In their evening coverage of the December 10 Nelson Mandela memorial service, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC focused a majority of segments on President Obama's handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro and on a "selfie" Obama took with world leaders during the event rather than on the service itself or Mandela's legacy.
A New York Post editorial dismissed the decrepit and dangerous condition of homeless shelters in New York City, claiming a New York Times exposé of the realities of poverty for homeless children demonstrated how "generous" the city had been.
On December 8, the New York Times published the first in a five-part series on poverty in the city titled "Invisible Child," which featured the story of one of the city's 22,000 homeless children whose family currently resides at the Auburn Family Residence, a homeless shelter. The Times described the shelter as "a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers."
The Post editorial board responded to the story on December 9 by dismissing the family's problems, claiming that because they lived in a 540 square ft. shelter, they "aren't really homeless at all," and concluded that the city of New York had been "too generous" to provide the family with any shelter, even one that featured "mice and reports of sexual assaults and other crimes":
Begin with the family at the center of this story. The mother, father and eight kids aren't really homeless at all. True, they live in housing meant for "homeless families." But their 540-square-foot unit gives them a solid roof over their heads, in addition to city-provided meals and services.
Yes, the family's housing has problems, including mice and reports of sexual assaults and other crimes. But the Times and Elliott, like much of the liberal establishment, seem to think it's the city's job to provide comfortable lives to outrageously irresponsible parents. In this case, that's a couple with a long history of drug problems and difficulty holding jobs.
Something's wrong with that picture.
If the city is at fault here, it might well be for having been too generous -- providing so much that neither the father nor mother seems much inclined to provide for their kids. That would be a story worth reading.
Politico turned to the American Enterprise's Institute's Danielle Pletka, a former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) with a history of smearing Democratic appointees, as one of the "smart foreign policy thinkers in both parties" cited to judge Hillary Clinton's diplomatic legacy as Secretary of State.
Politico Magazine's December 8 profile, which is now making the rounds of the pundit class, claimed that Republicans can easily dismiss Clinton's foreign policy achievements -- and question her viability as a candidate for President -- by following Pletka's lead and attempting to smear her with the deaths of four Americans during the 2012 attacks in Benghazi:
What does that Republican take look like? For sure, there will be a focus on Benghazi, where the GOP has questioned whether Clinton and other administration officials were activist enough--and truthful enough--about responding to the attack in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, that led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other American personnel; a case summed up by the American Enterprise's Institute's Danielle Pletka as "unwillingness to take risks, unwillingness to lead, willingness to stab a lot of people in the back. And dead people." Pletka's broader view of Clinton's record is a harsher version of what I hear from many Democrats: "the Washington consensus," Pletka says, "is that she was enormously ineffective ... [though] no one was quite sure whether she was ineffective because she wanted to avoid controversy or because she wasn't trusted by the president to do anything."
Pletka has a long history as an ideological partisan dating back to her time as an aide to Helms' Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1992 to 2001. Despite his history of racism and extreme conservatism, Pletka defended his "conviction" and "old fashioned" values following his death in 2008.
As vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka is a top advocate for neoconservative policies. She has backed military strikes in Iran while dismissing the news that the U.S. reached a historic deal with Iran over their nuclear program in exchange for reducing the sanctions. Military experts have warned that such an action could have dire consequences. Pletka has also defended torture, saying that while she's "not a big fan," she still thinks it's necessary in wartime.
Pletka was also part of the conservative campaign to smear Chuck Hagel as an anti-Semite prior to his nomination as Secretary of Defense, despite the fact that Hagel's positions were mainstream and in no way anti-Israel. Pletka devoted a USA Today opinion piece and an AEI blog headlined "Chuck Hagel, anti-Semite?" to the subject and concluded that while she couldn't tell one way or the other, there were still "reasonable questions" to be asked about Hagel's "view of the Jews."
Pletka's baseless insinuation that Benghazi somehow undermined Hillary Clinton's work as Secretary of State builds on a year-long campaign by conservative activists and politicians to try to use the tragic attacks to disqualify her from a future presidential run. Such attacks are based on a multitude of myths and falsehoods.
Pletka's criticism as channeled by Politico that Clinton had few accomplishments as Secretary also ignores a significant portion of Clinton's work at State -- including opening up Myanmar by becoming the first secretary of state in 50 years to make an official visit to the nation; negotiating a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in late 2012, which many credit for averting an all-out war; building an international consensus to remove Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power; and tightening sanctions to the highest level ever on Iran.
Image via colgateuniversity
GOP candidates are training to better talk about women and women's issues following the disastrous 2012 elections -- but this new rebranding effort will be difficult, given conservative media's toxic rhetoric on women.
Politico reported on December 5 that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is meeting with congressional Republicans and their aides to "teach them what to say -- or not to say -- on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman":
While GOP party leaders have talked repeatedly of trying to "rebrand" the party after the 2012 election losses, the latest effort shows they're not entirely confident the job is done.
So they're getting out in front of the next campaign season, heading off gaffes before they're ever uttered and risk repeating the 2012 season, when a handful of comments let Democrats paint the entire Republican Party as anti-woman.
Akin dropped the phrase "legitimate rape" during the 2012 Missouri Senate race, costing himself a good shot at winning his own race and touching off Democratic charges of a GOP "War on Women" that dogged Republicans in campaigns across the country.
This new phase in the GOP's attempt to rebrand the party comes months after the Republican National Committee's (RNC) March 18 post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned the party was "increasingly marginalizing itself" by alienating women, Hispanics, African Americans, and younger voters.
As Media Matters noted at the time, the rebranding effort always faced a significant obstacle: conservative media. Right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh played a significant role in popularizing the very brand of Republican politics the party leadership now understands is toxic -- and they are unlikely to change their rhetoric on women just because the RNC and NRCC suggest it.
After all, Limbaugh is the man who launched 46 personal attacks on Sandra Fluke in 2012, including calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in favor of affordable contraception, and little has changed since then. Just in the month of November, Limbaugh compared filibuster reform in the Senate to "allow[ing] women to be raped"; suggested that women in the military synchronize their menstrual cycles so they'd be "ready to be banshees"; read from a misogynistic parody site mocking marital rape; claimed ads promoting Obamacare's coverage of birth control told young women "if you like being a prostitute, then have at it"; and claimed Democrats are turning women "into nothing but abortion machines."
Limbaugh is not alone. Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has mocked efforts to combat the immense problem of sexual assault in the military, and claimed "female sexual freedom" led to a "war on men." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly attempted to tie the "War on Christmas" to "unfettered abortion." Conservative blogger and Fox contributor Erick Erickson has called Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis "abortion Barbie" and attempted to smear her campaign by suggesting she was mentally unfit for office. And a Fox Business host recently asked if there is "something about the female brain that is a deterrent" to women working as tech executives.
That's just a few of the most recent examples. The list goes on.
If the NRCC is concerned about Republicans being labeled "anti-women," Todd Akin and his "legitimate rape" comments are perhaps the least of their concerns. Conservative media's daily drumbeat of demeaning attacks on women could do more damage to the party's efforts than any single gaffe.
After all, the GOP rebranding effort also included a call for greater Latino outreach, to which conservative media responded with increased anti-immigrant demagoguery and a full-throated effort to destroy immigration reform. At the moment, it seems the conservative media is successfully thwarting the Republican "rebrand" -- leaving the GOP right back where they were in November 2012.
New tax filings acquired by Mother Jones reveal that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity received 80 percent of its grant money from the Donors Trust, dubbed the "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement."
As Media Matters has previously documented, Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, provide individuals and organizations a way to hide their donations or "pass-through" money to various right-leaning causes and media outlets. They are the primary financial backer for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which, according to the tax documents obtained by Mother Jones, received $9.2 million from the fund, accounting for "nearly $8 of every $10 in grant money received by the Franklin Center in 2012."
The Center, which Media Matters highlighted in a lengthy July 2012 report, has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states since it began in 2009 and claims to provide "10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide." Nearly all of their 2011 funding also came from Donors Trust, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. Steven Greenhut, formerly the vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center, previously criticized Media Matters for reporting on the group's deep right-wing ties and funding.
Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund have raised more than $500 million since their creation in 1999 and poured the money into various conservative groups and causes -- including bankrolling a campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change; funding an effort to flood American classrooms with packaged libertarian lessons featuring Fox News' John Stossel; and fully-funding the Project on Fair Representation, which successfully challenged portions of the Voting Rights Act. Major Donors Trust contributors include the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund.
2012 was a record-breaking year for Donors Trust, with $96 million funneled to right-wing groups. From Mother Jones:
Last year, DonorsTrust (and its sister group, Donors Capital Fund) doled out a record $96 million, making it one of the largest honeypots for right-leaning groups. That's an increase from $85 million in 2011 and $78 million in 2010. DonorsTrust CEO Whitney Ball, who cofounded the group in 1999 and sometimes appears at the Koch brothers' donor summits, says the increased giving stems from her organization's growing profile and also conservative donors' anger at the Obama administration. And despite worries about donor burnout within the conservative ranks, Ball says DonorsTrust is on track for another great year in 2013.
One of the biggest winners to emerge from the hundreds of pages of DonorsTrust tax documents is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a Virginia-based nonprofit that trains conservative and libertarian think tanks to do investigative journalism, funds right-leaning news outlets, and hires reporters for those outlets. The Franklin Center received $9.2 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, which accounted for nearly $8 of every $10 in grant money received by the Franklin Center in 2012.
Other major recipients of DonorsTrust money include the Mercatus Center ($3.9 million), a libertarian think tank housed at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Mercatus has long-standing ties to the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who sits on the group's board; Koch's top political adviser, Richard Fink, founded Mercatus and is also a member of the think tank's board. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a leading denier of man-made climate change that publishes the skeptic site ClimateDepot.com, pocketed more than $3.34 million. And the Hudson Institute, a 52-year-old Washington-based think tank, nabbed a $4 million donation from DonorsTrust. Other big-name recipients of DonorsTrust money include the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative "bill mill"; the State Policy Network, which oversees state-level conservative think tanks in all 50 states; and the charitable arm of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity advocacy group. DonorsTrust does not fund so-called 501(c)(4) groups, the kind of politically active nonprofits that played an outsize role in the 2012 elections.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum hid the radical implications of a Supreme Court case which could allow for-profit corporations to use religion to discriminate against women and deny employees basic health care coverage, claiming the corporations were merely asking "for some tolerance of their religious belief."
On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in two cases in which business owners -- Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties -- argue they should be exempt from an Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement which mandates that large, for-profit corporations must offer employees health plans that cover contraceptives at no additional cost.
On December 2, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum supported the corporations' arguments, claiming that allowing employers to pick and choose what to cover under their health plans based on their religious beliefs was simply an issue of "tolerance" and that the health care law was asking employers to "violate their conscience" by offering contraceptive care:
It seems to me, I mean all they're asking is for an exemption, and for some tolerance of their religious belief, so if a company is owned by someone who doesn't believe that that is ethical, that they should be able to offer a plan that is accepted under Obamacare but that is exempted, that exempts contraception.
I don't understand what the issue would be, with offering a separate version that that employer feels doesn't violate their conscience? How can you ask someone to violate their conscience in the plan that they choose to offer to their employees?
What MacCallum ignores is that religious organizations and certain religiously affiliated nonprofits are already provided exemptions from the contraception mandate. The question posed by these cases to the Supreme Court is whether or not these exemptions should be extended to for-profit, secular companies. If the court rules in favor of the corporations, it would be an unprecedented extension of religious freedom rights and could have radical legal implications, going against the basic tenets of corporate law.
It could also set a dangerous precedent, allowing employers to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against women, and potentially deny all Americans benefits for a wide range of basic medical needs.
Requiring businesses to provide health care plans that cover contraception at no additional cost "was put into place in order to eliminate gender inequality in healthcare," Gretchen Borchelt, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, explained. As Micah Schwartzman and Nelson Tebbe noted in Slate, exempting for-profit corporations would reinstate that inequality, undermining a purpose of health care reform:
[E]xempting large, for-profit corporations from the contraception mandate would significantly burden female employees, along with all the wives and daughters covered by the policies of male employees. Thousands of women would lose all insurance coverage for contraception. That loss would be very real, and it would frustrate a central objective of Obamacare: namely to ensure that women have equal access to critical preventative care.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the corporations, it will not just put women's basic health care in jeopardy. As MSNBC's Irin Carmon and Slate's Dahlia Lithwick have pointed out, corporations could potentially be allowed to opt out of covering anything that is religiously contested, including things like vaccinations, psychiatric care, and AIDS medications. What if your employer is an Orthodox Jew who wants to refuse coverage for any medication that comes in a gelatin capsule? What if she is a Christian Scientist who doesn't believe in visiting doctors?
Requiring for-profit companies to offer health plans which cover birth control is not an attack on religious liberties. It ensures that everyone, regardless of their personal religious belief, has access to basic health coverage which they can then choose to use or ignore.
Fox News baselessly claimed that newly-released photographs of the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks reveal a "level of devastation" which contradicts the Obama administration's "original story of what happened" -- without explaining how the photos provided new insight or how they contradicted the administration's position on the destruction of the attacks.
On the November 20 edition of Fox & Friends First, co-host Ainsley Earhardt highlighted photos of the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, following the September 11, 2012 attacks which were recently obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch. The photos depict a car on fire, burnt furniture, and graffiti on the walls of the compound, and Earhardt claimed they revealed "a new level of devastation, contradicting the Obama administration's original story of what happened":
EARHARDT: New images of the aftermath of last year's September 11th terrorist attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya. The new pictures show a new level of devastation, contradicting the Obama administration's original story of what happened. The State Department gave 30 pages of records and 14 pictures to the conservative group Judicial Watch. That group is suing after requesting public materials through the Freedom of Information Act and not receiving them.
Earhardt did not explain how the photos contradicted anything the Obama administration had previously said about the attack, nor did she provide any evidence that administration officials previously downplayed or diminished the damage in Benghazi.
Her attack on the administration did, however, mirror comments made by Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who claimed the "photos reveal a level of total devastation thoroughly belying Obama's original cover story that the carnage was perpetrated by a bunch of random malcontents upset over an unpleasant video."
But as Media Matters has repeatedly documented, there was no cover story -- Then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made clear during her initial comments on the attack that they were based on the administration's "current best assessment" of the situation, which was that the attacks were not premeditated. She acknowledged that the perpetrators were "extremists" and said that future investigations and analyses by intelligence services "will tell us with certainty what transpired." It would later be revealed that her suggestion that the attack was linked to an anti-Islam video that had embroiled the Middle East came from talking points generated by the CIA.
Furthermore, the photos released by Judicial Watch and billed as groundbreaking are actually similar to pictures which have been available online since the day after the attacks. On September 12, 2012, Buzzfeed posted photos showing the destruction at the compound, including a burnt car, graffiti, and broken windows. The next day, Daily Mail Online posted more photos of the burnt interiors of the compound.
For more on conservative media myths about the September 2012 attacks, read The Benghazi Hoax, the new e-book by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt.
Fox News is helping promote a baseless conspiracy accusing the Obama administration of manipulating employment data for political gain. The accusation, fed by a thinly sourced New York Post column, is now being used to push for congressional investigations.
On November 18, The New York Post blasted the headline: "Census 'faked' 2012 election jobs report." The basis of that claim is a single source, a Census worker who allegedly was caught fabricating data while measuring unemployment in 2010. Beyond that uncorroborated evidence, the Post offers a single anonymous source who claims that Census employees manipulated unemployment data throughout 2012. The Post concluded by calling for a congressional investigation into the supposed "manipulation of data."
Fox cited that report and extended the conspiracy theory beyond low-level Census employees to accuse the White House of knowingly manipulating jobs numbers. The hosts of Fox & Friends argued that the Post reporting corroborated the 2012 conspiracy theory pushed by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch that "these Chicago guys" in the Obama administration and campaign were skewing the jobs data:
KILMEADE: How the number is calculated is one issue. But the issue that we're talking about is how the number was skewed and was fudged, because we're talking about, out of nowhere the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent at the crucial time between August and September.
So -- the conventions are over. You wonder if the economy is on track, you've got Mr. Economic Business Wiz Mitt Romney coming up the rear. And all of a sudden the unemployment rate is dropping. And you're thinking maybe we are on the right track.
Jack Welch comes out and says, it's amazing - and I'll just paraphrase -- it's amazing what these Chicago guys will do to win an election.
Later in the show, on-air graphics insinuated that the White House was "cooking the books."
This unsourced rumor, however, provides no evidence that the jobs numbers were manipulated to improve the unemployment rate, nor does it reveal that anything "unusual happened with the September  report," as Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal explained (emphasis added):
The allegation is interesting. It claims that surveyers conducting the Household Survey -- which is what establishes the unemployment rate -- were pressured to fake surveys in order to fill in data gaps, when it was difficult to get adequate response rates on its surveys.
It also claims that instances of bad data being filled in is something that was going back to 2010 -- in other words, this is not a story about the infamous September 2012 jobs report. There's also no allegation here that there was pressure to manipulate the number up. The only claim is that there was pressure to fill in gaps where there was a shortfall in the number of survey respondents.
There may be more information to come to light on this, but at least this particular report doesn't jibe with Welch's claim that something unusual happened with the September report to artificially push the number down.
In a later post, Weisenthal expanded on his criticism of the New York Post piece, noting that "While it's true that at the time the September Jobs Report looked very weird, in retrospect that drop-off in the unemployment rate looks totally on-trend," and explaining that the supposedly-suspicious regional data didn't seem to match a noticeable dip in unemployment in the same regions.
