Fox News is apparently desperate for a scandal over President Obama's handling of news that the Internal Revenue Service applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups, especially now that the network's campaign to embroil the president in scandal over his response to the Benghazi attacks is falling apart. Fox has gone from ignoring Obama's swift responses to the IRS's actions to downplaying the significance of his firing the IRS's acting commissioner, each time distorting reality in order to call for a special prosecutor.
The release of over 100 pages of inter-agency emails obtained by CNN have threatened to derail months of right-wing scandal-mongering over the administration's response to the 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The emails appear to counter the conservative narrative that the State Department altered Benghazi-related talking points for political reasons. As Fox News' desperate attempts to resurrect the waning scandal fall flat, Fox pundits have resorted to criticizing the president's handling of the IRS controversy instead.
Fox kicked off its criticism by deciding Obama's initial condemnation of the IRS's actions as "outrageous" was too weak. When the president first addressed concerns over this story at a press conference on Monday, May 13, he asserted, "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported," then "that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable." America Live host Megyn Kelly covered his remarks by wondering, "Does the president understate it when he calls this, 'outrageous'?"
After the Inspector General published its report on the IRS's actions, concluding the agency applied "inappropriate criteria" to conservative applicants, Obama released a statement on May 14 definitively calling the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable" and directing action to be taken to hold those responsible accountable. This time, Fox simply pretended Obama made no such statement and continued to attack his remarks from two days prior, all while arguing that a special prosecutor was needed given Obama's supposed inaction.
By Thursday, Fox was fumbling over how to handle the fact that Obama had fired Steven Miller, the IRS acting commissioner, over the agency's actions. In the morning, America's Newsroom chose the route of merely ignoring that anyone had been fired so that host Martha MacCallum could declare, "[Obama] could be the big person. He could say, 'This stinks. You're all fired. This doesn't happen in America.' He has every ability in his position right now to take the high road. Why not? Why not do it?"
When the network finally acknowledged that Miller had been forced to resign, it did so by attempting to downplay the decision. Anchor Bret Baier questioned the action on Happening Now, claiming, "He was ready to leave, despite the fact -- I mean, before any of this already happened. He was acting commissioner and was set to leave the IRS. So that's a question for the White House; that's a question for the president. You know, was this guy fired when he was going to leave anyway?"
Fox News' Martha MacCallum suggested a series of things President Obama could do in order to take "the high road" on allegations of IRS wrongdoing, ignoring the fact that Obama has already taken most of those actions over the past few days.
On the May 16 edition of America's Newsroom, MacCallum attacked Obama for his administration's handling of a recent story in which the Internal Revenue Service allegedly applied additional scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. She then recommended actions Obama should take, saying:
He could be the big person. He could say "this stinks. You're all fired. This doesn't happen in America." He has every ability in his position right now to take the high road. Why not? Why not do it?
But President Obama has condemned the actions of the IRS staff repeatedly. On May 15, he called the misconduct "inexcusable," saying "Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it." On May 14, two days before the Fox segment aired, Obama also called the actions of the IRS staff "intolerable and inexcusable":
I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog's report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.
I've directed [Treasury] Secretary [Jack] Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again. But regardless of how this conduct was allowed to take place, the bottom line is, it was wrong. Public service is a solemn privilege. I expect everyone who serves in the federal government to hold themselves to the highest ethical and moral standards. So do the American people. And as President, I intend to make sure our public servants live up to those standards every day.
Obama also requested and accepted the resignation of Steven T. Miller, the acting commissioner of the IRS. In addition, the White House called for "new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again":
First, we're going to hold the responsible parties accountable. Yesterday, I directed Secretary Lew to follow up on the IG audit to see how this happened and who is responsible, and to make sure that we understand all the facts. Today, Secretary Lew took the first step by requesting and accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS, because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward.
Second, we're going to put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again. And I've directed Secretary Lew to ensure the IRS begins implementing the IG's recommendations right away.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is admonishing conservatives -- many of whom have appeared on the channel for which he works -- for baselessly tying President Obama to allegations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny in their efforts to obtain nonprofit tax status.
