Fox News' Greta Van Susteren sat down with Rush Limbaugh for the full hour of her program last night, telling her viewers that she had secured a "rare interview" with the conservative talk radio host. Van Susteren's interrogation of Rush was anything but harsh and never touched on any of Limbaugh's ongoing contractual and advertiser problems -- pretty much what you'd expect from a Fox News interview. Her characterization of the interview as "rare," however, wasn't quite accurate. In the past, Limbaugh has indeed been reticent to appear on cable news and even boasted that any platform other than his own was a waste of his time. Something has changed: Limbaugh's July 30 interview with Van Susteren marked the third time Rush has appeared on Fox News this month.
That's a dramatic shift from Limbaugh's longstanding disregard for TV appearances. In July 2010, a caller to Rush's radio show asked him why he doesn't spend more time on TV, and Rush said it was beneath him: "I don't want to go on television shows with one-tenth the audience the radio show has, and I don't like talking with people who don't know what they're talking about and get into contrived arguments and debates where nothing is solved."
He continued in that same vein:
LIMBAUGH: I'm not going to rely on some other show or another TV network or whatever informing you. That's my job. So it's a purely psychological thing. That's why I joke around: "If I haven't said it, it hasn't been said. If I don't talk about it, it's not worth you knowing it." Plain and simple. It's not meant as an insult to anybody. In fact, it's a little inside baseball. How do I approach. This how do I do it? And that's all I meant by it. I was not insulting anybody else who does this, but I was being honest. Why should I go on a show that has 400,000 viewers? I've got that many at the corner of 59th and Madison in New York every day. Why should I waste my time on any of these shows? Plus I don't want to.
And yet, Rush has logged three Fox News interviews over the last month: On The Record on July 30 (part two of the interview will air on August 2), The Five on July 10, and Fox & Friends on July 2. A quick search of Nexis transcripts and some furious Googling showed that Rush's previous three Fox News interviews (all with Van Susteren) were spread across the previous three years, on December 14, 2011, May 26, 2011, and September 27, 2010.
It's hard to see how this shift in media strategy isn't linked to Limbaugh's troubles with Cumulus Media and their reported plans to drop his show from their 40-plus radio stations at the end of the year. The Cumulus trouble arose from the ongoing advertiser boycott Limbaugh is dealing with after his sexist and gratuitous attacks on Sandra Fluke in early 2012. Rush insists that the Cumulus fracas is no big deal and his show is doing just fine. But he's out there doing media hits on a platform that isn't his own -- a public relations move that, until recently, he insisted was demeaning and unnecessary.
Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and entitlement reform throughout the second quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many segments lacked proper context or input from economists, while some topics went largely underreported.
Throughout the first half of 2013, broadcast and cable nightly news overwhelmingly discussed Social Security in an unbalanced and negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
In the weeks leading up to an automatic doubling of federal student loan interest rates, broadcast and cable nightly and weekend news devoted little time explaining the effects of the rate hike and the expiration of other programs designed to help American students, graduates and families with increasingly high education costs.
In 2007, Congress passed a law to reduce interest rates on federal subsidized student loans, the Stafford Loan program, to 3.4 percent. The law was intended to reduce college costs and increase access to higher education. The Budget Control Act of 2011 ended several provisions of previous law; foremost setting an expiration date of July 1, 2013, for Stafford Loan interest rates. Today, those rates automatically double to their previous 6.8 percent.
Media Matters research found the looming student loan deadline has been largely ignored by major news networks in the past several weeks. Since May 23, the date the House of Representatives passed a party line student loan plan of its own, primetime and weekend television news has offered just 13 brief segments on student loan issues.
Absent from media analysis has been any real discussion of economists' recommendations for dealing with student debt. Many economists, including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, have supported various efforts to defray college costs, expand federal funding, and provide restructuring and refinancing options for student and family borrowers.
In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report on student loan affordability. It found that expanded refinancing options for student debt could have a simulative effect on economic growth, household formation and homeownership among borrowers. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York had previously found that student debt was a driving force in decreasing home and automotive purchases among recent graduates.
The rate increase set to take effect on July 1 will directly affect millions of Americans while making college less affordable for prospective students. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the higher rate could cost average borrowers more than $1,000 to take out a subsidized federal loan. College graduates are saddled with an enormous debt burden - more than $1 trillion through 2013, according to The New York Times.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Sunday and evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from May 23 through June 30. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: student loan, college loan, student debt, college debt, student, debt, loan, and college.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Evening News (CBS), Face the Nation, Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press with David Gregory, Fox News Sunday, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs (such as Anderson Cooper 360 and Hardball with Chris Matthews), only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of increasing student debt or the July 1 interest rate deadline. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, and re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5p.m. to 11p.m. window.
With their prior efforts to generate a scandal regarding the Internal Revenue Service collapsing, Fox News spent 17 minutes and 41 seconds on a federal report that found less than $20,000 of improper use of credit cards by agency employees out of more than $100 million in charges.
The report from the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration's office, released on Monday, noted that purchases made with IRS-issued credit card accounts were reviewed over a two year period ending in September of 2011. During that period, IRS had 5,241 purchase card accounts and made approximately 234,000 purchases totaling $103.2 million with the cards. In a press release, Inspector General J. Russell George said "the majority of IRS cardholders appear to use their purchase cards properly" but pointed out that the audit "identified some troubling instances of inappropriate usage."
The IG identified, based on a non-scientific sample of purchase card transactions, $3,939 in card transactions the IG considered "improper decorative and give-away items" (the IRS responded that those purchases were in fact proper under federal laws supporting purchases for training and decorative items). The IG also identified a single cardholder who "made 38 transactions totaling $2,655 for what appeared to be personal purchases."
Finally, the IG criticized $12,474 in credit card expenditures during a five-day conference that cost the government "more than 50,000"; the IRS had been authorized to spend more than double that on the week's meals, receptions, and meetings, but the IG still termed "the cost of the expenses related to this conference to be high."
Even if all of this spending was improper, which the IRS denies, it would still constitute a mere $19,068 in spending over two years.
But on Fox, this spending was treated as a major story.
Between 3:30 pm on Monday and11:30 am Tuesday, the network highlighted the improper purchases in 17 minutes and 41 seconds of coverage over seven segments - on Studio B, Special Report, On The Record, Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and Happening Now.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren lamented that "we do nothing about the poor," but has repeatedly hosted guests who have attacked the federal food stamp program, which helps keep millions out of poverty and limits the effects of poverty and unemployment.
On the June 9 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren decried a lack of attention to impoverished Americans, saying, "The thing that disturbs me is that the economy I see is a three legged stool: the rich, the middle class, and the poor. And all three have to be winning and surviving, and we do nothing about the poor. You know, we play with all these numbers and look at all the unemployment but we still aren't digging into the inner city and going into the poverty, the huge poverty at the bottom in this city."
But Van Susteren's concern for the poor is inconsistent with attacks by guests on her show on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program that is designed to keep people out of poverty.
Media coverage of the automatic spending cuts commonly known as sequestration has tapered off since the policies went into effect on March 1. This drop in coverage comes as more Americans report having personally felt the effects of the cuts.
Right-wing media figures argued that Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights at a congressional hearing by declaring her innocence before invoking those rights. By contrast, legal experts say Lerner's statement did not negate her constitutional protections.
Yesterday on Fox News, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered thanks to Fox News President Roger Ailes and his colleague Lindsay Graham (R-SC), giving them credit if heightened scrutiny of the terrorist attack in Benghazi results in "a full investigation."
Host Neil Cavuto agreed with the praise for his boss' handiwork, offering confirmation for McCain's suggestion by replying "yeah... head of this network for not letting go of this."
Graham -- appearing on Greta Van Susteren's program a few hours later -- agreed with McCain's assessment, telling the On the Record host "thank God for Fox" while also praising CBS -- presumably for the reporting of Sharyl Attkisson.
The examples of McCain and Graham serve as a reminder that the network has been an active player in the politicization of the Benghazi story from the beginning. This is part of a distinctive pattern we've previously reported at Media Matters in past attempts to flame supposed Obama administration scandals, known as the Fox Cycle.
From day one, when the network distorted a timeline of the attack to attempt to justify a press statement by Mitt Romney's campaign that in conservative writer David Frum's words attempted "to score political points on the killing of American diplomats," Fox viewed Benghazi as a way to score political points against the president.
It was Fox's Megyn Kelly who linked an Obama campaign poster to a blood-smeared wall left after the attack on the diplomatic facility.
Only two weeks after the attack, Sean Hannity claimed Obama was "covering up for Al Qaeda," a charge repeated by Eric Bolling who went on to blame the president for the attack because he had "spik[ed] the football on killing Bin Laden."
In October, Fox had already turned its attention to Hillary Clinton when network analyst Ralph Peters told Bill O'Reilly: "The blood of the ambassador and the other three Americans is on Hillary Clinton's hands."
Later in the month, the hosts of The Five criticized the president for preparing a response to the attacks because it "was too little far too late" and demonstrated "an inept foreign policy."
A few days later, the hosts of Fox & Friends opined that the president might order military action against Libya to gain the upper hand in the presidential debates.
As Election Day approached, Roger Ailes' personal lawyer and Fox News contributor Peter Johnson, Jr. told the hosts of Fox & Friends that the administration may have "sacrificed Americans" for political purposes.
Fox did not let up after the election. Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy asked if General Petraeus was "being blackmailed by the White House to toe the company line."
McCain and Graham should be thankful that Fox from the start has viewed the tragedy in Benghazi as a political weapon to use against the White House. No claim too paranoid, no attack too unseemly. They are right; without Roger Ailes' ability to generate a scandal, the media might be discussing how to ensure our diplomatic outposts are properly protected so a tragedy like what occurred on September 11, 2012, never happens again. Instead we are now in step four of the Fox Cycle -- mainstream media outlets eventually cover the story, echoing the right-wing distortions.
Step six -- the story is later proven to be false or wildly misleading, long after damage is done -- cannot come soon enough.
Evening news coverage throughout April touched upon several economic issues, including income inequality, deficit reduction, and entitlement cuts. A Media Matters analysis of this coverage reveals that many of these segments lacked proper context or necessary input from economists, while some networks ignored certain issues entirely.
From the May 15 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News devoted significantly more airtime to the Heritage Foundation's claims that providing legal status to undocumented immigrants will have negative fiscal impact, but mostly ignored pro-immigration rallies during the same period.
From the February 22 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Conservative media figures have long insisted that top marginal income tax rates effectively target small businesses. This "zombie lie" has sprung up throughout President Obama's first term as an argument against Democratic proposals to renew the Bush-era rates only for middle- and low-income Americans. Despite continual efforts by experts to debunk this claim, media figures continue to repeat these lies in the 2012 edition of the fight over high-income tax rates.
Fox News figures have tried to use an investigative panel's recent report on the Benghazi attack to congratulate their network on its coverage of the attack. But the report actually debunks several incorrect and misleading narratives Fox pushed about Benghazi.
On December 18, the independent Accountability Review Board, which was set up by the State Department to investigate the Benghazi attack, released their findings in a report that "sharply criticized the State Department" for oversights that led to insufficient security at the U.S. compound in Benghazi, as The New York Times reported.
During the December 19 broadcast of On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren asked Fox News contributor Sarah Palin for her thoughts on the report, and Palin answered, in part, "Kudos to Fox News for being the news outlet that stayed on top of this story. Americans deserve these answers." Van Susteren responded that she felt "some level of pride" for Fox's Benghazi coverage, because of "all the sort of heat we took from people, saying that it wasn't a story." She added, "[T]here's been a lot of resistance to my national security colleagues getting this information. So, I do take some pride with them."
Similarly, Fox contributor Kirsten Powers suggested on Special Report that the Benghazi report wasn't even necessary because of the program's coverage of the attack, saying, "Well, it's interesting that that report -- you could have known all that if you'd just watched this show. So, it's sort of funny that they had to do an investigation to figure all of that out."
In fact, the review board's report actually discredits Fox's coverage of the attack.