Media fell for another misleading leak from the House Oversight Committee when they hyped allegations that the Obama administration ignored HealthCare.gov security warnings -- though the warnings were for a portion of the site that will not be operational until early 2014.
On November 11, a CBS News report cited selectively leaked partial transcripts from Affordable Care Act (ACA) opponent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to claim that "the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security." The network was criticized by Maddow producer Steve Benen when he found that the warnings referenced a function of the health care website that won't be active until early 2014 and has nothing to do with the parts of the website that are currently in use. A Democratic staffer Benen talked to also said that this part of the website "will not submit or share personally identifiable information."
CBS' faulty report aired just days after the network faced widespread criticism and was forced to apologize for failing properly vet an unreliable source that was prominently featured in the network's October 27 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi attack. But CBS wasn't the only outlet to promote misleading claims from the leaked Oversight Committee transcript.
On November 11, The New York Times reported that The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Henry Chao, "[t]he chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace," was "not aware of tests that indicated potential security flaws in the system, which opened to the public on Oct. 1," citing excerpts released by Issa. The same day, FoxNews.com claimed that Obamacare security concerns had been "withheld," but never mentioned that its story was based on a partial transcript. CNN's New Day, and Fox News' America's Newsroom and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren all ran the story on November 12. The Associated Press repeated the claim "Chao was unaware of a memo earlier that month detailing unresolved security issues" as late as November 13 -- after contradictory reports had surfaced.
The media's failure to confirm the suggestions made by partial transcripts from the House Oversight Committee is a significant oversight, considering the committee chairman Darrell Issa's history of releasing misleading material the press.
One of the curious sub-plots to the ongoing drama of 60 Minutes and its since-retracted October 27 Benghazi report is the extent to which Dylan Davies, CBS News' discredited Benghazi "witness," informed Fox News' reporting. The day after the 60 Minutes report aired, Fox News' Adam Housley disclosed on-air that "some of our reports for FoxNews.com last fall included this 60 Minutes witness' account," but added that he stopped talking to Davies "when he asked for money." Even still, Housley said at the time that Davies' story on 60 Minutes "reaffirms, really, what we've been reporting." After CBS retracted their story, Fox News vice president Michael Clemente stated unequivocally: "We stand by our reporting on Benghazi."
This is an awkward situation for Fox: they cited a "witness" whose credibility has since been trashed, and they had suspicions about his credibility before it was publicly destroyed, but they're nonetheless defending every scrap of their Benghazi reporting, including the pieces that cited Davies. So which Fox News articles featured the now-discredited British security contractor as a source? That's tough to nail down, as Fox News never cited Davies by name. But there are a couple of FoxNews.com reports from late 2012 that cite British sources to make claims that are incorrect or unsupported by other accounts of the attacks.
On November 3, 2012, Housley published an "exclusive" for FoxNews.com challenging the CIA's timeline of Benghazi attacks and claiming that "security officials on the ground say calls for help went out" before the attack on the diplomatic compound actually started at 9:30 p.m., Libya time. Housley's report cited "multiple people on the ground" who said that the "Blue Mountain Security manager" -- a possible reference to Davies, who was training the British firm Blue Mountain's security forces at the consulate -- "made calls on both two-way radios and cell phones to colleagues in Benghazi warning of problems at least an hour earlier."
One source said the Blue Mountain Security chief seemed "distraught" and said "the situation here is very serious, we have a problem." He also said that even without these phone and radio calls, it was clear to everyone in the security community on the ground in Benghazi much earlier than 9:40 p.m. that fighters were gathering in preparation for an attack.
Even if this isn't a reference to Davies, the report appears to be incorrect. Several different accounts of the night of the Benghazi attack make no reference to any "distraught" messages from the Blue Mountain security force prior to the attack -- indeed, they all describe a scene of (relative) normalcy until the moment the attack started. "The radio on the Blue Mountain frequency was silent," write Fred Burton and Samuel L. Katz in Under Fire. "There was no chatter on the February 17 [militia] frequency either. There was, for the most part, silence."
