The latest development in the never-ending soap opera of congressional budget negotiations is that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are close to reaching a limited deal to partially replace spending cuts imposed earlier this year (the much-maligned sequestration). The details of the deal are not known, but that hasn't stopped conservative activist groups and pundits from denouncing Ryan -- a long-time conservative hero for his austere budget proposals -- as a sellout.
The Washington Post laid out what little is known about the emerging deal:
Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016. To cover the cost, Ryan and Murray are haggling over roughly $65 billion in alternative policies, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation's airline passengers.
Salon's Brian Beutler notes that if the deal ends up looking like this rough outline, then there's no real reason for conservatives to be all that upset: "If inked, it wouldn't raise revenue through the tax code, and would protect the Defense Department from sequestration's most severe cuts. At the same time, some of the savings in the deal would likely come out of the hide of federal workers."
And yet, the outcry from activists was swift. Groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks are urging conservative members of Congress to vote against the budget deal, even though they don't know what the deal actually looks like.
Appearing on Fox News on December 10, Stuart Varney trashed the deal, calling it "a handshake deal. It does absolutely nothing to resolve the basic problems which we're facing. It does not tackle entitlement reform, it does not tackle tax reform, and it does nothing to drastically reduce the debt."
After Pope Francis released his first apostolic exhortation -- in which he criticized global inequalities of wealth and the tenets of so-called trickle-down economics -- right-wing media went on the attack, characterizing the pope's treatise as "disturbingly ignorant" and "pure Marxism."
GOP candidates are training to better talk about women and women's issues following the disastrous 2012 elections -- but this new rebranding effort will be difficult, given conservative media's toxic rhetoric on women.
Politico reported on December 5 that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is meeting with congressional Republicans and their aides to "teach them what to say -- or not to say -- on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman":
While GOP party leaders have talked repeatedly of trying to "rebrand" the party after the 2012 election losses, the latest effort shows they're not entirely confident the job is done.
So they're getting out in front of the next campaign season, heading off gaffes before they're ever uttered and risk repeating the 2012 season, when a handful of comments let Democrats paint the entire Republican Party as anti-woman.
Akin dropped the phrase "legitimate rape" during the 2012 Missouri Senate race, costing himself a good shot at winning his own race and touching off Democratic charges of a GOP "War on Women" that dogged Republicans in campaigns across the country.
This new phase in the GOP's attempt to rebrand the party comes months after the Republican National Committee's (RNC) March 18 post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned the party was "increasingly marginalizing itself" by alienating women, Hispanics, African Americans, and younger voters.
As Media Matters noted at the time, the rebranding effort always faced a significant obstacle: conservative media. Right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh played a significant role in popularizing the very brand of Republican politics the party leadership now understands is toxic -- and they are unlikely to change their rhetoric on women just because the RNC and NRCC suggest it.
After all, Limbaugh is the man who launched 46 personal attacks on Sandra Fluke in 2012, including calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in favor of affordable contraception, and little has changed since then. Just in the month of November, Limbaugh compared filibuster reform in the Senate to "allow[ing] women to be raped"; suggested that women in the military synchronize their menstrual cycles so they'd be "ready to be banshees"; read from a misogynistic parody site mocking marital rape; claimed ads promoting Obamacare's coverage of birth control told young women "if you like being a prostitute, then have at it"; and claimed Democrats are turning women "into nothing but abortion machines."
Limbaugh is not alone. Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has mocked efforts to combat the immense problem of sexual assault in the military, and claimed "female sexual freedom" led to a "war on men." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly attempted to tie the "War on Christmas" to "unfettered abortion." Conservative blogger and Fox contributor Erick Erickson has called Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis "abortion Barbie" and attempted to smear her campaign by suggesting she was mentally unfit for office. And a Fox Business host recently asked if there is "something about the female brain that is a deterrent" to women working as tech executives.
That's just a few of the most recent examples. The list goes on.
If the NRCC is concerned about Republicans being labeled "anti-women," Todd Akin and his "legitimate rape" comments are perhaps the least of their concerns. Conservative media's daily drumbeat of demeaning attacks on women could do more damage to the party's efforts than any single gaffe.
After all, the GOP rebranding effort also included a call for greater Latino outreach, to which conservative media responded with increased anti-immigrant demagoguery and a full-throated effort to destroy immigration reform. At the moment, it seems the conservative media is successfully thwarting the Republican "rebrand" -- leaving the GOP right back where they were in November 2012.
Fox News falsely claimed that HealthCare.gov does not allow anonymous shopping in order to stoke fears about security issues with the website. But the website has long had a window shopping feature, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on December 2 that it had improved the anonymous shopping feature, which allows for accurate insurance plan comparisons without entering sensitive personal information.
As the Detroit bankruptcy moves forward, Fox News personalities have been quick to blame worker unions and political corruption for the city's unfunded pension liabilities. This discourse ignores the forces actually undermining Detroit's financial solvency: the dramatic reduction of the city's population and taxbase since its post-war peak.
From the December 3 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Company:
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Fox News reported that the Cleveland Clinic was instituting "massive layoffs" due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but when asked about the reports, a Clinic spokesperson told Media Matters, "We're not."
On November 25, The Daily Caller published an article titled, "Top U.S. hospital laying off staff due to Obamacare." On Fox Business' Markets Now, host Connell McShane reported on the "massive layoffs." America's Newsroom host Bill Hemmer claimed that the Cleveland Clinic was going to "shed workers." Later, during the America's News HQ, Fox reporter Chris Stirewalt claimed that the layoffs "rocked the community there in northeastern Ohio."
But there's one problem: the Cleveland Clinic is not laying off any employees. Eileen Sheil, Cleveland Clinic's Executive Director of Corporate Communications, said in an e-mail to Media Matters, "There have been several mis-reports and they keep mentioning that we're laying off 3,000 employees. We're not." Sheil explained that Cleveland Clinic is offering voluntary retirement to 3,000 eligible employees and that the Clinic is also "working on many initiatives to lower costs, drive efficiencies, reduce duplication of services across our system and provide quality care to our patients." Sheil continued, "Many of these initiatives do not impact our employees."
Sheil told Media Matters that Fox had been notified of its error and that the Cleveland Clinic requested Fox's future reporting on the issue more accurately present the Clinic's plans. According to a Media Matters search, Fox had not corrected its mistake by the time of publication.
Despite Fox's reporting, Sheil reiterated the Clinic's support for the Affordable Care Act, stating:
We believe reform is necessary because the current state is unsustainable. The ACA is a step toward that change and we believe more changes will come/evolve as there are still many uncertainties. Hospitals must be responsible and do what we can to prepare and support the law.
Fox's continued focus on the Cleveland Clinic is due, presumably, to President Obama's frequent praise of the hospital. In September, host Greta Van Susteren acknowledged the network's flawed reporting on the Cleveland Clinic after it was cited by U.S. Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) on her program.
Fox News misleadingly compared the Affordable Care Act's HealthCare.gov to private website HealthSherpa.com, despite the fact that the programmers previously explained to Fox this was not an "apples to apples comparison."
In response to the troubled rollout of the federal HealthCare.gov, three private programmers recently created HeatlhSherpa.com, a site which shows some health insurance plans available through the new health care law's exchanges, based on a person's zip code, income, and family size. The site does not allow users to purchase insurance, does not verify citizenship, and can only estimate tax breaks and subsidies that users might be eligible for, all functions of the HealthCare.gov website that make purchasing an insurance policy possible.
On the November 18 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck ignored many of these differences in the websites' functionality to claim HealthSherpa.com was a "working healthcare website" and implied it was a preferable alternative to the "failed HealthCare.gov website." Hasselbeck interviewed Michael Wasser, one of the founders of HealthSherpa.com, who explained some of the functional differences between his site and the federal health care website:
WASSER: I think the HealthCare.gov was focused on providing an interface for everybody, multiple languages, actually signing up for the health insurance plans directly on the website. There is a much larger feature set that theirs looked at. We were really focused on reviewing plan data and giving simple instructions on how to sign up for those plans directly through the insurer.
But this is not the first time one of HealthSherpa.com's programmers have explained this faulty comparison to Fox. On the November 13 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney also described HealthSherpa.com as "a working alternative website" to HealthCare.gov, but was quickly corrected by one of the website's programmers, George Kalogeropoulos:
KALOGEROPOULOS: It's not really a fair apples to apples comparison to compare HealthSherpa.com to HealthCare.gov, and that's because the government website talks to the IRS for your tax status, talks to Homeland Security for immigration status, and it talks to the states. All we do is show you prices. So we say where are you, and then show you what's available and what it costs. So it's a much more limited goal.
[T]he team at HealthCare.gov is extraordinarily competent technically, I'm sure they could have done what we did, what we did technically speaking is not that complicated.
In a November 11 article, CNN's Doug Gross further explained why "it's not fair to compare the creation of Health Sherpa to the rollout of the more complicated government ACA site":
Of course, it's not fair to compare the creation of Health Sherpa to the rollout of the more complicated government ACA site, which everyone from President Obama on down has acknowledged as a horribly botched affair.
