The right-wing media have hyped and distorted a decision to keep congressional staffers on their existing health care plan to accuse the Obama administration of acting with the "whims of a dictatorship."
After the Obama administration agreed to fix a legislative conflict that would have forced congressional staffers off their current health care coverage and into the Affordable Care Act exchanges, the right-wing media accused President Obama of "exempting" Congress from the law. On Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer claimed Obama "personally intervened to make sure that members of Congress and their staffers will not have to live with Obamacare," later saying the decision "is like the oligarchs." Fox contributor Monica Crowley said the decision "is like the whims of a dictatorship." A Wall Street Journal editorial claimed the decision suggests "illegal dispensations for the ruling class, different rules for the hoi polloi."
But the decision fixed a problem that would have treated congressional employees differently from all other Americans. In the Health Affairs blog, health care expert Timothy Jost explained that "Far from exempting Congress from ACA requirements, as some have reported, the amendment subjects members to a legal requirement that will apply to no other Americans":
Fox dumped Glenn Beck after his bizarre conspiracy theories and rhetoric reportedly caused the network's advertisers to balk. Now Fox appears to be clinging to one of his classic distortions, characterizing a government effort utilizing behavioral psychology to reduce fraud, error and debt as "mind control."
FoxNews.com reported that it obtained a document outlining plans for the government to hire a "Behavioral Insights Team" that "will look for ways to subtly influence people's behavior." The United Kingdom has implemented several related initiatives. In one instance the U.K. government sent out reminder letters to late taxpayers, leading to increased tax revenue.
The ideas behind this type of initiative were laid out in Professor Cass Sunstein's book, Nudge. When Sunstein joined the Obama administration as the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Beck launched a campaign to demonize him and his ideas.
Right-wing media have baselessly smeared the White House's new Behavioral Insights Team, labeling it "propaganda," "mind control," and "Orwellian." In reality, the Behavioral Insights Team is modeled off a similar unit in Britain that has proven effective in encouraging timely tax payment and reducing energy bills and consumption.
Conservative media seized on White House plans to create a Behavioral Insights Team on July 30, when FoxNews.com obtained a document describing the program and its search for behavioral scientists.
Breitbart.com quickly jumped on the story, suggesting that the Obama administration will use the program to push a social agenda: "The Obama administration has not been shy about attempting to use its influence - or taxpayer money - to push enthusiasm for its agenda, including Obamacare, nutrition, and gay rights."
Fox stoked fears by hyping the program on multiple shows with little mention of its benefits. On the July 30 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs commented on FoxNews.com's report on the program, saying, "To many, that sounds purely like propaganda and mind control."
Even after the attack was debunked, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs has repeatedly claimed that the Department of Justice helped pay for anti-Zimmerman protests.
On the July 17 edition of his show, Dobbs criticized civil rights leader Al Sharpton for organizing 100 protests around the country in the wake of the George Zimmerman's acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin. Guest Michael Goodwin alleged that "I wouldn't doubt that somewhere the Justice Department's going to be helping him with the tour." Dobbs responded by claiming that you know that "the Justice Department paid to help demonstrations against George Zimmerman last year":
The attack is based on the release of documents by the right-wing website Judicial Watch, which used the documents to falsely accuse the DOJ of supporting anti-Zimmerman protests. The documents released by Judicial Watch do not show that the DOJ was "organizing anti-Zimmerman rallies" -- only that a unit within the DOJ, the Community Relations Service, was providing support and technical assistance for the protests to prevent violence, not organize protests.
From the July 17 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Fox News contributor Monica Crowley downplayed the actions of former President Richard Nixon and fabricated President Obama's White House ties to controversial actions by the Internal Revenue Service to claim that the recent controversy constitutes the "most dangerous scandal in U.S. history."
Crowley served as a foreign policy aide to Nixon after he resigned in disgrace from the presidency. Conservative media have frequently made absurd and ahistorical comparisons between Nixon and Obama that rely on ignorant interpretations of the actions of both presidents.
On the July 15 edition of Fox News' Your World, Crowley highlighted recent allegations that the IRS improperly gave heightened scrutiny to conservative groups seeking nonprofit status. Suggesting that the Obama White House must have been involved, Crowley compared those allegations unfavorably to what she claimed were the actions of Nixon, saying that while Nixon had been "talking about using the IRS to go after a political enemy," the IRS under Obama "was used for political purposes to target entire swaths of society."
Crowley's comparison is nonsensical. There is no evidence that President Obama or White House aides were involved in the alleged improper behavior, a fact that leading conservative pundits and Republican politicians have acknowledged. In fact, recent disclosures indicate that the IRS may have also targeted progressive groups, undermining the allegations that conservatives have promoted for months.
