GOP candidates are training to better talk about women and women's issues following the disastrous 2012 elections -- but this new rebranding effort will be difficult, given conservative media's toxic rhetoric on women.
Politico reported on December 5 that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is meeting with congressional Republicans and their aides to "teach them what to say -- or not to say -- on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman":
While GOP party leaders have talked repeatedly of trying to "rebrand" the party after the 2012 election losses, the latest effort shows they're not entirely confident the job is done.
So they're getting out in front of the next campaign season, heading off gaffes before they're ever uttered and risk repeating the 2012 season, when a handful of comments let Democrats paint the entire Republican Party as anti-woman.
Akin dropped the phrase "legitimate rape" during the 2012 Missouri Senate race, costing himself a good shot at winning his own race and touching off Democratic charges of a GOP "War on Women" that dogged Republicans in campaigns across the country.
This new phase in the GOP's attempt to rebrand the party comes months after the Republican National Committee's (RNC) March 18 post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned the party was "increasingly marginalizing itself" by alienating women, Hispanics, African Americans, and younger voters.
As Media Matters noted at the time, the rebranding effort always faced a significant obstacle: conservative media. Right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh played a significant role in popularizing the very brand of Republican politics the party leadership now understands is toxic -- and they are unlikely to change their rhetoric on women just because the RNC and NRCC suggest it.
After all, Limbaugh is the man who launched 46 personal attacks on Sandra Fluke in 2012, including calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in favor of affordable contraception, and little has changed since then. Just in the month of November, Limbaugh compared filibuster reform in the Senate to "allow[ing] women to be raped"; suggested that women in the military synchronize their menstrual cycles so they'd be "ready to be banshees"; read from a misogynistic parody site mocking marital rape; claimed ads promoting Obamacare's coverage of birth control told young women "if you like being a prostitute, then have at it"; and claimed Democrats are turning women "into nothing but abortion machines."
Limbaugh is not alone. Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has mocked efforts to combat the immense problem of sexual assault in the military, and claimed "female sexual freedom" led to a "war on men." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly attempted to tie the "War on Christmas" to "unfettered abortion." Conservative blogger and Fox contributor Erick Erickson has called Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis "abortion Barbie" and attempted to smear her campaign by suggesting she was mentally unfit for office. And a Fox Business host recently asked if there is "something about the female brain that is a deterrent" to women working as tech executives.
That's just a few of the most recent examples. The list goes on.
If the NRCC is concerned about Republicans being labeled "anti-women," Todd Akin and his "legitimate rape" comments are perhaps the least of their concerns. Conservative media's daily drumbeat of demeaning attacks on women could do more damage to the party's efforts than any single gaffe.
After all, the GOP rebranding effort also included a call for greater Latino outreach, to which conservative media responded with increased anti-immigrant demagoguery and a full-throated effort to destroy immigration reform. At the moment, it seems the conservative media is successfully thwarting the Republican "rebrand" -- leaving the GOP right back where they were in November 2012.
From the December 3 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Company:
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Fox News reported that the Cleveland Clinic was instituting "massive layoffs" due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but when asked about the reports, a Clinic spokesperson told Media Matters, "We're not."
On November 25, The Daily Caller published an article titled, "Top U.S. hospital laying off staff due to Obamacare." On Fox Business' Markets Now, host Connell McShane reported on the "massive layoffs." America's Newsroom host Bill Hemmer claimed that the Cleveland Clinic was going to "shed workers." Later, during the America's News HQ, Fox reporter Chris Stirewalt claimed that the layoffs "rocked the community there in northeastern Ohio."
But there's one problem: the Cleveland Clinic is not laying off any employees. Eileen Sheil, Cleveland Clinic's Executive Director of Corporate Communications, said in an e-mail to Media Matters, "There have been several mis-reports and they keep mentioning that we're laying off 3,000 employees. We're not." Sheil explained that Cleveland Clinic is offering voluntary retirement to 3,000 eligible employees and that the Clinic is also "working on many initiatives to lower costs, drive efficiencies, reduce duplication of services across our system and provide quality care to our patients." Sheil continued, "Many of these initiatives do not impact our employees."
