From the July 8 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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Fox News criticized State Department spending on public engagement through Facebook, though experts say that social media is a key component of public diplomacy in the 21st century and the State Department's Facebook presence has produced a level of engagement that exceeds industry standards.
Fox cited a May 2013 Inspector General (IG) report on the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) in order to criticize the bureau for spending $630,000 on two advertising campaigns to increase the bureau's Facebook audience. According to the IG report, the campaigns succeeded in raising the number of followers of the bureau's English Facebook pages from around 100,000 per page to over 2 million for per page. The IIP is tasked with developing a social media community as part of its mission to provide and support "the places, content, and infrastructure needed for sustained conversations with foreign audiences to build America's reputation abroad."
During the June 3 Fox & Friends, guest co-host Clayton Morris suggested that the State Department's spending on "Facebook likes" was a not useful. Co-host Brian Kilmeade added, "Do you know how many White House tours they could have had with that?"
In fact, experts contend that social media outreach is an important part of modern diplomacy. American University professor Craig Hayden noted in a Fall 2012 Global Media Journal article that "social media technologies are increasingly inextricable from strategic formulations about US foreign policy, its methods, and objectives," and that "it is increasingly evident that such claims are more than unsubstantiated valorization of technology." Similarly, a February 2013 American Security Project report asserted that social media has a role in public diplomacy and advised that "these tools should be components of an integrated strategy" [emphasis original]. And a 2013 Aspen Institute report cited two former US ambassadors who urged the State Department to utilize social media "as a means to strengthen public diplomacy."
Moreover, a 2010 Pew Internet poll found that a majority of Americans do not think that that government engagement through social media "is a waste of government money." 79 percent of Americans also agreed that social media "helps people be more informed about what the government is doing," while 74 percent said it "makes government agencies and officials more accessible".
Though the IG report on the State Department's Facebook outreach noted that "just over 2 percent" of the bureau's followers like, share, or comment on the bureau's Facebook posts per week, according to research by the Chief Marketing Officer Council, two percent exceeds industry standards for the level of engagement that most brands can expect when seeking increased publicity on Facebook: "Only 1.3% of 'fans' actually engage with the brands they 'like'."
Sean Hannity ignored new reports that Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (CA) directed the Treasury Department's inspector general (IG) to "narrowly focus" its audit of the IRS' assessment of tax-exempt status requests to focus on tea party organizations, falsely claiming that "new claims by progressive groups that they were targeted by the IRS are in fact, false."
On the June 26 edition of his Fox News show, host Sean Hannity attempted to resuscitate the dying right-wing media narrative that the improper IRS targeting of groups was directed by the White House in an effort to punish opponents, by citing an IG audit of the IRS which found that some conservative groups received improper scrutiny when seeking tax-exempt status. Hannity dismissed reports that progressive groups had received similar scrutiny and the IG's investigation had been directed by House Republicans, citing the IG report in an attempt -- as he put it -- to "correct the record" saying: "If you've been paying attention to this scandal you know that the inspector general report outlined very clearly the distinct ideological imbalance."
Hannity concluded by asking: "If progressives were unfairly targeted, why didn't anyone say so earlier?"
A June 25 Hill article answered Hannity's question. The Hill reported that a spokesman for the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George, said they were asked by Issa "to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations":
The inspector general's audit found that groups seeking tax-exempt status with "Tea Party" and "patriots" in their name did receive extra attention from the IRS, with some facing years of delay and inappropriate questions from the agency.
But top congressional Democrats have wielded new information from the IRS this week that liberal groups were also flagged for extra attention on the sorts of "be on the lookout" lists (BOLOs) that also tripped up conservative groups.
The spokesman for the Treasury inspector general noted their audit acknowledged there were other watch lists. But the spokesman added: "We did not review the use, disposition, purpose or content of the other BOLOs. That was outside the scope of our audit."
Prior to this report, Issa had leaked incomplete transcripts that were used by right-wing media to suggest that the IRS' use of improper criteria for determining which groups requesting tax-exempt status required additional scrutiny was directed by officials in Washington D.C., and potentially by White House officials. Other transcripts released later debunked this claim.
Furthermore, as a June 26 Associated Press article reported, progressive groups have claimed that they received scrutiny from the IRS, resulting in long delays in their being granted tax-exempt status. James Salt, a spokesman for the progressive Catholics United went so far as to claim the IRS asked the organization nonsensical, "weird" questions. A June 25 Wall Street Journal article similarly reported delays in tax-exempt status assessment for progressive groups: "Maryann Martindale, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, said her "progressive" group has been waiting almost two years for IRS action on an application for tax exemption from one of its entities."
Prior to this revelation, a manager of the Cincinnati IRS office responsible for the assessment of tax-exempt status requests, and self-described "conservative Republican" John Shafer told congressional investigators that neither he nor his office "never discussed any political, personal aspirations whatsoever."
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, during the June 25 Hannity segment Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin went on to accuse the White House of orchestrating the IRS' targeting, saying: "All roads lead to Washington D.C. and all fingers, at some point, will lead straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
With their prior efforts to generate a scandal regarding the Internal Revenue Service collapsing, Fox News spent 17 minutes and 41 seconds on a federal report that found less than $20,000 of improper use of credit cards by agency employees out of more than $100 million in charges.
The report from the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration's office, released on Monday, noted that purchases made with IRS-issued credit card accounts were reviewed over a two year period ending in September of 2011. During that period, IRS had 5,241 purchase card accounts and made approximately 234,000 purchases totaling $103.2 million with the cards. In a press release, Inspector General J. Russell George said "the majority of IRS cardholders appear to use their purchase cards properly" but pointed out that the audit "identified some troubling instances of inappropriate usage."
The IG identified, based on a non-scientific sample of purchase card transactions, $3,939 in card transactions the IG considered "improper decorative and give-away items" (the IRS responded that those purchases were in fact proper under federal laws supporting purchases for training and decorative items). The IG also identified a single cardholder who "made 38 transactions totaling $2,655 for what appeared to be personal purchases."
Finally, the IG criticized $12,474 in credit card expenditures during a five-day conference that cost the government "more than 50,000"; the IRS had been authorized to spend more than double that on the week's meals, receptions, and meetings, but the IG still termed "the cost of the expenses related to this conference to be high."
Even if all of this spending was improper, which the IRS denies, it would still constitute a mere $19,068 in spending over two years.
But on Fox, this spending was treated as a major story.
Between 3:30 pm on Monday and11:30 am Tuesday, the network highlighted the improper purchases in 17 minutes and 41 seconds of coverage over seven segments - on Studio B, Special Report, On The Record, Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and Happening Now.
Monday's revelation that progressive as well as conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status had been singled out for review by the Internal Revenue Service left one pressing question: Why did the inspector general's report detailing improper scrutiny only mention conservative groups?
Last night we got the answer: The IG only reported on conservative groups because that's what Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the notoriously partisan chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told him to do. Via The Hill:
The Treasury inspector general whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.
A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked - by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) - "to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations.
The inspector general's audit found that groups seeking tax-exempt status with "Tea Party" and "patriots" in their name did receive extra attention from the IRS, with some facing years of delay and inappropriate questions from the agency.
Note that this explanation is inconsistent with the description of their investigation the IG gave in its May 14 report, which strongly suggested that they had reviewed IRS targeting of all groups that sought tax-exempt status:
WHY TIGTA DID THE AUDIT
TIGTA initiated this audit based on concerns expressed by members of Congress. The overall objective of this audit was to determine whether allegations were founded that the IRS: 1) targeted specific groups applying for tax-exempt status, 2) delayed processing of targeted groups' applications, and 2) requested unnecessary information from targeted groups.
What all of this means is that Issa took the media for a ride. Again.
From the June 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Media outlets have pounced on a quote from one member of a science advisory panel to once again claim a White House "war on coal," but they are missing crucial context about President Barack Obama's expected plan, which sets aside money for the development of so-called "clean coal" technology in addition to proposing necessary regulations on the pollution that coal-fired power plants currently emit.
Tuesday, The New York Times published a quote from Harvard University professor Daniel P. Schrag, a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, in anticipation of the Obama administration's announcement of measures to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change:
"Everybody is waiting for action," he said. "The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed."
The Washington Post singled out the remarks in a post titled "Obama science adviser calls for 'war on coal." However, Schrag is not Obama's primary science adviser -- he is simply one of 18 advisors in a group that includes current and former executives from Microsoft, Google and tech conglomerate Honeywell, Inc. Additionally, as the Post noted, "he is not closely involved in setting regulatory policy for the White House."
Right-wing outlets immediately began publicizing the remarks, suggesting they are a sign of President Obama's true motives, with The Washington Free Beacon claiming the quote shows that the president's plan "is explicitly aimed at attacking the coal industry." Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin followed up by asking "Is Obama waging a 'war on coal?' and responding that "[t]o a large extent, the answer is yes."
However, Schrag's remark is not representative of President Obama's record as The Columbia Journalism Review and others have previously pointed out. Schrag responded to an email inquiry from Media Matters that he believes "there is nothing wrong with coal if technology is used to remove CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants" (emphasis added):
The quote was slightly out of context. I was asked about the question of a war on coal, and I explain that shutting down conventional coal plants is a critical step in moving towards a low-carbon economy. But the phrase "war on coal" is really inappropriate and I shouldn't have used it - simply because it is not the coal that is the problem, but the emissions from coal, and what they do to our health, the health of our children, and of course the climate. So there is nothing wrong with coal if technology is used to remove CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants. But conventional coal, that is harming our children and changing the climate system should have no place in our society.
Displaying a remarkable lack of self-awareness, Rush Limbaugh tried to convince a caller that "it's a pretty safe bet" that liberals always lie and conservatives never do -- an assertion he backed up with a series of his own lies on everything from abortion to minority vote suppression and the IRS.
On the June 18 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh addressed a caller who expressed interest in hearing both sides -- liberal and conservative -- of any given debate before coming to his own conclusion on the issue. Limbaugh chastised the caller for informing himself in this manner, telling him, "The liberals lie. I do not form my opinions on what both sides say. I form my opinions on what I know to be right." Limbaugh concluded that it's a "pretty safe bet" that liberals are always lying, while conservatives don't lie. In his attempts to prove his theory, Limbaugh turned to some misinformation of his own on the subject of abortion and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
For weeks, Fox News has promoted selective clips of interview transcripts leaked by House Republicans to promote their baseless claim that the White House engineered the Internal Revenue Service's improper screening of conservative groups seeking non-profit status.
Such claims were always speculative. The IRS' inspector general has said that while employees used "improper criteria" to scrutinize conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, that behavior was "not politically biased" and was not driven by the White House. Subsequent testimony leaked by House Republicans has suggested that high-ranking IRS officials in Washington were at first unaware of the improper behavior and stopped it when they learned of it.
The House Oversight Committee's Democrats have now released the full transcript of an interview with another IRS witness which further undermines claims that the White House was at the center of the process. According to the interview subject, a self-described conservative Republican who worked in the IRS' Cincinnati office, an agent he supervised flagged the first Tea Party application that came under scrutiny, asking for guidance on the case.The interview subject denied having had contact with senior IRS officials or the White House about the targeting. According to The Washington Post's Greg Sargent:
In the testimony, the screening manager says that he first became aware of the initial Tea Party application when an "agent who worked for me" asked for "guidance concerning a case for him." The manager testified that in this case he agreed with the agent that "there was not enough information" to figure out whether to grant the group tax exempt status.
"I told him at that point in time I agreed with his thinking," the manager testified, adding that he informed the agent that he would "elevate that issue to my area manager."
"This was the first case that came in that was brought to my attention," the manager continued.
The manager further testified that the Tea Party groups were deliberately grouped together so that they would receive consistent treatment. "There was a lot of concerns about making sure that any cases that had, you know, similar-type activities or items included, that they would be worked by the same agent or same group," the manager testified.
In the testimony, the screening manager also flatly stated he had no reason to believe there was White House involvement.
The screening manager also testifies that he never had any conversation with Lois Lerner, the former director of the Exempt Organizations Division, or former IRS commissioner Douglas Schulmanm about the "screening of Tea Party cases."
It remains to be seen how Fox News will react to statements that so strongly undermine their conclusion. But we have some precedent - on June 9, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, released excerpts from this interview, and said that it showed that "the case is solved" and that the White House had not been involved in the improper behavior. Fox responded by airing his conclusion that "the case is solved" and hosting conservatives to criticize that claim, without laying out Cummings' evidence.
Fox News has hyped interviews from the investigation into the IRS' improper scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status that have been selectively released by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, while ignoring calls to make the full transcripts public.
Fox has highlighted and mischaracterized Issa's leaked interview with IRS agent Holly Paz even as calls grow from Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat on the Oversight Committee, for Issa to release the full transcripts of all the remaining IRS interviews. The Huffington Post noted that, because the interviews are being leaked slowly, "it's impossible to know if there is countervailing information in either the pages left out of the interviews not released or the interviews not released":
The one item made public by Cummings' office included a statement from a self-described IRS office manager saying that the White House had no involvement in the enhanced scrutiny.
The slow release has also opened Issa up to criticism that he's trying to prolong the political bleeding for the Obama administration rather than pursue a sound and comprehensive investigation.
In a statement to Politico, Cummings noted that Issa was only releasing "cherry-picked excerpts that show no White House involvement whatsoever in the identification and screening of these cases":
Cummings spent the past week battling committee Chairman Darrell Issa, accusing the California Republican of cherry picking bits and pieces of transcripts for release to support his argument.
Cummings is threatening to release the transcripts of other interviews conducted by the committee. He's especially eager to make public an interview with a self-identified conservative IRS manager in Cincinnati who said employees there began scrutinizing tea party tax-exempt applications.
Issa has warned Cummings that a broad release of interview transcripts has the potential to hobble the committee's probe, but Cummings contends that it's "more reckless to leak cherry-picked excerpts that omit key details and hide the full truth."
After Issa released the transcript of an interview with Paz, several Fox News programs seized on the story in order to push the unsubstantiated claim that the IRS improperly targeted conservative groups under direct orders from Washington, D.C. America Live host Megyn Kelly hosted Guy Benson, political editor of the conservative website Townhall.com, to claim that Paz's interview supported claims that the agents were "following directions from Washington, DC." Politico reported that the selectively leaked interview was also being used by Republicans on Issa's Oversight Committee to claim "that Washington orchestrated the conservative group targeting."
Fox has previously ignored Issa's admission that the interview transcripts were "not definitive" in showing that Washington, D.C. was involved in the targeting. Fox has also attempted to suggest that visits by former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman show the White House was involved in the targeting, despite extensive reporting showing that Shulman was largely attending meetings on health care reform implementation.
Fox News is dishonestly misinterpreting news reports to erroneously conclude that IRS officials in Washington, D.C., were involved in the improper scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Several Fox anchors have portrayed details of a congressional interview with Holly Paz, formerly a D.C.-based manager in the IRS tax-exempt unit, as contradicting previous claims from the Obama administration that IRS reviews of conservative tax-exempt applications were not initiated by D.C. officials.
For example, on America's Newsroom, Martha MacCallum said Paz "says that she was in on the plan to give extra scrutiny to conservative groups." On the same program, Stuart Varney said Paz's interview proved that the orders to scrutinize conservative groups "did go higher up the food chain."
Later in the show MacCallum said that there were "compelling reasons" to investigate whether the orders to investigate conservative groups came from the top.
Similarly, America Live host Megyn Kelly said Paz's interview "discredits" claims made by the Obama administration that they were not involved in targeting conservatives.
These claims are based on a misinterpretation of what the IRS did that was improper. In an interview with congressional investigators, transcript of which was released to several news outlets, Paz acknowledged having "reviewed 20 to 30 applications" from politically active groups seeking non-profit. But it was not improper for the IRS to review such applications -- the reason the IRS has been criticized is because they used politically slanted criteria to select conservative, but not progressive, groups to receive that scrutiny. Specifically, the IRS gave additional scrutiny to groups with "tea party," "patriot," and "9/12" in their names.
In her interview, Paz reportedly said she reviewed case files submitted by IRS officials in Cincinnati, Ohio, but that it was the local office that was responsible for selecting those cases for scrutiny. From USA Today:
Paz said liberal groups were mentioned by name, alongside the Tea Party, on an IRS BOLO -- or "be on the lookout" -- list. Screeners in Cincinnati, where all applications for tax-exemptions are processed, used the list to identify sensitive or complex cases that should be sent to specialists in Cincinnati and Washington.
Thus, by the time Paz reviewed the cases in D.C., the improper behavior had already occurred, consistent with the Obama administration claims that the improper behavior was the fault of officials in Cincinnati.
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."
Fox News dishonestly dismissed a Democratic congressman's statement that the mystery of who began the IRS' inappropriate targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status has been solved.
Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, appeared on CNN's State of the Union on June 9 where he explained that a Cincinnati-based IRS manager told congressional interviewers that a screener under his supervision brought a tea party group's application for tax-exempt status to his attention, and that he then sent the case to a Washington office for assistance. In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the committee, Cummings further explained that the IRS manager "said he then instructed his team of screeners to identify similar cases" and that the manager told interviewers that "he took this action on his own." The screener under this manager's supervision was also interviewed, and he "acknowledged developing search terms" that that Inspector General's office called "inappropriate" in its report. This is consistent with the Inspector General's finding that the IRS Determinations United in Cincinnati "developed and used inappropriate criteria to identify applications from organizations with the words Tea Party in their names."
But Fox's coverage of Cummings' statement withheld all of this information from the network's viewers. Fox & Friends merely aired Cummings' conclusion on CNN that "the case is solved" before giving Virginia Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Ken Cuccinelli a platform to air his grievances against the IRS. America's Newsroom similarly aired only Cummings' conclusion and brought on Fox contributor Stephen Hayes to comment, with Hayes also refraining from detailing what the IRS manager told interviewers while questioning why Cummings is putting so much emphasis on the manager's answers.
Fox has been pushing the discredited assertion that the White House or IRS officials in Washington drove the IRS' actions, claiming that partial transcripts of interviews with IRS employees prove that Washington was behind the inappropriate targeting, even though Republicans have admitted they lacked evidence for that. Fox also said that a former IRS commissioner's visits to the White House show that the agency was coordinating with the White House to target conservative groups, when in fact he mostly met with staffers charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Fox News falsely suggested that 56 percent of car companies that received loans through the same government program as electric automakers Tesla and Fisker have failed. In fact, most of the automakers are up and running -- 56 percent of those that asked for loans have gone under, indicating that the Department of Energy exercised due diligence in reviewing applicants.
This week, Fox & Friends Sunday claimed that "56% Of Carmakers Who Got Federal Help Fizzled," citing a Daily Caller story on the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program. Co-host Tucker Carlson, who also serves as editor-in-chief at the Daily Caller, later opined "If I run a venture capital firm ... and in four years, 56 percent of the companies I invest your money in go bankrupt ... I would be in deep trouble." He concluded, "the government should not be in the venture capital business. They're not good at it."
However, Fox News reversed the success of the program: 56 percent of the identifiable car companies that applied for loan guarantees have ceased operations, but most of the car companies that received these loan guarantees are up and running. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, expect a successful investment strategy to yield a 70 percent failure rate.
From the June 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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