Media Matters hits Fox's coverage of driving fees

The liberal website is criticizing Fox News for its coverage of proposals that would charge drivers fees based on how much they use roadways.

The fees, which have been dubbed Vehicle Miles Traveled or VMT charges, have been proposed as a way to fund road and transit projects. Transportation revenue is drying up as cars become more energy efficient and drivers pay less in gas taxes.

Media Matters said in a blog post this week that Fox News had mischaracterized the mileage-based fees as "Orwellian."

"Fox News is calling mileage-based user fees that several states are considering 'Orwellian,' implying the government would be able to track your vehicle without permission and perhaps even 'shut your car off,'" the website wrote. "But the network's segment left out that such proposals generally include devices that cannot track your location and certainly cannot turn off your car, satisfying both the American Civil Liberties Union and several conservative organizations."

In a segment that aired on Monday, Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum said the mileage-based taxation system was "the most Orwellian thing I've ever heard in my life."

"There's a new tax proposal that could soon let Uncle Sam track every mile that you drive … and then they're going to charge you for how much you're driving," MacCallum said.

"Several states are considering placing little black boxes near the dashboard in your car that would clock where…and how much you drive," she continued. "Can you believe this? Then use that information to tax you on how much or how little you drive."

Early versions of the mileage-based tax proposals typically involved drivers placing a transponder in their vehicles similar to the devices that are sometimes used by insurance companies to record drivers' habits in exchange for safe-driving discounts.

Supporters have recently suggested the possibility of using GPS technology as a way to avoid privacy concerns about mileage-based fees.  

Media Matters said the Fox segment this week featured "no voices in defense of mileage-based user fees." The website added that the segment "was so conspiratorial that fellow Fox News anchor Jon Scott joked that 'I see the black helicopters over your studio right now.'"

"The idea of charging drivers by the mile rather than by the gallon has found unlikely allies in the conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense and the libertarian Reason Foundation, which supports the 'more logical and fairer method of paying for state highway needs,'" the website wrote.

The Obama administration has sought to distance itself from mileage-based transportation fees in recent years because of conservative and libertarian criticism of the idea.

Congress is expected to consider new transportation funding mechanisms next year, because the current road and transit funding bill is scheduled to expire in September 2014. A driver fee is not expected to be part of the package.