Right-wing media are misinforming about a recent Supreme Court injunction that allows the non-profit charity Little Sisters of the Poor to continue its objection to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, as they appeal a lower court opinion that rejected their legal challenge.
In its January 24 order, the Court pointed out that the ruling "should not be construed as an expression of the Court's views on the merits." In other words, the nuns haven't won their lawsuit -- the Court has not issued an opinion regarding whether or not their First Amendment rights have been violated. Interestingly, although the order stipulated that the nuns would no longer have "to use the [original] form prescribed by the Government," in order to register their objection, they still must "inform the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they ... have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services."
But this preservation of the status quo hasn't stopped right-wing media from framing the case as a big win for Little Sisters. In a January 27 segment on Fox's Special Report, host Bret Baier "chalk[ed] one up for David against Goliath." National Review Online at least acknowledged the meaning of the Court's order, but still crowed about the nuns' "big procedural victory." In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal went further, not only calling the case a "victory" for Little Sisters, but also a "rebuke to the Obama Administration's bullying conception of religious liberty":
[T]he permanent stay pending appeal, issued late Friday by the full Supreme Court with no recorded dissent, was rarer still -- and a rebuke to the Obama Administration's bullying conception of religious liberty.
The Little Sisters sued because they believe the form they must sign to supposedly exempt themselves from the mandate instructs others to provide contraceptives and abortifacients in their name, and thus violates their faith and the First Amendment. Nearly all of the lower courts that are adjudicating the 91 lawsuits challenging the rule gave religious organizations a reprieve, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals did not for the Little Sisters.
The Justice Department also argued that this order of Catholic nuns who run a Colorado nursing home and hospice should be forced to comply. You might call it a war on religiously devout women.
From the January 27 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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"I don't care about the bloody report!"
With that, Bill O'Reilly delivered the climax to a night of Senate report denialism on Fox News.
This week, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the results of its investigation into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi. The report dispelled many of Fox News' favorite conspiracy theories surrounding the attacks, including the myth that the Obama administration engaged in a cover-up by suggesting the attacks may have grown out of protests outside U.S. facilities in Benghazi over an anti-Islam video, an idea then-U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice suggested in a series of interviews on the broadcast Sunday shows three days after the attacks.
And yet, Fox hosts Bill O'Reilly and Bret Baier continued to push these myths, even when covering the Senate report that debunked them.
On the January 16 edition of Special Report, guest A.B. Stoddard pointed out that the report found no evidence of a cover-up, and Baier responded, "You said no cover-up, but there's clearly an open question about this story about the protests, and about where that all came from."
Bill O'Reilly went even further, peppering guest James Carville with questions about the origins of Rice's suggestion that the attacks may have originated from a protest over the film. Carville attempted to explain that the Senate report answered O'Reilly's question, but the Fox host repeatedly interrupted him, finally yelling, "I don't care about the bloody report":
Fox News stoked fears about the security of HealthCare.gov, all but ignoring the fact that a top official testified to Congress on January 16 that the website is secure.
The January 16 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier featured a panel discussion on the security of the health care website consisting of Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer, Fox News Legal Analyst Andrew Napolitano, and frequent Fox guest A.B. Stoddard. Baier and his guests roundly panned the website's security, relying on testimony by cyber security expert David Kennedy, who claimed that HealthCare.gov remains insecure:
Fox News downplayed the connection between income inequality and poverty in an attempt to dismiss government efforts to reduce the growing problem.
On the January 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Doug McKelway dismissed concern over the nation's rising income inequality as a simple issue of "class resentment." He attributed the problem of inequality to capitalism's system of rewards and punishments, because "some people are better, smarter, harder-working, or luckier than others," later adding, "numerous studies show the greatest predictor of poverty is not income inequality."
Fox News figures revived the tired falsehood that President Obama and his administration neglected to acknowledge Benghazi as a terrorist attack, this time adding speculation that Hillary Clinton may have played a role in the imaginary omission.
On January 13 the House Armed Services Committee released declassified transcripts of congressional briefings on the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. One portion of the transcripts detailed Marine Corps Colonel George Bristol, commander of an Africa-based task force during the Benghazi attacks, testifying that at the time of the assault in Benghazi, the military considered the assault to be an attack.
