From the May 17 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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Fox News and Fox Business previously portrayed electric carmaker Tesla Motors as another "failure" of the Obama administration's green energy investments. But since it is now clear that the company is doing well, both networks have developed amnesia about its federal loan, with Tucker Carlson claiming that "they don't take any government subsidies at all."
Tesla recently reiterated its plans to repay a loan granted through the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program ahead of schedule. This followed a series of positive developments, including the company's first quarterly profits and a shining review of the Model S sedan by Consumer Reports. Financial services firm Morgan Stanley recently told Raw Story that "Many funds approach an investment opportunity by first asking: does the company do something better or cheaper than anybody else? Tesla is beginning to convince the market it may do both."
But no matter how Tesla fares in the coming years, it seems likely that Fox News will change its reporting to follow suit. In 2012, Fox News' claim that Tesla was a "failed" company was eventually adopted by the campaign of then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Later, Fox News admitted Tesla was a "success", eventually forgetting its federal loan in the process.
Video created by Max Greenberg and John Kerr.
A New York Times article directly refutes the claims of House Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner, that State Department officials knew immediately that the attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 were connected to "Islamic terrorists." Fox News willingly repeated the attack on its evening programming May 9 -- but now that the Republican distortion has been exposed, will the network clarify its reports for viewers?
Boehner called for the release of a State Department e-mail sent in the wake of the Benghazi attacks that he claimed suggested the assault was perpetrated by "Islamic terrorists." At the House hearing on Benghazi on May 8, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), purporting to be reading from the email in question, quoted a State Department official as saying, "the group that conducted the attacks...is affiliated with Islamic terrorists." The phrase "Islamic terrorists" holds significance for Republicans who have suggested the administration knew from the outset that terrorists were behind the attacks but initially attempted to cover-up this knowledge for political reasons.
The May 9 editions of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox Business Channel's Lou Dobbs TONIGHT hyped the Republican line. According to a Nexis transcript search, Baier played clips of Boehner calling for the release of the e-mail, to which Fox guest and Fortune columnist Nina Easton responded, "I was happy to see Speaker Boehner call for the release of those internal e-mails. Anybody who thought that this was just a Republican hazing as the opposition party in power, I think those concerns were put to rest yesterday. I mean, there's so many unanswered questions."
Lou Dobbs also played Boehner's call for release of the e-mail, noting afterward that "somewhat predictably, no response from the Obama administration at this hour." Dobbs continued, claiming that Boehner's comments and the May 8 congressional hearings into the administration's response to the Benghazi attacks "open up new questions about the accuracy of the past testimony of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
The New York Times, however, obtained a copy of the e-mail in question and reported that the phrase conservatives are putting in the mouth of the State Department official -- "Islamic terrorists" - is in fact not used to describe the perpetrators of the attack. Rather, the official describes the perpetrators as having ties to "Islamic extremists" -- a distinction with a difference, according to the Times report:
[A] copy of the e-mail reviewed by The New York Times indicates that A. Elizabeth Jones, the senior State Department official who wrote it, referred to "Islamic extremists," not terrorists.
The distinction is important, administration officials said, because while the White House did not initially characterize the attack as terrorism, senior officials, including Ambassador Susan E. Rice, acknowledged the possibility that extremists had been involved in the assault.
Fox News is no stranger to carrying water for the Republican Party, and the network has led the charge to push Benghazi cover-up conspiracies. But now that the latest GOP line on Benghazi has been exposed, will Fox inform its viewers?
The success of Tesla Motors complicates Fox News' narrative about green energy investments, but the network has a strategy: simply ignore the fact that the company received a federal loan.
Tesla, a leading electric automaker, received a $465 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program in 2010. The company has since become a fixture in car magazines and one of the most conspicuous successes of the Obama administration's green energy policies, recently announcing that it intends to pay back the loan five years ahead of schedule and reporting its first quarterly profits. On the heels of the latter news came word that the notably tough reviewers at Consumer Reports had given the Tesla Model S sedan a 99 out of 100 rating, proclaiming "we've never seen anything quite like the Model S. This car performs better than anything we've ever tested before."
