Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.
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:
From the January 3 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Here we go again.
One year after creating a fact-free bubble in the run up to the last election, media conservatives are once again denying reality, this time in service of reanimating the Benghazi hoax that ensnared news organizations throughout 2012, denying authoritative evidence that should finally put an end to the hoax.
An exhaustive New York Times investigation into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, published on December 28, discredited the key elements of the right-wing campaign to politicize the attack -- a desperate attempt to bring down the Obama administration and sink a possible presidential run by Hillary Clinton.
Significantly, the Times definitively debunked the myth that al Qaeda played a central role in planning the attack.
Daily Beast contributor Eli Lake, who has been a key validator of the Benghazi hoax, pushed back against the Times, insisting that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack. Contrary to what the Times reported, Lake claimed, "evidence has emerged in the last year that does show the participation of militias and fighters with known ties to al Qaeda." Lake specifically cited comments made by Congressmen Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Adam Schiff (D-CA).
Lake's insistence that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack is in line with Fox News' response to the Times report. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, a Fox News contributor often portrayed as legitimate voice in the national media, accused the Times of covering for Democrats with its report.
This denial of reality is reminiscent of the way the right retreated to a bubble throughout the 2012 election, and poses a real threat to Americans' understanding of international terrorism.
The relentless campaign to insist that al Qaeda was responsible for the terrorist attacks in Benghazi misinforms the public understanding of that terrorist group and the role that local extremist groups play in international relations. In responding to critics of its reporting, the Times editorial board explained:
Americans are often careless with the term "Al Qaeda," which strictly speaking means the core extremist group, founded by Osama bin Laden, that is based in Pakistan and bent on global jihad.
Republicans, Democrats and others often conflate purely local extremist groups, or regional affiliates, with Al Qaeda's international network. That prevents understanding the motivations of each group, making each seem like a direct, immediate threat to the United States and thus confusing decision-making.
As The New Yorker's Amy Davidson noted, a failure to acknowledge the complexities of extremist groups could lead to tragic real-world results:
Not every angry Muslim, not even every angry Sunni Muslim, is part of Al Qaeda. Using the name so generically and broadly is a deliberate decision not to understand who our enemies are, or to care--if they don't like us, they are Al Qaeda, and we can stop listening.
And how, then, are we supposed to know who our friends are? Insisting that any Muslim who attacks us is Al Qaeda also means that, when we are standing around handing out guns to strangers--something we do a little too often--we'll assume that those who don't strike us as Al Qaeda types won't attack us.
From the November 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer attacked attempts to reduce income equality as only exacerbating economic growth and unemployment. But leading economists have supported government efforts to address inequality, calling it a paramount issue facing the country.
On the November 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly and Krauthammer met ostensibly to discuss rising economic inequality in the United States. Their conversation, however, quickly devolved into standard attacks against the efficacy of policies aimed at reducing inequality and building economic security. Citing a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), O'Reilly highlighted the "astounding" income gains of the top 1 percent of earners from 1979 to 2007 before turning to blame President Obama for failing to address growing inequality during his administration. Krauthammer joined the chorus, blaming President Obama's expressed concern with reducing economic inequality for actually driving unequal economic growth during his time in office [emphasis added]:
O'REILLY: President Obama promotes income equality, but during his time in office the rich are getting richer and the median income for working Americans has actually gone down. Joining us now from Washington, Charles Krauthammer. So why is this happening?
KRAUTHAMMER: It's happening because there is low economic growth. It's what Kennedy said; a rising economic tide lifts all boats. If you're obsessed with equality, as they are in Europe, what you end up with is chronic unemployment.
Krauthammer's claim that efforts to reduce economic inequality have an adverse effect on the economy is patently false. Economist Robert Reich has argued for decades that economic inequality "is bad for everyone," including the very wealthy, because it reduces economic growth potential.
Reich is not alone among noted economists championing policies that reduce inequality as a means to spur economic growth.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller recently told the Associated Press that "rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world" is "[t]he most important problem that we are facing today." Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman agrees; reducing economic inequality should be a primary policy goal in the United States. In a column titled "Rich Man's Recovery", Krugman argued that the continued concentration of wealth among the very wealthy "undermine[s] all the values that define America." Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz encouraged politicians to address economic inequality in 2013 as a means of unleashing a robust and sustainable economic recovery. Recently, Stiglitz has stated that "inequality is a choice."
Right-wing media picked up a misleading NBC News report that claimed President Obama knew millions of Americans would receive "cancellation" letters terminating their health insurance -- a report NBC News later clarified by explaining many of the policies would be "replaced" and not canceled.
In an October 28 NBC News report, senior investigative reporter Lisa Myers claimed that "50 to 75 percent" of individual health insurance consumers "can expect to receive a 'cancellation' letter or the equivalent over the next year" because their existing policies do not meet Affordable Care Act standards. Right-wing media have used similar language to claim "thousands of people across the country receiving cancellation notices from their insurers." In a New York Post column, National Review's Rich Lowry claimed "hundreds of thousands of people in states around the country are now receiving notices that their insurance is getting canceled." Fox News' Charles Krauthammer described the issues with the discontinued policies as "almost a parody of the definition of a liberal."
However, on the October 29 edition of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown, host Chuck Todd challenged Myers' description of policy letters sent to insurance consumers as policy replacements, not cancellation. Myers agreed:
Despite admitting that Republicans played a major role in forcing the government shutdown, the right-wing media have adopted GOP messaging portraying President Obama and Democrats as unwilling to resolve the crisis.
From the September 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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From the September 12 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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From the September 10 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Right-wing media have rushed to heap praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin for a proposal to allow Syria to avoid U.S. air strikes by surrendering all of its chemical weapons to the international community, despite the fact that Russia was responding to statements by Secretary of State John Kerry and that President Obama supports the solution.
Fox News personalities criticized speeches given by civil rights leaders at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, attacking the speakers for not addressing issues they deemed more important and complaining about "grievance-mongering."
National Review editor Rich Lowry criticized Senator Ted Cruz's effort to defund Obamacare as "a grass roots-pleasing slogan," adding to the conservative media divide over Republican plans to defund the health care law by threatening a government shutdown.
Republican politicians, including Cruz (TX) and Senator Mike Lee (UT), have threatened to shut down the government in order to stop funding health care reform. That approach has earned criticism from other Republicans, such as Senator Richard Burr (NC), who called it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of."
Writing in Politico, Lowry argued against Cruz's strategy, dismissing it as "a grass roots-pleasing slogan" and unrealistic:
His push to defund Obamacare this fall is a grass roots-pleasing slogan in search of a realistic path to legislative fruition. Cruz never explains how a government shutdown fight would bring about the desired end. The strategy seems tantamount to believing that if Republican politicians clicked their wing tips together and wished it so, President Barack Obama would collapse in a heap and surrender on his party's most cherished accomplishment.
Lowry's criticism adds to an already wide split among right-wing media on GOP threats to shut down the government.
Right-wing media have attempted to manufacture the claim that President Obama is abusing executive power by delaying implementation of the health care law's employer mandate and directing federal prosecutors to avoid maximum drug sentences in some cases, despite the legality of both practices.