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“Objectivist” philosopher and burgeoning novelist Ayn Rand writes admiringly of one of her heroes, serial killer William Edward Hickman. She admires Hickman’s stated credo, “What is good for me is right.” In her journals, Rand writes in response, “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.” Rand is planning a novel, The Little Street, to feature a character based on Hickman, who she considers her “ideal man.” In her journals, Rand writes that Hickman “is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness—[resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people.… Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.” Later in her journals, she clarifies her idealization of Hickman: “[My hero is] very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.” (Rand will never complete The Little Street.)
Torturer and Killer - According to author and biographer Michael Prescott, in 1928, Hickman is one of the most notorious criminals in America, a forger, armed robber, child kidnapper, and multiple murderer. As a child, he enjoyed torturing and killing small animals. As a young man, he engaged in a crime spree beginning in the Midwest and ending in California, robbing gas stations and drug stores, allegedly murdering a girl in Milwaukee, and murdering the grandfather of his crime partner in Pasadena. That partner later told police that Hickman often talked about his desire to kill and dismember someone someday. In 1927, he kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, Marion Parker, from her school and began taunting her wealthy father with ransom notes. (He called himself “a master mind” and “not a common crook” in those notes, and signed himself “The Fox,” writing, “Fox is my name, very sly you know.” After days of exchanging letters, Hickman accused the father of lying about his intention of paying the ransom and strangled Marion Parker with a towel. After she was dead, he dismembered the body with a pocket knife, wrapped up the separate remains, packed the remains into a car, and drove to meet the father, tossing body parts out of the car along the way. The father, believing his daughter to still be alive, gave $1,500 to Hickman. In return, Hickman threw the girl’s head and upper torso out of the car at the father’s feet and sped off. Hickman fled to Oregon, where he was arrested. He quickly confessed to the murder, at least one more murder, and the robberies. After failing to pin his crimes on another man (presumably his former partner), and unsuccessfully claiming his innocence by reason of insanity, Hickman will be executed at San Quentin Prison. Prescott will write of Hickman, “Hickman reportedly ‘died yellow’—he was dragged, trembling and fainting, to his execution, his courtroom bravado having given way at last.”
Idealizing a Sociopath? - In 2005, Prescott will ask if Rand’s “ideal man” was, in reality, a criminal sociopath, and if so, what that says of Rand’s own values and judgment. In 1928, Prescott notes, Rand is still in her twenties and heavily influenced by the egocentric philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand writes of Hickman that he represents “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul.… Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” Hickman, she writes, is “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy” filled with “immense, explicit egotism.” (Some newspaper writers at the time compare Hickman to Nietzche’s “Superman,” writing that Hickman twisted Nietzsche’s teachings to suit his own ends.) Her defenders might argue, Prescott will write, that as Rand matures, she will grow out of her fascination with Nietzsche, and, by extension, Hickman, and evolve a more rational outlook. (Michael Prescott 2005; Ames 2/26/2010)
Anti-Social, Amoral Characters in Later Books - However, Prescott uses quotes from Rand’s later novels to show her ongoing fascination with amoral, self-centered characters and the philosophies that inform their worldviews. She will write in her notes for The Fountainhead: “One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one’s way to get the best for oneself. Fine!” Her notes on her novel’s hero, Howard Roark, say that Roark “has learned long ago, with his first consciousness, two things which dominate his entire attitude toward life: his own superiority and the utter worthlessness of the world.… He was born without the ability to consider others.” In the original version of her first novel We the Living, the character Kira, whom Prescott characterizes as “Rand’s stand-in,” says, “What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?” Prescott notes that the statement will be altered in subsequent publications. In her journals, Rand will write that man “is man only so long as he functions in accordance with the nature of a rational being. When he chooses to function otherwise, he is no longer man. There is no proper name for the thing which he then becomes.… When a man chooses to act in a sub-human manner, it is no longer proper for him to survive nor to be happy.” In her longest novel, 1957’s Atlas Shrugged, she will refer to a crowd of poor and starving people as “savages,” “refuse,” “inanimate objects,” and “imitations of living beings,” all patently beneath the heroes and heroines of her story. In the novel, a wealthy citizen striking against progressive taxation causes a train crash, and Rand will make it clear that the people who die in the crash deserve it because they supported the taxation policies that triggered the attack. Rand will continue to write admiringly of the Nietzschean concept of the “Superman” throughout her career. Columnist Johann Hari will write: “Her heroes are a cocktail of extreme self-love and extreme self-pity: They insist they need no one, yet they spend all their time fuming that the masses don’t bow down before their manifest superiority.” (Michael Prescott 2005; Hari 11/2/2009; Ames 2/26/2010)
Rand Admired by Many Modern Republicans - In 2010, liberal columnist Mark Ames will go farther than either Prescott or Hari and label Rand “a textbook sociopath,” adding: “In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of ‘ideal man’ she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe—former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox—along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.” Ames will note that many politicians aligned with the “tea party” movement, such as Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are outspoken Rand admirers. (Ames 2/26/2010) Hari will ask: “What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why?” (Hari 11/2/2009)
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enacts the Fairness Doctrine, which enjoins American television and radio networks to give “reasonable opportunities” for differing viewpoints on controversial political and social issues to be aired. The Fairness Doctrine has two basic elements: broadcasters must devote some of their airtime to discussions of controversial matters of public interest, and they must air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations have a wide latitude as to how to provide those contrasting views, in news segments, editorials, or public affairs shows. The rule comes from a 1928 practice adopted by the forerunner of the FCC, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), which called for broadcasters to show “due regard for the opinions of others.” (Rendell 2/12/2005; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45) The FCC views station licensees as “public trustees,” and as such have an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance. (Museum of Broadcasting 1/27/2008) In 2005, communications law expert Steve Rendell will write: “There are many misconceptions about the Fairness Doctrine. For instance, it did not require that each program be internally balanced, nor did it mandate equal time for opposing points of view. And it didn’t require that the balance of a station’s program lineup be anything like 50/50. Nor, as Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly claimed, was the Fairness Doctrine all that stood between conservative talkshow hosts and the dominance they would attain after the doctrine’s repeal. In fact, not one Fairness Doctrine decision issued by the FCC had ever concerned itself with talkshows. Indeed, the talkshow format was born and flourished while the doctrine was in operation. Before the doctrine was repealed, right-wing hosts frequently dominated talkshow schedules, even in liberal cities, but none was ever muzzled… The Fairness Doctrine simply prohibited stations from broadcasting from a single perspective, day after day, without presenting opposing views.” Rendell will note that the Fairness Doctrine has won support from organizations on all sides of the political and social spectrum. (Rendell 2/12/2005)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh admits to a Newsday reporter that he made two racially inflammatory remarks during his earlier radio days. He admits to telling a black caller, while doing a music radio show in Philadelphia in the early 1970s, to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” He also admits to making a much more recent statement on his current broadcast, telling his listeners, “Have you ever noticed that all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble [black civil rights leader] Jesse Jackson?” Limbaugh tells the reporter that it would be wrong to conclude that he is racist because of those remarks, says he is “the least racist host you’ll ever find,” and says he feels guilty about the “bone in the nose” comment. (Rendall 10/7/2009; Snopes (.com) 10/13/2009)
American radio undergoes a sea change. AM stations, formerly the leading radio broadcast medium, find themselves increasingly abandoned by their listeners, who prefer music broadcast over FM stations. Over 5,000 AM stations, facing bankruptcy and the prospect of closing down, turn to political talk radio broadcasts to attract listeners. By 1993, according to FCC chairman Reed Hundt, “one out of every seven dollars that broadcasters earned in radio” comes from talk radio. The first national “superstar” of talk radio is conservative host Rush Limbaugh, a former disc jockey and sports announcer. In upcoming years, hundreds of Limbaugh imitators will land lucrative national, regional, and local contracts, and conservative viewpoints will come to dominate American talk radio well into the next millennium. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45)
Radio personality Rush Limbaugh hosts his own late-night television show; Roger Ailes, the Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), is his executive producer. On this show, Limbaugh gives his response to African-American filmmaker Spike Lee’s recommendation that African-American children be allowed to skip school to watch his biographical docudrama Malcolm X: “Spike, if you’re going to do that, let’s complete the education experience. You should tell them that they should loot the theater and then blow it up on their way out.” (Media Matters 10/27/2009) Ailes will go on to found Fox News (see October 7, 1996).
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, in his book See, I Told You So, argues that Republicans cannot depend on a negative, anti-liberal frame in which to draw their arguments. “We are not a party of people connected together by bonds of negativity,” he writes. “We are a party of ideas—positive ideas.” He lists some of what he considers the guiding principles of Republican thought: “We must perceive and sell ourselves:
Not as the party that opposes government, but that which champions individual freedoms;
Not as the party that opposes higher taxes, but that which champions entrepeneurship;
Not as the party that opposes abortion, but that which champions every form of human life as the most sacred of God’s creatures;
Not as the party that opposes the expansion of the welfare state, but that which champions rugged individualism.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 59-60)
Radio personality Rush Limbaugh hosts his own late-night television show; Roger Ailes, the Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), is Limbaugh’s executive producer. On this show, Limbaugh notes a recent comment of Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC), who told a gay solder that his lifestyle was “not normal” and advised the soldier to get psychiatric help. Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 on an explicitly racist, segregationist third-party platform and who led the “Dixiecrat” exodus of Southern racists out of the Democratic Party (see March 12, 1956 and After), is praised by Limbaugh. The commentator says of Thurmond: “He is not encumbered by trying to be politically correct. He’s not encumbered by all of the—the so-called new niceties and proprieties. He just says it, and if you want to know what America used to be—and a lot of people wish it still were—then you listen to Strom Thurmond.… He got a standing ovation. Now people—people applauded that. People applaud—because—you know, Strom Thurmond can say it because he’s 90 years old and people say: ‘Ah, he’s just an old coot. He’s from the old days,’ and so forth. But that’s what most people think. They just don’t have the guts to say it. That’s why they applaud when somebody does say it that directly and that simply.” (Media Matters 10/27/2009) Ailes will go on to found Fox News (see October 7, 1996).
Contradicting her previous statement that she would comply with a judicial order to consider the post-election recount tallies from several counties (see Evening, November 14, 2000), Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), asks the Florida Supreme Court to force Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to end their manual recounts (see November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000) “pending resolution as to whether any basis exists to modify the certified results” after the November 14, 2000 deadline. Harris argues that manual recounts threaten “the integrity of the ballots.” Harris previously imposed a November 14 deadline for all ballots to be counted and results certified (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). Palm Beach County officials ask the Florida Supreme Court to decide if they can manually recount their ballots. At 5:00 p.m., the Court rejects Harris’s request to stop the recounts. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008) A judge has already ruled that Harris can refuse to consider recount results submitted after her deadline (see Afternoon, November 14, 2000). A Gore campaign spokesman later says that considering the obstacles Harris has placed in the way of the hand recounts, the situation is analogous to a policeman forcing a motorist to pull over, then blaming him for the traffic piling up behind him. Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes counters with the accusation that the counties still engaged in recounts are “no longer counting ballots; they are ‘reinventing’ them.” And James Baker, the head of the Bush “quick response” recount team, accuses the manual recounters of “subjective” attempts to “divine the intent of the voter.” Such recounts, Baker says, present “tremendous opportunities for human error and… mischief.” Both Hughes’s and Baker’s remarks are apparently intended to imply deliberate falsification of vote tallies, and echo similar charges made by Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media figures. Gore officials note that George W. Bush has picked up 418 votes in manual recounts in six counties: Franklin, Hamilton, Seminole, Washington, Taylor, and Lafayette. The Bush campaign, the Gore officials say, was eager to have those votes added in with the totals. Baker’s counterpart on the Gore team, Warren Christopher, says the fact that “Republicans have hand counted in many of the counties themselves” (see November 19, 2000) belies Republican charges that “we have picked out a certain few counties.” The Bush campaign has also picked up 143 votes from recounting in Volusia County. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; Consortium News 11/27/2000)
Miami-Dade County election officials vote unanimously to halt the county’s manual recount of presidential ballots (see November 7, 2000 and Before 10:00 a.m. November 19, 2000), saying the county does not have enough time to complete its recount by the November 26 deadline. Instead, they vote to recount only 10,750 “undervotes,” ballots that don’t clearly indicate a presidential choice. The decision costs Democratic candidate Al Gore a 157-vote gain from the halted recount process. That evening, a Florida State appeals court denies a motion by Democrats to force Miami-Dade County to restart the manual recount. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Opposing Beliefs - The next day, the Florida Supreme Court will also refuse to order Miami-Dade to restart the recount (see 2:45 p.m. November 23, 2000). Press reports say that the decision “dramatically reverse[s] the chances of Al Gore gathering enough votes to defeat George W. Bush.” Gore’s senior campaign advisor William Daley calls the recounts “mandatory” and calls for “the rule of law” to be upheld. For his part, Bush says: “I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result.” In light of the Miami-Dade decision, the Bush campaign’s chief legal advisor James Baker invites the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to unilaterally declare Bush the victor, saying, “One should not now be surprised if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules.”
Agitators Disrupt Recount Proceedings - The recount proceedings are disrupted and ultimately ended by a mob of Republicans, some local and some bussed and flown in from Washington by the Bush campaign. The agitators are protesting outside the Miami-Dade County election offices, shouting and attempting to interfere with the proceedings of the canvassing board. Republicans have accused a Democratic lawyer of stealing a ballot. (Kettle 11/23/2000; Guardian 11/25/2000)
Rioters Made Up of Republican Staffers, Others - Democrats accuse Republican protesters of intimidating the Miami-Dade County officials into stopping the recount. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman says the demonstrations in Miami have been orchestrated by Republicans “to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of votes from going forward.” Six Democratic members of the US Congress demand the Justice Department investigate the claims, saying that civil rights have been violated in “a shocking case of undermining the right to vote through intimidation and threats of violence.” Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says, “The Republicans are out of control,” and accuses them of using paid agitators to “create mob rule in Miami.” (Guardian 11/25/2000) Later investigations show that the “spontaneous protests” by Republican protesters were far more orchestrated and violent than generally reported by the press at the time. Investigative journalist Robert Parry will write that the protests, called the “Brooks Brothers Riot” because of the wealthy, “preppie” makeup of the “protesters,” helped stop the recount, “and showed how far Bush’s supporters were ready to go to put their man in the White House.” He will write that the protests should be more accurately termed a riot. At least six of the rioters were paid by the Bush recount committee, payments documented in Bush committee records only released to the IRS in July 2002 (see July 15, 2002). Twelve Republican staffers will later be identified in photographs of the rioters. The six who can be confirmed as being paid are: Bush staffer Matt Schlapp from Austin, Texas; Thomas Pyle, a staff aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX); DeLay fundraiser Michael Murphy; Garry Malphrus, House majority chief counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Charles Royal, a legislative aide to Representative Jim DeMint (R-SC); and former Republican House staffer Kevin Smith. Another Republican is identified as Doug Heye, a staffer for Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA). At least three of the rioters—Schlapp, Malphrus, and Joel Kaplan—will later join the Bush White House. Many of the rioters were brought in on planes and buses from Washington as early as mid-November, with promises of expenses payments. On November 18, 2000, the Bush campaign told activists, “We now need to send reinforcements” to rush to Florida. “The campaign will pay airfare and hotel expenses for people willing to go.” Many of the respondents are low-level Republican staffers from Congress. “These reinforcements… added an angrier tone to the dueling street protests already underway between supporters of Bush and Gore,” Parry will write. Quoting ABC reporter Jake Tapper, Parry will write, “The new wave of Republican activists injected ‘venom and volatility into an already edgy situation.’” Signifying the tone, before the Miami riot, Brad Blakeman, Bush’s campaign director of advance travel logistics, screamed down a CNN correspondent attempting to interview a Democratic Congressman: “This is the new Republican Party, sir! We’re not going to take it anymore!” (Consortium News 11/27/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Some of the local protesters are summoned to the Miami-Dade electoral offices by angry broadcasts over radio stations with largely Cuban-American audiences; over these radio stations, listeners hear Bush campaign lawyer Roger Stone, coordinating the radio response, say that the recounts intend to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Republican operatives coordinate the protests by shouting orders through megaphones. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Alterman 12/9/2010) Cuban-Americans voted heavily for Bush in the November 7 election. (Tapper 3/2001)
Details of the Riot; Staffers Assaulted and Beaten - After learning that the Miami-Dade County canvassing board was beginning to examine 10,750 disputed ballots that had not previously been counted, US Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) issues the order to “Shut it down!” (Sweeney is coordinating his efforts with a local Cuban congressman who himself is coordinating the Cuban-American mob response.) Brendan Quinn, the executive director of the New York Republican Party, tells some two dozen Republican operatives outside the Miami-Dade County election offices to storm the room on the 19th floor where the canvassing board is meeting. Tapper later writes: “Emotional and angry, they immediately make their way outside the larger room in which the tabulating room is contained. The mass of ‘angry voters’ on the 19th floor swells to maybe 80 people,” including many of the Republican activists from outside Florida, and joined by local protesters. As news organizations videotape the scene, the protesters reach the board offices and begin shouting slogans such as “Stop the count! Stop the fraud!” “Three Blind Mice!” and “Fraud, fraud, fraud!” and banging on doors and walls. The protesters also shout that a thousand potentially violent Cuban-Americans are on the way. Official observers and reporters are unable to force their way through the shouting crowd of Republican operatives and their cohorts. Miami-Dade spokesman Mayco Villafena is physically assaulted, being pushed and shoved by an unknown number of assailants. Security officials, badly outmanned, fear the confrontation will swell into a full-scale riot. Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy orders the recounts stopped, saying, “Until the demonstration stops, nobody can do anything.” (Although board members will later insist that they were not intimidated into stopping, the recounts will never begin again. Leahy will later say: “This was perceived as not being an open and fair process. That weighed heavy on our minds.”) Meanwhile, unaware of the rioting, county Democratic chairman Joe Geller stops at another office in search of a sample ballot. He wants to prove his theory that some voters had intended to vote for Gore, but instead marked an adjoining number indicating no choice. He finds one and leaves the office. Some of the rioters spot Geller with the sample ballot, and one shouts, “This guy’s got a ballot!” Tapper will later write: “The masses swarm around him, yelling, getting in his face, pushing him, grabbing him. ‘Arrest him!’ they cry. ‘Arrest him!’ With the help of a diminutive DNC [Democratic National Committee] aide, Luis Rosero, and the political director of the Miami Gore campaign, Joe Fraga, Geller manages to wrench himself into the elevator.” Rosero stays behind to attempt to talk with a reporter, and instead is kicked and punched by rioters. A woman shoves Rosero into a much larger man in what Tapper will later theorize was an attempt to start a fight between Rosero and the other person. In the building lobby, some 50 Republican protesters and activists swarm Geller, surrounding him. Police escort Geller back to the 19th floor in both an attempt to save him from harm and to ascertain what is happening. The crowd attempts to pull Geller away from the police. Some of the protesters even accost 73-year-old Representative Carrie Meek (D-FL). Democratic operatives decide to leave the area completely. When the mob learns that the recounts have been terminated, they break forth in lusty cheers.
After-Party - After the riots, the Bush campaign pays $35,501.52 for a celebration at Fort Lauderdale’s Hyatt Regency, where the rioters and campaign officials party, enjoy free food and drink, receive congratulatory calls from Bush and Dick Cheney, and are serenaded by Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton, singing “Danke Schoen,” German for “thank you very much.” Other expenses at the party include lighting, sound system, and even costumes.
