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Since March 4, President Donald Trump and Fox News have been feeding each other evidence and defenses to back up Trump’s false claim that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, ordered a “wiretap” at Trump Tower. Fox figures, including Andrew Napolitano, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, have been backing up Trump’s claim, and Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have in turn recycled their comments in their attempts to substantiate the original claim. On March 20, FBI Director James Comey debunked Trump’s original tweet accusing Obama of wiretapping, unequivocally stating, “I have no information that supports those tweets. … The Department [of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.”
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CNN moderators Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer should aggressively fact-check Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price during the network’s March 15 town hall, given the Trump administration’s penchant for spreading misinformation on health care. The town hall format amplifies the need for follow-up questions by the moderators who are informed enough on the issues to actively fact-check misleading claims.
CNN is holding a town hall featuring Price that “will focus on the GOP’s health care bill.” This is just one of several special events CNN has held about the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Given that the network has a new emphasis on “showcasing special events,” it is particularly important for CNN moderators to fact-check participants so these events don’t simply turn into platforms for conservatives to spread misinformation.
CNN has a unique opportunity during this town hall to hold the Trump administration accountable for the predicted effects of its proposed bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), particularly given that this is will be Price’s first prime-time cable appearance outside the friendly confines of Fox News. (Price has done the rounds on Fox, giving interviews to Bret Baier, Neil Cavuto, and Trump sycophant Sean Hannity).
Given Price’s history of pushing disastrous health care policies and the tendency for Republican politicians to push misinformation about their health care agenda during CNN’s special events, Bash and Blitzer must utilize this opportunity to ask follow-up questions and fact-check the secretary. Here are the five ways that Price is most likely to spread misinformation given his history and the Trump administration’s official positions:
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reviewed the AHCA and reported that it would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 14 million in 2018, and 24 million in 2026. A consistent theme in the conservative reaction to the CBO review revolves around attacking the credibility of the organization as a mechanism for undercutting its predictions. Price echoed these attacks, tweeting that “the CBO report defies logic” and issuing an official statement claiming that the “assumptions” of the report “do not translate to the real world.”
Despite these attacks, the CBO has a long history of making accurate predictions about health care reform legislation. Vox’s Andrew Prokop notes that the CBO’s influence derives from its “reputation as a politically neutral arbiter” and that it is viewed as “the gold standard.” In contrast to the GOP’s claims that the CBO made inaccurate predictions about the ACA, the Commonwealth Fund emphasized that the CBO was “reasonably accurate” and that its “projections were closer to realized experience than other prominent forecasters’ estimates were.” FactCheck.org’s Brooks Jackson debunked the anti-CBO talking points, illustrating that “the CBO actually nailed the overall impact of the law on the uninsured pretty closely” and “got the big picture right” on coverage estimates. Bash and Blitzer should be ready to correct attempts by Price to smear the CBO to salvage the AHCA’s chances of passage.
Price has consistently misled the public during interviews about the AHCA’s impact on insurance coverage. When asked by Cavuto if he thought it was “inevitable” that “some” people who gained insurance through the ACA marketplaces would lose it, Price said, “No. I just simply don’t believe that.” He went further during a Meet the Press interview, claiming that “we have a great opportunity to increase coverage over where we are right now.” His remark echoed misleading claims made by Trump about providing “insurance for everybody.”
In reality, the CBO report predicts that “in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured” and that that number would rise to “24 million in 2026.” Vox explained that the AHCA’s provision to end Medicaid expansion in 2020 “would contribute to one in five Americans being uninsured.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) emphasized that “all of the historic coverage gains expected under the ACA would disappear and the uninsured rate among the non-elderly would be at or above its 2010 levels.” The CNN moderators must be aggressive in holding Price accountable for the real impacts the proposed legislation will have on millions of Americans who are currently benefitting from Obamacare.
The AHCA would eliminate the ACA’s means-tested subsidies and replace them with age-rated refundable tax credits. During Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked, “Can you say for certain that once this bill is passed, nobody will be worse off financially when it comes to paying for health care?” Price initially ducked the question but when Todd pressed him again, he declared, “I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially.”
