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Online columnist Rich Galen, a former Republican strategist who has numerous contacts within the new Bush administration, reports: “Vice President Dick Cheney’s staffers trying to move into the Office of the Vice President space in the Old Executive Office Building right next to the White House found the offices had been left in complete shambles by the Gore staff on its way out on Friday and Saturday (see January 23, 2001). Every cord and wire, in many offices—telephone, power, computer, and lamp—was slashed. Furniture was tossed, and trash was, literally, everywhere. One person [told Galen] that it was his understanding that Mrs. Gore [the wife of former Vice President Gore] had to phone Mrs. Cheney to apologize.” (Galen 1/24/2001) Conservative gossip writer Matt Drudge uses Galen’s column and his own White House sources to report that, according to a “close Bush adviser,” the damage went “way beyond pranks, to vandalism.” The Los Angeles Times soon debunks the story of the Gore apology by asking the Gores; Vice President Cheney will also say that the phone call never happened. Galen, however, insists that the apology was indeed made. (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001)
The Bush White House alleges that officials and aides from the outgoing Clinton administration vandalized the White House in the last days before Bush officials took over. Conservative news site NewsMax reports that the “slovenly misfits” of the Clinton administration “left the [White House] in a shambles” in the transition between the outgoing Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration. Clinton aides engaged in “deliberate vandalism,” the report says, and cites a General Services Administration (GSA) official estimating that it may cost up to $250,000 to repair the damage. NewsMax quotes a report by another conservative publication, the American Spectator, which itself quotes “an inspector… called in to assess the vandalism as saying that several executive desks were damaged to the point that they must be replaced, and several more offices must be repainted because of graffiti.” (Kettle 1/26/2001; NewsMax 1/26/2001) Conservative Internet gossip writer Matt Drudge reports that “White House offices [were] left ‘trashed’” and so-called “[p]orn bombs [and] lewd messages” were left behind. No explanation of what Drudge meant by the “porn bomb” allegation is ever given. (Curl 1/27/2001) The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Gore's Staffers Charged with Worst of Vandalism - British newspaper The Guardian repeats earlier claims that the worst of the damage was found in offices once occupied by staffers for former Vice President Al Gore, and that Gore’s wife, Tipper, has phoned Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, to apologize for the damage. The story is false (see January 24, 2001). (Kettle 1/26/2001)
Reports: Cut Phone Lines, Extensive Damage, Pornographic Photos - Both the Washington Post and The Guardian report allegations that computer and telephone lines were “sliced,” voice-mail messages were changed to “obscene remarks and lewd greetings,” desks were overturned, and trash strewn throughout the premises. The reports add that filing cabinets were glued shut with Superglue, pornographic photographs displayed in printers, and “filthy graffiti scrawled on at least one hallway wall.” The Spectator’s inspector adds that “[e]ntire computer keyboards will have to be replaced because the damage to them is more extensive than simply missing keys,” referring to allegations that some White House keyboards had the “W” keys pried off. The Spectator also reports tales of former Clinton staffers reportedly “laughing and giggling about the mess their former colleagues left behind.” A Bush White House official calls the White House “a pigsty” in the aftermath of the transition. “The Gore and Clinton people didn’t ‘clean out’ the place because there was nothing clean about what they did before they left.” The GSA will pursue the former Clinton officials for reimbursement and expenses. The Spectator reports that “investigators” conclude the damage was “the result of a carefully organized campaign of vandalism unlike anything ever seen in the aftermath of a presidential transition.” (NewsMax 1/26/2001; Kettle 1/26/2001; Allen 1/26/2001) The New York Daily News reports, “The destruction was so vast that a telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service was seen sobbing near his office one night last week.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001) CNN’s Paula Zahn observes: “All right, but this is the White House, for God’s sakes. We’re not talking about people living in a fraternity.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001) Fox News is particularly vehement in its coverage. “They trash[ed] the place,” says Fox commentator Sean Hannity. ”$200,000 in furniture [was] taken out.” Fellow Fox commentator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989) adds: “We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House.… I recommend that what the Bush White House do is peel the wallpaper off that they defaced with their graffiti and ship it off to the Clinton Library so people can see it.” Fox host Bill O’Reilly says, “I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that’s a felony right there.” And O’Reilly guest Tom Schatz says, referring to the famous film about fraternity life, “They turned it into Animal House.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001)
Air Force One 'Stripped Bare,' Reports Claim - The Guardian also reports that during former President Clinton’s last trip in Air Force One, the presidential jet was subjected to what it calls “an orgy of pilfering” (see January 25-27, 2001). It was “stripped bare” by aides, who reportedly took china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, most bearing the presidential seal. (Kettle 1/26/2001) On Fox, Hannity charges, “They strip[ped] Air Force One of the china and everything else that wasn’t bolted down.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001)
Clinton Officials Admit to 'Pranks,' Bush Officials Allege Attempts at Theft - Clinton and Gore officials deny the reports of vandalism, but admit to carrying out pranks such as removing the “W” keys and affixing satirical signs to office doors that read, “Office of Strategery,” “Office of Subliminable Messages,” and “Division of Uniting.” A former Clinton official says, “It’s childish, but it’s also funny.” However, a senior Bush official accuses Clinton staffers of attempting to steal White House paintings and official seals from doors, and attempting to have those items shipped to themselves; Bush officials have ordered that all packages leaving the White House be X-rayed. (Allen 1/26/2001)
Bush Aide Documenting Damages - A Bush White House aide has been delegated to document the vandalism, videos are being taken of the damages, and White House officials are being interviewed. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the administration is reviewing reports of the alleged vandalism. (NewsMax 1/26/2001) Bush himself downplays the reports, saying: “There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s okay. It’s time now to move forward.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001)
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. (Keefer 10/16/2002; Keefer 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.” (Keefer 10/16/2002; Keefer 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; Keefer 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.” (Keefer 10/16/2002; Keefer 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.” (Wilgoren 10/25/2002; Alterman 2003, pp. 79-80)
ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman, embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division in Fallujah, interviews US soldiers angry that their tours of duty have been extended just a week after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promised they would be going home. One soldier says he would like to ask Rumsfeld “why we’re still here, ‘cause I don’t, I don’t have any clue as to why we’re still in Iraq.” Another soldier says, “I’d ask for his resignation.” Within hours after Kofman’s report is broadcast, conservative news and gossip monger Matt Drudge attempts to damage Kofman’s credibility by printing a story under the headline, “ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story—Openly Gay Canadian.” (Eight minutes later, he changes the headline to read, “ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story is Canadian.”) Drudge credits the information about Kofman, who is both openly gay and Canadian, to “someone from the White House communications shop.” (Dowd 7/20/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 101) Drudge later identifies White House press secretary Scott McClellan as his source; the White House denies having anything to do with the story. McClellan himself says that for him to have made such a leak to Drudge would have been “totally inappropriate, [and if] anyone on my staff did it, they would no longer be working for me.” Four days later, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias writes that the White House, via Drudge, tried to besmirch Kofman because the reporter “gave voice to American troops stationed in Iraq who spoke out against the war—or rather the ‘peace’—while calling for… Rumsfeld’s resignation.” Drudge himself blames the controversy over his story on what he calls “the cultural wars-slash-liberal bias in the media.” (Zerbisias 7/19/2003; Dowd 7/20/2003) New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd will observe: “Bush loyalists regularly plant information they want known in the Drudge Report. Whoever [did so] was appealing to the baser nature of President Bush’s base, seeking to discredit the ABC report by smearing the reporter for what he or she considers sins of private life (not straight) and passport (not American).” (Dowd 7/20/2003) Pamela Strother of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association later says: “While the facts behind this reported smear are unclear, the news coverage itself and the implications are very serious for all journalists and equally troubling for the American public.… Whenever the coverage of a lesbian or gay journalist or the nationality of a reporter is criticized and discredited simply because of the individual’s birthright or sexual orientation, that is a form of dangerous intimidation and a potential professional libel.” (Chibarro 7/25/2003)
Conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez publishes a cartoon in the Los Angeles Times depicting a man, labeled “Politics,” pointing a gun at President Bush’s head. The background is labeled “Iraq.” The cartoon is a takeoff on the 1969 award-winning photograph of a Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong prisoner. Ramirez will later explain, “I thought it was appropriate, because I was drawing a parallel between the politicization of the Vietnam war and the current politicization that’s surrounding the Iraq war related to the Niger uranium story.” He will claim not to be advocating violence against Bush, saying, “In fact, it’s the opposite.” Ramirez will explain that he tried to show the damage Bush suffered through the criticism of his January 2003 State of the Union address, in which he falsely claimed that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “President Bush is the target, metaphorically speaking,” Ramirez will explain, “of a political assassination because of 16 words that he uttered in the State of the Union. The image, from the Vietnam era, is a very disturbing image. The political attack on the president, based strictly on sheer political motivations, also is very disturbing.” Two days after the cartoon’s publication, Ramirez is visited by Secret Service agent Peter Damos to ensure he has no violent intent towards Bush, in a visit the Secret Service will characterize as “routine.” Ramirez will note that conservative Internet reporter Matt Drudge reported that he was being investigated by the Secret Service a day before he was visited. Asked if the Secret Service should take the cartoon as a threat to Bush’s safety, Ramirez will respond, “No, I think that this [the Vietnam photo] is a pretty famous image, and I think the use of the metaphor [is justified] especially in light of the fact that it really is a cartoon that favors him and his administration.” (Los Angeles Times 7/22/2003; Krassner 11/11/2003)
The New York Times published reporter James Risen’s December account of NSA domestic wiretapping (see December 15, 2005) without having seen the manuscript of his book on the subject, the media learns. Many observers on the right, most notably Matt Drudge, have accused Risen, who wrote the article with fellow Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, and the Times of printing the article to coincide with the publication of Risen’s book State of War. On the left, critics have blasted the Times for sitting on the story for a year in apparent deference to the Bush administration. The truth is somewhere in the middle, according to numerous informed sources. While the Times did sit on the piece for a year in part because Bush officials did not want the story to run (see December 6, 2005), when Times editors finally approved its publication, they were unsure whether or not Risen’s book manuscript contained the wiretapping story. The editors did not see the manuscript until December 27, a week before it appeared on the shelves. One of the first reviewers of the book, author and national security expert James Bamford, writes, “Among the unanswered questions concerning the domestic spying story is why, if Mr. Risen and The Times had first come upon the explosive information a year earlier, the paper waited until just a few weeks before the release of the book to inform its readers.” It seems that part of the reason is the long, internal disagreement between Risen and the Times over ownership of the book’s contents; internal sources at the Times say that without Risen’s book being published, it is likely that the editors would not have published the article as soon as they did. (Sherman 1/19/2006)
The Drudge Report, a conservative news Web site often touted as “the most successful independent news site on the Web,” vastly inflates its claims of readership, according to the Valleywag technology blog. The Drudge Report is operated by Matt Drudge and an assistant, and claims (as of February 2007) to have a readership of around 1.2 million unique visitors a month. However, Drudge and marketing research firm Comscore are apparently inflating the figure by as much as 2,000 percent. Drudge uses what Web site owners call a “meta-refresh,” which automatically “refreshes” a Web page already loaded in a user’s browser. Most sites let a user refresh the page on their own, but many news sites assume that visitors leave their sites open for hours, and have the site refresh on a periodic basis. Drudge has his site automatically refreshed 20 times an hour, or once every three minutes—a refresh rate considered quite aggressive in news site circles. Technical reporter Nick Denton writes: “What’s the effect on the site’s traffic? Each refresh counts as a new pageview, whether or not the user is watching, or the window remains visible. And there must be plenty of these inattentive readers: one site owner I know experienced a 20 percent jump in traffic after he introduced, as an experiment, an automatic refresh every half hour. Drudge loads anew every three minutes.” Denton concludes that while Drudge’s site is undoubtedly quite popular, his readership claims have been “hyped up to the point of misdirection.” (Denton 3/12/2007; FireDogLake 3/12/2007)
Author and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that he is angered, but not particularly shocked, at the US mainstream media’s failure to provide in-depth, extensive coverage of the recently released 2003 torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) and another memo asserting that the Bush administration had declared the Fourth Amendment null and void in reference to “domestic military operations” inside the US (see April 2, 2008). Greenwald also notes the lack of coverage of a recent puzzling comment by Attorney General Michael Mukasey about 9/11 (see March 27, 2008). Instead, Greenwald notes, stories about the Democratic presidential campaign (including criticism over Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and Obama’s recent bowling scores) have dominated press coverage. According to a recent NEXIS search, these various topics have been mentioned in the media in the last thirty days:
“Yoo and torture” (referring to John Yoo, the author of the two memos mentioned above)—102.
“Mukasey and 9/11”—73.
“Yoo and Fourth Amendment”—16.
“Obama and bowling”—1,043.
“Obama and Wright”—More than 3,000 (too many to be counted).
“Obama and patriotism”—1,607.
“Clinton and Lewinsky”—1,079. (Greenwald 4/5/2008)
(For the record, on March 30, Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania during a campaign stop, in the company of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). Newsmax is among the many media outlets that provided play-by-play coverage of Obama’s abysmal performance on the lanes—he scored a 37. The site reported that Obama lost “beautifully” and was “way out of his league.”) (NewsMax 3/31/2008)
Media Attacks Obama's 'Elitism' - The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz gives over much of his column to a discussion of Obama’s eating and bowling habits, making the argument, according to Greenwald, that Obama is “not a regular guy but an arrogant elitist.” Kurtz defends his argument by compiling a raft of “similar chatter about this from Karl Rove” and others. Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson spent a week’s worth of columns calling Obama’s bowling his biggest mistake, a “real doozy.” MSNBC reported that Obama went bowling “with disastrous consequences.” Greenwald notes that the media “as always,” takes “their personality-based fixations from the right, who have been promoting the Obama is an arrogant, exotic, elitist freak narrative for some time.” In this vein, Time’s Joe Klein wrote of what he called Obama’s “patriotism problem,” saying that “this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right.” Greenwald notes, “He trotted it all out—the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama’s angry, America-hating wife, ‘his Islamic-sounding name.’” Greenwald calls the media fixation on Obama’s bowling and his apparent failure to be a “regular guy” another instance of their “self-referential narcissism—whatever they sputter about is what ‘the people’ care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance. They don’t need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.” (Greenwald 4/5/2008)
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)
The media responds strongly to CNBC commentator Rick Santelli’s call for a “tea party” to oppose the Obama economic stimulus. (CNBC 2/20/2009)
Santelli 'Equally Complicit' in Economic Crisis - Writing for College News, Jon Graef notes that Santelli has opposed virtually all of the Obama economic policies, including all the bailouts of the mortgage and automobile industries. He lauds Santelli for “embracing the democratic possibilities that the Internet allows,” but says that “Santelli and his ilk are equally complicit in the housing/finance crises as those who refused to live responsibly within their means. If Santelli doesn’t like the details of the mortgage bailout, then why is continuing to work in conjunction with an industry that received its own government bailout—and promptly spent it on press releases and product placement?” (Graef 2/20/2009)
'Mad as Hell' - Writer Jerome Corsi, who penned a lurid and highly inaccurate “biography” of President Obama before the 2008 election (see August 1, 2008 and After), notes that some are comparing Santelli’s rant to that of fictional news anchor Howard Beale in the movie Network, where Beale screams, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!” (Corsi 2/19/2009)
'Investors Have It All Figured Out' - Market analyst Donald Luskin writes that Santelli “went a little bit berserk in his broadcast… warning that all the bailouts, programs, rescues, stabilizations, and stimuli are turning our capitalist nation into Cuba. He got the floor traders so stirred up it seemed for a minute there that an armed revolution was going to start at any moment.” Luskin continues, with at least some sarcasm: “Santelli is right. This country is being rescued to death. The voters may be fooled, for a while at least. But obviously investors have it all figured out.” (Luskin 2/20/2009)
'Santelli Hates Poor People' - The avant-garde Washington political gossip blog Wonkette calls Santelli “unlikable” for calling Americans forced to default on their mortgage “losers,” and calls his on-air rant “apesh_t.” Commentator Jim Newell continues, “Maybe Obama’s plan isn’t so great, who knows, but one thing is clear, and that’s that Rick Santelli hates poor people—and by poor people we mean the bottom 50-90 percent of per capita income earners.” (Jim Newell 2/20/2009)
'Speaking Truth to Ego and the Far Left' - Financial blogger Thomas Smicklas writes that Santelli “sp[oke] truth to ego and the far left.… It is becoming more apparent each day of the new administration those who work hard, save, and are responsible citizens are getting hosed by the practice of class warfare.… Ladies and gentlemen, the politics of vote buying, legal extortion, and the re-distribution of wealth to the lazy and ill-educated has begun in earnest. And we haven’t even touched upon a deteriorating foreign policy. Thanks to CNBC’s Rick Santelli and the workers in the pit that deal in commodities who finally expressed it. We can all be grateful for the lesson.” (Thomas Smicklas 2/20/2009)
Rewarding Those Who Caused the Bad Lending - The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins writes that right-wing media figures such as Matt Drudge are “freaking out” over Santelli’s rant, “fomentin’ a revolution on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He’s assembled a small army of half-hearted, floor-trading broheims to cheer and hoot as he rails against President Obama’s plan to not immediately foreclose on everybody and kick them out into the streets, because that rewards ‘bad behavior,’ and clearly what we should be doing is rewarding people who incentivized all the risky lending, because until the house of cards collapsed, things were looking pretty for everybody!” (Linkins 3/22/2009)
'Hysteria a la Fox News' - Columnist Mary McNamara calls Santelli’s rant “colorful,” but says Santelli’s “rhetoric/hysteria a la Fox News is damaging to national discourse.” The financial crisis has hit hardest, not in the businesses and mansions of the people Santelli works with, but in the working-poor and lower-middle class families. “They work hard,” she writes. “They weren’t buying luxury homes. Sure, there were a few speculators. But mostly, they just wanted a little piece of the American dream, especially good schools for their kids and closer proximity to their work.” (McNamara 2/19/2009)
'Money for Idiots' - Conservative columnist David Brooks refers to Santelli’s “lustily” delivered rant in defending the necessity for the government to stabilize an economy sliding into chaos. (Brooks 2/19/2009)
'Pretty Awesome' - New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler writes that she finds Santelli’s “call for revolution… pretty awesome.” She writes, “Santelli is pissed off about the Obama administration’s bailout measures so far, in particular the housing plan the administration announced yesterday, and he wants America to stand up and revolt before we turn into some kind of not-even-tropical version of Cuba.” (Pressler 2/19/2009)
Favorable Coverage from Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge - Associated Content’s Mark Whittington notes that Santelli’s rant is garnering tremendous coverage from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Drudge. “More importantly,” he writes, “Santelli’s attack on the Obama mortgage bailout scheme seems to reflect a growing disquiet over President Obama’s spending schemes, which started with the stimulus package, and will now not only include a bailout for mortgages but also a new bailout for the car companies and perhaps even a second stimulus.” (Whittington 2/19/2009)
'Almost Inciting a Riot' - Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal observes: “CNBC’s RIck Santelli is always pugnacious, but he outdid himself today, almost inciting a riot among the traders in Chicago when talking about Obama’s housing plan. Suffice to say, the capitalists on the floor do not want to pay for anyone else’s mortgage. Neither do we. That being said, his insistence that these guys represent the ‘real America’ won’t ultimately play that well among most people.” (Weisenthal 2/19/2009) Progressive columnist and blogger John Amato calls himself “disgusted” at Santelli’s “embarrassing diatribe at the expense of the American people,” and writes that watching Santelli “made me realize that these Wall Street frat boys still don’t get it. America is sick and tired of the riches they have manipulated out of the system and then be lectured by people who make more money than 100 middle class workers put together.” Referring to Santelli’s experience as a trader in the high-risk derivative market, an area that many have blamed for causing much of the economic downturn, Amato writes sarcastically, “The next time I want advice on how to live I’ll be sure to ask a man who was deeply involved in ‘derivatives.’” He concludes: “Don’t blame the crooked mortgage lenders who were having bidding wars to acquire their next mansion, but blame first time buyers or average Americans, the lifeblood of our society and call them ‘losers.’ Santelli needs to own that he is the loser and if it wasn’t for the gasbag insider crowd that gives his words a modicum of respect, crowds would gather outside his home with torches and pitchforks.” (John Amato 2/21/2009)
'Voice of the Silent Majority' - Progressive author and blogger Jane Hamsher writes: “Rick Santelli is just the explosive id of CNBC, saying what everyone else thinks. Somehow it’s not the pervasive institutional rot, the criminal malfeasance at the highest levels, or the chairman of the Federal Reserve telling Americans over and over again that housing prices would never go down. They have convinced themselves that the real problem is once again people at the absolute bottom of the economic scale. If they’d only used appropriate ‘judgment’ and lived within their means, we’d all be fine. Santelli is now being promoted by CNBC as a truth teller, a voice of the… ‘silent majority.’ ‘Would you join Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party?”’ they want to know. With 170,000 respondents, 93 percent say yes! I guess it was only a matter of time before a hero emerged.” (Jane Hamsher 2/20/2009; CNBC 2/20/2009)
CNBC’s Rick Santelli has become something of a superstar among conservative media pundits and others exasperated by the Obama economic bailouts, after engaging in a purportedly impromptu “rant” during an on-air broadcast (see February 19, 2009). Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine discover that Santelli’s rant may have been a pre-planned incident timed to coincide with the launch of a so-called “tea party movement” predicated on opposing the Obama administration and supporting conservative and Republican ideas and agendas. In the hours and days following Santelli’s appearance on CNBC, the authors write, “[a] nationwide ‘tea party’ grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.”
Connections to the Koch Family - Ames and Levine write that Santelli’s CNBC “rant” was “a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a ‘Chicago Tea Party’ was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest right-wing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.” Ames and Levine are referring to the Koch family, headed by Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), the billionaire co-founder of the extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and whose sons are heavy donors to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups such as the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present) and FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After).
ChicagoTeaParty.com - On the air, Santelli said, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” Within minutes, Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report had posted headlines about the “tea party” rant on his Web site. Within hours, a new Web site, chicagoteaparty.com, had appeared, featuring a YouTube video of Santelli’s rant and calling itself the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain name had been registered months before by right-wing media figure Zack Christenson (see August 2008), but had remained dormant until after Santelli spoke on CNBC. Ames and Levine note that Christenson bought the domain around the same time that Milt Rosenburg, the Chicago talk show host whom Christenson produces, began attempting to link then-presidential candidate Barack Obama with “left-wing terrorist” William Ayers (see August 2008). Ames and Levine write: “That Rosenberg’s producer owns the ‘chicagoteaparty.com’ site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the ‘Obama is a terrorist’ campaign. It’s as if they held this ‘Chicago tea party’ campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.”
The Sam Adams Alliance - The ChicagoTeaParty.com Web site, Ames and Levine report, is part of a larger network of conservative Web sites set up over the last few months under the auspices of the “Sam Adams Alliance” (SAA), an organization linked to the Koch family and to FreedomWorks, a public relations group funded by Koch and headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey (see April 14, 2009). The SAA is a Chicago-area libertarian/conservative group named for Samuel Adams, who led the Boston Tea Party protest in 1773. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) In 2008, the New York Times described the SAA as having “started an ambitious project this year to encourage right-leaning activists and bloggers to get online and focus on local and state issues.” (Phillips 7/19/2008)
OfficialChicagoTeaParty.com - Another Web site, officialchicagoteaparty.com, went live on February 19 as well. That site is registered to Eric Odom, a Republican specializing in faux-grassroots PR campaigns sometimes called “astroturf” (see April 15, 2009). Odom has worked with Koch Industries, a large oil and natural gas corporation and the source of the Koch family fortune, in supporting offshore oil-drilling legislation. Odom was, until January 2009, the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance. Upon his departure, the SAA removed Odom’s name from its Web site. The SAA also removed any mention of Koch’s funding, or any other connections between Koch and the organization, from its site. Two of the SAA’s board members, Eric O’Keefe and Joseph Lehman, are tied both to Koch and to FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, FreedomWorks posted a large photo of Santelli on its Web site’s front page with the caption: “Are you with Rick? We are. Click here to learn more.”
Other Sites - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, other Web sites such as Right.org, promoting a tea party support group that purports to be a citizen-launched organization “created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts” and headed by “Evan and Duncan,” and numerous pro-tea party Facebook pages, were launched. Right.org is sponsoring a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Ames and Levine ask: “Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?”
No Connections on the Surface - Ames and Levine note that the numerous Web sites and Facebook pages have remarkable similarities in language and appearance, “as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.”
Santelli and the Tea Party Organizers - Ames and Levine ask why Santelli, and CNBC, would “risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign.” Santelli’s contract with CNBC is about to expire, they note. Until the “tea party” rant, Santelli was an obscure financial commentator with few prospects. Now, though, he is a “hero” of the right. As another Chicago tea party organization, the Daily Bail, wrote on its site: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own. Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.” Ames and Levine speculate that Santelli may have been brought into the fold by one of his CNBC colleagues, Lawrence Kudlow, who himself has strong connections to FreedomWorks. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) Steve Megremis of the Daily Bail will call Ames and Levine’s allegations about his Web site’s involvement “categorically untrue,” writing: “It’s unfortunate because I believe that the article did some great investigative work and then at the end they threw me under the bus for no apparent reason. Apparently, the authors just assumed we were part of this conspiracy because of my own personal excitement about the prospect of a mid-summer tea party.” Megremis will post a response on his site, but the response will soon disappear. (Barry Ritholtz 2/28/2009)
Playboy Removes Article - By March 2, Playboy will remove the Ames and Levine article from its Web site. No explanation is offered. The article will instead become available on a Web site called “The Exiled,” which bills itself as an “alternative” press outlet. (Jeffrey Feldman 3/2/2009)
National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg writes that while he has not studied the newly-released “long form” birth certificate released today by President Obama (see April 27, 2011), he assumes it is legitimate, barring any information about Obama having “a birthmark that resembles the numbers ‘666’” or information about his father “work[ing] for the KGB and—of course—assuming that the font in question matches typewriters of the time… I figure this puts the birther thing to bed once and for all. Good.” However, Goldberg poses what he calls a “perplexing question: If this was possible all along, why did the WH take such sweet time releasing it? Could it be that this White House, continuing a tactic used by Democrats for years, actually liked being able to cast their opponents—often through guilt by association—as paranoid nuts? No, that couldn’t possibly be it.” (Goldberg 4/27/2011) In a post on his Twitter account, Fox News talk show host Brian Kilmeade asks a similar question: “[W]hy did the president wait so long to put the birther issue to rest?” (Media Matters 4/27/2011) Jonathan Strong of the conservative news blog The Daily Caller notes that Obama waited to release his form “after years of speculation about the issue metastasized into a major political phenomenon he could no longer ignore,” and asks, “Why did Obama, who has proudly vowed his administration would be the ‘most open and transparent in history,’ wait so long?” Strong theorizes that Obama was responding to a recent spate of publicity generated by billionaire television host Donald Trump (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011), along with a “media push” from Web news blogger Matt Drudge and an upcoming book by author and conspiracist Jerome Corsi (see August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, September 21, 2010, January 18, 2011, and March 27-28, 2011). Strong writes: “Certainly, conspiracy theorists who peddled lies and half-truths on the issue—and there were many—are at fault for the explosion of the issue. But did Obama provide them cover in failing to fully address a simple document request for over two years? The political world in Washington was rife with speculation from Democrats and Republicans about whether Obama was using the ‘birther’ issue for political advantage, as a way to make his conservative critics appear fringe.” (Jonathan Strong 4/27/2011) Conservative blogger Pamela Geller, whose work has provided much of what Strong calls the “lies and half-truths” that have continued to churn the story (see July 20, 2008, October 24, 2008, and August 4, 2009), writes: “Today Obama announced he would finally release the long form of his birth certificate. As Obama continues to toy with and taunt the American people, you have to scratch your head and say, what took so long? And why?” (Pamela Geller 4/27/2011)
Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris, writing for the online news outlet Politico, say that President Obama’s decision to present his “long form” birth certificate as proof of his US citizenship (see April 27, 2011) is a “decisive new turn in the centuries-long American history of political accusation and innuendo. By directly and coolly engaging a debate with his most fevered critics, Obama offered the most unmistakable validation ever to the idea that we are living in an era of public life with no referee—and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy.” The authors note that presidents have been pursued by “[l]urid conspiracy theories” for centuries. However, until now, those presidents have “benefited from a widespread consensus that some types of personal allegations had no place in public debate unless or until they received some imprimatur of legitimacy—from an official investigation, for instance, or from a detailed report by a major news organization.” That is no longer the case, they say (see April 27, 2011). Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “There are no more arbiters of truth. So whatever you can prove factually, somebody else can find something else and point to it with enough ferocity to get people to believe it. We’ve crossed some Rubicon into the unknown.” The writers note their difficulty in envisioning former President Clinton “coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster—never mind official rulings of suicide—were wrong” (see April 27, 2011), or former President George W. Bush giving a press conference denying allegations that “he knew about the Sept. 11 attacks ahead of time and chose to let them happen.” Obama’s choice to release the documentation and even to make a personal appearance to announce it are a powerful indication that the political dynamic has changed. Obama advisers explain that he made the decision to do so “because of the radical reordering of the political-media universe over the past 15 years, or so. The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.” Debunking the myth of Obama’s “foreign birth” means nothing to a large percentage of Americans who still remain unconvinced, or firmly believe the myth, the authors write. After trying to ignore it and mock it into irrelevance, they write, Obama “finally gave in and affirmed a new truth of politics in the Internet era: Nothing can be dismissed and anything that poses a political threat must be confronted directly.” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says: “We’re dealing with a lot of the same things Clinton and frankly Bush dealt with, but we’re dealing with them at 1,000 times the speed and with fewer referees. That is the downside of the disaggregation of the media. If you don’t want to believe what someone is telling you, you can go somewhere else. If you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president is not American, you can go somewhere to find somebody to validate that.” Another Obama adviser, who remains anonymous, adds: “Clinton never had to deal with a fully formed Internet. [Conservative Web gossip Matt] Drudge’s power was born out of the revelations of 1998. A fully automated cable TV universe with the Internet is something that [Clinton] never had to deal with.” Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart says: “You’ve lost the ability to starve a story to death. So what you have to do is raise the price of those who are making the charges. If Donald Trump is out there saying this, you’ve got to make him pay a price for throwing a bomb before too much collateral damage is done.… You literally can’t laugh anything off. There’s nothing neutral in politics. It’s either helping you or hurting you. You’ve got to make sure it’s helping you or you’re going to lose.” The authors note that politicians are learning to use this phenomenon to their own advantage. While Washington Republicans often bemoan the ascendancy of “fringe” pundits like Fox News’s Glenn Beck, the authors write, “they relish the way Beck and ideological confederates excite the GOP base, a contributing factor in the party’s strong performance in 2010.” The authors also point to Democrats’ willingness to allow “liberal commentators” to push for the truth behind George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard. The authors claim that the Obama team “enjoys giving the stage to the GOP’s most divisive voices,” noting that Gibbs and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel often called conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.” Obama, and his successors, will have to do things previous presidents have never considered, from appearing on less “serious” talk shows such as those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman, or making appearances on networks such as the sports broadcaster ESPN. “It’s hard to see a president doing those things 10 or 20 years ago, but it’s become almost a requirement now,” Gibbs says. It is hard to know where to draw the line, Gibbs continues. “Does it become incumbent to prove everything wrong? You have to be very careful to not fall into that trap because you’ll spend all of your time and energy chasing your own tail.” Pfeiffer says most open-minded Americans will take the “long form” certificate as the evidence required to settle the issue: “There will be some segment of the population who will believe what they’re going to believe, regardless of anything else. But for the majority of the country, we have the capacity to correct the record and convince people of the truth. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’s possible.” Pfeiffer notes the “huge amount of time and energy” spent on dealing with the “birther” issue, time better spent, he says, on issues confronting the country. Former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove says the Obama administration has attempted to use the “birther” controversy against Republicans: “The president himself has hoped Republicans would continue to talk about it, thereby damaging their own credibility. It was a useful diversion (see April 27, 2011). But take a look at recent polls. The problem was the view was taking hold among independents. He got worried it was about to spin out of control” (see April 27, 2011). Rove says Obama was attempting to “play rope-a-dope with Republicans,” a charge Pfeiffer denies (see April 28, 2011). “Up until a month ago, nobody really asked for the long form. It was fringe. It was a settled issue for 99 percent of the country.” Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer says: “It’s a terrible problem for the body politic. People like me who have been or are in the arena have an obligation to speak out against people in both parties who push untruths” (see January 25, 2001, January 25-27, 2001, and April 18, 2001). “The political discourse is much worse now, but that’s not always to the detriment of the so-called victim. In this case, President Obama came out looking better.” Lockhart agrees, saying: “Look at the rogue’s gallery of Clinton accusers. Most of them blew themselves up.” Lockhart acknowledges that for some, the issue will never be settled (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 29, 2011). “They’ll probably ask for the first diaper. They’ll want to see the DNA.” (Martin and Harris 4/28/2011)
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