Conservative media issued catastrophic predictions and myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, despite ample evidence that the health care law is working. Media Matters looks back at six claims about Obamacare that didn't pan out for the right-wing media this year.
New information from major health insurance companies shows that most Obamacare customers have paid their first month's premiums, evidence that undermines the right-wing media's attempts to discount the unexpectedly high number of Americans who have gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On April 17, the President Obama announced that 8 million people had been enrolled for health care coverage through the ACA exchanges, exceeding previous White House predictions. Right-wing news outlets worked to downplay the health reform law's success by claiming that the numbers were inflated because some people had not yet paid their first premium.
As the enrollment period drew to a close, Fox's Chris Wallace had questioned the high enrollment numbers because he claimed "they still have no numbers for how many people have paid for coverage," while Fox News hosts and radio personalities like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh even went as far as to claim the administration was "cooking the books" in order to inflate the number of enrollees. Fox News, The Blaze, and The Hill later trumpeted GOP data that was eventually acknowledged to be "incredibly rigged" to claim that only 67 percent of the total enrollees had completed the application process by submitting their first premium payment and that the numbers contradicted to the administration's announcement.
Contrary to these myths, new evidence from Bloomberg confirms what the White House has argued since the enrollment period ended -- insurance companies estimate that between 80 and 90 percent of people have paid their first premium:
Three large health insurers including WellPoint Inc. (WLP) and Aetna Inc. (AET) say that a high percentage of their new Obamacare customers are paying their first premiums, undermining a Republican criticism of enrollment in the program.
As many as 90 percent of WellPoint customers have paid their first premium by its due date, according to testimony the company prepared for a congressional hearing today. For Aetna, the payment is in the "low to mid-80 percent range," the company said in its own testimony. Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states including Texas, said that number is at least 83 percent.
As the president of Washington consulting firm Avalere Health told Bloomberg, "What you have here is very solid first year enrollment, no matter how you slice it."
The Hill published an op-ed criticizing the "growing fascination with publicly funded broadband networks" and touting the "private-sector" as the best way to build telecommunications networks. But the Capitol Hill paper failed to disclose that the author is a telecom consultant and co-chair of a telecom trade association.
Larry Irving wrote an April 9 piece claiming "the specter of governments operating broadband networks in competition with the private sector, or of state or local governments serving as both regulators and owners of competing broadband networks, could stifle investment or reduce private-sector access to capital." Irving added that "with the exception of bringing or improving service to remote geographies, I don't see many problems that government-owned or -operated broadband networks will solve."
The Hill simply identified Irving as follows: "Irving is the CEO of the Irving Group and served for almost seven years as assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)."
That identification vastly understates Irving's financial connections to the industry he wrote about. Irving is the founding co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), an IRS 501(c)(6) telecommunications trade association whose purpose is to "prevent the creation of burdensome regulations," according to documents filed with the IRS. IIA reportedly receives financial support from AT&T and includes members such as Alcatel-Lucent and TechAmerica, which lobbies on behalf of technology companies. The group's 2011 IRS tax form -- the most recent one available -- states it received over $18 million in revenue.
While The Hill noted that Irving heads the Irving Group, it did not disclose that the firm provides "strategic advice and assistance to international telecommunications and information technology companies."
CNN co-host and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is calling for Secretary of State John Kerry's resignation for comparing climate change to a "weapon of mass destruction." However, media coverage of Gingrich's call has largely left out that Gingrich once agreed with Kerry on climate change, even standing with him on stage touting Kerry's book, in which he called climate change the "single largest threat" to mankind.
On February 18, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Kerry discussed climate change as a national security threat, saying "in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction." Gingrich responded in a misspelled tweet, calling for Kerry's resignation:
The Huffington Post claimed in an article on his tweets, that "Gingrich has repeatedly dismissed the dangers of man-made climate change." But that article, like similar ones in The Washington Post, The Hill, and conservative media, failed to mention that less than a decade ago, Gingrich was sitting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on a couch, agreeing we should act on climate change.
