In the five years since President Obama's health care reform plan -- which became the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- was first introduced, the right-wing media has waged a continuous campaign to attack the law through misinformation, deception, and outright lies.
Five years ago, Fox News expanded its online presence with "Fox Nation." Early promos for the site told viewers that it's "time to say 'no' to biased media and 'yes' to fair play and free speech," while promising that Fox fans had finally found "a place to call home." Similarly, the "Statement of Purpose" on the site announces that it is dedicated to "the core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse, and fair and balanced coverage of the news."
But after its launch, the site quickly turned into -- in the words of former Fox News producer Joe Muto -- the "seedy underbelly of the Fox News online empire." Fox Nation has for years openly cheered Republican politicians and policies, actively organized for the tea party, smeared Democrats and progressives, engaged in blatant race-baiting on a near-daily basis, and routinely elevated nonsense from the conservative fringe.
So while Fox Nation is celebrating its fifth birthday and its self-proclaimed role as a "defender of the Constitution and the home of hot debates," Media Matters looks back at some (but nowhere near all) of the lowlights from the site's first five years.
Referring to gay people as "homosexual" is a practice that's quickly falling out of favor with major news outlets due the term's often pejorative connotation and frequent use by opponents of LGBT equality. But Fox News has yet to update its language when referring to gay and lesbian people.
On March 23, The New York Times published a piece exploring the often derogatory connotation of the term "homosexual." Writing for the Sunday Styles section, the Times' Jeremy Peters noted that experts increasingly view "homosexual" as an offensive and stigmatizing term, even if many people still see the term as relatively "innocuous" (emphasis added):
To most ears, it probably sounds inoffensive. A little outdated and clinical, perhaps, but innocuous enough: homosexual.
But that five-syllable word has never been more loaded, more deliberately used and, to the ears of many gays and lesbians, more pejorative.
" 'Homosexual' has the ring of 'colored' now, in the way your grandmother might have used that term, except that it hasn't been recuperated in the same way," said George Chauncey, a Yale professor of history and an author who studies gay and lesbian culture.
Consider the following phrases: homosexual community, homosexual activist, homosexual marriage. Substitute the word "gay" in any of those cases, and the terms suddenly become far less loaded, so that the ring of disapproval and judgment evaporates.
Some gay rights advocates have declared the term off limits. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or Glaad, has put "homosexual" on its list of offensive terms and in 2006 persuaded The Associated Press, whose stylebook is the widely used by many news organizations, to restrict use of the word.
George P. Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has looked at the way the term is used by those who try to portray gays and lesbians as deviant. What is most telling about substituting it for gay or lesbian are the images that homosexual tends to activate in the brain, he said.
"Gay doesn't use the word sex," he said. "Lesbian doesn't use the word sex. Homosexual does."
Peters highlighted use of the term by anti-gay figures like Rush Limbaugh, whose comments on the "homosexual" NFL prospect Michael Sam and the efforts of the "homosexual lobby" to defeat Arizona's anti-gay discrimination bill smack of contempt.
Use of the term is also pervasive at Fox News - and not just from the likes of the network's hate group mouthpiece Todd Starnes, who recently warned that "Christians are trading places with homosexuals" in the military. Just as the network insists on misgendering transgender subjects, Fox also has no qualms about regularly referring to gay men and lesbians by a term many of them shun.
Fox employees from Megyn Kelly to Sarah Palin continue to use the word "homosexual" to describe gays and lesbians. Fox Supreme Court reporter and pro-discrimination champion Shannon Bream teased a forthcoming segment on "homosexual adoption":
Fox's "Medical A-Team" member and anti-LGBT pop psychologist Keith Ablow uses the term "homosexual sex" while criticizing pro-gay advertisements.
And Fox's Bill O'Reilly was recently mocked for a segment in which he attacked the Girl Scouts for "leaning left," seizing in particular on the organization's employment of a spokesman who participated "in a punk rock band with homosexual overtones":
Right-wing media outlets have seized on an anonymously sourced and highly speculative article in The Hill that dubiously proclaimed health care premiums are going to "skyrocket" under the Affordable Care Act.
In a March 19 post on The Hill's Healthwatch blog with the headline "O-care premiums to skyrocket," Elise Viebeck quoted anonymous health insurance industry officials to claim that "ObamaCare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration."
