Conservative media are attributing California's devastating drought to a "man-made" factor -- but not the one that is actually worsening it.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently recycled many of the same claims it made in a 2009 editorial titled, "California's Man-Made Drought." Right-wing website Hot Air dubbed the drought "California's 'man-made' environmental disaster." And when potential 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina described the drought as "a man-made disaster" during an appearance on Glenn Beck's radio show, Beck demanded to know why "we don't hear that story on the news at all," while Rush Limbaugh declared that "there is a man-made lack of water in California," and "[Fiorina is] right."
No, these media figures haven't suddenly seen the light on climate change. Instead, they're using the historic drought as an opportunity to baselessly attack environmental policies.
This strategy is nothing new. For years, Republican Congressmen, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop have been repeating this same talking point on California's "man-made drought" to promote legislation that would redirect water to California's Central Valley at the expense of water currently dedicated to fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration under the Endangered Species Act. As my former employer the League of Conservation Voters put it, this legislation "uses California's current low water supplies as an excuse to weaken federal and state environmental laws." The Los Angeles Times called it "a tired political tactic barely, and laughably, disguised as a remedy for the lack of rainfall."
Conservative media are alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is attempting to "punish" governors who do not acknowledge climate change by "holding disaster funds hostage." In reality, FEMA is simply updating its requirements for state disaster mitigation plans to ensure that they include consideration of climate change impacts, which is essential to reduce risk from hazards that states will face as the climate continues to change.
Conservative media attacked House Republicans for dropping plans to vote on a bill that included a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and attacked the female members, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who objected to the bill.
Conservative media outlets promoted an anonymously sourced claim published by U.S. News & World Report that an aide to Hillary Clinton circulated an attack on former Senator Jim Webb. Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill flatly denied the report, telling Media Matters it was "pure fabrication."
In a story discussing Webb's possible run for the presidency, U.S. News & World Report's David Catanese claimed that "Clinton loyalists are keeping an eye" on Webb as a potential rival for the Democratic nomination. As evidence, Catanese wrote that "the week before Thanksgiving, staffers of Philippe Reines, Clinton's longtime communications guru, pitched talk radio producers on the racy, sexually charged writings in Webb's novels, according to a source."
In a comment to Media Matters, Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill flatly denied the claim: "There is nothing true about this, it's pure fabrication, and if the reporter who wrote the story would have bothered to ask before printing it, we would have told him that."
Catanese doubled down on his claim in a follow-up report, writing that "of course, the Clinton team is denying Reines' underlings floated the material in the first place" and publishing Merrill's statement that the claim was "an unmitigated lie," before adding, "Our source, granted anonymity, stands by the account."
Several conservative media outlets ran with the anonymous U.S. News report, using it to attack Clinton's character.
The Drudge Report's headline linking to the report said "Team Clinton Already Dishing Oppo on Jim Webb."
New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin called the report evidence that Hillary Clinton was "trying to dirty up Jim Webb," and added, "Mud first, that's Hillary."
National Review's Jim Geraghty asked, "Why on earth would the Hillary team go after Jim Webb this early?" adding, "What is this, some form of mudslinging pregame stretching?"
At HotAir, conservative blogger Ed Morrisey said the story was evidence of "Clintonistas using a kitchen-sink strategy" which "sends a message to other Democrats who might dare to intrude on Coronation II: Hillary's Boogaloo."
American Conservative's James Carden said that "Clinton's team is seemingly alive to the danger a Webb candidacy poses" because of the report that "longtime Clinton henchman Philippe Reines had been pitching talk radio producers unflattering stories about Webb." Carden wrote that the incident "should raise additional questions about the former Secretary's powers of discernment, particularly when it comes to the character of some of her closest advisers."
Rushing to defend a recent Time magazine article critical of teacher tenure, several conservative media outlets neglected to discuss what is at the core of a major backlash against the article: due process.
Time's November 3 cover story, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples", has spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers. The Huffington Post noted on October 27 that a petition from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) "asking Time to apologize for the cover had reached 72,000 signatures." In response to the uproar, Time published reactions to its piece from various individuals, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), AFT President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
Various conservative media outlets covered the Time controversy by defending the article and cover, attacking teachers unions, and mischaracterizing teacher tenure. The common thread in all of this coverage, however, was a lack of discussion about due process, or why due process policies like tenure exist.
On the October 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski hosted Time's Nancy Gibbs to discuss the backlash. The segment did not include a discussion or even a mention of tenure or due process, though Scarborough claimed, "It's absolutely silly. There are rotten apples. There are horrible teachers. There are horrible lawyers. There are horrible journalists. There are horrible TV hosts. In every field you can go, there are rotten apples in that field."