Right-wing media have a long history of attempting to discredit employment data. As early as February 2012, Fox's Steve Doocy claimed the unemployment data was "fishy," while Fox's Eric Bolling asked if the Labor Department was "playing around with the numbers."
UPDATE: In a November 19 Twitter post, CNBC senior economics reporter Steve Liesman reported that the worker named in the New York Post article has not worked for the Census Bureau since August 2011:
Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers attacked the new health care law for requiring all new insurance plans to cover essential services such as maternity care and mental health care, ignoring the fact that individuals with these conditions are often discriminated against in the insurance market and that requiring coverage for these services will help the economy and reduce economic insecurity.
On the November 12 edition of Special Report, Powers complained that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans are now required to cover benefits such as maternity care and mental health care, despite the fact that an individual might not ever need to use these services:
POWERS: The idea that they think that 50-year-olds should have maternity care is very concerning to me. You know, people are being forced to pay for things that they will not use. It is not for them to tell people -- I don't need to be told I need to have mental health coverage. If I wanted it, I would have gotten it. And I think people are getting a little fed up, even Democrats, with this stuff.
In fact, without the ACA's requirement that essential health benefits be covered by new insurance plans sold on the exchanges, Powers may not have been able to get mental health coverage or maternity care if she wanted it. Individuals who needed those services before the law's passage were routinely discriminated against while trying to obtain necessary health insurance, by being required to pay significantly more for coverage, left unable to get a plan offering specific coverage, or rejected from health insurance all together.
As CNNMoney explained, previously insurance companies were able to keep costs down for many by offering plans without some essential benefits, like maternity care and mental health services, and cherry picking "among applicants to only pick the healthiest ones." The New York Times reported that in 2011, "62 percent of women in the United States covered by private plans that were not obtained through an employer lacked maternity coverage," and a Washington Post columnist explained that according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 20 percent of people currently in the individual market have "no coverage for mental-health cases, including outpatient therapy visits and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization." (Approximately 57.7 million Americans experience a mental health condition per year, and half of all Americans will experience one in their lifetime.) Many individual market insurance plans did not offer these services.
The entire concept behind the Affordable Care Act was to change this, ensuring that all Americans, regardless of their personal finances or current health states, could have access to quality, comprehensive health insurance that covered their needs. The law thus mandates ten essential health benefits -- including maternity care and some mental health services -- that all new insurance plans must include at minimum for every American.
Powers' argument also ignored that requiring insurance companies to cover these essential services in all health plans has significant economic benefits.
Fox News dismissed the devastating effect that delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would have on the millions of Americans who would be left without adequate insurance and be forced to delay treatment for serious health conditions.
During her November 6 testimony to Congress, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pushed back on congressional demands to delay implementation of parts of the new health care law, noting that a delay of the law could mean delaying access to necessary and life-saving medical treatment for Americans who currently lack insurance or are underinsured (via Nexis):
SEBELIUS: Now, some have asked, why not just delay implementation of the new law until all of the problems are fixed? And there's a pretty straightforward answer: Delaying the Affordable Care Act wouldn't delay people's cancer or diabetes or Parkinson's. Didn't delay the need for mental health services or cholesterol screenings or prenatal care. Delaying the Affordable Care Act doesn't delay the foreclosure notices for families forced into bankruptcy by unpayable medical bills. It doesn't delay the higher costs all of us pay when uninsured Americans are left with no choice but to rely on emergency rooms for care.
So for millions of Americans, delay is not an option. People's lives depend on this. Too many hard-working people have been waiting for too long for the ability to obtain affordable health insurance.
We want to save families from going bankrupt. We want to save the lives of more of our friends and neighbors by allowing them to detect medical issues early. We want to keep prices down. Delay is not an option.
The next morning on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade dismissed Sebelius' warning as "disingenuous," and implied that only people in third-world nations lacked access to adequate health care:
KILMEADE: She also said something I thought was totally disingenuous. When asked over and over again by Max Baucus and other Democrats, why don't you delay, she says, well, doing so wouldn't delay people's cancer, diabetes or Parkinson's disease. What are we, Cambodia? Are we some third-world nation? Are we all in the waiting room until this passes and this website gets up? That's, these are the types of statements where people feel as though this is one big game.
In fact, more than 47 million nonelderly Americans were uninsured in 2012, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that a one-year delay to the individual mandate -- the portion of the health care law that penalizes individuals for not signing up for insurance by March 2014 -- would cause at least 11 million more Americans to remain uninsured in 2014. The majority of the uninsured are low-income working families.