That evening's Special Report presented Bristol's words as groundbreaking, suggesting they indicted both the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Weekly Standard's Steve Hayes, a Fox contributor called it "a pretty significant development" because "[f]or the president and his advisers to go out and for two weeks pretend that that wasn't the case is quite extraordinary." And NPR's Mara Liasson, also a Fox contributor, took the claims even further, wondering if Clinton "might be tied in some way to ... deciding not to call it a terrorist attack."
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
Fox News' special "Behind the Obama Breakdown" prominently featured the Koch brothers-funded organization Generation Opportunity, an anti-health care reform group seeking to deter young people from signing up for Obamacare coverage, without ever acknowledging the political bias behind the organization.
On December 13, Fox aired a special report hosted by Bret Baier called "Behind the Obama Breakdown." The report opened and closed with segments on Generation Opportunity, an organization that travels to colleges around the country to encourage millenials to opt out of signing up for coverage on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. Baier described the group as "young, political activists mobilizing against the president's signature legislation" and "community organizer[s]," airing footage of Gen Opp rallies, headquarters, and interviews with Evan Feinberg, the organization's president. Feinberg's remarks often drove the special's narratives, placed between new topics to introduce a new theme to viewers.
The hour-long report featured Feinberg and Generation Opportunity multiple times throughout it, totaling more than six minutes of coverage to the group. Baier allowed Feinberg to repeatedly push his anti-health care agenda, encouraging young people not to sign up for health insurance on the ACA.
Neither Baier nor Feinberg ever acknowledged that the organization is financed by the Koch brothers. The group received $5.04 million from "Freedom Partners," a conservative lobbying group funded by the Koch brothers. The funding is responsible for a series of anti-Obamacare ads featuring a "Creepy Uncle Sam" -- who also made appearances in Fox's special -- to provoke fear about the government and deter young people from signing up for the ACA.
Narrating over shots of a Generation Opportunity tailgate, Baier said of the group's mission: "This is more than a pregame tailgate bash. It sounds a lot like a call to civil disobedience." What Baier characterizes as "civil disobedience" -- opting out of the ACA -- may have dangerous consequences for young adults. Without insurance, young people will be responsible for the full costs of any injuries, illness, or preventive care. And when the average cost to treat even a broken leg without health insurance is over $10,000, footing the bill is unlikely to be affordable for young people.
Fox has hidden the people behind Generation Opportunity before, and its repeated spotlight on the organization fits with the network's continuing efforts to discourage millennials from signing up for health insurance, a campaign which ignores the fact that many young adults are eager to buy health insurance under the new ACA provisions.
Right-wing media are dismissing President Obama's and Congressional Democrats' work on filibuster reform, a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and immigration reform as merely attempts to distract from the Affordable Care Act.
A month after claiming that President Obama's focus on immigration reform was intended to distract the American public from problems with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) rollout, Fox News is at it again.
Previewing Obama's immigration reform speech in San Francisco in which Obama will reportedly urge the House to pass a reform bill before year's end, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked: "Forget Iran, forget Obamacare, President Obama wants to talk about immigration? Will changing the subject actually work, I say, with italicized work?" He added: "We report, you decide."
Later on in the broadcast, Kilmeade again asserted that Obama is "going to have a hard time changing the subject to immigration" in light of ACA problems. Anchor Bret Baier agreed, replying:
BAIER: He is, because -- listen. Every day, there is some story about Obamacare, and it's not just the website anymore, and we've gone over that. But the more and more people see the premiums, that's really the sticker shock. And I think you've got -- when you've got a White House trying to turn the page a number of different times, a number of different ways, he might have a challenge.
America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum struck a similar note, suggesting that Obama is "trying to move to these other topics in an attempt to change the subject a bit and perhaps salvage his second term."
In fact, as senior political analyst Brit Hume pointed out on America's Newsroom, "it's not surprising" that Obama is focusing on immigration reform:
HUME: These are issues -- Iran, immigration -- that the president was gonna have to address anyway, whatever his standing, whatever the condition of his health insurance reform plan. So it's not surprising that he would try to do that, particularly on immigration, which it wasn't so very long ago you recall Martha, had a real head of steam behind it.
And it looked as if after the results of the 2012 election, Republicans were eager to pass something to try to get themselves in the better graces of the Hispanic community. Some of the air is out of that tire; it's understandable that the president would try to re-inflate it and get it rolling again.
