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.
Right-wing media outlets have advanced a number of myths regarding automatic across-the-board spending cuts -- commonly called the sequester -- in order to hide the facts behind an inherently harmful economic policy.
Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple has been working doggedly to correct one of Sean Hannity's favorite false claims about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi: that State Department officials watched "real-time" video of the assault from an office in Washington, DC. Wemple's efforts got an assist from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 23: "There was no monitor, there was no real time." As Wemple's debunking of the falsehood makes clear, Hannity has been the primary driver of this claim by repeating on a near-daily basis. But the "real-time" video falsehood did not start with the Fox News host. In fact, one of the first mentions -- perhaps the first -- of the spurious Benghazi video was on Jennifer Rubin's Washington Post blog.
The whole story starts with an October 10, 2012, hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At that hearing, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, had this exchange with Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), describing how she followed via telephone the developments in the Benghazi attack as they were happening:
LANKFORD: Mrs. Lamb, can you clarify for me, where -- where were you working September 11? Were you in the Washington area -- were -- in the main facility there?
LAMB: Yes sir. I was in the D.S. Command center on the evening of the event.
LANKFORD: You -- you -- you note that in your testimony that you were in the Diplomatic Security Command Center and then you make this statement, "I could follow what was happening almost in real time."
LAMB: That's correct.
LANKFORD: So once they hit the button in Benghazi, you're alerted, it says you could have. Did you follow what was happening in real time at that point?
LAMB: Sir, what was happening is they were making multiple phone calls and it was very important that they communicate with the annex in Tripoli because this is where additional resources were coming from. So they would hang up on us and then call back.
LANKFORD: But you're -- but you're tracking it back and forth what's going on.
LAMB: Yes absolutely. [Transcript via Nexis, emphasis added]
That night on Fox News' Hannity, Liz Cheney seized on Lamb's testimony, but characterized it correctly:
CHENEY: Today, we learned from Charlene Lamb under oath that she followed, you know, the diplomatic security official, that she followed what was going on, minute by minute. She was following it in real time. So the administration knew in real time, there wasn't a mob, they knew in real time that this was a well-coordinated attack. They knew in real time that it involved heavy weaponry, this was clearly a terrorist attack and the American people have clearly, as you've said, been lied to.
The following morning, October 11, Jennifer Rubin posted a video of Cheney's Hannity appearance in a post headlined "Real-time Libya: Who knew what, when?" In that post, Rubin claimed (citing no other sources) that Lamb had watched a "real-time video" of the attack -- something neither Lamb nor Cheney had said:
Seriously, something doesn't make sense. Do we think no one else ever got the benefit of that information that mid-level bureaucrat Charlene Lamb had? This was the most urgent issue of the moment in which everyone (the White House, the public, the media) wanted to know what happened in Benghazi. So why not look at the real-time video? Why not ask Lamb what she saw and heard?
That next day, October 12, CNBC host Lawrence Kudlow wrote in his syndicated column that "State Department officials saw the Benghazi attack in real time." [emphasis in original] Later that night on Fox News, Hannity made his first reference to "real time video" of the attack: "The president knew within 24 hours what the truth was, and what I am told, they actually saw this in real-time. There is a video, real-time, of everything that went down in Benghazi."
From that point forward, Hannity flogged away at the State Department for "watching" the attack unfold "real time," repeating it almost every day as it spread to other corners of the conservative media. Wemple debunked the allegation in November, citing a State Department official's denial that anyone at State "had the ability to watch either of the attacks in real time." According to an administration official quoted in Wemple's report, the Benghazi compound had closed-circuit video surveillance that could not be monitored from outside the facility.
From the November 25 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Conservative hand-wringing in the wake of President Obama's victory continues unabated, with both voters and strategists venting their frustration about the GOP's loss, while condemning the conservative media for leading followers to believe a GOP victory was imminent. (A landslide!)
Instead of being honest down the homestretch, conservative pundits on Fox News and at places like the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post fed Republicans a steady diet of falsehoods and Pollyannaish analysis that ran counter to the clear polling data about the state of the race.
Some Republican leaders are now promoting wholesale changes. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal urged Republicans to "stop being the party of stupid" and to reject the anti-intellectualism that has often defined the political movement. "We've also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism," he told Politico.
But "dumbed-down conservatism" is what drives the GOP Noise Machine. It's what Fox, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media have been pushing for years and posting healthy profits in the process. If there's going to be widespread change within the conservative movement it's going to have to include the right-wing media. And for that to happen, accountability has to be finally introduced into the equation.
