Right-wing media are dismissing President Obama's and Congressional Democrats' work on filibuster reform, a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and immigration reform as merely attempts to distract from the Affordable Care Act.
Fox News uncritically aired attacks on the approval of an environmental science textbook by the Texas Education Agency, saying its passage will "push particular viewpoints" as a result of "socialized education." But the textbook's passage had nothing to do with the Common Core Standards, and simply contains scientifically accurate information about hydraulic fracturing and climate change.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) approved a textbook titled Environmental Science to be on its list of recommended science textbooks last week, despite testimony from oil and gas advocate Becky Berger who claimed that the book is full of inaccuracies and "very one-sided." On November 25, Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy interviewed Cynthia Dunbar formerly of the Texas State Board of Education, who fears that the passage of the scientifically accurate textbook is evidence that Common Core standards will beget "indoctrination through our textbooks."
Berger complained in the hearing that Environmental Science was full of "misleading, inaccurate and partial explanations" on the subjects of climate change, wind power, ozone layer depletion, and hydraulic fracturing risks. Berger, an oil and gas geologist who grew up deeply involved in the energy industry, claimed that the textbook in question misleads on the risks of hydraulic fracturing to water supplies. She reportedly spent two hours evaluating the book and provided "no actual written documentation to back up her claims," contrasting the months-long evaluation process from the state's official review teams, which did not find any substantive factual errors in the textbook. The review panel "identified three minor errors, but none of them having to do with the substance of the textbook," the Texas Tribune reported. However, this did not stop Doocy from suggesting that Berger's testimony was "disqualified" solely because she is currently "running for office as a Republican" to be Texas railroad commissioner.
Meanwhile, Common Core Standards have not been enacted in the state of Texas, something that Dunbar even pointed out during her interview with Doocy; the hearing was held by a state agency to approve new science textbooks in Texas public schools. However, Dunbar then advised citizens to be concerned about "socialized education," as textbook publishing companies "gear towards" the Common Core standards. In fact, Common Core currently doesn't have any specified regulations for textbooks; its website explains that the standards are designed simply to "enable collaboration between states on a range of tools and policies, including [...] the development of textbooks, digital media and other teaching materials aligned to the standards."
This is not the first time Fox has fretted over environmental education in public schools; when the Environmental Protection Agency hosted lesson plans on climate change, Fox Business cried "propaganda."
Fox News highlighted a Republican senator's dismissal of a deal with Iran that stalls the country's nuclear enrichment capabilities to frame the agreement as nothing but a distraction from problems with the Affordable Care Act.
As The Washington Post reported, Iran and six major countries reached a "historic deal that freezes key parts of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief on some economic sanctions." Conservative media have already compared the negotiations with Iran to British appeasement of Nazi aggression in the 1930s. Now, after Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted in reaction to the deal's announcement "[a]mazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care," Fox News is promoting Cornyn's take.
On Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Heather Childers said "the nuke deal has dominated political talk, which means focus has shifted away from Obamacare. This now sparking many to believe that it is yet another attempt to distract from the disastrous rollout and the looming deadline to get the site up and running at full speed." Reporter Peter Doocy highlighted Cornyn's tweet, saying he "looks at the whole announcement very suspiciously."
Later on Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy also parroted the argument during an interview with White House deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken, saying that "some" were critical of the proposal and had suggested that the White House was "trying to change the subject," and shift the conversation away from health care. From Fox & Friends (emphasis added):
DOOCY: Right, Tony, some people are skeptical, a little critical. They're going, why now? Oh, maybe because so they're trying to change the subject, Obamacare not working out. President's approval at 38 percent. What do you say?
BLINKEN: Well, I don't do health care, but I think we can probably figure out a way to insure tens of millions of Americans and prevent Iran from getting the bomb at the same time. The fact of the matter is, this was growing urgent. Iran was advancing down all three lines of activity. We wanted to stop that. We wanted to stop the program, and we wanted to see if we could get a comprehensive deal that resolves this once and for all. That's exactly what we now have the opportunity to do.
Such a claim ignores the facts behind the deal. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Obama promised years ago to engage with Iran about its nuclear program, and months of meetings were conducted to pave the way for the deal, beginning in March -- well before HealthCare.gov launched on October 1. And the deal with Iran is not the first action by the administration or Congress that Fox has called a distraction from Obamacare.
Fox News hosts and guests have been especially disciplined in pushing the Republican Party talking point that the vote yesterday in the U.S. Senate to reform filibusters on judicial nominees was nothing more than a Democratic "distraction" to shift attention away from President Obama's troubled health care roll-out.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell first introduced the talking point Thursday afternoon and Fox News has been loyally parroting it ever since.
"It does appear it is a distraction from the Affordable Care Act debacle," Steve Doocy announced this morning on Fox & Friends. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck later agreed, insisting the American people are "wise to the fact" that filibuster reform is a mere "distraction."
According to Obama's opponents, the vote taken yesterday to change the Senate rules in the wake of blanket Republican obstructionism, was actually part of an elaborate White House political strategy. That explanation leaves out the fact that simmering fight over nominations has been a decade in the making, not something the White House invented for political cover.
It also omits the fact that Democratic leaders had threatened to amend the filibuster rules for most of 2013, and that they were prompted to finally take action by yet another round of Republican filibusters blocking Obama judicial nominees over the past few weeks. While nominees have in the past been blocked due to lack of qualifications or ideological extremism, Republicans have largely eschewed these criticisms, instead stating flat out that for political reasons they don't want to allow President Obama to fill seats on a critical bench with anyone at all.
But what's especially ironic is that the "distraction" charge is being peddling by Fox News during the same week it played host to its latest gold-plated distraction, the mean-spirited claim that President Obama failed to attend the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's Gettysburg address out of some sort resentment of America. (The right-wing media accompanied that distraction with the hollow allegation that Obama purposefully omitted the phrase "under God" when reciting the Gettysburg Address for a YouTube video posting.)
Fox hosts questioned Obama's sense of honor by refusing to attend the Civil War anniversary ceremony. ("Maybe he thought he'd be shown up," said Greta Van Susteren,) They claimed Obama's "snubbing" was deliberate and offensive, yet carefully omitted the fact that only one U.S. president in the last 150 years had traveled to Gettysburg on the date of the Lincoln anniversary. (Nonetheless it was "a big deal" Obama didn't attend.)
Fox News claimed the Obamacare rollout has "clearly" been worse for the American people than the government shutdown, because the shutdown's "biggest inconvenience" was a few closed national parks and memorials -- ignoring the shutdown's cuts to domestic violence centers, women and children's food and health care, stalled scientific research, and severe economic losses.
On the November 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and Fox legal analyst Andrew Napolitano held a "pop quiz" to determine "[w]hich was more harmful to your personal freedoms," Obamacare or the government shutdown? Both decided that there was no contest: Doocy proclaimed that Obamacare was "clearly" worse than the "slimdown," and Napolitano agreed that it was "[n]ot even a close call." As evidence, Napolitano pointed out that "the biggest inconvenience" of the government shutdown was "a couple hundred well-intended people trying to get into national parks and monuments and the government had closed them." In contrast, he claimed that Obamacare hurts people by forcing them to buy expensive "high end, one-size-fits-all" health insurance policies.
Fox's faulty comparison ignored the significant impacts of the government shutdown, which harmed the economy and slashed funding to necessary programs for low-income Americans.
Because of the shutdown, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a program that helps provide health care for at-risk babies and "helps new mothers feed themselves and their babies properly," saw its funding slashed, and states that were unable to lend the program local funds were forced to stop accepting enrollees. The shutdown also cut federal funding to at least 2,000 shelters for victims of domestic abuse, workplace safety inspections were halted, federal workers stopped inspecting toxic waste sites, and the CDC stopped monitoring the spread of the flu. National Geographic further reported that the shutdown caused long-term setbacks in scientific research, and The Washington Post detailed how the shutdown's fallout cost low-income workers their economic stability.
The shutdown also did lasting damage to the U.S. economy. Moody's Analytics estimated that the shutdown "cut real GDP by $20 billion, shaving half a percentage point off growth in the fourth quarter," according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report. CRS also noted that "JP Morgan Chase's chief economist was quoted as estimating that the shutdown reduced fourth quarter growth by 0.5 percentage points, with half the reduction attributable to lower government spending and half to 'spillover effects and lost activity' in the rest of the economy." The shutdown also eroded consumer confidence and may have derailed our gradual economic recovery, and economists argue that the shutdown will have lingering effects on the labor market and overall economy for several months.
Napolitano's argument that "5,500,000 innocent Americans were told they don't - they won't have health insurance on January 1st" is also inaccurate. Fox has repeatedly worked to hide the fact that rather than losing coverage outright, most of these consumers are simply being offered new, often better, options because policies will be required to include basic standards of care. Moreover, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, though rocky, has successfully allowed hundreds of thousands of Americans to sign up for Medicaid.
Fox News cherry-picked from reports by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General to single out undocumented immigrants for improperly benefitting from Medicare drug benefits, taking the opportunity to smear them as "illegal aliens." However, undocumented immigrants are partially responsible for keeping Medicare solvent.
On October 30, the OIG released reports showing that Medicare inappropriately paid out millions in benefits for dead patients and drug benefits for undocumented immigrants. But in highlighting the reports, Fox News reported only on the Medicare drug benefits data in an apparent attempt to demonize undocumented immigrants.
On the November 11 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade teased the segment by saying, "Many Americans can't even get prescriptions they need but illegal immigrants are getting them for free. Who's paying for that?" Co-host Steve Doocy followed with a short report noting that $29 million is "how much the federal government spent on prescription drugs for illegal aliens as part of the federal Medicare Part D program." He added: "Great."
But Fox News' reporting on the OIG reports ignored important facts -- the first being that undocumented immigrants are indeed paying some of the payroll taxes that sustain Medicare.
In fact, a Harvard study released in May found that undocumented immigrants are keeping the federal health care program partially solvent to the tune of $14 billion a year -- even as native-born Americans accounted for a $31 billion deficit to the program. As Bloomberg News reported:
Immigrants to the U.S. contributed $115.2 billion more to the Medicare Trust Fund during the past decade than they withdrew, casting doubt on criticism they overburden the health plan, Harvard University researchers said.
The data, published in the journal Health Affairs, suggest immigrants, mainly those without U.S. citizenship, help subsidize the nation's health program for the elderly and disabled. While American-born citizens took $30.9 billion out of Medicare in 2009 alone, immigrants provided a surplus of $13.8 billion that year. The study looked at data from 2002 to 2009.
The findings undermine the belief that immigrants are a drain on the U.S. health-care system, a key issue in the debate about immigration reform, the researchers said. In 2009, payments from immigrants and their employers accounted for 14.7 percent of payments to Medicare, while their expenses represented 7.9 percent of its costs, the study found.
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.
Republican and conservative media figures lauded a report from CBS' 60 Minutes on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, using it to advance their attacks on the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. But that report has since come under fire following the revelation that the piece's key Benghazi "eyewitness" had previously claimed he was nowhere near the compound on the night of the attack.
Right-wing media are ignoring the dangers of underinsurance in their attacks on the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) requirement that new insurance plans offer at least a minimum level of coverage, including ten "essential health benefits."
Research has shown that medical costs contribute to a high percentage of bankruptcies filed in the U.S, and a 2007 study from Harvard University found that more than three-quarters of people with medical debt had health insurance. Beginning January 1, 2014, the ACA will begin to tamp down on the type of "swiss cheese" coverage that can leave consumers facing catastrophic health costs by requiring that all health plans on the new health care exchanges cover ten "essential health benefits" that will provide consumers with a basic level of coverage for things like hospitalization, prescription drugs, mental health services, and preventative care.
Right-wing media are attacking this shift toward providing an improved health insurance product and insisting that insufficient insurance is not a problem. An October 30 Wall Street Journal editorial blasted the change as "command-and-control regulation" and said "Democrats are openly instructing adults that they don't know what's best for their own good." In his own October 30 column, the Journal's deputy editorial page editor, Daniel Henninger, wrote called the push for increased consumer protection "progressive coercion," emblematic of "politics by cramdown."
During the October 31 Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and Fox Business host Stuart Varney obscured the dangers of "cut-rate" insurance plans to characterize the administration's claim that the insufficient levels of coverage in some existing plans led insurers to tell policyholders that they had to change their coverage as "flat-out outrageous" -- even though a study published in Health Affairs found that, in 2010, more than half of Americans who purchased their own insurance had plans that fell short of ACA standards. Later in the show, Doocy and Fox Business host John Stossel bashed the health care law's requirements for new insurance policies:
DOOCY: Now we're going to have to buy insurance that is up to the government's standard even though maybe we would rather just save money.
STOSSEL: We chose those policies and yet the president says you didn't choose well, I need to choose for you.
These attacks all ignore the consequences of being underinsured, which carry many of the same risks as having no insurance at all. According to Kaiser Health News, some uninsured people "avoid going to the doctor or getting prescriptions filled because they can't afford it," and noted that others "end up with medical debt and other severe financial problems." The April Commonwealth Fund study found that half of the underinsured "said they had not received needed care because of cost" and explained that 55 percent of underinsured Americans "reported medical bill problems are accrued medical debt" -- more than twice the rate of those with adequate insurance coverage.
Huffington Post health care reporter Jeffrey Young defined the underinsured as those with health insurance plans that "offered too little coverage and exposed them to high out-of-pocket costs." He highlighted an April study by the Commonwealth Fund that found 30 million people, or 16 percent of the U.S. population were underinsured in 2012. The study also found that lower-income Americans were underinsured at higher rates. The Commonwealth Fund study also stated that 85 percent of those who were underinsured could be eligible for coverage under the ACA's Medicaid expansion or qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance plans on the exchanges, which have a certain standard of coverage, and so "[m]ore people insured and better-quality coverage will likely lead to less medical cost-fueled debt and fewer cost-related access problems."
According to a September 2011 study by the Commonwealth Fund, once fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act could reduce the number of underinsured adults by 70 percent.
Media reports suggested that it was previously unknown that some in the individual insurance market would have to seek new health care plans due to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) regulations. In fact, the administration announced in 2010 that some insurance policies would not be "grandfathered" in under the new law, largely due to regular turnover in the health insurance marketplace.
Fox News falsely claimed the Obama administration hid the fact that some individuals would experience changes to their insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when in fact Fox itself reported on the administration's announcement of the underlying "grandfathering" policy in 2010.
On October 28, NBC News reported that some Americans would change insurance policies over the next year as a result of the new health care law, and noted that this was unsurprising to the Obama administration. The law required that policies that were already in effect prior to March 23, 2010 to be "grandfathered" in, but not if those policies were significantly changed by the insurance company in a way that increases costs for consumers or reduces benefits between 2010 and 2014. Furthermore, language in the 2010 regulations acknowledged that "40 to 67 percent" of customers would likely not keep their policies during this period, based on normal turnover in the individual insurance market.
Fox & Friends latched on to this report on October 29 to claim the administration misled Americans, with co-host Steve Doocy falsely claiming that "back in 2010, they knew millions would lose it and they didn't say a word":
DOOCY: How many times did we hear the president promise ... that if you liked your health insurance, you would be able to keep it? Well now it has been revealed, in fact Jay Carney pretty much revealed yesterday, that there would be millions of Americans whose current policies do not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act ... You know when the administration knew that millions would lose it? July of 2010. So you've seen the president and a number of Democrats, high ranking officials say, if you like your insurance, you can keep it -- back in 2010, they knew millions would lose it, and they didn't say a word.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck further claimed this information was "buried in Obamacare," asking earlier in the show "Where was that information up at the top? Where was that in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012? Where was that information?"
The information was on Fox News and in press announcements issued by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Back in June 2010, Fox News' Molly Henneberg reported on Special Report that "the Obama administration's own estimates say that up to 80 percent of small businesses and 64 percent of large businesses may have to give up the plans they had today within three years," as some plans would not be grandfathered in. The report included video of Sebelius making the announcement about the administration's grandfathering regulations on June 14, 2010.
It was known before the ACA's enactment that policyholders in the individual health insurance market that many of these policies would be changed, despite the grandfathering. A letter from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to former Senator Evan Bayh, dated November 30, 2009, explained that "because of relatively high turnover in that market (as well as the incentives for many enrollees to purchase a new policy in order to obtain subsidies), CBO and [the Joint Committee On Taxation] estimate that relatively few nongroup policies would remain grandfathered by 2016."
Fox News used a dishonest graphic that inflated a comparison between the number of people receiving federal benefits to those working full-time by 500 percent to misleadingly imply more people receive government benefits than work.
The October 28 edition of Fox & Friends aired a graphic which purported to compare the number of people who received means-tested federal benefits to the number of people with full-time jobs in 2011. However, the chart used a truncated y-axis, and showed the number of people on welfare -- 108.6 million -- as approximately five times greater than 101.7 million, the number of people with full-time employment.
Moreover, Fox's comparison of the two figures compares apples to oranges.
Fox's 108.6 million figure for the number of "people on welfare" comes from a Census Bureau's account (Table 2) of participation in means-tested programs, which include "anyone residing in a household in which one or more people received benefits" in the fourth quarter of 2011, thus including individuals who did not themselves receive government benefits. On the other hand, the "people with a full time job" figure Fox used included only individuals who worked, not individuals residing in a household where at least one person works.
Furthermore, many people who receive federal benefits also work. The means-tested programs in the Census Bureau report included Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, which includes strict work requirements. In 2011, 6.4 million households with earnings also participated in food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And public or subsidized rental housing provides rental assistance to low-income families -- families who have an income which is 50 to 80 percent below the median income for the area.
Fox has a history of displaying error-riddled and deceptive graphics to reinforce conservative attacks on the Obama administration, and has previously had to issue a correction for a dishonest graphic that misrepresented the unemployment rate.
But Fox seems to have not learned from its past mistakes, and ignored the facts to misleadingly attack federal benefit programs, with Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy asking "is the number one occupation in this entitlement nation now, welfare?" while Fox Business host Stuart Varney baselessly suggested that President Obama personally encouraged "handouts" as a means of "buying votes."
Watch the full segment:
Fox is baselessly accusing President Obama of deliberately trying to distract the public and shift media attention away from problems with the health care rollout by continuing to push Congress to act on immigration reform. However, in the week leading up to his speech, Obama repeatedly urged Congress to refocus attention on immigration reform, which he has made one of the most pressing issues of his administration.
From the October 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox is accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of a "power grab" for proposing a rule to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. In fact, the new classification is based on sound science and intended to address years' worth of confusion surrounding the proper protection of the nation's waterways.
Newly-proposed guidelines would allow "greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by providing clarity in determining where the Clean Water Act (CWA) applies," per the EPA, specifically by incorporating recent research on the extent to which small streams and wetlands connect to larger bodies of water downstream. That research, which is under review by the EPA's Science Advisory Board, found that small streams, even those that only flow at certain times, "are connected to and have important effects on downstream waters," and that wetlands are similarly integrated, making them subject to CWA protection.
That is, unless you ask Fox News and Fox Business. This week, the networks have adopted the complaints of GOP lawmakers to claim that the EPA is only using the study to justify a "power grab." Lou Dobbs claimed on his show that the clarified jurisdiction represented "unprecedented control over private property" -- "maybe" extending to "mud puddles." And Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano baselessly asserted on Fox & Friends that the study is "bogus" -- merely a rationalization to "regulate all bodies of water" and "control more behavior."
Despite these claims, the new EPA study did not provide the basis for regulating "all bodies of water" (or "mud puddles"). It found that the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could evaluate small streams on a case-by-case basis to determine their impact downstream. The rule is necessary because the parameters of the CWA are currently quite muddled, as even conservative critics and industry lawyers have noted in the past. This process is in keeping with the March 2013 decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which re-affirmed nearly unanimously that federal agencies are granted a wide berth in interpretations of their own rules.