Indeed, Obama has repeatedly urged Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill by year's end and his speech today is intended, as Hume noted, to inject renewed urgency into the debate. Obama has maintained since his election in 2009 that immigration reform is a priority for his administration.
Fox News lent credence to True the Vote's fearmongering over Obamacare and voter registration during the network's 2013 election night coverage, never acknowledging the extremist nature of the tea party group.
When signing up for health insurance on the HealthCare.gov exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), customers are prompted with the option to register to vote. This is due to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires state agencies engaged in public assistance to offer voter registration services, including the state and federally-run exchanges.
According to True the Vote (TTV), an activist tea party group which describes itself as an election watchdog organization, the registration option will "corrupt" voter rolls and lead to "bogus voter registrations." As evidence, the group links to a report from Demos, a liberal think tank, detailing how many Americans could potentially register to vote because of the ACA. True the Vote's theory is that health care navigators like Planned Parenthood -- organizations that assist people in exploring their insurance options in the exchanges -- will use the registration information "in political activities."
A November 5 Special Report package treated True the Vote's conspiracy theory as a damning revelation. Host Bret Baier introduced the segment by saying, "The president's plan is not just about making sure everyone has insurance. There is also a not-so-subtle political objective."
Fox correspondent Shannon Bream then profiled True the Vote's concerns, featuring TTV president Catherine Engelbrecht's claims that "the implications of this are mind-blowing."
BREAM: Pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, state agencies that provide public assistance are also required to give applicants the opportunity to register to vote. A number of states believe that includes the health care exchanges. ... The Demos document also stresses that navigators be trained to walk applicants through the voter registration process, but it's the navigators critics are worried about, saying groups with partisan agendas like Planned Parenthood shouldn't be handling voter information. True the Vote, which calls itself a citizen-led organization aimed at restoring integrity to the U.S. election system, says it's been unable to get any answers about how the voter registrations are being transmitted or verified. And worries about the potential for confusion.
What Fox never admits is that True the Vote is a discredited organization with a partisan agenda.
Fox News continues to push myths about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), baselessly claiming it will undermine religious freedom. In fact, ENDA contains explicit language providing for an exemption for religious organizations from the law.
ENDA, introduced in Congress by a bipartisan group of senators and scheduled for a Senate vote as early as next week, would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the law, including a majority of Republicans, Catholics, and senior citizens. Small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike support policies protecting LGBT employees.
On the October 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier introduced a segment on ENDA and stoked fears that it could endanger religious freedom, saying, "some people want religious freedom to take a backseat to another kind of freedom":
In a report on the renewed judicial nominations struggle over three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Fox News' Shannon Bream incorrectly reported that the court was balanced evenly and that past Democratic opposition to highly controversial Republican judicial nominees is equivalent to the blanket obstructionism President Obama's nominees are currently facing.
Appearing on Special Report with Bret Baier, Bream advanced the right-wing myth that filling the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit would "tip the balance" ideologically and is unnecessary, given its "lighter" caseload. From the October 29 edition of Special Report:
BREAM: The problem is this is the D.C. Circuit Court. And what's important about it is it is the key appeals court for looking at federal regulations and federal agencies, things like the EPA, the IRS. So it's something that looks at administrative action that goes around Congress. So it is a real check on administrative power. Now, this is the court that looked at the NLRB recess appointments, those appointments that the president made to the National Labor Relations Board, and found them unconstitutional. So it's very important. It's balanced right now evenly between judges who were appointed by Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, so adding even one new nominee of the president to this court is going to tip the balance. By the way, four of the current Supreme Court justices served on this court. It's very important.
BRET BAIER: But Democrats rightly point out there are a lot of empty seats so why shouldn't they be filled?
BREAM: Yeah, there are three vacancies. The President has tapped three different lawyers to fill those seats, including one who is currently a judge in a lower court. And basically, there were vacancies back when President George W. Bush was fighting to fill these seats as well. Back then Democrats said the court doesn't have enough of a workload to justify filling all of these seats. It's what Republicans are saying now and they add the workload has gotten even lighter in the last eight years. One of the judges currently sitting on the bench said this, quote, "if any more judges are added now, there won't be enough work to go around." That's from one of the current folks who's on this court.