During a May 13 joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama addressed a question about the IRS controversy, calling the behavior "outrageous" if true and added that "there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable."
On the May 14 edition of America Live, O'Reilly pushed back against efforts by conservatives to directly tie Obama to the IRS controversy. O'Reilly told co-host Martha MacCallum he does not believe Obama explicitly told the IRS to target conservative groups "because that's insane." O'Reilly added: "But you can't connect it to him without gross speculation. ... Conservative commentators provide cover for Obama when they go further than the facts take them, when they speculate."
The right-wing media is promoting a study by the conservative policy group Heritage Foundation which claims immigration reform will cost $6.3 trillion dollars and damage the economy. This claim has been repeatedly debunked, even by conservatives, and is a revision of a 2007 study that utilized "fatally flawed" methodology.
Fox News pushed the myth that increased access to emergency contraceptives encourages sex among teenagers. In fact, research shows access to these drugs does not increase teens' sexual activity.
From the May 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are teaming up to demonize the Food and Drug Administration's decision to lower the age requirement for access to over-the-counter emergency contraception, ignoring both the science behind the drug and the FDA's assessment that younger women can handle the responsibility of taking the medication.
On America's Newsroom, Fox's senior managing editor for health news, Dr. Manny Alvarez, attacked the FDA's decision to allow 15-year-olds to purchase the medication. He claimed emergency contraception decisions should be left up to the parents because, "Since when is a 15-year-old child a woman? Now give me a break."
Alvarez went on to claim that a 15-year-old is unable to understand the possible side effects of Plan B. Host Martha MacCallum stated, "Look at the list of warnings on this thing," prompting Alvarez to argue:
It reads like the Constitution. There's so many, you know, possibilities, probabilities, percentages. You're going to tell me a 15-year-old girl -- and who could even buy it and give it to a 14-year-old or 13-year-old -- is going to understand all the potential side effects? And what they should do after if they have any of the symptoms?
Later, MacCallum fearmongered over whether Plan B could result in long-term fertility problems, wondering, "Who knows what the long-lasting implications of using it in that way are? When this girl decides she wants to have a baby a few years down the road?" Alvarez did not take the bait, telling MacCallum: "I'm not arguing that this has some mild to moderate side effects -- not terrible side effects."
Aside from the fact that the "children" seeking emergency contraception are of reproductive age, Alvarez's allegations have been explicitly discredited by FDA research. The agency conclusively determined that a 15-year-old is able to understand the side effects and consequences of Plan B after conducting research on this question when determining whether to make the drug available to this age group without a prescription. FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD explained (emphasis added):
The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) completed its review of the Plan B One-Step application and laid out its scientific determination. CDER carefully considered whether younger females were able to understand how to use Plan B One-Step. Based on the information submitted to the agency, CDER determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the data supported a finding that adolescent females could use Plan B One-Step properly without the intervention of a healthcare provider.
In advance of the opening of George W. Bush's presidential library, Fox News is gearing up to rehabilitate the former president's image with the help of former Bush administration officials turned Fox employees.
On the April 23 edition of America's Newsroom, anchor Martha MacCallum hosted former Bush senior advisor and current Fox News political analyst Karl Rove to discuss Bush's legacy. During the interview, MacCallum gave Rove a platform to praise his former boss on a wide range of issues.
Both MacCallum and Rove highlighted how history will be the true judge of Bush's performance as president:
According to TV Newser, Bush will be interviewed later in the week by his former press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino, whose questioning is expected to be "more personal given her prior relationship" with the former president. Special Report anchor Bret Baier will also reportedly interview Bush, with the show broadcasting from the library on both April 24 and 25.
Fox News is trying to shift the national conversation on public safety laws, pointing to recent mass shootings to question the effectiveness of expanding background checks on gun purchases. But Fox's criticism ignores several other mass shootings committed by people who bought weapons without undergoing background checks, as well as the significant gun violence that experts say background checks will prevent.
On Thursday, the Senate defeated a Republican filibuster threat against tougher gun laws on a vote of 68-31. The vote cleared the way for a full debate on gun safety measures, including expanded background checks, next week.
