Right-wing media misleadingly hyped a congressional hearing to falsely claim that disability fraud is leading to increased claims and depleting the Social Security Disability Trust Fund. However, testimony from a Social Security Administration official at the hearing revealed that fraud is not a major problem in the disability program and demographic changes explain increased disability claims.
Media outlets have pounced on a quote from one member of a science advisory panel to once again claim a White House "war on coal," but they are missing crucial context about President Barack Obama's expected plan, which sets aside money for the development of so-called "clean coal" technology in addition to proposing necessary regulations on the pollution that coal-fired power plants currently emit.
Tuesday, The New York Times published a quote from Harvard University professor Daniel P. Schrag, a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, in anticipation of the Obama administration's announcement of measures to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change:
"Everybody is waiting for action," he said. "The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed."
The Washington Post singled out the remarks in a post titled "Obama science adviser calls for 'war on coal." However, Schrag is not Obama's primary science adviser -- he is simply one of 18 advisors in a group that includes current and former executives from Microsoft, Google and tech conglomerate Honeywell, Inc. Additionally, as the Post noted, "he is not closely involved in setting regulatory policy for the White House."
Right-wing outlets immediately began publicizing the remarks, suggesting they are a sign of President Obama's true motives, with The Washington Free Beacon claiming the quote shows that the president's plan "is explicitly aimed at attacking the coal industry." Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin followed up by asking "Is Obama waging a 'war on coal?' and responding that "[t]o a large extent, the answer is yes."
However, Schrag's remark is not representative of President Obama's record as The Columbia Journalism Review and others have previously pointed out. Schrag responded to an email inquiry from Media Matters that he believes "there is nothing wrong with coal if technology is used to remove CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants" (emphasis added):
The quote was slightly out of context. I was asked about the question of a war on coal, and I explain that shutting down conventional coal plants is a critical step in moving towards a low-carbon economy. But the phrase "war on coal" is really inappropriate and I shouldn't have used it - simply because it is not the coal that is the problem, but the emissions from coal, and what they do to our health, the health of our children, and of course the climate. So there is nothing wrong with coal if technology is used to remove CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants. But conventional coal, that is harming our children and changing the climate system should have no place in our society.
Conservative media figures are painting a new White House push on affordable housing with the same dishonest brush they used to shift blame away from Wall Street for the housing bubble that precipitated the 2007-08 financial crisis.
On the April 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said that "lowering standards for who can borrow money to buy a home" is "what got us into trouble in the first place." The Washington Free Beacon made the same claim in an article titled "Subprime: The Sequel," and Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com claimed "the central failure in that bubble...was incentivizing increasingly risky loans with government cash and coercion."
But the housing bubble of the early 2000s was caused by private sector lending behavior, not government policy. The government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, commonly called the GSEs, didn't lead private financial institutions into the subprime market and the complex financial instruments that made the bubble so toxic. Instead, they followed Wall Street there. As the University of North Carolina's Center for Community Capital explained, "Ultimately, profit not policy was what motivated Fannie and Freddie and loan products not borrowers were what caused their collapse."
The data support this explanation. The loans to borrowers with lower credit scores which the GSEs bought up fared much better than did similar privately-securitized loans. (Six times better, according to the Center for American Progress). A Federal Reserve report using different methodology "found no evidence" that government policies designed to encourage lending to lower-income borrowers had contributed to the subprime bubble. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's final report examined and thoroughly debunked the contrary argument, primarily made by the American Enterprise Institute's Ed Pinto:
In direct contrast to Pinto's claim, GSE mortgages with some riskier characteristics such as high loan-to-value ratios are not at all equivalent to those mortgages in securitizations labeled subprime and Alt-A by issuers. The performance data assembled and analyzed by the FCIC show that non-GSE securitized loans experienced much higher rates of delinquency than did the GSE loans with similar characteristics.
Morrissey's post labels Pinto, former executive at Fannie Mae, a kind of soothsayer "who originally pointed out the failure at [the Federal Housing Administration]." But beyond the wonks who've debunked Pinto's claims, financial experts and journalists like Bailout Nation author Barry Ritholtz, The New York Times' Joe Nocera, and Bloomberg's David Lynch have shown him to be a primary driver of the false blame-the-government narrative of the crisis five years ago that conservative media are applying to housing policy developments in 2013.