Hillary Clinton's name doesn't appear in the bipartisan portions of the Senate review of the tragic September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, but you would not know that by looking at the media.
The report, released earlier in the week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a Rorschach test for the media, and as is almost always the case with Hillary Clinton, they are stretching to see something nefarious.
According to the Post, the report "is likely to provide fodder" for Clinton's political opponents, even though the Post acknowledged that the only references to the former Secretary of State came from partisan Republicans in an addendum, not from the review itself.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer said the report was "fueling heated debate, partisan debate, about her leadership," while correspondent Elise Labbott insisted that Clinton would "have to address Benghazi during" any 2016 campaign.
Inexplicably, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin accused media of being too "incurious" when it comes to Clinton and called Benghazi Clinton's "drip, drip, drip problem." Partisan Republicans are certainly happy that the media is carrying their water. Almost on cue, Sen. Marco Rubio said the report should justify further investigations ... into Clinton.
The question of "leadership," however, has been a lopsided one as it played out in the media's campaign to use the Senate report as an indictment of Clinton.
Clinton has "deflected questions" about Benghazi, according to The New Yorker's Amy Davidson, who argued that Clinton "does not come out well" in the Senate report -- again, a report that never mentions Clinton. Davidson's explanation? "The State Department made mistakes when [Clinton] was its leader."
Clinton herself has acknowledged ultimate responsibility for any bureaucratic shortcomings that played a role to the tragedy in Benghazi. "I do feel responsible," she said under questioning by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). "I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department. I take it very seriously."
So everybody agrees that Clinton had ultimate responsibility for leading the State Department.
That makes the question of what that leadership looks like critical, particularly since the media seems determined to parrot the right-wing narrative that Benghazi is a singular reflection on the former Secretary of State.
What is problematic about the way the media has used the Senate's review as a reflection on Clinton's leadership is that the reports ostensibly exploring Clinton's leadership make no mention of the fact that one of her last acts as Secretary of State was to fully accept and begin implementing the findings of the Accountability Review Board, an independent, nonpartisan review panel that looked into what went wrong and how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
That review, like the Senate report that led to the latest bout of Benghazi mania, also singled out bureaucrats, not the Secretary of State, for scrutiny over diplomatic security failures. Four mid-ranked department officials were suspended for those failures; according to Ambassador Thomas Pickering, one of the chairmen of the ARB, their "future career[s]" are "finished."
One of the pillars of the right-wing's Benghazi hoax has been to accuse Clinton of being dismissive of the tragedy during her Congressional testimony when she asked "what difference, at this point, does it make" what led the attackers to target the diplomatic facility on that day.
Often left out of the sound bite is what Clinton said next: "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
The Accountability Review Board laid out dozens of recommendations as to how to prevent future tragedies, recommendations largely in line with those contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. Those recommendations are being implemented.
It's woefully inadequate to leave that fact out of a discussion of leadership.
The New York Times reported on a dangerous legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) brought by officials in states who refuse to implement their own healthcare exchanges, which has been widely trumpeted in right-wing media. But these lawsuits are based on a far-fetched theory that the law only authorized essential tax credits in state exchanges, not federal ones, a counterintuitive claim that has been widely discredited.
Media outlets are mischaracterizing legislation that licenses anti-LGBT discrimination as a bill that protects fundamental religious and personal freedoms.
Under the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act (MARFA), drafted by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and co-sponsored by 60 House members, the federal government could not take any "adverse action" against individuals who oppose same-sex marriage or premarital sex on religious grounds. The legislation effectively subsidizes anti-gay discrimination. In a statement, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) noted that religious liberty enjoys robust constitutional and statutory protection, but that MARFA would radically reinterpret the concept to allow federal employees and recipients of federal funds to deny services to LGBT people:
"Every American understands the importance of protecting the rights of people of faith to hold and express their beliefs, including about the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legislative Director Allison Herwitt. "But our Constitution and laws already strongly safeguard that liberty. The purpose of the legislation introduced today is simply to let federal employees, contractors and grantees refuse to do their jobs or fulfill the terms of their taxpayer-funded contracts because they have a particular religious view about certain lawfully-married couples - and then to sue the federal government for damages if they don't get their way."
