Earmarks: Déjà vu All Over Again

Media return to familiar pattern of falsely characterizing earmarks as Democrats’ alone

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)– Media Matters for America has recently documented several examples of the media uncritically advancing the false notion that congressional Republicans are champions of earmark reform and in contrast, the Democratic Party are champions of wasteful spending. In advancing this false notion, the media frequently ignore historical context — in which spending bills have long been rife with Republican earmarks, a pattern that continues to this day.

“From accusing President Obama of breaking campaign promises to ignoring Republican earmarks in the omnibus bill, the media have consistently cast Republicans as anti-earmark warriors and Democrats as the sole champions of earmarks, while ignoring evidence to the contrary,” said Eric Burns, president of Media Matters for America. “This has been a pattern in the media for the past two years. Accurate and thorough reporting would present the full picture — including the Republican Party’s history of earmarking.”

Some examples of the media’s faulty coverage of earmarks for the past two years include:

ACCUSING OBAMA OF BACKING DOWN ON CAMPAIGN PROMISES

Several media figures have falsely asserted that Obama is breaking his campaign promise to end earmarks because of his reported plans to sign the omnibus appropriations bill that contains earmarks. As Media Matters has noted, Obama consistently said while campaigning that he intends to “clean up” the process in an effort to curb spending on earmarks, not eliminate them entirely.

IGNORING REPUBLICAN EARMARKS IN OMNIBUS

While reporting on Republican criticism of earmarks in the omnibus appropriations bill, several outlets ignored the fact that 40 percent of the earmarks in the bill were reportedly requested by congressional Republicans or that an analysis by independent budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense reportedly found that six Republican senators are among the top 10 sponsors of earmarks in the bill. In one case, a Washington Times article uncritically reported Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that the Obama administration is “recommending that we continue the spending binge that has begun here” without noting that McConnell himself added 36 earmarks to the bill totaling about $51.2 million.

INVENTING WASTEFUL SPENDING IN STIMULUS PACKAGE

Similarly, several conservative media figures eagerly advanced Republican claims about purported pork in the economic recovery package. Upon further review, these projects did not exist. For example, conservative media figures claimed the bill contained $30 million to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district. The story was traced back to an email from a Republican staffer who sourced the claim to an unnamed federal agency and who later conceded that “[t]here is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project.”

IGNORING DEMOCRATS’ RECORD ON EARMARK REFORM

The New York Times suggested that Democrats were not “elated” about President Bush’s emphasis on reducing earmarks in his final State of the Union speech. The Times failed to report that Democrats had approved fewer earmarks in 2007 than Republicans did in 2006 when they controlled Congress. Similarly, a Politico article attributed a 2006 drop in earmarks to Republicans, failing to mention that following the Democratic victories in the 2006 midterm elections, the GOP leadership declined to pass nine of 11 annual appropriations bills and that in order to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal 2007, Democrats placed a one-time moratorium on earmarks after taking control of the House and Senate.

TOUTING GOV. SARAH PALIN AS EARMARK REFORMER

During the campaign, several media figures characterized Palin as opposing earmarks, in particular the Bridge to Nowhere. In fact, Palin reportedly sought and requested hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks as governor of Alaska and reportedly hired a D.C. lobbying firm to acquire tens of millions of dollars in earmarks while serving as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Additionally, Palin reportedly supported the Bridge to Nowhere project during her 2006 gubernatorial campaign and suggested that Alaska’s congressional delegation should continue to try to procure funding.

HYPING BASELESS GOP ALLEGATIONS ABOUT PELOSI WATERFRONT PROJECT

In 2007, Media Matters documented numerous examples of the media advancing baseless Republican accusations that Pelosi included a provision in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 that benefits property owned by her husband. In fact, Port of San Francisco officials said they specifically requested the improvements included in Pelosi’s earmark.

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Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Media Matters for America is the first organization to systematically monitor the media for conservative misinformation every day, in real time. For more information, visit www.mediamatters.org