A central facet of the right-wing media's criticism of the Obama administration's response to the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya has been inadvertently disproved by The Weekly Standard.
For months, the right-wing media has suggested that the Obama administration had for political purposes attempted to link the Benghazi attacks to an anti-Islam YouTube video. According to this theory, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and other high-ranking members of the administration had highlighted the video as a "diversion tactic" to downplay the attack's connection to terrorism and cover up the supposed failure of American foreign policy that would indicate. But the original draft of talking points on the attacks generated by the CIA -- released last week by The Weekly Standard in an effort to demonstrate how those talking points were changed "to obscure the truth"-- prove that the intelligence community itself believed that such a link existed.
In the Weekly Standard article, Stephen F. Hayes highlighted how specifics about the involvement of members of an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that were included in an initial September 14 draft of talking points by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis were later removed by administration officials. Included in Hayes' report are images of the various versions of those talking points, which serve to drastically undermine the right-wing media's critique. Here's the first bullet point from what The Weekly Standard terms "Version 1":
We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex.
In the final version of the document, that bullet reads:
The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
These talking points were used by Ambassador Rice for a series of September 16 television interviews. The right-wing media subsequently engaged in a witch hunt to portray her as untruthful and misleading for connecting the attack to the video. But as the Weekly Standard has now shown, it was the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis and not political appointees that introduced that link into the talking points.
The latest print copy of The Weekly Standard contains an unsigned editorial condemning the press for not covering the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who is accused of murder after performing illegal later-term abortions at his Philadelphia clinic. Bill Kristol's magazine insists there's "no conceivable professional justification for the Gosnell blackout." And yet the Weekly Standard's editorial represents the first time the magazine has mentioned the Gosnell trial, which began March 18, in its pages, according to a Nexis search.
It's a pattern we have seen play out again and again in the last week: Indignant conservatives demanding to know why the disturbing Gosnell trial isn't receiving more coverage from the allegedly liberal media, while failing to acknowledge the trial has often been ignored by the conservative press, too.
The lingering question is, why? Why did a Philadelphia trial that conservatives now insist deserves ongoing, front-page national press coverage manage to interest so few right-leaning journalists for so long? Why did the conservative press get caught in the embarrassing position where members complained about a Gosnell "media blackout" when conservative outlets had apparently participated in the blackout? (Note that as of today, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post and still have not covered the trial as a news story and Murdoch's Wall Street Journal has published just a single report.)
I think the simple answer is that the Gosnell story did not involve President Obama, therefore it didn't sustain the attention of the far-right press, which seems fully committed to producing content that only revolves around attacking the president or ginning up phony outrage about his every action.
For four years, the GOP press has confirmed its obsession with documenting how Obama is destroying the Constitution and that he his agenda represents payback against white Europeans who settled the country, that he attempted to "assault" liberty with his second inaugural address, the First Family's vacations cost too much, Bob Woodward was threatened by White House "thugs", inviting school children to White House events is offensive and exploitative, Friends of Hamas donated money to Obama's Secretary of Defense, or whatever other nonsense is being shoveled that given week.
Infected with Obama Derangement Syndrome, conservative journalists often seem incapable of surveying the larger landscape and deciding what's actually newsworthy and important to their cause. They seem incapable of viewing the world through anything but an Obama-hating soda straw. And when looking through that straw in recent weeks, they couldn't see the Gosnell trial because the president was nowhere in sight.
A wide swath of media figures have cited economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's January 2010 finding that a country's economic growth becomes impaired when its debt level exceeds 90 percent of gross domestic product. But the Reinhart-Rogoff paper is premised on an Excel error, revealed when other researchers reviewed the data underlying the commonly-cited debt-to-GDP threshold claim.
Austerity proponents, such as House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), frequently claim that a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent signals economic doom, using Reinhart and Rogoff's work as leverage for imposing sharp cuts that economists agree would do serious harm to economic growth. Media coverage of budget and economic policy throughout the past three years has also repeated that claim, often without a direct connection to the Reinhart-Rogoff work from which the notion derives.