Media Reportage - Bush and his campaign officials say little publicly about the riot. Some press outlets report the details behind the riots. The Washington Post later reports that “even as the Bush campaign and the Republicans portray themselves as above the fray,” national Republicans actually had joined in and helped finance the riot. The Wall Street Journal tells readers that Bush offered personal words of encouragement to the rioters after the melee, writing, “The night’s highlight was a conference call from Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, which included joking reference by both running mates to the incident in Miami, two [Republican] staffers in attendance say.” The Journal also observes that the riot was led by national Republican operatives “on all expense-paid trips, courtesy of the Bush campaign.” And, the Journal will note, the rioters went on to attempt to disrupt the recounts in Broward County, but failed there to stop the proceedings. The Journal will write that “behind the rowdy rallies in South Florida this past weekend was a well-organized effort by Republican operatives to entice supporters to South Florida,” with DeLay’s Capitol Hill office taking charge of the recruitment. No similar effort was made by the Gore campaign, the Journal will note: “This has allowed the Republicans to quickly gain the upper hand, protest-wise.” And the Journal will write that the Bush campaign worked to keep its distance from the riots: “Staffers who joined the effort say there has been an air of mystery to the operation. ‘To tell you the truth, nobody knows who is calling the shots,’ says one aide. Many nights, often very late, a memo is slipped underneath the hotel-room doors outlining coming events.” But soon, media reports begin echoing Bush campaign talking points, which call the “protests” “fitting, proper,” and the fault of the canvassing board: “The board made a series of bad decisions and the reaction to it was inevitable and well justified.” The Bush campaign says the mob attack on the elections office was justified because civil rights leader Jesse Jackson had led peaceful, non-violent protests in favor of the recounts in Miami the day before. The campaign also insists that the protests were spontaneous and made up entirely of local citizens. On November 26, Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT), a Bush campaign spokesman, will tell NBC viewers: “Clearly there are Americans on both sides of these issues reflecting very strong viewpoints. But to suggest that somehow this was a threatening situation, in my view, is hyperbolic rhetoric.”
Effect of the Riot - According to Parry, the riot, broadcast live on CNN and other networks, “marked a turning point in the recount battle. At the time, Bush clung to a lead that had dwindled to several hundred votes and Gore was pressing for recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The riot in Miami and the prospects of spreading violence were among the arguments later cited by defenders of the 5-to-4 US Supreme Court ruling (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000)… that stopped a statewide Florida recount and handed Bush the presidency. Backed by the $13.8 million war chest, the Bush operation made clear in Miami and in other protests that it was ready to kick up plenty of political dust if it didn’t get its way.” In the hours after the riot, conservative pundits led by Rush Limbaugh will engage in orchestrated assaults on the recount process as fraudulent and an attempt by the Gore campaign to “invent” votes. No one is ever charged with any criminal behaviors as a result of the riot. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Milbank 11/27/2000; Barrett 12/19/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Alterman 12/9/2010)
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) takes to the floor of the House to praise conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. In his “Tribute to Rush Limbaugh,” DeLay says of Limbaugh’s role in the Republican’s capture of the House in 1994, “[He] did not take his direction from us, he was the standard by which we ran. [He] was setting the standard for conservative thought.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 46)
Fox News is the only national television news broadcaster to cover a speech by President Bush on Iraq. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh calls the lack of coverage by other broadcasters the “final confirmation” of liberal bias among the news media. “If there was any remaining doubt about the networks’ editorial bias and ideological preferences,” he tells his listeners, “there shouldn’t be any longer.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 149-150)
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)
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh excoriates Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), accusing him of attempting to “destroy this country” by questioning the Bush administration’s rationale for war with Iraq (see September 25, 2002 and September 26, 2002). Limbaugh directly impugns Daschle’s patriotism, accusing him of being a traitor and comparing him to “Hanoi Jane” Fonda and World War II’s Japanese propaganda maven, Tokyo Rose. “What more do you want to do to destroy this country than what you’ve already done?” Limbaugh shouts. “It is unconscionable what this man has done! This stuff gets broadcast around the world, Senator. What do you want your nickname to be? Hanoi Tom? Tokyo Tom?… You sit there and pontificate on the fact that we’re not winning the war on terrorism when you and your party have done nothing but try to sabotage it.” One of Limbaugh’s callers accuses Daschle and the Democrats of giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”—a legal definition of treason—and says of Daschle, “He’s not interested in the safety of this country.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 156-157)
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) responds to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s accusations that Daschle and Congressional Democrats are guilty of treason by not supporting the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq (see November 15, 2002). Daschle calls Limbaugh “and all of the Rush Limbaugh wannabees” of having “a shrill edge,” and says of his listeners: “They want to act because they get emotionally invested. And so, you know, the threats to us in public life go up dramatically (see October 5-November 21, 2001), and on our families and on us in a way that’s very disconcerting. You know, we see it in foreign countries. And we think, well my God, how can this religious fundamentalism become so violent? Well, it’s the same shrill rhetoric. It’s that same shrill power that motivates. They—you know, they—that somebody says something, and then it becomes a little more shrill the next time, and then more shrill the next time.” Some media observers, such as the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, later say that such responses from their political targets merely elevate figures such as Limbaugh in their listeners’ eyes. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 157)
Conservative radio pundit Rush Limbaugh says of antiwar protesters, “It is beyond me how anybody can look at these protesters and call them anything than what they are: anti-American, anti-capitalist pro-Marxists and communists.” (Signorile 2/4/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 290)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, a former sports broadcaster recently given a slot as a commentator on National Football League games by ESPN, makes what many believe is a racist comment about black quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb, the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, a runner-up for the Most Valuable Player award, and has steered his team into two conference championships. Limbaugh tells his listeners that McNabb is overrated, and adds what ESPN will call “racial overtones that have set off a controversy.” Limbaugh says: “Sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go. I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”
Limbaugh Denies Racial Content; ESPN Defends Remarks - Limbaugh later says that his remarks were not meant to be racist; ESPN states: “Although Mr. Limbaugh today stated that his comments had ‘no racist intent whatsoever,’ we have communicated to Mr. Limbaugh that his comments were insensitive and inappropriate. Throughout his career, he has been consistent in his criticism of the media’s coverage of a myriad of issues.” ESPN vice president Mark Shapiro defends Limbaugh, saying: “This is not a politically motivated comment. This is a sports and media argument. Rush was arguing McNabb is essentially overrated and that his success is more in part [due] to the team assembled around him.” Because of his contractual insistence that he cannot be interviewed, no one from the press is allowed to ask Limbaugh for themselves what he did or did not mean. McNabb tells a Philadelphia reporter: “It’s sad that you’ve got to go to skin color. I thought we were through with that whole deal.” A subsequent ESPN report says that “Limbaugh’s remarks could be considered as untimely as they are thought to be out of bounds.” The report also notes that 10 NFL teams have had black quarterbacks start at least one game this season, and two of the league’s best quarterbacks, Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper, are black. Eagles coach Andy Reid says, “I think the Philadelphia Eagles and the city of Philadelphia are very lucky to have Donovan McNabb.” (ESPN 10/1/2003)
Controversy over Remarks - Limbaugh’s remarks spark considerable controversy among the sports community and among political pundits, with many defending Limbaugh and others decrying his comments. Democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark (D-AK), Howard Dean (D-VT), and Al Sharpton (D-NY) call on ESPN to fire Limbaugh. The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) calls on ESPN to “separate itself” from Limbaugh, with NABJ president Herbert Lowe saying: “ESPN’s credibility as a journalism entity is at stake. It needs to send a clear signal that the subjects of race and equal opportunity are taken seriously at its news outlets.” McNabb adds in a comment to a reporter: “It’s somewhat shocking to hear that on national TV from him. It’s not something that I can sit here and say won’t bother me.” On his radio show, Limbaugh declares himself “right about something” because otherwise “there wouldn’t be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sports writer community.” Los Angeles Weekly reporter John Powers notes that Limbaugh’s remarks must be taken in the context of his history of making racially inflammatory comments. Powers notes that if sports commentator Jim Rome made the same remarks, little would have been made of them, because Rome has a history of being “criticized for being too soft on black athletes and callers.” Instead, Powers writes, Limbaugh is “a radio thug who has made his name saying things like, ‘The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.’” Powers asks why Limbaugh would have brought the subject up at all, and answers his own question: “Because it fits Limbaugh’s ideologically charged belief that insidious ‘liberals’—that is, the media and government—keep bending over backward to give African-Americans special treatment that they don’t deserve. (This will come as news to most black Americans, who have a far higher level of poverty than the rest of the country.) We’ve moved beyond the point where big-time media figures will claim that blacks are inferior (and I have no evidence that Limbaugh thinks so). But you can still nab a huge audience by stirring up underlying racial resentments while pretending that you’re actually talking about ‘the media’—which is precisely what Limbaugh did in the McNabb case.… Limbaugh was practicing a kind of second-degree racism—on the carom, so to speak. And when he was called on it—not by his ESPN colleagues, alas—Rush beat a gutless retreat back to the bully’s pulpit of his radio show, where he can insist that widespread revulsion at his words proves they’re actually true (what reasoning!) and if anyone disagrees, he can just cut them off.” (ESPN 10/2/2003; Powers 10/9/2003)
Limbaugh Resigns ESPN Position - Limbaugh resigns his position with ESPN on October 2. In a statement, he says: “My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated. I offered an opinion. This opinion has caused discomfort to the crew, which I regret. I love NFL Sunday Countdown and do not want to be a distraction to the great work done by all who work on it. Therefore, I have decided to resign. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the show and wish all the best to those who make it happen.” ESPN president George Bodenheimer calls Limbaugh’s resignation “appropriate.” (ESPN 10/2/2003)
The campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), the leading contender in California’s gubernatorial recall election, launches a strong counterattack against a Los Angeles Times story that reported six women’s accusations that Schwarzenegger sexually assaulted them (see October 2, 2003).
Candidate Apologizes - The campaign denies the accusations, but Schwarzenegger backs away from his campaign’s initial insistence that he had never acted inappropriately around women. He now says that he had “behaved badly sometimes” and “done things which were not right, which I thought [were] playful [on movie sets]. But I now recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize.”
'Complex Strategy to Minimize' Impact of Allegations - Authors and media observers Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later write: “Schwarzenegger’s supporters engaged in a complex strategy to minimize the effect of the allegations. The response included testimonials from the candidate’s wife, newscaster and Kennedy family member Maria Shriver, that Schwarzenegger was a good father and husband and an ‘A-plus human being.’ Shriver also claimed that many of the stories had been fabricated and attacked the Los Angeles Times for the investigation and for publishing the story so close to the election.” Conservative media outlets quickly move to support Shriver’s attacks, and add a new wrinkle: that the Times was quick to print such allegations against Schwarzenegger, but was refusing to print allegations that Democratic Governor Gray Davis had engaged in abusive behavior against women on his staff. Therefore, they say, the Times is engaging in a double standard. Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The conservative claim was a standard one: the ‘liberal media’ were eager to undercut conservatives and protect ‘liberals.’ And voters were encouraged to reject the Schwarzenegger groping allegations but trust those about Davis’s supposed staff abuse.” Columnist Jill Stewart of the Los Angeles Daily News accuses the Times of “sitting on” the Davis story “since at least 1997… that [Davis] is an ‘office batterer’ who has attacked female members of his staff, thrown objects at subservients and launched into red-faced fits, screaming the f-word until staffers cower.” Fox News reports the Davis allegations, and conservative talk show hosts, led by Rush Limbaugh, repeat and embellish the story. Mainstream cable TV outlet MSNBC, in shows hosted by conservatives Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan, also report the Davis allegations. On Fox, Stewart accuses the Times of “journalistic malpractice” and “horrible, horrible bias.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 152-154)
Strategy Successful - The strategy is apparently successful, with Schwarzenegger ousting Davis and 134 other challengers in the recall election. CNN exit polls show that despite the sexual harassment charges, around 47 percent of women voters cast their ballots for Schwarzenegger. (CNN 10/8/2003)
Times Defends Reporting, Limbaugh Warns Listeners to 'Remember This Business' - Days later, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, James Carroll, will defend the Schwarzenegger sexual harassment story, describing the seven weeks of meticulous interviewing and fact-checking that went into it, and reveal that the Times had twice investigated the allegations of Davis’s supposed ‘office battering’ and found nothing to support the charges. Limbaugh, however, will remind his listeners: “The next time the LA Times or any other mainstream liberal institution starts talking to you about the aftermath in Iraq or the war on terrorism, I want you to remember this business of what they did with Schwarzenegger, and I want you to tell yourself, ‘Schwarzenegger is not an isolated episode.’ If they’re doing it there, where else are they acting as Democrat house organs?” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 154)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh announces the results of a poll finding: “We have a great Gallup poll, folks. Sixty percent of conservatives, 40 percent of moderates, and 18 percent of liberals say the media is too liberal.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella later write that Limbaugh “creates an interpretative frame for the information,” with Limbaugh saying, “We all know that moderates are liberals anyway, so that would be 58 percent of liberals and 60 percent of conservatives, that’s over 100 percent of the people who think the media is too liberal.” Neither Jamieson nor Cappella point out the creative mathematics and regrouping Limbaugh is performing. They do note, however, that on Fox News, commentator Tony Snow reports the same poll results, and accuses the “liberal media” of failing to report the poll in a widespread fashion. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 149)
Conservative pundits react with outrage over reports that CBS will air a documentary miniseries about former President Ronald Reagan and his family, titled The Reagans, that contains controversial, and sometimes unsourced, material some feel is unflattering to Reagan and his family. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, and many commentators on Fox News object so strongly that CBS eventually alters the content of the movie and shunts it out of its lineup entirely (it will instead air on CBS’s cable provider Showtime). The movie was produced by people who “hate Reagan,” Limbaugh charges. Hannity poses the rhetorical question: “Does the whole episode expose the Reagan-hating, liberal-leaning tendencies of the mainstream press?… CBS has a history of Reagan-bashing.” The Journal observes: “[W]hat caused this particular network wall to come tumbling down was largely the new media: [the] Drudge [Report], cable, talk radio, and so on. Not only did the new media disseminate information about the script to CBS viewers, it also provided the viewers, via the immediacy of e-mail, the means to ensure that [CBS chairman Leslie] Moonves would feel their pain.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 72-73) Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan predicted, “Advertisers will bail on CBS’ anti-Reagan movie,” in the days before CBS’s decision. Conservative MSNBC pundit and columnist Robert Novak said of the miniseries: “CBS is serving up a new version of the Ronald Reagan story, just before Thanksgiving. That’s appropriate. With all the Hollywood liberals involved, it could be a real turkey.” And the conservative watchdog organization Media Research Center (MRC) launched a boycott targeting CBS’s potential advertisers. It decided to take action, calling on 100 major companies to review the script and consider avoiding buying ad time on the miniseries. MRC founder Brent Bozell wrote, “‘The Reagans’ appears to be a blatantly unfair assault on the legacy of one of America’s greatest leaders.” In an interview, Bozell said: “Reagan is being portrayed as a hateful, half-nut homophobe. It’s not that the historical record is being distorted. It’s that the makers of the movie are deliberately defaming him and lying about him.” None of the pundits and critics have seen any more than a brief clip CBS provided for publicity purposes.
Fictionalized Conversation - One portion of the miniseries, concerning Reagan’s position on AIDS victims, features at least some fiction. Reagan is portrayed as “uncaring and judgmental” towards AIDS patients, says a CBS News article, and in the script, Reagan turns down his wife Nancy’s plea to help them, saying, “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” Lead author Elizabeth Egloff admitted that she has no documentation of Reagan ever saying such. However, Egloff said, “we know he ducked the issue over and over again, and we know she was the one who got him to deal with that.” Reagan insiders deny Egloff’s characterization. Reportedly Nancy Reagan is angry about the miniseries.
