A day after The Wall Street Journal attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for attempting to rein in racial bias in auto loan practices, Politico questioned the agency for seeking advice from a consumer advocacy group that many media outlets -- including Politico -- frequently ask to comment on consumer issues.
On November 19, Politico questioned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) supposedly "cozy" relationship with a consumer advocacy group after emails revealed the agency consulted with the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) on payday lending reforms. CRL is a leading source of research on the issue of payday loans; however the article misleadingly compared the CFPB consulting with a consumer advocacy nonprofit to the often nefarious "influence of big banks and lobbyists in writing legislation":
When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put out its proposal to overhaul payday lending rules in March, the move was cheered by consumer advocates as a much-needed crackdown on an industry that preys on the poor.
But the final product wasn't a surprise to at least one nonprofit group.
While Elizabeth Warren and other progressives decry the influence of big banks and lobbyists in writing legislation, in this instance, the agency created by Warren to protect consumers from abusive lending leaned heavily on consumer activists as it drafted regulations for the $46 billion payday loan industry. The Center for Responsible Lending spent hours consulting with senior Obama administration officials, giving input on how to implement the rule that would restrict the vast majority of short-term loans with interest rates often higher than 400 percent. The group regularly sent over policy papers, traded emails and met multiple times with top officials responsible for drafting the rule.
Politico's criticism comes a day after The Wall Street Journal's editorial board lambasted the agency for drafting guidelines on ending racial bias in auto lending, and advocated for legislation to slow the CFPB's consumer advocacy work.
Politico's false comparison that consumer watchdogs have the same pervasive effect as big banks on legislation and rulemaking fails to note that the Center for Responsible Lending is a well-respected resource on financial products and how these products affect consumers. In the last month, research from the CRL has been cited by a Yale professor in The New York Times, and appeared in articles in Time, The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. On November 19, The Washington Post's Dave Weigel took to Facebook to criticize Politico, explaining to readers that "the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending, which reporters who have covered any of this stuff recognize as a pretty above-board group that lobbies against predatory loan practices":
In 2009, the Center for Responsible Lending uncovered that 76 percent of the total volume of payday loans are borrowers taking out new loans to pay their existing loan. The CRL also reported that payday loan practices lead to $3.4 billion in excessive fees a year with over 75 percent of these fees generated by borrowers with more than 10 loans a year. The CRL and its sister non-profit -- the Self Help Credit Union -- use this research to advocate for lending practices that will end the perpetual payday loan cycle, saving low income Americans billions.
While Politico questioned why "CFPB requested data from the nonprofit on payday lenders 'to help focus these efforts,'" it failed to mention it has used reports and published comments from the Center for Responsible Lending on multiple occasions in relation to financial products and legislation. On October 29, Politico asked CRL's Maura Dundon to explain a financial ruling on student loans and, on October 16, quoted Dundon to emphasize the strength of a CFPB crackdown on for-profit colleges. In December of 2008, Politico reported on the CRL findings that minority homeowners were pushed into higher priced mortgage options:
Research by the Center for Responsible Lending, for instance, shows that African-American and Latino homeowners were often steered into subprime mortgages with hefty fees when their credit scores in fact qualified them for less expensive prime loans. Now those groups are experiencing some of the highest rates of foreclosure.
A recent Texas Policy Evaluation Project study highlights how Texas' medically unnecessary abortion restrictions that were passed into law under the false right-wing media guise of protecting women's health actually place them at risk. The study predicts that women are more likely to self-induce abortion "as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access" -- a particularly poignant consequence of restrictive abortion laws in a state where such restrictions have already shuttered at least half of Texas' clinics.
On November 13, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Whole Women's Health v. Cole, a challenge to HB2, a Texas law passed in 2013 requiring all abortion providers to employ doctors that have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and to meet the standards for "ambulatory surgical centers." If not stricken down, the law could eventually shut down 75 percent of the state's clinics.
A November 17 study conducted by the University of Texas' Texas Policy Evaluation Project predicted that if the Supreme Court fails to overturn the law and clinic access is further restricted, "abortion self-induction will increase," "[g]iven that the populations ... found to be most familiar with abortion self-induction are among those that have been most directly affected by the closure." The study also found that at least 100,000 and as many as 240,000 women between the ages of 18 and 49 in Texas have attempted to self-induce an abortion. Histories of self-induced abortions are most prevalent among women who reported facing significant obstacles to reproductive healthcare in the past, and among Latina women living in a rural area of Texas that has seen several clinic closures.
