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Wasilla, Alaska, City Council member Sarah Palin, a 32-year-old former sportscaster and current housewife, challenges three-term incumbent John C. Stein for mayor. Wasilla is a small town of less than 5,000 residents; Palin is popular among residents for her success in beauty pageants and for her history as a point guard on the 1982 Wasilla High School state basketball championship team. Before the Palin campaign, mayoral elections have focused relentlessly on local issues, such as paving dirt roads and putting in sewers. Personal campaigning revolved around who went hunting with who. (Kizzia 10/23/2006; Yardley 9/2/2008; Anchorage Daily News 9/2/2008) Instead, Palin, guided by advisers such as Mark Chryson of the Alaskan Independent Party (AIP—see October 10, 2008), runs an unusually negative campaign against Stein. Her campaign slogan is “Positively Sarah.” Palin emphasizes her stance against abortion, her membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA), and her church work. She runs as an outsider against what she calls an “old boy network” that has controlled Wasilla’s government long enough. She vows to replace “stale leadership” and a “tax-and-spend” mentality with “fresh ideas and energy,” and, in campaign literature, complains that citizens asking city leaders for help routinely encounter “complacency, inaction, and even total disregard.” The Alaska Republican Party runs advertisements on Palin’s behalf, a first in Wasilla politics as Alaska municipal politics are officially nonpartisan. Palin also mounts a stinging negative campaign against Stein, including insinuations that he, a Lutheran, is a secret Jew. “Sarah comes in with all this ideological stuff and I was like, ‘Whoa,’” Stein will later recall. “But that got her elected: abortion, gun rights, term limits, and the religious born-again thing. I’m not a churchgoing guy, and that was another issue: ‘We will have our first Christian mayor.’” Of the Jewish campaign theme, Stein will recall: “I thought: ‘Holy cow, what’s happening here? Does that mean she thinks I’m Jewish or Islamic?‘… The point was that she was a born-again Christian.” Stein, who is pro-choice, remembers a “national anti-abortion outfit sen[ding] little pink cards to voters in Wasilla endorsing her.” Victoria Naegele, the managing editor of the local Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper and herself a conservative Christian, will later recall: “[Stein] figured he was just going to run your average, friendly small-town race. But it turned into something much different than that.… I just thought, ‘That’s ridiculous, she should concentrate on roads, not abortion.’” Palin wins with 638 votes, a 58 percent majority. A local TV station calls her Wasilla’s “first Christian mayor,” though Stein is a Christian as well. (Kizzia 10/23/2006; Yardley 9/2/2008; Thornburgh 9/2/2008; Armstrong and Bernton 9/7/2008; MacGillis 9/14/2008) Palin has a tumultuous first term as mayor (see Late 1996 - 1999).
Wasilla, Alaska, City Council member Sarah Palin becomes Mayor of Wasilla after running a groundbreakingly negative political campaign (see Mid and Late 1996). In her term, she focuses on town development and personal politics. Palin supporters will say that she helps Wasilla develop from a small backwater into a fast-growing suburb, almost doubling its population during her term and bringing in large “box stores” such as Target. Critics will say that she leads the overdevelopment and exploitation of a town that was largely homesteaded farmland before her arrival. Palin weathers a brief attempt at a recall, in part because of town leaders’ fears of retaliation: She quickly becomes known for using her position for exacting revenge against her personal and political enemies. Council member Anne Kilkenny, a Democrat, will later remember Palin’s efforts to get books banned from the Wasilla library. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Kilkenny will recall. Town librarian Mary Ellen Emmons, later described by former mayor John C. Stein as “aghast” at Palin’s requests, resists Palin’s efforts at what Kilkenny will call “censorship,” and Palin promptly fires her. After residents protest, Palin relents and allows Emmons to retake the position, and drops her call to ban the library books; in late 1996, Palin tells a local reporter that her talk of banning books was merely “rhetorical.” Once in office, Palin demands that many of Stein’s supporters and appointees in city government resign, an unprecedented event in town history. She forces the public works director, city planner, museum director, and others to resign, and fires Police Chief Irl Stambaugh, who will lose a wrongful termination lawsuit in 2000. (Stambaugh will later say that part of the reason why Palin fires him is because she tells him “the NRA [National Rifle Association, a powerful Palin supporter] didn’t like me and that they wanted change.” Palin also informs Stambaugh that he “stared” at her during their meetings and attempted to be “physically intimidating.”) Palin packs city government with figures from the area Republican Party, sometimes including wives and relatives, and responds to a question about running city government without experienced government personnel by saying: “It’s not rocket science. It’s $6 million and 53 employees.” She attempts to replace two council members with persons she knows, though the mayor does not have that legal power. She issues an edict forbidding city employees from talking to anyone in the press without her authorization. Victoria Naegele, the editor of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, will recall: “It was just things you don’t ever associate with a small town. It was like we were warped into real politics instead of just, ‘Do you like Joe or Mary for the job?’ It was a strange time and [the Frontiersman] came out very harshly against her.” Going against her stance on cutting taxes and restricting spending, Palin forces through a half-cent raise in the local sales tax to pay for a $15 million sports complex that hosts, among other local teams, a junior league hockey team, but the city will later have to pay more than $1.3 million to settle an ownership dispute over the site. And again going against her stated distaste for taking federal money, she makes frequent trips to Washington to lobby for federal funds for local rail projects and a mental health center, among other initiatives. In 1999, Palin will become president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors. (Kizzia 10/23/2006; Yardley 9/2/2008; Thornburgh 9/2/2008; Armstrong and Bernton 9/7/2008; MacGillis 9/14/2008) Palin will use her second and final term as mayor as a springboard to higher office (see January 2000 - 2002).
Wasilla, Alaska, councilman Nick Carney proposes a local gun-control measure that would prohibit residents from carrying guns into schools, bars, hospitals, government offices, and playgrounds. Newly elected Mayor Sarah Palin (see Mid and Late 1996) and her political ally, Mark Chryson, who heads the far-right secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), craft a way to defeat Carney’s proposal. During one council meeting, Chryson and seven allies storm the meeting in an unannounced appearance. Carney will later recall that the proposal was in its formative stages, and not ready for formal presentation, much less public hearings. Instead, Palin insists that the council have an “ad-hoc” hearing to let Chryson and his allies testify. Palin states that “she invites the public to speak on any issue at any time.” Chryson’s impassioned opposition to the measure is so successful that when Carney attempts to have the ordinance discussed officially at the next regular meeting, he cannot get another council member to second the motion. The measure dies. “A lot of it was the ultra-conservative far right that is against everything in government, including taxes,” Carney will later recall. “A lot of it was a personal attack on me as being anti-gun, and a personal attack on anybody who deigned to threaten their authority to carry a loaded firearm wherever they pleased. That was the tenor of it. And it was being choreographed by Steve Stoll and the mayor.” (Carney is referring to another far-right ally of Palin’s, John Birch Society member Steve Stoll.) Asked if he thought it was Palin who had instigated the turnout, Carney will say, “I know it was.” (Blumenthal and Neiwert 10/10/2008)
Sarah Palin, after a tumultuous first term as mayor of Wasilla (see Late 1996 - 1999), easily beats her opponent, former mayor John C. Stein, 909-292. (The election was actually held on October 5, 1999, but Palin does not officially begin her second term until early in 2000.) One of her second-term campaign promises is to cut spending by cutting her own salary; she indeed cuts her salary from $68,000 to $64,000, but adds a new employee, city administrator John Cramer, to the payroll, dramatically increasing expenditures. Cramer has close ties to powerful Republican lawmaker Lyda Green, and Green endorsed Palin for the mayorality, though she will withdraw that support when Palin later runs for governor. Ironically, Cramer works to ease tensions in Wasilla during Palin’s second and final term. Palin’s deputy mayor Dave Chappel will later say: “When I first met Sarah, I would say Sarah was a Republican, with the big R, and that’s it. As she developed politically, she began to see beyond the R and look at the whole picture. She matured.” Palin also hires a lobbyist to represent Wasilla in the nation’s capital (see 2000). She fires Cramer as one of her final acts as mayor in 2002. When her stepmother-in-law, Faye Palin, declares her candidacy to succeed her daughter-in-law, Palin, citing Faye Palin’s support for abortion rights and her status as unaffiliated (i.e. not a Republican), refuses to support her, instead throwing her support to council ally and religious conservative Dianne Keller. (City of Wasilla 10/5/1999; Kizzia 10/23/2006; Yardley 9/2/2008; Armstrong and Bernton 9/7/2008) A former city council member will later recall the 2002 Keller-Palin election as contentious, largely because of the controversy over abortion; “People were writing BABYKILLER on Faye’s campaign signs just a few days before the election,” the council member will recall. (Thornburgh 9/2/2008)
Leaves Wasilla with Increased Taxation, Large Debt - During her two terms, Palin increases general government expenditures by over a third, increases the operating budget by over a third after adjusting for inflation, increases the tax burden on Wasilla residents and businesses by 25 percent after adjusting for inflation, reduces property taxes in favor of a regressive sales tax, and while inheriting a budget with zero debt, leaves Wasilla with an indebtness of over $23 million. Keller, who will continue as mayor through 2008, will say that much of the debt and tax increases are due to Wasilla’s growth during Palin’s tenure. (St. Petersburg Times 8/31/2008)
On to Governorship - Palin will lose her first attempt at gaining statewide office, coming in second in the 2002 Republican primary for lieutenant governor. She will not succeed in persuading Governor Frank Murkowski (R-AK) to appoint her to complete his term in the US Senate, a seat which will go to Murkowski’s daughter Lisa (R-AK) instead. In 2003, Governor Murkowski will appoint Palin to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. She will leave the commission in 2004 over claims that it is behaving unethically, and will defeat Murkowski in 2006, becoming governor of Alaska. (Anchorage Daily News 9/2/2008)
Early in her second term as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (see January 2000 - 2002), Sarah Palin hires a lobbyist, Steven W. Silver of Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh. The decision to hire a lobbyist is unprecedented in the history of the town. Silver secures $26.9 million in federal funds for Wasilla, though Palin campaigned against “wasteful government spending” in her runs for mayor, and as a state and national figure will campaign against “federal earmarks” and such spending. Silver is a close political ally of US Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense will later say: “She certainly wasn’t shy about putting the old-boy network to use to bring home millions of dollars. She’s a little more savvy to the ways of Washington than she’s let on.” (Kane 9/2/2008)
Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) makes a videotaped address to the annual convention of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a far-right, secessionist third party that has had considerable success in state and local politics. Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP from 1995 through 2002, when he reregistered his voter status as “undecided.” Palin’s address steers clear of racist and secessionist rhetoric, but is very complimentary. She tells the assemblage: “I share your party’s vision of upholding the Constitution of our great state. My administration remains focused on reining in government growth so individual liberty can expand. I know you agree with that.… Keep up the good work and God bless you.” Palin has been given tremendous, if behind-the-scenes, support from former AIP chairman Mark Chryson throughout her political career (see October 10, 2008). Her attendance at the 1994 and 2006 AIP conventions, her address to the 2008 convention, and her husband’s membership in the AIP, will become a minor issue when she is named as the running mate for presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ). Chryson will insist that neither of the Palins had any real dealings with the AIP. “Sarah’s never been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party,” he will say. “Todd has, but most of rural Alaska has too. I never saw him at a meeting. They were at one meeting I was at. Sarah said hello, but I didn’t pay attention because I was taking care of business.” This contradicts Chryston’s near-boasting of his access to, and influence with, Palin during her tenure on the Wasilla City Council, as mayor of Wasilla, and as governor. And Dexter Clark, the current vice chairman of the AIP, will claim that Palin was an AIP member while she was Wasilla’s mayor, though she switched to the Republican Party to run for governor so as to have a broader appeal to the electorate. The McCain-Palin campaign will produce documentation that shows Palin registered as a Republican in 1988, and was never an official AIP member. (Blumenthal and Neiwert 10/10/2008) The AIP Web site’s convention page touts Palin’s videotaped message; the message is the only thing on the convention page. (Alaskan Independence Party 2008)
Fox News political analyst Angela McGlowan announces on the air that she is going back to Mississippi to “beat” US Representative Travis W. Childers (D-MS). Appearing on America’s Election Headquarters, she tells fellow contributor Bob Beckel: “That’s all right, sweetie, that’s my district, and I’m going there soon to beat your Democrat colleague, honey. I’m going soon. 2010 is my year. Announcing it right here.” Ethically, Fox should immediately terminate its contract with McGlowan, as she is now an announced candidate for public office. It is improper for Fox or any other journalistic outlet to continue having McGlowan on the air as a paid analyst or commentator once she announces for public office. Instead, Fox continues to pay McGlowan to appear on its programming until her contract expires in February 2010 and she “officially” announces her candidacy in Mississippi. Between May 2008 and February 2010, McGlowan makes dozens of appearances on Fox News and Fox Business Channel, where she regularly touts her candidacy and speaks as a candidate; on January 15, 2010, appearing on Fox Business with Neil Cavuto, she says she has held “four health care town hall meetings in the state of Mississippi” and adds: “[A] lot of people don’t want this health care bill. They want health care reform but they want the right type of reform.” During a February 6 appearance on America’s News Headquarters, McGlowan, still a paid contributor, actively solicits tea party votes and explains, “What I’m doing in essence is I’m concerned about Mississippi and the issues.” Even after she announces her candidacy and “terminates” her contract with Fox, she will continue to appear on its broadcasts as a candidate, including appearances on America’s Newsroom and Hannity; the first line of her first campaign release will reference her former Fox News employment. She receives a late endorsement from Fox News paid contributor Sarah Palin (R-AK). (Media Matters 2/9/2010; Hananoki 9/24/2010) On May 27, 2010, McGlowan will appear on America’s Newsroom, where host Bill Hemmer will introduce her as a “Fox News contributor” and ask her opinion of the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis. While she will criticize the Obama administration over it, calling it “Obama’s Katrina” and “Obama’s Watergate,” a chyron will identify McGlowan as a Congressional candidate. At the end of the segment, Hemmer will say, “Angela, I know you’re running for Congress in Mississippi, in the interest of full disclosure, we mention that, and thank you for coming on today.” (Hananoki 5/27/2010) On June 1, 2010, McGlowan will come in a distant third in the Mississippi Republican primary, and will endorse Republican candidate Alan Nunnelee against Childers. She had previously refused to endorse Nunnelee after her loss, calling him a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) and warning that he “would run amok in Washington, DC, the same as any other incumbent politician.” (Kleefeld 6/11/2010) McGlowan will return to work as a Fox News and Fox Business analyst, and will serve as CEO of the lobbying firm Political Strategies and Insights (PSI). (BuzzTab 4/7/2010)
Chicago radio host Milt Rosenburg, a staunch conservative and opponent of presidential candidate Barack Obama, interviews conservative writer Stanley Kurtz. Kurtz is the writer who falsely accused Obama of having deep, suspicious ties to former Weather Underground leader William Ayers, whom Kurtz and Rosenberg label a left-wing terrorist. Rosenberg’s radio interview with Kurtz propels the Ayers-Obama story through the conservative media, and culminates in accusations from vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK) that Obama was “palling around with terrorists” (see October 4-5, 2008). (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009)
Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), realizes that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is going to win the upcoming presidential election (see November 4, 2008). In preparation, Ailes begins hiring an array of conservatives to join his network (see November 3, 2003, July 2004, and October 26, 2009), many of whom he intends to groom for the 2012 presidential race. By the time the election is over, Ailes will have hired Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s political guru, and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate. (Ailes is able to woo both Rove and Huckabee away from CNN, which also offers them positions as paid commentators.) Soon, Ailes will hire several more possible Republican contenders, including the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former UN Ambassador John Bolton. Ailes fully intends to use Fox News as a platform for launching Republican presidential bids (see May 22, 2011), but his decision to hire Rove, Huckabee, Palin, and the others is also business-driven. A close friend of his will explain: “It would be easy to look at Fox and think it’s conservative because Rupert [Murdoch, the media executive who owns the Fox networks] and Roger are conservative and they program it the way they like. And to a degree, that’s true. But it’s also a business. And the way the business works is, they control conservative commentary the way ESPN controls the market for sports rights. If you have a league, you have a meeting with ESPN, you find out how much they’re willing to pay, and then everyone else agrees to pay the same amount if they want it.… It’s sort of the same at Fox. I was surprised at some of what was being paid until I processed it that way. If you’re ABC and you don’t have Newt Gingrich on a particular morning, you can put someone else on. But if you’re Fox, and Newt is moving and talking today, you got to have him. Otherwise, your people are like: ‘Where’s Newt? Why isn’t he on my channel?’” Ailes met secretly with Palin in September 2008, and will continue to court her for Fox after the campaign, even loaning her a private jet owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. CNN will decline to offer her a position, and Ailes, through programming chief Bill Shine, will negotiate a three-year, $3 million deal to have Palin as a regular contributor and a host of prime-time specials. Amid all of this, Ailes does not want Fox News to be seen as an arm of the Republican Party (see December 2002 and October 11, 2009). (Sherman 5/22/2011) In 2010, the press will report that Fox News has “exclusive rights” to broadcast and interview four presumed 2012 Republican candidates, Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Santorum (see September 27, 2010).
Republican vice-presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) accuses Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) of “palling around with terrorists” who intend to attack American targets. Palin, telling audiences in Colorado and California that it is “time to take the gloves off,” says Obama has ties to the 1960s-era radical group Weather Underground through an acquaintance, University of Illinois at Chicago professor William Ayers. Obama, Palin says, “is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” The Weather Underground was once labeled a domestic terrorist group by the FBI. Ayers served on a board with Obama and held a fundraiser for Obama’s Senate run in 1995. Obama has condemned Ayers’s connections with the Weather Underground, and most media organizations have discounted any ties between the two men. The Weather Underground has been defunct for decades. Palin says she is not attempting to “pick a fight” with Obama, but is telling campaign audiences about Obama and Ayers because “it was there in the New York Times… and they are hardly ever wrong.” Ayers, she says, “was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and US Capitol.’ Wow. These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes.… This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for for all of us.” Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan condemns Palin’s remarks, and cites a list of media outlets that have debunked the so-called Obama-Ayers connection. “Governor Palin’s comments, while offensive, are not surprising, given the McCain campaign’s statement this morning that they would be launching Swiftboat-like attacks in hopes of deflecting attention from the nation’s economic ills,” Sevugan writes. He also notes that the New York Times is one of the media outlets that debunked the connection, stating, “In fact, the very newspaper story Governor Palin cited in hurling her shameless attack made clear that Senator Obama is not close to Bill Ayers, much less ‘pals,’ and that he has strongly condemned the despicable acts Ayers committed 40 years ago, when Obama was eight.” The Obama campaign calls the attempt by the McCain-Palin campaign to link Obama to Ayers part of a campaign of “dishonest, dishonorable assaults against Barack Obama.” (Orr 10/5/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Chris Baker calls Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama a “little b_tch” for reacting to Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around” with accused domestic terrorist William Ayers. Baker says: “[T]his little b_tch needs to stand up for himself. Sorry, I can’t stand this. You want to be the president of the United States, and you won’t even stand up to a smoking-hot chick from Alaska? How is he gonna stand up to the world’s terrorists?… I mean, this—this guy—this guy is—he’s a—he’s a wimp is what he is.… This wuss-bag needs to stand up for himself and answer the questions about his relationship with Bill Ayers and other terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.” Baker cites two articles from the Associated Press and New York Times, but fails to note that both articles debunk Palin’s claim that Obama had anything but a peripheral connection to Ayers. And Baker fails to reveal that the Obama campaign had responded two days before to the Palin assertions. (Media Matters 10/7/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Chris Baker promotes an Internet video that features a Harlem preacher calling Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s mother “trash.” Baker discusses the video, by the Reverend James David Manning of ATLAH World Missionary Church, on his radio show, and posts the video on his Web site. Baker says of the video: “Oh God, you have to—you have to see this. This guy—I mean, this guy just goes off. And he’s not really wrong, either. That’s the best part, at least, you know—at least, in my hate-filled opinion.” Manning contrasts Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, with Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose daughter Bristol is carrying a child out of wedlock. Manning says: “The difference between Obama’s mama and Bristol Palin is that Obama’s mama was trash. I mean, she was dirt. She was a bag of trash sitting on the sidewalk waiting there in Honolulu on one of those streets for the garbage truck to come by and pick her up and take her to the dump.… [M]y mama told me back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s, the only kind of white women that would take up with a black man back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s was a trashy white woman. The only kind of white woman that would take up with a black man in the ‘50s and the ‘60s was a sloozy, was a floozy, was a lowlife, snail-eating, white woman. That’s the kind of woman that Obama’s mama was.… Want to talk about Bristol Palin? Let’s talk about that piece of trash called Obama’s mama. Want to talk about Bristol Palin? Let’s talk about that trash that hatched Obama. Yeah.” Obama’s mother, who died in 1995, was a white American, and his father was a black African. (Media Matters 10/8/2008)
Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ)‘s running mate, Sarah Palin (R-AK), accuses Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) of advocating socialism as an economic plan. “[N]ow is no time to experiment with socialism,” Palin says, referring to Obama’s proposal to offer tax credits to those paying no income taxes. Palin echoes comments made by Pennsylvania resident Samuel Wurzelbacher, known to the media as “Joe the Plumber,” in which he said Obama’s tax plan sounded like socialism to him. Palin tells a crowd in New Mexico: “Senator Obama said he wants to quote ‘spread the wealth.’ What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit.” Referring to a man in the crowd holding up a sign identifying himself as “Ed the Dairy Man,” Palin adds, “But Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairy Man, I believe that they think that it sounds more like socialism.” She continues: “Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism. To me, our opponent plans sounds more like big government, which is the problem. Bigger government is not the solution.” She calls Obama’s tax plan “a government giveaway,” and says the plan will raise taxes on those who already pay taxes: “He claims that he’ll cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans, but the problem is, more than 40 percent of Americans pay no income taxes at all,” she says. “Since he can’t reduce taxes on those who pay zero, he wants the government to send them a check that’s called a tax credit. And where is he gonna get the money for all those checks that he will cut? By raising taxes on America’s hard-working families and our small businesses.” Later, at an airport in Colorado Springs, Palin tells a reporter, “There are socialist principles to [Obama’s tax plans], yes.” She continues, “Taking more from a small business or small business owners or from a hard-working families and then redistributing that money according to a politician’s priorities—there are hints of socialism in there and that’s why I don’t fault or discredit Joe the Plumber for bringing that up, asking if that is socialism.” Palin says that the $700 billion White House bailout of failing banks and other financial institutions is not socialism: “I believe that there are those measures that had to be taken by Congress to shore up not only the housing market but the credit markets, also to make sure that that’s not frozen, so that our small businesses have opportunities to borrow and that was the purpose, of course, of that part of the bailout and the shoring of the banks.” (Delawala 10/20/2008)
Reporters and authors Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert compile an investigative report for Salon that documents the large, if shadowy, network of far-right militia support that Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) enjoys. Palin is running for vice president with presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ). Two of her most powerful supporters are Mark Chryson, the former head of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), and Steve Stoll, a far-right activist and member of the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) known in his home region of the Mat-Su Valley as “Black Helicopter Steve.” Both Chryson and Stoll are large financial contributors to Palin’s various political campaigns, and, as Blumenthal and Neiwert write, “they played major behind-the-scenes roles in the Palin camp before, during, and after her victory,” referring to her successful campaigns for mayor of Wasilla (see Mid and Late 1996) and, later, Alaska’s governor. Chryson’s AIP fought to eliminate taxes, support what it called “traditional family” values, remove all restraints from gun ownership, and perhaps most controversially, force Alaska to secede from the United States. Still a proud AIP member, Chryson tells the reporters that he still has “enough weaponry to raise a small army in my basement,” but assures the rest of the nation, “We want to go our separate ways, but we are not going to kill you.” Under Chryson’s leadership and on into the present, the AIP works to connect with like-minded secessionist movements from Canada to the Deep South of the US. Chryson is from Wasilla, Palin’s hometown, and during the 1990s his support was critical in making Palin the mayor of Wasilla and later the governor of Alaska. He and Stoll played an equally critical role in shaping her political agenda after her victories. Governor Palin often worked closely with Chryson as he and the AIP worked to successfully advance a wave of anti-tax, pro-gun legislative initiatives, and helped Chryson put through a change in Alaska’s Constitution to better facilitate the formation of anti-government militias. As both mayor and governor, Palin and Chryson worked together to extract revenge against local officials they disliked. Palin often took Chryson and Stoll’s advice on hiring government officials. “Every time I showed up [in Wasilla] her door was open,” Chryson says. “And that policy continued when she became governor.”
