Right-wing media continue to pretend that dozens of conservative lawsuits challenging various provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are principled legal challenges to supposed overreach from the Obama administration. In reality, these lawsuits are radical attacks on well-established law, and have been widely rejected by both legal experts and the courts.
From the January 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News pushed various myths about the latest challenge to the contraceptive mandate provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy falsely accusing the Obama Administration of forcing "religious freedom [to] take a backseat to Obamacare."
In a January 15 segment on Fox & Friends, Doocy and his guest, National Review Online editor Rich Lowry, discussed a new challenge to the contraception mandate provision in the ACA. This latest challenge, brought by a group of Catholic nuns from the charity Little Sisters of the Poor, argues that the mandate violates the religious freedom of the nuns because they disagree with the use of contraceptives.
This is not the first time Fox News has misrepresented the Little Sisters case. The fact is, the nuns are already exemptible from the mandate, as both Doocy and Lowry initially point out in the segment. All the sisters need to do is sign a form registering their religious objection -- a requirement that Lowry calls "wrong" and "perverse." For his part, Doocy said more Catholics should be given a "bigger carve out" under the ACA because they "just don't believe in this stuff":
Doocy and Lowry's framing of this issue as an assault on religious freedom -- "Little Sister vs. Big Government" -- is bizarre. Although Lowry begins the segment by admitting the nuns are exempt from the mandate, he still somehow concludes that the administration "should let the nuns off the hook." This upending of precedent would undermine all similar exemption mechanisms for religious objectors whose stance requires someone else to follow the law in their stead. Doocy undercuts his own argument that the government doesn't provide enough exemptions for Catholics, who "by and large, stand against abortion and contraception" when he concedes that "they're more in favor it, for various reasons, these days." And in fact, 98% of sexually active Catholics use or have used contraceptives in their lives.
Lowry ended the segment by explaining that, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the government cannot substantially burden religious freedom without a "compelling governmental interest." Whether or not signing a form is a "substantial burden" remains to be seen, but Lowry disingenuously suggests that the only compelling interest at play here is that the mandate apply to everyone, even though the mandate has improved access to contraception and other preventive care services for up to 47 million women. But apparently that's not compelling enough for Fox News.
Fox News misled viewers by claiming that new Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment statistics mean that the law will be unable to "balance the books" -- ignoring the many safeguards in the program designed to maintain cost stability and expert analysis that has found that the current number of young enrollees meets the bar for maintaining the program's sustainability.
From the January 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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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.
Right-wing media responded to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) admission that his administration caused a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge as political payback with praise for the embattled governor and used Christie's response to pivot to criticisms of President Obama including invoking the phony Benghazi scandal.
A Fox host and Wall Street Journal assistant editor disputed the existence of a multiplier effect with unemployment benefits -- which generates more dollars worth of economic activity than the dollars invested in the program by boosting consumption -- though the effect is well supported by economic research.
Unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed expired at the end of 2013, abruptly cutting off benefits for 1.3 million Americans. Department of Labor estimates show it would cost approximately $25 billion to extend the unemployment insurance for another year, a step President Obama urged Congress to take during a January 7 speech in which he argued that such an extension would not only help people but help the economy and create jobs.
Wall Street Journal assistant editor James Freeman and Fox host Steve Doocy took issue with the idea that unemployment insurance benefits have a net-positive effect on the economy during the January 9 edition of Fox and Friends:
DOOCY: We heard this from the president the other day. Unemployment creates jobs. And?
FREEMAN: Yeah. It's hard to explain that one. The administration argument is that there's something called a multiplier, where when you put $1 of unemployment benefits into the economy it creates $1.80 in economic activity. So if this is true, this would suggest we should all stay home and the country will become wealthier by giving us unemployment benefits.
During the segment, Fox aired an on-screen graphic mocked the notion as "fuzzy math":
But economists agree that the economic benefits of unemployment benefits outweigh the cost. In what's known as the multiplier-effect -- which Freeman dismissed -- recipients of unemployment benefits reliably spend that money. In fact, Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi estimated that each dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates about $1.55 in economic activity. To put it another way, spending $25 billion on unemployment benefits would increase consumer spending and raise by $37.8 billion, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
What's more, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained that benefits for "unemployed workers in hard-pressed communities helps prevent the spread of layoffs and job losses in those communities." EPI emphasized (emphasis original):
We find that continuing the extensions through 2014 would generate spending that would support 310,000 jobs. If this program is discontinued, the economy will lose these jobs.
Fox News is convinced that the recent increase in federal disability benefits must be suspicious -- but they're ignoring the historic rise of disabling conditions, which results in 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities.
During a January 3 Fox & Friends segment about "Who's Ruining the Economy," co-host Steve Doocy asked why more Americans were receiving Social Security disability benefits, wondering "are there simply more people who are becoming disabled, or are more people just simply becoming desperate?"
