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Context of 'February 9-10, 2009: Fox Anchors, Wall Street Journal, Limbaugh, Drudge Echo False Claim by Health Care Lobbyist'

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Democratic Socialists of America logo.Democratic Socialists of America logo. [Source: Social Democrats]The Drudge Report and other media sources falsely accuse the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a leftist political organization in New York, of “sending people to MN to illegally vote for [Senator Paul] Wellstone.” Wellstone, a Democrat, is running for re-election as senator for Minnesota. Drudge’s headline links to a fundraising appeal from the DSA that asks for donations to send students to help register voters in Minnesota. The Drudge Report is one of the most popular news sites on the Internet, receiving over 100 million visits in the last month. The appeal reads in part: “DSA’s national electoral project this year is the Minnesota Senate Election. Together with YDS, DSA’s Youth Section, we are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota. Minnesota is one of the few states that allow same day voter registration. We will therefore focus our energy on registering young people. Wellstone will need a high percentage of young people to register and vote for him if he is to stave off the campaign that Bush, the Republicans, and the Greens are waging against him. He is the Right’s Number One electoral target. Because we are focusing on issue based voter registration this electoral work can be supported by tax-deductible contributions. The DSA FUND is soliciting tax-deductible contributions to support this project. Contributions are needed to underwrite the costs of transportation as well as providing a stipend for expenses; housing is being donated.” The appeal states that the DSA wants to send students to register voters, a perfectly legal activity, though Spinsanity’s Bryan Keefer notes that the appeal is somewhat confusing in its wording. [Spinsanity, 10/16/2002; Spinsanity, 10/18/2002] The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: “Minnesota, which always ranks high in voter turnout, generally is considered one of the easiest states in which to vote. Voters must reside in the state for at least 20 days before the election, a deadline that passed on the day the league issued its press release. If not preregistered, qualified people can vote if they show proof of their residency at the polling place or have a registered voter from that precinct vouch for their residency.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 10/17/2002]
October 14 - The controversy begins with a press release from the Taxpayers League of Minnesota (TLM), a conservative advocacy group, that attacks the DSA’s voter registration effort as “one of the most transparent attempts to steal an election since the Daley machine ran Chicago politics.” The release mischaracterizes the DSA’s appeal as supposedly announcing the DSA’s intention to bring “ringers” in to Minnesota to vote, stating, “This is a transparent attempt to steal this election by using Minnesota’s liberal election laws to register out-of-state students to vote for Wellstone.”
October 15 - The DSA rewrites its appeal to read, “We will therefore focus our energy on registering young Minnesotans.”
October 16 - Matt Drudge puts a link to the DSA appeal on the top of his Web site, the Drudge Report, with the headline, “Socialists Sending People to MN to illegally vote for Wellstone.” Talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners: “[DSA has] been caught. ‘We are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota’ is what it says on the Web site. It doesn’t say ‘We are mobilizing to bring out the young people who live in Minnesota to vote,’ it doesn’t say that.… And then it says: ‘By the way, did you know Minnesota is one of the few states that allows same-day voter registration? You can go in there and register and vote and split the same day, you can go home, you don’t even have to spend the night in Minnesota and freeze if you don’t want to, you can go in there and vote and leave.’” Fox News anchor Brit Hume repeats the accusation this evening, telling viewers, “The Democratic Socialists of America, which bill themselves as the largest socialist organization in the country, is raising tax-deductible money to send young people to the state of Minnesota, where they can take advantage of same-day registration to vote for the liberal incumbent Paul Wellstone.” The DSA removes the appeal from its Web site, saying that it has received enough donations and its donation system was being abused. Keefer writes: “Criminal allegations are [a] serious matter. Drudge’s casual assertions of illegal activity are wildly irresponsible, especially since they are directly contradicted by the story itself. One would think he would at least read the stories he links to carefully before summarizing them with such potentially libelous accusations.” [Spinsanity, 10/16/2002; Spinsanity, 10/18/2002]
October 17 - A Manchester Union-Leader editorial claims, “The Democratic Socialists of America, otherwise known simply as socialists, have organized a campaign to steal the US Senate election in Minnesota.” David Strom, the head of the Taxpayers League, tries to back away from the controversy, saying: “My tongue was placed firmly in my cheek. There are so few socialists left that they could meet in a phone booth.” Strom adds that “even if they themselves [the DSA] are not plotting some grand voter fraud,” the TLM merely wishes to demonstrate that the “laws that we have make it easy to commit fraud.” (The Star-Tribune notes that Strom’s organization is “funded largely by donors to conservative Republican candidates and causes.”) DSA national director Frank Llewellyn says that the TLM’s characterization of the DSA’s voter-registration efforts constitutes a “new sophisticated form of red-baiting.” Llewellyn says his group plans to send between 10 and 20 people to Minnesota to help organize support for Wellstone, and that no one from the DSA will actually try to vote. Wellstone’s campaign issues a statement saying it knows nothing about the group and does not approve of any attempts to register illegally. It also deplores the success of the TLM in ginning up a controversy where none exists, citing extensive coverage on local radio talk shows. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 10/17/2002; Spinsanity, 10/18/2002]
October 18 - The Wall Street Journal joins the fray, claiming in an editorial, “The Democratic Socialists of America recently posted an ad on their Web site inviting tax-deductible contributions to ‘bring young people to Minnesota’ to vote in the close US Senate race there.” Unlike Limbaugh and Hume, the Journal provides more information about the claim, quoting Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer about the concerns over voter fraud, and labeling the DSA ad “clear… advocacy.” The same day, Kiffmeyer’s office affirms that the DSA’s plans to bring in out-of-state students to register Minnesota voters is legal, but the organization needs to ensure that it does not cross the line into advocacy. Keefer writes: “While it is legitimate to ask whether the DSA’s advertisement constituted illegal advocacy, the ad was clearly intended to promote the registration of young voters likely to vote for Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, which is perfectly legal. Even the loose wording of the original statement does not excuse the false reports of planned voter fraud propagated by Drudge, Limbaugh, Hume, and others.” [Spinsanity, 10/16/2002; Spinsanity, 10/18/2002]
'Smear' - In 2003, liberal author and columnist Eric Alterman will write that “Drudge and Limbaugh combined, together with Brit Hume of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, to effect a smear against the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and by extension, the late Senator Wellstone’s re-election campaign.” (Wellstone will die in a plane crash on October 25.) Alterman will write that the incident contains “all the trademarks of the conservative echo-chamber effect, including unproven innuendo, inaccuracy, repeated cavalier use of unchecked facts, all in the service of a clear political/ideological goal.” [New York Times, 10/25/2002; Alterman, 2003, pp. 79-80]