By contrast, Nixon, on tape, personally urged his attorney general to go after the income taxes of his political enemies. His White House counsel, John Dean, gave the head of the IRS an envelope of the names of Nixon's political enemies, with clear implication that his agency should investigate those individuals. Dean also devised a memorandum titled "Dealing with our political enemies," which urged the use of "the available political machinery to screw our political enemies." Other Nixon aides were involved in plots to break into the Democratic offices in the Watergate Hotel and the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist (which occurred), and to murder journalists and firebomb the Brookings Institution (which thankfully did not).
In short, Nixon and his top aides were deeply and directly involved in massive illegality. There's no evidence Obama or his aides were involved in activity whose illegality is under question. But that's not the story former Nixon aide Crowley wants to tell.
The persistent right-wing talking point that immigration reform would bring in anywhere from 11 million to as many as 30 million new Democratic voters has definitively been exposed as a myth.
The charge, pushed by Fox News, rests on the bogus allegation that because the Senate immigration reform bill includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, those new citizens would then be eligible to vote for Democrats.
As Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin wrote in a syndicated column arguing that "illegal alien amnesty violates our founding principles," "Unrepentant amnesty peddlers on both sides of the aisle admit their plan is all about votes and power." She continued:
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain continues his craven, futile chase for the Hispanic bloc. Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez is openly salivating at the prospect of millions of new illegal aliens -- future Democratic Party dependents of the Nanny State -- who could be eligible for Obamacare and a plethora of other government benefits despite clear prohibitions against them.
On Fox, contributor Monica Crowley echoed the argument, claiming that the Senate immigration reform bill "has nothing to do with immigration." She added: "The Democrats have played this brilliantly. This is about flooding the zone with new Democratic voters so they can get a permanent voting majority."
Fox contributors Kirsten Powers and Monica Crowley mischaracterized a Texas bill that would have limited reproductive rights by downplaying the restrictive measures in the bill, which would have closed almost all abortion-providing facilities in Texas, and repeatedly invoking convicted criminal Kermit Gosnell.
On the June 26 edition of Fox News' America Live, Megyn Kelly hosted Monica Crowley and Kirsten Powers -- both Fox News contributors -- to discuss Senate Bill 5 (SB5), a measure that failed to pass after Texas Senate Democrats held a successful filibuster.
During the segment, Powers claimed that concerns from reproductive rights groups were exaggerated, adding: "I don't think that many clinics are going to close." Crowley agreed, saying reproductive health advocates "always try to go right to hyperbole -- that women are going to have to flee to Tijuana because they're not going to have access in Texas to abortion. It's all ridiculous."
Crowley went on to claim that restrictions in SB5 were "completely reasonable" and that they were "a direct response to the horrors of the Gosnell case." She also used the story to revive the disgusting and long-debunked myth that Obama voted as a state senator to support the killing of infants who were born alive.
Because of a restriction in SB5 that would, according to Bloomberg.com, "require abortions to be done in ambulatory surgical centers by doctors with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic," it's estimated that almost 90% of facilities that provide abortions in Texas -- the percent that do not currently meet that high threshold -- could be forced to close. The Washington Post explained how the bill would impact reproductive access by imposing requirements that only five existing centers would meet:
Fox News contributor Monica Crowley revived the smear that White House visitor records of IRS officials tie the Obama administration to the inappropriate targeting of conservative organizations, this time seizing on visitor logs for Jonathan M. Davis, the political aide to former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman.
On June 21, Fox Nation posted a Washington Examiner article claiming Shulman's Chief of Staff Jonathan M. Davis worked "side-by-side with members of the Obama administration" and appeared to have visited the White House over 300 times. Fox's Monica Crowley used this report to claim on Fox News' Happening Now that the Obama administration gave directions to the IRS to target conservative groups. She asserted that the number of visits by the IRS commissioner and his top aide Davis is so self-evident that "it really doesn't take a rocket scientist to put all these pieces together ... Of course the direction came from the White House":
Crowley's source of information on Davis' visits was the White House public visitor records, which have proven to be an unreliable source of information on the actual number of visits made to the White House by public officials. The Washington Post explained that the White House visitors' logs "only reflect the information the White House chooses to record" and "certainly doesn't show what regular guests some Cabinet secretaries are." The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta added that, in the case of Schulman, "This doesn't mean he actually went to meetings with all these folks, only that he was formally cleared for entry to meetings in which they were the point person organizing the gathering."
