During the February 22 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, after former President Bush aide Kevin Sullivan claimed that the economic recovery bill contained a pet project for "the salt marsh harvest mouse," host Chris Wallace replied: "Well, supposedly that's been debunked." Indeed, as Media Matters for America has noted, the bill does not contain any language directing funds to the salt marsh harvest mouse, or its San Francisco wetlands habitat, a fact that the House Republican leadership aide who reportedly originated the claim has reportedly acknowledged. Media Matters has documented that numerous Fox News shows, including Glenn Beck, Hannity, and Special Report have spread the falsehood. Moreover, Fox News Washington deputy managing editor Bill Sammon also advanced the falsehood on Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, which is hosted by Wallace. Despite Fox News' prevalence in spreading the falsehood, and Wallace's recent statement that the story has been "supposedly debunked," a Media Matters for America search* indicates that Fox News has yet to issue a correction on Fox News Sunday, Special Report, Hannity, or Glenn Beck.
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."
Fox News programs have repeatedly promoted the false claim without subsequent correction. For instance:
- During the February 12 edition of his show, Glenn Beck asserted: "Nancy Pelosi put $20 million into the stimulus package to preserve the salt marsh mouse. Now me, as the governor of California, I'd say to hell with the salt marsh mouse. Twenty million dollars. But maybe that's just me."
- During the February 12 edition of 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." On the February 13 edition (retrieved from Nexis) of his show, Hannity claimed: "Nancy Pelosi gets $30 million for her district, the Wetlands Conservation in San Francisco -- for the salt marsh harvest mouse. What is a salt marsh harvest mouse?" On the February 16 edition (retrieved from Nexis) of his show, Hannity again claimed: "Thirty million dollars for wetlands restoration to help the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse. Help America out there. That salt marsh harvest mouse, does he need $30 million of our tax dollars?"
On the February 17 edition of Hannity, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich claimed that the recovery bill directs "$30 million to save a mouse in San Francisco."
- During the February 15 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Sammon said of the recovery bill: "People look at this thing and see, you know, some mouse is being protected in Pelosi's district."
- During the February 11 edition of Special Report, host Bret Baier reported:
BAIER: Another item tucked into the rescue plan is drawing howls from Republicans. The Washington Times reports the stimulus contains $30 million for wetlands conservation in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home district. Some of that money goes for a past Pelosi project, protecting the salt marsh harvest mouse. Pelosi and President Obama have both said the stimulus contains no earmarks. Her office says the speaker had no involvement in the initiative.
In a subsequent report on the February 13 edition of Special Report, correspondent William La Jeunesse presented the Republicans' mouse claim as disputed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers without himself noting that the Republicans' claim is false. From the February 13 report (retrieved from Nexis):
BAIER: Recapping our top story, the House has passed the president's $787- billion stimulus package and the Senate is voting on it tonight. House Democrats hailed the bill as a huge victory. Republicans say it is full of waste that won't create jobs. We told you about some of the grumbling earlier. Now, Correspondent William la Jeunesse looks at other parts of the stimulus plan that critics say aren't very stimulating.
LA JEUNESSE: Monday, President Obama promised there would be no pork in the stimulus.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Not a single earmark.
LA JEUNESSE: But Friday before the House vote, Republican Congressman Jack Kingston claimed to find at least one phantom earmark.
REP. JACK KINGSTON (R-GA): $30 billion for a rat in San Francisco. Mickey Mouse is gonna be envious, he's no longer the mouse with the greatest net worth in California. Now there is a San Francisco rat that has edged him out.
LA JEUNESSE: He's referring to the salt marsh mouse, an endangered resident of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Northern California District. While the Bay Area Habitat it calls home is getting millions, Democrat David Obey hotly disputed the mouse is getting anything directly.
REP. DAVID OBEY, (D) WISCONSIN: I wish they would make up their mind whether it is mice or rats, neither of which is in this bill if they will read it.
I got it right here. Find it and show it to me, show it to me!
LA JEUNESSE: Earmark or not, critics say much of the bill is more spending than stimulus. $50 million for shrimp and fish farming and $50 million for high school dropouts, another $50 million to fund art projects for non-profits, $93 million to improve infant and toddler care; $650 million for more digital TV discount coupons, including $90 million in outreach and education.
From the February 22 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ:
SULLIVAN: Then he [Obama] talked about no pet projects, and we end up with the -- what was it, the salt marsh harvest mouse.
WALLACE: Well, supposedly that's been debunked. But yes, there were certainly some pet projects.
SULLIVAN: There were some pet projects.
*SEARCH TERMS: Media Matters searched "publication(Fox News) AND mouse OR mice OR wetland!" since February 11 in the Nexis database. Media Matters also searched transcripts in TVEyes.com using the terms mouse OR mice OR wetland for Fox News and the February 22 edition of Fox News Sunday.