Despite Price’s bold claims, the CBO report shows that the AHCA will increase premiums for older, low-income Americans by “more than 750%.” Families USA noted that “lower income families could see their deductibles increase by as much as $5,500.” The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund explained that the AHCA “is a mass transfer of income” from working-class and middle-class Americans that cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans while cutting federal benefits for the middle and working class.” Bash and Blitzer should expect Price to try to spin his previous statements and must be ready to push back on any false characterizations of the AHCA’s impact on health care costs.
Price has a history of discounting the importance of women’s health care and has previously advocated legislation to roll back the ACA’s birth control mandate and to defund Planned Parenthood. Trump administration officials have defended the provision of the AHCA that defunds Planned Parenthood by claiming that it’s “not about denying women access to care” because they would reallocate the money to “federally qualified health care clinics.”
Experts have debunked the conservative lie that Planned Parenthood can be replaced by community health care centers, calling it a “gross misrepresentation.” A Guttmacher Institute study found that in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” with accessible contraception services. Funding cuts to Planned Parenthood in Indiana and Texas resulted in severely negative impacts on community health, contributing to HIV outbreaks. The Washington Post reported that defunding Planned Parenthood “would leave many women without services to help them avoid pregnancy, resulting in thousands of additional births.” The CBO report found that “15 percent” of people in low-income communities “would lose access to care” as a result of defunding Planned Parenthood. CNN should use this town hall as an opportunity to press Price on reproductive rights generally and on the detrimental impact the GOP’s health care bill would have on women’s health care.
The AHCA would dramatically alter Medicaid by instituting a per capita cap on federal Medicaid spending and ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion in 2020. During his interview with Cavuto, Price claimed that the AHCA would return “flexibility” to the states and allow them “the ability … to determine what is the right kind of program to care for their Medicaid population.”
While conservatives often claim Medicaid caps -- also known as “block grants” -- will increase state “flexibility,” in reality such proposals result in the loss of services and coverage for the most vulnerable. A CBPP analysis showed that a per capita cap would result in the “loss of health coverage and less access to needed health care for tens of millions of low-income Americans.” The Kaiser Family Foundation explained that federal caps could lead states to “restrict benefits” and “result in eligibility restrictions and cost shifts to beneficiaries.” Vox noted that the rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion would take “4 million to 6 million people off the rolls” and, combined with the per capita cap, would result in “a $370 billion cut to federal funding to Medicaid over 10 years.” Given the devastating impact the AHCA will have on Medicaid, Bash and Blitzer must follow up on any general assertions of increasing state innovation.
The Wall Street Journal reported Donald Trump plans to “restructure and pare back” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence due to his belief it has become “bloated and politicized.” Trump’s belief that the DNI has become politicized echoes right-wing media conspiracies attempting to delegitimize intelligence reports that found Russian government directed compromises of emails during the 2016 election cycle.
MSNBC Only Outlet To Vet Ryan's Scheme To Gut The Social Safety Net
Weekday evening programming on the largest cable and broadcast news outlets almost completely ignored a long-standing Medicare privatization scheme favored by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the days since he first resurrected the idea of radically reshaping the American health care system toward for-profit interests.
During a November 10 interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ryan misleadingly claimed that due to mounting “fiscal pressures” created by the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress would be forced to engage with what Baier called “entitlement reform” sometime next year. Ryan falsely claimed that “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke” and that the popular health insurance system for American seniors will have to be changed as part of any legislation to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s health care reform legacy. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from November 10 to November 27, Ryan’s plan to privatize the nationwide, single-payer health care coverage currently enjoyed by millions of seniors has gone unmentioned on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. Ryan’s so-called “premium support” plan was briefly mentioned on the November 22 edition of PBS NewsHour when co-host Judy Woodruff pressed President-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as to whether Trump would accept Ryan’s privatization proposal. By comparison, during the same time period, MSNBC ran six prime-time segments exposing Ryan’s privatization agenda:
According to a July 19 issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue “a proposal to gradually transform Medicare into a system of premium supports, building on proposals” adopted by Ryan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. These so-called “premium supports” would provide each Medicare beneficiary with a “voucher” that can be used for the purchase of private health insurance; they represent “a significant change from the current system” that pays health care providers directly for services rendered.
