In early October, the GOP developed a plan to make the federal government's response to Ebola a central part of its midterm elections strategy. Television media played into Republicans' hands, helping to foment panic about the disease. Following the diagnosis of a handful of U.S. Ebola patients, the major broadcast networks ran nearly 1,000 segments about the virus in the four weeks leading up to the elections. Coverage of the disease plummeted in the two weeks following Election Day, with the same networks running fewer than 50 total segments.
From the November 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Sunday morning political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox devoted just 30 seconds of coverage to net neutrality the week after President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to require Internet service providers to treat all content equally. Those same programs dedicated nearly 17 minutes to helping scandalize comments made by Jonathan Gruber, an economist who helped estimate the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
From the November 17 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News warned that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is "unpopular" and "failing the public" the day before health care exchanges opened for the 2015 enrollment period, ignoring new polling data that shows the law is overwhelmingly popular among its enrollees.
This week Fox News devoted at least 57 segments to scandalizing MIT economist Jonathan Gruber's statement that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) "was written in a tortured way" in a renewed effort to delegitimize the passage of health care reform.
Gruber, who helped craft and provided data for various ACA provisions, can be heard in a recently surfaced video saying that the health care law "was written in a tortured way" to minimize criticism. Gruber was making the innocuous observation that Congress often crafts legislation to fit rules and politically acceptable limits, and in the case of the ACA, Congress went on to transparently debate the law for years.
But Fox News seized on Gruber's comment to manufacture a scandal surrounding the ACA's passage, pretending his remarks show the law was passed deceitfully. According to a Media Matters count, this week alone the network devoted at least 57 segments to trumpeting this fictional account.
Of course, as New York Times economics correspondent Neil Irwin explained, Gruber's comment illustrated the "completely commonplace" way that "Congress makes policy of all types." Irwin went on, "Legislators frequently game policy to fit the sometimes arbitrary conventions by which the Congressional Budget Office evaluates laws and the public debates them."
The Senate held years of bipartisan hearings on health care reform before the ACA was passed, explaining in part why, as The New Republic described, the debate over the health care law was "one of the most transparent in recent memory," and why the law was so difficult to pass.
METHODOLOGY: Media Matters searched internal databases for mentions of "Gruber" and "Obamacare" on the Fox News Channel between 6 AM - 11 PM from November 10-13th.
UPDATE: A subsequent PolitiFact count shows Fox News mentioned Gruber's name 779 times from Nov. 10-18, while MSNBC referenced Gruber 79 times and CNN just 27 times over the same period. PolitiFact's count defined a mention as "any time Gruber's name is said on air within a one-minute window." The search began midnight Nov. 10 and extended to 10:30 AM Nov. 18.
Fox News dishonestly claimed that MIT economist Jonathan Gruber's comment that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) "was written in a tortured way" to minimize criticism proves that the law was passed deceitfully. In fact, Congress routinely crafts bills to fit legislative rules and politically acceptable limits, and health care reform was transparently debated for years with input from Republicans.
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
From the November 11 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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Fox News pivoted its stance on the public health threat posed by Ebola after leading the charge in media stoking fears about the disease in the weeks prior to the midterm elections. The network is now downplaying the urgency of increasing funding for Ebola research and relief efforts while criticizing President Obama's request of a multi-billion dollar Ebola emergency appropriation from Congress.
Conservative media have used Republican electoral gains in the 2014 midterm election to renew calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But recent polling indicates that most Americans do not support repealing the healthcare law, including midterm voters.
Media are promoting Republican gains in the House and Senate in Tuesday's midterm elections as evidence that the country has shifted to the "center-right" on political issues, despite the fact that ballot initiatives and national polling reveal broad support for progressive positions.
Sharyl Attkisson's new book attempts to cast the former CBS News reporter as an intrepid reporter fighting against intractable barriers. But the book's sloppy inaccuracies and absent context reinforce her image as a journalist more interested in a biased narrative than uncovering the facts.
Attkisson resigned this year after two decades at CBS and promptly launched a media tour attacking her former employer for supposedly protecting the Obama administration from her reporting. Her new book has been published and promoted by conservative interests, who clearly see this narrative as a confirmation of their worldview that the "liberal" media is biased against them.
But Attkisson doesn't portray herself as a conservative folk hero pitted against "liberal bias." In fact, she sees that kind of rhetoric as distracting "from the real issues," and the real reasons she left CBS. Instead, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington is meant to confirm her place in the pantheon of nonpartisan journalists, who will "follow a story wherever it leads, no matter how unpleasant, no matter whom it touches or implicates." In her account, Attkisson is one of the few reporters who have been trying to hold the Obama administration accountable by investigating its supposedly scandalous behavior in the face of "forces" who seek to protect the White House.
Attkisson organizes the book around her coverage of four major news stories -- the botched law enforcement Operation Fast and Furious, the bankruptcy of a few green energy companies that had received federal funding, the Benghazi attacks, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act's website, Healthcare.gov -- which she casts as symbolic of her desire to investigate administration failures. But Attkisson claims her efforts were repeatedly stymied by CBS.
Attkisson's claims of the opposition she faced at CBS News are difficult to confirm, as they rely on private conversations and anonymous sources. (The Washington Post's Erik Wemple has been attempting to identify and reach out to some of them, but has received few confirmations.) But her account inflates those supposed scandals by hiding key facts in favor of pushing conservative talking points -- the sort of behavior that led CBS officials to fear that she was "wading dangerously close to advocacy" in her reporting.