On Friday, Fox News reported the quarter one profits -- "encouraging" -- and the positive review, pronouncing the automaker a "huge success."
One major problem: somehow, Fox News neglected to mention the federal loan guarantee program that helped Tesla obtain vital capital to develop the Model S. By contrast, Fox News has repeatedly used a negative Consumer Reports review of Fisker's hybrid electric Karma sedan as a hook to attack the Obama administration's green loans, without mentioning successes like Tesla or the money that Congress set aside to cover losses, knowing that not every company would succeed.
Fox News' Stuart Varney portrayed a natural gas automaker as a "green energy failure," even though he pushed the federal government to make transit agencies buy vehicles from the same company only a few months prior.
Vehicle Production Group (VPG), a Michigan-based company that makes wheelchair-accessible vans, recently ceased operations and closed its offices. The company, which had drawn attention for designing the first vehicle specifically for people with disabilities, was awarded a $50 million conditional loan commitment in 2010 to develop vans with natural gas engines as part of the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program.
On Wednesday, Varney depicted the company as "the latest embarrassment for the [Obama administration's] green energy policy" on Fox & Friends:
But Varney did not mention that VPG received its loan under a program that President George W. Bush signed into law, or that the natural gas vehicles it was intended to subsidize are a component of T. Boone Pickens' energy plan, which Fox News personalities have previously supported. Pickens funded and advocated for VPG himself.
Republican congressmen are giving credibility to Alex Jones and his conservative fringe website Infowars.com, which popularized a conspiracy theory that DHS is stockpiling ammunition for nefarious purposes. The conspiracy theory has now inspired legislation known as the AMMO Act of 2013, which seeks to limit the ammunition purchasing power of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), even though the underlying theory was based on flawed math and a mischaracterization of the facts.
From the April 30 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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The right wing media's promotion of a widely-debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) ammunition acquisitions prompted House Republicans to hold a hearing to investigate. The theory, which assigns some sinister motivation behind the recent ammo purchases, first gained traction on the websites of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones before finding its way to Fox News and Fox Business and finally to the halls of Congress.
On April 25, Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (OH) and Jason Chaffetz (UT) held a joint hearing "to examine the procurement of ammunition by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General." The hearing followed right wing media reports speculating about the reasons for the acquisitions.
The conspiracy theory picked up steam in March 2012 after a series of reports were posted to Alex Jones' InfoWars.com, including one that claimed "it's not outlandish" to conclude that the government, "is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest." An opinion piece at The Daily Caller cited the reports to suggest that the Obama administration is planning to kill thousands of American citizens. The DHS purchases were brought up on Fox News, prompting Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade to ask, "why they need all those bullets." And while covering the story, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs wondered why the government was "arming up" while trying to "disarm American citizens."
Forbes contributor Ralph Benko wrote that "It's Time For A National Conversation," and called for Congressional action:
If Obama doesn't show any leadership on this matter it's an opportunity for Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, to summon Secretary Napolitano over for a little national conversation. Madame Secretary? Buying 1.6 billion rounds of ammo and deploying armored personnel carriers runs contrary, in every way, to what "homeland security" really means.
Reps. Jordan and Chaffetz answered that call.
As Media Matters has previously noted, the claim that DHS is stockpiling ammunition for some ominous purpose is simply wrong. In reality, the Associated Press reported that while DHS did buy 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition, the government bought the bullets in bulk to save money on ammunition used in training and in the field. As the AP noted, "More than 90 federal agencies and 70,000 agents and officers used the department's training center last year." On a separate occasion, Media Matters reported that DHS responded that ammunition purchases are lower than in previous years and that while the law allows DHS to set purchase contracts of billions of rounds in order to reduce prices and save money, the government hasn't actually purchased nearly that many rounds.
