In 2014, right-wing media attacked immigrants and immigration reform by pushing baseless claims, relying on debunked research, and using misleading statistics about immigrants and the impact of immigration on the United States. Here is a look back at the most absurd anti-immigrant myths of 2014.
Newspapers across the country have been publishing misleading op-eds attacking the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy without disclosing the authors' oil-industry funding. The op-eds, which attack the wind energy policy as "corporate welfare" and "government handouts," ignore the fact that the oil and gas industry currently receives far greater government subsidies and that the PTC brings great economic benefits.
Right-wing media outlets have used misleading voter fraud stories to stoke fears of rampant voter fraud in the months leading up to the 2014 midterm elections. But experts state that voter fraud in the U.S. is virtually non-existent and that voter ID laws would actually disenfranchise voters.
Fox News contributor and Republican strategist Karl Rove misreported Gallup poll data on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in order to attack health care reform as a liability for Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. In fact, the Gallup poll Rove cited found that the majority of respondents said the ACA has had no effect on them or their families, and 16 percent of respondents said the law helped.
In his October 22 Wall Street Journal column, Rove claimed that the ACA "is re-emerging as a major liability for the Democratic Senate" heading into the November 4 elections. Citing an October 2 poll by Gallup, Rove alleged that 54 percent of Americans "said the Affordable Care Act had hurt them and their families, compared to 27% who said it had helped them."
But according to Gallup, a majority of Americans (54 percent) believe that Obamacare has "had no effect" on them or their families, and another 16 percent believed that the ACA has helped:
On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.
Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett wrote a column accurately depicting the college sexual assault epidemic and the fears victims face in reporting these crimes, a stark contrast to his colleagues and fellow conservative media figures who have dismissed, mocked, and stigmatized victims.
In a September 25 column for Fox News' website, Jarrett highlighted the high rate of assault on college campuses, and praised student activists for raising awareness of the often insufficient resources and efforts by colleges to address the problem (emphasis added):
Nearly 20 % of female college students have been sexually assaulted, according to a White House task force.
I suspect the true number is significantly higher. Many young women are reluctant to report it. They keep it secret for fear of embarrassment, shame, retribution, and the trauma of reliving the nightmare during legal or disciplinary proceedings. I get it. There are repercussions. Victims are especially afraid of being stigmatized or ostracized within the tight, insular social circles on campus.
Awareness is on the rise driven, in part, by student activism. Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, angry over how the school adjudicated her claim of rape, has taken to carrying a mattress around campus. Dubbed "Mattress girl" by fellow students and the media, her visually indelible protest has galvanized a growing demand for honesty and transparency. And why not? Schools should be required to publish accurate information about the frequency of assaults. It can be done without breaching individual students' privacy.
Jarrett's column unfortunately stands out among recent commentary about sexual assault in conservative media, where the fact that one in five women are assaulted at college is regularly dismissed. The Daily Caller has called the statistic "bizarre and wholly false," while the Washington Examiner called it "ridiculous."
Moreover, the trust and respect Jarrett treats the victims of these assaults with is unusual. Instead, their stories are often questioned or critiqued, with media figures suggesting that a large number of victims are lying about their assault, or are partly culpable.
The same day that Jarrett's column was published, some of his Fox News colleagues suggested that intoxicated women who are assaulted at college fraternity parties are responsible for their own assaults. Several co-hosts of Fox's Outnumbered defended a Forbes contributor who was fired after claiming that drunk women were "the gravest threat to fraternities" because the fraternity would be liable if a woman was sexually assaulted at a party.
This past summer, Washington Post columnist George Will came under fire for claiming that college efforts to curb sexual assaults were making "victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege." In his column, Will disputed the story of a college rape on Swarthmore's campus, implying he didn't believe the survivor's story qualified as an actual incident of assault. The survivor, Lisa Sendrow, told Media Matters about the violence she had experienced, how Will's dismissal of her story was triggering and damaging to her, and that she was diagnosed with PTSD and received violent threats after her story was first reported.
Earlier this year, a Weekly Standard contributor blamed feminism for sexual assault, because victims abandoned "feminine modesty" which had provided women "protection" from rape. National Review Online writers claimed rape was "instinctive" among some young men, that assaults involve "a large degree of voluntary behavior" from women, and that women are "being taught to believe they were raped." A New York Post columnist dismissed rape as "regrettable sex."
And Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto went so far as to claim intoxicated sexual assault victims are just as guilty as their attackers.
While Jarrett's column is sadly something of an outlier among conservative commentary on the issue, survivors now have one more voice in the media supporting their efforts to combat this epidemic.