Currently it's a foreign notion among many commentators who boast dubious track records of being chronically incorrect. Early indications are that most conservative pundits won't face recriminations from within the GOP Noise Machine for getting everything wrong about the campaign. But will consumers finally revolt?
Note that last week CNBC's Larry Kudlow welcomed Romney loyalist Jennifer Rubin from the Washington Post onto his program two nights after Romney lost decisively. On the show there was no discussion about how all of Rubin's horse race insights had been monumentally wrong.
Kudlow politely declined to ask Rubin about her suggestion that Romney might win nearly all the battleground states. (He won just one, North Carolina.) And he also didn't discuss the revelation that Rubin had misled readers in real time about the status of the campaign. The conservative CNBC host, among those who erroneously predicted a Romney blowout, politely demurred and accountability was ignored.
For weeks, if not months, Rubin's readers were led to believe the Obama campaign was crumbling and the incumbent was making one foolish move after another. After Obama won an electoral landslide, Rubin wasn't asked about her dreadfully erroneous spin. Neither was Kudlow's other guest, James Pethokoukis, a blogger from the American Enterprise Institute who forecast Romney would win 301 electoral votes. (Romney won 206.)
Between the three of them, Kudlow, Rubin and Pethokoukis could not have been more wrong about the election; an election they allegedly studied intently all year long. And none of the three bothered to acknowledge their failings on CNBC that night.
Both mainstream and conservative media outlets have responded to the recent spike in gasoline prices by circulating talking points rooted in politics rather than facts. As a whole, these claims reflect the misconception, perpetuated by the news media, that changes in U.S. energy policy are a major driver of oil and gasoline prices.
The conservative media has steadily advocated for Republicans to force a government shutdown, with a recent piece in the Washington Examiner saying that a shutdown "doesn't sound that bad." At the same time, however, conservative media figures are pushing the talking point that a shutdown would be the Democrats' fault.
Following the outbreak of protest against the authoritarian regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right-wing media lashed out against the Fed's quantitative easing -- a policy aimed at keeping long-term interests rates low and pumping money into the economy -- as the impetus to the protests.
In a January 30 Big Government blog post, Chriss W. Street claimed that the second round of quantitative easing "quickly drove up commodity food prices," having a "devastating" impact on "over half the world" and sending "the middle East into flames." He added: "With the price of a barrel of oil hitting $100 dollars and food prices accelerating, those flames will spread."
Yesterday Rush Limbaugh touted Street's post, and told listeners they would "be wise to consider the possibility that part of what's going on in Egypt is because the price of food is going up and nobody in Egypt can do anything about it because the source of the problem is here."
In an October 3 Big Government post, Larry Kudlow claimed he "saw weakness when President Obama and his departing chief of staff Rahm Emanuel gave each other big, fat, full-bore hug" at the press conference to announce Emmanuel leaving Obama's staff. Kudlow further wrote:
Remember, this is on global television. And it has to do with the very top of the United States government. Our friends and enemies were all watching.
I think the hug lacked dignity. It did not send a message of American power and forcefulness. So I fret about the reaction around the world to this kind of fraternity-like emotionalism in full public view.
Why not just a dignified, stand-up, serious handshake? That's what Reagan would have done. A strong handshake shows friendship, respect, and even affection. But a big fat hug seems to go over the line.
Perhaps I'm overreacting to this. But when it comes to the presidency and the behavior of our top leaders, I think the image we want to send at home and abroad is one of serious strength of purpose. Not some kind of collegiate squeeze. Somehow the Obama-Emanuel embrace seemed demeaning -- to the presidency, to our officialdom, and to our strength of purpose.
From the November 19 edition of CNBC's The Kudlow Report:
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On his CNBC show, Larry Kudlow distorted a provision in the health care reform bill proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to claim that "if an individual opts out of this insurance plan ... apparently they face a $25,000 fine, or imprisonment, or both." In fact, the bill would levy a $1,900 "excise tax" on those who don't purchase health insurance; those who refuse to pay the tax could face a fine or prison sentence, as the Wall Street Journal editorial Kudlow cited as the source of his claim clearly stated.
From the September 4th edition of CNBC's Kudlow Report:
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From the August 7 edition of CNBC's The Kudlow Report:
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The Drudge Report, Fox News, and The Kudlow Report provided a forum for a chart released by congressional Republicans that purported to show "the complex health care reform proposal by Democratic congressional leaders."
Media figures have used a recent comment by Vice President Biden -- that the Obama administration "misread how bad the economy was" -- to suggest that the economic recovery package is a complete failure, rather than noting the assessment by economists then and now that the legislation does not go far enough and that further stimulus spending may be necessary.