FOX News Channel Hannity & Colmes co-host Sean Hannity completed a hat trick of mischaracterizations on his May 18 show. First, he distorted Senator John Kerry's record on the gas tax; second, he repeated distortions of Kerry's record on defense; and third, he yet again falsely claimed that the recession began under former President Bill Clinton.
In asking guest Tyson Slocum, the research director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, "Shouldn't John Kerry apologize for offering a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase?" Hannity echoed a Bush-Cheney '04 campaign ad, which claimed Kerry "supported a 50 cent a gallon gas tax." Yet Hannity and the campaign ad distorted Kerry's record on the gas tax. As the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Political Fact Check reported on April 30, "Kerry's support for a 50-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax happened a decade ago, back when regular was selling for a national average of $1.01 per gallon" and he "never voted for, or sponsored, legislation to impose such a tax, and he doesn't support one now, when the price is just under $1.76." [According to the American Automobile Association (AAA)'s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, the national average of regular unleaded gasoline per gallon is currently -- as of May 20 -- $2.01, a record high.]
On the other hand, the chairperson of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, N. Gregory Mankiw, supported a 50-cent increase in the gas tax as recently as 1999, The New York Times reported on April 18. And as The New York Times reported on April 6: "In October 1986, when [Vice President] Dick Cheney was the lone congressman from energy-rich Wyoming, he introduced legislation to create a new import tax that would have caused the price of oil, and ultimately the price of gasoline paid by drivers, to soar by billions of dollars per year. 'Let us rid ourselves of the fiction that low oil prices are somehow good for the United States,' Mr. Cheney, who is now vice president, said shortly after introducing the legislation."
As Media Matters for America has documented, Hannity's May 18 claim that Kerry "wanted to gut defense" echoed Bush-Cheney '04 campaign ads and misrepresented Kerry's record on military funding. As the Annenberg Political Fact Check has explained, "[I]n fact, Kerry voted for Pentagon authorization bills in 16 of the 19 years he's been in the Senate." During an interview on the May 12 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said that he, too, had "voted against defense appropriations bills." The Chicago Tribune also noted on February 17, 2000, "McCain has frequently voted against defense authorization bills filled with Cold War weapons systems -- such as the C-130 airplane or the Seawolf submarine -- he believes should not be built." Furthermore, as Slate.com "War Stories" columnist Fred Kaplan noted in a February 24 military analysis, former President George H.W. Bush and his defense secretary, Dick Cheney, sought defense cuts.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 31, 1992, Cheney stated:
Congress has let me cancel a few programs. But you've squabbled and sometimes bickered and horse-traded and ended up forcing me to spend money on weapons that don't fill a vital need in these times of tight budgets and new requirements. ... You've directed me to buy more M-1s, F-14s, and F-16s -- all great systems ... but we have enough of them.
Cheney's requested cuts came on the heels of President George H.W. Bush's announcement in his State of the Union address three days prior:
After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will shut down further production of the B-2 bomber. We will cancel the small ICBM program. We will cease production of new warheads for our sea-based ballistic missiles. We will stop all new production of the Peacekeeper [MX] missile. And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise missiles.
On March 19, when McCain was asked on NBC's Today show if he thought Kerry was weak on defense, McCain said, "No, I do not believe that he is, quote, 'weak on defense.' He's responsible for his voting record, as we all are responsible for our records, and he'll have to explain it. But no, I do not believe that he is necessarily weak on defense."
Finally, Hannity completed his May 18 hat trick when he claimed, "[W]e got [the weak U.S. economy] out of the Clinton-Gore recession." Media Matters for America's report "Backdating the Recession" catalogued numerous false references in the media to Bush's "inherited recession." In fact, as "Backdating the Recession" showed, the U.S. economy went into a recession for the first time in ten years in March 2001, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonpartisan organization whose business cycle announcements have long been considered the definitive word on recessions.