In essence, Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and redirect hundreds of billions of tax dollars that currently go to doctors, hospitals, and other medical service providers through the costly private health insurance market.
This startling scheme bears similarities to a failed 2005 attempt by the Bush administration to partially privatize Social Security. Democratic members of Congress are already aligning themselves against Ryan’s throwback plan to gut Medicare, and it’s not actually clear if Trump is supportive of the initiative, which he refused to fully endorse on the campaign trail.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out last July, claims that Medicare is “nearing ‘bankruptcy’ are highly misleading,” and Ryan’s specific charge that Medicare is “broke” because of the ACA is completely wrong. President Obama’s health care reform law greatly improved Medicare’s long-term finances and extended the hospital insurance trust fund’s solvency by 11 years.
The looming fight over the future of Medicare, which serves over 55 million beneficiaries and accounted for 15 percent of the entire federal budget in 2015, has been well-documented, but it has garnered almost no attention on major television news programs.
Millions of Americans who rely on broadcast and cable evening news are completely unaware of the stakes in this health care policy fight. They are also unaware that Ryan’s privatization scheme would leave millions of retirees at the whims of the same private insurance market that right-wing media are currently attacking because of increased rates.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from November 10, 2016, through November 27, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any mention of “Medicare.”
A new report from The Washington Post cites recent IRS filings to confirm previous allegations that President-elect Donald Trump’s private charitable foundation engaged in illegal “self-dealing” activities, a story Fox News originally ignored when Trump was the Republican presidential candidate.
On November 22, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported that the Trump Foundation’s newly available tax filings confirm earlier reports that the foundation had engaged in illegal “self-dealing.”
Fahrenthold wrote that the foundation’s 2015 filings -- which were made publicly available on the evening of November 21 -- reveal that the foundation had “transferred ‘income or assets’ to a disqualified person,” which could be Trump himself “or a member of his family or a Trump-owned business.” Another section of the filing also revealed that the foundation had checked “yes” to indicate it had “engaged in any acts of self-dealing in prior years.”
As explained by the Post’s report, these transfers violate “a legal prohibition against ‘self-dealing,’ which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.”
Fahrenthold first reported on this suspected illegal activity in September. As explained when Fahrenthold originally broke the story, Trump spent $258,000 from the Trump Foundation -- to which he has not personally donated since 2009 -- to settle legal issues involving his for-profit businesses, which Fahrenthold noted on CNN “is against the law.”
At the time, the Trump campaign denied the allegations, claiming that Fahrenthold’s report was “peppered with inaccuracies and omissions” and that “there was not, and could not be, any intent or motive for the Trump Foundation to make improper payments.” (The statement offered no examples of any inaccuracies in Fahrenthold’s reporting, nor did subsequent surrogates who claimed the reporting was “debunked”.)
In the day following this breaking story, Fox News devoted a total of just under three minutes to the report, substantially trailing CNN and MSNBC in total coverage. Its flagship evening program, Special Report with Bret Baier, led the network’s race to the bottom in terms of covering the story, devoting just 12 seconds to reporting on the alleged “self-dealing.”
A Media Matters analysis found that Fox News’ segments on the Post report also offered few details on the investigation. The longest segment Fox devoted to the report was one minute and 41 seconds on The O’Reilly Factor, in which guest host Bret Baier allowed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to dismiss the report uninterrupted for a full minute.
Fox News featured a discussion with Special Report anchor Bret Baier about the "controversy" surrounding President-elect Donald Trump's pick for chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. Baier and Happening Now host Jon Scott covered Bannon's "call for Paul Ryan to be removed as speaker," but not Bannon's embrace of anti-Semitism and white nationalism.
