Right-wing media are claiming that the federal government spent money on research grants and other expenses for puppets during the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, despite the fact that the grants were all paid prior to the budget cuts.
On Wednesday, Breitbart.com attacked the administration for stopping tours of the White House as a result of budget cuts in a post titled "U.S. Spends $1.18 Million On Puppets Amid Sequester," and claimed the government could "cut federal 'puppet expenditures' to keep the people's house open." The website listed spending from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other sources, as federal spending on "puppets and puppetry-related expenses."
Fox Nation hyped the Breitbart.com post, labeling it a "report":
Fox & Friends joined in on Thursday when co-host Steve Doocy said: "1.18 million, that's how much the government has spent on puppets since 2009. That's enough to pay for more than a year's worth of White House tours."
However, the grants and contracts that Breitbart.com cited were all paid prior to 2013. A screenshot of the search terms used by Breitbart.com reveals the most recent grants were paid in fiscal year 2012, which ended on September 30, 2012. Sequestration took place on March 1, 2013, almost six months later.
Despite the claims of Fox News and Breitbart.com, these expenditures have nothing to do with the cancelation of White House tours. The spending cited by Breitbart.com did not come out of the budget of the Secret Service, which made the decision to stop providing security for the tours due to its own budget cuts under the sequester.
A misleading NPR report has become fodder for a right-wing media campaign to scapegoat federal disability benefits, despite the fact that the rise in disability claims can be attributed to the economic recession and demographic shifts, and that instances of fraud are minimal.
NPR reported that the rise in the number of federal disability beneficiaries was "startling" and claimed it was explained by unemployed workers with "squishy" claims of disability choosing to receive federal benefits rather than work. Right-wing media called the report "brilliant," and used it to further the myth that the increase in the number of individuals receiving disability benefits reveals fraud in the system.
Breitbart.com's Wynton Hall wrote that NPR's "eye-opening" piece uncovered a disability program "fraught with fraud." Fox Nation promoted the piece with the headline, "Every Month, 14 Million People Get a Disability Check from the Government..." The National Review Online's blog called the piece "brilliant," while the Washington Examiner's editorial offered it as evidence that disability benefits provide "a voluntary life sentence to idle poverty." The Drudge Report linked to the NPR story and to the Breitbart.com article:
But as Media Matters previously noted, these reports failed to include crucial facts that explain the rise in disability benefits. The recent financial crisis and the rising rate of child poverty have made more children eligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Security program, while the growth in the number of adults receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance since the 1970s is largely explained by increases in the number of women qualifying for benefits. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, as women have joined the workforce in greater numbers over the past few decades, more women are eligible for disability benefits, resulting in higher numbers of beneficiaries.
Furthermore, in a report published in March 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of disability benefits are not a widespread problem, and accounted for less than four percent of total improper payments made by federal agencies in fiscal year 2011.
Esquire's Charles P. Pierce has criticized Breitbart.com for reporting the specific location where President Obama's teenage daughters are vacationing for spring break, warning that such actions by the "'rightwing entertainment complex' are going to get someone killed."
On Monday, Breitbart.com's Matthew Boyle published the location and the name of the resort where the Obama daughters are staying for spring break, ignoring the long-standing journalistic tradition that media outlets should not report on a president's minor children when they are not attending "official and semi-official events."
Pierce responded to Breitbart.com in a blog post, arguing that there was "no possible news value" to the report other than to incite readers and that "[s]ooner or later" the "'rightwing entertainment complex' are going to get someone killed":
What possible interest does this serve, except to titillate the dark and envious nether parts of Boyle's 22 readers? (No link, because fk that pudgy little monster.) There is no possible news value to this. Sooner or later, the frolicks of what my pal Boehlert calls the "rightwing entertainment complex" are going to get someone killed.
Breitbart.com writer Matt Boyle reported on the specific location where President Obama's teenage daughters are vacationing for spring break, ignoring the decades-old journalistic tradition that media outlets should not report on a president's minor children when they are not attending "official or semi-official events" for privacy and security reasons.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) and other news websites similarly reported on a trip Malia Obama took to Mexico in March 2012. At the request of the White House, those media outlets that reported on her spring break vacation in Mexico soon deleted the story from their websites. Politico, which itself removed some details about the trip due to security concerns, received a statement from Kristina Schake, Michelle Obama's communications director about why the stories were disappearing:
From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest. We have reminded outlets of this request in order to protect the privacy and security of these girls.