Sheil told Media Matters that Fox had been notified of its error and that the Cleveland Clinic requested Fox's future reporting on the issue more accurately present the Clinic's plans. According to a Media Matters search, Fox had not corrected its mistake by the time of publication.
Despite Fox's reporting, Sheil reiterated the Clinic's support for the Affordable Care Act, stating:
We believe reform is necessary because the current state is unsustainable. The ACA is a step toward that change and we believe more changes will come/evolve as there are still many uncertainties. Hospitals must be responsible and do what we can to prepare and support the law.
Fox's continued focus on the Cleveland Clinic is due, presumably, to President Obama's frequent praise of the hospital. In September, host Greta Van Susteren acknowledged the network's flawed reporting on the Cleveland Clinic after it was cited by U.S. Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) on her program.
Reports indicate that CNBC business anchor Maria Bartiromo will soon move to the Fox Business Network to host a weekday market hours program. Judging by Bartiromo's past comments, the host will find a welcome home at Fox.
On November 18, multiple news outlets reported that Bartiromo, currently the anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell, intends to leave her current position to take a job at Fox Business. According to USA Today, Bartiromo will also report for Fox News.
A March 2010 profile of Bartiromo in New York magazine described her as "empathetic to Big Business" and noted the criticism she's taken for being "too cozy" with the people she covers as a journalist. Bartiromo dismissed her critics as jealous: "Anybody who has been very successful is sort of, you know, in the crosshairs."
Indeed, Bartiromo has gone to great lengths to protect the interests of businesses, even advancing borderline conspiracy theories about the Obama administration and government regulatory agencies.
In 2011, Bartiromo repeatedly argued that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) should not have intervened when Boeing was accused of anti-labor practices, going so far as to claim that the only reason NLRB filed suit against the company was because Boeing's jobs are non-union. In late 2012 when Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit unexpectedly resigned, Bartiromo asserted that is was because he was "[g]etting bashed and bashed and bashed again by the President, by the populists." And of course, there is Bartiromo's recent staunch defense of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, despite the fact that Dimon headed the investment bank when it was involved in allegedly fraudulent deals in the mortgage security market just before the financial crisis.
Bartiromo's soft approach to business interests is exactly what will make the host successful at Fox. The network regularly accuses the federal government of committing "shakedowns" whenever big business interests are held accountable for misconduct, even when there is mounting evidence of wrongdoing. Similar to Bartiromo's assertion that Pandit resigned because of pressure from the Obama administration, Fox Business' Stuart Varney claimed that when Standard & Poor's Devan Sharma stepped down as president in 2011 it was because the Obama administration was exacting revenge for S&P's downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.
Bartiromo's defense of big business is not the only reason she'll fit in at Fox -- she's also well-practiced in false, conservative attacks on President Obama. In October 2012, she suggested that the reason President Obama did not refer to the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya as "terrorism" -- a well-worn falsehood -- was because he may have been trying to garner support for cuts to military spending. The attacks in Benghazi, of course, have become fodder for Fox to advance baseless conspiracy theories and attacks on the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Given that Bartiromo's past comments fit into Fox's pro-business anti-government narrative, it is no wonder that the network would take her on board.
(Image via Financial Times via Creative Commons License)
From the November 18 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co.:
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A Fox Business host said he got a "big smile" when he heard that Australia backed out of its previous pledge to send aid to developing nations coping with climate change. His response comes as an official from the Philippines tearfully called for developed nations to make good on their promises to the climate fund in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
On November 13, Stuart Varney, host of Varney & Co., celebrated Australia's decision, saying he "do[esn't] want to pay" to help the Philippines and other developing nations adapt to a rapidly changing climate:
Varney's callous response stands in sharp contrast to that of Naderev "Yeb" Sano, a United Nations delegate from the Philippines, who announced at a U.N. climate summit that he is fasting until there are "concrete pledges" to the Green Climate Fund. Developed nations previously pledged to give $100 billion to the fund by 2020 in order to help developing nations adapt to climate change and reduce their own emissions.
