One of Fox News' more bizarre ethical violations has drawn to a close. After devoting a week of segments to promoting a Republican Senate candidate's fundraising ploy, Fox & Friends plagiarized the idea and spent another week passing it off as their own.
As Media Matters previously reported, last month Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse released a March Madness-themed competition featuring a bracket of 64 alleged Constitutional violations by the Obama administration.
Fox & Friends eagerly latched onto the "Constitutional Madness" bracket, devoting significant time to it on their March 21, 22, 24, 25, and 26 broadcasts. While promoting the Sasse campaign's bracket, both the hosts and on-screen text repeatedly credited Sasse with coming up with the idea. Fox hosts also adopted the Sasse campaign-approved branding that the Nebraska Republican is known as "the anti-Obamacare candidate."
After originally telling viewers to weigh in on Facebook and Twitter, Fox & Friends started directing viewers to vote in the competition at the Sasse-operated constitutionalmadness.com. (Sasse himself also directed viewers to visit the website during his appearance on the March 24 edition of Fox & Friends.)
The Sasse campaign was likely thrilled by the publicity boost, because the entire competition was a thinly-veiled effort to farm email addresses and solicit donations. Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com are greeted with a large "CONTRIBUTE!" button. Filling out a bracket automatically redirects people to the Sasse campaign's fundraising page, and in order to complete the bracket in the first place, you have to give the Sasse campaign your email address.
Inevitably, since filling out a bracket on March 26, Media Matters has been emailed fundraising solicitations from the Sasse campaign, including one on March 29 urging people to contribute before the end of the fundraising quarter.
But a strange thing happened in the middle of Fox & Friends' promotion of Sasse's "Constitutional Madness": the show kept running segments charting the progress of the competition, but stopped crediting Sasse for the idea. Instead, Fox & Friends started directing people to vote at their show's own website, where they had plagiarized much of the original bracket.
Over the past week, Fox & Friends has run numerous segments promoting the "Constitutional Madness" bracket created by Republican Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse. While Sasse's bracket is ostensibly an attempt to determine the worst constitutional violation among supposed Obama administration scandals, in reality it's a thinly-veiled attempt to collect donations and email addresses. Fox News liked the Sasse idea so much they eventually plagiarized it for FoxNews.com.
To coincide with the NCAA's annual March Madness basketball tournament, last week Sasse's campaign released a bracket of 64 alleged constitutional violations by the Obama administration. Sasse is a former Bush administration official running in a Republican primary to fill Mike Johanns' Senate seat in Nebraska. The bracket is made up of a panoply of Fox News-promoted pseudoscandals, including things like "death panels."
Fox & Friends has given the bracket a major publicity boost, discussing it at length on its March 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 broadcasts. During some of the segments, Fox hosts -- and Sasse himself, who appeared on March 24 -- directed viewers to the competition website and pushed people to cast a vote. The network has also hyped how "thousands of people" are voting in the competition, which has gotten "a lot of buzz" -- thanks in no small part to Fox's efforts.
Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com -- many of whom likely did so after hearing about it on Fox News' highly-rated morning show -- are greeted with a green "CONTRIBUTE!" button above the actual voting process.
In order to submit votes, visitors must give the Sasse campaign their email address, which will undoubtedly be used for later fundraising pitches. After submitting a vote, the site redirects to the Sasse campaign's donation page, with the $100.00 donation option helpfully pre-selected. Text on the landing page reads, "Thanks for playing! Will you help fight back against Constitutional overreach by making a donation to the campaign today?"
On its March 26 broadcast, the show promoted its own version of the competition and encouraged viewers to visit the Fox & Friends website to cast votes.
Much of the language on Fox's version of the bracket is pulled directly from the Sasse campaign website, but Fox offers no attribution anywhere on its site. To the contrary, Fox News claims it's "our Constitutional Madness Bracket" and "we put together a 'Constitutional Madness' bracket." Fox also lifted language from other sources in writing "background" information about the alleged constitutional violations.
Fox News of course has routinely worked to bolster the political ambitions of Republicans, including those on its own staff. But even by the network's warped ethical standards, its week-long promotion of Sasse's campaign ploy has been egregious.
In 2010, the Democratic Governors Association filed a complaint (later dismissed) against Fox News after the network ran the campaign web address of former Fox employee and then Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich.
A rundown of Fox's "Constitutional Madness" hype is below.
Conservative media's recent smear that surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is controversial because he supports doctors discussing safe gun ownership with their patients is curious given frequent complaints from right-wing media -- albeit false -- that health care reform posed a threat to the inviolable doctor-patient relationship.
Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 has been missing since March 8, and the search for its whereabouts has consumed media attention worldwide. But to Fox News, the missing airliner is reminiscent of Benghazi.
Conservative media have repeatedly attempted to link the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, to a variety of unrelated events, often invoking the tragedy to attack President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or to deflect conservatives from scrutiny. Inside the right-wing bubble, the Chris Christie bridge scandal, Yom Kippur, Monday Night Football, and even openly gay NFL prospect Michael Sam are all opportunities to invoke Benghazi.