Alex Jones, who has called President Obama the "global head of Al Qaeda," and claimed that the terrorist attacks in Boston, New York City, and Oklahoma City were carried out or sponsored by the government, has gained influence with the right wing media. Recently, Drudge Report's Matt Drudge promised that 2013 would be "year of Alex Jones."
UPDATE: The hearing on Alex Jones' conspiracy theory inspired new legislation that's now before Congress. On April 26, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced bills in both chambers of Congress in order to limit federal agencies from stockpiling ammunition. From Inhofe's statement (emphasis added):
"President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans' access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights," said Inhofe. "One way the Obama Administration is able to do this is by limiting what's available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition. As the public learned in a House committee hearing this week, the Department of Homeland Security has two years worth of ammo on hand and allots nearly 1,000 more rounds of ammunition for DHS officers than is used on average by our Army officers. The AMMO Act of 2013 will enforce transparency and accountability of federal agencies' ammunition supply while also protecting law-abiding citizens access to these resources."
The Associated Press is making an unsupported claim that the Obama administration knew electric automaker Fisker was missing milestones required for its loan guarantee well before it froze the loan in mid-2011 by taking newly obtained documents out of context.
The AP article, published the day of a House hearing on the loan guarantee granted to the troubled company, appears to be based on what a Department of Energy official characterized in an email to Media Matters as "selectively released" documents from Republican politicians leading that hearing.
The article's lede claims that the documents "show that the Obama administration was warned as early as 2010 that electric car maker Fisker Automotive Inc. was not meeting milestones set up for a half-billion dollar government loan, nearly a year before U.S. officials froze the loan." However, neither of the documents it cites substantiates that claim.
The first document was an internal email speculating that Fisker could miss a milestone that it met five days later, as AP noted six paragraphs in:
Aoife McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said the June 2010 email was taken out of context.
"The document shows that one person at a meeting discussed the possibility that Fisker might not meet a financial commitment" required by the Energy Department, McCarthy said in an email late Tuesday. DOE received the needed certification five days later and subsequently made the loan payment, she said.
The second document is from April 2010 -- before the loan agreement had even been officially closed -- and thus before milestones had kicked in, as a DOE official explained in an email to Media Matters (emphasis added):
From the April 18 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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From the April 17 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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The research consistently cited by media figures to support cutting government spending has recently been invalidated, raising questions about how mainstream coverage of economic policy promoted incorrect data.
In January 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff released a study that suggested when countries reach debt levels of 90 percent relative to GDP, economic growth would be compromised. Conservatives in politics and media alike repeatedly cited the figure in discussions about the economy.
A study released on April 16, however, found that the conclusions reached by Reinhart and Rogoff were based on data that was riddled with errors. Reinhart and Rogoff's response to the critique -- in which they maintain they never implied that rising debt caused lower growth, just that the two were associated -- shows that media's handling of the figure was wrong all along.
These new developments show that media consistently used an apparently incorrect figure for the past few years to call for austerity measures. Here's a look back at how major cable networks cited the figure in its coverage of the budget and economic policy:
Video by Alan Pyke.
A wide swath of media figures have cited economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's January 2010 finding that a country's economic growth becomes impaired when its debt level exceeds 90 percent of gross domestic product. But the Reinhart-Rogoff paper is premised on an Excel error, revealed when other researchers reviewed the data underlying the commonly-cited debt-to-GDP threshold claim.
Austerity proponents, such as House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), frequently claim that a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent signals economic doom, using Reinhart and Rogoff's work as leverage for imposing sharp cuts that economists agree would do serious harm to economic growth. Media coverage of budget and economic policy throughout the past three years has also repeated that claim, often without a direct connection to the Reinhart-Rogoff work from which the notion derives.
But that work, arguably the lynchpin of the case for imposing austerity in order to deliver economic growth, is crippled by basic errors, as the Roosevelt Institute's Mike Konczal explains:
From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.
