Fox News is calling mileage-based user fees that several states are considering "Orwellian," implying the government would be able to track your vehicle without permission and perhaps even "shut your car off." But the network's segment left out that such proposals generally include devices that cannot track your location and certainly cannot turn off your car, satisfying both the American Civil Liberties Union and several conservative organizations.
In a segment featuring no voices in defense of mileage-based user fees (MBUF), Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum declared such proposals the "most Orwellian thing I've ever heard." MacCallum hosted Berkeley Varitronics Systems President Scott Schober, who suggested the government may be able to "shut your car off" if you do not pay the fees. MacCallum added that if "somebody is stalking you and they want to know where you're going, they could very well hack right into this system and follow you." The segment was so conspiratorial that fellow Fox News anchor Jon Scott joked that "I see the black helicopters over your studio right now":
Ryan Morrison, Founder and CEO of True Mileage, Inc. -- a company that designs devices that could be used for MBUF -- said this "definitely sounds like misinformation." In a phone conversation with Media Matters, Morrison said "no company or departments of transportation are looking into devices that could shut off a car." He added that "certainly no one would be able to do anything like that with our devices, and the only time that I've heard of something like that is with a LoJack" for stolen vehicles.
In addition, according to Morrison, most proposals are suggesting allowing citizens to choose whether to install devices without GPS-tracking -- such as his company's -- or to install ones that do have GPS-tracking -- in order to save money when they travel out of state or on less congested roads. For instance, Oregon, which has moved forward with a pilot program for a MBUF (also known as a "vehicle-miles traveled" (VMT) fee), would allow participants to choose devices that do not have GPS tracking and delete personal data after 30 days. The American Civil Liberties Union is reportedly "satisfied with the privacy protections" in Oregon's program.
Fox News host Gretchen Carlson tried to resurrect the debunked claim that President Obama played a role in the IRS' targeting of political groups.
On the October 21 edition of Fox News' The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson, Carlson attempted to "put the president under the microscope" about what he knew and suggested that investigations into the matter "never really got to the bottom of it." Carlson invited regular Fox News guest Jay Sekulow, chief counsel with the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, which filed a lawsuit against the government over allegations about what the IRS did. Sekulow acknowledged that he has not added Obama's name to the lawsuit, but that did not stop him or Carlson from fueling speculation that Obama had prior knowledge of what happened:
Despite Carlson's speculation, there is no evidence whatsoever to tie President Obama to the IRS' actions. A July 16 memo issued by the office of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) compiled information from 15 IRS employees based on interviews with the GOP-led House Oversight Committee. According to the memo, the committee found that "[n]one of these witnesses reported any political motivation or White House involvement."
Dr. Ben Carson used his first day as a Fox News contributor likening the Affordable Care Act to socialism by using a quote he attributed to Vladimir Lenin. Fox's employment of Carson continues its support for a conservative figure heavily criticized for his inflammatory rhetoric.
Fox News announced it's hiring of Carson as a Fox contributor On October 9, continuing its ongoing campaign to elevate his status after criticizing President Obama at the White House Prayer Breakfast earlier this year. On his first Fox appearance on that day's The Kelly File, Carson told host Megyn Kelly that it wasn't surprising that Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) ridiculed the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee hearing with IRS official Sarah Hall Ingram because they don't want to have a "real conversation" about IRS controversies (emphasis added):
CARSON: It's not terribly surprising. Because if you read Saul Alinsky's book Rules For Radicals, it talks about the need to ridicule. It also talks about never having a real conversation with your adversary because that humanizes them, and your job is the demonize them. And therefore we see people coming out and saying about those who oppose Obamacare, for instance, that they want older people to die, that they want kids to be deprived of food. You know, all these things are just straight out of the text. And what's really interesting is, you know, Vladimir Lenin, one of the founders of socialism and communism, he said socialized medicine is the keystone of the arch to the socialist state. In other words, you've got to get the socialized medicine as the foundation because it gives you control of the people. Once you have control of them, you can do what you want.
Earlier in the day on Sean Hannity's radio show, Carson used the same Lenin quote to attack the ACA. (The book The Social Transformation of American Medicine by Paul Starr notes that "The Library of Congress could not locate this quotation in Lenin's writings.")
Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act throughout the third quarter of 2013. While coverage of certain issues improved, a Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News advancing the erroneous notion that the Affordable Care Act is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
The mania for false equivalence and the pox-on-both-houses reflex among media types are in full effect now that government operations have shut down and people are looking for someone to blame. It's so strong, in fact, that reporters and pundits who recognize the hopeless and irresponsible intransigence of congressional Republicans nonetheless lay an equal (or perhaps greater) measure of blame at the feet of the president for failing to wheedle and cajole people who won't be wheedled or cajoled. It makes little sense, but sacrifices must be made when trying to force objectivity or, in the case of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, frantically deflect blame from the GOP.