Right-wing media claimed opposition to the Affordable Care Act influenced the Virginia governor election despite polls that show the health reform law was an insignificant factor in the race.
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.
Right-wing media continue to deny that President Obama's judicial nominees have faced unparalleled obstruction from congressional Republicans, and is mischaracterizing the legal philosophies of those nominees.
FoxNews.com contributor John Lott not only misled on the overwhelming hurdles President Obama's nominees have faced, he also rather bizarrely branded one nominee as "controversial," even though his legal opinions are based on well-established Supreme Court precedent.
From Lott's October 16 column:
The Senate Judiciary committee will vote on either Wednesday or Thursday whether to confirm Robert Wilkins, President Obama's nominee to the prestigious D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals -- the court often referred to after the Supreme Court as the "second highest court" in the country.
President Obama has spared little rhetoric in threatening Republicans should they dare defeat or delay Wilkins' nomination. When Wilkins was nominated in June, Obama accused Republicans of being "cynically" engaging in "unprecedented" obstruction of judicial nominations.
Democrats claim that any fair consideration would guarantee Wilkins' quick confirmation. After all, as they point out, Wilkins was quickly confirmed as a District Court judge in 2010 "without opposition."
But it might not be such smooth sailing, for after getting on the bench, Wilkins has made a number of controversial rulings -- recently striking down Texas' voter photo ID law and upholding aggregate campaign finance donation limits.
The president and other Democrats complain that Obama's nominees are suffering the most difficult confirmations ever. Many newspaper articles agree, such as in the New York Times, USA Today, and the Congressional Research Service.
But, these numbers are fundamentally flawed.
These studies don't look at what finally happens to nominees, only what happens at some arbitrary cut-off date, such as last fall or at the end of a president's first term.
In reality, many of the longest confirmation battles involve nominations made during a president's first term and not finished until some time during his second term.
A president's decision to make nominations late in a congressional cycle can also strongly influence the results.
Actually, President Obama has little to complain about.
But As Lott himself acknowledges, numerous analyses (including one by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service) have shown that President Obama's "rhetoric" is true -- his nominees have been blocked at unprecedented levels. Lott dismisses these studies by highly reputable sources because supposedly their "numbers are fundamentally flawed," a bold claim from a source whose research on gun violence has been repeatedly and seriously discredited.
Dr. Keith Ablow -- the discredited psychiatrist who is a leading member of Fox News' "Medical A-Team" -- cited President Obama's childhood to claim that his "victim mentality" accounts for his tough stance against Republicans over the government shutdown and will lead to "dissolving the will of countless Americans" to provide for themselves.
In an October 10 FoxNews.com column, Ablow claimed that Obama's actions as president can be understood if seen through the prism of his "victim mentality." He criticized Obama's rhetoric calling the GOP's actions forcing a government shutdown as taking "hostages," claiming that this shows Obama believes "America victimized him and countless millions of others" and considers anyone who opposes him as "not just his adversary, but abusive, predatory and even threatening.":
It is exceedingly difficult to come to terms with a person who sees you as his oppressor, his kidnapper, and someone terrorizing him who might well destroy him. You aren't likely to consider whether your assailant and jailer and would-be killer has a few good ideas, after all.
A victim mentality would explain why the president immediately allies with anyone else he thinks might be a victim, too. Seeing Barack Obama as someone who has a victim mentality would explain a lot. That mentality relies on believing one has been harmed, that one was not responsible for the injuries that occurred, that one could not have prevented what happened and that the person's suffering makes that person morally right and deserving of sympathy.
Ablow then described all the ways Obama has purportedly not gotten over being victimized as a child, asserting that "the president's victim mentality could have already gone global":
As a young boy, Obama was, indeed, helpless.
He was helpless to stop his father from abandoning him.
He was helpless to stop his mother from leaving him with his grandparents.
He was helpless to stop his white grandmother and caretaker from communicating to him her fears of black people.
I'm not sure the president ever got over it.
The president's victim mentality could contribute to dissolving the will of countless Americans who might otherwise see themselves as capable of summoning internal resolve and creativity to surge out of poverty.
Conservative media are dismissing the Republican-led government shutdown as a "slimdown" and a "non-event" despite the severe consequences that have already occurred, and the devastating effects a protracted shutdown would have, including slower economic growth and eliminated funding for mothers and infants.
Fox News is trying to downplay the effects of the Republican-led government shutdown by replacing "shutdown" with "slimdown" in Associated Press reports posted on FoxNews.com. The changes have appeared in headlines, a photo caption, and story ledes.
FoxNews.com even replaced "shutdown" with "slimdown" when promoting an original FoxNews.com article that took issue with Fox's use of "slimdown." Fox News host Howard Kurtz wrote in a column that the "Fox News website keeps using the term 'slimdown' instead of shutdown, though no one would claim this was some kind of sensible Weight Watchers method of trimming government spending." Kurtz's column has the headline, "Spin Wars: Is the shutdown about blackmail or ObamaCare?" -- but Fox modified the headline to "KURTZ: Is slimdown about blackmail or ObamaCare?" on its front page.
FoxNews.com's homepage as of 11:20am:
An unbylined FoxNews.com story offered a rationale for using "slimdown," suggesting that "shutdown" is the Obama administration's preferred term but it's "turning out to be more of a 'slimdown,' as all but non-essential workers reported to their jobs Tuesday. The biggest impact is expected to be felt for the 800,000 or so federal workers facing furlough. But hundreds of thousands of other workers are reporting for work, and a patchwork of services remains open to the public as lawmakers and the White House continue to battle over a spending package." In reality, the government shutdown has wide ranging effects on the country.
Fox previously changed Associated Press reports to fit its own style guide regarding "suicide" bombers versus "homicide" bombers. During the Bush administration, Fox News adopted the term "homicide" bombers and bombings after the Bush administration used the term to describe the attacks.
Here are five examples of FoxNews.com changing Associated Press reports and language to replace "shutdown" with "slimdown":
In the weeks leading up to the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report summarizing climate science on Monday, conservative media have spread a variety of myths about the process, credibility and findings of the group. Contrary to misinformation, the report reflects that scientists are more convinced than ever that manmade climate change is real and dangerous.
After reviewing the latest evidence from a major climate change report -- released in full on Monday -- the prominent consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that climate change is the "mother of all risks." But while many businesses recognize climate risks, the media often cloud these risks by framing climate change in terms of "uncertainty," according to a recent study. This can lead to a disconnect between scientific understanding and public perception, and a misguided contentment with inaction.
"What 95% Certainty Means To Scientists"
The lead author of the University of Oxford study on media framing clarified, "the general public finds scientific uncertainty difficult to understand and confuses it with ignorance." In fact, as Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein explained on Tuesday, in an article headlined "What 95% Certainty Means To Scientists," the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report's finding that scientists are 95 percent certain about manmade global warming reflects a certainty analogous to scientific fact:
Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill.
They are as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe. They say they are more certain about climate change than they are that vitamins make you healthy or that dioxin in Superfund sites is dangerous.
They'll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn't 100 percent. It's 95 percent.
And for some non-scientists, that's just not good enough.
But in science, 95 percent certainty is often considered the gold standard for certainty.
"Uncertainty is inherent in every scientific judgment," said Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Thomas Burke.
What 95% Certainty Means To Businesses
The disconnect between how the public and scientists view uncertainty may lead some people to come to the misguided conclusion that we should wait to act until the science is "certain." Fox News host Neil Cavuto, for instance, once said that "whether there is or not [a consensus among scientists on climate change], you want to make 100% sure before you plunk down trillions on something." But for a purported business expert, Cavuto seems to have little concept of risk management. As PricewaterhouseCooper's Will Day explained, hedging against catastrophic climate change now is only sensible:
Fox News misrepresented the TRUST Act, a California immigration bill that would limit law enforcement's ability to detain undocumented immigrants for deportation, claiming the legislation will allow criminals to go free. In fact, the bill is aimed at shielding undocumented victims and witnesses to crimes, as well as those who have committed only minor offenses, from deportation. It also seeks to stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants for the sole civil offense of being in the country illegally.
The bill, formally known as Assembly Bill 4, was passed by the California state legislature on September 10. Gov. Jerry Brown has until October 17 to sign it into law. The bill states:
This bill would prohibit a law enforcement official, as defined, from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless, at the time that the individual becomes eligible for release from custody, certain conditions are met, including, among other things, that the individual has been convicted of specified crimes.
The bill lists some of the crimes that would prompt law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants for the 48-hour immigration hold, including violent and serious felonies such as rape, assault, robbery, and selling drugs.
The bill also argues that Secure Communities (S-Comm) -- the controversial and widely criticized program under which law enforcement can detain undocumented immigrants for deportation -- "and immigration detainers harm community policing efforts because immigrant residents who are victims of or witnesses to crime, including domestic violence, are less likely to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement when any contact with law enforcement could result in deportation." The text continues:
The program can result in a person being held and transferred into immigration detention without regard to whether the arrest is the result of a mistake, or merely a routine practice of questioning individuals involved in a dispute without pressing charges. Victims or witnesses to crimes may otherwise have recourse to lawful status (such as U-visas or T-visas) that detention resulting from the Secure Communities program obstructs.
In an article on the S-Comm program, California's KPBS reported that in the city of Escondido, "collaboration between the city's police and federal immigration activists has caused tension in the city's Latino communities for years." The article continued:
Agents have been present at the police department's driver's license and sobriety checkpoints, and in the city's jails.
Activists say this kind collaboration diminishes public safety because immigrants are less likely to trust police or report crime if they fear that interacting with police could get them deported.
But in a segment on the TRUST Act for Fox News' Special Report, correspondent William La Jeunesse suggested the bill would allow violent criminals to go free and avoid deportation if they are in the country illegally. His report included Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle saying, "If you or I were victimized by someone stealing our identity, or selling drugs in our community, or burglarizing our homes or embezzling our money, that that's OK. That's a minor crime."
A recent incident in which 7,500 songbirds died after flying over a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant has been ignored by the same conservative media outlets that often exaggerate the danger posed to birds by wind turbines, including hyping an incident in which a single bird was killed in Scotland.
The birds killed by the LNG facility, which may have included some endangered species, were headed south for the winter when a routine "flare" release at the Canaport LNG facility in Canada, used to burn off excess natural gas, drew them in. Though company officials apologized for the episode and said they are modifying equipment to reduce flaring, one manager at the plant admitted "At the moment there's not a whole lot I can do to resolve it in the short term." The dead reportedly included "a large number of red-eyed vireos" (see photo above).
Three months prior, another migrating bird, the white-throated needletail, died after flying into a wind turbine off Scotland. The needletail is not endangered or threatened, but it is sighted only rarely in the United Kingdom.
Can you guess how conservative media covered these two cases?
Searches of Nexis, Google and an internal video database indicate that the thousands of birds that died after flying into a Canadian gas flare have not been mentioned by any U.S. conservative outlet to date (or any major U.S. outlet other than the environmental sites Treehugger and National Geographic).
Conversely, the single bird that flew into a wind turbine became a big story in the conservative media bubble. Right-wing outlets used the episode to smear green energy, sometimes betraying sheer glee, as when National Review Online blogger Greg Pollowitz wrote "Your [sic] laughing as you read this, aren't you?" or Rush Limbaugh remarked "[a] bunch of environmentalist whackos watched a precious windmill kill a rare bird."
Conservative media's fixation on a single bird death -- albeit regrettable -- while completely ignoring thousands more seems to let slip that feigning an interest in conservation is simply a convenient way for these outlets to attack wind power, which they have depicted as an agent of "mass slaughter " or an "open-ended aviary holocaust," while overlooking far more elementary, existential threats to wildlife, including climate change. Lest we forget, conservative media figures have regularly mocked those who are concerned about the impact that humans are having on animals -- one Fox News contributor declared "lots of species may be about to leave the planet, and I don't care" -- and attacked conservation efforts for endangered species from lizards to polar bears.
