Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr., used a severely ill girl to smear health care reform with falsehoods.
After spending months on a pediatric donor list without success, on June 12, Sarah Murnaghan, a 10 year old diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, received a needed lung transplant. This follows her family's successfully petition to the Department of Health and Human Services and the federal judiciary to have her placed on an adult transplant list. Murnaghan was initially placed a pediatric organ transplant wait list as opposed to an adult transplant wait list, due to her age. NYU medical ethicist Art Caplan explained the purpose behind different transplant lists to USA Today: "Adult lungs don't fit well in children's bodies, and that makes it hard to transplant them. You are looking at using a piece of lung instead of a whole lung, and that makes it makes it a more difficult procedure and less likely to work." Fox's Peter Johnson, Jr., took a personal interest in Murnaghan's attempt to be placed on an adult transplant list.
Johnson politicized Murnaghan's difficult situation by dubiously asserting that her difficulty with receiving the lung would be commonplace once health care reform is fully implemented. He baselessly reasoned that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a board created by the health care reform law and designed to contain Medicare costs would deny some people the health care they need, claiming that this was his "fear going forward":
JOHNSON Jr.: I think the lesson of Sarah, the Murnaghan and the Ruddock family is that a lot of us, going forward are going to face this type of travail. When you have advisory boards like the organ advisory board, when you have independent advisory boards that are created by Congress under Obamacare to reduce Medicare, when you have boards appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Service, when you politicize medicine, girls like Sarah, boys like Javier Acosta may die when they shouldn't die. And so that's really the lesson of Sarah.
And the question that we all face as Americans going forward, are we going to have to hire lawyers? Are we going to have to call people at Fox News? Are we going to have to stand out in front of hospitals and in front of Washington offices and say, please give us the health care that the doctors say we can provide, but you are holding back. That is my fear going forward. So a lot on the left are saying 'oh you want to make this about death panels. Sarah would've died, but for public attention and a pro bono law firm. And so I'm afraid what we're facing as a result of Obamacare is new Obamacare courts where hundreds of thousands of Americans will have to go into court and get the health care that they need. That's my great fear this morning.
Contrary to what Johnson says, IPAB is prohibited by law from making "any recommendation to ration health care ... or otherwise restrict benefits" for Medicare recipients. Indeed, PolitiFact Ohio found the claim that IPAB "can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments to be a "pants-on-fire" level falsehood.
In using Sarah Murnaghan's situation to attack Obamacare, Johnson Jr. does the very thing he decried; he "politicize[d] medicine."
Fox News distorted remarks from White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer to falsely claim the Obama administration felt recent controversies involving the IRS and the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, were "irrelevant." Pfeiffer's full comments made clear, however, that the administration felt the IRS targeting particular groups was "inexcusable" and that the President was fully engaged during the Benghazi attacks.
On May 19, Pfeiffer appeared on five Sunday talk shows to discuss evidence that the IRS unduly scrutinized conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Fox & Friends aired a short portion of Pfeiffer's remarks from his appearance on ABC News' This Week out of context to claim Pfeiffer had dismissed the scandal, with Fox News analyst Peter Johnson Jr. claiming that Pfeiffer said, "[i]t's not relevant that the IRS is looking at people's tea party affiliations and violating their First Amendment rights." On-screen text claimed Pfeiffer defended "scandals as 'irrelevant'":
However, Pfeiffer's full remarks reveal that he said the IRS targeting certain groups was "outrageous and inexcusable" whether it was legal or illegal, and that the administration was committed to ensuring such targeting does not happen again regardless of the Department of Justice's final assessment of legality. From ABC's This Week (portion aired on Fox News highlighted in bold):
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does the president believe? Does the president believe that would be illegal?
PFEIFFER: I can't speak the law -- the law here, but the law is irrelevant. The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and needs to be -- we need it to be fixed, so we can ensure it never happens again.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't really mean the law is irrelevant, do you?
PFEIFFER: What -- what I mean is that whether it's legal, or illegal is -- is not important to the fact that it -- that, the conduct as a matter. The Department of Justice said they're looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it doesn't happen again regardless of how that turns out.
Pfeiffer's condemnation of the IRS reflected President Obama's statement released on May 14 definitively calling the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable," and Obama's firing of Steven Miller, the IRS acting commissioner, over the agency's actions.
Fox News and Fox Business previously portrayed electric carmaker Tesla Motors as another "failure" of the Obama administration's green energy investments. But since it is now clear that the company is doing well, both networks have developed amnesia about its federal loan, with Tucker Carlson claiming that "they don't take any government subsidies at all."
Tesla recently reiterated its plans to repay a loan granted through the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program ahead of schedule. This followed a series of positive developments, including the company's first quarterly profits and a shining review of the Model S sedan by Consumer Reports. Financial services firm Morgan Stanley recently told Raw Story that "Many funds approach an investment opportunity by first asking: does the company do something better or cheaper than anybody else? Tesla is beginning to convince the market it may do both."
