Right-wing media websites continued to undermine their credibility in 2014 by peddling a number of false, ridiculous, and bigoted smears. Here are the top smears from conservative websites The Daily Caller, Breitbart.com, and The Washington Free Beacon.
This year saw clean energy technologies become cost-competitive with fossil fuels and gain prominence worldwide. The fossil fuel industry, desperate to stymie clean energy's continuing expansion, enlisted conservative media to do their bidding and attack clean technologies in every shape and form. From stoking fears about public transit being a form of "government control," to providing one-sided stories falsely predicting clean energy's downfall, here are the media's six most absurd attacks on clean energy this year.
1. 60 Minutes Produces "Poor Piece Of Journalism" To Attack Clean Energy
In January, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report titled, "The Cleantech Crash," which attempted to label clean energy a "dirty word." The report was widely criticized by reporters, government officials, and clean energy advocates alike for offering a one-sided look at renewable energy and narrowly focusing on a few failures while ignoring the majority of clean energy's success. Two of the guests interviewed in the report later criticized it for selectively airing their comments to provide an overly negative portrait of the industy and for "fail[ing] to do the most elementary fact checking and source qualification."
Further, the report made no mention of climate change, which as energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out is "the whole point of cleantech, after all: using the promise of technology and innovation to try to wean our economy off of fossil fuels."
Right-wing media outlets manufactured phony outrage over President Obama's recent remark on ESPN Radio that he usually watches SportsCenter while working out in the morning. In 2007, President Bush similarly admitted to watching ESPN while working.
Right-wing media outlets hyped widely discredited research from the Heritage Foundation to push the myth that President Obama's executive actions on immigration will cost the U.S. economy more than $2 trillion in federal benefits paid to those undocumented immigrants whose deportations are deferred. But Obama's exercise of prosecutorial discretion on behalf of certain undocumented parents of U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents does not confer federal means-tested benefits and economists report that allowing more immigrants to legally work will raise revenues and boost the economy.
Conservative media outlets are attacking President Obama's immigration action with myths that the newly protected workers will hurt the economy and the tax system. In reality, immigration increases wages and doesn't hurt employment, and the executive action is likely to boost tax revenue.
Right-wing media's outrage over President Obama's upcoming speech outlining plans to improve enforcement of the immigration system included accusations that Obama is engaging in "home-grown tyranny," calls for his impeachment, and even a Hitler comparison.
From the November 10 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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Members of the conservative media are attempting to scandalize President Obama's Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch by suggesting she was involved in the Whitewater investigations of the 1990s. However, the Loretta Lynch that played a bit role in Whitewater -- an investigation into fraudulent real estate deals that did not include any wrongdoing by the Clintons -- is a different person than Obama's attorney general nominee.
According to a November 8 Breitbart.com article by Warner Todd Huston, "few are talking about" the fact nominee Lynch "was part of Bill Clinton's Whitewater probe defense team in 1992." Huston pointed to a March 1992 New York Times article that "reported that Lynch was one of the Clintons' Whitewater defense attorneys as well as a 'campaign aide.'" And in a November 9 article Huston's colleague, Breitbart.com Senior Editor-at Large Joel Pollak wrote, "The connection to Whitewater ought to provide additional fodder for Republicans during Lynch's confirmation hearings":
The connection to Whitewater ought to provide additional fodder for Republicans during Lynch's confirmation hearings. It is odd that Obama chose someone so close to the Clintons--or perhaps not, given the prominent role played by Clinton insider John Podesta in the second term of the Obama White House. Lynch has been rewarded throughout her career for her political loyalty--not an unusual path up the career ladder for federal prosecutors, but certainly one that will allow the GOP, as well as Obama, to raise the political stakes.
The Loretta Lynch referred to in the New York Times article is a California based attorney who has worked on several prominent political campaigns, not Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch. Obama's nominee is shown on the right, while the Loretta Lynch Breitbart refers to is on the left:
Right-wing media are disingenuously claiming Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's (NH) widely-publicized support of basic campaign finance rules is "bombshell" evidence that she urged the "targeting" of conservatives.
Just hours before election day, the Daily Caller released a report alleging that Shaheen was "principally involved in a plot with Lois Lerner and President Barack Obama's political appointee at the IRS to lead a program of harassment against conservative nonprofit groups during the 2012 election." As evidence, it pointed to the fact that Shaheen had corresponded with the IRS lawyer William J. Wilkins about decades-old campaign finance regulations.
The Daily Caller added that a "major conservative super PAC" included Shaheen's name in a Freedom of Information Act request pertaining to the IRS. "If YOUR NAME is the search term that the conservative super PAC uses in its bid to get public information," writes Patrick Howley, "then you just might be involved in something."
