After hyping the claim that the "totalitarian" Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) displayed bias against conservative groups by not granting fee waivers, Fox News has ignored a report refuting that allegation.
The conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) claimed in May that the EPA waived fees for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for liberal groups "about 90 percent of the time," while denying conservative groups the waivers "about 90 percent of the time." Fox News brought up the scandal on at least 12 occasions (dedicating over 18 minutes of airtime)*, hosting CEI's Chris Horner, Republican congressmen and others who blasted the disparity as representative of the "totalitarian" "life on Obama's animal farm." Fox News host and purported energy expert Eric Bolling even bizarrely claimed that this practice would "hit us at the pump":
However, a Politico analysis found a "much more modest disparity": liberal groups received the waivers 52 percent of the time, while conservative groups received them 39 percent of the time. Politico's analysis differed from CEI's in part because CEI counted a late response to a fee waiver request as a denial even if the EPA eventually granted the waiver, and because Politico included smaller green groups in its analysis. Fox has not covered the analysis as of 11 a.m. ET on July 23.
Politico noted that there are several factors that complicate attributing this small gap to political bias:
[T]hat 13 percentage point gap may still not be evidence of bias. Multiple factors complicate a direct comparison between the liberals' and conservatives' results.
For starters, liberal groups made almost eight times as many waiver requests as conservatives. If EPA had approved just four more of the conservatives' 31 requests, their success rates would have been the same.
The liberal groups also included long-established environmental organizations that have dealt with the agency for decades, perhaps giving them greater familiarity with the agency's FOIA process. In most of its denial letters, EPA said the requesters hadn't satisfied a basic element of the agency's "public interest" test -- they failed to show any intention of conveying the information to the public.
Each time Fox News covered CEI's claim, the network connected it to allegations that the Internal Revenue Service improperly directed heightened scrutiny to conservative groups seeking nonprofit status, another "scandal" that fell apart. Previous allegations of political bias in FOIA requests under the Obama administration's Department of Justice have also proven hollow.
*Based on a search of internal archives for "EPA" or "Environmental Protection Agency."
John Kerr created the video included in this report.