Originally Saw Palin as Too Accomodating with Democrats - Chryson first met Palin in the early 1990s, when he was a member of a local libertarian pressure group called SAGE, or Standing Against Government Excess. He met her through SAGE founder Tammy McGraw, who was Palin’s birth coach. Palin was a leader in a pro-sales tax citizens group called WOW, or Watch Over Wasilla, which helped her win a seat on the Wasilla City Council in 1992. Chryson liked her, but considered her too willing to work with council Democrats to be of use to him. Chryson was then jockeying to become head of the AIP, a powerful political party that in 1990 had elected Wally Hickel (AIP-AK) as governor; Palin wanted to be mayor of Wasilla. Chryson and Palin quickly determined that they could help one another. Chryson became leader of the AIP in 1997, and saw Palin as a chance for the AIP to take its message more mainstream. He helped quiet the more racist members and platform planks of the AIP, and reached out to Alaska’s growing Christian-right movement by emphasizing AIP’s commitment to “traditional family” values and its opposition to gay rights. Chryson even succeeded in softening the AIP’s insistence on secession. Chryson is an expert at crafting his political message to appeal to disparate groups, and succeeded in forging alliances with white supremacists, far-right theocrats, neo-Confederates, and more moderate right-wing groups that do not advocate open racism, rebellion, Christian theocracy, or violence. In 1995, Palin’s husband Todd joined the AIP, further cementing Chryson’s increasing support of Palin.
Palin Secured AIP Support for Mayorality - With Stoll, Chryson helped gain Palin the mayorship of Wasilla in the 1996 election, comforted by Palin’s steady move rightward as she continued her tenure on the city council. Palin’s opponent in that election, Republican John Stein, will later say of Chryson and Stoll: “She got support from these guys. I think smart politicians never utter those kind of radical things, but they let other people do it for them. I never recall Sarah saying she supported the militia or taking a public stand like that. But these guys were definitely behind Sarah, thinking she was the more conservative choice.… They worked behind the scenes. I think they had a lot of influence in terms of helping with the back-scatter negative campaigning.” Chryson helped Palin craft a successful campaign based on personal attacks on her opponents, both Stein and her Democratic opponent. Palin characterized Stein as a closet Jew and a sexist, both mischaracterizations, and falsely challenged the legal status of his marriage. Wasilla resident Phil Munger, a close friend of Stein’s, recalls, “I watched that campaign unfold, bringing a level of slime our community hadn’t seen until then.” Chryson helped Palin thwart a local gun-control measure (see June 1997). Chryson and Palin attempted to name Stoll to an empty seat on the Wasilla City Council, but were thwarted by another councilman, Nick Carney, who considered Stoll too “violent” to be a successful council member.
Implementing AIP Agenda as Governor - Chryson recalls helping Governor Palin slash property taxes and block a measure that would have taken money for public programs from the Permanent Fund Dividend, or the oil and gas fund that doles out annual payments to citizens of Alaska. Palin endorsed Chryson’s unsuccessful initiative to move the state legislature from Juneau to Wasilla. She was successful at helping Chryson get pro-militia and gun-rights language into the Alaska Constitution. In 2006, Chryson helped Palin bring Hickel on board as the co-chairman of her gubernatorial campaign; Hickel’s presence meant the implicit endorsement of the AIP for Palin’s candidacy. Hickel later said of his support, “I made her governor.” Hickel now supports Palin’s bid for the vice-presidency, spurred in part by her explicit endorsement of the AIP agenda (see March 2008).
Infiltrating the Mainstream - Chryson has long advocated that AIP members “infiltrate” both Republican and Democratic parties, and points to Palin as a model of successful infiltration. “There’s a lot of talk of her moving up,” AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark says of Palin. “She was a member [of the AIP] when she was mayor of a small town, that was a nonpartisan job. But to get along and to go along she switched to the Republican Party.… She is pretty well sympathetic because of her membership.” It is possible, Blumenthal and Neiwert speculate, that Clark saw Palin as so closely aligned with Chryson and the AIP that he wrongly assumed she was an official member. Chryson understands that as a vice-presidential candidate, Palin has no intention of espousing secessionist or racist views. Indeed, he hopes that her inauguration will represent the beginning of a new and deeper infiltration. “I’ve had my issues but she’s still staying true to her core values,” Chryson says. “Sarah’s friends don’t all agree with her, but do they respect her? Do they respect her ideology and her values? Definitely.” (Blumenthal and Neiwert 10/10/2008) In the days after this article appears, the McCain-Palin campaign will confirm that Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, and claim that she was never a member of AIP. AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will say that her husband Dexter’s recollection of Palin as an official AIP member is mistaken, and reiterate that she and AIP support Palin fully in her bid for the vice presidency. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican candidate for president, draws boos and catcalls from his own supporters when he defends opponent Barack Obama (D-IL) from charges that he is an Arab. Obama has been accused of being Arabic, Muslim, and not a US citizen by opponents (see October 1, 2007, April 18, 2008, July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, and October 8-10, 2008). At a town hall in Minnesota, McCain takes questions from selected members of the audience; in recent days, spurred by accusations from McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), that Obama is a close ally of “terrorist” William Ayers (see October 4-5, 2008), McCain rallies have been marked by screams and cries of “Terrorist!” and “Traitor!” hurled against Obama. According to McClatchy reporters, at a rally in New Mexico earlier in the week, McCain “visibly winced” when he heard one supporter call Obama a “terrorist,” but said nothing in response. In today’s town hall, supporters pressure McCain to attack Obama even more fiercely. Instead, when one supporter tells McCain he fears the prospect of raising his young son in a nation led by Obama, McCain replies, “I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” The comment draws boos and groans from the crowd. McCain continues: “If you want a fight, we will fight. But we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments.… I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean to say you have to be respectful.” Later in the town hall, an elderly woman tells McCain: “I don’t trust Obama.… He’s an Arab.” McCain shakes his head during her comment, then takes the microphone from her and says: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.” Obama and his supporters have acknowledged that the rhetoric in the final weeks of the campaign is likely to get even more heated. He tells crowds in Ohio, “We know what’s coming, we know what they’re going to do.” In recent rallies, McCain has stepped back from the more heated rhetoric, refusing to talk about Ayers and instead calling Obama a “Chicago politician.” Palin, however, has continued the attacks on Obama via the Ayers association. Recent McCain-Palin television ads asking, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” have been taken by some as insinuating that Obama may be a Muslim. Obama has been a practicing Christian for decades (see January 6-11, 2008). Former Governor William Milliken (R-MI) has said, “I’m disappointed in the tenor and the personal attacks on the part of the McCain campaign.” (Talev and Douglas 10/10/2008; Nicholas and Mehta 10/11/2008) The next day, Obama thanks McCain. “I want to acknowledge that Senator McCain tried to tone down the rhetoric yesterday, and I appreciated his reminder that we can disagree while still being respectful of each other,” he tells a crowd in Philadelphia. Referencing McCain’s military service, he says McCain “has served this country with honor and he deserves our thanks for that.” He then returns to his standard campaign broadsides against McCain’s economic proposals. (Dade 10/11/2008)
Author and reporter David Neiwert appears on CNN’s Newshour program to discuss a recent article he co-wrote for Salon that revealed details of Governor Sarah Palin’s (R-AK) support from far-right militia and secessionist groups in Alaska (see October 10, 2008). Palin is now running on the Republican presidential ticket with John McCain (R-AZ). CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez is particularly interested in discussing Palin’s connections with the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a political third party in Alaska that advocates an array of far-right initiatives, including the secession of Alaska from the United States. Sanchez notes that between 1995 and 2002 Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP, and according to Neiwert’s article Sarah Palin has had her political career shaped by AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson. Neiwert explains the AIP to Sanchez, saying, “Well, what we have known about the AIP for some time is that they were basically the Alaskan contingent and the ‘Patriot Movement,’ which, in the lower 48 states, manifested itself as people who form militias, tax protesters, constitutionalists, and that sort of thing.” Neiwert refuses to directly compare the AIP to the ideology of the far-right militia groups that spawned Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez asks, but says that McVeigh and the AIP “basically come from the same sort of ideological background.” Neiwert does not consider the AIP a particularly violent group, and calls it “a pretty benign organization,” but affirms that most AIP members “despise” the US government. He notes that Chryson told him and co-author Max Blumenthal that Todd Palin was never particularly active in the AIP, saying, “Basically, he signed up, joined the party, and then was not active at all.” He also confirms that Sarah Palin was most likely not a member of the AIP, but, as Sanchez says, “[S]he does have some ties to either members or its causes.” Palin rose to power in Wasilla, Alaska, through the auspices of the AIP, Neiwert says, both as a city council member and later as mayor (see Mid and Late 1996). Sanchez runs a video clip of Palin’s videotaped address to the AIP convention in 2008 (see March 2008). Sanchez confirms that Palin attended the convention personally in 2006, because, Neiwert says, “she was campaigning there for governor. And the AIP did not have a gubernatorial candidate that year. And its members essentially endorsed Sarah as their party’s standard-bearer.” Neiwert then explains Chryson’s program of “infiltrating” AIP members into positions of power in both Republican and Democratic parties, and notes that the Salon article quoted Chryson as being particularly proud of having “infiltrated” Palin into such a high level of influence. “[T]he AIP has specifically had a program of infiltration aimed at getting members and their sort of camp followers promoting within the other political parties,” he says. “And, obviously, the Republican Party is a lot closer in Alaska to the AIP than the Democratic Party is.” The McCain campaign sends a message to CNN during the Neiwert interview from campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb that reads: “CNN is furthering a smear with this report, no different than if your network ran a piece questioning Senator [Barack] Obama’s religion. No serious news organization has tried to make this connection. And it is unfortunate that CNN would be the first.” Sanchez notes that CNN has been trying for hours to get the McCain-Palin campaign to prepare a response to the Neiwert interview, which begins after 3:00 p.m. EST. Neiwert notes that the AIP is not a religious organization, saying: “Some of the members are very definitely fundamentalist Christians, but the AIP, itself, is not involved in religious issues, except to the extent that it is involved with the Constitution Party of the United States. This is the larger national umbrella that they organize under. And the Constitution Party is definitely a theocratic party.” (CNN 10/14/2008) After the interview, Neiwert posts on a liberal blog, Crooks & Liars, that like CNN, he attempted to elicit a response or rejoinder from the McCain-Palin campaign and received no response until the broadcast. Neiwert notes that his interview was not in any way a “smear,” because “[a] smear by definition is untrue. However, everything in our story is fully documented. We’ve even posted the relevant documents here so readers can judge the accuracy of the story for themselves.” He also notes that the interview said nothing about Palin’s faith or religious beliefs, but was strictly “about her conduct as a public official.” He concludes, “If Team McCain wants to convince anyone this is merely a ‘smear,’ they’re going to have to demonstrate some falsity or distortion first.” Neiwert says that some Palin defenders respond with the accusation that he is attempting to find Palin “guilt[y] by association.” He counters: “But ‘guilt by association,’ by definition, involves an entirely irrelevant association.… Palin’s associations with the ‘Patriot’ right, however, are entirely relevant, because they reflect directly on her conduct as a public official and her judgment. They also, I should add, reflect on a deeper level the kind of right-wing populism she’s been indulging in recent weeks.” (Neiwert 10/14/2008) In the days after this interview appears, the McCain-Palin campaign will confirm that Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, and claim that she was never a member of AIP. AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will later say that AIP party officials’ recollection of Palin as an official AIP member is mistaken, and will reiterate that she and AIP support Palin fully in her bid for the vice presidency. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) defends itself against allegations of voter fraud and attempting to overthrow America’s democratic system, allegations stemming largely from Republicans, conservative news organizations, and right-wing talk show hosts. The Associated Press reports that Republican lawmakers are calling for a federal investigation into ACORN’s practices of registering Americans to vote, and cites examples of ACORN filing questionable voter registration forms (see October 14, 2008). Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the Democratic presidential contender, says Republicans should not use any issues with ACORN as an excuse to stop people from voting on Election Day. ACORN has registered some 1.3 million voters, many of them young, minority, or poor citizens, and all of whom tend to vote Democratic. Elections officials in at least eight states are looking into voter fraud allegations leveled against the organization. ACORN spokesperson Kevin Whelan tells reporters that the organization is proud of “the vast, vast majority” of its over 13,000 paid canvassers who worked in 21 states to register voters. “They did something remarkable in bringing all these new voters,” he says. The group has acknowledged that some of its employees may have turned in questionable forms in order to meet their registration goals and continue working with the group, but says it has worked to weed out such problematic forms and has alerted county election officials to potential problems. Whelan says ACORN does not hesitate to fire employees who turn in fraudulent registration forms. Most states require third-party registration organizations such as ACORN to turn in even blatantly fraudulent forms under penalty of law. House Republicans have written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding a Justice Department investigation, and requesting Justice Department help in making sure ballots by what they call “ineligible or fraudulent voters” are not counted on Election Day. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s Republican opponent, says the Obama campaign should take action to rein in ACORN’s registration efforts in order to combat what he calls “voter fraud,” and notes that Obama represented ACORN in a 1995 lawsuit in Illinois. McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), says, “Obama has a responsibility to rein in ACORN and prove that he’s willing to fight voter fraud.” McCain has joined his House Republican colleagues in demanding a federal investigation. Obama says his campaign has no ties to ACORN, and says, “This is another one of those distractions that get stirred up during the campaign.” Recently a conservative Ohio think tank, the Buckeye Institute, filed a lawsuit against ACORN, charging it with criminal corruption under a civil provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which is usually employed against alleged members of organized crime. (Sanner 10/14/2008) The liberal media watchdog Media Matters notes that the Associated Press and CNN have both failed to report that Obama was joined by the Justice Department, the League of Women Voters, and the League of United Latin American Citizens in the 1995 lawsuit. The lawsuit was intended to force Illinois to implement the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), and was found in favor of ACORN and the other plaintiffs. (Auerbach and Hananoki 10/15/2008) Recently, officials raided the Nevada offices of ACORN in a fruitless attempt to find evidence of voters being fraudulently registered (see October 7, 2008). Independent fact-checkers will soon find allegations of voter registration fraud leveled against ACORN to be entirely baseless (see October 18, 2008).
Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the Republican candidate for vice president with presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ), learns of a recent CNN report about her ties with the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 14, 2008) and the Salon.com article that sparked the report (see October 10, 2008). Palin is on a campaign jet en route to New Hampshire when she sees part of the segment, along with a graphic on the bottom of the screen touting “The Palins and the Fringe.” The segment discusses her husband Todd Palin’s former membership in the AIP, and her own videotaped message to the 2008 AIP convention (see March 2008). During a rally this afternoon, someone on the rope line shouts a question about the AIP. Palin determines that the campaign is not working hard enough to downplay her connections to the AIP, and quickly sends an email to Steve Schmidt, the campaign’s chief strategist, and to campaign manager Rick Davis and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace. The email, titled simply “Todd,” reads: “Pls get in front of that ridiculous issue that’s cropped up all day today—two reporters, a protestor’s sign, and many shout-outs all claiming Todd’s involvement in an anti-American political party. It’s bull, and I don’t want to have to keep reacting to it.… Pls have statement given on this so it’s put to bed.” Palin is worried in part because her vice-presidential debate with Democratic contender Joseph Biden (D-DE) is coming up in hours, and she has no desire to delve into the Palins’ associations with the AIP during it. Five minutes after Palin sends the email, she receives a reply from Schmidt, saying: “Ignore it. He [Todd Palin] was a member of the aip? My understanding is yes. That is part of their platform. Do not engage the protestors. If a reporter asks say it is ridiculous. Todd loves america.” Palin is unsatisfied, sending another email to the three original recipients and cc’ing it to five other campaign staffers, including her personal assistant. CBS News will later report: “Palin’s insertion of the five additional staffers in the email chain was an apparent attempt to rally her own troops in the face of a decision from the commanding general with which she disagreed. Her inclusion of her personal assistant was particularly telling about her quest for affirmation and support in numbers, since the young staffer was not in a position to have any input on campaign strategy.” Palin writes: “That’s not part of their platform and he was only a ‘member’ bc independent alaskans too often check that ‘Alaska Independent’ box on voter registrations thinking it just means non partisan. He caught his error when changing our address and checked the right box. I still want it fixed.” Palin is misrepresenting the nature of Alaskan voter registration documents: they contain the full name of the Alaskan Independence Party, not “Alaska independent,” as she seems to assert. Schmidt sees Palin’s second email as an attempt to mislead the campaign and sends a longer response about the AIP, which says: “Secession. It is their entire reason for existence. A cursory examination of the website shows that the party exists for the purpose of seceding from the union. That is the stated goal on the front page of the web site. Our records indicate that todd was a member for seven years. If this is incorrect then we need to understand the discrepancy. The statement you are suggesting be released would be innaccurate. The innaccuracy would bring greater media attention to this matter and be a distraction. According to your staff there have been no media inquiries into this and you received no questions about it during your interviews. If you are asked about it you should smile and say many alaskans who love their country join the party because it speeks to a tradition of political independence. Todd loves his country[.] We will not put out a statement and inflame this and create a situation where john has to adress this.” CBS will call Schmidt’s pushback against Palin’s insistence on a correction “particularly blunt in that it implicitly questioned her truthfulness. Furthermore, his unwillingness to budge an inch on the matter was a remarkable assertion of his power to pull rank over the candidate herself.” Palin does not respond to the email. (CBS News 7/1/2009) The McCain-Palin campaign will issue a brief statement denying that Palin was ever a registered member of the AIP. “Governor Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982,” campaign spokesman Brian Rogers will say. “As you know, if she changed her registration, there would have been some record of it. There isn’t.” AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will confirm Rogers’s statement. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey lambasts CNN for what he calls an attempted “smear” against Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK). Rainey is referring to a segment recently aired on CNN (see October 14, 2008) that interviewed author and columnist David Neiwert, who recently co-wrote an article about Palin’s connections to the far-right, secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 10, 2008). Palin has already demanded that the McCain-Palin campaign issue a statement repudiating the CNN segment, a decision the campaign did not acquiesce to (see October 15, 2008); it is unclear whether Rainey had any knowledge of Palin’s demand, though McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb sent a message to CNN calling the segment “a smear” that was aired during the segment itself. Rainey writes that the Neiwert interview was little more than “a reheated, overwrought, and misleading story that seemed designed to yoke Sarah Palin and her husband to the most extreme secessionists in Alaska.” He acknowledges that Palin’s husband Todd Palin once belonged to the AIP, and writes, “[H]is wife, the governor and now Republican vice presidential nominee, has been friendly with some of its members.” (The article by Neiwert and co-author Max Blumenthal goes into significant detail about how AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson have steered Palin’s rise to power from her days as a Wasilla city council member.) Rainey accurately notes that neither Neiwert, Blumenthal, nor CNN have shown that Palin has echoed the AIP’s central platform call for Alaska’s secession from the United States. He calls Alaskan politics “eccentric,” and says that in Alaska, the AIP “is not so far out on the fringe. An AIP member won the governorship in 1990. And party members have been in the thick of the state’s public life for decades. Members run the gamut from states-rights enthusiasts to radical secessionists who have advocated extreme measures to free Alaska from the United States.” Rainey criticizes CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez for “front-loading” his segment with “outrageous pronouncements from AIP founder Joe Vogler, now deceased,” including Voger’s famous pronoucement: “The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won’t be buried under their damn flag.” Rainey draws a comparison to Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s “old pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.,” then writes, “[T]o my knowledge, no direct connection between Vogler and Gov. Palin has been reported.” (Rainey 10/15/2008) In a rejoinder published on the liberal news blog Crooks and Liars, Neiwert notes that in the CNN interview, he was careful not to associate Palin directly with far-right radicals such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez attempted to do, and notes, “Part of covering and writing about the Patriot movement involved listening and watching carefully to distinguish them, because to some extent, you had to give the mainstream conservatives the benefit of the doubt when it came to their actual intent in getting involved with these groups.” However, Neiwert goes on to say, the connections between Palin and the AIP are quite strong and well detailed. He also notes that AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark said flatly in 2007 that Palin “was an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town (see Mid and Late 1996)—that was a non-partisan job. But you get along to go along—she eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics, and well, I won’t go into that. She also had about an 80 percent approval rating, and is pretty well sympathetic to her former membership.” He also notes that Clark later disavowed his claim of Palin’s membership in the AIP. However, Neiwert writes, “it’s clear that Clark and many others within the AIP viewed Palin as ‘one of ours.’ And as we have demonstrated, they did so with good cause.” He concludes that it is a “cold reality that Palin has a real history of empowering these extremists, and pandering to their conspiratorial beliefs, from her position of public office. And the question is whether that would continue from a position of real power in the White House.” (Neiwert 10/15/2008)
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a study that finds that, by and large, the media coverage for Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been more negative than that for his opponent, Democrat Barack Obama. The Center writes: “Press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so. But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable—and has become more so over time.” The study also finds: “Much of the increased attention for McCain derived from actions by the senator himself, actions that, in the end, generated mostly negative assessments. In many ways, the arc of the media narrative during this phase of the 2008 general election might be best described as a drama in which John McCain has acted and Barack Obama has reacted.” The study also notes that coverage for McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, “had an up and down trajectory, moving from quite positive, to very negative, to more mixed. What drove that tone toward a more unfavorable light was probing her public record and her encounters with the press. Little of her trouble came from coverage of her personal traits or family issues. In the end, she also received less than half the coverage of either presidential nominee, though about triple that of her vice presidential counterpart, Joe Biden. The findings suggest that, in the end, Palin’s portrayal in the press was not the major factor hurting McCain. Her coverage, while tilting negative, was far more positive than her running mate’s.” (Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism 10/22/2008) The progressive media watchdog site Media Matters will call the study “arguabl[y] flaw[ed]” and will note that it does not include conservative talk radio, whose coverage of the presidential campaign has amounted to what the site calls “an all-out effort to foment hate and suspicion of Obama among their listeners, promoting the most baseless and farfetched of smears and advancing falsehoods—including about Obama’s religion and background—that have taken hold among a substantial percentage of the electorate” (see July 9, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, and November 10, 2008). (Media Matters 11/6/2008)
Within hours of Pittsburgh resident Ashley Todd’s claim that she was attacked by a black Barack Obama supporter whom, she says, carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face during the attack (see October 22, 2008), conservative blogs and political Web sites begin an outpouring of enraged and supportive posts and articles supporting Todd and lambasting the Obama campaign and the “liberal media” which, they say, will do its best to cover up the alleged attack. Todd uses her Twitter account, and her connections as a member of the College Republicans and a McCain campaign volunteer, to spread the word about her alleged attack. The photograph of her and her wounds, taken by her friend Dan Garcia and given to police and the College Republicans, is quickly posted on the popular conservative news and gossip site Drudge Report, which calls the attack a “mutilation.” The Drudge article takes the controversy to a national level. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008)
Bloggers Respond - Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, writing for the popular blog Instapundit, uses the Drudge article for the basis of his own post (repeating the claim that Todd was “mutilated”), and writes, “This is so serious that I predict it will get almost one-tenth as much national coverage as something some guy may have yelled at a Palin rally once.” He repeats a comment from another blog that says, “But, were it a black woman with an ‘M’ carved in her cheek [presumably for ‘McCain’], we’d be getting 24/7 coverage.” (Glenn Reynolds 10/23/2008) Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey, writing for another popular blog, Hot Air, calls the attack a “maiming,” though he does not blame the Obama campaign for it, instead writing that “this particular criminal sounds like he’s a couple of bricks short of a load even for that crowd.” Morrissey initially resists the idea that Todd may be perpetuating a hoax, writing, “Not too many young women would scar their faces just to create a political hoax,” but later admits that Todd lied and calls her a “very, very disturbed young woman.” (Ed Morrissey 10/23/2008) A blogger for College Politico calls the attack “horrifying” and derides bloggers at the liberal Daily Kos for being “unsympathetic,” citing comments that expressed doubts about Todd’s veracity, calling them “deprived” (apparently intending to call them “depraved”) and saying that the Kos bloggers “have absolutely no reason to doubt her.” He goes on to criticize conservative bloggers who also express their doubts about Todd’s story, calls some of the skepticism “idiotic,” and says the fact that the “B” is carved backwards “MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” (caps in the original). The blogger later posts updates acknowledging that the story is a hoax, and calls Todd “the lowest level of scum.” (College Politico 10/24/2008; College Politico 10/24/2008) A blogger calling himself “Patrick” for the conservative Political Byline posts the picture of Todd and writes, “So, this is what they do to people who support McCain.” In his title, he says Todd’s attacker is “One of Barry’s fans, I’m sure,” referring to Senator Obama, and calls Obama the “Marxist Magic Negro.” Like the others, he eventually acknowledges that the story is a hoax. (Political Byline 10/24/2008)
Malkin Expresses Doubts - One conservative blogger who does not immediately leap on the Todd story is Michelle Malkin. When the story breaks, she writes of her suspicions about the “B” being carved so neatly into Todd’s face, and carved backwards, and how she finds Todd’s initial refusal to accept medical treatment questionable. Before Todd admits to the fraud, Malkin writes: “We have enough low-lifes and thugs in the world running loose and causing campaign chaos and fomenting hatred without having to make them up. I’ve been blowing the whistle on the real, left-wing rage not on the front page and in-your-face tactics throughout the election season. Hate crimes hoaxes—by anyone, of any political persuasion, and of any color—diminish us all.” (Michelle Malkin 10/23/2008)
Presidential Campaigns Respond - The McCain campaign issues a statement denouncing the attack as “sick and disgusting”; the Obama campaign issues a statement deploring the attack and demanding that Todd’s assailant be quickly brought to justice. Both McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), telephone Todd with expressions of concern and support. The Pennsylvania communications director for the McCain campaign, Peter Feldman, quickly spreads the story, along with the photo of Todd, to reporters around the state, along with what reporter Greg Sargent will call “an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established.” Apparently Feldman is the person who first tells reporters that the “B” stands for “Barack.” (Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008; Strange 10/25/2008)
Obama Campaign Demands Explanation, Corrections - Todd soon admits that she lied about the attack, and though she claims her memory does not well serve her, says she probably scratched the “B” into her cheek herself (see October 24, 2008). When the national press learns that Todd lied about her attack, the Obama campaign becomes incensed, demanding that the McCain campaign explain why it was pushing a version of the story that was, in Sargent’s words, “far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.” The Obama campaign also pressures some news outlets, including KDKA-TV and WPXI-TV, to rewrite their reports to remove the inflammatory and “racially charged” information concocted by Feldman, including claims that the alleged attacker told Todd he would “teach [her] a lesson” about supporting McCain, and that the “B” stood for “Barack.” There is no evidence of the national McCain campaign becoming involved in promulgating the falsified Todd story. (Sargent 10/24/2008)
'Okay Obama Frame-Job. ... I'd Give You a 'B' - After the story is exposed as a fraud, many post irate or sarcastic rejoinders on Twitter, using the hash tag ”#litf08” to ensure their viewing on the College Republican Twitter account, “Life in the Field,” where Todd made many of her Twitter posts. A former blogger for the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd (D-PA), Matt Browner-Hamlin, asks: “Anyone know which Rove protege is responsible for #litf08? Because they lack the execution skills of the man himself.” Browner-Hamlin is referring to former Bush administration campaign manager Karl Rove. Another commenter writes: “Hmm, it was an okay Obama frame-job, just a few inconsistencies snagged you. Overall I’d give you a ‘B.’” And another commenter asks, “Do 50 College Republicans [the description of the ‘Life in the Field’ volunteers] try this kind of stunt often?” College Republicans executive director Ethan Eilon claims his organization “had no idea” Todd “was making this story up.” (Wired News 10/24/2008)
Pittsburgh Councilman Demands Apology from McCain Campaign - The Reverend Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh City Council member, will demand an apology from the McCain campaign for deliberately spreading a story it had not confirmed, and for embellishing it to make it even more racially inflammatory. “That one of your campaign spokespersons would spread such an incendiary story before any confirmation of the facts is both irresponsible and runs counter to our nation’s constitutional guarantee that no one be denied life, liberty, or property without due process,” Burgess writes. He demands an apology for “inflaming the divisions of this country,” and later says: “I don’t know why they chose to push this story. But it just seems suspicious to me that they would target this story, which has a fictional African-American person harming a non-African-American person in this city.” A McCain campaign spokesman initially derides Burgess and his source, the progressive news blog TPM Election Central, writing: “The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact. The McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs. It’s disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations.” (WTAE-TV 10/27/2008; Burgess 10/27/2008 ; Burgess 10/27/2008 )
Secret Service officials blame the inflammatory campaign rhetoric of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK) for an upsurge in death threats against president-elect Barack Obama (D-IL) in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. During the campaign, Palin accused Obama of consorting with terrorists, citing his association with 1960s antiwar radical William Ayers (see October 4-5, 2008). According to the Secret Service, “The attacks provoked a near lynch mob atmosphere at her rallies, with supporters yelling ‘terrorist’ and ‘kill him’ until the McCain campaign ordered her to tone down the rhetoric” (see October 15, 2008). The Secret Service says it has evidence that some white supremacists may have used Palin’s words as encouragement to issue credible and specific death threats. During the campaign, Obama’s wife Michelle, upset by one such report, asked her friend and campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett, “Why would they try to make people hate us?” A report by security and intelligence analysts Stratfor, coinciding with the Secret Service’s announcement, warns that Obama remains a high-risk target for racist assassins. The report finds: “Two plots to assassinate Obama were broken up during the campaign season and several more remain under investigation. We would expect federal authorities to uncover many more plots to attack the president that have been hatched by white supremacist ideologues.” McCain campaign aides blame Palin for engaging in heated rhetorical attacks on Obama, including direct accusations of him being un-American, without the knowledge or approval of McCain. Palin has retorted that these campaign aides are “jerks” who took her words “out of context,” saying: “I consider [their criticisms] cowardly. It’s not true. That’s cruel, it’s mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks if they came away taking things out of context and then tried to spread something on national news that’s not fair and not right.” Palin claims she was victimized by sexist reporters and news commentators during the campaign. (Shipman 11/8/2008)
National Review columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez says that the reaction to CNBC commentator Rick Santelli’s “tea party rant” (see February 19, 2009) has been so strong that she is speculating about the possibility of a presidential ticket for 2012 featuring former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Santelli: “Palin-Santelli 2012.” She writes: “I’m noticing the tone. I’m seeing the enthusiasm. And I’m digging out from the sheer volume of e-mails I’ve been getting today about that CNBC dude. The reaction to Rick Santelli’s Chicago-trading-floor incident this morning echoes the emotional reaction my inbox had to Sarah Palin’s convention speech this summer. I make no endorsements. It’s just an observation.” She calls Santelli a “sign of life” for a flagging conservative opposition movement. (Lopez 2/19/2009)
Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008, writes on her Facebook page that the Democrats’ health care reform package would result in a government “death panel” that would kill her baby, Trig. Her child was born with Down Syndrome. Palin writes: “Americans delve into the disturbing details of the nationalized health care plan that the current administration is rushing through Congress, our collective jaw is dropping, and we’re saying not just no, but hell no!… And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” Palin also commends Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) for warning the nation about President Obama’s “Orwellian” health care adviser: “Rep. Michele Bachmann highlighted the Orwellian thinking of the president’s health care advisor, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the brother of the White House chief of staff [Rahm Emanuel], in a floor speech to the House of Representatives. I commend her for being a voice for the most precious members of our society, our children and our seniors.” (Kleefeld 8/7/2009; Time 8/8/2009)
Inspired by Debunked Claims from Industry Lobbyist - Palin’s warning about government “death panels” is inspired by debunked warnings from industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey and a variety of Republican lawmakers and conservative talk show hosts about the reform proposals’ implicit agenda to kill older Americans faster (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, and July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009). Politico’s Ben Smith writes: “As nonpartisan sources note, the [proposal] deals with medical practitioners helping individuals prepare living wills, powers of attorney, and the like. It’s a long ways from there to a ‘death panel’ where bureaucrats decide who lives or dies.” (Smith 8/7/2009)
Countering Palin's Assertions - Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says of Palin’s assertions: “There is no Obama death panel. There’s no plan to kill old people. There’s no plan to kill off any people who aren’t productive enough. There’s no plan to kill off any of Sarah Palin’s children. And if we were actually talking about health care instead of waddling through this free-floating morass of factless partisan rage and corporate opportunism, it would occur to someone to notice that the provision being considered by Congress that has Sarah Palin ranting about Obama death panels and the death of her own children was introduced by Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia (see August 10, 2009). And it’s not about killing old people. It’s about making it easier for old people to create living wills. A similar provision was introduced by another Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine. This is a Republican idea.” (MSNBC 8/10/2009) Days later, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) tells an audience: “It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there’s these end-of-life provisions, these death panels. Quite honestly, I’m so offended at that terminology because it absolutely isn’t [in the bill]. There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill.… There are things that are in this bill that are bad enough that we don’t need to be making things up.” (Demer 8/11/2009)
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) does not withdraw her accusations that Congressional Democrats are planning to institute “death panels” for elderly Americans as part of their health care reform proposal (see August 7, 2009), but she does call for civility at town hall debates over the reform proposals (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, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, and August 8, 2009). On her Facebook page, Palin writes: “There are many disturbing details in the current bill that Washington is trying to rush through Congress, but we must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment. Such tactics diminish our nation’s civil discourse which we need now more than ever because the fine print in this outrageous health care proposal must be understood clearly and not get lost in conscientious voters’ passion to want to make elected officials hear what we are saying. Let’s not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us.” Talking Points Memo correspondent Eric Kleefeld notes: “It would be incorrect to say that Palin is backing off. Rather, she is calling for civility in the manner of the debate, so as to focus effectively on how evil and disturbing her opponents are.” (Smith 8/10/2009; Kleefeld 8/10/2009) MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow says of Palin’s apparent backtrack: “[I]n politics the price of cultivating the extremist fringe—the price of that is losing your support from absolutely everyone else who is not on the fringe. And that’s why politicians get caught saying, ‘Who me?’ They try to both cultivate the fringe and to deny that they are doing so. So you get Sarah Palin allying herself with the off-the-kook end fringe by denouncing mythical death panels in health care reform. And once those remarks draw wide attention, you get her trying to appear to be responsible by calling for civility.” (MSNBC 8/11/2009)
Conservative radio and Fox News television host Glenn Beck says he believes that “death panels” are real. Beck is referring to a recent statement made by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), who accused Congressional Democrats of creating “death panels,” review boards that would make decisions as to who would receive medical treatment and who would be allowed to die, as part of their health care reform legislation (see August 7, 2009), itself a larger part of the so-called “deather” belief (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, and July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009). On Beck’s radio show, he asks: “So, why is there no more discussion than there is on Sarah Palin and what she said over the weekend that there would be death—what did she call it?—a death squad? Or a death—” His executive producer, Steve Burguiere, fills in the name, “Death panel.” Beck continues: “A death panel for her son Trig. That’s quite a statement. I believe it to be true, but that’s quite a statement.… I believe she at least should be listened to and you should question, ‘Is it evil?’ Would there be—what would make her say that there would be a death panel? I mean, tomorrow on Fox at 5 o’clock, make sure you’re joining us, because we’ll ask some of those same questions. We will show you some of the reasons why you could read it this way. It’ll be up to you whether or not you find it credible enough to say: ‘Well, now, wait a minute. Those are really bad seeds that have been planted before. Maybe we shouldn’t plant those seeds.’ But it’s up to you to decide.” (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
A number of conservative commentators quickly advance the idea that the Democrats’ health care reform package includes “death panels” (see August 7, 2009). The term was first used by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). The idea is an outgrowth of the thoroughly debunked claim that the reform bill will encourage doctors to deny elderly or mentally challenged patients health care, leaving them to die rather than spend money caring for them (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). (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Government Cannot Be Trusted Not to Set Up Death Panels - Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), appearing on ABC News’s This Week, says the idea of “death panels” is feasible because “you’re asking us to trust the government. Now, I’m not talking about the Obama administration. I’m talking about the government. You’re asking us to decide that we believe that the government is to be trusted. We know people who have said routinely, well, you’re going to have to make decisions. You’re going to have to decide. Communal standards, historically, is a very dangerous concept.… [T]he bill’s 1,000 pages of setting up mechanisms. It sets up 45 different agencies. It has all sorts of panels. You’re asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there clearly are people in America who believe in—in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.” Host George Stephanopoulos repeatedly reminds Gingrich that there is no such language in the bill, and that the bill merely pays for voluntary counseling (see July 23, 2009 and Late July, 2009). Gingrich continues to make his assertions. (Walsh 8/10/2009; Media Matters 8/10/2009)
False Claim of British Death Panels - Conservative blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin falsely claims that Britain, which has had socialized medicine for years, has just such death panels. Fox News host Brian Kilmeade says: [E]veryone’s talking about seniors, and they’re talking about the middle class and affordable health care. If the upper class is paying for the next two classes, and are seniors going to be in front of the death panel? And then just as you think, okay, that’s ridiculous, then you realize there’s provisions in there that seniors in the last lap of their life will be sitting there going to a panel possibly discussing what the best thing for them is.”
'A Legitimate Concern from a Fair Reading of This Bill' - Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano calls the idea “a legitimate concern from a fair reading of this bill,” saying that the legislation is so vague in its language that it could allow the government to set up such panels: “If it’s federal money, the federal government can say: ‘We’re not gonna give Grandma a new knee, or Grandma a new kidney. We’re just gonna give her painkillers. We’re gonna save that money for that knee or that kidney for somebody who’s 25 instead of somebody who’s 85.’ That is power that Americans have never conferred on the government. That was Governor Palin’s concern, and that is a legitimate concern from a fair reading of this bill, which most members of Congress have not done.”
