Fox News is apparently desperate for a scandal over President Obama's handling of news that the Internal Revenue Service applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups, especially now that the network's campaign to embroil the president in scandal over his response to the Benghazi attacks is falling apart. Fox has gone from ignoring Obama's swift responses to the IRS's actions to downplaying the significance of his firing the IRS's acting commissioner, each time distorting reality in order to call for a special prosecutor.
The release of over 100 pages of inter-agency emails obtained by CNN have threatened to derail months of right-wing scandal-mongering over the administration's response to the 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The emails appear to counter the conservative narrative that the State Department altered Benghazi-related talking points for political reasons. As Fox News' desperate attempts to resurrect the waning scandal fall flat, Fox pundits have resorted to criticizing the president's handling of the IRS controversy instead.
Fox kicked off its criticism by deciding Obama's initial condemnation of the IRS's actions as "outrageous" was too weak. When the president first addressed concerns over this story at a press conference on Monday, May 13, he asserted, "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported," then "that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable." America Live host Megyn Kelly covered his remarks by wondering, "Does the president understate it when he calls this, 'outrageous'?"
After the Inspector General published its report on the IRS's actions, concluding the agency applied "inappropriate criteria" to conservative applicants, Obama released a statement on May 14 definitively calling the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable" and directing action to be taken to hold those responsible accountable. This time, Fox simply pretended Obama made no such statement and continued to attack his remarks from two days prior, all while arguing that a special prosecutor was needed given Obama's supposed inaction.
By Thursday, Fox was fumbling over how to handle the fact that Obama had fired Steven Miller, the IRS acting commissioner, over the agency's actions. In the morning, America's Newsroom chose the route of merely ignoring that anyone had been fired so that host Martha MacCallum could declare, "[Obama] could be the big person. He could say, 'This stinks. You're all fired. This doesn't happen in America.' He has every ability in his position right now to take the high road. Why not? Why not do it?"
When the network finally acknowledged that Miller had been forced to resign, it did so by attempting to downplay the decision. Anchor Bret Baier questioned the action on Happening Now, claiming, "He was ready to leave, despite the fact -- I mean, before any of this already happened. He was acting commissioner and was set to leave the IRS. So that's a question for the White House; that's a question for the president. You know, was this guy fired when he was going to leave anyway?"
Fox News' Martha MacCallum suggested a series of things President Obama could do in order to take "the high road" on allegations of IRS wrongdoing, ignoring the fact that Obama has already taken most of those actions over the past few days.
On the May 16 edition of America's Newsroom, MacCallum attacked Obama for his administration's handling of a recent story in which the Internal Revenue Service allegedly applied additional scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. She then recommended actions Obama should take, saying:
He could be the big person. He could say "this stinks. You're all fired. This doesn't happen in America." He has every ability in his position right now to take the high road. Why not? Why not do it?
But President Obama has condemned the actions of the IRS staff repeatedly. On May 15, he called the misconduct "inexcusable," saying "Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it." On May 14, two days before the Fox segment aired, Obama also called the actions of the IRS staff "intolerable and inexcusable":
I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog's report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.
I've directed [Treasury] Secretary [Jack] Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again. But regardless of how this conduct was allowed to take place, the bottom line is, it was wrong. Public service is a solemn privilege. I expect everyone who serves in the federal government to hold themselves to the highest ethical and moral standards. So do the American people. And as President, I intend to make sure our public servants live up to those standards every day.
Obama also requested and accepted the resignation of Steven T. Miller, the acting commissioner of the IRS. In addition, the White House called for "new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again":
First, we're going to hold the responsible parties accountable. Yesterday, I directed Secretary Lew to follow up on the IG audit to see how this happened and who is responsible, and to make sure that we understand all the facts. Today, Secretary Lew took the first step by requesting and accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS, because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward.
Second, we're going to put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again. And I've directed Secretary Lew to ensure the IRS begins implementing the IG's recommendations right away.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is admonishing conservatives -- many of whom have appeared on the channel for which he works -- for baselessly tying President Obama to allegations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny in their efforts to obtain nonprofit tax status.
During a May 13 joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama addressed a question about the IRS controversy, calling the behavior "outrageous" if true and added that "there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable."
