Serial health care misinformer and right-wing media figure Betsy McCaughey pushed the conspiracy theory that health care outreach efforts are a secret plan to register voters as Democrats.
In an Investor's Business Daily column, McCaughey attacked grants that fund outreach and education about President Obama's health care law. McCaughey claimed, "The lion's share of the money is going for what the exchange budget terms 'outreach.' In truth, the money is going to build Democratic Party enrollment." She continued:
Assisters will also guide the uninsured to sign up for whatever non-health social services they may be eligible for, including welfare, food stamps and housing assistance, according to the manual prepared by the Community Health Councils for California's implementation.
Anyone who remembers the days of James Curley, Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall gets the picture. If you were poor or a newcomer to this country, you went to the local ward boss and got whatever you needed in exchange for your vote.
The difference is that back then, politics was local. Now the Obama health law is institutionalizing this corrupt style of politics across the country. Whether you live in California or New York, local community activists and unions will be recruiting people to enroll in ObamaCare and sign up to be part of the permanent, beholden Democratic voting majority.
McCaughey is not the first right-wing media figure to push this claim despite lack of evidence to support it. Fox News host Megyn Kelly and contributor Michelle Malkin have both attacked outreach efforts in an attempt to push a political agenda. Rush Limbaugh also claimed that officials employed by the government to help Americans evaluate health care options will register voters as Democrats and "smear Republicans." But outreach efforts for health care legislation are not new -- the State Health Insurance Assistance Program has been conducting similar outreach for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D programs.
McCaughey has a long history of misinforming about health care, including the claim that the health care law will lead to euthanizing seniors, that the law contains "death panels," and that it will limit preventive care
Fox News has fired paid contributor and market analyst Tobin Smith for receiving compensation to promote the stock of Petrosonic Energy, a violation of network policy. According to a Media Matters review, Smith's company, NBT Equities Research, also received compensation for promoting numerous other companies through his website and conservative newsletters, and used his Fox News credentials to hawk volatile stocks to conservatives.
MarketWatch's Chuck Jaffe reported that Smith issued "sponsored investment research" to tout Petrosonic's stock in a 20-page mailer, for which NBT received $50,000. The paid endorsement is against Fox's policy that "no contributor to FBN [Fox Business Network], nor his/her firm, and/or family members are allowed to accept financial consideration of any kind whatsoever to issue research, advertisements, or to otherwise promote individual stocks or securities." In a post today on his website, Smith acknowledged that he is "no longer a Fox contributor" but defended his "business of sponsored research for uncovered emerging growth companies." He also wrote: "For the record, my last contributor agreement with Fox News did NOT include any exclusion from me or my company sponsored research. But that is water under the bridge."
MarketWatch -- which, like Fox News, is owned by News Corp. -- noted that companies hire people like Smith for sponsored research "to help small stocks find a market using fluff-and-shine hyperbolic chatter" at novice investors.
Smith's company produces voluminous quantities of sponsored content. In June alone, NBT's website has featured posts by Smith with compensation disclaimers for GlyEco ("200,000 options of GlyEco"), Petrosonic ("$50,000"), Brazil Minerals ($40,000), Barfresh Food Group ("$35,000 and 75,000 restricted shares"), and Pulse Beverage ("$50,000").
Smith also regularly pitches paid stock promotions to conservatives through right-wing email newsletters. Media Matters identified at least six recent instances in which Smith's NBT Group was compensated to promote a company's stock via Townhall.com newsletters. The companies include Medient Studios in 2013 ("225,000 shares"); BOLDFACE Group in 2013 ($50,000); IceWeb in 2012 ($50,000 via a third-party firm); Plandai Biotechnology in 2012 ("$30,000 monthly and 1.4 million shares for a one year"); Replicel Life Sciences in 2012 ("a fee of over $1000.00 in cash"); and Petrosonic in 2012 and 2013 ($50,000).
