ensuring that the pool includes both healthy and sick individuals, no insurance market regulations stopping insurers from cherrypicking, and no risk adjustment rebalancing the scales when they do. In other words, this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California. Price isn't learning from past policy mistakes, and so he means to repeat them.
Price also endorsed selling insurance across state lines, a proposal that the New America Foundation found would increase premiums for many consumers while decreasing the level of coverage:
The New America report, entitled, "Across State Lines Explained: Why Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines is Not the Answer," found that under across state lines proposals premiums would increase for many people, health insurance benefits would become less generous, and more Americans would likely become uninsured over time.
"Selling health insurance across state lines would have a devastating impact on the health insurance marketplace and will not work for many Americans. This approach fails to introduce the incentives necessary to move insurers to a 21st Century business model that prioritizes care coordination and high value care over marketing and underwriting," said Len M. Nichols, Director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation and coauthor of the report.
"In fact, selling health insurance across state lines represents a step backwards not only for the health insurance marketplace, but also and more importantly for the American people who struggle everyday to secure quality, affordable coverage," Nichols continued.
Fox's decision to highlight Price's proposal is just another example of the network's long history of work as the communications arm of the GOP. The information provided on the plan, including figures pushed by Holtz-Eakin, who served as CBO director under President George W. Bush and policy advisor to then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, comes directly from Price's own talking points.
Fox News hyped baseless claims from fast food industry sources that the recent fast food protests were nothing but "rent-a-mob[s]" and misleadingly cited national labor statistics to minimize the fast-food workers' apparent need for increased wages.
On the December 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade suggested that there was a "secret ingredient" in the December 5 demonstrations by fast food workers and their advocates in support of minimum wage increases, asking Fox contributor and anti-union activist Mallory Factor to weigh in. Factor claimed "it was rent-a-mob. purely rent-a-mob," and that "these guys were getting $50, $75 in Seattle, for instance" -- claims which he sourced to the National Restaurant Association. Responding to Factor's assertions, Kilmeade did note that the director of the Fast Food Forward campaign, a group that had helped organize the protests, had denied allegations that protesters had been paid, yet then went on to mislead about the economic factors fueling the protests by claiming that only "2 percent of the workforce are minimum-wage workers and only 1.5 percent of them support their families or themselves on that salary."
Kilmeade's claim that only 2 percent of the workforce is paid the minimum wage references national workforce data, and does not reflect the reality of low wages in the fast food industry. In fact, an August 2013 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that about 13 percent of fast food workers make at or below the federal minimum wage, and about "70 percent of fast-food workers fall in the range between the current $7.25 federal minimum wage and the $10.10 level." From CEPR:
A study by researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of California-Berkeley found that 68 percent of fast food workers are the primary wage earners for their families, and CEPR noted that "more than one-fourth" of all fast food workers are responsible for raising at least one child. According to CEPR, 40 percent of fast food workers are over the age of 25, and of the fast food workers that are above age 20, "almost 85 percent have a high school degree or more and over one-third have spent at least some time in college (including about 6 percent who have earned a college diploma)."
Furthermore, Factor's characterization of the fast-food demonstrators as "rent-a-mobs" echoes a discredited anti-labor line of attack that has been pushed by notorious restaurant industry lobbyist Richard Berman and his anti-labor front groups, The Center for Union Facts and ROC Exposed, as well as by Walmart. The fact that Factor only cites a claim from the National Restaurant Association, an industry lobby group, that the protesters were "paid demonstrators" as a source for his "rent-a-mob" claim does not lend his argument much credibility.
Image via Steve Rhodes
The Wall Street Journal used a positive jobs report to urge Republican lawmakers to block an extension of unemployment benefits, ignoring the ongoing need for extended benefits and the harm that cutting them would have for the ongoing economic recovery.
A December 6 Journal editorial highlighted the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) November jobs report which found that the "jobless rate hit 7% in November" and that "nearly every statistic pointed in a stronger direction." The Journal used the news to push Republican policymakers to reject a proposed extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, concluding that the positive news "underscores that Republicans should hold fast against another expansion of federal jobless benefits," and claiming that jobless benefits have not been shown to have a positive economic effect:
The November report also underscores that Republicans should hold fast against another expansion of federal jobless benefits. Democrats and the White House want to include this in a House-Senate budget despite a cost of as much as $25 billion that would go straight to the deficit.
Their amazing economic rationale is that every $1 in jobless benefits yields $1.80 in higher GDP. This is the famous Keynesian "multiplier" that didn't work in the 2008 or 2009 stimulus binges. The basic argument is that if the government pays more people not to work, then more people will end up working. If you believe that, you probably also think ObamaCare will shrink the deficit.
But despite the positive jobs report, the need to extend unemployment benefits remains high. In a November 7 report, the Economic Policy Institute found that the "ratio of unemployed workers to job openings is 2.9-to-1, as high as the highest the ratio ever got in the early 2000s downturn," [emphasis original] making the extension "[a]bsolutely" necessary." It noted that congressional failure to extend the benefits would have a devastating macroeconomic effects, resulting in the loss of "roughly 310,000 jobs that would be supported by continuing UI benefit extensions through 2014," -- a loss that would increase the overall unemployment rate by around 0.2 percentage points. In an email to The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase chief United States economist Michael Feroli stated that failure to extend UI benefits "could shave 0.4 percentage point off growth in the first quarter next year."
Extending unemployment benefits does not create a disincentive to work, especially during periods of high unemployment. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) called such claims "seriously overblown, especially in the current jobs slump." As the CBPP noted in November, "arguments that emergency UI benefits are an important contributor to today's high unemployment have cause and effect backwards" [emphasis original] and "EUC benefits help create that additional demand and contribute to job creation." The November EPI report similarly disputed claims that extended unemployment benefits encourage unemployment:
In the two most careful studies available on the effects of UI extensions on job search in the Great Recession ... both find a very small increase in the duration of unemployment arising from the extensions, but they find that this is primarily because workers who receive UI benefits are less likely to simply give up looking for work.