For one, you can't actually use Heath Sherpa to sign up for coverage. The site states that it's for research purposes only, and that users must verify the premiums and subsidies they find there with state health care exchanges, insurance companies or on HealthCare.gov itself.
From the November 18 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co.:
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A Fox Business host said he got a "big smile" when he heard that Australia backed out of its previous pledge to send aid to developing nations coping with climate change. His response comes as an official from the Philippines tearfully called for developed nations to make good on their promises to the climate fund in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
On November 13, Stuart Varney, host of Varney & Co., celebrated Australia's decision, saying he "do[esn't] want to pay" to help the Philippines and other developing nations adapt to a rapidly changing climate:
Varney's callous response stands in sharp contrast to that of Naderev "Yeb" Sano, a United Nations delegate from the Philippines, who announced at a U.N. climate summit that he is fasting until there are "concrete pledges" to the Green Climate Fund. Developed nations previously pledged to give $100 billion to the fund by 2020 in order to help developing nations adapt to climate change and reduce their own emissions.
The U.N. fund is intended to address a critical moral hazard of climate change: those who have contributed the least to climate change will suffer the most. The Philippines, for instance, is the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change -- "particularly exposed" to "cyclones, flooding and sea level rise" -- yet it has much fewer carbon emissions than either Australia or the U.S.:
Fox News overstated the costs of Medicaid expansion for states by ignoring research and evidence showing that expanding Medicaid actually saves money for many states because of the high share of the cost being picked up by the federal government in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the reductions in money spent by states on uncompensated care.
Fox Business disparaged actor George Clooney as "irresponsible" and "foolish" for allegedly "blaming" Super Typhoon Haiyan on climate change. However, Clooney merely stated that regardless of "whether or not this particular storm" can be attributed to climate change, denying the existence of manmade climate change -- as those censuring Clooney have -- is "ridiculous."
Super Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest tropical cyclones in world history when it struck the Philippines on November 7, killing as many as 10,000 people. Scientists have stated that intense tropical cyclones such as Haiyan are expected to become more frequent as the earth warms, although many caution against attributing Haiyan directly to climate change. Sea level rise due to climate change also worsens the deadly storm surge for tropical cyclones such as Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy.
CLOONEY: Well it's just a stupid argument. I mean, whether or not this particular storm is any one -- if you have 99 percent of doctors who tell you "you are sick" and 1 percent that says "ah, you're fine," you probably want to hang out with, check it up for the 99. You know what I mean? I -- the idea that we ignore that we are in some way involved in climate change is ridiculous. What's the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit? And you know, yeah, I find this to be the most ridiculous argument ever.
On Monday, Fox Business host Stuart Varney and Fox News' senior meteorologist Janice Dean harangued Clooney for supposedly "us[ing] the tragedy to push his climate change agenda," saying his statement was "irresponsible" and "foolish" -- without ever airing or quoting what he actually said:
Dean also criticized Clooney for weighing in on climate change because he does not have a "seal of approval" from the American Meteorological Society (AMS), as she does. However, AMS officials have criticized broadcast meteorologists such as Dean for offering "nonscientific" opinions on climate change:
Fox News cherry-picked numbers to suggest that the cost of extreme weather events has decreased in past decades in order to attack President Obama's executive order to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change. However, the damages from extreme weather events have been on the rise since 1980 and are projected to increase in part due to climate change.
On Fox and Friends' November 4 show, contributor Stuart Varney denied the link between climate change and certain extreme weather events in the United States, denouncing Obama's executive order on climate preparedness. To assist his claim, Varney cherry-picked statistics to falsely suggest that disaster costs have decreased since the 1980s -- including an incorrect statistic on Hurricane Sandy.
Though damages from Sandy totaled approximately $65 billion, according to the National Climatic Data Center, Varney incorrectly asserted that Sandy cost $19 billion in damages (this outdated number represented predicted damages to New York City only). He contrasted his $19 billion statistic to the $160 billion in losses from extreme weather events in 2005 -- the most costly year on record in terms of extreme weather events -- and the fact that weather disasters have cost the United States over $1 trillion since 1980. After prattling off these numbers, Fox and Friends co-anchor Brian Kilmeade exclaimed, "look how they've gone down, the number of disasters and the price!"
In reality, spending on weather disasters has increased since 1980, alongside the rise of extreme weather events costing at least one billion dollars in damages:
Despite Varney's claims, five top insurance companies have recognized that disaster losses are increasing, which may be related in part to climate change:
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.
From the October 31 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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