Baier characterized Bannon as "someone who, from the outside, … wanted to take down the Republican Party," and Scott noted that Bannon "called for ... the ouster of Paul Ryan." Baier added that Bannon "does come with a lot of controversy" and has "stoked real concerns, especially on the left." Their vague language obscures the reality of what makes Bannon so controversial. Under Bannon's tenure, Breitbart News ran multiple atrocious headlines such as "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew" and "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy." Bannon himself trumpeted Breitbart News as "the platform for the 'alt-right'," and Breitbart dutifully helped boost Trump's chances in the election. Furthermore, Bannon encouraged the Trump campaign to incorporate bigoted "alt-right" beliefs and policies into their platform, to the delight of white nationalists. But Baier and Scott found none of this "controversy" worth mentioning. From the November 14 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
BRET BAIER: Steve Bannon is someone who, from the outside, wants to -- wanted to -- take down the Republican Party -- and made no bones about saying that. So you have the guy who embodies the Republican Party and the guy who wanted to take down the Republican Party working together inside the Trump White House.
JON SCOTT (CO-HOST): Stephen Bannon's title, chief strategist. … He has been a Navy officer, he was, as we mentioned, head of Breitbart News, he's been an investment banker for Goldman Sachs. But he also, as you pointed out, called for Paul Ryan's elim -- you know, stepping down, the ouster of Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus are very close, like this. It's an odd combination, sort of like President Lincoln's team of rivals.
BAIER: Well, that's right, and I think that the structure in the campaign seemed to work for the Trump campaign and that's why you put Bannon in there in this role to provide some cover from the Trump folks who would worry that he was automatically being absorbed into this establishment structure inside Washington. However, Priebus is right -- you need relationships up on Capitol Hill to get stuff across the finish line. There is an excitement on the Republican side that they are going to get a lot done, quickly, and it's going to tick down, and in order to do that orderly, you have to have some relationship on the inside and up on Capitol Hill.
SCOTT: So if you've got a Republican-led House and Senate, nobody is going to be able to help you get legislation passed more quickly than the guy who up till now has headed the Republican National Committee.
BAIER: Exactly. And you’re going to have those inside conversations. He’s going to be able to say which trains come on the tracks, you know, get into the oval office -- that's the chief job of the chief of staff is who gets in to see the president. But Steve Bannon, much like David Axelrod in a strategist role inside the White House, not only puts you close to the president but also prevents, perhaps, him from running this movement on the outside to take down the Republican Party. Whether that was a serious thought of why he was chosen, we don't know. I will say this: He come with a lot of controversy, a lot of things he has said before, a lot of things that online has come out of Breitbart has really stoked some real concerns, especially on the left, and they'll have to deal with that as they get ready to take office January 20th.
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Fox News anchor Bret Baier’s seemingly bombshell reporting about the Clinton Foundation and a "likely" indictment regarding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, which was based on two unknown sources, collapsed within days when the anchor admitted he’d made a “mistake.”
By the time Baier walked back his comments, his claims had already been parroted by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Fox hosts and correspondents, right-wing blogs, and some mainstream outlets like The Hill.
While Donald Trump’s own campaign manager Kellyanne Conway admitted that the story was wrong, she celebrated that “voters are hearing it” and "the damage is done." Therein lies the massive problem.
Baier made more than a "mistake." And if you need more evidence that Baier's Friday apology wasn't enough, look no further than Fox & Friends Saturday, where discredited conservative journalist Ed Klein touted dubious reporting to suggest that Clinton will likely face an indictment if she’s elected president. What’s more, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume tweeted on Saturday morning that “Fox News stands by Bret Baier's key finding: that the FBI [investigation] of the Clinton [Foundation] is open & active.”
Following the backlash from Bret Baier’s false smear about an impending Clinton indictment, and the doubling down from Fox News, I’m urging Fox News to take these additional steps to correct this miscoverage as soon as possible:
2) Fox News should devote the same amount of time to running Baier’s apology as it did to his faulty reporting. The network spent more than two hours of coverage and devoted at least 41 segments over a 24-hour period to Baier’s faulty reporting. This amounts to nearly 12 percent of the network’s total live airtime.
