Congressional Republicans are borrowing from years of right-wing media attacks on federal disability benefits to justify their recent attempt to snarl funding for Social Security programs.
On January 6, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a change to legislative rules that restricts the historically routine transfer of tax money from the Social Security retirement fund to the Social Security disability program. Such transfers have helped keep both Social Security programs solvent. In practice, the rule change makes these reallocations nearly impossible by requiring that they be "accompanied by 'benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of both funds.' " As the Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik explained, because the disability fund is on track to "run dry as early as next year," this could mean "disability benefits for 11 million beneficiaries would have to be cut 20%."
In a January 6 statement justifying the rule change, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) called the disability program "fraud-plagued." And during a January 14 event in New Hampshire on the long-term future of safety-net programs, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed many who receive disability benefits are "gaming the system" and downplayed disabilities, saying, "over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club."
Bill O'Reilly repeatedly interrupted and dismissed two Muslim-American leaders he hosted on his show who explained that, contrary to O'Reilly's claims, many Muslims are standing up to terrorists.
On the January 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly invited Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Haris Tarin of the Muslim Public Affairs Council to discuss Muslims' efforts to combat terrorism. O'Reilly repeatedly interrupted and talked over his guests as they attempted to point out that Muslims around the world are taking steps to fight extremism. When Tarin tried to point out that "there's Muslims on the front lines ... who are dying" in the fight against terrorism, O'Reilly cut him off and told him "Here's the deal with the no-spin zone. When you say something that's ridiculous, I'm going to interrupt you."
This year, media coverage of issues affecting women often failed badly, from trivializing sexual assault to pushing inaccurate reports on pending state abortion restrictions. Below are nine major ways the media failed women in 2014.
Michigan State University (MSU) students protested before, during, and after George Will's speech at the university's graduation ceremony in response to the conservative Washington Post syndicated columnist's offensive comments about sexual assault.
MSU invited Will to speak at the December 13 commencement ceremony despite a controversial June column in which he suggested that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges" on college campuses. Students and faculty, women's rights groups, and even Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) condemned the university's decision to host Will and award him an honorary doctorate.
MSU students used the Twitter hashtag #itsonyouMSU to protest the university's decision to host Will for the commencement ceremony. Before Will's speech, students lined up outside of MSU's Breslin Center in a silent protest. MSU Students United, which describes itself as "the autonomous student union of Michigan State University," documented the protests on Twitter, posting pictures of students holding signs with messages like "Only yes means yes" and "Rape is not a privilege":
During the ceremony, students turned their backs on Will's speech in protest, as Bloomberg News reported. Will reportedly didn't mention the controversy surrounding his sexual assault comments:
As Will got up to speak, about 15 people in the audience of several thousand stood up and turned their backs toward him. The columnist, whose writing is carried by hundreds of newspapers, made no mention of the protest, his June 6 column or the subject of sexual assault. The crowd applauded when he was done.
Protesters outside, including students, survivors of sexual assault and support group members, were polite and quiet, braving the chilly weather around the Breslin Center, the school's basketball arena and commencement venue. Some stood with red tape across their mouth and held placards saying "Fund Rape Counselors, Not Rape Apologists."
Joy Wang, a correspondent for News10 in Lansing, MI, posted a picture of the silent protest:
Image via MSU Students United Twitter account.
Conservative media have adopted a "blame feminism" approach to many of the world's problems, including rape and the lack of infrastructure funding. Here are 11 times right-wing media blamed feminism for creating the crisis of the day:
1. Ben Carson blamed the unrest in Ferguson, MO on the "women's lib movement."
2. Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds accused feminists of derailing infrastructure funding.
3. Rush Limbaugh blamed feminism for the NFL's punishment of football players.
4. On Fox News, Laura Ingraham suggested gender equality and "political correctness" were to blame for a security breach at the White House because the intruder was able to overpower a female security agent.
5. In the wake of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, the extreme conservative website WND blamed domestic violence on feminism.
6. The Weekly Standard blamed the epidemic of campus sexual assault on feminism being "in control of America's colleges and universities."
7. On June 15, Fox News' Fox & Friends Sunday accused feminists of trying to "end" Father's Day.
8. The hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered agreed that feminism is to blame for boys falling behind in school.