The Washington Post's Paul Farhi reported at the time that this is part of a longstanding and informal agreement between successive administrations and the White House Correspondents' Association, and that "traditional news organizations have long abided by such arrangements":
Presidential administrations have long been protective of the first family's minor children, and reporters in Washington have mostly observed the taboo on stories or photographs of them outside official and semi-official events. The ban on such coverage has existed through many administrations by informal agreement with the White House Correspondents' Association, which represents the interests of journalists who cover the president.
But Breitbart's Matt Boyle disregarded such tradition and related security concerns when he posted an "exclusive" report on Breitbart.com detailing where the Obama daughters were vacationing for spring break. Boyle said that the White House declined to comment and that the Secret Service told him they don't "confirm or deny trips for anyone under the agency's protective detail, including Sasha and Malia."
As part of an ongoing campaign attacking the credibility of journalist Gabriel Sherman, who is writing a forthcoming book about Fox News, Breitbart.com accused him of violating the privacy of network president Roger Ailes' family. After the story's publication, Sherman received a violent threat from one of the site's readers.
Writing at Breitbart.com, Celia Bigelow claimed that Sherman, a New York magazine reporter who has broken a number of stories about Fox News and is the author of a forthcoming book on the network, is writing a "hatchet-job biography" about Roger Ailes. According to Bigelow, Sherman has "reportedly has been observed violating the privacy not only of Ailes himself but also of the Ailes family."
Bigelow also wrote that Sherman "has been seen many times snooping around Putnam County, NY, where the Ailes family maintains a weekend home" and accuses him of "targeting" Ailes' wife. She concludes that Sherman "has crossed the line -- the honor-code line, that is."
Bigelow offered little evidence to back up her claims about Sherman, only a tweet in which Elizabeth Ailes complains about Sherman following her on Twitter -- a public forum.
Despite widespread recent criticism of the role conservative media outlets played in the 2012 election and its aftermath, most attendees at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference had a positive view of the current state of right-wing journalism.
The calls for reform of conservative media are unconvincing to journalists who have found that the current model has given them a large audience.
Mike Opelka, editor-at-large for Glenn Beck's The Blaze, said the popularity of conservative media proves that they are doing good work.
"Fox dominates the conservative cable media," he said. "We [The Blaze] are averaging 10 million uniques a month. I think it is on target for what we like. We are a center-right source and we think they like what we give them."
Dana Loesch, the conservative radio talk show host whose past work for the Breitbart family of conservative news websites helped generate appearances on CNN, Fox News and ABC News, also gave high marks to conservative outlets.
"I think they are doing a really good job," she said of her fellow right-wing media outlets. "It's a good market, I always think there is an appetite for conservative media because there are a lot of people, myself included, who think you don't get that perspective when you turn it on, CBS, NBC, the channels like that."
Their optimism comes at a time when numerous media voices, including several prominent conservatives, have raised questions about the state of conservative media following a 2012 election in which right-wing media outlets convinced their readers, viewers, and listeners that Mitt Romney was cruising towards a comfortable win over a villainous President Obama. Last week, American Conservative published an extensive piece critical of "groupthink" among "several conservative publications."
Similarly, in a February post at his influential Red State website, new Fox News contributor Erick Erickson criticized the conservative "echo chamber" for "trying so hard to highlight controversies, no matter how trivial" at the expense of basic reporting.
But these concerns, alongside a recent flurry of embarrassments (like the Breitbart.com "Friends of Hamas" debacle), were not shared by most at CPAC, who were quick to paint a rosy picture of their work in interviews with Media Matters.
President Obama has nominated Thomas E. Perez as Secretary of Labor. Right-wing media used this announcement to push false attacks about Perez based on his service in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and other civil rights work and advocacy.
Top conservative media voices spoke out on the need to keep stories accurate and in-depth, while at the same time citing some of the right-wing media's worst stumbles as points of honor during a panel discussion Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
It has been a rough few months for the right-wing media. After a variety of observers pointed to its ineffectiveness during the 2012 election, it has come under fire again over the last month as major stories from The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com have imploded.
But such concerns were largely ignored during the CPAC panel titled "Survivor: Conservative Media," which was billed as an examination of the future of right-wing publications. This comes as little surprise, given that representatives from both the Caller and Breitbart.com were featured panelists.
Moderated by Scottie Hughes of the Tea Party News Network, the panel included Katie Pavlich, news editor at Townhall.com and a Fox News Contributor; Seton Motley, a Breitbart.com columnist; Keith Urbahn, co-founder of Javelin; and Lars Larson, a conservative radio talk show host.
While defending their past work, each appeared to espouse traditional journalistic values of accuracy, in-depth reporting and balance.