In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. [...]
So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]." Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.
Rogoff and Reinhart responded to the criticism, which has since been criticized as a weak rebuttal. But now that those numbers are known to be wrong, the litany of media outlets which have cited them have an opportunity to reexamine their coverage of the austerity premise. Print media, notably The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have frequently reproduced the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis in covering budget and economic policy. Television and radio media have made frequent use of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper, including prominent mentions on NPR, CNN, and Fox Business.
The Reinhart-Rogoff threshold has long been challenged by fellow economists, such as former Federal Reserve economist Joseph Gagnon, Paul Krugman, and Josh Bivens and John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, on the grounds that it gets the directionality of causation exactly wrong. These and other economists argue that high debt levels are a consequence of prolonged weak GDP growth, rather than its cause.
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker notes, however, the newly discovered errors obviate these more intricate economist responses to Reinhart-Rogoff: "we need not concern ourselves with any arguments this complicated. The basic R&R story was simply the result of them getting their own numbers wrong."
Fox News is attacking a new Maryland anti-pollution measure as a "rain tax," adopting the misleading frame of local politicians. But the program doesn't tax rain -- it taxes surfaces that lead to more pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, a vital ecosystem that generates major revenue for surrounding states.
The program was signed into law in 2012 to meet an Environmental Protection Agency-issued pollution diet for the states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The diet was required under the national Clean Water Act and instituted in response to "continued poor water quality" in the Bay. In order to pay for pollution management and habitat restoration, Maryland is instituting fees based on paved surfaces, which funnel a huge amount of pollution-laden stormwater runoff into gutters, eventually contributing to algal blooms and "dead zones" that kill fish and shellfish.
But following the lead of some local politicians, Fox News is misleadingly labelling it as a "rain tax," attacking the program on nine different Fox News or Fox Business programs between April 11 and 14. For instance, Neil Cavuto criticized the program on his Fox Business show, incorrectly characterizing it as a fee levied because some homes "disproportionately benefit from mother nature":
But Maryland's plan does not tax households that receive more rainfall -- it taxes surfaces that ferry more pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. As the EPA explains, the great size of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in comparison to the Bay itself -- "a ratio much higher than any other comparable watershed in the world" -- makes it "highly susceptible to actions taken on the land, including those associated with agriculture, development, transportation and wastewater treatment." A significant amount of the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that reaches the Bay from stormwater runoff comes from Maryland. Plain soil acts as something of a filter and buffer for this pollution, and impervious surfaces take that benefit away.
Fox News is now acknowledging that Tesla Motors is a "success story," but only a year ago the network declared the company "failed." This distortion played into its attempts to boost then-presidential nominee Mitt Romney's claim that President Barack Obama only "pick[s] the losers."
Discussing the Obama administration's investments in green technology, Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett recently stated that Tesla is a "success story," and Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs acknowledged on Monday night that it is one of the "winners." Tesla recently announced that it made a profit in the first quarter of 2013 after exceeding sales goals for its electric sedan, and the company plans on paying back its Department of Energy loan guarantee five years early.
But an oft-aired Fox News graphic previously listed Tesla as "failed," a claim that Romney later echoed. In fact, several of the companies that Fox News declared "failed" are still successfully operating (circled in green), and contributing to technological advances that could help us transition to a clean energy economy, as can be seen in this interactive graphic created with ThingLink:
The companies circled in yellow did not actually receive any funds from the loan guarantee programs, instead receiving either grants, tax credits, or no federal funds at all. Nevada Geothermal Power's project, at far left and not circled in the graphic above, is still operating and part of the 87 percent of loan guarantee funds under the 1705 program awarded to projects that experts say pose almost no risk to the taxpayer. By lumping all of these programs together from the more than 1,460 companies that have received such awards, Fox News was able to paint a distorted picture of the Obama administration's energy policies.