The article and its claim about rising premiums was hyped across the right-wing media. National Review Online claimed "there's only so much massaging of the truth and flat-out lying that one can do before the headlines catch up with the deceit." Hot Air's Ed Morrissey cited The Hill, writing, "ObamaCare has bent the cost curve all right, but sharply upward -- and in 2015, expect them to not just bend but absolutely 'skyrocket.'" Fox Nation highlighted the post under the headline "300%: Insurance Industry Predicts Skyrocketing ObamaCare Premiums":
Despite the certainty implied by the post's headline, the reality is far more complicated. While Viebeck chose to play up the claims made by her anonymous insurance industry sources, the article also cites health policy experts who pointed out that it's far too early to make predictions about "expected rate hikes":
Fox News falsely claimed that a plan in place since 1998 to govern control of Internet domain names means President Obama is giving away the Internet.
As Russian president Vladimir Putin flexes his military muscles by invading Ukraine in violation of multiple international treaties, right-wing pundits are fawning over the "macho" leader's strength while complaining that President Obama wears "mom jeans" and is weak on foreign policy.
In the wake of Russia's apparent invasion of the Crimean Peninsula -- an area within the sovereign territory of Ukraine -- right-wing media have renewed their crush on the Russian leader, praising his strength and equestrian skills after TIME's Michael Crowley tweeted a photo of Obama on a bicycle and Putin on a horse, saying the juxtaposition "does kind of capture the moment."
Fox Nation made the photo its "Pic of the Day" and published a "highlight reel of Putin doing macho things" like "performing karate," riding a horse and a motorcycle (though disappointingly not at the same time), and tranquilizing a tiger.
Fox host Bill O'Reilly discussed the photo on his primetime show March 3rd, saying the photo depicted the "contrasting styles" of Putin and Obama. "Putin sees himself as a macho man who's going to do pretty much what he wants," O'Reilly said. "The president sees himself as a renaissance man who wants to accommodate."
On the March 3 edition of Fox News' Hannity, contributor Sarah Palin questioned the "potency" of President Obama saying, "People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates."
Other Fox pundits have followed the same theme. Foreign policy expert KT McFarland tweeted, "Putin seizes countries, Obama threatens maybe to kick Russia out of the G-8 club. Bet Putin's sorry now! Winners write history, not whiners". Frequent Fox guest Rudy Giuliani lavished Putin with praise, saying that in contrast with Obama, Putin is "what you call a leader."
Of course, no one praising Putin's leadership mentions his penchant for repressing dissent and stymieing the freedoms of his people. But at least he can fend off a wild animal without his shirt on.
The Drudge Report and Fox Nation are promoting an outlandish report from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' website Infowars that suggests a sinister purpose behind a Department of Homeland Security procurement request for 141,160 rounds of .308 rifle ammunition.
Jones and his website have long fearmongered about the government's bulk purchase of ammunition. Conservative media outlets and Republican politicians have followed Jones' lead and run wild with the conspiracy, suggesting that the government was preparing for widespread civil unrest, attempting to limit the civilian ammo supply, or even planning to wage war against Americans. The conspiracy even inspired a Republican-led House Oversight Committee hearing and Republican-backed legislation to limit government ammunition purchases.
An inflammatory Fox Nation headline declared that "A Ton of ObamaCare Navigators Are Criminals," even though there is no clear evidence that the small number of navigators in question have been convicted of any crimes.
A January 16 post on Fox Nation attacked the Affordable Care Act's navigators, officials hired and trained to guide consumers through health care options and the application process, by posting a National Review Online article under the headline "A Ton of ObamaCare Navigators Are Criminals":
But Fox Nation's inflammatory headline is not supported by the NRO article, which only identifies a small number of navigators in New Mexico who may or may not have criminal backgrounds. After a review of public records, NRO found that 38 of the certified counselors "had a match in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database." The post went on to explain that being matched in the NCIC is not evidence that the individual committed a crime:
Way back in November 2008, Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that bore the headline: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." At the time, the economy was crashing and the Bush White House was considering a multi-billion dollar bailout of the auto industry to prevent its collapse and the resulting wholesale economic devastation. Romney argued against the bailout, pushing instead for a "managed bankruptcy" for the troubled automakers, which he referred to collectively as "Detroit."
Four years later, Romney was the Republican presidential candidate, and that op-ed became the subject of repeated attacks from Barack Obama, who supported the auto bailout and wanted to remind voters that the automobile industry had been saved by timely government intervention. "We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt. We bet on American workers and American ingenuity, and three years later, that bet is paying off in a big way," Obama said at the time, also referring to the automobile industry by its well-known nickname, "Detroit."
Jump forward to the present day, and the city of Detroit (not the automobile industry both Romney and Obama referred to as "Detroit," which has flourished) is declaring bankruptcy. It's an unfortunate state of affairs for a great American city. What's also unfortunate is how many conservatives are using Detroit's bankruptcy to claim that Mitt Romney was right and Obama broke his promise when he said he "refused to let Detroit go bankrupt" -- knowingly and deliberately confusing "Detroit" as it refers to the auto industry with Detroit the city.
Republican and conservative media figures lauded a report from CBS' 60 Minutes on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, using it to advance their attacks on the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. But that report has since come under fire following the revelation that the piece's key Benghazi "eyewitness" had previously claimed he was nowhere near the compound on the night of the attack.
Right-wing media outlets pushed the false claim that the Healthcare.gov website includes a language stating that consumers they have "no reasonable expectation of privacy," ignoring the fact that the phrase is part of standard website language and does not change current legal protections for health care information.
A Weekly Standard post by Jeryl Bier attacked the health care law's exchange website, claiming a statement in the "terms and conditions" page is "another example of why the website's reputation is in tatters." Bier's evidenced his claim by explaining, "Buried in the source code of Healthcare.gov" is the phrase "You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transiting or stored on this information system." The misleading claim was repeated by several right-wing media outlets including Fox Nation who posted the story under the headline "Hidden in ObamaCare Site: Applicants Surrender Right to Privacy" and NewsMax who claimed "Obamacare May Endanger Personal Data Security."
But the right-wing media's fearmongering about privacy concerns is unfounded. The Atlantic Wire pointed out that the phrase is part of standard legal language for similar "Terms and Conditions" pages and is only "hidden" because it was removed by developers, making the phrase not legally enforceable. The article adds that "[t]here are several ways in which" the analysis "is incorrect" (emphasis added):
Fox Nation is claiming that "Wind Turbines [are] Making Cape Codders Sick" based on an ABCNews.com article. But the story of a resident in that article illustrates that there is no demonstrated impact of wind turbines on health, while substantial evidence suggests that reported health effects are psychological rather than physical in origin.
ABC News' article began with the story of a resident of Falmouth, Massachusetts, who lived near a wind turbine: "Sue Hobart, a bridal florist from Massachusetts, couldn't understand why she suddenly developed headaches, ringing in her ears, insomnia and dizziness to the point of falling 'flat on my face' in the driveway." However, in an online interview with an anti-wind activist, Hobart admitted that she had suffered from ringing in her ears for "quite a while," but claimed it had gotten worse "since the turbines." Hobart, who has compared living near a wind turbine to being in the "line of fire" in a "war zone," attributed various other symptoms to "wind turbine syndrome" in that interview, saying she had "no appetite" in her home and was experiencing "just unrest -- just not being able to settle down -- not really feeling relaxed."
ABC News claimed that based on these self-reported symptoms, "a doctor at Harvard Medical School diagnosed Hobart with wind turbine syndrome, which is not recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." However, in an email to Media Matters, the doctor in question, Dr. Steven Rauch, clarified that there is "no way I can make a definite diagnosis of WTS [Wind Turbine Syndrome]":
Her symptoms were consistent with a diagnosis of WTS but there are no standard diagnostic criteria nor objective tests to confirm the diagnosis. There is no way I can make a definite diagnosis of WTS nor is there any way I can definitely exclude the diagnosis.
A 2011 literature review published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Journal stated that "[g]iven that annoyance appears to be more strongly related to visual cues and attitude than to noise itself, self reported health effects of people living near wind turbines are more likely attributed to physical manifestation from an annoyed state than from infrasound." That review also noted that infrasound is "ubiquitous" in the world, emitted from, among other things, air-conditioning units, cars, and even ocean waves.
A New York Magazine report explained there is significant evidence that "wind turbine syndrome" may be psychological in origin, even if, as with a placebo effect, residents experience real physical impacts:
Large-scale population surveys conducted by scientists in Sweden and the Netherlands have found that stress and sleep disturbances were more likely if the turbines were visible and less likely if the individuals benefitted economically from them. Other studies found that having a bad attitude about the turbines and subjective sensitivity to noise were more likely to lead to annoyance and negative health effects than actual exposure to audible sound or infrasound. (Back in 2007, three years before the Falmouth turbines were even built, a handful of residents expressed concern about the potential for illness after reading about symptoms online, and those health effects were even written up in the local newspaper.) And in recent lab tests, subjects who were told to expect side effects from infrasound ahead of time felt some of those symptoms even when they were exposed to sham infrasound.
Hobart is not alone in reporting health effects from the wind turbines. Other Falmouth residents have testified that "wind turbine syndrome" may be behind a wide variety of symptoms, including "eye discharge," "high blood pressure," "drinking," and "anger." But these residents are a minority. New York Magazine reported that "[o]f the nearly 200 or so households located within a half-mile of a turbine in Falmouth, only about 24 complain of symptoms."