Just this morning, during a segment on who to blame for the government shut down, CNN's Ashleigh Banfield hotly objected to Democratic strategist Paul Begala's accusation of false equivalence, arguing that she was just as hard on Democrats as she was on Republicans -- which was precisely Begala's point:
But what of this argument that Obama could end this stand-off with the Republicans in Congress and get the government back up and running if he would just try to compromise? It's a bad argument on the merits, since Republicans aren't actually seeking a compromise: they're trying to force Obama into giving ground while they give up nothing, as they already support funding the government. But even if Obama did try to negotiate, that's no guarantee the House Republicans would respond rationally. We know this because the one of the last times Obama negotiated with Republicans during a fiscal crisis, the so-called "fiscal cliff," he offered real concessions and compromises and John Boehner and the House Republicans still refused to work with him.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly unleashed a slew of deceptive and historically inaccurate economic arguments to prop up the narrative that "taxes in America have reached critical mass" under President Obama, whom O'Reilly claimed has redistributed the nation's wealth.
On the September 25 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly ranted about the United State's current tax rates, complaining, "The federal government is getting more tax revenue than ever before and state and local taxes are at the highest level in the history of this country." O'Reilly argued that working Americans are being "punished" by today's tax rates that have "have reached critical mass," adding that President Obama has succeeded in redistributing the nation's wealth from the top to the bottom:
O'REILLY: President Obama and his acolytes do not want Americans to accumulate wealth. They want to take private wealth away from those who have it and give it to those who don't have it. And they have succeeded in doing that with an assist from the Bush administration, which ran up colossal debt after 9/11. Taxes in America have reached critical mass.
Later, when O'Reilly's guest Dr. Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College, highlighted historic levels of income inequality and government efforts to mitigate the problem, O'Reilly yelled over her: "Your basic thesis of income inequality is socialism. Don't you get that? The government cannot impose income equality on a private marketplace. It can't."
O'Reilly misfired on several of his arguments. For starters, his focus on total raw tax revenue is deceptive. Total tax revenue rises as the size of the economy and the working population grows -- revenues are comparable only as they relate to the size of the economy, which corrects for this growth.
Under Obama, tax revenues as a share of the economy are historically low. During Obama's first term, the ratio of revenue to GDP averaged 15.4 percent, the lowest levels since 1950, according to data from the Tax Policy Center. For context, since 1950, federal revenue has averaged approximately 18 percent of GDP.
Fox Business' Stuart Varney falsely claimed that government spending and increased tax revenue were harming economic growth, despite the fact that economists say government spending cuts negatively affect GDP growth and the rise in revenue has reduced the deficit, a goal Varney has previously championed.
On the September 12 edition of Fox & Friends, Varney discussed the recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report to Congress estimating that U.S. budget revenue is up $284 billion dollars. Varney ignored that the report revealed this increased tax revenue has been used to reduce the deficit by $400 billion, instead falsely claiming that government spending and high taxes are the cause for "a lousy growth rate," a "shrinking middle class, and appalling rates of unemployment amongst young people and minorities."
In fact, a number of economists have pointed to decreased government spending as the greatest drag on economic growth and a contributor to the sluggish recovery, and research from the CBO reveals that the economy's current low growth rate can be attributed to the large cuts in government spending known as sequestration. The CBO estimated that canceling sequestration would raise GDP by 0.7 percent, could generate 900,000 new jobs by 2014, and would lead to greater output and higher employment in the next few years.
Furthermore, Varney failed to mention that this rise in revenue has led to a two-thirds decline in the deficit, despite the fact that he has previously fixated on reducing the deficit as an economic priority. The deficit is now the lowest it has been since 2008.
Fox News' Neil Cavuto invited former Fox host and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich onto his program for a softball interview that glossed over Kasich's record of harmful, draconian policies directed at middle and working class families in Ohio. Cavuto also completely ignored ethics questions currently surrounding the Kasich administration's JobsOhio company -- a privatized state development corporation accused of steering tax dollars toward Kasich allies.
Kasich, a former Fox News personality who has received considerable encouragement from the network in the past, appeared on the August 15 edition of Your World where he discussed his economic record and controversial tenure as Governor of Ohio -- at one point, he was the most unpopular governor in the country. According to Cavuto, Kasich "has single-handedly turned his state around, and right now he is the most popular he's ever been there, but lately now he's ticking off a lot of folks which is why we always love having him on."