The U.N. fund is intended to address a critical moral hazard of climate change: those who have contributed the least to climate change will suffer the most. The Philippines, for instance, is the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change -- "particularly exposed" to "cyclones, flooding and sea level rise" -- yet it has much fewer carbon emissions than either Australia or the U.S.:
Fox Business disparaged actor George Clooney as "irresponsible" and "foolish" for allegedly "blaming" Super Typhoon Haiyan on climate change. However, Clooney merely stated that regardless of "whether or not this particular storm" can be attributed to climate change, denying the existence of manmade climate change -- as those censuring Clooney have -- is "ridiculous."
Super Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest tropical cyclones in world history when it struck the Philippines on November 7, killing as many as 10,000 people. Scientists have stated that intense tropical cyclones such as Haiyan are expected to become more frequent as the earth warms, although many caution against attributing Haiyan directly to climate change. Sea level rise due to climate change also worsens the deadly storm surge for tropical cyclones such as Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy.
CLOONEY: Well it's just a stupid argument. I mean, whether or not this particular storm is any one -- if you have 99 percent of doctors who tell you "you are sick" and 1 percent that says "ah, you're fine," you probably want to hang out with, check it up for the 99. You know what I mean? I -- the idea that we ignore that we are in some way involved in climate change is ridiculous. What's the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit? And you know, yeah, I find this to be the most ridiculous argument ever.
On Monday, Fox Business host Stuart Varney and Fox News' senior meteorologist Janice Dean harangued Clooney for supposedly "us[ing] the tragedy to push his climate change agenda," saying his statement was "irresponsible" and "foolish" -- without ever airing or quoting what he actually said:
Dean also criticized Clooney for weighing in on climate change because he does not have a "seal of approval" from the American Meteorological Society (AMS), as she does. However, AMS officials have criticized broadcast meteorologists such as Dean for offering "nonscientific" opinions on climate change:
Media coverage of nuclear power often suggests that environmentalists are illogically blocking the expansion of a relatively safe, low-carbon energy source. However, in reality, economic barriers to nuclear power -- even after decades of subsidies -- have prevented the expansion of nuclear power. While nuclear power does provide meaningful climate benefits over fossil fuels, economic factors and the need for strict safety regulations have led many environmentalists to focus instead on putting a price on carbon, which would benefit all low-carbon energy sources including nuclear.
Fox Business' Charles Payne questioned the need for fast food workers to rely on federal assistance, absurdly citing aggregate earnings of workers and ignoring the fact that many in the industry earn below subsistent wages.
On the October 25 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., guest host Charles Payne and Fox contributor Elizabeth MacDonald discussed a recently released audio recording from the advocacy group LowPayIsNotOK.org. In the recording, a long-time McDonald's employee is directed by a "McResources" representative to seek out federal benefit programs to augment her inadequate take-home income. MacDonald cited a statement from McDonald's disavowing the call before Payne launched into a slander-filled tirade against a stereotyped generalization of low-wage, fast food employees:
PAYNE: There is a lot of unfortunate parts of the story. If you want to create a society where these jobs -- $8 jobs go for $15. Then what you're saying to people is like, okay, "don't improve your life. Don't finish high school. Don't go to college. Don't, you know what, have three or four kids out of wedlock. Don't put yourself in a predicament where this is your only option. In fact, keep doing what you're doing, smoke weed all day if you want. Doesn't matter. You'll get rewarded because in this society Mickey D's has got the money. They owe it to you." And I think that's a work mentality.
Payne concluded his screed by referencing the aggregate wages of fast food employees nationwide to support his claim that they don't actually need taxpayer-subsidized assistance programs:
PAYNE: By the way, people should know. They say it's between $3 to $7 billion that fast food workers get in care from the government. In the same time though, these fast food workers make between $41 and $46 billion. So who is subsidizing who?
While Payne is quick to dismiss that workers need these programs, absurdly citing aggregate earnings of fast food workers, facts show that they are indeed essential.
According to a recently released study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign titled "Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast Food Industry," "annual earnings in the fast food industry are well below the income need for self-sufficiency," and after accounting for limited work hours, the median annual earnings of a fast food worker stands at just $11,056 -- below the federal poverty threshold for an individual. Couple those low earnings with the fact that workers in the industry are twice as likely to be in households with total income below the poverty line, and it becomes clear that reliance on federal programs is necessary.
Indeed, fast food workers are overwhelmingly more reliant on public assistance programs than other segments of the workforce.