An April 2 Washington Post article on the White House's efforts to broaden the reach of the current housing market resurgence notes that the recent improvement in the market "has been delivering most of the benefits to established homeowners with high credit scores or to investors who have been behind a significant number of new purchases." Housing officials, however, argue that a housing recovery that is limited to near-riskless buyers is constraining the broader economic recovery. According to the piece:
From 2007 through 2012, new-home purchases fell 30 percent for people with credit scores above 780 (out of 800), according to Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth Duke. But they declined 90 percent for people with scores between 680 and 620 -- historically a respectable range for a credit score.
"If the only people who can get a loan have near-perfect credit and are putting down 25 percent, you're leaving out of the market an entire population of creditworthy folks, which constrains demand and slows the recovery," said Jim Parrott, who until January was the senior adviser on housing for the White House's National Economic Council.
"I think the ability of newly formed households, which are more likely to have lower incomes or weaker credit scores, to access the mortgage market will make a big difference in the shape of the recovery," Duke said last month. "Economic improvement will cause household formation to increase, but if credit is hard to get, these will be rental rather than owner-occupied households."
Yet conservative ideologues in the media appear eager to cast any attempt to expand the list of winners in the housing market's comeback as a doomed repetition of an invented history of a crisis that was actually caused by widespread private-sector fraud, greed, and collusion.
Talk about lowering the bar to can't-miss depths.
In its Sunday, page-one profile of partisan "provocateur" and Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb, the New York Times pointed to a report the right-wing site published this month, which raised questions about a speech Chuck Hagel gave in 2007. Free Beacon claimed Hagel had called the State Department "an adjunct to the Israeli foreign minister's office."
The report represented yet another missile fired by the sprawling, well-funded, far-right smear campaign to obstruct Hagel's nomination as Secretary of Defense. (A campaign that seems destined to fail, by the way.)
Writing up Goldfarb's supposed successes, the Times treated the Hagel report as a singular Free Beacon victory. (Sen. Lindsey Graham mentioned it on the floor of the Senate!) Even though, as the Times itself point out, Hagel denied the quote and no video was ever found to confirm it. Additionally, one professor who was present at the speech adamantly denied Hagel ever made the State Department comment.
But hey, other than that Free Beacon totally nailed the anti-Hagel story.
Also, note that Goldfarb has a long history of making stuff up, calling it news, and then refusing to admit to his published fabrications. The Times, in its puffy profile about how Goldfarb deftly outwits liberals, failed to mention that troubling career trait.
Coming in the wake of last week's Friend of Hamas debacle at Breitbart.com, the Times' toast to the factually challenged Goldfarb raises questions as to how the mainstream media treat disingenuous players inside the GOP Noise Machine. (Historically, the press has played nice with them.)
The good news about Ben Shapiro's colossal Breitbart failure with regards to his bogus claims about the (fictitious) Friends of Hamas group that allegedly had nefarious ties with Hagel? It helped shine a spotlight on the type of dishonest skullduggery that goes on within the conservative blogosphere on a nearly daily basis. The bad news is too many publications analyzed the Breitbart debacle against the backdrop of journalism and fact finding.
It's time for journalists to give up the ghost and stop pretending that lots of players on the far right media spectrum even try to engage in journalism as it's commonly defined. (Thankfully, some exceptions exist.)
It's not journalism. It's not even partisan opinion journalism. It's proud propaganda. More and more, it's the intentional spreading of rumor and misinformation for political gain. (And often done in conjunction with the Republican Party.) For too long, the press has allowed right-wing players to hide behind the shield of journalism, and then acted surprised when they cut egregious ethical corners.
Conservative media voices have insisted that an increase of the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $9 would harm the economy. However, a wealth of economic evidence disputes the claims that minimum wage hikes are job killers, that the minimum wage is already high, and that it only applies to jobs held by relatively young workers.
After former Sen. Chuck Hagel was nominated as defense secretary, right-wing media outlets attacked him with distorted quotes, and similarly deceptive uses of those quotes surfaced at Hagel's hearing on Thursday.
During the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) highlighted a statement that Hagel made in a 2006 speech about the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah that was occurring in Lebanon at the time. Cruz claimed that Hagel had accused Israel of committing a "sickening slaughter."
But as Slate's Dave Weigel pointed out, this echoes a distortion promoted by The Weekly Standard. In reality, Hagel said that the "sickening slaughter on both sides must end" (emphasis added). As Weigel explains, Hagel "described the conflict that way -- a sickening slaughter was occurring -- blaming both sides, and quickly following up by criticizing Iran and invoking the 'special relationship'" between Israel and the United States.
Cruz also showed video of Hagel answering questions on an Al-Jazeera show in 2009. One of the questions Hagel fielded on the show was an email that asked:
Can the rest of the world be persuaded to give up their arsenal when the image of the U.S. is that of the world's bully? Don't we indeed need to change the perception and the reality before asking folks to lay down their arms (nuclear or otherwise)?
On the program, Hagel responded, "Well, her observation is a good one, and it's relevant. Yes to her question."
According to Cruz, the clip showed Hagel "explicitly" agreeing that the United States is "the world's bully." This echoes the take of the Washington Free Beacon, which discussed this exchange in a January 9 post misleadingly headlined "Hagel Agrees that America is 'the World's Bully.' " But as is clear from the question itself, Hagel agreed that there is an image of the U.S. as a bully that needs to be corrected.
Media figures have smeared President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), by misrepresenting Hagel's support for sanctions against Iran and his support for Israel. The media have also cast doubt on the bipartisan support for Hagel's nomination.
Right-wing media, including Fox News and the Drudge Report, are attacking NBC's Bob Costas for daring to question America's "gun culture" in the wake of the tragic murder-suicide committed by a Kansas City Chiefs football player. The Drudge Report characterized Costas' comments as a "gun control rant" while Fox criticized him for "lecturing America on gun control" in the wake of the tragedy.
On December 1, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend at the house they shared before subsequently killing himself in front of his head coach and other members of the Chiefs organization. The following evening, during halftime of NBC's Sunday night football game, Costas endorsed part of a column by sportswriter Jason Whitlock who criticized the gun culture in America.
Costas said: " 'Our current gun culture," Whitlock wrote, 'ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.' " Costas later added: " 'But here,' wrote Jason Whitlock, 'is what I believe: If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.' "
Fox News' Fox & Friends repeatedly questioned whether it was "appropriate" for Costas to be "lecturing America on gun control."
In the wake of previous tragedies, conservative media figures have advocated against gun laws and even denied that gun violence is a serious problem in the United States. Now they've turned their focus to Costas who brought up the subject of America's gun culture in the wake of the latest high-profile example of gun violence.
Fox News, which has spent the day promoting conspiracy theories about the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is now trumpeting the fact that BLS economists have donated to the Democrats and President Obama to reinforce their theory that BLS data is biased toward Obama. But one of the economists Fox identified is no longer a BLS employee, and only a tiny fraction of BLS workers have even made campaign donations.
This morning, BLS released the September jobs report showing that the unemployment rate has dropped to 7.8 percent. It was the first time in nearly four years that the rate has fallen below 8 percent. Media conservatives -- who have a history of attempting to negate positive jobs data -- rushed to discredit the data, claiming the jobs numbers were "total pro-Obama propaganda."
During a segment in which he stressed that Fox News had done its "homework," Your World guest host Eric Bolling named two economists he said work for BLS currently "who've both been donors to the Obama campaign," asking, "Should I make any assumptions from that?"
From the September 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Conservative media outlets are claiming that the military is purchasing more electric vehicles in an attempt to "prop up the Obama administration's green agenda." But military leaders across the political spectrum say that the Pentagon's green initiatives will enhance military effectiveness and strengthen national security.
Last month, Stars and Stripes reported that the Defense Department plans to add about 1,500 "road-capable" electric cars to its fleet over the next few years. So far, the military has purchased 168 plug-in electric vehicles -- including some Chevy Volts. Thomas Hicks, the Navy's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy, recently told Scientific American that the goal of the military's green initiatives is "improving our combat capability, improving our mission effectiveness, and reducing our vulnerabilities to foreign sources of fossil fuel."
