2013 was an epic year of right-wing media misinforming the public on the health care debate, particularly on women's health issues. Ignoring women's health experts, conservative media spent this year stoking fears about everything from birth control to maternity care, ignoring science, distorting state and federal regulations, and demonizing women's health care options in the process. These are the top six scare tactics from 2013.
Media Matters looks back at the best of the worst of right-wing media's treatment of women in 2013.
The real-world impact of opinions like Megyn Kelly's was on display this week when a black ninth grader was chastised by his teacher for dressing like Santa Claus, because according to him, Santa is white. Comments such as these are not only offensive, they erode a child's self-image, as a clinical psychologist told CNN.
Fox's Megyn Kelly sparked much controversy on December 11 for insisting that Santa was, and is, white, in response to a piece by Slate columnist Aisha Harris on how the universal image of a white Santa can be difficult for minority children to reconcile with their own experiences. Kelly later accused her critics of race-baiting and targeting her simply because she worked at Fox.
On December 16, CNN Newsroom highlighted Kelly's comments when telling the story of a black student at Cleveland High School in New Mexico who was rebuked by his teacher for dressing up in a Santa outfit. According to host Wolf Blitzer, "the teacher reportedly told the ninth grader that he couldn't dress as Santa because he was of the wrong skin color."
Comments like these, and Kelly's, are harmful to children, as clinical psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Gardere illustrated to CNN's George Howell:
HOWELL: So when a child hears comments like that from Megyn Kelly, or from a teacher who puts his opinion out there, like we heard in New Mexico, what does it do to the child's self-image?
GARDERE: It begins to erode that child's self-image. We are a society that says that we are all equal and we can all participate in something that is generic, as Santa Claus.
Following the episode, CNN reported, the student's father said his son "really wants nothing to do with Christmas this year."
The incident at Cleveland High School is a stark real-life example of the effect that comments like Megyn Kelly's can have on children. A teacher's ridiculing the student for daring to be black and dress as Santa Claus reflects Kelly's view that Santa is invariably a white man, and minority children should simply get over it. Kelly herself summed it up well: "Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change."
Fox News' special "Behind the Obama Breakdown" prominently featured the Koch brothers-funded organization Generation Opportunity, an anti-health care reform group seeking to deter young people from signing up for Obamacare coverage, without ever acknowledging the political bias behind the organization.
On December 13, Fox aired a special report hosted by Bret Baier called "Behind the Obama Breakdown." The report opened and closed with segments on Generation Opportunity, an organization that travels to colleges around the country to encourage millenials to opt out of signing up for coverage on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. Baier described the group as "young, political activists mobilizing against the president's signature legislation" and "community organizer[s]," airing footage of Gen Opp rallies, headquarters, and interviews with Evan Feinberg, the organization's president. Feinberg's remarks often drove the special's narratives, placed between new topics to introduce a new theme to viewers.
The hour-long report featured Feinberg and Generation Opportunity multiple times throughout it, totaling more than six minutes of coverage to the group. Baier allowed Feinberg to repeatedly push his anti-health care agenda, encouraging young people not to sign up for health insurance on the ACA.
Neither Baier nor Feinberg ever acknowledged that the organization is financed by the Koch brothers. The group received $5.04 million from "Freedom Partners," a conservative lobbying group funded by the Koch brothers. The funding is responsible for a series of anti-Obamacare ads featuring a "Creepy Uncle Sam" -- who also made appearances in Fox's special -- to provoke fear about the government and deter young people from signing up for the ACA.
Narrating over shots of a Generation Opportunity tailgate, Baier said of the group's mission: "This is more than a pregame tailgate bash. It sounds a lot like a call to civil disobedience." What Baier characterizes as "civil disobedience" -- opting out of the ACA -- may have dangerous consequences for young adults. Without insurance, young people will be responsible for the full costs of any injuries, illness, or preventive care. And when the average cost to treat even a broken leg without health insurance is over $10,000, footing the bill is unlikely to be affordable for young people.
Fox has hidden the people behind Generation Opportunity before, and its repeated spotlight on the organization fits with the network's continuing efforts to discourage millennials from signing up for health insurance, a campaign which ignores the fact that many young adults are eager to buy health insurance under the new ACA provisions.
Fox News downplayed the gravity of income inequality -- proven insurmountable for a majority of the poorest Americans and detrimental to economic growth -- in order to tout a report which found that 20 percent of adults in the U.S. will be among the top 2 percent of earners at some point in their lives.
On December 9, NBC News published an Associated Press report which found that 20 percent of U.S. adults enter the wealthiest 2 percent of earners at some point in their lifetimes [emphasis added]:
Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America's economy and politics. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality.
Made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, the new rich are those with household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives. That puts them, if sometimes temporarily, in the top 2 percent of earners.
On the December 9 edition of Your World, host Neil Cavuto touted the AP study as "good news" and ignored its negative implications, such as the finding that those in the top 2 percent are "less likely to support public programs, such as food stamps or early public education, to help the disadvantaged":
CAVUTO: You ever want to be in the top 2 percent? Well, you've got a 1 in 5 chance of making it -- it's true, 21 percent of Americans have been there, making the 250,000 bucks or so it takes to be among those rarefied few. That's good news, right? Well, not if you're the mainstream media. It's seen as a problem, not a triumph. To quote the Associated Press, this little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality. Biggest barrier, so now, this is a problem?
Fox News contributor Charles Payne dismissed the importance of closing the income gap, saying, "People make it all the time in this country." But findings from a recent Pew report refute Payne's claim, particularly where Americans at bottom of the income ladder are concerned. According to the report, "43 percent of Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent never even make it to the middle."
Fox News contributor Monica Crowley later described the administration's efforts to reduce income inequality as "a war on wealth" and "a war on success." However, many economists agree that policies aimed at reducing inequality also spur economic growth. Economist Robert Reich has argued for decades that economic inequality "is bad for everyone," including the very wealthy, because it hinders economic growth. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has also contended that income inequality leads to "less growth and less efficiency."
During their discussion, Cavuto and his guests ignored the harsh realities faced by Americans excluded from the top income bracket. According to another AP report, "4 in 5 American adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least part of their lives." And contrary to Cavuto's optimistic outlook, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the poverty rate increased by 2.7 percent from 2007 to 2012.
Fox News cited a study by a lobbying group with ties to the fast food industry to push debunked myths on the effects of raising the minimum wage, ignoring a wealth of economic evidence showing that increasing the minimum wage has little to no effect on employment.
On December 5, fast food workers went on strike across the nation to protest for higher pay. The December 5 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto ran a segment covering the protests, with reporter David Lee Miller claiming that "according to one university study, hiking the minimum wage - the federal minimum wage - would cost nearly half a million jobs."
Rush Limbaugh took material for his radio program from "satire" blog Diversity Chronicles, a website with strong undertones of white supremacy and misogyny which Rush described as "a website that does satire on how white men are blamed for everything."
On the November 26 edition of his show, Limbaugh highlighted a story about a controversial professor who allegedly advised his white, male students to commit suicide. After returning from a commercial break, Rush clarified that the story was a satire piece from the website Diversity Chronicle, a satirical blog which, according to Limbaugh, is "actually pretty funny." He then began to read from another Diversity Chronicle post mocking the notion of marital rape:
LIMBAUGH: That's why this outfit called Diversity Chronicle -- which is a satire website. They're actually very funny -- That's why they created the satire about the guy. Because there's a basis -- you know all good comedy has truth in it. That's what makes great comedy funny, is that there're elements of truth in it.