'That's Crazy' - Other conservatives deride the idea. New York Times columnist David Brooks says of the notion of death panels: “[T]hat’s crazy. If the—the crazies are attacking the plan because it’ll cut off Granny, and that—that’s simply not true. That simply is not going to happen.” Libertarian radio host Larry Elder, appearing on CNN, calls the idea “over the top,” “irresponsible,” and “incendiary.” On the same CNN broadcast, progressive radio host Ron Reagan, the son and staunch defender of former President Ronald Reagan, is bluntly dismissive of Palin: “You know, Sarah Palin only needs a red rubber nose and some exploding shoes, and she could go to work for Barnum and Bailey. The fact that we give this clown any time at all is shocking and silly and a little bit stupid. So, you know, I find that offensive, frankly, and Larry, it’s a perfect example of the sort of dishonesty that’s being peddled out there in this debate.” Elder notes: “I think any kind of irresponsible comment takes away from the real issue here, and that is whether or not you can provide universal coverage, high quality, at low cost. Any kind of incendiary comment takes away from that debate, just as throwing pies at people like Ann Coulter and my good friend David Horowitz and William Kristol takes away from their debate.” (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Representative Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), who a month ago said that the Obama administration’s ideas on health care reform would send a message to senior citizens to “drop dead,” says that the idea of “death panels” as touted by former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and others (see July 16, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10, 2009), is untrue. Brown-Waite opposes the Democrats’ health care reform in the House because it would cut funds from the Medicare Advantage program, costing some senior citizens more money. Of the so-called “death panels” provision, Brown-Waite notes, “It doesn’t say that they’re going to receive counseling on euthanasia, that’s not what it says.” And, she adds, lawmakers are not considering “some of the gruesome options opponents are slinging around as scare tactics” (see July 24, 2009). “I do not believe that Americans would ever accept end-of-life care advice that included any form of ways to end one’s life.” Some conservative anti-reform protesters now consider Brown-Waite a “Democratic collaborator” for her comments, but she has won praise from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for exposing Palin’s “death panel” rhetoric as a lie. “She put principle first and laid out the facts,” the AARP notes in a news release. (Thompson 8/11/2009)
Representative John Mica (R-FL) tells listeners of Florida’s WDBO-AM that the idea of “death counselors” actually exists in the Democrats’ health care reform package. “They create a whole new category,” Mica says. “There are death counselors. There is authorization for reimbursement for those counselors for Medicare. You have a whole new cottage industry.” Mica’s idea, apparently sparked by debunked claims by former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and health care industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey, among others (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 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 12, 2009), actually refers to the legislation’s provision that Medicare would pay for “advanced care planning consultations” for elderly and seriously ill patients (see July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009). (Hazen 8/12/2009; Jilani 8/12/2009)
Investigative journalists find that at least seven prominent Republicans who now denounce what they call “death panels” and claim that the Democrats’ health care legislation will lead to the untimely deaths of US senior citizens (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, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, and August 13, 2009) actually supported proposals similar to the legislation’s provision for government-funded “end-of-life counseling.”
Palin, Gingrich Supported 'Advance Directives' - In August 2008, Sarah Palin (R-AK), then the governor of Alaska, proclaimed “Healthcare Decisions Day.” She urged public health care facilities to provide more information about so-called “advance directives,” and said that seniors must be informed of all their options as the end of their lives draw near. The proclamation has recently been deleted from the Alaska governor’s Web site. Reporter Matt Taibbi notes that in late 2008 and early 2009, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) endorsed an aggressive “end of life” program from a Wisconsin health care provider, Gundersen Lutheran Health System, and wrote, “If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.” Taibbi accuses Gingrich of “lying [about death panels] in order to scare a bunch of old people.” (Matt Taibbi 8/12/2009; Fang 8/13/2009)
Five Others Voted for End-of-Life Counseling - In 2003, five Republicans who now oppose the supposed “death panels” voted in favor of an almost-identical provision in that year’s Medicare reform legislation. Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and John Mica (R-FL), and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) all voted for the bill, which provided coverage for “counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options, and advising the beneficiary regarding advanced care planning.” Boehner, McCotter, and Mica have claimed that the current attempt at health care reform would lead to “government-encouraged euthanasia.” Isakson opposes the House legislation because it allows the “government to incentivize doctors by offering them money to conduct end-of-life counseling.” And Grassley told constituents that they are “right to fear” that government could “decide when to pull the plug on Grandma” (see August 12, 2009). (Sargent 8/14/2009)
Widespread Republican Support in 2003 - In all, 202 House Republicans and 42 Republican Senators voted for the Medicare bill. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will say: “And there was not a peep about then-President Bush having a secret plan to kill old people. Bottom line? Either Republicans like Chuck Grassley and John Boehner and John Mica have totally changed their minds about whether living wills are really a secret plot to kill old people, or they voted for something just a few years ago that they actually thought was a secret plot to kill old people. Take your choice.” (MSNBC 8/17/2009)
After briefly backing away (see August 10, 2009) from her earlier claim that the Democrats’ health care reform legislation would mandate so-called “death panels” (see August 7, 2009), former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) reiterates her claim. In a post on her Facebook page, Palin writes: “Yesterday President Obama responded to my statement that Democratic health care proposals would lead to rationed care (see August 11, 2009); that the sick, the elderly, and the disabled would suffer the most under such rationing; and that under such a system, these ‘unproductive’ members of society could face the prospect of government bureaucrats determining whether they deserve health care. The provision that President Obama refers to is Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled ‘Advance Care Planning Consultation.’ With all due respect, it’s misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients.… Section 1233 authorizes advanced care planning consultations for senior citizens on Medicare every five years, and more often ‘if there is a significant change in the health condition of the individual… or upon admission to a skilled nursing facility, a long-term care facility… or a hospice program.‘… President Obama can try to gloss over the effects of government-authorized end-of-life consultations, but the views of one of his top health care advisers are clear enough (see July 23-24, 2009). It’s all just more evidence that the Democratic legislative proposals will lead to health care rationing and more evidence that the top-down plans of government bureaucrats will never result in real health care reform.” Members of Palin’s own party have called her claims inaccurate (see August 11, 2009) and “nuts” (see August 10, 2009), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has identified Palin as one of the persons responsible for spreading “wrong” information about health care reform, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is using her claims in a fundraising plea to supporters, calling her statement “disgusting” and “outrageous.” (Barr 8/13/2009)
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)
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) gives a speech to an audience at the conservative Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Bachmann tells the audience that “we… have to make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers” to defeat health care reform. Bachmann, whose speech is frequently punctuated by cheers, says health care reform has “the strength to destroy this country forever.… Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom. And we may never be able to restore it if we don’t man up and take this one on.” She continues: “Something is way crazy out there.… This cannot pass.… What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.… You’re either for us or against us on this issue.” Calling her speech a “personal legislative briefing,” Bachmann tells the audience that many Americans pay half of their incomes in taxes, and thusly, “This is slavery. It’s nothing more than slavery.” The Colorado Independent characterizes Bachmann’s speech as “filled with urgent and violent rhetoric.” She proudly calls herself the nation’s “second-most hated Republican woman,” behind only former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), and calls herself first on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s list of “top targets,” presumably for defeat in the 2010 elections. Bachmann provides her own proposal for health care reform: “Erase the boundaries around every single state when it comes to health care,” enabling consumers to purchase insurance across state lines; increase the use of health savings accounts and allow everyone to “take full deductibility of all medical expenses,” including insurance premiums; include tort reform; and, she concludes: “Do a few other tweaks and you’re there. Your whole crisis is gone.” (Luning 8/31/2009; Nill 9/1/2009)
An organization called the “9/12 Project” (see March 13, 2009 and After), sponsored by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, holds a protest rally on the Capitol Mall in Washington. Other sponsors include lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), ResistNet (see August 10, 2009) and Tea Party Patriots (see July 17, 2009 and Late July, 2009). Many protesters credit Beck for inspiring them to come to the protest, though Beck himself does not attend. (Marshall 9/12/2009; Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009) Many of the signs praise Beck and Fox News, while others celebrate former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), and other conservative figures. Still others further the claim that health care reform will “kill Grandma” (see August 12, 2009) and “kill babies.” One sign, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), reads, “I need my health care… Pelosi makes me sick!” Many signs depict President Obama as a Communist or socialist; one claims, “I work hard so Obama voters don’t have to!” and another refers to “Comrade Obama.” One sign, declaring “Yes! We are a Christian nation!” is signed by one of the rally speakers, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). (John Lewandowski 9/12/2009)
Inflating the Numbers - Reports by local police and fire officials estimate the crowd at between 60,000 and 70,000, which columnist Josh Marshall calls “smallish by big DC protest/event standards but definitely respectable.” The Washington Post reports, “Tens of thousands protest Obama initiatives and government spending.” However, estimates by conservative radio hosts, bloggers, and media commentators put the numbers far higher, at up to two million. (TPMDC’s Brian Beutler notes that expectations were inflated the day before by a Democratic House staffer, who sent out an e-mail predicting a turnout “ranging from hundreds of thousands to two million people.” Beutler writes: “For reference, two million is just a hair under four times the total population of Washington, DC, and approximately the number of people who showed up to the history-making inauguration of President Barack Obama. Sound like a bit of an exaggeration? It probably is.” He also notes, “A source at a major liberal organization in Washington says, ‘one of the things we decided to do was try to raise expectations for turnout.’” When the initial figures are published in the media, protest organizers and various participants begin claiming that the actual turnout was somewhere between one and two million, but the numbers are being suppressed by pro-Obama media outlets. (Beutler 9/11/2009; Marshall 9/12/2009) One conservative blogger writes: “‘Media’ estimates range from 60,000 to 500,000 to around two million (yes, 2,000,000). Those estimates, the language employed, and the visuals chosen for use in reporting the rally and representing the people gathered, vary greatly based solely on bias.” (Richart 9/14/2009) Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin initially reports third-hand claims that ABC News is reporting turnouts between 1.2 and two million, then updates her report to note ABC denies making any such claim. She quotes another conservative blogger who writes, “However big it was, it was bigger than expected.” By day’s end, Malkin notes an ABC report that the wildly inflated crowd estimate came from FreedomWorks: “Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally Saturday that ABC News was reporting that one million to 1.5 million people were in attendance. At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, DC, fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as ‘tens of thousands.’ Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, said he did not know why Kibbe cited ABC News as a source.” Malkin then writes, “The Left, of course, has seized on the error to discredit the undeniably massive turnout today.” (Michelle Malkin 9/12/2009; ABC News 9/13/2009) The next day, unidentified people circulate a photo from 1997 to ‘prove’ that the rally actually attracted over a million protesters (see September 13-14, 2009). Two days after the event, London’s Daily Mail reports “up to two million” at the rally. (Gardner 9/14/2009)
Fears of Socialism - The Post reports that many protesters wave signs and tell reporters about their fears of a “socialist America” under Obama, and warn that the Democrats’ attempts to reform US health care are undermining the Constitution. One protester bellows into a bullhorn: “You want socialism? Go to Russia!” “Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,” Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, tells the crowd, which responds with lusty cheers. One speaker, Representative Tom Price (R-GA), tells the crowd: “You will not spend the money of our children and our grandchildren to feed an overstuffed government. Our history is decorated by those who endured the burden of defending freedom. Now a new generation of patriots has emerged. You are those patriots.” Many of the signs support Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who days before accused Obama of lying during the president’s appearance before Congress (see September 9, 2009). (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009)
Exhortations to Violence? - Some of the signs and slogans chanted by the protesters strike observers as perhaps calling for violence against elected officials or citizens who disagree with the protesters’ views, or are racist and/or personally slanderous. One sign depicts an assault rifle and the words, “We came unarmed from Montana and Utah… this time!” Another reads, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time… Pennsylvanians are armed and ready!” Another, referencing proposed “triggers” that would launch a government program to provide health insurance, depicts a rifle with the caption, “I got your ‘trigger’ right here… it’s called the Second Amendment!” A number of protesters hold professionally printed signs referencing the recent death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), reading, “Bury ObamaCare with Kennedy.” Another, referencing the Cleveland Zoo and the discredited “birther” theory, asks: “What’s the difference between Cleveland and the White House? One has an African lion and another a lyin’ African!” A related sign calls Obama the “president of Kenya.” Another, purporting to speak in “ghetto slang,” asks, “Where my white privilege males at?” A protester waves a sign reading, “Fascist are [sic] now in control they [sic] are like a cancer slowly killing America WAKE UP.” The now-familiar signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache, and of “socialist” Obama made up like the Joker from Batman comics and movies, are also in evidence. One speaker calls Obama the “parasite-in-chief.” (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009; Gardner 9/14/2009)
Reaction from Democrats - The reaction from Congressional Democrats is tepid. Doug Thornell, an adviser to Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), tells reporters, “There is a lot of intensity on the far right to defeat the president’s agenda, but I am not sure that holding up signs that say we have to bury health reform with Senator Kennedy will go over well with moderates and independent voters.” (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009)
Democratic candidate Bill Owens wins an unexpected, narrow victory in a special election for the US House seat representing New York State’s 23rd District, a win widely seen as a setback to the national tea party movement. Owens ran against Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman in a race that saw the original Republican Party candidate, Dede Scozzafava, drop out under heavy pressure from local, state, and national tea party organizations to give way to Hoffman, their preferred candidate. Scozzafava was the unanimous choice of the 11 county chairs of the district’s Republican Party organization. The 23rd District is traditionally Republican. Conservative figures identified with the tea party, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), who has presidential aspirations, came out strongly in favor of Hoffman and against Scozzafava, as did talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Thompson, and the editorial pages of the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. Scozzafava is a moderate Republican who supports gay and abortion rights, and the federal economic stimulus package promoted by the Bush and Obama administrations. The Republican National Committee (RNC), which had backed Scozzafava, applauded her decision to withdraw and endorsed Hoffman. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who like the RNC had supported Scozzzafava but in the days before the election endorsed Hoffman, says he worries that having third-party candidates routinely enter races would split conservative votes and give Democrats control of federal and state governments. “This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this,” he says.“If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] speaker for life and guarantee [President] Obama’s re-election.… I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.” After Hoffman’s loss, some tea party figures blame the Republican Party for the defeat, saying that if the party had gotten behind Hoffman from the outset, he would have defeated Owens. Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, agrees, saying: “I think Doug Hoffman likely would have won if he had been the Republican candidate from the get-go. It wasn’t a spike in the end zone for the Democrats. They got that seat not because Democrats were brilliant, but because Republicans were stupid.” Some conservatives attempt to frame the loss as a victory because they forced the more moderate Scozzafava out of the race. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) says, “Our number one goal was to make clear that the Republican Party cannot take someone as liberal as Dede Scozzafava and thrust her out on the voters and expect the voters just to accept it.” The seat became vacant after Representative John M. McHugh (R-NY) was appointed by President Obama to become secretary of the Army. After facing a barrage of heavy criticism from Limbaugh, Palin, and the like, Scozzafava abruptly withdrew from the race and threw her support to Owens. Some critics questioned Hoffman’s eligibility to run for the seat, noting that his home in Lake Placid, New York, is not in the district. The conservative Club for Growth spent $1 million promoting Hoffman’s candidacy, and other conservative organizations such as the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and NOM also supported Hoffman. The groups funneled cash into Hoffman’s campaigns, printed up literature, and sent volunteers from other areas in the country to work for Hoffman. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who now heads the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), says the race proves Republicans need to stop fielding moderate candidates. “My own view right now is the myth that you have to be a moderate—a Democrat lite—to win in the Northeast probably has less standing now than in any time since I’ve been in politics,” Armey says. “The small-government candidate in the Republican Party—or running as an independent—is going to be the one to draw the energy of these voters.” Marilyn Musgrave, a former representative from Colorado who works for the Anthony List, says after the election that the conservative backing of Hoffman proves to Washington lawmakers that they should not take conservative votes for granted. “Don’t just assume we’re yours,” she says. (Feldmann 10/29/2009; Nagourney and Peters 10/31/2009; Peters 11/3/2009)
Fox News’s Gregg Jarrett, anchor of the Happening Now news broadcast, tells viewers that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is “continuing to draw huge crowds while she’s promoting her brand new book [her autobiography Going Rogue]. Take a look at—these are some of the pictures just coming into us. The lines earlier had formed this morning.” Fox News then cuts to film from the 2008 presidential campaign, where Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, was speaking to a large and enthusiastic crowd. The footage shows rally participants waving “McCain/Palin” signs while others hold pom-poms and cheer. Jarrett says, “There’s a crowd of folks.” (Gertz 11/18/2009; Shakir 11/18/2009; Silva 11/18/2009) Media Matters soon identifies the footage as being from a November 1, 2008 rally in Florida. (Schulman 11/18/2009) Progressive columnist and blogger John Amato, calling Fox News’s usage of the footage a deliberate “hoax,” writes that he has filed a complaint with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) over the use of the footage. (Amato 11/18/2009) Shortly afterwards, Fox News airs an apology, with another anchor saying in part: “We didn’t mean to mislead anybody. It was a mistake, and for that we apologize.” (Silva 11/18/2009) The next day, Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente blames a “production error” for the use of the inaccurate footage, saying: “This was a production error in which the copy editor changed a script and didn’t alert the control room to update the video. There will be an on-air explanation during Happening Now on Thursday.” (Shakir 11/19/2009) Unnamed sources tell a Chicago Tribune reporter that “serious disciplinary action” may be taken against those responsible, and that Fox News executives consider it “a sloppy and unnecessary error.” (Silva 11/18/2009) The Tribune and a number of progressive bloggers note a similar error on Sean Hannity’s Fox News broadcast two weeks earlier (see November 5, 2009).
A number of conservative media outlets accuse President Obama of engaging in “demagoguery” in his recent comments that warned the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) could open the door for foreign corporations to contribute money for use in American elections (see January 27-29, 2010). (Parker 1/28/2010) National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru writes, “The most demagogic moment (so far!) came when the president claimed, falsely, that the Supreme Court had given a green light to foreign corporations to run political ads.” (Ponnuru 1/27/2010) Law professor and former Federal Elections Commission member Bradley A. Smith echoes Ponnuru’s accusation, writing that Obama “engaged in demagoguery of the worst kind.… The president’s statement is false.… This is either blithering ignorance of the law or demagoguery of the worst kind.” (Smith 1/27/2010) Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the vice-presidential candidate on the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008, says on Fox News that Obama’s criticism “may not be true,” and accuses Obama of “embarrassing our Supreme Court.” She says: “This is why people are disenchanted and are becoming more and more disengaged really from what their government is doing, because when we see an issue like this—words spoken that may not be true coming from our president and embarrassing our Supreme Court and not respecting the separation of powers—we have a problem. And that’s illustrated there by that justice mouthing those words, ‘not true.’ Now, one or the other is being disingenuous here—either our president in what he just claimed, or the Supreme Court justice.” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough calls Obama’s warning “just not the truth,” saying that Obama’s statements were “not based in fact [or] the law.… So the president was not served well last night; he went out and said something that just wasn’t the truth. And I’m sure that that was very difficult for the Supreme Court to sit there and have the president tell America and the world these jokers on the front row just opened up American campaigns to foreign entities when that in fact is just not the truth.” (Parker 1/28/2010) Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners, “It’s clear the president didn’t know what he was talking about or he was just out-and-out lying because he knows he’s not going to be fact-checked on matters like that by most in the state-controlled media.” (Gregory 1/28/2010) Prominent conservative blogger “Allahpundit” accuses Obama of “demagoguing the First Amendment” (HotAir (.com) 1/27/2010) , an accusation echoed by conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, who responds to Allahpundit’s post by writing that Obama’s “demagoguery [will turn] into a negative for him.” (Glenn Reynolds 1/27/2010) The next day, the Wall Street Journal will demand that Obama “get his facts straight” about the issue (see January 29, 2010). The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Obama’s concerns were echoed by the four dissenting Supreme Court Justices in the Citizens United decision, as noted in the dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. The majority decision, Stevens wrote, “would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans.” Cornell law professor Michael Dorf agreed with Stevens, telling a reporter that “[i]t is a plausible inference from the court’s opinion that [foreign] money can’t be restricted.” Dorf’s position is echoed by campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer and the leaders of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, Media Matters notes. (Parker 1/28/2010) And the day after the decision was rendered, Smith, who accused Obama of either “blithering ignorance… or demagoguery,” told a reporter that though the law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing money to groups involved in election politics, “To the extent that there may be some foreign corporations that don’t fall under the category of foreign nationals [and could contribute to election organizations], that might be something Congress can deal with.” (Weigel 1/22/2010)
Conservative author Jonathan Kay covers the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee (see February 4-6, 2010), and publishes a column that states: “[I]t has become clear to me that the movement is dominated by people whose vision of the government is conspiratorial and dangerously detached from reality. It’s more John Birch than John Adams.” Kay, who is writing a book on alternative theories about the 9/11 attacks, is astonished at the breadth and depth of the conspiracy theories that many tea parties, and tea party organizations, seem to embrace. The “villain list,” as Kay calls it, includes banks; bailed-out corporations; Republican Party leaders such as RNC chairman Michael Steele, whom they feel ignore the tea parties; colleges and universities; CNN’s Anderson Cooper; Fox News pundits like Bill O’Reilly who scorn them; “big media” outlets such as the Washington Post; and even moviemakers like James Cameron, who make movies that they feel contain “hidden messages” to fool Americans into supporting gay rights, cuts in military spending, and the like. The central figure in their net of conspiracy theories, Kay writes, is Barack Obama (see May 7, 2010). The convention is opened by anti-environmentalist Steve Malloy, who accuses Obama and his administration of working to control every aspect of Americans’ lives, from the colors of their cars to the temperatures to which they set their home heating units, all to comply with what Malloy says is the United Nations’s greenhouse gas-reduction program. According to Malloy: “Obama isn’t a US socialist. He’s an international socialist. He envisions a one-world government.” Kay is particularly concerned that, based on what he hears at the convention, the tea parties are affiliating themselves with far-right, white supremacist ideology such as that espoused by the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011). They seem particularly enamored of the “New World Order” conspiracy (see September 11, 1990, November 5, 2008, March 17, 2009, March 18, 2009, March 24, 2009, March 24, 2009, and April 6, 2009). A convention speaker, former judge Roy Moore, tells his listeners that Obama intends to station “a UN guard in every house[hold].” Radio host Alex Jones is a favorite among tea partiers, Kay writes; Jones claims that Obama’s presidency is a plot by the leaders of the New World Order to “con the Amercican people into accepting global slavery.” One conventioneer tells Kay that Washington liberals “engineered the financial crash so they could destroy the value of the US dollar, pay off America’s debts with worthless paper, and then create a new currency called the Amero that would be used in a newly created ‘North American Currency Union’ with Canada and Mexico.” Shortly thereafter, the convention shows a “documentary” entitled Generation Zero that makes similar claims. The claims that Obama is a Kenyan who is ineligible to be president is a favorite theory, Kay writes; WorldNetDaily publisher Joseph Farah (see August 1, 2008 and After, December 5, 2008, May 28, 2009, July 21, 2009, and August 1-4, 2009) tells the crowd that the circumstances of Obama’s birth are more mysterious than the birth of Jesus Christ, and says, “My dream is that if Barack Obama seeks reelection in 2012 that he won’t be able to go to any city, any city, any town in America without seeing signs that ask, ‘Where’s the birth certificate?’” (see May 18, 2009). Kay concludes: “Perhaps the most distressing part of all is that few media observers bothered to catalog these bizarre, conspiracist outbursts, and instead fixated on Sarah Palin’s Saturday night keynote address. It is as if, in the current overheated political atmosphere, we all simply have come to expect that radicalized conservatives will behave like unhinged paranoiacs when they collect in the same room. That doesn’t say much for the state of the right in America. The tea partiers’ tricornered hat is supposed to be a symbol of patriotism and constitutional first principles. But when you take a closer look, all you find is a helmet made of tin foil.” (National Tea Party Convention 2/2010; Kay 2/8/2010)
Tea Party Nation (TPN), one of the national “umbrella” organizations that coordinate and promote local tea party events and groups (see August 24, 2010), holds a two-day Tea Party Convention in Nashvillle, Tennessee. Around 600 people attend, with another 500 or so attending only the speech given by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president in 2008. “America is ready for another revolution,” she tells the crowd. In a statement addressed at President Obama, she says the tea party movement is “about the people, and it’s bigger than any one king or queen of a tea party, and it’s a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter.” A Harvard Crimson report describes TPN as an “eclectic mix of Ron Paul libertarians” and “George W. Bush social conservatives” who are “predominantly white and above age 50” and have a common “dislike of President Obama, the debt, future tax increases, and the bank bailout.” Some critics accuse TPN of profiteering from the convention; tickets cost $549 ($349 to just hear Palin’s speech), and Palin receives a $100,000 speaker’s fee, which she claims “will go right back to the cause.” Some prominent lawmakers, including Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), canceled their planned appearances at the event, saying that their appearance at such an event would conflict with House rules. (National Tea Party Convention 2/2010; The Week 2/4/2010; Beth Rowen 2/9/2010)
Incendiary Rhetoric Opens Event - Speakers include Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan, WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah, and Rick Scarborough, an author who writes of the impending tyranny of “activist” judges. Some of the topics discussed during the convention include: “Correlations between the current Administration and Marxist Dictators of Latin America”; “5 Easy Fixes to the High Cost of Mass Immigration”; “Defeating Liberalism via the Primary Process”; and “Why Christians Must Engage.” The first speaker is former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who insults minority citizens and rails against the Obama administration. Tancredo says “illiterate” minority voters are responsible for putting Obama, “a committed socialist,” into office, and he goes on to say that perhaps literacy tests (see 1896 and June 8, 1959) and poll taxes (see February 4, 1964) should be reintroduced to ensure that candidates such as Obama never be elected again (see August 6, 1965). Tancredo says that the voters who put Obama into the White House “could not even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English.” Tancredo goes on to say: “The president and his left-wing allies in Congress are going to look at every opportunity to destroy the Constitution before we have a chance to save it. So put your running shoes on. Because I’ll tell you, I’ve heard we need a revolution. My friends, we already had it. We lost. I mean, what happened to us in that last election was a revolution.… This is our country. Let’s take it back.” Hilary Shelton of the NAACP later calls Tancredo’s remarks “the politics of denigration.” (National Tea Party Convention 2/2010; The Week 2/4/2010; Chattahbox 2/5/2010)
Rival Tea Parties Boycott Event - A number of rival tea party organizations and leaders asked tea party members to boycott the convention. One of those, organizer Shane Brooks, recently left TPN after deciding that the organization was too cozy with the national Republican Party. In a YouTube video, Brooks asked tea partiers to “boycott the National Tea Party Convention” and said: “[W]e will not allow Tea Party Nation or any group to achieve national leadership of this historic grassroots revolution by the people!… We must not allow the tea parties and other patriotic grassroots movement to be hijacked by the GOP.” Prominent Seattle tea party leader Keli Carender (see February 16-17, 2009) also decided not to attend after being listed as a convention speaker, telling an NPR reporter that she did not want the tea party movement to become too centralized. Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots said that the $549 convention attendance fee was far too high: “Most people in our movement can’t afford anything like that. So it’s really not aimed at the average grassroots person.” TPN founder Judson Phillips told a reporter that the high fees would allow TPN to make a profit and “funnel money back into conservative causes” through a 527 group it plans to set up. TPN leaders refused to discuss Palin’s speaking fee. A local tea party member said skeptically, “The tea party movement is a grass-roots movement; it’s not a business.” Another accused Phillips of being “someone who is trying to make a grab.” Others echo Brooks’s concerns that Phillips and TPN are attempting to “co-opt” the movement and become power brokers within the GOP. The Tea Party Express, an organization run by a small group of well-financed Republican consultants, is part of the convention, dismaying some more independent tea party leaders. One activist wrote in an online comment: “The tea party movement is about to be hijacked. TeaPartyNation.com organizers are hard lined GOP who use the proverbial veil of ‘conservatism’ to attract supporters.” RedState blogger Erick Erickson called the convention “scammy.” (Roth 1/11/2010; Roth 1/18/2010; Kissel 2/3/2010)
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican candidate for vice president, tells a crowd of Republican activists and tea party members in Little Rock, Arkansas, that the tea party movement must choose between the Republican and Democratic parties if it is to survive as a political force that elects its members to public office. “Now the smart thing will be for independents who are such a part of this tea party movement to, I guess, kind of start picking a party,” she says. “Which party reflects how that smaller, smarter government steps to be taken? Which party will best fit you? And then because the tea party movement is not a party, and we have a two-party system, they’re going to have to pick a party and run one or the other: ‘R’ or ‘D.’” Palin recommends that tea partiers choose the Republicans, though she notes that her husband Todd Palin is not a registered Republican and the movement should be open to including independents. (Both Palins have been affiliated with the far-right, secessionist Alaskan Independence Party—see March 2008 and October 15, 2008). Much of her speech is drawn from her 2008 campaign speeches. Much of the 18,000-seat Verizon Arena is empty, with the entire upper level closed off and the bottom level less than half full. In the hours before the event, the Arkansas Republican Party slashed prices on tickets to the speech to $20. The dining tables on the arena’s floor are crowded with donors who paid $175 for a ringside seat. Palin’s recommendation for the tea partiers to join the GOP draws mixed results from influential bloggers. “Allahpundit” at HotAir says Palin is correct in her statement about embracing the GOP over running Quixotic third-party races that are doomed to fail, and such races will just put more Democrats in office. Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice says the tea party is through as an independent movement if it follows Palin’s advice; many tea partiers are equally critical of both parties, and joining one to battle the other is just more politics as usual. And John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent says Palin’s recommendation is essentially moot, as the tea party has always been “a subsection of the Republican Party.” (Conroy 2/17/2010; The Week 2/18/2010)
The progressive news magazine Mother Jones publishes a detailed examination of the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009), one of the fastest-growing “patriot” groups on the far right. The group was founded in April 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer who once served as an aide to libertarian US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). According to author Justine Sharrock, it has become “a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers.” (Sharrock is referring to the burgeoning “tea party” movement, the people who believe President Obama is not an American citizen (see August 1, 2008 and After and October 8-10, 2008), and the “9/12” organization formed by lobbying organization FreedomWorks and Fox News host Glenn Beck—see March 13, 2009 and After.) Beck, MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan (see May 28, 2009, June 20, 2009, and July 16, 2009), and CNN host Lou Dobbs have publicly praised the organization. In December 2009, a grassroots summit organized by the Oath Keepers drew lawmakers such as US Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Paul Broun (R-GA). Sharrock’s profile is based on research and interviews with Rhodes, other Oath Keeper leaders, and ordinary members such as Private Lee Pray, who is stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
Group Made Up of Uniformed Citizens - What sets the group apart from others on the far-right fringe is that its membership is restricted to US citizens in uniform—soldiers, police officers, and veterans. At its ceremonies, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution, but then go a step further, vowing to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Pray says he knows of five fellow Oath Keepers at Fort Drum.
Preparing for Tyranny, Martial Law - He and other members are actively recruiting, arguing that under Obama, the US government is turning increasingly tyrannical and must be opposed, violently if need be. Pray says that many Oath Keepers had problems with some government policies under President Bush, but those reservations have grown with Obama’s ascension to power. Rhodes tells Sharrock: “Too many conservatives relied on Bush’s character and didn’t pay attention. Only now, with Obama, do they worry and see what has been done. Maybe you said, ‘I trusted Bush to only go after the terrorists.’ But what do you think can happen down the road when they say, ‘I think you are a threat to the nation?’” Pray, like many members, believes it will be a year at most before Obama declares martial law, perhaps under the pretext of a natural disaster or another 9/11-level terror attack, and begin detaining citizens en masse and banning interstate travel. Another Oath Keeper advises Sharrock to prepare a “bug out” bag with 39 items including gas masks, ammunition, and water purification tablets, so that she will be prepared “when the sh_t hits the fan.” Pray and his friends have a “fortified bunker” at one of their member’s parents’ home in rural Idaho, where they have stashed survival gear, generators, food, and plenty of weapons. If need be, they say, they will attack their fellow soldiers. Pray describes himself as both a “birther” and a “truther,” believing that Obama is an illegitimate president installed by a government that launched the 9/11 attacks on its own soil to drive the country further down the road towards tyranny. Pray has suffered demotion for a drinking problem, and was denied deployment to Iraq when he injured his knees in a fall. Right now his job involves operating and maintaining heavy equipment on base, and he is listed currently as “undeployable.” He and his fellow Oath Keepers on base spend their free time researching what they call the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) and conspiracies about detention camps. Pray is one of the few active-duty members who will agree to have his name made public; Rhodes encourages active-duty soldiers and police officers to hide their membership in the group, saying a group with large numbers of anonymous members can instill in its adversaries the fear of the unknown—a “great force multiplier,” he calls it. Pray worries that the CIA is monitoring his phone calls and insists that unmarked black cars follow him when he drives. A fellow Fort Drum Oath Keeper who only allows his first name of Brandon to be used, and who is also “undeployable” due to his own injuries, says that the off-limits areas of Fort Drum contain concentration camps. Sharrock notes that the soldiers’ behavior might be considered “paranoid,” but writes, “Then again, when you’re an active-duty soldier contemplating treason, some level of paranoia is probably sensible.”
Stewart Rhodes - Rhodes, a Yale graduate and constitutional lawyer, is working on a book currently titled We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic. He is an Army veteran who was honorably discharged after injuring his spine in a parachute jump, and worked for a time supervising interns in Ron Paul’s Congressional office. He briefly practiced law in Montana, has worked as a sculptor and a firearms instructor, and writes a gun-rights column for SWAT magazine. He describes himself as a libertarian, a staunch constitutionalist, and a devout Christian. He decided to abandon electoral politics in 2008 after Paul’s presidential bid failed, and turned instead to grassroots organizing. In college, he became fascinated with the idea that had German soldiers and police refused to follow orders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler could have been stopped. In early 2008, he read a letter in SWAT magazine declaring that “the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are gravely endangered” and that service members, veterans, and police “is where they will be saved, if they are to be saved at all!” Rhodes responded with a column predicting a future President Hillary (“Hitlery”) Clinton turning the US into a despotism while dressed in her “Chairman Mao signature pantsuit.” He asked readers if they intended to follow this “dominatrix-in-chief,” hold militia members as enemy combatants, disarm citizens, and shoot all resisters. If “a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be by your hands,” he wrote. You had better “resolve to not let it happen on your watch.” Shortly thereafter, he set up a blog he called “Oath Keepers,” asking for testimonials from soldiers and veterans, and began gaining popularity. Military officers offered assistance. A Marine Corps veteran invited Rhodes to speak at a local tea party event. Paul campaigners provided strategic advice. In March 2009, Rhodes attended a rally staged by a pro-militia group, and in front of the crowd of some 400 participants, officially launched the Oath Keepers movement (see March 9, 2009). Buchanan and Beck have praised Rhodes, with Buchanan predicting that he “is headed for cable stardom.” Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars.com has repeatedly featured Rhodes and the Oath Keepers on his radio talk show.
Attracts Attention of Anti-Hate Organizations - The Oath Keepers has come to the attention of anti-hate organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which have cited the group in their reports on rising anti-government extremism. Rhodes has accused the SPLC of trying “to lump us in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and of course make the insinuation that we’re the next McVeigh,” referring to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing groups, tells Sharrock that it would be a mistake to term them another amalgamation of “right-wing crackpots” or “extremist nimrods,” as other press outlets have done. “[T]he reality is a lot of them are fairly intelligent, well-educated people who have complex worldviews that are thoroughly thought out,” Neiwert says. Neiwert and Sharrock tie Rhodes’s message to the much earlier views expressed by members of the now-defunct Posse Comitatus (see 1969), and note that the last reemergence of this brand of rhetoric took place during the last time a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House. Today, groups like the Oath Keepers use the Internet, particularly Facebook and YouTube, and cable news networks, to connect with like-minded citizens around the world. “The underlying sentiment is an attack on government dating back to the New Deal and before,” Neiwert says. “Ron Paul has been a significant conduit in recent years, but nothing like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann [R-MN] and Sarah Palin (see October 10, 2008)—all of whom share that innate animus.” While Rhodes and most Oath Keepers say they will only begin active disobedience under the delineated circumstances laid out by the group, some members have gone down their own paths of violence. Oath Keeper Daniel Knight Hayden set off a controversy last April 15 with a barrage of messages on Twitter stating his intention to “START THE KILLING NOW!” by engaging in a gun battle at the Oklahoma State Capitol and urging other Oath Keepers to join him (see April 14-15, 2009). Rhodes denounced Hayden, but Neiwert notes that Rhodes’s inflammatory and inciteful rhetoric can have what he calls “an unhinging effect” on people inclined toward violent action. “It puts them in a state of mind of fearfulness and paranoia, creating so much anger and hatred that eventually that stuff boils over.” In January, ex-Marine and Oath Keeper spokesman Charles Dyer, who beat a treason charge for advocating armed resistance to the government, was arrested on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl, and authorities found stolen military weaponry at his home; some militia groups have hailed Dyer as “the first POW of the second American Revolution,” but Rhodes removed information about him from the organization’s Web sites and now denies he was ever a member (see January 21, 2010). Rhodes says he and his Web staff are “overwhelmed” with the need to delete messages encouraging racism and violence from their blog, and recently he shut down one Internet forum because of members’ attempts to use it to recruit for militia organizations. Chip Berlet of the watchdog group Political Research Associates and an expert on far-right movements equates Rhodes’s rhetoric to yelling fire in a crowded theater. “Promoting these conspiracy theories is very dangerous right now because there are people who will assume that a hero will stop at nothing.” What will happen, he adds, “is not just disobeying orders but harming and killing.” Rhodes acknowledges that to follow through on his rhetoric could be risky, and reminds Sharrock that freedom “is not neat or tidy, it’s messy.”
Gold Standards, Muslim Rights, and Treasonous Federal Institutions - During a recent meeting at a North Las Vegas casino, Sharrock took part in discussions of whether Muslim citizens had rights under the Constitution, why the Federal Reserve was a treasonous institution, why the government should be run under Biblical law and a gold standard, and how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics plan targeting Christians. The group takes no official stance on the US’s war on terror or its foreign engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a recent Oath Keeper member who promoted his dual membership in the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the Oath Keepers blog had his post removed by Rhodes, who called the IVAW a “totalitarian” and “communist” organization.
Expanding Membership - Rhodes says the group has at least one chapter in each of the 50 states, and claims the group has some 29,000 members, not counting the ones who keep their membership off the computer lists. Volunteers are preparing a large “outreach” to soldiers serving overseas. The organization has worked hard to become a staple of tea party events, and tells tea partiers that bringing guns to those events reminds participants of their constitutional rights. The organization has made strong connections with groups such as the Constitution Party and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and national figures such as Ralph Reed, the former director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Elected officials such as Broun, Gingrey, Bachmann, and Steve King (R-IA) have expressed their interest in sponsoring legislation crafted by Oath Keeper leaders. (Sharrock 3/2010)
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), a Fox News contributor and generally accepted leader of the far-right Tea Party movement, posts an image on her Facebook page that depicts gunsights (crosshairs) on 20 Congressional districts and lists the Democrats who currently represent them. The image reads: “20 House Democrats from districts we [Republicans] carried in 2008 voted for the health care bill.… IT’S TIME WE TAKE A STAND. Let’s take back the 20 together!” The liberal Huffington Post calls Palin’s image and rhetoric “decidely militant.” Conservative commentator Elizabeth Hasselback calls the use of gunsight imagery “despicable,” saying: “I think the way some Republicans are handling this is nothing more than purely despicable. The names that are next to and being highlighted by those crosshairs—I think it’s an abuse of the Second Amendment. I also feel as though every single person on here is a mother, a father, a friend, a brother, a sister, and to take it to this level is—it’s disappointing to see this come from the party, and I would hope that leaders like Sarah Palin would end this.” The image lists the 20 Democrats by name (noting that three are not running for re-election, and marking their districts in red):
Vic Snyder (D-AR, retiring)
Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
Harry Mitchell (D-AZ)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
John Salazar (D-CO)
Betsy Markey (D-CO)
Allen Boyd (D-FL)
Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)
Brad Ellsworth (D-IN, retiring)
Baron Hill (D-IN)
Earl Pomeroy (D-AL)
Charlie Wilson (D-OH)
John Boccieri (D-OH)
Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA)
Christopher Carney (D-PA)
John Spratt (D-SC)
Bart Gordon (D-TN, retiring)
Thomas Perriello (D-VA)
Alan Mollohan (D-WV)
Nick Rahall (D-WV) (Huffington Post 3/24/2010; Huffington Post 3/26/2010)
After one of the listed Democrats, Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), is shot in the head by an apparent assassin in January 2011, Palin’s staff will remove the image from Palin’s Facebook page and issue the claim that the gunsights were actually intended to represent surveyor’s marks. However, Palin herself will call the gunsights “bullseyes” that “target[ed]” her opponents. After the November 2010 election, when all but two on the list have either retired or been defeated, Palin will post on Twitter: “Remember months ago ‘bullseye’ icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad).” Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler will write: “[I]t’s silly for her aides to claim she did not intend these to be gunsights. They can defend it, or apologize, but they shouldn’t pretend otherwise.” (Tammy Bruce 1/8/2011; Kessler 1/11/2011)
Dave Schwartz, the Maryland state director for the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), which funds and directs many tea party organizations, writes an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun praising the tea party movement for its successes and calling for it to eschew the conspiracy theories (see February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, August 24, 2010, September 2010, October 19, 2010, and August 17, 2011) that have often characterized it up to this point. “We must distance ourselves from ‘birthers,’ ‘truthers,’ and those who wish to use our enthusiasm for unrelated causes,” he writes, referring to two popular theories: that President Obama is not an American citizen, and that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by members of the Bush administration or others in the federal government. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States and was elected by a majority of voters. He is a father and a husband, and he has reached the pinnacle of his career through hard work and determination. We simply have a philosophical disagreement with him about the role of government in society. The tea party should fight the president’s and governor’s big-government policies with thoughtful solutions, not personal attacks.” He concludes by advising readers that “[f]or this movement to be a lasting political force, we must remain independent,” apparently referring to calls by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich for the tea party movement to join the GOP (see February 16, 2010 and April 21, 2010). (Schwartz 4/15/2010)
In the wake of the NAACP’s condemnation of racist speech being condoned by the various “tea party” groups around the nation (see July 13, 2010), Tea Party Express spokesman Mark Williams, a California radio talk show host, tells NPR that NAACP leaders “make more money off of race than any slave trader ever.” Williams says: “We are dealing with people who are professional race-baiters who make a very good living off this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader, ever. It’s time groups like the NAACP went to the trash heap of history where they belong, along with all the other vile, racist groups that emerged in our history.” The national Tea Party Federation cites New York Tea Party activist David Webb as saying: “A false charge of racism is itself, racist. This resolution shows they no longer serve the black community’s interests to advance people of color within American culture. Instead, they exert their power to isolate and control people of color.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), a popular supporter of the tea party movement, asks why the NAACP would criticize what she calls “liberty-loving, equality-respecting patriots.” Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin calls the NAACP convention a “grievance-palooza” and a “smear-fest against the tea party.” Another conservative blogger, Power Line’s John Hinderaker, posts, “It is a sad day for a once-respected organization; truthfully, though, it has been a long time since anyone has taken the NAACP seriously.” A St. Louis tea party group calls on the IRS to revoke the NAACP’s tax-exempt status, saying that the resolution proves the organization is nothing more than a political arm of the tea party’s opponents. NAACP media director Eric Wingerter counters: “It’s clear that the far right has been waiting for this battle. We’re ready for it, too.” NAACP president Benjamin Jealous said after his organization released its resolution that the NAACP does not characterize the tea party movement as inherently racist; instead, he says, tea party organizers and leaders do not make enough of an attempt to curb racism in their ranks. “We do not think the tea party is a racist movement,” Jealous said. “Our concern is that it tolerates racism and bigotry by its members.” Many tea party spokespersons tell reporters that their organizations already condemn racism and do not tolerate it during their rallies or on their Web sites, a contention disputed by Jealous, who says: “Do you see the press releases on their Web site? I don’t. What you do behind the scenes is important but it’s not enough if you don’t make it public.… We need the anti-racists in the tea party movement to stand up and be clear that this will not be tolerated.” Jealous goes on to say that Dick Armey, the head of FreedomWorks, a Washington lobbying firm that funds and coordinates many tea party organizations (see April 14, 2009), and other tea party leaders “tolerate bigotry and racism within the ranks,” and allow racist groups to piggyback on the tea party into political legitimacy. Many conservatives counter the NAACP’s position with countercharges that the NAACP and other organizations tolerate and/or support the rhetoric of the New Black Panther movement; Jealous says: “Our message to them is the same thing. They should not tolerate racism and bigotry in their ranks. Move those people out of your organization.” However, Jealous notes, the citations of the New Black Panthers are attempts to change the subject from the overt and repeated acts of racism perpetuated by some tea party members. “The Black Panther party is a flea compared to the tea party dog,” Jealous says. (McMorris-Santoro 7/14/2010; McMorris-Santoro 7/14/2010) In the past, Williams has called President Obama the “racist in chief” (see September 14, 2009) and “our half white, racist president” (see September 2009).