But conservative media outlets have conjured up another motive, accusing the Obama administration of using taxpayer dollars to boost GM's sales numbers -- even though the military is buying several types of electric vehicles. A Breitbart post said: "The Obama administration is helping General Motors again by buying up its struggling line of electric cars." And a Washington Free Beacon article stated: "The Pentagon's massive car-buying scheme is the latest example of government trying to help GM raise its sales volumes."
Other conservative outlets are calling the purchases a "political statement," and an attempt to "prop up the Obama administration's green agenda." And Fox News, which never misses an opportunity to lambast the Volt, issued the self-fulfilling prophecy that the military's purchase will become "the latest controversy in the Volt's short life."
Several conservative outlets cited a Reuters report that GM is losing up to $49,000 on every Volt sold to suggest that electric vehicles are a waste of taxpayer money. But as the International Business Times pointed out, this figure does not take into account future Volt sales or the application of its technology to other products, which will lower per-vehicle costs. GM called the Reuters figure "grossly wrong," and said that it expects to break even by the time the second-generation Volt is introduced in a few years. Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz wrote in Forbes that "[m]aybe the Volt, a first-generation technology masterpiece and the most-awarded car in automotive history, will never make a really decent profit. But succeeding generations of the same technology will."
International Business Times noted that the Volt is a forward-looking investment by GM, which "should be reassuring to investors and the market." Likewise, the military's investment in electric vehicles is part of a long-term strategy to reduce its dependence on oil, mitigate the risks of climate change and enhance national security.
In a blog promoted by conservative media, The Heritage Foundation's Lachlan Markay criticized a report finding that a federal solar tax credit can more than pay for itself. Heritage claimed the study "assumes that solar companies that enjoy the tax breaks in question will survive." Pointing to failed solar-panel makers like Solyndra, Heritage said "a number of the recipients of the solar tax credit may not be around to produce the returns projected " in the study. But in fact, the report analyzed a tax credit for consumers of solar panels, not tax credits for manufacturers.
The report, conducted by the U.S. Partnership on Renewable Energy Finance (a coalition of financiers who support renewable energy) found that the Investment Tax Credit for solar photovoltaic installations can deliver a return on investment over a 30-year period under an increasingly popular investment arrangement in which developers lease solar power systems to businesses and homeowners, who then make taxable payments over several years for the system or pay for the electricity generated. These and other taxes directly related to the installation and operation of the solar systems would more than offset the initial cost to the federal government over the study period, according to the analysis.
The report shows that renewable energy can be a fiscally sound investment for the government -- contrary to claims made by some in the conservative media who attack any and all efforts to encourage renewable energy use. Tax credits for renewable energy have been supported by Republicans in the past. The tax credit in question was initially signed into law by George W. Bush.
Fox's chief Washington correspondent James Rosen hyped a Washington Free Beacon report alleging the Obama campaign employed call centers in Canada and the Philippines. But neither the Fox segment nor the Free Beacon article provided any substantial evidence to support such a claim.
The Obama campaign has been attacking Mitt Romney for his history of moving jobs overseas as a businessman at Bain Capital. After mentioning these reports on Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Rosen touted the Beacon's claims, stating: "The Romney campaign, in turn, circulated a report in the Washington Free Beacon" which Rosen uncritically said "found the Obama-Biden campaign has paid companies headquartered in Canada and the Philippines more than $80,000 for telemarketing services."
However, ABC reporter Devin Dwyer pointed out that "the Beacon's claims are not fully substantiated" after looking at the actual facts. Dwyer first explained that Pacific East is based in Canada but has a division headquarters in Oregon. He went on to explain that the FEC filings provided no indication as to which Pacific East call centers were used by the Obama campaign or where they may have been based:
Closer examination of the facts, however, finds the Beacon's claims are not fully substantiated.
First, Pacific East, while based in Canada, has a division headquartered Beaverton, Ore., to oversee U.S. business operations. There is also no indication from FEC filings of where Pacific East call centers possibly employed by Obama's campaign may have been based. The Beacon does not cite any evidence.
Dwyer then said that the Beacon "points to expenditures in the Obama campaign's most recent Federal Election Commission filing that showed" money spent on telemarketing services from "the Los Angeles-based Donor Services Group (DSG)." Dwyer found that the Beacon's reporting on DSG also lacks convincing evidence:
As for DSG, the picture is much the same. The U.S.-based company specializes in call centers and donor outreach, according to its website. However, there is no mention of foreign operations there, or in FEC filings.