The very law that numerous media outlets believe could force some Texas women to self-induce abortion by severely restricting their access, was passed based on right-wing media myths. Texas lawmakers pushing for the 2013 legislation insisted that women's health clinics were unsafe and required increased regulation, capitalizing on a that myth originated by anti-choice activists. At the time, media helped give this claim oxygen: multiple Fox News figures claimed the law's restrictions were medically necessary and would make women safer, and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote that the law would simply make clinics "meet certain medical standards." Today, Fox News is still peddling the GOP claim that these anti-choice restrictions are in the best interest of women's health, despite the fact that medical experts agree that the measure is based on medically inaccurate information and that these regulations harm women.
The New York Times points out that while Texas abortions are down 13 percent since the passage of HB2, the study's authors do not attribute the decline to the measure -- they point to international evidence that abortion restrictions have done nothing to reduce the incidence of abortion -- only to encourage unsafe abortions.
The authors suggest it's actually more likely that "Texas women either traveled out of state, continued the pregnancy, or induced an abortion using the drug Misoprostol (known by the brand name Cytotec) or through 'herbs or homeopathic remedies, getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills.'" While misoprostol has been endorsed by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals as a harm reduction strategy to mitigate the dangers of self-induced abortion, "unfortunately, women often have inaccurate information on misoprostol use, [and] [d]rug quality is also a major concern, with a variety of misoprostol products on the market that do not meet international standards, are poorly stored or have simply expired."
For these reasons, the Texas case before the Court has striking implications for the women of the 10 additional states that have enacted similar requirements for hospital-admitting privileges, as well as the six other states that have passed laws "requiring hospital-grade facilities that mirror the Texas law."
As Dr. Daniel Grossman, co-author of the study and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, told reporters, "This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB2 that pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk."
Right-wing media mocked Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for linking climate change to terrorism during the November 14 CBS Democratic presidential debate. Sanders explained that if climate change continues to go largely unaddressed, "you're going to see all kinds of international conflict." Right-wing media called Sanders "insane" and "someone who doesn't understand what the real subject is." However, major studies and reports from foreign policy and defense experts support Sanders' assessment that climate change was a significant factor contributing to the rise of ISIL (or ISIS).
Amid a newly-announced investigation of ExxonMobil by the attorney general of New York and calls from all three Democratic presidential candidates for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a federal probe of the oil giant, Exxon is feeling heat over evidence that it deceived the public for decades about the science of climate change. So the company is lashing out at the media organizations that compiled that evidence, and recent opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are assisting Exxon's disinformation campaign.
Following an eight-month investigation that included interviews with former Exxon employees and an extenstive examination of primary sources, including internal Exxon documents dating back to the 1970's, InsideClimate News published a six-part series in September and October detailing "how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial." The Los Angeles Times conducted its own investigation with Columbia University's Energy & Environmental Reporting Project and reached a similar conclusion: in the 1980's Exxon "earned a public reputation as a pioneer in climate change research," but by 1990 the company began "pour[ing] millions into a campaign that questioned climate change." The Times reported that the documents, along with "the recollections of former employees," indicate that ExxonMobil changed its stance on the issue because it "feared a growing public consensus would lead to financially burdensome policies."
Exxon initially responded by seeking to dismiss the InsideClimate News investigation as the work of "anti-oil and gas activists" (never mind that InsideClimate News is a Pulitzer Prize-winning media organization). But now Exxon has adopted a new strategy: seek to discredit the Los Angeles Times' characterization of a single Exxon document in order to undermine the mountains of evidence that Exxon purposefully deceived the public about climate change.
Exxon put this strategy into action in a November 5 blog post, in which Exxon Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Ken Cohen claimed that the Times was "deliberating hiding" a 1989 Exxon presentation it cited against Exxon because the document supposedly "undercuts the paper's claims that ExxonMobil knew with certainty everything there is to know about global warming back in the 1980s yet failed to sound alarms." The Exxon complaint was quickly picked up by a November 8 Wall Street Journal editorial, which claimed that the 1989 document proves that the InsideClimate News and Times investigations "selectively quote from internal Exxon documents," and a November 8 column by The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson, who repeated Cohen's claim that the 1989 document shows how the media investigations "'cherry-pick' their evidence."
Exxon is attacking the Times for reporting that the 1989 presentation, by Exxon scientist Duane LeVine, showed Exxon recognized that "scientists generally agreed gases released by burning fossil fuels could raise global temperatures significantly by the middle of the 21st century." In particular, Exxon objects to the Times not mentioning that LeVine said in the same document, "I do not believe" that "the science has demonstrated the existence of [potential enhanced greenhouse] today," and "enhanced greenhouse is still deeply imbedded in scientific uncertainty." (LeVine defined "potential enhanced greenhouse" as the "enhancement of [the greenhouse effect] due to human activities.")
But the Times is correct in pointing out that LeVine acknowledged the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels was projected to lead to significant warming. From page 20 of LeVine's 1989 presentation (emphasis added):
[The Department of Energy's] CO2 projections are used in current climate models to predict important changes over the next 100 years. This set of results is taken from the National Research Council (NRC) report "Changing Climate".
Consensus predictions call for warming 1.5-4.5 [degrees Celsius] for doubled CO2 with greater warming at the poles. Note that these numbers reflect the range produced by available models. No one knows how to evaluate the absolute uncertainty in the numbers.
The extent and thickness of glaciers are predicted to decrease, leading to sea level rise. The NRC report chose a most likely value of 70 cm sea level rise. Other predictions suggest a broader range from 30-200 cm. The rise occurs both from a larger amount of water in the oceans, and from thermal expansion.
Finally, climate change and higher levels of atmospheric CO2 affect agriculture and ecosystems.
The Times is also correct when it says that LeVine urged Exxon to "[t]ell the public that more science is needed before regulatory action is taken ... and emphasize the 'costs and economics' of restricting carbon dioxide emissions." From page 33 of the presentation (emphasis added, ellipses original):
To be a responsible participant and part of the solution to [potential enhanced greenhouse], Exxon's position should recognize and support 2 basic societal needs. First ... to improve understanding of the problem ... not just the science ... but the costs and economics tempered by the sociopolitical realities. That's going to take years (probably decades). But there are measures already underway that will improve our environment in various ways ... and in addition reduce the growth in greenhouse gases. That's the second need including things like energy conservation, restriction of CFC emissions, and efforts to increase the global ratio of re/de forestation. Of course, we'll need to develop other response options...implementing measures when they are cost effective in the near term and pursuing new technologies for the future.
In the presentation, LeVine drew a distinction between historical warming up to that point -- which he claimed is "not enough to confirm enhanced greenhouse" (page 22) -- and projections, which he said "suggest ... significant climate change with a variety of regional impacts" and "sea level rise with generally negative consequences" (page 22). Then, after identifying the "key players" that were likely to increasingly call for action to address climate change (page 23), LeVine claimed there is a "misconception" that "enough research on the basic problem has been done," and argued that "failure to understand" the need for scientific advances and uncertainty in the climate models could "lead to premature limitations on fossil fuels" (page 31).
So LeVine acknowledged the scientific consensus on climate change while simultaneously arguing that he personally did not believe anthropogenic global warming was fully proven and that more research was necessary before restricting fossil fuel use. In that sense, LeVine's presentation is indicative of Exxon's shift towards attempting to "emphasize [the] doubt," just as the Times described it.
The year of LeVine's presentation also fits with the timeline for Exxon's shift on climate science that was identified in the InsideClimate News investigation (emphasis added):
Through much of the 1980s, Exxon researchers worked alongside university and government scientists to generate objective climate models that yielded papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Their work confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming's risks.
Yet starting in 1989, Exxon leaders went down a different road. They repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions. Even as the models grew more powerful and reliable, Exxon publicly derided the type of work its own scientists had done. The company continued its involvement with climate research, but its reputation for objectivity began to erode as it campaigned internationally to cast doubt on the science.
With this full context, it's clear that the Times' characterization of LeVine's presentation is justified and Exxon's response is a deceptive smokescreen.
But it's also important to remember that LeVine's presentation is just one of many primary source documents examined by the Times and InsideClimate News. Here is a sampling of other documents showing that Exxon scientists and officials recognized by the early-to-mid-eighties that there was broad scientific consensus continuing to burn fossil fuels would lead to climate change, even if the amount of warming was still unclear:
Image at top via Flickr user Mike Mozart using a Creative Commons license.
Rupert Murdoch, executive co-chairman of Fox News and Wall Street Journal's respective parent companies, lashed out at media outlets for vetting GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson's autobiographical claims, stating CNN and The New York Times "hate faith based people," after they published articles challenging some of the candidate's past statements. Murdoch's criticism came just one day after his own Wall Street Journal cast doubt on the veracity of several Carson claims.
The authenticity of several stories in Ben Carson's autobiography have come under media scrutiny within the past week, including claims that he was offered a scholarship to the U.S. Military Academy and that he attempted to stab a childhood friend. After CNN reported that they could not "independently confirm" incidents described in Carson's autobiography including "stabbing, rock throwing, brick hurling and baseball bat beating," right-wing media lashed out at the network, calling the report "ruthless" for "dissecting" Carson's life. The New York Times detailed Carson's questionable statements in a November 7 article writing, "Now it is Ben Carson who appears to have shaded the facts." The Times went on to explain how Carson's response was to "engage in a practice that has become routine in this race: He harshly turned the questions back on reporters who asked them."
Murdoch defended Carson on November 7, writing "Carson seems to have won by standing up immediately and answering doubters. Seems CNN/NYT etc all hate faith based people":
Carson seems to have won by standing up immediately and answering doubters. Seems CNN/NYT etc all hate faith based people.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) November 7, 2015
However, a November 6 story that ran in Murdoch's own Wall Street Journal contributed to the scrutiny over Carson's claims. The Journal called a number of incidents described by Carson into question, including his assertion that he protected white students from a riot, and was identified by a professor as "the most honest student" in a Perceptions 301 psychology class at Yale University:
The day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, Ben Carson's black classmates unleashed their anger and grief on white students who were a minority at Detroit's Southwestern High.
Mr. Carson, then a junior with a key to a biology lab where he worked part time, told The Wall Street Journal last month that he protected a few white students from the attacks by hiding them there.
It is a dramatic account of courage and kindness, and it couldn't be confirmed in interviews with a half-dozen of Mr. Carson's classmates and his high school physics teacher. The students all remembered the riot. None recalled hearing about white students hiding in the biology lab, and Mr. Carson couldn't remember any names of those he sheltered.
In his 1990 autobiography, "Gifted Hands," Mr. Carson writes of a Yale psychology professor who told Mr. Carson, then a junior, and the other students in the class--identified by Mr. Carson as Perceptions 301--that their final exam papers had "inadvertently burned," requiring all 150 students to retake it. The new exam, Mr. Carson recalled in the book, was much tougher. All the students but Mr. Carson walked out.
"The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture," Mr. Carson wrote. " 'A hoax,' the teacher said. 'We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.' " Mr. Carson wrote that the professor handed him a $10 bill.
No photo identifying Mr. Carson as a student ever ran, according to the Yale Daily News archives, and no stories from that era mention a class called Perceptions 301. Yale Librarian Claryn Spies said Friday there was no psychology course by that name or class number during any of Mr. Carson's years at Yale.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board used sharply revised government estimates on the number of Americans expected to purchase health insurance through federal marketplaces to claim that Obamacare is failing and hype so-called Republican "alternatives" to the landmark health care reform legislation. The Journal's fearmongering about the long-term viability of Obamacare failed to acknowledge that while enrollment via federal marketplaces is less than expected, millions of Americans are still gaining access to affordable health insurance coverage.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley attacked Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for supporting progressive income tax rates to fund government investments, falsely claiming that additional tax cuts for the wealthy are a better method of increasing tax revenue.
A Media Matters review found that cable news shows and leading newspapers around the country remained largely silent on arson attacks that targeted Planned Parenthood clinics following the release of a series of deceptively-edited, anti-choice videos smearing the health care provider. Prime-time cable news shows and the nation's three highest-circulation newspapers dedicated minimal coverage to the arson attacks. The LA Times and Spokane's Spokesman Review provided the most coverage of the attacks.
In addition to repeating debunked claims that a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ozone standard will harm the economy and do nothing to improve public health, conservative media are pointing to ozone that naturally occurs in national parks as supposed evidence that the EPA standard is unfair and unnecessary. But while some "background ozone" does come from natural sources like wildfires -- and from industrial pollution drifting into a state from outside the U.S. -- levels of background ozone are not high enough to prevent states from meeting the EPA's new standard, and states are not responsible for reducing it.
An October 5 editorial by the Wall Street Journal used anti-union rhetoric and pro-privatization arguments to celebrate Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's resignation and replacement by Acting Deputy Education Secretary John King. The editorial perpetuated several well-worn education policy myths, and mischaracterized the economic outcomes of for-profit colleges and the effects of voucher programs for low-income students of color.
An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by editorial writer Allysia Finley downplayed a labor judge's findings of employer misconduct to accuse California's Agricultural Labor Relations Board of teaming up with the United Farm Workers to "shake down workers" by throwing out the ballots of a decertification vote. Finley ignored several unlawful actions by the employer, Gerawan Farming, claiming that the misconduct "amounted mainly to a 'well-timed' raise."
In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions-rigging scandal, questions are being raised about the amount of influence automakers have over the enforcement -- or lack thereof -- of vehicle emissions standards. But rather than join in that conversation, conservative media are making excuses for Volkswagen's conduct and seeking to shift much of the blame to the Environmental Protection Agency and emission standards themselves.
Net metering policies, which allow utilities' customers to send energy from solar panels on their homes into the electric grid in exchange for a credit, are being threatened by efforts in several states to roll back or dismantle the policies -- most of which are bolstered by anti-solar myths from utilities and fossil fuel interests that are being parroted in the media. Here are the facts about net metering.