Entity Tags: Paul Wellstone, Rush Limbaugh, Wall Street Journal, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Matt Drudge, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Manchester Union-Leader, Brit Hume, Mary Kiffmeyer, Bryan Keefer, Democratic Socialists of America, David Strom, Frank Llewellyn, Eric Alterman, Drudge Report

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Fox News graphic making disproven claims about Congressional health care reform proposals.Fox News graphic making disproven claims about Congressional health care reform proposals. [Source: Media Matters]The Wall Street Journal, Fox News anchors, conservative Web news purveyor Matt Drudge, and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh promulgate a discredited claim by health care lobbyist Betsy McCaughey that the economic recovery bill pending in Congress includes a provision that would have the government “essentially dictate treatments” for sick Americans. McCaughey wrote a commentary for Bloomberg News on February 9 that makes the claim (see February 9, 2009); Drudge and Limbaugh echo and add to the claim the same day. The next day, the Wall Street Journal’s senior economic writer, Stephen Moore, appearing on Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast America’s Newsroom, joins news anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly in promoting the same claim (see October 13, 2009), with Moore saying that the provision would “hav[e] the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore credits Limbaugh with informing him of the claim, saying: “I just learned of this myself yesterday. In fact, Rush Limbaugh made a big deal out of it on his radio show and it just—it caused all sorts of calls into congressional offices.” On February 10, Limbaugh takes credit for spreading the claim, telling listeners: “Betsy McCaughey writing at Bloomberg, I found it. I detailed it for you, and now it’s all over mainstream media. Well, it’s—it headlined Drudge for a while last night and today. Fox News is talking about it.” McCaughey is wrong in the claim: according to an analysis of the legislative language by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, “the language in the House bill that McCaughey referenced does not establish authority to ‘monitor treatments’ or restrict what ‘your doctor is doing’ with regard to patient care but, rather, 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.’” Moore says: “[T]his news story really has exploded on the public scene in just the last 24 hours, Bill. We’ve been just inundated with complaints from people about the implications of having the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore later goes on to add that the bill “especially will affect elderly people, because one of the ways, if we move more towards a nationalized health care system, as this bill would move us one step towards that, what you have to do to restrain costs—what many other countries do, like Canada and Britain, is they essentially, Bill, ration care. And they tell patients you are eligible for this kind of care, but this is too expensive. And so what this bill would essentially do is set up a kind of pricing mechanism to tell people, yes, we can afford to treat you for this, but not that.” Moore encourages viewers to “express their outrage over this” before Congress takes the issue up. Kelly adds another false claim: that the bill discourages doctors to act on their own judgment and promotes medical decisions “in the spirit of uniform health care.” Kelly notes, “That sounds dangerously like socialized medicine.” Hemmer also makes the false claim that the legislation contains “rules [that] appear to set the stage for health care rationing for seniors, new limits on medical research, and new rules guiding decisions your doctor can make about your health care.” Hemmer calls the provision a “midnight health care insertion” into the Senate spending bill. [Media Matters, 2/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Stephen Moore, Wall Street Journal, Megyn Kelly, Bill Hemmer, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Fox News, Matt Drudge, Media Matters, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

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