100 days of myths and falsehoods
Summary: As media figures prepare to recognize President Obama's 100th day in office, Media Matters has reviewed coverage since the inauguration and identified numerous myths and falsehoods about the administration and its policies.
As media figures prepare to recognize President Obama's 100th day in office, and presumably assess the administration's performance thus far, Media Matters for America has reviewed coverage since the inauguration and identified numerous myths and falsehoods about the administration and its policies.
MYTH: Obama has weakened our standing abroad
During and following Obama's trip to Europe for the G-20 summit and to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas, conservative media figures frequently mischaracterized Obama's actions and comments to claim they were signs of weakness, continuing the media trend of portraying Democrats as weak on matters of national security and foreign policy:
•During his trip to Europe, Obama at one point stated: "In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." Numerous conservative media figures quickly latched on to these comments, claiming they represented an example of Obama, in Fox News host Sean Hannity's words, "blam[ing] America first" and omitting the next two sentences of Obama's speech, in which he said: "But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad."
•Hannity also falsely claimed that Obama "seemingly apologiz[ed] for our engagement in the war on terror" when Obama stated during an April 6 speech before the Turkish parliament that "[t]he United States is not ... at war with Islam." However, in those same remarks, Obama also stated that "Iraq, Turkey, and the United States face a common threat from terrorism" and that "we are committed to a more focused effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda."
•Several Fox News figures also criticized Obama's comment that "we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation," which he made during an April 6 press availability with the president of Turkey. For example, Fox News contributor Karl Rove suggested that Obama denied the reality that "we have historically had, you know, a robust presence of faith in our public square." But as Media Matters noted, Obama was making a broader point about the ecumenical nature of our country. Indeed, after recognizing earlier in the speech that the U.S. is "a predominantly Christian nation," Obama stated: "[O]ne of the great strengths of the United States is -- although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."
•Following Obama's trip to the Summit of the Americas, conservative media figures similarly attacked Obama for shaking hands and accepting a book from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and listening to a speech by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, characterizing Obama's actions as weak and in some instances using explicitly gendered language to denounce the president's conduct. Fox News hosts and contributors, in particular, repeatedly criticized Obama for the handshake with Chavez, but did not similarly condemn President Bush's 2002 handshake with Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov, whose government the State Department has condemned for human rights abuses. FoxNews.com financial columnist Liz Peek even claimed that the "Chavez Handshake May Cost U.S. Billions," because it signifies that Obama will "buy Chavez' friendship."
•Conservative media figures have further suggested that Obama's actions in Europe and during a subsequent visit to the Middle East were motivated by a desire to be liked, rather than by U.S. interests. For instance, Hill columnist and Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus stated on CNN, "I think he's more concerned with his personal popularity and being personally liked -- which he is now in Europe -- than about the strength of the United States."
•Media figures such as Fox News' Dick Morris have advanced the false claim that in signing the G-20 communiqué establishing a new Financial Stability Board (FSB), Obama ceded U.S. sovereignty to international economic regulators. In fact, the FSB referenced in the communiqué does not contain cross-border authority and thus does not in any way limit or eliminate U.S. sovereignty.
MYTH: Obama and his policies have endangered the U.S.
As Obama proposed a Department of Defense budget for fiscal year 2010 and announced plans to close the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, media figures have put forth falsehoods and other misinformation as purported evidence that Obama's policies would endanger the United States:
•Media figures have advanced the falsehood that Obama's budget reduces overall defense spending. But as CNN.com noted on April 6, "The proposed overall fiscal year 2010 Defense Department budget is almost $534 billion, or nearly $664 billion when including the costs of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The current Pentagon budget totals slightly over $513 billion, or almost $655 billion including the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts."
•Further, media outlets have uncritically reported claims that targeted spending reductions within the proposed defense budget, including plans to end funding for the F-22 program and to restructure the Army's Future Combat Systems program, would make America less safe. But during an April 6 press briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that "it was not a close call" to end funding for F-22s once four more jets are constructed and further stated that "the military advice that I got was that there is no military requirement for numbers of F-22s beyond the 187" the military will have once those four additional jets are completed. Moreover, in an April 7 conference call posted by Wired magazine's Danger Room blog, Gates stated that the design of Future Combat Systems vehicles had "not really adequately integrated the lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq" and specifically referenced "the vulnerability of [FCS vehicles'] lighter armor to EFPs [explosively formed penetrators] and IEDs [improvised explosive devices]."
•Responding to Obama's plans to close the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, media figures have alleged that at least 61 former detainees held there have returned to terrorism. In fact, according to the Pentagon, the 61-detainee figure includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having "return[ed] to the fight," as Media Matters has repeatedly documented. Indeed, during a January 13 press conference, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell stated: "The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight. So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight."
•Following the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates, The Fox Nation touted a dubious WorldNetDaily.com report -- nearly all of which echoes an anonymous anti-Obama chain email -- claiming that Obama "actually delayed [the] pirate rescue." Additionally, Hannity distorted a Politico article to falsely allege that Obama was "legally required" to authorize the use of force against the pirates.
MYTH: Obama is responsible for the recession, stock market decline
Even as Obama was inaugurated in the midst of a recession and stock market decline that began under Bush, media figures have perpetuated myths and falsehoods that place responsibility for that recession on Obama.
•Media figures including Hannity and radio host Rush Limbaugh have promoted the myth of an "Obama recession," thereby exculpating Bush and suggesting that Obama is to blame for the decline in the stock market. However, analysts have refuted the proposition that the market decline has anything to do with anticipation of Obama's presidency.
•Indeed, during the first months of Obama's presidency, media figures ignored the stock market performance prior to the election and inauguration to advance the claim that Obama is responsible for the stock market's decline, often declaring an Obama bear market and occasionally showing cropped charts that obscured the fact that the Dow Jones industrial average was on a downward trajectory months before the election. Such references to an Obama bear market were rarely accompanied by an analysis of factors that arose during the Bush administration that continue to affect the market today. But as the Financial Times' Dan McCrum stated on the March 3 edition of MSNBC Live, "[I]t's the economy which is driving the market down here" and that "what's important is that President Obama doesn't try to address that in the short term. He's quite right that short-term market movements aren't -- shouldn't be driving government policy. What he needs to do is concentrate on fixing the economy, and the market will sort itself out."
MYTH: Obama is engaging in irresponsible spending
Media figures have frequently advanced falsehoods about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the administration's fiscal year 2010 budget proposal, and other administration initiatives aimed at stabilizing the economy. For example, media figures often omitted the widely held views that governments must increase their spending during a recession and that all government spending has a stimulative effect.
•A Media Matters review of the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs from January 25 through February 15 found that of the 59 broadcasts that addressed the economic recovery package and debate in Congress during the three-week period leading up to and immediately following its passage, only three of those broadcasts included discussion of whether that package was big enough, despite statements from many economists that it may not be.
•Discussing the economic recovery plan, media figures advanced the false claim that most of the act's spending won't occur until 2011 or later. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score of the enacted version of the recovery act, 59 percent of the spending and 74.2 percent of the combined spending and tax cuts included in the recovery package will take effect by the end of fiscal year 2010 (September 30, 2010). Moreover, economists, including CBO director Douglas Elmendorf, have said that fiscal stimulus in 2011 or later could be effective in the current economic situation, in which economic output is projected to remain below its potential long after the technical beginning of the recovery.
•Media figures have repeatedly advanced the false claim that a provision in the recovery act created the right for AIG to pay executive bonuses. In fact, the act did not create AIG's right to pay those bonuses, which would have been paid without the act. Indeed, the act imposed restrictions on the ability of companies receiving aid to pay bonuses in the future. Had that provision of the act not been enacted, there would have been almost no congressionally mandated restrictions on the payment of bonuses by companies receiving government aid. Many media figures also advanced attacks on Democrats for purportedly allowing the bonuses without mentioning that several Republican senators reportedly said in February they oppose any government restrictions on executive compensation.
•In support of criticism that the recovery act was full of "pork-barrel spending," media figures adopted the oft-repeated and false Republican claim that the recovery act directed funds to the salt marsh harvest mouse. In fact, the act did not contain any language directing funds to the salt marsh harvest mouse or its San Francisco wetlands habitat, a fact that the House Republican leadership aide who reportedly originated the claim has reportedly acknowledged.
•Numerous media outlets have devoted significant coverage to the earmarks contained in the omnibus appropriations legislation, even though, according to most estimates, earmarks constitute less than 2 percent of the total spending in the legislation. In many instances, the media have allowed attacks by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other opponents of the omnibus legislation to dominate their coverage of the legislation, and media figures have at times asserted as fact that the legislation is laden with "pork." As purported evidence that Obama has failed to follow through on his campaign promises, media figures have also falsely claimed that Obama pledged during the presidential campaign to eliminate earmarks. In fact, Obama promised to reform the earmark process and cut wasteful spending, not eliminate earmarks altogether.
•Discussing the Obama administration's Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, media figures have echoed remarks by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) to advance the claim that the bill rewarded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but not taxpayers. In fact, as economists Paul Krugman and Dean Baker have noted, the government -- that is, the American taxpayer -- now owns most of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In Baker's words: "[T]hese companies are currently in government conservatorship, with the shareholders having lost almost all their ownership stake, and the executives replaced by the government."
•Media figures also forwarded the frequently repeated Republican falsehood that Democrats steered money in the recovery act to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). In support of this claim, Republicans have pointed to a provision in the act that would, in the law's final version, appropriate $2 billion "for neighborhood stabilization activities related to emergency assistance for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes as authorized under division B, title III of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008." However, the act does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding, and the provision cited by Republicans requires that the money be distributed through competitive processes.
•Media figures advanced the unfounded claim that "welfare programs" included in the recovery act -- like food stamps -- will not stimulate the economy. In fact, economists have said that programs that provide aid to state governments and low-income or out-of-work individuals would, in Elmendorf's words, "have a significant impact on GDP."
•Fox News at one point also falsely claimed that Obama's $3.6 trillion FY 2010 budget is "4x bigger than Bush's costliest plan." In fact, Bush submitted a $3.1 trillion budget for FY 2009 and a $2.9 trillion budget for FY 2008.
MYTH: Obama will raise your taxes and cap your paycheck
Media figures have advanced several other myths and falsehoods about Obama's economic recovery package and his budget proposal, including that Obama has sought to eliminate charitable deductions, that Obama's budget would increase taxes on a large percentage of small businesses, that Obama has proposed broad compensation restrictions throughout the private sector, and that the estate tax affects many small businesses.
•Media figures have advanced the false claim that, in the words of Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Obama's FY 2010 budget proposal "will remove the ability to make charitable contributions deductible." In fact, beginning in FY 2011, the provision in Obama's budget would reduce the rate at which families earning over $250,000 could take itemized deductions from the current rates of 33 percent and 35 percent to 28 percent.
•Many media figures and outlets, including CNBC host Joe Kernen, CNBC host Maria Bartiromo, ABC News' Jake Tapper, CNN's Dana Bash, Fox News' Sean Hannity, CNN's David Gergen, Politico, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, have advanced, uncritically repeated, or failed to challenge the debunked Republican falsehood that Obama's income tax proposals would increase taxes on a large percentage of small businesses. For example, Kernen didn't challenge Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) when Gregg referred to Obama's proposal as a "tax policy that basically is focused on raising taxes on small businesses especially." In fact, according to the Tax Policy Center's table of 2007 tax returns that reported small-business income, 481,000 of those returns -- about 2 percent -- are in the top two income tax brackets, which include all filers with taxable incomes that would be affected by Obama's proposals to let portions of the Bush tax cuts for wealthy taxpayers expire and to reduce the tax rate at which families making more than $250,000 could take itemized deductions.
•Fox News repeatedly advanced the false claim that the proposed Pay for Performance Act would regulate compensation for all workers. In fact, the bill would regulate compensation only for employees of financial institutions that have received federal assistance.
•Media have uncritically advanced the claim that the estate tax affects "many" small businesses and family farms. However, the Tax Policy Center estimated that in 2009, "about 90 percent of the 700 small farm and business estates that will have to file estate tax returns will not owe any estate tax."
MYTH: Obama will nationalize health care and other health care misinformation
As Obama prepares to release his plan to reform the country's health care system, numerous media figures and outlets have falsely claimed that he has proposed "nationalized" health care -- something he has not proposed either as a candidate or as president.
Other health care-related myths and falsehoods include:
•Conservatives in the media have once again dusted off their 75-year-old "socialized medicine" smear to undermine Obama's reform efforts.
•Media outlets and figures have repeated the falsehood -- which first appeared in a Bloomberg "commentary" by Betsy McCaughey and was subsequently promoted by Limbaugh and Drudge -- that the economic recovery act includes a provision that would amount to government-dictated health treatments. As Media Matters documented, in her "commentary," McCaughey distorted a section of the House-passed version of the recovery bill to claim that "[o]ne new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and 'guide' your doctor's decisions." In fact, the language in the House bill that McCaughey referenced -- which is unchanged in the final act -- does not establish authority to "monitor treatments" or restrict what "your doctor is doing" with regard to patient care; rather, it addresses establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have complete, accurate information about their patients "to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."
•Media outlets also continued to repeat the baseless claim that small businesses will have to provide health insurance under Obama's health care proposal. However, as Media Matters repeatedly documented, during the presidential campaign, Obama stated that small businesses would be exempt from his proposal requiring large businesses that do not provide employer-sponsored health coverage to pay a percentage of their payroll into a National Health Insurance Exchange to help Americans purchase private health insurance.
•Many media figures have claimed or suggested that given the size of the current and projected U.S. federal debt, the Obama administration's health care reform proposal is untenable. For instance, Hannity said on March 26 that "Obama wants to expand government. We've got health care, unbelievable amounts of spending -- we're gonna bankrupt the country." However, in making such statements, neither Hannity nor other media figures addressed the argument Obama has repeatedly made in response to such claims: that health-care reform is essential to the long-term economic and fiscal health of the country.
MYTH: Obama is targeting conservatives, vets, Christianity, and "your gun"
•A recent Department of Homeland Security report detailing potential increases in right-wing extremism prompted claims, often repeated or uncritically reported by the media, that the report was politically biased, unfairly targeted veterans, and concluded that right-wing extremism was the "number one threat to American safety." In fact, while the report addressed potential issues that could spur right-wing extremism, it did not allege that individuals are extremists simply because they hold conservative views. The DHS report does not make any conclusions about what constitutes the biggest overall threat to American safety and security, and DHS previously issued a similar assessment of left-wing extremism. Moreover, as evidence for its conclusion that "rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat," the DHS cited a 2008 FBI report -- authored during the Bush administration -- as evidence that "some returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined extremist groups."
•Media outlets and figures misrepresented an April 16 CNSNews.com article to suggest that the White House specifically requested that Georgetown University "hide 'Jesus' " during a speech there by Obama. However, the CNSNews.com article made clear in the lead paragraph that Georgetown says that the White House requested Georgetown "cover up all signs and symbols" on the stage, not solely the name of Jesus. Indeed, CNSNews.com quoted a Georgetown spokeswoman saying that the university "honored the White House staff's request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind Gaston Hall stage," and that this request was "consistent with what they've [the White House] done for other policy speeches."
•Since Obama's election, several conservative media figures have warned their audiences that Obama is planning to, in the words of Fox News host Glenn Beck, "slowly but surely take away your gun or take away your ability to shoot a gun, carry a gun" or have suggested that a government effort to ban guns is likely.
— J.H. & S.P.
Posted to the web on Friday, April 24, 2009 at 09:13 PM ET
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