From the June 14 edition of Fox News' O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News seized on a recent claim that IRS agents were training with assault weapons to mainstream anti-government fears while downplaying the dangerous nature of working in law enforcement with the IRS -- officers routinely face death threats, and investigate cases ranging from drug trafficking to counter-terrorism. Fox contributor Monica Crowley even attempted to link the IRS to a widely debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory.
While investigating a debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) reported that IRS law enforcement agents were training with AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles. Fox host Martha MacCallum and Crowley used this report to stoke fears about the motives of the IRS, with Crowley stating, "why IRS agents, which are basically number crunchers ... would need to have weapon is a really outstanding question." Emphasis added:
MACCALLUM: And now we're learning that they're training, some of them, and there is a, we should point out, a law enforcement arm or section of the IRS so that, they, you know, they have that. But really? Semi-automatic weapons necessary to deal with taxes?
CROWLEY: Right. I mean, just when you hear -- think you've heard it all, Martha, something more outrageous comes at us here. I mean, why IRS agents, which are basically number crunchers and dealing with the public, dealing with the taxpayers, why they would need to have weapons is a really outstanding question. You mentioned that there's a law enforcement arm to the IRS, and that's true. But another outstanding question here is how widespread this is going to be in terms of is your local IRS agent going to be packing heat when you go in for your audit? We don't know. And I think when you get this news on the heels of the severe abuse of power that we've been talking about with the IRS in addition to the Department of Homeland Security also amassing massive numbers of weapons and ammunition, you have to wonder what are these domestic agencies doing with this, these kinds weapons and ammo?
MACCALLUM: And you would think local police would, you know, provide backup if necessary. We realize sometimes they go into some tough situations. We did a little research on this. No IRS enforcer has ever been killed in the line of duty, but they have been -- they've had to use those weapons eight times and accidentally fired the weapons eleven times over the last couple years, Doug, so that's not too reassuring.
But Duncan's report references the IRS' enforcement division, not, as Crowley speculated, civilian IRS employees. IRS' law enforcement officers are more than just "number crunchers." In fact, according to Politico, IRS investigations have resulted in "convictions of crimes ranging from offshore bank accounts, to Medicare fraud, to money laundering and drug trafficking operations." They also investigate crimes related to counter-terrorism. By virtue of working with the IRS, agents also receive a growing number of death threats, and have been targeted repeatedly by members of the violent "Tax Protest" movement, who have committed multiple attempted bombings, arsons, attempted kidnappings, and attempted murders. MacCallum's claim that no IRS "enforcer" has ever been killed in the line of duty is also false. IRS Agent Michael Dillon was shot and killed while attempting to collect a settlement made by the IRS with James F. Bradley.
Crowley then mentioned that this comes, "in addition to the Department of Homeland Security also amassing massive numbers of weapons and ammunition..." Her claim references a debunked conspiracy theory popularized by Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist with influence in right wing media, who recently claimed the government may have used a "weather weapon" to create the tornado that devastated Moore, OK.
Fox has routinely pushed conspiracy theories, including those of Alex Jones, while ignoring its own role in perpetuating these falsehoods. Fox's tendency to hype anti-government conspiracy theories continued recently when its president, Roger Ailes, pushed another widely debunked claim that, "the federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce healthcare."
After months of struggling with how to report on good economic news, Fox News finally found a new strategy to attack consistently positive labor market gains: move the bar to an unreasonable height. While downplaying the May 2013 jobs report that was better than expected, Fox misleadingly cited employment growth during the Reagan administration and proposed a new standard for growth so unreasonably high that it has only been met three times in the past 30 years.
On the June 7 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, contributor Charles Payne downplayed the May 2013 jobs report -- a report that was better than expected -- saying, "You know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number." He then compared the number to the September 1983 jobs report when the economy added 1.1 million jobs. Later, Payne guest hosted Fox Business' Varney & Co. where contributor Monica Crowley claimed, "At this point in the recovery, you should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month." She also brought up the September 1983 report.
PAYNE: You know what, all things considered, what you just laid out: it's better than expected. But you know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number. It's extraordinarily mediocre with what we've gotten in the past. You know, the way we've come out of recessions in the past, we've had some amazing, robust times. I mean, going all the way back to Reagan where one month we actually had one million jobs created in a single month. For us to still be well under 200,000 is really disheartening. But you know, the good news is, a lot of people thought it could have been worse.
MACCALLUM: Wow, that's an - I just want to go back to what you just said. So during the Reagan recovery there was a single month period where we added a million jobs?
PAYNE: One single month. A million - by the way, we had a whole lot less people too.