For example, if passed, the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act would permit a federal worker processing tax returns, approving visa applications or reviewing Social Security applications to walk away from their responsibilities whenever a same-sex couple's paperwork appeared on his or her desk. It would also allow a federally-funded homeless shelter or substance abuse treatment program to turn away LGBT people. Despite the cosponsors claims, there is no evidence that federal programs have or would discriminate against individuals because of their religious beliefs about marriage. Protections against discrimination based on religious belief are explicitly and robustly provided under the First Amendment and federal nondiscrimination statutes. [emphasis added]
Freedom to Marry added that the legislation would also permit businesses to deny leave to employees who wished to care for a same-sex spouse. The libertarian-leaning Volokh Conspiracy blog argued that MARFA is likely unconstitutional, as it privileges religious views in opposition to same-sex marriage and pre-marital sex over other religious views - a stark violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
There are no death panels. There never was a death panel. There never will be a death panel. The Affordable Care Act does not provide for state-assisted euthanasia, so there's absolutely no reason for a newspaper to casually refer to any part of it as a "death panel."
And yet, here's The Hill's "Healthwatch" blog doing just that in an article on the ACA's Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which is designed to reduce the growth rate of spending in Medicare, under the headline, "ObamaCare 'death panel' faces growing opposition from Dems":
ObamaCare's cost-cutting board -- memorably called a "death panel" by Sarah Palin -- is facing growing opposition from Democrats who say it will harm people on Medicare.
Public awareness of the board shot up last year when Palin called it a "death panel," connecting the IPAB to her previous attacks on a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning in the Affordable Care Act.
"Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is, many of these accusers finally saw that ObamaCare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life and death decisions about healthcare funding," Palin wrote on Facebook.
This claim experienced a revival on the right after Dean published his op-ed, which argued that the board would ultimately ration care for Medicare patients.
"The IPAB will be able to stop certain treatments its members do not favor by simply setting rates to levels where no doctor or hospital will perform them," Dean wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
"Getting rid of the IPAB is something Democrats and Republicans ought to agree on."
The piece quickly went viral, prompting conservative bloggers and Fox News hosts to cheer: "Dean confirms that Sarah Palin was right!"
Sarah Palin was not right. Sarah Palin was never right. And The Hill certainly shouldn't be giving the impression that Palin's "death panel" nonsense has somehow been vindicated.
Media outlets are pushing the conservative narrative that the Obama administration will "bypass Congress" with a new plan to reduce carbon emissions while ignoring key context: the 2007 Supreme Court decision that explicitly gave the executive branch the power to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act and the endangerment finding that made the EPA "statutorily obligated" to do so.
President Obama announced the details of his new plan to deal with the challenge of climate change in a June 25 speech at Georgetown University. Details of the White House plan, which will extend regulation on carbon emissions to existing power plants, were released on the morning of June 25.
Advance coverage of Obama's climate speech and plan by Fox News, Politico, The Associated Press, NBC News, and The Hill echoes past criticism from conservative media of Obama's efforts to combat climate change by focusing on the fact that the efforts do not need to be approved by Congress.
On the June 25 edition of Fox & Friends First, business analyst Diane Macedo concluded her report on the climate policies that Obama is likely to announce by noting that "none of these steps require congressional approval," and that Obama is "seek[ing] ways to work around [Congress]."
Politico reported on June 21 that the president was "preparing to bypass Congress on climate change." An NBCNews.com headline described the president's intent to "sidestep Congress with new initiatives to reduce carbon emissions." And The Hill stated that the administration would "curb emissions using executive powers that sidestep Congress" and the plan was "designed to get around Congress."
However, not one of these outlets explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government already has the authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. Right-wing media outlets similarly excluded this critical context when they hyperbolically accused the administration of breaking the law by proposing carbon regulations that did not require congressional approval. In June 2012, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said that earlier EPA regulations on carbon emissions were "outright lawlessness." A March Wall Street Journal editorial also claimed that Obama's efforts to regulate carbon make him similar to a dictator.
Mainstream media outlets are blindly repeating the claim by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that she supported expanded background checks by voting for Republican legislation that would actually have weakened the background check system.
On April 17, Ayotte voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment, a legislative proposal to expand background checks to sales at gun shows and over the Internet, facing political backlash as a result. Ayotte, however, co-sponsored and voted in favor of a replacement bill offered by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that purported to improve the background check system by increasing the number of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
In fact, the Grassley-Cruz proposal would weaken the gun background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system. Specifically, Section 103 would change current law by only creating a disqualifying background check record if an individual is designated as dangerously mentally ill by a court or other adjudicative body. Under present law, adjudications by all lawful authorities create a record that prohibits an individual from buying a firearm.
To the contrary, Manchin-Toomey would have increased the number of mental health records in NICS by offering states financial incentives and disincentives to include missing records in the system, in addition to expanding background checks
A National Rifle Association-authored opinion piece in The Hill is rife with misleading claims about legislation that aims to expand background checks for gun sales and fix current deficiencies in the background check system.
Chris Cox, a regular columnist and top lobbyist for the NRA, claimed in an op-ed that proposed legislation to expand background checks would create a national gun registry and "criminalize" transfers of firearms between family members. In fact, expanded background check legislation reported to the Senate on March 12, known as the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013, contains an exception for transfers between family members and federal law already prohibits the establishment of a national gun registry. Cox also misled about the effectiveness of the current background check system as an argument against making improvements.
In his March 18 column titled, "A universally bad idea," Cox claimed, "A mandate for truly 'universal' background checks would put the federal government squarely in the middle of every sale, loan or gift of a firearm between private individuals. In other words, it would criminalize all private firearms transfers, even between family members or friends who have known each other all of their lives."
The Fix Gun Checks Act, the leading piece of background check legislation, would require a criminal background check for nearly every gun sale to occur with some important exceptions. The legislation exempts "bona fide gifts between spouses, between parents and their children, between siblings, or between grandparents and their grandchildren" from the background check requirement. Other exemptions waive the background check requirement for temporary transfers for hunting and other sporting purposes.
The exemptions laid out in the Fix Gun Checks Act mirror the Obama administration's policy proposal on reducing gun violence, which called for background check legislation with "common-sense exceptions for cases like certain transfers between family members and temporary transfers for hunting and sporting purposes."
In addition to expanding background checks, the Fix Gun Checks Act also aims to improve the background check system by using a carrot-and-stick approach to incentivize states to submit disqualifying records into the background check system that are currently missing.
Dick Morris, cut loose from Fox News after years of embarrassingly wrong political analysis, is still gainfully employed by The Hill, which continues to publish his weekly column. The very public battering Morris took following the 2012 election has done nothing to improve the quality of his commentary, and his most recent Hill column demonstrates as much. Headlined "Latinos could be GOP allies," the column is based on a Republican-funded push poll conducted by a pollster whose work in the 2012 Mexican presidential election distinguished itself with near-Dick Morris levels of inaccuracy.
"A new poll taken by Mexico's leading public opinion researcher shows that U.S. citizens of Latino descent are potentially strong allies of the Republican Party," writes Morris. The poll, as Morris acknowledges, was "organized and funded by John Jordan of Jordan Winery, a prominent Republican donor," but that's really the least of its problems. The questions asked, as quoted by Morris, are so over-the-top and one-sided that it's no real surprise the results are so favorable to the GOP:
By 59-34 percent, U.S. Latinos agreed that "Democrats are closer to the leaders we had in Latin America, always giving handouts to get votes. If we let them have their way, we will end up being like the countries our families came from, not like the America of great opportunities we all came to."
By 78-16 percent, U.S. Latinos agreed that Latino immigrants must "not go the way some have gone into high unemployment, crime, drugs, and welfare.
They must be more like the hard working immigrants who came here and worked their way up without depending on the government." More important, when asked which party most shares this sentiment, they chose the Republicans, by a margin of 45-29 percent.
By 47-31, Latinos agree that Republicans would do more to "strengthen churches so they can help the poor and teach values of faith and family." By 89-8, they think that "too many people depend on the government and its handouts. That way of thinking is very bad and leads to lifetimes of unemployment, poverty, and crime." And, by 45-37, they believe the Republican Party is more likely to share their view than Democrats are.
The poll's methodology does little to enhance its credibility. It combined telephone and in-person interviews conducted over the course of an entire month, January 15 to February 15. What's the problem with having a poll in the field that long? Something big could happen that might alter the opinions of the population being sampled -- like, say, the president of the United States laying out an immigration reform plan.
Conservative media are parroting a Republican claim that a federal report says health care reform increases the long-term deficit. In fact, the report says that the deficit would only increase if cost containment measures in the bill were phased out over time, and found that the deficit would decrease if those measures were maintained.
President Obama is busily nominating replacements for the various Cabinet officers and Cabinet-level officials who aren't sticking around for his second term. The emerging consensus in the media is that in doing so, the president is "picking fights" with the Senate GOP minority that will have to vote for or against the nominees. Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel's nomination for Defense Secretary has been cast as an especially provocative move by the White House. It's a curious way to frame the story -- if indeed Obama can be said to be "picking fights" with Cabinet nominees, that's only because Senate Republicans have made clear they'll fight anyone Obama picks. And casting Obama as the disruptive force masks the Republican obstructionism underlying the confirmation fights.
Here's The Hill from January 7:
Obama nominates Hagel for Pentagon, picking fight with Senate Republicans
President Obama on Monday nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be the nation's next Defense secretary despite warnings of a tough confirmation fight from some Senate Republicans.
Here's the Washington Post, also from January 7:
President Obama picks a confirmation fight. Can he win it?
When President Obama formally nominates Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense later today, he can be certain of one thing: The former Nebraska Republican Senator will face a major fight to win confirmation.
And here's Politico from this morning:
Why President Obama is picking fights with Congress
Barack Obama is looking for a few good fights.
Obama, the same president who campaigned twice on breaking the cycle of conflict in Washington, sees the utility -- even the necessity -- of rattling Republican cages as he plunges into a succession of upcoming battles over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the debt ceiling, $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts, immigration reform and gun control.
In May, O'Reilly Factor host Bill O'Reilly told Fox News political analyst Dick Morris that because he was "so far out on the limb" predicting a Romney win in the presidential election, if Obama were to be re-elected Morris would be "through" and "selling refrigerators in Topeka." Seven months later, following Obama's comfortable re-election, Morris isn't selling appliances in Kansas (that we know of), but he's the laughingstock of the political pundit class and has temporarily been benched at Fox News.
Like most other years of Morris' media career, 2012 was marked by terribly inaccurate election predictions, habitual dishonesty, and questionable ethical conflicts. Unlike most other years, however, Morris appears to actually be facing consequences and backlash for his role as America's Worst Political Pundit.
After Morris made more than fifteen appearances on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On the Record in October and early November, he's been absent from the network's primetime lineup since November 12 following reports that producers now have to get special permission to book him (or Karl Rove) on their shows. He has also been publicly criticized by numerous media ethicists from prominent newspapers and universities, countless political writers and reporters in the U.S. (and abroad), donors to his shady super PAC, and his colleagues at The Hill newspaper.
Appearing on Fox & Friends the day before the election to discuss his prediction of a "landslide" Romney victory, Morris said of the various people predicting an Obama win, "either I'm gonna have to go through a big reckoning, or they are. And you know what? They are."
It was another prediction that wouldn't shake out.