It was only a matter of time before Fox brought the same mentality to its coverage of the missing plane:
Just days after concluding a smear campaign against highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile's nomination to the Department of Justice, the right-wing media began working to tar Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, as a "radical" for suggesting that gun violence is a public health issue.
In recent months, conservative media figures have undermined efforts by labor groups to organize across the United States, demonizing labor unions in the process. These anti-union attacks are largely reliant on myths alleging negative side-effects of union participation.
From the March 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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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.
Fox News continued to attack the Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney selected to investigate the IRS targeting scandal because she has donated money to President Obama's past campaigns, ignoring the fact that it is illegal for DOJ to take such donations into consideration in assigning investigators.
Last year, Obama announced an investigation into claims that the IRS was unfairly targeting conservative non-profit groups. Barbara Bosserman, senior legal counsel of the DOJ's civil rights division, was selected to head up the investigation. Despite Bosserman's extensive qualifications, right-wing media have been quick to call her objectivity into question based on the unremarkable fact that she is one of the millions of Americans who contribute to Democratic political candidates. Right-wing media also ignored the fact that it would be illegal for the DOJ to take her political affiliations into consideration when managing her professional advancement.
In a January 10 segment on Fox & Friends, Fox contributor and attorney Peter Johnson, Jr. joined host Steve Doocy to complain that, regardless of the outcome, the DOJ's investigation of the IRS is "tainted" because of Bosserman's campaign contributions.
JOHNSON: The Justice Department says, don't look at those campaign contributions. Let us look at what those campaign contributions are, totaling about $6,000.
So Ms. Bosserman, who I'm sure is a fine lawyer, is tainted by these contributions. Tainted by these contributions. And so we expect her to put all of that aside, put all her political procliviites aside, and say "I'm going to be fair now, to this. I'm for the president, I've given repeatedly, but I'm going to give these poor tea party people -- who have been screwed over, big time -- a fair shake."
DOOCY: You know, this would be like -- with the Chris Christie thing, a US Attorney is looking into it, who is appointed by Barack Obama -- this would be like Chris Christie appointing somebody to investigate the bridge thing.
JOHNSON: You don't have to go to law school, all you have to have is a sense of fairness and justice, and ethics, and a sense of Americanism. Now the DOJ says, "No it's OK, we can do this. A spokeswoman said, "it is contrary to department policy and a prohibited personnel practice under federal law to consider the political affiliation of career employees or other non-merit factors in making personnel decisions." So what they're saying is, that person could give $15,000, $20,000 --
DOOCY: A million!
Johnson and Doocy quickly dismiss the DOJ's explanation that it would be a violation of federal law for the agency to remove Bosserman from the investigation based on her political leanings. But their skepticism of DOJ is completely unfounded, and it is their suggestion of discriminating against Bosserman that is both improper and illegal.
At what point will Fox News stop conflating anti-gay bigotry and Christian religious belief?
Phil Robertson, one of the stars of A&E's Duck Dynasty, has been put on indefinite hiatus by the network following criticism of a number of anti-gay and racist remarks he made in an interview with GQ. In the interview, Robertson refers to homosexuality as a "sin," comparing it to bestiality and calling gay sex illogical:
"It seems like, to me, a vagina--as a man--would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me.I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."
"Everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong," he says. "Sin becomes fine."
What, in your mind, is sinful?
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men," he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: "Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers--they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."
In the aftermath of his anti-gay comments, several Fox News employees have rushed to Robertson's defense, depicting him as a run-of-the-mill Christian who espoused mainstream Christian theology. Host Sean Hannity described Robertson's comments as "old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values." Fox reporter Todd Starnes claimed his comments reflected "the teachings of the Bible." And Fox Business' Dennis Kneale claimed Robertson had just "stated his religious beliefs."
But not everyone at Fox News is so quick to accept Robertson's anti-gay comments as what they believe to be basic Christian dogma. During the December 18 edition of Hannity, Fox News analyst Peter Johnson Jr. seemed hesitant to describe Robertson's remarks as "religious," saying, "I wouldn't accept that that's a religious view":
From the December 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News has stoked outrage over the plan changes in the individual health insurance market, charging Obama with "government malpractice" and calling him a liar for supposedly not informing people that plans would change. But Fox's hyperbolic attacks ignore the fact that these changes are not only common in the individual market, but also that the administration announced them years ago.
Fox News misled on the current budget negotiations with the canard that President Obama was more willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani than meet with congressional Republicans, though Obama has said publicly that he will work with the GOP on reasonable budget proposals and it is not confirmed that he will meet with Rouhani.
On the September 23 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy attempted to obscure the debate over the looming government shutdown with a misleading analogy, citing reports that Obama might meet with Rouhani and contrasting them with Obama's supposed unwillingness to "meet with Republicans to discuss and negotiate over the debt limit." Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. repeated the allegation, calling the president's approach "topsy turvy" and claiming he needed to "focus on the real enemy." Fox then aired a brief clip from Obama's August 20 speech at the Ford stamping plant in Liberty, Missouri, claiming the speech demonstrated that Obama was more interested in attacking the GOP than working with them.
In fact, during the same speech, Obama emphasized his willingness to work with Republicans to find a reasonable compromise on the debt ceiling and budget:
Democrats and some reasonable Republicans in Congress are willing to raise the debt ceiling and pass a sensible budget. And I want to work with Democrats and Republicans to do just that.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also explained Obama's willingness to negotiate on reasonable budget proposals (emphasis added):
So I think what the President said goes to what we've been discussing earlier, which is, when it comes to reaching a broader budget agreement, the President has consistently been willing to seek common ground and to make reasonable concessions to Republicans and to their priorities. What he has not been willing to do is stick it to the middle class in order to achieve some of their ideological agenda priorities, and reach a compromise that benefits the wealthy and corporations, rewards insurance companies, but doesn't help the middle class -- in fact, hurts the middle class.
Furthemore, the Wall Street Journal reported on September 23 that Secretary of State John Kerry would meet with the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the U.N., but suggestions that Obama may meet with Rouhani remain unconfirmed. As Reuters reported:
White House spokesman Jay Carney has deflected questions all week about whether the two leaders would meet during the U.N. gathering. On Thursday, he acknowledged a change in tone between Iran and the West since Rouhani took office and said a meeting was possible, though one was not scheduled.
"It's possible, but it has always been possible," Carney said. "The extended hand has been there from the moment the president was sworn in."
Even if Obama were to meet with Rouhani, the administration has been clear that Iran must abandon any nuclear program. From Reuters:
Carney reiterated that Obama would be willing to have bilateral negotiations provided the Iranians were serious about addressing the international community's insistence that Tehran give up its nuclear weapons program.
"That is the position we hold today," Carney said.
Fox News is attempting to manufacture another Obama administration scandal by fearmongering about letters sent to small businesses asking them to explain discrepancies in revenue -- the result of a policy change made under the George W. Bush administration.
The August 15 edition of Fox & Friends reported that the Internal Revenue Service had sent letters to certain small businesses, asking them to explain why their revenue showed a disproportionately high number of credit and debit card transactions. Guest co-host Peter Johnson Jr. called the letters "unsettling" before playing a clip of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) tying the story to the improper targeting of certain political groups by the IRS. While Johnson admitted that "it happened in the past," the show continued to fearmonger about the letters, asking, "Are there other illegal things that are going on? Chairman Issa and U.S. attorneys are looking at the IRS, and there's some inference and implication that there may be":
But the IRS letters have nothing to do with political ideology. The Washington Post reported that the letters were sent out based on collected information about credit and debit card transactions:
Fox News ridiculed a rise in group doctor visits as the network claimed that it will become more prevalent with the continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But Fox's coverage of this trend ignored reporting that group treatment can be a successful strategy for reducing healthcare costs and improving patients' health.
On the August 18 edition of Fox & Friends, guest host Peter Johnson, Jr. introduced one of the show's regular "Who's Ruining The Economy" segments with the question: "[I]s less one on one time with your doctor going to be the new future under Obamacare?" before welcoming Fox News contributor Charles Payne on to discuss the increasing trend of doctors offering group appointments. After Johnson ridiculed the group doctor visits as "group therapy ... people sitting around in underwear talking about their problems," Payne predicted that it would be one of the "gimmicks" that the ACA would come to rely on to address doctor shortages as health insurance enrollment increases:
PAYNE: And these numbers, I think, are probably underscoring what's gonna really happen. Because you and I know a lot of doctors who are saying you know I want to opt out of this whole thing completely, I'll just take cash. I mean, the best doctors will be able to command cash payments from good patients, or well-off patients. So, the reality is that those numbers are probably going to be significantly higher. And again, the gimmicks will be group therapy. The gimmicks will be, you know what, I can't see you but my nurse has been with me for a long time. She's equally qualified.
Fox neglected to mention that group doctor visits have been shown to be effective at improving doctors' efficiency and the standard of care that some patients receive.
As Johnson noted, group appointments have been on the rise in recent years. In 2005, just 5.7 percent of family physicians offered group sessions, but by 2010, the number had more than doubled to 12.7 percent. Dr. Edward Noffsinger, a physician who advises others on how to implement group appointments, says that patients have highlighted the advantages of the joint care. "Patients like the diversity of issues discussed," he told Kaiser Health News, adding, "they like getting 2 hours with their doctor." Patients may also learn more in a group setting, Kaiser Health News reported: "[d]octors say patients may learn more from each other than they do from physicians."
Research has shown that group appointments can improve the quality of care that patients receive. NPR highlighted an Italian trial of more than 800 type 2 diabetes patients which found that those randomly assigned to participate in group appointments for period of four years "had lower blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass indexes." And according to Time, "[a]bout 85% of patients who try shared medical appointments don't go back to individual visits for everything from diabetes care to weight loss, physicals and skin cancer issues." Time also noted that "[w]hile group visits cost about the same as individual ones, if patients receive more information and are better able to improve and protect their health, they are less likely to develop serious medical conditions that require expensive care later on."