Fox is accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of a "power grab" for proposing a rule to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. In fact, the new classification is based on sound science and intended to address years' worth of confusion surrounding the proper protection of the nation's waterways.
Newly-proposed guidelines would allow "greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by providing clarity in determining where the Clean Water Act (CWA) applies," per the EPA, specifically by incorporating recent research on the extent to which small streams and wetlands connect to larger bodies of water downstream. That research, which is under review by the EPA's Science Advisory Board, found that small streams, even those that only flow at certain times, "are connected to and have important effects on downstream waters," and that wetlands are similarly integrated, making them subject to CWA protection.
That is, unless you ask Fox News and Fox Business. This week, the networks have adopted the complaints of GOP lawmakers to claim that the EPA is only using the study to justify a "power grab." Lou Dobbs claimed on his show that the clarified jurisdiction represented "unprecedented control over private property" -- "maybe" extending to "mud puddles." And Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano baselessly asserted on Fox & Friends that the study is "bogus" -- merely a rationalization to "regulate all bodies of water" and "control more behavior."
Despite these claims, the new EPA study did not provide the basis for regulating "all bodies of water" (or "mud puddles"). It found that the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could evaluate small streams on a case-by-case basis to determine their impact downstream. The rule is necessary because the parameters of the CWA are currently quite muddled, as even conservative critics and industry lawyers have noted in the past. This process is in keeping with the March 2013 decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which re-affirmed nearly unanimously that federal agencies are granted a wide berth in interpretations of their own rules.
Fox News has downright ignored the billions lost in productivity as a result of the government shutdown, which stands in stark contrast to the network's years-long attack on minimal waste and abuse in food assistance programs.
On October 16, the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's released its estimate of the economic cost of the 16-day long shutdown of the federal government, concluding that it cost the American economy $24 billion in lost productivity. The agency also cut its forecast for economic growth in the upcoming fiscal quarter by at least 0.6 percentage points.
Since the shutdown was lifted on October 16, Fox News personalities have expended considerable effort downplaying the effect the shutdown had on the economy.
On October 16, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs cited a slight uptick on the Dow Jones industrial average throughout the shutdown as evidence that the nationwide closure of federal lands and agencies had a negligible economic effect. Fox Business' Melissa Francis made a similar argument, claiming that the shutdown had shown Americans they could live with "a lot smaller government." On the October 17 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling questioned the validity of S&P, and other agencies, that report economic losses from the shutdown, baselessly suggesting that their reports are influenced by political factors.
Fox's continued denial of the ruinous economic effect of the government shutdown reveals the network's hypocritical and overzealous reporting on waste and abuse in federal anti-poverty programs.
In August, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), updated its figures for "trafficking," or when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash, in the program. Its data reveal a slight increase in trafficking rates from 1.0 percent in 2006-2008 to 1.3 percent in 2009-2011. The total value of trafficked benefits during the last three year period is estimated to be $858 million annually.
Rather than acknowledging that SNAP trafficking rates were still near historic lows, Fox misleadingly highlighted what it called a "30 percent" increase in abuse. Days previously, Fox dedicated another segment to attacking food assistance that included host Eric Bolling overestimating SNAP fraud and abuse rates by 5,000 percent.
The amount of yearly trafficking abuse in SNAP amounts to less than four percent of the wasted economic output caused by the government shutdown. In other words, the cost of the 16-day shutdown is nearly 28 times larger than a full year of food assistance abuse. While Fox has repeatedly claimed that waste in SNAP cannot be tolerated, the network has yet to acknowledge that waste from the shutdown even exists.
Of course, this should come as no surprise given the network's efforts to encourage the shutdown and resulting economic fallout. Fox News played a prominent role in encouraging and facilitating a partial government shutdown that cost the economy billions of dollars in lost productivity while producing zero policy gains for the Republican Party or its right-wing media champions. Fox has tried repeatedly to find scapegoats in the administration to shift blame away from allies in the House GOP caucus.
According to the USDA, "fluctuations in the number of SNAP participants in the last 16 years have broadly tracked major economic indicators." With the Republican-led shutdown effectively draining tens of billions of dollars out of the economy, SNAP registries are likely to increase in the near-term as the shutdown and lingering fiscal austerity drag down recovery.