Supporters of Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller (R-AK), who has the support of former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and the Tea Party Express against Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), march in the streets of Anchorage brandishing assault weapons. Miller later explains the event on ABC News: “You know, guns are a pretty big thing up here in Alaska. In fact, per capita, we probably have the highest rate of gun ownership in the nation. The Second Amendment’s very important to people up here in Alaska. So you know, it’s not unusual to walk into a Wal-Mart, or to walk into a gas station, and see people carrying guns. Frankly, I wasn’t in that Hummer [the large SUV accompanying the marchers]. I was out there walking, shaking hands. But you know, it’s not unusual in political rallies, it’s not unusual in parades, to see that type of thing. Probably though, in the lower 48, it does raise some eyebrows.” (McMorris-Santoro 7/19/2010; Klein 7/19/2010) The supporters shown in a video of the march are later identified as members of the Anchorage Second Amendment Task Force, a gun rights group. The organization endorsed Miller after he showed up at a forum over the summer that Murkowski declined to attend. Task Force leader Chuck Green later tells a reporter that his members “like[d] Miller’s straight forward answers to questions.… [S]ome of the guys in the forum decided to attend the parade supporting Miller. It’s… as simple as that.” (Elliot 7/23/2010) Miller says that he welcomes the support of the Tea Party Express even after its spokesman, Mark Williams, was ejected from the National Tea Party Federation for making explicitly racist comments (see July 17-18, 2010 and July 19-23, 2010). Miller says his campaign does not endorse such views: “I think it’s appropriate for us to make an unequivocal statement that this campaign is not, in any way, racist,” he says. “In fact, we judge people by their character, rather than the color of their skin. We have a number of minorities that are assisting us in this campaign. My perspective of it is that we will embrace, though, the help that’s brought to this campaign by those that are really supportive of constitutional limited government. And I think that’s the direction this country’s gotta go to rescue it from the financial insolvency that it’s in right now.” (Klein 7/19/2010) Miller will later be shown to have extensive ties to Alaska’s right-wing militia movement (see July 23, 2010 and October 18, 2010). Many of those militia organizations espouse racist beliefs.
Salon reporter and columnist Justin Elliot warns that if Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller (R-AK) is elected, the militia movement in that state will have a staunch supporter in the US Senate. Elliot writes his column shortly after a controversial video of a recent Miller rally makes national news, showing Miller supporters openly brandishing assault rifles during a march (see July 19, 2010). Norm Olson of the Alaska Citizens Militia (see April 1994, March 25 - April 1, 1996, and Summer 1996 - June 1997) tells Elliot: “It’s safe to say that Joe Miller is a friend of patriots. His beliefs and platform favor Second Amendment rights as well as the power of nullification when the federal government intrudes into the private lives of Alaskans.” Olson claims his Alaska Militia has several hundred members and supporters; the organization accuses the federal government of committing 17 “acts of war” against the US population, including “firearms restrictions or other disarmament,” “mandatory medical anything,” “federal patrols,” “taking control of children under duress or threat,” “federalization of law enforcement,” and “surrender powers to a corporation or foreign government.” Miller advocates interpreting the Tenth Amendment to “get the government out of our lives,” an interpretation classed by critics as “tentherism,” which many on the right, including militia organizations, say should be used to force the federal government to cede vast powers to the states and even local authorities. The “tenthers” often focus on dissolving Social Security and other federal “safety net” programs, and ending all controls on gun ownership. Elliot writes: “This is the centerpiece of Miller’s political identity. He asserts that there is no constitutional authority for the health care reform law or proposed cap and trade legislation. He advocates a state takeover of federally controlled land in Alaska such as Denali National Park. These are the kinds of positions that are creating buzz in the militia world.” Olson’s colleague, Ray Southwell, who accompanied Olson to Alaska after both were ejected from the Michigan Militia for their extremist views (see April 1994, March 25 - April 1, 1996, and Summer 1996 - June 1997), has written emails and Web posts in support of Miller in recent weeks. One email reads in part, “We need leaders here to stand against the feds.” Another militia member wrote: “Joe Miller is an strong Constitution following patriot, he does not play games.… If we want to make sure Joe Miller keeps on the straight and narrow, WE, ALL OF US, have to make damn sure he and his entire family are safe and sound, because that is a common way to get at a man go for the soft spot family [sic].” Elliot notes that the Alaska militias are not unified in support of Miller, and some, like Schaeffer Cox of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, say, “He’s going to try to run things in a more conservative way, but he’s still trying to run things—so he has the same fundamental problem of all the other politicians.” (Elliot 7/23/2010) The online news site Alaska Dispatch will note that Cox also founded and leads the Second Amendment Task Force, the group that turned out to display its assault weapons during the recent Miller rally. It also will note that Olson recently attempted to run for lieutenant governor on the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP) ticket (see September 6-7, 2008). The AIP is one of the largest and most well-known secessionist organizations in Alaska, and once listed Todd Palin, the husband of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), as a member. (KTUU-TV 9/6/2010; Alaska Dispatch 9/23/2010) Miller claims to know nothing of AIP’s agenda or views, but according to the Alaska Dispatch and the liberal blog Progressive Nation, AIP’s statements of beliefs are virtually identical to those espoused by AIP. It’s unlikely Miller is unaware of AIP, the blog claims, and asks, “If you like the Tea Party, you gotta love the Alaskan Independence Party, so why has it been shunned even by Alaska politicians?” It goes on to note that when Palin ran for vice president in 2008, the McCain-Palin campaign called attempts to call attention to her family’s ties to AIP a “smear.” AIP itself has written on its Web site, “No longer a fringe party, the AIP is a viable third party with a serious mission and qualified candidates for elected offices,” and boasts the inclusion of former Governor Wally Hickel (AIP-AK) as a member. The blog notes that former AIP member Todd Palin is involved in Miller’s campaign. (Progressive Nation 7/11/2010; Medred 9/8/2010) Miller will later be shown to employ security guards with militia ties (see October 17, 2010).
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a conservative radio host whose Dr. Laura show combines political commentary with medical and personal “life” advice, claims she will leave the airwaves after engaging in a lengthy on-air “rant” where she uses a racial slur multiple times. Schlessinger begins by welcoming an African-American woman, “Jade,” as a caller. Jade says she is resentful of her husband, who is white, using racial slurs and derogatory language with his family members, “who start making racist comments as if I’m not there or if I’m not black.” Schlessinger says that Jade may be “hypersensitive,” and after a brief exchange, says: “I think that’s—well, listen, without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for [President] Obama simply ‘cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says [is racist].” Jade asks, “How about the n-word?” Schlessinger responds: “Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is ‘n_gger, n_gger, n_gger.‘… I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.” Schlessinger takes a commercial break after asking Jade to stay on the line, and upon her return, Jade says: “I was a little caught back by the n-word that you spewed out, I have to be honest with you. But my point is, race relations—” Schlessinger interjects, “Oh, then I guess you don’t watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.” Jade replies: “But that doesn’t make it right.… [R]acism has come to another level that’s unacceptable.” Schlessinger again overrides Jade’s comments, saying: “Yeah. We’ve got a black man as president and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that’s hilarious.” Jade says, “But I think, honestly, because there’s more white people afraid of a black man taking over the nation.” Schlessinger notes that those people are “afraid,” and after another exchange concerning Obama’s election, she accuses Jade of having a “[c]hip on your shoulder. I can’t do much about that.… Yeah. I think you have too much sensitivity… and not enough sense of humor.” It is all right to use racial slurs, Schlessinger says: “It’s—it depends how it’s said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it’s okay.… So, a word is restricted to race. Got it. Can’t do much about that.” Jade, by this point clearly offended by the conversation, says, “I can’t believe someone like you is on the radio spewing out the ‘n_gger’ word, and I hope everybody heard it.” Schlessinger retorts, “I didn’t spew out the ‘n_gger’ word.” Jade responds, “You said, ‘N_gger, n_gger, n_gger.’” Schlessinger responds: “Right, I said that’s what you hear.… I’ll say it again… n_gger, n_gger, n_gger is what you hear on” black comedy broadcasts, and accuses Jade of trying to take her words “out of context. Don’t double N—NAACP me.… Leave them in context.” After concluding the call, Schlessinger tells her listeners: “Can’t have this argument. You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race. If you’re going to marry out of your race, people are going to say: ‘Okay, what do blacks think? What do whites think? What do Jews think? What do Catholics think?’ Of course there isn’t a one-think per se. But in general there’s ‘think.’ And what I just heard from Jade is a lot of what I hear from black-think—and it’s really distressting [sic] and disturbing. And to put it in its context, she said the n-word, and I said, on HBO, listening to black comics, you hear ‘n_gger, n_gger, n_gger.’ I didn’t call anybody a n_gger. Nice try, Jade. Actually, sucky try.… Ah—hypersensitivity, okay, which is being bred by black activists. I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don’t get it. Yes, I do. It’s all about power. I do get it. It’s all about power and that’s sad because what should be in power is not power or righteousness to do good—that should be the greatest power.” (Media Matters 8/12/2010; RTT News 8/18/2010) The audio of the exchange between Schlessinger and Jade, and Schlessinger’s concluding remarks, is apparently deleted from the audio recording which is later posted on Schlessinger’s Web site. (Media Matters 8/12/2010)
Apology - The next day, Schlessinger begins her show with an apology, saying in part: “I talk every day about doing the right thing. And yesterday, I did the wrong thing. I didn’t intend to hurt people, but I did. And that makes it the wrong thing to have done. I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the n-word all the way out—more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again—that was wrong. I ended up, I’m sure, with many of you losing the point I was trying to make, because you were shocked by the fact that I said the word. I, myself, realized I had made a horrible mistake, and was so upset I could not finish the show. I pulled myself off the air at the end of the hour. I had to finish the hour, because 20 minutes of dead air doesn’t work. I am very sorry. And it just won’t happen again.… The caller in question… called for help from me, and didn’t get it, because we got embroiled in the n-word, and I’m really sorry about that, because I’m here for only one reason and that’s to be helpful, so I hope Jade or somebody who knows her is listening, and hope she will call me back and I will try my best to be helpful, which is what she wanted from me in the first place and what she did not get.” (Media Matters 8/12/2010) “Jade,” the nickname of Nita Hanson, tells a CNN interviewer that she never intends to speak with Schlessinger again, saying, “There’s nothing she can do for me.” She says the entire episode was “still very hurtful,” and says she was confused by Schlessinger’s rant. “I thought I had said something wrong.” She has her own ideas as to why Schlessinger apologized: “I think she apologized because she got caught.” The racial epithet Schlessinger is “never okay” to use, Hanson says. “It’s a very hateful word.” (Boedeker 8/19/2010) Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton refuses to accept Schlessinger’s apology. During a CNN interview about the incident, Sharpton says that Schlessinger’s comment that people should consider not marrying outside of their race “despicable,” and adds, “She said the word over and over, and in a very animated way, I might add, but that she actually, if you listen carefully to the logic of what she was saying was that the n-word was not offensive.” (CNN 8/13/2010)
Calls for Resignation - On August 13, the National Urban League, a politically moderate civil rights organization, issues a statement asking Talk Radio Network to drop Schlessinger from its syndicated broadcast schedule, and asks her to educate herself about racism. NUL president Marc H. Morial says: “The problem is not simply that Dr. Schlessinger used the n-word repeatedly, though that is offensive enough. Her comments to the caller showed a breathtaking insensitivity and ignorance about racial dynamics in the United States.” Morial notes that in her rant, an African-American caller complained that her white husband’s friends use racial slurs and racially demeaning comments, to which Schlessinger responded that the caller was “hypersensitive”; Morial says that Schlessinger’s most revealing comment was: “I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing, but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.” Morial says: “As she said, she doesn’t get it, and she is very confused about what constitutes racism. It’s beyond comprehension that Dr. Schlessinger would consider [the caller] ‘hypersensitive’ for being offended by the use of the n-word. We should be long past the point in this country where anyone should be advised to laugh off or ignore racist comments. I hope the Talk Radio Network agrees that we’ve had enough of negative racial attitudes, and drops the Dr. Laura show from syndication.” (National Urban League 8/13/2010)
Defending Schlessinger - One of the few public figures to openly defend Schlessinger is former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), who issues a number of Facebook and Twitter posts in Schlessinger’s defense. “Does anyone seriously believe that Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a racist?” she asks on Facebook. “Anyone, I mean, who isn’t already accusing all conservatives, Republicans, tea party Americans, etc., etc., etc. of being racists?” A Twitter post reads, “Dr. Laura: don’t retreat… reload!” and says the “activists” seeking Schlessinger’s resignation are not “American” and “not fair.” (Jason Easley 8/18/2010; Penrice 8/20/2011)
Resignation, Claim that Her First Amendment Rights are under Attack by 'Special Interest Groups' - Eight days after her on-air rant, Schlessinger announces that she will conclude her radio show at the end of 2010. She explains: “I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the n-word all the way out—more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again—that was wrong.” She tells CNN talk show host Larry King: “I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry or some special-interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent.… I decided it was time to move on to other venues where I could say my piece and not have to live in fear anymore.” Schlessinger claims that her First Amendment right to free speech is being constrained: “My contract is up at the end of the year, and I have made the decision not to do radio anymore. The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that.” (Washington Post 8/17/2010; RTT News 8/18/2010; O'Connor 8/27/2010) Political commentator John Ridley calls Schlessinger’s claims that her “First Amendment” rights are being “trampled” “absurd.” On CNN, Ridley says: “The First Amendment, and a lot of people say this all the time, it pertains to the government impeding freedom of religion, freedom of speech.… No one’s impeding her First Amendment rights. If she wants to retire, that’s fine, but to say that for some reason someone disagrees with her, that she’s being maligned or in some way shoved off the airwaves, to me is absurd. You know, that’s her idea of an apology, to victimize herself.” (Media Matters 8/17/2010) The president of Media Matters for America, the progressive media watchdog organization, Eric Burns, applauds Schlessinger’s decision. Burns says: “Dr. Laura’s radio career ended in disgrace tonight because of the bigoted, ugly, and hateful remarks made on her show. Americans have had enough. Listeners are now holding hosts, affiliates, and sponsors accountable for the offensive and inexcusable content on the airwaves.” The New York Times notes that Schlessinger has repeatedly weathered criticism for her anti-homosexual comments and false claims that “huge” numbers of male homosexuals are “predatory on young boys.” (O'Connor 8/27/2010)
No Departure - Instead of leaving the airwaves as she claims she will do, Schlessinger will move her show from broadcast radio to satellite radio’s Sirius XM (see November 26, 2010).