Since mid-December 2012, Smith has sent compensated Petrosonic advertisements to subscribers of email lists for Townhall.com, National Review, Dick Morris Reports, and CainTV, which is run by Fox News contributor Herman Cain.
MarketWatch wrote that Smith's Petrosonic advertising pitches ignored several problems with the company's finances, including its lack of revenues, "Petrosonic's rising losses, negative cash-flow and the 'going-concern letter' from auditors who think there is 'substantial doubt' in Petrosonic's ability to survive."
Other stocks that Smith promoted to conservative newsletter subscribers paint a similarly rosy picture of volatile companies with low share prices. At least two stocks are now virtually worthless: BOLDFACE Group closed yesterday at $.06 and IceWeb closed at $.02. Two other companies, Plandai Biotechnology and Replicel, are both trading at between approximately $.50 and $.65. And Medient Studios is trading at near $1 a share.
A Fox Business correspondent claimed that it was better to forgo nearly $3 million in additional prize money than to pay the roughly $400,000 in taxes due on it, representing a continuation of the baseless Fox News narrative that the rich have unduly high tax burdens.
Professional golfer Phil Mickelson placed second at June's U.S. Open golf tournament. Fox Business correspondent Lauren Simonetti argued on June 19's edition of Fox & Friends First that it may have been better for Mickelson to have lost the tournament and place second, for he would avoid paying nearly $400,000 in additional taxes.
She explained that had Mickelson won the tournament -- and won the $1.44 million first prize -- he would have had to pay an additional $76,000 more in taxes than he paid by placing second and receiving $700,000. Mickelson would have also had to pay an additional $300,000 in taxes on $2.5 million in bonuses paid to him by his sponsors, had he won. She concluded it's better to avoid paying roughly $400,000 in taxes than to win nearly $3 million in after-tax income. Simonetti said this made Mickelson "$400,000 richer."
This conclusion may stem from Fox's zealotry against additional taxes for the rich: the rich, because of their supposed onerous tax burden, need lower taxes in order to continue amassing wealth, or else they may stop working.
The idea that the wealthiest Americans have a disproportionately high tax burden is a fabrication Fox has pushed for years. However, a February 15 New York Times article reported that incomes for top earners rose more than 11 percent during the recovery from the most recent recession, while the rest saw their incomes decline slightly. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz noted in an April 14 New York Times Opinionator blog post, "as the top 1 percent has grown extremely rich, the effective tax rates they pay have markedly decreased." The Center for Tax Justice (CTJ) found that the effective tax rate -- a rate including all federal, state and local taxes paid -- for the wealthiest Americans is not much higher than the effective tax rate for middle class Americans:
In the same report the CTJ found that the precentage of all taxes paid by the wealthy is near the amount of all national income captured by the wealthy.
From this fabrication, Fox has argued that the supposedly high tax burden will make the rich not work or might seek lower taxes in different states. In September 2011, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly equated earnings to achievement and claimed that "if you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in." And in September 2010, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade argued that high levels of taxation, to the wealthy, "robs you of your ambition and your push and your drive."
However, the rich have not been doing this. As Reuters reported, millionaires in high tax states, such as Mickelson's home state of California, have not left the state for low-tax alternatives. Mickelson himself suggested in January he may quit golf due to California's income taxes, walking back the statement a day later. If the 2013 U.S. Open results are any indication, Mickelson is still playing golf, presumably because after taxes he still earns millions and because he doesn't take financial advice from Fox.
Conservative author Niall Ferguson used discredited research to overstate the negative impact of regulations on the economy.
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal titled "The Regulated States of America," Ferguson, a Daily Beast contributor, claimed that the increase of regulations is holding back economic growth.
Ferguson's argument hinges upon the promotion of statistics compiled by the oil and pharmaceutical industry funded Competitive Enterprise Institute's (CEI) annual report on the cost of regulations. According to Ferguson, the report shows:
Excluding blank pages, the 2012 Federal Register - the official directory of regulation - today runs to 78,961 pages. Back in 1986 it was 44,812 pages. In 1936 it was just 2,620.
The cost of all this, [CEI's Cyde Wayne] Crews estimates, is $1.8 trillion annual - that's on top of the federal government's $3.5 trillion in outlays, so it is equivalent to an invisible 65% surcharge on your federal taxes, or nearly 12% of GDP.
The research that Ferguson cites, however, is inherently misleading and has been criticized by experts.
The way in which CEI tallies the overall burden of regulations -- counting the number of pages in the Federal Register -- is more focused on shock value than sound analysis. In an email correspondence with Media Matters, James Goodwin, a policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, noted that CEI's focus on the pages in the Federal Register overstates regulatory burden:
Bad case law, "filter failure," and the explosion of analytical requirements have more to do with those numbers than do some alleged "overreaching and unaccountable bureaucracy."
Furthermore, Ferguson, like the CEI report, completely ignores any potential benefits that regulations contribute to the economy. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which calculates the costs and benefits of regulations, over the past 10 years major rules have provided a net positive benefit to the economy.
Ferguson's focus on the CEI report ultimately leads him to "wonder if all this could have anything to do with the fact that we still have nearly 12 million people out of work," a conclusion that is in direct contrast to economic evidence. Many economists have consistently cited lack of demand in the economy as the main contributor to slow growth - demand that is held back by reduced government spending.
Indeed, independent surveys support this position. According to an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis, during the Obama presidency, businesses have reported poor sales as the single most important problem facing their business, while a smaller percentage of businesses named regulations as their most important issue. EPI's results are confirmed by surveys that find lack of customer demand to be the main hindrance to business growth and employment.
Fox News analyst Bernie Goldberg railed against long-standing employment discrimination law, mangling a civil rights doctrine to incorrectly claim the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seeking to prevent companies from screening job applicants for misdemeanor or felony convictions.
The EEOC recently filed complaints against a BMW facility in South Carolina and the retailer chain Dollar General because they allegedly conducted improper background checks that disproportionately affected workers and applicants of color, a possible violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This type of racial discrimination has been held to be impermissible by the Supreme Court since 1971 and was most recently acknowledged to be good law by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in 2010.
Goldberg, however, attacked the complaints, claiming "to most regular folks out there listening to us, this has to sound crazy, because there is no racial discrimination in any traditional sense." From the June 18 edition of America Live:
As mentioned by Goldberg, EEOC is using the disparate impact enforcement approach of Title VII, which can prohibit employment policies that have a disproportionate effect on the basis of race without an acceptable employer justification. Not only has the Supreme Court affirmed this antidiscrimination enforcement under Title VII since 1971, Congress explicitly codified the doctrine in 1991. Nevertheless, right-wing media continue to pretend this type of statistical analysis is improper and have repeatedly smeared the Department of Justice for utilizing this area of civil rights law.
Right-wing media outlets cherry-picked data from a Congressional Budget Office report on the Senate's immigration reform proposal to claim that immigrants who would benefit under the bill will drive down the wages of U.S. workers. In fact, while CBO predicts a slight decrease in wages in the first decade, that decrease would be outweighed by the larger increase in wages in the following decade. CBO also noted that its estimates "do not necessarily imply that current U.S. residents would be worse off" in the first decade.
A post on Breitbart.com asserted that CBO found that "illegal immigrants who would receive amnesty, or legalized status, would see a spike in their income while Americans' incomes dropped." The post added that "it would be harder for Americans to find jobs if the bill passed." Similarly, on her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham aired comments by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) claiming the bill would depress U.S. wages, then stated that the bill "goes beyond all common sense":
In reality, the CBO report on the economic impact of the Senate immigration bill states that "average wages for the entire labor force would be 0.1 percent lower in 2023 and 0.5 percent higher in 2033 under the legislation than under current law." CBO continues:
The estimated reductions in average wages and per capita GNP for much of the next two decades do not necessarily imply that current U.S. residents would be worse off, on average, under the legislation than they would be under current law. Both of those figures represent differences between the averages for all U.S. residents under the legislation--including both the people who would be residents under current law and the additional people who would come to the country under the legislation--and the averages under current law for people who would be residents in the absence of the legislation.
As noted, the additional people who would become residents under the legislation would earn lower wages, on average, than other residents, which would pull down the average wage and per capita GNP; at the same time, the income earned by capital would increase. [emphasis added]
Complaints about the poor quality of customer service from big internet providers like Comcast or Time Warner are often punctuated with an exasperated variant of "I'm paying XX dollars every month, how can they get away with this?" The short answer is because they can, because in all likelihood there's no real broadband competition in your area, because cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner are strengthening their grip on broadband and aren't feeling much pressure to improve your service.
The salt in the wound is that even though you do pay quite a bit for connectivity to the internet, what you're getting in return probably isn't all that great, at least when compared to the rest of the developed world where faster, cheaper internet connections abound. But the mere adequacy of cable-delivered U.S. internet is not without its defenders. Richard Bennett of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) inked an op-ed for the New York Times this weekend arguing that we're actually doing pretty OK on the cable broadband front. Bennett's arguments, however, require a little scrutiny and clarification.
First and foremost, some disclosure is needed. Between 2009 and 2011 (the most recent data available) the ITIF received nearly $100,000 from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the cable industry's chief lobbying group. (The NCTA's 990 forms for the relevant years can be found here, here, and here.) Over that same time period ITIF also received $122,500 from CTIA -- The Wireless Association, which lobbies on behalf of the wireless telecommunications industry. (990s here, here, and here.) The New York Times identified Bennett as a senior fellow at ITIF but did not disclose these donations, which are relevant given his promotion of America's broadband systems, which are dominated by the cable networks, and mobile broadband development.
UPDATE: The Times has responded to Media Matters' inquiries on the financial disclosure aspects of Bennett's op-ed: "We are entirely confident that this essay was handled correctly and we do not intend to comment further on it."
No act in modern media culture can create as instantly polarizing a figure as the leaking of classified information. Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and now Edward Snowden -- the complexity of their human psyche was instantly reduced to binary choices by opposing extremes tugging to set a narrative.
They must be canonized or villainized.
Creating a media narrative focused on battles over the moral character of imperfect individuals inevitably draws the public away from necessary debates about our fundamental rights.
Bob Schieffer's commentary Sunday night on CBS was jarring, because after acknowledging, "I don't know yet if the government has overreached since 9/11 to reinforce our defenses, and we need to find out," the veteran newsman then turned his fire: "I think what we have in Edward Snowden is just a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us."
Schieffer's statement followed former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw belittling Snowden as a "military washout" and Richard Cohen of The Washington Post describing him as a "cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood."
Whether or not Edward Snowden is a narcissist is inconsequential. Was the information he leaked to The Guardian and The Washington Post accurate? What are the boundaries between the surveillance abilities our 21st century telecommunications infrastructure provides agencies like the NSA, and a free and open society?
Who Edward Snowden is as a person is insignificant to the question of whether or not we as a society should be having a debate - facts in hand - about the level of surveillance we are willing to tolerate.
There are legitimate grounds of inquiry into how individuals obtain clearances, the use of private contractors by the intelligence community, and if the disclosure of this information constitutes a criminal act. But the majority of attacks on Snowden don't seek answers to these questions. They attempt to distract us with a chorus of voices more interested in a conversation better suited to the naming of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's baby than the most significant discussion about our right to privacy of the past decade.
Snowden has been called a "hero," "traitor," "dropout," "narcissist," and "washout." He has been attacked by elites from all ends of the ideological spectrum in government and the media. And yes, he has put himself forward for these attacks. But just as the conversation the Pentagon Papers promoted was ultimately far more significant than the personality of Daniel Ellsberg, the conversation Edward Snowden has begun is far more important than any defects - or heroic qualities - he may possess.