9. During a March 31 Heritage Foundation panel commemorating Women's History Month, conservative columnist Mona Charon cited the alleged "disintegration of family function" as one of feminism's many "failures."
10. In a discussion on Fox News' The Five about a female teacher who had sex with her 15-year old student, co-host Andrea Tantaros claimed "women who do this feel like it's not as stigmatizing as it was before," insisting that "there's something about feminism that lets them know 'I can do anything that a man does, I can even go after that young boy. I deserve it.'"
11. In 2012, Rush Limbaugh claimed that feminism is "ruining women."
Conservative media outlets attacked President Obama's proposed plan for $263 million in funding for police training and body cameras following the police shooting of Michael Brown, accusing Obama of blaming police instead of focusing on issues affecting the black community. But research has shown that the use of body cameras has decreased civilian complaints and the use of force by police.
Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume accused President Obama and civil rights leaders of not speaking out on "black-on-black" violence and crime in Chicago. But Obama has repeatedly spoken out on these issues and acted to address them, as have civil rights groups.
Right-wing media's outrage over President Obama's upcoming speech outlining plans to improve enforcement of the immigration system included accusations that Obama is engaging in "home-grown tyranny," calls for his impeachment, and even a Hitler comparison.
The U.S Department of Energy's (DOE) renewable energy loan guarantee program is turning a profit after weathering years of media attacks and misinformation that attempted to paint the now defunct solar energy firm Solyndra as representative of the program's failure. Media outlets from The Washington Post to CBS News spent years profiling Solyndra, wrongly suggesting its demise was illustrative of widespread waste, fraud, failure, and political corruption among DOE loan guarantee recipients -- but will the program's latest successes receive a comparable platform?
On November 13, NPR reported that the DOE loan program, designed to "accelerate the domestic commercial deployment of innovative and advanced clean energy technologies," is now turning a profit exceeding $30 million after collecting $810 million in interest payments. NPR noted that the program was never intended to make money, making the development all the more remarkable:
Overall, the agency has loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology. Companies have defaulted on $780 million of that -- a loss rate of 2.28 percent. The agency also has collected $810 million in interest payments, putting the program $30 million in the black.
When Congress created the loan program under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it was never designed to be a moneymaker. In fact, Congress imagined there would be losses and set aside $10 billion to cover them.
NPR noted that previous critics of the program have remained silent on the new revelations.
The media's coverage of the DOE's loan program over the past few years has been overwhelmingly negative and often egregiously misinformed. Coverage frequently focused on Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a $535 million federal loan guarantee before going bankrupt in 2011, suggesting the company's fate was representative of the program's success as a whole.
The Washington Post gave particularly outsized coverage to the Solyndra bankruptcy, devoting an entire section of its website to the so-called "Solyndra Scandal." The Post's reporting stated that President Obama "infused" politics into the program and suggested that Solyndra made the entire loan guarantee program a political liability:
Since the failure of [Solyndra], Obama's entire $80 billion clean-technology program has begun to look like a political liability for an administration about to enter a bruising reelection campaign.
Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama's green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal e-mails. Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and White House officials.
At CBS News, then-correspondent Sharyl Attkisson issued a report on Solyndra that was rife with factual errors. The report helped earn Attkisson an award from Accuracy In Media, a conservative organization known for pushing anti-gay misinformation and bizarre conspiracy theories. CBS subsequently pulled Attkisson from a planned appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to accept the award.
Fox News demonized DOE loan programs at every turn, criticizing even companies who received no funds at all from the guarantee program.
More recently, an April Media Matters study found that the mainstream media largely failed to mention the DOE's role in the success of the electric car company Tesla Motors and ignored that the program has a higher success rate than venture capitalists.
The Post's "Wonkblog" acknowledged on November 13 that the energy loans were making money, but after years of breathless negative coverage, it remains to be seen whether these media outlets will provide a more prominent a platform to inform media consumers of evidence that counters their previous narrative.
Conservative media attacked President Obama over a historic deal between China and the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions, claiming that the deal was a "cave" to China and that the U.S. got "steamrolled." But climate experts and others widely agree that the deal is an important step in the fight against climate change.