But that work, arguably the lynchpin of the case for imposing austerity in order to deliver economic growth, is crippled by basic errors, as the Roosevelt Institute's Mike Konczal explains:
From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.
In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. [...]
So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]." Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.
Rogoff and Reinhart responded to the criticism, which has since been criticized as a weak rebuttal. But now that those numbers are known to be wrong, the litany of media outlets which have cited them have an opportunity to reexamine their coverage of the austerity premise. Print media, notably The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have frequently reproduced the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis in covering budget and economic policy. Television and radio media have made frequent use of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper, including prominent mentions on NPR, CNN, and Fox Business.
The Reinhart-Rogoff threshold has long been challenged by fellow economists, such as former Federal Reserve economist Joseph Gagnon, Paul Krugman, and Josh Bivens and John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, on the grounds that it gets the directionality of causation exactly wrong. These and other economists argue that high debt levels are a consequence of prolonged weak GDP growth, rather than its cause.
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker notes, however, the newly discovered errors obviate these more intricate economist responses to Reinhart-Rogoff: "we need not concern ourselves with any arguments this complicated. The basic R&R story was simply the result of them getting their own numbers wrong."
After promoting anecdotes from a firefighter to claim that polar bears are "doing just fine," Fox News has ignored new research that confirms they are still existentially threatened by climate change. This divide in coverage is illustrative of what University of Alberta scientist Dr. Ian Stirling called a "new element" of media -- "the deliberately misleading, and sometimes downright dishonest, treatment of the science around polar bears when it relates to climate warming." In conversations with Media Matters, Stirling and other leading polar bear scientists outlined eight tips for media outlets seeking to accurately cover the plight of the polar bears.
In February, Fox News repeatedly promoted a book by firefighter Zac Unger on his time in Churchill, Manitoba to claim that "the polar bears are doing just fine." Even though bears in that region are actually among the subpopulations in decline, Fox News suggested that the book undermined climate science. Dr. Andrew Derocher, a scientific advisor to Polar Bears International, called that premise "flawed" and told Media Matters that "scientific literature shows very clearly the loss of sea ice in the satellite record and the projections (many many scientific papers) show that the future will be particularly challenging for polar bears as the sea ice disappears." He added, "I've worked on polar bears for 30 years and the changes are incredibly easy to see but as scientists, we don't just look at bears, we measure them and analyze the data."
Stirling criticized Unger for "a very sad piece of deliberately misleading and dishonest writing" that "tells only parts of the story that suit him." Similarly, Derocher said it was "unfortunate" when "someone who clearly doesn't understand a subject well botches up the science." Furthermore, media should not rely on anecdotal information when there is "a lot of data" on sea ice and polar bear body condition. He added:
The book you mentioned was written by someone who spent a few months in 1 place with his family talking to people. What I did on my last trip to Kentucky doesn't qualify me to rewrite the history [of] the eastern US. I've worked on polar bears for 30 years. Many of my colleagues for even longer. You don't go to a plumber for heart surgery but when it comes to polar bears "everybody is an expert". In science, an expert has to demonstrate expertise. Hanging around in Churchill for a few months talking to the locals doesn't qualify as an expert. Our last paper on polar bears in Conservation Letters had something like 200 years of cumulative polar bear expertise. How it can be that media put the scientific perspective on par with a casual observer is beyond me.
In fact, some reports that rely on polar bear sightings to conclude they are doing "fine" may be unwittingly underscoring the urgency of sea ice melt. As lost habitat drives bears from their hunting grounds, they sometimes wander into towns and garbage dumps. This may lead to more contact with humans, and an overall impression that polar bears are abundant, even to the point of being a nuisance. In fact, as Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, a former polar bear project leader at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), told Media Matters, a bear sighting in a new place "probably means the bears are having a hard time making a living where they used to make a living."