So where does "Manila" come from?
The bit appears in a 2009 services contract between DSG and a Maryland charity (Foundation Fighting Blindness, Inc.) that was obtained and posted by the Weekly Standard. The document outlines four different types of DSG call centers -- one of which was based in Manila "to make inexpensive calls designed to reinstate older lapsed donors more affordably."
It's unclear whether those call centers still exist or whether the Obama campaign benefited from their services. The FEC filing, again, shows no direct evidence to support the Beacon's claim that Team Obama "paid a call center in Manila."
The Washington Free Beacon is claiming that Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) voted for "massive new regulations on the coal industry" that will raise electric bills in her state by "as much as 23 percent." But this figure overstates even a questionable analysis that looked at several EPA rules, not just the mercury and air toxics rule that Sen. McCaskill voted on.
Free Beacon claimed that "the cost of compliance" with the first national standards limiting the emissions of mercury and several air toxics from power plants "could raise consumer electricity bills by as much as 23 percent" in Sen. McCaskill's state of Misssouri, linking to an op-ed that cites a report by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization that works with corporations and state politicians to promote legislation. The ALEC report claims that electric rates in Missouri will rise 11.1 to 23 percent due to several proposed and finalized EPA rules, not just the mercury rule. It is completely opaque in its methodology, but cites two sources that it says partially formed the basis of its utility rate claims. The first source it cites is an estimate from electric utilities themselves; ALEC cites a document from coal giant American Electric Power, which does not contain any information on Missouri's electric rates.
The second source is a 2011 report prepared for a coal industry group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, by NERA Consulting. The ACCCE report studied the combined effects of the aforementioned mercury rule (which at the time of the report was proposed but not finalized), the finalized Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, the proposed coal ash rule and the proposed cooling water intake rule. According to the report, together these rules would increase the average retail electric price by 6.5%, and would increase electric prices in West Missouri by 8% and East Missouri by 11.1%. An expert from Andover Technology, a consulting company for the air pollution control industry, wrote that the ACCCE report "makes several assumptions that are inconsistent with actual practice" and "lead to overestimation of the cost of regulations." The chief economist at the Natural Resources Defense Council agreed.
And while Free Beacon called the mercury regulation "harsh," most power plants are already meeting the rule, which will bring the oldest, dirtiest plants into line. And it's not as if the rule is a surprise. The executives of major energy companies have noted that "for over a decade, companies have recognized that the industry would need to install controls to comply with the [Clean Air] act's air toxicity requirements, and the technology exists to cost effectively control such emissions."
Conservative media outlets are misrepresenting job estimates to suggest that a stimulus grant program for renewable energy projects has been a waste of taxpayer money. In fact, in just two years the program has supported up to 75,000 jobs and has propelled growth in the renewable energy industry.
Earlier this week, Congressional Research Service analyst Molly Sherlock testified before Congress on the jobs impact of the Sec. 1603 grant program, which was established by the Recovery Act to provide grants in-lieu of existing tax credits for renewable energy projects. Sherlock cited a recent analysis by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) which found that the projects that benefitted from the grant program have supported up to 75,000 direct and indirect jobs per year since it began in 2009, including construction jobs and long-term operations and maintenance jobs.
Based on NREL's figures, she estimated that the program itself has created 4,021 direct jobs per year, including 3,666 construction jobs and 355 ongoing operational jobs. Including indirect jobs, that number rises to as many as 31,000 jobs per year. Sherlock noted that these rough estimates "may understate actual job creation" because they don't factor in how many of the projects that received grants were motivated by the 1603 program.
But that didn't stop the right-wing media from cherry-picking data from her testimony to distort the success of the program. The Washington Free Beacon reported that the "Obama administration spent $10 billion to create 355 renewable energy jobs per year." Meanwhile, CNS News reported:
The Obama administration distributed $9 billion in economic "stimulus" funds to solar and wind projects in 2009-11 that created, as the end result, 910 "direct" jobs -- annual operation and maintenance positions -- meaning that it cost about $9.8 million to establish each of those long-term jobs.
This faulty math discounts thousands of direct construction jobs, let alone the tens of thousands of jobs created in supporting industries.