On the May 14 edition of America Live, O'Reilly pushed back against efforts by conservatives to directly tie Obama to the IRS controversy. O'Reilly told co-host Martha MacCallum he does not believe Obama explicitly told the IRS to target conservative groups "because that's insane." O'Reilly added: "But you can't connect it to him without gross speculation. ... Conservative commentators provide cover for Obama when they go further than the facts take them, when they speculate."
From the May 14 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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From the May 14 edition of Fox News Channel's America's Newsroom:
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From the May 13 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News contributor Monica Crowley suggested that President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acted irresponsibly following the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, by claiming they were "unaccounted for" even though Obama and Clinton are both documented to have been active at the time of the attack.
On the May 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Crowley revisited the long-debunked myth that Obama and Clinton were absent or inactive following the September 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya. During her guest segment on a congressional hearing that took place the previous day, she claimed "the two leaders of the U.S. Government" were "unaccounted for that night. We have no narrative of where they were or what they were doing."
In fact, news reports and congressional testimony have shown that both Obama and Clinton were active and engaged while the Benghazi attack was taking place. Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya, testified in a May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing -- which was both over-hyped and selectively ignored by Fox News -- that Clinton called him on the night of the attack for a report of the events. He testified:
HICKS: I think at about 2 p.m. -- 2 a.m., sorry -- the Secretary, Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone and she asked me what was going on and I briefed her on the developments. Most of the conversation was about the search for Ambassador Stevens. It was also about what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi. And I told her that we would need to evacuate and she said that was the right thing to do.
During a February 7 congressional hearing, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified that the White House was fully engaged during the attack. Associated Press reported that when Obama learned of the attack, he responded immediately, telling Panetta and General Martin E. Dempsey to "deploy forces as quickly as possible." In addition, the White House also released a photo of Obama with his national security team and Vice President Joe Biden being briefed on Benghazi on September 11, 2012:
Fox News devoted significantly more airtime to the Heritage Foundation's claims that providing legal status to undocumented immigrants will have negative fiscal impact, but mostly ignored pro-immigration rallies during the same period.
The right-wing media is promoting a study by the conservative policy group Heritage Foundation which claims immigration reform will cost $6.3 trillion dollars and damage the economy. This claim has been repeatedly debunked, even by conservatives, and is a revision of a 2007 study that utilized "fatally flawed" methodology.
Fox News' coverage of the April unemployment report was largely negative, despite the fact that economists largely agree that the report shows positive gains in the labor market.
Fox News pushed the myth that increased access to emergency contraceptives encourages sex among teenagers. In fact, research shows access to these drugs does not increase teens' sexual activity.
From the May 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News claimed that federal government policy was failing to lower unemployment by citing recent decisions made by the Federal Reserve. However, economists note that Federal Reserve action alone cannot increase employment, and federal spending must be increased to improve the economy.
Reacting to the May 2 weekly jobless claims report, Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney dismissed the 18,000 drop in initial claims to the lowest level in five years, stating that "it's a better number, but it's still not a good number." Varney went on to claim that the Federal Reserve's recent decision to continue its bond buying program was not producing expected drops in unemployment, claiming "unemployment rates are not falling the way they should when you're printing all this money." From America's Newsroom:
While Varney was quick to dismiss the government's role in strengthening the labor market by citing the Federal Reserve and the effect of current monetary policy on job creation, he completely ignored the fact that decreases in government spending have negatively impacted the economy, overlooking statements made by the Federal Reserve and the warnings of experts.
In the statement released by the Federal Reserve on May 1 outlining its future decisions regarding monetary policy, the board specifically cited that "fiscal policy is restraining economic growth."
Indeed, many analysts have been claiming that actions by the Fed are not enough to bolster economic growth, and that increased government spending -- that is, expansionary fiscal policy -- is necessary to improve current conditions.
In The Washington Post's Wonkblog, Roosevelt Institute fellow Mike Konczal explained how actions taken by the Federal Reserve have failed to counteract the negative effects of decreased government spending:
But the most important lesson to draw is that fiscal policy is incredibly important at this moment. In normal times, the broader effect of government spending, or the fiscal multiplier, is low because the central bank can offset it. But these are not normal times. It's not clear why the Federal Reserve's actions haven't balanced out fiscal austerity. But since they haven't, we should be even more confident that, as the IMF put it, "fiscal multipliers are currently high in many advanced economies."
The main point here is that while the Federal Reserve is attempting to spur economic gains through monetary policy, it simply can't do enough to counteract recent contractions in government spending. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich echoed Konczal, stating "easy money from the Fed can't get the economy out of first gear when the rest of government is in reverse."
By only focusing monetary policy as the government's way to bolster employment and economic growth, Fox is only telling half the story -- the negative effects of decreased government spending are far too damaging to be mitigated elsewhere -- and continuing its trend of downplaying positive economic news.
Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are teaming up to demonize the Food and Drug Administration's decision to lower the age requirement for access to over-the-counter emergency contraception, ignoring both the science behind the drug and the FDA's assessment that younger women can handle the responsibility of taking the medication.
On America's Newsroom, Fox's senior managing editor for health news, Dr. Manny Alvarez, attacked the FDA's decision to allow 15-year-olds to purchase the medication. He claimed emergency contraception decisions should be left up to the parents because, "Since when is a 15-year-old child a woman? Now give me a break."
Alvarez went on to claim that a 15-year-old is unable to understand the possible side effects of Plan B. Host Martha MacCallum stated, "Look at the list of warnings on this thing," prompting Alvarez to argue:
It reads like the Constitution. There's so many, you know, possibilities, probabilities, percentages. You're going to tell me a 15-year-old girl -- and who could even buy it and give it to a 14-year-old or 13-year-old -- is going to understand all the potential side effects? And what they should do after if they have any of the symptoms?
Later, MacCallum fearmongered over whether Plan B could result in long-term fertility problems, wondering, "Who knows what the long-lasting implications of using it in that way are? When this girl decides she wants to have a baby a few years down the road?" Alvarez did not take the bait, telling MacCallum: "I'm not arguing that this has some mild to moderate side effects -- not terrible side effects."
Aside from the fact that the "children" seeking emergency contraception are of reproductive age, Alvarez's allegations have been explicitly discredited by FDA research. The agency conclusively determined that a 15-year-old is able to understand the side effects and consequences of Plan B after conducting research on this question when determining whether to make the drug available to this age group without a prescription. FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD explained (emphasis added):
The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) completed its review of the Plan B One-Step application and laid out its scientific determination. CDER carefully considered whether younger females were able to understand how to use Plan B One-Step. Based on the information submitted to the agency, CDER determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the data supported a finding that adolescent females could use Plan B One-Step properly without the intervention of a healthcare provider.
Fox News' Brit Hume is continuing the network's effort to rehabilitate the Bush family name by lavishing praise on Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 presidential nominee.
Fox spent the week of the George W. Bush Presidential Library dedication lionizing Bush's tenure and whitewashing the effects of his policies; several hosts even bragged that Bush "kept the country safe" from terrorists after the September 11 attacks. From Fox & Friends to America's Newsroom, Fox uncritically allowed former Bush officials to spin Bush's record on fiscal discipline as probably "the best track record of any modern president," and to falsely claim that he helped grow the economy despite "inheriting a recession." According to a Media Matters review, 71 percent of Fox's guest appearances about President Bush's library and legacy were by former Bush White House personnel.
Now Fox's senior political analyst Hume is turning the Bush rehabilitation effort toward President Bush's younger brother and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday on April 28, Hume discussed whether Jeb Bush should run for president in 2016, remarking, "The country may indeed be ready for another Bush." The next day on America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum asked Hume about his comment. Hume responded by lavishing praise on the younger Bush, saying, "a great many political observers had identified Jeb as ... the most gifted natural politician among the lot of them." He continued:
HUME: I think it is the fact that Jeb Bush is an especially gifted political figure. He's a disarming personality. He's highly articulate. He's deeply versed in policy, especially domestic policy. He has a connection to the Hispanic community. His wife is Hispanic. He speaks the language. He showed that when he was governor of Florida. He was a successful and generally popular governor of Florida. So he's got a lot going for him.