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Newsmax's Stimulus Falsehoods

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A recent Media Matters article detailed how conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh's attacks on President Barack Obama echoed the attacks and smears Limbaugh issued against President Clinton and his administration during the 1990s.

The same phenomenon is happening at Newsmax: Its misleading and false claims about Obama and his administration echo its anti-Clinton work during the 1990s.

Newsmax began attacking Obama long before his presidential inauguration, bashing the stimulus plan he has promoted to jump-start the languishing economy. Newsmax has since moved to repeating misleading claims and telling outright falsehoods about Obama and the stimulus, with reporter David A. Patten leading the way.

A Jan. 23 article by Patten described the so-called "Dirty Dozen" things President Obama plans to do. But Patten doesn't come clean by telling the truth about them.

For instance, Patten claimed that Obama will "hike taxes," about which he adds: "Obama promised to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans -- quite a feat, considering that only about 60 percent of Americans earn enough to pay taxes in the first place." In fact, Obama has said that his tax credits will go to working Americans, not all Americans; further, Patten apparently forgot that "working Americans" also pay FICA taxes for Social Security and Medicare, as well as federal excise taxes on gasoline.

Patten also asserted that the Employee Free Choice Act "seeks to take away workers' free choice," adding: "The act would eliminate the confidential balloting in which workers now determine whether they want to be unionized." In fact, the EFCA does not eliminate secret balloting; it merely shifts the choice of whether to have an election or a card-check procedure to establish a union to the employees rather than the employer. (Newsmax has previously promoted this false claim.)

Patten's article rated each of these so-called "dirty dozen" things by several criteria, including "Likelihood that the measure soon will be implemented," "Potential impact on the country, once the measure is enacted," "Future political impact on the GOP and its supporters," and a "GOP Misery Index" that's an average of the three measures. But at no point did Patten explain how these numbers were calculated, suggesting that he just made them up.

A Jan. 26 column by Ronald Kessler uncritically repeated former Rep. Tom DeLay's claim that the stimulus package is "just complete, out-and-out writing of checks to people that don't pay taxes. ... These are welfare checks that are called tax cuts," failing to mention that FICA and gasoline taxes are federal taxes too.

Then, Newsmax seized on its biggest lie -- that the stimulus would directly benefit ACORN, the organization it tried to smear prior to the election:

-- A Jan. 27 article by Patten asserted that "the blockbuster Democratic stimulus package would provide up to a whopping $5.2 billion for ACORN, the left-leaning nonprofit group under federal investigation for massive voter fraud."

-- An unbylined Jan. 29 article claimed that the stimulus plan includes a "proposal to give $4.2 billion to ACORN."

-- A Jan. 29 article by Patten claimed that $4.19 billion in the stimulus "allows nonprofits to compete with cities and states for $3.44 billion of the money, which means a substantial amount of it will be captured by ACORN, the controversial activist group the FBI is investigating for vote fraud."

-- Another Jan. 29 article by Patten referred to "the $5.2 billion slated for organizations such as ACORN," and the article's headline refers to "ACORN Money."

In fact, the Democratic stimulus plan does not even mention ACORN, let alone allocate any money to it. The plan being discussed at the time requires that the money be distributed through competitive processes, which means that no one group, including ACORN, has a lock on the money, or that conservative groups who do the same things can make a play for that money too.

Further, according to ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis: "ACORN isn't getting any of this money. Since it is set aside for non-profit housing developers to help purchase, rehab, and resell foreclosed properties, we aren't eligible for it in the first place."

Newsmax has yet to report Lewis' response.

But then, it had more false claims to peddle. Kessler, in a Feb. 3 column, uncritically quoted Republican Sen. Jim DeMint saying, "The Congressional Budget Office is saying only half of the money is going to get out over a two-year period." Similarly, a Feb. 3 article by Jim Meyers uncritically repeated a claim by Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford that the stimulus bill is, "according to the Congressional Budget Office itself, about money that in many cases will not get to be spent for another two years or so."

In fact, a CBO analysis of the stimulus released the previous day concluded that 78 percent of it will be paid out over the first two fiscal years.

In a Feb. 10 column, Kessler uncritically passed along a claim by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan that "spending stimuluses were tried in Japan in the 1990s and in America in the 1930s, but they never have worked." In fact, as Media Matters has pointed out, New Deal and Japanese stimulus packages were shown to fail only when their implementation was abandoned in an attempt to reduce deficits. Kessler also repeated Ryan's false claim that "7 percent of the money gets spent this year and 31 percent next year. The majority of the money doesn't even get spent for two or three years."

Patten penned another one of Newsmax's "experts say" articles (in which all the "experts" are right-wingers), a Feb. 10 piece claiming that "experts tell Newsmax" a provision in the stimulus package "will set America on the road to socialized medicine, involve the government in your choice of a doctor, and inevitably trigger another funding crisis that will be used to justify still greater federal intervention in America's healthcare industry." Patten cites two "experts" to bolster his claim; one is Betsy McCaughey, whom Patten fluffs as "the former New York lieutenant governor who has made healthcare reform her life's work" (a claim Patten apparently lifted from McCaughey's Wikipedia page). Patten regurgitates McCaughey's claim that the provision "creates a new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, to 'guide' decisions your doctor makes about your healthcare. She writes 'enforcing uniformity goes too far.'"

That's false. As Media Matters detailed, the provision 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."

Patten struck again in a Feb. 14 article, baselessly asserting once more that the stimulus bill "has more than $3 billion in "neighborhood stabilization" and Community Development Block Grant funding, much of which may go to benefit ACORN." Patten also added a new lie to his repertoire: that the bill includes "$30 million for restoration of wetlands to be spent in the San Francisco Bay Area - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district. The money will go in part to protect the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse." In fact, the bill designates no money for either San Francisco wetlands or for mice.

