CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight and Fox News' Hannity advanced the claim that the economic recovery bill contains $30 million to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco. In fact, the bill does not contain any language directing funds to San Francisco wetlands or the salt marsh harvest mouse in the San Francisco wetlands. Even the GOP aide who originated the claim has reportedly said that "[t]here is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project."
On their February 12 broadcasts, CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight and Fox News' Hannity echoed congressional Republicans' attacks on the economic recovery bill for purportedly including funding to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco. On Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN correspondent Kitty Pilgrim said: "Public watchdog groups have targeted what they describe as earmarks in pork that they hear are going into the final version of the bill: $30 million to protect endangered wetlands around San Francisco, home to the salt marsh harvest mouse, a pet project of Nancy Pelosi's." Pilgrim later aired video of Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) stating that we're "learning about millions of dollars to protect San Francisco mice." After Pilgrim's report, Dobbs said: "I guess, at this point, those little rats or mice or salt -- whatever the heck they are there in Nancy Pelosi's district, I guess they would qualify as pet mice now or pet rats or whatever the heck. This is really ridiculous." In fact, as a House Republican leadership aide reportedly acknowledged, the bill does not contain any language directing funds to San Francisco wetlands or the salt marsh harvest mouse living in them.
On Hannity, while host Sean Hannity spoke with Fox News contributor Karl Rove about the economic recovery plan, Fox News aired text that claimed "$30 mil of stimulus bill [is] allocated for Pelosi backed mouse project."
After writing that "there isn't any such money in the bill" for the mouse, The Plum Line blogger Greg Sargent wrote on February 12 that the claim originated in an email from a "House Republican leadership staffer" who, when contacted by Sargent, "conceded that the claim by conservative media that the mouse money is currently in the bill is a misstatement." San Jose Mercury News staff writer Paul Rogers subsequently reported on February 13 that Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), originated the claim and said that "[t]here is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project." From the Mercury News article:
Trouble is, the facts were mostly wrong. But the lightning speed of Internet news enabled it to take on urban legend stature within hours.
The tale began Wednesday [February 11], when Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent an e-mail to reporters and political leaders that noted Republican staff members have been asking federal agencies how they would spend the stimulus money.
"One response? Thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area -- including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse," wrote Steel.
As Media Matters for America documented, the spurious mouse tale leapt from the House GOP to The Washington Times to Fox News, where it was reported as fact and Pelosi was mocked even after the story had been debunked. Rogers wrote of the Times story:
The Washington Times then wrote a story citing Steel and claiming that $30 million for the mouse project is contained in the bill. The paper suggested the money was put there by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. Blogger Matt Drudge, whose Web site receives 26 million hits a day, posted a link to that story.
Steel, however, said the Washington Times story is incorrect.
"There is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project," Steel told the San Jose Mercury News. "There are large pots of money in the bill that go to various agencies. One of those agencies said the salt marsh harvest mouse project is something we'd do if you gave us the money."
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hamill agreed that funding for the mouse is not in the bill, and said she did not lobby for it to be on any list.
Then where did the $30 million figure come from, if it's not in the bill? It turns out that $30 million is the total amount that the California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency, recommended more than a month ago to numerous federal agencies, looking for lists of "shovel ready" projects as part of the stimulus bill planning.
The conservancy's wish list included five major ongoing wetlands restoration projects totaling nearly 4,000 acres, said civil engineer Steve Ritchie, a Coastal Conservancy staff member who helped draw it up. And the federal Army Corps of Engineers included all five projects on its own list of possible ways to spend stimulus money.
The projects, which range from Napa County to Silicon Valley, involve moving levees, creating islands and converting former industrial salt ponds back to marshes. Each could begin by year's end and would benefit dozens of species, including salmon, steelhead trout, ducks, egrets, and yes, the endangered mouse, Ritchie said.
Even if the stimulus passes, there's no guarantee the projects will get the money, since they're not named in the bill. That will be up to the Army Corps of Engineers, which does everything from harbor dredging to building dams to restoring wetlands. [emphasis added]
From the February 12 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
DOBBS: As is our wont, we closely examine every element of this so-called economic stimulus package in "Lou's Line-Item Veto." Last night, we reported that Senator [Chuck] Schumer [D-NY] commented that Americans, quote, "don't care about tiny, porky amendments." But it is those "tiny, porky amendments" that are adding up to about an $800 billion bill for American taxpayers. Kitty Pilgrim now reports on just whose special interest projects are going to be getting your tax dollars.
[begin video clip]
PILGRIM: When it comes to pork in the stimulus bill, some on Capitol Hill seem to be counting on ignorance, apathy, or indifference.
SCHUMER: Let me say this to all of the chattering class, that so much focuses on those little tiny, yes, porky amendments. The American people really don't care.
PILGRIM: Not really. Public watchdog groups have targeted what they describe as earmarks in pork that they hear are going into the final version of the bill: $30 million to protect endangered wetlands around San Francisco, home to the salt marsh harvest mouse, a pet project of Nancy Pelosi's. Pelosi's office says it's about clean water, a better environment, and creating jobs; $600 million for energy-efficient vehicles, including electric golf carts for neighborhood travel; $400 million for health prevention of sexually transmitted diseases; $10 billion to the National Institute of Health, a particular interest of [Sen.] Arlen Specter [R-PA] who has long campaigned for such funding; or $2 billion for a rail system Senator Harry Reid [D-NV] has been pushing for.
VERONIQUE DE RUGY (senior research fellow at Mercatus Center, George Mason University): We knew that Harry Reid has managed to actually earmark $8 billion for a rail line system. That is four times higher than what was voted on in the Senate bill on Tuesday.
PENCE: Senator Chuck Schumer referred to the quote, "porky elements of this bill," and we're learning about millions for golf carts, and this morning, learning about millions of dollars to protect San Francisco mice.
PILGRIM: Those kinds of earmarks don't sit well with Michigan, with its double-digit unemployment in the manufacturing sector.
REP. THADDEUS McCOTTER (R-MI): When you see how little has been done for the auto industry, how little has been done in other areas of the manufacturing base, and yet, you turn around and see money -- billions spent on things such as global warming. What you're really going to start seeing is, how does someone who's a blue-collar machinist all of a sudden become a meteorologist who's studying global warming overnight? The intent of the bill was to create jobs.
[end video clip]
PILGRIM: Now, final numbers aren't in yet, but states will end up with more than $50 billion in block funding. Many in Congress will argue that these are worthy projects, but the concern is that earmarks are being air-dropped into the final version of the bill, and this money will go into all kinds of pet projects -- Lou.
DOBBS: I guess, at this point, those little rats or mice or salt -- whatever the heck they are there in Nancy Pelosi's district, I guess they would qualify as pet mice now or pet rats or whatever the heck. This is really ridiculous.
I give credit to those Democrats who had more guts, frankly, than some of the Republicans, particularly [Sen.] Olympia Snowe [R-ME], [Sen.] Susan Collins [R-ME], Arlen Specter, to say, wait a minute. You know, maybe, is -- since we've been elected to represent the American people, we actually should read legislation. This could be perhaps a watershed moment. I may be excessively hopeful here, but I'm going to remain so.
PILGRIM: I think there'll be a lot of reading tomorrow when this thing is --
DOBBS: Somebody will be burning the midnight candles or oil or whatever you -- whatever cliché we can work in there. Thanks very much, Kitty.