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House Republicans Target Bob Mueller, FBI With Fox News’ Uranium One Smear

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Taking their cues from Fox News host Sean Hannity, three Republican congressmen introduced a resolution in the House demanding special counsel Robert Mueller step down from his role of investigating possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and agents of the Russian government.

On November 3, Politico reported that Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) introduced a measure that “while nonbinding, would put the House on record as describing Mueller … as unfit” to lead the Trump-Russia investigation, “because of his relationship” with former FBI Director James Comey, and his handling of an FBI investigation in 2010 when he was the head of the bureau. The representatives claimed that Mueller and the FBI are compromised because of their supposed neglect to adequately investigate “a seven-year-old sale of uranium production facilities to Russian interests,” according to Politico, which right-wing media falsely believe was inappropriately approved by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“[B]e it Resolved, That House of Representatives expresses its sense that Robert Mueller is compromised and should resign from his special counsel position immediately,” the resolution states.

[…]

Mueller, they note, was presiding over the FBI at the time the agency was investigating a Russian bribery and extortion scheme connected to the uranium deal, but the agency declined to notify Congress of its investigation and prevented a confidential informant from notifying lawmakers.

“Any thorough and honest investigation into the corruption of American-uranium related business must include investigating the willful blindness of the FBI and its leaders,” according to the resolution.

The demand for Mueller’s resignation from lawmakers in Congress comes after months of attacks leveled by pro-Trump media. But their conspiratorial focus on Mueller’s supposed involvement in a uranium deal reveals the extent to which many Republicans may be taking their cue from Fox News, particularly Sean Hannity.

Just three weeks ago, right-wing journalist John Solomon authored a flimsy article in The Hill, which revived the debunked Uranium One conspiracy theory. Hannity rushed to amplify the story, claiming the real collusion was between Clinton and Russia while impugning Mueller’s character. As recently as October 24, Hannity encouraged Congress to call on Mueller to testify about his “past role” in the Uranium One story, adding “there’s no way the American people can trust Robert Mueller to investigate anything Russia related, to be fair and impartial, it’s impossible because of his past role in this. He should resign immediately, tonight.” In a November 1 tirade, Hannity hyped “massive conflicts of interest coming from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team” calling them “beyond shocking” and “beyond disturbing.” Hannity alleged that the special counsel investigation “has become a partisan witch hunt that is now rotten to the core” before attempting to tie Mueller to the alleged uranium plot. Hannity also suggested that Mueller might have an ax to grind with Trump after not being chosen to replace Comey at the FBI.

Fox News has became fully invested in stoking the conspiracy theory, despite the fact that none of the right-wing talking points about it are true — and they are embarrassingly easy to fact check. Rep. Biggs himself appeared on the October 28 edition of Fox News’ America’s News HQ and falsely suggested Mueller had “a conflict of interest” in investigating Trump because “he’s tied back to the original Uranium One scandal.”

The recent right-wing hysteria around Uranium One is peculiar given that it first gained public attention in April 2015 with the publication of Republican opposition researcher Peter Schweizer’s deeply flawed anti-Clinton oppo dump. Schweizer falsely alleged that Clinton used her position to promote the sale of American uranium assets to state-owned Russian entities in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. Those allegations were quickly debunked after reporters began reviewing the sale (hint: Clinton played virtually no role) and Schweizer was later forced to admit part of his argument was a lie. But Fox News never gave it up. Indeed, just last night, Hannity told Schweizer that he was proud to have hosted the first interview for Schweizer’s discredited book while boasting about his constant recent coverage of the Uranium One story.

Previously, Fox hosts and guests have baselessly accused Mueller of leaking damaging information about the Trump-Russia inquiry to the press in hopes of building up the public’s distrust in him. Now, in the wake of key members of the Trump campaign team getting indicted, Trump’s conservative media sycophants seem to hope that the bogus Uranium One conspiracy theory will succeed in derailing Mueller’s efforts.

 

CNN Is Paying Stephen Moore To Lie To Its Viewers About Health Care

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Discredited economic pundit and former Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore continues embarrassing CNN during news segments with his supposed policy expertise. Media Matters compared two of Moore’s recent appearances — one in which he appeared alongside a credentialed policy expert, and one in which he faced only an ill-prepared network host — and found distinct differences in the tone of each discussion. These differences demonstrate the dangers of news outlets continuing to rely on unscrupulous hangers-on from the Trump administration to comment on policy issues.