But Payne and Crowley ignored the context of the 1983 report. While Payne portrayed it as just one example of the so-called "Reagan recovery," according to The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch blog, it was actually an outlier. Market Watch also pointed out that about 640,000 of the 1.1 million jobs can be attributed to striking AT&T employees returning to work. In reality, the average monthly job growth during the Reagan administration was 168,000.
Crowley's assertion that the economy "should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month," is also unreasonable. When Market Watch evaluated a similar claim by Gov. Mitt Romney, it found that job growth had only surpassed the 500,000 mark three times in the past 30 years. From Market Watch:
How rare is it for 500,000 jobs to be created in a month? The last time was in May 2010 -- when the U.S. hired thousands of workers to conduct the Census. (The next month, payrolls shrunk by 167,000.)
Lest Romneyites think that only President Barack Obama struggled to make that grade, neither President Bush, older or younger, saw job creation that strong. President Clinton had one-plus 500,000 month, when in September, 1997, 507,000 positions were created. (Aided by the return of striking UPS workers.) President Reagan enjoyed a spectacular 1.11 million-job month in September 1983, but that was the only plus-500K mark and was boosted by roughly 640,000 AT&T workers returning from a strike.
Payne and Crowley's claims represent a new line of attack, but this isn't the first time Fox News has reset the bar on how it characterizes economic news. As the economy has consistently improved, Fox News has repeatedly struggled to portray good news in a negative light. In some cases, it has even cut its economic coverage in half.
Fox News contributor Monica Crowley tried to tie the White House to the IRS' inappropriate targeting of conservative organizations by seizing on reports that IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House more than other senior staff -- a theory undermined both by reports explaining the complexity of White House visitor logs and the IRS' crucial role in health care implementation.
On Fox News' Happening Now, Crowley claimed that Shulman visited the White House 157 times, and that "118 of those visits happened when the IRS was targeting conservatives and other groups, religious groups, and so on." The Daily Caller similarly reported that Shulman visited the White House at least 157 times during the Obama administration, which it claimed was "more recorded visits than even the most trusted members of the president's Cabinet."
During the segment, Crowley noted this number seemed especially high in comparison to number of visits made by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who reportedly made "fewer than 50 visits in this time frame."
But Crowley's source for these claims, the White House public visitor records, makes comparisons between visiting officials unreliable at best. Crowley's attack also ignores the role of the IRS in implementing the health care law, which proved to be the main reason behind Shulman's visits.
At least six Fox News contributors have reportedly signed on to an open letter opposing the comprehensive immigration reform legislation currently being debated in the Senate. Fox News, which has admitted it is the "voice of opposition" on certain issues, has long ignored and even fostered such unethical behavior from its personalities.
According to Yahoo! News, conservative radio hosts, along with tea party and other conservative groups, have signed a letter opposing the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, a proposal from a bipartisan group of senators to reform immigration law. Among the "National Conservative Leaders" who have reportedly signed the letter are six current Fox News contributors:
However, their affiliation with Fox News was not mentioned in the letter.
Radio hosts Mark Levin and Lars Larson, who also signed the letter, are regular Fox News guests as well. Daily Beast editor and CNN contributor David Frum also signed the letter.
The letter expresses "serious concerns" with the bill and urges Senators to vote against it:
We oppose this bill and urge you to vote against it when it comes to the Senate floor. No matter how well intentioned, the Schumer-Rubio bill suffers from fundamental design flaws that make it unsalvageable. Many of us support various parts of the legislation, but the overall package is so unsatisfactory that the Senate would do better to start over from scratch.
Reforming our immigration system is an important priority. But S.744 is such a defective measure that it would do more harm than good. We urge you to vote against it and against any cloture vote to bring up the bill. Only then can a constructive, measured debate take place on how to improve America's immigration policy.
The letter also repeats some common myths about immigration, including the debunked notion that granting undocumented immigrants legal status "[h]urts American job-seekers, especially those with less education." The letter also compares the Senate immigration bill to the health care law, calling it "bloated and unwieldy."
Fox News has been criticized for unethical behavior in the past and for operating like a political organization. In fact, Crowley crossed the ethical line during the 2012 presidential election when she spoke at an anti-Obama rally sponsored by the Koch-funded conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity.
Fox News has long styled itself as an anti-immigrant network even as it purports to reach out to Latino viewers. Rush Limbaugh, for example, stated in January that it's "up to me and Fox News" to defeat immigration reform. As Yahoo! News noted however, Limbaugh was "notably absent" from the list of signatories.
From the May 17 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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