Fox News reported as fact the reportedly false claim that the economic recovery bill contains $30 million to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse. Fox News hosts continued to do so even after the spurious claim had been debunked.
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On February 11, The Washington Times reported that "House Republicans are challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that the massive stimulus spending bill contains no pet projects after uncovering in the bill more than $30 million for wetlands conservation in her San Francisco Bay area district, including work she previously championed to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse." The Times' claim that House Republicans "uncover[ed]" a provision for funding "to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse" is reportedly false. Blogger Greg Sargent of The Plum Line wrote on February 12 that the salt marsh harvest mouse claim originated in an email from an anonymous "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." However, this spurious claim 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.
In his February 12 blog entry, posted at 1:27 p.m. ET, Sargent explained how he determined the source of the Pelosi-mouse allegation, and how he debunked it:
How did this one get going? Yesterday a House Republican leadership staffer circulated a background email, which I obtained, charging that GOP staffers had been told by an unnamed Federal agency that if it got money from the stim package, it would spend "thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area -- including work to protect the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse."
The GOP staffer's email didn't say what agency it was. It didn't say the money was actually in the package -- just that an unnamed agency had said they would spend it on that if they got it.
But conservatives picked up the claim and began stating as fact that the mouse money was in the bill. On Fox News yesterday, Mike Huckabee blasted the bill for containing money for Pelosi's mouse, and today GOP Rep Dan Lundgren hammered the alleged mouse money in the bill as "absurd." Today's Washington Times ran with a story called: "Pelosi's mouse slated for $30M slice of cheese."
But I just contacted the House GOP staffer who wrote the initial email laying out this talking point, and he conceded that the claim by conservative media that the mouse money is currently in the bill is a misstatement. "There is not specific language in the legislation for this project," he said.
The bogus talking point, however, was frequently referenced on Fox News on February 11 and 12. On the February 11 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News host Mike Huckabee stated that the recovery bill included "[t]hirty million dollars to save the malt -- excuse me, the salt marsh mouse in Nancy Pelosi's district. Thirty million dollars for a mouse." Likewise, on the February 12 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News correspondent Caroline Shively said of the bill: "Thirty billion [sic] dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay area. That has been a pet project of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for years, as well as some other California Democrats. One of the things they are trying to protect there is the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse, so they're getting $30 million for that. Now, the speaker's office says the speaker has not had any involvement in this initiative." Co-host Steve Doocy replied, "So, when you say 'pet,' you're talking about the mouse as a pet, right? Nancy's mouse, $50 million, right?" Later on Fox & Friends, Doocy claimed the bill included "something like $30 million for a little mouse in Nancy Pelosi's district. But it's not pork. It's not pork." And on the February 12 edition of his show -- several hours after Sargent had debunked the story -- 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."
Media Matters for America previously noted that Bret Baier, on the February 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, cited the Washington Times in reporting that "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." The non-existent provision was also mocked on the February 12 edition of America's Newsroom by co-hosts Megyn Kelly and Bill Hemmer, who said it "[m]ust be a very important mouse" that "eat[s] a lot of cheese."
From the February 11 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
ALEXIS GLICK (guest host): Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, host of Huckabee on Fox, joins me right now. Good to see you. Well, look, here it is -- we have what they say is a definitive deal, everybody sort of backing off right now, but only 35 percent of it is in tax cuts. Is it a reasonable bill, or is it pork?
HUCKABEE: It's pork, and in fact there's a piece of it, Alexis, that I find very interesting. Thirty million dollars to save the malt -- excuse me, the salt marsh mouse in Nancy Pelosi's district. Thirty million dollars for a mouse. And speaking of mice, some of us are thinking that the Republicans have three blind mice: Snowe, Collins, and Specter, who seem to be lining up with this instead of standing up for something that Republicans ought to be standing up for, called the taxpayer. Not happening here today.
GLICK: OK, but Governor, let me ask you this -- I mean, let's be perfectly honest about it. This has turned into a big partisan politics thing, and a lot of people are suggesting this all comes down to midterm elections. There are plenty of smart economists out there who say we need a stimulus. There's arguments, of course, about whether that should come in taxes or in spending, but would you not agree that we need to do something?
HUCKABEE: Oh, something is fine. Let's do some things -- let's cut the capital gains tax, let's eliminate payroll taxes for a month, put that money right in the hands -- you know what? You don't even have to wait 10 months, 12 months, 15 months. If you eliminated payroll taxes, give everyone in America who's working a tax holiday for a month, they get the money right now, it goes right back into the economy. There are a lot of ways we can stimulate the economy that don't involve spending $30 million saving mice, planting grass around the Jefferson Memorial. A lot of these things -- we won't see these things for two or three years.
From the February 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): But let's talk a little bit about the -- the pork. Because when I look at this bill, I see that one-third is tax cuts for some people, and two-thirds is spending.
SHIVELY: You're exactly right. We were looking for pork, and The Washington Times actually found a mouse in there. Listen to this. Thirty billion [sic] dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay area. That has been a pet project of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for years, as well as some other California Democrats. One of the things they're trying to protect there is the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse, so they're getting $30 million for that. Now, the speaker's office said the speaker has not had any involvement in this initiative. So, there are some pet projects in there for districts across the country. We're talking 789 and a half billion dollars, so there is some pork in there.
DOOCY: So, when you say "pet," you're talking about the mouse as a pet, right? Nancy's mouse --
DOOCY: -- 50 million? All right.
SHIVELY: Sure. Thirty million.
DOOCY: Caroline, thank you for joining us live in your red dress there down in D.C.
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): They went in there and they cut back. They were concerned, evidently, about losing the three Republicans that they had and some moderate Democrats. So they felt as though they had to cut back on some of the spending. Out in the -- out in the wilderness, a $15,000 tax credit for anyone buying a home, which you thought might be necessary to get the housing market back on its feet, where this whole mess started. And $20 billion in school construction costs. Also, you cannot deduct interest from a car that you might buy.
DOOCY: That's right.
KILMEADE: So where's the incentive to buy a car?
DOOCY: And luckily, something like $30 million for a little mouse in Nancy Pelosi's district. But it's not pork. It's not pork.
CARLSON: A lot of people got their pet projects still put in that whole --
DOOCY: That's literally a pet project, for a mouse. We'll tell you all about the numbers and get your reaction to what you'll be doing with your $1.86 per day savings, coming up straight ahead.
From the February 12 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:
BECK: Have you ever watched this show?
MEG WHITMAN (former eBay CEO): I have, yeah --
BECK: Have you?
WHITMAN: It's your new show, congratulations.
WHITMAN: It's fabulous.
BECK: All right, I'm just wondering why you would come on this show because I'm going to ask you questions that -- 'cause you can't explain California, can you?
WHITMAN: Well, we can try.
BECK: Bring the cake in, Erin. Bring in the cake. See, here's the problem. First of all, in the stimulus package -- I don't know if you know Nancy Pelosi. 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.