Unger promoted the popular media claim that polar bear populations have increased -- or are even "exploding" -- since the 1960s or 1970s, but those reports omit necessary context. Many of the starting-point estimates are based on a Russian calculation from the 1950s -- 5,000-8,000 bears -- that has never been broadly accepted by scientists. Amstrup told Media Matters that "we really don't know how many polar bears there were in the 60s [or 70s]" and it is "important to set the record straight." In 2008, Stirling told then-CNN Executive Producer for Science Peter Dykstra that the estimate was "almost certainly much too low."
In some places, thanks to conservation efforts like the Marine Mammal Protection Act and a subsequent international agreement, it does appear that polar bear populations have increased. According to Amstrup, Alaskan populations are a good example of such managed recovery. But in other areas, such as western Hudson Bay and the southern Beaufort Sea, populations are thought to be declining. And as Derocher pointed out, conservation biology is concerned with the future, normally examining issues three generations down the road. By this measure, polar bears are indeed in trouble, and looking back to the 1960s or 70s makes no sense:
What climate deniers like to pull out is that there are more polar bears now than in the 1960s. That doesn't matter and just because we've corrected excessive harvest rates (commercial hunting for example) in the 1960s doesn't make this argument any more relevant to the conservation of the species today moving forward in time.
Amstrup echoed this point, saying "the population on the Titanic was doing just fine until just before it slipped beneath the waves." Overall, the USGS has projected that changes in Arctic ice conditions could result in "loss of approximately 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century."
Fox News contributor Steve Hayes claimed that federal agencies "never" overestimate the costs of regulation to suggest that a new rule to reduce smog-creating pollutants will cost more than the Environmental Protection Agency predicts. But studies have found that the EPA previously overestimated the cost of regulating the same pollutant, and has historically overestimated costs.
The EPA estimates that reducing the amount of sulfur in gasoline, which contributes to smog, will add less than a penny to the price of a gallon of gasoline. Hayes suggested on Special Report that the EPA's estimate is too low, saying "of course there is going to be more cost":
Regression analysis shows that Tier 2 regulations, which required a reduction in the average sulfur content of gasoline from 300 ppm to 30 ppm, had no material impact on the retail price of gasoline.
The EPA estimated that Tier 2 would increase the average cost of refining gasoline by about two cents per gallon, and that Tier 3 will increase the average cost of refining gasoline by one cent per gallon. Because Tier 2 had no material impact on the retail price of gasoline, it is unlikely Tier 3--projected to generate private costs half the size of those generated by Tier 2--will have any impact either.
And a 2010 review by Resources for the Future found that the EPA "tend[s] to overestimate the total costs of regulations," noting that the agency overestimated costs for 14 of the rules it examined and only underestimated costs for 3 rules.
Industry estimates of regulatory costs have been shown to be even more overblown in retrospective studies. Keeping with this historical trend, the American Petroleum Institute claims that EPA's latest rule would raise gas prices by 6 to 9 cents, but its analysis didn't assess the rule that was ultimately proposed by the EPA, which provides significant flexibility to refineries.
Right-wing media fabricated a split between White House press secretary Jay Carney and President Obama on the reason for White House tour cancelations, ignoring the fact that both explained that the tours were cancelled because of the impact of automatic budget cuts on the Secret Service.
During a March 13 White House afternoon press conference, Carney explained that tours of the White House were cancelled because the Secret Service decided to cut security on the tours to spare their agents further furloughs due to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration (emphasis added):
CARNEY: We had to cancel the tours. It's our job to cancel the tours. They cannot cancel them so -- because we run -- this is not a tour of the Secret Service building. It's a tour of the White House and the grounds. And we run the tours and invitations and that process. So the White House, as we have said, canceled the tours, confronted with the choice made by the Secret Service -- which we concur with, but it is certainly their choice because it's their budget -- that it was the right thing to do not to add further furloughs to the future for Secret Service agents, the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect senior officials in our government, and that the result would be cutbacks in staffing, hours in an area like tours, which is so labor-intensive.
Carney's statement echoed the remarks made by Obama on this topic during an ABC news interview aired the morning of March 13 (emphasis added):
OBAMA: You know, I have to say this was not- a decision that went up to the White House. But th- what the Secret Service explained to us was that they're gonna have to furlough some folks. What furloughs mean is- is that people lose a day of work and a day of pay.
And, you know, the question for them is, you know, how deeply do they have to furlough their staff and is it worth it to make sure that we've got White House tours that means that you got a whole bunch of families who are depending on a paycheck who suddenly are seein'-
Despite the consistency of Carney and Obama both explaining that the Secret Service made the choice to pull back on White House tour security to avoid more furloughs, right-wing media latched onto Carney's remarks and claimed that he broke from Obama's explanation.
Based on Carney's and Obama's remarks, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed on March 14 that they "need to get on the same page" regarding the cancelation of White House tours.
On March 13, Rush Limbaugh claimed that Carney's comments proved Obama "lied" about the reason for the White House tour cancelation, saying that while "some say it's unseemly to accuse a president of lying, and it may be unseemly. People don't want to believe that, but that's exactly what happened here."
Conservative media's Charlotte Allen recently wrote an extensive cover piece for The Weekly Standard that relies on discredited right-wing activists Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams to attack the Department of Justice's renewed focus on properly enforcing the Voting Rights Act. But while conservative media typically advances these sources and their debunked myths, it is disturbing that mainstream coverage of the Supreme Court case of Shelby County v. Holder is relying on von Spakovsky and not disclosing his highly unreliable background.
Allen, responsible for a piece dubbed "The Stupidest Thing Anyone Has Written About Sandy Hook" by lamenting in National Review Online that no men or "huskier 12-year-old boys" were available to protect the "feminized" victims of the Newtown massacre, takes on the "politiciz[ed]" DOJ under President Obama in her story for the The Weekly Standard. In the article, Allen manages to repeat most of von Spakovsky's and Adams' stale misinformation of years past, ranging from the non-scandalous New Black Panther fiasco and non-existent Fast and Furious conspiracy, to DOJ's "belligerent stances" on enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Allen also successfully writes over 6,500 words on the alleged "politicizing" of DOJ without divulging von Spakovsky and Adams were poster children for such conduct when they worked for the DOJ under George W. Bush, disparages U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder because his "people" are not black enough to claim civil rights history, and finally undermines her main thesis by admitting that - under any presidency - DOJ follows the policy preferences of the White House.
Ultimately, however, that Allen uses the collected works of von Spakovsky and Adams is unsurprising. What is troublesome is that mainstream outlets are also publishing the opinions of von Spakovsky and Adams as the "conservative" perspectives on Shelby without disclosing their extremist background.
China is reportedly set to impose a modest carbon tax, as well as effectively increase taxes on its coal industry. As the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases continues to take steps to curb climate change, the oft-repeated conservative argument that the U.S. can't act until China does becomes increasingly tenuous.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency warned that unless dramatic action is taken by 2017, it will be effectively impossible to meet the international commitment to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) -- a goal that many nations said still would not be enough to guarantee their survival. Experts say that the longer we delay, the more it will cost to reach the target. In light of this, arguing that we can't work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions until other nations agree to do the same could be seen as immoral.
But in recent years, it's also become nearly counterfactual: China has been taking steps, including investing more in clean energy than the U.S. and creating a long-term, comprehensive plan for expanding its renewable energy industries. Now this developing nation is set to put a price on carbon -- a move that most economists from across the ideological spectrum agree is one of the best ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (along with cap-and-trade). Yet the U.S. -- a much wealthier nation -- is no closer to making such a move.
It is true that China will play a critical role in whether we are able to limit catastrophic climate change. In 2007, China overtook the U.S. as the largest contributor to global carbon emissions (although the U.S. still emits far more per person), and its emissions are expected to grow until at least 2030. If China goes through with plans to expand coal production, it will emit more carbon than any other planned energy project in the world. However, China has recently signaled that it will take steps to limit its coal consumption.
Fox News is raising the red herring of Solyndra to attack President Barack Obama's proposal for an alternative vehicle research fund as a potential waste of "taxpayer dollars." But the proposal would be funded by existing fees on oil and gas companies and has received bipartisan support for its potential to improve our energy security.
The government currently collects over $10 billion a year in fees from oil and gas companies drilling on federal lands. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama proposed directing $200 million of that, or a total of $2 billion over 10 years, toward research into alternative transportation technology including vehicles that can run on electricity, biofuels or natural gas. The program would aptly be named the "Energy Security Trust," as it would work to reduce our dependence on oil. A White House spokesman told Bloomberg News that the proposal "wouldn't add to the debt because money would be shifted from other programs." Yet Fox News' America's Newsroom suggested on Thursday that the administration would be using "taxpayer dollars," adding to the debt:
Conservative media are pushing selectively cropped footage of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey as evidence that President Obama was "AWOL" the night of the Benghazi attack. In reality, Panetta and Dempsey emphasized that Obama's involvement was appropriate and that the White House was kept "well-informed" throughout the night.
After outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified before Congress on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, The Weekly Standard selectively cropped a portion of his testimony and blogged that Panetta found Obama to be "absent" the night of the assault. The Weekly Standard's attack on Obama subsequently made the conservative media rounds to Fox Nation, The Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, Breitbart.com, and Fox News.
In its post titled "Panetta: Obama Absent Night of Benghazi," where this smear seemingly originated, The Weekly Standard highlighted Sen. Kelly Ayotte's (R-NH) questions to Panetta as proof of Obama's absence:
AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications with him that night?
AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications - did he ever call you that night to say, "How are things going? What's going on? Where's the consulate?"
PANETTA: No, but we were aware that as we were getting information on what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador, his life had been lost - we were aware that that information went to the White House.
AYOTTE: Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?
AYOTTE: No one else called you to say, "How are things going?"
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.
Fox News, The Weekly Standard, and Matt Drudge are hiding Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's support for provisions in a disaster relief bill in order to attack Murkowski's Democratic colleague, Sen. Mark Begich (AK).
The Senate is debating a $60.4 billion relief bill to provide funding for clean-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy this week. The Governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have all endorsed a bill this size, but Republicans have reportedly threatened to block the bill if the proposed spending is not offset by cuts.
Right-wing media seized on some of the bill's provisions to call the bill an example of pork barrel spending even though the White House and Senate appropriators have said the vast majority of the spending in the bill is directly related to recovery from Hurricane Sandy. In particular, these media outlets have focused on a portion of the bill -- amounting to less than 0.3 percent of the total funds in the bill -- that provides money for states affected by disasters involving fisheries in the Northeast, Mississippi, and Alaska.
After misleadingly attacking the bill as a "scam" on Monday, Fox News' Fox & Friends First host Patti Ann Browne called the bill "packed with pork" and Fox Business correspondent Diane Macedo singled out Begich as a supporter of the fisheries provision.
But in order to suggest that this was a money grab by a Democratic senator, these outlets had to ignore the fact that Murkowski supported the fisheries provision too. Murkowski strongly praised the fisheries provision in a press release about the relief bill:
Alaska's Chinook fisheries were declared a disaster exactly three months ago, but no funds have been appropriated to help communities and businesses impacted yet. This bill will go a long way in providing federal resources to Alaskans who suffered economically because of this year's low King Salmon run get back on their feet.
Furthermore, the money will go to several states for which the Commerce Department declared disasters due to low catch rates and other problems: Mississippi, Rhode Island, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Alaska. And in Alaska, the declaration came as the result of a request by Republican Governor Sean Parnell.
In response to President Obama's re-election, conservative media have declared that the president does not have a mandate to pursue his policies and said Republicans have a mandate to obstruct them. In Obama's first term, Republicans engaged in historic levels of obstruction against Obama's agenda.
Conservative media outlets pushed at least eleven misleading attacks on President Obama's energy policies that have become talking points used by Mitt Romney's campaign. The conservative media bubble has largely prevented voters from hearing the facts about clean energy programs, fossil fuel production and environmental regulation under the Obama administration.