Over the years, Media Matters has chronicled Moore’s shoddy predictions, intentional misinformation, and misleading claims. Despite ample evidence of Moore’s gross incompetence as an economic analyst, CNN still hired him in January under the guise of “senior economics analyst” to serve as a sort of in-house surrogate for the Trump administration. Moore has spent his time at CNN undermining his colleagues and embarrassing his network while ceaselessly parroting the Republican Party’s agenda. His shameless defense of the president’s unfounded reasoning for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord even led Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs to blast CNN on its own program for maintaining a relationship with the pundit.

Moore’s two appearances late last week underscore how problematic he is as an employee of a news network and reveal how CNN ought to handle his future appearances.

During the July 13 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Moore was interviewed alongside University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee about the Republican-led Senate’s floundering proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Moore opened the segment by endorsing an amendment authored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), which experts believe would restrict coverage options and increase costs for Americans living with pre-existing conditions. He misleadingly blamed the ACA for increasing health care costs — prices are actually “rising at historically low levels” since the law went into effect — and encouraged the use of so-called “catastrophic” insurance policies, which provide limited packages to young individuals at low cost and are considered inadequate by health care experts. Luckily for CNN viewers, Goolsbee — a former chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers and college debate champion — was there to provide pushback to these false and misleading claims:

Compare Goolsbee’s repeated fact-check of Moore’s misstatements to another Moore appearance in which CNN did not host an economic policy expert to counter the conservative pundit.

On the July 14 edition of CNN’s Wolf, Moore sat for an interview with guest host Jim Sciutto, the network’s chief national security correspondent, to discuss the same topics and was allowed to promote his right-wing agenda virtually unchallenged. Moore falsely claimed that catastrophic health insurance plans could save middle-class families thousands of dollars and got away with an unsubstantiated guess that politically, the GOP bill’s reduction of insurance premiums outweighs the fact that it would strip coverage from 22 million people. When Sciutto questioned him about the fact that repealing ACA would harm millions of Americans who receive Medicaid, Moore promoted the right-wing lie that “Medicaid is one of the worst insurance systems” and low-income Americans would be better off without it. Sciutto did not challenge Moore when he falsely claimed that the ACA repeal process in 2017 is “déjà vu all over again” compared to how the law was passed in 2010 when, according to Moore, then-President Barack Obama “had to buy those last couple of votes in Senate to get there.” In reality, the ACA passed 60-39 with the support of every Democrat in the chamber, whereas the current Senate bill has yet to get 50 supporters among 52 Republican senators:

Moore’s partisan talking points can be easily unraveled by competent analysts and experts; his attempt to promote the same right-wing fallacies about health care was rebutted by health care expert Andy Slavitt during the July 10 edition of New Day. In fact, his dissembling can be easily countered if the interviewer is adequately prepared. But since Moore is a professional misinformer who has spent years honing his craft, if an interviewer is ill-prepared, the segment can quickly devolve into Moore amplifying his routine talking points, which serve only his conservative political agenda.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Former Economics Adviser Reveals Trump Lied About Medicaid

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Discredited right-wing economic pundit and former Trump campaign economic adviser Stephen Moore accidentally let slip that gutting the Medicaid program “was central” to President Donald Trump’s plan to repeal Obamacare, despite the president’s repeated assertions that he would not touch the program. The statement corroborates admissions Moore made at a private event last July, when he claimed that Trump would fund massive tax cuts and reckless spending by dismantling programs that provide basic living standards for millions of Americans.

During the May 8 edition of CNN Newsroom, Moore — CNN’s “senior economics analyst” — was joined by University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee to discuss the merits of billionaire businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett’s argument that the Trump health care agenda amounts to little more than a tax cut for the rich funded by cuts to health care subsidies for low-income Americans. Goolsbee pointed out that Trump’s health care legislation “cuts taxes for high-income people by hundreds of billions of dollars” at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid, which Trump promised “he would never cut.” Moore interjected falsely: “He never said that we weren’t going to reform Medicaid,” arguing, “That was central to our plan all along”:

Moore’s claim was debunked on air by co-hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow, as well as Goolsbee, who cited Trump’s tweets and public statements as proof that he had broken his promise to protect Medicaid. Reporters who tuned in for the performance also noted Moore’s false statement. Moore accepted Berman’s correction before quickly pivoting to talking points extolling the virtues of converting Medicaid to block grants, which would also amount to a massive benefit cut for recipients.

Moore’s secondary claim that gutting Medicaid was “central to our plan all along” drew little notice from the fact-checkers, but it sheds light on Trump’s real agenda. According to a September 7 article from HuffPost political reporter Christina Wilkie, Moore had outlined Trump’s often contradictory economic plans during a “question-and-answer session” at a private July 14 meeting of the conservative Council for National Policy (CNP) in Cleveland, OH. During the event, Moore suggested that Trump planned to pay for his costly economic agenda by removing supposedly onerous public protections imposed by the federal government and enacting “draconian public assistance reforms and cuts in social services.” Since taking office, Trump has proposed a budget and health care agenda that would fulfill those promises. As the article noted, Moore’s zeal for tearing down anti-poverty programs, including Medicaid, seems to undermine Trump’s claim that he would focus on “looking out for the downtrodden.” It also confirms that imposing this harsh agenda — and lying about it — was indeed “central to” the Trump team’s economic plan “all along.”

 

Fox News Retools Misleading Jobs Report Spin One Last Time

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Today marked the release of the final monthly jobs report during President Obama’s time in office, and Fox News wasted no time in spinning the document, which showed consistent job gains, new workforce entries, and sizable year-to-year wage increases, by claiming that it’s “not a great picture of the employment situation.” The network has exploited the monthly jobs report to attack the president since he took office in January 2009, but its campaign of misinformation will likely come to a screeching halt next month.

On the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases its monthly employment situation summary detailing key indicators of the national labor market from the previous month. The report for December 2016 showed another month of consistent performance from the American economy, with 156,000 new jobs created, a 2.9 percent increase in hourly wages over the previous year, and the unemployment rate remaining “little changed” at 4.7 percent. The December jobs figure came in below some economic forecasts, but the miss was offset by major upward revisions to jobs estimates in October and November. Meanwhile, the slight 0.1-point increase in the unemployment rate was driven mostly by an influx of job seekers entering the labor market last month. According to The Wall Street Journal, December marked the 75th consecutive month of job growth — the longest streak on record.

On CNN’s New Day, chief business correspondent Christine Romans outlined the details of what she called “a solid finish to the year.” Romans said the economy created roughly 2.2 million jobs in 2016 and stressed that “altogether for the Obama presidency, it’s a net 11 million new jobs” even though he inherited the Great Recession and took office in a year when “5 million jobs just disappeared”:

Investment analyst and Bloomberg View columnist Conor Sen argued that the December report “is about as strong of a jobs print as we can get at this point in the cycle.” University of Michigan economist and New York Times columnist Justin Wolfers compared the economy to “the little engine that could,” arguing that after accounting for prevailing economic trends, the December report was “good news.” New York Times senior economic correspondent Neil Irwin noted that the 2.9 percent average hourly wage increase “is the highest of this expansion,” concluding, “Boom.” Economist Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute wrote in a January 6 blog post, “All told, it’s clear that the next president is inheriting an economy much stronger than it was at the start of the previous administration,” a sentiment echoed by MSNBC’s Steve Benen, who said the report stands as yet more evidence that “the president is handing off a healthy economy to his successor (who spent 2016 telling voters the economy is terrible).”

The generally positive outlook on the economy portrayed by these journalists, economists, and other experts was once again absent at Fox News, which painted the report as another example of the president’s failing policies.

Fox Business host Stuart Varney slammed the report all morning on Varney & Co., and he invited several guests to claim that the report was proof of a sputtering and “sick” economy. Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade lamented the report as “not a great picture of the employment situation in the country,” ignoring all its positive indicators, while guest and Trump apologist Jeanine Pirro slammed the Obama administration for its supposed failure to advance the economic interests of African-Americans. (Many observers had noted that the December report actually showed the unemployment rate for African-Americans falling to its lowest point since August 2007.) From the January 6 edition of Fox & Friends:

Trump Drives Misleading News Coverage 140 Characters At A Time

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Since his victory, President-elect Donald Trump has used his Twitter account to generate positive news about himself across the spectrum of media platforms, implanting misleading narratives about his business and economic acumen into national news — sometimes for days at a time. Reports on the tentative nature of jobs he had supposedly “saved” at an Indiana factory offer a perfect example of why journalists should be wary of treating the president-elect’s boasts as newsworthy.

On November 30, Fortune magazine reported that Trump had struck a deal with Indiana-based appliance manufacturer Carrier to provide taxpayer-funded incentives to the company if it agreed to keep several hundred jobs in the United States. In a tweet, Trump boasted that he would soon meet “the great workers of Carrier,” proclaiming that “they will sell many air conditioners!” Broadcast and cable news outlets heaped praise on the president-elect’s “symbolic coup.” In a December 1 speech at the Carrier facility in Indianapolis, Trump took credit for saving “over 1,100 jobs” and said the number of jobs kept safe “is going to go up very substantially.”

A few days later, the flimsy Carrier story had completely fallen apart.

Initial reports detailed how, in exchange for a multimillion dollar handout, the manufacturer was only keeping some jobs in Indiana — the rest were still going to Mexico. By December 6, Chuck Jones, the president of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1999, was irate that hundreds of union jobs were still scheduled to be outsourced after Trump had promised to save them, according to The Washington Post. “For whatever reason,” said Jones, the president-elect “lied his a– off.” During a December 7 interview with CNN, Carrier employee T.J. Bray compared the farce to “a dog and pony show” and expressed his disappointment that “we are still losing a lot of workers.”

On December 9, CNNMoney reported that some of the millions of taxpayer dollars doled out as part of the Carrier deal “will be invested in automation” that will soon “replace some of the jobs that were just saved.” According to Carrier, automation is the only way they can compete with low-cost labor in Mexico. CNNMoney correctly reported that the sharp decline in American manufacturing employment is “thanks in large part to more efficient factories.” Workforce automation has been a fact of life since the 1800s, but that point was obfuscated by Trump, who misled workers at Carrier and around the country, many of whom think they are losing their jobs to free trade and immigration.

The days-long saga of news outlets cutting through the spin on this Carrier deal, which included the president-elect attacking Chuck Jones on Twitter, resulting in Jones receiving death threats from Trump supporters, follows a familiar pattern.

Trump tweeted that he had single-handedly kept a Ford plant from moving to Mexico, on November 17. Conservative media outlets rushed to give him credit and many mainstream outlets followed suit, but, upon further investigation, it turned out that Ford’s decision had nothing to do with Trump. The plant “was never moving to Mexico” to begin with and no jobs were on the chopping block.

On December 6, Trump tweeted that “costs are out of control” on what he claimed was a “more than $4 billion” contract between Boeing and the U. S. government to update Air Force One. Trump concluded his tweet with “Cancel the order!” As Trump’s tweet drove news coverage, Boeing shares plunged more than 1 percent — an almost $1 billion hit to the company’s market capitalization. Hours later, a fact-check from The Washington Post revealed that almost every word in the tweet was exaggerated, false, or misleading but the damage had already been done. Trump’s intervention set such a dangerous precedent that even Fox News’ Karl Rove was aghast.

Later on December 6, Trump staged an impromptu press availability in the elevator lobby of Trump Tower with Japanese telecommunications mogul Masayoshi Son. In a brief statement and corresponding tweets, Trump claimed credit for landing a $50 billion investment commitment that would create 50,000 jobs and national media spent the rest of the day praising him. ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum predicted that Trump’s “formula for manipulating the public” through “substance-free tweets” and fawning media would succeed because “people will have largely moved on” by the time reporters uncovered the details. He was right. The next morning, reports from The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and CNN showed that Trump may have had little influence on the deal.

The problem of media amplifying his misinformation isn’t confined to economic policy. A November 27 tweet falsely claiming Hillary Clinton received “millions” of illegal votes generated so much media attention that it has become gospel for many Trump supporters. PolitiFact, which traced the illegal voter conspiracy to Trump ally and 9/11 truther Alex Jones, rated the claim “False”, calling it “obscenely ludicrous.”

The fact that Trump’s boasts always seem to crumble in the face of modest scrutiny is a telling sign. Media outlets need to stop letting Trump’s tweets dictate and drive the news cycle and stop accepting his self-promotion at face value.

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at the USA Thank You Tour event at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

Evening News Virtually Ignores Paul Ryan’s Medicare Privatization Plan

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters. 

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:

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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.

Methodology

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.”