Other right-wing media sources rapidly seized on the opportunity to attack Shaheen. Fox News, which has relentlessly promoted the campaign of her challenger, former Fox News employee Scott Brown, trumpeted the claim as "a death sentence" for Shaheen's Senate hopes.
But the Daily Caller's piece does not demonstrate a scandal of any kind and appears only to be repackaging already-reported information about a benign exchange of letters between several Democratic senators and IRS attorneys.
It's no secret that Senate Democrats asked the IRS to clearly define how much money 501(c)4 nonprofits, which gain tax exemption as "social welfare" organizations, are allowed to spend on election-related activities. In 2012, Democratic Senators, including Shaheen, released a letter publicly requesting that the IRS offer more specific "administrative guidance" on campaign finance restrictions for nonprofit groups. The request received media attention at the time, and IRS lawyer William J. Wilkins responded to Shaheen and others with a letter describing existing campaign finance rules:
"These regulations have been in place since 1959," Wilkins wrote. "We will consider proposed changes in this area as we work with Tax-Exempt and Government Entities and the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Policy to identify tax issues that should be addressed" in designing new regulations and "guidance."
"I hope this information is helpful," Wilkins wrote. "I am sending a similar response to your colleagues. If you have questions, please contact me or have your staff contact Cathy Barre at (202) 622-3720."
Right-wing media have repeatedly used unfounded conspiracy theories to prop up the IRS "scandal" after the allegations that the IRS solely investigated conservative groups' campaign spending began to crumble. Meanwhile, the political influence of money spent by outside groups has soared to record levels in the 2014 election cycle.
Academics and experts are casting doubt on the merits of a new study, promoted by right-wing media, which estimates that a small percentage of non-citizens vote and might sway the outcome of elections.
Mainstream media figures, following in the footsteps of conservative media, are trying to manufacture a scandal out of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent argument against trickle-down economics by stripping her comments of context to falsely cast them as a controversial gaffe or a flip-flop on previous statements about trade.
Conservative media outlets rushed to vilify Clinton's stance after she pushed for a minimum wage increase and warned against the myth that businesses create jobs through trickle-down economics at an October 24 campaign event for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley (D). Breitbart.com complained, "Clinton told the crowd ... not to listen to anybody who says that 'businesses create jobs,'" conservative radio host Howie Carr said the comments showed Clinton's "true moonbat colors," while FoxNews.com promoted the Washington Free Beacon's accusation that she said "businesses and corporations are not the job creators of America."
Mainstream media soon jumped on the bandwagon.
CNN host John King presented Clinton's comments as a fumble "a little reminiscent there of Mitt Romney saying corporations are people, too," and USA Today called the comments "An odd moment from Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail Friday - and one she may regret." In an article egregiously headlined, "Hillary Clinton No Longer Believes That Companies Create Jobs," Bloomberg's Jonathan Allen stripped away any context from Clinton's words in order to accuse her of having "flip-flopped on whether companies create jobs," because she has previously discussed the need to keep American companies competitive abroad.
Taken in context, Clinton's comments are almost entirely unremarkable -- and certainly don't conflict with the philosophy that trade can contribute to job growth, as Allen suggests. The full transcript of her remarks shows she was making the established observation that minimum wage increases can boost a sluggish economy by generating demand, and that tax breaks for the rich don't necessarily move companies to create jobs:
CLINTON: Don't let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. They always say that. I've been through this. My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s. I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what? Millions of jobs were created or paid better and more families were more secure. That's what we want to see here, and that's what we want to see across the country.
And don't let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried. That has failed. That has failed rather spectacularly.
One of the things my husband says, when people say, what did you bring to Washington? He says, well I brought arithmetic. And part of it was he demonstrated why trickle down should be consigned to the trash bin of history. More tax cuts for the top and for companies that ship jobs over seas while taxpayers and voters are stuck paying the freight just doesn't add up. Now that kind of thinking might win you an award for outsourcing excellence, but Massachusetts can do better than that. Martha understands it. She knows you have to create jobs from everyone working together and taking the advantages of this great state and putting them to work.
Economic experts agree that job growth is tied to the economic security of the middle class.
U.S. economic growth has historically relied on consumer spending, and middle class consumers are "the true job creators," Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out. Right now, the U.S. economy is "demand-starved," as Economic Policy Institute's (EPI) Joshua Smith puts it. Steiglitz says that, of all the problems facing the U.S. economy, "The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth."
In a testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, economist Heather Boushey noted that "It is demand for goods and services, backed up by an ability to pay for them, which drives economic growth" and "The hollowing out of our middle class limits our nation's capacity to grow unless firms can find new customers."
UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich agrees that the problem in the U.S. economy is demand. "Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell," he writes, and places the blame on low paychecks and growing inequality: "The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping... Consumers can't and won't buy more." He says the key to job growth is "reigniting demand" by "putting more money in consumers' pockets." From The Huffington Post:
Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don't need more financial incentives. They're already sitting on a vast cash horde estimated to be upwards of $1.6 trillion. Besides, large and middle-sized companies are having no difficulty getting loans at bargain-basement rates, courtesy of the Fed.
In consequence, businesses are already spending as much as they can justify economically. Almost two-thirds of the measly growth in the economy so far this year has come from businesses rebuilding their inventories. But without more consumer spending, there's they won't spend more. A robust economy can't be built on inventory replacements.
The problem isn't on the supply side. It's on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell.
The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation.
Clinton's emphasis on the minimum wage is supported by economic experts as well. Reich says that raising the minimum wage is an effective way to generate the consumer demand that would spur job growth. It "would put money in the pockets of millions of low-wage workers who will spend it -- thereby giving working families and the overall economy a boost, and creating jobs." He also rejected critics' claims that giving low income-earners a raise hurts job growth: "When I was Labor Secretary in 1996 and we raised the minimum wage, business predicted millions of job losses; in fact, we had more job gains over the next four years than in any comparable period in American history."
EPI called the minimum wage a "critically important issue" that "would provide a modest stimulus to the entire economy, as increased wages would lead to increased consumer spending, which would contribute to GDP growth and modest employment gains" (emphasis added):
The immediate benefits of a minimum-wage increase are in the boosted earnings of the lowest-paid workers, but its positive effects would far exceed this extra income. Recent research reveals that, despite skeptics' claims, raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss. In fact, throughout the nation, a minimum-wage increase under current labor market conditions would create jobs. Like unemployment insurance benefits or tax breaks for low- and middle-income workers, raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of working families when they need it most, thereby augmenting their spending power. Economists generally recognize that low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to spend any extra earnings immediately on previously unaffordable basic needs or services.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by July 1, 2015, would give an additional $51.5 billion over the phase-in period to directly and indirectly affected workers, who would, in turn, spend those extra earnings. Indirectly affected workers--those earning close to, but still above, the proposed new minimum wage--would likely receive a boost in earnings due to the "spillover" effect (Shierholz 2009), giving them more to spend on necessities.
This projected rise in consumer spending is critical to any recovery, especially when weak consumer demand is one of the most significant factors holding back new hiring (Izzo 2011). Though the stimulus from a minimum-wage increase is smaller than the boost created by, for example, unemployment insurance benefits, it has the crucial advantage of not imposing costs on the public sector.
The economic benefits of a minimum wage increase are widely accepted. Over 600 economists signed a recent letter supporting an increase, arguing, "Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front."
Conservative media are claiming that looser gun safety laws are key to preventing shootings like the one in Canada, a nonsensical stance given that the U.S. has far less restrictions on gun ownership and a higher incidence of gun violence compared to Canada and other high-income nations.
Conservative media figures have criticized President Obama for sending the U.S. military to help address the public health crisis posed by Ebola in Africa, ignoring experts who explain the critical need for assistance to contain the outbreak and the military's unique capability to support in those efforts.
Breitbart.com editor-at-large Ben Shapiro accused the Supreme Court of engaging in judicial activism in order to promote marriage equality and gay rights, suggesting that the Court wrongly struck down laws criminalizing "anal penetration" in its 2003 decision Lawrence v. Texas.
In an October 6 article for Breitbart.com, Shapiro condemned the Supreme Court's refusal to take on the appeal of several cases challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. He suggested that the Court's refusal encourages "low-level courts to continue knocking down traditional marriage laws across the country."
Shapiro compared the Supreme Court's handling of marriage equality to its handling of state laws criminalizing gay sex, including its 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state anti-sodomy laws across the country:
The Court clearly wants to wait until a majority of states have been forced to embrace same-sex marriage by lower-level appeals courts. Then they can determine that a "trend-line" has been established, suggest that society has "evolved," and declare that a new standard must be enshrined. That, of course, was the logic of Lawrence v. Texas (2003), in which the Court waited 17 years to overrule Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), stating that anal penetration was a hard-fought Constitutional right; the Court in that case stated that Bowers no longer applied because of "an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex." Justice Scalia rightly pointed out that the Court's statement was false - the state, he explained, still regulates "prostitution, adult incest, adultery, obscenity, and child pornography." And Scalia also pointed out that "Constitutional entitlements do not spring into existence because some States choose to lessen or eliminate criminal sanctions on certain behavior." [emphasis added]
Right-wing media used the first U.S. Ebola diagnosis as an opportunity to push their xenophobic agenda by invoking immigration myths, targeting supporters of immigration reform, and pushing for changes to the current U.S. visa system.