Karl Rove's super PAC received $300,000 from the parents of Alaska Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, a fact that Rove has not disclosed in numerous recent media appearances discussing Sullivan's race.
The Center for Public Integrity reported that in a recent amendment to an August 29 Federal Election Commission filing, American Crossroads disclosed it received $300,000 "from Thomas and Sandra Sullivan, the parents of U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan of Alaska." Crossroads changed the filing after the Center raised questions about the donation, which was originally misidentified as coming from the Glenmede Trust Company.
Bloomberg reported that Thomas Sullivan "said he doesn't know with certainty that the funds will be spent on his son's race ... 'That will be up to the discretion of Karl Rove,' said Sullivan." Rove is the co-founder and an adviser to Crossroads. The group is reportedly planning to spend $5.5 million to defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
That Rove's group received money from Sullivan's parents and Rove is reportedly involved in directing their money has gone undisclosed by Rove in his Wall Street Journal column and Fox News appearances at least four times in recent weeks.
In a September 18 column for the Wall Street Journal, Rove wrote that Democrats are outspending Republicans in key races including in Alaska, where "Democrats have spent $6.4 million, Republicans $3.6 million." He added that Republicans are being attacked on social issues and "Planned Parenthood has reacted with such fury to Republican Senate candidates in Alaska, Colorado and North Carolina saying they support making contraceptives available over-the-counter." The column ended with a plea for Republicans to "open their wallets to candidates" or else "they should prepare for two more years of Majority Leader Harry Reid."
Rove, a paid Fox News contributor, appeared on the September 22 edition of The O'Reilly Factor and criticized Begich for airing, then pulling, an ad about Sullivan's time as attorney general. Rove similarly appeared on the September 21 edition of Fox News Sunday, where he criticized Begich for the ad and said the race is likely to take a "pro-Sullivan tilt." On September 12, Rove appeared on Happening Now and said Begich was distancing himself from President Obama on foreign policy but that would be a tough sale with voters.
Fox News routinely fails to disclose Rove's stakes in the races he discusses (Rove's appearances on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News Sunday, and Happening Now didn't mention Crossroads). And The Wall Street Journal published Rove's September 18 column despite it being a clear fundraising call to groups like his own.
The Wall Street Journal's problematic relationship with Karl Rove continues as the paper ran a Rove-penned column that's essentially an advertisement for the importance of political groups like American Crossroads -- which he helped organize and still fundraises for -- in swinging control of the Senate to Republicans this November.
In his September 17 column, Rove warns readers that despite a "terrible" midterm environment for Democrats, a "GOP Senate Majority Is Still in Doubt" due to a Democratic cash advantage. According to Rove, "Republican candidates and groups must step up if they are to substantially reduce that gap."
Rove's warning about Republicans' November chances includes a plug for Crossroads' research on ad buys, as well as its conclusions about "swing women voters." Unlike many of his columns leading up to the 2012 election, Rove offers a disclosure that he works with the group:
And on Wednesday American Crossroads' media buyers produced their latest analysis on how much airtime each side has run or reserved in 14 Senate contests. As of this writing, between Sept. 1 and election day, Democratic Senate candidates, party committees and outside groups have run or placed $109 million in television advertising, while Republican candidates, party committees and groups have $85 million in television time. (Disclosure: I help American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS raise funds on a volunteer basis.)
There is also evidence there are limits to the efficacy of the Democrats' "war on women" narrative. Recent American Crossroads focus groups among swing women voters found they resent being treated as single-issue abortion voters, considering it condescending. They want candidates from both parties to talk about broader concerns like jobs, the economy, health care, energy, government spending and national security, and they are more than open to the GOP message.
The language about women resenting being treated as "single-issue abortion voters" directly echoes an advertisement Crossroads GPS has been running in Colorado against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, which features a woman explaining, "We aren't single issue voters...we care about good jobs that support our families."
He concludes the column with a plea for Republicans to "open their wallets to candidates whom they may have never met," or else "they should prepare for two more years of Majority Leader Harry Reid."
In The Wall Street Journal, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) disavowed the offensive narrative pushed by conservative media which labels needy Americans as "takers" versus more economically-prosperous "makers." However, Ryan's proposed anti-poverty policies still rely on the right-wing media myth that blames poverty on poor individuals' personal life choices.
In the wake of the tragic shooting death of unarmed Missouri teenager Michael Brown, right-wing media outlets attacked President Obama's uncontroversial statement of condolences and suggested the president was to blame for the state of race relations in the United States.
The media heralded a report in early 2014, which claimed that building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change. Since then, multiple studies have found that same report to be flawed, but most mainstream media outlets have refused to give these studies coverage.
President Obama has stated that he would not approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada through the United States, if it "significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution." So when the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement concluding that the Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate change, the media touted State's findings as justification for the contentious pipeline's approval.
However, various studies have since called the State Department's report into question, finding specifically that their climate impact analysis is likely inaccurate. The agency's conclusion rests on the assumption that if the Keystone XL is not approved, the oil sands will simply be transported by rail instead. This may not be the case. According to Reuters, the State Department's predictions of increased rail capacity have been consistently wrong. Reuters broke the news in March that State's latest estimates of tar sands being transported by rail were overestimated by over 400 percent. But no* other major mainstream outlet reported on these findings, which undermined the claim that Keystone XL won't affect the climate - a meme many of these same outlets previously had amplified.
More recently, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that approving the Keystone XL could lead to carbon dioxide emissions four times greater than the State Department's highest estimates. Again, the findings were mostly ignored by top U.S. media outlets** -- with one notable exception. The Los Angeles Times amplified the study and its findings that State's analysis didn't account for the pipeline's impact on the global oil market, which would lead to far greater greenhouse gas emissions. The study authors projected that the pipeline will increase carbon emissions by up to 110 million metric tons due to increased global consumption, far overshooting State's projection of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons. The oil industry has dismissed this study based on the faulty argument that the oil will be shipped by rail anyways, which Associated Press reported -- without mentioning Reuters' contradictory findings.
The authors previously concluded in a similar study that approving the Keystone XL could "potentially counteract some of the flagship emission reduction policies of the U.S. government." How many more studies and reports need to be issued before the mainstream media corrects themselves on the climate impact of approving the Keystone XL pipeline?
*According to a LexisNexis search for "keystone" from March 5 to March 8 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
**According to a search of LexisNexis and internal video archives for "keystone" from August 8 to August 11 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
Image at the top of an oil sands site from Flickr user Pembina Institute with a Creative Commons license.
A federal trial begins today challenging the medically-unnecessary restrictions on women's health clinics which were passed into Texas law one year ago. The restrictions, which have forced half of Texas clinics to close already, were voted in by lawmakers based on a myth about abortion that the media perpetuated.
On August 4 a federal trial begins in Austin challenging a Texas law passed last summer which requires abortion clinics in the state to qualify as "ambulatory surgical centers" starting this September. The ambulatory surgical centers requirements say that a clinic must have doorways and hallways of a certain width, and "additional infrastructure like pipelines for general anesthesia and large sterilization equipment." As Mother Jones noted, "These requirements aren't medically necessary for an abortion, and they cost a lot of money to implement."
Abortion clinics already have safety requirements, according to medical experts there is no evidence that the additional surgical center restriction "positively affects health outcomes," and these requirements could severely reduce the number of clinics. There are more than 13 million women in Texas, but according to the Wall Street Journal, only seven clinics in the entire state currently meet the extra requirements.
Texas has already lost half of its women's health clinics in the year since the law was passed. Another portion of the law which went into effect last year, and which is currently being appealed, requires doctors who perform abortions to have "admitting privileges" at nearby hospitals. The Texas Medical Board already regulates all physicians in the state, but the requirement forces doctors to also be judged by a nearby hospital -- which some hospitals have refused to do, and which is impossible if there is no hospital within the vicinity.
The rapidly closing clinics have created a health crisis in Texas, leaving millions of women hundreds of miles away from accessing basic health services, and forcing many to resort to using unsafe and illegal procedures. The crisis is not just on lawmakers' hands, however; it was also championed and perpetuated by the media, who failed to investigate an anti-choice myth about the clinics before it was too late.
There's a brewing conservative media war over whether to impeach President Obama.
Largely relegated to the fringe for years, the prospect of impeachment has been invigorated thanks to conservative media figures like Fox News contributors Sarah Palin and Allen West, who have spent recent weeks loudly demanding Obama's removal from office. But not everyone in conservative media is on board, with several prominent figures arguing that impeachment is ill-fated, politically toxic, and could severely damage Republicans' chances in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections.
Last week, Fox News polled on the question, finding that while a strong majority of Americans (61 percent) oppose impeachment, 56 percent of Republicans are in favor of it.
Over the weekend, impeachment got another boost thanks to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the incoming House Majority Whip, appearing on Fox News Sunday and refusing "to take impeaching President Barack Obama off the table if Obama takes executive action to limit deportations." On Saturday, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) announced on Breitbart News Saturday that if the president uses more executive actions on illegal immigration, "we need to bring impeachment hearings immediately before the House of Representatives."
In June, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) introduced a plan to sue the president over the delayed implementation of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. While Boehner has repeatedly dismissed impeachment talk, reporters like the New Republic's Brian Beutler have speculated that the lawsuit was designed to "serve as a relief valve for the building pressure to draw up articles of impeachment."
If Boehner's lawsuit was designed to cool impeachment fever, it's not working. Several conservative media figures have lashed out over his "political stunt" and continue to bang the impeachment drum. As November approaches, the fight over impeachment among conservative media is getting increasingly acrimonious with each side convinced the other is hurting the country.
Media Matters looks at where various conservative commentators currently stand on impeachment.
Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan baselessly accused President Obama of "us[ing] children" as "pawns" by deliberately allowing the humanitarian immigration crisis on the border to build in order to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
An escalating surge of child migrants fleeing violence in Central America have been crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, overwhelming existing detention facilities and deportation procedures.
In her June 11 Journal column, Noonan described President Obama's handling of the humanitarian immigration crisis on the border as a politically motivated step in a calculated game to "put the heat on Republicans and make them pass his idea of good immigration reform." Noonan wrote that the migrant children are "pawns in a larger game," concluding, "How cold do you have to be to use children in this way?":
Meanwhile some in the conservative press call the president incapable, unable to handle the situation. But he is not so stupid he doesn't know this is a crisis. He knows his poll numbers are going to go even lower next month because of it. He scrambled Wednesday to hold a news conference to control a little of the damage, but said nothing new.
There is every sign he let the crisis on the border build to put heat on Republicans and make them pass his idea of good immigration reform. It would be "comprehensive," meaning huge, impenetrable and probably full of mischief. His base wants it. It would no doubt benefit the Democratic Party in the long term.
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed pushing for a lift on a decades-old ban on crude oil exports without disclosing that the authors' work was funded by the oil industry, which stands to benefit from its claims.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by the lead authors of a study for the consulting group IHS Inc. argued that the Obama Administration "needs to lift the ban on oil exports." The co-authors advanced their report's claims that ending a 41-year-old ban on crude oil exports would spur domestic oil production, resulting in lower gasoline prices and fueled job creation. However, the Journal did not disclose that this study, titled U.S. Crude Oil Export Decision: Assessing the Impact of the Export Ban and Free Trade on the U.S. Economy, was funded almost entirely by oil and gas corporations, including industry giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, and ConocoPhillips:
This research was supported by Baker Hughes, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron U.S.A., Concho Resources, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Helmerich & Payne, Kodiak Oil & Gas, Nabors Corporate Services, Newfield Exploration, Noble Energy, Oasis Petroleum North America, Pioneer Natural Resources, QEP Resources, Rosetta Resources, Weatherford and Whiting Petroleum.
In fact, several top business media outlets repeated the report's boldest claims when it was released in late May -- like that it would lead to $746 billion in investment into the U.S. economy or save U.S. motorists $265 billion by 2030 -- without disclosing its industry funding. CNBC, Bloomberg, USA Today's Money section, and the Wall Street Journal all covered the study with no mention of the oil giants that have a financial incentive to lift the ban on crude oil exports because it would allow them to sell more of their oil at the higher world price. USA Today even noted that two of the report's funders, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhilips, have been pushing for the White House to lift the ban -- but did not disclose their investment in the IHS report. Some outlets got it right: Reuters and conservative news site Breitbart (surprisingly) did mention that the IHS study was funded by oil and energy companies.
The crude oil export ban was enacted in the 1970s in response to an Arab oil embargo, which shocked the U.S. economy. The Center for American Progress explained that lifting the ban would "enrich oil companies," but "could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security":
The increase in domestic oil supply, combined with the decline in demand, has also led to a significant decrease in foreign oil imports. These changes make us less vulnerable to a sudden foreign oil supply disruption that could cause price spikes. Unfortunately, the oil industry would squander this newfound price stabilization and energy security by lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Doing so would enrich oil companies by enabling them to sell their oil at the higher world price, but it could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security.
Even Goldman Sachs supports keeping the ban - at least until the U.S. market reaches "saturation" where it's producing more oil than it can consume -- because it benefits the economy by keeping refining for U.S. workers.
Lifting the ban on crude oil exports would also be catastrophic for the climate, according to the Sierra Club. Oil Change International published a study finding that keeping the ban on crude exports is imperative for the United States to achieve its climate goals.
The Journal's failure to disclose the background these op-ed authors shared with the oil industry falls in line with a repeated lack of transparency about who the newspaper publishes. In 2012, the Journal was found to have "regularly failed to disclose the election-related conflicts of interest of its op-ed writers."
Image at the top obtained via Flickr user roseannadana with a Creative Commons license.