But no matter how Tesla fares in the coming years, it seems likely that Fox News will change its reporting to follow suit. In 2012, Fox News' claim that Tesla was a "failed" company was eventually adopted by the campaign of then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Later, Fox News admitted Tesla was a "success", eventually forgetting its federal loan in the process.
Video created by Max Greenberg and John Kerr.
From the May 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the April 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News is now acknowledging that Tesla Motors is a "success story," but only a year ago the network declared the company "failed." This distortion played into its attempts to boost then-presidential nominee Mitt Romney's claim that President Barack Obama only "pick[s] the losers."
Discussing the Obama administration's investments in green technology, Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett recently stated that Tesla is a "success story," and Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs acknowledged on Monday night that it is one of the "winners." Tesla recently announced that it made a profit in the first quarter of 2013 after exceeding sales goals for its electric sedan, and the company plans on paying back its Department of Energy loan guarantee five years early.
But an oft-aired Fox News graphic previously listed Tesla as "failed," a claim that Romney later echoed. In fact, several of the companies that Fox News declared "failed" are still successfully operating (circled in green), and contributing to technological advances that could help us transition to a clean energy economy, as can be seen in this interactive graphic created with ThingLink:
The companies circled in yellow did not actually receive any funds from the loan guarantee programs, instead receiving either grants, tax credits, or no federal funds at all. Nevada Geothermal Power's project, at far left and not circled in the graphic above, is still operating and part of the 87 percent of loan guarantee funds under the 1705 program awarded to projects that experts say pose almost no risk to the taxpayer. By lumping all of these programs together from the more than 1,460 companies that have received such awards, Fox News was able to paint a distorted picture of the Obama administration's energy policies.
A Fox News analyst invoked the discredited "death panels" myth to stoke fears that cancer clinics are turning away patients as a result of the 2010 health care reform law, even as those clinics say they are being forced to turn away patients because of automatic across-the-board budget cuts that took effect last month.
On April 3, Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post's WonkBlog reported that thousands of cancer patients will be turned away from clinics for chemotherapy treatment because of automatic cuts to Medicare:
Cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts.
Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially.
Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them.
On April 5, Fox News analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss the story and blamed not only sequestration, but President Obama's health care reform law, saying: "This is about people dying as a result of Obamacare and as a result of the sequester." Johnson then claimed that Medicare growth reduction, which is in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), would lead to similar problems for Medicare patients. Later, Johnson used this situation to push the right-wing myths about "death panels" under the ACA.
Johnson's claim that the ACA resulted in cancer patients losing chemotherapy treatment is groundless. The Post's Kliff explained in her post how sequestration is solely responsible for this reduction in care:
Legislators meant to partially shield Medicare from the automatic budget cuts triggered by the sequester, limiting the program to a 2 percent reduction -- a fraction of the cuts seen by other federal programs.
But oncologists say the cut is unexpectedly damaging for cancer patients because of the way those treatments are covered.
Medications for seniors are usually covered under the optional Medicare Part D, which includes private insurance. But because cancer drugs must be administered by a physician, they are among a handful of pharmaceuticals paid for by Part B, which covers doctor visits and is subject to the sequester cut.
After promoting anecdotes from a firefighter to claim that polar bears are "doing just fine," Fox News has ignored new research that confirms they are still existentially threatened by climate change. This divide in coverage is illustrative of what University of Alberta scientist Dr. Ian Stirling called a "new element" of media -- "the deliberately misleading, and sometimes downright dishonest, treatment of the science around polar bears when it relates to climate warming." In conversations with Media Matters, Stirling and other leading polar bear scientists outlined eight tips for media outlets seeking to accurately cover the plight of the polar bears.
In February, Fox News repeatedly promoted a book by firefighter Zac Unger on his time in Churchill, Manitoba to claim that "the polar bears are doing just fine." Even though bears in that region are actually among the subpopulations in decline, Fox News suggested that the book undermined climate science. Dr. Andrew Derocher, a scientific advisor to Polar Bears International, called that premise "flawed" and told Media Matters that "scientific literature shows very clearly the loss of sea ice in the satellite record and the projections (many many scientific papers) show that the future will be particularly challenging for polar bears as the sea ice disappears." He added, "I've worked on polar bears for 30 years and the changes are incredibly easy to see but as scientists, we don't just look at bears, we measure them and analyze the data."
Stirling criticized Unger for "a very sad piece of deliberately misleading and dishonest writing" that "tells only parts of the story that suit him." Similarly, Derocher said it was "unfortunate" when "someone who clearly doesn't understand a subject well botches up the science." Furthermore, media should not rely on anecdotal information when there is "a lot of data" on sea ice and polar bear body condition. He added:
The book you mentioned was written by someone who spent a few months in 1 place with his family talking to people. What I did on my last trip to Kentucky doesn't qualify me to rewrite the history [of] the eastern US. I've worked on polar bears for 30 years. Many of my colleagues for even longer. You don't go to a plumber for heart surgery but when it comes to polar bears "everybody is an expert". In science, an expert has to demonstrate expertise. Hanging around in Churchill for a few months talking to the locals doesn't qualify as an expert. Our last paper on polar bears in Conservation Letters had something like 200 years of cumulative polar bear expertise. How it can be that media put the scientific perspective on par with a casual observer is beyond me.
In fact, some reports that rely on polar bear sightings to conclude they are doing "fine" may be unwittingly underscoring the urgency of sea ice melt. As lost habitat drives bears from their hunting grounds, they sometimes wander into towns and garbage dumps. This may lead to more contact with humans, and an overall impression that polar bears are abundant, even to the point of being a nuisance. In fact, as Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, a former polar bear project leader at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), told Media Matters, a bear sighting in a new place "probably means the bears are having a hard time making a living where they used to make a living."
Unger promoted the popular media claim that polar bear populations have increased -- or are even "exploding" -- since the 1960s or 1970s, but those reports omit necessary context. Many of the starting-point estimates are based on a Russian calculation from the 1950s -- 5,000-8,000 bears -- that has never been broadly accepted by scientists. Amstrup told Media Matters that "we really don't know how many polar bears there were in the 60s [or 70s]" and it is "important to set the record straight." In 2008, Stirling told then-CNN Executive Producer for Science Peter Dykstra that the estimate was "almost certainly much too low."
In some places, thanks to conservation efforts like the Marine Mammal Protection Act and a subsequent international agreement, it does appear that polar bear populations have increased. According to Amstrup, Alaskan populations are a good example of such managed recovery. But in other areas, such as western Hudson Bay and the southern Beaufort Sea, populations are thought to be declining. And as Derocher pointed out, conservation biology is concerned with the future, normally examining issues three generations down the road. By this measure, polar bears are indeed in trouble, and looking back to the 1960s or 70s makes no sense:
What climate deniers like to pull out is that there are more polar bears now than in the 1960s. That doesn't matter and just because we've corrected excessive harvest rates (commercial hunting for example) in the 1960s doesn't make this argument any more relevant to the conservation of the species today moving forward in time.
Amstrup echoed this point, saying "the population on the Titanic was doing just fine until just before it slipped beneath the waves." Overall, the USGS has projected that changes in Arctic ice conditions could result in "loss of approximately 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century."
From the January 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the January 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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The right-wing media are claiming that the "liberal agenda" President Obama outlined in his second inaugural address is out of the mainstream, even though polling has shown that the majority of Americans agree with Obama's stances on marriage equality, sustainable energy, and other issues.
Fox News analyst Peter Johnson Jr. falsely claimed that President Obama neglected to highlight economic problems such as poverty or joblessness in his second inaugural address.
Johnson appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss Obama's second inaugural address, calling it a "hard-left manifesto." But while he argued that Obama outlined "a very bizarre, disordered priority of what our national interests were," Johnson dishonestly criticized Obama for not addressing poverty, unemployment, and economic uncertainty.
In fact, the president did mention poverty, the insecurity that comes with job loss, and the economic fears many Americans share:
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. (Applause.) We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. (Applause.)
We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. (Applause.) For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.
We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. (Applause.) They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. (Applause.)
After President Obama announced an executive action clarifying that doctors are permitted -- but not required -- to discuss gun safety with patients, conservatives in the media trumpeted a number of falsehoods, including the baseless claim that Obama is requiring doctors to report all gun owners to law enforcement.
From the December 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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A Fox News contributor who network CEO Roger Ailes reportedly uses to communicate his views on-air suggested that he might support new gun laws in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
Peter Johnson, Jr., a Fox News legal analyst, said that "the government has the right to register and regulate... firearms" and suggested that we should consider restricting ownership of assault weapons in light of recent events during a monologue on the December 18 edition of Fox & Friends.
JOHNSON: People have the right under the Second Amendment to own firearms. The government has the right to register and regulate those firearms. At the same time we need to be thinking about where should we be allocating law enforcement resources. How can we better register?
Let's look at AK-47s and AR-15s. The numbers show that it's a small portion of the deaths and violence in America. But it's a high portion, it's a high proportion of these mass violence episodes. Let's look at everything in a dispassionate, smart, objective way that protects Americans and protects the Constitution both.
During the same segment, Johnson suggested that Americans should also examine the "entertainment industry" because of their support for "videos." The Washington Post has noted that data show no correlation between video game spending per capita and gun-related homicides.
Johnson's role at Fox is reportedly much greater than a typical contributor. In addition to his regular appearances on Fox & Friends, Johnson serves as Ailes' personal attorney, confers regularly with the Fox chief and is reportedly the outlet Ailes uses to channel his views on the network.