Fox News' Outnumbered on October 27 also neglected to discuss due process during a discussion of the Time piece, though co-host Andrea Tantaros stated that teachers unions are "destroying America" while co-host Jedediah Bila claimed:
BILA: And unfortunately, the reality is, is that a lot of bad teachers stay. They have tenure.& You cannot get rid of them. They want no accountability, and they are bringing schools down in every city across this country.
Conservative media is dubiously claiming that the rise of the Islamic State is due in part to President Obama skipping scheduled daily intelligence briefings. The basis of this claim is a misleading interpretation of how intelligence briefings are received by the White House that was debunked two years ago.
A Daily Beast article relying on anonymous criticism of Hillary Clinton was latched onto by conservative media, who selectively quoted the article to smear the former Secretary of State for not officially designating the Nigerian group Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization.
As Maggie Haberman noted in Politico May 10, following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram, conservatives began hyping a report from the Daily Beast which quoted an anonymous official criticizing the former Secretary of State for previously turning down requests to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, implying that such a designation could have prevented the kidnapping.
The "actual details," as Haberman explained, revealed that experts at State were concerned an official designation would negatively elevate the group and lead to an inhumane response from Nigeria (emphasis added):
Clinton found herself on the receiving end of questions about the kidnap of 300 Nigerian girls. The Daily Beast reported that Clinton's State Department declined entreaties from congressional Republicans and others to label Boko Haram, the group responsible for the kidnappings, a terrorist organization. Secretary of State John Kerry gave the group that designation last year.
During Clinton's time at State, "The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials," the Beast quoted a former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussion as saying.
Republicans have widely circulated the original Daily Beast story. The actual details of why the Clinton-run Department declined to affix the group with terrorist status are complicated- her former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, was reportedly concerned about elevating the group among extremist outfits, and potentially giving the Nigerian government latitude to go after them in an inhumane way.
Media Matters has explained that Clinton did put top Boko Haram leaders on the terrorist list, and academic experts on Africa confirmed the Department's fears that a designation for the whole organization could have severe negative consequences. Additionally, before Boko Haram was ultimately designated an official terrorist organization under Secretary Kerry, the group had been a part of peace talks with the Nigerian government which were reportedly "on the verge" of producing a ceasefire. As soon as the designation became official, they abandoned the talks.
Some of this relevant context was included in the original Daily Beast article, but was buried toward the end. Conservative media were able to conveniently ignore the details while promoting the out-of-context attack on Clinton's tenure.
Right-wing media outlets are trying to gin up outrage over a change in how the U.S. Census Bureau reports insurance status, claiming the agency is making an adjustment to deliberately hide the effects of the Affordable Care Act. But the change will still measure the impact of the ACA's first year, and the new system will provide better tools for tracking insurance status.
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":
The latest development in the never-ending soap opera of congressional budget negotiations is that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are close to reaching a limited deal to partially replace spending cuts imposed earlier this year (the much-maligned sequestration). The details of the deal are not known, but that hasn't stopped conservative activist groups and pundits from denouncing Ryan -- a long-time conservative hero for his austere budget proposals -- as a sellout.
The Washington Post laid out what little is known about the emerging deal:
Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016. To cover the cost, Ryan and Murray are haggling over roughly $65 billion in alternative policies, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation's airline passengers.
Salon's Brian Beutler notes that if the deal ends up looking like this rough outline, then there's no real reason for conservatives to be all that upset: "If inked, it wouldn't raise revenue through the tax code, and would protect the Defense Department from sequestration's most severe cuts. At the same time, some of the savings in the deal would likely come out of the hide of federal workers."
And yet, the outcry from activists was swift. Groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks are urging conservative members of Congress to vote against the budget deal, even though they don't know what the deal actually looks like.
Appearing on Fox News on December 10, Stuart Varney trashed the deal, calling it "a handshake deal. It does absolutely nothing to resolve the basic problems which we're facing. It does not tackle entitlement reform, it does not tackle tax reform, and it does nothing to drastically reduce the debt."
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.
Conservative media figures have criticized President Obama's focus on immigration reform, saying that the top priority should be the economy and jobs. In fact, immigration reform is an economic issue: studies show that it would boost economic output and lower unemployment.
Right-wing media are falsely claiming that a State Department Inspector General review is linked to dubious allegations that State ignored "whistleblowers" during an independent review of attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, the routine investigation was planned before the State Department's Accountability Review Board released its findings, has nothing to do with "whistleblower" allegations, and will investigate decades of State actions.
Conservative media figures are painting a new White House push on affordable housing with the same dishonest brush they used to shift blame away from Wall Street for the housing bubble that precipitated the 2007-08 financial crisis.
