A front-page Wall Street Journal report suggested that a top political appointee in Hillary Clinton's State Department improperly "blocked" documents sought under public records law. But even the article's anonymous sources don't support that allegation.
While career officials are supposed to make the final decisions on the release of documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is normal for political appointees to play a role in the process. As explained in a 2011 Inspector General report issued as part of an investigation into the role political appointees played in the FOIA processes of the Department of Homeland Security, both political and career officials "should undoubtedly ask questions and offer suggestions while a course of action is under consideration. This is the 'deliberative process' in which government employees must engage in order to make reasoned decisions. "The report noted that it is "appropriate that there be internal debate among DHS employees about DHS programs, and FOIA processing is no exception."
Echoing this understanding of how the FOIA process works, the Journal includes a State Department spokesman's comment that it is "entirely appropriate for certain Department personnel" to be consulted regarding FOIA requests, and a Clinton spokesman's statement that the focus of the article, former State Department chief of staff Cheryl Mills, "did not inappropriately interfere with the FOIA process."
Hoping to create permanent criminal investigations into Bill and Hillary Clinton's dealings -- reminiscent of the ones that hounded them in the 1990s -- conservative commentators employed by Rupert Murdoch have been demanding that the FBI or the Department of Justice open inquiries to determine if the Clintons are guilty of criminal wrongdoing. Their hook is the new Murdoch-published Clinton Cash book, which alleges wide-ranging misconduct by the Clintons and their global charity, the Clinton Foundation.
Hoping to take author Peter Schweizer's fantastic claims of foreign donors buying influence, Murdoch media voices at Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Post and elsewhere want to create a churning culture of subpoenas, testimonies, and legal briefings, likely all in the hopes of catching somebody in a misstatement while under oath. Recall that the 1990's impeachment crusade surrounding president Bill Clinton's sex life grew out of special prosecutor Ken Starr's completely unrelated investigation into the Clintons' money-losing Whitewater land transaction.
A criminal probe sparked by Clinton Cash would be a dream come true for partisan media outlets.
"When you have a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who is going get the nomination of her party, the FBI has a duty to, we the people, to investigate any appearance of impropriety. Does it not?" asked Bill O'Reilly this week. "The FBI has got to go in and look. They have to go in and look. If they don't, that's corrupt."
The only problem for Murdoch's minions is they can't point to any evidence that even remotely indicates the Clintons broke the law via their foundation or foreign donations to it. The claims of bribery or quid pro quo deals are entirely flimsy, drowning in innuendo. Instead, the Fox News-led posse is essentially demanding criminal investigations be launched in order to find the evidence first, and then proceed to political prosecutions. It's a bold attempt to criminalize politics.
That blueprint worked while Bill Clinton was president, so it's not surprising conservative media, working alongside Republicans, are trying to resurrect the strategy, hoping to create enough "foreign donation" hysteria to prompt some sort of inquiry.
"I think this warrants investigation," Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer recently stressed to Fox News.
Newsmax's Christopher Ruddy detailed the entanglements between several media properties owned by Rupert Murdoch that are promoting the upcoming book Clinton Cash from conservative activist Peter Schweizer.
In an April 27 column headlined "In Defense of the Clinton Foundation," Newsmax CEO and editor Christopher Ruddy -- who is himself a donor to the Foundation -- discussed the allegations made against the charity in Clinton Cash, which were recently hyped in a Fox News special. He writes that the claims in the book, which suggests the Clintons used donations to influence foreign policy, are "unsubstantiated, unconnected, and baseless," and tells journalists to "follow the money" when discussing the book itself, warning that "where there's smear, there's not always fact."
Ruddy notes, "The sister companies of News Corp and 21st Century Fox own HarperCollins, which published Peter Schweizer's book; they own The Wall Street Journal, which first raised the issue of the foreign donations; they own the New York Post, which broke the details about the Schweizer book; and they own Fox News, which gave the story oxygen and legs."
He adds, "With so much media mojo from one company, there is no doubt they will be doing some pretty good 'cashing in' from the many millions of dollars their new best-seller will generate."
