Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has a history of deceiving media by misrepresenting evidence at a congressional hearing, a worrying past given his new role as the leader of the House select committee investigating the Benghazi attacks.
Gowdy was chosen on May 5 to run the new select committee into the Obama administration's handling of the September 2012 terrorist attacks in Libya, and was described by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) as "dogged, focused, and serious-minded as they come. His background as a federal prosecutor and his zeal for the truth make him the ideal person to lead this panel."
But Gowdy's apparent "zeal for the truth" has not stopped him from misleading past congressional investigations into the attacks with media figures who are eager to amplify Republican scandal-mongering.
At a previous House hearing on Benghazi on May 8, 2013, Gowdy purported to read from a State Department email sent a day after the attacks, which Republicans claimed revealed State officials knew that terrorists were behind the attacks but initially attempted to cover-up this knowledge for political reasons. Gowdy quoted a State official as saying in this early email, "the group that conducted the attacks...is affiliated with Islamic terrorists."
Fox News immediately ran with Gowdy's line, claiming that the email opened up new questions about the administration's response to the attacks, including questions "about the accuracy of the past testimony of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
But when The New York Times obtained an actual copy of the email in question, they found that it referred to "Islamic extremists," not terrorists. The senior State Department official who sent the email, A. Elizabeth Jones, was noting exactly what senior White House officials and then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice had all acknowledged: the possibility that extremists could had been involved in the assault.
In response to the clear evidence that he had misrepresented an official email in a Congressional hearing, Gowdy deflected, claiming there was no relevant distinction between "extremists" and "terrorists" -- even though making that very distinction was exactly what Republicans were attempting to accuse the administration of doing in their supposed "cover up" of Benghazi. His Republican colleagues once again turned to Fox to push out the new line, now claiming the email said "definitively" that "it was Ansar-al-Sharia, Islamic extremists, that committed this terrorist act," despite the fact that the email still made no reference to terrorism.
As Republicans gear to up use this new select committee to continue to push the Benghazi hoax, media should be wary of trusting Gowdy's interpretation of the record -- he can't always be trusted to accurately quote reality.
Fox News has pushed reset on many of its favorite Benghazi myths that have already been put to rest in the wake of the recently released Rhodes email and the House GOP's announcement of the formation of a Select Committee to investigate the attacks.
Mainstream media distorted Ret. Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell's Benghazi testimony to the House Oversight Committee, seizing on a partial remark that "we should have tried" to rescue the victims and ignoring the fact that Lovell later explained that he did not mean the military response was insufficient.
After enabling vicious attacks on gay candidates and elected officials, Fox News has finally found an openly gay politician it can support - congressional candidate Carl DeMaio (R-CA).
Fox's championing of DeMaio started with an April 28 FoxNews.com column written by The Five co-host Dana Perino, who wrote that DeMaio's story epitomizes "what everyone who fights for equality says they've been fighting for." Perino also noted that during his unsuccessful run for San Diego mayor in 2012, an anonymous group of supporters of Democratic candidate Bob Filner ran gay-baiting ads showing DeMaio hugging another man and a photoshopped photo showing DeMaio with a drag queen. Perino couldn't point to any other examples of Democratic attacks on DeMaio's sexuality, but she nonetheless seized on the episode to depict "the left" as hypocritical.
While Perino's column implied that a few "far right social conservatives" had also gay-baited DeMaio, she didn't note that among those conservatives are groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which has endorsed DeMaio's Republican primary opponent and gone after DeMaio for "holding the hand of his gay lover."
But Fox's pro-DeMaio campaign was just starting up. The candidate appeared on the network's America's Newsroom to decry his progressive critics. On Fox's The Five, co-hosts attacked progressives for putting DeMaio's sex life "front and center."
And during an interview with DeMaio on the April 28 edition of On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren introduced the candidate by falsely claiming that "it's not social conservatives, but the Democrats" waging anti-gay attacks on his campaign, prompting DeMaio to correct her:
VAN SUSTEREN: Carl DeMaio is a Republican and he is also openly gay, and he says he's coming under attack, not from social conservatives, but from Democrats.
VAN SUSTEREN: You say it's not social conservatives, but the Democrats giving you a hard time. Tell me.
DEMAIO: We do have some social conservatives giving us a hard time, but we're finding a lot more acceptance and tolerance and support from those on the socially conservative side of the spectrum than we are from progressive Democrats. You know, I have an agenda to move our country past social issues. I don't think that we ought to have either political party deciding what happens in the privacy of our bedroom. And, instead, we should demand that Washington refocus its priorities on fixing the national debt, getting our economy going again, and holding government programs accountable for results.
Van Susteren urged DeMaio to describe "how the Democrats have discriminated against you based on your sexual orientation." DeMaio cited the anonymous ads from the 2012 mayoral campaign and proceeded to criticize national gay groups for not supporting his candidacy - echoing Perino's criticism of groups like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
Despite having no apparent understanding of Supreme Court precedent, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly still managed to accuse Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor of being wrong about civil rights law.
On April 22, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court effectively overruled an important strand of equal protection jurisprudence in Schuette v. BAMN, upholding a voter-approved state constitutional amendment that banned the consideration of race in admissions at Michigan's public universities. Right-wing media were enthusiastically supportive of the decision as they simultaneously insulted the intelligence of Sotomayor, and O'Reilly was no exception.
On the April 24 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly dedicated his "Talking Points Memo" segment to praising the Court's decision in Schuette. O'Reilly's misunderstanding of that decision, as well the Court's prior case law, became immediately apparent when he erroneously claimed affirmative action policies violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because "if an individual American gets a preference, then he or she is not being treated equally with everyone else."
O'Reilly went on to argue that Sotomayor, who wrote a powerful dissent in Schuette, "is clearly wrong, constitutionally speaking":
Led by Sean Hannity, Fox News has devoted 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming to cheerleading for a Nevada range war.
Media Matters examined Fox News' weekday programming from 4 p.m. through 11 p.m. ET since it first started covering the story.
Fox News began agitating for a range war on April 9, sympathetically portraying Cliven Bundy as a folk hero based on the Nevada rancher's refusal for two decades to pay the required fees for grazing his cattle on public land. While Nevada reporters have made clear that Bundy is "clearly wrong" and "breaking the law," Fox has waged a PR campaign romanticizing Bundy and the armed militia groups that fled to his ranch and forced a standoff with federal agents who were executing a court order that allowed them to impound his cattle.
Fox Radio hostTodd Starnes fanned the flames by implying that federal agents could be "strung up" for confiscating Bundy's cattle, regardless of a court order. Even after the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would return the cattle to Bundy, Hannity asked Bundy whether he was worried that government agents might kill him.
Hannity has effectively turned his Fox News show into a public-relations firm for Bundy and the militias backing him, dedicating more than 1 1/2 hours of coverage since April 9 to effectively agitating for armed conflict with the federal government.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Fox News programs from April 5th to April 17th. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Bundy, Nevada, ranch!, cattle, Bureau of Land Management. The search included the Fox programs The Five, Special Report, On the Record with Greta van Susteren, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, and Hannity.
From the April 16 edition of Fox News' On The Record:
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On Tax Day, Fox hosts provided a platform for six Tea Party members, disproving Ruport Murdoch's claim that the network doesn't promote the Tea Party.
During a March 2014 interview with Fortune, Rupert Murdoch called "bullshit" on the assertion that Fox News has gone to bat for the Tea Party, saying, "we don't promote the Tea Party. That's bullshit. We recognize their existence." But just as Fox can be credited with a staggering amount of early Tea Party promotion in 2009, Fox hosts celebrated Tax Day 2014 by hosting a number of Tea Partiers to discuss the movement.
On the April 15 edition of On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren questioned why the Tea Party hadn't planned any large scale events in honor of Tax Day and hosted three Tea Party members to promote the movement's new political plan. Van Susteren painted the Tea Party as victims, claiming that the movement has been "unfairly demonized by some members of politics." Van Susteren even gave the floor to the Tea Partiers to promote their favorite hopefuls for the 2016 presidential election:
Fox News may have found a new poster child for its campaign to smear recipients of government assistance like food stamps.
For more than a year, Fox has promoted "blissfully jobless California surfer" Jason Greenslate as representative of recipients of government assistance. Fox first featured Greenslate in August 2013 during a special titled "The Great Food Stamp Binge," and has returned to him repeatedly as "the new face of food stamps" in "Obama's America," "representative of literally millions of Americans" who defraud the food stamp program (officially called SNAP).
Predictably, the network jumped at the opportunity to concoct a new poster child to food stamps when news broke that an affluent Minnesota couple were wanted for defrauding public assistance benefits in Minnesota. The couple -- since arrested in Florida -- allegedly received over $160,000 in state benefits like food stamps while living on a $1.2 million yacht with millions in assets.
Fox host Neil Cavuto and network legal analyst Andrew Napolitano hyped the story on March 31 and blamed the fraud on the size of government assistance programs, saying "we shouldn't be surprised when the numbers get this big that fraud pops up." According to Napolitano, the government "willy nilly gives this money away without verifying who's receiving it," while Cavuto agreed that the government is not "following whose getting this money and whether they're all genuinely deserving of it":
From the April 1 edition of Fox News' On the Record:
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From the March 5 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) publicly admitted that his dogged investigation into the IRS may be at a "dead end" given a former IRS official's refusal to testify, but you won't hear that on Fox News.
The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee called on former IRS official Lois Lerner to testify on March 5 in yet another hearing on the IRS' inappropriate targeting of organizations seeking tax exempt status. For the second time, Lerner testified that she would invoke her Fifth Amendment rights and not answer the committee's questions.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Issa articulated that his investigation into the IRS could "dead end" given Lerner's refusal to testify. As Talking Points Memo reported:
Issa was asked how bad of a setback Wednesday's hearing was for the investigation.
"As you can see from our questioning today, we have continued to gather facts around Ms. Lerner's absence of testimony," Issa replied. "It would have allowed us to bring this investigation to a -- probably pretty quick close if she had been willing to answers those questions. Without it we will undoubtably [sic] have a few more questions to try to find out things that she could have answered quickly today."
A reporter than asked Issa if he was still "confident" the investigation would "get to the bottom of this."
"It may well be we have gotten to the bottom of it," Issa said. "At this point, roads lead to Ms. Lerner. The witness who to took the Fifth. That becomes -- she becomes one of the key characters at this point. Had she been willing to explain those emails which were provided through separate subpoenas, then we could have perhaps brought this to a close. Without that, it may dead end with Ms. Lerner."
Fox News was quick to hype Issa's hearing, but not nearly so quick to acknowledge the congressman's admission that his IRS investigation might be over.
Summarizing the House hearing that evening on Special Report, Fox correspondent Mike Emanuel concluded, "At this point, Issa seems prepared to move forward with the IRS investigation without hearing from Lerner":
Fox's Greta Van Susteren pushed the debunked myth that members of Congress have special exemptions from Obamacare by attempting to spin the fact that they may revert to federal benefits upon retirement as special treatment. In reality, not requiring retired members of Congress to stay on an exchange plan avoids giving them unfair advantage over other federal employees in retirement, and is in compliance with the wording of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On the March 3 edition of Fox News' On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren introduced a segment on an alleged Obamacare loophole by saying that "members of Congress and their staff members are being offered that escape hatch when they retire" which will allow them to "go back to their federal employee health coverage." Van Susteren's guest, former Republican senator and president of the conservative Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint, twisted the retirement stipulation as evidence that "the big guys get taken care of with one plan, but the average Joe gets to deal with a cash for clunkers type of health plan that we got with Obamacare":
This attempt to cast the fact that retired members of Congress are not required to stay on Obamacare as a loophole ignores the fact that the ACA did not specify how a member of Congress should be treated once they leave office and retire. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) decided that requiring retired members of Congress and their staffers to stay on an exchange plan would give them an unfair advantage of greater benefits than other federal employees in retirement (emphasis added):
Under a rule issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) late last year, members and staff who retire will be able to revert back to health coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). That's the same coverage thousands of other federal workers can use when they retire.
The FEHBP lets government retirees choose from a range of options, including health savings accounts, PPOs or HMOs. And none of it has anything to do with ObamaCare.
The OPM had not included a retirement escape clause in its August draft of the rule on congressional coverage. But this flexibility was added in its Oct. 2 final rule, after "numerous commenters" called on the OPM to reconsider.
The OPM ultimately agreed with those commenters and said that, when read closely, the law only applies to members and staff "while they are employed in those positions."
A Feb. 18 report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) puts it plainly. "[T]he final rule allows members and designated congressional staff who are eligible for retirement to enroll in a FEHBP plan upon retirement," the CRS summarized.
The OPM decided that forcing members and staff to stay on ObamaCare would give them "broader health insurance options" than other federal employees upon retirement, which would be unfair.
"We make this change for the additional reason that, otherwise, Members of Congress and congressional staff would have broader health insurance options in the Exchange in retirement than are available to other Federal annuitants," the OPM said.
A report by the Congressional Research Service likewise flies in the face of claims by Van Susteren and DeMint that the ACA's retirement stipulation constitutes a special exemption or "escape hatch." According to the report, members of Congress and their staffers have to meet the same eligibility criteria to purchase a Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) plan in retirement as every other federal employee:
OPM indicates that Members and congressional staff designated as working for an official office of a Member (hereinafter "staff" or "designated staff") who purchase coverage through an exchange will have the ability to enroll in plans offered through FEHBP when they become annuitants, provided they meet the eligibility criteria to do so under 5 U.S.C. Section 8905.12 The eligibility criteria are generally the same criteria that all other federal employees must meet to continue FEHBP coverage in retirement.
This new myth that members of Congress have an "escape hatch" from Obamacare upon retirement is in keeping with Fox's ongoing attempt to manufacture Congressional "exemptions" from the law, an effort that has even been criticized by Republicans.
Right-wing media accused President Obama of unprecedented overreach resembling that of a "dictator" for the ordinary administrative agency rule-making process surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) employer mandate.
Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."