On the April 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said that "lowering standards for who can borrow money to buy a home" is "what got us into trouble in the first place." The Washington Free Beacon made the same claim in an article titled "Subprime: The Sequel," and Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com claimed "the central failure in that bubble...was incentivizing increasingly risky loans with government cash and coercion."
But the housing bubble of the early 2000s was caused by private sector lending behavior, not government policy. The government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, commonly called the GSEs, didn't lead private financial institutions into the subprime market and the complex financial instruments that made the bubble so toxic. Instead, they followed Wall Street there. As the University of North Carolina's Center for Community Capital explained, "Ultimately, profit not policy was what motivated Fannie and Freddie and loan products not borrowers were what caused their collapse."
The data support this explanation. The loans to borrowers with lower credit scores which the GSEs bought up fared much better than did similar privately-securitized loans. (Six times better, according to the Center for American Progress). A Federal Reserve report using different methodology "found no evidence" that government policies designed to encourage lending to lower-income borrowers had contributed to the subprime bubble. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's final report examined and thoroughly debunked the contrary argument, primarily made by the American Enterprise Institute's Ed Pinto:
In direct contrast to Pinto's claim, GSE mortgages with some riskier characteristics such as high loan-to-value ratios are not at all equivalent to those mortgages in securitizations labeled subprime and Alt-A by issuers. The performance data assembled and analyzed by the FCIC show that non-GSE securitized loans experienced much higher rates of delinquency than did the GSE loans with similar characteristics.
Morrissey's post labels Pinto, former executive at Fannie Mae, a kind of soothsayer "who originally pointed out the failure at [the Federal Housing Administration]." But beyond the wonks who've debunked Pinto's claims, financial experts and journalists like Bailout Nation author Barry Ritholtz, The New York Times' Joe Nocera, and Bloomberg's David Lynch have shown him to be a primary driver of the false blame-the-government narrative of the crisis five years ago that conservative media are applying to housing policy developments in 2013.
An April 2 Washington Post article on the White House's efforts to broaden the reach of the current housing market resurgence notes that the recent improvement in the market "has been delivering most of the benefits to established homeowners with high credit scores or to investors who have been behind a significant number of new purchases." Housing officials, however, argue that a housing recovery that is limited to near-riskless buyers is constraining the broader economic recovery. According to the piece:
From 2007 through 2012, new-home purchases fell 30 percent for people with credit scores above 780 (out of 800), according to Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth Duke. But they declined 90 percent for people with scores between 680 and 620 -- historically a respectable range for a credit score.
"If the only people who can get a loan have near-perfect credit and are putting down 25 percent, you're leaving out of the market an entire population of creditworthy folks, which constrains demand and slows the recovery," said Jim Parrott, who until January was the senior adviser on housing for the White House's National Economic Council.
"I think the ability of newly formed households, which are more likely to have lower incomes or weaker credit scores, to access the mortgage market will make a big difference in the shape of the recovery," Duke said last month. "Economic improvement will cause household formation to increase, but if credit is hard to get, these will be rental rather than owner-occupied households."
Yet conservative ideologues in the media appear eager to cast any attempt to expand the list of winners in the housing market's comeback as a doomed repetition of an invented history of a crisis that was actually caused by widespread private-sector fraud, greed, and collusion.
Right-wing media are attempting to rebut a TV ad calling for stronger gun laws by claiming that it depicts unsafe gun handling.
According Fox News, conservative bloggers, and the National Rifle Association's news program, an ad calling for expanding the background check system features a man with his finger on the trigger of a firearm that is not ready to be fired, an unsafe practice. In fact, footage from another ad featuring the same firearm clearly indicates that the right-wing media are wrong about where the gun's trigger is; the man's finger is actually nowhere near the trigger in either ad.
The claim originated with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, who claimed in a March 25 article that ads recently released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) are "irresponsible" because the man in the ad "violates all three gun safety rules taught by the National Rifle Association." Miller specifically claims that "the man has his finger on the trigger, as if ready to shoot," and comments, "To make an ad demonstrating actual gun responsibility, the man would put a straight forefinger above the trigger guard to make sure he doesn't accidentally touch the trigger."
Miller was referencing this moment from the ad "Responsible":
But another ad released by MAIG, "Family," which features the same man and firearm, shows the position of the trigger on that particular firearm to be much closer to the buttstock than where the man's index finger is in "Responsible":
Based on the trigger location clearly seen in "Family," the trigger of the firearm would sit approximately behind the base of the man's hand in "Responsible" making it impossible for his finger to be on the trigger or within the trigger guard.
Miller's claims have nonetheless been picked up by The Daily Caller, The Blaze, Hot Air, and a Townhall column authored by Fox contributor Katie Pavlich and have also been featured on Fox & Friends and the NRA's Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel.