The Hill recently published two falsehood-filled columns by Dick Morris suggesting that President Obama will subjugate the United States to the United Nations.
In a column posted yesterday, Morris claimed that "[s]ecretly, behind closed doors, the nations of the world are negotiating a treaty -- initiated by Russia and China -- to regulate the Internet through the United Nations" that will be signed in December in Dubai. Yet Morris conveniently omitted one relevant fact: The United States opposes any such regulation.
The White House has repeatedly said it "opposes the extension of intergovernmental controls over the Internet" and has "vowed to block any proposals from Russia and other countries that they believe threaten the Internet's current governing structure or give tacit approval to online censorship."
Indeed, Reuters reported that the U.S. has been "trying to drum up support, both domestically and internationally, to preserve a decentralized Internet" and quoted an unnamed State Department official stating: "This is one of those circumstances where I think it's fair to say there's absolute unanimity. I don't believe you'd find any dissent at all to the view that we would like to keep the Internet free of inter-governmental controls."
Morris previously claimed during a Republican fundraiser that Obama has "secret plans particularly to force UN regulation of the Internet."
In a separate Hill column posted on October 8, Morris claimed that Obama "will invite the United Nations to tax Americans directly" and claimed that "Obama, Hillary and the U.N. are planning" to enact a "U.N.-imposed tax on billionaires all over the world" that would somehow "gradually grow downwards to cover more and more Americans."
However, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations has stated that it opposes global taxes. A spokesperson told FoxNews.com: "The United States opposes global taxes because we believe that any source of revenue should remain under the control of national authorities. This is an idea that has been kicked around for years. Fortunately, it hasn't gone anywhere, nor will it."
In what is likely a first for a major political party, one of the themes for the GOP's nominating convention next week is built around a falsehood. When Republicans meet in Tampa on Tuesday, the banner will be "We Built It," which plays off the manufactured controversy this summer in which conservatives, led by Fox News, claimed President Obama insulted small businessmen and women by supposedly saying they hadn't built their own success.
Speaking to supporters for nearly an hour in Roanoke, VA. on July 13, the president touched on the topic of small business success and the collective forces that shape it, such as the U.S. infrastructure and teachers. Fox quickly claimed Obama insulted small business owners by telling them of their accomplishments, "you didn't build that." (He was referring to the "this unbelievable American system" which includes the "roads and bridges.")
Obama's opponents succeeded in concocting an uproar over a single sentence from an Obama campaign appearance by ripping it out of context. They were able to do that despite being debunked by fact-checker ("out of context"), after fact-checker ("taken wildly out of context") after fact-checker ("ignores the larger context of the president's meaning") after fact-checker ("that quote distorts the meaning of Obama's claim").
Nonetheless, through the sheer force of repetition, as well as taking advantage of a timid press corps that too often suggested the meaning of Obama's comment was somehow in dispute (or a press corps that didn't even care), "build that" has lived on and is now being revived in time for Tampa.
The question now is will the press allow Republicans to get away with it again? Or will the press do its job and point out that the party's "build that" attack revolves around a Fox-fueled falsehood?
Early indications are not encouraging.
Fact-checkers have said that nearly every claim made in the latest Romney ad attacking green energy investments and the stimulus is misleading or false. Yet on The O'Reilly Factor, Lou Dobbs said "Basically [the ad is] true," and he and O'Reilly went on to amplify several of the misleading attacks in the ad.
On Wednesday, The Hill turned an undiscriminating spotlight on a new Republican effort to, as The Hill put it, "block the EPA from using drones." From the article:
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and 11 other House members introduced a bill Tuesday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from conducting aerial drone surveillance of farms to enforce the Clean Water Act, or using any other overhead surveillance.
"Unemployment has been at or above 8 percent for 30 consecutive months. Is conducting flyovers of family farms across the country really the best use of taxpayer money?" Capito asked on Tuesday.
In fact, flyovers are exactly that -- a cost-saving measure, as the Washington Post reported last week:
This is the part that's true: for more than a decade, EPA inspectors have flown over farmland in small private planes -- the traditional kind of aircraft, with people inside them. The inspectors are looking for clean-water violations, like dirty runoff or manure dumped into a stream.
The EPA says the flights are legal under a 1986 Supreme Court decision. And they're cheap: an on-the-ground inspection might cost $10,000, but it costs just $1,000 to $2,500 to survey the same farm by air.
An agency spokesman said these flights are not happening more frequently now than in the past.
What's worse, the Hill story also ignores the fact that the GOP bill is designed in part to solve a problem that has never existed. Despite the manufactured outrage by Republicans, the EPA has never used drones, and the right-wing myth that the agency was "spying" on farmers with unmanned vehicles has been roundly debunked for some time.
The jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning showed that 115,000 jobs were created in April, and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 percent. Reacting to the report on Fox & Friends, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called it "very, very disappointing" and said: "We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery."
Romney's comments were reported by ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others. In each instance, these outlets simply quoted Romney's target for job growth of 500,000-plus per month.
Some context is sorely needed here.
Since 1939, monthly job growth has exceeded 500,000 a grand total of sixteen times, according to BLS. It's happened only five times since the end of the Eisenhower administration: March 1978, April 1978, September 1983, September 1997, and May 2010.
To put that in perspective, monthly job growth that exceeds 500,000 happens with roughly the same frequency as perfect games in baseball, of which there have been 19 since 1900. (Not an exact comparison, of course, but it illustrates the infrequency.)
The vanishing rarity of such explosive job creation should have been mentioned when reporting Romney's call for sustained growth at that rate.
Dick Morris's failure to disclose his financial ties to political entities he writes about for The Hill brought sharp criticism from journalism veterans and news ethicists, one of whom accused the Fox News analyst of breaking an "ethical commandment."
The top editor of The Hill, meanwhile, declined to admit that the newspaper or the columnist had done anything wrong, even as media critics called out the paper's failure to police Morris's column.
In a statement to Media Matters, Hugo Gurdon, the editor-in-chief of The Hill, said:
Our comment pages publish opinion pieces from people on the left and the right who are active in partisan politics. We're confident that our readers know this, but we will continue to make additional disclosures where we think this is necessary.
Asked to elaborate further on Morris's specific actions and whether the paper would subject his work to greater scrutiny in the future, editors at The Hill did not respond.
At issue are several instances identified by Media Matters in which Morris, a well-known conservative political consultant, wrote columns for The Hill, but failed to disclose his financial ties to some subjects of the columns.
In one column earlier this month, Morris attacked "RINO Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.)" for supporting the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The column did not disclose that Morris had headlined a September 2011 fundraiser for Lugar's Republican primary opponent, Richard Mourdock. The Mourdock campaign had also rented Morris's email list in July 2011 for a donation solicitation, which featured an appeal from Morris.
Morris's practice brought criticism from Howard Kurtz on his CNN Reliable Sources program Sunday.
After reading a comment from Gurdon in which the Hill editor said that the paper's readers "are being kept well-informed" about their columnists' potential conflicts of interest, Kurtz commented that those readers "should be kept a little more well-informed."
From the February 26 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Over the past several years, The Hill has published numerous columns by Dick Morris analyzing political groups or races in which he had a financial interest. In these cases, neither The Hill nor Morris disclosed his financial connections to readers.
The Hill's lack of disclosure on Morris include:
Morris has also repeatedly discussed candidates and organizations on Fox News without disclosing his financial connections to them. After the Associated Press questioned Morris and Fox News last December about his promotions of Republican presidential candidates, Morris went on Fox News and admitted that he's taken money from certain candidates.
The AP's David Bauder subsequently wrote about Morris and noted that "advocates for ethics in journalism tend to lean toward full disclosure of conflicts caused by relationships between politicians and on-air reporters or commentators." Does that ethics policy apply to The Hill with Morris?
Requests for comment to The Hill were not returned.
Early on in the Obama presidency, The Hill published a news analysis piece on the "meaninglessness of the 24/7 news cycle." Author Scott Nance counseled the journalists "who contribute to the multimedia cacophony" to "rethink their place in the universe," and reserved special ire for the contrived narrative that the president -- by default the most visible public figure in the country, perhaps the world -- could possibly be "overexposed" [via Nexis]:
And, in perhaps the greatest irony of all for those who are themselves the ones feeding and perpetuating the constant stream of mostly soundbites and general bloviation that calls itself news and analysis -- you would think that Obama himself is just talking too darn much under some threat of being "overexposed."
Like the proverbial game of telephone, these storylines just get more exaggerated and overblown as they are repeated to fill TV airtime, column inches in a newspaper, or lines of text on blogs.
That Obama proved the truth of that this week with his primetime White House press conference probably says as much, or more, about how pointless much of the so-called 24/7 news cycle really is, as it does about the president himself.
Sure, people are real angry about AIG greed, but most Americans continue to express confidence in Obama and his policies. Following Tuesday's primetime presidential press conference -- and after a week of Obama getting hammered for being under attack and "overexposed" -- a national study among 1,375 Americans revealed that confidence levels increased among both Democrats and independents regarding the president's approach to the nation's critical issues like the economy, education, and the federal budget. Confidence levels decreased only among Republicans, a group likely to have a negative impression of Obama anyway.
That advice appears not to have been fully absorbed.
Earlier today I asked whether American news outlets would do their due diligence in evaluating the content of the newly-released batch of "Climategate" emails hacked from the University of East Anglia two years ago. It didn't take long for our esteemed print outlets to disappoint.
Writing on the Washington Post's website, Juliet Eilperin quotes an email exchange that she said was about "whether the IPCC has accurately depicted the temperature rise in the lower atmosphere":
In one round of e-mails, researchers discuss whether the IPCC has accurately depicted the temperature rise in the lower atmosphere. An official from the U.K. Met Office, a scientific organization which analyzes the climate, writes to the Climate Research Unit's former director Phil Jones at one point, "Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these further if necessary [...]"
Later, the official adds, "I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run."
Astoundingly, Eilperin does not tell readers that these email exchanges took place in February 2005 and were about the first draft of a chapter of the IPCC report released two years later. The emails depict the authors of the chapter hashing out what should be included -- exactly what you would expect this process to look like.
After providing comments on the draft, then-Met Office official Peter Thorne wrote: "I'm pretty sure we can reconcile these things relatively simply. However, I certainly would be unhappy to be associated with it if the current text remains through final draft - I'm absolutely positive it won't."
So were his concerns addressed in the final draft? If only we had reporters who asked these questions. For his part, The Hill's Ben Geman simply repeats what Eilperin reported, while admitting that he hasn't even "been able to view the newly released emails."
On the same day Fox News analyst/hype man-for-hire Dick Morris released a DickMorris.com video and column in The Hill promoting the electability of Newt Gingrich, Gingrich's campaign rented Morris' email list to send out a fundraising appeal.
Gingrich is now the third GOP presidential candidate paying Morris during the primary, following Herman Cain, whose campaign has sponsored at least nine emails to Morris' list, and Michele Bachmann, whose campaign has sponsored at least three. Several of the Cain and Bachmann emails were promoting softball interviews Morris had conducted with the candidates, with the emails indicating that they were "paid for" by the campaigns.
Monday night on Fox, Morris may have set the new land-speed record for violating disclosure ethics.
Morris joined Sean Hannity to discuss the state of the GOP primary and what Morris described as the "incredible field we have." Morris praised Cain (who is paying him) as "one of the most charismatic politicians" since Obama and declared that he is "now immune from the charges of sexual harassment." He said that Gingrich (who is paying him) "knows it all" and is "the smartest person in the room." After declaring that it was likely a three-way race between Cain, Gingrich and Romney at this point, Morris hastened to add that "I don't think you can count out Bachmann" (who is paying him).
Fox & Friends promoted a GOP-backed effort to repeal sections of a 2007 law setting efficiency standards for light bulbs, falsely suggesting that the law bans incandescent bulbs and featuring on-screen screen text that stated: "Don't touch our bulbs!" In fact, the law only restricts the sale of inefficient incandescent light bulbs, not all incandescent bulbs, as Fox & Friends suggested.
In his column for The Hill and in a Fox News appearance , Dick Morris called for a "targeted shutdown" that would close certain agencies if Democrats do not capitulate to tea party demands on the budget and, more specifically, "zero-fund" the State Department.
Morris said such a move would be necessary to achieve conservatives' prized goal of stopping foreign aid.
But does Morris really not know that the State Department does more than provide foreign aid? Does he not know that if Congress defunds the State Department, it would shut down all of our overseas embassies and consulates, which are part of the department?
Does he not know that closing down the embassies and consulates would strand Americans abroad who are arrested on trumped-up charges in nations such as China?
Or does he know all this and just not care?
Yesterday, Media Matters highlighted news of a former Fox News booker and senior producer for Fox contributor Laura Ingraham's radio show that is reportedly facing charges of unlawful possession of a Congressional pin.
Well, it appears there's more to the bizarre story.
Nelson Lewis, the former Fox Newser, was apparently impersonating more than a member of Congress. You can now add Rolling Stone features writer/columnist AND Minister Plenipotentiary for Artistic Endeavors at the Embassy of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to his list of Catch Me If You Can worthy gigs.
The Hill's Christina Wilkie reports:
The 26 year-old man who allegedly impersonated Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) last month is facing new questions about his background and work history.
Walter Nelson Lewis, of Savannah Ga., claimed in a video interview in October to be a Bahamian diplomat, a claim which was denied Friday morning by a spokeswoman for the Embassy of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
Wait, there's more. Really.
As Mediabistro FishbowlDC blogger Matt Dornic noted yesterday:
According to Lewis's Facebook page, he is a currently a classic rock features writer and columnist for Rolling Stone. FishbowlDC contacted the magazine's HR department who could not verify his employment and a web search produced no Lewis-penned articles for the magazine. Another source at the mag said, "never heard of him."
Be sure to check out Dornic's post from today detailing just how much effort Lewis went to in order to create his bogus diplomatic identity.
Right-wing media have been using recent headlines on TSA body scanners and pat-downs as an excuse to promote hysterical fears over the reach of "Big Sis," as internet gossip Matt Drudge refers to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Now The Hill is trumping up such concerns with a false spin on a recent interview Napolitano gave PBS host Charlie Rose.
In a November 23 article titled, "Next step for body scanners could be trains, boats, metro," The Hill reviewed Napolitano's November 22 interview with Rose to claim that Napolitano is one politician "who's suggested the advanced scanning machines could be used in places beyond airports."
Right-wing bloggers immediately pounced on The Hill headline. Blogger Jim Hoft titled a November 23 post on his blog Gateway Pundit, "Good-Bye Freedom -- Hello Police State... Napolitano Announces Next Steps for Naked Scanners Involves Trains, Boats, Metro." A November 24 post on the conservative blog Hot Air claimed, "Now it looks like we'll be getting scanners all over the place, including public transportation, trains, and boats." Drudge posted a link to The Hill article as "BIG SIS: Next step for body scanners could be trains, boats, metro..." on the Drudge Report on November 24:
In fact, Napolitano never actually claimed that the DHS is considering expanding the use of body scanners to other forms of public transport. Bizarrely, The Hill article itself acknowledges this, noting at one point that "[Napolitano] gave no details about how soon the public could see changes in security or about what additional safety measures the DHS was entertaining."
Here's what Napolitano actually said during her interview with Rose (accessed through Nexis, emphasis added):
CHARLIE ROSE: You said a very interesting thing. Part of your job is to know what [terrorists will] be thinking in the future. So what will they be thinking in the future?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, I think they're going to continue to probe the system and try to find a way through. I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to train or maritime. So what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?
And then I think what we also, what we as a country need to be thinking about is what is the role in prevention. In other words, what is the process by which a young man in the United States goes from becoming radicalized to becoming radicalized to the point of leaving the United States to going to a camp somewhere for six months or whatever and then coming back with the intent of murdering his fellow citizens?
CHARLIE ROSE: So what do we know about that now?
JANET NAPOLITANO: I think that's where we need and can do more work. And when I speak with my colleagues in other countries, I think we all believe that understanding that process better is important.
Napolitano did talk about the body scanners and so-called enhanced pat-downs, but only to explain and defend their current use. She also briefly acknowledged that "there will be some tweaks or some changes as we go through...as we learn some things to improve the procedures." But, by the time she got around to discussing future threats to "mass transit or to train or maritime," the discussion had long since moved on from airport body scans.
So, The Hill could conclude, "Napolitano mentions DHS looking to mass transit safety," or even, "Napolitano defends DHS use of body scanners." But "Next step for body scanners could be trains, boats, metro" simply doesn't hold up.