Republican pundit Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, discusses the recent primary victory of US Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE—see September 13, 2010) with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Palin advises O’Donnell to use Fox News, and only Fox, to get her message out. O’Reilly notes that GOP strategist Karl Rove, who has been critical of O’Donnell’s candidacy, has said O’Donnell is unprepared to talk to moderate voters about her often-extremist positions, and thusly, her staff has been reluctant to appear on news programs such as his O’Reilly Factor. Palin says this is the wrong course, and compares O’Donnell’s campaign to her own 2008 campaign for vice president when her advisers told her to stay away from the media. “She’s going to have to learn very quickly to dismiss what her handlers want,” Palin says. “Go with her gut, get out there speak to the American people, speak through Fox News.” (Gibson 9/16/2010) Shortly thereafter, O’Donnell cancels a scheduled appearance on the September 19 edition of CBS’s Face the Nation, with no explanation. “They just emailed us and said she needed to cancel,” says the show’s executive producer, Mary Hager. Politico’s Ben Smith speculates that O’Donnell “may now be heeding the advice bestowed earlier this week by Sarah Palin: ‘Speak through Fox.’” Smith also notes that O’Donnell has drawn fire for her extreme comments on a variety of subjects, from condom use to her stated belief that scientists have inserted human brains into mice (see November 15, 2007). (Smith 9/16/2010)
Stephen Broden (R-TX), a candidate for the US Congress favored by area “tea parties,” tells an interviewer that he would not rule out the violent overthrow of the US government if the upcoming elections do not produce a change in leadership. Broden is referring to the upcoming midterm elections, which some predict will turn control of the House and/or Senate to the Republicans; he is challenging incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). Broden, a pastor from Dallas, responds to a question about a “tea party” event in Fort Worth in 2009 where he called the Obama administration “tyrannical.” He then said of the administration: “We have a constitutional remedy. And the Framers say if that don’t work, revolution.” Asked if he specifically meant the violent overthrow of the federal government, he says the way to deal with a repressive government is to “alter it or abolish it.” He then notes that the US was founded by an armed insurrection against the British government, and says: “If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary.… The option [of violent overthrow] is on the table. I don’t think that we should remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms. However, it is not the first option.” Dallas County GOP chairman Jonathan Neeman says Broden’s remarks are “inappropriate,” and calls them “a disappointing, isolated incident.” Dallas Tea Party organizer Ken Emanuelson, a Broden supporter, says he agrees with Broden’s statement in theory, but adds: “Do I see our government today anywhere close to that point? No, I don’t.” Broden also backpedals on claims he has previously made, including that the Obama administration “contrived” the economic crisis, and retreats from remarks characterizing Obama and other Democratic leaders as “enemies” who must be resisted in the same way that Jews should have resisted “walking into the furnaces” under the Nazi regime. Broden says his previous comparisons of Obama to Hitler, and the Obama administration to Nazis, were mistakes. (Mason 10/22/2010) Broden, an African-American with little name recognition outside the Dallas Republican Party, has strong ties to white conservatives, has ties to political organizations sponsored by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, and was recently endorsed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). According to an analysis of his statements by the Dallas Observer, “Broden preaches that all of the nation’s ills are the product of conspiratorial plotting by an evil ‘other,’ which he variously describes as Marxists, Fabian socialists, atheists, and ‘Darwin atheists.’” (Schutze 10/28/2010) Broden will lose the election to Johnson. (Smith 11/3/2010)
The online news site Politico publishes an analysis of Fox News’s choice to actively and openly promote four of its paid contributors—Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee—as viable candidates for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. “How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll?” ask reporters Jonathan Martin and Keach Hagey. “With the exception of Mitt Romney [R-MA], Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office,” they write, and note that Fox’s competitors are expressing increasing frustration at their inability to interview any of Fox’s contributors. Some Republican insiders, they write, are calling the four “the Fox candidates.” It is “uncertain how other news organizations can cover the early stages of the presidential race when some of the main GOP contenders are contractually forbidden to appear on any TV network besides Fox,” the reporters note. C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully recently said that his network was denied an interview with Palin because Fox refused to give permission for her to appear on a “rival” network (C-SPAN is a government-funded news outlet that is considered relentlessly non-partisan). And, the reporters write, “Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC all report similar experiences.” Martin and Hagey write that the issue is one of basic “journalistic fairness and propriety,” and continue: “With Fox effectively becoming the flagship network of the right and, more specifically, the tea party movement, the four Republicans it employs enjoy an unparalleled platform from which to speak directly to primary voters who will determine the party’s next nominee. Their Fox jobs allow these politicians an opportunity to send conservative activists a mostly unfiltered message in what is almost always a friendly environment. Fox opinion hosts typically invite the Republicans simply to offer their views on issues of the day, rather than press them to defend their rhetoric or records as leaders of the party.” Fox News has said that once any of the four officially declare their candidacy for president, they will have to sever their contract with the network, but, the reporters note, Fox News is “such a lucrative and powerful pulpit that Palin, Gingrich, Santorum, and Huckabee have every reason to delay formal announcements and stay on contract for as long as they can.” Palin, for one, is already appearing in many early primary states, giving the strong impression that she is either preparing for a presidential run herself or laying the groundwork for a major role as a supporter of another candidate. However, Fox News isn’t saying one way or the other, and because of her exclusive contract with Fox, no other network reporter can ask Palin about her plans. As of late September 2010, only Gingrich has appeared on any other network, having made two appearances on ABC and three on NBC since January. He and the other “Fox candidates” have appeared dozens of times on Fox News during this time period. “The idea of the four prospects—and especially the former Alaska governor—facing media questions only on a network that both pays them and offers limited scrutiny has already become a matter of frustration in the political and journalistic community,” Martin and Hagey write. Within Fox News, there are some officials who have spoken anonymously about their unease at the idea of paying candidates they are supposed to cover. As yet, no one in senior management has instructed Fox News reporters on how to treat their colleagues and presumed presidential contenders. “The cold reality is, nobody at the reporter level has any say on this,” says a source familiar with the situation. “They’re left in the lurch.” And potential candidates who do not work at Fox are beginning to chafe at the disparate amount of coverage granted them by the network. One aide to an unnamed Republican considering a run for the presidency told a Fox employee, “I wish we could get that much airtime, but, oh yeah, we don’t get a paycheck.” Republican strategist Jim Dyke, who is not currently working for any potential 2012 GOP candidate, says that after the November midterm elections, the issue will become more visible. “As it becomes clear somebody is looking at running, Fox gets into a bit of a box because doesn’t it become an in-kind contribution if they’re being paid?” he asks. For her part, Palin seems quite comfortable staying exclusively within the friendly environs of Fox News, and has even advised other Republican candidates for office to “[s]peak through Fox News” (see September 15-16, 2010). (Martin and Hagey 9/27/2010)
Online supporters of Sarah Palin (R-PA) threaten to murder a young, mentally unstable fellow supporter after Palin and a friend file a restraining order against the man. Palin and her friend, Kristan Cole, have filed 20-day restraining orders against Shawn Christy, an 18-year-old Pennsylvania resident; in the court filing, Palin says that in telephone and written communications with her staff, Christy threatened to track her down at her book signings in the continental US, warned her “that she better watch her back,” said he was buying a one-way ticket to Alaska, and sent her a gun-purchase receipt. “Bottom line is, he is crazy and could kill me,” Palin tells the court. “He wants me dead.” The court filings state that Palin and Cole believe Christy to be “delusional.”
Offers to Kill Him with 'Liberal Lead' - On September 28, the Mat-Su Frontiersman, the local newspaper for Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, publishes the story of Christy’s threats and the restraining orders. Within hours, Palin supporters repost and comment on the story. The Frontiersman is forced to delete “many comments” made on its pages “because they suggested hunting Christy and killing him.” Some Palin supporters ask the paper to post a picture of Christy so that “‘decent’ people could hunt him down and kill him.” The paper’s editorial board writes, “We were shocked at the number of people from across the US calling for his death and offering to pull the trigger on a .45 loaded with ‘liberal lead’”—apparently bullets being saved for shooting liberals—and says it would not publish such a picture to protect Christy from potential harm. Despite his obvious threats, Christy is a Palin supporter who has donated to her political action committee, and spent his savings to buy a $200 ticket to an August 27 event in Pennsylvania featuring her as a speaker. He is also known to have made multiple threats against President Obama, Obama’s 2008 Republican challenger John McCain (R-AZ), against Palin, and against numerous local officials.
Investigated but Never Charged - Christy has been investigated by the FBI, the Secret Service, and the Capitol Police, and has been extensively interviewed, but has never been charged nor arrested. The Frontiersman describes him as “a young fan obsessed and then frustrated because he wanted to make contact with the Palins and be part of their phenomenon,” and notes that he has admitted being “in the wrong” for making his threats. The editors then write: “But on our Web page, readers have tried, convicted, and sentenced Christy.… There is no crime this young man could have committed, been charged with, and convicted for that would give anyone the right to hunt and kill him as so many of the commentors suggested. We wish the dozens of people who posted threats on our Web site—surely many much older than Shawn—could see that as clearly.” Christy’s father has said his son is being examined for possible psychiatric issues. Police from neighboring districts have been assigned to the Christy home to protect him from the wave of death threats he and his family are receiving. (District/Superior Court for the State of Alaska 9/27/2010 ; Kalytiak and Resz 9/30/2010; Mat-Su Frontiersman 9/30/2010; Christman 9/30/2010; Anchorage Daily News 10/1/2010)
Palin 'Commands Forces ... Truly Terrifying and Violent' - Andrew Sullivan, a conservative columnist for The Atlantic, writes that Palin’s restraining order is “completely appropriate and understandable,” and Christy is “obviously unstable.” Sullivan then goes on to note: “[T]his story does reveal some of the virulence and anger and violence that lies beneath what has become a political cult.… This woman commands forces out there that are truly terrifying and violent. If you want to know why so much about her is still unknown, you do not understand the fear her followers and acolytes command in her native Alaska. That fear is real; and it is not without reason.” (Sullivan 10/3/2010)
Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey discusses Fox News’s relentless promotion of its own employees for presidential office (see October 26, 2009 and September 27, 2010). Rainey notes that Fox contributors Sarah Palin (R-AK), Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Mike Huckabee (R-TN) are all using their appearances on Fox to groom themselves for the 2012 presidential race, with the apparent blessing and collusion of Fox News. Rainey writes, with some apparent sarcasm, “It’s easy to get news coverage, it turns out, when you work for a news company!” Other Republicans attempting to build momentum for their own 2012 bid, such as Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, are being “shut out” of Fox’s promotional campaign. And other news networks—even C-SPAN—rarely get to interview Palin, Gingrich, Santorum, and Huckabee, as they are all under exclusive contract with Fox and do not appear on competing news providers. Some Republicans are discomfited by this situation, but, Rainey writes, they are “ma[king] their complaints quietly, lest they anger the powers at Fox.” Rainey goes on to note that the story is getting little attention outside political circles, “[b]ecause the information juggernaut built by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, once a GOP attack dog and now head of Fox News, has been tilting the playing field for so long, so persistently, and denying its bias so shamelessly that it’s created an alternate reality.” Rainey notes that Fox parent News Corp’s unprecedented multi-million dollar donations to Republican causes (see June 24, 2010 and After and September 30, 2010) have drawn relatively little criticism, even as Fox’s supposedly unbiased and nonpartisan news anchors and personalities (not its prime-time opinion makers) “routinely pound away at conservative talking points.” The other news networks spend their time on regular stories, Rainey writes, but Fox News spends so much “straight news” time covering non-existent “scandals” and promoting conservative causes that, in essence, it has created a conservative-friendly “alternate reality” for itself and its ideological colleagues. “One doesn’t even blink with surprise anymore when a Fox opinion program rolls out black-and-white newsreel footage of fascists,” he writes, “and with uniformly straight faces suggest that the Obama administration has America on the brink of a similar calamity.” Rainey rebuts claims that Fox News is merely countering the “shamelessly liberal” viewpoints of CNN and MSNBC. CNN, he writes, “has hewed relentlessly to the he-said-she said reporting imperative of old. The 24-hour news pioneer puts on alternative viewpoints, and not merely as whipping objects for ideological hosts. It’s aired multiple segments dissecting President Obama, his economic policies, and his plans for Afghanistan.” As for MSNBC, while its opinion shows are hosted by liberals, and Rainey believes that in some sense MSNBC may be trying to be a liberal version of Fox, its news broadcasts are relatively non-partisan. (Rainey 9/29/2010)
Investigative reporters and bloggers learn that the private security firm hired by Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller (R-AK) is also active in right-wing militia and paramilitary activities. They also learn that some of the guards employed by the firm, the Drop Zone (DZ), are active-duty military soldiers, and that the firm is unlicensed and therefore operating outside the law. (Moore 10/18/2010; Mauer 10/18/2010; Greenwald 10/19/2010)
Senate Candidate Has History of Armed Intimidation, Association with Militias - Miller himself has a history of armed intimidation: according to blogger and reporter Shannyn Moore, in 2008 he attempted to stage a “coup d’etat” of the leadership of the Alaska Republican Party, appearing during a meeting with a group of armed security guards. (The attempt, as such, was unsuccessful, and Miller currently enjoys the support of the Alaska Republican Party.) During the 2010 Senate campaign, Miller’s supporters drew media attention by brandishing assault rifles during campaign rallies (see July 19, 2010). (Moore 10/18/2010)
Security Guards on Active Duty with Army - On September 17, Miller’s security guards forcibly detained and handcuffed reporter Tony Hopfinger for attempting to question Miller about disciplinary measures taken against him while he was a lawyer for the Fairbanks North Star Borough (see October 17, 2010). The security guards work with DZ, and two of the guards who roughed up Hopfinger are on active duty with the US Army. The two guards, Specialist Tyler Ellingboe and Sergeant Alexander Valdez, are members of the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Fort Richardson. Army public affairs officer Major Bill Coppernoll says neither soldier has permission from their commanding officers to work for DZ, and the Army is still looking into whether previous company or brigade commanders authorized their employment. “They’ve got to be up front with the chain of command,” Coppernoll says. “The chain of command needs to agree they can do that without affecting the readiness and the whole slew of things that are part of being a soldier that they need to do first.” DZ owner William Fulton, who was one of the guards who restrained and handcuffed Hopfinger, says it is not his job to ensure that the soldiers complied with Army regulations. “They’re adults—they are responsible for themselves,” Fulton says. (Mauer 10/18/2010; Greenwald 10/19/2010) Hopfinger identifies Ellingboe and Valdez as two of the guards who stood over him during the time he was handcuffed. Hopfinger says Ellingboe and Valdez refused to give him their names and would not identify their company or who they were working for. At one point they told him they were volunteers, he says. (Epler 10/19/2010) A Defense Department directive from 2008, entitled “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty,” states in part, “A member of the armed forces on active duty shall not:… [p]erform clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee or candidate during a campaign.” (Department of Defense 2/19/2008 )
Security Firm: Ties to Militias, Blackwater - Fulton is an active member of the Alaska Citizens Militia, where he is titled a “supply sergeant.” The organization is led by former Michigan Militia leader Norm Olson (see April 1994, March 25 - April 1, 1996, and Summer 1996 - June 1997), who recently attempted to run for lieutenant governor of Alaska under the auspices of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see September 6-7, 2008). (Hartman 10/20/2010; PalinGates 10/20/2010) Many DZ employees have bragged about their connections to far-right elements in Alaska’s political and paramilitary scenes, and have said that the firm employs a number of former Blackwater security personnel. The firm displays a large poster of President Obama as “The Joker” in its front window and a link to InfoWars.com, a right-wing conspiracy Web site hosted by Alex Jones. The owner of the Drop Zone, William Fulton, has boasted to patrons about his partners’ participation in renditions and “black ops” overseas, and likes to show his .50-caliber sniper rifle to prospective customers. Fulton has frequently told patrons about his fondness for Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, saying to one, “Glenn talks to the crazies,” who are his best customers. Fulton also has suspected ties to the Alaskan Independence Party, which once claimed Todd Palin, former Governor Sarah Palin’s husband, as a member. (Moore 10/18/2010; Mauer 10/18/2010; Life in Spenard 10/18/2010; Greenwald 10/19/2010)
Miller's Ties to Militias - Alaska Citizens Militia leader Ray Southwell, a longtime crony of Olson’s and a fellow leader of the Alaska Citizens Militia, recently wrote of meeting Miller at a militia leader’s home in Soldotna, Alaska. Southwell wrote in a militia forum that he recently encouraged Miller to run for state office: “We need leaders here to stand against the feds.” In that same forum, Olson posted his endorsement of Miller’s candidacy. (PalinGates 10/20/2010)
Expired License - Investigating bloggers also find that the Drop Zone’s license to do business as a security firm (under the name “Dropzone Security Services”) expired in December 2009. The firm updated its license on September 18, 2010, the day after its guards detained and handcuffed Hopfinger, but only renewed its license to trade, not its license to provide security. (The Immoral Minority 10/19/2010; Hartman 10/20/2010; PalinGates 10/20/2010) Fulton tells a reporter that he is not a security guard and that DZ is not a security guard agency, therefore he needs no license to operate as a security firm. Instead, he says, DZ is a “contract agency” and that he and his people are considered “security agents,” not guards. “We don’t do anything covered under the security [statutes],” he says. “We don’t do anything that the state has any authority to tell us what to do.” He denies having any employees, and says he hires specific people on a contract basis. DZ is primarily a military supply store, Fulton says, and only does security contracts “three or four times a month.” He admits to doing business with Miller in the past, but refuses to go into detail. He goes on to say that his guards at the Miller event were unarmed, and his “contractors” only carry weapons when they undertake “fugitive recovery” jobs: “All the guys we use are professionals, and they act professionally and dress professionally.” Hopfinger disagrees with Fulton’s contention that he is a security “agent” as opposed to a “guard,” saying: “He certainly acted like an aggressive security guard and he may have broken the law. It was an illegal detention and an illegal arrest.” Of Miller, Hopfinger says the candidate is exhibiting “poor judgment… to have Fulton and active-duty soldiers be his bodyguards.” No other Alaska political candidate he has interviewed, including Miller’s Republican opponent Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), has security guards with them, he says. (Epler 10/19/2010)
Investigation - The firm is being investigated by the Alaska Department of Public Safety, both for its handling of the Hopfinger incident and for its unlicensed status. (Epler 10/19/2010)
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), a Fox News contributor and possible 2012 presidential candidate, castigates President Obama for being what she calls the “most pro-abortion president to occupy the White House,” and warns that health care reform will lead to more abortions in America. At an event in Dallas, Palin tells her audience: “It is even worse than what we had thought. The ramifications of this legislation are horrendous.” Palin calls on the newly elected Republican majority in the US House of Representatives to repeal the health care reform legislation passed in 2010. “The biggest advance of the abortion industry in America has been the passage of Obamacare,” she says. Although Obama signed an executive order prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions, Palin calls the order “nonbinding” and irrelevant. She also says that the Obama administration has allowed federal funding for some “high risk” insurance pools in states that allow elective abortions. (Bruce 11/11/2010) Liberal blogger Heather Parton, writing for her blog Hullabaloo, says Palin is “lying through her teeth. In fact, the opposite is true because the administration tightened the rules for the sickest women.… [Palin and her supporters] actually want women who are battling terrible diseases to go through impossible hoops rather than have their sacred tax dollars touch dollars that paid for a necessary abortion.” (Heather Parton 7/17/2010; Heather Parton 11/13/2010)
Comedian Bill Maher, a liberal-libertarian who hosts the political talk show Real Time on HBO, gives a performance in Dallas that includes a number of profanities and a crude sexual epithet aimed at former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). After insulting opponents of gay marriage and calling Democrats “p_ssies” for not actively supporting a repeal of the ban on gays in the military, he calls Palin a “c_nt,” and adds, “[T]here’s just no other word for her.” The next night, on his show, he says Palin and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are two “bimbos” suitable for the old television show Gilligan’s Island. “Michele Bachmann this week threw her hat into the ring, kind of. We think she’s going to be running for president for those who find Sarah Palin too intellectual,” Maher says. “If Bachmann and Palin get in, that’s two bimbos. And then there’s Mitt Romney (R-MA), a millionaire. And Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a professor. We just need a ‘Skipper’ and a ‘Buddy,’ and we’ve got ‘Gilligan’s Island.’” (Jones 3/28/2011; van Denburg 3/28/2011) Maher will refuse to apologize. Almost a year later, he will reference the rhetoric and say he has no need to apologize because he has no sponsors to placate: “I sometimes called Sarah Palin a bad name.… I don’t have sponsors, I’m on HBO.” (Martel 3/3/2012)
Washington pundits are split as to whether billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump is serious about mounting a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Recently, Trump has unleashed a barrage of criticism and allegations as to President Obama’s status as a US citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, and April 7, 2011), and has encouraged the rumor that he intends to run. Current polls show Trump running a strong second behind former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA), tied with former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AK), and well ahead of other Republican luminaries such as Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Newt Gingrich (R-GA) in a hypothetical 2012 primary battle. Tea party supporters choose Trump as their top candidate, well ahead of Romney and Huckabee. Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza notes that as recently as 2007, Trump was openly contemptuous of many Republican policies, and touted then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as “the best.” After questioning a number of political strategists, Cillizza determines that Trump is doing well in preliminary polls because of his enormous name recognition, his combative style, and his apparent business acumen. Democratic strategist Peter Hart says that tea partiers have abandoned Palin in large part for Trump, whom he calls “their current flavor du jour.” A Republican strategist who refuses to allow his name to be used says voters “like the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach that Trump seems to take.” And Trump’s success at forging a billion-dollar financial empire gives some people “economic hope,” according to Republican consultant Carl Forti. “They want a job.… Trump’s a businessman, so in theory, he knows what he’s doing.” Republican strategist Alex Vogel predicts that Trump’s popularity will fizzle within days of actually entering the race, saying: “It is a huge mistake for people to confuse fame with electability or seriousness of candidacy. If fame was all it took, [American Idol creator] Simon Cowell could pick presidents and not just rock stars.” Cillizza says that Trump’s current popularity speaks more to the volatility of the Republican primary field than a real movement among Republicans to put Trump in the White House. (Cillizza 4/7/2011) Progressive Washington pundit Steve Benen is less charitable than Cillizza, noting that “Trump has been running around to every media outlet he can find, spewing conspiracy theories and bizarre ideas that resonate with easily-fooled extremists. And wouldn’t you know it, polls suddenly show Republican voters gravitating to the guy.… When a clownish television personality plays to their worst instincts, these folks are inclined to like what they see.” Benen calls Trump’s potential nothing more than “an elaborate publicity stunt, closer to a practical joke than an actual campaign.” He concludes: “[W]hat matters here is what the latest polls tell us about the hysterical wing of the Republican Party. A reality-show personality has been whining incessantly about the president’s birth certificate, and a sizeable contingent of the GOP base has decided that’s enough to earn their support. Trump’s a sideshow. The real story here is the madness that’s overcome a few too many Republican voters.” (Benen 4/7/2011)
Billionaire Donald Trump, the host of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice and a rumored candidate for the Republican presidential nomination for 2012, claims that President Obama has spent some $2 million defending himself against legal challenges to his US citizenship. In recent weeks, Trump has loudly proclaimed his conviction that Obama is not a US citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, and April 7, 2011). Trump is echoing claims made by former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate who now appears regularly on Fox News. In a recent NBC interview, he claimed Obama “spent $2 million in legal fees trying to get away from this issue.” On CNN, he asked: “I just say very simply why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? Why has he spent over $2 million in legal fees to keep this quiet and to keep this silent?” On Fox, Palin repeats the figure and praises Trump’s efforts, saying that Trump is “paying for researchers to find out why President Obama would have to spend $2 million to not show his birth certificate. So more power to him.” PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, attempts to secure information from Trump about the source of his $2 million figure, and gets no response. One source, PolitiFact determines, is the conservative news blog WorldNetDaily (WND), which claimed that Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings showed the Obama presidential campaign paid $1.7 million to the law firm of Perkins Coie since the election of November 2008. PolitiFact digs into the expenditures, as reported by law to the FEC by the Obama campaign organization Obama for America (OFA, later renamed Organizing for America). The figure of $1.7 million is accurate, PolitiFact determines, and adding expenditures between October 2008 and December 2010, the figure rises to some $2.6 million. However, the expenditures cover a variety of legal expenses, little of which went to birth certificate lawsuit issues. The FEC does not collect specific information on each payment, so it is impossible to tell how much, if any, has gone to Perkins Coie for court challenges to Obama’s citizenship. In a recent story in Roll Call, Democratic National Committee press secretary Hari Sevugan said, “[T]he campaign has incurred ordinary legal expenses related to the wind-down of its operations and other legal services, which all campaigns incur, and which are proportional to the unprecedented size of this campaign.” Some of the expenditures have gone to fight what Sevugan called “unmeritorious” lawsuits, including one that challenged Obama’s citizenship. And WND has reported that Perkins Coie lawyer Robert Bauer wrote one letter challenging a lawsuit filed by Gregory Hollister questioning Obama’s right to the presidency (see March 5, 2009). PolitiFact notes that most of the legal expenses paid by OFA “have nothing to do with the citizenship question.” Four campaign finance experts confirm that after any presidential election, a campaign’s law firm has plenty of work to do and such an expenditure by a campaign is not unusual. PolitiFact concludes: “It’s clear to us that the WND story has been twisted to wrongly assume that every dollar the Obama campaign spent on legal fees went to fight the release of Obama’s birth certificate. The evidence shows that’s simply not true. It’s a huge, unsubstantiated leap to assume that all, or most, of that was related to lawsuits about Obama’s citizenship. We rule Trump’s claim false.” (St. Petersburg Times 4/7/2011)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, speaking on his daily radio program, claims that President Obama released his “long form” birth certificate (see April 27, 2011) to distract the press from a press conference being given by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. Beck says: “The president of the United States is about to speak shortly [about his birth certificate]. Stations, we will carry it live, live, live on this program. Gas prices, sure, out of control. Middle East, sure, on fire. Ben Bernanke going to give the first press conference for the Fed for the first time in 97 years today, but today is the day the birth certificate is released. You have got to be kidding me. Are we really down to this? We’re really down to this? The birth certificate? I mean, it was bad when we were down to the, you know, Final Four in the brackets, but now we’ve got the birth certificate talk and the president is going to hold a press conference.… [T]his is because Bernanke is speaking today. Watch the markets move today. Why is the Fed—this is what I’ve been trying to figure out—why is the Fed holding a press conference for the first time in 97 years? Why? Something is coming gang, something is coming. Now at the same day, the same time, why is the president of the United States choosing today to release the birth certificate?… There is no way this is being released today for no reason. There’s no way. They’ve had this for two years—three years this has been going on. This rumor was started by Hillary Clinton. This was a Clinton tactic.… So now they’ve had it since Clinton. They could have done this since Clinton. So why?” (Media Matters 4/27/2011; Media Matters 4/27/2011) Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) makes the same claim. In a post on her Twitter account, Palin writes: “Media, admit it. Trump forced the issue. Now, don’t let the WH distract you w/the birth crt from what Bernanke says today. Stay focused, eh?” (Media Matters 4/27/2011)
Johann Hari, a commentator for the London Independent, pens a caustic column about the American “birther” conspiracy theory and Donald Trump, the billionaire entrepeneur and television host who has used the controversy to vault himself to the forefront of the Republican Party’s group of 2012 presidential contenders (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). Hari says that Trump’s meteoric ascendancy within the Republican Party proves “that one of its central intellectual arguments was right all along. They have long claimed that evolution is a myth believed in only by whiny liberals—and it turns out they were onto something. Every six months, the Republican Party venerates a new hero, and each time it is somebody further back on the evolutionary scale.” Hari cites former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and current US Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) as previous “stops” on the Republicans’ backwards slide, until the party got to Trump as its current representative. “A survey suggests he is the most popular candidate among Republican voters,” Hari writes. “It’s not hard to see why. Trump is every trend in Republican politics over the past 35 years taken to its logical conclusion. He is the Republican id, finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and all reality.” Hari lists four major trends that he says the modern Republican Party reflects, and that Trump epitomizes.