Schweizer has a long history of errors and retractions, and the stories released from Clinton Cash fail to implicate former Secretary Clinton, President Clinton, or the Foundation in any wrongdoing. However, Murdoch properties have still promoted its claims.
Newsmax is a conservative publication, which has gone after the Clintons and other Democrats and progressives for years. But in the course of writing about the Clinton Cash allegations, Ruddy explains that he doesn't want to go back to the 1990s, "when one allegation led to a daisy-chain effect, and the GOP ended up looking bad as the Democrats kept winning."
Media outlets trumpeted likely Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie as striving to be "authentic and brave" for proposing harmful cuts to Social Security benefits that would include raising the retirement age.
Speaking in New Hampshire on April 14, the New Jersey governor laid out a series of proposed broad changes to Social Security benefits, including means tests for seniors making $80,000 a year in non-Social Security income and a phase-out of all payments for those making above $200,000. Christie also proposed raising the retirement age at which seniors can receive benefits to 69 and the early retirement age to 64.
Many media outlets characterized Christie as a straight-shooter for his proposal, describing him as attempting to paint himself as a teller of hard truths.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, wrote that Christie had "moved to depict himself as the fiscal truth-teller of the Republican presidential field" with his proposal, calling it "provocative, and risky." A Washington Post opinion piece said Christie was "positioning himself, like other would-be presidents of the past, as the one guy willing to talk straight about the government's unsustainable finances." An NBC News article on the proposal was titled "Chris Christie Sells 'Hard Truths' on Social Security Reform," while a Business Insider headline declared, "Chris Christie's plan to win the White House is to tell people what they don't want to hear." Fortune's Nina Easton claimed on Fox News' Happening Now that Christie's proposal "plays into the narrative that he's authentic and brave and tells it like it is."
Painting Christie as seeking to be seen as a "brave" and "authentic" truth-teller in coverage of his proposed Social Security cuts not only helps the likely GOP candidate spread his desired narrative, but it masks the harmful impact such cuts would have on the poor and middle class.
"Raising the retirement age is terrible for the poor," Vox explained, despite Christie's contention that his plan would only affect the rich. Raising the retirement and early retirement age would effectively constitute "an across-the-board benefit cut of almost 10 percent in Americans' lifetime Social Security benefits." As economist Teresa Ghilarducci told PBS Newshour, "Evidence shows that many older workers are simply not able to work past traditional retirement age without substantial suffering. Reducing their retirement income and throwing them off medical insurance will create a new cohort of impoverished elderly, reversing the tangible gains in reducing old age poverty made since the Great Depression."
What's more, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, cutting benefits for those making over $200,000 is unlikely to save the program much money, given how few recipients earn that much. His estimations are backed up by a 2011 Center for Economic and Policy Research study, which found that 90 percent of Social Security recipients earn less than $50,000 in non-social security income.
Conservative media are attributing California's devastating drought to a "man-made" factor -- but not the one that is actually worsening it.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently recycled many of the same claims it made in a 2009 editorial titled, "California's Man-Made Drought." Right-wing website Hot Air dubbed the drought "California's 'man-made' environmental disaster." And when potential 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina described the drought as "a man-made disaster" during an appearance on Glenn Beck's radio show, Beck demanded to know why "we don't hear that story on the news at all," while Rush Limbaugh declared that "there is a man-made lack of water in California," and "[Fiorina is] right."
No, these media figures haven't suddenly seen the light on climate change. Instead, they're using the historic drought as an opportunity to baselessly attack environmental policies.
This strategy is nothing new. For years, Republican Congressmen, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop have been repeating this same talking point on California's "man-made drought" to promote legislation that would redirect water to California's Central Valley at the expense of water currently dedicated to fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration under the Endangered Species Act. As my former employer the League of Conservation Voters put it, this legislation "uses California's current low water supplies as an excuse to weaken federal and state environmental laws." The Los Angeles Times called it "a tired political tactic barely, and laughably, disguised as a remedy for the lack of rainfall."
Three of Rupert Murdoch's largest and most powerful news outlets promoted baseless conspiracy theories that Google is using its alleged "close ties" with the Obama administration to receive favorable treatment and to push its policy agenda. Murdoch has a long history of attacking Google.
On March 24, News Corp's Wall Street Journal reported on the purportedly close ties between the Obama administration and Google after discovering that Google employees have visited the White House multiple times since President Obama took office. The piece went on to allege that Google used its ties with the White House to get favorable action from a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) antitrust probe into the company.
The New York Post (News Corp) went further on March 28 in an article titled "Google controls what we buy, the news we read - and Obama's policies." The article speculated that Google has used its influence and financial contributions to the Obama administration to receive favors including net neutrality regulation, favorable FTC action, and contracts to fix the Affordable Care Act's website. The piece speculated on "what's coming next: politically filtered information."
21st Century Fox's Fox News echoed the New York Post during the March 30 edition of Fox & Friends, with co-host Clayton Morris claiming "the same search engine that controls our news also controls the White House." During the show, Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo claimed that Google was "being investigated, the president dropped it -- net neutrality -- Google wanted the president to go that way." Bartiromo also speculated on whether Google was "editing" the news "to make it more favorable for the president."
But the Wall Street Journal admitted that the "FTC closed its investigation after Google agreed to make voluntary changes to its business practices." And the FTC pushed back critically to the Journal's piece, writing:
The article suggests that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission's decision to close the search investigation in early 2013. Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative.
Rupert Murdoch, head of both News Corp and Twenty-First Century Fox, has a history of attacking Google. Murdoch has accused Google of being "piracy leaders," and in 2009 found himself in a war of words against Google and threatened to block his content from the search engine.
Comedy Central's The Daily Show debunked some of right-wing media's favorite myths about campus sexual assault, highlighting the high levels of the crime occurring at colleges and universities, the low instances of false reporting and the rarity of punishment for those accused.
During a March 25 interview on The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart spoke with Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the director and producer of The Hunting Ground, a recently released "exposé of sexual assault on U.S. campuses," and discussed many of the most widespread misconceptions about campus sexual assault. The segment highlighted the harmful implications failing to address the issue has across the country:
Many of the myths highlighted by The Daily Show are baseless falsehoods that continue to be peddled by right-wing media outlets in order to downplay the epidemic of campus sexual assault. Here are three of right-wing media's favorite myths about campus sexual assaults, debunked:
Despite a recent push by The Wall Street Journal to highlight men who "say colleges are too quick to believe an alleged victim's testimony," suggesting that false reports of sexual assault are on the rise, instances of false allegations are actually very rare.
"False reporting of rape is exactly the same as any other crime, and you don't hear people concerned about the false reports of carjacking, or the 2 percent of false reports of burglaries," explained Ziering to Stewart. "But it is statistically not anomalous. That is what everybody needs to keep in mind." Indeed, according to a report by the National Center for the Protection of Violence Against Women, "methodologically rigorous research" has found the rate of false reports to be extremely low -- between 2 and 8 percent.
Conservative media figures like Fox News' Andrea Tantaros often hold up efforts to address sexual assault as proof of a "war" on men on boys, but many institutions actually favor alleged perpetrators when investigating the crimes.
As the The Hunting Ground's director Kirby Dick noted, "It is more likely that somebody who is sexually assaulted will leave school than the perpetrator will be kicked out ... A very small percentage of perpetrators are actually kicked out. The numbers are astonishingly low." A national survey conducted for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) supports Dick's assertion, finding that many colleges and universities "afford certain due process elements more frequently to alleged perpetrators than they do to survivors" and that schools often fail to penalize perpetrators.
After the White House released a report on addresesing campus sexual assault in 2014, conservative media rushed to try to discredit findings that one in five women experience attempted or completed sexual assault while in college. In the time since, media have continuously questioned statistics finding a high prevalence of the crime, with right-wing media figures like Rush Limbaugh going as far as to claim that "it's not happening" at all."
But as Dick pointed out, "The reality is that rapes are happening at all schools. In epidemic proportions." Numerous organizations have spoken out defending these findings. Right-wing media's efforts to dismiss the epidemic of campus sexual assault further stigmatize a crime that according to the Rape, Abuse, And Incest National Network already goes unreported up to 60% of the time.
The Wall Street Journal and The Libre Initiative's Daniel Garza cherry-picked data from recent elections to suggest that Latinos are becoming more conservative, failing to note that almost 63 percent of Latinos voted for Democrats in U.S. House races and that 79 percent of Latino politicians elected to state legislatures were also Democrats.
On the March 17 edition of The Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal," WSJ editorial board member Mary Kissel talked to Koch-funded Libre Initiative executive director Daniel Garza, asking him if Democrats were "at risk of really losing [the Latino] vote" despite Latinos "overwhelmingly" voting Democratic. Pointing to the 2014 midterm election results, Garza says that there is evidence that Latinos have "shifted" to the right.
Garza is correct to point out that a few races did see GOP gains among Latino voters, but as Democratic strategist Maria Cardona told The New York Times, "Republicans should not read too much into this," adding, "this doesn't mean their path to the White House in 2016 will be that much easier." In the same Times piece, Garza again claimed "there is a national trend of Latinos distancing away from the Democrats."
In fact, according to The Huffington Post, the 2014 midterm elections produced the "most Latino Congress ever" with "Democrats making up almost three out of four" of the 32 incoming Hispanic Congress members. The Huffington Post also added that exit poll numbers prove "that some 63 percent of Latino voters backed Democrats in U.S. House races -- a six-point jump from the last midterm elections in 2010."
Furthermore, the Pew Research Center found that "Democrats won the Latino vote by a margin of 62% to 36%" across the country in congressional races. This is an upward trend, considering that 60 percent of Latinos voted for Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.
Media outlets like CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, and Bloomberg Television have been giving a platform to a disgraced financial firm that was fined $1.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements."
The firm, Stansberry Research, heavily markets itself in conservative media by catering to right-wing audiences' fears of President Obama and big government. It predicts doomsday "End of America" financial scenarios that involve waves of violence, "martial law," and the destruction of the American economy. Last year, for instance, Stansberry claimed on its EndofAmerica.com website that on "July 1st, 2014," "'H.R. 2847' goes into effect. It will usher in the true collapse of the U.S. dollar, and will make millions of Americans poorer, overnight." (America and the dollar did not end.)
Numerous observers have criticized Stansberry's marketing practices as "misleading," "dubious," "questionable," and "an example of the worst excesses of financial marketing."
The firm also paid a $55,000 civil monetary penalty to the Social Security Administration in 2011, while not admitting wrongdoing, to settle an allegation it broke federal law.
Right-wing media and conservative financial interests are touting Gov. Scott Walker's latest anti-worker move as a model for America, but his policies will harm the economy and stand in stark contrast with the GOP's recent attempts to rebrand the party as a champion of the middle class.
This week, Wisconsin governor and 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker signed into law a so-called "right-to-work" bill, which will hamper the ability of private-sector workers to organize into labor unions and bargain collectively. Walker proclaimed the bill "sends a powerful message across the country and around the world" and boasted about its economic advantages. His signature follows weeks of championing from conservative media. The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece written by the CEO of Americans for Prosperity that lauded the right-to-work bill in Wisconsin, while misinforming readers about its likely economic impact. Fox News repeatedly praised the bill as well, while the editors of National Review called the Wisconsin bill a "righteous victory" for Walker and described organized labor as a "cancer."
Of course, economists point out that quality of life -- as measured by a variety of factors such as poverty and income rates -- is lower in right-to-work states. In fact, economist Gordon Lafer found that right-to-work laws "lower wages for union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year" and lead to pension and health benefits cuts -- findings echoed in other economic studies.
But politically, Walker is hoping to bolster his conservative bona fides among right-wing media and others in anticipation of a competitive Republican primary season -- by taking a swing at the labor movement. And Wisconsin's latest attack on labor is just the latest chapter in a broader campaign against the middle class being waged in tandem by conservative media, corporate financial interests, and the whole of the Republican Party.