If that happens, recipients of federal anti-poverty assistance can expect a resurgence of Fox attacks.
Despite numerous economic reports explaining the negative effects, Fox News personalities continue to downplay the effects of the ill-fated, Republican-led government shutdown.
Fox jumped on a baseless and easily debunked conspiracy theory about a Democratic politician just days before Election Day.
The Daily Caller caused a stir on October 14 by publishing a story promoting flimsy claims that Newark Mayor and New Jersey senatorial candidate Cory Booker does not actually live in New Jersey. In the article, writer Charles Johnson and "filmmaker" Joel Gilbert (more on him in a minute) interview a handful of Booker's "supposed neighbors" claiming he has "never" lived in Newark and may actually live in New York, but provide no substantial evidence to support their claims.
After the story was promoted widely by conservative online media and subsequently adopted by Steve Lonegan, Booker's opponent in this week's special senate election, it fell apart. Buzzfeed explains that while "there is no clear evidence to support claims Booker lives elsewhere," property records and other documentation suggest that he does, in fact, live in Newark.
Slate's David Weigel points out another reason the story doesn't pass the smell test: the involvement of Joel Gilbert. Gilbert -- the "filmmaker" whose interviews served as a central facet of the Caller piece -- is best known for Dreams from My Real Father, the documentary he released in 2012 arguing that President Obama is the secret love child of communist poet Frank Marshall Davis.
Weigel explains that the misfire on Booker may be "only the second-flimsiest story that [Daily Caller] has published about a New Jersey politician this year," following that publication's ill-fated series of stories claiming New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez had short-changed prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.
Despite the story being entirely unconvincing and coming in part from a disreputable conspiracy theorist, it of course made it into the Fox News bubble, because it targeted a Democrat. (Fox had previously heavily promoted the Caller's series on Menendez, as well.)
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel falsely claimed that no American homeowners have been wrongfully foreclosed on since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. In fact, federal investigations found more than a million homeowners have faced potentially wrongful foreclosures.
On the October 11 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., guest host Charles Payne was joined by Fox contributor Monica Crowley and Kissel to discuss the latest quarterly earnings report from JPMorgan Chase. The firm, which has been beset by legal battles, reported robust profits despite extensive legal expenses in the last fiscal quarter.
The discussion turned to an alleged government "shake down" of the bank and demonization of Wall Street when Kissel interjected that, in fact, the financial industry had done nothing whatsoever to deserve extra scrutiny:
KISSEL: There hasn't been a single homeowner who has been identified who was foreclosed on that shouldn't have been foreclosed on. Somebody who was paying his bills.
In fact, more than a million American homeowners were potentially wrongfully foreclosed on during the housing crisis.
An independent review of foreclosures, conducted by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), found that up to 30 percent of the 3.9 million households foreclosed on by 11 leading financial institutions faced wrongful challenges or should have been subject to certain legal protections. From the Huffington Post:
Close to 1.2 million borrowers, or about 30 percent of the more than 3.9 million households whose properties were foreclosed on by 11 leading financial institutions in 2009 and 2010, had to battle potentially wrongful efforts to seize their homes despite not having defaulted on their loans, being protected under a host of federal laws, or having been in good standing under bank-approved plans to either restructure their mortgages or temporarily delay required payments.
They reveal that nearly 700 borrowers who faced foreclosure proceedings had actually never defaulted on their loans.
The Huffington Post further reported, according to OCC data, that nearly a quarter-million borrowers eventually lost their homes. JPMorgan Chase, the bank being discussed on Varney & Co., has paid out millions of dollars in settlements over wrongful foreclosures, "leading Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan's chief executive, to personally apologize for his bank's errors."
Kissel's argument that banks like JPMorgan Chase did nothing do deserve current legal investigation - and instead praising Dimon for not "blow[ing] up the bank" - denies the reality faced by millions of Americans over the past five years.
Right-wing media figures have repeatedly accused Obama administration officials of using "scare tactics" for correctly pointing out that the U.S. will default if the debt ceiling is not raised by October 17. Economists, however, have echoed the administration's warnings, saying such claims that the U.S. will not default is "crazy talk."
Here's a look at some of the right-wing media's worst accusations: