Fox News host Martha MacCallum and contributor Byron York suggested that the President Obama may have scheduled his current trips to Europe and Africa to help his poll numbers even though both trips were scheduled as early as November 2012.
Obama is currently in Northern Ireland attending a G8 summit before embarking on a tour of Africa -- an effort to strengthen economic ties to the continent. On the June 18 edition of America's Newsroom, MacCallum and York were discussing the president's current job approval rating when MacCallum wondered aloud whether Obama was trying to "get overseas and do some traveling and draw the attention somewhere else" in an attempt to "turn the tide." York responded, "Well, he's trying that."
Both the G8 summit and the Africa trip were being planned as early as November 2012, according to the BBC and Politico respectively. At that time, President Obama had just won re-election and had a job approval rating of over fifty percent.
Fox News seized on a recent claim that IRS agents were training with assault weapons to mainstream anti-government fears while downplaying the dangerous nature of working in law enforcement with the IRS -- officers routinely face death threats, and investigate cases ranging from drug trafficking to counter-terrorism. Fox contributor Monica Crowley even attempted to link the IRS to a widely debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory.
While investigating a debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) reported that IRS law enforcement agents were training with AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles. Fox host Martha MacCallum and Crowley used this report to stoke fears about the motives of the IRS, with Crowley stating, "why IRS agents, which are basically number crunchers ... would need to have weapon is a really outstanding question." Emphasis added:
MACCALLUM: And now we're learning that they're training, some of them, and there is a, we should point out, a law enforcement arm or section of the IRS so that, they, you know, they have that. But really? Semi-automatic weapons necessary to deal with taxes?
CROWLEY: Right. I mean, just when you hear -- think you've heard it all, Martha, something more outrageous comes at us here. I mean, why IRS agents, which are basically number crunchers and dealing with the public, dealing with the taxpayers, why they would need to have weapons is a really outstanding question. You mentioned that there's a law enforcement arm to the IRS, and that's true. But another outstanding question here is how widespread this is going to be in terms of is your local IRS agent going to be packing heat when you go in for your audit? We don't know. And I think when you get this news on the heels of the severe abuse of power that we've been talking about with the IRS in addition to the Department of Homeland Security also amassing massive numbers of weapons and ammunition, you have to wonder what are these domestic agencies doing with this, these kinds weapons and ammo?
MACCALLUM: And you would think local police would, you know, provide backup if necessary. We realize sometimes they go into some tough situations. We did a little research on this. No IRS enforcer has ever been killed in the line of duty, but they have been -- they've had to use those weapons eight times and accidentally fired the weapons eleven times over the last couple years, Doug, so that's not too reassuring.
But Duncan's report references the IRS' enforcement division, not, as Crowley speculated, civilian IRS employees. IRS' law enforcement officers are more than just "number crunchers." In fact, according to Politico, IRS investigations have resulted in "convictions of crimes ranging from offshore bank accounts, to Medicare fraud, to money laundering and drug trafficking operations." They also investigate crimes related to counter-terrorism. By virtue of working with the IRS, agents also receive a growing number of death threats, and have been targeted repeatedly by members of the violent "Tax Protest" movement, who have committed multiple attempted bombings, arsons, attempted kidnappings, and attempted murders. MacCallum's claim that no IRS "enforcer" has ever been killed in the line of duty is also false. IRS Agent Michael Dillon was shot and killed while attempting to collect a settlement made by the IRS with James F. Bradley.
Crowley then mentioned that this comes, "in addition to the Department of Homeland Security also amassing massive numbers of weapons and ammunition..." Her claim references a debunked conspiracy theory popularized by Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist with influence in right wing media, who recently claimed the government may have used a "weather weapon" to create the tornado that devastated Moore, OK.
Fox has routinely pushed conspiracy theories, including those of Alex Jones, while ignoring its own role in perpetuating these falsehoods. Fox's tendency to hype anti-government conspiracy theories continued recently when its president, Roger Ailes, pushed another widely debunked claim that, "the federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce healthcare."
After months of struggling with how to report on good economic news, Fox News finally found a new strategy to attack consistently positive labor market gains: move the bar to an unreasonable height. While downplaying the May 2013 jobs report that was better than expected, Fox misleadingly cited employment growth during the Reagan administration and proposed a new standard for growth so unreasonably high that it has only been met three times in the past 30 years.
On the June 7 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, contributor Charles Payne downplayed the May 2013 jobs report -- a report that was better than expected -- saying, "You know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number." He then compared the number to the September 1983 jobs report when the economy added 1.1 million jobs. Later, Payne guest hosted Fox Business' Varney & Co. where contributor Monica Crowley claimed, "At this point in the recovery, you should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month." She also brought up the September 1983 report.
PAYNE: You know what, all things considered, what you just laid out: it's better than expected. But you know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number. It's extraordinarily mediocre with what we've gotten in the past. You know, the way we've come out of recessions in the past, we've had some amazing, robust times. I mean, going all the way back to Reagan where one month we actually had one million jobs created in a single month. For us to still be well under 200,000 is really disheartening. But you know, the good news is, a lot of people thought it could have been worse.
MACCALLUM: Wow, that's an - I just want to go back to what you just said. So during the Reagan recovery there was a single month period where we added a million jobs?
PAYNE: One single month. A million - by the way, we had a whole lot less people too.
But Payne and Crowley ignored the context of the 1983 report. While Payne portrayed it as just one example of the so-called "Reagan recovery," according to The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch blog, it was actually an outlier. Market Watch also pointed out that about 640,000 of the 1.1 million jobs can be attributed to striking AT&T employees returning to work. In reality, the average monthly job growth during the Reagan administration was 168,000.
Crowley's assertion that the economy "should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month," is also unreasonable. When Market Watch evaluated a similar claim by Gov. Mitt Romney, it found that job growth had only surpassed the 500,000 mark three times in the past 30 years. From Market Watch:
How rare is it for 500,000 jobs to be created in a month? The last time was in May 2010 -- when the U.S. hired thousands of workers to conduct the Census. (The next month, payrolls shrunk by 167,000.)
Lest Romneyites think that only President Barack Obama struggled to make that grade, neither President Bush, older or younger, saw job creation that strong. President Clinton had one-plus 500,000 month, when in September, 1997, 507,000 positions were created. (Aided by the return of striking UPS workers.) President Reagan enjoyed a spectacular 1.11 million-job month in September 1983, but that was the only plus-500K mark and was boosted by roughly 640,000 AT&T workers returning from a strike.
Payne and Crowley's claims represent a new line of attack, but this isn't the first time Fox News has reset the bar on how it characterizes economic news. As the economy has consistently improved, Fox News has repeatedly struggled to portray good news in a negative light. In some cases, it has even cut its economic coverage in half.
Rush Limbaugh rehashed the widely debunked myth that President Obama's Affordable Care Act will result in death panels to smear Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, claiming that "Obamacare establishes death panels and right now Sebelius is it."
Limbaugh used the case of Sarah Murnaghan, a 10-year-old girl awaiting a lung transplant, as evidence that "The government's making the decision who lives and dies. That's what Obamacare is." Later, Limbaugh responded to a caller, saying, "Yes Virginia, there are death panels."
Despite Limbaugh's accusation, Politico reported that the Murnaghan case is not tied to the Affordable Care Act. According to Politico, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network sets policy for transplants, not Sebelius, and Republicans, not the Affordable Care Act, are pressuring Sebelius to intervene.
In the face of repeated infrastructure related disasters, Fox News host Neil Cavuto has continued to dismiss calls for an increase in infrastructure spending, claiming that spending on infrastructure is high enough. In reality, infrastructure spending has plummeted in recent years.
Bill O'Reilly ignored reality and claimed that "President Obama is not holding anyone accountable" for the actions of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after an Inspector General report found the agency gave extra scrutiny to tea party groups' tax status applications. O'Reilly failed to mention the fact that the Obama administration has fired Steven Miller, the acting commissioner of the IRS, placed Lois Lerner, the director of the tax-exempt organizations division at the IRS, on administrative leave, and that Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a criminal investigation into the case.
On the May 23 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly told guest Ben Stein, "I think to be fair on this we have to say a few things definitely. That President Obama is not holding anyone accountable. That's absolutely true." O'Reilly then claimed that the president should "be scolded for that," and that Lerner should have been suspended immediately.
But President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew forced Miller out as a "first step," with President Obama promising to "do everything in my power" to stop future targeting. On May 23, the acting IRS commissioner placed Lois Lerner on administrative leave after she refused his request that she resign. And Attorney General Eric Holder announced on May 14 that the Justice Department would work with the FBI to see if any laws were broken in relation to the IRS case.
Fox News' scandal machine, eager for a new target after the collapse of its Benghazi investigations, has been whitewashing Mr. Obama's response from the start. Some in the right wing media are even using the opportunity to call for a special prosecutor.
New York Times columnist Bill Keller joined Fox News' scandal machine in calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the Obama administration's role surrounding the Internal Revenue Services' (IRS) improper scrutiny of conservative groups. In an opinion piece titled, "Bring Back Ken Starr," Keller ignored the independent investigations already underway as well as the fact that Starr's last round of investigations as special counsel set records for the cost to the American taxpayer and encouraged a hyper-partisan environment that can still be felt today.