Guest and Fox Business host Stuart Varney replied, "I think it's the latter. A lot of people are taking the disability option," suggesting that millions of Americans were faking their disabilities in order to receive benefits while unemployed.
Varney is simply wrong. As medical advancements allow us to live longer lives, they are also making us more likely to live with disabilities. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, produced over five years by hundreds of researchers around the world, revealed that on average the world population lives longer and is more likely to survive lethal diseases than ever before. As The Washington Post reported, this means that "people are living with conditions that don't kill them but that affect their health":
"These are things like mental disorders, substance abuse, musculoskeletal pain, vision loss, hearing loss . . . that cause a huge amount of disability but not a whole lot of death," said Murray, who heads the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
People are living longer lives, but the time they are gaining isn't entirely time with good health. For every year of life expectancy added since 1990, about 91 / 2 months is time in good health. The rest is time in a diminished state -- in pain, immobility, mental incapacity or medical support such as dialysis. For people who survive to age 50, the added time is "discounted" even further. For every added year they get, only seven months are healthy.
"Progress in reducing disability just hasn't kept pace with progress in reducing mortality," said Joshua A. Salomon of the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the project leaders.
Only about 1 in 25 Americans receive disability benefits, but nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability. That's about 56.7 million people. The Social Security administration further estimates that a 20-year-old worker today has a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement.
Furthermore, as Media Matters has repeatedly and extensively documented, despite Fox's never-ending campaign to demonize Social Security disability, it is not an "option" that out-of-work individuals can rely on if they do not have severe disabilities. The eligibility criteria are stringent, with waiting periods that are typically months long, and more than half of all applicants are denied. There is also no evidence that people receiving disability benefits are hurting the economy.
The rise of disabling medical conditions is a serious issue for millions of Americans, and the ability of the federal disability programs to help some of those individuals survive when they are unable to work could be at risk if Congress fails to reallocate the necessary funds for the programs, which they have routinely done before. But Fox would rather push baseless and deceptive fears about these necessary federal programs than accurately report on the medical conditions millions of Americans live with every day.
Fox News suggested that new parents are unable to add their babies onto health care plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in order to stoke fears about the law, even though parents are able to add new dependents onto ACA plans by directly contacting their insurance provider. Fox called the process more difficult than going through labor.
The January 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends purported to report that the portion of HealthCare.gov that would allow consumers to report major life changes -- such as having a baby -- is not yet online and available to consumers, airing a graphic claiming "Obamacare lacks easy way to add baby to plan." Co-host Brian Kilmeade attempted to explain the sign-up process by comparing it to labor: "A lot of people think having a baby's tough. Know what's harder? Under Obamacare, getting that baby insured. So labor might be easier than getting insurance paperwork done." But co-host Steve Doocy took it even further, claiming that new babies cannot be added to ACA plans, saying "You might have a new dependent who's dependent on you and dependent on health care, but right now, you can't put them in on the Affordable Care Act."
But while the ACA's website, Healthcare.gov, is still working on its reporting system for consumers to add new dependents online, this information can be given directly to insurance providers in order to update ACA plans. As the Associated Press (AP) reported, parents can directly contact their insurer "to include the child immediately" on existing policies, and will "have to contact the government at some point later on." Parents must notify the government of the birth of a new baby because "[s]uch changes affect financial assistance available under the law," and may qualify for increased financial assistance under the ACA, AP wrote:
After the federal system is ready to process changes, parents will have to contact the government to formally bring their records up to date. Albright said parents will be able to add a new child to their policy for 30 days.
Having a baby could increase a family's monthly premiums, but it could also mean that the parents are eligible for a bigger tax credit to help with the cost. Under some circumstances, it could make the child or the family eligible for Medicaid, a safety-net program that is virtually free of cost to low-income beneficiaries.
In fact, having a child counts as a qualifying life event, that allows consumers enrolled in health insurance under the ACA to alter their coverage outside of the open enrollment period.
Fox has previously attacked provisions in the ACA designed to aid pregnant women and new mothers, claiming that a ban on discrimination against women in the health insurance market constitutes "sticking it to men" and denying the need for improved access to maternity coverage -- while ignoring the benefits of improved maternity care under the ACA.
From the January 2 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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Right-wing media were quick to discount a report from The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick that debunked favored conservative claims, but the outlets offered scant evidence to contest Kirkpatrick's findings. Instead, they resorted to questioning the Times' actions during the attack, baselessly claiming that the paper "whitewash[ed]" Hillary Clinton's culpability, and scouring outdated reporting to hype a tenuous Al Qaeda connection.
Fox News downplayed the surge in health care enrollment numbers to stoke fears about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ignoring options to renew health plans, tax credits, and Medicaid enrollments while falsely claiming that 7 million enrollees were necessary for the law's success.
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
Media Matters looks back at the best of the worst of right-wing media's treatment of women in 2013.