Bream's report on Republican obstruction of Obama's judicial nominees parrots repeatedly debunked right-wing talking points. Bream is correct that the D.C. Circuit Court is a significant part of the federal court system -- it is considered second only to the Supreme Court in terms of its impact on federal law. It is strange, then, that she would uncritically report on Republican efforts to prevent the court from operating at full capacity. Moreover, her characterization of Democratic opposition to George W. Bush's D.C. Circuit nominees is demonstrably false -- that opposition did not result in the elimination of any seats, and ultimately four of Bush's nominees were confirmed. And unlike Bush's judicial picks, President Obama's nominees have faced unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans.
Fox News political analyst Brit Hume and anchor Bret Baier attempted to shift responsibility for the possible government shutdown from Republicans to Democrats by blaming biased reporting from the "mainstream media" and not the actions of Republicans in Congress for the popular perception that Republicans would be responsible for a government shutdown.
The government may shut down after Republicans attempted to use a looming government shutdown as leverage to defund the Affordable Care Act. According to the Huffington Post, the GOP-led House of Representatives "passed a stopgap funding bill Friday that will shut down the government unless Democrats agree to defund President Barack Obama's marquee health care law." Economists fear that a government shutdown -- especially if it were followed by a potential default on the federal debt -- could hurt financial markets, elevate the unemployment rate, and further slow a sluggish economic recovery. More than 783,000 federal employees could be sent home, according to a CNN analysis.
On the September 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Baier introduced a commentary from Hume by claiming, "The mainstream media across the board has apparently made its call about who will be to blame if the government shutdown occurs, partial or not." Hume then elaborated, saying, "One reason people think Republicans are to blame for government shutdowns is so much of the media keep telling them that's the case."
A recent CNN poll found that 46% of Americans believe that the GOP would be responsible for a government shutdown, while 69% of Americans believe Republican members of Congress have acted "mostly like spoiled children." Americans may feel that way because, acccording to Mother Jones, "Republicans have been very clear all along that they were deliberately stringing out the budget process so they could use a shutdown as leverage for their demands." Even other Republicans have been critical of the shutdown strategy, with Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), famously calling it the "dumbest idea I'd ever heard."
Fox's own pundits have been divided. Sean Hannity said that defunding the ACA via a government shutdown is "the hill to die on," for the GOP. Charles Krauthammer described that same strategy as "really dumb," and "nuts." But those comments both acknowledge the GOP's responsibility for employing a strategy that could shut down the government.
In reality, Democrats have already shown a "willingness to compromise," according to Roll Call, which reported that "House Democratic leaders said on Monday that they are prepared to vote for a rider-free continuing resolution at sequester levels -- a cave from earlier condemnations of the House-passed $986 billion topline." Roll Call's David Hawkings reported that, unless Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner changes his mind, the shutdown is inevitable, but that's not likely because Republican leadership are under too much pressure from within their own party to compromise.
Hume previously acknowledged the right wing media's role in fueling such partisan showdowns in Congress, saying of some Republicans in Congress, "if you're sitting over in the House of Representatives and some measure to defund Obamacare comes along and you think it's a suicide mission because it might involve a government shutdown you're going to be hesitant to oppose it anyway because you don't want the most conservative -- you don't want the tea party and you don't want the conservative radio talk show hosts on your back."
The House Republicans are gearing up to slash nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), knocking up to 3.8 million people off the food stamp rolls over the next two years. As far as benefit programs go, SNAP is pretty effective, and can be indispensable in hard economic times. The Republicans, however, are raising the specter of rampant waste and fraud within the program, and the centerpiece of their PR campaign to cut the program's funding is a terrifically misleading Fox News special from August hosted by Special Report anchor and "straight journalist" Bret Baier.
That special, called "The Great Food Stamp Binge," made a right-wing celebrity out of Jason Greenslate, an unlikeable surfer from San Diego who refuses to work and proudly abuses his SNAP benefits. Greenslate is a rarity. The vast majority of SNAP households (75 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office) have a child, a person over the age of 60, or a disabled person. Greenslate's yearly benefit represents 0.000003 percent of the annual SNAP budget. He is in no way representative of SNAP recipients, and his behavior is atypical -- waste and fraud within the SNAP program is actually pretty rare.
In spite of all this, Greenslate ate up nine minutes of the hour-long special, divided between two segments. Offering no data or fact-based justification of any kind, Baier proclaimed Greenslate "the new face of food stamps." Baier's intention was clear: to create the (false) impression that SNAP is rife with abuse, and to transform Greenslate into a punching bag for conservative politicians and pundits who want to slash the social safety net.