Cavuto began the interview by letting Kasich praise his own economic policies in Ohio without acknowledging several important facts. For example, according to a recent Pew Research survey, Ohio ranks 47th among all states in private sector job creation over the last year, and a majority of those jobs created under the Kasich administration have been low-paying positions with wages less than $15 per hour. And while Ohio has seen a positive trend in job growth, that trend began before Kasich took office in 2011. Kasich has previously dismissed the idea of an auto bailout, but nearly 850,000 jobs -- about 12 percent of Ohio's labor force -- are tied to the auto industry, according to the Center for Automotive Research. Yet even after the bailout succeeded, Kasich dodged questions about whether or not he supported it.
During the interview, Cavuto praised Kasich's handling of Ohio's budget, claiming, "Many [are] impressed with how you've turned the budget around." Cavuto then allowed Kasich to give an oration about his desire to "reach out to people who live in the shadows" and help them economically. But still Cavuto failed to mention how Ohio's budget surplus came from draconian cuts Kasich made that slashed funding for education and women's health. And Kasich's newest budget proposal includes an increase in the state sales tax -- a plan that "plays to an upper income audience," according to Ohio State Professor Paul Beck. "I think that people really get hit who are lower, middle class and lower wage positions because they are spending more of their income in consumption," Beck said of Kasich's plan.
While talking about Kasich's economic views, Cavuto also missed an opportunity to question the governor about the controversy surrounding Kasich's JobsOhio, a private, non-profit company created by his administration to help spur job growth in Ohio and a centerpiece of his economic plan. According to Ohio's WKSU, "An investigative report shows the majority of members on the state's private job development company board, JobsOhio, are invested with businesses that are receiving state incentives through that organization." While the Ohio Ethics Commission recently declined to rule on a complaint involving Kasich himself, they were unable to investigate the board of JobsOhio -- that's because the Republican legislature legally denied them that power, despite their pleas to the contrary. After a public dispute with Republican State Auditor Dave Yost over JobsOhio's finances, Kasich signed a bill barring the state auditor from auditing their books.
While the Wall Street Journal also glossed over Kasich's record in order to praise him, Fox News has a history of attempting to rehabilitate the images of unpopular conservatives, including Sarah Palin, former President George W. Bush, and most recently, Rush Limbaugh.
Fox News is attempting to manufacture another Obama administration scandal by fearmongering about letters sent to small businesses asking them to explain discrepancies in revenue -- the result of a policy change made under the George W. Bush administration.
The August 15 edition of Fox & Friends reported that the Internal Revenue Service had sent letters to certain small businesses, asking them to explain why their revenue showed a disproportionately high number of credit and debit card transactions. Guest co-host Peter Johnson Jr. called the letters "unsettling" before playing a clip of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) tying the story to the improper targeting of certain political groups by the IRS. While Johnson admitted that "it happened in the past," the show continued to fearmonger about the letters, asking, "Are there other illegal things that are going on? Chairman Issa and U.S. attorneys are looking at the IRS, and there's some inference and implication that there may be":
But the IRS letters have nothing to do with political ideology. The Washington Post reported that the letters were sent out based on collected information about credit and debit card transactions:
Fox News hyped a poll showing that a majority of people think the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, would increase the deficit and raise their taxes and insurance premiums, claiming that these polls debunked what President Obama has said about the law. But nonpartisan estimates have consistently shown that the ACA lowers the deficit, IRS rules show that the law's payroll tax increases only affect high-income Americans, and reports show the law is already saving many Americans money.
The IRS "scandal" keeps on failing to live up to its initial hype, but certainly not for lack of trying. The fracas that was once billed as the worst DC scandal since Watergate has slowly, steadily deflated despite conservative efforts to blow life into it, and the media have almost completely lost interest in the story. As both Steve Benen and Alex Seitz-Wald observe, this lack of press attention to the IRS scandal's undoing verges on reckless, given the insane amount of coverage and hype it received at the outset.
But how did we even get to the point where the IRS scandal became a "scandal?" Everyone lost their minds and jumped to conclusions based on incomplete information that, in the end, turned out to be wildly off-base. We were repeatedly told there was a "there" there before anyone bothered to check what was there. The latest attempt to keep the IRS scandal alive by National Review and the Wall Street Journal exhibits those same traits: accusing the IRS and the Federal Election Commission of inappropriately colluding against conservative non-profits without actually knowing what happened.
The National Review reported on July 31 that "Embattled Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner and an attorney in the Federal Election Commission's general counsel's office appear to have twice colluded to influence the record before the FEC's vote in the case of a conservative non-profit organization," according to e-mails leaked to the publication be the House Ways and Means Committee. (At this point we should know better than to implicitly trust selectively leaked "scandal"-related emails from Congressional Republicans, but here we are.)
According to the conservative magazine, in 2009 a FEC official emailed Lerner inquiring after the tax exempt status of a group called American Future Fund, which was under investigation by the commission following a complaint by Minnesota Democrats over the group's alleged political activities. National Review refers to the group's tax status as "confidential taxpayer information" of the sort that the IRS is prohibited from sharing, though it's not immediately clear that this information is indeed "confidential." The IRS maintains a public list of organizations that have been granted tax exempt status, and tax-exempt groups are required by law to make public their "exemption applications, determination letters, and annual returns." The IRS issued a statement saying the email exchange indicates "that neither person wanted the IRS to provide the FEC with anything other than publicly available information," and Lerner's attorney told the Washington Post that "anyone in the world could get that information."
Right-wing media reacted to President Obama's proposal to lower the corporate tax rate by pushing the repeatedly debunked claim that a majority of small businesses pay the top individual income tax rate. In fact, only a small fraction of small businesses pay this rate, and Obama's plan includes other incentives to help them.
From the July 27 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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Right-wing media outlets are promoting the fallacious premise that any attempts at tax reform must be revenue neutral, an idea that tax policy experts wholly reject.
On July 25, The Hill reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would not be involved in the tax reform process set up by Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). According to the report, Reid suggested that, while he would not be personally involved in the process, "raising nearly $1 trillion in revenue should be the starting point for any tax reform negotiations."
Responding to Reid's call for additional revenue from tax reform, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial that suggested true tax reform must be revenue neutral:
Democrats swear they support something they call "tax reform," but until the Obama Presidency that has always meant trading lower rates for fewer loopholes.
The Journal's premise that any attempts at tax reform must inherently be revenue neutral was quickly parroted on Fox News. On the July 26 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said Reid has "destroyed tax reform" and claimed "tax reform has always meant lower rates, fewer deductions."
Varney returned to this false "tax reform" narrative on Fox Business' Varney & Co. In an interview with right-wing tax opponent Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist stated, "as long as Harry Reid is the leader of the Senate there will be no tax reform. He wants a tax increase, instead of tax reform."
Conservative media's notion that tax reform must be revenue neutral is directly contradicted by experts.
Fox News falsely claimed that a Republican-led congressional hearing showed that an Obama appointee was personally involved in the IRS' inappropriate targeting of conservative groups requesting tax-exempt status. This desperate attempt to further the right-wing narrative that the White House directed the IRS to scrutinize conservative groups was undermined by testimony from a witness and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA).
The July 18 hearing led by Issa featured current and former Treasury and IRS employees. One of the witnesses, recently retired IRS employee Carter Hull, testified that staffers from the IRS chief counsel's office were involved in further assessing applications of groups identified as conservative that were seeking tax exempt status.
Fox & Friends co-hosts Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy claimed on July 19 that this testimony showed a link between the undue scrutinizing of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and the White House, because the IRS chief counsel is an Obama appointee. Carlson claimed that IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, the Obama appointee, directly reviewed Hull's work. Doocy expanded, falsely suggesting that Wilkins decided to target conservative applications, and that this may have been at the direction of someone at the White House. Co-host Brian Kilmeade added that any suggestion that Wilkins was not involved in should be viewed skeptically.
However, there is no evidence that links Wilkins to the assessment of the scrutinized applications. USA Today reported:
The IRS chief counsel, William Wilkins, is one of only two IRS officials appointed by the president. The evidence released by two congressional committees Wednesday does not prove that he had personal knowledge of the targeting of Tea Party groups but does significantly broaden the scope of IRS officials involved.
USA Today also noted that the IRS chief counsel's office is composed of 1,600 employees.
Indeed, Issa was very clear that Wilkins himself was not personally involved. In his opening statement at the hearing, he said:
ISSA: I hope that both my side of the aisle and the ranking member side of the aisle will be very careful and cautious in what we say. When I say something goes to the office of the counsel of the IRS, that is not to be construed as the office of the president, or to the counsel himself. It is important that we understand that words matter, nuances matter, and that we not go one step beyond what we know.
Hull's testimony also does not show that Wilkins was personally aware of the controversy. Hull testified that he met with staffers from the counsel's office, but made no mention of Wilkins.
The Washington Post more broadly noted that there is no evidence from the investigations and hearings about the controversy that connects the scrutinizing to the White House:
Key Republicans, including the oversight panel's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said the audit findings suggested that the IRS had systematically delayed tax-exemption applications for President Obama's opponents during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Some GOP lawmakers suggested that high-ranking administration officials must have been involved in the alleged effort.
There has been no evidence of White House involvement.