Fox News broke from other cable networks when it cut away from President Obama's speech in Berlin to host a panel previewing planned tea party protests in Washington, D.C.
Fifty years after President Kennedy delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech on the front line of the Cold War, President Obama kicked off a series of German events celebrating the 1963 address with a speech of his own. MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News each covered the speech live. But while MSNBC and CNN aired Obama's remarks to their conclusion, Fox cut away early in order to discuss tea party protests planned in Washington, D.C. the same day.
After cutting to a commercial break, Fox News ignored the remainder of the president's speech, opting instead to host a panel to discuss the significance of the tea party's rally against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Following that segment, Fox News covered wildfires in Colorado and an NFL player suspected of murder, all while their cable news peers continued to cover the president's address from Berlin.
Obama received criticism from Fox for speaking in Germany as a U.S. senator in 2008. Then in 2009, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fox News personalities criticized Obama for failing to give a speech in Berlin. Fox contributor Monica Crowley even accused the president of being "very reluctant to stand up for the values on which America is based and the values on which we stand."
Fox News' promotion of anti-IRS tea party rallies is not surprising. The network has a history of pushing misinformation regarding the recent allegations of improper IRS scrutiny of conservative groups and has a storied history of propping up the tea party during the movement's infancy.
The recent bloody headlines out of Chicago relayed the sad tale of the city's deadly weekend, where seven people were killed in shootings and more than 50 were victims of gunfire. Thanks in part to news coverage, America's third largest city has become synonymous with runaway gun violence, and especially deadly weekend shootouts.
Sadly, that type of shooting spree isn't restricted to Chicago. Just this month in New York City, which has experienced an historic reduction in crime in recent years, 25 people were shot over a single weekend; six of the victims died.
Nonetheless, the Chicago news triggered the usual response from conservative gun advocates, who love to mock the city's homicide rate. In recent years Chicago gun victims have served as a macabre punch line for NRA fans as they scoff at the alleged futility of the city's gun safety laws. (Chicago banned handguns decades ago, and has retained strong gun laws following the 2010 overturning of that ban by the Supreme Court.)
Conservative conspiracists such as Rush Limbaugh even claim Democratic politicians, including Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel, want the city's murder rate to remain high so they can use the killings to advocate for stronger gun laws.
But mostly, firearm defenders simply ridicule Chicago's murder count. "Slaughter in Gun Control Chicago," blogged Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich in the wake of last weekend's gun attacks, while a Breitbart writer on Monday insisted city officials had "little to show" for their efforts to curb violence.
But note what these commentators are careful not to mention while using the killings to make a political point: They didn't mention that homicides in "Gun Control Chicago" are down dramatically this year; a trend that undermines the attack that the Second City stands as the ultimate symbol of gun enforcement failure.
In early May, the Chicago Police Department released figures indicating the city marked a 43 percent decline in the number of murders over the first four months of this year, as compared to the same period last year. For the first quarter of this year, Chicago registered 93 murders, its lowest January-to-April tally since 1963.
Then this month came news that Chicago experienced a 31 percent decrease in shootings for the month of May, which meant that through May of this year the city's murder count had declined 34 percent from last year. Chicago homicides still outnumber those in larger cities, such as New York and Los Angeles; it suffers from weaker gun laws in both its home state and surrounding states than those two cities, allowing criminals easier access to guns purchased elsewhere.
It's true that Chicago's crime is certain to spike in the coming summer months, and with it will come more heartbreaking headlines about tragic gun murders; killings that will inevitably involve young victims. But statistically, violent crime almost always goes up in warm weather months. So the question is, will Chicago's murder rate go up more this year than during last year's summer months? Or will the city be able to maintain its pattern of reduced gun violence throughout 2013?