'Naked Imperialism' - Hari says Trump advocates what he calls the first trend of modern Republican ideology, “naked imperialism,” and cites Trump’s promise to, as president, simply “go in” to Libya “and take the oil.… I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff.” On Iraq, he has said: “We stay there, and we take the oil.… In the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation’s yours.” Hari says that in Trump’s view, a view held by many Republicans, “the world is essentially America’s property, inconveniently inhabited by foreigners squatting over oil fields. Trump says America needs to ‘stop what’s going on in the world. The world is just destroying our country. These other countries are sapping our strength.’ The US must have full spectrum dominance.”
'Dog-Whistle Prejudice' - Along with his imperialism, Hari says, Trump has a penchant for what he calls “dog-whistle prejudice—pitched just high enough for frightened white Republicans to hear it.” Citing Trump’s support for the “birther” theory, Hari writes: “The Republican primary voters heard the message right—the black guy [President Obama] is foreign. He’s not one of us.”
'Raw Worship of Wealth' - The third trend that Hari says endears Trump to Republicans is his “raw worship of wealth as an end in itself—and [the exemption of the wealthy] from all social responsibility.” Republicans seem not to care that Trump, born into wealth, has bankrupted four businesses, repeatedly failed to pay his taxes, and, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clay Johnson, has made the bulk of his fortune from “stiffing his creditors” and “from government subsidies and favours for his projects—which followed large donations to the campaigns of both parties, sometimes in the very same contest. Trump denies these charges and presents himself as an entrepreneur ‘of genius.’” However, Hari says Republicans seem to believe that “the accumulation of money is proof in itself of virtue, however it was acquired. The richest 1 percent pay for the party’s campaigns, and the party in turn serves their interests entirely.… In America today, a janitor can pay more income tax than Donald Trump—and the Republicans regard that not as a source of shame, but of pride.”
Imposing America's Will on Reality - The fourth trend, Hari writes, “is to insist that any fact inconvenient to your world-view either doesn’t exist, or can be overcome by pure willpower.” He cites the example of the US’s imminent need to extend its debt ceiling in order to avoid default. While almost every economist in the world says the US going into default will trigger “another global economic crash,” Trump “snaps back: ‘What do economists know? Most of them aren’t very smart.’” Trump says “it’s so easy” to deal with the upward spiral of oil prices merely by calling a meeting of the leaders of the OPEC nations and, as he has said: “I’m going to look them in the eye and say: ‘Fellows, you’ve had your fun. Your fun is over.‘… It’s so easy. It’s all about the messenger.” He will stop China from manipulating its currency merely by ordering it to do so, and derides any mention of how much American debt China owns. Hari writes: “This is what the Republican core vote wants to be told. The writer Matthew Yglesias calls it ‘the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics.’ It’s named after the DC comics superhero the Green Lantern, who can only use his superpowers when he ‘overcomes fear’ and shows confidence—and then he can do anything. This is Trump’s view. The whiny world simply needs to be bullied into submission by a more assertive America—or the world can be fired and he’ll find a better one.”
Expressing the Underlying Core Beliefs of the GOP - Trump will not get the Republican nomination, Hari believes, not because Republicans reject his premises, but “because he states these arguments too crudely for mass public consumption. He takes the underlying whispered dogmas of the Reagan, Bush, and Tea Party years and shrieks them through a megaphone. The nominee will share similar ideas, but express them more subtly.” Hari points to the budget proposal by US Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), one supported by every House Republican and most Senate Republicans, which would, among other things, halve taxes on America’s most wealthy, end corporate taxation, end taxation on dividends and inheritance, and pass that tax burden onto the middle class and poor by gutting spending on food stamps, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, and basic services. The Ryan budget would send the US deficit soaring, though Ryan, embracing the tenet of imposing his beliefs on reality, insists it would cut the deficit. Hari concludes: “The Republican Party today isn’t even dominated by market fundamentalism. This is a crude Nietzcheanism, dedicating to exalting the rich as an overclass and dismissing the rest.” (Hari 4/28/2011)
New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman profiles Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), who also serves as a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988). According to close friends and advisers to Ailes interviewed by Sherman, Ailes wants far more than the continued ratings and advertiser success of Fox News—he wants the network to steer one of its own into the White House in 2012 (see October 2008). He is tremendously influential; a Republican strategist tells Sherman: “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger. Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.”
Letdown? - Ailes has been keenly disappointed in the results of his network’s official and unofficial candidates so far. Former Alaska governor and Fox commentator Sarah Palin (see September 15-16, 2010), who has not yet announced her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, is polling at around 12 percent among Republican voters. Official presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Rick Santorum, a former senator, who both are commentators for Fox, have even lower numbers, at 10 percent and 2 percent respectively. Ailes has asked Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), who is not a Fox employee, to run; until recently, Fox News was enthusiastically promoting the putative presidential run of billionaire “birther” Donald Trump (see March 17, 2011). Ailes has envisioned General David Petraeus as a potential candidate, but Petraeus has instead accepted the post of CIA director. “He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” says a Republican close to Ailes. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of [President] Obama is a disaster.” None of the current crop of candidates meets Ailes’s expectations. Ailes is particularly disappointed in Palin; according to the same Republican, Ailes considers her “an idiot”: “He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.” After Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011, and other media outlets focused on Palin’s use of gunsight graphics to “target” Giffords and other vulnerable Democrats in the 2010 election (see March 24, 2010), according to Sherman, “Ailes recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable.” After the Giffords shooting, Ailes told an interviewer, “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’” Ailes was infuriated when Palin refused his advice to remain quiet until after the memorial service, and accused her critics of committing “blood libel,” a phrase often seen as anti-Semitic. The problem with Palin was further exacerbated when she argued about the amount of work Fox expects her to do: she does not want to host special broadcasts or other tasks the network expects of her. In March 2011, Fox suspended the contracts of Gingrich and Santorum so they could run their campaigns without legal or ethical entanglements. Shortly thereafter, Huckabee chose to remain at Fox and abandon his plans for a primary challenge. The network is still waiting for Palin’s decision whether to run for president.
Creation of the Tea Party - While Ailes and Fox News did not directly create the “tea party” “grassroots” movement, Ailes was involved in its creation and promotion from its outset (see February 19, 2009, February 27, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Ailes has always been somewhat leery of having Fox News too closely associated with the burgeoning movement (see March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 2, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 12, 2009, and September 12, 2010), and at one point banned Fox News host Sean Hannity from hosting a tea party rally. However, according to Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and the founder of the national Tea Party Express tour, “There would not have been a tea party without Fox.” Fox News has promoted a number of successful “tea party” candidates (see May 14, 2008 - February 2010), including former host John Kasich (see March 27, 2008 - June 1, 2009 and After), who won the Ohio gubernatorial election in 2010. Before that election, Gingrich, still a Fox News commentator at the time, said that he was confident the “tea party” would evolve into “the militant wing of the Republican Party” (see April 21, 2010). Ailes used some of the same “astroturf” tactics (see February 27, 2009 and April 14, 2009) in developing the “tea party” as he did when he represented tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds, creating phony, seemingly independent “front” groups to push the “tea party” messages in the media. (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Fox News chief Roger Ailes acknowledges that Fox News has undergone what he calls a “course correction” over the last year, dialing back some of the most inflammatory and partisan rhetoric that is its brand. The release of talk show host Glenn Beck (see March 28 - April 6, 2011) is one of the actions Ailes has taken to “moderate” Fox News’s stance, as is the lower profile given former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a prominent Fox personality—once aggressively promoted by the network as the savior of the Republican Party, Palin is much less visible on the network now. Fox executives admit that after Barack Obama’s election in 2008 (see January 2009), “the entire network took a hard right turn (see February 2, 2009, February 9-10, 2009, February 10, 2009, February 20, 2009, March 16-17, 2009, March 17, 2009, March 17-24, 2009, March 18, 2009, March 23-24, 2009, March 24, 2009, March 24, 2009, March 31, 2009, April 1, 2009, April 1, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 6, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, April 28, 2009, April 29, 2009, May 5-6, 2009, May 6, 2009, May 8-15, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, June 2, 2009, July 8, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28-29, 2009, July 30, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 18, 2009, September 29, 2009, October 11, 2009, October 16, 2009, November 3, 2009, November 5-8, 2009, November 18-19, 2009, November 24, 2009, January 27, 2010, May 20-22, 2010, June 11, 2010, June 24, 2010 and After, July 2, 2010, July 24, 2010, September 1, 2010, September 4, 2010, September 4, 2010, September 15-16, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 27, 2010, September 28, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 30, 2010, October 1, 2010, October 3, 2010, October 26, 2010, November 9-11, 2010 and After, and November 9-11, 2010 and After)… but, as the tea party’s popularity fades (see August 25, 2011), is edging back toward the mainstream” (see November 16, 2010, November 17-18, 2010, February 23, 2011, February 28, 2011, March 19-24, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 24, 2011, March 27-28, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, May 22, 2011, May 23-24, 2011, June 10, 2011, July 13-14, 2011, January 14, 2012, January 17-18, 2012, February 11-16, 2012, and February 12-13, 2012). Ailes has ordered the opinion show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly to tone down the rhetoric, in part in response to the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and the resultant debate about the aggressive, violent rhetoric being promulgated on the right (see March 24, 2010). Moreover, as media pundit Howard Kurtz writes, “[i]t was, in his view, a chance to boost profits by grabbing a more moderate audience.” Ailes’s contract is up in 2013, and some expect the 71-year-old media magnate not to renew his contract thereafter. Ailes continues to insist that his news network is the only “fair and balanced” (see 1995) news outlet on television, with the other broadcast and cable news providers being relentlessly liberal in their presentations, but on the other hand implicitly admits that he routinely pushes right-wing memes and talking points on his network. Today, for example, he is touting Fox News’s new “Regulation Nation” series, pushing the idea that government regulations have a stranglehold on American business. “[N]o other network will cover that subject,” he says. “I think regulations are totally out of control.” Government bureaucrats hire Ph.D.s to “sit in the basement and draw up regulations to try to ruin your life,” he says. Under Ailes’s direction, Fox News will feature stories on “over-regulation” in many of its straight-news and opinion shows. Some non-Fox News conservative pundits, such as radio host Rush Limbaugh, wonder if Ailes hasn’t given up on his commitment to conservative principles in return for ratings, saying, “Fox wants these people [Republican primary candidates] to tear each other up, ‘cause they want approval from the mainstream media.” Kurtz says that Ailes has turned the Republican primary into his own “reality show” for ratings and profits, essentially agreeing with Limbaugh. Overall, others are registering that Ailes is attempting to dial back the hyperpartisan posturing, even former Obama administration aide Anita Dunn, who says, “You have the sense that they’re trying to at least appear less of the hyperpartisan political network they had been.” (Kurtz 9/25/2011)
Fox News begins adopting the characterization of President Obama as “the food stamp president” currently being used by Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich (see November 30 - December 2, 2011, January 5, 2012, and January 16, 2012). On January 17, Fox host Eric Bolling says of Obama: “But he is the food stamp president. There[.] I have no problem with this.… Obama has presided—presided over the biggest expansion in food stamp usage, in numbers: in pure dollar amount, it went from $60 billion to an $83 billion program—the fourth-largest entitlement program in America. Under Obama, it’s exploded. Why can’t he be—and by the way, food stamps, there are more white people on food stamps than black people. So it’s not a racial issue.” (Media Matters 1/17/2012; Media Matters 1/31/2012) The same day, Fox pundit Tucker Carlson says on Sean Hannity’s show that Gingrich is doing a “great job” explaining why Obama is “the food stamp president,” adding, “And more people have joined the food stamp program under Obama than any other president.” The day after, Fox pundit Dick Morris says on Hannity’s show: “Newt is totally right. When Obama took office, there were 32 million people on food stamps. Now, there are 46 million. What Obama has done is, under [former President] Clinton, he cut the welfare rolls in half, and now Obama has basically put everybody in the country on welfare.” Another of Hannity’s guests, former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), criticizes the White House for challenging Gingrich’s characterizations, saying “they protest too much because the facts are what they are—and that’s hundreds of thousands of more Americans are now on food stamps than before Barack Obama took over.” Hannity agrees, saying: “He is the food stamp president. Look at the numbers, they speak for themselves—32 million to 46 million, 12 million increase. Obama’s policies have resulted in a lot more people being on food stamps. What’s the problem?” Fox’s “straight news” anchor Monica Crowley reiterates the characterization on Fox News’s America Live, telling viewers: “At this point, what Newt is saying is that this administration took a bad economy and made it so much worse, with polices that have really oppressed job creation, suppressed economic growth, to the point where people cannot find jobs. And also, you know, one thing he didn’t say, which is the extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks and so on. You know how the situation in America… where you have record numbers of people not just on food stamps, 46 million, but record numbers of people on at least one or more social welfare programs, and that’s a direct result of the Obama administration’s policies.” (Media Matters 1/19/2012; Media Matters 1/31/2012) The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that according to the statistics, the number of food stamp recipients went up far more under President George W. Bush than under Obama, rendering the claims of Gingrich and the Fox News commentators inaccurate (see January 17, 2012). (Media Matters 1/31/2012)
Columnist and author David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, says that conservatives’ complaints that talk show host Rush Limbaugh is not being treated fairly over the Sandra Fluke controversy (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, March 2, 2012, March 5, 2012, and March 3, 2012) are specious. Frum says that conservatives note that while Limbaugh may have said some unacceptable things about Fluke, liberals and Democrats have also said unacceptable things. Frum says that the conflation is irrelevant. He writes: “Even by the rough standards of cable/talk radio/digital talk, Limbaugh’s verbal abuse of Sandra Fluke set a new kind of low. I can’t recall anything as brutal, ugly, and deliberate ever being said by such a prominent person and so emphatically repeated. This was not a case of a bad ‘word choice.’ It was a brutally sexualized accusation, against a specific person, prolonged over three days.” Frum notes that several media figures putatively on the left, including late-night hosts David Letterman and Bill Maher, and liberal MSNBC host Ed Schultz, have said unacceptable things themselves, with conservatives complaining that they faced no consequences. Frum notes that such complaints are not true. Schultz called a female talk show host a “slut” and not only apologized, but was suspended from MSNBC (see May 24-25, 2011). Letterman, after insulting former Govenor Sarah Palin’s daughter, “delivered an abject seven-minute apology” on the air. (Frum notes that Palin refused to accept the apology and insinuated that Letterman was a pedophile.) Maher used a crude sexual epithet against Palin, and to date has refused to apologize for it (see March 27-28, 2011). However, Frum notes, neither Letterman, Schultz, nor Maher has anywhere near the political influence that Limbaugh has. “Letterman is not a political figure at all; and while Maher and Schultz strongly identify as liberals, neither qualifies as anything like a powerbroker in the Democratic Party.… A word of criticism from Limbaugh… will reduce almost any member of the Republican caucus to abject groveling.… I can’t recall anything as brutal, ugly, and deliberate ever being said by such a prominent person and so emphatically repeated. Among TV and radio talkers and entertainers, there is none who commands anything like the deference that Limbaugh commands from Republicans: not Rachel Maddow, not Jon Stewart, not Michael Moore, not Keith Olbermann at his zenith. Democratic politicians may wish for favorable comment from their talkers, but they are not terrified of negative comment from them in the way that Republican politicians live in fear of a negative word from Limbaugh” (see January 28-29, 2009). Frum asks why conservatives are responding to Limbaugh’s tirade against Fluke by finding old instances of liberal misconduct and throwing them into the discussion. “[W]hy the impulse to counter one outrageous stunt by rummaging through the archives in search of some supposedly offsetting outrageous stunt? Why not respond to an indecent act on its own terms, and then—if there’s another indecency later—react to that too, and on its own terms? Instead, public life is reduced to a revenge drama. Each offense is condoned by reference to some previous offense by some undefined ‘them’ who supposedly once did something even worse, or anyway nearly as bad, at some point in the past.” However, he concludes, Limbaugh’s latest transgression “is so ‘piggish,’ to borrow a word from Peggy Noonan (see March 4, 2012), as to overwhelm the revenge drama.… It is the bottom of the barrel of shock talk. And the good news is that from the bottom of the barrel, there is nowhere to go but up.” (Frum 3/5/2012)
HBO talk show host Bill Maher, a libertarian-liberal, posts a “tweet” on Twitter defending conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for his tirade against female law student Sandra Fluke (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, March 2, 2012, and March 5, 2012). Maher writes: “Hate to defend #RushLimbaugh but he apologized (see March 3, 2012 and March 5, 2012), liberals looking bad not accepting. Also hate intimidation by sponsor pullout” (see March 2, 2012 and After). Think Progress reporter Judd Legum notes that Maher has his own history of demeaning women, including using a crude sexual epithet to describe former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and calling Palin and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) “bimbos” (see March 27-28, 2011). Maher has refused to apologize for his own rhetoric, saying, “I don’t have sponsors, I’m on HBO.” (Legum 3/7/2012)
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