Why would some residents complain of symptoms while many others do not if the origin is physical rather than related to a predisposition against the turbines? And why would those that have installed wind turbines on their property have lower rates of "wind turbine syndrome" than those farther away if it is not related to the revenue they're receiving?
In an online post Hobart said, "I am OVER with the peer review double-blind scientific bullshitometer they all hide behind." However, without double-blind studies, biases such as these can be introduced to studies on "wind turbine syndrome," severely undermining their findings.
For instance, it may be more than a coincidence that the pediatrician who coined the term "wind turbine syndrome" and promoted the stories of people such as Hobart, Dr. Nina Pierpont, is married to an anti-wind activist who compared the fight against the "wind bastards" to the Civil Rights movement:
As Rosa Parks did, when she sparked the Civil Rights movement: you need to refuse to give up your seat to the wind bastard on the bus.
Fox Nation promoted a story claiming that a transgender student was "harassing" female students in the school bathroom, citing wildly inaccurate reporting from a conservative Christian news site that has been debunked by the school's superintendent.
On October 14, Fox Nation touted an article by the Daily Mail which stated that a transgender student in at Colorado's Florence High School was "harassing female students in the girls room." According to the report:
A male student at Florence (CO) High School who claims to be transgendered has caused controversy by harassing female students in the girls room, but will not face any discipline - this despite vocal protests from the girls' parents.
According the school's superintendent, however, CBN's story is based on the complaint of a parent opposed to allowing transgender students to use appropriate bathroom facilities - not on any actual reported incidents of harassment. In an interview with The Transadvocate, Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti stated:
VENDETTI: Nothing has actually been verified with us. This is one parent basically bringing their viewpoint about this situation to the media because they weren't getting the responses that they hoped they would get from the district, from parents of students at the high school, or from the board and myself. So I think it's just an attempt to elevate the situation to a point where maybe some more attention can be drawn to that in the hope of having a different outcome. But to our knowledge and based on our investigation, none of those things have actually happened. We do have a transgender student at the high school and she has been using the women's restroom. There has not been a situation.
Vendetti's comments aren't surprising - fears about harassment or misbehavior in schools where transgender students are allowed to use appropriate school facilities have proven to be overblown.
But right-wing commentators, and especially Fox News personalities, have been desperate to promote the myth that equal treatment for transgender students will increase rates of sexual abuse in schools, even going so far as to cite their own alleged desires to harass women in restrooms. Citing a completely fabricated example of harassment as proof that their transphobic fears are justified is par for the course.
Fox News and right-wing blogs falsely claimed that the federal government turned off Amber Alert, the child abduction broadcast service, because of the government shutdown. In fact, there have been several Amber Alerts since the shutdown began October 1 -- only a Justice Department website listing them has been shut down, along with the websites of many other federal agencies due to a lack of funding.
Before Republicans caused a government shutdown beginning October 1 by refusing to fund the government unless Democrats accepted unrealistic demands, media reports explained that numerous federal government websites would go offline or would not be constantly updated as a result.
A week later, right-wing media are highlighting the unavailability of the Justice Department's AmberAlert.gov website to falsely claim that the government "shut off" the Amber Alert program. On October 7, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said "if somebody goes missing, and an Amber Alert should be issued, it won't be" due to the website not being available. Fox Nation's headline read: "Amber Alerts Cancelled: WH First Targets Veterans, Now Targeting Children, in Shutdown." A Breitbart.com blog post claimed in a headline, "Amber Alerts Shut Off." And the Washington Examiner claimed that "somebody, somewhere in the Obama White House or the Obama Justice Department decided to shut down the Amber Alerts."
Contrary to the right-wing media's claims, Amber Alerts have continued to be issued since the shutdown began. On October 5, an Amber Alert in Miami, Florida for a missing two-year-old was made and then canceled. An Amber Alert was issued in Galveston County in Texas on October 5 for four children, but was later canceled when the children were found safe in Tennessee.
The government shutdown and the suspension of Justice Department websites did not stop Amber Alerts. As California Highway Patrol officials explained to a NBC affiliate reporting on the shutdown of the Amber Alert webpage, local law enforcement agencies will still alert local media outlets about an Amber Alert.
UPDATE: The Justice Department's Amber Alert website AmberAlert.gov has been restored. A link on the website to view active Amber Alerts shows that this website does not post any active Amber Alerts. A Justice Department spokesman explained on Twitter that "[a]t no point has AmberAlert system been interrupted during shutdown":
From the September 7 edition of Fox News' Forbes on Fox:
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