For example, this Diversity Chronicle website right now is running a piece, 'Brave Woman Comes Forward To Denounce Former Husband's Repeated Rapes.' 'After several years of silence a brave and heroic thirty eight year old woman has come forward to denounce her former husband's repeated rapes over the course of their marriage. Despite her numerous appeals, local law enforcement however refuses to treat her allegations seriously. These sexist, male-chauvinist, largely white male officers actually state that by her own account she was not 'legally raped.'"
Rush choked up with laughter as he read the line describing the officers, who did not take allegations of marital rape seriously, as "sexist, male-chauvinist[s]." He then said of the site, "It is a website that does satire on how white men are blamed for everything."
The Diversity Chronicle blog describes itself as "a News web site focusing on news events relating to diversity of all kinds," but a disclaimer claims "the original content on this blog is largely satirical."
A scan of the list of blogs Diversity Chronicle recommends reveals a number of "white nationalist" blogs, including American Renaissance (amren.com), a white supremacist think tank. The site also recommends various articles with titles such as "Pedophilia More Common Among 'Gays'" and "Virgin Brides Less Likely To Divorce." Under a section labeled "Eugenics," Diversity Chronicles links a website supporting "humanitarian eugenics." The "Institute for Historical Review," which deals largely in anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial, is also in the list of recommended websites.
Right-wing media are dismissing President Obama's and Congressional Democrats' work on filibuster reform, a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and immigration reform as merely attempts to distract from the Affordable Care Act.
Network nightly news broadcasts have served as a conduit for House Republicans to attack Obama administration initiatives through committee hearings -- all part of the GOP's "aggressive campaign," according to a recent New York Times report, to hold committee hearings and rely on media to cover the hearings' chosen narrative.
CNN's Kate Bolduan insinuated that the administration could have done more in sending military support to Americans under attack in Benghazi during an interview with a Republican congressman, an intimation which feeds into what military experts have deemed a "cartoonish" view of military capabilities.
On the November 18 edition of CNN's New Day, host Kate Bolduan interviewed Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) about last week's closed-door congressional hearing with CIA personnel in Benghazi at the time of the 2012 attacks. The pair discussed whether there was a lull in fighting between the two main waves of attacks, as the official timeline lays out. Bolduan prompted (emphasis added):
BOLDUAN: The reason the question of a lull is key to this investigation is because there's been a question all along, is could more support have been brought in -- would air support have made any difference? The administration argues no, because they believe that it was over after the first attack. So do you believe that's accurate?
Bolduan is insinuating that the administration's response time was somehow influenced by the belief that the first wave of fighting ended and was followed by a lull. She offers no actual evidence to support this. And, in fact, the administration has repeatedly said that the military ordered an immediate military response upon learning of the incident, and military experts have repeatedly testified that the response represented the best of our military's capabilities.
Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the Marine Corps' Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST), stationed in Spain, to deploy to Libya "as fast as you can" after the first attack began. But the unit encountered logistical issues, as former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz explained:
There was never a question concerning U.S. resolve or the overall capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to Benghazi. There was, however, nothing immediate about an immediate response. There were logistics and host-nation approvals to consider. An immediate response was hampered by the equation of geography and logistics.
Panetta testified in a February 7 hearing that "there was not enough time, given the speed of the attack, for armed military assets to respond."
Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Bush and Obama administrations, said in a May interview that the idea military assets could have arrived in Benghazi more quickly represented a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities." According to Gates, getting a force to Benghazi from outside the country "in a timely way would have been very difficult if not impossible." He also explained that "given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances."
Other military experts, like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs retired Admiral Mike Mullen, agree that the military did everything they could that night.
In fact, even the House Republicans' own report on the Benghazi attack undermines Bolduan's insinuation that the administration could have deployed additional forces that night (emphasis added):
The House Armed Services Committee also examined the question of whether the Defense Department failed to deploy assets to Benghazi because it believed the attack was over after the first phase. The progress report finds that officials at the Defense Department were monitoring the situation throughout and kept the forces that were initially deployed flowing into the region. No evidence has been provided to suggest these officials refused to deploy resources because they thought the situation had been sufficiently resolved.