In response, Fox News ran a segment premised on the idea that background checks are largely unnecessary because they would not have prevented Adam Lanza and other recent mass shooters from acquiring the guns they used.
In fact, the loophole in federal law that allows prohibited persons to buy firearms without undergoing a background check has resulted in mass shootings. In October 2012, a shooting at a Wisconsin spa left three dead and four wounded. The Associated Press reported that the alleged shooter purchased a handgun from a private seller without a background check, and obtained the weapon two days after becoming the subject of a restraining order that required him to turn over all weapons to a county sheriff.
Other mass shootings in which shooters obtained their weapons from private individuals rather than licensed firearm dealers include the September 2011 shooting at a Nevada IHOP, which left 4 dead and 7 wounded, and the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, which left 13 dead and 21 wounded.
Moreover, this criticism misses the point; while background checks will not prevent all gun violence, they will prevent a significant amount.
A Fox News "fact" on the supposed costs of illegal immigration to U.S. taxpayers was lifted from a study by the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) that has been debunked as flawed.
During a segment on Fox News' America's Newsroom discussing the new immigration reform plan soon to be released by a bi-partisan group in the Senate, Fox displayed a "Fox Facts" graphic as host Martha MacCallum interviewed Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC):
This so-called fact is based on research from the anti-immigrant hate group FAIR. In 2010, FAIR released a study titled, "The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers," which found "the annual costs of illegal immigration at the federal, state and local level to be about $113 billion." At the time the study was released, FoxNews.com defended both FAIR and the study.
Fox News has consistently downplayed positive weekly jobless claims reports, ignoring the standard the network set for signs of labor market improvements.
A Media Matters analysis revealed that despite consistent improvements in the number of people filing for unemployment benefits, Fox's coverage of weekly jobless claims reports was overwhelmingly negative. The network consistently used the reports to bring up unrelated negative economic news, a practice that has become common on Fox when faced with positive economic developments.
Fox News' coverage of weekly jobless claims in the first quarter of 2013 overwhelmingly focused on negative aspects of the labor market and broader economy. However, weekly claims numbers have been consistently improving, beating Fox's own standard for signs of a positive labor market.
According to Fox News, economists believe when the weekly number of initial jobless claims filed stays below 375,000, it's a sign the labor market is healthy enough to reduce the unemployment rate.
Fox News host Bill Hemmer cited that threshold on the January 10 edition of America's Newsroom, while showing a chart with a bright yellow line across it at the 375,000 mark: "Economists say that weekly claims must consistently fall below 375,000, shown by that yellow line on the screen right there, to indicate that the job market is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate." When the next week's numbers came out on January 17, Hemmer's co-host Martha MacCallum again touted Fox's chart showing the threshold, noting, "You always want to look at the chart, in terms of the long-time trend here." She continued, "Economists say that the weekly claims number has to consistently fall below 375,000 as indicated by that yellow line."
For the first quarter of 2013, weekly jobless claims have consistently fallen below Fox News' threshold of 375,000, signifying an improving labor market.
The final report of the quarter, released on April 4, represents the first one-week spike over the 375,000 threshold in 2013, but the more telling number - the four-week moving average of weekly initial claims - remains well below Fox's bright yellow line. (Other news outlets report that the economists' consensus about the threshold is 400,000 weekly claims, and economist Frank Lysy says that new jobless claims occur at a rate of 310,000 to 320,000 per week when the economy is at close to full employment.)
Despite consistent signs that the labor market is improving (by Fox News' own standards), Fox was overwhelmingly negative when reporting on weekly jobless claims.
When the weekly claims beat consensus expectations or declined from the previous week, Fox News anchors regularly used the positive news to highlight other, unrelated metrics, such as rising gas prices or federal spending. When weekly claims did not meet expectations or rose from the previous week, anchors regularly used the news to paint a negative picture of the economy.
Overall, Fox News was about 13 times more likely to present weekly jobless claims with a negative rather than positive tone. Furthermore, Fox's negative coverage greatly overshadowed neutral reporting.
Media Matters reviewed every Thursday edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and Happening Now from January 3, 2013 to April 4, 2013 and recorded the amount of time spent discussing the weekly jobless claims report.
We identified "positive coverage" as that which indicated weekly claims were improving, or made broader positive implications for the labor market and overall economy. Positive coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.
We identified "negative coverage" as that which indicated weekly claims were deteriorating, or made broader negative implications for the labor market and overall economy. Negative coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.
We identified "neutral coverage" as that which directly reported the information in the Labor Department's weekly jobless claims report.
When tone of coverage was unclear, Media Matters chose to err on the side of neutrality.
We did not include coverage of topics that were unrelated to the weekly claims report, even if they were brought up in a segment that was primarily focused on the report. For example, the January 3 edition of Fox & Friends contained a segment that introduced the weekly jobless report and pivoted to discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. In this instance, time spent discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill was left out of the analysis. When it was unclear whether coverage of a topic was brought up in relation to the weekly claims report, Media Matters chose to exclude it from the analysis.
In segments where coverage related to the weekly claims report was introduced before the report itself, Media Matters chose to begin time recording when the report was initially introduced.
Fox News is raising the red herring of Solyndra to attack President Barack Obama's proposal for an alternative vehicle research fund as a potential waste of "taxpayer dollars." But the proposal would be funded by existing fees on oil and gas companies and has received bipartisan support for its potential to improve our energy security.
The government currently collects over $10 billion a year in fees from oil and gas companies drilling on federal lands. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama proposed directing $200 million of that, or a total of $2 billion over 10 years, toward research into alternative transportation technology including vehicles that can run on electricity, biofuels or natural gas. The program would aptly be named the "Energy Security Trust," as it would work to reduce our dependence on oil. A White House spokesman told Bloomberg News that the proposal "wouldn't add to the debt because money would be shifted from other programs." Yet Fox News' America's Newsroom suggested on Thursday that the administration would be using "taxpayer dollars," adding to the debt:
After glossing over state Republicans' role in exacerbating long lines at the ballot box, three Fox hosts mocked the hours-long wait and multiple trips a 102-year-old woman endured in order to cast her vote in 2012.
On Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade and Fox's Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer laughed off the difficulties 102-year-old Desiline Victor endured in order to vote in the 2012 election. Victor, who was invited to the State of the Union address and whom President Obama applauded for enduring a long wait to vote, had to make two trips to the polls and wait in line for over three hours before she was able to cast her ballot. Discussing Victor, MacCallum wondered, "What's the big deal?" and said, "This is such a non-issue. Ridiculous." Hemmer added that at the State of the Union, "They held her up as a victim. What was she a victim of?"
But long lines at polling places are widely acknowledged as a major issue nationwide. In Victor's home state of Florida alone, at least 201,000 eligible voters reportedly did not cast ballots because they were discouraged by lengthy wait times.
Earlier, on MacCallum and Hemmer's show America's Newsroom, Fox correspondent Eric Shawn reported on proposals to extend early voting to ease the problem of long lines at the polls. Shawn noted that Florida had the longest polling place lines in 2012, and then played a clip of Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner addressing Florida's issues, stating that Detzner is "working on ways to fix the problems," including an extension of the state's early voting period in order to shorten voters' wait.
Shawn failed to reveal, however, that Detzner played a role in exacerbating this problem in Florida.
Fox News' Martha MacCallum exaggerated the relationship between mental health and gun violence by suggesting advocates for stronger gun laws focus on the few individuals with mental health conditions who commit mass killings instead of the widely available weapons that they used.
On the February 5 edition of America's Newsroom, MacCallum pushed the debunked myth that mental health is a common variable among violent criminals by listing recent mass shooters. MacCallum highlighted four perpetrators of mass shootings, and said, "You look at the people who've carried out these heinous crimes and killed so many innocent children. ... All of these have mental health issues." MacCallum went on to criticize President Obama for focusing on stronger gun laws rather than mental health in his policy response to the Newtown, CT, mass shooting.
By limiting her sample to just a few high-profile criminals, MacCallum ignored that those with mental health conditions represent a small percentage of perpetrators of violent crimes. In fact, studies have shown that people with mental health conditions are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.