Attkisson was one of the first reporters to cover Operation Fast and Furious, under which Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents allowed firearms to be trafficked across the U.S. - Mexico border, hoping to follow the guns to high-level Mexican drug cartel targets. ATF lost track of the guns, some of which ended up at crime scenes in Mexico, while others were found at the scene of the fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
Stonewalled details Attkisson's role in reporting the story, for which she won an Emmy. However, her book also floats a number of debunked conservative conspiracy theories about the botched operation, while promoting the 2012 Department of Justice Inspector General report that undermines those same theories.
For instance, Attkisson falsely suggests that her reporting proved Attorney General Eric Holder was lying about his knowledge of Fast and Furious. Holder testified under oath that he was unaware of the operation until it became public knowledge in early 2011, but Attkisson claims Holder was aware several months earlier:
Unfortunately for Holder, it wasn't long after his testimony that we obtained internal documents showing he was actually sent weekly briefings on Fast and Furious as early as July 2010, ten months before. The briefings came from the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center and from Holder's own Assistant Attorney General Breuer.
However, the Inspector General report found that Holder did not personally review those reports, and that those reports did not refer to the agent's major failure to stop the firearms from crossing the border. The report went on to completely exonerate Holder, placing the "primary responsibility" for Fast and Furious on the ATF's Phoenix field office and the Phoenix U.S. Attorney's Office. Even House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) has acknowledged that he has "no evidence" or even a "strong suspicion" that Holder was aware of the gunwalking tactics.
Attkisson calls the Inspector General report "scathing" while acknowledging that its findings contradicted some of her reporting. Nevertheless, she misleadingly concludes by blasting the press for accurately exonerating Holder, accusing them of a "generous interpretation of the facts."
Attkisson goes on to attack the Obama administration's electric vehicle initiative, a part of the Department of Energy's clean energy loan program. She focuses on several failed companies that received federal funds, including Fisker Automotive and A123, and falsely claims their eventual bankruptcies were representative of the entire program:
Were these failed enterprises alone among an overwhelming body of successful green energy initiatives funded by tax dollars? No.
This is false. Despite conservative media's fixation on the few beneficiaries of clean energy loan programs that failed, such as Fisker and Solyndra -- and despite Attkisson's previous error-ridden report on what CBS called "new Solyndras" -- 98 percent of clean energy funds went to successful ventures:
Attkisson criticizes the media for a double standard when covering the bankruptcies, insisting that journalists gave President Obama a pass that they wouldn't have afforded President Bush -- all while insisting that she would have covered each president fairly (emphasis added):
Imagine a parallel scenario in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney personally appeared at groundbreakings for, and used billions of tax dollars to support, multiple giant corporate ventures whose investors were sometimes major political campaign bundlers, only to have one (or two, or three) go bankrupt. At a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. During a presidential election. When they knew in advance the companies' credit ratings were junk. News headlines would have been relentless with images of Bush and Cheney smiling and waing at one contrsuction-start ceremony after another, making their invalidated claims about jobs and untold millions...contrasted with images of empty plants and boarded-up warehouses. And I would have been proposing those stories.
But the program that started the Fisker loans -- called the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program -- did begin under Bush.
In fact, Fisker itself was approached by the Bush administration and encouraged to apply for the loan, and they were in charge when the application was filed. Attkisson does not mention this context in her description of Fisker; instead, all she offers is a brief note that she had broadly investigated "the backgrounds of some troubled green ventures that benefited from federal tax dollars, whether under Bush or Obama."
Attkisson hides basic facts to suggest the Obama administration is trying to cover up the truth about September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
She narrates a moment in November 2012 when she attempted to find a photograph of President Obama on the night of the Benghazi attacks as a way to account for his "actions that night." Conservative media, and Fox News in particular, have repeatedly questioned the whereabouts of various administration officials the night of the attacks.
Attkisson claims the White House isn't being forthright about the President's whereabouts, which she characterizes as suspicious and politically motivated, given that "tax dollars pay to have a professional photographer cover most every aspect of the president's work life."
A photo of the president in the Oval Office taken the night of the attacks has been available on the public White House Flickr account since October 11, 2012, three weeks before Attkisson claims she started looking for a photo.
The photo depicts Obama meeting with Denis McDonough, then-Deputy National Security Advisor, Vice President Joe Biden, then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and then-Chief of Staff Jack Lew. The existence of the photo has been repeatedly documented. Attkisson apparently did not know about the photo at the time, but she does not attempt to reconcile the facts now.
Attkisson criticizes her CBS bosses for not letting her repeatedly report on theoretical security problems the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchange website faced -- while hiding key testimony that confirmed there had been no security breaches.
Attkisson highlights the closed-door House Oversight Committee testimony of Teresa Fryer, a lead cybersecurity official on the project, who Attkisson holds up as "a knowledgeable insider" whose testimony is worth trusting as a "current, sitting, senior manager." Fryer testified that there had been two high-risk security findings on Healthcare.gov "after it went live October 1" (emphasis original), which Attkisson claims is a "bombshell" and reveals that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has misled journalists when they confirmed that "all fears about security risks in the past never came to pass."
What Attkisson fails to note is that during her testimony Fryer also explained there had been "no successful breaches" of the website; the "several layers of security" in place had performed as expected. The two findings Fryer mentioned were simply red flags -- they did not result in any real security failures, according to Fryer herself.
Attkisson notes that according to HHS one of the findings was a "false alarm" and the second was fixed, but insists "that may or may not be true. No proof is offered." She insists until evidence is produced it's simply the government's "side of the story," and derides media figures who accept the HHS "claims." She does not mention that Fryer made the exact same claims.