The nexus is easily demonstrable -- the right-to-work law Walker signed is a nearly word-for-word replica of model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization funded mostly by corporations and conservative organizations, and whose purpose, according to Fortune magazine, is to "bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations." ALEC receives large sums of money from billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch to push legislation that supports the their political agenda, one often at odds with the well-being of middle and working class Americans. Indeed, the right-to-work bill in Wisconsin is just the latest in a string of such laws sweeping through GOP-controlled legislatures in the Midwest thanks to ALEC and the Kochs.
Walker has also been the beneficiary of the Kochs' financial clout. The Kochs directly and indirectly contributed millions of dollars to his gubernatorial campaigns while the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) provided manpower in the form of political rallies and hundreds of volunteers contacting voters in support of Walker. Walker attended a "gathering of rich conservatives" along with other presidential hopefuls convened by the Koch brothers earlier this year.
On Fox News, praise for Walker is over the top -- he is a "sexy" 2016 candidate that makes one host's "toes curl." Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has lavished Walker with compliments, mostly by suggesting Walker has adopted the host's own conservative ideas, while the Drudge Report crowned Walker the "clear GOP frontrunner."
If Walker's corporate-bought anti-worker agenda is the top choice for the conservative media, it symbolizes a striking detachment between conservative policy priorities and policies that would benefit average Americans. As an example, one economist found that declining union participation rates have exacerbated the problem of income inequality in the United States.
According to the Urban Institute, 8.2 million Americans, disproportionately women and children, may become uninsured as a consequence of King v. Burwell. But for right-wing media, pointing out the dangerous consequences of the loss of health care subsidies is nothing more than a "scare tactic."
The Clinton Foundation returned to the headlines this week and once again the topic was promoted with lots of media hand-wringing. The problem is, it's not always clear journalists understand what the foundation does. At least it's not clear based on the media coverage.
The news this week came from a Wall Street Journal article reporting that once Hillary Clinton left her job as secretary of state, the Clinton Foundation lifted its ban on donations from foreign governments. The ban was reportedly first put in place at the request of the Obama administration, which wanted to alleviate any possible conflicts of interest with its new secretary of state. When Clinton became a private citizen again in 2013, the foundation once again accepted money from foreign governments.
"A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation said the charity has a need to raise money for its many projects," the Journal reported.
The Journal article stressed that some ethics experts thought it was bad form for the foundation to accept foreign donations because Hillary Clinton is expected to run for president. The following day, Republican partisans piled on, insisting Hillary herself had accepted "truckloads of cash from other countries." (She had not; the foundation had.) The Beltway press largely echoed the Republican spin and lampooned the foundation's move.
Did the original Journal article raise an interesting question? It did. If and when Hillary formally announces her candidacy, will the foundation have to revisit its position on accepting foreign government donations? It likely will. But the only way the story really worked as advertised this week was to casually conflate the Clinton Foundation, a remarkably successful global charity organization, with Hillary's looming campaign coffers, and to suggest everyone who's giving to the foundation is really giving to her presidential campaign.
In order to make that allegation stick, Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post simply suggested there's no difference between a global charity and "a PAC or campaign entity." (That kind of changes everything.)
The only way the story gained traction, and this has been true of Clinton foundation coverage for years, was for journalists to pretend the foundation isn't actually a ground-breaking charity, in order to make vague suggestions that it's one big Clinton slush fund where money gets "funneled." ("Money, Money, Money, Money, MONEY!" was the headline for Maureen Dowd's scathing New York Times attack column about the foundation in 2013.)
Conservative media outlets are broadly attacking clean energy and the environmental movement by falsely alleging that prominent environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer has "deep ties" to the recent scandal involving Cylvia Hayes, the fiancée of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber who failed to publicly disclose that she was being paid by a clean energy group while also advising Kitzhaber on clean energy issues. In reality, there is no evidence that Steyer funded Hayes, or that Steyer has any other connection to the scandal.
Right-wing media outlets used a flawed National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper to attack unemployment insurance (UI), claiming that the paper proved that UI disincentives work. In fact, experts criticized the paper's methodology and data, and one of the paper's co-authors admitted that most UI recipients look for work while receiving benefits.
Media coverage of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst's Republican response to the State of the Union failed to explain that Ernst's family farm has benefited from large government subsidies, despite highlighting her upbringing on her family farm and calls to cut government spending.