"Listen to what everyone else is saying, but don't be afraid to break from the pack," Larson said. "When there is a story, get on it, because there are too many stories that are a sleeper. Fast and Furious was a sleeper for a long time."
Larson referred to the botched ATF mission, which Pavlich and others had baselessly spun as a a conspiracy by the Obama administration to implement stronger gun laws.
Conservatives in media are hyping the argument of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that a ban on assault weapons would be similar to the government deciding which books people are allowed to read, even though Cruz's argument is based on a misunderstanding of constitutional law and courts have held that assault weapon bans are constitutional.
During a March 14 meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where a party line vote advanced an assault weapons ban proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to the floor of the Senate, Cruz drew an equivalence between banning assault weapons and an act of Congress "to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books" or a law stating that the Fourth Amendment "could properly apply only to the following specified individuals, and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights":
CRUZ: It seems to me that all of us should be begin as our foundational document with the Constitution. And the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights provides that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The term "the right of the people," when the framers included it in the Bill of Rights they used it as a term of art. That same phrase "the right of the people" is found in the First Amendment, the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition their government for readdress of grievances, it's also found in the Fourth Amendment, "the right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures." And the question that I would pose to the senior senator from California is, would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context of the First or Fourth Amendment. Namely, would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books, and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights. Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment's protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?
Cruz's comments were promoted by Fox Nation, The Blaze, Red State, Breitbart.com, PJ Media, The Daily Caller and The Gateway Pundit. Breitbart.com wrote that Cruz "destroys" Feinstein's argument for an assault weapons ban. Red State ran a headline that Feinstein was struck by a "Ted Cruz Missile." The Daily Caller titled its article on Cruz's comments, "Ted Cruz offends Dianne Feinstein by bringing up the Constitution."
The praised heaped upon Cruz by conservative media outlets ignores that the junior Texas senator's constitutional argument is flawed because it fails to acknowledge longstanding and widely accepted limitations on all of the liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Right-wing media fabricated a split between White House press secretary Jay Carney and President Obama on the reason for White House tour cancelations, ignoring the fact that both explained that the tours were cancelled because of the impact of automatic budget cuts on the Secret Service.
During a March 13 White House afternoon press conference, Carney explained that tours of the White House were cancelled because the Secret Service decided to cut security on the tours to spare their agents further furloughs due to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration (emphasis added):
CARNEY: We had to cancel the tours. It's our job to cancel the tours. They cannot cancel them so -- because we run -- this is not a tour of the Secret Service building. It's a tour of the White House and the grounds. And we run the tours and invitations and that process. So the White House, as we have said, canceled the tours, confronted with the choice made by the Secret Service -- which we concur with, but it is certainly their choice because it's their budget -- that it was the right thing to do not to add further furloughs to the future for Secret Service agents, the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect senior officials in our government, and that the result would be cutbacks in staffing, hours in an area like tours, which is so labor-intensive.
Carney's statement echoed the remarks made by Obama on this topic during an ABC news interview aired the morning of March 13 (emphasis added):
OBAMA: You know, I have to say this was not- a decision that went up to the White House. But th- what the Secret Service explained to us was that they're gonna have to furlough some folks. What furloughs mean is- is that people lose a day of work and a day of pay.
And, you know, the question for them is, you know, how deeply do they have to furlough their staff and is it worth it to make sure that we've got White House tours that means that you got a whole bunch of families who are depending on a paycheck who suddenly are seein'-
Despite the consistency of Carney and Obama both explaining that the Secret Service made the choice to pull back on White House tour security to avoid more furloughs, right-wing media latched onto Carney's remarks and claimed that he broke from Obama's explanation.
Based on Carney's and Obama's remarks, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed on March 14 that they "need to get on the same page" regarding the cancelation of White House tours.
On March 13, Rush Limbaugh claimed that Carney's comments proved Obama "lied" about the reason for the White House tour cancelation, saying that while "some say it's unseemly to accuse a president of lying, and it may be unseemly. People don't want to believe that, but that's exactly what happened here."
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
From the March 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
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The bogus story that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had filed for bankruptcy appeared on Boston.com, the sister website of The Boston Globe, through a third-party content provider that posts content without editorial approval and provides such content to more than 200 web outlets.
That provider, meanwhile, took the story from an Austrian-based blog without any editorial review or fact-checking of its own, a practice that is becoming more and more common in the Internet content sharing world. The blog has since deleted its post and all posts from the author appear to have been removed from Boston.com.
The false story, which had its roots in a satire by the website Daily Currant, was subsequently picked up by the conservative site Breitbart.com, a move later criticized by Krugman himself and numerous news outlets from The Atlantic to Politico. Breitbart.com has deleted the post, with its author blaming Boston.com, which he says he "trusted" for the story.
But according to Boston.com, they played no role in the creation of that post, an editorial mechanism which troubles some observers.
He said he reached out to financialcontent.com at roughly 9 a.m. EDT today to have the item removed. It was removed at 11:34 a.m. EDT.
"The reason why we partner with them is to provide stock data," Agrella explained Monday, just hours after the item was taken down. "That is why we contract with them. The stories are additional content provided on the side. We have partnered with them for 10 or 12 years."
Financialcontent.com had picked up the item from an Austria-based business blog, Prudent Investor, without any editorial review of its own, according to financialcontent.com CEO Wing Yu.
"We are a technology company, we don't have an editorial desk," Yu explained. "There is an RSS feed that we parse from each content provider. We have categorized [Prudent Investor] as a business content provider and the content is syndicated along with the byline."
YU said Prudent Investor is one of more than 400 content providers that financialcontent.com draws on for news and data, which it then forwards to some 200 news outlets such as Boston.com, as well as others owned by McClatchy, Media News Group and AOL.
The Prudent Investor website is based in Vienna, Austria, and run by Toni Straka, who describes himself on the blog as "an INDEPENDENT Certified Financial Analyst who worked as a financial journalist for 15+ years and now evaluate global market trends."
Breitbart.com ridiculed Paul Krugman for filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in a since-deleted post whose claims originated with a satire website. Just last month, Breitbart.com castigated a news outlet for running with a story from that same website.
In the March 11 post, Breitbart.com editor at large Larry O'Connor mocked the Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist for his alleged financial mismanagement. Unfortunately for O'Connor, the report that Krugman went bankrupt is clearly a joke and originated from the satirical website The Daily Currant. O'Connor has since deleted the post without explanation. (Update: O'Connor tweeted, saying he "trusted Boston.com as the source for that Krugman piece, but they were duped by Daily Currant, therefore, so was I!")
In his post, O'Connor jabbed Krugman for supposedly spending "$84,000 in one month" on Portuguese wines and "a dress from the Victorian period," and concluded that "apparently this Keynsian [sic] thing doesn't really work on the micro level." O'Connor sourced the report to a Boston.com post written by "Prudent Investor." The post by "Prudent Investor" sources an Austrian website, which reprinted the original Daily Currant story. (Update: Boston.com appears to have deleted the story.)
Just last month, the Breitbart team laid into the Washington Post when the paper's website adopted a satirical story about Sarah Palin from Daily Currant. In a post about the snafu, Breitbart blogger John Nolte ripped the paper for not letting "facts get in the way of a good Narrative." According to Nolte, if Post blogger Suzi Parker "had a shred of self-awareness, integrity, and dignity, she would have changed the headline to 'Too Good To Check,' and under it posted an essay about how shallow, smug, bitterly angry partisanship can blind you to common sense."
But when his website ran with a too good to check story about Paul Krugman, they merely deleted the post without explanation.
O'Connor is scheduled to participate in the "CPAC 2013 All Star Panel" at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference.
According to court documents obtained by Wonkette, conservative activist James O'Keefe has agreed to a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed against him by Juan Carlos Vera, a former employee of ACORN. Vera filed the suit against O'Keefe in 2010, alleging O'Keefe had illegally taped their conversation at an ACORN office in California as part of his fraudulent "exposé" of the community activist group.
Vera was one of the ACORN employees portrayed in O'Keefe's videos as offering assistance in setting up a nonexistent child prostitution ring. After his encounter with O'Keefe, Vera contacted the police to report "possible human smuggling," unaware that he had been duped. Vera claims he lost his job as a result of O'Keefe's deception after the conservative's video of their encounter was posted on a Breitbart website.
According to the settlement documents obtained by Wonkette, O'Keefe has agreed to "pay Vera $100,000.00," and that "as part of this settlement O'Keefe states that at the time of the publication of the video of Juan Carlos Vera he was unaware of Vera's claims to have notified a police officer of the incident. O'Keefe regrets any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family."
After the ACORN prostitution hoax fell apart, O'Keefe and his Project Veritas group released a series of heavily edited undercover sting videos attempting to document voter fraud, most of which collapsed under scrutiny, sometimes spectacularly so.
In a post at Salon, Brad Friedman reports that O'Keefe's ACORN video partner, Republican activist Hannah Giles, has agreed to pay Vera $50,000.