Re-Editing for 'Fair'ness - Moonves recently told a CNBC interviewer: “Nobody’s seen the film. So any criticism now, in the middle of October for a film that isn’t finished, is rather odd, we think.” He admitted that the film was being re-edited “to present a fair picture of the Reagans.… There are things we like about the movie, there are things we don’t like about the movie, there are things we think go too far.” (CBS News 10/29/2003)
Son Speaks Out - Conservative pundit Michael Reagan, the former president’s son, celebrates the decision, calling the documentary a “smear job on my dad” and writing that to most “Hollywood liberals,” apparently including the filmmakers, “[c]onservatives, in their twisted minds, are sworn enemies of progress and everything else that’s good and decent in Hollywood’s view, you know, good things like abortion and gay Boy Scout scoutmasters and Communist dictators such as their hero Fidel Castro.… [T]he elitist liberals at CBS fall right in line with this leftist garbage, and, as they did in this instance, allowed Hollywood the liberty of creating an attack vehicle against my dad and my family and then claiming it was an historical documentary that portrays the Reagans as they really are.” Like many other conservatives, Reagan seems particularly displeased that James Brolin, the husband of liberal Hollywood star Barbra Streisand, plays his father. (Reagan 11/5/2009)
During a campaign stop, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is questioned by Pennsylvania voter Cedric Brown, who demands that Kerry identify the “foreign leaders” he reportedly claimed support his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Kerry responds: “I’ve met with lots of foreign leaders, but let me just say something to you, sir. Just a minute. Just a minute,” gesturing to the audience to allow Brown to continue speaking. “I’m not going to betray a private conversation with anybody and get some leader—they have to deal with this administration” (see March 15, 2004). Brown then accuses Kerry of colluding with those unnamed foreign leaders to “overthrow” the Bush presidency. The exchange becomes somewhat heated, with Brown calling Kerry a “liar” and asks if he secretly met with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, an assertion advanced by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (see March 17, 2004). The exchange lasts for about eight minutes. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will perform an in-depth analysis of the media coverage of the Kerry-Brown exchange, and determine that while the mainstream media (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others) generally cover the exchange by reporting both sides fairly evenly (ABC’s coverage tilts towards favoring Kerry’s point of view while CBS’s gives Bush the advantage—see March 15, 2004), the conservative media they analyze (Limbaugh, Fox News, Fox’s Hannity & Colmes, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page) report the story from Brown’s viewpoint, and work to both denigrate Kerry and marginalize mainstream reporting. (Johnson 3/15/2004; Wilgoren 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 5-6)
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 19)
In his monthly newsletter, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh says that American liberals and Democrats are attacking President Bush for his Christian faith. “So now what does the left attack the president for?” he writes. “His belief in God!… Well, I’m going to predict something. If enough voters hear [Washington Post reporter] Bob Woodward berate Bush for relying on God, get ready for it.… Let them impugn the president of the United States for his admitting that he prays for the safety of the troops and the American people, let them make fun of that. They’re going to pay the price.” Limbaugh offers no evidence that nationally recognized liberals, Democratic Party members, or prominent reporters such as Woodward have criticized Bush for his Christian beliefs. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 101)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh informs his listeners of a Harris poll showing a majority of those surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when the war began over a year before (see March 19, 2003). Limbaugh blames the misconception on the “liberal media,” not on the government officials and conservative pundits, including Limbaugh, who pushed the idea of Iraqi WMD on the public before the invasion (see July 30, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, Mid-September-October 2001, October 17, 2001, November 14, 2001, December 20, 2001, 2002, February 11, 2002, Summer 2002, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 19, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 17, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 23, 2003, May 21, 2003, May 29, 2003, and June 11, 2003), and uses the incident to warn his listeners about getting their news from the “liberal media.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 151)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh dismisses photos taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib over the course of several broadcasts. The excerpts are collected by Newsweek, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters. On May 3, he tells his listeners, “You know, if you look at—if you really look at these pictures, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looks just like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do onstage—maybe I’m, yeah—and get an NEA [National Education Association] grant for something like this” (see October 2003, October 17-22, 2003, October 24, 2003, Evening October 25, 2003, November 4, 2003, November 4-December 2, 2003, and Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003, among others). On May 4, he says: “You know, those [US soldiers in Iraq] are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time. These people—you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off? … It is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.” On May 5, he says: “I think a lot of the American culture is being feminized. I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.” On May 6: he says, “The thing, though, that continually amazes—here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever.… I mean, this is something that you can see onstage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex and the City.” In that same broadcast, he praises the torturers by saying: “And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it’s pretty thoughtful.… Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured.… Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context.” And on May 11, he says, “If you take these pictures and bring them back and have them taken in an American city and put on an American Web site, they might win an award from the pornography industry.” (Media Matters 5/6/2004; Braiker 5/13/2004; Boehlert 2006, pp. 118; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 160)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is accused of racism following remarks he makes about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on NBC’s Meet the Press. Asked by moderator Tim Russert if he could support conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as chief justice, Reid says Scalia’s ethics problems are troubling and that he disagrees with most of his positions, but adds that Scalia “is one smart guy.” Asked if he could support Thomas, Reid says: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don’t—I just don’t think that he’s done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.” (NBC News 12/5/2004) Conservative pundits are quick to accuse Reid of racism, though he never makes any mention of Thomas’s race. On December 6, Charles Krauthammer tells a Fox News audience: “In the end, you’ve got to ask yourself, why Scalia, good, Thomas, bad in the eyes of a man like Reid. I say it’s the liberal plantation mentality, in which if you’re a man on the right and white, it’s OK. If you are the man on the right and you’re African-American, it’s not.” The same day, Clifford May tells a CNN audience: “Look, Justice Thomas is African-American and he’s conservative. Some people [like Reid] will never forgive that and think that’s an open opportunity to insult him.” During his daytime radio broadcast, talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience: “[I]t’s not a new page in the playbook but it’s certainly not as old as the playbook itself. But it’s been around awhile. That is conservative blacks are inept, a la Clarence Thomas.… You notice how easy it is for these people to be critical of blacks.” Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto writes that since Reid did not provide examples of Thomas’s “poorly written” opinions, “[i]n the absence of such examples, one can’t help but suspect that the new Senate Democratic leader is simply stereotyping Thomas as unintelligent because he is black.” That evening, Sean Hannity, co-host of Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, tells his listeners that Democrats routinely attack minority conservatives such as Thomas, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and federal judge nominee Miguel Estrada, and adds: “What I see is Democrats oppose African-Americans that are conservative, but yet they claim to support minority rights. And what I’m saying here is, why, if you’re for the advancement of minorities, why do you oppose every conservative African-American or Hispanic American? Why is this pattern emerging?” On December 7, African-American conservative Armstrong Williams says on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes: “Did you hear those racist remarks from Senator Harry Reid about Justice Thomas?… Harry Reid’s the one—he said Thomas was an embarrassment. He said he cannot write. That is racism.… That is racism, only because of the hue of his skin.… Read his [Reid’s] words. He was a racist.” On December 8, Taranto writes in another Wall Street Journal column, “To try to make Republican judges seem menacing, the Dems could call them ‘extremist’ or ‘out of the mainstream’ (and if the judges happen to be black, add that their opinions are ‘poorly written’).” (Pierce 12/6/2004; Media Matters 12/8/2004) Conservative columnist Ann Coulter will include Reid in her much wider attacks against what she calls “liberal racism” (see December 8, 2004).
During a visit by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, Specialist Thomas Wilson asks Rumsfeld why soldiers have to improvise armor for themselves out of scrap metal. Wilson, a National Guardsman from Tennessee, is referring to so-called “hillbilly armor” or “hajj armor” (see March 2003 and After). He asks Rumsfeld, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” His question meets with shouts of approval and applause from the assembled 2,300 soldiers; an obviously discomfited Rumsfeld responds: “It isn’t a matter of money, it isn’t a matter on part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” Colonel John Zimmerman of the Tennessee National Guard says: “What we basically have is what we call hillbilly steel, hillbilly armor. It’s real frustrating for these soldiers.” Zimmerman says 95 percent of his unit’s 300 trucks do not have appropriate armor. Specialist Blaze Crook says he was appalled when he saw the condition of a vehicle he is slated to ride in. “It’s got huge windows on the front of my truck,” he says. “It’s basically like a window of opportunity to get shot, or shrapnel or anything like that to come through. It just doesn’t make me feel good that I’m riding up there without the proper armor.” Kurt Hendler, a reservist with the Navy’s Seabees construction force, says he and his colleagues are using steel plates intended for road repairs to retrofit trucks and Humvees with better armor. “We cover up the doors and put on some three-inch plate to protect the passenger and driver’s side from IED [improvised explosive device] attacks, sniper fire, and any other small-arms fire,” he says. (ABC News 12/8/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 156-157) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later call Rumsfeld’s answer “a defining moment of his career—and not a positive one.” He will add, “[H]is comments helped solidify an already-accepted media narrative: the administration was sending troops that were ill equipped to fight the IED threat from terrorists and insurgents; worse still, administration officials were either unaware of the problems, unable to fix them, or totally unconcerned.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 250) Wilson will come under scathing attack from right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh when it is learned that he was given his question to ask by a reporter (see December 9, 2004).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot by a recent question from a US soldier in Kuwait about he and his fellow soldiers being forced to use scrap metal as so-called “hillbilly armor” for their vehicles (see December 8, 2004). The media now learns that the question, posed by Specialist Thomas Wilson, was given to Wilson by a newspaper reporter embedded with his unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard unit preparing for deployment in Iraq. Reporter Lee Pitts, of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, tells colleauges in an e-mail that he wanted to ask the question himself but was denied a chance to speak to Rumsfeld at the so-called “Pentagon town hall meeting.” Instead, Pitts says, he asked Wilson to pose the question. Pitts says he has been trying for weeks without success to “get this story out.” “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” Pitts writes. He says that when he learned that only soldiers would be allowed to ask Rumsfeld questions, he talked with Wilson and another soldier, and they “worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.” Pitts says he “found the sergeant in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.” Pitts writes that when Wilson asked his question, “the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question.” Rumsfeld’s apparently callous response—“you go to war with the army you have”—has caused a flurry of outraged responses (see December 15, 2004). Meanwhile, Wilson is weathering intense criticism for his question from some right-wing pundits and commentators. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh accuses him of “near insubordination” for daring to ask Rumsfeld such a pointed question. The New York Post claims that Wilson and Pitts “set up” Rumsfeld with the question. (Rumsfeld himself will compliment a later question about “negative press coverage” as obviously “not being planted by the media.”) Even though President Bush says he doesn’t blame Wilson for asking the question—“If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same question”—Limbaugh and others are joined by Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita in criticizing Wilson and Pitts. “Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita says. “The secretary provides ample opportunity for interaction with the press. It is better that others not infringe on the troops’ opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command.” (Romenesko 12/9/2004; CNN 12/10/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 156-157) Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the subject of Wilson’s question is not news at all; news reports of troops being sent into Iraq with broken weapons and damaged vehicles have circulated throughout the print media for well over a year. What is newsworthy, Rich will write, is that a soldier publicly called Rumsfeld out on the policy of sending troops into combat with substandard equipment. Also newsworthy is the fact that Rumsfeld’s claim that the only thing standing in the way of all soldiers receiving adequate equipment is “production and capability” is a lie. Manufacturers of vehicle armor, weapons, and other essential equipment say that they could easily increase production if the Pentagon were to ask them to do so. (Rich 2006, pp. 157)
In a PBS interview, Republican marketing guru Richard Viguerie says of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh: “In 1993 and 1994, he was the salvation of the conservative movement. Every day Rush Limbaugh would give us our marching orders, if you would.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 46)
A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333)
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Boehlert 2/15/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333) Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. (Rich 2006, pp. 172-173)
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. (Byrne 4/24/2005; Leupp 5/21/2005)
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. (Byrne 3/31/2005)
In an article examining the history and impact of the Fairness Doctrine (see 1949 and 1959), progressive communications law expert Steve Rendell writes that since the doctrine’s repeal (see 1987 and 1988), there has been far less coverage of controversial public issues on the nation’s airwaves. The Media Access Project (MAP) says, “Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine we have had much less coverage of issues,” with television news and public affairs programming decreasing both locally and nationally. Twenty-five percent of broadcast stations offer no local news or public affairs programming at all. Rendell writes: “The most extreme change has been in the immense volume of unanswered conservative opinion heard on the airwaves, especially on talk radio. Nationally, virtually all of the leading political talkshow hosts are right-wingers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly, and Michael Reagan, to name just a few. The same goes for local talkshows. One product of the post-Fairness era is the conservative ‘Hot Talk’ format, featuring one right-wing host after another and little else.” A lawyer in Oregon, Edward Monks, found that his local stations broadcast 80 hours per week of Republican and conservative talk, and none whatsoever of Democratic or liberal/progressive talk. Monks wrote: “Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced, or democratic about it.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has written, “The FCC [Federal Communications Commission]‘s pro-industry, anti-regulatory philosophy has effectively ended the right of access to broadcast television by any but the moneyed interests.” Rendell concludes that the nation “need[s] a Fairness Doctrine. It’s not a universal solution. It’s not a substitute for reform or for diversity of ownership. It’s simply a mechanism to address the most extreme kinds of broadcast abuse.” (Rendell 2/12/2005)
Rush Limbaugh’s monthly e-mail newsletter, the “Limbaugh Letter,” includes the charge that “mainstream Democrats” endorse calls to assassinate President Bush and for the suicide of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
'Kill Bush' T-Shirts, Wishes that Bush Had Been Aborted - Limbaugh tells his readers, “Dingy Harry Reid [D-NV, the Senate Minority Leader] and those absolute wimps have nothing positive to offer anybody in this country. They’re doing nothing but trying to instill fear and loathing, forming coalitions (i.e. their new bosom buddies MoveOn.org) built on seething hatred and rage. That is why it was no real surprise when CafePress.com began selling a yellow T-shirt with a red gash and the slogan, in big words, “Kill Bush.” The whole message was, “For Gods [sic] Sake, Kill Bush, Save the United States and the Rest of the World.” This was the same website that earlier posted a T-shirt for sale with the message, “Dear Tom DeLay, Please Commit Suicide. Sincerely, Everyone.” The same left-wing inhumanity was on display last year when [Democratic Senator] Hillary Clinton spoke at the pro-abortion ‘March for Women’s Lives.‘… [P]lacards held by the marchers read: ‘If Only Barbara Bush Had Choice;’ ‘Barbara Bush Chose Poorly;’ and ‘The Pope’s Mother Had No Choice.’ As I said, no shocker. This is the mainstream of the Democratic Party and their wacko voters and supporters.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 177-178) (CafePress removed the “Kill Bush” shirt after receiving numerous complaints; after removing it, the online store noted that CafePress “is an automated service” and “[h]ate related materials are a violation of its terms of service…” (WorldNetDaily 4/13/2005) Washington, DC, artist Christopher Goodwin created the Tom DeLay shirt and marketed it on CafePress. He removed the listing after a week, during which he was the only one to buy a shirt and he received numerous complaints about the shirt being in poor taste. But before removing the listing, his shirt was the subject of an article on the conservative Drudge Report, after which he received a torrent of angry e-mails—and six more shirt sales. (Horowitz 4/15/2005) )
Exaggerating Differences, Drawing Extreme Conclusions - Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later observe, “This is an in-group rhetoric seeking to reinforce the views of a like-minded audience eager to draw extreme conclusions about Democrats. The strategy capitalizes on tendencies scholars of in- and out-groups have repeatedly observed: that members of a group exaggerate their differences with out-groups, believing out-group members to be rather homogeneous and in-group members less so, and believing members of out-groups to be less human than those in the in-group. Studies also show that people in one group think that the attitudes of an opposed group are more extreme than they actually are…” Jamieson and Cappella argue that Limbaugh’s “in-group” of listeners and readers, often agitated by what the authors call “visceral” language and emotion, has less trouble believing that the “out-group,” Democrats, would solidly back such extremist calls for presidential assassinations and coerced suicides, than would a more disparate group of political observers. “Flooded by the evocative cascade,” they will write, “the reader is likely to grant the implications in the ambiguously referenced (Is Senator Clinton the object of the same left-wing inhumanity or the sentiments expressed in the placards at the rally?) bridging inference (“the same left-wing inhumanity”) and conclude that Hillary Clinton abetted, if she did not outright endorse, the notion that the incumbent president and the pope should have been aborted and the incumbent president killed. At the same time, the audience is unlikely to challenge the conclusion that the T-shirt statements reflect the Democratic mainstream… If these are the sentiments of the Democratic mainstream, then, of course, the Democratic Party is the home of ‘wacko voters and supporters.’” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 177-178)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that “multicultural curricula” implemented in US public schools teach students that America would have been better off had white Europeans never come to American shores. Limbaugh says: “Multicultural curricula, multicultural training [is] understanding that you’re no better than anybody else and understanding the Indians got screwed, that it’s really their country. Understanding that white Europeans brought to this country syphilis and other disease, environmentalism, sexism, racism, and homophobia. If it weren’t for all of that, this really would be a great country if white Europeans had just stayed where they were.” (Media Matters 5/11/2005) Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, has called multicultural education an “important requirement” for American children. (White House 10/5/2001)
Right-wing commentators react to the sudden media presence of antiwar activist and bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) with vitriolic criticism. (Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write of his belief that the anti-Sheehan campaign is orchestrated from the White House: “The attack was especially vicious because there was little the White House feared more than a critic who had more battle scars than a president or a vice president who had avoided Vietnam.”) Weekly Standard writer Fred Barnes tells Fox News viewers that Sheehan is a “crackpot.” Right-wing bloggers begin spreading lurid, and sometimes false, stories of her recent divorce and the opposition Sheehan receives from some of her family members. Because some of the Camp Casey protesters showed the recent Iraq documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), many right-wing commentators and pundits accuse Sheehan of being a tool of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin accuses Sheehan and other bereaved family members opposing the war of using their losses to promote their ideological agenda, and calls them “grief pimps.” The American Spectator says Sheehan’s own peace organization, Gold Star Families for Peace, “seeks to impeach George W. Bush and apparently to convince the US government to surrender to Muslim terrorists.” Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh makes the extraordinary claim that Sheehan is making up the entire story of her son’s death (see April 4, 2004), claiming that her loss “is nothing more than forged documents—there’s nothing about it that’s real.” Rich later notes that what he calls “the Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan” has “failed, utterly.” He will continue: “The hope this time was that we’d change the subject to Cindy Sheehan’s ‘wacko’ rhetoric and the opportunistic left-wing groups that have attached themselves to her like barnacles. That way we would forget about her dead son. But if much of the 24/7 media has taken the bait, much of the public has not.… The public knows that what matters this time is Casey Sheehan’s story, not the mother who symbolizes it.” (Calvo and Chen 8/11/2005; Fletcher 8/13/2005; Rich 8/21/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 194-195)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh encourages an African-American caller who describes liberalism as “a form of mental illness” that is “actually a type of rebellion against God and virtue through the justification of… immorality, things like abortion, homosexuality, promiscuity, prostitution, racism, even race-centered thinking.” Limbaugh restates the caller’s comment, saying: “So liberalism is a mental illness. It’s borne of people that do not like any judgmentalism against their depravity.” The caller, identified only as “Eric from Charlotte, North Carolina,” then describes black civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, black radio hosts Tavis Smiley and Tom Joyner, Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY), and “all of the Democratic delegation up there in Congress… the Ted Kennedys (D-MA),” and “anybody who’s in the leadership position in the Democratic Party” as “pimps” who attempt to deceive black people into remaining on the “Democratic plantation,” and says Democrats suffer from “the slave, slave master, slave-liberator mentality.” Democratic leaders are “all mentally ill,” he continues, and tells Limbaugh: “The Bible actually calls them ‘fools’ because they’re rebelling against virtue and God. Now, I’m not calling them fools, I’m just saying the Bible calls them fools.” Limbaugh encourages the caller, saying, “If the Bible can call them fools, you can echo the Bible,” to which the caller replies, “I’m calling them fools through the Bible.” Republicans and “those on the religious right… are the preachers and the liberators trying to tell the truth about what the Democratic leadership—the Democrats are doing to black people.” Limbaugh rewards the caller with a free year’s subscription to his Web site. (Media Matters 10/4/2005)
Rush Limbaugh is quoted in the book 101 People Who Are Really Screwing America as saying: “I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.” The book also claims that Limbaugh told a radio audience in 1998: “You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [the assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.]. We miss you, James. Godspeed.” The book does not cite a source for the alleged comments. In 2009, Limbaugh will deny making them, telling his listeners: “There’s a quote out there… that I somehow, some time ago, defended slavery and started cracking jokes about it. And, you know, you say a lot of things in the course of 15 hours a week, over the course of 21 years. We’ve gone back, we have looked at everything we have. There is not even an inkling that any words in this quote are accurate. It’s outrageous, but it’s totally predictable. It’s being repeated by people who have never listened to this program, they certainly didn’t hear it said themselves because it was never said.” (Snopes (.com) 10/13/2009)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that professional football games often look like fights between two African-American street gangs. Discussing a recent National Football League (NFL) game which featured some apparently objectionable celebrating by players after scoring a touchdown, Limbaugh says that such “over the top” celebrations are sparked by “cultural” differences between black and white players. “There’s something culturally wrong that is leading to all this… classless” behavior, he says, and continues: “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.” (Media Matters 10/12/2009) Two years later, Limbaugh will address his comment on his broadcast. He will fail to apologize for the remark, and will say instead: “It was not racial. Bloods and Crips makes it look racial. But the way I chose to describe it. I could have perhaps chosen a different term.” Limbaugh claims that his remark was taken “out of context” by the news media, and cites the “hypocrisy” of the media in reporting his comments as possibly racially offensive. (Media Matters 10/14/2009) Limbaugh will be thwarted in his 2009 attempt to buy the St. Louis Rams NFL franchise (see October 15, 2009) because of his racially inflammatory remarks against black football players, including this one and a 2003 slur involving African-American quarterback Donovan McNabb (see September 28 - October 2, 2003). Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay will tell other owners, “When there are comments that have been made that are inappropriate, incendiary, and insensitive… our words do damage, and it’s something that we don’t need.” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will call Limbaugh’s comments “divisive” and something that cannot be tolerated from an NFL owner. (New York Post 10/13/2009)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh calls Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and actress Halle Berry “Halfrican Americans.” According to progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh, discussing Obama’s nascent presidential candidacy, says, “Barack Obama has picked up another endorsement: Halfrican American actress Halle Berry.” Limbaugh then says, “‘As a Halfrican American, I am honored to have Ms. Berry’s support, as well as the support of other Halfrican Americans,’ Obama said.” Limbaugh later concedes that Obama “didn’t say it.” Limbaugh tells his audience that Obama “is the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya.” (Media Matters 1/24/2007)
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd prints a column based on an interview with Denis Collins, a juror in the Lewis Libby trial (see March 6, 2007). Dowd knows Collins from grade school as well as being journalists together, though Collins worked at the Washington Post as a sportswriter and Metro reporter while Dowd worked the same stints at the now-defunct Washington Star. Collins is tired of being interviewed by one reporter and media host after another, to the point where he has already posted his diary of his time on the jury on the Web, been interviewed by Larry King, and been reviled by Rush Limbaugh. Collins recalls that most of the jury felt Libby was relatively “small beer” compared to more high-level White House officials also involved in leaking the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. “He’s too many steps away from the king,” Collins says. “One of the jurors said, ‘He was too busy looking out for No. 1; he should have been looking out for No. 2 and then he wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.’ One of the witnesses told us that Libby spent more time with [his former boss, Vice President Dick] Cheney than he did with his own wife and kids.” Collins says that by far the most damaging testimony came from the prosecution’s government witnesses and not the reporters who took the stand. Asked how he would feel if Libby was pardoned, Collins replies: “I would really not care. I feel like the damage has been done in terms of his reputation and the administration’s reputation.” Collins is equally ambivalent about calls for Cheney to resign or be fired, saying: “Here’s the thing: Libby followed Cheney’s instructions to go talk to reporters, but there’s no evidence at all that Cheney told him to lie about it. So the question is, was Libby just kind of inept at getting this story out?” (Dowd 3/8/2007)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says of liberals’ feelings about abortion: “It’s a sacrament to their religion.… Normally, people go for communion. Liberals go to the abortion clinic.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 58)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience why he believes Democrats support affirmative action, the set of legal guidelines that mandate equitable hiring practives on the basis of race. “I made this point in the early eighties, mid-eighties when this all started,” he says. “Affirmative action is about making sure that the race wars never end.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, in their book Echo Chamber, will note that Limbaugh’s audience, like those of most conservative pundits and talk shows, is overwhelmingly white. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 102)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, in another of his now-famous broadsides against feminists (whom he routinely calls “femi-Nazis” and characterizes as “anti-male”), says: “I blast feminists because they’re liberal. Feminism is liberal. It screwed women up as I was coming of age in my early twenties.… It changed naturally designed roles and behaviors and basically, they’re trying to change human nature, which they can’t do.” Limbaugh’s “Life Truth No. 24” states that “feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to society.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, in their book Echo Chamber, will note, “There is apparently no comparable movement to facilitate the social integration of unattractive men.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 103)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh asserts that the only reason Democrats are interested in stopping the genocide in Darfur is to secure the African-American vote. Democrats, Limbaugh says, “want to get us out of Iraq, but they can’t wait to get us into Darfur.… There are two reasons. What color is the skin of the people in Darfur? It’s black. And who do the Democrats really need to keep voting for them? If they lose a significant percentage of this voting bloc, they’re in trouble.” Limbaugh, in a conversation with a caller, continues: “So you go into Darfur and you go into South Africa, you get rid of the white government there. You put sanctions on them. You stand behind Nelson Mandela—who was bankrolled by communists for a time, had the support of certain communist leaders. You go to Ethiopia. You do the same thing.… The liberals will use the military as a ‘meals on wheels’ program. They’ll send them out to help with tsunami victims. But you put the military—you put the military in a position of defending US national interest, and that’s when Democrats and the liberals oppose it.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will note that Congress has exhibited overwhelming bipartisan support for US intervention in Darfur; Republicans sponsored legislation sanctioning Sudan, which contains the Darfur region. The House passed the bill on a 416-3 vote, the Senate passed it unanimously, and President Bush signed it into law shortly thereafter. (Media Matters 8/23/2007)
A bipartisan immigration bill fails in the Senate, largely because of opposition mounted by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who mobilizes public opinion against it. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) later explains: “We came out and said, ‘We have a grand compromise.‘… Republicans and Democrats, moderates, conservatives, liberals. ‘We got a deal.’ And then we went home to celebrate, but we didn’t bother to say what was in it. Rush Limbaugh said, ‘This is amnesty’ [for illegal immigrants]. We were dead at that moment because they had a one-word bumper sticker, ‘amnesty,’ and we had a six-paragraph explanation. We got killed. So talk radio has a real impact.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later write that Limbaugh “trumpet[s] his influence” by playing the audio clip of Lott’s statement in his radio broadcast. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 58)
Some skeptics of global warming embrace a recent scientific study showing that ocean bacteria, not greenhouse gases and fossil fuels, are the primary cause of global warming. Unfortunately for the skeptics, the study is a hoax. The faux study, published in the “Journal of Geoclimatic Studies,” is laden with pseudo-scientific jargon “proving” that bacteria in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans emit at least 300 times more carbon dioxide than industrial activity, and apparently fools skeptics. A British scientist e-mails the report to 2,000 colleagues before realizing it was a spoof. A US scientist calls the report a “blockbuster.” (Reuters 11/8/2007) The conclusion of the “study” is especially interesting to those who dispute global warming. The authors write, “[W]e recognize that in [overturning man-made climate change] we lay our careers on the line. As we have found in seeking to broach this issue gently with colleagues, and in attempting to publish these findings in other peer-reviewed journals, the ‘consensus’ on climate change is enforced not by fact but by fear. We have been warned, collectively and individually, that in bringing our findings to public attention we are not only likely to be deprived of all future sources of funding, but that we also jeopardize the funding of the departments for which we work.” [Note: The site hosting the spoof study has disappeared from the Web, but remains for now in Google’s cache.] (Klein et al. 11/3/2007; Roberts 11/9/2007)
Rush Limbaugh Taken In - Talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners of the study, apparently misunderstanding a warning from global warming skeptic Dr. Roy Spencer. While Spencer tells Limbaugh that the study is a spoof, Limbaugh tells listeners that the study proves global warming itself is a hoax. Spencer will apologize to Limbaugh for “not being clear.” (Spencer 11/11/2007) (Spencer is a scientific adviser for the “Interfaith Stewardship Alliance,” a “coalition of religious leaders, clergy, theologians, scientists, academics, and other policy experts committed to bringing a proper and balanced Biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.” (Interfaith Stewardship Alliance 2005) Conservative blogger and global warming nonbeliever Neil Craig writes: “This could not be more damaging to man-made global warming theory.… I somehow doubt if this is going to be on the BBC news.”
Hoax Exposed and Revealed - But real scientists quickly knock the study down. Deliang Chen, professor of meteorology at Sweden’s Gothenburg University, says, “The whole story is a hoax.” Two of the report’s supposed authors claim to be on the Gothenburg staff, but Chen says they are not students or faculty at his school. (Reuters 11/8/2007) The research center cited by the article does not exist. Nor does the “Journal of Geoclimatic Studies,” which supposedly published the study. (Spencer 11/11/2007) The actual author of the spoof uses the pseudonym “Dr. Mark Cox” in an interview for Nature magazine’s blog, “The Great Beyond.” “Cox” says he wrote the spoof “to expose the credulity and scientific illiteracy of many of the people who call themselves climate skeptics. While dismissive of the work of the great majority of climate scientists, they will believe almost anything if it lends support to their position. Their approach to climate science is the opposite of skepticism.” He says the science proving global warming “could scarcely be clearer.” To a question asking what he would say to those taken in by his hoax, he replies, “More fool you.” (Cressey 11/9/2007)
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, joining the attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), asks about the likelihood of political gamesmanship inside the administration. Limbaugh tells his listeners, “I guarantee there’s more sabotage coming out of that place regarding the Bush administration.” (Simmons 12/6/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney calls in to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast. Cheney argues in favor of the administration’s push for Congress to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms suspected of cooperating with US intelligence agencies in illegally monitoring the telephone and e-mail communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush made the same call, but refused to admit that the telecoms had actually participated in such actions (see January 28, 2008). Cheney is more forthcoming. He tells Limbaugh that the proposed legislation is about “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.” (Olbermann 1/31/2008)
Discussing the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama (D-IL), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells listeners that the Democratic Party is “go[ing] with a veritable rookie whose only chance of winning is that he’s black.” Limbaugh’s comments are reported by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters. (Media Matters 6/2/2008)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas has endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A Hamas spokesman had made positive comments about Obama in April, but after Obama stated his support for Israel against Hamas and other Islamist terror organizations, a Hamas spokesman stated that his organization “does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and [Republican John] McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israel conflict are the same and are hostile to us, therefore we do have no preference and are not wishing for either of them to win.” As reported by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh says: “I will guaran-damn-tee you there will not be a terrorist attack before the election. And you know why there won’t be one? Because they want Obama elected.… Hamas has endorsed Obama. Hamas has endorsed Obama. Do you think they’re going to do anything to upset the apple cart of Obama’s election? Why do you think they’ve endorsed Obama? Because they want a very strong ally for Israel in the White House?” Limbaugh expands his rhetoric to equate Democrats with Islamic terrorists: “[E]very time I hear [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad speak, every time I hear a tape from [al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al Zawahiri or a so-called dispatch from [Osama] bin Laden, whenever I hear from any of these Middle East al-Qaeda terrorists, I think I’m hearing Democrat [sic] Party talking points.… Am I politically incorrect for saying this? We all know it to be true.” Limbaugh has previously asserted that “Islamofascists are actively campaigning for the election of Democrats.” (Reuters 6/4/2008; Media Matters 6/24/2008)
Fox News commentator Monica Crowley, guest-hosting conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s show, tells her audience that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is not African-American, but “Arab African.” Crowley admits that she has done no research to verify her claim, but is quoting conservative blogger Kenneth Lamb, who himself provided no verification to his February 2008 claim. Crowley says: “[A]ccording to this genealogy—and again, because I haven’t done the research, I can’t verify this—but according to this guy Kenneth Lamb, Barack Obama is not black African, he is Arab African.… And yet, this guy is campaigning as black and painting anybody who dares to criticize him as a racist. I mean, that is—it is the biggest con I think I’ve ever seen.” (Lamb has consistently refused to provide the research to back his claim, but has instead challenged critics to do the research themselves—including surreptitiously obtaining samples of Obama’s DNA for testing—and accused the administration of Harvard University of complicity in perpetuating the “sleight of hand.”) (Media Matters 6/26/2008) In September 2008, radio host Rush Limbaugh will repeat the falsehood (see September 22, 2008).
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” (Merida 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 184-190)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, draw some tentative conclusions about the impact that conservative talk radio, specifically the broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh, and conservative news outlets such as Fox News have on their regular listeners. They find both positive and negative effects on the audiences.
Positive Impact - The conservative broadcasters have a positive impact, Jamieson and Cappella conclude, by helping their listeners “make sense of complex social issues on which elite opinion is divided. They accomplish this when they:
Consistently frame arguments from conservative assumptions
Build a base of supportive evidence for conservative beliefs and in the process distinguish them from ‘liberal’ ones
Semantically and affectively prime key advocacy and attack points
Arm their audience to argue effectively
Minimize the likelihood of defection from conservatism by creating a sense of community among listeners who share a worldview, if not every political policy preference.”
The conservative radio hosts “protect their audience from counterpersuasion by inoculating it against opposing messages; at the same time, they increase the likelihood that the audience will try to persuade others. Conservative viewers, readers, and listeners are told by these media outlets that they are part of a much larger community… The belief that they are part of an army of others of like mind should increase their disposition to talk politics with those with whom they disagree. Finally, they stabilize the conservative base. This effect is produced at a cost: Those in the fold see ‘liberals’ and politicians as further from them—hence less worthy of support—than they actually are.”
Negative Impact - Jamieson and Cappella then turn to the negative impact on the audience. “We find other moves more problematic,” they write, “including those that:
Insulate the audience from alternative media sources by casting them as untrustworthy, ‘liberal,’ and rooted in a double standard hostile to conservatives and conservatism
Protect their audience from the influence of those opposed to the conservative message by balkanizing and polarizing their perception of opponents and their arguments
Contest only the facts hospitable to opposing views
Invite moral outrage by engaging emotion. This produces one advantage and one disadvantage: emotional involvement invites action and engagement rather than distancing and lethargy. On the downside, a steady diet of moral outrage feeds the assumption that the opponent is an enemy
Replace argument with ridicule and ad hominem [arguing against an assertion by attacking the person making the assertion, not the assertion itself]
Often invite their audiences to see the political world as one unburdened by either ambiguity or common ground across the ideological divide.
Liberals Imitating Conservatives' Success - Jamieson and Cappella conclude: “Democrats are, of course, more likely to accept the contested facts offered by their party and so are Republicans. We find it worrisome that the audiences for both Fox and Limbaugh were more likely than comparable conservatives to accept the Republican view of the contested facts in the 2004 election and more likely in the process to distort the positions of the Democratic nominees. But those who, with us, find the pro-Republican distortion among Limbaugh and Fox audiences should, with us, find the pro-Democratic distortion equally troubling among NPR listeners and CNN viewers.… What the conservative opinion media do for the Right and CNN and NPR do for the Left is increase a tendency to embrace the arguments and evidence offered by those with whom their audiences already agree. Fox and Limbaugh have also created a commercially viable model of partisan media that has elicited the sincerest form of flattery. On the Left, ‘Air America’ on radio and Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC are both experimenting with ways to translate their blend of entertainment and political advocacy into profits. Consistent with the model developed by the conservatives, Olbermann regularly features ‘Air America’ hosts.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 244-245)
Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, in their book Echo Chamber, observe that conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh creates a world for his listeners where only social conservatives hold true patriotic and life-affirming beliefs. Quoting from several different Limbaugh comments, they write: “In the world Limbaugh describes… liberals ‘survive and thrive on a fundamental belief that the average American is an idiot—stupid, ignorant, uninformed, unintelligent, incapable of knowing what is good for him, what’s good for society, what’s right and what’s wrong.’ Consistent with that argument, the conservative media portray ‘liberal’ elites as an enemy that despises Christian conservatives and southerners [Southern Americans]. Those who hate Christians try ‘to portray Christians as a bunch of hayseed southern hicks. The real reason is that they are afraid of them.’ [Liberals and Democratic lawmakers] are the people that run around ridiculing conservative Christians, make fun of them,’ notes Limbaugh. ‘You people drive the pickup trucks. You live in Mississippi, wear the plaid shirts. You got a bottle of Old Crow sitting next to you. You’re going to go bomb an abortion clinic in a couple of days. You watch NASCAR [stock car races]. You don’t have your two front teeth. That’s what they think of you, and you know it.‘… Inclusion of the word ‘southern’ in the first passage and ‘Mississippi’ in the second is strategically consistent with the notion that he is addressing an important part of the conservative base.” (Rush Limbaugh 6/5/2007; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 65)
Attempting to explain the psyche of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to his listeners, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that Obama “is not a great thinker” but rather a “believer” who has been “indoctrinated at his schools” to believe “that the United States is at root responsible for the way we are treated and seen by those who hate us.” Limbaugh may be referring to false rumors that Obama was educated in Islamic madrassas (see January 22-24, 2008 and September 10, 2008). As reported by the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh explains: “It’s a form of self-loathing, ladies and gentlemen—not of himself, of course, ‘cause he’s the messiah—but in the aggregate self-loathing of nation, the kind of self-loathing of America that the left here and in Europe embraces. And that’s why they love Obama—because he loathes America. He blames America. America’s responsible for all that’s wrong in the world.” (Media Matters 7/22/2008; Brownstein 7/26/2008)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh repeatedly tells his listeners that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama “believes [in] and favors infanticide. Not just abortion, but infanticide.” Limbaugh also claims that Obama “approves of abortion in the fourth trimester.” (Media Matters 9/4/2008; Callard 9/23/2008) (According to an online medical dictionary, there are only three trimesters in a typical pregnancy.) (Medicine (.net) 2008) According to the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Limbaugh supports his claim by misrepresenting Obama’s opposition for a 2001 anti-abortion bill during his tenure as an Illinois state senator. Obama and other opponents said the “born alive” bill was unnecessary because Illinois state law already prohibited the conduct addressed in the bill (the abortion of fetuses in the last trimester before birth) and gave unconstitutional legal rights to unborn fetuses. (92nd General Assembly 2001; Media Matters 9/4/2008) Limbaugh calls Obama a supporter of “infanticide” from August 19. On August 20, he claims that “Obama lobbied for infanticide” and adds: “You know, abortion’s one thing; infanticide is quite another, and it is now widely known that Obama was all for infanticide. It’s the only way you can put it.” On August 22, Limbaugh says that Obama “really admires” China’s mandatory one-child policy, and adds: “[M]ost people want a son. And if they are pregnant with a daughter, what do they do? They abort, and they keep aborting until they get a son. Now that’s a policy Obama can support. That’s a policy Obama likes. He’s for infanticide. It is not an overstatement to say so.” On August 26, Limbaugh expands his claim to include the entire Democratic Party: “So, here’s a party trying to present itself as a newly-found faith party—that they understand people’s values—and their nominee believes in infanticide.” On August 28, Limbaugh, after calling Obama a “thug,” says: “What has complicated [Obama’s] mental journey are his political ambitions. His desire to hold high public office has required this confused man to lie about his sometimes bizarre judgments such as supporting infanticide.” On September 2, Limbaugh accuses Obama of “support[ing] the killing of babies born alive as the result of botched abortions.” On September 3, Limbaugh again expands his claim, calling “liberals” “child abusers—partial birth abortion, infanticide…” (Media Matters 9/4/2008)
Rush Limbaugh, the nation’s most popular conservative radio talk show host, tells his listeners that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was nominated because “nobody had the guts to stand up and say no to a black guy.” As documented by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh, while complaining about “how unqualified Obama is,” says, “I think it really goes back to the fact that nobody had the guts to stand up and say no to a black guy.” Limbaugh continues: “I think this is a classic illustration here where affirmative action has reared its ugly head against them. It’s the reverse of it. They’ve, they’ve ended up nominating and placing at the top of their ticket somebody who’s not qualified, who has not earned it.… It’s perfect affirmative action. And because of all this guilt and the historic nature of things, nobody had the guts to say, well, wait a minute, do we really want to do this?” Limbaugh, in a conversation with a caller, prefaces his comment by saying that “liberals” oppose racism except “when it benefits them… [s]o when, when a precious resource like racism becomes scarce… they will go out and drill for new sources.… You’re exactly right. They understand the principle. They want it for themselves, just not anybody else. Liberals can have two sets of rules: One for the elites, the arrogants and the condescending elites, and the other set of rules for everybody else.… They will exempt themselves from the limiting rules they place on everybody else.” He concludes that Obama’s nomination is “perfect affirmative action. And because of all this guilt and the historic nature of things, nobody had the guts to say, well, wait a minute, do we really want to do this? So they do it and then they start behaving in manners and ways that let us know that they know that they’ve goofed up with the choice. Actually, it’s been somewhat fascinating to watch.” (Media Matters 8/20/2008; Harris 8/24/2008; Sporl 8/27/2008) Limbaugh and other radio hosts have repeatedly used Obama’s race as a springboard for numerous false and unsupported allegations (see January 24, 2007, February 1, 2008, May 19, 2008, June 2, 2008, June 26, 2008, and August 1, 2008 and After).
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is “not black.” As reported by the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Limbaugh asks the rhetorical question: “Do you know he has not one shred of African-American blood?… He’s Arab. You know, he’s from Africa. He’s from Arab parts of Africa.… [H]e’s not African-American. The last thing that he is is African-American.” Media Matters documents this claim being advanced as far back as February 14, when blogger Kenneth Lamb wrote that Obama “is actually Arab-American [and] not legally African-American.” Lamb produced no evidence of his claim, but since then, conservative bloggers and some radio hosts have repeated the claim. In reality, Obama’s father was a African from Kenya, in the black part of Africa, and his mother was a Caucasian American. (Media Matters 9/22/2008)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, appearing as a guest on Fox News, tells listeners that in a United Nations speech, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated “talking points” from the stump speeches of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. According to progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh says that Ahmadinejad “echo[ed] Barack Obama talking points—talking about how America is responsible for all the problems of the world, talking about how American defense spending is—led to the crisis here.” Limbaugh provides no proof of his assertion. Limbaugh says that Democrats “must be pulling their hair out” because Ahmadinejad is “echoing Obama’s talking points.” In his speech to the UN today, Ahmadinejad discussed what he called “Zionist murderers” and to the purported influence of “Zionists” on the “political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US.” (CNN 9/23/2008; Media Matters 9/24/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh distorts and misstates comments by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama from 2001, asking listeners how Obama can be sworn in as president if he “flatly rejected” the Constitution. Limbaugh tells his listeners that Obama “calls himself a constitutional professor or a constitutional scholar. In truth, Barack Obama was an anti-constitutional professor. He studied the Constitution, and he flatly rejected it. He doesn’t like the Constitution, he thinks it is flawed, and now I understand why he was so reluctant to wear the American flag lapel pin. Why would he?… I don’t see how he can take the oath of office” because “[h]e has rejected the Constitution.” Obama said during a September 6, 2001 panel discussion on Chicago’s WBEZ radio that the Constitution “reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.” Obama’s criticism was directed at the Founding Fathers’ handling of the issue of slavery in the Constitution. Later in the discussion, Obama said that the Constitution is “a remarkable political document that paved the way for where we are now.” Limbaugh plays carefully edited clips from the WBEZ program but does not play the larger portion of Obama’s remarks that give a fuller picture of his meaning. Instead, he falsely accuses Obama of saying that the Constitution cannot “be fixed,” and asks: “How is he going to… how is he gonna place his hand on the Bible and swear that he, Barack Hussein Obama, will uphold the Constitution that he feels reflects the nation’s fundamental flaw. Fundamental. When he talks about a fundamental flaw, he’s not talking about a flaw that can be fixed. Fundamental means that this document is, from the get-go, wrong.” Media Matters notes that “several influential Republicans,” including President Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Chief Justice John Roberts, “have articulated a similar view” to Obama’s. (Media Matters 10/28/2008)
The US’s two most popular conservative radio hosts, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, are repeatedly labeling the current economic collapse the “Obama recession,” even though the recession has started already, and President-elect Barack Obama was only elected on November 4 and will not assume the presidency until January 20, 2009.
Blaming Obama for Wall Street Plunge - According to reports by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Hannity’s guest Dick Morris, a conservative political operative, tells a Fox News audience on November 6 that the stock market plunge is directly attributable to Obama’s election and his intention to “raise the capital gains tax.” Hannity calls the stock market plunge “the Obama tanking.” On the same day, Limbaugh says on his show: “We have the largest market plunge after an election in history. Thank you, man-child Barack Obama.” (Media Matters 11/7/2008) Hannity says on November 11 that Obama’s election is directly responsible for plunging stock market performances, telling his listeners: “Wall Street keeps sinking. Could it be the Obama recession: The fear that taxes are gonna go up, forcing people to pull out of the market?” On November 12, Limbaugh echoes Hannity’s characterization, telling his listeners that, as reported by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “the recession isn’t President Bush’s fault. It’s the fault, catch this, of the president who hasn’t yet taken office. It’s an ‘Obama recession’; that’s what he’s calling it.” Matthews, clearly impatient with Limbaugh’s characterization, calls the host’s statement an example of “the bitter sore loser’s rhetoric we are hearing from the right these days.” (Media Matters 11/12/2008)
Experts Credit Obama with Wall Street Stabilization - Experts refute Limbaugh’s and Hannity’s attribution of the nation’s economic calamity to Obama, with the Wall Street Journal giving Obama credit for a post-election upturn in the stock market and blaming “lame economic data” and the continuing “drumbeat of bailouts, potential bailouts, and worries about other bailouts” for the stock market’s poor performance. (Gaffen 11/12/2008) Fox News business commentator Eric Bolling credits Obama’s election with stabilizing the stock market until a dismal national employment report caused the market to drop again. And Fox Business Channel’s vice president, Alexis Glick, tells her audience on November 7: “I so did not believe that the market reaction over the past two days was about Obama. Wednesday morning we walked in, we saw the Challenger and Gray [planned layoff] numbers, we saw the ADP numbers, the weekly jobless claim numbers—yeah, well, they were basically in line, but we knew two days ago that this was going to be a bloody number. Frankly, we probably knew several months ago that it was going to be a bloody number.” The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both agree with Glick’s assessment. (Media Matters 11/7/2008; Grynbaum 11/7/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage tells his audience that President-elect Barack Obama’s grandmother “suspiciously died virtually the night before the election,” in an apparent attempt to question Obama’s pre-election trip to Hawaii. Obama visited his grandmother in late October, shortly before her death on November 3. Savage ties in his questions about Obama’s grandmother and her “suspicious death” to discredited claims that Obama has been unable to verify his US citizenship. Savage tells his listeners: “Well, we don’t even know where Obama was born. His grandmother died the night before the election. There’s a lot of questions around this character that the media won’t answer. Let’s start with what country he’s from. Why was the birth certificate never produced? Why in the world did he take time off from the campaign to visit the grandmother who then suddenly and suspiciously died virtually the night before the election? Tell me about that.” Savage and other conservative commentators have suggested that Obama went to Hawaii, not to visit his gravely ill grandmother, but to address charges that his birth certificate is not valid. (Media Matters 11/14/2008) Savage is one of a number of conservative radio hosts to spread false rumors about Obama’s birth certificate (see October 8-10, 2008). Obama produced a copy of his birth certificate months before (see June 13, 2008). A number of organizations have verified that Obama’s birth certificate is valid and authentic (see June 27, 2008 and August 21, 2008), as have Hawaii Health Department officials (see October 30, 2008). (Hollyfield 6/27/2008; Zahn 8/23/2008; FactCheck (.org) 11/1/2008) According to Talkers Magazine, Savage is third in talk-radio listenership across the US, behind fellow conservatives Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. (Media Matters 11/14/2008)
Dan Shelley, the former news director/assistant program director at Milwaukee’s WTMJ AM talk radio station, writes of the methodologies he and other programming experts used to make their talk show hosts popular. Like many other radio stations, WTMJ hosts primarily conservative broadcasters, though its only nationally syndicated host with a political bent is former comedian Dennis Miller. Two of its most popular local broadcasters are conservatives Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner. (Shelley is quite complimentary of Sykes in particular as a top-flight talk show host.) Shelley notes: “I was often angrily asked, once by then-Mayor John Norquist, why we just didn’t change our call letters to ‘WGOP.’ The complaints were just another sign of our impact.”
'Differentiating' - Shelley writes that Sykes and Wagner “are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.” Hosts such as Sykes and Wagner “must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims,” he writes, “and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners. This enemy can be a politician—either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a ‘RINO’ (a ‘Republican In Name Only,’ who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the ‘mainstream media’—local or national, print or broadcast.… In the talk radio business, this concept, which must be mastered to be successful, is called ‘differentiating’ yourself from the rest of the media. It is a brilliant marketing tactic that has also helped Fox News Channel thrive. ‘We report, you decide’ and ‘Fair and Balanced’ are more than just savvy slogans. They are code words signaling that only Fox will report the news in a way conservatives see as objective and truthful.”
Vicitimization - One of their most successful strategies is to play into the perception that hosts and audience alike are “victims” of what Shelley sardonically calls “the left-wing spin machine.” Any criticism, especially personal epithets such as “right-winger” or “radio squawker” merely plays into those hosts’ hands, Shelley notes. “This allows a host like Sykes to portray himself as a victim… and will leave his listeners, who also feel victimized, dying to support him.”
One-Sided Discussions - However, talk show hosts rarely, if ever, present “fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions.… Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.… Pointed and provocative are what win.” Shelley writes that callers never “win a disagreement” with Sykes or Wagner. Calls from listeners who disagree with them do not get on the air “if the show’s producer, who generally does the screening, fears they might make [the host] look bad. Sykes’s producer even denied calls from US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the current and former mayors of Milwaukee, and other prominent figures. However, callers with dissenting points of view would get on the air if the host could “use the dissenting caller to reinforce his original point… [b]y belittling the caller’s point of view.” Shelley notes of Sykes: “You can always tell, however, when the antagonist has gotten the better of Charlie. That’s when he starts attacking the caller personally.”
More Diversity in Audience than Readily Acknowledged - Shelley writes that many liberals believe talk radio audiences are composed of “angry, uneducated white men.” Such is not the case, he writes. “Many are businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, academics, clergy, or soccer moms and dads. Talk show fans are not stupid. They will detect an obvious phony. The best hosts sincerely believe everything they say. Their passion is real. Their arguments have been carefully crafted in a manner they know will be meaningful to the audience, and that validates the views these folks were already thinking.”
Shaping Opinion - Listeners cannot be “led like lemmings” to a particular conclusion, Shelley writes, but “they can be carefully prodded into agreement with the Republican views of the day.” Conservative talk show hosts, both national and local, receive “daily talking points emails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee, and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too.” Shelley writes that Sykes would “mine the emails, then couch the daily message in his own words.… Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim.” Both Sykes and Wagner keep abreast of what other conservative hosts are saying: “Rush Limbaugh’s Web site was checked at least once daily. Atlanta-based nationally syndicated talker Neal Boortz was another popular choice.”
Strategic Disagreement - On occasion, Shelley writes, “[a] smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine.” President Bush’s selection of his own lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court gave Sykes, Wagner, and other conservatives the chance to disagree vehemently with the administration. But, Shelley notes, “these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.”
Selective Facts - Shelley notes that it is often difficult to refute the arguments of a host such as Sykes, who builds “strong case[s] with lots of supporting facts.” Shelley notes that usually “those facts have been selectively chosen because they support the host’s preconceived opinion, or can be interpreted to seem as if they do.… Hosts… gather evidence, but in a way that modifies the old Joe Friday maxim: ‘Just the facts that I can use to make my case, ma’am.’”
Rhetorical Strategies - Shelley writes of the two main strategies conservatives (and presumably other talk show hosts of other political stripes) use to bolster weak arguments or refute strong opposing points of view. He calls them “You Know What Would Happen If” and “The Preemptive Strike.”
Shelley writes: “Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say: ‘You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the “liberal media.”’ This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that ‘liberals’ are the enemy.”
He then notes: “The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the US Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the ‘mainstream media’ was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.”
Such strategies, and others, are reliable and effective, Shelley notes.
Double Standards - Shelley gives numerous examples of the hosts’ double standards with various issues.
“In the talk show world, the line-item veto was the most effective way to control government spending when Ronald Reagan was president; it was a violation of the separation of powers after President Clinton took office.”
“Perjury was a heinous crime when Clinton was accused of lying under oath about his extramarital activities. But when [Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide, was charged with lying under oath, it was the prosecutor who had committed an egregious act by charging Libby with perjury.”
“‘Activist judges’ are the scourge of the earth when they rule it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexuals receive. But judicial activism is needed to stop the husband of a woman in a persistent vegetative state—say Terri Schiavo—from removing her feeding tube to end her suffering.”
Shelley adds: “To amuse myself while listening to a talk show, I would ask myself what the host would say if the situation were reversed. What if alleged DC Madam client Senator David Vitter [R-LA] had been a Democrat? Would the reaction of talk show hosts have been so quiet you could hear crickets chirping? Hardly. Or what if former Representative Mark Foley [R-FL] had been a Democrat? Would his pedophile-like tendencies have been excused as a ‘prank’ or mere ‘overfriendly emails?’ Not on the life of your teenage son. Suppose Al Gore was president and ordered an invasion of Iraq without an exit strategy. Suppose this had led to the deaths of more than 4,000 US troops and actually made that part of the world less stable. Would talk show hosts have dismissed criticism of that war as unpatriotic? No chance. Or imagine that John Kerry had been president during Hurricane Katrina and that his administration’s rescue and rebuilding effort had been horribly botched. Would talk show hosts have branded him a great president? Of course not.”
Katrina an Epiphany - Shelley notes that it was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster that convinced him conservative talk show hosts such as Sykes and Wagner were extremists, and not merely a counterbalance to a left-skewed national media. Shelley was horrified when Sykes and Wagner, emulating their more prominent nationally syndicated colleagues such as Limbaugh and Miller, did not criticize the government’s lethally slow and callous response, but instead attacked the journalists who were obviously part of an “angry left” conspiracy to unfairly smear the Bush administration.
Conclusion - Shelley writes: “[T]he key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons. Because of that, there will always be listeners who believe that Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and their compatriots are the only members of the media who truly care about them.” (Shelley 11/13/2008; WTMJ-AM 11/13/2008)
Salon columnist Alex Koppelman explores the widening sets of claims that purport to prove President Barack Obama is not a US citizen—the heart of the so-called “birther” conspiracy theory. The Obama campaign long ago produced a valid birth certificate that allowed Obama to run legitimately as a presidential candidate (see June 13, 2008), Obama’s mother Ann Dunham has also affirmed her son’s citizenship, and Hawaiian officials have confirmed that Obama was indeed born in a hospital in Honolulu (see October 30, 2008). However, some on the right continue to promulgate the tale of Obama’s supposed Kenyan citizenship, or Indonesian citizenship, or British citizenship. The Chigago Tribune recently ran a paid advertisement questioning Obama’s citizenship (see December 3, 2008). Conservative news and opinion blogs such as WorldNetDaily run stories on a near-daily basis challenging Obama’s citizenship, or producing hoax “birth certificates” that “prove” Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya, or other locales (see July 20, 2008). Plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging Obama’s citizenship in a number of state courts, all of which have been rejected (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008), and a similar case goes up for review in the Supreme Court (that case also challenges Republican presidential contender John McCain’s citizenship, as McCain was born in the former Panama Canal Zone to parents serving in the US military, another legitimate way of securing citizenship—see March 14 - July 24, 2008 and August 21-24, 2008). Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, notes that some people will never let go of the idea that Obama is not a citizen, no matter what level of proof is provided. “There’s no amount of evidence or data that will change somebody’s mind,” he says. “The more data you present a person, the more they doubt it.… Once you’re committed, especially behaviorally committed or financially committed, the more impossible it becomes to change your mind.” Any inconvenient facts are irrelevant, he says. Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates, agrees. People who believe in a conspiracy theory “develop a selective perception, their mind refuses to accept contrary evidence,” Berlet says. “As soon as you criticize a conspiracy theory, you become part of the conspiracy.” Social psychologist Evan Harrington adds: “One of the tendencies of the conspiracy notion, the whole appeal, is that a lot of the information the believer has is secret or special. The real evidence is out there, [and] you can give them all this evidence, but they’ll have convenient ways to discredit [it].” Koppelman notes that during the presidential election, so-called “birthers” said that they would drop their claims if only Obama would release the “long form” of his birth certificate, even though to do so would be to violate Hawaii’s privacy laws, which keep all such documents under lock and key. During the campaign, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health, released a statement saying she had verified that the state has the original birth certificate on record (see October 30, 2008), and that Obama’s Hawaiian birth is a matter of state record. Experts with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, part of the FactCheck (.org) organization, have examined the certificate and verified its authenticity (see August 21, 2008), as has PolitiFact (see June 27, 2008). Koppelmann notes that the conspiracy theory has grown to the point where talk-show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage have suggested that Obama used the occasion of his grandmother’s death to go to Hawaii to alter the record (see November 10, 2008). Koppelman notes that many who align themselves with the “birther” movement are well-known conspiratorists. Author Jerome Corsi, who attacked Obama’s citizenship in a pre-election book (see August 1, 2008 and After), has spoken of “secret government plans” to form a “North American Union” with Canada and Mexico. Philip Berg, who filed the lawsuit that had until now drawn the most public attention, asserts that the 9/11 attacks were staged by the US government (so-called “trutherism”). Another critic, Andy Martin, who seems to be the source of the rumor that Obama is a Muslim and is a strong “birther” proponent, was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law (see October 17-22, 2008). Robert Schulz, who ran the Tribune ads, is a well-known tax protester and anti-government rhetorician. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)
The conservative “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, and August 6, 2009) launches a multi-pronged attack on every major policy initiative attempted by the Obama administration. Within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, AFP holds “Porkulus” rallies protesting Obama’s stimulus spending measures. The Koch-funded Mercatus Center (see August 30, 2010), working in concert with AFP, releases a report that falsely claims stimulus funds are being disproportionately directed towards Democratic districts; the author is later forced to correct the report, but not before conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, citing the report, calls the stimulus program “a slush fund,” and Fox News and other conservative outlets repeat the characterization. AFP vice president Phil Kerpen is a Fox News contributor; AFP officer Walter Williams is a frequent guest host for Limbaugh. AFP soon creates an offshoot organization, Patients United Now (PUN—see May 29, 2009), designed to oppose the Obama administration’s health care reform initiatives; PUN holds some 300 rallies against reform efforts (see August 5, 2009), some of which depict Democratic lawmakers hung in effigy (see July 27, 2009) and others depict corpses from Nazi concentration camps. AFP also holds over 80 rallies opposing cap-and-trade legislation, which would force industries to pay for creating air pollution. AFP also targets individual Obama administration members, such as “green jobs” czar Van Jones, and opposes the administration’s attempt to hold international climate talks. AFP leader Tim Phillips (see August 6, 2009) tells one anti-environmental rally: “We’re a grassroots organization.… I think it’s unfortunate when wealthy children of wealthy families… want to send unemployment rates in the United States up to 20 percent.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” (Conason 1/9/2009)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has already launched attacks on President-elect Barack Obama, including attempting to blame him for the global recession even though he has not yet taken office (see November 5-12, 2008). Today he tells his listeners that he hopes Obama’s administration is a failure. (Limbaugh’s words are publicly reported by the liberal organization ThinkProgress; his remarks are carried on his Web site, but are accessible only to those who pay for access.) Limbaugh says, “I disagree fervently with the people on our [Republican] side of the aisle who have caved and who say, ‘Well, I hope he succeeds.’” Limbaugh says “a major American print publication” has asked him to write a brief statement on his “hope for the Obama presidency.” Limbaugh’s response: “So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, ‘Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.” When Limbaugh is interrupted by someone in the studio laughing, he continues: “What are you laughing at? See, here’s the point. Everybody thinks it’s outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ Why not? Why is it any different, what’s new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don’t care what the Drive-By story is. [Limbaugh often refers to the mainstream media as the ‘drive-by media.’] I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: ‘Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails.’ Somebody’s gotta say it.” (Shakir 1/20/2009)
Conservatives and Congressional Republicans attack President Obama’s economic stimulus plan with a variety of claims centering on “earmarks” or “Democratic pork.” One claim is that the stimulus package wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on funding for contraceptives. “You know, I’m concerned about the size of the package.” says House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). “And I’m concerned about some of the spending that’s in there, [about]… how you can spend hundreds of millions on contraceptives. How does that stimulate the economy?” (New York Post 1/26/2009)
Reduces Costs to State, Federal Budgets - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) explains the rationale behind the funding: “Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education, and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those—one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” (Terkel 1/26/2009)
Limbaugh's Suggestion - Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh retorts that if Pelosi “wants fewer births, I have the way to do this and it won’t require any contraception: You simply put pictures of Nancy Pelosi… in every cheap motel room.… That will keep birthrates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.” (Media Matters 1/26/2009)
Savings of $700 Million - The language of the stimulus bill reads: “Under current law, the secretary [of health and human services] has the authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to grant waivers to states to allow them to cover family planning services and supplies to low-income women who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The bill would give states the option to provide such coverage without obtaining a waiver. States could continue to use the existing waiver authority if they preferred.” The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, explains that this portion of the stimulus bill “would not only aid states, but also provide preventative, cost-saving health care to help low-income women support their families and keep working.” According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the measure would save the nation $200 million over five years and $700 million over 10 years. States that choose not to participate in the program are not required to do so. Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) notes, “I think that Mr. Boehner is looking for one little sound bite rather than looking at the total package here and seeing what it will do for the American people.” (Terkel 1/26/2009)
Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) apologizes for criticizing conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Gingrey was initially critical of Limbaugh and Hannity for not challenging President Obama on his proposed economic stimulus package strongly enough. “I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-GA] to stand back and throw bricks,” Gingrey said. “You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party.” Today Gingrey issues a lengthy apology for his words after receiving complaints from conservatives in his district and elsewhere. “I am one of you,” he tells supporters. “I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives—that was not my intent. I am also sorry to see that my comments in defense of our Republican leadership read much harsher than they actually were intended, but I recognize it is my responsibility to clarify my own comments.… As long as I am in the Congress, I will continue to fight for and defend our sacred values. I have actively opposed every bailout, every rebate check, every so called ‘stimulus.’ And on so many of these things, I see eye-to-eye with Rush Limbaugh.” Gingrey says that Limbaugh, Hannity, and Gingrich are “the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience.” Gingrey spokesman Chris Jackson says of the hosts, “Those guys are some our biggest supporters, and we need them.” Gingrey also makes a guest appearance on Limbaugh’s show where he berates himself for making his earlier criticisms, saying: “Rush, thank you so much. I thank you for the opportunity, of course this is not exactly the way to I wanted to come on.… Mainly, I want to express to you and all your listeners my very sincere regret for those comments I made yesterday to Politico.… I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments.… I regret those stupid comments.” (Powers 1/28/2009; Phil Gingrey 1/28/2009; Mooney 1/29/2009)
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)
Seattle math teacher and Young Republican member Keli Carender, writing for her blog “Redistributing Knowledge” under the moniker “Liberty Belle,” posts: “Anyone in the Seattle area? I would like to stage a Porkulus Protest here. I know that ‘the most frightening bill on Earth’ has now passed both Houses, but they are going to have to reconcile the two bills, which will take at least a few days, I’m hoping!” (Carender is referring to the recent passage of the federal economic stimulus package.) “If you are at all close to this area, leave a comment that you would be interested in attending. I’m going to go look up the requirements to have a protest around our dear Senators’ offices downtown. Unlike the melodramatic lefties, I do not want to get arrested. I do however want to take a page from their playbook and be loud, obnoxious, and in their faces. If I don’t do something, I might just lie around totally depressed. Who’s with me??” Carender gets a single comment in return, from an anonymous poster promising to mention her idea on his Internet radio show and advising her to “[k]eep up the fight against Marxism and Faux-Bama!” Shortly thereafter, she posts exuberantly, “The protest against the porkulus is on for President’s Day!” She gives the date as February 16, 2009 in Westlake Park, and advises: “The idea is to use what we’ve learned about dissent over the last eight years. We need loud protests with lots noise and visuals. So, what should you bring? Bring AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN! Bring your families, your friends, neighbors, bring everyone! Bring SIGNS!! Get those craft making juices flowing and make signs and banners and pictures and paintings. Just imagine that you are a left-wing college student with nothing else to do and that should help you get started! Bring something to sit on and appropriate clothing. Most importantly, JUST BRING IT!!!” Carender receives no comments until February 11, when a trickle of positive responses begin appearing. (Keli Carender 2/10/2009; Keli Carender 2/10/2009; Hamsher 4/15/2009) The term “porkulus” has been popularized by talk show host Rush Limbaugh, in reference to the economic stimulus package, which Limbaugh says is loaded with “pork” for Democratic Congress members. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010) Carender’s rally is later considered one of the seminal events in the nascent “tea party” movement (see February 16-17, 2009).
A rally in Seattle called “Porkulus,” a term popularized by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, draws about 100 participants. The rally is to protest the Obama administration’s economic policies. It is organized by area math teacher Keli Carender, who blogs under the moniker “Liberty Belle.” During the rally, Carender shouts, “We don’t want this country to go down the path to socialism!” eliciting “Hear, hear!” responses. She calls the government’s economic stimulus package (which Limbaugh has dubbed “porkulus”) “the reason we’re in this mess.” She also plays an audiotape of a speech by former President Ronald Reagan. Rally participant Connie White tells a reporter that Congressional Democrats are “ramming things through for their liberal agenda. I’m one of the poor. I used to be middle class. But I don’t want the government helping me.” Carender will become one of the area’s more prominent “tea party” organizers, and after she is brought to Washington, DC, for training by the lobbying group FreedomWorks, becomes part of the nationwide Tea Party Patriots organization. The next day, the day President Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, another “Porkulus” rally occurs in Denver, hours after Obama visits another site in the city to promote the bill. The Denver “Porkulus” rally is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and the Independence Institute. The next day, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli performs his five-minute “impromptu” rant against the legislation, and calls for “tea party” protests to oppose it (see February 19, 2009). (Kissel 2/17/2009; Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
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)
John Boehner (R-OH), the House Minority Leader, calls on the Obama administration to implement a freeze on government spending, and for President Obama to veto a $410 billion spending bill. Boehner says recent spikes in unemployment figures are a sign of a worsening recession, and the only way to address the recession is to freeze government spending until the end of the fiscal year. He calls the spending bill, crafted in December with input from Congressional Democrats and Republicans as well as from the Bush White House, full of wasteful “earmarks” and “pork.” (Associated Press 3/6/2009) Boehner introduces a resolution calling for the freeze in the House; it fails, even though all House Republicans present for the vote and eight Democrats vote for it. (Hair 3/6/2008) Two days after Boehner’s call for a spending freeze, conservative columnist David Brooks calls the proposal “insane” and blames the influence of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh for the idea. Brooks says that Limbaugh and the Republican Party is fixated on repeating a Reagan-era economic agenda. “The problem with them and the problem with Limbaugh in terms of intellectual philosophy is they are stuck with Reagan,” Brooks says. “They are stuck with the idea that government is always the problem. A lot of Republicans up in Capitol Hill right now are calling for a spending freeze in a middle of a recession/depression. That is insane. But they are thinking the way they thought in 1982, if we can only think that way again, that is just insane. And there are a lot of Republicans like David Frum… who are trying to say Reagan was right for his era, but it is time to move on. And there are just not a lot of them on Capitol Hill right now, and I think the party is looking for that kind of Republican.” (Huffington Post 3/8/2009)
US Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL) tells a group of local leaders in Trussville, Alabama, “Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists.” Asked to clarify his comment, Bachus tells a reporter that 17 members of the House of Representatives are socialists. (Bouma 4/9/2009; Alarkon 4/9/2009)
Only Names One of 17 - When pressed, Bachus only names one of his “socialists”—Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has repeatedly recommended that the US adopt a program of “democratic socialism” similar to some practiced in Scandinavian countries. He refuses to name the other 16. Sanders asks rhetorically: “Has Spencer released his list yet? Everybody’s waiting with bated breath.” He adds, “I think at the very least he has to tell people what his definition of socialism is—and I think, yeah, he should tell us who he was referring to, who’s on the list.”
Possible Reference to Congressional Progressive Caucus - Many Congressional staffers and advisers believe that Bachus is referring to some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a left-leaning coalition of 77 House members founded by Sanders in the early 1990s. Although the caucus has not espoused socialism in any form, it does advocate reduced military spending, universal health care, and higher taxes on the rich. Right-wing groups have long labeled the caucus’s agenda as “fringe-left socialism”; one hard-right pundit, WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah, has called the caucus “Congress’s very own Red Army… marching the nation inevitably toward its self-proclaimed socialist ideal.”
Differing Definitions - Politico’s Glenn Thrush writes that the term “socialism” has different meanings for different people. “To many on the left, it’s a relatively benign—if outdated—term, representing an activist, interventionist government that prioritizes economic security over the unfettered freedom of the marketplace. To many on the right, it’s practically an epithet—suggesting a return to Soviet-style Communism or a leap toward a hyper-regulated European brand of capitalism that stifles innovation and hikes taxes. It’s safe to say that more people in Bachus’s suburban Birmingham district—the most GOP-tilting seat in the country, according to the Cook Political Report—view socialism as a bad, bad thing.”
Mixed Reactions - Doug Thornell, speaking for Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), says of Bachus’s accusation: “House Republicans’ solution to the current economic crisis is to launch head-scratching, ‘50s-style accusations against unidentified members of Congress. Next thing you know they’ll be going after beatniks and calling for the auto industry to bring back the Edsel.… With all the challenges we face, it’s stunning this is what Republicans are talking about. They sound like a broken record of GOP low points from the 2008 campaign.” Erin Kanoy of the Heritage Foundation is glad Bachus “called out” his colleagues, saying: “I think that people expressing where they see someone on the political spectrum has tended to be an off-limits thing and very politically incorrect—but sometimes I think you’ve got to call a spade a spade. If Bachus believes members of Congress are part of this movement, he should be able to say it.… He’s really reflecting a much larger frustration with the landslide of legislation that we’ve had coming at us that seems to be marching towards socialist government.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist agrees with Bachus’s position, but says he should not have gotten into the subject of lists. “We shouldn’t get into a labeling thing with the other side,” Norquist says. “We shouldn’t call them socialists—we should call them stupid because they are spending all this money we don’t have.” Sanders notes that conservatives tried to tar Barack Obama with similar accusations: “They said a lot of this stuff about Obama during the [presidential] campaign, calling him a socialist, and trying to instill fear in people” (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, and March 5, 2009). Many progressive and liberal bloggers have accused Bachus of launching an attack on Democrats worthy of the McCarthyite “Red scare” of the 1950s. (Akers 4/10/2009; Thrush 4/14/2009)
Defending Socialism, Decrying 'Scare Tactics' - In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Sanders writes: “I doubt that there are any other socialists, let alone 17 more, in all of the Congress. I also respectfully doubt that Spencer Bachus understands much about democratic socialism.… At its worst, Washington is a place where name-calling partisan politics too often trumps policy.… [B]randing someone as a socialist has become the slur du jour by leading lights of the American right from Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh. Some, like Mike Huckabee, intentionally blur the differences between socialism and communism, between democracy and totalitarianism. ‘Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff,’ Huckabee told last winter’s gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference. If we could get beyond such nonsense, I think this country could use a good debate about what goes on here compared to places with a long social-democratic tradition like Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where, by and large, the middle class has a far higher standard of living than we do.… [W]e should be prepared to study and learn from the successes of social democratic countries. Name-calling and scare tactics just won’t do.” (Sanders 4/22/2009)
Responding to the just-released CIA torture memos (see April 16, 2009), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh “slaps” himself on the air, and tells his listeners: “I’m torturing myself right now. That’s torture according to these people.” After granting that President Obama “probably” doesn’t want the country to be attacked by terrorists again, Limbaugh says (with the sound of slaps interspersed): “I just slapped myself. I’m torturing myself right now. That’s torture according to these people.” Limbaugh goes on to say that the outcry over the revelations of torture makes the US a “laughing stock” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nations in and around the Middle East. (Media Matters 4/17/2009) During the same broadcast, Limbaugh says: “If you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh.… Slapping, putting an insect in with a prisoner in a small confined area.… If you go through the, what are said to be the four worst—waterboarding, of course, which worked on, um, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed… sleep deprivation, facial slaps, [insect exposure]… it worked. This is what supposedly made us the moral equivalent of al-Qaeda.” (Media Matters 4/17/2009)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), a Hispanic woman, and President Barack Obama, a half-African-American male, over their race, accusing them of racism. Limbaugh tells his listeners: “So, here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might wanna say a reverse racist. And the libs [liberals] of course say that minorities cannot be racists because they don’t have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist and now he’s appointed one.” Limbaugh goes on to call Sotomayor a “party hack.” (Real Clear Politics 5/26/2009; Politico 5/27/2009; CNN 5/27/2009)
Echoing and repeating his calls for President Obama to “fail” (see January 16, 2009), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, in a diatribe against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), says he wants her to fail as well. “Do I want her to fail? Yeah,” he says. “Do I want her to fail to get on the court? Yes! She’d be a disaster on the court. Do I still want Obama to fail as president? Yeah. AP [Associated Press], you getting this? He’s going to fail anyway, but the sooner the better.” (Think Progress 5/26/2009)
John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he is “troubled” by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) in light of her supposed “judicial activism” (see May 26, 2009) and supposed willingness to put her personal background above her dedication to the rule of law (see October 26, 2001). However, Cornyn repudiates some of the more vicious attacks on Sotomayor from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Republican Tom Tancredo, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and others who have termed her “racist” (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). “I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn says. Of Gingrich and Limbaugh, Cornyn adds: “Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.” (National Public Radio 5/28/2009; Smith 5/28/2009) The next day, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the committee, says the inflammatory rhetoric from right-wingers such as Limbaugh, Tancredo, and Gingrich makes him “uneasy,” and he advises Republicans to limit their criticisms of Sotomayor to her judicial record. “I don’t think that’s good rhetoric,” says Sessions. “The question is, has the judge gone too far or not, given the established law of the land?” The Washington Post notes that in 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of his record of racial insensitivity (see June 5, 2009). Neither Sessions nor the Post mentions Sessions’s recent attack on Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). (Eggen and Kane 5/29/2009) On May 31, Sessions tells an NBC audience that his Republican colleagues should refrain from calling Sotomayor a racist, and he would prefer that they not continue to attack her over her 2001 remarks. (Associated Press 5/31/2009)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, continuing the attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), says that Sotomayor “brings a form of bigotry and racism to the court” similar to views espoused by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Within hours, Duke counters on his own Web site, disparaging Limbaugh’s comparison and claiming that while he believes Sotomayor is a racist, he himself has never embraced racist views. “Limbaugh, a recent addict to illegal drugs, has no business making personal attacks against me for my past,” Duke writes. “I have consistently supported true equal rights, stating again and again that I support the best-qualified person regardless of race in hiring and promotions.” Duke goes on to write that Sotomayor’s racism is “proven” by remarks she made during a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), and calls her “an activist for radical-Left Mexican organizations and an enthusiastic proponent of racial discrimination against White people called affirmative action” (see May 28, 2009). He then claims that her nomination is part of an overarching Jewish conspiracy to control “any person who is influential or who may at some point in the future become influential.” (Millhiser 6/1/2009)
Republican lawmakers have moved to tone down the incendiary rhetoric surrounding the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009). Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he is happy that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see June 3, 2009) and others (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 1, 2009) are backing away from the accusations of racism and liberal activism that have marked conservative responses to Sotomayor’s nomination (see May 26, 2009). “I think she deserves to be challenged,” Graham says. “It is fair to make her address that question and prove it. It is not fair to say that she’s a racist.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says his fellow Republicans “shouldn’t jump to conclusions, particularly with, you know, overheated rhetoric.” Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler says Gingrich made his own decision to tone down his rhetoric, and was not asked by other Republicans to do so. Gingrich hopes to “reset the argument,” Tyler says, but notes that “nothing has changed in the structure of his argument, he is just retracting the word racist.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that the attacks on Sotomayor should continue, and says he doesn’t know why Gingrich is backing off. “I didn’t know why he had retracted it, and I still don’t,” he says. “I have my own theory about what Newt’s doing, but since I’m not doing it, I’m not going to comment.” Curt Levey of the conservative legal group Committee for Justice says: “The fact that the most extreme voices have softened I think is good. It’s good. We have to keep the debate civil. Republican senators should be keeping an open mind.… Calling her a racist was a racially insensitive remark. Frankly all we can do at this point is raise questions about her.” Levey has called Sotomayor an intellectual “lightweight” (see May 26, 2009). (Barr 6/4/2009) Concurrently with the Republican lawmakers’ public statements towards moderating the attacks on Sotomayor, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lanier Swann, advises conservative activists to keep up their pressure on Sotomayor. The aide gives the advice during a weekly meeting of influential conservative activists, radio hosts, and others hosted by veteran Washington activist Grover Norquist. “Swann told us she wanted to encourage all of us in our talking points and that we’re having traction among Republicans and unnerving Democrats,” says one attendee. “The point was we should keep it up. She told us at this meeting to put our foot on the pedal.” A second attendee confirms the account. A spokesman for McConnell says he is sure Swann did not call for further attacks. (Bolton 6/3/2009)
L.E. Ikenga, a Nigerian-American woman who has published numerous essays and articles in conservative publications, writes in the conservative blog American Thinker that President Obama holds the African-centric views of his Kenyan father, and has “adopt[ed]… a cultural and political mindset rooted in postcolonial Africa.” Ikenga writes: “[D]espite what CNN and the rest are telling you, Barack Obama is nothing more than an old school African colonial who is on his way to turning this country into one of the developing nations that you learn about on the National Geographic Channel. Many conservative (East, West, South, North) African-Americans like myself—those of us who know our history—have seen this movie before.” She accuses Obama of conducting a “masquerade” as an American who believes in democracy, when he really identifies with his Kenyan heritage and is “intrinsically undemocratic.” His true intentions are those of any “African colonial politician,” she writes: “a complete power grab whereby the ‘will of the people’ becomes completely irrelevant.” Ikenga writes that Obama is using the United States to play out his African colonial dreams of power. She bases her assertion on material drawn from his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, which she calls “an eloquent piece of political propaganda.” In Ikenga’s reading of the book, Obama “clearly sees himself as an African, not as a black American,” which she says he proved by actually going to Kenya to visit the homeland of his father. This visit, she says, “provides the main clue for understanding Barack Obama.” She concludes by warning that “the African colonial who is given too much political power can only become one thing: a despot.” (Fresh Conservative 2009; L.E. Ikenga 6/25/2009) The next day, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh will read extensively from Ikenga’s article, which he calls “a special piece.” He concludes that Obama is “more African in his roots than he is American,” and declares: “[Obama] wants to turn this into a third world country.… The only way to try to do this is to just attack the private sector and deplete it of its resources, of its money, of its capital, which is exactly what he is doing.… We’ve elected somebody who is more African in his roots than he is American, loves his father who is a Marxist, and is behaving like an African colonial despot.” (Media Matters 6/26/2009)
Moderate Republican House member Mike Castle (R-DE) faces a raucous band of angry conservative protesters at one of his “health care listening tour” meetings. Castle, who is one of eight Republicans to join the Democratic majority in voting for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is challenged by a full range of accusations and conspiracy theories, some ranging far afield from health care reform and energy policy.
'Socialized Medicine' Worse than 9/11 - Some audience members accuse Castle of supporting “socialized medicine.” One member shouts, “I don’t have the answers for how to fix the broken pieces of our health care system, but I know darn well if we let the government bring in socialized medicine, it will destroy this thing faster than the twin towers came down.”
'Cap and Trade' Tax Will Destroy Economy - One audience member shouts that the proposed “cap and trade” tax on pollutants will destroy the US economy. “Do you have any idea what that cap and trade tax thing, bill that you passed is going to do to the Suffolk County poultry industry?” the member says. “That’s how chicken houses are heated, with propane. It outputs CO2. I mean, I’m outputting CO2 right now as I speak. Trees need CO2 to make oxygen! You can’t tax that!”
Global Warming a 'Hoax' - Many audience members respond with cheers and chants to expressions that global warming is a hoax. “I’m actually hopeful that this vote that you made was a vote to put you out of office,” one says to a barrage of applause and cheers. “You know, on this energy thing, I showed you, I had in my email to you numerous times there are petitions signed by 31,000 scientists that that know and have facts that CO2 emissions have nothing to do and the greenhouse effect has nothing to do with global warming. It’s all a hoax! [Applause.] First of all, I cannot for the life of me understand how you could have been one of the eight Republican traitors!” Another audience member says that global warming is “still a theory, so is Darwin’s theory of evolution! And yet we have the audacity to say global warming is accurate, it’s more than a theory? How about how cold it’s been this spring. Personal data, data shows that since 1998 average temperatures have been cooling!”
'Dead Baby Juice' Used to Create AIDS, Swine Flu - Some audience members believe that AIDS and the H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic are part of a conspiracy to kill Americans, using “dead baby juice.” “The virus was built and created in Fort Dix, a small bioweapons plant outside of Fort Dix,” one audience member asserts. “This was engineered. This thing didn’t just crop up in a cave or a swine farm. This thing was engineered, the virus. Pasteur International, one of the big vaccine companies in Chicago, has been caught sending AIDS-infected vaccines to Africa. Do you think I trust—I don’t trust you with anything. You think I’m going to trust you to put a needle full of dead baby juice and monkey kidneys? Cause that’s what this stuff is grown on, dead babies!”
Obama a Kenyan - One audience members wins a round of applause by asserting that President Obama is not an American citizen. “Congressman Castle, I want to know,” she shouts. “I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America saying I’m an American citizen, with a seal on it. Signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator’s name, my parents, the date of birth, the time, the date. I want to go back to January 20th and I want to know why are you people ignoring his birth certificate? He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya!”
Protests Organized by Conservative Lobbying Organizations - According to liberal news and advocacy site Think Progress, Castle and other moderate Republicans are facing orchestrated attacks on their energy and health care policies by conservative lobbying firms and right-wing talk show hosts. Lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009) have tarred Castle and other moderate Republicans as “cap and traitors,” joined by members of Fox News host Glenn Beck’s “9-12” organization (see March 13, 2009 and After) and exhorted by pronouncements from Beck, fellow talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the Web site Prison Planet, and others. (Johnson 7/21/2009)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, following up on claims that the Obama health care reform proposal would encourage elderly Americans to die sooner (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 17, 2009), tells his listeners that the reform proposal includes “[m]andatory counseling for all seniors at a minimum of every five years, more often if the seasoned citizen is sick or in a nursing home.… That’s an invasion of the right to privacy. We can’t have counseling for mothers who are thinking of terminating their pregnancy, but we can go in there and counsel people about to die.” The claim will soon be debunked (see July 23, 2009). (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009)
Reporter and columnist Philip Klein, writing for the conservative American Spectator, lambasts conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh for giving the “birther” conspiracy theory his support. Klein says he has refrained from writing about it up until now, “because I don’t want to give those who claim [President Obama] is not a US citizen the attention they so desperately seek. I don’t even want to describe the matter as a ‘controversy,’ because to do so suggests that there is a serious dispute over Obama’s place of birth. To any sane human being, there is no controversy. Obama has produced an authentic certificate of live birth from the state of Hawaii that clearly shows he was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, at 7:24 p.m. (see June 13, 2008). State officials have confirmed the document as legitimate (see October 30, 2008) and have stated that such facts would have to be verified by the state before they appear on the document. And if that isn’t enough, the fact is corroborated by a contemporaneous newspaper birth announcement” (see July 2008). Klein writes that instead of questioning Obama’s citizenship and demanding that he produce a “real” birth certificate, “Limbaugh should be using his perch to explain why this story is complete nonsense. Doing so would help to keep these citizenship conspiracy theorists in the fringe, where they belong. Instead, he’s just encouraging them. I’ve lost a ton of respect for Limbaugh this week.” Klein goes on to denounce Representative Bill Posey (R-FL), who with nine other Republican House members has sponsored a bill requiring presidential candidates to produce “official” birth certificates. All 10 “should be embarrassed,” he writes. It would be pointless for Obama to try to settle the issue by releasing a different version of the certificate, Klein writes, because “it would obviously not put the issue to rest… the conspiracy theorists have demonstrated that they do not care about facts.” Secondly, “there’s absolutely no reason for Obama to cave into these people. Doing so would set a standard in the future so that people can start whatever insane rumors they want about an elected official, and then the burden is on the official to dispute them. It’s no different than those calling for an investigation of whether 9/11 was an inside job.” (Klein 7/22/2009)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, discussing the idea of allowing China and India to be exempt from certain restrictions on pollution that causes global warming, mocks American liberals and Democrats for claiming to have a level of compassion for the world’s poor that, Limbaugh says, they do not have. Limbaugh says: “And yet these are the people on the left, the liberals, who tell us that they have all the compassion and they, they want people freed from whatever bondage they’re in. And yet when you listen to people like Barney Frank [D-MA] and Barack Obama, you understand that they have a different idea of bondage, and that’s us [conservatives] in it.… I had, I had a dream, I had a dream that I was a slave building a Sphinx in a desert that looked like Obama. I woke at four o’clock in the morning.” (Media Matters 7/27/2009)
Following up on arguments that Congressional Democrats’ health care reform proposal would encourage senior citizens to die sooner (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, and July 24, 2009), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners, “People at a certain age with certain diseases will be deemed not worth the investment, and they will just—as Obama said—they’ll give them some pain pills and let them loop out until they die and they don’t even know what’s happened.” During a phone-in town hall on health care the same day as Limbaugh’s broadcast, President Obama will say something quite different from Limbaugh’s characterization (see July 28, 2009). MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says of Limbaugh’s allegations later that evening: “‘Democrats want to reform health care because it’s a secret plan to kill people.’ This is the kind of thing that when it shows up on the floor of the House or in a town hall with the president, you get a little glimpse of crazy. But the nest for this kind of crazy, where this stuff is hatched, it’s among the conservative base and in the conservative media. Conservative talk radio is really where they let it all hang out.” (MSNBC 7/29/2009)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, appearing as a guest on Fox News’s morning show Fox & Friends, tells viewers that President Obama is a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” During a discussion of a recent incident involving black professor Henry Gates and a white policeman, Beck says, “This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture, I don’t know what it is.” Host Brian Kilmeade notes that Obama has many people in his administration who are white, so “you can’t say he doesn’t like white people.” Beck continues making his point: “I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people, I’m saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.” (Media Matters 7/28/2009; Huffington Post 7/28/2009; Silva 7/29/2009) Though Beck says nothing about the comments on his own show in the afternoon, the next day he reiterates his statements on his radio show. “I said yesterday on Fox News & Friends that the president is a racist; I think he has race issues.… Well, I stand by that—I deem him a racist, really, by his own standard of racism—the standard of the left.” (Goddard 7/30/2009) Fox News vice president Bill Shine says of Beck’s comment: “During Fox & Friends this morning, Glenn Beck expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.” The Chicago Tribune’s Mark Silva will write, “The remarks may say more about Beck than Obama, and perhaps something about the level of political discourse that Fox is sponsoring in Beck.” (Silva 7/29/2009) Politico’s Michael Calderone calls Beck’s remarks “ridiculous,” but notes that Beck is in line with at least one other conservative commentator: Rush Limbaugh has recently called Gates, a scholar, author, and documentary maker, “an angry racist.” (Calderone 7/28/2009) MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, calls Beck’s comments little more than an attempt to garner attention. The White House declines to make a statement on Beck’s comments. (Goddard 7/30/2009) In part because of Beck’s comments, a number of advertisers, including Proctor & Gamble, will soon remove their ads from his show. (Huffington Post 8/6/2009) The African-American advocacy organization Color Of Change uses Beck’s comments to mount a call for more advertisers to drop their sponsorship of his shows. The organization calls his comments “repulsive” and “divisive.” (Color of Change 7/29/2009)
Anti-health care reform proponents claim that the Democrats’ reform package will allow the government direct access to US citizens’ bank accounts. In some variants of the claim, the government will steal money from those accounts to fund the reform package. The claim is quickly disproven.
From an E-mailed 'Clearinghouse of Bad Information' - Apparently the claim originates in a “chain e-mail” sent out by an anonymous anti-reformer. The e-mail, which references its claims by page numbers from HR 3200, the pending House version of the reform legislation, is characterized by the St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” team as a hugely long e-mail that they call “a clearinghouse of bad information circulating around the Web about proposed health care changes.” The e-mail is apparently based in part on the work of Peter Fleckenstein, who sends frequent and regular commentaries on Twitter under the name “Fleckman,” and posts his analyses on his blog. Fleckenstein identifies his Twitter comments with the tag #tcot, which stands for “top conservatives on Twitter.” A health care analyst with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, Jennifer Tolbert, calls the e-mail “awful.… It’s flat-out, blatant lies. It’s unbelievable to me how they can claim to reference the legislation and then make claims that are blatantly false.” Tolbert is particularly offended by the e-mail’s claim that ordinary citizens will suffer a lack of health care in order to provide free care for illegal immigrants. Many of the e-mail’s other claims are equally wrong.
Based on Provision for Electronic Health Records - The claim that “[t]he federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic funds transfer” is based on a portion of the legislation that provides for electronic health records, including the enabling of “electronic funds transfers in order to allow automated reconciliation” between payment and billing. However, the government will not have access to citizens’ bank accounts and will not be able to make unauthorized withdrawals. (Holan 7/30/2009; Roth 8/11/2009)
Quick Promulgation - However, the lie quickly makes the rounds of conservative anti-reformers. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh cites the false claim numerous times on his radio broadcast; on August 6, he calls the program “[d]irect deposit access to every individual’s bank account,” and says: “That is in the House bill. You think that’s the worst thing in it. I’m not arguing with you, but there are things that are a greater abomination than that. I mean, this bill determines, the government’s going to determine who lives and dies. They are going to fund abortions and they are going to be for euthanasia on the back end” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 10, 2009). On a local conservative radio show in early August, Representatative John Shadegg (R-AZ) calls the supposed provision “pretty Orwellian.” On August 11, a participant in a “town hall” forum hosted by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) asks about the claim. (KFYI 8/2009; Rush Limbaugh 8/6/2009; Roth 8/11/2009)
Similar to Automatic Bill Payment - Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes: “[I]f you’re paying back a student loan from the government (like we are) and you’ve set up automatic bill pay online, this is the same thing. Completely uncontroversial, and totally not scary—unless if you’re trying to fearmonger.” (Maloy 8/6/2009)
Anti-health care reform protesters sound off at a health care forum in Hartford, Connecticut, featuring Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). Many of the protesters identify themselves as either belonging to a “tea party” protest organization or a related group calling itself “Dump Dodd.” One protester seems to suggest that Dodd, who has been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, either commit suicide or be forced to die: “How come we don’t just give Chris Dodd painkillers? Like a handful of them at a time! He can wash it down with Ted Kennedy’s whiskey!” The protester is apparently referring to a claim by Rush Limbaugh that the reform proposal would deny senior citizens needed treatment, and would instead force them to rely on pain medications while waiting to die (see July 28, 2009). One reform advocate, who later posts his impressions of the event on the liberal blogs Daily Kos and My Left Nutmeg, writes that the “Dump Dodd” protesters rail about communism and socialism taking over American democracy, and notes, “Never mind that they were essentially calling Medicare, the VA, and the military’s Tricare communist and socialist.” (My Left Nutmeg 8/4/2009; Stephen Herron 8/5/2009; Rucker and Eggen 8/6/2009)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that if the recent spate of disruptive and violent protests against health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009) are, in fact, orchestrated (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009), then it is “about damn time.” He continues: “We have had groups like ACORN [the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now] and Democrat rent-a-mobs making up excuses and lying about things they oppose to affect public policy for years, while people like me haven’t had time because we work. We do not protest for a living. We do not rent ourselves out to be part of mobs. So, if this is actually an orchestrated event, then I’m glad somebody on our side’s getting in gear.… It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other [if the protests are coordinated]. The people who are showing up are genuinely angry. And if their transportation is being facilitated—about damn time. You’ve got to take these people on the way they play the game. The aggressor sets the rules in a conflict.” (Media Matters 8/6/2009)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh defends the lobbyist-funded conservative agitators and their raucous protests against health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). Protesting characterizations of the protesters as “unruly mobs,” he says, “These are orderly people… geniune voting American citizens.” Limbaugh says that President Obama is the “community agitator” who taught liberal protesters “how to show up at events like this over and over again and rip ‘em apart, and tear ‘em down, disrupt them, and make sure they don’t happen.… This time it’s not ginned up, it’s genuine. It’s real. People do not want [health care reform].” (Media Matters 8/4/2009) The day before, Limbaugh defended the protests’ orchestration, saying if they are orchestrated, it is “about damn time” (see August 3, 2009).
After denouncing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for claiming that anti-health care protesters had used Nazi symbols and rhetoric in their protests (see August 6, 2009), conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh also makes a comparison between the Obama administration and Nazis. “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate,” he says. Like Obama, Limbaugh asserts, Hitler “was called the Messiah” and did not need the advice of a cabinet or other advisers to make decisions. “The people spoke through” Hitler, as Limbaugh says Obama believes is the case for himself. Hitler’s decisions “sound like the things liberals are doing all over this country.” To Pelosi, he says, “You look much more like [a swastika] than any of us [conservatives] ever will.” (Media Matters 8/6/2009; Rhee 8/6/2009) Limbaugh also says that the Obama administration’s health care logo looks very much like the “Nazi swastika logo.” He adds: “It reminded me of Germany. Something about it reminded me of Germany, 1942. The shape of the logo, the people.… The Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo.… Ms. Pelosi has some major apologizing to do.” He says perhaps Pelosi’s supposed “repeated botox injections” have caused her to have “blurry vision” that may have prevented her from seeing the similarities he noticed. (Media Matters 8/6/2009; Rhee 8/6/2009) Limbaugh apparently gets much of his information, including the Botox joke, from a right-wing blog, “Sweetness and Light,” which he credits in his statement. (Sweetness and Light 8/6/2009) The next day, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center says, “It is preposterous to try and make a connection between the president’s health care logo and the Nazi Party symbol, the Reichsadler.” (Urbina 8/7/2009) Jennifer Crider of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) responds to Limbaugh’s assertions: “Rush Limbaugh’s comparison of the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party in World War II is as disgusting as it is shocking. Limbaugh’s use of the Nazi swastika in attempting to make a tasteless political comparison has no place in the public discourse. At a time when families need real solutions to rebuild the economy and make health care more affordable, Rush Limbaugh is attempting to sidetrack the important debate through his use of symbols that are synonymous with murder and intolerance. Americans deserve better.” (Rhee 8/6/2009) Conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times calls Limbaugh’s rhetoric “insane.” (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh calls Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “deranged” for her assertion that some anti-health care reform protesters are carrying swastikas and other Nazi symbols to health care discussions (see August 4, 2009). He then accuses Democrats of being like Nazis in their ideology and agenda: “The speaker of the House accusing people showing up at these town hall meetings of wearing swastikas—that is not insignificant, folks. This woman is deranged. They are unraveling. But that is not insignificant. You have the Democrat speaker of the House saying that people—citizens—who are concerned about health care are now wearing swastikas. She’s basically saying that we are Nazis. She is saying that the people who oppose this are Nazis.… This party, the Democrat [sic] Party, and where it’s taken this country—the radical left leadership of this party—bears much more resemblance to Nazi policies than anything we on the right believe in at all.” Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that numerous instances of Nazi symbols have been photographed at various health care forums, including one poster of President Obama with a Hitler-style moustache and several posters with swastikas prominently displayed (see July 25, 2009 and August 6, 2009). (Media Matters 8/6/2009; Terkel 8/6/2009) At another rally, a Democratic lawmaker was compared to Nazi torturer Dr. Josef Mengele (see August 4, 2009).
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a primarily Jewish organization that battles anti-Semitism, decries the use of Nazi symbols and language in recent health care debates (see July 25, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009). In a press release, the ADL’s National Director Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, calls such remarks “outrageous, deeply offensive, and inappropriate.” He singles out conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for specific criticism after Limbaugh repeatedly compares Obama administration policies to those of the Nazis. “Regardless of the political differences and the substantive differences in the debate over health care, the use of Nazi symbolism is outrageous, offensive, and inappropriate,” Foxman says. “Americans should be able to disagree on the issues without coloring it with Nazi imagery and comparisons to Hitler. This is not where the debate should be at all.… Comparisons to the Nazis are deeply offensive and only serve to diminish and trivialize the extent of the Nazi regime’s crimes against humanity and the murder of six million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust. I don’t see any comparison here. It’s off-center, off-issue, and completely inappropriate.” (Anti-Defamation League 8/7/2009)
Anti-health care reform protesters hold a rally in Mehlville, Missouri, to protest what they say was the beating of fellow protester Kenneth Gladney by “union thugs” (see August 6-8, 2009). Gladney is prominently featured in the protest, sitting in a wheelchair with his knee bandaged and holding a flag emblazoned with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.” Gladney says he was beaten by a number of members of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU says that Gladney is inflating the confrontation, and that he initiated the fight. Gladney has become a cause celebre among conservative anti-reformists, with talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, among others, telling his story to their listeners. “Limbaugh gave the address” of the SEIU offices, one protester says. “This is just a demonstration of numbers.” Gladney’s lawyer, David Brown, reads a statement to the crowd of around 200 people, saying on Gladney’s behalf: “A few nights ago there was an assault on my liberty, and on yours, too. This should never happen in this country.” Brown then tells the crowd that Gladney is unemployed and has no health care insurance, and is accepting donations towards his care. Brown would not elaborate as to what, if any, legal strategies he and his client are planning. (Gustin 8/9/2009)
Inflating the Story - Gladney’s story has taken on new details as he has retold it to a variety of conservative talk show hosts and to Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard. In its latest iteration, he was mauled by a number of SEIU “thugs” who drove him to the ground and “brutally” beat him while screaming racial epithets. Three of his assailants, he says, were wearing SEIU shirts. Unfortunately for his story, the video uploaded to YouTube which Ham says proves his story actually shows something quite different. The injured party in the video is clearly identifiable as an SEIU member. Gladney is pulled to the ground by another SEIU member, but no one punches or kicks him; instead, he bounces to his feet and walks off camera. Media Matters reporter Eric Boehlert writes: “The only real mystery from the incident is why Tea Party member Gladney, who’s seen up-close after the brief encounter walking around and talking to people and who appears to be injury-free, then decided to go to the hospital to treat injuries to his ‘knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.’ All that from a two-second fall to the pavement? Also unclear is why he contacted a newspaper reporter, or why his attorney wrote up lavish accounts and sent them to conservative bloggers, or why Gladney and his attorney appeared on Fox News.” (Boehlert 8/8/2009; Ham 8/8/2009)
Lied about Health Insurance - Days later, other elements of Gladney’s story will change. Brown will confirm that he can no longer represent Gladney because he was involved in the altercation as a “witness” and therefore cannot be involved in any legal proceedings on Gladney’s behalf. Brown will also confirm that Gladney’s claim not to have health care insurance is “misinformation.” Brown will say, “He’s just unemployed [and] has insurance through his wife.” Brown has identified himself as a “friend” of Gladney’s, but is unsure what kind of job Gladney had before his alleged layoff, and is not sure what Gladney’s wife does for a living, either. St. Louis Tea Party organizer Bill Hennessy confirms that Gladney is still soliciting donations to help him pay for his injuries, even though he has insurance: “Well, who doesn’t need a donation? If people want to give him a donation because he’s injured and unemployed, that’s up to them.” Brown says Gladney has raised about $1,100 in donations so far. Reporter Daphne Eviatar confirms that Gladney appears uninjured in the video, and only began appearing in a wheelchair after landing interviews on Fox News. Brown says his brother, Andrew Beeny, will represent Gladney, and that neither he nor Beeny have copies of Gladney’s medical report. Brown says Gladney intends to sue both the individuals who he claims attacked him and the SEIU, since “unions have a 100-year history of intimidation.” (Eviatar 8/10/2009)
Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters documents a number of instances where conservative commentators twist the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) into accusations of “calling Americans Nazis” or accusing citizens of being “un-American.” Hoyer and Pelosi wrote an op-ed in USA Today saying that for groups of corporate-sponsored protesters to disrupt and prevent open debate on the topic of health care reform was un-American (see August 10, 2009). Apparently the “Nazi” accusation comes in part from recent allegations by Rush Limbaugh that Pelosi and other Democrats have used Nazi accusations of their own (see August 6, 2009) and have, themselves, adopted Nazi symbology and precepts (see August 6, 2009).
MSNBC's Scarborough - MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, says on his show, “[O]n the left, you’ve got a speaker calling Americans un-American for going to town hall meetings and accusing them of carrying swastikas in there.” Scarborough goes on to say that it is not right to counter right-wing accusations and disruptions “by calling your opponents Nazis.”
Fox News Anchor - Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett says, “First of all, in the beginning, Pelosi sort of suggested that any American citizen who dared voice an objection in a protest is a Nazi, apparently based on one isolated incident.” Former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote that Pelosi called protesters “Nazi-like.”
Wall Street Journal Columnist - Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto echoed Noonan, writing that Pelosi “insinuated that they [protesters] are Nazis,” and added that Nazi analogies are “far more common on the left than the right.” Limbaugh said flatly that Pelosi “is saying the people who oppose this are Nazis.”
Washington Times Op-Eds - The Washington Times says that Pelosi is “misleading” in asserting that protesters were “carrying swastikas.” Instead, the Times writes, “Closer examination [of the protest signs being carried at the town hall forums and rallies] revealed that in every case, the symbol was being used as a warning against the arrogance of power of which Mrs. Pelosi has become emblematic.” Citizen journalist Andrew Breitbart, in a Washington Times editorial, says that Pelosi “blatantly lied and said that the protesters were wielding ‘swastikas and symbols like that.’” The Wall Street Journal called Pelosi “completely clueless” for saying that anyone carried Nazi symbols to protests. Taranto wrote that Pelosi was suffering from “a fevered imagination” in seeing swastikas at protests and rallies. (Media Matters 8/11/2009)
Fox Hosts - Fox News hosts Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy tell their viewers that Hoyer and Pelosi called protesters “un-American.” Carlson says, “Some lawmakers are outright canceling the town halls now, and Nancy Pelosi says anyone who speaks out is un-American.” Doocy says moments later: “Of course, going back to Nancy Pelosi saying that apparently the opposing view to her view is un-American, that’s our text question this hour. Is it un-American to debate health care?” (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Protests of Nazi Rhetoric - The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, has protested the use of Nazi symbols and rhetoric both by anti-health care reform protesters and by conservative commentators (see August 7, 2009).
A swastika is found spray-painted on a sign outside the district office of Representative David Scott (D-GA), an African-American Democrat and health care reform supporter. Scott says the swastika reflects an increasingly hateful and racist debate over health care; he hopes it may shock people into toning down their rhetoric. Scott’s staff found the Nazi graffiti sprayed on a sign outside his Smyrna, Georgia, office upon arriving to work. On August 1, Scott had been involved in a contentious debate over health care reform at a community meeting that was intended to be about plans for a new highway in the district. Scott says he has received mail and e-mails calling him “n_gger,” terming President Obama a Marxist, and photos of Obama with swastikas painted on his forehead. Scott reads one of the letters on the air to CNN’s Carlos Watson: “They address it to n_gger David Scott,” he says, and reads, “‘You were, you are, and you shall forever be, a n_gger.’ I got this in the mail today. Somewhere underneath this, bubbling up, is the ugly viscissitudes of racism. We should be proud we have an African-American president and celebrating him willing to take on the difficult issue of health care, an issue that reflects 19 percent of our economy. Here we are in Congress trying to grapple with an almost impossible task—almost two improbables together, bring the cost of health care down while expanding the coverage of it. That is a difficult assignment and it should not be relegated to these mobs of people who will come and hijack a meeting.… We have got to make sure that the symbol of the swastika does not win, that the racial hatred that’s bubbling up does not win this debate. There’s so much hatred out there for President Obama.… We must not allow it to intimidate us.” The Smyrna Police Department, along with the US Capitol Police and the FBI, are investigating the vandalism of the sign. (Associated Press 8/11/2009; WXIA-TV 8/11/2009; Huffington Post 8/12/2009)
Targeted by Fox News Talk Show Host - Liberal news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that the day before the vandalism, Fox News host Glenn Beck had targeted Scott in a tirade against health care reform, saying in part: “Congressman, how many Americans… have called and called and called, only to be treated like swine? You know what? I’m not sure, Congressman, if you are aware that not everybody has access to a brand new Gulfstream G550 [luxury jet]. I mean, it might be tough for the average Joe, who makes $129,000 less than you do to swing by the office for a meeting in Washington, DC. We hope you understand and accept our offer instead to use a common alternative to private jets that are so much better for the environment called the telephone. America, you call your congressman. You call just—the congressman that represents you. You call your senator right now.” (Terkel 8/11/2009)
'Liberal Conspiracy' - Within minutes of the story becoming news, right-wing commentators and bloggers begin stating their belief that the swastika was painted by liberals to stir up controversy. The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack writes: “It’s possible that a neo-Nazi actually vandalized Rep. Scott’s offices. But given the fact that the Nazi imagery so neatly dovetails with the left’s smearing of health care protesters as fascists (see August 10-11, 2009), isn’t it more likely that this act of vandalism was committed by one of Scott’s supporters?” The next day, conservative blogger John Hawkins writes that “a liberal” probably painted the swastika on Scott’s sign. “Let’s see, you have a congressman who loves to play the race card and a controversial health care debate that the Left is losing,” he writes. “If you’re a liberal, painting a swastika on his door might look like a pretty good idea.” (McCormack 8/11/2009; John Hawkins 8/12/2009) Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners: “I don’t buy this. This is too politically convenient.… I think the Democrats are doing this themselves.” (Media Matters 8/11/2009)
'Frightening Display of Bigotry and Ignorance' - Scott’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Wright, says she believes the accusations that Scott sympathizers painted the swastika are “funny.” Bill Nigut, the Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, says the swastika is a “frightening display of bigotry and ignorance that should not be tolerated by a democratic society.” (Terkel 8/11/2009)
Eric Boehlert, an author and editor of the progressive news watchdog organization Media Matters, writes that, in his eyes, the media is ignoring the biggest “political story of the year”: “the unhinged radical-right response to [President] Obama’s inauguration and the naked attempt to dehumanize and delegitimize him through a nonstop smear campaign,” which he says is sponsored by the Republican Party and its conservative supporters. “The misguided movement breaks all kinds of taboos in American politics,” Boehlert writes, “as well as in the press, and is redefining our political culture—for the worse. Yet the press continues to play dumb.”
Playing the Nazi Card - Boehlert takes as his springboard the relative disinterest the mainstream media shows to the repeated accusations that Obama and/or Congressional Democrats are Nazis, or Nazi sympathizers, or have Nazi-like goals and ideals (see July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10-11, 2009), as well as the virtually unreported use of Nazi symbols and rhetoric at anti-health care protests (see July 25, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 8, 2009). Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the liberal advocacy organization MoveOn received weeks of negative publicity and media attention when it briefly posted two amateur video clips on its Web site submitted as part of a contest for 30-second Internet advertisements against the policies of the Bush administration. The organization removed the clips within hours and apologized for posting them, but was berated for weeks over the ads. Now, Boehlert notes, Rush Limbaugh and other prominent conservative spokespersons routinely use accusations of Nazism in their rhetorical attacks on Obama and Democrats, with virtually no acknowledgement from the press. Boehlert writes: “Despite the fact that Limbaugh has not apologized for his comments—unlike MoveOn in 2004—and is continuing to compare the Obama White House and the Democratic Party with Nazis, many in the media don’t consider it newsworthy and haven’t condemned it. And more important, journalists don’t show any signs of believing that the episode tells us anything about the radically unhinged nature of the right-wing media in this country today.” Apparently, he writes, most media analysts just consider Limbaugh’s extreme rhetoric a case of “Rush being Rush.” But, he asks, if Limbaugh is going to be considered the de facto leader of conservative thought in America, why isn’t he being challenged on his use of what Boehlert calls “his radical and outrageous rhetoric.… He went to a place that previously was considered unconscionable and unpardonable by the press.… Why isn’t Limbaugh uniformly condemned for his words?”
Accusations of Racism, Racist Pronouncements - And Limbaugh is merely one of many. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck recently accused Obama of being a “racist” and having a “deep-seated hatred of white people” (see July 28-29, 2009), and outside of the small number of progressive/liberal hosts on MSNBC and a few scattered notations in the press, the accusation was virtually ignored. “At the [Washington] Post, which obsesses over the intersection of the media and politics,” Boehlert writes, “the jaw-dropping attack by Fox News’s superstar host wasn’t considered newsworthy. That’s correct: Two of the most popular and powerful conservative voices in America have recently called out Obama as a Nazi and a racist.”
Legitimizing Extremism - Boehlert assigns part of the blame to journalists being “spooked by decades’ worth of ‘liberal media bias’ attacks” that drive them to “refuse to connect the glaringly obvious dots on display.” The extreme rhetorical attacks dovetail with what he calls “the town hall mini-mobs that are wreaking havoc across the country” and “the bizarre birther conspiracy theory” that insists Obama is not a US citizen, but some sort of “plant” from Kenya brought to America to bring down American democracy. “The three right-wing phenomena are all related,” he writes, “and they all revolve around a runaway hatred of Obama (as well as the federal government), and they’re all being fueled by the [conservative media operation], especially Fox News and Limbaugh, both of which no longer recognize common decency, let alone journalistic standards. Yet instead of putting Limbaugh on the receiving end of well-deserved scrutiny and scorn, rather than turning his comments into a political firestorm, the press plays dumb and actually goes out of its way to legitimize the worst offenders of the GOP’s hate brigade.” Boehlert condemns ABC News for inviting conservative blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin to take part in a discussion of health care reform “with Pulitzer Prize-winning writers.” Malkin, he writes, is a prime member of the “hate brigade,” helping push the increasingly angry and violent mob confrontations as well as exhorting readers to believe that the Democrats want to exterminate the elderly (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10, 2009). The New Yorker recently praised Michael Savage, who routinely attacks women, gays, liberals, and minorities with the worst rhetorical excess (see January 10, 2008, February 1, 2008, February 21, 2008, March 13, 2008, April 3, 2008, June 6, 2008, June 6, 2008, August 25, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 22, 2008, November 10, 2008, and November 18, 2008), calling him “fun” and “addictive.”
Comparing the Statistics - Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the Indianapolis Star published five letters to the editor about the MoveOn controversy. To date, it has not published a single letter about Limbaugh’s Nazi accusations towards Obama or Democrats. In January 2004, 28 of the nation’s largest newspapers published a total of 54 stories, articles, or letters about the MoveOn controversy. To date, that group has published a combined total of six stories about Limbaugh’s Nazi allegations. No paper has printed more than one story on the topic. In January 2004, the MoveOn-Nazi story garnered 300 percent more airtime on CNN than the Limbaugh-Nazi story has received. (Boehlert 8/11/2009)
Conservatives attack an 11-year old girl who asks President Obama a question at a “town hall” rally held in New Hampshire (see August 11, 2009). Julia Hall, a sixth-grader from Malden, Massachusetts, asks: “As I was walking in, I saw a lot of signs outside saying mean things about reforming health care. How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can—that help more of us?” Obama gives a long response about the false rumors surrounding health care reform, including the debunked idea of “death panels” (see August 7, 2009). In their own responses, conservative pundits attack Hall for being an “Obama plant.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that the entire town hall was “a stacked deck. That thing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was totally phony. The little girl that asked a question is the daughter of a huge Obama supporter.” One blogger makes the unsubstantiated claim that he could see a “mysterious” woman mouthing the girl’s question as she spoke, and shows a video of a woman saying something during Hall’s question, though it is unclear exactly what she is saying or whether she is speaking to the girl. Hall’s mother, Kathleen Manning Hall, later tells a Boston reporter that she had her daughter write down her question beforehand, and was “shocked” that her daughter had decided to try to ask a question of Obama. A Boston blogger notes, correctly, that Manning Hall is an Obama supporter, and adds that the White House said “that audience members are selected randomly.” Conservative author and pundit Michelle Malkin claims that Manning Hall “has donated thousands of dollars to Obama, as has her law firm,” and adds: “Now, look for Dems to play the kiddie human shield card to the hilt. Anyone who mentions Hall’s political pedigree will be attacked as a vicious meanie stalker.” The Washington Times adds its own criticism, misidentifying the girl’s age as 13 and stating, “It’s a sad commentary on the health care debate that the president has to resort to this kind of stunt to attempt to insulate his plan from criticism.” Hall herself later says she was thrilled to have been part of the debate, saying, “It was like a once in a lifetime experience.” She says she would like to “work in politics” when she gets older. (Tencer 8/12/2009)
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tells his viewers that the Veterans Administration (VA) has a secret “death book” that urges veterans to “pull the plug” and commit suicide. The 51-page booklet is called “Your Life, Your Choices,” and, Wallace says, was pulled for rewriting and reissuance in 2007, yet the VA under President Obama is still using it. In his Fox News blog, Wallace writes: “What makes the book controversial is that—according to critics—it seems to push veterans in the direction of ‘pulling the plug.’ For instance—page 21 is a worksheet in which the veteran is asked to consider various situations and then check—whether in each case, life would be ‘difficult, but acceptable’—‘worth living, but just barely’—or ‘not worth living.’ You might think that the scenarios would involve irreversible comas and the like. But no—they include: ‘I can no longer walk but get around in a wheelchair’—‘I live in a nursing home’—‘I am a severe financial burden on my family’—and ‘I cannot seem to “shake the blues”’.” Wallace’s guest, Wall Street Journal columnist James Towey, whom Wallace describes as helping to “end use of the book under President Bush, and was shocked to see it has now been reinstated,” tells viewers that the message of the book is simple: “hurry up and die.” (Wallace notes that he learned of the VA’s “death book” from Towey’s August 18 Journal column.) And, Wallace writes, quoting Towey, “he says—when government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude that life is not worth living—‘who needs death panels?’” Wallace briefly notes that he also interviewed VA’s Assistant Secretary, Tammy Duckworth, who noted that the book is “just one of many reference tools the VA makes available—and that it is currently being revised.” (Veterans Administration 1997 ; Towey 8/18/2009; Wallace 8/23/2009)
Debunking the Claim - The story of the “death book” is quickly debunked. Richard Allen Smith of the veterans’ organization VetVoice notes that the VA booklet is actually aimed at helping veterans choose not to commit suicide, and provides them with methods and resources to battle depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions which lead veterans to consider prematurely ending their lives. (Richard Allen Smith 8/23/2009) Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the claim that the Bush administration “rescinded” the booklet in 2007 is false. While it was reviewed in 2007, the Bush administration actively promoted the use of the booklet throughout its tenure; an online document on the VA’s Web site labeled “Reviewed/Updated Date: December 29, 2008,” states, “To learn about a living will, read ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’” Wallace’s claim that the VA mandates all veterans receive the booklet is also false; it is considered an optional reference, not mandatory. (Media Matters 8/24/2009)
Hidden Agenda? - Smith notes that Towey may have another reason for opposing the VA booklet. In 1996, Towey founded an organization called “Aging with Dignity.” In 1997, the organization released a 12-page pamphlet, “Five Wishes,” that it says does the same job as the VA’s booklet. It gives the ailing veteran a list of five questions that, it claims, when answered will guide your life decisions. For years, Towey has been trying to get the VA to stop distributing its own booklet and instead buy “Five Choices” to use with its veterans. In 2007, Towey did help force the VA to reassess and revise its booklet after complaining that it was biased against the anti-abortion viewpoint. Smith writes bluntly: “Astonishing. Jim Towey is one sick mother f_cker to argue that veterans should be presented with LESS information, not MORE, when it comes to making a living will, all so he can make a profit from peddling his end-of-life pamphlet that is shorter than the books my two-and-a-half-year-old reads.” (Baram 8/22/2009; Richard Allen Smith 8/23/2009)
Claim Spread by Conservative Media - Even before Wallace’s August 23 broadcast, some conservative media outlets, having read Towey’s August 18 Wall Street Journal editorial, began spreading the story of the VA’s “death book.” The National Review printed editorials denouncing the booklet, and Fox News host Sean Hannity called it “the equivalent of a death panel.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) used her Facebook blog to accuse the VA of “encourag[ing] veterans to forego care as they make end-of-life decisions.” And radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners: “This thing is obsessed with death. It’s obsessed with you deciding—or with some—maybe some influence—that your life isn’t worth living. It’s—there’s nothing positive in this.” (Media Matters 8/24/2009)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience in two separate broadcasts that President Obama “wants to mandate circumcision” as part of the Democrats’ health care reform proposal. On August 24, Limbaugh says: “Not that I’m against circumcision, but it’s a family’s decision. Leave our penises alone, too, Obama!” On August 25, he says: “[I]t is President Obama who wants to mandate circumcision. We had that story yesterday; and that means if we need to save our penises from anybody, it’s Obama.” Limbaugh cites as his source a Fox News story based on an upcoming report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that may recommend circumcision for newborn boys in order to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS (the procedure can, later in life, reduce transmission of the disease from women to men). The CDC has not yet decided whether to make the recommendation. It is also considering whether to recommend circumcision for adult men who are at high risk for HIV infection. CDC spokesman Scott Bryan tells the St. Petersburg Times that any such recommendations “will be completely voluntary,” both for parents and for adult males. The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact investigative team researches what involvement Obama may have had in the CDC’s potential recommendation, and finds none. “From what we found, Obama has not used the word ‘circumcision’ in any public statement as a candidate or as president,” the reporters note. “We also found no evidence that he has recommended circumcusion to the CDC. The only link—and it’s an indirect one—that we could find between Obama and the CDC’s efforts was a press release on the White House Web site announcing a series of HIV/AIDS community discussions, the first one being held in conjunction with the National HIV Prevention Conference we mentioned earlier. But the release did not mention circumcision. It turns out that circumcision recommendations have been under discussion since 2007, when George W. Bush was president. Given the fact the CDC was pondering the idea back then, it is no more accurate to say Obama wants to mandate circumcision than to say Bush did.” The Times calls Limbaugh’s assertions “ridiculous.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/27/2009)
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