3) Fox News should re-air its correction on Baier’s show, Special Report, and on The O’Reilly Factor, the network’s most watched show. Baier has yet to apologize on his own show. After years of convincing its viewers that all other news outlets are biased, there stands the very real possibility that the only place Fox viewers are likely to see Baier's apology is if it airs on Fox News. If the network will not devote equal time to the correction as it gave to Baier’s faulty reporting, then it should ensure the correction is seen by as many viewers as possible.
To ensure that the above happens, Media Matters for America will be running a media awareness campaign online to make Fox viewers aware of Bret Baier’s serious reporting transgressions.
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Fox News returned to pushing reporting that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is likely to face an indictment less than 24 hours after the network apologized for making the claim.
On November 2, Special Report anchor Bret Baier claimed that according to anonymous sources, FBI investigations into Clinton would “continue,” that “there is a lot of evidence,” and that “barring some obstruction in some way, they believe they will continue to likely an indictment.” Fox heavily hyped Baier’s reporting in the following days. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his campaign also picked up Baier’s reporting and used it to attack Clinton. However, non-Fox media outlets soon debunked Baier’s reporting, saying it was “wrong” and “just not true.”
Baer subsequently issued an apology for his reporting on November 4, saying that his reference to a “likely” indictment was “a mistake” because “no one knows if there would or would not be an indictment no matter how strong investigators feel their evidence is. It is obviously a prosecutor who has to agree to take the case and make that case to a grand jury.”
However, Fox News is now back to touting dubious reporting that Clinton will likely face an indictment if she’s elected president.
Discredited conservative journalist Ed Klein appeared on the November 5 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday and claimed that his “sources are telling” him that “there’s a very good chance that if she’s elected president on November 8th, by the time inauguration comes around, [FBI Director James] Comey will have recommended an indictment.” Klein continued that there would be a “constitutional crisis” because the attorney general would not “accept his recommendation for indictment.” Taking Klein’s claims seriously, co-host Clayton Morris wondered if vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine would then become president when Clinton is indicted, and co-host Abby Huntsman told Klein they “learned a lot from you this morning.”
Klein has a long history of sloppy and inaccurate reporting about the Clintons. Reporters from across the political spectrum have called his work "junk journalism," "devoid of credibility," "suspect," "fan fiction," "lazy, cut-and-paste recycling," "strewn with serious factual errors, truncated and distorted quotes," "thoroughly discredited," "smut," "sordid," "poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced," and "bullshit." Klein had lunch with Donald Trump in May and said that he’s known him for 35 years and has "met with him on numerous occasions, talked to him on the phone countless times, traveled with him, and written two lengthy magazine cover stories about him."
From Klein’s segment (h/t New York’s Gabriel Sherman):
ED KLEIN: Here’s what my sources are telling me. They’re saying that there’s a very good chance that if she’s elected president on November 8th, by the time inauguration comes around, Comey will have recommended an indictment of the president-to-be.
CLAYTON MORRIS (CO-HOST): That’s what your sources are telling you?
ABBY HUNTSMAN (CO-HOST): Wow.
KLEIN: Yeah. And it would be a constitutional crisis of enormous proportion --
HUNTSMAN: -- [inaudible] we’ve never experienced before.
KLEIN: -- because the attorney general with, of course, the president’s backing, is not going to accept his recommendation for indictment. So there’ll be this titanic battle between the FBI on the one hand, the attorney general and the White House on the other hand, just before the inauguration.
MORRIS: You play this all out historically. She becomes president. She actually takes the -- puts her hand on the Bible, becomes president. The vice president then, maybe, Tim Kaine becomes, takes over? This would be remarkable.
KLEIN: I was thinking, she becomes president and what if she becomes debilitated for reasons of health? That’s the other aspect of this nobody ever discusses. Are we going to get the goofy Tim Kaine as our vice president moving in or will we have Bill Clinton behind the scenes being a kind of Edith Wilson-like when Woodrow Wilson had his stroke?