After the Fox-led GOP investigation into the attacks in Benghazi collapsed, Fox News geared up its scandal machine to focus on President Obama and the IRS and promptly called for a special prosecutor. In a May 21 op-ed, New York Times columnist Bill Keller followed their lead. Keller even suggested former Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr, who used a real estate deal that emerged during President Clinton's first term as a platform to conduct ever-expanding investigations into the administration over the course of several years, for the role. In fact, Starr topped Keller's list of candidates:
Republicans are howling for President Obama to name a special prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups. The president should call their bluff.
The president should announce that he has told the Justice Department to appoint an independent investigator with bulldog instincts and bipartisan credibility. The list of candidates could start with Kenneth Starr, who chased down the scandals, real and imagined, of the Clinton presidency. It might include Patrick Fitzgerald, who was special counsel in the Valerie Plame affair, winning the conviction of Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and who has successfully prosecuted two corrupt governors of Illinois, one from each party.
Keller emphasized what he sees as the need for an independent special prosecutor to discover what laws may have been broken, stating, "Just to be clear, in case the Republicans have forgotten, that is the high bar a special prosecutor would be expected to get over." But he ignored the fact that the Treasury Department Inspector General, who reported on the scandal originally, is itself independent of the administration and that a criminal investigation has already begun in the wake of the IG's report.
His call for the appointment of Starr is especially concerning. According to Duquesne law professor Ken Gormley, who wrote the book on Whitewater, Starr led a team that "came together to produce a witch hunt." Gormley goes on to blame Starr's investigations for encouraging the country's current polarization. "This is the beginning of the sharp division of red and blue," he says. "It's a tragic story ... and it's essential that we do not let something like this happen again."
Keller also failed to mention that Starr managed to rack up a record bill for his efforts -- a cost of over $30 million.
Fox's Lou Dobbs and Megyn Kelly attacked President Obama as "Nixonian" and claimed that he revealed his "inner Nixon" over scrutiny that the IRS applied to tea party groups, despite the fact that the president labeled the IRS's actions "outrageous."
Obama addressed concerns at a press conference Monday over reports that the IRS applied extra scrutiny to tea party groups. He vowed to hold the agency "fully accountable" and called the alleged misdeeds "outrageous." Pointing to those comments, Kelly asked if Obama's condemnation was forceful enough, while Dobbs compared Obama with President Nixon, stating, "This is an agency with an enemies list. This is Nixonian. This is a president whose inner Nixon is being revealed."
But Carl Bernstein, one of The Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal, deflated the idea that the IRS targeting was comparable to Watergate in an interview with Politico:
'In the Nixon White House, we heard the president of the United States on tape saying 'Use the IRS to get back on our enemies,' said Bernstein, whose reporting helped lead to Nixon's eventual resignation. 'We know a lot about President Obama, and I think the idea that he would want the IRS used for retribution -- we have no evidence of any such thing.'
While reporting that weekly jobless claims have fallen to a five year low, Fox News' Jenna Lee said that, "much of the job growth has come from fewer layoffs, not increased hiring, which begs the question whether it is real job growth at all." While Lee implied an inverse relationship between jobless claims and job growth, the U.S. Labor Department's first time unemployment claims report is only an indicator of layoffs, not job growth. In fact, the April jobs report showed that 165,000 jobs were added to the economy and the unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent - the lowest since December 2008.
On the May 9 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, host Jenna Lee reported on the weekly initial jobless claims report issued by the Labor Department. Lee acknowledged that the numbers were encouraging but then erroneously framed the report as an indicator of slowed job growth, questioning "whether it is real job growth at all."
Lee's question implied an inverse relationship between the job growth and initial jobless claims report, which is a weekly report that tracks the number of Americans who apply for unemployment benefits. Jobless claims don't measure job growth, as Lee implies. The data are only a proxy for layoffs and necessarily do not measure job growth - if someone does not get laid off, that's a job maintained, not created. Contrary to Lee's suggestion, Bloomberg reported that, "Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and tend to fall as job growth -- measured by the monthly non-farm payrolls report -- accelerates."
Lee questioned "whether it is real job growth at all." According to the report that actually tracks job growth, employers added 165,000 jobs in April and the unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent -- the lowest it has been since December 2008. Private sector job growth has consistently risen since 2009:
But Fox News recently attacked that report, too. Their coverage was largely negative, despite the fact that economists generally agree that the report shows positive gains in the labor market.
Republican congressmen are giving credibility to Alex Jones and his conservative fringe website Infowars.com, which popularized a conspiracy theory that DHS is stockpiling ammunition for nefarious purposes. The conspiracy theory has now inspired legislation known as the AMMO Act of 2013, which seeks to limit the ammunition purchasing power of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), even though the underlying theory was based on flawed math and a mischaracterization of the facts.