Patten further asserted that the "actual figure" the bill will cost "is now closer to $3.27 trillion," adding: "That stems from the $744 billion it will take to pay for the additional debt the legislation will create, and $2.527 trillion in increased spending from the new and expanded programs the bill will spawn over the next decade." That's wrong too: As Media Matters detailed, more than half of that $3.2 trillion figure comes from the cost of permanently extending more than 20 provisions in the recovery bill -- which the bill does not do.

When Newsmax wasn't issuing false attacks against Obama over the stimulus, it was finding other ways to attack the president.

Obama hadn't even been in office for a week, but Scott Wheeler, in a Jan. 26 column, declared him to be, as the headline states, the "Most Secretive President Ever." On what basis did Wheeler make this judgment? Not on anything Obama's has done in office -- remember, he had only been there six days when the column appeared. Instead, Wheeler tried to replay the campaign:

It should have been easy to know everything about him, yet, we know nothing. Obama's medical records have never been released, we know only from an admission in his first autobiography that he was a recreational drug user.

We know nothing about his academic record at Columbia or Harvard except that which he wants us to know, that he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. Why can't we see the academic record that earned him that spot?

By contrast, Wheeler defended the secrecy of the Bush administration because everything it was trying to hide from the public could only be described as related to national security:

To be clear, the openness the media and Democrats are celebrating have nothing to do with how the government is squandering your tax money or transparency of bailout funds -- no, the transparency that we are now supposed to celebrate is over national security secrets. That is, how the Bush administration conducted the war on terrorism over the past seven years.

This is Shangri-La for Democrats -- and terrorists. Having our game plan for the war on terrorism being laid out wide-open for the left and the enemy to openly criticize, and thereby weaken, makes it so much easier for another attack on America.

In fact, Freedom of Information Act requests were granted at a lower rate under the Bush administration than under the preceding Clinton administration -- not just for the Defense Department but also for all other major Cabinet-level office. Do, say, the Treasury or Interior departments really have all that much to do with "how the Bush administration conducted the war on terrorism" that would justify such a reduced rate of compliance? Perhaps Wheeler can explain that one.

Wheeler, by the way, already has a long history of lying about Obama: He's the head of the National Republican Trust PAC, an anti-Obama group that was behind what FactCheck.org called "one of the sleaziest false TV ads of the [2008 presidential] campaign," telling the lie that Obama's health care plan provides illegal immigrants with Social Security and health care benefits and would raise taxes to pay for it. FactCheck adds: "Hardly a word in the ad is true."

Keeping up that tradition, a letter signed by Wheeler on the National Republican Trust PAC website repeats numerous false and misleading claims about the stimulus, including asserting that $4 billion "will go to groups like ACORN."

Kessler, in his Feb. 9 column, quoted Ken Klukowski, "a legal expert who consults for major conservative interest groups," as saying of Obama: "Remember, Barack Obama has spoken out in terms of redistributive justice and considered it a shame that the Warren Court, which is the most liberal court in American history, did not engage in wealth redistribution."

That is false: The context of Obama's words clearly demonstrate that he said the civil rights movement relied too much on the court system to advance its agenda instead of promoting change from the bottom up, i.e., legislatively, and that the Warren Court did not address it was a sign that it was not as radical as right-wingers have claimed it to be.

Newsmax even tried to baselessly attack Obama's response to deadly ice storms in Kentucky. From a Feb. 5 column by Brad Blakeman:

Devastating ice storms have rocked Kentucky, prompting Gov. Steve Beshear to seek disaster aid, USAToday reports. And yet the Obama administration has remained silent on the issue.

This marks Kentucky's largest and most extensive natural disaster in history: 25 are dead, 600,000 are without power, and people by scores are holed up in shelters.

Yet, in spite of the suffering of hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans, Obama hasn't said a word.

To be fair, he did sign disaster declarations; but these are pro forma and done by staff at the request of the states affected. The situation warrants much more.

Where is the outrage? The president should have at least dispatched the vice president to the region if he himself could not make it.

As the president was at his Super Bowl party at the White House, thousands of Kentucky residents sat in darkness waiting for help, as power had yet to be restored to many parts of the area.

From a Feb. 5 column by Michael Reagan:

When somebody asks why Barack Obama isn't flying over storm-ravaged Kentucky the way they asked why George Bush why he didn't fly over New Orleans after Katrina, you can bet his flunkies will say it was a mistake.

Here's a tragedy where hundreds of thousands of people are shivering in frigid weather without electricity, and Barack Obama is hosting Super Bowl parties in the warm and comfy White House.

When George Bush didn't go the New Orleans, it was seen as a crime of enormous proportions. When Barack Obama gives a party instead of giving aid and comfort to ice-stricken Kentuckians, it must be an oversight -- a mistake.

Sounds like certain columnist were cribbing from the same right-wing talking points, doesn't it? There's one problem with Reagan's and Blakeman's anti-Obama rants: They don't reflect reality.

The Associated Press reported that "Kentucky officials are giving the federal government good marks for its response to a deadly ice storm," quoting Gov. Steve Beshear as saying, "We have had tremendous and quick response from President Obama and his administration"; Trina Sheets, executive director of the National Emergency Management Association, added: "The governor's declaration request for an emergency was turned around very, very quickly by FEMA and the White House."

If the governor of Kentucky and state emergency officials don't have a problem with the Obama administration's response, why should Newsmax?

Then again, as the above demonstrates, facts aren't exactly a priority for Newsmax when writing about Obama.