After the Daily Mail falsely accused scientists of "cover[ing] up" temperature data based on leaked comments to the world's preeminent climate report, conservative media, including the Daily Caller, are once again adopting the British tabloid's misinformation verbatim. However, the comments actually showed scientists and governments making the same points privately that they have made publicly about why the slightly slower rate of warming in the last 15 years doesn't undermine the overwhelming science showing long-term climate change.
A recent Associated Press article showed that leaked private comments on the upcoming comprehensive U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report reflect what scientists have been saying publicly: despite experiencing the warmest decade on record from 2000-2010, the planet is heating up at a slightly slower rate -- but this in no way undermines the science demonstrating manmade climate change is occurring. What the AP report -- which FoxNews.com tried to turn into "Climategate II" -- described was a debate over how to best explain this to the public. During the exchange in question, representatives of various governments pointed out that cherry-picking 1998 as a starting point for global temperatures trends is misleading because that year had record warmth, and this short time period does not undermine the long-term warming trend.
Somehow, the Daily Mail used this to say that "it is claimed" that scientists producing the IPCC report "were urged to cover up the fact that the world's temperature hasn't risen for the last 15 years." The paper didn't actually provide anyone who has alleged this.
The draft report and comments also show several experts pointing out that scientists are conducting ongoing research about the extent to which this phenomenon is based on heat being trapped in the oceans or various temporary natural cooling factors in order to better project the exact future impacts of climate change.
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes is falsely warning that the USDA is bullying Christian organizations that distribute food to low-income individuals into "choos[ing] between Jesus and cheese," ignoring that religious organizations are allowed to provide social services as long as they comply with federal law.
In a September 9 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes said that the USDA threatened to revoke federal financial assistance from the Christian Service Center, a Christian ministry in Florida, unless the group "removed portraits of Christ, the Ten Commandments, a banner that read 'Jesus is Lord' and stop[ped] giving Bibles to the needy." The sensationalist claim is already being repeated by other right-wing media outlets. From FoxNews.com:
For the past 31 years, the Christian ministry has been providing food to the hungry in Lake City, Fla. without any problems. But all that changed when they said a state government worker showed up to negotiate a new contract.
"The (person) told us there was a slight change in the contract," [Christian Service Center Executive Director Kay] Daly told me. "They said we could no longer have religious information where the USDA food is being distributed. They told us we had to take that stuff down."
Daly said it's no secret that the Christian Service Center is a Christian ministry.
"We've got pictures of Christ on more than one wall," she said. "It's very clear we are not social services. We are a Christian ministry."
[T]he Christian Service Center had a choice: choose God or the government cheese.
So in a spirit of Christian love and fellowship, Daly politely told the government what they could do with their cheese.
"We decided to eliminate the USDA food and we're going to trust God to provide," she told me. "If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry."
But Starnes is setting up a false choice and one that the ministry is not facing.
Conservatives are still turning to British tabloids for their climate science, most recently treating a single year's Arctic sea ice -- which is still far below previous and long-term averages -- to claim that the region is not melting.
The latest instance of tabloid-reviewed science began when the The Mail on Sunday -- a sister newspaper to serial climate misinformer the Daily Mail* -- published an article titled "And now it's global COOLING!" suggesting that an increase in Arctic sea ice cover between September 2012 and August 2013 is among "mounting evidence that Arctic ice levels are cyclical." The story was summarily picked up by other British tabloids and a variety of conservative outlets, all to cast doubt on climate change. Notably, Rush Limbaugh used the report to claim "the Arctic ice sheet is at a record size for this time of year. They told us the ice was melting in the Arctic Ice Sheet. It's not."
Actually, Arctic sea ice is nowhere near "a record size." A graph from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) illustrates that 2013 Arctic sea ice extent minimum (beige line), while not as low as last year's record (dotted line), is still tracking well below the 1979-2000 average (as have the minimum extents of every year since 1997). It is on track to be the sixth-lowest in satellite annals:
As 2012 was a record low, it is not terribly surprising that 2013 looks like it will be higher. This is due to a phenomenon known as regression to the mean, eloquently illustrated by this Skeptical Science graphic: